Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hollywood's Vision of Biblical Storytelling

After the amazing success of The Passion of the Christ, Hollywood couldn't help itself. It wanted a cut of the money Gibson revealed was mostly untouched in the family-oriented, faith and values crowd. But, Hollywood (for the most part) just can't get it right, if Pixar isn't involved.

They pander. They misjudge. Therefore, we (mostly) get either the overly sappy movies without any creativity / story-telling or something which perverts the story all together.

We should expect a bit of creative license, which happened even in the Passion of The Christ. But, when they write the nature of God and/or the basis of a Biblical story right out of the script, the movie better be targeting non-church goers or it is doomed to failure.

This might be the case, sadly enough, with the new Noah film scheduled to be released in 2014. Apparently Noah is a radical environmentalist who is called to rid the world of the scourge of humans, who have messed up the environment. Ug.

Here is a snip from a screenwriter who questions the film's script:
Having gotten a chance to read an undated version of the film's script (the final film may be based on a revised script with scenes added or deleted) I want to warn you. If you were expecting a Biblically-faithful retelling of the story of the greatest mariner in history, and a tale of redemption and obedience to God, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

(Spoilers Ahead)
"Noah" paints the primeval world of Genesis 6 as scorched arid desert, dry cracked earth and a gray gloomy sky that gives no rain – and all this, caused by man’s “disrespect” for the environment. In short, an anachronistic doomsday scenario of ancient global warming. How Neolithic man was able to cause such anthropogenic catastrophic climate change without the “evil” carbon emissions of modern industrial revolution is not explained. Nevertheless, humanity wanders the land in nomadic warrior tribes killing animals for food or wasteful trophies.

In this oppressive world, Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family seek to avoid the crowds and live off the land. Noah is a kind of rural shaman and vegan hippie-like gatherer of herbs. Noah explains that his family tries to study and heal the world whenever possible, like a kind of environmentalist scientist. But he also mysteriously has the fighting skills of an ancient Near Eastern Ninja.

Hey, it’s a movie. Give it a break.

Noah maintains an animal hospital to take care of wounded creatures or those who survive the evil “poachers,” of the land. Just whose animal rights laws they are violating, I am not sure, since there are only fiefdoms of warlords and tribes. Be that as it may, Noah is the Mother Teresa of animals.

Though God has not spoken to men or angels for a long time, Noah is haunted by recurring dreams of a rainstorm and flood that he surmises is God’s judgment on man.

All of God's creations are dying because of mankind, Noah says, a point with which his grandfather, Methuselah, concurs.

People are being killed, too, but it’s not really as important. The notion of human evil is more of an after thought or symptom of the bigger environmental concern of the great tree hugger in the sky.

Noah seeks advice from Methuselah, the oldest man alive, who lives in a cave. Unfortunately for fighting pacifist Noah, he has to go through the Watcher’s Land to get there. The Watchers are angels who came down from heaven to help fallen humanity by granting them wonders of knowledge from magic to science to stars, metal and fire. But when mankind turned that knowledge into weapons of war and tools of environmental devastation, God banished the Watchers to earth and turned his back on them.

Now, they reside as 18-feet tall, six-armed grumpy angelic complainers who resent mankind.

Through tricky movie dialogue, Noah convinces the Watchers to help him, and he receives a magic seed from Methuselah that blooms a magical forest in the desert. It’s really a quite imaginative and powerful scene that shows God’s miraculous provision.

Noah uses this timber to build his boat (Wait a second. Wouldn’t that make him an evil clear cutting lumberjack?). So the Watchers help him build the craft. Followed by another beautiful sequence of a magical thread of water that spreads out from the forest into all the world that calls the animals two by two to come to the ark.

Like a magical Mesopotamian Dr. Doolittle, Noah has the ability to “lead” the animals peacefully into the ark as they come from every corner of the earth. And yes, even the insects. Well, they finish building the ark, the rains start, the evil mobs try to get on the ark, but the Watchers fight them off, blah, blah, blah, movie action and we are at the midpoint of the movie, with Noah and his family on the ark, weathering out the flood.

What Noah doesn’t know is that evil warlord Akkad snuck onto the boat and plans to kill all the men and rape all the wives to start civilization as his own brood of evil minions.

Meanwhile, Noah has himself become a bit psychotic, like an environmentalist or animal rights activist who concludes that people do not deserve to survive because of what they’ve done to the environment and to animals. Noah deduces that God’s only reason for his family on the boat is to shepherd the animals to safety.

The world would be better off without humans, he concludes.
Let us hope the story isn't as bad as it sounds.

UPDATE - in an interesting twist of fate, the Hollywood version of the ark might be blown away by a big storm called Sandy...

Pray for the safety of all still affected by the storm.

Why Do We Bow During the Creed?

Q - I was talking to my sister the other day and she asked me why we bow our heads during the Nicene Creed when we say, "and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man." I know we honor the nativity and Mary...but isn't the whole creed talking about important things that we believe? I was just wondering why this line stood out above all the rest.

A -
Thanks for the question. We are honoring that which is greater than Mary - Jesus and His Incarnation. There are several times in Mass that we are asked to bow as well as make other signs of honoring our Lord. In fact, there are two kinds of bows we make during Mass. A simple bow of the head and a more profound bow of the body, then there is the act of adoration of our God - genuflection.

We bow our heads during any mentioning of the name of Jesus, when the Trinity is invoked, the name of Mary, and at the name of any Saing if we are celebrating their feast day. We also bow our head before receiving Communion.

We make a more profound bow of the body during the Creed, as you pointed out, in order to honor the most important act in human history - God becoming man. Also, this is the kind of bow we make toward the altar, when passing in front of it or entering the sanctuary. If the tabernacle is not in the main sanctuary of a Church, then the priests and servers will bow before and after entering the Sanctuary. There are other times you might notice profound bows being made by priests and deacons during Mass.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (which helps explain the prayers and actions during Mass) says:
275. A bow signifies reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them. There are two kinds of bow: a bow of the head and a bow of the body.

a) A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated.

b) A bow of the body, that is to say, a profound bow, is made to the altar; during the prayers Munda cor meum (Cleanse my heart) and In spiritu humilitatis (With humble spirit); in the Creed at the words et incarnatus est (and by the Holy Spirit . . . and became man); in the Roman Canon at the Supplices te rogamus (In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God). The same kind of bow is made by the Deacon when he asks for a blessing before the proclamation of the Gospel. In addition, the Priest bows slightly as he pronounces the words of the Lord at the Consecration.
We genuflect toward the Eucharist. We should genuflect upon entering and leaving Church toward the Tabernacle - if the Eucharist is present. The priests and servers will also do this upon entering and leaving, but not during Mass. On Annunciation and Christmas we also genuflect during the creed instead of bowing.

The purpose is to show with our bodies what ought to happen in our hearts. Our bodies reflect the amazing nature of God and the fact that He loves us and showers us with His grace in Mass.

