By all measures, the Pope's trip to South Korea appears to be a success. Despite the fact that only three percent of Asians are Catholics, the media relayed images of hundreds of thousands turning out to see the Pope. No doubt South Koreans and their neighbors are thrilled by the Pope's visit. So often the Pope visits Latin America or Europe, but the small yet growing numbers of Asian Catholics were blessed by the attention.
A highlight of his trip was his visit to a cemetery for children killed through abortion, where he prayed. Just the day before, he condemned the "culture of death which...violates the dignity of every man, woman and child."
The Asian Christian community is the fastest growing in the world. Here is hoping that Pope Francis' trip will only catalyze that growth!
These days it's easy to feel as though the world is in a constant state of crisis. But sometimes that state feels particularly acute. Innocent people, including people who have devoted their lives to ending one of the world's deadliest diseases, blown out of the sky by a missile. The FAA closing down routes to Tel Aviv because of rocket fire. The borders swelling with abused and sick child refugees. The last of Iraq's ancient Christian community fleeing for their lives.
It's easy to despair. But it's then that we must reach outside of ourselves. As Pope Francis said in his Pentecost Vigil homily:
"At this time of crisis we cannot be concerned solely with ourselves, withdrawing into loneliness, discouragement and a sense of powerlessness in the face of problems. Please do not withdraw into yourselves! This is a danger: we shut ourselves up in the parish, with our friends, within the movement, with the like-minded... but do you know what happens? When the Church becomes closed, she becomes an ailing Church, she falls ill! That is a danger. Nevertheless we lock ourselves up in our parish, among our friends, in our movement, with people who think as we do... but do you know what happens? When the Church is closed, she falls sick, she falls sick. Think of a room that has been closed for a year. When you go into it there is a smell of damp, many things are wrong with it. A Church closed in on herself is the same, a sick Church.
The Church must step outside herself. To go where? To the outskirts of existence, whatever they may be, but she must step out. Jesus tells us: “Go into all the world! Go! Preach! Bear witness to the Gospel!” (cf. Mk 16:15). But what happens if we step outside ourselves? The same as can happen to anyone who comes out of the house and onto the street: an accident. But I tell you, I far prefer a Church that has had a few accidents to a Church that has fallen sick from being closed."
This doesn't mean flying to Mosul or the Southern Border. It does mean re-affixing our gaze and looking for those who are hopeless or destitute, those who most need to hear the Gospel. All of us are capable of this, and God has made it so clear that there is no gesture too small.
May we continue to pray for all those who suffer. But may we continue to challenge ourselves in these challenging times to reach beyond our comfortable world to someone, anyone, who needs to know the love of Jesus Christ.
It's been pretty incredible to see just how blind people are to the reality that women, a lot of women, are very opposed to the HHS mandate and support companies like Hobby Lobby and charities like the Little Sisters of the Poor and their lawsuits against it.
The Senate Democrats' current efforts to undo the Hobby Lobby are predicated on the notion that women don't support the ruling and will therefore be more inclined to vote D in the midterms. Senators Kelly Ayotte and Deb Fisher try to calmly explain in a piece today for the Wall Street Journal that the Hobby Lobby ruling in no way threatens women. Unlike hysterical groups like NARAL, they carefully unpackage the ruling and its legal implications. Let's see if anyone listens.
Others, myself included, have been trying to remind everyone that women dislike the mandate. A lot. It's weird that we have to keep explaining this, considering the story that just the pictures alone from the day of the Hobby Lobby ruling tell. It's hard to find a single man cheering after the news broke that Hobby Lobby had won.
It makes you wonder if there is a politically-selective sexism in the media. All the more reason to thank Senators Ayotte and Fisher for getting the truth out there.
Ross Douthat writes for the NYT that Hobby Lobby is actually a company that liberals should love. In a time when many are demanding values and principles of corporations, Hobby Lobby stands for the Biblically-based view that employees should be treated with with dignity. It's what prompts them to start full-time employees at double the minimum wage and close stores earlier than their competitors.
