The Pope Speaks: Go and Make Disciples of All Nations

From the Holy Father’s homily July 28, 2013 during the celebration of World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Jesus is calling you to be a disciple with a mission! Today, in the light of the word of God that we have heard, what is the Lord saying to us? Three simple ideas: Go, do not be afraid, and serve.

Go. During these days here in Rio, you have been able to enjoy the wonderful experience of meeting Jesus, meeting Him together with others, and you have sensed the joy of faith. But the experience of this encounter must not remain locked up in your life or in the small group of your parish, your movement, or your community. That would be like withholding oxygen from a flame that was burning strongly. Faith is a flame that grows stronger the more it is shared and passed on, so that everyone may know, love, and confess Jesus Christ, the Lord of life and history (cf. Rom. 10:9).

Do not be afraid. Some people might think: “I have no particular preparation, how can I go and proclaim the Gospel?” My dear friend, your fear is not so very different from that of Jeremiah, as we have just heard in the reading, when he was called by God to be a prophet. “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth”. God says the same thing to you as He said to Jeremiah: “Be not afraid . . . for I am with you to deliver you” (Jer. 1:7,8). He is with us!

When we go to proclaim Christ, it is He Himself who goes before us and guides us. When He sent His disciples on mission, He promised: “I am with you always” (Mt. 28:20). And this is also true for us! Jesus never leaves anyone alone! He always accompanies us.

The final word: Serve. The opening words of the psalm that we proclaimed are: “Sing to the Lord a new song” (Ps. 95:1). What is this new song? It does not consist of words; it is not a melody. It is the song of your life; it is allowing our life to be identified with that of Jesus, it is sharing His sentiments, His thoughts, His actions. And the life of Jesus is a life for others. It is a life of service.

In our second reading today, St. Paul says: “I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more” (1 Cor. 9:19). In order to proclaim Jesus, Paul made himself “a slave to all.” Evangelizing means bearing personal witness to the love of God, it is overcoming our selfishness, it is serving by bending down to wash the feet of our brethren, as Jesus did.

Three ideas: Go, do not be afraid, and serve. If you follow these three ideas, you will experience that the one who evangelizes is evangelized, the one who transmits the joy of faith receives more joy. Dear young friends, as you return to your homes, do not be afraid to be generous with Christ, to bear witness to His Gospel. In the first reading, when God sends the prophet Jeremiah, He gives him the power to “pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10). It is the same for you. Bringing the Gospel is bringing God’s power to pluck up and break down evil and violence, to destroy and overthrow the barriers of selfishness, intolerance, and hatred, so as to build a new world.

Dear young friends, Jesus Christ is counting on you! The Church is counting on you! The Pope is counting on you! May Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother, always accompany you with her tenderness: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Amen.

From the Holy Father’s homily July 28, 2013 during the celebration of World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.


Open Mike: No One Needs Our Pity

I recently received a letter from a man named Joseph. He shared with me that he is now serving the fourteenth year of a twenty-five years to life imprisonment sentence in a state penitentiary. He went on to tell me that he converted to the Catholic faith twelve years ago while in prison.

Joseph was very grateful for the Catholic materials we’ve sent him over the years and he asked us to pray for the new Catholic chaplain who would replace the one who had just retired. He also asked for our assistance in answering the questions of his Protestant cellmate. As he described the situation, he mentioned that since the former chaplain retired, he has led liturgy of the Word services, spiritual communion prayers, and Rosaries for all interested inmates.

Think about it. He has gone from being a convicted felon with no faith to a Catholic who is now fervent in his devotion and zealous about teaching others about Christ and His Church. God works wonders!

For decades, CUF has sent sound doctrinal and devotional materials to missionaries, inmates, homebound, and others who request spiritual assistance. I can’t say enough about the generosity of our members who have made this aspect of our apostolate possible.

In addition, through the years I have met many CUF members who not only send donations and/or Catholic materials to those in need, but who have personally entered into the lives of the sick, the imprisoned, and the lost, offering true compassion.

We surely recognize that as virtues go, compassion is the people’s choice. While many are put off by virtues such as prudence, meekness, and especially chastity, everyone wants to be considered compassionate. Yet, we must recognize the many counterfeit versions of compassion today.

For example, what some might call compassion is really only pity. True compassion involves entering into another’s pain, into another’s prison. It involves self-sacrificing love and supernatural hope. Pity, meanwhile, despises the suffering, but doesn’t offer real consolation to the one who suffers. The recipient rightly insists “I don’t need your pity.” Pity is a cut above “pitilessness” or a failure to even recognize another’s suffering, but it’s not compassion.

Christians show compassion through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, such as feeding the hungry, instructing the ignorant, and visiting the sick or imprisoned (cf. Catechism, no 2447). In showing our love in action to those who suffer, we literally suffer with them and in the process affirm their value and dignity.

In contrast, secular society sees no value in suffering and strives to eliminate it. Remember Our Lord’s rebuke of Peter when he suggested that Christ forego His Passion (cf. Mt. 16:21-23)? Not only is such an approach futile, but it’s really a refusal to share in another’s pain. And of course if suffering has no value, then there is no hope for someone like Joseph. Or us.

When it comes down to it, our society tends toward self, and it doesn’t want to be bothered with others’ suffering. Jesus would say, “Blessed are those who mourn,” who enter into the real-life drama of human suffering, for they will be comforted. For many, however, life is about avoiding the question of suffering. And so we multiply diversions, take pills, watch TV, and ignore the suffering around us—perhaps easing our troubled consciences by sending an occasional donation to Catholic Relief Services or the American Cancer Society.

