Tag Archives: opinion

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

We have to choose to stop invasion of fake news

In recent days, widely shared quotes attributed to Pope Francis, in which he advocates for a merging of the religions of Christianity and Islam, have been debunked by the Vatican as fake.

Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan recently addressed the scourge of fake news. Her main point: Fake news has to be confronted, but the government should stay out of it.

The difficulty in dealing with falsehoods in a society that guarantees free speech is resisting the urge to censor. The rights of free speech and assembly are so important that we tolerate such repugnant displays to maintain the same protections for the broader society.

The problem with media today, however, is that with 24/7 outlets needing to fill airtime and with junk produced in the either indistinguishable to the undiscerning from valuable material, we are in danger of being overwhelmed by the repugnant and the non-essential.

It is one thing to walk past a display of tabloid publications on the way to the checkout counter. Those who want to indulge have to make a choice and a purchase to bring it into their homes. The internet, on the other hand, floods us all with the same trash, and we have to choose not to have it invade our homes.

Facebook, for one, can certainly be more diligent, as it has promised, in ferreting out fake news with the cooperation of third-party fact checkers.

Most important in the long run, as Sullivan correctly points out, is educating ourselves and our children about how to judge what we’re seeing. “Schools should be redoubling their efforts to teach news literacy, civics and history,” she writes. And we should all engage “a slower trigger finger on the share buttons.”

We owe it to ourselves to take control of what we can within our own homes and on the screens of the increasing numbers of devices we consult constantly.

Be diligent. Question. Support media literacy programmes. Demand of our schools — and of ourselves — that our kids learn how to determine what is credible. The truth may be complex and, at times, difficult to get at. But it isn’t false. – NCR

How to handle ‘fake news’

FAKE news is not a new problem. But technology is making fake news common and tricky to decipher.

Although such stories are entirely made up, they’re often related to topics trending in the real news. These false reports, hoaxes and rumours are typically published on websites that look journalistic and professional.  The notorious fake news site abcnews.com.co, for instance, utilises a URL and logo nearly identical to the actual website for ABC News, a respected TV news outlet.  Additionally, fake news often appears in online posts, videos, memes and discussion forums.

Sometimes fake news outperforms real news in search engine results and social media shares. Even prominent journalists and government officials have been fooled. And fake news can have serious consequences, as impetuous consumers of news have engaged in illegal and violent behaviour as a result of believing an unfounded story.

So, how can you tell if a story is legit? Here are some tips:

Research who produced it. Most real news outlets have websites with an “About” section that provides a lot of information, such as the company that runs it, staff members, and a mission statement. If the language used seems odd, be skeptical.  You should also be able to find out more information about the news outlet in places other than that site. Wikipedia, for example, has entries for most media outlets and explicitly states which are fake news sites.

Examine the sources cited. Does the story cite and quote credible sources — a person with a name and a title? If not, or if they use anonymous or vague sources, such as “sources said,” “according to reports,” “friends say,” be suspicious.

Utilise fact-checking sites. Fake news stories that go viral are often exposed by such websites as Snopes.com, TruthOrFiction.com and FactCheck.org. Curated lists of fake news sites also exist, although they’re never comprehensive and are sometimes skewed by the creator’s preferences.

In addition to fake news, there are other types of dubious news:

Satire: Some fake news is created to entertain rather than mislead, but not all news consumers can tell the difference.

Advertorials: Advertisements about products and services may be disguised to look and sound like a news story. They’re frequently placed on social media sites as “promoted” or “sponsored” content. They can also appear in newspapers, magazines and on TV.

Government-controlled news: Media that’s government-owned or restricted from publishing what they want should be viewed skeptically. Few countries offer the same press freedoms as the United States. In China, for example, many popular media outlets are government-run and censorship is common.

Biased news: While no media outlet is completely objective, some don’t even try to be. For example, Fox News and Breitbart tailor their news to right-leaning audiences while Huffington Post and MSNBC have a noticeable liberal bias.

Irresponsible journalism: Trusted news outlets sometimes spread false information. Sources may lie to reporters. Journalists can fall victim to pranks or hackers. Laziness and deadline pressures can cause mistakes. Unethical scribes have exaggerated or concocted news on many occasions.