As the Becket Fund's Mark Rienzi wrote for USA Today:
"We regularly encounter businesses making decisions of conscience. Chipotle recently decided not to sponsor a Boy Scout event because the company disagreed with the Scouts' policy on openly gay scoutmasters. It was "the right thing to do," Chipotle said.
Starbucks has ethical standards for the coffee beans it buys. Vegan stores refuse to sell animal products because they believe doing so is immoral. Some businesses refuse to invest in sweatshops or pornography companies or polluters.
You can agree or disagree with the decisions of these businesses, but they are manifestly acts of conscience, both for the companies and the people who operate them. Our society is better because people and organizations remain free to have other values while earning a living. Does anyone really want a society filled with organizations that can only focus on profits and are barred from thinking of the greater good?"
So the question for the Hobby Lobby haters is: Do you?
New data coming out of Pew finds that eight in ten American Catholics view the Pope as a "force for positive change within the Roman Catholic Church." That same percent holds a favorable view of the pontiff, and half of those polled view him very favorably.
The Catholic Church is not about popularity contests, and Pope Francis himself recently warned people not to buy into a certain "mythology" about the pope. In his words, "To depict the pope as a sort of superman, a sort of star, seems offensive to me. The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps tranquilly and has friends like everyone else, a normal person."
Indeed we cannot overlook the contributions of popes past that paved the way for this exciting time with Pope Francis. Pope Francis has made clear that he does not want Pope Emeritus Benedict locked up like some "relic in museum," inviting him to the surprise of many to the recent consistory of cardinals. P.E. Benedict's entrance was met with huge applause.
So as Pope Francis' popularity remains high, Catholics should remain focused on seizing the opportunity to find new ways to present age-old teachings to a skeptical but thawing public. And whenever we are tempted to think of Pope Francis as our savior, we should remember that we already have one. Pope Francis is just leading us on the journey to Him.
While everyone was focused on Arizona, the pro-life cause took another small step forward. The West Virginia state House passed a bill that bans abortion after 20 weeks, on the grounds that the unborn baby can now feel pain. State legislators in Mississippi are considering a similar bill for their state. If it clears the senate and is signed into law, West Virginia will become the 13th state to ban abortion after 20 weeks. The federal government is considering a nationwide ban, one that already cleared the House.
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion company, just released its 2014 strategy for the mid-term elections. According to Politico, its "big game plan" includes pouring tons of money into campaigns and ads for pro-abortion candidates and against pro-life candidates.
But actually, this is a little surprising. Planned Parenthood is trying to look like it's on offense on an issue where it's playing major defense. Pro-life bills are picking up at the state-level like wildfire, and the American public is moving ever more pro-life. It's only a matter of time before they can stop playing the "woman" card, as American women are more likely to self-identify as pro-life than pro-choice and overwhelmingly support 20 week bans and other restrictions on abortion.
They are going to need a new game plan soon, because Americans, most especially women, just aren't as interested in what they have to offer: death.
The Bishops have asked that lay Catholics offer their Friday fast for Christian martyrs. Specifically, they've asked Catholics to "ask martyrs who have died for Christ to intercede for people around the world who suffer persecution so that they can continue to witness to the faith."
This is a fitting intention today, as Americans woke up to news of further destabilization in Venezuela and Ukraine, where people are fighting for basic freedoms. And we daily hear more horror stories from places like Syria, Iraq, and Egypt - where Christians are being targeted and ruthlessly killed.
The first saint celebrated in the liturgical year, St. Stephen, was a martyr, and tomorrow we honor another martyr, St. Peter. Martyrdom is written into our calling as Christians. For most of us, this does not mean death. But it does mean dying to ourselves in other ways, large or small. The Friday fast is an important reminder of this calling.
It's clear that peace is an important priority for Pope Francis, and religious liberty is a special priority for our Bishops. So today, let us reflect on what the martyrs have done for us, and what we can do for Christ and for peace and freedom in the world.
Yesterday as I waited to be patched into a radio interview, the producer asked me, "So what were you doing a year ago when you heard the news?"
Huh? I was momentarily confused.
