Given That We May Have Life

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Readings for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)

Reading 1: Deut. 8:2–3, 14b–16a
Responsorial Psalm: Ps. 147:12–13, 14–15, 19–20
Reading 2: 1 Cor. 10:16–17
Gospel: Jn. 6:51–58
Link to Readings

Click here for a Corpus Christi homily by Fr. Ray Ryland.

By Father Frank Pavone

The Eucharist is a sacrament of faith, life, unity, worship, and love.

The Eucharist Is a Sacrament of Faith. The consecrated Host looks no different after the consecration than before. It looks, smells, feels, and tastes like bread. Only one of the five senses gets to the truth. As St. Thomas Aquinas’ Adoro Te Devote expresses, “Seeing, touching, tasting are in Thee deceived. What says trusty hearing that shall be believed?” The ears hear His words, “This is My Body; this is My Blood,” and faith takes us beyond the veil of appearances.

Christians are used to looking beyond appearances. The baby in the manger does not look like God; nor, for that matter, does the man on the cross. Yet by faith we know He is no mere man. The Bible does not have a particular glow setting it off from other books, nor does it levitate above the shelf. Yet by faith we know it is uniquely the Word of God. The Eucharist seems to be bread and wine, and yet by faith we say, “My Lord and My God!” as we kneel in adoration.

The same dynamic of faith that enables us to see beyond appearances in these mysteries enables us to see beyond appearances in our neighbor. We can look at the persons around us, at the annoying person, or the ugly person, or the person who is unconscious in a hospital bed, or the person on death row, or the unborn child in the womb, and we can say, “Christ is there as well. There is my bother, my sister, made in the very image of God!” We can look at all these people and declare, “There is my brother, my sister, equal in dignity and just as worthy of respect and protection as anyone else!” The slightest particle of the Host is fully Christ. Eucharistic faith is a powerful antidote to the dangerous notion that value depends on size or appearance.

The Eucharist Is the Sacrament of Life. Jesus is the Bread of Life. The Gospel passage of today places the Eucharist in the context of giving and receiving life. “Just as the Father who has life sent me and I have life because of the Father, so the man who feeds on me will have life because of me.” The Eucharistic sacrifice is the very action of
Christ by which He destroyed our death and restored our life. Whenever we gather for this sacrifice, we are celebrating the victory of life over death, and when we receive this Sacrament, we receive the life that never ends.

The Eucharist Is Also a Sacrament of Unity. St. Paul declares in today’s second reading, “We, many though we are, are one body, since we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Cor. 10:17).

Imagine all the people, in every part of the world, who are receiving Communion today. Are they all receiving their own personalized, customized Christ? Are they not rather each receiving the one and only Christ? Through this sacrament, Christ the Lord, gloriously enthroned in heaven, is drawing all people to Himself. If He is drawing us to Himself, then He is drawing us to one another. When we call each other “brothers and sisters,” we are not merely using a metaphor that dimly reflects the unity between children of the same parents. The unity we have in Christ is even stronger than the unity of blood brothers and sisters, because we do have common blood: the blood of Christ! The result of the Eucharist is that we become one, and this obliges us to be as concerned for each other as we are for our own bodies.

Imagine a person who receives Communion, accepts the Host when the priest says, “The Body of Christ,” says “Amen,” and then breaks off a piece, hands it back, and says, “Except this piece, Father!” This is what is done, spiritually, by the person who rejects other people—whether by hatred, unforgiveness, or a failure to recognize the dignity of one or more others. In receiving Christ, we are to receive the whole Christ, in all His members; in welcoming Him, we are to welcome all those whom He made, whom He loves, whom He died to save—all our brothers and sisters, whether convenient or inconvenient, wanted or unwanted.

The Eucharist Is the Supreme Act of Worship of God. Two lessons each person needs to learn are, “1.There is a God. 2. It isn’t me.” The Eucharist, as the perfect sacrifice, acknowledges that God is God, and that “it is [His] right to receive the obedience of all creation” (Sacramentary, Preface for Weekdays III). In our culture, many consider “freedom of choice” enough to justify even the dismemberment of a baby by abortion. Choice divorced from truth is idolatry. It is the opposite of true worship. It pretends the creature is God. Real freedom is found only in submission to the truth and will of God. Real freedom is not the ability to do whatever one pleases, but the power to do what is right.

The Eucharist Is, Finally, the Sacrament of Love. St. John explains, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 Jn. 3:16). Christ teaches, “Greater love than this no one has, than to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). The best symbol of love is not the heart, but rather the crucifix.

Love says, “I sacrifice myself for the good of the other person.” The culture of death says, “I sacrifice the other person for the good of myself.” In the Eucharist we see the meaning of love and receive the power to live it. The very same words, furthermore, that the Lord uses to teach us the meaning of love are also used by those who promote the culture of death: “This is my body.” These four little words are spoken from opposite ends of the universe, with totally opposite results. Christ gives His body away so others might live; some are tempted to cling to their own bodies so others might die. Christ says, “This is my body given up for you; this is my blood shed for you.” These are the words of sacrifice; thee are the words of love.

Gustave Thibon has said that the true God transforms violence into suffering, while the false god transforms suffering into violence. The suffering caused by an unexpected pregnancy may bring the temptation to abortion; the suffering caused by severe illness may bring the temptation to euthanasia; the suffering caused by social injustice may bring the temptation to unjust war. The Eucharist gives both the lesson and the power to transform violence, and the temptation to violence, into love. “This is my body, my blood, my life, given up for you.”

Everyone who wants to follow Christ needs to say the same. Spouse says it to spouse, parents to children, priests to their congregations. We need to imitate the mysteries we celebrate. “Do this in memory of me” applies to all of us in the sense that we are to lovingly suffer with Christ so others may live. We are to be like lightning rods in the midst of this terrible storm of violence and destruction, and say, “Yes, Lord, I am willing to absorb some of this violence and transform it by love into personal suffering, so that others may live.”

Indeed, the Eucharist gives us our marching orders. It also provides the source of our energy, which is love.

Father Frank Pavone is the national director for Priests for Life, president of the
National Pro-Life Religious Council, and a member of CUF’s advisory council. He is a contrubutor to
Lay Witness magazine.

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United in the Trinity

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Readings for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (Trinity Sunday)

Reading 1: Ex. 34:4b–6, 8–9
Responsorial Psalm: Dan. 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56
Reading 2: 2 Cor. 13:11–13
Gospel: Jn. 3:16–18
Link to Readings

By Msgr. Charles M. Mangan

When I was growing up, my family and I were members of Sacred Heart Parish, whose church is an impressive Neo-gothic structure built in 1933 on the prairies of the Great Plains with the pennies of the faithful, mostly Irish, during the “dustbowl” years of the Depression.

This magnificent church rang out each Sunday with some edifying Catholic hymns that clearly taught the truths of our Faith to us. I fondly remember two that are apropos to today’s Feast: “Sing Praise to Our Creator” and “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name.” In fact, decades later I still think of these two hymns as particularly linked to the Solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity.

The refrain of “Sing Praise to Our Creator” is:

Praise the Holy Trinity, undivided Unity,
Holy God, Mighty God, God Immortal be adored.

The words of this melodious hymn speak of the unity of the Trinity. Yes, three distinct Persons—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—but only one God Who is “holy,” “mighty,” and “immortal.”

The third verse of “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” is especially Trinitarian:

Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit, Three We Name Thee,
While in essence only One, undivided God we claim Thee.
And adoring bend the knee, while we own the Mystery,
And adoring bend the knee, while we own the Mystery.

Again, we recall the unity of God, Who is three Persons in one God. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct but equal and united.

We are constantly reminded of the Most Blessed Trinity. For example, think of how many times daily we make the Sign of the Cross!

One Church

The Holy Trinity is the central doctrine of the Christian religion. There are numerous aspects of this fundamental and essential dogma. One is that of unity. In the unity of the Godhead there are three Persons who are separate but connected. God is united in Himself; there is no confusion or dissent. Each Person of the Trinity knows His role and fulfills it perfectly.

The term “unity” also refers to the Catholic Church. Jesus Christ founded only one Church—the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. These are the four “marks” of the Church. We proclaim these when we pray the Nicene Creed during the Mass.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “From the beginning, this one Church has been marked by a great diversity which comes from both the variety of God’s gifts and the diversity of those who receive them.” But the “great richness of such diversity is not opposed to the Church’s unity” (no. 814).

Just as in God there is no confusion about the mission of each Divine Person, and each Person contributes to the Godhead, so in the Church each member is to know well his God-given task and to carry it out to the best of his ability, thereby ensuring that the Church will flourish in her multiple activities. Many persons with varying gifts enrich the Church at the universal, national, diocesan, and local levels.

Preserve the Unity

There is no chance that the unity present in the Most Holy Trinity will ever be broken or even compromised. When it comes to the Church, the Catechism declares that “sin and the burden of its consequences constantly threaten the gift of unity and so the Apostle (St. Paul) has to exhort Christians to ‘maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’” (814).