We must absolutely show compassion to those suffering from physical sickness, hunger, and privations of every sort. Sure, we can’t stop there and fail to address the deeper spiritual needs of others. Yet I find that for many of us, who have seen political ideology masquerade as Catholic social teaching, there may be some reticence or indifference about meeting the human needs of those who live on the edge.

We must not give in to that temptation. Every human person matters, and the Church calls us to share both our material and spiritual goods with them.

The Hostess Diaries: Lessons in Catholic Hospitality: Drawing up the Guest List

When planning a party, a thousand reasons exist to not invite someone.

“I don’t know them well.” “They have children.” “They don’t have children.” “They’re married.” “They’re single.” “They’re younger than me.” “They’re older than me.” “They might not like my cooking.” “They might not like my house.” “They’ll judge me.” “They’ll judge my children.” “They’re too busy.” “They probably wouldn’t come anyway.”

And so it goes. Reason after reason. Most of us know them well. They’ve been our reasons for not inviting the new couple at church, the single girl from work, or the elderly widower across the street to our backyard barbecue or Christmas soiree.

They’re not all bad reasons. Some are perfectly understandable. Time is precious, space is limited, and when drawing up a guest list it makes sense to prioritize those most like us, those with whom we have the most in common.

But just because a reason is understandable or even sensible doesn’t mean it’s good. Sometimes, the wisest, best, and most charitable thing we can do is not the most sensible. At least, not the most seemingly sensible.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are not our ways. And His thoughts on the matter, stated again and again in Scripture, don’t line up with our preference for the known and familiar.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares,” Hebrews 13:2 tells us.

Then, there’s Luke 14: “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.”

There also are tales of plain men and women welcoming a stranger into their midst, and afterwards receiving some divine reward: the widow and Elisha (2 Kings 4:8- 17), Lot and the angels (Gen 19:1-38), the Samaritan woman and Christ (Jn 4:4-26).

God, as Scripture makes plain, thinks there’s value to be had in welcoming into our homes those we’re not naturally inclined to welcome. And since God, being Reason Himself, can’t be anything other than sensible, expanding our guest list to include the married and the single, the young and the old, the childless and the child-rich must be the most sensible thing to do. Even if it doesn’t seem like it at first.

The first reason for that is stated clearly enough in the passage from Luke: It’s a kindness that will be repaid in Heaven.

There are other reasons though, reasons rooted in the loneliness that plagues this post-modern life of ours.

As studies tell us, for all the business that fills our busy lives, there’s a hollow space at the core of those lives, a hole where friends ought to be, with more than half of all Americans now claiming to have no close friends at all. We might have hundreds of Facebook friends, but 53 percent of us have no one with whom we share our lives.

As for why, blame it on the breakdown of the family, the transience of contemporary culture, or the busyness itself. Whatever the cause, people are lonely. Even those who may not seem it. And an invitation to supper or tea or a pool–side lunch, while simple enough, can be the antidote to this very modern plague.

Then there’s the richness a more diverse guest list can bring to a party. The wisdom of the elderly, the laughter of children, the energy of the single, the understanding of the married—all do their bit to enliven a gathering and broaden our horizons.

Once upon a time, such broadening didn’t require any effort. It came naturally, as parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers all shared one roof. Generations and classes came together at dances and fetes, church socials and town bazaars. Children learned from their elders, and elders rejoiced in the young.

A little re-thinking of our guest lists can accomplish the same today.

That’s not to say that every party must be large or that intimate gatherings with our closest friends are always out of bounds. They mustn’t, and they’re not.

It is to say, however, that being a little less discriminate about who we invite into our homes exponentially improves our chances of entertaining angels. And that is a very sensible thing indeed.


The Menu

An Easy Backyard Barbeque for the Neighborhood

You supply: Burgers, brats, hot dogs and buns, paper goods

The invitees supply: Drinks, dessert and sides

Looking at a Masterpiece: The Blind Leading the Blind

Since we are approaching the end of the “Year of Faith” proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI, it is appropriate by way of contrast to dwell on the calamity of the loss of faith in God, when the eyes of the heart are no longer enlightened. (Cf. Eph 1:18) Here is a parable which is being played out right now in our day.

This painting (1568) by the Flemish master Pieter Bruegel the Elder (circa 1525-1569) now hangs in the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte in Naples, Italy. Though the subject is not of an obvious type of elevated beauty, it does powerfully express Christ’s words:

They are blind and leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both fall into the pit. (Mt. 15:14)

Bruegel really hits us between the eyes with the horror of this allegory. In fact it opens our eyes to the havoc wrought by spiritual blindness, so prevalent in the modern world where leaders, the dominant influences in the media, in higher education, and in many levels of society have a kind of corporate obtuseness. Vice is seen as virtue, virtue as vice. Worldly minds are blind to the full truth, with the ensuing loss of a moral compass. It leads to madness.

While the pervading theme of this painting is tragedy, it is also a farce.1 These men are in a step-by-step downward spiral. They are stumbling and pulling toward emptiness. Each one represents a further degradation down the path toward ultimate disaster, and each is symbolic of a spiritual phase mankind can go through.

The man on the left represents the first step. He is quite self-satisfied in his illusions, spiritually somnolent, lax, and heedless of any danger. The second is a bit anxious, but still without a clue as to where he is heading, just following the crowd and the general trend. The third is stupid, ridiculous, a fool hanging onto the next fellow and the gang he happens to be in. The fourth manifests obtuse pride, though now with a look of horror. The last one seems to be cursing, with a terrified dread in his face, as he senses that the one in front is disappearing into a pit into which he himself is now falling.

