Tag Archives: opinion

Not just Rohingya: Pope Francis’ message to Myanmar and Bangladesh

Pope Francis meets Rohingya refugees from Myanmar during an interreligious and ecumenical meeting for peace in the garden of the archbishop’s residence in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 1 Dec 2017. (CNS/Paul Haring)

ROME  – At the end of his trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh [27 Nov – 2 Dec 2017], Pope Francis said the fateful word: Rohingya. In saying it, he did not “slam the door shut ” or tear his clothes, rather he asked forgiveness for the world’s indifference and caressed the faces of men, women and children whose family members were killed, or who had to flee from the military onslaught. The Pope met 16 in Dhaka, and all of them prayed and cried with him. “God,” said Francis, ” is also Rohingya.”

The global media were waiting for this word in order to condemn the violence of the Burmese army, denounce the inanity of the leader Aung San Suu Kyi, to plunge Myanmar under the weight of sanctions. In some respects, it gave the impression that this journey’s significance hinged on that one word. But in this way, the media failed to show all the richness of the pontiff’s message and the impulse that he has given to this region of the world which is both so rich and so poor.

It is true that in Myanmar Francis did not use the word “Rohingya,” rather he spoke of all minorities (Kachin, Chin, Karen, Naga, Kaya, …) who suffer the same things as Rohingya without ever making headlines. And the pope said that citizenship is necessary for all, the distribution of wealth, the collaboration to build peace in Burmese society. The decades of military dictatorship have created almost incurable wounds, violence and wars, but the pope has asked everyone, especially the Christians, to forgive and work for reconciliation to ward off the spectre of a war in which everyone loses.

This is why Pope Francis did not court media praise or condemnation. Instead, he outlined constructive paths of hope. This is why in both countries, in Myanmar and Bangladesh, he spoke to young people to support their enthusiasm and propose a path of hope for the future. Young people who emigrate, who accept slave-like working conditions, or who take up arms, who risk living like the desperate. Francis asked young Christians to be catalysts of hope.

This means not burying oneself within the folds of one’s own ethnic or religious group, nurturing suspicion towards others, remaining inert and sceptical, but opening oneself to encounter, sustained by the common dignity of every person.

The collaboration between religions is the other pillar of this journey: with the Islamic majority in Bangladesh and with the Buddhist one in Myanmar it is important to work so that the economic development underway in these two countries is founded on the mystery of human dignity, and not only on profit, the exploitation of labour and child slaves. Francis has shown that by valuing the religious dimension, one can have the common good more easily at heart.

He wanted to meet with the leaders of the religions both in Myanmar and in Bangladesh and with them he condemned the violence and terrorism that manipulate the name of God, but above all he pushed them to work together for a society of which man is at the centre, whatever his ethnicity, because he is made in the image of God.

A final word on the Churches of these two countries, small minorities often in the cyclone of persecution. The pope praised the Christians who, despite being a “mustard seed,”  give sustenance to the population and the poor in Bangladesh and Myanmar. The esteem that Christians enjoy is primarily due to their service: schools, hospitals, agricultural and labour cooperatives. But in this service, people discover with wonder the reasons for the love of Christ. It is not by chance that in both Bangladesh and in Myanmar the Church grows every year, there are abundant vocations and these small communities already send missionaries to other lands.

It was perhaps one of the first times that all the Christian ethnic groups of Myanmar and the dozens of Bangladeshi ethnic groups gathered together, arousing the admiration of Buddhists and Muslims. A good promise for the future. – Bernardo Cervellera, asianews.it

The media navigate between lies and truth

Stephane Madaule, a writer in the La Croix International, gives his take on the media navigating between lies and truth in an article posted on 23 Nov 2017.

What do the media and social networks prefer: lies or the truth?

This is a question that can certainly be asked with regard to many media spaces. Indeed, sensationalist news is often more eye-catching than the truth. And it only serves to increase our appetites as consumers of information.

This stuff fills up blank spaces in the media agenda. At times, it obscures news that media outlets want to conceal. Fake news takes the place of real news.