That is not to say that what Jesus did in establishing His Beloved Church as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic is a failure. The work of Christ is without blemish. But it does mean that we can and do fail to live up to our sacred responsibility to preserve the unity among the members of His Church.

What is our duty here? It is threefold: to pray always that there will be unity where Catholics find themselves; to work strenuously to respond to God as He requires us; to encourage our brothers and sisters to do the same.

God loved us so much, St. John the Evangelist exclaimed, that He sent His only Son so that “everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Jesus the Son of God has revealed the Trinity to us. We can come to know that God exists by our reasoning powers alone. But our reason alone does not lead us to know the Trinity. For that, we need faith—the gift that Jesus came to impart to us.

Unity in the Church is in some real sense derived from the unity in the Most Blessed Trinity.

The Trinity is, as Moses heard God proclaim, “a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” The Name of the Trinity, Who instructs us in that indispensable unity, is “holy” and “glorious” and is “praiseworthy and glorious above all forever.”

Bidding farewell to the believers in Corinth, St. Paul wrote: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” This is the best wish that we can have for someone—and even for ourselves: that we will always be united to the Most Holy Trinity. Then, we can better strive to imitate that unity in the Godhead and seek to live it among all the disciples of Christ.

Most Holy Trinity, You Who are Three Persons in One God, help us always to be united!

Monsignor Charles Mangan is a priest of the Diocese of Sioux Falls, SD, a member of CUF’s advisory council, and a frequent contributor to Lay Witness . He currently works in Rome as a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life.
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Life in the Spirit

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Readings for Pentecost

Reading 1: Acts 2: 1–11
Responsorial Psalm: Ps. 104:1, 24, 29–30, 31, 34
Reading 2: 1 Cor. 12:3–7, 12–13
Gospel: Jn. 20:19–23
Link to Readings

By Father Thomas Acklin, O.S.B.

On this Pentecost Sunday, let us reflect on the Church, which has been founded by Jesus Christ and which lives and breathes through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In the aftermath of the pastoral visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United States, we find a powerful witness to exactly the way in which the Holy Spirit works in the life of the Church.

In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of how the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and the Blessed Mother in the Upper Room. Isn’t it striking that the fire of the Holy Spirit parted into individual tongues that came upon each person? No two persons receive the One Holy Spirit in exactly the same way, but according to the particular needs and particular mission of that individual!

The way this works is explained by St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians when he points out that there are many gifts but the same Spirit, and how all these gifts work together to build up the Church. Actually, there are also many spirits. But only in the Holy Spirit can one cry out, “Abba, Father,” or proclaim Jesus to be Lord! Any other spirit, which does not claim Jesus Christ as its authority and God the Father as its source, is not the
Holy Spirit that founds, leads, and guides the Church.

Breaking through the Babble

The Spirit is One, therefore, and leads all to be One. The Church lives in the One Spirit. All the different personalities and gifts, interests and abilities of persons of all ages come together only in the One Spirit of Jesus Christ. This is a message that goes out to the ends of the earth. Already on Pentecost Sunday, the many foreigners each understood what he heard each apostle speaking, as if each apostle was speaking in that foreigner’s own tongue.

This is another important thing to notice. We often think of the gift of tongues as meaning that someone filled with the Spirit prays in a foreign tongue, which is often not understood by any of the listeners unless someone is given the gift of prophecy to interpret it. This gift was given on Pentecost Sunday! But even more marvelously, each heard each other in his own tongue, a complete reversal of the babble which was created when the people where thrown into confusion while building the Tower of Babble! Here everyone understood everyone else. One thinks of so many meetings or discussions in Church life where, even when everyone is actually speaking the same language, no one seems to understand the other one!


In the gospel account of Jesus appearing on the first day of the week to His disciples, He breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This could not yet be the fullness of the Spirit they would receive on Pentecost, because He had not yet ascended to His Father so that the Spirit would come in His fullness.

Nevertheless, these words of Jesus are amplified by the next words Jesus spoke on that Easter evening. As if to show what receiving the Holy Spirit means, Jesus goes on to say, “Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven.” It is reconciliation that brings together all the diversity into one in the life of the Church and within any community or parish in the Church. Reconciliation is needed again and again—to reconcile not only divisions within the Church, but also those divisions that cause separation and can place one outside the Church and outside the Body of Christ.

Here too, Pope Benedict brought to the United States a renewal of the Spirit precisely in the way in which he stressed reconciliation and dialogue, at the same time that he showed how Jesus Christ is the Way by which all come to the Father and to the fulfillment of all our human hopes and dreams. His humble demeanor, his gentle words and firm teaching, his tender smile and prayerful countenance all stirred within Catholics as well as others a desire that there indeed be one flock and one shepherd! The same Lord who promised, “I AM with you always” has kept His promise that the Holy Spirit would come! That same
Spirit continues to move, breathe, give gifts, and unite all of us who are open to Him.

Fr. Thomas Acklin, O.S.B., S.T.D., Ph.D., resides at St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He presently serves as a professor of theology and psychology at St. Vincent College and St. Vincent Seminary, and is a faculty member of the Pittsburgh Psychoanalytic Institute and Foundation. Fr. Acklin has written a number of articles and recently published two books: The Unchanging Heart of the Priesthood and The Passion of the Lamb.

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Permanent Things: ‘The City Cafe’

Emily Stimpson
From the May/Jun 2008 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

You could easily miss it. Most people do. The hand-lettered sign perched above the window is lovely, but small. Smaller than the sign over the hot dog shop to its left. Smaller still than the large block letters emblazoned above Starbucks’ storefront two doors down. That’s where most people looking for coffee in Pittsburgh’s Market Square go. At Starbucks, the lines are long, but the service is fast and the products familiar. At Starbucks, all is safe, known, expected.

Not so in The City Café. There, only two things can be counted upon: That the owner, Emil, will welcome you as soon as your foot crosses his threshold, and that sometime during your stay, he will mutter disparaging remarks about his fellow Pittsburghers racing past his window with Starbucks cups in hand.

“Paper cups, that’s all they want is paper cups, no time for anything real, no time to stop,” he’ll say with a shake of his head.

Paper cups are the bane of Emil’s existence. To him they embody everything that’s wrong with contemporary culture . . . or, at least, almost everything. They are all function and no form, he will explain if you linger long enough. There is nothing beautiful about them, nothing lasting. They make it possible for people to rush from place to place, to crowd more busyness into already busy days, to avoid the conversation that naturally comes when coffee is sipped sitting or standing in one place. They are, he regularly pronounces, “uncivilized.”

Emil opened his little café in Market Square because he wanted to serve people coffee in real cups. And real cups, he believed, were what people really wanted, even if they didn’t know it yet.

Standing in the middle of Market Square, looking across the street into the respective windows of Starbucks and The City Café, the casual observer would be hard-pressed to agree with Emil. The one remains perpetually packed from open to close, while the other rarely boasts more than two or three customers at a time. As often as not, Emil sits in his café alone, watching all those paper cups pass him by.

But what the casual observer cannot see—or, more accurately, what he cannot hear—is what transpires between those who do make their way into The City Café.

There are, of course, the regulars: Phillip, the proud Armenian who repairs and sells violins; Josh, a 20-year-old bike messenger unsure of where he’s going in life; Anne, a young woman in a relationship that’s going nowhere; Gary, an ex-Catholic adrift in a city that’s not his own; and Christopher, part-time Catholic theologian and fulltime diocesan bureaucrat. They, along with another dozen or so men and women, visit Emil almost daily.

Besides the regulars, there are the foreigners. Sit in the Café long enough and strains of Bulgarian, French, or Italian will drift toward you from some corner bistro table. For whatever reason, European visitors to Market Square seem immune to the lure of Starbucks, drawn instead to this place of Emil’s.

There are also, each day, at least a few random strangers who happen upon the Café, some brought by friends who have ventured in before, others who simply wander in off the street. About half of them order a cup of coffee and stay. The other half walk through the door, look about, and walk right back out. Perhaps they sense that in this place, they will find neither the speed nor anonymity that await them two doors down. Perhaps they recognize that something will be asked of them here, that the unexpected should be expected.

They’re right. At The City Café, those real cups that Emil coveted do exactly what he knew they would. They make people stop. They give people time to think, to listen, to talk.

If there are bodies in the Café, conversation flows and arguments rage. The nature of the sacraments and grace, the heresy of dualism, the place of sex in literature, American consumerism, the election, the war, the economy—all are hashed out freely and fiercely.

There are stories too—stories of Emil’s parents and their 13 children, of his three novels written, but unpublished, of his past business ventures, both success and failures. There are also stories of boyfriends, girlfriends, and broken hearts, stories of wives who left their husbands, of old men who fled their homes, of conversion and reversion, of famous violins and unsolved mysteries. There are stories of romance, tragedy, and horror, stories experienced and stories repeated, stories hashed out, and stories questioned long after their teller departs.

