As For Me and My House: A Reflection on Staying Catholic

I believe in one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church. I say those words every Sunday and I still believe them, including that the Church is holy. Yes, she is full of the rottenness of men, the stink of sin rising to the very top. But she is still the Church.

In today’s Mass readings (the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 26, 2018), we hear from St. Paul (Eph. 5:21-32) that Christ loved the Church and loves her still, despite her flaws and sin. He doesn’t just love her, He died for her, to sanctify her, to cleanse her. He loves her so as to become one with her, to make her part of His mystical divine body. Just as the Old Testament prophet Hosea stayed faithful to Gomer, his wife who was also a harlot, so much more so will Christ stay faithful to His Church, even as she is unfaithful to Him and stinks to high heaven of sin.

After all, where else can we go? Even as I read last night the riveting and earth-shattering testimony of Archbishop Vigano, who names names and demands that Pope Francis and other high-ranking Vatican officials resign their offices for their failures to protect the Church from predators and underminers like Theodore McCarrick, I wept for my Church. And yet it never entered my mind that I would leave. This morning, my family was there in our parish, sitting in our regular pew, to celebrate Mass. And we heard Jesus challenge His disciples (John 6:60-69), after they have received the hard teaching of the Real Presence in the Eucharist from Him, “Do you also want to leave?”

How does Peter respond? He doesn’t say, “O Lord, I understand what you’re teaching me. I know what you mean when you said we must gnaw upon your flesh to have eternal life. Those other guys just haven’t given it deep enough thought.” No, what Peter says is, “Master, to whom shall we go?” To whom, indeed. Peter is admitting he doesn’t understand and perhaps even that what Jesus just said is troubling, but that he also knows deep down to the roots of his being that Jesus is Who He says He is, that He is the One who has come to seek and save the lost, that He comes from the Father. And that’s good enough for him.

It’s good enough for me. I won’t leave, no matter what priests, bishops, or popes do, because the “words of eternal life” aren’t from them. They are not “the Holy One of God” that Peter proclaims. And, sure, Peter doesn’t quite live up to his promise in that moment, denying Christ at the cross, but he comes back and is forgiven. So, I too, may be shaken by the events to come, the revelations of misdeeds and sin, but I won’t stray far. I will come back to the Way.

Because, as Joshua says in the first reading (Joshua 24:15), “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” My first loyalty is to the Lord, not to men. And we will serve the Lord in whatever way He calls us, in whatever way restores His Church and advances the kingdom. The alternative is to proclaim I will not serve (“non serviam”), but that way is the way of hell, literally.

“Far be it from us to forsake the Lord… therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” (Joshua 24: 16, 18). Whatever may come, my house will serve the Lord, will stay faithful, will cling to the Sacraments, even as we do what we can to support the housecleaning to come in the Church.

Defending Pope Francis

Some say, “Every time the Pope speaks, a legion of his fans must re-interpret his words and defend him. That shows there must be something wrong with what the Pope is saying.” Does it? What it might mean is that every time the Pope speaks a legion of his critics must find every possible fault, interpret his words in the most tendentious way, and refuse to give him the benefit of the doubt. But why should his words be so complex that they require explanation?, they ask.

This reminds me of some Protestants whose dogmas are built on literal interpretations of the Bible, the “plain words” on the page they read. They accuse Catholics of complicating things, of offering complex interpretations that serve only to prop up their own dogmas. But Catholics respond that what looks like plain words on a page is a complex melange of human words, Divine inspiration, centuries of transcription, and ambiguous translation that requires an divinely appointed authority to interpret and match with an oral Tradition that is very deep and built on centuries of Christian belief, thought, expression, and lived experience and, of course, Divine inspiration.

I’m not saying that every word from the mouth of the Holy Father is Holy Writ, but I am saying that Pope Francis’ plain-speaking style can deceive one into taking the words at their common face value, when if you look with a keener and more receptive eye, you find much more depth and complexity that stands right in line with what the Church has believed and held all along. And perhaps it’s not Pope Francis who stands on shaky theological ground, but those who insist they know better. (Not to mention that what you see as Pope Francis’ words are almost always translations of idioms and other conversational speech from another language by a translator who makes his own judgments on what the Pope means.)

I understand that for many people the past 50 years has been one battle after another to hold on to a patrimony that has been battered and beaten. I’m one of those people. But this experience can result in a mindset of suspicion and can even end up in a way that asks other to prove themselves not enemies first rather than assumes they are friends first. The Pope–any pope–deserves better than that.

