Pre-theologate students at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, gather for evening prayer in this 2009 file photo. (CNS file photo)
My wife, who didn’t attend Franciscan, is always surprised by how many people I know when we attend a large Catholic gathering. I am not trying to name drop, but demonstrate that over the course of a few years at Franciscan, I befriended numerous individuals who would go on to become leaders in the Catholic world – speakers, authors, bloggers, intellectuals, teachers and religious.
My Franciscan connection is with many more people than just those who went on to become “Catholic famous.” Franciscan formed countless individuals who now serve as the backbones of their local Catholic communities.
Who’s that young priest everyone is excited about? He is a Franciscan graduate. Who is that young mom running the homeschool association? She is a Franciscan graduate. Who is that dynamic youth minister that is great with the kids? He is a Franciscan graduate. Who is that young sister, inspiring the next generation of young women? She is a Franciscan graduate.
What makes Franciscan University so special? Catholic scholars have speculated on the nature of a true Catholic culture. They write on living in the High Middle Ages, the climax of Catholic civilization, and they describe the dynamism of American Catholic parishes in the early part of the 20th century. If you are wondering what a Catholic community entails, you don’t need to speculate about a historical era. You can rather visit Steubenville, Ohio.
I was fortunate enough to go to college in the late 1990s and early 2000s before the popularization of cell phones and the Internet. I checked my email once a month at the university computer lab. We only had access to a few televisions, and I only watched a movie once every couple of weeks. I was completely detached from modern secular culture. Moreover, the campus is on a hill, physically separated from the local town, and there are not many reasons to explore the surrounding area, to put it nicely.
On this little hill rising up from the banks of the Ohio River, the students, staff, religious, and faculty of the university have created a small but vibrant Catholic subculture. The student body is 99 percent Catholic, and the faith is activity lived out. The sacramental life is vigorous with nearly universal attendance by students at Sunday Mass (98 percent), and daily Mass is attended by more than 700 students. Confessions are held by seven or eight priests, four times a week, with long lines of students. The mercy chaplet is prayed daily at 3 p.m., and numerous public rosaries are recited each day. My personal favorite was the walking rosary around campus, which took place nearly every evening.
Catholicism is physically present on campus. Every residence hall has a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament, and one chapel has perpetual adoration. The campus is filled with religious imagery, including the Stations of the Cross, a tomb for the unborn, a Marian Grotto, and numerous outdoor statues. Crucifixes adorn the wall of every classroom, and dorm rooms often contain images of students’ favorite saints. Around the necks of students and staff, you’ll catch a glimpse of miraculous medal or scapular.
The college has a system of small groups, called households, in which members commit to attending religious activities – daily Mass, rosary, retreats – and foster a sense of accountability. I had friends who were on the verge of being kicked out of school their first semester because of excessive drinking, but after joining a household, they were regularly attending daily mass at 6:30 a.m., a changed person. Numerous other organizations exist on campus to promote the culture of life, vocations, evangelization and service endeavors. Dozens of students leave in the evening to help the local homeless population, or an equally impressive number drive to Pittsburgh to protest prayerfully in front of an abortion clinic every Saturday morning.
A strong Catholic culture is created at the university with its own practices and traditions. You might hear students talking about heading over to the “Port” to pray, slang for making a holy hour at the replica of the Portiuncula on campus. Students finishing an 11 a.m. class might naturally make their way to noon Mass as a group. As the events unfolded on Sept.11, 2001, one of the chaplains set up an altar for eucharistic adoration, and as I approached the altar, I saw hundreds of students kneeling and praying for those impacted by the events and for our country. Catholicism infuses every action at Franciscan.
Some are critical of Franciscan, and there is a valid critique that it is financially challenging to attend the college. Yet as one friend put it, your soul is worth it. Others claim that it is a Catholic bubble and does not represent the real world, which baffles me. Why would you want to send your teenager into the real world? Do you think it is better for an eighteen-year-old to go to a secular school and experiencing drinking and loose sexual morality, all in the name of experiencing the real world?
To use a military metaphor, Franciscan is like Catholic boot camp. You would not want an untested and ill-prepared teenager to be sent into a battle zone like Iraq or Afghanistan without any preparation. Similarly, you do not want to send your child out into the world without a strong faith. The students who graduate from Franciscan, for the most part (there are always exceptions), are prepared and ready to encounter the world without becoming part of it. My experience showed me that Franciscan is fertile soil for the faith and helped generate the next generation of Catholic leaders.
Click here to learn more about Franciscan University.
February 11, 2016 10:50
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Victor Jauquet was one of the younger representatives of Our Lady of Victory in Arbutus at the 2016 March for Life. (Erik Zygmont/CR Staff)
Every year on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, hundreds of thousands of people from around the country descend on Washington D.C. to petition for the end of abortion and showcase the strength and youthfulness of the pro-life movement. And every year, the weather is horrible. Without fail, it’s either freezing cold or snowing, and this past Friday was no exception.
After attending the march, one feels re-energized about the pro-life cause, and confident the tide has turned on this important moral struggle. That positive energy is dampened, however, when you see the complete secular media blackout of the event or the blatant dishonesty. That is, the national news rarely covers it, and if they do, they give equal time to the handful of pro-abortion protestors and drastically underreport the number of marchers.
Pro-life organizations have documented the lopsided media coverage, and the March for Life organization, under new and younger leadership, have made a point to increase media coverage.
A radical proposal
I do not intend to duplicate their critique of the media blackout, but propose a radical shift in the way the march is organized. That is, the march should be moved to another date. The traditional date - January 22 - is the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, and many schools and organizations have made plans to attend the event on the January date.
It is always difficult to change, but the March for Life should be moved to an early fall date, for example on the last Saturday of September.