Then I realized, somewhat stunned, that it's been a year since Pope Benedict shocked the world by doing what no pope had done for centuries: He resigned.
I remember waking up and reading the headlines in a panic. Had something bad happened?
Nothing bad happened. In fact, one of the most mysterious and beautiful things happened in my short life as a Catholic - a period of anticipation, a conclave, a new pope.
In Francis' first year - Pope Benedict has in many ways faded quietly into the background. It's probably exactly what he wanted. But Catholics would do well to always remember him, and especially to pray for him.
As my political foe but friend in the faith, Christopher Jolly Hale, wrote so eloquently for Time:
"If the Church is indeed undergoing a revolution, it is important to note that Francis himself did not fire the first shot. That feat belonged to his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who a year ago today announced his stunning decision to voluntarily renounce his office.
By renouncing the throne of Saint Peter, it was Benedict — not Francis — who performed the greatest act of papal humility in 2013, and perhaps the greatest act of papal humility during the two millennia history of the Catholic Church."
Hale urges Catholics, and the world, to remember Benedict the Meek - the man who stepped aside and gave us Francis.
Many a Catholic heart still reserves a space for our beloved Pope Emeritus. He is always in our prayers.
Today the United Nations issued a stunning and misguided attack on the Vatican. The responsible committee appears to have overlooked the last decade, in which the Church has taken serious measures to protect children. Such strong steps, actually, that the Church is now one of the safest places in the world for children and its measures for dealing with crimes against children are a model for other institutions and world governments.
In attacking the Vatican, the UN also overlooks the fact that the Catholic Church is the leading advocate for women and children and human rights in general around the world. In many countries, the Church is the leading force against crimes like sex-trafficking and other horrors such as child hunger.
But the World Body, which recently called for the decriminalization of prostitution as a means to fight AIDS, thinks it's justified in attacking the Church on the dignity of women.
Among other things, the report also, according to the AP, "said it [the Catholic Church] should change its own canon law to ensure children’s rights and their access to health care are guaranteed," right after it demanded the Church relent on abortion.
In other words, they demanded the Church stand for the legal killing of some children but the "rights" and "health care" of others.
You can forgive the Church for declining that idea.
David Brooks' column on religion is making the rounds today. He touches on a point our Holy Father continues to press - namely that believers should not get too stuck on the "legalistic" matters of faith and let faith be supplanted by pure creed, habit, and discipline. David Brooks echos Pope Francis when he talks about remaining open to a certain mystery and aliveness in faith. Pope Francis keeps calling it the "freshness and fragrance of the Gospel."
People keep mistaking this for a call to abandon certain unpopular tenets and moral demands of the faith. But that's not it. It's more like guarding these things in our hearts and living them out in our lives, while keeping an open heart to those who are suffering, physically or emotionally.
Brooks writes, "there is a silent majority who experience a faith that is attractively marked by combinations of fervor and doubt, clarity and confusion, empathy and moral demand."
That today is the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas makes Brooks' column all the more fitting. Thomas Aquinas was a man who was always pressing though the doubt with fervor in search of the truth, pushing through the confusion in search of clarity, and finding a way to show that moral demand and empathy needn't be mutually exclusive.
Thomas Aquinas wrote, "If, then, you are looking for the way by which you should go, take Christ, because He Himself is the way."
Brooks' column and so much of the exhortations of Pope Francis are about never losing sight of the fresh and mysterious nature of faith, which is ultimately bound up in Christ.
Yesterday was National Religious Freedom Day. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty's legal counsel, Adele Keim, wrote the below reflection which I thought was worth reposting over here.
Today is Religious Freedom Day – observed each year on the anniversary of the passage of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. After a misstep last year, this year President Obama issued a proclamation calling religious freedom a “critical foundation of our Nation’s liberty,” and quoting Thomas Jefferson, who “declared religious liberty a natural right and any attempt to subvert it ‘a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either.’”