I hope this helps.
"Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." - Phil 2: 9-11

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Average Catholic Does Not Know Christ and What We Can Do About It

If you didn't know, the Vatican recently ended a large and important Synod of Bishops covering the topic of the New Evangelization. Why does the Pope think this issue is important? I think Paul VI put it brilliantly when he wrote - the Church "exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection." 

How many of our family, friends, and neighbors do not know the Good News of Jesus Christ? Simply put, we have created a culture of apathy within Catholicism and failed to evangelize (the process of spreading the Good News about Christ). This is why the average Catholic does not know Jesus Christ in a deep way. Thus, the average Catholic is not a disciple of Christ. I know many might disagree, but the data bears this out.

I too am guilty of moments of apathy when I do not help others - by witnessing to others about Christ through my life and/or words. We need a re-awakening of grace to spur us into the next phase of renewal in our Church. This can happen, but to understand where we currently are, we have to understand the scope of the problem is bigger than what most of us believe it is.

The vast majority of readers of this blog will be engaged Catholics. You go to Church, you are involved, and most are disciples of Christ. But, the vast majority of your neighbors are not.

As recent studies have shown, the "unaffiliated", atheists, agnostics, etc. are growing rapidly. But, when we dig deeper, the problem is bigger than the surface numbers.

A recent story highlights this issue. Here is a snip (emphasis added):
SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: I wanted to know if it held up, Steve. You know, by any measure, as you point out, the United States is a significant outlier when it comes to how religious people say they are. You know, virtually alone in the developed world, large numbers of Americans report that they are indentified with a religious faith. Nearly half of all Americans report that they attend church every week - that's every single week, compared to Western Europe, for example, where maybe about 20 percent of people say they attend church.

Now, it's a little bit more in Catholic countries, a little bit less in Protestant countries. But that's the big picture, which is that the United States really is very different from most other countries. But there's a problem with all these numbers, which is they're all based on what people say.

INSKEEP: Meaning that you're not sure that people do the same things that they say?

VEDANTAM: Well, leaders of several religious denominations for many years in the United States have said if 45 percent of Americans are attending church every Sunday, the pews should be packed. And in many churches, in many denominations...

INSKEEP: They're not.

VEDANTAM: ...that's simply not the case. Now, I spoke with a sociologist who studies church attendance. His name is Philip Brenner. He's at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. And he told me that he suspected that when you ask people whether they attend church, they actually end up answering a somewhat different question. Here he is.

PHILIP BRENNER: The question that asks how often do you attend becomes a question like: Are the sort of person who attends? The respondent hears the question how often do you attend and interprets the question to be: Are you the sort of person who attends?

INSKEEP: What you're really finding out here is I think I'm the sort of person who should attend church and I don't want to admit otherwise, so I might tell you I go, whether I do or not.

VEDANTAM: Exactly. So the question is about your behavior. What is it you're doing? The answer might be about people's identity. Am I the kind of person who attends church?

INSKEEP: OK. So, you can't necessarily rely on people's own testimony as to whether they attend church. So is there is a better way to measure this?

VEDANTAM: Yeah. So Brenner has been playing with this idea called the Time Diary Method, and he's been following studies that have used this Time Diary Method. And let me tell you what that is.

So, rather than tell people you're asking about their church attendance, what you do is you march people through their week and have them describe to you exactly what they're doing at any given moment. So you say: What were you doing at four o'clock in the morning on Sunday? And most people will say: I was asleep. And then you ask them: What did you do next? Who were you with? Where did you go?

And when you march people through the week in this manner, it turns out only about 24 percent of Americans actually report attending religious services in the past week. And Brenner told me there's two things that's very interesting about this. What this suggests is that in actual religious practice, Americans might not be that different from people in Western Europe when it comes to what they do, but they might be very different for people in Western Europe when it comes to reporting what they do.

BRENNER: Americans significantly over-report their church attendance, and have consistently done that since the 1970s. But we don't see substantive over-reporting in Western Europe.

INSKEEP: So, basically, what we're finding out is that Europeans are more comfortable saying they don't show up on Sunday.

VEDANTAM: Well, sometimes they say they show up. I think what we're finding is that when people in Europe say they show up in church, they actually show up in church. So a variety of studies, Steve, have shown that when 45 percent of the Irish say they attend church every week, when you look at it using the Time Diary Method, 45 percent of the Irish actually are in church every week.

When 10 percent of Scandinavians tell pollsters that they're in church every week, the Time Diary Method shows 10 percent of them actually are in church every week. By contrast, 45 percent of Americans say they attend church every week. In reality, only about half as many do.
LESS THAN 1 IN 4 ATTEND CHURCH! We are just as bad as Western Europe! This is very troubling and tells us that the job of evangelization is much bigger than we might have previously thought. We need a New Evangelization - one that goes to the formerly Christian cultures and peoples to re-propose the Gospel with renewed fervor and using new means of transmitting the Gospel.

JPII first called for the New Evangelization and Benedict XVI has taken it to a new level by calling for a Synod of Bishops.

But, we cannot wait for the Church leaders to come up with programs. We must evangelize today. We must not wait! The answer to the problems in our culture are found through holiness and evangelization. It must be done in our homes, our workplaces, and where no Bishop ever trods. The laity must lead in this area.

Too often we settle as Catholics.
We settle for the "way it has always been done" or "it is good enough". Well, it isn't good enough and the way it has always been done is failing us miserably.

We need vision. We need leaders. We need risk-takers!

If we are true disciples we cannot fail to make more disciples. This can only be done in real relationships between friends. To help raise up disciples we must be on the look out for times to make the initial proclamation of the Good News. Then we must continue the relationship to help guide a person into a deep relationship with Christ through prayer and conversion.

Knowledge of Christ is not enough. Transformation of lives is the goal. We cannot wait for a program. We cannot wait for the Bishops to issue a document. We cannot wait for our parish to form a committee.

If you want to know more about the process of forming Disciples, then I cannot recommend Sherry Weddell's new book any more highly - Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus. It was built from the many years Sherry has had of charting the problems and then working on a solution through the Siena Institute. The following quote gets to the heart of the problem and the resulting solution (which points out the mountain we must climb):
"As we listened to the spiritual experiences of tens of thousands of Catholics, we began to grasp that many, if not a majority of, Catholics don't know what 'normal' Christianity looks like. I believe that one reason for this is the selective silence about the call to discipleship that pervades many parishes. Catholics have come to regard it as normal and deeply Catholic to not talk about the first journey - their relationship with God - except in confession or spiritual direction. This attitude is so pervasive in Catholic communities that we have started to call it the culture of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"
She then goes on to discuss how we must break out of this culture in order to capitalize on the potential that is now latent in our Church, in the U.S.