According to news networks, information that is broadcast is more or less well controlled. Editorial teams are useful in separating the wheat from the chaff, even though it’s not always easy to come to unanimous decisions about the broadcasting of doubtful or erroneous news items.

The ethics of journalism and the credibility of news agencies are often effective in stopping the broadcasting of fake news. Nonetheless, the positions taken by news agencies in all media (written, televised or on the internet) do not necessarily prevent lapses from occurring.

On social networks, there is no control. All opinions, advice and certainties on any topic are available to anyone. It’s a source of information that has no rules or principles.

Only an adequate amount of awareness and education, and the application of a critical mindset, can help us to avoid being taken in by fake news that has no supporting evidence or that is deliberately misleading.

On social media, everyone is a broadcaster and his or her own editor. When these people are celebrities or represent a respectable institution or possess a certain credibility thanks to their position or status, things become all the more cloudy and complicated when they post fake news or misleading information – for example, on media such as Twitter.

In this kind of scenario, traditional media unfortunately have a propensity to pass on whatever happens to be all over social media that everyone is talking about. So the information or opinion becomes a given that is very difficult to refute. In fact, it immediately gains legitimacy – merely because so many people are reading it and relating to it.

To counter this, certain serious media outlets have devoted space and time to the decoding and critical analysis of fake news in order to refute it more effectively.

However, in economic terms, sensationalist, misleading and fallacious news often makes the front page – grabbing attention and the income that comes with it. Then, this fake news leads to the publication of a follow-up of analysis and debunking, which is, again, attention-grabbing and profitable.

What we can hope for is a media space free of scurrilous rubbish, a space where fake news doesn’t obscure the real news resulting in a cycle of endless publishing and debunking.

Clearly, lies are attention-grabbing. However, the truth must win in the long term, especially when it aims to disseminate real information to people – even if they are often gullible to conspiracy theories or lies intended to capture media space.

The most effective barrier against fake news and lies is made up of education, morality, ethics and editorial committees: credibility in the long term.

The rosary is a weapon – but maybe not the way Rupa Huq thinks

‘St Dominic Receives the Rosary,’  by Plautilla Nelli

Father Matthew Pittam is a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and currently serves as Parish Priest in a rural parish in the English Midlands. He is also a school chaplain and is passionate about ministry with young people. Fr Matthew is the author of Building the Kingdom in the Classroom, which details his experiences of ministry in schools. 

The rosary is immensely powerful, but it is God’s strength at work, not ours

Two weeks before Ealing Council voted to ban pro-life vigils, the local MP Rupa Huq accused the Good Counsel Network of “weaponising the rosary” as they prayed silently outside the local abortion clinic. It is interesting that this non-Catholic MP should have perceived that the rosary was being used in this way. For Catholics the rosary has indeed always been a spiritual weapon – and we should not be afraid to say so.

Many religious orders wear the rosary as part of their religious habit. For a number, such as the Dominicans since around 1475, the rosary is worn on the left hip because that was traditionally where soldiers wore their swords. The rosary is, for those religious who wear it, a protection and weapon against evil. As well as an aid to devotion, wearing a rosary in place of a sword is a powerful witness to the need for an awareness of spiritual warfare.

On October 3 the Church remembered Blessed Bartolo Longo, known as “the apostle of the rosary.”  He was born in Italy in 1841 but when he went to college he drifted away from the Catholicism of his childhood and came under the influence of the occult, later being “ordained” as a Satanist priest. He also developed a deep hatred of Catholicism and sought to draw Catholics into the life of the occult. Eventually he reached a point of despair and complete mental anguish, which led him to seek the help of a Catholic priest. The priest advised him to “promulgate the rosary” in order to seek salvation.

From being suicidal, Blessed Bartolo was transformed and became a great advocate of the holy rosary as a weapon in the fight against spiritual darkness. He would have commended actions like those taken by the Good Counsel Network.

