Monday, September 30, 2013

Introducing Your Kids to Two Francises -- the Pope and the Saint

"Don't forget the poor," whispered Cardinal Gomez of Brazil to Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina at the moment of Bergoglio's election to the papacy. These words inspired the new pope to take the name Francis in honor of the saint who loved Lady Poverty. As St. Francis of Assissi's feast day approaches on October 4, now would be a wonderful time to introduce your children to the two Francises through some great new releases from Paraclete Press.

Saint Francis and Brother Duck1.  St. Francis and Brother Duck, by Jay Stoeckl, is a charming presentation of the story of St. Francis of Assissi in a graphic novel format. Francis' constant companion is the fictional Brother Duck. Great for comic relief, Brother Duck makes the story of St. Francis come alive for young kids. It also allows parents to use their best Donald Duck voices. The Paraclete Press web site has an adorable video trailer in case you need some practice rediscovering your ability to quack. So unleash your inner comedian, and have fun with Francis.

Praying With Your Five Fingers
2. Praying With Your Five Fingers, by Pope Francis, is an 8 1/2 x 11 laminated prayer card. Pope Francis used this method of praying often in his ministry as Archbishop of Argentina. True to his humble nature, Pope Francis recommends praying for yourself last (on the pinkie, your littlest finger), because once you have prayed for everyone else you will be able to see your own needs in the proper perspective. Although the prayer method is available for free from other sources, the laminated card is easy to find and hard to damage -- perfect for kids.

So take the family pets to be blessed at your local parish according to this great feast day's tradition, and then gather together at home to learn a little more about the two Francises!

Thanks to Paraclete Press for providing free review copies.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Pope or Protestant Televangelist?

A lot of people have heard about Pope Francis' recent interview with America magazine, but not everybody liked it. In response to the Washington Post's claim that Pope Francis is setting a new direction for the Church regarding sexuality in particular, one commenter complained:
God save us from Pope Joel Osteen [a popular Protestant televangelist]. 
...His Holiness sounds not so much like the leader of a 2,000 year institutions with a deeply complex theology so much as yet another politico bending with the trendy way the winds are blowing.  
 ...He can have it. If the Pope does not believe what his Faith teaches, why should I? If the Pope thinks it is all just nit-picky details, we can start picking all the nits to pieces until there is nothing left of the garment. Which is where this trendy and vapid Pope is headed.  
...The pope is NOT changing dogma, but in effect what he is offering is "have your cake and eat it too theology." Yes, we have all these rules, but we just won't talk about them if they get too inconvenient. The problem, of course, is that the rules are not an adjunct to, but rather are an integral part of, the Faith. 
Is Pope Francis really preaching the "God wants you to get rich" gospel of Joel Osteen or even the "God wants you to have great sex" gospel of Christopher West? Is this really a Pope who sees Christianity without the Cross?

Let's see what Pope Francis' interview actually said:
“Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” He stares at me in silence. I ask him if I may ask him this question. He nods and replies: “I ​​do not know what might be the most fitting description.... I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.
The pope continues to reflect and concentrate, as if he did not expect this question, as if he were forced to reflect further. “Yes, perhaps I can say that I am a bit astute, that I can adapt to circumstances, but it is also true that I am a bit na├»ve. Yes, but the best summary, the one that comes more from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”
Aren't we all, at heart, sinners whom the Lord has looked upon? Faith is a gift. Grace is a gift. Those of us who presume to be more Catholic than the Pope might want to ponder that. I'm not advocating papal idolatry here. The Pope isn't more important than God. But neither are our own preconceptions.

I've written previously about the disheartening battles between self-styled liberal and conservative Catholics in America. I did not convert from Protestantism expecting to enter a Church divided. Not all liberals are heretics and not all conservatives have forgotten God's mercy. We are simply blind men touching different parts of the elephant, unable to comprehend the whole without each other's help.

Pope Francis took a typical liberal approach when he said in the interview, “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. ... It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.” And yet he also reiterated the conservative position: "The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church."

