The Holy Father and the Children: Ask Me Anything You Want (And They Did)

Pope Francis tossed away his prepared remarks at an audience this week because, he said, they were boring. Rather than making a speech to the group of children who were on stage with him, he let them ask him unrehearsed, unedited, questions.

The result is one of the most charming — and revealing — exchanges I’ve ever seen with any pope. One little girl asked the Holy Father if he had wanted to be pope. He said no, he hadn’t wanted to be pope. Another asked him if is was hard to move to Italy and leave his family and friends behind.

He answered all of these questions in his usual open way.

Pope Francis is the real deal. He’s so in the bag for Jesus that he’s past the constraints of that inhibit most public people. He has the ability to reach right through the trappings of office and power and into our hearts.

The video below offers a look at this wonderful exchange between the Holy Father and the children.

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Christian Persecution: 6 Quick Takes from Around the Globe

This week’s 6 Quick Takes on Christian persecution around the globe include kidnappings, murders, beatings, false imprisonment and legal discrimination. 

In other words, these quick takes are the usual sad story of what Christians endure for Christ just about everywhere on this planet. Two of the stories involve legal discrimination in the “Christian” West. Both of them are instances of governments applying legal penalties for Christians who seek to practice their faith in the workplace. Ironically, they are examples of “tolerance” statutes carried to their illogical and intolerant extreme.

Every one of these stories is becoming almost cliche in today’s world. Violent persecution of Christians by government tolerated mobs occurs in places like Africa, the Middle East and India. Legal persecution by the government itself happens in totalitarian states like Viet Nam. Meanwhile, a move toward totalitarianism in which the state attempts to deprive its citizens of the rights to individual conscience and religious liberty that it has heretofore guaranteed occurs in both the UK and the USA.

Here, for your prayerful study, are the 6 Quick Takes on Christian Persecution for this week.

 

1. Three U.K. Christians’ Appeals Denied by European Court on Human Rights in the Name of “Equality”

persecution.org

Jun 3rd 2013

In a display of growing secularism, the European Court on Human Rights recently rejected hearing cases of alleged discrimination against three Christian U.K. nationals. Shirley Chaplin, Gary McFarlane, and Lillian Ladele each claim to have suffered employment discrimination for expressing their faith—one having been demoted for refusing to remove a cross necklace at work, another was disciplined for refusing to conduct same-sex marriages, and the last having been fired for refusing to provide relational counseling to same-sex couples. Secularist groups praised the court’s rejection of the cases, claiming the rejection as yet another step in stopping “a small coterie of Christian activists [from] obtain[ing] special privileges for themselves”—”special privileges” like being able to sport cross necklaces and determine one’s own clients. (Read the rest here.)

2. Anti-Christian Violence in Vietnam

Anti-Christian violence is an ever-present danger for church leaders and members in Vietnam, which has been under Communist rule since 1975 and where Christians make up just 9% of the population. In just two incidents from 2012, a pastor was beaten unconscious with iron bars, suffering multiple injuries, and a woman was left with a fractured skull when a congregation was attacked as they gathered for a service; dozens of others were injured. The assaults were the work of thugs believed to have been hired by the authorities to harass and intimidate Christians.

It is striking that those injured in these incidents belonged to churches that were actually registered with the authorities. Registration is required by law and allows congregations to obtain official approval for their places of worship. But registered churches are regulated and controlled, and their legal protections are vague and uncertain. The registration process is also slow, and some applications are unsuccessful.

The position of Vietnam’s unregistered churches is even more insecure, and they are particularly vulnerable to harassment, arrests and imprisonment. In 2012 the pastor of a house church was jailed for eleven years on a charge of “disrupting national unity”.

Despite the authorities’ supposed approval of charitable work, the past year has also seen cruel attacks in the capital, Hanoi, on both a Christian orphanage and a church-run colony for leprosy patients. The children were beaten by the attackers, and the residents of the colony were terrorised by abuse and threats. (Read the rest here.)

3. Syrian bishops kidnapped in Aleppo still missing one month on


Officials say whereabouts of Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi remain unknown despite international efforts to secure release

Bishop Boulos Yazigi, left, and archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim were abducted by gunmen on 22 April in Aleppo, Syria. Photograph: HOPD/AP

One month after two Orthodox Christian bishops were kidnapped by gunmen in Syria, officials say they still have no idea what has happened to the missing prelates.

