People pray during the Jan. 19 episcopal ordination of Bishop Adam J. Parker and Bishop Mark E. Brennan at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland. (Olivia Obineme/Special for the Review)
Tradition has a bad name. Catholic traditionalists are seen as rigid, bitter and judgmental. In political circles, individuals who hold traditional values are cast as fanatics and bigots, and in modern culture, traditionalists are depicted as reactionary and backwards.
Modern society values newness and change. The media celebrates revolutionaries and trendsetters, not people who defend the time-tested truths of previous generations.
Even in a world of constant flux, people are still drawn to tradition, and this inherent desire is displayed in growing countercultural movements that favor time-honored practices. The food industry has a niche for products made using traditional methods, artisanal cheeses and breads come to mind. Individuals are also rediscovering the joy in producing their own food and drinks with hobby farms and home brewing. People are also drawn to historical sites for vacations to experience traditional lifestyles, and antiques and historical items are popular features in home decor. Modern Americans desire tradition, but they are content with only small vestiges in their otherwise thoroughly modern life.
Tradition is an inescapable aspect of a Catholic mindset. It is not a trinket on the side, but a central element. We often label Catholics as liberal or conservative or progressive or traditional. However, tradition is synonymous with Catholic. To call someone a traditional Catholic is to be redundant.
The theological principle of Tradition (capital T), which upholds the authority of teachings outside of scripture, is a key tenant of the Catholic faith, but I would argue that the non-theological use of tradition (small t) is also a central aspect of Catholicism. In a more general sense, the word “tradition” comes from the Latin traditionem, which means "delivery, surrender, a handing down, a giving up,” and it means to pass down customs and beliefs from generation to generation.
A Catholic mindset rooted in tradition emphasizes the timelessness of truth. Catholics accept that truth is not contingent on a time period, and therefore, what was true in the past, is true today, and will be true in the future. Subsequently, the teachings of the church do not change. The church develops its teachings to confront challenges of the day or to address a heresy, but any development cannot contradict what has been taught by the church in the past. Therefore, one function of the church is to pass on timeless truths from one generation to the next.
The church also resists fads. The secular world is in constant flux, with values and beliefs incessantly changing. Amid the instability of the world, the church is an anchor, meant to hold one steady in the stormy sea of the world. The church is a destination to come to find calm and peace and escape the chaos of the time. It is not a place to fight for more change and chaos. Any church that seeks innovations to keep up with the times is subject to the world and not to God; such a church is a contradiction to its very nature.
A traditional mindset values the vast corpus of Catholic wisdom generated through the ages. Every generation of Catholics is tasked with preserving what is good and beautiful in the faith, and then passing it on to the next generation. The Catholic Church has 2,000 years of accumulated experience, and with each period, the level of knowledge grows deeper and richer. Catholic tradition begins with Jesus and the Apostles, and it was further developed by the Church Fathers, Doctors of the Church, and countless others. When encountering this abundant body of work, we have to wonder “who am I” to question this wisdom. Our first response to any theological question should be a spirit of deference to the brilliant and inspired minds of the past, not to discard them to the dustbin of history.
Reverence for tradition has always been part of God’s plan. In the Old Testament, stories were passed down orally and the Law was memorized by every generation. Jesus revealed the fullness of the faith to the Apostles, and they were charged to spread the Gospels throughout the world. From the Apostles, the faith spread to others, and as St. Paul writes, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thess 2:15) Without tradition, we would have no faith. Tradition is the very means of how it grows, and I would reason that churches that neglect their traditions died off and those that honor them prosper.
Tradition is a force of unity. One of the amazing aspects of the Catholic faith is that a Catholic can attend any parish across the world and find a similar experience, but this occurrence is contingent of the faithful passing down of traditions. In addition to Catholicism being unified across space, it is also unified through time. When we say a prayer or attend Mass, we are reciting the same prayers as previous Catholics have done over the last 2000 years. Tradition unifies Catholics with Jesus, but it also unites Catholics with all the saints over the history of the church.