There appears to be no charity among these poor human beings. Instead it is replaced by its substitute: a mindless herd instinct is their bond. Also malice is evident. Something sinister is going on. It is an illustration of the way to perdition.

The browns and the grays of the group convey dreariness and monotony. The light of the sun, symbol of Christ, is dimmed.

In contrast to the men tumbling down the slippery slope in the foreground, a completely different scene comes into view in the background. There—with its spire pointing upwards like a beacon of faith—is a simple yet beautiful church, built on solid ground surrounded by graceful trees, its reddish roof lit up by the last rays of an autumnal twilight. In its peaceful spirit it beckons and offers salvation.

We can better understand the inestimable gift of faith by becoming aware through this masterpiece of the consequences of its absence, desolation instead of joy.

1 “The parable of Matthew and Luke has not only been presented literally as blind leading the blind. A recurring theme in pictures and engravings is the image of the donkey instructing other donkeys.” (Source: Wikipedia, “The Parable of the Blind”, René Dewil, The Art of Painting)

The Art of Living: “I Don’t Feel Called”

It’s something I’ve heard many Christians— especially college students and young adults—say in recent years. “I feel called to be a leader.” “I feel God is calling me to marriage.” “I don’t feel called to go on this retreat.” “I don’t feel called to be a part of this Bible study group.”

While discerning God’s will is certainly important, I sometimes I wonder how much this “I don’t feel called” talk really has to do with a divine call and how much it is about one’s own feelings and fears, likes and dislikes. In other words, how much does “I don’t feel called” simply translate to “I don’t want to”?

If someone from my parish invites me to participate in a certain ministry that does not attract me, instead of honestly saying, “No thank you, I’m not interested in that” I spiritualize my “no” by saying, “I don’t feel called.” Or if I am afraid of living in a new city for a job, for graduate school, or for an opportunity to serve the Church, instead of saying “I don’t want to move to a place where I don’t know anyone,” I say, “I don’t feel called.”

Some young people even over-spiritualize the way they end dating relationships. Instead of honestly saying, “I don’t want to date you anymore” or “I don’t think this relationship is working,” young men will say to their girlfriends, “I don’t feel called to date you anymore. I think God is calling me to discern the priesthood now.” Some people seem so afraid of owning their decisions or admitting their preferences, interests, and desires, that they bring God into the process and blame Him for the choices they make.

Why do we do this? Sometimes, “I don’t feel called” can serve as a handy spiritual trump card to protect myself from truly being open to God’s will. Fearing a certain possibility, I rule it out from the beginning by saying, “I don’t feel called.” Or if I don’t want to give a rational explanation to others for my decisions, I can just tell people, “I don’t feel called.” Or if I want to back out of a commitment I’ve made but feel a little guilty about not fulfilling my responsibilities and letting others down, I bring God into the mix and say, “I don’t feel called to do this anymore. I feel God is calling me to do something else now.”

Trust Your Feelings?

Discernment can focus too much on one’s feelings. A person’s rationale for her decisions might go something like this: “This is my passion, so this must be what God wants for me” “This makes me so excited . . . it makes me come alive, so that means it is God’s will for me.” But notice how much focus there is on self in this kind of talk (my passion, what makes me excited). While a consideration of feelings and desires may be part of the discernment process, we must remember that God often calls us to do things we may not feel like doing—things we may, in fact, initially dread. Indeed, there are many things in life we are called to do that have nothing to do with how we feel.

For example, just the other night, my wife was ill and needing rest, but our toddler got out of her bed and came wandering in our room at 2:00 am, saying, “I need a diaper change.” My wife was the first to notice while I remained in a deep slumber. She gently tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Could you take care of Josephine?” Imagine if I had just rolled over and said, “No, honey. . . I don’t feel called.”

Getting out of bed at 2:00 am to change a dirty diaper does not make me passionate or excited. But my feelings really should not be an important part of this particular decision. In this situation, getting up to change the diaper is simply a responsibility I have, a matter of serving my family.

But I Don’t Feel Peace about This . . .”

It is true that we should have a certain peace about our decisions. But this does not mean God will never call us to do something that is initially very troubling. Just consider the great heroes of the Bible. Moses felt overwhelmed when God called him to confront Pharaoh and lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. The prophet Jeremiah worried that he was too young for the daunting task of calling Israel and the nations to repentance. Even the Blessed Virgin Mary “was greatly troubled” when God called her to become the mother of the Messiah. Imagine if these heroes had said no to God’s call simply because it caused them great trepidation.

Similarly, God often called the great saints out of their comfort zones to do things that were very difficult, scary, and painful. Mother Teresa, for example, was asked by Jesus to leave her religious community, the Sisters of Loreto, and to start a new religious order dedicated to the poorest of the poor. Her private writings reveal that this call caused her great fear. She was afraid of leaving her beloved Loreto Sisters, of starting a new order, of the difficult life of radical poverty, and of the possibility of failure. But underneath those initial, superficial fears, one detects in Mother Teresa a deeper fear: a fear of not doing what God wants for her; a fear of letting self-interest enslave her and keep her from pursuing God’s will.

In the end, Mother Teresa viewed her life not as a pursuit of her own feelings, interests, and desires, but as a gift to be given to God to serve His purposes. Instead of following her initial emotions of fear and dread, she rose above her feelings and pursued God’s demanding call for her. She left everything dear to her and, stepping completely out into the unknown, founded the Missionaries of Charity. The world would be a different place if Mother Teresa’s initial fears had driven her to say, “I don’t feel called.”

