Examiner.com: Pope2You: More of an invitation

27 05 2009

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In recent weeks, I have been searching for sources which provide updates about the Pope and the Vatican, but have been pretty unsuccessful. The closest which I have come to finding such updates may be found at the Vatican’s web site, but these require a little bit of mining through foreign languages in order to wiggle my way to an English translation. (Thanks be to God for the similarities of the Romance languages, otherwise I would be completely lost.) While browsing my selection of RSS feeds last week, I came across some articles which stated that through a new website, Pope2You, the Pope and the happenings of the Church were going to be made more easily accessible via Internet technologies such as YouTube, Wiki, Facebook and an iPhone app. I was enamoured by the idea: no more sifting through the (sometimes good) interpretations of various news agencies, but hearing things straight from the horse’s mouth.

But, unfortunately for me, the majority of the articles which I came across were premature in their conclusions (or, just inaccurate). The website was launched in conjunction with the 43rd World Communications Day, mainly in order to propagate the Pope’s message to all Catholics on this occasion, but also to open up some new avenues by which Catholics may remain in touch with the larger Church. The website is essentially a hub to four different locations: 

WikiCath. At this point, it doesn’t appear to be a Wiki. It is an exposition of the Pope’s message, as the page from Pope2You states, but, currently, it is just that. (I’m unsure if this is eventually going to become a “Catholic Wikipedia” or not. One can hope.)
Facebook App. A simple application which, as of now, provides about 20 different postcards (with a picture and a brief quote from the Pope) which one may send to his friends.
iPhone App. Since I don’t have an iPhone, I cannot directly comment. However, I had one of my iPhone-enabled friends check it out, and he tells me that it provides a video feed from H2Onews. 
YouTube: Vatican. A link to the Vatican’s YouTube channel, which now hosts just over 200 videos of the Pope’s messages and meetings, etc.
  1. WikiCath. At this point, it doesn’t appear to be a Wiki. It is an exposition of the Pope’s message, as the page from Pope2You states, but, currently, it is just that. (I’m unsure if this is eventually going to become a “Catholic Wikipedia” or not. One can hope.)
  2. Facebook App. A simple application which, as of now, provides about 20 different postcards (with a picture and a brief quote from the Pope) which one may send to his friends.
  3. iPhone App. Since I don’t have an iPhone, I cannot directly comment. However, I had one of my iPhone-enabled friends check it out, and he tells me that it provides a video feed from H2Onews
  4. YouTube: Vatican. A link to the Vatican’s YouTube channel, which now hosts just over 200 videos of the Pope’s messages and meetings, etc.
While these offerings are not quite what I was looking for and my little bubble of hope for straight- and easy-access to the statements of the Pope and happenings at the Vatican may have been burst, I am more inspired by the invitation which the Pope has extended to all Catholics: to use technology in order to pursue (and promote the pursuit of) truth, goodness, and beauty; to be engage in sincere and honest dialogue; to enable the marginalized to participate in these new forms of communication; to expand one’s friends and acquaintances, but not at the expense of those we know and meet in daily life; to bring the life and light of the Gospel to the “digital continent” through the means of communication which are surrounding us. Here’s a snippet to whet your appetite:
While the speed with which the new technologies have evolved in terms of their efficiency and reliability is rightly a source of wonder, their popularity with users should not surprise us, as they respond to a fundamental desire of people to communicate and to relate to each other. This desire for communication and friendship is rooted in our very nature as human beings and cannot be adequately understood as a response to technical innovations. In the light of the biblical message, it should be seen primarily as a reflection of our participation in the communicative and unifying Love of God, who desires to make of all humanity one family. When we find ourselves drawn towards other people, when we want to know more about them and make ourselves known to them, we are responding to God’s call – a call that is imprinted in our nature as beings created in the image and likeness of God, the God of communication and communion.
The desire for connectedness and the instinct for communication that are so obvious in contemporary culture are best understood as modern manifestations of the basic and enduring propensity of humans to reach beyond themselves and to seek communion with others. In reality, when we open ourselves to others, we are fulfilling our deepest need and becoming more fully human. Loving is, in fact, what we are designed for by our Creator. Naturally, I am not talking about fleeting, shallow relationships, I am talking about the real love that is at the very heart of Jesus’ moral teaching: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” and “You must love your neighbour as yourself” (cf. Mk 12:30-31). In this light, reflecting on the significance of the new technologies, it is important to focus not just on their undoubted capacity to foster contact between people, but on the quality of the content that is put into circulation using these means. I would encourage all people of good will who are active in the emerging environment of digital communication to commit themselves to promoting a culture of respect, dialogue and friendship.
I couldn’t have hoped for a better message to come across in my pursuit. (But I’m still searching. Anyone have a clue?)