New Pope interview clarifies his remarks on economics

https://www.facebook.com/VaticanRadioEnglish https://www.facebook.com/VaticanRadioEnglish

Pope Francis has given another interview, this time to longtime Vaticanista Andrea Tornielli in La Stampa. Among many other things, the Holy Father addresses criticisms of his comments on economics in Evangelii Gaudium and it turns out that many critics did indeed misunderstand him and the translation from Spanish was part of the problem. (See my previous post on this topic.)

Jimmy Akin offers some instant analysis and I’ll quote his take at length because I have nothing to add:

We need to clarify something here. In the English translation of Evangelii Gaudium, we find the following statement:

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.

This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system [n. 54].

This set off alarm bells among American conservatives because, as Michael Novak points out:

Only those hostile to capitalism and Reagan’s successful reforms, and to the policies of Republicans in general after the downward mobility of the Carter years, use the derisive expression “trickle-down,” intended to caricature what actually happened under Reagan, namely, dramatic upward mobility.

But the English translation is needlessly partisan, because, as Novak also points out:

Note first that “trickle-down” nowhere appears in the original Spanish, as it would have done if the pope had meant to invoke the battle-cry of the American Democrats against the American Republicans. Professional translators of Spanish say the correct translation of derrame is “spillover” or “overflow.”

The idea is of a cup overflowing to the benefit of others, not that of the poor receiving merely a “trickle” of water from the rich.

Unfortunately, the English translators at La Stampa seems similarly unaware of the partisan nature of the phrase “trickle-down” economics in English, and so the phrase also appears in the English translation of the new interview, where the Pope is presented as saying:

“There is nothing in the Exhortation that cannot be found in the social Doctrine of the Church.

I wasn’t speaking from a technical point of view, what I was trying to do was to give a picture of what is going on.

The only specific quote I used was the one regarding the “trickle-down theories” which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and social inclusiveness in the world.

The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor.

But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor.

This was the only reference to a specific theory.

I was not, I repeat, speaking from a technical point of view but according to the Church’s social doctrine.

This does not mean being a Marxist.”

As with the Spanish original to Evangelii Gaudium, the phrase “trickle-down” does not appear in the Italian original of the interview.

The phrase that the Pope uses is ricaduta favorevole, which would be literally translated “favorable overflow.”

Setting aside the problematic translation of this phrase into English, what the Pope says is quite true: Merely making business conditions easier on the rich does not automatically result in better conditions for the poor.

Things like the rule of law and the absence of government corruption are needed as well.

If a nation is run by a kleptocracy—such as the ones found in many Latin American countries, including Argentina—the poor do not automatically benefit when the rich do well.

The Pope is also right in pointing out that stating this fact “does not mean being a Marxist.”

Catholic New Media Conference in Boston is a Hit

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This past weekend, the Archdiocese of Boston hosted the Catholic New Media Conference, the seventh presented by the Star Quest Production Network (SQPN) and the second time the archdiocese hosted it.

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I was the primary coordinator from the Archdiocese for the conference and despite my worst fears, it went off pretty well. In fact, I haven’t heard a single complaint from anyone or a single negative remark. If I hadn’t been running around like a mad man the whole time, I might have said it was the best CNMC I’ve experienced (this was my fourth).

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The keynote address was given by Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, a key figure in the Vatican’s social media efforts. He spoke about the thinking behind and the lessons learned in their recent projects including the papal Twitter account @Pontifex, the News.va news portal, and the Pope App. He was by turns humorous and forthright about the lessons learned (not to mention the new vocabulary he picked up from the responses to the papal tweets). Scot Landry has done a good job of summarizing the talk and you can also watch it in its entirety below.

The bottom line is that the Vatican gets it. They understand social media and have really leapfrogged everyone in what to use and how to use it. I’m going to need to re-listen to this talk so I can use the wisdom in it to improve the new media efforts of the Archdiocese.

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My own contribution was a talk I did along with Fr. Roderick Vonhogen on the use of video in new media. My portion was dedicated the live video streaming and I covered the gamut from free and simple to complex and requiring some investment. Other talks included George Martell giving his take on how to take better photographs, Maria Johnson discussing writing online, Pat Padley on reaching out to a mobile generation, Scot Landry on reaching out to inactive Catholics, Fr. Roger Landry discussing Pope Francis’s communication style, Jeff Young and Fr. Roderick on using Internet audio, and Angela Sealana on lessons from the Blessed Mother on being a new media missionary. In the afternoon, we wrapped up with a moderated panel that included many of the people above as well as the Archdiocese’s Fr. Paul Soper, director of pastoral planning, answering some very good questions, including one about how we reach the poor and marginalized using new media.