In Dialogue with God

St. Ignatius of Loyola taught that we should not base decisions on our initial feelings. Often, those first emotions of fear or anxiety arise from disordered attachments. God’s peace is a deep, abiding peace in our souls, and is not usually found in our superficial, initial responses to God’s will.

When discerning God’s will in our lives, we should have the disposition of Mary at the Annunciation. Though she was “greatly troubled” by the angel’s initial message, she remained open to God’s will. As Luke’s Gospel tells us, Mary “considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29). Benedict XVI once noted that the word Luke uses for “considered,dielogizeto, is derived from the Greek root word meaning “dialogue.” The term denotes an intense, extended reflection, one that triggers a strong faith. This indicates that even though Mary was troubled by what the angel’s greeting might mean for her life, she does not turn away from the Lord’s call. She remained an attentive listener to God’s Word. As Benedict explains, “Mary enters into an interior dialogue with the Word. She carries on an inner dialogue with the Word that has been given her; she speaks to it and lets it speak to her in order to fathom its meaning.”1 Mary thus responds like Samuel, who at the first promptings of God stirring in his heart did not close the door to God’s call, but humbly put his life at the Lord’s disposal, saying, “Speak, for your servant hears” (cf. 1 Sam. 3:10).

1 Joseph Ratzinger, “Hail, Full of Grace: Elements of Marian Piety according to the Bible” in Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Mary: The Church at the Source, trans. Adrian Walker (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 70.

The Road to Emmaus: These Beautiful Bones: An Interview with Emily Stimpson

“The ‘revelation of the body,’” Pope John Paul II asserts, “helps us in some way to discover the extraordinary nature of what is ordinary.”  This insight—shared by the Holy Father in one of his Wednesday addresses referred to commonly as “the theology of the body”—is the cornerstone of the newest book from award-winning author Emily Stimpson. In These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body, Stimpson applies the wisdom of John Paul II to both the sacred and mundane. Here, the author gives a sneak peak of These Beautiful   Bones (now available from Emmaus Road Publishing).

Most Catholics who’ve heard of the theology of the body associate it with one little three-letter-word. Should they? Or is there a wider vocabulary assigned to this teaching?

Over the past decade, many have come to think of the theology of the body as a theology of sex. But it’s so much more.  It’s not a sexology. It’s an anthropology.  It’s a meditation on who we are—as men and women, body and soul. It’s about what it means to be a human person. And that meaning isn’t just for the bedroom.  It’s for the whole of human life—for how we eat, pray, work, love, serve, and even dress. These Beautiful Bones is a reflection on all that.

What do you mean by the sacramentality of everyday life?

In the sacraments, God’s grace comes to us through matter—bread, wine, oil, hands. But, in a different way, God’s grace comes to us through the everyday moments of life—through conversation with friends, the hug of a child, a garden in bloom. To become the men and women God made us to be, it’s not enough to receive the graces of the sacraments. We also need to receive the graces of the everyday, letting every moment become an opportunity to grow in love.

“Stuff” comes up a lot in the book – MacBooks, antique book collections,  pretty clothes. Doesn’t that go against a spirit of detachment?

I don’t think so. “Stuff,” after all, is never the problem. It’s how we see stuff, how and why we value it. God, remember, loves “stuff;” He made “stuff”—trees and birds and amethysts. He also loves beauty—He filled the world with it. And He has called us, those made in His image, be good stewards, both of His creations and ours. Only when we see stuff that way, as expressions of His creativity and ours, as little windows into the divine, as tools we can use to love and serve others, can we exercise that stewardship, using and valuing “stuff” rightly. That vision makes true detachment possible.

So, after writing the book, did it alter how you view each of the topics in the book—hospitality, leisure, work, relationships etc.?

It’s more the opposite, actually. The book is the fruit of twelve years of me reflecting on the theology of the body and trying to apply it to every area of my life. I don’t live it perfectly, of course  (not by a long shot), and writing the  book was often like writing an examination  of conscience, with me asking  myself again and again, “Am I practicing  what I’m preaching?” But, in the main, I couldn’t have written it if I weren’t already experiencing the difference this way of
seeing the world makes to a life.

Is there one thought or principle you’d most like readers to take away from “These Beautiful Bones”?

It all comes down to who we are – again, as men and women, bodies and souls. So many of the problems in the world are rooted in people not understanding their own dignity, their own beauty. They don’t understand what it means to be a body. They don’t get what the body is. And so they can’t live in a way that brings them joy, peace, and wholeness.  A modernist, materialist way of seeing the world has infected the faithful and unfaithful alike. I’m hoping, in some small way, These Beautiful Bones will be a corrective to that, helping people learn to see the world, the body, and our life in both with Catholic eyes once more.

Talking with Bishop Peter J. Jugis

Recently Mike Sullivan had the opportunity to sit down with CUF episcopal advisor Bishop Peter J. Jugis of the Diocese of Charlotte, North   Carolina. Born and raised in Charlotte, Bishop Jugis has made the focus of his time serving the people of the diocese on four themes: catechesis, evangelization, promoting vocations to the religious life and to the priesthood, and the liturgy. Here Bishop Jugis and Sullivan discuss the Year of Faith as well as two other points of interest for the bishop: evangelization and liturgy.

As the Year of Faith comes to a close, could you share with Lay Witness how the Diocese of Charlotte commemorated this yearlong celebration?

The diocese celebrated our annual Eucharistic congress on September 13th and 14th to conclude the Year of Faith. The title of this year’s congress, “Open the Door to Christ,” takes its cue from Pope Benedict’s bull Porta Fidei. The Eucharistic congress was an opportunity during the Year of Faith to celebrate and reaffirm our faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of the Christian life and really the heart of the Church. If our faith in the Eucharist is strong, then the Church is going to be strong, and so will the mission of the Church and all of its ministries and apostolates and good works

Many of our CUF members have an interest in how dioceses across the country have successfully implemented the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum which made it possible for the extraordinary form of the Mass to be said without permission from the local bishops. How was the motu proprio received in your diocese?