In other words, we have to reinvigorate the Church with a hunger for Christ by the initial proclamation of the Gospel. Then we need to form intentional disciples.  Then we send them out to the world and repeat this cycle. The multiplication of disciples can and will change our culture and individual lives.

The age-old questions which ask how are we to turn the culture around are found in the age-old answers of getting into the hard work of evangelization and forming disciples who are equipped to take on the culture with vigor and determination. Now is the time to proclaim the Good News! Now is the time to form intentional disciples. Now is the time for a renewal of our culture!

What will you do today to bring the Good News to others?


**Intro to Evangelization
**Evangelization is Hard and Scary
**Ask A Catholic A Question: evangelization program
**The Do's and Don'ts of Evangelization and Apologetics
**How Not to Evangelize
**Evangelization of Tenderness
**Friendship Evangelization
**Fr. Barron on Evangelizing the Culture
**How to Evangelize Without Being Triumphant
**Top 10 Ways To Not Evangelize

Thursday, October 25, 2012

How Little Boys Show Affection For Little Girls

Bonus Video:

The Role Of The Government According To Catholic Doctrine

Subsidiarity is the Catholic social justice principle which may be the least understood and taught and is one of the most important. Subsidiarity means that every issue should be handled by the lowest-level or least centrally-organized group whenever possible. The Catechism puts it this way:
Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which 'a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.'

"God...entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of government ought to be followed in social life.

"Subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention" (nn. 1883-1885).
Here is a great explanation:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Studies, Science, and The Media - How A Pro-Abortion Agenda Is Pushed On The American People

A study released earlier this month was hailed in the media as an answer to the question of "do abortions go down if contraception is free?" The answer given was a resounding "yes".

This is how the study was hailed at NBC:
A dramatic new study with implications for next month’s presidential election finds that offering women free birth control can reduce unplanned pregnancies -- and send the abortion rate spiraling downward.

When more than 9,000 women ages 14 to 45 in the St. Louis area were given no-cost contraception for three years, abortion rates dropped from two-thirds to three-quarters lower than the national rate, according to a new report by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis researchers.
But, is this true?

I smelled something fishy about it all. I knew there have been other studies which have showed the opposite.

So, I sent the study to a friend, who is a non-medical Doctor who specializes in examining such data (the friend asked not to be cited, but gave permission to post information about the study). I asked him a simple question - "what do you think about this?"

This is what he sent back to me.
The fact that the study deals with contraception and unintended pregnancy is somewhat irrelevant. The main premise is subsidized behavior. If you generalize the thesis to “I am more likely to do what I intend to do if someone else pays for it,” then the particular subject matter could be virtually anything. You could study an ethically benign practice. Even better, imagine if there was a study funded that gave free money to self-identified thieves. Would you then be surprised to see an article that claimed “Crime rates drop with free money”?

What are the main impediments to contraception and elective abortions used to prevent or end unwanted pregnancies? They would be:
  • moral reservations,
  • health concerns,
  • financial concerns.
Now consider the key elements of the study (emphasis added):
  1. “The Contraceptive Choice Project enrolled 9,256 women and adolescents in the St. Louis area between 2007 and 2011. Participants were 14-45 years of age, at risk for unintended pregnancy, and willing to start a new contraceptive method.”
  2. At no cost, “[p] articipants had their choice of birth control methods, ranging from long-acting forms like IUDs and implants to shorter-acting methods such as birth control pills, patches and rings.”
  3. “The women were counseled about the different methods, including their effectiveness, risks and benefits.”
So, we have a study where a group of medical professionals offer and administer free contraception to women who have no reservations about using it and have no desire to get pregnant. Do we really need a study involving over 9,000 women to tell us what is going to happen?

The author of the study makes the intent clear: "[u]nintended pregnancy remains a major health problem in the United States.” It is unhealthy—bad—for women to have unintended pregnancies. What is the best way to prevent “unintended” health problems? If possible, vaccinate against them. What is the best way to get people to take the vaccine? Give it to them for free.

The conclusion is: well, since people are sensitive about abortion, this study shows that we can pay women to not have the babies they didn’t want to have anyway, and thus we can reduce the abortion rate. I’ll actually add a bonus conclusion to the study (at no charge): if you pay women not to have kids, all of a sudden, there will be a lot more women who don’t want to have kids, and thus we can further reduce the birth rate as well. Oh, wait a minute, if more women are using contraception since we are paying for it, and since there were still abortions resulting from the study even though the study participants were using contraception, doesn’t that mean that abortion rate might possibly go up? Looks like we might need another funded study.

The project web site can be found here.

So, to answer your question: it’s is crud.
Some researchers aren't looking for the truth. Some researchers are looking to establish a "truth" they made up already. Even if it is a lie.

Moral of the story - Don't believe every press release the media prints.

This isn't the first study like this that we have uncovered. Check out the first one from several years ago. I am sure there are many more we haven't been able to vet.

The Politics of Abortion

Archbishop Chaput has some thoughts for us. The problem is with the Catholics who accommodated abortion within politics.

We are called to be Catholics first!

Failure = Life

All you have to offer God and others are your limitations and gifts.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Premarital Sex - What Is The Big Deal?

It seems like a simple enough question - is pre-marital sex always a sin? Most know what the Catholic Church's answer is. But, what about how individual Catholics answered the question?

The results might shock you.
In 1972:

  • 39% of adult Catholics said premarital sex was “always wrong.” 
  • Among Catholics attending Mass at least once a week, 54% said it is. 

In 2008:

  • 14% of Catholics said premarital sex is “always wrong.” 
  • Among Catholics attending Mass at least once a week, 30% responded it is. 

The results are sad, because more than 70% of Catholics who go to Mass think premarital sex can be OK, despite what the Bible and all of Christianity have always taught.

This means the Catholic Church has a mountain to climb. But, I am not shocked by the numbers. I see the results of such numbers all the time. Yes, it is always a sin. Why? Because premarital sex is a selfish, unloving, use of another human being and a misuse of our sexuality.

Pre-marital sex is selfish:
It is never about the other person. If it was, then we wouldn't be risking the other person's health, spreading disease, their emotional welfare, spiritual state-of-being, and future relationships and marriages. It is all about me and only me, whenever pre-marital sex happens.

Pre-marital sex is unloving: 
Love = "choosing what is best for the other, despite the cost to myself" and could be summed up as = "gift of self". We are called to love others by handing ourselves over to them as a gift. Thus, when we choose something that is about me and is not good for the other, then it is not love. Pre-marital sex, by definition, can NEVER be a loving act.

Pre-marital sex is use of another human being: 
John Paul II said using another person as a means to an end (in this case your pleasure) and not as an end unto themselves is the opposite of love. It is reducing a human being to an object. Not treating them as a child of God.