Peggy Nichols traveled from Dallas to walk in the March for Life, on crutches, with Our Lady of the Fields in Millersville. (Erik Zygmont/CR Staff)
No organization would intentionally plan for a major rally in January due to possibility of horrible weather. Some years, it was dangerously cold, and marchers sought out shelter in nearby museums and restaurants. I recall seeing parents desperately trying to warm their children near heaters after spending hours in the cold. The potential for cold weather makes it irresponsible to venture out with small children and attend the march as a family, which seems odd for a pro-life event.
This past Friday, numerous organizers cancelled their buses due to snow storm. Many that went were stuck in bad weather as they tried to return home. I followed the story online as buses from my alma mater, Franciscan University, were stranded on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Go for a million
During a warmer time of year and on a weekend, the March for Life should aim for one million participants. The media can only ignore crowds below a certain number. They can only diminish the numbers to a degree, and their favorite phrase is thousands of people. The more accurate estimates are: “Around 250,000 people attended the march until 2010. Estimates put the 2011 and 2012 attendances at 400,000 each, and the 2013 March for Life drew an estimated 650,000 people.”
Few rallies generate enough interest for a million participants, but the March for Life is nearly there. With a million marchers, the media would be hard pressed to ignore its historical significance.
Parish and family model
The goal of a million participants is reachable. The final push could be accomplished by a strategic plan to involve families. Marching in cold weather and on weekdays has prevented many pro-life families, both young and old, from attending. The move to a weekend in late September could provide a huge boost with that demographic. It could be easily facilitated by working with church leaders to ensure that every parish in the mid-Atlantic region has at least one bus attending the march (many already do).
If you have attended the march recently, you know the crowd is mostly composed of high school and college students, the only age groups crazy enough to brave the harsh conditions. Relying on schools as a means to bring young marchers makes a summer date impossible. The September date ensures that it is early enough in the school year that they could miss a Friday, as a travel day, without major repercussions. One individual from Baltimore informed me that the January date conflicts with midterms and preparations for Catholic Schools Week, making it difficult for local school children to attend the march.
One of the advantages of scheduling the march on a weekday in January was the presence of lawmakers, and undoubtedly, fewer members of Congress will be present on a weekend in the fall. I doubt any politician was swayed by the presence of pro-lifers, but a massive million-person march a little more than a month before elections would provide far more political pressure. In other words, there is more to be gained than lost.
Think outside the box
Strangely, the march may have gotten more coverage this year than in any past years. It was not the events that played out in the nation’s capital. When several buses were stranded in Pennsylvania, the passengers got out of the bus, built an altar of snow, and several priests concelebrated Mass on the edge of the snowy highway. Pictures of the Mass went viral, and the story was covered by numerous news programs across the country.
Involve individuals with huge social media followings. Matt Walsh, for example, is a local pro-life advocate, and he had the most-commentated Facebook post of 2015 (620,111 comments on one post)! He and others could generate attention for the march without the traditional networks.
Install a station of 20 to 30 buttons across Constitution Avenue, and have every marcher hit one as they pass, generating a running total of the exact number of participants. Something unusual, like a Mass on the side of a highway, might create more attention than hundreds of thousands of of marchers alone.
It is time
A few years back, I was caught in a snow storm driving back to Steubenville after attending the march. It was a stressful drive back, and fortunately, we make it back to campus safely. One car that left right after us got into an accident, but no one was badly injured. Parents are going to be more reluctant to let their children go to the march in inclement weather, especially with the thousands of students stuck in this year’s storm. It might be a sign that it’s time to move the march to another date, and the nation’s most important pro-life event will be stronger for it.
Life beats blizzard, say participants in 2016 March for Life
Why I am pro-life
January 29, 2016 10:24
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
I am not an expert on helping young children to pray. Quite the opposite! Visitors to our house, especially those who do not have children, might be shocked by the chaos surrounding the recitation of our daily family rosary. They would be even more surprised that I am offering advice on the topic.
I believe it is absolutely essential that a family pray together, and, in desperation, I have tested countless different methods to help our children pray with us and bring some resemblance of order out of the chaos. It is from this long process of trial and error that we found some methods that work, and that’s what I would like to share with you.
Amy Olsen holds her 1-year-old daughter, Piper, as she lights a candle in St. Louis late last year. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston)
1) Clean the room
First, we clean the living room and make sure it is a presentable and suitable place for prayer, leaving a few toys out for the baby. It removes distractions for the older children, and much like having a guest over, it demonstrates that we are inviting Jesus, Mary, the saints and angels to join us in our prayers.
2) Use a small altar
We have a small altar on top of a short bookshelf in the living room, which has a few statues and images of Jesus, Mary, and the saints. It also has a small flipbook of the mysteries of the rosary. It serves as a focal point for our prayers.
3) Light a candle
I am not sure why, but children love candles. We light a candle in front of the statues, and it draws their attention to images. We also allow the children to blow out the candle, if they are well behaved, which they make into a much bigger deal than it is.
4) Find a place for every child
After dinner, our two older boys are pretty wound up. They are jumping around and touching (hitting) each other. We decided that the two boys needed to find a place and stay there for the duration of the rosary, marked by a square on the couch or loveseat.
If the boys are still running around, we begin by singing a song. We use this time to teach the various sung parts of the Mass—the Gloria, Alleluia, for example. During particular liturgical seasons, we’ll sing an appropriate song. During the rosary, we’ll also sing a short refrain from a song, usually the Ave Maria from Immaculate Mary. Our three year old, who often refuses to pray, will at least join in on the sung parts of our prayer time.
6) Assign jobs
Children thrive on responsibility, and we allow the children to pass out the rosaries, turn the page in the flipbook or blow out the candle, which they love to do.
7) Pray with older children (6+)
Expectations for the children is based on their age. Our oldest boy is six, and he is required to pray with us. He leads two decades, and when not leading a decade, he can look at his rosary book, illustrated Bible or other religious book.