To be better informed, here’s some final advice:

Stop getting news from social media. Most social media feeds are echo chambers, offering limited perspectives on a narrow range of information. Facebook is useful for many things, but it’s not a news outlet. Its goal is to keep you clicking, and it tweaks your newsfeed so you only see content you like. Similarly, Twitter’s feed only shows content posted by people you choose to follow.

Don’t rely on one media outlet. Although commonly grouped together as “the media,” news sources are not monolithic. Each news outlet has its own approach to reporting on what’s happening in the world. Diversify your news consumption by seeking out multiple news sources and reading a variety of perspectives on issues.

Support good journalism. Ultimately consumers will be the gatekeepers by deciding which stories get clicks and shares and which stories don’t get attention. Be part of the solution, not the problem. Don’t spread false information. – Mark Grabowski @ Washington Examiner

Discernment and New Year’s resolutions

Certainly, there is something originally pagan about the habit of making New Year’s resolutions. January takes its name from Janus, the two-faced god who looks both backwards and forwards—the god of entrances and doors. So, the custom of looking both backwards and forwards through resolutions dates from around 153 BC. Besides its pagan origins, New Year’s resolutions are, frequently enough, a pretty Pelagian attempt to remake our own lives by our own wits and resources, through sheer grit or will power.

Yet, there are decided spiritual resources to help us look backwards and forwards and make resolutions. One comes from TS Eliot who, in his poem, “Little Gidding,” remarks: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice, and to make an end is to make a beginning.”  Resolutions are about making an end to some bad habits or practices and forging a beginning for some more helpful or useful or spiritual practices.

GK  Chesterton echoes this theme: “The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose, new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man make New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts fresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.”

The main problem with most New Year’s resolutions is that they are not informed enough by the kind of spirituality which should drive the daily tasks of conversion, moulding my life more in keeping with my deepest desires. But since New Year does present one obvious moment for such stock- taking, why not take the occasion of a new year to engage truly in the spiritual practice of discernment?

Below are verses that will encourage those trying to resolve to be different this year. And may God bless such earnest and sincere efforts!

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Galatians 5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

Matthew 6:34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

1 Corinthians 9:24-25 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

Romans 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. – america / christianpost

Embrace the smallness

The coming of the Messiah seems to be so small, so little, that it is breathtaking when you recognise the truth of the incarnation as God’s majesty coming to live among lost humanity. God chose to be born as an infant among us, one like any other, the Messiah Jesus coming as a baby boy to a world so rough and cruel. He was a child utterly dependent upon his parents for his care and sustenance. He was so small, so little.

Bethlehem, far from a city, was itself a small, insignificant town. The prophet Micah tells us that the Messiah would be born in “Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who is one of the little clans of Judah.” Ephrathah is here associated with a region or clan of Judah, which is itself designated as “little.”

The smallness of it all extends to the mother of Jesus, Mary, a young woman or girl. In antiquity girls and women were accounted as small in many ways, but she is called to be the mother of the Lord.

Women knew the reality of childbirth and the vulnerability of womanhood, so Mary does not run to priests, scribes or scholars, to tell of her encounter with God but to her relative Elizabeth, who is open to God.

God came into the world as an infant; and the Incarnation was entrusted to women, who would not only bring the child to us but care for him among us. They were willing to see and embrace the smallness of us all in light of God’s mighty work. They were open to the love necessary and due to any child and open to God’s saving power in their midst. The Messiah was entrusted to the natural processes of human life, in the most vulnerable of hands, in the most vulnerable of ways, so that God’s glory and salvation would not overwhelm us, but accompany us in solidarity with the suffering of all of us small and little people, in order to teach us the value of human life and the greatness of each of life. By each of her actions, Mary is telling us: Prepare to adore him!

For this is how God chose to come, not had to come, to humanity. From a human point of view, the Incarnation is a crazy plan, choosing people too little and too vulnerable. But as a result, it is the best for us: being born among us, being raised among us, he came as one of us, but as God among us, he shone a light on our true dignity and God’s might in humility.

In this way, says the prophet Micah, the Messiah would “stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.” By allowing us to embrace our littleness, our smallness and vulnerability, God also allows us to grasp our eternal value. For the Messiah, Jesus Christ, born as a little one to protect and save us, is here to manifest God’s greatness and majesty for all people. No one is too little, too small, too insignificant to share in God’s plan. He comes to share God’s love for us. Oh come, let us adore him! – John W. Martens @ America

Dialogue is a reflection of mercy

opinion2In his catechesis in the Jubilee audience held in St Peter’s Square on 16 Nov 2016, the Holy Father reflected on the relationship between mercy and dialogue, based on Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman. “What strikes us about this encounter,” he said, “is the very close dialogue between the woman and Jesus. Today this allows us to underline a very important aspect of mercy, which is indeed dialogue.

