Wednesday, April 24, 2013


The Pope in this movie goes crazy and disappears. Sad day.

I watched a really interesting movie a few weeks ago (the wife was out of town, so didn't see it with me) called Habemus Papam. It's a strange little Italian movie from 2011 about the election of a new Pope, who turns out to be pretty nuts and runs off. It's slow and tedious at times, but, for someone with an attention span like mine, mostly fascinating.

Anyway, I was struck by the sound and affect of the Italian word for Pope, "Papa." ("PAH-pah," not "pah-PAH" as we might say in Spanish). To my ear, and the way the actors said it, this was not just a title, they way "Pope" is in English, but a term of endearment. "Santo Papa!" "Papa!"

This is, it turns out, the very origin of the title "Pope" anyway. Important bishops of the ancient world, most notably Rome's, but also Alexandria's, were called, in Greek, "Pappas" by their people. "Pappas," of course, being the root of our word "Pope." The word is supposed to be more like "Daddy" or "Poppa" than a formal title for an office.

All of this is to say that I am finding it insufficient to call Pope Francis by what is in English a formal and stiff title. My heart is so full when I read his words or hear of what he does... I want something more like "Papa!"

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Vocations for All!

Archbishop Sample always preaches with miter and crosier.
At Sunday's confirmation Mass at the university, the Archbishop, who is new Portland, spoke primarily of the Universal Call to Holiness. For him, this was the most important Vocation to talk about on the World Day of Prayer for Vocations- Holiness.

Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised.

Of course, he did mention the importance of discerning a call to priesthood and consecrated religious life. But, these particular vocations to particular states of life are always at the service of the basic, universal vocation of the baptized- holiness. Priesthood. Rulership. Prophecy.

I am just overjoyed that an Archbishop known for his conservatism and traditionalism is embracing and promoting the laity-empowering message of Vatican II. After Mass, he confessed to a group of us that he has felt personally challenged by the example of Pope Francis, challenged to live simply and humbly.

The Mission of the Church depends on the buy-in and action of the laity. We have to know that we have a mission in order to live it. That mission is holiness and we all have it.

Of course saying 'holiness' leaves a lot of room for interpretation. But, for lay Catholics to understand even vaguely that they have an important task to carry out in the world, that of offering the love of Christ to all who need it, is a step in the right direction.

My thoughts come from my own experience of confusion as a child. Although I didn't question the purpose of being Christian at the time, at least not in concrete terms, I never really understood that I had a mission to carry out in my daily life. In hindsight, it's baffling given that each Mass ends with a concrete command to "Go out and to love and serve the Lord!" I was a religiously inclined little kid (for reasons as pathological as admirable, I'm sure) and I didn't come close to getting the call I had.

Who else needs to hear that baptism is more than a membership card? I would guess most Catholics, clergy and laity alike.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Alithos Anesti - A Reflection on Loving the New Pope

Happy Easter! Christos Anesti!

In Greece, people don't really wish each other "Happy Easter." For all of Easter Season, they say, "Christos anesti," which means, "Christ is risen." The response is "Alithos anesti," - "Truly he is risen."

A lot has been said about the new Pope. He is already beloved of Catholics of all stripes and many, many non-Catholics, too. His simplicity, humility and care for the neediest appeals to nearly everyone. Liberals and conservatives, Big church-sympathizers and members of the "creative minority," all see Christ shining through him in a remarkable way. Although perhaps not as eloquent as John Paul II or erudite as Benedict XVI, his actions proclaim Christian doctrine and morality in a way even the most brilliant encyclical cannot.

It's wonderful to see.

Let me just say, with not a little bit of shame, that I am flat-out surprised that such a beautiful soul with such a relevant message for the 21st century world could become Pope.

For years I have been been critical, often uncharitably so, of the Hierarchy. It has been hard for me to find a diocesan priest, Bishop or Archbishop who inspires me and evokes a deep sense of love and devotion. Many Catholics, I know, have felt this way. Call it my problem, not the Bishops'; that's fine with me. There are many great parish priests and bishops in the world and in this country. I think I just haven't known them. The fact remains that I have learned Christ's love, mercy, and tenderness not from the priests who've been my pastors or the bishops to whom I owe my allegiance. Instead, my relationship with Christ has been nourished by the laity, permanent deacons and members of religious communities.

From the midst of this institutional Church that has been a source of consternation and confusion for me has emerged a new light. Of course, I had never written off the institutional Church as "dead," although a lot of people had; its doctrine and work has always been more positive than negative, truer to Christ than not. Even so, the talking points, methods and priorities of many vocal US bishops had become frustrating to me as I've grown more mature in my thinking and relationship with Jesus.

In short, I'd experienced a loss of trust in my bishops and in many of the priests they'd sent to be my pastors. I hoped for a new Pope who would change the priorities of the Hierarchy to reflect more closely the priorities of Jesus and the Saints: namely, love of the poor, mercy, and compassion. Sure, there are some questions about sexuality and women's roles in the Church that I kind of hope would be taken up more fully. But, when I think of Jesus and the God I know him to be, I know that the most important issue for our time is care for the poor and suffering, not the ideological stuff that so often distracts me.