In The City Café, no one remains anonymous. Their name is asked and remembered. So is their story. In The City Café, opinions are challenged, thoughts wanted, characters examined. In The City Café, days slow down and “to-do” lists are set aside. In The City Café, strangers look each other in the eye. They talk face-to-face about real things while sipping coffee from cream stoneware mugs. And day after day, they come back for more. Because Emil was more than right.

Real cups aren’t just what people want: They’re what people need.

Stimpson writes from Steubenville, Ohio. A contributing editor to Our Sunday Visitor, she has also appeared in First Things, Touchstone, Franciscan Way, the National Catholic Register, Lay Witness, Faith & Family, and elsewhere. Before moving to Steubenville, Stimpson worked in Washington, DC, as special assistant to former Attorney General Edwin Meese, III, at The Heritage Foundation, and as legislative assistant to then- Congressman Jim Talent (R-MO).

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From the Editor’s Desk

Valerie Striker
From the May/Jun 2008 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

Several colleagues and I were blessed to participate in Franciscan University’s second Media & Faith: Engaging the Culture conference in early April. The conference is geared toward media-minded students and professionals who are seeking to combine their passion for their faith with the best in media technologies.

This year, largely due to wide promotion among Catholic podcasters, people from all over the country—and the world—came together to discuss the particular challenges that confront Christian and Catholic media workers. (Our keynote speaker was from the Netherlands—Fr. Roderick Vonhögen, the award-winning host of Catholic Insider and Daily Breakfast Podcasts and founder of Star Quest Production Network.)

The conference was a microcosm of the Catholic Church’s overall involvement in the media (by which I refer broadly to communication technologies and the messages mediated therein). It reflected exactly what the Church calls all of us to in terms of media use:

A conscious personal foundation in the truths of the faith. The presenters at the conference were motivated by a personal commitment to their faith. For example, strong personal conviction drives Antonio Soave’s efforts to spread a positive message through the media, which he has done as a writer, actor, producer, and on-camera host of numerous television programs. (His talk, “Moving Images and New Horizons: Our Obligation as Catholic and Christian Filmmakers” is available online as one of our web exclusives with this issue.)

A courageous, discerning attitude toward new media technologies. From the start, conference organizers realized the need for Christians to be proficient—and to excel—in the technical aspects of the media in order to effectively share Christian values and truths in a way that engages the wider culture.

A focus on the human person and on community between persons. Several months ago, the Vatican reiterated the need for “virtual interaction” to feed back into “real,” physical community. The best part about the conference, hands down, was the opportunity it provided for making personal connections and forming friendships. The “real” connections we made will continue over the airwaves and through the digital domain for years to come.

Although geared at media professionals, the Media & Faith conference had important lessons for anyone discerning his or her appropriate role with regard to the media:

1. If one media form isn’t your cup of tea, never fear! For example, some of us at the conference had never listened to a podcast. For others, it is the mode for sharing the Gospel and connecting with others in a meaningful and mutually encouraging way.

2. Learning the “language” of the media is important for every Christian, regardless of their personal decisions about media use. To paraphrase Fr. Vonhögen, if the Church is to communicate with the rest of the world today, we have to learn the culture’s language. Otherwise, he said, we sound like aliens.

3. Quality counts. In a world where flashy ads and whiz-bang websites trumpet the glories of materialism and consumerism, a half-baked offering from a well-intentioned Catholic organization is going to come across more as an annoying space-filler than a compelling contribution.

Following the lead of Mother Church, our writers in this issue present an overview of how an authentically Catholic worldview provides the principles and direction for social communication—in whatever form it takes. Jessica Mayo addresses the “new” media of the Internet, while Eugene Gan and Corinna Sparhawk bring into focus John Paul II’s contributions to the question of the Church’s role in social communications.

In addition, Russell Shaw examines the pitfalls of the abuse of secrecy within the Church today, and Joanna Bogle gives an overview of persecution of Catholics worldwide. I also encourage readers to check out the interview with an underground Chinese bishop excerpted from Mark Miravalle’s recent release, The Seven Sorrows of China. Happy reading!

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CUF Mailbox – May/June 2008

From the May/Jun 2008 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

Loving God First

Dear Editor,

I am a high school senior in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and I just wanted to share with you how touched I was by your article (“From the Editor’s Desk”) in the March/ April ’08 issue of Lay Witness.

My all-girl Catholic high school has very much embraced New Age and liberal philosophies, causing many of my fellow students to view the Church as an unwelcoming and sexist institution. To say the least, it has been a constant struggle for me to remain charitable toward those responsible for this falling away; I often find myself venting to my mother about what I would argue to my teachers if the appropriate occasion ever arose.

When you mentioned your experience with the radio show, eventually realizing that you associated being Catholic with your desire to defend the faith rather than your love of Christ, I immediately said out loud to my family, “This is me! Read this, this is me!” What you wrote was extremely inspiring to me and reminded me that cultivating my love for Christ will be more beneficial to me and those around me than nurturing resentment for my school.

My family and I are very grateful to you and all of CUF for all that you do, and our prayers are with you.

—Lucy Ricci Wauwatosa, WI

CUF Is a Godsend

Dear CUF,

Peace be with you! Thank you very much again for the subscription to Lay Witness! It is a continued grace to help me stay strong in our faith as I strive to defend the faith on a daily basis. The 2008 calendar is very beautiful, and many men around me pick it up and look at all the icons. Perhaps seeds are being planted!

Recently I have discovered a growing hunger within me to know the truth. Not watered-down theology or opinions, but real, pure truth! CUF, you are helping me discover the truth, you are helping me open my eyes and ears! I can never repay you for this. Because I am in prison, I cannot support you financially at this time. However, I will pray the Rosary for you and keep you in my daily prayer requests. Thank you again!

My catechism class appreciates the Faith Facts, as they answer the questions we have or ones that we’ve been asked. We have also seen and studied several Scott Hahn videos through St. Joseph Communications. He is a blessing to the Church and he has sparked in me the desire to memorize scriptures and to study deeply.

This may appear as an empty promise but please, it is not! I desire to be a lifetime member of CUF, to join or start a chapter upon my release, and to send you a donation once I am on my feet. You provide an excellent service, and I know God is with you! Once again, brothers and sisters, thank you very much for helping me “fight the good fight.” God bless you and keep you!

—Name Withheld

Huntsville, TX

More Appreciation for Icons

Dear Editor:

Over 20 years ago, I joined the Catholic Church. I also decided to do something with my hands, make something that would be very Catholic, and devised a way to mount icon prints on oakwood.

About this same time, I read my first issue of Lay Witness. I loved it! I continue to include many of the Faith Facts in the information packet that accompanies each icon. The Lay Witness staff has been so helpful when I have sought information on images from the magazine!

Roxolana Armstrong’s letter in the March/April ’08 issue of Lay Witness is just one more fine example of people loving images. It so inspired me, because I love meeting Catholics who love the faith as I do.

I understand that more than 50 percent of adults are visually oriented. It makes sense that churches should have quality images that are beautiful and that serve a function—examples of the doctrine that our Church is so famous for. Many Catholic churches I frequent have realized this fact.For the most part, they look Catholic.

Beauty and function are always on my mind when I choose icon images for handcrafting icon reproductions. Although I took icon painting lessons, painting took me too long . . . I wanted to get many images out to people quickly, ones with a history of great beauty and miracles. And miracles are so central to the Catholic faith.

We are indebted to the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church for preserving the icons during many years of persecution by non-Christians. For so many years, these two churches preserved those images, leaving a wonderful legacy for the rest of us.

Thank you for supporting quality art in your magazine.

—Patricia Cornell Proprietor,

St. Theodosia’s Icon Shop

Willits, CA

Lay Witness Is International

Dear Editor,

It is only natural that your magazine, catering as it does to a membership that is almost entirely American, should be oriented toward their needs and interests. The editorial staff, however, needs to keep in mind that some readers live outside the United States and come under other ecclesiastical jurisdictions.

In the first column on page 17 of your March/April ’08 issue, in an article discussing Lenten observance, the writer states that all the Fridays of Lent are days of abstinence. That rule is not universal. It is my understanding that in New Zealand and Australia at the present time the Fridays of Lent (apart from Good Friday) are to be observed by a penance of the individual’s own choosing.

—Robert Kennedy

New Zealand

Response from Eric Stoutz, director of Catholic Responses:

Mr. Kennedy makes a good point in saying that disciplines and practices vary from country to country. “Ask CUF” is generated from questions from and answers to CUF members, and apparently questions about abstaining on Fridays during Lent have been asked only by members living in countries where abstaining from meat on Fridays is mandated. Hence, our oversight in this matter.

In the U.K., Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, the obligation to abstain is indeed limited to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Here is an example from the
Statement from the Bishops of England and Wales on Canons 1249–1253

(January 24, 1985). Regarding Fridays in general, note that abstaining is still mentioned, with other forms of penance seen as alternatives (this, of course, goes back to Pope Paul VI’s 1966 Apostolic Constitution on Fast and Abstinence,
Paenitemini, available online from apost_constitutions/index.htm).