One of the most common attacks on tradition is to point out the atrocities of the church in the past, and demand that the church modernize and get with the times. Yet, if you examine major outrages such as religious wars, slavery, racism, fascism, you will quickly note that these are not part of the Catholic tradition, but happened across religious lines. They occurred because Catholics forgot their traditional beliefs and succumb to popular and evil ideologies of the day. Traditional Catholicism is a safeguard against radical ideologies, not a cause of them.
Yes, tradition has a bad name, but has our faith improved in modern times, since tradition has been neglected? Or, do you feel like something is missing? Perhaps, it is time to give tradition another try.
Tradition is not blind acceptance of the past. Tradition is preserving what is the best and most beautiful, and handing it on to the next generation as a gift, and they would be wise to accept it.
January 25, 2017 12:37
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
We are all going to die. That thought could be construed as morbid, but, fortunately, death is not the end. Soon after our eyes close on this world, they will open again, and we will see Jesus. For death is not the conclusion of our existence, but our first face to face encounter with Jesus.
What's your plan? What are you going to say? What are going to do? Your whole life is preparation for this one moment.
I used to ask my students where they saw themselves in five years. I had to stop. After the first student responded that he didn't know, the rest followed suit. Young people don't have a five-year plan. They probably don't know what they'll be doing next week.
As we get older, we think more about the future. We make plans for our children. We make plans for our retirement. We even make plans for our death, determining our funeral arrangements, burial plots and the like. But, do we plan for the moment we meet Jesus?
Like the young 18-year-olds whose lack of foresight might amaze us, we forget to plan for the most significant moment of our existence, meeting God and being held accountable for every action of our life.
For several weeks I was exploring the existence of a Catholic mindset (theory
and imitation of Christ
), and fundamental to a Catholic worldview is an eternal perspective. Within an eternal perspective, one of the key elements is an awareness of the four last things: death, judgement, heaven and hell. For Catholics, death is not a far-off reality, but something that you prepare for every day. For after death, we believe all humans are judged for their actions on earth, and based on that judgement, individuals will be sent to heaven or to hell.
A Catholic worldview also has a nuanced view of heaven and hell. Heaven is often incorrectly depicted in a materialistic sense, as a paradise with great mansions and endless feasting on great food and drinks, which nearly every person enters at the end of their life. The Catholic tradition, however, holds the enjoyment of heaven to be the beatific vision, seeing God, and that the way to heaven is a narrow and difficult path.
Conversely, many people think that hell is empty, save a few of the greatest sinners, or that it is a mythical place used to scare immature minds into behaving in a moral fashion. Catholics have an awareness of hell as a real place, and believe that when someone who is outside the state of grace dies and is unrepentant, the person will suffer the punishment of hell. The greatest suffering of hell is not a physical fire as it is often depicted, but a complete absence of God, making it devoid of love, goodness and beauty.
A Catholic with an eternal perspective views this world as insignificant when compared to the next world. The most glaring distinction is the profound difference in time spent in this world versus the next. The average life expectancy for an American is around 78 years, while eternity has no end. There is no comparison between 78 years and infinity. A million years, or even a billion years, is but a flash compared to eternity.
We would all endure a minute of suffering, say a painful shot or extreme temperature, for a million dollars, but that example represents such a poor payout compared to what God offers us. Who would not spend a lifetime doing what God asks, if eternity is on the line? Are not seventy-eight years of sacrifice worth an eternity of unimaginable happiness?
The goodness of this world is similarly incomparable to the next world. The moments of wordy bliss are just a small reflection of God and the goodness manifest in heaven. Tasting delicious food, taking in a beautiful view, or having a pleasant conversation—these moments of enjoyment and every other one here on earth are so slight when compared to wonders of heaven. As we read in scripture, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him." With this perspective in mind, it only makes sense to forgo material goods of this world in order to focus more intensely on an eternity of happiness with God.
Our most important task is to save our soul. It is the only thing that matters in our life. If we do not save our soul, our entire life is a waste. Conversely, if we save our soul, our life is a success, no matter how numerous our earthly failings.
Our whole life should fit within the context of this one goal, saving our soul and being with God in the next life. Our life is a series of goals—finishing school, getting a job, entering into marriage, starting a family, and so on. These temporal goals, however, are all secondary to and should lead to the primary goal of getting to heaven. For instance, marriage is a significant aspiration for many single Catholics, but it is not a final end. The primary task for married individuals is to help their spouse get to heaven. When we set goals for later in life, we should always ask how they get us closer to heaven.