8) Work on gestures with younger children (3+)
The next boy is three years old, and he just has to remain in his place looking at books. We work on making a nice sign of the cross and being still (it is a struggle). We allow him to do religious activities, working on a religious themed puzzle or picture.
9) Let babies play (0-3)
Our youngest is a one-year-old girl, and she just meanders around the floor playing with her toys. We try to time it right and give her a bottle (or my wife breastfeed her when she was younger) during the rosary. That way, we would have some quiet time for part of it.
We begin our prayers by asking our children to recite their intentions. Often, it is the same memorized list, but sometimes, they pray for a special intention, which comes directly from their heart.
11) Model reverence
We realized quite early that our children mimic us. If we sit nicely, our children were more likely to sit nicely. If we slouched, our children were more likely to slouch. Therefore, my wife and I paid closer attention to making a reverent Sign of the Cross and sitting properly. We recently started kneeling to further show the importance of praying. If we demonstrate prayer is important by our gestures, our children will pick up on it.
12) Explain the mysteries
At the beginning of each decade, we often ask our oldest son to explain the mystery, or my wife or I will give a little explanation or reflection. Periodically, we use a prayer book that provides a short reflection or a scriptural quote for each decade.
Parents need a system of punishments and rewards. It begins with clear expectations. The boys know what is expected of them - the place where they are supposed to sit and what activities are allowed. If they eat their dinner, they receive a small dessert. However, they do not receive the dessert until after the rosary, and poor behavior during the rosary can result in the dessert being lost.
14) Chaos will happen
If you think your children will sit nicely and pray, you are gravely mistaken. Young children will move around and make noise. That’s part of having children, and you cannot change that reality. Sometimes you need to call it. If it is late, children are sick, and everybody is running around screaming, which does happen, we will end the rosary after a few decades and go upstairs to get ready for bed. The next evening we will try again.
15) Pray with other children
It feels like our children listen to everyone but my wife and me. During a family gathering, I am amazing how our children sit nicely next to their cousins and pray with them, or how well behaved they are in church when they are with their classmates or religious groups (Blue Knights). Make time when gathering with friends and extended family to pray. They will learn that other children pray as well, and be inspired by their example.
16) Do it
You must persevere through the difficulties. It would be so much easier to pray after the children have gone to bed. However, how will they ever learn to pray if we never do it as a family? It is especially essential that you pray with your older children, but is also important that younger children be exposed to the importance of praying and to see it being done. Parents must instill good habits into their children, and the earlier that you introduce them to daily family prayer, the more likely they are to keep the practice throughout their life.
“A family that prayer together, stay together” - Father Patrick Peyton
January 21, 2016 01:18
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular have a historical reputation for inspiring wars and violence. Critics incessantly cite the Crusades as an example of this bellicose sentiment even though they were not led by the church nor initiated by the church. The Crusades began when the Byzantine Emperor asked for western help in fighting a defensive war against Islamic armies threatening his state. The Fourth Crusade, when western knights attacked the Byzantines, is a good example of the many excesses of the movement and how it went astray over time.
Detractors are hard pressed to find another aggressive war fought by the church, besides the Crusades. The church, however, has played the role of peacemaker numerous times. One of the most famous examples is when Pope Leo the Great rode out to meet Attila the Hun and convinced him to spare Rome, which he did. In modern times, St. John Paul II protested the ill-fated invasion of Iraq. A few weeks ago, I provided some historical examples
on how the church promoted human rights, and then, I gave some instances of how the church supported education and science
This blog post will focus on illustrating the church as peacemaker and how individual Catholics embodied the principles of peace and love of neighbor.
A 19th-century painting by Emile Signol depicts the taking of Jerusalem by the Crusaders. (Public Domain)
The peace and truce of God
Feudalism was the political system of medieval Europe, and if you remember your history lesson on feudalism, a whole class of people known as knights existed to fight, thus ensuring a violent society. The task of curtaining violence during this period was taken up by the church. After the collapse of Charlemagne’s kingdom and in the wake of the Viking attacks, the church pushed for a system known as the peace and truce of God.
The peace and truce of God was a popular religious movement to guarantee the safety of the vulnerable. Priests, women, children, peasants and pilgrims were granted protection during wars, and religious authorities dictated that harming or robbing them a punishable offense. The law also granted immunity to individuals when on church property. In other words, churches and monasteries and the land they owned were safe havens. It also restricted the days permitted for warfare, beginning with Sunday and feast days, but later, fighting was prohibited during Lent, Advent and other holy weekdays.
The enforcement of these religious and pacifist traditions was difficult. The only true guarantee of peace is a strong army to enforce it, not a church. That said, knighthood took on a strong Christian element in the Late Middle Ages, and the code of chivalry placed a premium on honor and loyalty. As the peace and truce of God grew, knights took an oath to uphold it, and the church would excommunicate knights who broke the oath, a serious repercussion for the Middle Ages.
Italy was hit hard by wars during the Late Middle Ages because it was not unified and the numerous small states were constantly fighting. Out of this context came a popular movement that was both religious and pacifist called the Bianchi of 1399. It was inspired by a vision of the Blessed Mother, who informed a peasant that Jesus was dismayed over the violence. She instructed the peasant to preach and pray for nine days and nine nights. Beginning with this one lowly individual, the movement grew like wildfire.
The penitents dressed in white robes marked with a red cross, and because of the white robes, they were known as the Bianchi (Italian for white). They travelled for nine days, moving from city to city, preaching their message of peace. One scholar of the Bianchi wrote: “They insisted that everyone forgive their enemies and make peace with them before joining the processions. And they tried to convince individuals in the cities they visited to lay down their weapons and make peace, while urging the governments to repatriate exiles and release prisoners.”
The movement did not have a lasting national impact, but many individual relationships were healed, and numerous friendships were renewed due to the Bianchi. On a side note, many people are named Bianchi in northern Italy, and there are a few in Owings Mills, too.