Pre-marital sex is a misuse of our sexuality: 
Why do we have these desires in the first place? It isn't just to bring us pleasure. It is to be open to new life (procreation) and to bring a married man and woman together (unitive). These two ends are the purpose of marriage. Pleasure is a by-product of sex. Pleasure is a good by-product, but when it replaces one or both of the real purposes - it degrades the act and we are back at selfishness.

Sex is a gift from God and like any gift can be used for good or bad. It is also a beautiful act between a man and wife - in the context of marriage. Sex is something intimate and wonderful. Just like anything good, it can be twisted to be bad. This is what happens in pre-marital sexuality. While it may "feel" like love, we would never risk another person's future, virginity, disease, soul, relationships, broken heart, etc. if we loved them.

Another way to re-phrase the question might be to ask “where is the line between sin and not sinning?” Well, it depends on each individual. While all sexual activity (not just intercourse) outside of marriage is sinful, lust is also. This is the deeper issue. Lust isn't just a passing sexual thought about another person. It is when we grab hold of that thought and use it for our own pleasure.

When we have a control of what is going on in our hearts and minds, then we will easily see where the line is drawn and will do all we can to avoid even approaching it. We want to try and change our hearts, not just our actions.

I know there are many Catholics who struggle with their sexuality and controlling their desires, but it is worth it. Here is the reason - you can't give what isn't your own. If you don't have self-control, you can't give yourself away fully. This means you can't really love another person by being a gift to them. We can either be in control of our desires or allow them to control us.

Chastity is the virtue that allows us to give ourselves to another…remember the definition of love as “gift”. To give everything means we are free of selfishness in our love and chastity frees us of selfishness in our sexual desires. Therefore chastity = sexual freedom! Unfortunately this understanding of chastity is not known well. Most people think that it means just not having sex. It is not a negative thing - it is a positive thing.

Sex should be saved for marriage, where intimacy (of all kinds) is supposed to be. Unfortunately in today's world, we give our sexuality, our emotions, our bodies, and our lives to people we our not married to. We have lost the depth to what a intimacy really means. We end up deadening our sensitivity to it and putting present and future relationships at risk. To put it another way, I have never met a person who saved sex (of any kind) for marriage and regretted it, but I have met thousands who didn't keep themselves pure and now do. You will never regret purity. Never. But, you will always regret impurity, eventually.

Living a life that is empty of regrets is a full and good life.

Monday, October 22, 2012

How To Vote As A Catholic

It took authentic courage for this priest to say what he does in this video.
He took on the topic of politics and the Catholic Church and hits a home run. I have more about voting after the video.

Tip o' the hat to Patrick for pointing me to the video.

Here is the link to the USCCB document which is a guide the Bishops put out a few years ago. I  recommend you read it.

The point of the guidelines the Church gives us is never to tell us who to vote for. Rather, they want us to be informed and guided into a decision that is intelligent and in sync with Catholic teaching. As they write:
In this statement, we bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote. Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth.
But, let me assure you that not all issues are the same. As the Bishops write later on:
There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called “intrinsically evil” actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia.
They continue on this same topic:
It is a mistake with grave moral consequences to treat the destruction of innocent human life merely as a matter of individual choice. A legal system that violates the basic right to life on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed. 
Similarly, direct threats to the sanctity and dignity of human life, such as human cloning and destructive research on human embryos, are also intrinsically evil. These must always be opposed. Other direct assaults on innocent human life and violations of human dignity, such as genocide, torture, racism, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified.
With this in mind the focus of the document is rightly forming the conscience. That is, the interior guide God gives each of us. They want us to live an integrated life of Catholic teaching, prayer, discernment and charity.

The document does a very good job in pointing out two mistakes that many Catholics are prone to make.
  1. The mistake of not making proper distinctions. Some issues are always intrinsically wrong and others are not. We cannot act as if all issues are the same.
  2. The other mistake is making the distinction, but then ignoring the "less important" issues all-together. Even if they aren't intrinsically evil or if there are different answers in how to solve the problems, we can't just ignore them when voting (e.g., how to serve the poor, health care, etc).
Now, the Bishops do say something else very important which can help us:
A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.
An example might help. What if there are two candidates who are identical on the issues surrounding the intrinsic evils? How do we vote? Well, other issues would then have to be taken into account.

They don't cut any corners with this quote:
It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual’s salvation.
This isn't just about a vote. It is about salvation and human life. The Bishops know the gravity of it all. But, they also know it isn't a simple thing to do. Which is why they say:
As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.
So I don't write all day long. Let it suffice to say that a Catholic should do the following before entering the voting booth.
  1. Inform yourself on the Church's teachings on different subjects. Not all carry the same gravity. Also, the Church generally gives moral principles, but it is our job to prudentially apply them in specific circumstances - even the voting booth.
  2. Continue to form your conscience. This is a life-long process. Reading one voter's guide isn't enough. I highly recommend you read the Bishops' document I have linked.
  3. Follow your conscience when you enter the voting booth.
We are obligated to exercise our right to vote, when we are able to. The Catechism says:
2239 It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one's country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community. 
2240 Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one's country:
Pay to all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. [Christians] reside in their own nations, but as resident aliens. They participate in all things as citizens and endure all things as foreigners. . . . They obey the established laws and their way of life surpasses the laws. . . . So noble is the position to which God has assigned them that they are not allowed to desert it.
The Apostle exhorts us to offer prayers and thanksgiving for kings and all who exercise authority, "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way."
If you want a Bishop's take on things to consider, then Archbishop Chaput has a great column on it.

Pure. Comedic. Genius.

The definition of funny.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fr. Barron on Whether Science Can Disprove God's Existence

Why Young Catholics Leave the Church & What To Do About It

5-year research project from the Barna Group highlights 6 reasons why young Christians leave Christianity. I will comment below, between the quotes of the study.
The research project was comprised of eight national studies, including interviews with teenagers, young adults, parents, youth pastors, and senior pastors. The study of young adults focused on those who were regular churchgoers Christian church during their teen years and explored their reasons for disconnection from church life after age 15.