When we pray the rosary we join a great spiritual chain with Our Lady and all those millions of others who pray each day. At the Annunciation Mary joined her will perfectly to the will of God. So when we say the rosary we join our will to hers, which is to seek the will of God in all things. It is in this very submission, in our weakness, where we find the strength of the weapon of the rosary.

It is in this personal vulnerability that the rosary differs so greatly from the weapons that we are so used to in our damaged world. Using a gun or swords (or even methods of abortion) means wielding our power over those who are more vulnerable than us. In wielding the rosary we make ourselves vulnerable, for the benefit of others, by submitting to the will of God through the Blessed Virgin Mary. Obviously, we do not consider it a weapon to do harm or to hurt another but by using the rosary in protest, we do as Jesus tells his disciples, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

My favourite idea about the rosary is that it is ‘Scripture on a string’. It is here that the weapon finds its power. When Jesus was tempted by the Devil in Matthew’s Gospel, it was his use of Scripture which allowed him to fight and win the spiritual battle. St Paul goes on to instruct the Church in Ephesus to put on “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”  The rosary provides a good introduction to many of the events of the Gospels and is a good starting place to load our spiritual arsenal. For me,  it was certainly a springboard into greater immersion in the Word of God.

So in accusing the Good Counsel Network of weaponising the rosary, Rupa Huq unwittingly revealed its true purpose. If only more Catholics would return to this devotion and take up arms with Our Lady. – catholic herald, 20 Oct 2017

Francis’ decentralisation of authority: a realignment with the council’s intent

THE most recent papal pronouncement giving more control to national bishops’ conferences over the translation of liturgical texts had the quality of another of the jolts we’ve become accustomed to during the Francis papacy.

As his tenure advances, however, those moments increasingly feel less like jolts and more like a series of coherent adjustments, long overdue, for a community that had become top-heavy and overly dependent on rigid legalism in an attempt to maintain order.Correcting that imbalance won’t occur without

Correcting that imbalance won’t occur without struggle. The varied interests in the church who have already spent inordinate time and influence debating everything from the manner of translation to the material composition of eucharistic vessels are no doubt gearing up once again to join the fight. That may seem like a most malignant way to refer to liturgy, but the reality is that discussion of our public worship and changes to it can evoke deep emotions and the zero-sum passions of a political contest.

It is perhaps not persuasive to those who deeply oppose the direction of the Francis papacy, but intended or not, the sermon the pope gave in Medellín, Colombia, was a fitting companion piece to the liturgy announcement. Christianity, said Pope Francis, is not an exercise in how perfectly one follows laws and dogma. More important is the life of faith.

“Jesus teaches that being in relationship with God cannot be a cold attachment to norms and laws nor the observance of some outward actions that do not lead to a real change of life,” he said.

The tensions, of course, are as old as the community. They are as evident today as they were when the original community’s leaders argued over who could join and what they could eat. And aren’t we fortunate that the visions they saw and the hearts they were developing answered: everyone and everything. All are blessed and good in God’s sight.

Francis seems to be conveying two basic ideas in the document issued on his own initiative (motu proprio). Titled Magnum Principium, it diminishes the authority of the Vatican from “authorising” all translations to a simple “review” of such documents. First, that mature leadership of national bishops’ conferences can be trusted to maintain fidelity to the essence of liturgical worship while tailoring language to particular circumstances, and, second, that universality and unity are not synonymous with sameness.By extension, one might add that it also acknowledges that a rigid adherence to some narrow conception of translation from Latin is not a measure of fidelity.

By extension, one might add that it also acknowledges that a rigid adherence to some narrow conception of translation from Latin is not a measure of fidelity.

It is a Pauline gesture of sorts that acknowledges that not all cultures are the same, that not all believers need to take on the effects of an ancient, mostly European, expression of the faith. The Latin Mass, still a glorious and inspiring liturgy for some, need not be the norm for everyone, nor the benchmark against which all other worship forms are measured.

So Francis’ rollback of that authority is actually a realignment with the council’s intent. It is, in political terms, a return to centre, to moderation and to a trust of the community’s local leaders. Francis has restored their adulthood and given them again a latitude to discern, which mature spiritual leaders should possess.