“Jesus understood well what was in the heart of the Samaritan woman; despite this He did not prevent her from expressing herself – he let her speak until she had finished – and entered a little at a time into the mystery of her life. This teaching applies to us too. Through dialogue, we can allow the signs of God’s mercy to grow and make them a tool of acceptance and respect.”

“Dialogue allows people to know each other and to understand each other’s needs,” he continued. “First, it is a sign of great respect, because it inspires in people an attitude of listening and places them in the condition of recognising the best aspects of their interlocutor. Secondly, dialogue is an expression of charity, because while it does not ignore differences, it can help in seeking and sharing the common good. Furthermore, dialogue invites us to place ourselves before the other, seeing him as a gift from God, who challenges us and asks to be recognised.

“Very often we do not encounter our brothers, even while living alongside them, especially when we make our position prevail over that of the other. We do not enter into dialogue when we do not listen enough, or tend to interrupt the other to show we are right. How often, when listening to someone, we say ‘But it is not like that!’, and we do not let the person finish explaining what they mean. This obstructs dialogue: this is aggression. True dialogue, instead, requires moments of silence, in which we perceive the extraordinary gift of the presence of God in our brother.”

Explaining that dialogue helps people to humanise their relationships and overcome misunderstandings, he exclaimed “There is a great need for dialogue in our families. How much more easily problems would be solved if we learned to listen to each other!  It is thus in the relationship between husband and wife, between parents and children, between teachers and pupils, or between managers and workers, how much help comes from dialogue, and to discover the most important demands of the job.”

All forms of dialogue are “an expression of the great need for the love of God, Who reaches out to everyone and places in each person a seed of His goodness, so that he or she might assist in His creative work,” concluded the Holy Father.  “Dialogue breaks down the walls of divisions and misunderstandings; it creates bridges of communion and does not allow one to isolate oneself, closed up in one’s own little world.” – Vatican.va

Letting go of the logic of competition

opinion2With the 36th General Congregation, we Jesuits have  a process to elect a new superior general, four days of private one-on-one conversations called the murmuratio, which is actually designed to help Jesuit governance avoid the conspiracy and power-brokering that so often affect elections and transitions in leadership.

Acutely aware of the scandals and problems created by the campaigning and politicking that plagued the church of the 16th century, St Ignatius was adamant that members of the Society of Jesus should not ambition for offices. The basic logic was and is that anyone who wants the job very badly probably shouldn’t get it. That doesn’t mean we want someone who is incompetent; far from it. We want the very best man for the job. But what we need is someone who is fundamentally free.

Freedom in the sense we use it here is not freedom to do what you want when you want. It’s quite distinct from the exercise of power. Freedom in this sense means being detached enough, even from our own well-reasoned plans, insights and ambitions, to listen to the world and what God is doing in the world and then respond accordingly. And that kind of freedom starts from fundamental transparency and honesty and from a willingness to acknowledge exactly those attachments and failings that make us unfree.

We rarely see that kind of honesty in public elections or campaigns for political office, because we generally don’t reward officials who admit faults and failings, but instead drive them out of office and public life.

In contrast to political elections built on the logic of competition, the election of a Jesuit superior general is based on a spiritual reality. It’s based on the recognition that we are radically dependent on God, and this alters the entire tenor of the election.

That’s why this election is different. The “candidates” aren’t interested in preparing a perfect campaign pitch or assembling a winning platform; they aren’t even candidates. Anyone who wants the job, as pointed out above, is effectively disqualified in advance. In this election, we are called to prefer God’s plans to ours.

From that vantage point, Jesuit elections have nothing to do with proving an individual case. We don’t “run for an office,” because there’s nowhere to run until we’ve discovered what course God has laid out before us. All the delegates who have gathered in Rome spend four days having those one-on-one conversations in an atmosphere of penitent prayer.