No single reason dominated the break-up between church and young adults. Instead, a variety of reasons emerged. Overall, the research uncovered six significant themes why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.
This first statistic is startling - right at 60% of all Christians are leaving the faith. A majority of young adults are falling away (or are fallen away completely) from their faith. We aren't losing a generation - they are lost. The question now is, what do we do about it?
Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective. A few of the defining characteristics of today's teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).
The problem here? Young Christians aren't responding to the harmful parts of culture and analyzing them. Rather, they absorb them, accept them as valuable, and then have their faith tell them something different. The Church, in response, isn't forming them into disciples of Christ first, and then releasing them into the culture. Rather, we allow the culture to form them first. This means the culture has the upper-hand in guiding them and teaching them where happiness is found.
Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow. A second reason that young people depart church as young adults is that something is lacking in their experience of church. One-third said “church is boring” (31%). One-quarter of these young adults said that “faith is not relevant to my career or interests” (24%) or that “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough” (23%). Sadly, one-fifth of these young adults who attended a church as a teenager said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” (20%).
This is nothing we haven't known for a while, the problem is we have done little about it. Too often we seek to "engage" teenagers instead of challenging them to live out their faith. I am not proposing that the two are mutually exclusive (in fact they can't be if we do both successfully), but we do seem to have a desire to entertain teens more than anything else. This is also indicative of modern parenting. We leave the formation of young people, in faith issues, to the churches and religious schools. Too often parents do not model or teach the faith in the home. Now, do we need to make church relevant? Certainly. But, never at the expense of the Gospel and the call to holiness.
Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science. One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.
I don't think this is as big a problem in the Catholic Church as it is in fundamentalist, Pentecostal, and Evangelical Protestant denominations, but it is still an issue. Too many Catholics think of Galileo (as taught by anti-Catholics), contraception, and fetal stem cell research as anti-science issues. History shows that much of modern science has the Catholic Church to thank for the advancements we take for granted today. The Church believes science is a search for truth about the world God has given us, but is at the service of the good of humanity. We must not only ask "can we" but "ought we". Another formation issue here.
Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental. With unfettered access to digital pornography and immersed in a culture that values hyper-sexuality over wholeness, teen and twenty-something Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality. One of the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church's expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture, especially as the age of first marriage is now commonly delayed to the late twenties. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.” The issue of sexuality is particularly salient among 18- to 29-year-old Catholics, among whom two out of five (40%) said the church’s “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.”
When you don't have anything to say "Yes" to about sexuality, then you will only here the Catholic message about sexuality as a big "NO". But, this isn't what the Church has ever taught. We teach that the NO to premarital sex, contraception, and other sexual sins is really a big "YES" to God, life, purity, chastity, healthy relationships, spiritual wholeness, bodily integrity, etc. But, if all a kid knows is NO, then the other stuff doesn't make sense. The solution to this one is age-appropriate teaching of sexuality by parents, backed up by the Church's teaching of Theology of the Body.
Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity. Younger Americans have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance. Today’s youth and young adults also are the most eclectic generation in American history in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, technological tools and sources of authority. Most young adults want to find areas of common ground with each other, sometimes even if that means glossing over real differences. Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.” One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said “church is like a country club, only for insiders” (22%).
This certainly isn't what the Catholic Church teaches, but it certainly is the message given to others by many believers. The Church is made up of sinners who can find common-ground with many other faiths. Certainly there are some exclusive claims in Catholic doctrine that are non-negotiable, but if we don't teach the basis of what those are, then they are easy to shoot holes through. In addition, most parishes are not very welcoming and are hard to get involved in. This is terrible. The people of God should always be looking outward, not inward. Now, the final problem here is found in a culture where open-mindedness is esteemed more than truth. Relativism is to blame and we need to continue to fight this false philosophy at every turn.
Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt. Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts. They do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense. In addition, many feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial. Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%). In a related theme of how churches struggle to help young adults who feel marginalized, about one out of every six young adults with a Christian background said their faith “does not help with depression or other emotional problems” they experience (18%).
As someone who welcomes questions and doubted myself, I can agree this is a problem. Too often we sell Christianity to others as a package-deal - in other words, it seems we tell others they should accept every challenge Christianity has for them NOW or else. We have little patience for the free will of others to have doubts, fears, and different conclusions than our own. We need to be more open and patient when dealing with the struggles of others. Jesus didn't get the apostles completely on board even after three years with them!

We need a change in several areas of our Church to re-capture this generation of young people:
  1. We need to evangelize more and more effectively. We can't wait for others to go and get young people, we need to do it ourselves. This is the purpose of the Church - to make disciples of all nations.
  2. We need better Catholic parenting. Too often parents check their faith at the door. Formation of parents should be the focus of our parishes. Then they in turn can form their children. This is what the universal church has always taught - catechesis should focus on adults, not children. But, we have it backwards in our parishes.
  3. We need better youth ministry that is more about forming disciples of Christ. When I say formation, I do not mean more class time. Students get enough of that. But, when teaching social justice, take them to a soup kitchen. When teaching sexuality, have young married couples come talk to them. When teaching why the Incarnation is so important, bring them to Adoration. Teach them to prayTeach them to love Jesus. Preach the Gospel, again, again, and again. I commend the youth ministries that are already doing these things, but too many are not.
  4. We need better campus ministries. Many campuses have nothing. Most have little. Only a few have good ministries and even these capture less than 50% of Catholics on-campus. 
  5. We need more dynamic young adult ministries. We need something more than a singles' group or young married couples groups. These are fine, when done well, but we need amazingly attractive programs that think outside of the box.
I wish I had all the answers, and I sometimes act as if I do, but I don't. Rather, let this serve as a call to all of us - THE CHURCH - to do something about it personally, rather than wait for others to do it for us.


Comments and thoughts are welcome. Please be kind.

Should Atheists Be Forced To Buy Bibles?

Short and sweet.

Cutest. Kid. Ever. + 1 Bald Man

During my trip to Canada last week, I spent about 15 minutes playing with Leo. He is the son of my friend, Josh. Josh filmed me making him laugh for a short time.

As the dad of 5 kids, I know how to make babies laugh. I also don't care if I look stupid while doing so.

Enjoy "The Baby Whisperer"...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Drop Kicked Into Becoming Catholic

Why Ignatius of Antioch (a disciple of the Apostle John) had led to such a profound change in Matthew Leonard's life:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Choice To Make

Something everyone should see...
“Before you were born I only worried about how your disability reflected on me. Now there is no better mirror in the world. You’re my light in the dark, and it’s a privilege to be your dad. Love always, daddy.”

In 90% of cases, a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome leads to an abortion.

Why Same-Sex Marriage Is NOT Good For Society

A great video that sums it all up nicely, in less than 5 minutes:

If I Were General Of A "War on Women" This Would Be My Battle Plan

If I were General of an army starting a war on women, here is what I would prepare as my battle plan:
  • I would convince women that their fertility is a disease. To be able to create life and carry a baby in their wombs is a drain on a women's happiness and freedom. To truly be happy they must have "control" of their ability to procreate. Part of what makes a woman a woman (the natural function of fertility) would be considered a disease and I would make women think something is wrong with them by having these feminine abilities.
  • I would then turn the purpose of sex into mere pleasure-seeking. Forget what may happen when 2 people have sex - bonding of 2 people + babies - and focus only on the by-product of sex, pleasure. If I can make pleasure the focus, then I distract from life. Of course men would be the big winners here, but I would hide that fact. To further change the meaning of sex, I would introduce sex-selective abortions and even later forced-abortions.
  • Destroy true love. Tell women that the key to relationships is getting something out of it for themselves. If they have to capture a man by hooking up with him, then do it. If they have to dress provocatively or stop demanding respect from men, so be it. To change relationships we change the definition of love to less than what it really is. Make it a feeling, sex - anything but real sacrificial love that is chosen by someone for someone else.
  • Convince women they need to act like men to be equal to men. Only in getting free from kids and husband can a woman be free. A career is the path to happiness. Therefore to be equal she has to be aggressive and competitive in working outside the home. But, in a world where women work less than men on average (because of babies), they will never gain equality and continue to seek happiness where they can never find it!
  • Use modern culture to teach women they are not worthy of love. They need to earn love by running the rat race, changing their bodies to look like porn stars (or at least dress/act like one), and throwing off all the traits of motherhood and marriage. Their unique qualities should not be valued, but rather we should belittle them. 
  • Let nature run it's course by allowing women to suffer the consequences of these choices. 
    • the result of the hook-up culture where women are the losers to men who use them. 
    • broken homes where in women take care of the kids in the majority of situations, which leads to increases in the cycles of violence, poverty, addiction, crime, etc. 
    • increase in abortion, which wounds a women for life because of the reality of killing a baby.
    • etc