Pope Francis is already setting that as the number one priority for the Church. We find Christ in the poor and the world finds Christ in us when we care for the poor. Yes, I hope for evangelization, both traditional and "new," but my conviction for years has been that that comes about through walking the talk.

Looking at Pope Francis in his humility and ability to tear down walls to live like Christ, I am challenged to be a better person, to live the good news in which I believe. In Papa Francisco, I see Christ risen, presenting himself to the whole world. He is an angel asking us, "why do you look for the living among the dead?" Why have I been looking for Jesus among the prestige and power of the hierarchy? He's been living in the poor all along. Once again, he has breathed life into a Church that had nearly killed itself with sex scandals and self-reference.

I always love Easter. This year, though, it is not only a spiritual reality that I embrace and celebrate. My Church feels alive once more, in a way I never thought possible. I love the Pope, despite some flaws, and I would follow him where he goes, just as so many decided to follow Peter or Francis of Assisi in their time.

Alleluia! He is risen! Truly, he is risen!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Devoutly Progressive at Work

The Bell Tower and a Cherry Tree in Bloom from UP's Academic Quad
I have a full-time job, a good one. I'm the newest member of Campus Ministry staff at the University of Portland, a Holy Cross School in the same tradition as my beloved Notre Dame. It is a great place to work and a job full of challenges and creative thinking, as well as some enjoyable liturgical tasks.

Since starting the job in July, I have tried to downplay my own 'devoutly progressive' opinions in public, online places. I've been effectively on hiatus on this blog for a couple of reasons:

2.) Alienating students - I know that a minister who is too openly political with their opinions can alienate wide swaths of their entrusted flock. I don't want to turn away students from more conservative backgrounds/families/worldviews with my peace- and justice-oriented Catholicism.
3.) Self-consciousness/fear - It seems that a sort of conservative voice is dominant from the Hierarchy in this country, at least the media grabs hold of that image and pushes it down our throats. Many people equate Catholicism with conservative politics, and not without good reason. I find myself susceptible to this distortion and am afraid to speak too loudly about my own interpretation of Catholic Doctrine and New Testament Spirituality.

In other words, I'm kind of scared to publicly declare myself as decidedly not-republican now that I'm in a position of ministry. I don't want to be rejected by the dominant voice of the Church, but if that voice is getting too much amplification at the expense of my own (and others') voice, then it's time to put that fear way.

But, aside from a few personal questions which I will not discuss on this blog, nor indeed with any students, my opinions adhere closely and consistently to the Magisterium and to the US Bishops. In fact, despite all the negative press, I am proud to have been formed by the Catholic Church - it is my faith that feeds any commitment I have to the common good and social justice. I believe in a loving God who wills freedom and happiness for individuals and peace and justice in society.

That said, I am still devoutly progressive throughout my political views. What does that mean? A commitment to creating a progressively more egalitarian and inclusive society, which goes out of its way to care for the environment, provide health care and quality education, and minimize prejudice of all kinds - racial, gender, sexual, religious, economic. The government has a place in guaranteeing the equality of dignity and opportunity for all citizens. This involves continually facilitating upward mobility for the poor and marginalized and requiring responsibility from those blessed with abundance of material goods and education.

All of this is in-line with Catholic Social Teaching and, in fact, stems from it. I will do my best to make room for other opinions on economic and social issues. However, I will be up front about some things: I am pro-life in that I am in favor of federal prohibition of abortion. I am also in favor of robust social services for those who need them, including universal access to health care, however that's achieved. Finally, I am anti-war and would probably be best described as a pacifist. In my view, these issues are all complimentary and related.

My progressivism has its roots in my own deeply orthodox theological views: Jesus's example in the New Testament emphasizes that mercy and justice, together, must be priorities over all else- over profit, over ideology, over personal security.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Colbert V. The Jesuits

Yes, that's Paul Ryan as Big Foot.
Okay, so this video from last night's episode of the Colbert Report is too good not to share, especially given my recent obsession with the GOP Budget, as reflected on this blog. Enjoy!

Video of Stephen Colbert and Georgetown Theology Professor and Jesuit Priest Thomas Reese:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Paul Ryan's Budget - Thomas Reese
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

Monday, April 30, 2012


Paul Ryan loves Subsidiarity,
But doesn't seem to get the
Prefential Option for the Poor.
You've got to hand it to Paul Ryan. I think he really believes that the principle of Subsidiarity compels him to eliminate as many federal services for the poor as he sees fit. What is subsidiarity? In short, it's the belief that the best people to take care of the needy are those closest to them. The Church believes this. St. Francis believed this. Mother Teresa believed this. Dorothy Day believed this.

It is a beautiful principal, in line with the personal love that Christ displays in the New Testament and through the experience of Christian spirituality. Subsidiarity reminds us that it's not okay to just let a huge, impersonal system plug and chug with serving the needs of individuals and communities. It asks us to do everything we can to strengthen communities from the bottom up, get to know each other and take personal responsibility when a neighbor needs help. Ideally, according to subsidiarity, government would not even be necessary because we would all care for each other's needs freely and readily, leaving no one out.