Number of religious wars
A standard claim of the New Atheism is that religion is the main cause of war. Really!
The numbers completely debunk this proposition. Christian apologists point to Philip and Axelrod’s three-volume Encyclopedia of Wars, which chronicles some 1,763 wars. Of those wars, only 123 are considered religious in nature by the authors, which is a surprisingly low 6.98 percent. If Islamic wars are subtracted (66 wars) from the total, then a minuscule 3.23 percent of all wars are related to all other religions.
Even atheists have dropped the idea that religion is the primary cause of war. As one prominent atheist conceded: “Moreover, the chief complaint against religion -- that it is history’s prime instigator of intergroup conflict -- does not withstand scrutiny… A BBC-sponsored “God and War” audit, which evaluated major conflicts over 3,500 years and rated them on a 0-to-5 scale for religious motivation (Punic Wars = 0, Crusades = 5), found that more than 60 percent had no religious motivation. Less than 7 percent earned a rating greater than 3. There was little religious motivation for the internal Russian and Chinese conflicts or the world wars responsible for history's most lethal century of international bloodshed.”
The greatest love
I would be remiss to end my argument here. Over the past few weeks, I have cited some examples from church history and quite a few statistics demonstrating that the church has been a leader in human rights, promoting education and science, and advocating for peace. This depiction of the church runs counter to the standard narrative delivered to us in schools and the media, but it makes the church appear as a super-awesome NGO. Something is missing. For me, the most important aspect of church history is that for 2,000 years the church has provided meaning, purpose, and a path to salvation to people, which makes it wholly different and far more important than an NGO.
It’s hard to prove this claim with specific examples, especially with regard to salvation, but the greatest image of meaning, purpose, and love is the cross. God came down to earth and died for each of us. Many Catholics have emulated Jesus in this radical fashion, laying down their life for another person
St. Alban, the first British martyr, was killed because he was sheltering a priest, but the details of story provide a moving account. When the local authorities became aware of the priest, St. Alban switched clothes with the priest and offered himself up, saving the priest and taking the on punishment and death reserved for the priest.
St. Maximillian Kolbe switched places with another prisoner at Auschwitz, who was sentenced to death. St. Kolbe was moved when the prisoner cried out about never seeing his wife and children. It was a long and painful death as the prisoners were locked in an underground bunker and slowly starved to death.
St. Gianna Molla refused an abortion when she was pregnant with her fourth child despite knowing that continuing with the pregnancy could result in her own death. She died from the complications, but her daughter survived. In effect, she gave her life so that her child could live.
The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, or Mercedarian Fathers, was founded in the thirteenth century to help free slaves captured by Muslims in Spain. They would travel to North Africa, and attempt to negotiate the release of Christian slaves. They took a fourth vow to give their life, as Christ did, if necessitated by their work. Today, they would be similar to an individual traveling to Iraq to negotiate with ISIS. They are far more brave and selfless than I.
St. Serapion of Algiers carried out several redemptions. In the last one, he remained a hostage for some captives, and his companion traveled quickly to Spain to look for additional money. When the money for the ransom did not arrive in time, the Moors nailed him on an X-shaped cross, like Saint Andrew’s cross, and then, dismembered him.
St. Peter Paschasius was captured in Granada, and several times, redeemers sent ransom money but Peter preferred to have other captives recover their freedom instead of him. In 1300, while he was still wearing the vestments he had used to celebrate Mass, he was beheaded in his dungeon.
People often ask why I study history. In part, I enjoy gaining new historical knowledge. It’s important for Catholic, for example, to know church history, and to be able to share that information.
On a deeper level, I love history because it inspires me. In the past few weeks, I covered a lot of historical information, and sought to correct the perception of the church. More significantly, I hope the historical examples made you proud to be a Catholic, and will help you to live your life as a better Catholic.
January 11, 2016 02:24
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
The 1960s were a remarkable time for the church. The decade saw an unprecedented level of change in the liturgy, Catholics interaction with other religions, the design of churches, the role of the clergy and laity, and many more issues. Never had the church changed so dramatically and so quickly. Moreover, the church had to respond to the radical events unrolling in society, including the Civil Rights movement, Sexual Revolution, and Vietnam War.
There is no shortage of books on the Second Vatican Council. However, these works focus on the events unfolding in Rome or how theologians and the hierarchy in the United States responded to the council. The works also emphasis the experiences of the clergy and tend to push a particular ideology. There is not one book centered on the laity which details the implementation of the council on the local parish level.
Numerous people alive today remember the events of the 1960s. I want to record their memories before they pass away. Once they are gone, it will be impossible to reconstruct their experiences from archival material.
I am looking for volunteers to share their experiences for the historical record. The only requirement is that they are at least 70-years-old and attended a Catholic church in the 1960s in Baltimore or the surrounding areas.
The interview process would only take an hour and it will be recorded. I am willing to travel to any locations around Baltimore. If you are interested or more likely, if you know someone who might be interested (a parent, grandparent, aunt, or uncle), please contact me at my personal email firstname.lastname@example.org with “Oral History” in the subject line.
November 15, 2015 10:03
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
The Catholic Church is often perceived as being anti-education, anti-reason, and particularly, anti-science. The history of the church, however, paints a different picture. Last week, I examined a few episodes from church history demonstrating the emphasis Catholics placed on human rights. This week, I will review some instances of when the church promoted education and science.
Reckoning in the Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages are typically dubbed the “Dark Ages,” the period when the Roman Empire collapsed under the influx of German Barbarians. Nowhere in Western Civilization was spared from the chaos, except Ireland, and during this time, scholars have argued that the Irish monks saved Western Civilization. Thomas Cahill, in his best-seller How the Irish Saved Civilization, chronicles how the monks copied and preserved important religious texts and also secular classical works. When the Germans were Christianized and settled down, a renaissance of learning occurred under Charlemagne, largely due to the Irish monks who came to the continent with their manuscripts. Ninety percent of Roman works that we have today exist due to the work of the monks from the period of Charlemagne. In short, we would not know about the classical world and all they did without the work of the Irish and Carolingian monks.