3. Lent is the traditional season of renewal and repentance in Christ. The New Code reaffirms this. It also prescribes that Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are to be observed as days of fast and abstinence. Fasting means that the amount of food we eat is considerably reduced. Abstinence means that we give up a particular kind of food or drink or form of amusement. Those over eighteen are bound by the law of fasting until the beginning of their sixtieth year, while all over fourteen are bound by the law of abstinence. Priests and parents are urged to foster the spirit and practice of penance among those too young to be the subjects of either law.

4. Because each Friday recalls the crucifixion of Our Lord, it too is set aside as a special penitential day. The Church does not prescribe, however, that fish must be eaten on Fridays. It never did. Abstinence always meant the giving up of meat rather than the eating of fish as a substitute. What the Church does require, according to the new Code, is that its members abstain on Fridays from meat or from some other food or that they perform some alternative work of penance laid down by the Bishops’ Conference.

Quick Quiz

July 25 is the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, which restated the Catholic Church’s teaching on artificial birth control.

Could you explain to a friend the reasoning behind the Church’s teachings on contraception?

a) Yes. I’m a Humanae Vitae expert.

b) Probably. I might have to brush up with a little research, but I think I understand the general concepts.

c) It would be hard for me. I don’t really understand it myself.

d) Um…What does the Church teach about contraception?

Visit to answer!

Last issue’s results: Of our respondees, 5% said they were “always plugged in” to the media, 16% said they “stay on top of things,” 52% considered themselves “moderate” media users, 20% said they “use it when they need it,” and 7% said they “don’t own a TV.”

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Let’s Stop Abusing Secrecy

Russell Shaw
From the May/Jun 2008 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

When the Church should—and especially when it shouldn’t—practice secrecy in the conduct of its affairs needs careful rethinking by conscientious Catholics today. As matters stand, the secrecy now practiced in ecclesiastical settings is sometimes good and sometimes very bad. And the bad kind often does serious damage to the practical interests of the Church, as well as to the living-out of its character as a hierarchically structured communion of persons fundamentally equal in dignity, duties, and rights.

That’s a mouthful. Let’s take a look at what it means.

Silence about Secrecy

Four decades ago, a Vatican document that remains the Church’s most comprehensive statement on modern communications took a view of ecclesiastical secrecy that was both moderate and enlightened.

Communio et Progressio (“Unity and Progress”), a pastoral instruction published by the Pontifical Commission (now Council) for Social Communications, found two, and only two, situations justifying the practice of secrecy by religious authorities. They are “matters that involve the good name of individuals, or that touch upon the rights of people whether singly or collectively.”

That was in 1971. Not a lot has been said since then in official Church circles about openness and secrecy. The neglect of the subject is disturbing in itself.

But deeds speak louder than words. Consider one highly significant illustration: Starting in the spring of 1972, the national bishops’ conference of the United States set a good example for other episcopal conferences around the world by holding its semiannual general meetings largely in open session, with reporters and designated observers present to hear the bishops’ deliberations.

Without explanation, though, in the last dozen years or so there’s been a significant change.

From the start, the bishops reserved the right to hold some of their meeting in executive session. Usually, the executive session lasted only two or three hours out of three or four days. Lately, though, the time behind closed doors, with no reporters or observers present, has noticeably expanded.

In June 2006, for instance, two days out of three were in executive session; in November of that year, one day out of three; last November, eight hours of meeting time out of a total of 22 were closed. Privately, even some bishops say there’s no compelling reason for this drift away from openness.

Legitimate Use

In raising the question of secrecy in the Church, however, it’s essential to respect the legitimacy—indeed, the strict duty—of secrecy and confidentiality about some things. The most conspicuous example is the seal of Confession binding the priest, and anyone else who happens to overhear, never to disclose what is said in Confession.

Declaring this sacramental seal “inviolable,” the Code of Canon Law calls it “a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason” (canon 983). It is “absolutely forbidden,” the code adds, for a confessor to use information acquired in Confession “when it might harm the penitent” (canon 984). A similar obligation exists in regard to information obtained in pastoral counseling.

Outside the context of Confession, the Catholic Church also has the same rights and duties concerning secrecy and confidentiality that other groups, both religious and secular, do. These include rights and duties generated by legitimate economic and business interests, or by the need to avoid premature disclosure of sensitive matters under internal study, or by the privacy rights of staff, clients, and others whose affairs are no one else’s business. In this age of identity theft and snooping of all sorts, there is special urgency about protecting and preserving people’s privacy.

Fruits of Abuse

But granting all that, the problems that the abuse of secrecy can, and often does, create have often come home to roost for the Church in recent years.

By far the most notorious instance of that is the sex abuse scandal. Secrecy and cover-up didn’t cause the problem, but they made it much worse. As a worried bishop once wrote me: “The very worst scandal of our times in the Church has been the sexual predations of some priests. The attempt to keep such matters secret on grounds of protecting reputations through the years simply allowed the evil to fester and grow. And when the dam of secrecy finally broke—as it always will—the whole Church suffered for its lack of candor.”

The sex abuse scandal is hardly the only illustration of the harm that can arise from the misuse of secrecy. Secrecy and lack of accountability go a long way to explain the financial scandals that have erupted in some American parishes and dioceses in recent years. There is a growing feeling, too, that there’s simply too much secrecy about personnel matters in the Church, including the process of choosing bishops. As a matter of fact, Church governance as a whole is, practically speaking, a closed book for many Catholics.

Looking to the Council

As the Second Vatican Council saw it, parish and diocesan pastoral councils and finance councils were an important way of solving these problems. These bodies were meant to allow for openness and a free exchange of ideas in decision- making processes that had previously been closed. In some places the councils have worked very well, in other places not so well, and in some places not at all. I recall a senior pastor—in most ways, as it happens, a very good pastor—who explained why he hadn’t established a pastoral council in his parish in these words: “If I want advice, I know where to go for it.”

No doubt he does. But that misses the point. Pastoral councils are—or at least are meant to be—open channels for a two-way flow of information and ideasthat would break down barriers to communication and foster communion in the Church. Giving a pastor advice (when he chooses to ask for it) is only part of the job, and the less important part at that. Openness, accountability, and consultation are simply necessary in Catholic life today.

By contrast, in the Church as in any other organization or institution, whether religious or secular—government, the military, the private sector, schools—the abuse of secrecy easily becomes an instrument of manipulation and control in the hands of decisionmakers who may mean well yet take an excessively shortsighted view of their jobs. From secrecy, it’s not uncommon to move on to deception. And then? In a book called Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, ethicist Sissela Bok makes the point that when people who have been deceived find out about it, they typically are “resentful, disappointed, and suspicious.”

“They feel wronged; they are wary of new overtures. And they look back on their past beliefs and actions in the light of the discovered lies,” she writes. This is a disturbingly accurate description of how some Catholics have reacted to disclosures of sex abuse and other scandals in the Church.

Strengthening Communio

Whether it’s bishops’ meetings or parish councils, practical considerations like these argue for openness and accountability as standard practice in Church affairs at all levels today. At the same time, there is far more than mere practicality and pragmatism at stake. The issue involved here is, at the deepest level, what it means for the Church to act as a communio.

The most important dimension of communio is of course vertical— our communion as a community of faith with God. But communio also has a crucial horizontal dimension—it’s the essence of our communion with one another as a community of faith. Communio in that sense demands honest communication and unfeigned openness in our life together within the Church.

“Many benefits for the Church are to be expected from this familiar relationship between the laity and the pastors,” the Second Vatican Council taught. “The sense of their own responsibility is strengthened in the laity, their zeal is encouraged, they are more ready to unite their energies to the work of their pastors.

“The latter, helped by the experience of the laity, are in a position to judge more clearly and more appropriately in spiritual as well as in temporal matters. Strengthened by all her members, the Church can thus more effectively fulfill her mission for the life of the world” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, no. 37).

Even after all these years, we still have a long way to go in making the vision a reality. As the effort continues, it’s good to bear in mind something Pope Benedict XVI said soon after his election as pope: “We cannot communicate with the Lord if we do not communicate with one another.” He couldn’t be more right.

Russell Shaw is the author of Nothing To Hide: Secrecy, Communication, and Communion in the Catholic Church, newly published by Ignatius Press, and 19 other books. He has served as information director of the Catholic bishops’ conference of the United States and the Knights of Columbus, and is a consultor of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

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The Real Patron of the Arts – An Interview with Barbara Nicolosi

by Valerie Striker

The following is an interview with screenwriter, author, and professor Barbara Nicolosi around the time of her visit to Franciscan University of Steubenville on March 1, 2007.

Barbara Nicolosi is a partner at Origin Entertainment, a Santa Monica-based production company, and the founding director of Act One, Inc., a non-profit training and formation program for Hollywood writers and executives. A screenwriter herself, Nicolosi has just completed a feature-length adaptation of a Jane Austen novel for IMMI Pictures in Beverly Hills, California. Nicolosi has been a media columnist for the National Catholic Register, Liguorian Magazine, and Christian Single and she received Catholic Press Awards in 2000 and 2002. She is the coeditor with Spencer Lewerenz of Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film and Culture (Baker Books, 2005), and has served as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts. She has also been featured in a variety of mainstream media, including CBS, NBC, NPR, Newsweek, and The New York Times. Nicolosi writes a popular cultural commentary blog at

Tell us about the topic of your presentation tonight: “The Real Patron of the Arts: Hollywood or the Church?”