Examiner.com: A fresh look at Catholicism; or, What can be learned by looking.

19 05 2009

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In the Southside of Birmingham, there are two churches which represent two different rites of Catholicism: St. Elias Maronite Catholic Church and St. George Greek Melkite Catholic Church. I have prayed with them in their respective liturgies and have found that I more deeply appreciate the heritage and the tradition which they have brought to the whole Church: the plethora of singing and chanting; the proud use of incense; the bells; the reverence and kissing (not worship) of icons and Scripture; the use of Arabic, Aramaic, and Lebanese languages; the use of all of these sacramentals creates an “atmosphere” of worshiping Someone. Though I am a Roman Catholic, I usually find that I resonate more with the traditions and approaches to Christian life, thought, and prayer of Eastern Catholicism than with that of Roman Catholicism. (This is in no way a denunciation of Roman Catholicism, nor that Eastern Catholicism is “right,” and Roman Catholicism is “wrong.” It is merely an affirmation of my resonance with Eastern Christianity – I find it to be more “home-y”.)

Thinking of these liturgical rituals (as well as Eastern Catholic “thought,” “prayer,” and the many other avenues down which one could travel) leads one to realize that there is a depth to Catholicism of which many of us are unaware (I will be forever-digging, too, it seems). There are thousands of books, teachings, and ways of life from multiple cultures (indeed, continents) which span over 2,000 years. Of the writings which I’ve had the opportunity to encounter so far (both in East and West), most can be described as nothing short of beautiful: adages of holy people and complete works, seemingly-forgotten philosophical, theological, and spiritual treatises, each of which portray how a particular person, in a particular time, and in a particular culture, strives for sanctity, that is, for union with God in this (daily-lived) life. It reminds one that there is something more to being Catholic than what is generally portrayed in the mainstream media (that is, clerical collars and bishops’ mitres mixed with conflict, misunderstandings, fear, scandal, conspiracy, authoritarianism, etc.). 

For example, whenever one hears the word “Catholic,” their mind is (often enough) immediately drawn to teachings, disciplines, and practices which are Catholic, but more accurately, Roman Catholic. That is, the average person, and, oftentimes, the average Catholic, is accustomed to associating Catholicism with its largest “branch”: the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. It is little known, however, that there are nearly 30 more rites in the Catholic Church (including the two found here in Birmingham), and, while held together in the same beliefs under the (unifying) teaching authority of the Pope, have different traditions which grew out of the times and cultures in which they originated. Some of these traditions were begun by the Apostles* themselves and continue very strongly (especially as regards the preservation of their rituals in their respective “Divine Liturgies”).

The question that I have for those who can be so critical of the Church is: how much do they really know about the Catholic Church? Following popular criticisms of Catholicism, it seems, not very much. It is often so many inflamed catchphrases and assumptive labels which usually mean nothing, but do stir some people up (for that’s what they’ve always heard). As Archbishop Fulton Sheen has said, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church, which is of course, quite a different thing.”

For many critics, it seems, the Church is simply the place which is visited once per week to remain in good standing before the eyes of God, that is, as a bare minimum effort which doesn’t strive to go further into living the mysteries of Christianity. For many others, the Church is simply an instrument of authority through which the masses may be controlled by “old men.”** In both of these cases, the realization that the Catholic Church is not just the Roman Catholic Church (with all of the ideas and [mis]understandings found therein) calls us to appreciate the fact that there is more which is waiting to be discovered in the life of the Christian and of the Church. (More than just those things which are often dismissively and superficially portrayed.) For the former, it speaks of an appreciation and a living of the Christian life from a different perspective, which may serve to deepen their own faith in its daily practice. For the latter also, the distancing from what is perceived to be the “Roman Catholic Church” may provide an opportunity to see the Church in a new light and from a different perspective: away from what is perceived to be “dogmas,” “rules,” and “blind obedience,” and into a fresh look at worship and reverence of the God Whom we believe to have started the Church.

* For example, the Church was founded in: Constantinople by St. Andrew, Alexandria by St. Mark, and India by St. Thomas. (As I have heard it, Rome had actually sent missionaries to India only to find out that the Church was already in that part of India and thriving.)
** And, of course, there are faithful Catholics.