  • Impose on women the idea they are deprived of equal rights if others don't pay for their contraception, abortion, and sterilizations. Then try to force all others to pay for such things through government control.
  • Convince women the true enemy is one who loves them most. If we can get them to believe that the source of the fullness of truth and grace - the Catholic Church - is the real enemy, then we have won their hearts and the war...

Of course, if I were the General of the army attacking women I would mask myself as an ally to do all of this under the rhetoric of "women's rights".

The Hound of Heaven

This short film is based on "The Hound of Heaven" by Francis Thompson. It is a 182 line poem about how God pursues us.
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
   I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
   Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
             Up vistaed hopes I sped;
             And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
   From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
             But with unhurrying chase,
             And unperturb√®d pace,
     Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
             They beat—and a Voice beat
             More instant than the Feet—
     'All things betray thee, who betrayest Me'.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Year of Faith Begins on the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II and 20th Anniversary of Catecism

The Year of Faith Begins - here is how it is described by the US Bishops:
The upcoming Year of Faith is a “summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the One Savior of the world” (Porta Fidei 6). In other words, the Year of Faith is an opportunity for Catholics to experience a conversion – to turn back to Jesus and enter into a deeper relationship with him. The “door of faith” is opened at one’s baptism, but during this year Catholics are called to open it again, walk through it and rediscover and renew their relationship with Christ and his Church.
The Pope opens the Year of Faith with a homily about Vatican II:

Scott Hahn on The Catechism:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Aggie Catholic Roots of 40 Days For Life

Most readers know that 40 Days for Life started at St. Mary's Catholic Center.
But, few know the details. Here is a video of David Bereit, Executive Director of 40 Days for Life, telling the story.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Stem-Cell Wars Stopped Because Nobel Prize Winning Scientist Sees Life!

This is a pretty amazing story and it is a shame it won't ever make the mainstream news cycle:
Shinya Yamanaka, a scientist at Kyoto University, loved stem-cell research. But he didn’t want to destroy embryos. So he figured out a way around the problem. In a paper published five years ago in Cell, Yamanaka and six colleagues showed how “induced pluripotent stem cells” could be derived from adult cells and potentially substituted, in research and therapy, for embryonic stem cells. Today, that discovery earned him a Nobel Prize, shared with British scientist John Gurdon. But the prize announcement and much of the media coverage missed half the story. Yamanaka’s venture wasn’t just an experiment. It was a moral project.

In the introduction to their Cell paper, Yamanaka and his colleagues outlined their reasons for seeking an alternative to conventional embryonic stem-cell research. “Ethical controversies” came first in their analysis. Technical reasons—the difficulty of making patient-specific embryonic stem cells—came second. After the paper’s publication, Yamanaka told a personal story, related by the New York Times:
Inspiration can appear in unexpected places. Dr. Shinya Yamanaka found it while looking through a microscope at a friend’s fertility clinic. … [H]e looked down the microscope at one of the human embryos stored at the clinic. The glimpse changed his scientific career. “When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters,” said Dr. Yamanaka. … “I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way.”
Yamanaka’s misgivings weren’t absolute. In 2009, when President Obama lifted the U.S. ban on federal funding of embryo-destructive stem-cell research, Yamanaka attended the ceremony to show his support. Yamanaka explained his ambivalence to New Scientist in December 2007. “Patients' lives are more important than embryos,” he said. But “I do want to avoid the use of embryos if possible.”

From September 2009 to June 2012, Yamanaka won three major international science prizes. Each citation recognized the moral significance of his work. In 2009, the Lasker Foundation selected him for its prestigious medical research award, noting that his technique overcame “the controversy that accompanies methods based on embryonic stem cells.” In 2010, the Inamori Foundation awarded him the Kyoto Prize, again citing “ethical concerns” that had burdened previous embryonic stem-cell research. In 2012, the Technology Academy of Finland gave him its Millennium Technology Prize, explicitly for “Ethical Stem Cells Research.” The academy praised Yamanaka for making possible “stem cell research into drugs, treatments and transplants without having to use human embryos.”

The Nobel committee, however, made no mention of Yamanaka’s moral achievement. Not in its presentation, not in its press release, not in its interview with the laureate. It credited him only with developing “new tools” to study disease and develop therapies. Many reporters took the same approach. In its 600-word story, CNN ignored the ethics of Yamanaka’s work. The Los Angeles Times called restrictions on embryo destruction mere “headaches” for scientists. The New York Times said Yamanaka’s work, like other stem-cell technologies, had “generated objections from people who fear, on ethical or religious grounds, that scientists are pressing too far into nature’s mysteries and the ability to create life artificially.”

That’s completely wrong. Even before Yamanaka’s landmark paper, pro-lifers were all over his work. They loved it. The Vatican had followed his research with interest for years. When Cell published his paper, a pro-life coalition immediately declared his method “superior to cloning as a means of obtaining patient-specific pluripotent stem cells.” In a homily distributed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Rigali declared that Yamanaka’s story about looking into a fertility-clinic microscope showed how “God can use a helpless embryo to change a human heart.” People at the National Right to Life Committee were openly rooting for Yamanaka to win a Nobel.

Now he’s won it. And we shouldn’t turn away from the moral aspect of this achievement just because it gratifies the conservative side of the old stem-cell debate. Yamanaka transformed that debate forever. He tore down the wall between preserving embryos and saving lives. He did what only a scientist could have done: He made it possible for both sides to win. In the words of Julian Savulescu, an ethicist and supporter of embryonic stem-cell research, Yamanaka “deserves not only a Nobel Prize for Medicine, but a Nobel Prize for Ethics.”