Once Summorum Pontificum was promulgated in 2007 it gave permission from the highest echelons of the Church for the Latin Mass to be offered in every parish, so we were fortunate to have a small core of interested priests to begin with who were open to it and willing to offer that if the people wanted. So people started coming forward, and since I saw there was some interest, I invited a priest from the Society of St. Peter to come and offer training for any priests of the diocese who would like to be introduced to the extraordinary form. It’s available if the people desire it, and I think that has been the secret of its success.

The Year of Faith—along with the various challenges Catholics are facing in America right now—has given many of us a greater desire to share the truth of Christ with others. How can we stand strong in preaching the Gospel in a way that is compelling to others rather than repulsive?

Everything begins with our relationship with Jesus, with our prayer life and that vital intimate union that we have with the Lord. Pope Benedict said that one of the purposes of the series of books he wrote on Jesus of Nazareth was to hopefully allow people to delve into the mystery and their knowledge of Christ and make Him come alive for them. Because if we’re in love with Jesus, if our prayer life is strong, then our ability to share our faith with others will follow more easily.

We share Jesus with others and share our love for the teachings of His Church, and along with that sharing which comes from our deep conviction and commitment to Christ would come also a spirit of humility. Prayer is the key to all of that because it changes our attitude towards everyone around us—both Catholic and non-Catholic—and convicts us that He is the way, the truth, and the life.

Prayer gives us a serene confidence. We don’t have to beat people over the head, because we present the truth, and the Holy Spirit has to work His way in that person’s heart to gradually open them to the truth. But we do have an important role to play in that whole process, presenting the truth in humility and love.


(Free Press, 2013)

Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion: How We Became A Nation of Heretics is a deeply informative, wide-ranging look at American Christianity, from the heights of a culture of mere Christianity and common orthodoxy in the wake of the World Wars to the decline of institutional Christianity and the proliferation of dissent from the 1960s forward.

Douthat argues that many of our present national pathologies—including the dictatorship of relativism, the culture of death, the ongoing financial crises, and our sometimes apocalyptic, sometimes messianic political culture—can be traced in part to the failure of Christians to embrace the fullness of their faith. For far too long, he writes, Americans have been accepting heresy’s trimmed down, more palatable versions of the Gospel rather than the apparent paradoxes and mysteries inherent in the person, life, and teaching of Jesus.

“America’s problem isn’t too much religion, or too little of it,” Douthat asserts. “It’s bad religion: the slow motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo- Christianities in its place.”

Connecting present popular heresies to their nineteenth-century “New Thought” forebears, Douthat makes a compelling case for Christians of all stripes to repent and believe the Gospel. Ending with a call to holiness, this is a remarkably clear-eyed, challenging book that should resonate with all American Christians today.

—Chris Sparks


(Servant, 2013)

In The New Evangelization and You: Be Not Afraid, Greg Willits emphasizes the all-important call to evangelization that every baptized person receives. Familiar with the many challenges evangelization presents, Willits not only explains the New Evangelization but gives practical advice for living it, bridging the mental gap between an abstract calling and actually getting started.

This work covers multiple topics, from spiritual dryness to the nature of baptism to the significance of Christ’s analogy of fishing for men. With humility and humor, Willits draws from his own conversion and evangelization efforts while grounding his information in Scripture and the teaching of the Magisterium. Sidebars within each chapter introduce readers to contemporary evangelists who make use of modern technology and media to spread the faith.

Throughout the book runs a constant theme: the conversion of others must be backed by the conversion of self. We can’t share knowledge we don’t have; we can show the joy of a Christian life only if we truly live one.

Each of us is called to “know, live, and share” our faith. The New Evangelization and You is a clear, concise resource for anyone who wishes to become a better witness to the Gospel. Reminding readers that “God doesn’t take the qualified and make them worthy,” but rather “takes the unworthy and makes them qualified,” Willits provides a wealth of information, advice, and encouragement for the uncertain evangelist.

—Micaela Stoutz


(Saint Benedict Press, 2012)

Candles in the Dark: The Authorized Biography of Fr. Richard Ho Lung and the Missionaries of the Poor is a powerful and inspiring biography of one of the most remarkable priests of our time. Author Joseph Pearce, a brilliant writer, captures the spiritual essence of his subject—the “Ghetto Priest” of Jamaica.

Fr. Richard Ho Lung—a convert from Buddhism, poet, teacher, mystic, reggae musician, composer, charismatic preacher, and theologian—became the Founder of the Missionaries of the Poor. These religious brothers take care of the most abandoned, destitute, and physically disabled children, youth, and adults to be found in the unbelievable squalor of ghettos in Jamaica, Haiti, India, and other countries.

After entering the Society of Jesus, earning a doctorate at the Gregorian, and heading for a promising academic career as a professor of literature and psychology, Fr. Richard Ho Lung left the Jesuits (whom he saw seriously compromised by the excesses of inculturation, liberation theology, and infidelity to Humanae Vitae) to found his own order. Fr. Richard Ho-Lung has received numerous awards for the schools, hospitals, homes for pregnant mothers, homeless shelters, and centers for the disabled and disfigured his missionaries have built.

Readers will be edified and awed by his incredible life which, incidentally, was portrayed on a EWTN series. There is an astonishing similarity between Fr. Ho- Lung’s understanding of the “theology of poverty” which is currently being stressed by Pope Francis.