These monks achieved an incredible accomplishment by saving history, but the argument focuses only on how medieval monks preserved civilization. A far less known element is that these same monks were also active in scientific inquiry. In the Early Middle Ages, the reckoning of time was the most important area of scientific research, and over 9,000 Latin manuscripts dealing with the calculation of time survive from this period. Wesley M. Stevens, a historian, noted these documents are the “best and thus far least known evidence for studies in early medieval schools.” This substantial effort in the discipline of reckoning demonstrates that the medieval period was an era of active learning.
Our calendar is a product of the Catholic Church. The dating of years, the seven day week, the synthesis of the Jewish lunar calendar with the Roman solar calendar are all early medieval accomplishments. The calendar currently in use, the Gregorian, named after Pope Gregory XIII, built on the medieval tradition, and corrected the calendar by aligning calendar dates with astronomical events and adjusting the use of the leap year to make it accurate over the long term.
Additionally, the medieval period was the time when universities were founded. The first European schools of higher education were attached to monasteries and cathedrals. Some of these developed into universities, and others arose independently. It is another accomplishment of the so called “Dark Ages” and one in which the church played a large role.
Have you ever wondered who first theorized about fossils? Originally, people argued that fossils grew spontaneously in rocks, but the person who put the pieces together was Niels Stenson, arguing that fossils came from living organisms. Furthermore, he established a whole theory on how strata developed over time. He was not the first to speculate on some of these theories, but he systematically came up with laws to explain them. In doing so, he challenged the authoritative texts, which relied on Aristotle, and for his work, he is considered the father of geology and paleontology.
His work was groundbreaking and led to numerous scientific advancements, but what does it have to do with Catholicism? Well first, he was a priest, and then later, he was elevated to a bishop. Moreover, he led a saintly life, and he was beautified in 1988, which is the last step before becoming a saint. Every more interesting is that Stenson was a convert. He grew up in a religious Lutheran family, and he converted to Catholicism in the midst of his scientific discoveries. He was a great biologist in his early career before converting, and discovered a duct, colloquially called Stensen's duct.
According to recent biographer, “For Stensen, there was no conflict between science and belief. For him they were but two sides of the same object.” I was particularly struck by one of Stensen’s quotes: “Beautiful are the things we see. More beautiful what we comprehend. Much the most beautiful what we do not comprehend.” His words demonstrate that his search for knowledge was a significant part of his worldview. Most people are satisfied with the beauty that they see, but Stensen was driven to comprehend the natural world beyond just seeing it. Yet, he thought the most beautiful was contemplation of the divine (what we do not comprehend). This beautiful saying explains how scientific discoveries coincide with religious growth in three short lines.
Stensen is not the only Catholic priest-scientist. The range of the following list is impressive, though it is not exhaustive. Ockham, a Franciscan, and Albert the Great, a Dominican, (patron saint of scientists) were key medieval figures, who laid the groundwork for scientific inquiry. Roger Bacon, not to be confused with Francis Bacon, was a Franciscan and hugely famous for advocating for the scientific method. Copernicus was a canon. Historians are uncertain if he was ever ordained, but he dedicated his seminal work on the solar system to the
Pope! Friar Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian, is the father of modern genetics. A twentieth-century priest, Father Georges Lemaître, was the first to formulate the Big Bang theory.
Slightly less know are Father Roger Joseph Boscovich, discovered that the moon has no atmosphere; Father Francesco Maria Grimaldi, worked on diffraction and mapping the surface of the moon; Father Pierre Gassendi, named the northern lights; Father Francesco Lana de Terzi, studied flight; Father Jean Picard, accurately measured the earth; and Father Giovanni Battista Riccioli, a Jesuit astronomer.
Today, the Catholic Church runs 93,315 primary schools and 42,234 secondary schools, and 1,358 colleges. These numbers are amazing for an institution that is considered anti-education and anti-science. Church history demonstrates that Catholics played a large role in science and education from the monks who saved Western Civilization to their work on reckoning to the founding of universities to priest-scientists like Stensen. Non-Christian civilizations made many practical advancements, in particular Asian civilizations, but it is no coincidence that the Scientific Revolution arose from a culture rooted in Catholicism.
I will be speaking on the history of the Catholic Church on Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. at The Grill at the Harryman House. For more information see the Facebook event.
October 19, 2015 12:42
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
A young woman tweets a message in this CNS file photo. (Paul Jeffrey/CNS Photo)
I used to kiss my wife when I woke up; now I roll the other way and check my notifications.
I used to read in bed; now I play a few rounds of Candy Crush.
I used to talk to people while waiting in line; now I read a blog.
I used to build mental strength when exercising; now I drown my thoughts streaming a Pandora station.
I used to entertain a cranky child; now I put on a YouTube video.
I used to write in the evenings; now I peruse BuzzFeed articles (number 4 was soooo amazing).
I used to call people for their birthday; now I send them a text with an emoji.
I used to read Aristotle when going to the bathroom; now I check Facebook.
I used to enjoy special moments; now I am too busy capturing them with a camera.
I used to thank God for the many blessings in my life; now I am consumed with comparing my life to others.
I used to relish quiet moments by myself; now in solitude, I feel the urge to check my phone.
I used to prioritize intellectual, social, and religious pursuits; now I own an awesome smartphone.
October 09, 2015 04:58
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress as Vice President Joe Biden (left) and Speaker of the House John Boehner look on in the House of Representatives Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington Sept. 24. (CNS photo/James Lawler Duggan, Reuters)
Pope Francis in his address to Congress instructed lawmakers to “defend life at every stage of development.” I could be mistaken, but I believe the Catholic Church is the only institution that values the life and worth of every person at every stage of life – unborn, disabled, imprisoned and terminally ill – and from every background. I cannot recall a political party, another religion or secular institution which publically upholds the dignity of every individual in every circumstance. That’s a bold claim, and one I am proud of as a Catholic.