As was the case for Jesus and “for the first community,” Francis said in Medellín, “it is of greatest importance that we who call ourselves disciples not cling to a certain style or to particular practices that cause us to be more like some Pharisees than like Jesus,” whose “freedom contrasts with the lack of freedom seen in the doctors of the law of that time, who were paralysed by a rigorous interpretation and practice of that law.”

On several fronts, then, Francis has asked us to walk away from that paralysis and to take new steps in freedom. – Full text @ ncronline

How the Liturgy is healing medicine for strident times

One of the most concise and cogent descriptions of these often strident times came from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in 1986. It is contained in, of all places, his treatise on the theology of sacred music in a book called The Feast of Faith (Ignatius Press, 1986). His comments have been republished in a larger compendium of his works, Collected Works: Theology of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, 2014, Vol 11).

It is hard to describe our times as anything but contentious. Loud, strident protests often predominate over reasoned discourse and thoughtful argumentation.

To be sure, every era has had, and has needed, protest and public opposition to injustice. There is a time and a place for loud protest and the use of memorable sound bites.

However, it is the predominance of loud protest and civil disobedience that stands out today. Sound bites, slogans, and simplistic “war cries” have to a large extent replaced thoughtful, reasoned discourse. Volume, power, and visually flashy techniques are prized; they are being used more and more. Such approaches too frequently produce more heat than light.

Consider, then, this remarkable analysis by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, written back before the Internet and social media had turned up the volume even more. Ratzinger paraphrased an insight of Gandhi’s, applied it to his analysis of our current times, and then proposed a healing remedy to restore balance:

Gandhi refers to the three habitats of the cosmos and how each of these provides its own mode of being. The fish live in the sea, and they are silent. The animals of the earth scream and shout; but the birds, whose habitat is the heavens, sing. Silence is proper to the sea, shouting to the earth and singing to the heavens. Man has a share in all three of them. He carries the depths of the sea, the burden of the earth, and the heights of the heavens in himself. And for this reason, all three properties also belong to him: silence, shouting, and singing.

Today – I would like to add – we see only the shouting is left for the man without transcendence, since he only wants to be of the earth.…

The right liturgy, the liturgy of the Communion of the Saints, restores totality to him. It teaches him silence and singing again by opening him to the depths of the sea and teaching him to fly, the angels’ mode of being. It brings the song buried in him to sound once more by lifting up his heart. . ..

Right liturgy … liberates us from ordinary, everyday activity and returns to us once more the depths and the heights, silence and song … Right liturgy … sings with the angels … is silent with the expectant depths of the universe, and that is how it redeems the earth (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Collected Works, Vol 11, Theology of the Liturgy, Ignatius Press, p 460).

For indeed, only in the worship of God do we find our true selves. Only in the liturgy is our true personality formed. The human person in his glory unites the material and spiritual orders. We are capable of pregnant, expectant silence; of the joyful shout of praise and the Gospel going forth; and of the song of Heaven.

As Ratzinger pointed out, though, we too often are preoccupied with and value only one aspect: the shouting of the earthbound creatures of this world. But the liturgy – good and proper liturgy – trains us in all three and accomplishes the balance that is so often lost today. The liturgy is a training ground, not only for our heavenly destination, but also in what it means to be truly human. Msgr Charles Pope

Walk the talk, reduce wastage of food

Ramadan has just ended. Mainstream media have reported that “food waste had hit a peak during the final week of Ramadan when large quantities of untouched food packets were disposed of mercilessly. Photographs of heaps of uneaten food, in a wink, went viral on social media.” (Bernama)

Food wastage happens when too many are feeding the homeless without an organised system. Along with food wastage, other problems like cleanliness, uneven distribution of aid, health problems like food poisoning are created.

Rightly observed, what we need is “a more systematic way to distribute food to the target groups. Only then can food waste be curbed.”

Much has been said from many quarters. “Instead of paying lip service to this issue, they should walk the talk. They don’t have to wait until the next Ramadan or festive season.”