—James Likoudis president emeritus, CUF

The Triumph of Incarnational Humanism at Vatican II

It is well known that Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II made very different assessments of Gaudium et spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

Now that we are remembering Vatican II after fifty years, I propose that we revisit the question of the controverted legacy of Gaudium et spes. I argue that, whatever is problematic in the Pastoral Constitution, it has the great merit of giving us a kind of magna carta of what I call incarnational humanism.

For greater precision on incarnational humanism I turn to a seminal essay of the American Catholic theologian, John Courtney Murray, who was the most important American presence at Vatican II. In an essay entitled “The Question of Christianity and Human Values,” Murray draws a contrast between “eschatological humanism” and “incarnational humanism.” He articulates the stance of eschatological humanism in the following way:

Within the earthly City man is an alien; it is not his home, he does not find his family there, he is no longer even native to it, he has been reborn. At best, he is a pilgrim in its streets, a man in passage, restless to be on the way toward the Holy City that is his goal. While he lingers, almost literally overnight, his attitude is one of waiting and expectancy. . . . The only true human values are those which are supernatural and eternal. The works of earth, the objects upon which human energies may be poured out . . . are the works of time, only valuable because they fill in the time of waiting.

Christian readers of works such as The Imitation of Christ will recognize in them of the otherworldly spirit of eschatological humanism.

Murray proceeds to contrast this eschatological humanism with what he calls incarnational humanism, of which he says: the Church

carries on the mission of Christ “to save that which perished.” And that which perished was not only a soul, but man in his composite unity, and the material universe too, in that its . . . subjection to man was shattered . . . [when] it fell into a mysterious slavery of disobedience to human purposes, from which it longed for deliverance. The Church then is catholic in her redemptive scope; all men are to be saved, all that is human is to be saved. There is indeed to be a war upon the flesh, but in order that the body may be dignified. The Christian heart must cultivate a contempt for the world, but diligently cherish . . . reverence for the work of the Creator, who is Creator not only of heaven but of the earth. . . . Therefore in the perspectives of an incarnational humanism there is a place for all that is natural, human, terrestrial. The heavens and the earth are not destined for an eternal dust-heap, but for a transformation. There will be a new heaven and a new earth; and those who knew them once will recognize them.

Murray adds that for incarnational humanism “all that is good in the order of nature and of human and terrestrial values ‘merits’ doing, and that the doing of it can be . . . salvific of the doer, incorporative of the thing done into the one overarching Christian endeavor, the bringing of all things under the headship of Christ.” Incarnational humanism, then, has a certain thisworldly focus, which forms a contrast with the otherworldly focus of eschatological humanism.

Incarnational and Eschatological Humanism in Contrast

In the City of God Augustine speaks in the eschatological mode when he famously says (V.17), “For as far as this life of mortals is concerned, which is spent and ended in a few days, what does it matter under whose government a dying man lives, as long as they who govern do not force him to impiety and iniquity?” Augustine seems to set the bar very low. He does not expect much from human rulers and he is willing to put up with a great deal of wickedness from them, all because he feels so strongly his pilgrim status, his being someone who is just passing through. In the perspective of eternity it just isn’t worth the trouble to think through in detail what good government entails and to try to achieve it within human history.

We can see the very different perspective of incarnational humanism if we think of Catholic social teaching, that remarkable body of Catholic teaching, originating with Leo XIII, on how to infuse social and political and even economic life with the spirit of the Gospel. According to the social teaching of the Church we should, even though we have here no lasting home, give much thought and prayer and care to the right ordering of the temporal order, that is, of human society.

Let me then turn without further delay to a brief sampling of texts from Vatican II’s Gaudium et spes that seem to express a new kind of commitment to incarnational humanism.

The Relative Autonomy of Created Being

In paragraph 36, the Council fathers address the concern that religion might compromise “the autonomy of man, of organizations, and of science.” Instead of rejecting out of hand the appeal to autonomy, the Council fathers recognize a legitimate autonomy. Then they say: “By the very nature of creation, material being is endowed with its own stability, truth and excellence, its own order and laws.”

To feel the edge of this conciliar text, and to read it so that it jumps off the page at you, let me share a profound reflection of the great Romano Guardini. Writing in 1939 and expressing just the kind of reflection that prepared the ground in the Church for the incarnational humanism of Gaudium et spes, Guardini said

Much as we may admire the grandeur and unity of the medieval world view, we must not forget that this view contains at every point a kind of religious short-circuit. The absolute made so strong an impression that finite being did not come into view in its own proper being. . . . The answers that medieval man gave to questions about the nature of the world were often of a pre-critical kind, and he often gave a mythic, legendary rendering of the world.

Guardini says that the process of stripping the world of its mythic and legendary aspect was in one respect quite positive, for it involved a “coming of age” of mankind in relation to the world, a transition from the mind of a child to the mind of an adult. He said that in the early modern period “finite reality emerged in a new way and revealed its density, its insistence, its meaningfulness, its intrinsic value. Finite being came to consciousness and so did the seriousness of created being.” Guardini then explains the Christian substance of this new sense of the reality of the world: “what God creates He creates altogether, through and through. He releases the creature into its own being, its own standing, its own acting.” In other words, we would depreciate God as creator if we were to treat creatures as mere symbols of divine things and were to refuse to acknowledge the “being of their own” which God vests in creatures. Recall the thisworldliness of incarnational humanism; one can readily see how a certain thisworldliness is at work in the deepened sense of the relative autonomy of created being that was expressed in Gaudium et spes. In the lines that I quoted, the Council fathers do not just state the obvious, but they give us a deepened theology of creation.