I was talking to my undergrads at a college in Los Angeles—Christian kids, there are 60 of them from colleges all over the country—and I mentioned the phrase “patron of the arts.” One of the kids in the front row raised his hand and said, “And who’s that?”

And I realized, looking at these 18-year-olds, that they didn’t know the phrase “patron of the arts.” So I said to them, “Well, who do you think the patron of the arts is? Talk about it among yourselves and then tell me what you think.” And so they came back five minutes later and they had two things that they had decided. One was Hugh Hefner of Playboy Magazine, and the other one was the Bravo channel.

And when I said to them, “No—the patron of the arts is the Church,” they looked at me and they were like, “What art, and what Church?”

And I have to say, they’re right. They’re right. Hugh Hefner spent more on the arts in the last month than the Church probably spent in the last year, and maybe even the last decade. He hired hundreds of actors and models and photographers and writers and designers and directors, etc. And we wonder why people like Hefner have cultural power, and we in the Church have been relegated to cultural irrelevance? Who is the real “leaven in the lump of the world” here? We’ve so lost the value of beauty and art and storytelling in the Church that we don’t deserve the moniker anymore—“patron of the arts.” We’re not.

Why is it important for the Church to regain that?

This is a huge question. Let me point to a couple things that would help. One thing to read is Pope John Paul II’s “Letter to Artists” that he issued in 1999, where he talks about the epiphanies of beauty through which God speaks to human hearts, and how the arts are a medium of revelation in the world, and how a sacred artist, or someone who’s prayerful, is absolutely a way for God to speak to the world today.

I read an essay that Pope Benedict XVI wrote before he was pope called The Beauty and the Truth of Christ in which he says that if the Churchm could have the knowledge that comes through beauty or the knowledge that comes through theological texts, She would prefer the knowledge that comes through beauty because the knowledge that comes through beauty brings to people the conviction of their own smallness and humility, and also the sense of the grandeur and order and intelligence of the cosmos. And that these two awarenesses are the beginning of real prayer.

So when people experience the beautiful, the problem of the Garden of Eden is fixed. You know, the Garden’s temptation in Genesis was “You will be like God.” And this is still the paramount temptation for human beings. Well, when you experience beauty, you know you’re not God and you also feel that that’s OK. You feel good about your life and your very “un-Godness” because you’re filled with awe and gratitude. So, Pope Benedict makes the case that you can know everything in a book of theology and make a prayer that is proud and cold. Or, you can know almost nothing of theology but respond to a sunset and feel God’s presence there and it can be a prayer that is holy and that will be heard.

So just briefly, there are many, many, many goods that come to the Church through the arts, but the idea of the beautiful is the main one.

Was there a time when the Church just stopped caring about the arts?

I’m not an art historian, but I am sure it is all connected to the fact that the community of artists went with social Darwinism and began to attack belief in the transcendent, and so the community of faith and the community of arts ended up at odds with each other for the first time in human history.

On a national level, America became the most influential country in the world and was dominated by Protestants. And Protestantism is, of course, touched by Jansenism, so they are not a people of the arts. The only art form that Protestants are comfortable with is music, for reasons I don’t understand.

The interesting thing is, in the United States the national Catholic Church became the Irish Church, which was the one European Church that did not have a vibrant artistic tradition. There is a fascinating book called Why Catholics Don’t Sing by Thomas Day, in which he makes the case that because the Irish Church was a persecuted Church, it had no artistic expression. They used to huddle in a field and say Mass because they weren’t even allowed to have churches while they were persecuted by the British. So the Irish clergy came to America and didn’t bring a sense of visual or musical aesthetics with them, and they became the national Church here. How else to explain the embrace of the awful music in Glory and Praise.

I don’t know what they’re problem in Europe was, except maybe they just reached the point of saturation where they were surrounded by sacred art. You know, there’s a church on every block in Italy, and it’s stuffed with stuff. So at a certain point, they had so much that they couldn’t even see it anymore, and in this country, we had so little that we had nothing to see.

But what happened, of course, too, was a huge movement after Vatican II for everybody to become like Thomas Merton in the Abbey of Gethsemane. Rip out all the statuary and lose the colors and symbols and just have white walls. Well, that’s probably OK for Cistercian monks who live in complete silence and have no distractions, but we lay people really need the sensory helps to stay focused at Church! Somebody should have thought it through better before allowing the terrible iconoclasm of the 1970’s and ’80s to eviscerate our beautiful churches.

The other day I was in a really old beautiful church in the South, in Baton Rouge, and there was something beautiful in every corner. And when I started to get distracted from the homily, my eye over here caught this beautiful shrine to St. Joseph. And then I paid attention again, and then I got a little distracted again and I was looking at the beautiful station of the Cross right next to me. And then I was back. But it was the beautiful things that kept pulling me back into the Mass. If you have white walls, your people are just going to substitute their own images from their workaday and family worlds.

Also, the zeitgeist of the Baby Boomer heyday was egalitarianism. Anything that smacked of elitism or tradition was perceived as a negative. And the arts became a tool to make people feel a sense of belonging. So, any art that required mastery of craft was suppressed in favor of whatever was easily accessible by the masses. It was stupid thinking, actually, because nothing makes you feel a sense of belonging like experiencing the beautiful.

So where the Church used to have a strong sense of there being specific roles for various people to play at the liturgy—choir, celebrant, faithful—after Vatican II it became a goal to have as many parts of the liturgy as possible be done by everybody in common. Anything that required practice and artistry had to go. We can’t have them singing Mozart’s Ave Verum because only a choir can do that well. But they catch on real quick to like, Barney
music. And, the thing is, you get what you pay for. So if you’re singing Barney, then you’re getting all the emotional power of that. If you’re singing the Anima Christi, which takes a lot more work, you get a result that’s much more powerful.

So the arts can absolutely harness the focus of people, especially music. I think it’s a demonic plot that the music in the Church has been so bad these last 40 years. The music is not only badly written—but most of the time it’s also badly performed. If only we could just have bad music done well! But let’s face it—what is that song they’re singing now for Lent? “Hosea” is a great example. It’s just a lame, stupid song. “Trees do bend though straight and tall, so must we to others call”? Catholics all over this country are singing that for Lent. It’s lame! It’s bad poetry that means nothing to people.

It’s a sin what we have been doing with the arts in the Church for the last few decades. I get really mad when people criticize Hollywood and say, “Why doesn’t Hollywood make better movies?” And I respond, “Excuse me, why doesn’t St. Mary’s have better music at the 10 o’clock Mass? When you get your act together, we can talk about Hollywood.”

How do you find a balance between Christians who want to separate themselves from the secular media and, on the other end of the spectrum, Christians who aren’t any different from their secular neighbors?

On the darkest side, the refusal of Christians to have a voice in the mainstream culture comes from fear and ignorance and laziness. We haven’t experienced the love of God enough to send us surging into the culture to express our joy. We don’t really care about our neighbors who are languishing amidst the messages of a culture of death.

The best spin I can put on Christians ducking down in caves of their own making today is the desire to protect their kids from negative influences. However, from a pastoral standpoint, the emphasis needs to be not on protecting our children. The emphasis needs to be on preparing our children. The fact is, your little kid is not going to become a disciple when he’s 18. He’s a disciple when he’s 6 to his kindergarten class. And he needs to be comfortable in his moment, which is a 24-hour news cycle, visual image dominated Internet world.

We need to be people who are disciples of 2007. As John Paul II called for over and over and over, we need to “Throw open the doors of the media to Christ.” Imagine that! Throw open the doors of the media to Christ! That is not dwell in the cave and shut it out, whining that, “It’s all garbage.” That is saying that we need to infuse these means that God has given us to fill the world with tidings of goodness and truth and beauty.

Now, the question is, if you’ve been raised in a cave, are you going to become a film director? Are you going to ever be on the Today show as an actor talking to Katie Couric and saying, “Oh yeah, and I go to church on Sunday,” if you’ve been raised in a cave? No.

So by raising Christian kids in a “safe” cave by shutting out the culture in the hope that they’re going to be unscathed, what we actually do is we create useless, impotent disciples for this modern time. They would be great disciples for 1827. But the fact is, they cannot enter into this moment. They can’t read and enter into dialogue with the signs of their own times.

Now it’s an interesting question to say, “Well, how far do you need to plunge into the signs of the times in order to be able to use them as a means of evangelization?” For example, the 2006 Academy Awards. Do people need to see all five films so that they can go into the workplace and say, “Yeah, I saw The Departed and I thought it was depraved barbarity”? I think you need to know what is out there enough to be able to talk about it. You better not start talking about it if you don’t know what it is. If you hear everyone around you talking about The Departed, and that’s where your 18-year-old peer group is, I think you have to watch enough of that movie to come and say to them, “OK, let’s talk about this movie. Let’s talk about what it’s saying here about being a hero.”