Examiner.com: CatholicVote.org Pro-Life videos

14 05 2009

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Before the presidential election in 2008, Catholic Vote (a project of Fidelis Center for Law and Policy) released a well-made video which urged Catholics to consider the most important issues which are facing our culture: the recognition of the dignity of every human life (from conception to natural death) and the strengthening of the family (“the building block of society,” following the teaching of John Paul II). Although this video was well-made and moving, I was left a little dumbstruck at how the ending statement had seemingly deflated what had been built up in the previous three minutes. It is, after all, imperative to vote using one’s conscience; however, the ambiguity of the word “conscience” in our society and the consequent ease with which the phrase can be misconstrued left me wondering about its appropriateness in this particular video.

Since the release of this video, Catholic Vote has released two more: one shortly following Obama’s installation as President and the other within the last week. In contrast to the possible ambiguity of their first release, both of these videos have pro-life messages which are very well thought out and presented. They are able, I believe, to reach to people on both sides of the debate with presentations which are realistic and enlightening.

On many occasions, they tried to air their first video on national television, but were unsuccessful. They had hoped to present it during the last Super Bowl (on CBS) and during President Obama’s first State of the Union address (on CNN). It would have been a very compelling message to hear during the President’s address, but it was rejected because the networks did not want to entangle themselves in an issue as weighty as abortion. It’s an odd thing to hear from a TV network, as they seem all-too-comfortable presenting controversial material – including abortion – every day.*

The second video has no parallel event which would make it as apropos as the first, but it is also very beautifully made and very convincingly argued. They are, as far as I am aware, trying to have this one aired during the American Idol finale and are currently raising funds in order to make the ad go live.

Give ’em a peek and let me know what you think.



* I wouldn’t think it a far stretch of the imagination to say that the video didn’t align with the agenda of the networks. For example, according to mainstream sources (even Fox) there are about 50,000 people who participate in the annual March for Life in Washington D.C. (This is not to mention that there is next to no mainsteam media coverage of this event.) To nearly any source outside of the mainstream, there are approximately 400,000 to 500,000 people.

Examiner.com: Notre Dame and Obama: Why is this an issue?

12 05 2009

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Although this will be considered by some to be “old news,” there still seems to be a confusion amongst the general public as to why Notre Dame’s decision to give President Obama an honorary doctorate and allowing him to be the commencement speaker is an issue, much less newsworthy. After all, he is the President, right? For this, he could just as well be given an honorary doctorate at any university. So, why is this an issue at the nation’s best known Catholic university?

The mission of Catholic schools, first and foremost, is to spread the Gospel through its environment, its curriculum, its decisions (both public and private), etc. This does not mean that everyone who attends must be Catholic, nor that every class (in whatever subject) will be used as an opportunity for captive-audience-proselytization. Rather, it means that through its various classes and other works, it will retain (and be faithful to) its Catholic identity. That is, it should remain a faithful Catholic. This, I think, is to be expected of any institution, that it remain faithful to its identity and roots in order to continue to identify itself with said group. When a living thing dies, it is no longer “alive,” but “dead.” It no longer belongs to the “institution” of living things.

Unfortunately, as will be readily attested by many faithful Catholics, just because a university (or other institution) was begun as a Catholic institution, does not mean that it remains so. As a matter of fact, the list of “steadily” Catholic institutions of higher education (as compiled by the Cardinal Newman Society) is rather small. (There is the possibility that there should be more – or less – schools on that list, but that is besides the point.) The granting of an honorary doctorate and the opportunity to deliver the commencement speech at a university is, well, an honor. And this honor is bestowed on an individual in order to recognize some accomplishment(s) of the recipient. One would assume that the commencement speaker sought would not be found in contradiction to the school or its principles. For example, I cannot imagine that Auburn University (which has a strong agricultural program) would honor Pamela Anderson (a loyal and outspoken PETA supporter) with a degree, nor an opportunity to deliver the commencement speech. In a similar, but more serious way, the (Catholic) University of Notre Dame has invited a man, regardless of which office he holds, of whom it is well-known that he stands in direct opposition to fundamental teachings and beliefs which it should hold proudly and joyfully as a Catholic institution (and would certainly be justified in being humored by such a proposition). I mean, would a Jewish institution invite Mel Gibson’s father, who has denied that the Holocaust ever happened, to receive such an honor (or any honor, for that matter)? Would Islamic jihadistsinvite George Bush over to congratulate him for a “job well done”? Why would an institution whose name means “Our Lady” invite a man who has consistently promoted agendas which are in direct opposition to many of its most sincere and foundational beliefs to their ceremony to grant this honor to him? They (being Father Jenkins and the supporting staff) have honored a man who, in action, hates what they (should) hold most dearly.