Take for example, Minu Pauline, a restaurant owner from Kochi, in southern India, recently made news headlines, not for her culinary expertise, but her awe-inspiring generosity. She maintains a fully stocked, unlocked refrigerator outside her restaurant, filled with free fresh meals for the homeless.

The fridge is always stocked with about 50 packets of freshly cooked food from the restaurant, for people to reach for when they are hungry.

Minu has two concerns though: 1) She may get sued if someone gets sick from eating her food; 2) her restaurant often doesn’t have the space to store leftover food while they are waiting for agencies to pick it up. Food banks may not have the capacity to transport or properly store the food, especially if it’s highly perishable. Furthermore, often she simply doesn’t even know where to donate their leftover food.

There is no reason or excuse for there to be even one starving person on this Earth in this day and age. The only missing ingredient is our collective willpower to come together and create the changes we all know the world needs, Minu opines.

Minu insists that their idea is to use what you already have, to donate the food that you might waste. She says that her restaurant bears the cost of the fridge and the electricity, and keeps it open for 24 hours a day, every day.” – Truthforfree

Fathers and daughters – Is this a missing key to modesty today?

We often speak today of the terrible toll that fatherless homes have on young boys. And this is true. Without a reasonably good (even though not sinless) model of manhood and responsibility, many boys lose their way. Fathers also play a large role in disciplining boys, especially as they grow older and become stronger than their mothers.

But missing fathers also bring forth terrible effects on many girls. Women, even young girls, certainly do seek and desire the love and appreciation of men and have a desire to be thought of as precious, beautiful, and lovable. Ideally, a father is able to model for his daughter that a man can appreciate and love her for her own sake, apart from merely her physical charms and “curves.”

Learning this seems critical for a young girl, who is then able to discern the difference between this and the love of other men who may desire her in a more sexual way. That they have sexual desire for her is not wrong per se, but neither is it wrong for her to know that she is lovable for her own sake. Simply loving her for her physical charms is lust. True love is loving her for her own sake. And even if sexual attraction is part of the picture, it is only part and she can know the difference. Having recognised that a man (in the first case her father) can love her in this fuller way, she is able to insist on it and discern when a young man’s “love” is too narrow.

However, when a young girl does not learn this from her father, she likely still craves the approval of men. But not having learned from her father how to discern the attention of men and not having experienced that she is lovable for her own sake beyond mere physical beauty, she will often confuse the attention that is lust with the love and approval she really seeks.

While I am no professional sociologist, it seems to me that there is a rather strong correlation between the decline of fathers in the home and the rise of immodesty among women. As a man, I find this rise odd and ponder why immodesty is so widespread among women. Why do so many women like to wear short skirts and tight clothes (which seem so uncomfortable) and walk about beaches in a state of almost complete nudity (bikinis)? Something is amiss and way out of balance.

At one level, I have come to discover (through discussions with women on the issue of modesty) that many (especially younger) women really don’t have any idea the effect that they have on men. I have confirmed this in discussion with our Sunday school teenagers. In discussions moderated by women, many young girls just haven’t figured it all out yet. When asked, “Why do you dress that (provocative) way?” they often say, “I don’t know, it’s … like … y’know … comfortable??? … It’s like … cool???”

While some of them may be fibbing, and really do know why, I don’t doubt that, to some degree, there is an innocence about what they do that needs to be schooled. In the past, fathers could help in this regard. Some years ago I remember a remarkable little passage by John Eldridge, in the Book, Wild at Heart that decoded something I have noticed even in the youngest girls:

And finally, every woman wants to have a beauty to unveil. Not to conjure, but to unveil. Most women feel the pressure to be beautiful from very young, but that is not what I speak of. There is also a deep desire to simply and truly be the beauty, and be delighted in. Most little girls will remember playing dress up, or wedding day, or twirling skirts, those flowing dresses that were perfect for spinning around in. She’ll put her pretty dress on, come into the living room and twirl. What she longs for is to capture her daddy’s delight. My wife remembers standing on top of the coffee table as a girl of five or six, and singing her heart out. Do you see me? asks the heart of every girl. And are you captivated by what you see? (Kindle edition Loc 367-83)

Perhaps it is this innocence that has gone somehow wrong, has been untutored, causing some young girls to dress immodestly. And many of them bring that into adulthood.