The clerics, the most senior church officials to be targeted since civil war engulfed the country, have not been heard of since their abduction at gunpoint in the northern city of Aleppo on 22 April.

“We are deeply worried for the lives of archbishop Mor Gregorius Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church and bishop Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church,” said Katrina Lantos Swett, who chairs the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (Uscirf).

“These two religious leaders put aside their own safety by travelling to one of the worst areas of fighting to help those Syrians left with few basic necessities after more than two years of war,” she said in a statement released on Tuesday. (Read the rest here.)

4. Washington attorney general sues florist over refusal to provide flowers for same-sex wedding 

Bob Ferguson, the State of Washington’s attorney general, has announced that he is filing a consumer protection lawsuit against a florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.

“Under the Consumer Protection Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation,” Ferguson stated in a press release. “If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their weddings, then it must provide same-sex couples the same product or service.”

Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts in Richland, Washington, explained her decision not to provide flowers for a customer’s same-sex wedding.

“He said he decided to get married, and before he got through, I grabbed his hand and said, ‘I am sorry. I can’t do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ,’” she said. “We hugged each other, and he left, and I assumed it was the end of the story.” (Read more here.)

5. MASSACRE OF CHRISTIAN VILLAGE IN SYRIA; ALMOST 40 PEOPLE KILLED

A Christian village in Syria was savagely attacked and almost 40 of its residents, including women and children, killed by opposition fighters, as UN investigators warned of increasing radicalisation among the rebels.

One of Barnabas Aid’s Syrian partners said that two of his relatives in Dweir were severely tortured by the rebels, who broke some of their bones and started to burn their bodies before shooting them in the head.    The village of Dweir on the outskirts of Homs, near the border with Lebanon, was invaded on 27 May. (Read more here.)

6. Christian Pastor and His Family Beaten in India


A pastor and his family beaten; a prayer meeting broken up; Christians forced from their village by a mob; children threatened and abused; a church building attacked and a cemetery desecrated – just a few examples of the repeated incidents of harassment and intimidation suffered by Christians in India in 2012.

In many parts of the country the small minority of Christians live at peace with the Hindu majority. But in some states they are acutely vulnerable to a militant Hindu nationalist movement called Hindutva, which is striving to make India a religiously “pure” nation. Recent years have seen numerous incidents of small-scale aggression such as those listed above, and also major outbreaks of anti-Christian communal violence in Orissa and Karnataka.

It is difficult for Christians to obtain justice for offences committed against them. Local police can be slow to respond to attacks, and often no-one is prosecuted. Corruption is also rife in the courts, and Christians’ unwillingness to play the system dishonestly works against them. Five years on from the Orissa violence, few people have been convicted. Christian leaders and human rights activists continue to campaign for justice, however, and in December 2012 twelve people were handed prison sentences for their part in the 2008 attacks.

(Read the rest here.)

Vatican to UN: 100,000 Christians Killed for the Faith Each Year

 

One hundred thousand people are

Murdered.

Martyred.

For Christ.

Every year.

 

Many more Christians are

Raped.

Enslaved.

Beaten.

Tortured.

Imprisoned.

Abducted.

Displaced.

For Christ.

Every year.

 

Meanwhile, here in the “Christian” West, Christians are

Censored.

Mocked.

Reviled.

Forced to violate their faith under penalty of law.

Harrassed.

Silenced.

Marginalized.

For Christ.

Every year.

That is the message Vatican spokesman Msgr Silvano Maria Tomasi brought to the United Nations earlier this week. Msgr Tomasi expressed the Holy See’s “deep concern for violations of religious freedom and systematic attacks on Christian communities” in some part of the world. At the same time, he pointed out that “in some Western countries … a trend emerges that tends to marginalize Christianity in public life, ignore historic and social contributions and even restrict the ability of faith communities to carry out social charitable services.”

I think it is important to note that Msgr Tomasi was not merely protesting the violent persecution or the marginalization of Catholics. He was speaking out for the civil and human rights of all Christians, everywhere.

People who attack Christianity often try to divide us. For instance, several of the commenters on a recent post I wrote concerning a Christian basher and the Pentagon, tried to say that this Christian bashing wasn’t aimed at Catholics, but Evangelicals. The point, I presume, being that if someone attacks those “other” Christians, the rest of us should either join in with the attackers or at the very least turn our backs on the attacked.