Congratulations, Dr. Yamanaka. And thank you. From all of us. 
No, his choices aren't perfect, but at least he sees what embryos are - life.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Planned Parenthood's Parenting Advice VS The Catholic Church's Parenting Advice = A Cultural Throwdown

The videos below, from Planned Parenthood are full of moral relativism and situational ethics. They are supposed to offer advice to parents on how to talk to kids about sex. Rather, they show how to be a terrible parent. Their line of thinking goes something like this:
  1. Teens are going to have sex.
  2. You should talk to them about it.
  3. But, no matter what you say, they will still have sex.
  4. You are the greatest influence in their lives.
  5. Yet, they are going to have sex.
  6. So, give them condoms and birth control.
  7. Because they are still going to have sex.
  8. Even if it isn't good for them.
  9. They have sex.
  10. You are a great parent, because you talked to them.
The only kind of mistake you could make, in this kind of Planned Parenthood thinking, would be to not tell them to use condoms or birth control.

Therefore... Good parenting = giving your kids condoms/birth control and talking about sex.

Watch this video and then we will break it down a bit:

Here is how it starts:
"Whether we like it or not, a lot of teens are having sex. By the age of 19, seven out of 10 have had sexual intercourse. But parents of sexually active teens can make a difference."
Which is it? They are going to have sex anyway or we can make a difference? I think they mean both, but the only difference you can really make is whether they use "protection" not whether they will make a bad decision (having pre-marital sex anyway) or not.

The mother in the video then continues the conversation with her daughter after asking if they are having sex...
"Good, I hope you use them every time. If you continue having sex, there's also birth control you can use with a condom that'll keep you even more protected from pregnancy and the condoms can protect you from STD's.

Tomorrow, let's make an appointment for you. I can go with you if you want. It's definitely not okay with me if you two aren't doing all you can to protect yourselves. I know both you and Jamal have big dreams for the future, and I wouldn't want anything to mess that up."
There is some terrible parenting advice - since condoms fail so often, use birth control pills on top of them to make sure you are "protecting" yourself against what is supposed to happen when you have sex. Then she says she doesn't want the dreams of her teen to be messed up. WHAT?

How about you make a better decision by not having sex! Oh, but that would be too judgmental and not good "listening" on the part of the parent.

Justification of bad behavior continues in this video:

MOTHER: Yeah, way too fast. He hadn't even met her parents yet! You know I wouldn't go for that! But just curious, when do you think it's okay for people to start having sex?

[Kid mumbles answer]

MOTHER: Really? Listen, it may seem like everybody's doing it, but in reality, they're not. The average age people first have sexual intercourse is 17! It's perfectly normal to wait until you're older. As you know, I want you to wait until you're ready, in a healthy relationship, and prepared.

I know you might feel a lot of pressure to have sexual experiences. What would you say if you were being pressured?

[Kid mumbles answer]

MOTHER: Yeah, that's a good way to handle it; I'm impressed with your assertiveness. You know, you can always blame it on me --tell them that I'd be really upset.


MOTHER: Another way is to avoid situations where things might get out of hand, like being alone together or drinking, okay?

[Kid nods]

MOTHER: One more thing...even though I want you to wait, if you seriously start thinking about getting serious, talk to me. I want you to be prepared with birth control and condoms. Promise?
Moral of the story - I think it would be better for you not to have sex, but since you can't control your self and I don't trust you take some of these condoms and pills with you just in case. [wink wink]

This just doesn't work. Saying one thing while crossing your fingers behind your back isn't going to work on a teen. Heck, my 6 year-old could see the out clause in this argument clearly.

You don't talk to a 16 year-old the keys about all the joys of driving fast, the greatness of Italian sports vehicles, how everyone LOVES to drive fast, tell them it feels awesome, tell them you support them no matter what and then toss the keys to a new Ferrari at them and say "I don't want you to speed, but if you do, then use the radar detector to keep you safe!"

It won't work. Never has.
That is why the Center for Disease Control states the following about condoms:
Inconsistent use can lead to STD acquisition because transmission can occur with a single act of intercourse with an infected partner. Similarly, if condoms are not used correctly, the protective effect may be diminished even when they are used consistently. The most reliable ways to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), are to abstain from sexual activity or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner. However, many infected persons may be unaware of their infections because STDs are often asymptomatic or unrecognized.
Don't hand your kid the keys to a Ferrari and never take parenting advice from a group who wants to end parenthood.


Some think the Church is just one big NO. It isn't. But, just giving a "no" to kids is not going to cut it when it comes to sex. When I was a kid I never had a talk with my parents about sex and the message I got was "NO! Don't do it!" But, society is saying "YES! Do it now, as much as you can with whomever you can!" The "no" can still be a small part of the conversation, but should never be the heart of it.

We have to give our kids something to say "Yes" to. God is much bigger than pleasure or sex. Everytime you say "yes" to one thing you say "no" to others. When I said "yes" to my wife I ruled out loving all other women in a romantic and sexual way. Love sometimes means delaying gratification, limiting yourself, and being ready to sacrifice. Marriages are strengthened by people who have such virtue and self-control.

Furthermore, parents need to talk about the big picture of relationships with their kids:
  • Why do people date and marry? Because we are made for relationships and they can draw us all closer to God and heaven by loving others. 
  • Why do we have these desires and feelings? They come from God and point to our need for Him. 
  • Is it ok to have these desires and feelings? Of course. 
  • How do we properly channel them? By learning chastity and self-control 
  • What does appropriate intimacy look like (whether emotionally or physically)? It depends on the level of the relationship, but true intimacy should be reserved for marriage. 
These questions and many more come up when you talk to your kids about sex and relationships. So, below I have put together some tips as a way to help parents (and future parents) work through the issue of talking to your kids about sex

  • If you don't teach them, someone else will. Schools, friends, and the wider culture (TV, movies, music) are shoving sex down your kids throats already. You need to have the loudest and clearest voice in this conversation. Time to be proactive about educating your kids, not reactive. Parents are the primary educators of their children. This is an obligation and a gift to teach our kids! 
  • You need to educate yourself so you can properly educate your children. You can't give what you don't have and your kids can't love the truth if they don't know it. 
  • Important conversations with your children can only help all of you. So, make sure this isn't the only topic of conversation about life you talk with your kids about. Spend time talking about important subjects in order to teach your kids communication within the framework of the family. 
  • We should not merely protect our kids, but prepare them to change the world. So, the goal of talking to your kids about sex is not to put a virtual chastity belt on your kids, but prepare them for what they will face in life. 
  • It isn't about you! Your own personal sexual baggage need not be a part of the conversation nor should it ever keep you from talking to your kids about sex. 
  • Your job as a parent is to form, teach, model, and help your child. Ultimately, they will make their own decisions and sometimes mess up. Your goal isn't to control your child, but to set them on a course for success in life. 
  • Your kids want you to help them. For a child, the most important people in their lives are their parents (even if they never admit it). So, when your kid initiates a conversation about sex, relationships, or any other important topic - drop everything else and focus whatever time you need to to listen. 
  • The culture could destroy your kid's life. The negative realities of having sex with someone you aren't married to should be talked about, even if they are not a focus. Sometimes people need a negative reason to say no. Single mothers, STDs, broken hearts, failed marriages, etc. are all reasons not to have extra-marital sex, even if they aren't the best reasons. Natural consequences happen. Kids know this. 
  • Your children's souls are worth it! Don't forget the spiritual reality is that sexual sin can kill the supernatural grace of God in you. Remember that there are two levels of forgiveness - fear and love. The lower is fear of punishment, but it is enough to have your sins forgiven. The higher is love of God. If it takes fear in order to get someone to do the right thing, use it. But, use it appropriately - hell and brimstone notwithstanding.