Ironically, out of a more than 12,000 word interview, these comments about the "pelvic issues" have been reported on more than any others. This meme states it perfectly:

So, I encourage you to read the whole interview and form your own conclusions apart from anyone else's commentary.  And then fasten your seatbelts, folks, because we're in for a wild ride.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pre-Cana from Australia to Yosemite: Online Program Reaches Far

Not every engaged couple has a traditional work schedule or even lives on the same continent before getting married, so in-person marriage preparation isn’t always possible. Enter the age of Skype, where videoconferencing technology can make engaged couples feel as if they are sitting in a pre-Cana teacher’s living room even when each person is actually thousands of miles away.
Peter McFadden of Creative Marriages Inc. in New York City offers an online option for couples in difficult logistical situations. Through this program, Peter has taught actors on location in Australia and soldiers about to be deployed to Afghanistan. He has even given online marriage preparation to two Yosemite park rangers who were working almost round-the-clock hours far away from the nearest Catholic parish. “A park ranger’s not a 9 to 5 job,” Peter remarked. Neither are a lot of other careers, which is why it’s good to have an online option available.
Click here to read more on AmazingCatechists ...

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pregnant? Catholic? Sarah Can Help! (A Review of A Catholic Mother's Companion to Pregnancy)

Sometimes pregnancy makes us glowingly happy and sometimes it makes us miserable. But no matter how it makes us feel, it will change us and the world around us irrevocably. If you want to know more about the physical and spiritual changes that pregnancy can bring, if you're looking for deeper meaning in the little aches and pains, read Sarah Reinhard's book A Catholic Mother's Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism. Sarah's book offers pregnant moms a week-by-week journey in prayer with Our Lady through pregnancy, labor, birth, and beyond.

Each chapter of the opening section on pregnancy details the amazing physical developments the baby is undergoing. The chapters also lead us into meditation on the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, helping us to imagine how Mary coped with the dizzying changes from the moment her motherhood was announced until the day she lost Jesus in the Temple and heard his radical declaration of departure from childhood: Did you not know I must be about my Father's business? Mary had no sin, but she had emotions, the book reminds us, and so we can turn to Mary for comfort, knowing that she must have felt at least some of what we feel.

Throughout this guided journey through pregnancy, A Catholic Mother's Companion introduces us to a full complement of Catholic devotional practices -- Eucharistic Adoration, Stations of the Cross, the Angelus, the Divine Mercy chaplet, the Liturgy of the Hours,  and more. The author Sarah gently urges us to try practically every devotion that I've ever heard of and some that I haven't (St. Anne's chaplet, anyone?).

But my favorite part has to be the prayers  at the end of each chapter.  You can hear a best friend pouring her heart out to God and inviting you to join her in both the joys and the sorrows of blossoming motherhood.

What would make the pregnancy section ideal would be the addition of diagrams or drawings of the stages of fetal development. In my pro-life work, I have heard again and again how powerfully a made-to-scale model of an unborn baby can affect a person's viewpoint. Very early on, the baby is far more than just a clump of cells, and nothing illustrates that fact better than a picture. Person after person has seen what a fetus actually looks like and has responded, "I never knew." Illustrations like that could have added another level to the impact of this section of A Catholic Mother's Companion.

Sarah's hilarious wit is uncharacteristically missing from the beginning of the book, replaced by sympathy and compassion for women who face discomfort and unease with the changes that accompany pregnancy.  For the lucky ones (like I was), she offers valuable advice as well. If you are blessed with relatively easy pregnancies, pray for a mother who is suffering and struggling.

In the later sections on birth and baptism, Sarah's humor shines through. "You can find God in the spaghetti dried in your preschooler's hair, in the crazy outfit your kindergartner wears, and in the heavenly off-key trumpet playing of your gradeschooler," she says. (Believe me, I know that heavenly trumpet-playing well.)

At the end of the book, Sarah briefly mentions the unfortunate dip in parental involvement in church between the times of their children's baptisms and First Communions. Particularly, why do many families disappear from the church community during this crucial time in their lives? Although Sarah touches on the issue, she doesn't explore it in-depth. How to make young families feel welcome at Mass is an essential question for most parishes. Attracting these families to Mass in the first place is an urgent need for the future of the Church. Sarah's insights as a mother, blogger, and catechist could benefit us all a great deal. A sequel, perhaps?


A Catholic Mother's Companion to Pregnancy can be purchased online here.

My thanks to author Sarah Reinhard for providing a free review copy.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What Kind of Catholic Are You?!