For example, the hero in The Departed was sleeping with another man’s fiancée. And the movie worldview suggested by default, “It doesn’t matter. The main thing is he was standing up to the mob.” You see, that would be something for Catholics to talk about with this age and say, “No, you can’t be living an impure life in one area and expect to be able to make heroic choices in another area.” That would be something we could say, but we can’t say anything if we haven’t seen it.

And the fact is, the movie made $120 million. So a lot of people saw it. And the Church isn’t responding. My sense of the Church in these last 30–40 years has been zero response to the culture and the marketplace of ideas.

A great example is the gay culture. Homosexuality made an absolute intentional movement forward to get on the media and in peoples’ faces. They were going to change the way America thinks about gays by using the media. This actually happened. They had a meeting in LA with some very influential homosexuals and they sat down and they made a list of things they were going to do—a gay character in every television show, a gay character in every movie. They were going to read the scripts from the studios and give notes and screen them for anything that was “homophobic.” The book The Homosexualization of America by Dennis Altman documents this moment and the strategy.

Fifteen years later would you ever have believed that we’d have five states with same-sex civil unions and one with gay marriage and last year 11 referendums on same-sex marriage? I was in Washington, DC, a couple years ago, and some conservative staffers on the Hill said to me about this issue, “Where did all this come from?” And I said, “Are you kidding me? This was decided 12 years ago with Roseanne kissing her girlfriend, and then Ellen coming out, and then ER having a lesbian doctor!” We are too late now because for too many years we made no response in the culture.

So there’s the problem. We should be engaged in the media not as fans, but as storytellers and interpreters, looking for the signs of the times out of which to speak to people about Jesus and the Gospel. And making our own signs of the times!

The good news is, lately there is some wonderful stuff out there to be seen in the movies and on television. It’s not all garbage, by any means. For example, there is Extreme Home Makeover. A beautiful show! They find a deserving poor family every week and build them a new home. It makes you cry every week in a good way. It’s about generosity, it’s about heroes. And what’s not to like about mastery of craft shows like Iron Chef America, Project Runway, Design on a Dime and What Not to Wear? There’s some amazing work being done in series television too, as for example, Pushing Daisies, and the new Battlestar Galactica, and how about that great John Adams production on HBO?

The point is, the easiest way to live today is to try to shut it all out. That’s easy. We were not called to live easy. We were called to be martyrs. And we have a white martyrdom. White martyrdom is the daily discernment, engaging the world every day, looking for the wisps of the Holy Spirit, looking for the signs of the times.

What does it take? What kind of person are you looking for to participate in Act One?

Well, the first thing we’re looking for on the writing side is people who can spell! I wish I was kidding! I get people all the time that come to me and they want to be writers but they can barely write two sentences that are clear. It’s very rare to find somebody who actually has a good writing style.

And then we need people who have been reasonably well educated in storytelling. We give our writers a list of the hundred most influential novels ever written. And we ask them to check off how many they’ve read—not how many they’ve seen in the movies, but how many they’ve read. The young people coming to us on the average have read only seven of the hundred most influential stories ever written. And these people are top of their classes! We’re not talking obscure stuff here. I’m talking Hemingway and Hawthorne and Austen and the Greeks. So we have a huge problem. This a particular challenge for these two up-and-coming generations—the Gen-Xers and the Millennials—they’ve been completely cut off from their cultural heritage.

And then they need to be somewhat culturally savvy. They ought to have a sense of what is the best work that is out there and why. Often, the real conservative Christian kids that come to us have seen every movie done in the Golden Age but they haven’t seen anything since Star Wars. And it’s the same problem because if you haven’t seen The Matrix, you don’t know your audience today.

On the executive side, we want people from top schools, top undergraduate programs, and even grad programs, who are primarily law and finance oriented. So we want lawyers, law students, MBAs, people with finance degrees and any other people with corporate or business experience. We’re preparing people there for the executive suites of Hollywood, and that’s the talent pool the industry draws from.

I would say the next thing we want is committed Christians. We have all denominations. I’m very sad that we have had so few Catholics go through the program. I have gone to these schools—the Catholic schools, the special Catholic schools—I’ve gone to them all several times and spoken there and pleaded, and what I find there is that kids do not have any apostolic drive. After getting these great Great Books educations, what they want to be is maybe a DRE in a small country parish in the backwoods where nobody will notice them and they can just shut the world down and out. You know, there’s nothing apostolic in that. St. Paul could’ve done that—the Church would be nothing if we had done that. We have not received a mandate to head for the hills.

There is something wrong in a Church in which we are preparing kids to only play in the Catholic subculture. [whispers] There was never supposed to be a Catholic subculture! You know what disciples do in the Catholic subculture? They have personality fights and power struggles. Well, I’d rather be martyred by the world and the devil than be killed by a fellow Catholic because they don’t like the way I say the Rosary or something.

How do you develop pastoral urgency and cultural discernment in your children?

You show them the best. I think it was Plato who said, “If you want people to give up sugar, offer them honey.” My parents were very good about showing us the best movies when we were children. We used to watch [Charlie] Chaplin with Dad, and Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy. And we were raised to be familiar with the whole canon of classic Hollywood films and genres.

Mom and Dad watched great movies with us. Rear Window and Giant and On the Waterfront and Camelot. And they talked to us about them. I remember when my mother had us watch Doctor Zhivago. I was about 14, my sister was 16. And my mother said, “Now, this is a movie about adultery. But it’s a very beautifully made movie. It’s about art and it’s about sin and it’s about communism.” And she said, “We’re going to watch it
together because I want you to see this beautiful film and then we’re going to talk about it.” And it was great, because I learned about sin in a way that was not an occasion of sin.

I saw wonderful movies, and then when I was in high school and college when my friends were seeing garbage, I had no interest in it—or I could see it right away, “Oh, this is just stupid,” or, “This is lame,” or, “This is so barbaric.”

Also, you have to give kids arts training. My parents had us all take music lessons. I had six years of piano lessons. Another sister also had painting lessons, another dance lessons. Now two of my sisters have music related-careers. So we had arts education. We were very much in the arts, so we knew about good work and bad work.

There are gifts that come through the arts that you don’t get in sports or anything else. Sports can stretch you physically and teach you about socials and morals and things like that. The arts can refine your soul. They make you a person of decorum. They make you a person of detail and sensitivity. And we need ladies and gentlemen again. We’re so surrounded by vulgarity and crassness and barbarism.

Pope John Paul II says in his “Letter to Artists” that the way to save the soul of an artist is that they really commit themselves to beauty. Because if you find beauty you will find God. Real beauty. But the problem I find with a lot of people who come to me who wanting careers in music is not that they want to write beautiful music, but that they want to be a star in a band, and famous! Or the ones who say they want to work in Hollywood have spent more time writing out their future Academy Awards speech then they have working on their scripts.

People think that because the products of culture are easy to consume, that they are easy to make. They aren’t. Edgar Allen Poe said every good sonnet is built on the bones of 14 others that had to be born and die first. My students want to write a great song in a weekend. Um, sorry, but nothing gets great until you rewrite it and rewrite it and rewrite it and rewrite it and rewrite it.

Even naturally talented writers need to write 1,000 pages before they really start to get good at screenwriting. That’s seven screenplays. Most of the young people who come to us quit after one and a half. They say, “Hmph! Well, what is God doing?! I wrote one and nothing happened to it!” And I want to say to them, “Yeah, but it wasn’t that good. And you’ll know it’s not that good when you write five more and you look back at that first one and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I was so bad when I started!’” But they get discouraged and they drop out.

Briefly, what are some of the biggest challenges Christians face in Hollywood?

Well, the biggest challenge Christians face in Hollywood is the challenge pagans face in Hollywood in that it’s an extremely competitive, very difficult business. It’s really hard to write a good movie. That’s why people write so many bad ones. And it’s very hard to wait and be poor while you’re trying to get good. It takes five years to break a writer in Hollywood—if they’re writing. If they’re not writing, it takes a decade. So that’s the main

My sense is Christians outside the business think we folks in the entertainment business are wrestling with real scale-covered, slimy demons every day! I would say in my 12 years out here I’ve had two or three moments when I was forced to say, “Wow, this is really going to ask me to compromise my faith,” and I had to step away. But figure 12 years, only three times. Working here isn’t what most people think.

Now, I would say that actors face many more ethical challenges. They may be asked to compromise weekly. Actors need to have a deep spirituality and a lot of good friends to help them not lose themselves.

As a writer or director or editor or producer, the kind of projects you work on has a lot to do with the kinds of dilemmas you face. I write movies that have spiritual themes to them, so I don’t get into morally problematic waters very often. If I were writing horror films, I would probably be having a lot more dilemmas.