Over at the blog for the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Melissa Rogers and Eric Treene joined in, reminding everyone of the great gains made for religious freedom under RLUIPA, the federal law that protects “the ability of religious communities to build places of worship and other religious institutions, and the ability of prisoners and other persons confined to institutions to continue to practice their faiths.” They noted that RLUIPA was “passed by unanimous consent in 2000 with the support of a religiously and ideologically diverse coalition of groups” and that the law had a “dramatic impact in its first ten years on protecting the [freedom of religion] and preventing religious discrimination.” They could easily have said the same about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a 1993 law that provides even broader protection for religious freedom at the federal level. RFRA passed the House unanimously, passed the Senate 97-3, and was signed into law by President Clinton. For over twenty years, RFRA has played a pivotal role in protecting religious freedom for Americans of all faiths.
Back to the day: President Obama was right to praise religious freedom as a “critical foundation of our Nation’s liberty”—and to urge “every country to recognize religious freedom as both a universal right and a key to a stable, prosperous, and peaceful future.” As U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom chair and vice chair Robert George and Katrina Lantos Swett wrote today, “Freedom of religion or belief is … intimately bound up with other freedoms, including expression, association and assembly” and is “associated with vibrant political democracy, rising economic and social well-being, and diminished tension and violence.” And as Justices Alito and Kagan wrote in 2012, “[R]eligious bodies have been the preeminent example of private associations that have ‘act[ed] as critical buffers between the individual and the power of the State,’” and “the autonomy of religious groups, both here in the United States and abroad, has often served as a shield against oppressive civil laws.” Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. E.E.O.C., 132S. Ct. 694, 712 (2012).
Cases like Little Sisters of the Poor and Hobby Lobby where the government is seeking to compel religious business owners and nuns to pay for contraceptives and potentially life-terminating drugs and devices remind us that the work of defending religious freedom is never done. But as the bipartisan voices raised this Religious Freedom Day remind us, it is also a right that unites far more than it divides.
It's been amazing to watch the evolution of former Clinton advisor, Daily Beast columnist, and FOX News contributor, Kirsten Powers, from atheist to Christian advocate. She describes her former world as "aggressively secular" in her conversion piece for Christianity Today. This week, her piece for the Daily Beast on "The New Age of Christian Martyrdom" is making the rounds on social media.
It's fair to say that Kirsten arguably played the most important journalistic role in finally getting the media to pay attention to the Gosnell trial with her USA Today piece on the Philadelphia House of Horrors.
Kirsten is a sort of modern day Saul to Paul story. While she was certainly not persecuting Christians before her conversion, she wasn't exactly batting for our team as national hostility towards Christians was beginning to rise. But she is someone who truly thinks for herself and is clearly someone who has been touched by the light of Christ. She's a wonderful reminder to all Christians that no heart is outside the love of Christ and that conversions can happen to the most unlikely of people.
We may not all share her politics, but we share a foundation in faith. And she is a rare voice in the mainstream wilderness drawing attention to issues that most would rather stay blind to. She's a modern-day disciple, and worthy of our prayers and praise for her courage.
Et tu, Jamie Stiehm?
Did you think you could hide behind your bio, spouting off anti-Catholic bigotry as if it were mainstream normal?
Stiehm's piece was widely panned as a shockingly plain dump of anti-catholic bias, including by our own advisory board member, Dr. Grazie Christie in her response for US News. She's a radiologist and mother of five. A "squelched" woman, for sure.
Not only was Stiehm's piece anti-Catholic, it was extraordinarily sexist. Her argument (if it could be called that) rests on the assumption that women (a huge percent of whom self-identify as pro-life) care only about abortion and contraception; it's condescending and demeaning. It's also factually incorrect. Polls constantly show those issues at the bottom of female voter's priority lists, and women are hugely supportive of the many pro-life laws sprouting up across the country, often more so than men.
But the assumption that because Justice Sotomayor is a women, she will then make her judicial decisions according to some rigid template is almost as shockingly 1700s as the suggestion that Catholics are somehow political zombies under the secretive control of "Vatican hegemony." How very vintage.
Stiehm owes Catholics, women, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and basically everyone an apology for her disgraceful piece. And she should do herself a favor and take a deep breath and count to three before she writes another piece on this topic.