No way.

I like Msgr Tomasi’s approach. It is the one I take on this blog. If you cut any Christian, anywhere, we all bleed. Because we are One Blood, and One Body, and that is the living body and blood of Christ in the world. Any persecuted Christian is my brother or sister.

Let me say that again: Any persecuted Christian is my brother or sister. 

From Vatican Radio:

Vatican to UN: 100 thousand Christians killed for the faith each year

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2013-05-28 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) The Holy See has expressed “deep concern” for violations of religious freedom and systematic attacks on Christian communities in regions of the world such as Africa, Asia and the Middle East. This was pointed out by Msgr. Silvano Maria Tomasi, who spoke Monday at the United Nations in Geneva.

“More than 100,000 Christians are violently killed because of some relation to their faith every year. Other Christians and other believers are subjected to forced displacement, to the destruction of their places of worship, to rape and to the abduction of their leaders -as it recently happened in the case of Bishops Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji, in Aleppo (Syria).

Several of these acts have been perpetrated in parts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia, the fruit of bigotry, intolerance, terrorism and some exclusionary laws. In addition, in some Western countries where historically the Christian presence has been an integral part of society, a trend emerges that tends to marginalize Christianity in public life, ignore historic and social contributions and even restrict the ability of faith communities to carry out social charitable services. 

“It may be useful that the Delegation of the Holy See should recall some pertinent data on the current services to the human family carried out in the world by the Catholic Church without any distinction of religion or race. In the field of education, it runs 70,544 kindergartens with 6,478,627 pupils; 92,847 primary schools with 31,151,170 pupils; 43,591 secondary schools with 17,793,559 pupils. The Church also educates 2,304,171 high school pupils, and 3,338,455 university students. The Church’s worldwide charity and healthcare centres include: 5,305 hospitals; 18,179 dispensaries; 547 Care Homes for people with Leprosy; 17,223 Homes for the elderly, or the chronically ill or people with a disability; 9,882 orphanages; 11,379 creches; 15,327 marriage counseling; 34,331 social rehabilitation centres and 9,391 other kinds of charitable institutions. To such data about social action activity, there should be added the assistance services carried out in refugee camps and to internally displaced people and the accompaniment of these uprooted persons. This service certainly doesn’t call for discrimination against Christians.

Self-Aggrandizing Ego and Eternal Suicide

Bank robbers and drug dealers aren’t the only ones who turn their backs on God until they get in trouble. We’re all prone to do this.

Jail house conversions are the stuff of bad jokes and legend. Once in a while, one of these literal “come to Jesus” events holds up throughout the rest of a person’s life. More often, the repentant sinner reverts to their old selves as soon as the bad times pass.

The difference between the convicted felons and the high and mighty of the world in terms of conversion is a matter of circumstance, not righteousness. One thing I’ve learned in my life is that I find it much easier to deal with an alcoholic or a philanderer who knows that they are doing wrong than with a self-righteous, self-worshipping upstanding citizen who only sees the crimes and faults of others.

It is possible to work with the miscreant who knows they have faults. The person who is so sure of their rightness, not so much.

Pope Francis gave a homily yesterday that I think every successful and powerful person should hear. It doesn’t matter if you are an elected official, the head of a corporation or a doctor who is using the medical technology at your disposal to exploit your patients, your soul is always in great peril, precisely because of your successes in the arena of life.

It is too easy to become what the Holy Father calls “corrupt,” which is to say, self-sufficient to the point that you no longer think you need God. The first corruption is always, as Elizabeth Scalia wrote in Strange Gods, making a false idol of yourself. The first challenge of the high and mighty isn’t adultery or abortion or lying or stealing or any of the sins people commit with such reckless disregard for consequence. The first challenge is narcissism. 

Self esteem is not usually a problem for the lords of this world. Realistic self-assessment is. The harbinger of all internal corruption of the powerful is always self-referencing self-adulating self-worship. It is so easy to think that god (little g) is made in your image when nobody tells you “no,” when your jokes are always funny and lunch is always free.

It is, as Jesus told us, easier by far for a successful person to feel they have gained the world and in their smugness, lose their own souls.

Self-corrupted people like this are found inside the Church as well as outside it. Clergy get a heavy dose of unearned respect and adulation along with equally unearned abuse. This is unbalancing for anyone. They are talented people with the ability to persuade others. Their verbal skills are the equal of any politician’s and the temptations they face are often startlingly similar.