But even if their intentions are innocent, it is not wrong to teach girls that not everyone views their display so innocently and further that some boys/men are deeply troubled by the temptation it brings, especially as these girls get a bit older.

There is surely a time to provoke and celebrate a sexual appeal and joy: in the marriage bed. But outside this context, women ought to be seen more richly as wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, teachers, and scientists, indeed as whole persons with interests, needs, concerns, and richly varied lives. Fathers can have a critical role in teaching this to both their sons and their daughters.

In the past when I saw an immodestly attired young woman I would ask, “Where is her mother?” Increasingly I also ask, “Where is her father?” She doesn’t seem to understand men. She wants the attention of men but in a way that presses all the wrong buttons. Maybe she’s never considered that a man can and should love her for her own sake, beyond her physical attributes. Maybe she never had the chance to twirl her skirts before a father who delighted in her but without sexual motives, who could tell her she was beautiful and wonderful without the desire to exploit. Maybe she’s still craving this delight but is now twirling her skirts and revealing her beauty to men who cannot, or will not, admire her with such pure motives. And maybe she can’t tell the difference between lust (exploitative desire) and love (desire of her for her own sake) because she never had a father, a good father, there to model the difference.

Anyway, I know women are complicated and that I’m probably going to get killed by both women and men for this post. But before you lay me out, consider for your comment why you think immodesty is so widespread in our culture? I would appreciate it if we could avoid the “men are pigs” or “these young girls dress like sluts” types of comments. I’m looking for understanding more than venting. I know we all have strong opinions about this topic and that some don’t believe there is, in fact, any immodesty at all (even in a tiny bikini – a view I think that requires real denial or serious blindness). But the point I’d like to ponder is why. – Msgr Charles Pope

Can faith motivate environmental action?

The environmental movement includes many people who don’t subscribe to any particular faith, as well as many others who do. Caring for birds, beasts, and the natural world is a common thread running through all the world’s religions. For example, Pope Francis invoked Catholic teachings of stewardship in his 2015 encyclical calling for action on climate change and other ecological threats. And in recent days, diverse religious groups across the country are participating in Faith Climate Action Week, organised by Interfaith Power & Light.

With World Environment Day 2017 just round the corner, let us hear from four environmental advocates who talk about how their environmentalism and personal beliefs intersect.

Haley Main, a minister in her non-denominational Christian church:  Climate change, at its core, is about ethics and values, which we derive from our belief systems. We have reached this place of constant consumption and wanton destruction because we have been led for too long by our belief that the Earth is here to serve humanity instead of co-flourish with us. This belief is in direct conflict with all major world religions, which all have some concept of the Earth as created by God, or sacred, and deserving of care.

Scientific reasons alone are insufficient for successful and lasting conservation action—religious and cultural values must be part of the equation. People of faith understand this and have begun to work with secular environmental groups, as well as form their own conservation organisations. There is great hope, even as there is still great work to be done.

Purbita Saha, a Hindu:  I think the fight against climate change is non-discriminatory, in terms of belief. As more religious leaders follow Pope Francis’ lead by speaking out, religion will have the potential to provide a powerful organising principle and crucial political sway to the movement.

Chandra Taylor Smith grew up in the Progressive National Baptist Convention and the United Church of Christ:  I believe that in many ways climate change is the greatest test for how we live out our faith. All faith traditions have teachings about how to live in right balance with creation and the Earth. Our challenge is really living out what those traditions tell us about restraint, sharing our resources, loving all of God’s creation, and even loving our neighbours as ourselves.

Matt Anderson, a Lutheran:  What we do about climate change is a matter of moral conscience. I see religious communities around the country and the world stepping forward on this issue. I’m proud to serve on the national board of Interfaith Power & Light, a campaign bringing religious groups together to fight global warming. – www.auduborn.org

Social media can revolutionise the church, but only if we use it correctly

I have come to think that social media is not an optional extra, but rather a central part of the church’s mission now.