The problem which arises from this is that this is a source of tremendous scandal, especially so amidst the confusion which already exists amongst both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. What message is this sending to the world? It would surely seem as if everyone knew that the Catholic Church is opposed to many of President Obama’s actions (an understanding ofwhy this is so is a different issue), yet here is a Catholic institution honoring him with a doctorate. This can be easily interpreted (especially for the estimated 50-plus percent of Catholics who voted for Obama), as a stamp of approval on a man who has continuously fought against beliefs which are (and should be) foundational for all Catholics. For whatever reason they have decided to honor him (more than likely because of some falsely perceived “social justice” platform), those responsible have simultaneously honored a man who has supported abortion at all stages of pregnancy (and, in Illinois, even for the killing of those babies who weren’t “successfully” aborted), sent millions of dollars to other countries in order to facilitate abortions in the middle of an economic crisis, intends to allow funding for the destruction of human embryos in order to harvest unstable stem cells which have never cured anything (while shunning adult stem cells which have already cured many), not to mention his apparent inclination to socialism (to which the Church is strongly opposed), and his general attitude of moral relativism (“I personally ‘believe’ this is wrong, but who am I to force my ‘beliefs’ on others?”, which Pope Benedict has repeatedly called “the major evil facing the church.“). This is not a man whom the Church (in any of her institutions) should honor because of his actions, thereby presenting the message that “This man is one whom we should uphold as a model to be followed,” because his actions are (intentionally or not) violent to the beliefs and teachings of Catholicism (especially those which are foundational to the teachings on social justice). I am not advocating that Catholics should write him off as intrinsically evil and condemn him outright, nor that the Church should close the possibility of open dialog with him, but I do not believe that providing an environment whereby his actions could be perceived as “acceptable” is in the realm of right judgment.

In closing, I would like to thank the 350,000-plus people who have petitioned Fr. Jenkins of Notre Dame to rescind his invitation to President Obama, as well as all of those who have protested, and the unfortunate few (including Dr. Alan Keyes) who have been arrested thus far because of their protest. Because of their actions, the murkiness of this event has been clarified some and the public was exposed to the dichotomy which has presented itself in light of the university’s decision.

Examiner.com: On the singing of birds

10 05 2009

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About a week ago, as I was hesitantly arising from my night of sleep, I heard the birds in the tree outside of my window singing, chirping, and making other mysterious chants to the neighborhood birds. This is a normal occurrence where I live – one that is easily overlooked when going about my daily duties (such as mustering the willingness to get out of the bed). On this particular day, however, I was immediately struck with the realization that these birds are always going about their days with a tune flowing forth from their little beaks. As a matter of fact, I cannot recall a day in my life when birds weren’t making some sort of announcement to the bird community: “Hey, did you guys hear about Fred? Poor guy stood on the wrong power line,” or cooing about the longing for dropped bread. They are always bringing in the day with song, a welcoming of and participation in the adventure which is the new day. Birds, I think (or hope, for some) we would all agree, sing. It’s part of what birds do (and do faithfully).

What struck me even more strongly, however, was the realization that humans, too, were created to sing, and to sing faithfully. This does not necessarily mean vocalizing one’s song (although, as St. Augustine tells us, “he who sings prays twice”), but it does mean that we were created in order to glorify God through who we are (both as humans and as individuals) and what we do. The bird, as a bird, can do nothing other than what it was intended to do (i.e., be a bird and do bird things), and, in so doing, it glorifies (and points us to) our Creator.

We, however, having been endowed with reason and free-will, can choose to not sing. We can ignore, deny, refuse, and, really, deprive ourselves of the dignity which we have been given in having been made in the image of God and restored to His likeness in our imitation of Christ. For it is only when we live our lives in submission to the way in which we were created (i.e., human nature) that we will truly enjoy life as we were always intended to enjoy it: to its fullest. This requires that we engage the whole human person: a “composition” of body and soul. When we live our lives (Christian or not) as if there is no God, we are depriving ourselves of something which is essential to who we are, for we have been created in order to glorify God by our freely-willed actions, as birds glorify God by singing. Realizing, in our daily lives, that we have been created by God frees us to act most fully according to the nature we have been given. It is only when we open ourselves to both the seen and unseen realities (that is, reason and faith) that we are capable of realizing our potential as humans, and of what it means to be human.