Last week, Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a three-day stay protecting the Little Sisters of the Poor from the abortion-pill mandate and giving the Obama administration a chance to respond. Is it possible she was giving them one last chance to save some face before another crushing SCOTUS defeat a la Hosanna Tabor, a 9-0 religious liberty smack-down?
Justice Sotomayor should be praised for putting a temporary halt to what is an obvious and egregious violation of religious liberty. The Obama administration and the Department of Justice's lawyers, however, should be embarrassed by their response.
Rather than delay the mandate again, like so many other delays granted in the Obamacare train-wreck, and rather than take another stab at some sort of mutual agreement, they doubled down. They argued the nuns deserve no reprieve, but rather should have to sign a form commanding their third party healthcare administrator to provide their employees with things like abortifacients.
As Mark Rienzi, a lawyer for the nuns at the Becket Fund, has rightly pointed out -- the administration is actually undercutting its purported goal of expanding access to healthcare for the poor by bullying and threatening women who exist to provide care to the poor and dying elderly who might otherwise not have it. The government thinks it can do better than these ladies?
Proponents of making the nuns comply argue that it's just signing a stupid paper, no one is forcing them to buy anything. Just do it. Just do it! Peer pressure doesn't end with middle school, apparently. But the Catholic Church is no stranger to peer pressure. See, Saint Thomas More or Saint Thomas a Becket, for further illustration of how the Church handles the mere signing of stupid papers or offering of silly verbal oaths.
So now we are waiting for SCOTUS to respond again. Don't count on these nuns buckling under pressure to facilitate death, when they exist to bring to bring light and joy and life.
On New Year's Eve, Justice Sonia Sotomayor helped ring in the new year in Times Square with celebrities like Miley Cyrus. To her credit, however, she did not overlook a request for emergency relief that hit her desk just hours before. The request came from the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns that serves the impoverished and dying elderly.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is representing the nuns, and they put together this beautiful short film that highlights the work that they do. The nuns believe that every life has inherent beauty and potential, from the moment of conception until the moment of natural death. Whereas our culture increasingly views the elderly as a worthless and disposable burden, these nuns make sure that the poor and elderly die with dignity and surrounded by love.
The HHS mandate forces these nuns to provide their employees with drugs that directly contradict their mission and their consciences. It's an absolute outrage, and arguably no other case better exemplifies that this mandates hurts women and men alike.
The nuns were denied emergency relief at the 10th Circuit in a rather shocking move. Their only remaining hope was to appeal to the Supreme Court hours before it was to take effect for them. Justice Sotomayor decides emergency appeals from the 10th Circuit and granted them a stay until tomorrow. The message to the administration? Your move.
Many agree that it's safe to say that such a hasty reprieve coming from a very liberal judge, an Obama appointee no less, is a sign of things to come. A sign that, a long with the scores of other injunctions across the country, points to victory for conscience rights.
The administration absolutely must act tomorrow to save these nuns from a calamitous legal situation. It's a new year. The administration no doubt has a hangover from a rough year in 2013. Perhaps the president and his administration will finally come to their senses and realize that they have better things to do than make nuns pay for abortifacients.
This has been a challenging year for the Catholic Church in America, in many respects. Whether it's the Department of Health and Human Services trying to force Catholic charities to cover things like abortifacients in their healthcare plans or ACLU bullies suing the bishops over Church teachings, Catholics have faced their share of discrimination and targeting.
But it's Advent, and our minds are drawn to new beginnings and hope. We are reminded that our Church was born into an era of great difficulties for many people of faith, and survived countless more such periods.
And looking around the world, we still have much to be thankful for. The Wall Street Journal in the past week has highlighted not one, but two, books about the global persecution of Christians: John Allen's The Global War on Christians, and Nina Shea and Paul Marshall's Persecuted. Earlier this week, PBS aired a special on the plight of the Copts in Egypt and the news never ceases in reporting stories of horrific violence against Christians all over the world.
So as we approach Christmas, which is followed immediately by the feast of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, let us pray for renewed protections of religious liberty in America and for all those who suffer in the name of Christ around the world.
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!