The election of the superior general is a response to God already at work and to discernment in prayer and conversation. Campaigning or running for office makes no sense in this system. There is nothing to present or polish. No candidate “wins” this election; instead the new general is called into service. – Fr Eric Sundrup sj @America

To render the deeds of mercy

opinion2Since the beginning of the pontificate of Pope Francis, the Church has been engaged in a kind of focused conversation about mercy. In 2014, we began preparations for the Extraordinary and Ordinary Synods on the Family – discussions in Rome centering on the meaning of mercy in the context of the family. A great deal of good has come from those conversations.

But two false notions of mercy have emerged from these conversations. They are very dangerous and very popular; and they’ve become real factors in pastoral practice. They both centre on a false divide between truth and mercy. They both, ultimately, end up as a kind of relativism.

If we want to be missionaries of mercy – if we want to “render the deeds of mercy” – we need to be acutely aware of error, and be prepared to respond to it. Instructing the ignorant, however uncomfortable, is among the spiritual works of mercy to which we are all obliged.

The first false idea is that conscience is an absolute source of moral truth. This idea suggests that if we want to act rightly, we only need to “listen to our conscience.” But our conscience is only effective when it is formed correctly, when it strengthens us and guides us to live according to reality and moral truth.

When people talk about following their conscience, they often mean that what really matters is how we feel about what we do. If we don’t feel guilty, then we must not actually be guilty. That if our choices feel right, they are right. This kind of talk implies that God’s mercy is a kind of revocation of our moral responsibilities; that because God is merciful, he won’t hold us accountable.

To form the consciences of believers, the job of pastors is two-fold: first, to inform the conscience by teaching the truth authentically, and then to help men and women make practical judgments, in particular circumstances, that reflect that truth. This work is done in the confessional and spiritual direction: heart to heart.

The second false notion of mercy is the idea that our daily choices really don’t matter very much at all to God. That if we are fundamentally oriented to God and to goodness— our daily actions, even outside the boundaries of revealed truth and the natural law, will be good.

The only true kind of mercy is predicated on truth. God’s mercy is operative when it makes us better men and women, not when it makes excuses for depravity. God’s mercy gives the capacity for goodness, and justice, and heroic virtue.

We are all called to be missionaries of mercy. We are called to witness to truth, and to redemption. And the best way to teach others the path of mercy is through the choices of our own lives. If we hope to be missionaries of mercy, we must be merciful.

If we hope to teach truth, we must be witnesses to its effects. – Bishop James Conley (full text @ firstthings)

A listening Church

Pope Francis’ open and friendly communication style has stirred interest globally, especially among communication-study specialists. Much attention has been focused on his personal style in communications, but he is also developing and implementing a new style of communications within the church itself. When the pope urged candid discussions at the recent assemblies of the Synod of Bishops on the family, it was interesting to see how it worked and where it proved challenging among church leaders.

But the issue is this: How does a tradition of centralised hierarchy interact with and communicate effectively in a decentralised digital world? This devolution of power is a current challenge for many centralized organisations and power structures globally.

When he spoke to the bishops on his trip to the United States, Pope Francis spoke of a “culture of encounter” in which “dialogue is our method.” He recognises that whatever challenges may be encountered in official, centralised communications, there is a deeper and more basic level at which communication—in the sense of dialogue and encounter—is at the heart of the church’s mission to carry the message of the Gospel to the world.

While the recent synod meetings provided plenty of evidence of difficulties with and even occasional resistance to this commitment to dialogue and encounter, Pope Francis was not deterred. He showed patience at synod sessions. This patience is motivated, it seems, by a long view of how the process of dialogue within the church needs to develop.

The pope has said that the church should not be run like a top-down organization, with all authority and power radiating from the center; he said it should be an “inverted pyramid” in which the bishops and pope exercise their authority and deepen their identification with Jesus “in serving the people of God.”

Indeed, these challenges are not new. Churches have found their one-way messages are not being heard or valued either internally or externally, especially by young people. Desperate individuals and leaders have not been listening appreciatively to each other; gridlock has spread.

Communication theory and practice are keys to the church’s future success. Digital communication technologies are an essential part of the infrastructure of connection, but they can be used effectively only if the church learns how to integrate dialogue and listening at the heart of its structures of authority. It is also critical if “the people of God,” predominantly at the level of local churches, are to be deeply involved in this renewal. – Full text @ americamagazine.org

Martyrs of today are not ‘news,’ but they are people who give blood for the Church

opinion2On Friday, 4 March 2016, sixteen people were murdered in a terrorist attack at a nursing home in Aden, the main city on the coast of southern Yemen. The dead comprised four nuns, who served in the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Blessed Mother Teresa, plus eight elderly residents, their guards, and a gardener.