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As you might expect the day began with Mass and ended with Adoration. Then while some folks went out for a Tweetup at a local establishment, when I finished cleaning up, talking to some of the people, and seeing everyone off, I headed home to collapse in my chair with a stiff drink.

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Sunday, we rose early, the whole family, and headed into the North End of Boston to Sacred Heart Parish for Mass with the parishioners there. It’s a beautiful Italian church full of statues and devotional imagery. We pretty much took over with our conference attendees. The celebrant was great, a visiting Jesuit from Boston College, who looked like a Tolkien dwarf and gave a smashing homily that connected the Red Sox, a Gatorade commercial, and the parable of the unjust judge.

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Following Mass, we were scheduled to take a Duck Tour of Boston. To be honest, I’d never taken a Duck Tour and it was a lot of fun. The driver was real character, obviously selected for his personality, although he seemed obsessed with how much everythig cost in his script. It was a gorgeous day on the streets of Boston and on the waters of the Charles River and so it was a great tour. He even let Sophia and Anthony “drive” the Duck while it was in the water. (Isabella and Ben refused the opportunity.)

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Lunch was the next stop, at a place appropriately named Artu (like R2D2, get it?), which was nice for about half the meal until Anthony and Benedict started getting restless. Besides the rolls, there was nothing they wanted to eat and they were getting tired already. I opted to make a tactical retreat, taking the boys and leaving Melanie with the girls. We went around the corner to Modern Pastry, where I bought them slices of Sicilian pizza and a “black and white” (we always called them half-moons) pastry. We sat on some steps to eat and then rejoined the group as they were coming out of the restaurant.

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The schedule for the rest of the afternoon was some practical media training. George Martell would lead a group on a walk around the area of Boston, teaching his group how to tell a story through photography while Fr. Roderick did the same with audio and video and then after an hour they would switch off. However, Melanie and I decided had probably gone as far as they could for the day and made our way back to our car. Although it was after a stop at Mike’s Pastry so Melanie could get a treat for her and the girls. It was only fair.

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All in all, it turned out to be a pretty great, if very tiring CNMC and I’m glad it seemed to go well for everyone. It’s always a great chance to connect with people I only ever see online. Unfortunately as a co-coordinator, I couldn’t spend much time in that interaction this year. It was nice that Fr. Roderick had extended his trip and we were able to invite over to our house for dinner on Monday.

So that’s the CNMC. For all the great photos from George Martell, including ones I used here, go to BostonCatholicPhotos.com, where they are available for download under a Creative Commons Share-Alike, Attribution-Required license.

You can read other recaps linked from Maria Johnson’s blog including her own.

Habemus Papam! Welcome Pope Francis

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Viva il Papa! I’m relieved and happy to have a new Holy Father and especially to have one named for one of my favorite saints, St. Francis of Assisi, although because Pope Francis is a Jesuit I suppose it could be St. Francis Xavier.

I was at work in the Pastoral Center when the white smoke went up and everyone gathered in the lobby to watch the TV there. We were all very nervous and excited that it could be Cardinal Seán, whose name had been bandied about so often recently.

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That picture doesn’t do it justice as the crowd was twice the size by the announcement. There was relief at hearing that Cardinal Seán was coming home, and joy at the announcement, but also curiosity, wondering who this new pope is. I look forward to getting to know him.

Worlds Collide – Scot and Fr. Roderick in St. Peter’s Square

Courtesy of Fr. Roderick Vonhogen Courtesy of Fr. Roderick Vonhogen

I can’t tell you how surreal it is to listen to Fr. Roderick’s Catholic Insider podcast and hear my boss, Scot Landry, talking to Father about how our Catholic Media office at the Archdiocese of Boston is covering the papal transition.

Eight years ago, I was listening to this quirky podcast by this Dutch priest who happened to be in St. Peter’s Square when Pope John Paul II died and when Pope Benedict XVI was elected and thinking how cool it is to be able to hear it from a firsthand view.

And now, we’ve come full circle. So much of what we’re doing in new media in Boston is a result of what Fr. Roderick has done with SQPN.

Man, I wish I had been able to go.

The Church should sell all her priceless art… Then what?

Fresco of the Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo Buonarroti, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Fresco of the Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo Buonarroti, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When I hear and read people write something like, “They should sell the paintings in the Sistine Chapel and give the money to the poor,” I wonder, Who are we supposed to sell them to? (Not to mention, they’re not paintings, but frescoes painted on the walls.)