Too many people put qualifications on the value of unborn babies. Is the baby wanted, healthy, past a certain gestational period? They put limitations of the worth of people with illnesses. Is the person severely disabled, facing a terminal illness, too old to be useful? They do not extend basic human rights to people from a different background, including immigrants or individuals from a different race. In all of these cases, individuals claim that other people are not fully human and do not deserve rights inherently due every person.
One of hardest teachings to accept is that even if a person commits the most heinous crime, he deserves to live as long as he is no longer a threat to society. Beyond this condemnation of the death penalty, Catholics are called to visit the imprisoned, love them, and lead them to Christ. It is a radical and difficult message. No one, not even the worst criminals, is exulted from God’s love and mercy.
Critics of the church might point out that Catholics does not value gay, lesbian or transgender individuals. It is sad that the following has to be restated, but the church commands us to love and accept every person with same-sex attraction. It makes no distinctions. The church does condemn behaviors but never persons. With regard to transgender individuals, church teaching fits nicely with the mantra “born that way” (I believe it is a Catholic saying). Every person is born in a beautiful fashion, and you never have to alter your body to be accepted. The Catholic response is that you are good, beautiful, fully human and worthy of dignity as you were created by God.
I can say without hesitation that the Church teaches us to value every person. Catholics do not always accept this teaching, nor do they always live it out in action. There have also been low points in the history of the Catholic Church, when the principles laid out by Jesus were ignored. As a historian, I never want to whitewash the history of the church, but many more forgotten moments exist when the church stood up for people neglected by society.
Roman Paterfamilias and Domestic Proselytization
When Catholicism first appeared, the western world was dominated by the Roman Empire. The central unit was the family (more like a household) where the paterfamilias, the male head of the household, had complete control over the lives of members of the household, even the right of life and death. Rome was a slave state, especially in Italian peninsula where 40 percent of the population was slaves. The paterfamilias could kill slaves or women of the household without retribution.
Christianity was a religion for outcasts. After all, Christians believe God come to earth and was an outsider. He had infinite power and had a plan in place since the beginning of time. Yet, when Jesus came to earth, He was killed and only had a few supporters in the end. He was not successful in worldly terms, and thus, the new religion appealed to social outcasts.
Take a second and recall the stories of early Christians. I am surprised by how frequently a conversion was initiated by a mother or wife. Most famously, St. Augustine was drawn to Christianity by his mother St. Monica, and St. Helena influenced her son Constantine to become a Christian. The pattern even continues with the rise of the Germanic kingdoms. The first Catholic, German state was founded by the Franks in present day France, and Clovis, king of the Franks, was baptized because his wife St. Clotilde insisted upon it.
Historians even developed a term to describe this phenomenon: domestic proselytization. It describes the common occurrence when women converted to Christianity, then convinced their husbands or sons to become Christians. Historians speculate the majority of early Christians were women, drawn to the church by its message of relieving suffering through faith and promising eternal salvation to all.
The church has a poor reputation for its treatment of women, but if Christianity was repressive for women, how do you explain women secretly joining Christianity, often against the will of males in lives? Why were women insisting that their husbands become Christian? We can debate all day whether Christianity was good or bad for women, but I think it is important to see how actual women voted with their feet. Christianity offered women more dignity than the religion and culture of Rome, and they flocked to it.
Healthcare in Medieval Europe
When the Roman Empire fell apart, urbanization, the economy, and trade all went into decline. While I would argue that the medieval period was not the backwards era it is often made out to be, the economic situation undeniably deteriorated, which increased the number of poor and destitute. In this period, the Catholic Church was the single provider of welfare services for those individuals.
An explosion of monasteries occurred in the Early Middle Ages, flowing from the inspiration of St. Benedict. The Benedictines, following the rule of St. Benedict, made caring for the sick a top priority, and they established hospitals to care for the sick as part of their monasteries. Charlemagne in the early ninth centurydecreed that a hospital should be attached to every cathedral and monastery, further establishing the role of the church as a caregiver. Again in ninth century, the secular government ordered that a hospital should be attached every collegiate church run by diocesan or secular clergy, thus providing healthcare in urban areas.
In the High Middle Ages, religious orders were founded specifically to serve in hospitals, most famously the Holy Ghost Fathers. They were approved by Pope Innocent III and quickly founded a hospital in 1216 in Rome, called Santo Spirito. Every major city soon had a Holy Ghost hospital, and by the end of the medieval period, the order had close to 1,000 hospitals. Their houses provided a universal healthcare system based on charity and free services and laid the foundation of medical studies and professional physicians in Europe.
With the Reformation and secularization of the Early Modern period, many of the religious institutions were seized by the government. That said, the tradition of Catholic healthcare continues today, with the church being the largest private provider of healthcare in the world. It operates currently 5,500 hospitals, and a quarter of the world’s healthcare facilities. Oddly, even with this unparalleled effort, the church is still seen as anti-healthcare.
Spanish Dominicans in America
The treatment of Native Americans by the Spanish is considered as one of the worst atrocities in human history, and this analysis is largely correct. It should be noted that disease killed far more indigenous people than the Spanish, and the Aztec regime was so violent that many tribes allied with the Spanish against them. Still, their actions are inexcusable.
How do know about the Spanish victims? Why was there so much documentation about their crimes? Our knowledge comes from the priests, mainly Dominicans, sent to minister among the Spanish, who largely protested the violence and developed a philosophy for universal rights in response to mistreatment of the natives, laying the groundwork for international law.