The living of life without God, whether because of the belief that material things are all that really exist, or simply because it is “easier” to live life without God (i.e., as one wants), has consequences which are all too apparent in our times: the neglect of human dignity, the elevation of “humanity” as the ultimate good, the unreasonable and emotive “arguments” which are put forth in order to do what one feels he should be able to do. All of these, in their many and various manifestations, point to a loss of the vision of God (at least for the louder and more powerful of our contemporaries; it seems that the majority of average folk retain common sense or otherwise haven’t reasoned themselves into unreasonable positions).

This brings me to my point: what if the birds didn’t sing? How much less enjoyable would a morning of sitting on the porch be? How deprived would the whole of nature be without the songs of birds? (Not to mention the consequences on their species were they unable to communicate with one another.) But isn’t the same true of us? We are the pinnacle of created beings, and are capable of many great things simply because we are human. But, with our “song” removed from our lives and our actions (and from the “theatre” of the world), how much worse is the world? What if we were to act as we were meant to, to glorify God through our actions? How much more glorious and meaningful would our simple daily tasks be? How would these little “songs” resound throughout the world, the community of humanity? How much are we depriving ourselves of the joys of human life because we’re neglecting the way in which we were created?

Though I am not advocating that the world is doomed or hopeless, nor that there are no “songs” already being sung, I am convinced that were we to regain the openness to the reality and presence of God, the human family would begin to flourish (individually, communally, and globally) because of our humility. For we must first see what is true before we can order our lives according to those truths, as the bird “knows” its place and sings its song as it was created to do.

Examiner.com: On the carrying of one’s cross (in one’s pocket)

10 05 2009

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Almost a year ago now, I was given a small crucifix from a friend in Mexico. I had been searching for one to carry around with me as a reminder of Christ’s presence and the work which He has accomplished (and continues to accomplish) in my life and in the life of the world. It’s old, only about three inches long, the cross and corpus are made of the same metal, and it’s very light; it’s very convenient to carry my cross in my pocket.

This brings me to the question: “What does it mean to carry one’s cross?” Christ has told us in many ways that we must pick up our crosses daily in order to be in Him, in order to merit life in abundance in this world and in the world to come. But what does this mean in the practicalities of our day-to-day lives? What does this mean to the person who sits in the chair receiving chemotherapy? For the loved one who sits in the waiting room? For the doctors and nurses who administer these treatments? What does it mean for the person who stays at home and cleans up the dishes and takes care of the clothes? For the person who goes to work – day in and day out – carrying out what can become a monotonous routine?

It seems that the carrying of the cross, and (consequently, what makes the load of the cross “light”) is the vision of Christ throughout our lives – whether we are going through tough or “normal” times. For it is only in the vision of Christ, the vision of God, that we are able to take in the larger context of what it means to exist as a part of Christ’s body, as one of His children. In the vision of Christ, the God Who became man, we will become simultaneously aware of the larger body that exists with (and independent of) us, as well as take those events which we are facing in the light of eternity, rather than seeing only what is in front of us. For if we see things solely in the light of (or, rather, in the darkness of) ourselves without the illumination of Christ, then we will be all the more inclined to make them more important than they really are. The cross will be a heavy burden, unbearable even, when not taken up in Christ; boredom, depression, anger, anxiety: all of these terrible deprivations of human life can gain a strong grounding in our lives, eventually sucking the life (which comes from Christ) out of life.

“But,” you may ask, “what does the little pocket crucifix have to do with this?” The pocket crucifix (read: object or devotion which brings your vision to God) is a sacramental. It is a tangible reminder of eternity. It is something that I can see, touch, smell, etc.; it engages my humanity to look beyond mere appearance and think of (reflect on, be grateful for) what it signifies. It brings my mind in touch with the redemption of Christ and the blessings which flow therefrom: the words and actions of Christ, the lives of the saints, the freedom He has won, the virtue which He calls me to, the truth that I am His child. With each turn towards God, we will become gradually (surprisingly?) aware that God is, in reality, still looking at us. In fact, His gaze never ceased. His love is continuously pouring down on us; we must first see and receive in order to spread this same love, in order to carry this cross.


10 05 2009

I have recently taken a freelance position with Examiner.com as the Birmingham Catholic Examiner. As I will be writing on topics similar to those which I would write here, I am simply going to provide a link to my Examiner articles on here as I write them. I intend to continue with this blog as well, but we shall see where the writing takes me. Maybe I’ll be able to swing them both, maybe I’ll take less time to procrastinate, or maybe I shall be drowned in the ink of my pen. We shall see.