The nursing home was established by Mother Teresa’s helpers in cooperation with the Yemeni government’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, but was clearly marked by a large sign as “Mother Teresa’s Home.”

The March 4 atrocity illustrated the brutal nature of sectarian violence, revealing lessons for all believers in the monotheistic faiths, Christian, Muslim, or Jewish (the last had a thriving community in Yemen until the 20th century).

The sisters of the Missionaries of Charity who worked in Yemen could not have imagined that their activities there would be easier than their programmes of care-giving for the poor and sick elsewhere. In 1998, the Missionaries of Charity had been targeted in the Yemeni town of Hodeida on the Red Sea, with three nuns slain. They accepted the responsibility placed upon them and ended up surrendering their lives to pursue the pledge of their order. Experiencing suffering all over the world, they saw their assignments in Yemen as no more than a new chapter in their commitment. From India, Sunita Kumar, a spokeswoman for the Missionaries, said the dead nuns in Aden had been scheduled to return from Yemen but that “they opted to stay on to serve people.”

In response to the latest crime, Holy Father Pope Francis declared, “These are the martyrs of today! They are not on the front page of newspapers; they are not news. They are the people who give blood for the Church. These people are the victims of those who have murdered them but also of the indifference, of this global indifference of those who do not care.”

The nursing home in Yemen is truly “Mother Teresa’s house” in that it is placed on the front line of the global confrontation between mercy and evil. In the struggle to combat fanaticism and the terrorism it breeds, selfless believers such as those who have flocked to Mother Teresa are indispensable examples. The killers of the Missionaries of Charity did more harm to their Yemeni patients than can be done to the order or to Christianity.

One should not wish for more martyrs for the Catholic Church or any other religious community. But Pope Francis is correct in noting how little attention is paid to the martyrs of the present time. We cannot defeat those who deny our belief in humanity without affirming our values by work and sacrifice. More individuals will be called to the Missionaries of Charity, and more will doubtless be martyred. – firstthings

Allow Jesus’ loving gaze to transform you during Year of Mercy

In his homily on the feast of St Matthew in Holguin, Cuba, Francis said: “… (Jesus) looked at him as no one had ever looked at him before. And this look unlocked Matthew’s heart, it set him free, it healed him, it gave him hope, a new life, as it did to Zacchaeus, to Bartimaeus, to Mary Magdalen, to Peter, and to each of us. Even if we do not dare raise our eyes to the Lord, he looks at us first. This is our story, and it is like that of so many others. Each of us can say: ‘I, too, am a sinner, whom Jesus has looked upon.’”

The encounter with Jesus and his loving mercy transformed Matthew. The Year of Mercy is likewise an invitation to us to allow Jesus’ gaze of mercy to transform us. It is not meant to be some sort of “get out of jail free card” that dispenses some “cheap grace.” Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal conversion.

This Holy Year of Mercy is not about denying sin or the seriousness of its consequences. If there is no such thing as sin then mercy is just a rather empty and shallow sentimentality. Mercy, to be mercy, must always be “love in truth.” But the Holy Year of Mercy is about reminding us that God’s mercy is always greater than our sins. As someone once said, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” Mercy opens that future to us.

To allow Jesus to gaze on us through his “eyes of mercy” is to refuse to define ourselves by our sins; it also means that we who have experienced his mercy are not to define others by their sins. To allow Jesus to see us through his “eyes of mercy” is to be transformed and to hear him say to us also, “Follow me.”

God does not love us only when we are good or because we are good. He loves us in spite of our sins and failings; and it is his love, his merciful love, that can transform us and help us discover the joy of service.

The Holy Year of Mercy is an invitation to all to experience God’s presence and closeness in their lives. “Miserando atque elegendo,” Jesus calls sinners. If the Church were to publish a “want ad” looking for new members, the ad might read, “Only sinners need apply.” As the Holy Father said in Holguin, speaking of St Matthew: “This is our story, and it is like that of so many others. Each of us can say: ‘I, too, am a sinner, whom Jesus has looked upon.’” – Archbishop Thomas Wenski @ www.miamiarch.org

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