"Call me an evangelical charismatic liberal conservative progressive traditionalist" Catholic, stated Fr. Dwight Longenecker recently. I'm sorry, Fr. Longenecker, but I don't think that means what you think it means. And it adds more confusion than clarity to the issue of Catholic infighting.

It's not possible to be all things to all Catholics nowadays. Sad to say, a lot of Catholics behave as if they have splintered into as many different sects as the Protestants have. We can only be liberal and conservative and progressive Catholics all at the same time if we ignore what these words have come to mean and the battling factions that these words represent.

Fr. Longenecker doesn't mean he's liberal in the sense of considering social justice issues more important than the pelvic issues -- contraception, abortion, and homosexuality. He doesn't mean he's progressive in the sense that women should be considered for the priesthood. "I want to be liberal in the administration of God’s love for the lost, the needy and the disenfranchised. ...I’m progressive because I believe God’s Spirit is always doing something young, new and fresh in the world," he said. But we can't just wish away our differences like that.

We need to learn to talk to each other, we Catholics.

If you're a conservative Catholic, how comfortable do you feel in a group of liberal, progressive Catholics? If you're a liberal Catholic, how often do you talk to a conservative Catholic at all? How often do we read each other's newspapers or watch each other's television programs, except to criticize? Do we even realize that there are parallel Catholic universes out there, each with its set of well-reasoned arguments by acknowledged experts? (Even conservative Catholics can be further subdivided into traditionalists, Novus Ordo Catholics, etc., ad nauseam. And these subgroups don't always get along either.)

So who are the real Catholics? Many people have accused House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of being a cafeteria Catholic rather than a real Catholic. Of picking and choosing the doctrines she liked and ignoring the ones she didn't. But, chances are, Pelosi and others who are tagged with the label of cafeteria Catholic don't actually think they're cafeteria Catholics. They think they're right. And calling them derogatory names isn't going to convince them otherwise.

When Pope Francis told us to go to the outskirts, he issued a challenge that we could all answer from the comfort of our armchairs if we dared to. Join an online Catholic group where the majority of the members have different leanings than you, and see if you don't feel as if you're in completely unfamiliar territory. Meet the Catholics you might not really want to meet, and see if you can understand their viewpoint.

There are unfortunate doctrinal differences between Catholic camps, and we shouldn't be blind to them. But we shouldn't be blinded by them, either. Not everyone who uses a different vocabulary (or reads a different Catholic newspaper) is a heretic. Sometimes the differences are simply differences of approach. Liberals may encourage people to fall in love with Christ before confronting them with hard teachings. As Jesus said, "I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now" (Jn 16: 12). Conservatives may prefer to fight the hardest battles first and most fiercely, countering that Jesus also said, "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." (Mt 10: 34).

But we should all be able to agree that truth and charity need each other. The Pope told us in Lumen Fidei (Light of Faith):
If love is not tied to truth, it falls prey to fickle emotions and cannot stand the test of time. ...Without love, truth becomes cold, impersonal and oppressive for people's day-to-day lives.
We might think things were different in the early Church, but they probably weren't. Some early Christians were Jews and some were Gentiles, and they didn't always see eye to eye. Remember the fight over keeping dietary laws and the fight over circumcision? The Jewish contingent thought the Gentile Christians should keep all the Jewish laws, and the Gentiles disagreed. St. Paul responded that he who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, and he who abstains from eating, abstains in honor of the Lord. Then he pleaded, "let us no more pass judgment on one another, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother" (Rom 14: 6, 13).

Learning to talk to one another -- without judgment and as brothers and sisters in Christ -- is crucially important for at least two reasons. One, Jesus said we will be known by the love we have for one another (Jn 13: 35). How are Catholics known today? How do we want to be known? And two, what will happen to our children when we send them out into the wider Catholic world, into the world in general? Will they become disillusioned when they encounter a different kind of Catholicism than what they've known? Will they become confused or angry? Or will they calmly and respectfully disagree, confident that we're all in this Church together, all ultimately on the same side? I hope that by the time my children leave my home, they will know what kind of Catholic they are, whether it's evangelical or conservative or liberal or traditionalist. And I hope they'll be happy to dialogue with anyone who thinks differently.

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