Dorothy Day also loved Subsidiarity,
but prioritzed the poor, too.
Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I would guess that Rep. Ryan sincerely bases his economic proposals on this ideal. He eliminates federal spending on services with the hope that private individuals and states will pick up the slack in a more efficient, personal way.

Now, what he might not understand is that Subsidiarity requires that necessary outreach and assistance, especially to the poor and sick, be ensured. Always. It doesn't say that assistance should always be conducted on a level close to the need. It says that assistance should be conducted as close to the need as realistically possible. The question to ask ourselves, that I hope he's asked himself, is whether it's realistic that the hungry will receive better food assistance when federal food stamps are limited. Will sick children receive better insurance without federal support for Medicaid? Is there funding and man-power at state and local levels that will ensure the continuation and improvement of aid to people served by the 3.3 trillion dollars he proposes to eliminate from the federal budget?

It's not hard to see that the answer is a definitive "no!" Due to the economic crisis, states and local governments, charities and non-governmental organizations  have a far decreased capacity to assist those who need them. I am unsure how removal of federal assistance will help them to do better.

Perhaps it is theoretically possible that it will encourage donors to give more locally. However, the results of such cuts already occurring throughout state and local governments makes such a theory suspect to me. People simply don't have the extra money right now to make up for the loss of governmental assistance.

I think Ryan has misinterpreted Subsidiarity, whether willfully or otherwise. Further, he does so inconsistently, bolstering national defense with increased funding. This essentially prioritizes high-tech bombs and jets over food, education and medicine for those who desperately need it. It seems to me that he has cleaved closely to the Republican Party Platform and twisted Catholic Social Teaching to justify it.

I suppose we're all guilty, from time to time, of such twisting of our faith. However, that's why we have others to point these things out to us. The Bishops and hundreds of other faithful Catholics of all political persuasions have raised their voices to tell Catholic Republicans in Congress not to follow this line of politics. So, I hope they're going to give it a listen and change their tune accordingly.

Below is a letter from faculty at Georgetown University to Rep. Ryan regarding his misinterpretation of Catholic Social Teaching. I'm also including some other links on the topic. I'll stop posting about this budget now, I promise.

More information on the Ryan Budget here and a really good commentary here.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Ryan Budget, The Bishops and the Bigger Picture

The Huffington Post has an article about John Boehner's recent dismissal of the concerns of many Catholics, specifically the US Bishops Conference, surrounding the House budget, proposed by Paul Ryan. Both Ryan and Boehner are Catholic and have been open about the fact that their faith influences their decisions as lawmakers.

For review, it proposes that the federal government spend $5.3 trillion dollars less over 10 years than we would with the current budget relatively unchanged . That's a lot of money (for some perspective, check out this illustration). The savings comes entirely from non-defense spending. In fact, it asks for an increase of $200 Billion in defense spending. Of the 5.3 trillion, 3.3 trillion (that's 62%) comes from cuts to programs we can describe as aid for low-income people. They include food stamps, medicaid and financial assistance for low-income college students. Given this, it is no exaggeration to say that the Ryan Budget disproportionately targets the poor and needy as unnecessary governmental investments.

Honestly, I don't have much of anything to add to the conversation surrounding the proposed budget, other than to add my voice to the mix. So, let me say it: it is ridiculous to cut aid to the poor and sick without asking the well-off to make any additional sacrifices at all. Actually, many corporations and wealthy individuals will find  lower tax rates. This is all, sad to say, something I expect from the Republican party, a case of backwards priorities.

What's different, however,  is that Rep. Ryan has had the audacity to appeal to Catholic Social Teaching as the inspiration for his plan. This dynamic is further exacerbated by the public disapproval of the Bishops, followed by Speaker Boehner's blunt dismissal of their concerns.

Catholic priorities, articulated by both the Institutional Church and in evidence through the Church's history, have always began with assistance for the vulnerable. Further, the Church expects government to use its resources effectively to protect and nourish the worst-off in the nation. This principle and expectation explains the vocal opposition to legalized abortion, the death penalty and euthanasia. This same set of values, a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable in Catholic-speak, demands a budget that whole-heartedly supports services for the poor.

From where I sit, lawmakers who prioritize corporations and wealthy individuals so blatantly are, at best, fooling themselves and, at worst, intentionally favoring the powerful over the voiceless.

Anyone who hasn't heard, open your ears! While Republicans claim to value life above all, they refuse to use the government to protect anyone but the unborn and the well-off. Further, this budget proves that, when there are "tough choices" the poor lose where bombs, fighter jets and the companies that make them win.

Jesus told us that we will always have the poor. He also told us to be with him while we could. In Matthew he drives the point home by telling us exactly where his is: with the hungry, naked, imprisoned and sick. Now, who knows whether this budget will become law. But, we must live as people both of direct action and political power. We must take care of the needs of the poor through charities and non-profits but we must also ask for help on their behalf, finding ways to empower businesses to hire people and maintain assistance for those who will go hungry without it.