More people in Hollywood fall into sin from discouragement and despair than from sex and drugs and rock and roll because it’s very hard, and they get discouraged. I hear many more Christians sin by saying “Why has God not given me a screenplay sale?” or “Why have I done all these auditions and I haven’t gotten work?” That’s a much more common and dangerous sin than Christians going in and doing sex scenes in movies.

A few years ago you came to Franciscan and you spoke on how there’s been a trend to focus more on the meaning of scenes in a movie with a sexual reference than on the acts themselves. Is that still true?

It’s very true. The scenes have gotten much less graphic. It’s considered pedestrian to just show a sex scene now. If you do it, it has to be done in a kind of stylistic way. They had a sex scene in The Departed, but it was truncated. You got one look at her torso, and she had her underwear on. I was kind of marveling that they could have gone much farther but didn’t. There was this heyday of graphic sex scenes in the ’80s and ’90s, and that trend
has really faded now. What we have now is a kind of barbaric brutality that is probably more disturbing to me. At least sex is natural. The kinds of violence that they can show now because of special effects and the creativity that they’re using to show violence is really, really bad.

There’s a difference between a consumer and someone who wants to go in and make a change in the industry. How can a Catholic consumer make a positive impact on the arts?

The consumer needs to talk back to the industry, for one thing. And the second thing the consumer needs to do is to breed up artists. Those are the two focuses.

So, talk back to the industry: When you go to a movie and you don’t like the trailer they run ahead of time—you know, it’s a trailer for a bad movie that you weren’t going to go see—you should go out after the movie and say to somebody at the theater, “Is the manager here?” “No, I don’t know where he is.” “Well, I’d like to talk to the manager.” (Don’t talk to the person selling popcorn.) “Well, the assistant manager is here.” “Good, I’ll talk to the assistant manager.”

Just go up and say, “Hi, you know, we love this theater. It’s so cool, and everybody here is always so nice. But I gotta tell you, when I come to see a happy little movie and you show me an R-rated trailer, it just makes me not want to come here anymore.” And he’ll be like, “Oh, that happened? That’s not supposed to happen,” and you respond, “Yeah, I knew it must have been an accident, but you know, I just wanted to let you know.”

See, that’s talking back to the industry. Or else, if you see a bad movie, you go home and you find the website for the studio that’s distributing it, and you go to the website and say, “What are you people smoking? This was vile and crass and insulting!”

If it’s a television show, every television show has a website, and the writers read them. Every day they pour over their website. You say, “We love your show, it’s so well-written, really makes us laugh. But I gotta tell you, last week’s episode with the Catholic priest was so unfair, and it wasn’t worthy of your show. We know you’re gonna do better the next time.”

Never tell them, “We’re never going to watch your show again,” because then they will say to themselves, “Alright, well they’re gone.” The approach is to talk to these people in a loving, civil, humane way and praise them and then express kindly your concerns. You won’t get anywhere by sending them a message that starts with, “You spawns of Satan!”

(We have a book called Behind the Screen and that book has chapters on talking back to the industry. People can get it off of Amazon. But it’s very good for that.)

And the second thing we can do to impact the arts is to breed up artists. Have your kids become discerning consumers. So no, I’m sorry. I know if you have six kids, it’s going to be really hard to watch with them all the stuff, to kind of go with each one, to figure out what movie they’re ready for, to watch it with them, to talk about it—it’s really hard to do. But you know what? Hard is your martyrdom. This is what we’re up for. They have to be articulate and comfortable in their own time.

You know what you get when you raise kids in caves? You get kids who are either haughty or afraid. Haughtiness is the conservative kids who have been told their whole life that they’re better than this age and all the other people around them. Then they go out there and they have a few encounters and they’re like, “I’m really not better.” Or else, there are the kids who’ve been told everything out there is dangerous. And they are paralyzed with fear; they’re useless. So we don’t want either for the Gospel. These times are too urgent. We don’t have time for this.

CUF Link – May/June 2008

From the May/Jun 2008 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

Pssst . . . Throughout this issue of Lay Witness, you may notice urgent reminders to register for CUF’s 40th Anniver sar y Conference, “‘You Too Go Into the Vineyard’: Courageous Catholics in the New Millennium.” We don’t want you to miss out on the early registration rate, so we’ll mention it one more time: Register today! This reduced, bargain-basement rate is only available until June 11. Visit or call (740) 283- 2484, phone menu option 6, to learn more or register.


Why do so many relationships fall apart? Why are so many people unhappy in their relationships with the opposite sex?

On February 29, Lay Witness columnist Edward Sri invited college students and catechists to take a fresh look at the dynamics between men and women. His countercultural message, based on John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility, offered practical wisdom that can transform relationships. At its heart: True love consists in giving of self. Moreover, other people are gifts—and you don’t treat gifts like trash.

Sri’s talk, “The New Sexual Revolution,” was drawn from his book Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love, which is based on a column he wrote for Lay Witness. The talk was cosponsored by CUF, along with FOCUS, the Ryan Catholic Newman Center (University of Pittsburgh), and the St. Francis de Sales CUF chapter.

Coming to a bookstore (or website) near you!

Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker meet Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, on his turf in Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins’ Case Against God.

Hahn and Wiker “examine the caliber of Dawkins’ statements and arguments on their own merits . . . to strip them of all their rhetoric and analyze the bare arguments.” In so doing, they expose the inconsistencies, factual errors, and faulty logic of Dawkins’ atheistic secularism.

Whether you know someone who has fallen prey to The God Delusion, or just want to arm your intellect, Answering the New Atheism is for you.

To order, visit See the ad on cover 4 of this issue for details on a limited-time, online-only discount.

Out and About

At the end of February, CUF Director of Outreach Leon Suprenant joined Bishop Robert W. Finn and Fr. Thomas Nelson, O.Praem., at the Institute on Religious Life’s regional meeting in Independence, Missouri.

His talk, “Dare to Be Different: Lay Reflections Concerning the Religious Life,” focused on the point of intersection between Church teaching on religious life and on the laity, in order to bring out the necessary complementarity and holy teamwork that must exist among all followers of Christ.

To learn more about the IRL, visit

Prove It, God! July 19, 7:30 pm St. Peter Church (Butler, Pennsylvania) To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, the Butler Humanae Vi tae Ministry is hosting Patty Schneier of St. Louis, Missouri. Schneier hosts the “Ask the Archbishop” radio show with Archbishop Raymond Burke . Her talk, “‘Prove It, God!’. . . And He Did,” describes her deepe r conversion within the Catholic faith. A reception w ill follow the talk . Childcare will be provided , but children must be pre-registered. For more information, cont act CUF members Beck y and John Cascino at (724) 282-8280 or

Chapter Spotlight: St. Francis de Sales Chapter Pittsburgh, PA

“I looked to start a CUF chapter as a way to spread the Gospel—in a sense, to do something for God. However, I’ve found that through our CUF chapter God has done something truly marvelous for me: My family has grown. I have new brothers and sisters. We work together, we pray together, we rejoice together, we weep together. We do what good families do. We support each other. Thank God for His generosity made manifest!”

This is how secretary Regis Flaherty describes his experience of the St. Francis de Sales Chapter of Pittsburgh, which he cofounded in September 2004 with his wife Libbie (current vice president) and Cindy Russman (current president).

Early on, chapter members felt their specific apostolate was both to pray and fast for their bishop and to reach out to the laity to nurture growth in knowledge of the faith and in love for God. St. Francis de Sales was readily agreed upon as an appropriate patron of the chapter because of his extensive writings on lay spirituality.

Regis says the strength of the chapter is its members’ shared vision of making Christ and His Church better known and loved—which they work toward both as a chapter and individually in their diocese and parishes. Regular members are continually challenged and formed within the chapter through joint study. They meet monthly for book studies during the spring and summer and host an annual fall lecture series, which is open to the public. Their St. Francis de Sales Lecture Series most recently featured former Protestant ministers who had converted to the Catholic Church.

“Their testimonies were powerful because they had to give up their livelihoods when they converted,” says Regis. He added that the lectures have been experiencing a steady growth in attendance, the most recent series averaging about 60 people per lecture.

The chapter receives tremendous support from the Pittsburgh Diocese and local parishes, and Catholic schoolteachers are permitted to receive continuing education credit by attending the lectures. In addition, the chapter’s core members are all active in their parishes in various capacities, including as RCIA, religious education, and Bible study teachers. Some are even involved at the diocesan level. The newly released book Lourdes Today: A Pilgrimage to Mary’s Grotto (Servant, 2008) was written by chapter member Kerry Crawford.

Members also strive to exercise the virtue of hospitality, welcoming with open arms guests from every point on the religious spectrum—from Catholics at odds with magisterial teaching to a pair of Mormon missionaries!

“While not compromising on the truth, we have tried to address these people with charity and grace,” says Regis. He cites the examples of one couple who was angry at the Church and its leaders because they felt the Church was in apostasy since Vatican II, and another couple who felt the Church had not responded to the “spirit” of the Council and who supported married clergy and women priests. In neither case were the guests converted on the spot, but they were met with respectful presentation of the Church’s teachings and genuine care for their spiritual welfare that chapter members hope planted seeds for further reflection.