Nevermind that these were painted for the Glory of God to inspire and elevate those who would worship in the chapel. Nevermind that the Church holds them in custody for the good of all humanity. No, what we should do is find someone–probably some billionaire private collector–to buy Michelangelo’s most famous work for millions, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars. So he could put it in his private collection. Or maybe loan it to a museum. Because being in a museum is better than being in a chapel?

But of course then we’d say it was wrong for this billionaire to hold these priceless artworks so he should sell them and give the money to the poor. And then the next owner should do the same. And so on. In fact, who exactly is supposed to own these priceless artworks for the good of humanity and the Glory of God.

The kind of person who says we should sell the artwork in churches to support the poor don’t understand churches. Or the poor, having never visited the churches of poor people where the one spot of beauty and art in their lives is that artwork in their church. Certainly some of the most beautiful churches around Boston, themselves works of art, were built precisely by the poor, donating hours of free labor outside of their own grueling jobs, not to mention whatever meager pennies they had.

The Church is already the world’s leading charitable nongovernmental organization, doing more for the sick, the hungry, the poor and needy than any other.

Really is such drivel really motivated by anything other than contempt for the Church and based on anything other than age-old anti-Catholic canards?

My hope is that as the cardinals contemplate the election of our new Pope as they sit in the Sistine Chapel in the coming days, that the beautiful art of Michelangelo inspires them to greater discernment. I certainly don’t think that would happen if they were sitting in a bland, whitewashed box hung with felt banners.

Don’t miss the White Smoke

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Now that the date for the conclave to begin has been set, next Tuesday, March 12, people are trying to figure out how they can be sure not to miss the black smoke/white smoke.[1] Even though this is the first social media conclave and the moment a puff of smoke appears out of the Sistine Chapel’s Chimney, Twitter and Facebook will explode with updates, even that’s not enough.

So there have been some enterprising folks who have set up services for us, including PopeAlarm.com, brought to us by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, which promises that they have a team of people scouring news media around the clock so that when white smoke appears they will send you an email and/or text message. Of course, it’s not really around-the-clock since there are only 4 ballots per day by the cardinals, all occuring all predictable times, but you get what they mean.

And of course I signed up for the service. Unfortunately, I don’t check my email consistently and if my phone’s on vibrate (as it usually is) I don’t always feel a text come in. So I took some extra steps.

First, I turned to the awesome Internet toolkit that is IfThisThenThat.com (or IFTTT, for short). This site takes advantage of programming interfaces that many web services open up to allow third-parties to do cool things and so it lets you string conditions and actions together to do things. For example, every time I post an Instagram, automatically save it to my Evernote notebook. If the weather is going to be rainy today, send me a text message to take an umbrella. If I star an email in Gmail, send it to Evernote. When my Facebook profile picture changes, change my Twitter profile too. You get the idea.

So what I did was set up an IFTTT “recipe” that when I receive an email from noreply@popealarm.com to actually call my phone. (IFTTT can robocall your telephone.)

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This is great, but what if my phone is on vibrate. Same problem as the text message. Okay, so I’d already jailbroken my iPhone.[2] Using an app called RingerX, I set up the IFTTT phone number as a contact and set it to ring no matter what, even if it’s on vibrate. To top it off, I added an obnoxious Klaxon alarm ringtone.

Even then I didn’t feel it was enough. Based on the Vatican press office’s schedule, I knew that there were four times per day I needed to be watching.

When the balloting is unsuccessful — no candidate reaches the 2/3 votes needed for election — two votes are taken in the morning and two are taken in the afternoon.
The two morning or two afternoon ballots are burned together, so there are only two smoke signals a day.
The first smoke signal can be expected about 7 p.m. Tuesday, after the first vote. Beginning Wednesday, smoke would be expected at about noon and again about 7 p.m.
However, if a pope is elected on the first ballot of the morning, the white smoke would billow forth between 10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. If he is elected on the first ballot of the afternoon, the white smoke would be seen between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Converting those times into Daylight Savings Time for the East Coast[3], I came up with four times I needed to be tuned in to some webcam or live feed or at least TV news. And so I also set up reminders in the Reminders app on my iPhone.

With all this preparation what are the odds I will first hear about it from someone running into my office or that I’ll even miss it until Twitter and Facebook blow up? Nevertheless, this time I’m going to be prepared. Or I’m going to need to be glued to the TV all day.


  1. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about this article at ElectingThePope.net explains.  ↩

  2. iMore.com has all you need to know about jailbreaking, but I may write another blog post about my own reasons for doing it and my experience.  ↩

  3. While we go on Daylight Savings Time in the US this weekend, Europe doesn’t for several weeks and thus Rome will be 5 hours ahead of the East Coast.  ↩

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