That’s probably who Pope Francis was zeroing in his homily this morning. I don’t know, but I would guess that he was talking directly to some of the people sitting in his audience. However the truth of his homily, like all truths about human nature, are universal.

We are killing ourselves spiritually with our self-aggrandizing egos. It is a form of suicide that can last for eternity.

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They Said it Would Never Happen: Human Cloning on Our Doorstep


Human cloning.

I remember well when we were promised that human cloning was never going to happen. People who raised this issue were, as usual, mocked and heckled as paranoid fantasists. Now, of course, people who oppose human cloning are mocked and heckled as “backward” and “anti-science.”

Another moral issue that is not mentioned in this video  about recent advances in human cloning is the misogynist practice of farming women’s bodies for eggs with little or no concern for the consequences to the women.

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Pope Francis: Triumphalism Impedes the Church, Impedes Christians


Pope Francis might as well have been speaking directly to American Christians with the homily he gave a few days ago.

“Triumphalism impedes the Church,” he said. “Triumphalism impedes Christians.”

Americans play to win. We are taught from our earliest days that competition is good and that we can make anything of our lives that we want if we just work hard and smart enough.

Triumphalism, the joy in winning, is part of our national psyche. We are, in our own way, very sure of ourselves and our ability to overcome whatever difficulties lie in front of us.

This makes those of us who are Christians a bit “off” in our understanding of the Gospels. Jesus triumphed over Satan. He transcended Satan’s final ploy against humanity, which is death, in an absolute way.

If we’re not careful, we’ll focus on that victory and ignore the way it was achieved and the words Jesus said about what awaits anyone who truly follows Him. The cross did not look like a victory to those who saw Our Lord suffer and die on it. It looked like  an ignominious defeat.

We can, from our vantage point in history, connect the dots backwards and see the progression from Calvary to the resurrection. We know how the story ends. But if we try to skip over the tough parts, or limit our thinking about  them to annual passion plays, we miss the point.

The cross, which Jesus defeated with His resurrection, is still part of this world. We all have our crosses, and as He told us, if we want to be worthy of Him, we must pick them up and carry them. Not only that, but we must bear the crosses of our lives by “following after” Him. I think we need to ponder for a moment what that means.

Pick up your cross and follow after me Jesus instructs us.

I don’t think He means that we must merely endure the hardships of our lives, even though that would be more than enough for most of us. I believe that we are called to “follow after Him” in the way we endure the sufferings that come our way, which is to say we must triumph over them.

But this triumph is not triumph according to the world’s understanding. It is not an aggressive and competitive victory that elevates us in other people’s eyes and gives us status, power and money. Following after Him means that we must forgive those who hurt us, bear with those whose weakness burdens and wounds us. We must be like Him in how we treat one another and in how we view ourselves.

Triumphalism as the world understands it, which is beating the other guy and following up by basking in the satisfactions and congratulations of the winner’s circle, has nothing at all to do with the triumph of the cross. The triumph of the cross is defeat for the Kingdom’s sake. It is loving others to the point that you cast out evil with that love.

It is not easy to be a Christian. In fact, it is impossible for us to do it on our own strength and or our own understanding. This is as true of the officers of the Church as it is for those of us in the pews. Without the Holy Spirit to give us the spiritual graces necessary, we can never successfully pick up our crosses and follow after Him.

That is why we need the sacraments. The sacraments — the eucharist and confession in particular — offer a steady infusion of grace into our souls that strengthens and fits us for living life in Christ.

The video below excerpts Pope Francis’ homily about triumphalism and the Church.

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Pope Francis Leads Corpus Christi Procession on Foot


Today is the feast of Corpus Christi, the body of Christ.

Jesus said,

“Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of his blood, you have no life in you … Whoever drinks of my blood and eats of my flesh remains in me and I am in them … the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna in the desert and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

This teaching was so hard that many people stopped following Him because of it. Afterwards, He turned to the the disciples and asked if they were going to leave Him, too.

This prompted Peter to reply “Where else would we go? You alone have the words that lead to eternal life.”

This teaching is just as true today as if was then.

Pope Francis led the Corpus Christi procession on foot this week. Remember, he is 77 years old. Here is a video of the procession with a summary of his homily. 