Building Up the Earth

I turn now to one of the most striking expressions of incarnational humanism in Gaudium et spes. In paragraph 38 we read: “Constituted Lord by his resurrection and given all authority in heaven and on earth, Christ is now at work in the hearts of men and women by the power of his Spirit; not only does he arouse in them a desire for the world to come but he quickens, purifies, and strengthens the generous aspirations of mankind to make life more humane and conquer the earth for this purpose.” The work of Christ in our midst is not only otherworldly, it is also thisworldly. He not only prepares souls for eternity, but He also quickens our aspirations for an earthly life more worthy of human persons. Recall the words of John Courtney Murray about the salvific will of Christ: “All men are to be saved, all that is human is to be saved.” This means that the salvific will of Christ extends to the social and familial and political and cultural life of human beings.

We can perhaps understand better this aspect of the Council’s humanism if we remind ourselves of man’s place in the whole of creation. Many Christian thinkers have marveled at the fact that man occupies a unique position in creation, existing as he does at the border of matter and spirit. As a composite of matter and spirit man has a foot in the world of matter and a foot in the world of spirit. Some have seen this boundary position of man as something threatening; they have usually thought that it is matter that threatens, and have argued that man needs to protect himself by escaping into the spiritual world. But many other Christian thinkers have seen in our boundary position the glory of man. They say that we human beings, we embodied spirits, have the task of mediating between the world of matter and the world of spirit, of acting so that matter can become spiritualized and spirit can become embodied.

The Age of the Laity

It follows from the logic of incarnational humanism that the lay Christian takes on a special importance. Whereas the priest is entrusted with the sacred mysteries of the liturgy, the layperson is entrusted with the “building up of the earth.” As long as the building up of the earth is not given its due, as long as our humanism remains more eschatological than incarnational, the layperson remains in a way “underoccupied” in the Church. His life is divided between his secular professional work that lacks any lasting meaning, and his sacramental life, which alone has lasting meaning. He runs the risk of becoming a kind of secondclass Christian; the first-class Christian seems to be the priest or religiously consecrated person, who is completely devoted to that only thing that lasts. Then we get dangerously close to the tendency, sometimes found in the pre-conciliar Church that I grew up in, to reserve the call to holiness for priests and religiously consecrated persons, and to consign lay people to a minimal Christianity.

When one understands the seriousness of the lay work of building up the earth, of extending the redemption wrought by Christ to “all that is human,” once one discerns the priestly character of this work of extending redemption, one understands that lay people have to live the same total commitment of themselves to Christ that priests and religious live. Thus we arrive at texts in Gaudium et spes like this: “let them [lay Christians] be proud of the opportunity to carry out their earthly activity in such a way as to integrate human, domestic, professional, scientific and technical enterprises with religious values, under whose supreme direction all things are ordered to the glory of God” (no. 43). One sees how the Council’s teaching on the role of the laity is embedded in the thing I have been calling incarnational humanism.

Man Revealed to Himself in the Light of the Trinity

Now I turn to Gaudium et spes 22 and 24, two passages that John Paul II could not quote often enough. At issue is the doctrine of the Trinity, which seems at first to concern God and not man, and therefore seems not to contribute anything to our understanding of man and of the meaning of his earthly existence. But the Council fathers were able to make the Trinitarian faith of the Church fruitful for our understanding of our human being; they were able to show how this faith “reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling” (22).

The key text is in paragraph 24, where we read that the Lord Jesus, speaking of His oneness with His Father, “has opened up new horizons closed to human reason by implying that there is a certain parallel between the union existing among the divine persons, and the union existing among the sons of God in truth and love. This parallel shows . . . that man . . . can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself.” In other words, Gaudium et spes discerns in the Trinitarian faith of the Church the key to our human self-understanding; we can see what it means for us to give ourselves in love to another, by seeing how the Son of God lives only to do the will of the Father and to give glory to Him. These well-known passages exemplify the Christian humanism we are seeking, because for the first time they disclose something in the Trinity that is exemplary for our human existence.

Evangelization Based on Incarnational Humanism

In Gaudium et spes 19-21 the Council fathers address the problem of modern atheism. Consider for a moment what incarnational humanism can contribute to the Church’s encounter with atheism.

Recall the main argument advanced by the atheists. Nietzsche said that religion “slanders the earth,” meaning that it depreciates human goods, despises the body, looks with a jaundiced eye at any sign of human creativity and human strength, or at the great works of human culture. God is affirmed at the expense of human goods, he thought; devotion to God requires us to mortify our interest in human goods, to live for the next world so as to neglect the possibilities of this world. Thus God appears as a source of “heteronomy” for us, that is, as a law that is foreign to our deepest human aspirations, a law that does us violence as soon as we are held to obey it. The great Romano Guardini thought that Christian teachers have sometimes made the mistake of making God appear as a threatening “other.”

It seems clear that the best Christian response to this main argument of the atheists is incarnational humanism. Atheists September/October 2013 23 who encounter real incarnational humanists are forced to realize that God does not have to be affirmed at the expense of human flourishing. They are forced to realize that there is a way of venerating God that does not block but rather releases our energies for “building up the earth.” In Gaudium et spes 58 the Council fathers say that the Church “takes the spiritual qualities and endowments of every age and nation, and with supernatural riches it causes them to blossom, as it were, from within; it fortifies, completes and restores them in Christ.” If faith in God can be shown to have this fortifying effect on human culture, then the anxiety over heteronomy will be struck at the root.