  • Focus on what is most important. While you need to talk about biology, the conversations you have with your kids should focus on God's plan for our lives, character, virtue, morality, and relationships. Not biology. 
  • Teach them the "big picture" of sex, using the Theology of the Body and the Church's other teachings on sexuality and love. There is a reason God made us sexual beings and a healthy human is a person who has integrated their sexuality in a healthy manner. We need to teach our kids how to do this. 
  • Our bodies are a reflection of God. We are made in God's image and likeness and this includes our bodies, not merely our souls. Our bodies can be used for great good (imaging God, worship, love, etc.) or great evil. They are temples of the Holy Spirit made for good. 
  • If needed, use good resources. There are many good resources for parents. I will mention some below. Go through materials with your child, don't just give it to them to use on their own. But, don't feel tethered to the resources you use. Add or take out whatever you think is best. 
  • Be ok with the conversation feeling a bit awkward or your own limitations. Do your best and give your child what you have. There is nobody else who can take your place in this conversation. 
  • Teach them what love really is. True love = choosing what is best for another, despite what it might cost me. This kind of love is not easy, but worth it. It takes sacrifice and effort and it is the kind of love we are created by and for. This is the kind of love that says "yes" to loving another person, by not having sex until marriage. 
  • Sex has a dual purpose. As the Church has always taught, there is a dual purpose to sex - babies and bonding (aka - unitive and procreative purposes of sex). Talk about both. 
  • This should never be a one-time conversation, but an ongoing series of conversations. There is no "birds and bees talk" that covers everything. Make this formation a part of your family. 
  • The conversations need to start at a young age. How young? 7-8 is a good starting point. Why? 90% of 8-16 year-old children have viewed porn online. The average age for first exposure to hardcore online porn is 11. You have to talk to them before the culture gets them. 
  • Start the conversation with both parents (if possible). This means mom + dad + child should be the formula, especially at early ages. Try not to do it with more than one kid at a time, to stress the importance of the subject. Are there times it should be one parent? Absolutely. Dad should also talk to sons about male issues and moms with their daughters. Naturally occurring conversations with the entire family are ok, as long as their is an age-appropriate filter that takes the younger children into consideration.

This list is by no means comprehensive and I would love to add others to it, so if you have one, please let me know. With any of the resources, the parents should careful read/watch them before going through them with their children.
Catholic resources: 

Non-Catholic resources: 

  • 4-part series entitled “God’s Design for Sex” by Stan and Brenna Jones from NavPress. While it isn't Catholic, my wife and I love the series and have supplemented with the Theology of the Body and fullness of the Church's teachings on sexuality. We only found 1 small issue with the entire series.

The Catholic Church is a much better resource for parenting advice.
Our Father, says so.

My Wife Blames Me For Things "I" Do In Her Dreams

True. She calls them the "bad Marcel" dreams.
Tim Hawkins understands.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Garden

7 Great Qualities of a New Evangelist - Fr. Barron

St. Francis, Animals, Suffering, Grace, and Redemption

Today is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. He is the patron of animals, who he had a great love for. Yet, St. Francis loved animals so much because he loved God first and most.

If you have ever seen an animal in physical pain, it can be quite distressing. The question certainly can arise - "why do animals have to suffer?"

My dog was attacked by another dog and mortally wounded a few years ago. For more than 24 hours she suffered physical pain until the Veterinarian advised us to have her euthanized, because she would not be able to recover. It was a horrible experience for us all, in fact just thinking about it really saddens me.

A few points about the suffering of animals:

  • We have to delineate the suffering of animals from the suffering of humans. Humans can suffer in number of ways - physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional. Animals' suffering is more limited. They do not have an intellect, will, or immortal soul as we do
  • God does not like pain and suffering, nor did He create the world for it.
    "Because God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they might have being" -Wisdom 1:13-14. We should never kill or harm an animal without serious reasons, though they are not human."
  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
    CCC 2418"It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly....One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons."

When humans fell from grace in the Garden of Eden, all of creation fell from grace with them. In other words, all of the created universe suffers from Man's sin. This is because all of creation was made for humanity and suffers because the purpose of the created order suffers. Animal suffering is part of the suffering and death brought about by sin. Creation is united, for good and bad, together. But, humans have a special role to play in the created order, because we are the only creatures made for our own sake.

As stewards of the rest of creation, we have a duty to see to it that animals are treated with the respect they deserve - which does not equal human respect. In fact, the respect due to animals comes from our respect of God who created them. We should not abuse His great gifts.

That being said, there is no easy answer as to the suffering of animals, because ultimately, there is no obvious good we can see in it. For humans, we can find meaning in our suffering and good can come out of it. This is because humans can combine their suffering to Christ's suffering and participate in our own redemption by offering our suffering for ourselves or others. Thus, we can grow in virtue and holiness through it. For animals, there isn't such a meaning. But, there is hope that all of redemption shall one day be redeemed, as St. Paul says:
"For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies."- Romans 8: 19-23
Then there is the prophecy of Isaiah:
"Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra's den, and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair." -Isaiah 11: 6-8
One day all suffering will be over with, including the physical suffering of animals. Ultimately, there is no adequate answer I can give you as to why animals suffer. John Paul II echoed this mystery in his masterful encyclical on suffering - Salvifici Doloris:
"It is obvious that pain, especially physical pain, is widespread in the animal world. But only the suffering human being knows that he is suffering and wonders why; and he suffers in a humanly speaking still deeper way if he does not find a satisfactory answer. This is a difficult question, just as is a question closely akin to it, the question of evil. Why does evil exist? Why is there evil in the world? When we put the question in this way, we are always, at least to a certain extent, asking a question about suffering too."

The Good News is that one day there will be no more suffering! St. Francis knew this. He knew that all of creation cries out for redemption and salvation.

The reason St. Francis had such a love of animals and nature is because he loved God first. He saw the great goodness implanted in all of God's creation and knew that creation, including animals, are a link to God! They tell us something about God. Many legends say that St. Francis preached the Gospel message to animals, because they were also in need of Christ's redemption.

This is a beautiful reminder to us of the greatness of God's love for everything He created. But, we must always remember - there is nothing greater that God has ever created than the people around us and ourselves!

St. Francis pray for us, the animals, and all of creation!