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Share a Holy Hour with Pope Francis


If you want to share Pope Francis’ hour of Eucharistic Adoration by watching it on your computer, go here.

It is scheduled to start at 0952 am CEST.

 

Eucharistic Adoration with Pope Francis

Pope Francis will share a Holy Hour with the whole Church this Sunday at 5 pm, Rome time. Has your parish set aside a time for this, and do you plan to join in?

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Book Review: StrangeGods and the Idolatry of Me

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To join the discussion about StrangeGods, Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life, or to order a copy, go here. 

I’m going to suggest that my book club read StrangeGods, Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life for its July discussion.

The reason is simple. Author Elizabeth Scalia has written a book that is so thought-provoking it makes me want to sit down with her and talk about it. I think my book club members will feel the same way.

StrangeGods unmasks both the meaning of our personal idolatries and the way we spiral deep and deeper into worshipping them until all perspective and thought are lost to them.

Idols and idolatry violate the First and greatest Commandment. When we put anything in our lives as the center of our thinking and make that the touchstone of our values and the object of our desires, we have created an idol. The extent that we allow this idol to become the center of who and what we are reflects directly the depth of our idolatry.

Jesus told us, “You can not serve two masters.” You cannot serve two gods. You can not follow the real God and also an idol of your own devising at the same time.

That, at root is what is wrong with idols and idolatry. They are placebo gods for the real God, and like all placebos, they only appear to have power in the imaginations of our minds.

Elizabeth understands that we can have big idols and little idols. We can and do make an idol of almost anything. I would say that in an odd fashion, I make a idol of food because I reach for it to find comfort. I sooth myself with food like a monkey, rocking in place with its tail wrapped around it, is soothed by the motion of rocking back and forth.

In that sense, food, for me, is an idol of sorts. It’s not the intellectual idol that politics or commitment to a cause can become. But it is something I use to deal with my troubles instead of turning to God with them.

That’s the core of idolatry. It is a substitute for God, the real God. 

StrangeGods makes the point that many of our idols are, like my use of food, strange indeed. Our obsessions quickly become our idols, as do our compulsions. All these little idols, each of which begins with our self-referencing self-absorption and moves outward to an unhealthy focus on things, actions and ideas, are an expression of isolation. Me first is ultimately and always me only.

Whether you waste time, money and health on unneeded food, or you isolate in front of a computer or make some idea or plan or ambition the center of who you are, you are always at root isolating yourself on an island of me first. The seminal idol is always ourselves. All the rest flows from that.

StrangeGods leads us from a discussion of the many ways and many things we substitute for God in our lives to the really egregious mental addictions of what Elizabeth call “Super Idols.” Super Idols are the overarching idols that become ideologies, philosophies and ultimately, world views.

We see them and their damage all about us. As our society has moved more and more from a God-centered world view to a me-centered world view it has shattered and divided along the fault lines of our selfish desires. We dress these things up and call them “rights” or “causes.” We label ourselves along the divisions we create to separate ourselves from our brothers and sisters, but in reality these things are all lies. They are just idolatry spread large and become organized into the false religions of political and social movements.

I know something about this. I’ve practiced this form of idolatry and I deal with its practitioners on a daily basis. There is no person so indifferent to the consequences of their actions to their country, other people, or even themselves as someone who is in the grip of a super idolatrous false social religion. 

These people have checked both their brains and their hearts at the altar of their super idol and they are fueled by the twin evils of unthinking rage and self-righteousness that super idols pump into them. They’re dangerous. They’re destructive. And they are mean and cold-hearted to a level that their saner selves would find abhorrent.

As you can see, StrangeGods is a thought-provoking book that leads you to find yourself on most of its pages. It is a convicting and inspiring read in that it convicts you of the idolatries in your own life and it also inspires you to repent of these sins of false idol worship and turn back to the real God.

In the end, we turn to false idols because they are comforting reflections of us. They don’t appear to ask the difficult things of us that relationships with an other always does. Idols seem easy and comprehensible because at root they are ourselves.

But you cannot serve two masters. You cannot follow false gods and the real God simultaneously. You have to chose, and given our proclivity for self-referencing you have to make this choice many times in a single day. Banish the little gods and you will spare yourself the true evil of the super idols that take your mind and your goodness away from you. 

I heartily recommend StrangeGods, Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life. It is that rare thing: A book that can make you want to be and do better.


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