Thus for the “new evangelization” incarnational humanism is fundamental. If we preach mainly in the spirit of eschatological humanism, then we play right into the atheists’ worries about human goods; we confirm their suspicion that God is affirmed at the expense of man. But if we preach in the spirit of Gaudium et spes, in the spirit of incarnational humanism, we can be heard in a new way; our proclamation can find a new kind of resonance in the hearts of our contemporaries. We can disarm their main objection to us.

On the other hand, Christianity is not merely a matter of fulfilling human aspiration; the main point of Christianity is not just to help in building up the earth. Jerusalem is not just an extension of Athens. The cross of Christ will always remain a folly to the Greeks. The admonition of Kierkegaard is perennially valid: “Woe to the person who betrayed and broke the mystery of faith, distorted it into public wisdom, because he took away the possibility of offense.” Christian apologetics cannot be based entirely on the humanistic fruit of Christian belief. But this fruit is, nevertheless, an important part of Christian apologetics; by avoiding an overly eschatological rendering of Christianity we can remove one main obstacle, and a needless obstacle, to gaining a hearing for the Christian message.

It might be appropriate to conclude this reflection on incarnational humanism with a profound thought from Bl. Duns Scotus, the great 14th century Franciscan theologian, who held the doctrine of the “absolute primacy of Christ.” By this he meant that the Incarnation is not just God’s response to our sin, it is not just for the sake of our redemption; Scotus held that already in His original plan of creation God had created the world for the God-man, and destined it to be subject to His kingship. The Son of God was destined to become man not just in the order of redemption but also in the order of creation. This means that the instaurare omnia in Christo (“to restore all things in Christ”) of St. Paul is not just a matter of Christ healing our wounds, but of standing at the center of a new creation. It means that He is destined to be present throughout creation in just the way envisioned by the Council and its incarnational humanism.

Who Wrote the Book of Love?: David the Beloved One

Survey people at the mall: “Where do you get advice on love, sex, and marriage?” and you’d get different replies: talk show hosts, magazines, friends, parents, books. Few if any would say: ”The Bible.”

Yet as we’ve seen over the past four columns, the theme of love, marriage, and intimacy is woven into the Bible from the very beginning. We’ve seen the focus on marriage in the creation accounts, the stories of the patriarchs, and story of the Exodus when God “married” Israel at Mt. Sinai. We’ve covered a lot of ground, but there is one more “eligible” person from the Old Testament we need to meet: King David.

Arguably, David is the dominant figure of the Old Testament, where he’s mentioned over a thousand times, around three hundred more times than his nearest rival, Moses.

David was so loved and remembered because, around 1000 BC, he pulled Israel out of chaos and poverty, and made the nation into a prosperous kingdom that dominated the world during his lifetime and that of his son Solomon. Appropriately, his name “David” is the Hebrew word for “Beloved One.” He was—and remains— the “beloved” king of Israel, like Arthur is to England, or St. Louis to France.

The people of Israel thought of David, and his sons after him, as “bridegroom kings.” When the people of Israel first approached David to become their king, they said, “Look! We are your bone and flesh!” Then they made a covenant with him (2 Sam. 5:1-3). This should remind us of Genesis, where Adam says, “Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” (Gen. 2:23) and thereby formed the first covenant of marriage with Eve. David and Israel were in a covenant relationship like a married couple.

Later in David’s reign, his son Absolom briefly overthrew him and took over his capital, Jerusalem (2 Sam. 15-16). One of Absolom’s generals came to him and said: “Let me choose twelve thousand men and pursue David tonight . . . I shall strike down the king alone. Then I shall bring back the rest of the people to you, as a bride returns to her husband” (2 Sam. 17:1-3). The plan was never carried out, and David was eventually restored as king, but the general’s comment shows how the reigning king was viewed as the husband of the people.

If David was a bridegroom to Israel, his son Solomon was even more so. Solomon had 700 wives—which works out to a marriage every other weekend for most of his adult life! He must have known a lot about weddings. Therefore, the Bible’s greatest love poetry is associated with Solomon, like Psalm 45 (the Royal Wedding Psalm) and the Song of Songs.

The Song of Songs (or “Song of Solomon”) is a collection of smaller love poems that together make a single large one. Solomon is the “romantic lead” through all the poems, as he courts his bride with smooth lines like these: “Your hair is like a flock of goats . . . your belly is a heap of wheat” (Song 6:5; 7:3). (My wife always swoons when I whisper these in her ear!)

Hundreds of years after Solomon, when the people of Israel were in exile and no longer had a king, they began to read the Song of Songs in a different sense. Throughout the Song, the bride is always calling Solomon “my beloved, my beloved.” In Hebrew, this comes out as “my David, my David.” Israel began to see “Solomon” as a symbol of the “New David”: the Messiah who would return one day to be husband and king to his people Israel.

In time, the New David did show up. He was born in Bethlehem, David’s hometown. Wise men from the East came to seek him out, just as they had sought out Solomon so many years before (see 1 Kings 4:29-34). While he was still a child, they brought him gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold is a gift fit for a king (see 1 Kings 10:14). “Frankincense” and “myrrh” only are mentioned together in one other book of the Bible: the Song of Songs, where they are romantic perfumes that smother the bodies of Solomon and his bride (see Song 3:6; 4:6,14). In this way, the wise men mark Jesus out as the bridegroom-king almost from His birth.

Everyone wants true love. Everyone wants the perfect spouse. This explains the enduring popularity of fairy tales like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and their modern spin-offs like The Princess Bride. God understands that longing for love, because He created it in us. And He also sent us the one to satisfy that desire, the ultimate “Prince Charming,” or better, “Prince of Peace”: “Jesus Christ, the Son of David” (Mt. 1:1).