Can social media help us communicate beyond the church or beyond the “network bubble” in which we may be caught? I think so, though I am not altogether sure. Certainly, we have to find ways of speaking to those outside our community of agreement—not just through new media but in new ways. At times we pour old wine into new wineskins, but we need new wine in new wineskins. That means, I think, that as we enter social media we need to be (at the very least) demotic, surprising and positive.

Social media is not monolithic. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter incorporate a variety of subcultures that have to be understood, and this presumes a new kind of dialogue. Social media can be a Wild West where anything goes, a world where people like bishops are simply one among many voices. This world reconfigures teaching authority; it is a world where everything is fluid, where boundaries are blurred and roles are not what they were. The adjustment this requires is part of being missionary today.

At times we can fall into churchy stereotypes, speaking in ways that may seem wondrous to us but which don’t speak to most people. On social media we need to move beyond the stereotypes that have clerics saying predictably edifying things in predictable ways. We have to offer fresh angles not only on issues usually associated with the church but more especially on the call of the Gospel today. We need to be surprising.

Social media can specialise in negativity, but to serve the Gospel will mean being optimistic. That doesn’t mean a Pollyannish approach, nor does it in any way exclude the prophetic. Being positive creates a special place for humour—by which I mean turning an ironic eye on the world in a way that is typical of the Bible. Real humour is the servant of real hope. Positivity will also mean saying no to ideological warfare and knowing when silence is better than speech.

Pope Francis has struck a chord with many people outside of the Catholic Church because he knows how to be colloquial, surprising and positive—not just on social media but in his pastoral style. The pope is markedly present on social media not because he is technologically adept, but because others share his words and deeds for him. This is because he is a pastor and missionary attuned to the very personal encounters that social media can make possible. Pope Francis is showing something of what it means to put new wine in new wineskins. I am still trying. – Mark Cooleridge @ America

A Sunday School culture to make lifelong disciples

CHANGING “Sunday school” culture and Catholic schools’ religion classes into a relational process of faith formation is no simple task. It will require church leaders to admit that the path we have been on for decades is not sufficient to respond to today’s needs and cannot be fixed merely with different books, better curricula or more training. And it will require parents to demand and to help build parish communities that not only teach the faith but live it out joyfully. “Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said, “and do not hinder them.” Now is the time for the church to reflect on these words and move urgently to develop religious formation programmes that introduce children to the person at the heart of our faith, who desires not only well-informed students but lifelong disciples.

To say that there is a crisis in religious education is not to discount the profound generosity of many volunteers and teachers who sustain parish programmes around the country. If their dedication were the only factor determining success, there would be no problem. Yet in many if not most settings, religious education is not accomplishing its purpose: to hand on the faith from generation to generation. Ineffective catechesis—whether in the parish setting or in Catholic schools—is not the sole cause of the rise of the so-called nones; but for the most part, religious education as presently conducted does not give these young people a compelling reason to believe.

The first step is admitting there is a problem—and any parent who has to drag a reluctant child to an hour of Sunday school can say what it is: Most 10-year-olds do not want to spend their weekend in a classroom. More fundamentally, the assumptions built into the current system of religious education, developed at a different time and in a different cultural context, no longer hold. There was a time when religious belief and self-identification were default positions, supported by social norms. But today, when young people are surrounded by a culture in which choosing to believe is more and more a revolutionary act, religious education must do much more than hand on the basic tenets of the faith. Unless the option of belief is made real by family and community relationships that offer examples of true Christian discipleship, creedal affirmations are taking root in rocky soil.

What seems to be the key is that models that show great potential are not just about education but formation. They work to make discipleship tangible and imaginable first, rather than focusing on transmitting the content of the faith. However, no programme, can ever replace the central role of parents as “the principal and first educators of their children” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No 1653). We must also discern how to form parents for this mission. – Adapted from America

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