In 1511, the Dominican Antonio de Montesinos preached to the leadership of the Island of Hispaniola: “I who am a voice of Christ crying in the wilderness of this island… you are in mortal sin, that you live and die in it, for the cruelty and tyranny you use in dealing with these innocent people. Tell me, by what right or justice do you keep these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged a detestable war against these people?”
The sermon created a stir in the universities of Spain as the rights of Native Americans were debated. One of leading thinkers was Francisco de Vitoria, another Dominican, and he is considered the father of international law. He argued that all men are equally free and have a right to life, freedom, and property. He argued that all humans by virtue of being humans had these rights, and the sinfulness of the persons, did not limit them. It was not less sinful to kill a pagan as opposed to kill a Christian. In practical terms, he considered the native princes to be legitimate rulers, who had the right to their land. Furthermore, he argued that their cultural and religious differences or limited civilization did not constitute grounds for a just war, and he reasoned that the native population had to be treated as equals.
Vitoria was the intellectual leader of the movement, but Bishop Bartolomé de las Casas worked tirelessly for fifty years to put these ideas into practice, earning the title of “Protector of the Indians.” He documented extensively the mistreatment of the indigenous population. Unfortunately, the ideas of the sixteenth-century Dominicans were only partially enacted by the Spanish authorities. The silver lining of the atrocities is that for the first time theorists looked at the whole human race, and argued for a universal sense of equality and human rights. Contrary to the narrative you learned in high school history, it was not secular Enlightenment thinkers, but Spanish Dominicans inspired by St. Thomas Aquinas and the natural law, who first postulated these ideas.
I am proud to be a Catholic, and I unabashedly proclaim the beauty of the Catholic position on the complete dignity of human life. Certainly, Catholics have acted against other groups in the past. I do not deny it, but we also have to remember individuals like St. Monica, the Holy Ghost Fathers and Las Casas as well.
Dr. H. P. Bianchi will be speaking on the history of the Catholic Church on October 21, 7:00PM at The Grill at the Harryman House. For more information see the Facebook event.
October 05, 2015 10:11
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
I am a bit of a confession floater, due to frequent moves and preferring to avoid the priests I know the best. Is that wrong? After attending many churches for confession, I wonder what the deal with confession line etiquette is. If the person in front of you goes in, does everyone move up? Is there a designated distance between the confessional and someone standing in the confession line, especially in old, poorly soundproofed confessionals? What about two lines, one going slow and one moving fast? Do you allow for crossovers?
While attending The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., I used to attend confession at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, and it had an interesting (to be honest, confusing) arrangements for confessions: four confessionals, one in each corner of the room, and two pews facing each other. It was great for one priest, one line for one confessional, until another priest came in. Do you start another line, but by doing so, cutoff the other people waiting in the first line? Mayhem would breakout when a third priest came in, three confessionals and two lines. I saw verbal arguments erupt.
(Chapel of Our Lady of Hostyn at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception)
I thought about writing a letter asking to put up better signage, but I realized it was kind of a test. If you are yelling in the confessional line, you probably are not contrite for your sins. I remember adding sins while in line: impatient, bad thoughts. Maybe, I was stuck in the “slow line” because God wanted me to examine my conscience a little longer.
I love confession, but I know some people are nervous about going. There might be more pressing issues facing the church, but we could make it easier for these people and everyone else with a few improvements:
More than just Saturday afternoon
Every church has confessions on Saturday afternoon. It was great when I was single and childless, but with children, every Saturday quickly fills up. I know it is about priorities, but it is hard to skip out on family events, leaving my wife with all the children. If the Lenten practice of having confession on weeknight was made permanent, it would be a godsend. Or as some parishes do, churches could institute confession in between Sunday Masses. What better time to offer confession than before Mass?
This improvement is a no brainer. Put up a sign explaining the customs of the church. Start the line here, move forward at the appropriate time, and so on. Furthermore, keep a stack of pamphlets with an examination of conscience and instructions for going to confession. These simple fixtures could be reassuring for someone returning to the sacrament after a long absence.
There two schools of thought: one line for each priest or one line total. I am a big fan of a single line. It avoids the confusion when priest leave or come, but it also mitigates the slow line / fast line dynamic. You cannot pick your priest, but I am okay with that.
Almost 5,000 years ago, humans built the Great Pyramids, but today we still have problems soundproofing a confessional. There have been notable improvements recently, and I appreciate them. We are confessing our sins to the priest, not to the whole congregation.
Most of this blog entry is in jest, but I want to conclude with one serious point. If you’re on the fence about returning to confession, go. It is truly a wonderful experience. You leave feeling like a weight had been lifted off you, the shackles of sin broken.
I am always hesitant before going, but one time, I noticed that everyone leaving the confessional had the biggest smile. When I went in, I started with a smaller offense. I like to work my way up to the big stuff. The priest laughed a bit, and said something to the effect, “Sounds like me and my siblings.” All of sudden, I eased, and was reminded that everyone is a sinner. I thought: hey, I can out do that one. I have a whole list. I also left the confessional with a big smile.
There has been a good deal of discussion about mercy. Mercy is not accepting people as they are. Mercy is the reduction of just punishment, and it begins when we repent of our sinful ways and promise to live better in the future. In other word, mercy begins with confession.
“If your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made as white as snow: and if they be red as crimson, they shall be white as wool.” Isaiah 1:18
September 02, 2015 02:13
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
We live in hyper-political world, and as a result, the Catholic Church has been dragged into the sphere of politics. Church leaders can make a million statements and do a million actions, but the media will only focus and report on the political ones. Subsequently, the church is portrayed as obsessed with political issues. Perhap it is time for the church to step back from political activism.
Guilty by association
To become politically active, church leaders have to make alliances with political parties that are outside of their control. With the rise of political parties in the 19th century, the church in Europe allied with the monarchial, conservative parties, and as the general public turned against the monarchs, they also revolted against the Catholic Church. Thus, Catholic authorities were targeted along with government officials in the liberal and socialist revolutions of the nineteenth century.