It's hardly a surprise that Americans voted Pope Francis as Person of the Year. In just a few short months, the Pope has energized Catholics and delighted the world. It's ironic that the man of the year is really all about the Man who gives hope and joy to the world. He reminds us of Christ and challenges us all to be more Christ-like with his own powerful example. No doubt the Pope will care little for the title, but will find a way to use it to challenge us all to respond to our call to be saints in this broken world. Even so, it's exciting to see the nation responding so positively to the message and witness of the Gospel carried forward by the Catholic Church and her leader: Pope Francis. He would probably not want congratulations. He would want each of us to think: 'How can I be the person of the year in the life of another person, a person who is suffering and needs Christ?' Let's all honor the Pope by taking that challenge to heart.
Yesterday, Drudge had a link to a FOX News piece entitled, "Pope Francis is the Catholic Church's Obama."
It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry at a headline like that. But the growing criticism of the Pope from certain American political conservatives is troubling.
Certain American political conservatives are doing what they complain about the media doing all the time: reducing the Pope to sound-bites and then attacking. It's unfair and Catholics of all political stripes should be leery of sound-bite warfare. The Pope is not a marxist, he does not hate capitalism, and he certainly does not merit a thank you card from NARAL.
Just because Obama, a master manipulator and a sound-bite warrior, took Pope Francis out of context to advance his own failing political agenda, does not mean that Pope Francis is the Catholic Church's Obama.
Pope Francis is no one's Obama. Pope Francis is every Catholic's pope.
I think the L.A. Times had the best headline about the ACLU's lawsuit against the Catholic Bishops Conference. They said, "ACLU sues Catholic bishops over view that abortion is evil."
Another good headline might read, "ACLU exploits tragic situation to bully Catholic bishops."
When a woman loses her child, that is a tragedy. The tragedy is compounded when a group takes advantage of a suffering woman to further an ideological agenda. Catholic hospitals do everything in their power to prevent tragedy from befalling on any human person.
While the facts of the case are not clear, one fact is that the Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of healthcare to the poor in this country. Funny then, that the ACLU did not sue the hospitals. They sued the Bishops. Suing a hospital system that countless rely on is probably a politically unpopular move. But suing the Bishops gives you some earned media for a week.
Catholic hospitals seek to help and protect women and their unborn children. They also seek to help the least of these. They also adhere to a code of principles and ethics that respects the dignity of all people, born or unborn. It's what has distinguished Catholic medicine from the get-go.
The ACLU is not standing up for women. The ACLU is being a bully and exploiting a tragedy to take a cheap shot at a conference of clergy whose beliefs and principles are no secret to anyone.
Yesterday was a big day on many fronts:
In the United States, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases against the HHS mandate. It is the biggest challenge to the mandate yet, and the plaintiffs stand for more than 200 others in the private and non-profit sectors that are being forced by the government to choose between their faith and crippling fines.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis released his lengthiest and most significant document yet. Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) is Pope Francis' first apostolic exhortation. Watch for the media reducing an 48,000 word document into truncated sound-bites. But read it if you want the whole picture. The Pope tackles everything from the idolatry of money to the myth that abortion is somehow progressive.
And finally, the news broke yesterday that President Obama is moving the United States' embassy to the Holy See to the embassy of Italy. Some inaccurately reported that the embassy is being shut down. It is not. But it is being moved and losing a certain appearance of autonomy or distinction. Our nation's relations with the Vatican are indeed quite distinct from our relations with the entire nation of Italy, and many familiar with this diplomatic relationship said that the move amounts to a downgrade. It's certainly not hyperbolic to suggest that the President cares little for the Catholic Church or her stance on many important issues. Let's hope this embassy move does not further strain an already taxed relationship because of the President's carelessness and deceit.
Yesterday's news was a lot to digest for Catholics. But we have much to be thankful for. Our courts have been ruling overwhelmingly in favor of religious freedom and the faithful still have this recourse, and our Pope is a wonderful and godly man who continues to offer the faithful many rich thoughts and examples to inspire us. We have the joy of the Gospel bring light to our lives and to our world. Happy Thanksgiving!