Of the Mormons’ visit, which occurred during a study group meeting, Regis says, “I don’t know if they were affected by their time with us, but at least they were received with charity and looked at some Scripture from the Catholic perspective.”

Several members and guests have expressed their joy at finding in the chapter a community of like-minded people with whom to grow in their faith. “It is so refreshing to be able to connect with others who are as in love with the Lord as I am and who are comfortable in talking about that love. I don’t always see that same openness even within my own parish life,” says Rita.

Angela, who was encouraged to attend the chapter’s lecture series through her work at a local parish, says, “Through my participation in the group I have allowed the Holy Spirit to work through me in ways that I would never have done if not for the loving encouragement and support of this wonderful group of God’s faithful. Our dear Lord is smiling down on this chapter and CUF as a whole, grateful for their love of His people and their willingness to share His way and His light.” Chapter Spotlight

Liturgist and Church Musician Par Excellence

Msgr. Richard J. Schuler (1920–2007) was not only a great pastor, but also one of the great leaders of an authentic liturgical movement in the Church.

Amid post-conciliar disorders he sought to assure the sacred celebration of the Holy Mass in the Roman rite and to restore sacred liturgical music in parishes. His parish of St. Agnes in St. Paul-Minneapolis offered beautiful and solemn sung liturgies with an orchestra and 60-voice chorale that made his parish renowned.

Msgr. Schuler was one of the two priests and 10 lay people present at the first organizational meeting of CUF (August 17, 1968) at the St. Paul Hotel in St. Paul, Minnesota. He remained a strong supporter of CUF and its activities throughout his distinguished career as the pastor of St. Agnes, and for many years was the editor of Sacred Music. He was known as a “priest’s priest.”

May his memory be eternal!

—James Likoudis CUF President Emeritus

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The Newman of New England

James Kent Stone/Fr. Fidelis of the Cross, C.P.

by James Likoudis

One of the greatest nineteenth-century converts to the Church was James Kent Stone, who has been rightly called the “American Newman.” Stone was the scion of a distinguished Boston family of many Episcopalian and Presbyterian clerics—including such luminaries as his grandfather, Chancellor James Kent, the famous author of Commentaries on American Law, and his father, Dr. John F. Stone, rector of St. Paul’s Church in Boston and later professor of theology and dean of the faculty at the Episcopal Theological School at Cambridge. A brilliant student, James Kent Stone entered Harvard University in 1855, at the age of 16, and also studied at the University of Göttingen in Germany before graduating from Harvard in 1861.

Soldier and Scholar

With the advent of the Civil War, Stone joined the army as a private and quickly advanced to lieutenant, seeing action in the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, Antietam, in which some 22,000 men were killed. Upon leaving military service, he received an MA and then a doctorate in theology from Harvard. Ordained a deacon and then a priest in the Episcopal Church, he served as a professor of Latin at Kenyon College in Ohio. Stone married Cornelia Fay in 1863 and became the happy father of two daughters.

In 1867, he became the president of Kenyon College, the youngest college president of the period. Soon after, acknowledged as a brilliant scholar and speaker, he accepted the position of president of Hobart College in Geneva, New York. To his great sorrow, Cornelia died in 1869, after giving birth to their third child, Frances. Stone’s conversion to the Catholic Church would occur soon afterward.

Unexpected Conversion

It became evident that Stone’s theological studies had been affected by the Oxford Tractarian movement in England, which attempted to prove that the Church of England and its Protestant Episcopal offshoot had retained the features of primitive Christianity that a later “Romanism” had corrupted. Stone’s developing “High Church” views encountered resistance in the super-Protestant “Low Church” atmosphere of Kenyon College and led to his resignation from Kenyon College, whereupon he was offered the presidency at Hobart, which was High Church Anglican in ethos. In letters to his mother in 1869, he wrote:

I became convinced that the Catholic Church in communion with the Successor of St. Peter was the true Church of our Blessed Savior. It came upon me all of a sudden. One week I had not the slightest suspicion that I should ever become a Roman Catholic, and the next (I think the time was as short, or, at any rate, not much longer) I saw it as plain as day. I cannot explain it, and do not attempt to explain it, but consider it simply as the work of Divine Grace. It was last December, when I was in Geneva and when Cornelia was apparently getting a little better. I was not in any way under Catholic influence; the subject was not brought in any way to my direct notice. I can only call it God’s work . . . I only wrote to you now because I knew you would hear the story from others. What could I do? I am as sure that the Roman Catholic Church is the true Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ as I am that there is a God in heaven or that I have a soul to be saved. I see it as plainly as I see the sun above me. You know the history of my youth well enough to know that I was sincere and devout, and that I truly loved my Lord and Savior. The only desire I ever had for myself was to be His minister. And now, it is love for Him alone that has drawn me into His Church. He has called me, and what can I do? Can I refuse to go? Nay, I have given up everything for His sake—everything. What is there that I have not given up? I would go through it all a thousand times over, though I should die a thousand times from sheer distress, rather than refuse to obey the Divine Voice which calls me. I would die tomorrow, joyfully, by the most ignominious and painful of deaths, rather than betray for a single instant the blessed faith, which is dearer to me than life and stronger than the fear of death.

Stone had read the touching appeal of Bl. Pius IX, “Pio Nono,” to all Protestants and non-Catholic Christians for their return to Catholic unity, but he was little affected. To his mind, he had already dealt with the “Roman question,” and felt only pity for its author. In the words of biographer Katherine Burton in her book No Shadow of Turning (Longmans, Green and Company, 1944):

The very suggestion that Romanism might after all be identical with true Christianity was preposterous to him. Surely it was the papacy that had been the great apostate, the mystery of iniquity, the masterpiece of Satan, which had made its most successful attack upon the Church of God by entering and corrupting it. The rise of the papal authority was a matter of plain history; he had read of it himself over and over, and it was his conviction that the simple faith of early days was now scarcely recognizable under the accumulated error of centuries.

Stone had defended the Anglican Reformation “with all his soul.” Yet one night, in a mysterious experience, the terrible thought came to him, “What if the old Roman Church should be right after all?” Upon the death of his beloved wife, and torn by both personal and doctrinal anguish, he determined to study in depth the nature of the Church Christ had established.

Defender of Truth and Papal Authority

The resolution of all Stone’s troubling questions would receive final clarification after his entrance into the Church and the completion of his masterpiece of apologetics, An Invitation Heeded. This impressive volume would go into 17 printings and would prove invaluable to many other seekers of the true Church. Dismissed by one of his Protestant detractors as the “silliest trash ever put forth,” An Invitation Heeded is perhaps the most
powerful apologia for the Catholic faith written by an American convert from Anglicanism. Indeed, his spirit, style, and logical acumen have been likened to that of the incomparable John Henry Newman.

Stone’s defense and exposition of the Roman primacy of universal jurisdiction in the Church remains of special interest today as ecumenical studies (such as that occurring with the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue recently concluded at Ravenna in October 2007) have begun to focus on the relationship between primacy and collegiality in the hierarchical structure of the Church. In his survey of the history of the Church concerning the papacy, the “American Newman” was to conclude:

The primacy of the See of Peter is the most prominent fact in the history of Christianity. And it is a fact which is inseparably associated with a distinct prophecy. Moreover, the Primacy is not only professedly grounded upon the prophecy in question, but is actually so grounded. I mean that the words of Christ [in the famous petrine texts of Scripture] are so substantially the foundation of the papal power that the latter could never have existed without the former. No intelligent student will think of denying this. Indeed, without looking into the past at all, it is perfectly plain that, if it were not for the divine sentences so often quoted, the pontifical claims would be wholly without sanction, and the papacy would fall to pieces in an hour . . . “Thou art a Rock; and upon this Rock I will build My Church; and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” Stupendous prophecy! Where among all the words of God shall its mate be found?

A Life Well Lived

An Invitation Heeded was written in the interval between Stone’s reception into the Catholic Church on December 8, 1869, and his ordination as a priest. Space does not permit a fuller account of his truly remarkable life. James Kent Stone arranged for the care and education of his daughters and became a Paulist priest, and then a famous and much admired Passionist missionary, known as Fr. Fidelis of the Cross. He helped establish Passionist houses and churches in America and South America, including such countries as Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and Cuba. Stone died in the arms of his daughter Frances during a visit to her home in San Mateo, California, on October 15, 1921.

James Likoudis is president emeritus of Catholics United for the Faith.

Editorial Note: Copies of James Kent Stone’s An Invitation Heeded are still available from booksellers. James Likoudis’ own works dealing with the Roman primacy as a divine institution are also available. His Ending the Byzantine Greek Schism can be ordered from Emmaus Road Publishing by calling (800) 398-5470 or visiting Both his The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church ($27.95) and Eastern Orthodoxy and the See of Peter ($24.95) are available directly from the author (prices include shipping and handling). To order, send a check or money order to P.O. Box 852, Montour Falls, NY 14865.