In the first half of the 20th century, European countries were torn between communism and fascism. The communists were radical atheists and sought to end religious practices, and therefore, the church often sided with the fascists. To be clear, Catholicism was opposed to fascism, but leaders worked with fascists as a lesser of two evils. To this day, the limited cooperation with fascists, especially in Italy and Spain, hangs over the church and has caused many people to question the moral authority of the church.
In the current political climate, the church has great difficultly working with political parties in the United States. Lay Catholics are highly confused when church leaders work with a pro-abortion Democrat on a poverty initiative, for instance. Or on the flip side, church leaders, who have a closer relationship with Republicans on social issues, might face a backlash when allied with a Republican who has advocated for an aggressive war.
In engaging in numerous political struggles, the church is perceived my many young people as an institution that is against modern ideas. A young atheist noted in an interview: “If you ask millennials what comes to mind when they think of Christianity, when they think of the church, they will tell you it’s anti-gay, anti-doubt, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-sex education. We all know what the church is against, and we really don’t care what the church is for.”
Progressives believe that the religious decline among young people is due to the church’s position on many controversial positions, and if they changed these teachings, then it would be more popular. I believe that the church’s problem with young people is not its controversial teachings, but that most young Catholics do not know what the church actually teaches on key issues.
Ask a millennial: what does the church prohibit with regards to sexuality, and you will receive an instantaneous and lengthy response. Ask the same person to describe the church’s theology concerning sexuality, and you will be greeted by silence. The church has made a great effort to inform the general public what it is against through numerous political campaigns. If the same energy and resources were placed into educating the public on the church’s teaching, then the church were be far more effective.
Beginning in the 1960s, the clergy made a shift from focusing on spirituality to emphasizing social justice. Locally, people might remember the Catonsville Nine, which included two priests, one former priest, and one religious brother, who protested the Vietnam War by burning draft files; or the Harrisburg Seven, composed mainly of priests and nuns, who planned to kidnap Henry Kissinger and bomb steam tunnels. These church leaders hoped for a more politically engaged church, but their actions only turned people away from the church as a moral authority.
Politics has a great toxicity to it. One only has to review the approval ratings for Congress, for example, which barely crack the double digit mark. Americans love to hate anything in the political sphere, and everything that comes into contact with it. Conversely, people are looking for an alternative to the political world as a guiding force in America, and the church is perfectly placed to be that alternative. In the modern word, the church has been exceedingly unsuccessful in the political sphere, and yet, Catholics still place a lot of hope in politicians and political parties in changing the moral atmosphere. The discrepancy between hope and repeated failures has done a great disservice to the church, and the church needs a new approach.
Instead of having laws conform to the theological positions of the church, Catholic leaders have distorted Catholic teachings to fit the language of current laws. When church leaders comment on current political issues, it is seen as an endorsement or condemnation of the law, not an endorsement of a church teaching. There is a beautiful theology centered on caring for God’s creation, but it is not synonymous with a carbon tax or opposition to pipelines. Reducing the church’s teaching on the environment to a position on the carbon tax is tricky, at best.
The same could be said for the struggle over religious freedom. Catholics all agree that we should be able to practice our religion freely, but without reference to right and wrong, promotion of religious freedom is complicated. We do not support a religious freedom to practice polygamy, nor do we support Satanists placing their statues on public grounds.
Church doctrines are exceedingly clear, but the application of them to specific laws can be complex. Unfortunately, people know very little about what the church teaches and far more about the political stances of the church leaders. As these positions make their way into homilies and intercessions, I often wonder: are these statements even Catholic?
What’s the alternative?
One important distinction must be made before progressing, and that is, individual Catholics must remain politically active, being informed, voting and running for office. My reservation is directed toward the clergy and official institutions of the church. In addition, while I am hesitant for church leaders to focus on political activities, Catholic theology related to current events must be preached unabashedly and loudly by the clergy. Lastly, if a political party that espouses Catholic principles and is rooted in Catholic culture appears in the future, it would make sense to work with that institution. Yet at this time, such an entity does not exist.
More than anything, I am arguing against mixed priorities. I maintain that politics flows from culture, and if you want to change politics, change the culture. In the debate over abortion, Catholics should not seek to merely overturn Roe v. Wade. Imagine that some legal procedure could nullify the Supreme Court ruling. It would not be a complete victory. Pro-abortion leaders would find another avenue to legalize abortion.
Instead, the focus should be on a conversion of hearts. That is to say, change the cultural discourse to make abortion not illegal, but unthinkable. The former is political change, but the latter is cultural change. When the population realizes the horrors of abortion as it is in reality, the laws will change and even the most hardened politicians, at least for their own self-interest, will disown it.
Lastly, church leaders need to focus on Catholics. We, as a church, are a bit of a mess right now, and we need to get our house in order before we address the rest of the country. I know that sounds like the comment of an anti-Catholic, but it’s the unfortunate reality. The Supreme Court has six Catholics, and only three non-Catholics. The Vice President, Speaker of the House, House Minority Leader are Catholics. In all, 31 percent of Congress is Catholic. Yet, the church faces a lot of political hostility from these “Catholic"-led political institutions.
The general population of Catholics does not fare much better than our “Catholic” politicians. The majority of Catholics voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, and I find it hard to comprehend how Catholics supported a candidate who so blatantly opposes Catholicism on key issues. I am not saying that Catholics needed to support the Republican candidate—I did not vote for McCain or Romney either—but it is impossible to rationalize supporting Obama in good conscience. Given this, it might be time for church leaders to step back from politics for a time, and focus on building a Catholic culture and better catechizing the Catholic population.
This is the second article in a series on Catholic culture. You can read the first on Baseball, the Mass and Catholic culture.
August 15, 2015 09:48
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By Dr. H. P. Bianchi