Catholics also see the Church as the means of salvation. That is, the Second Vatican Council confirmed that “the Church…is necessary for salvation… Hence, they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.” (LG 14) Through baptism, original sin is washed away, and we become members of the Church, providing an essential step on our path to salvation. Subsequently, the Church needs to focus on salvation as its essential function. The Church’s primary mission is not to build community, to entertain, or even to promote social justice. Secular entities, like NGOs and the entertainment industry, can be more proficient at these tasks than the Church. Salvation is the one thing that only the Catholic Church can offer to its members, which no other organization can offer, and it is the best thing imaginable. Why isn’t salvation a larger part of the contemporary Catholic message?
Rebuilding a Catholic mindset requires emphasizing an eternal perspective, which can be accomplished through three courses of action. Catholics should 1) meditate on the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell 2) compare the insignificance of this world to the next 3) underscore the importance of saving their souls.
Catholics with an eternal perspective do not fear death, for they know it is not the end. When death comes, they are prepared, with a joyful anticipation, to meet God.
December 12, 2016 10:02
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
After the first presidential debate, it was clear we have two of the worst candidates for president imaginable. We would be hard pressed to find individuals more unpopular than Clinton and Trump, and as the election quickly approaches, we are left wondering: what happened? Yet, this election could be a great opportunity for Catholics. In fact, this could be our moment.
Catholics have debated who is the lesser of two evils. We can’t vote for Clinton. We can’t vote for Trump. But perhaps, could we vote against one of them? That’s been the incessant debate for the last few months. However, a third option exists, and I am not talking about Gary Johnson.
It doesn’t have to be Trump or Clinton. It could be neither Trump nor Clinton. The third option could be a complete rejection of the political order and a full embrace of the teachings of Jesus.
We have fallen into the same trap as the Zealots during the time of Jesus, waiting for a political leader to save them. Instead, God sent Jesus who began his life in a humble stable and ended it on cross. He largely ignored the political elite, and was never one of them.
The moment is right for Catholics to offer the message of Jesus as an alternative to the illogical ramblings of current political leaders. People are dissatisfied. They are angry. But, they are also looking for alternatives. No one is under the allusion that any candidate will solve their problems. There is no lofty optimism that was associated with Obama is his early years, or present in the campaigns of Ron Paul or Bernie Sanders.
Catholics have The Answer. We have the Jesus card, and it’s time to play it.
Every bishop, priest, and deacon should preach on this message from now until Election Day:
I understand your dissatisfaction with the current political climate and the lack of a true Catholic candidate. The main political parties do not have policies that will solve our country’s current difficulties, for they are part of the problem. Trump’s wall will not solve our problems. Clinton’s pandering will not solve our problems. A lesser of two evils will not solve our problems.
Nov. 8 will be a depressing day, and many people will be greatly distraught by the results. Yet, there is no reason to despair or rush to buy land in Canada. Catholics will face uncertainties in an increasingly hostile political arena, but the political world is becoming increasing unpopular.
Public disapproval has grown because the political world has abandoned truth, civility, common sense, decency, humility and so many other attributes of a good political order. We renounce it.
While we watch the political world crumble from within, I offer you another place and another person: our Church and the person of Jesus Christ. You will not find the money or power of politics, but you will find love, joy, peace, kindness and goodness.
In the coming weeks, we need to pray for our country, but not that the right person is elected. We need to pray that in midst of this political mess, we collectively repent of our mistakes and turn back to Jesus.
You can find profound personal peace amid the chaos by trusting in Jesus and not political leaders. Too many people have an overwhelming feeling of angst due the election, but we can let it go. All we to do is shift our desire for the impossible, a perfect politician who will create a perfect world, to the possible, an eternity of happiness with God.
Lastly in your daily conversations, you hear the crumbling about the election. Share with your friends and family the alternative. Welcome them to step away from the false promises of the political world, and to accept the teachings and promises of Jesus.
October 07, 2016 09:39
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
An image of Jesus is seen as Pope Francis greets a young woman during the World Youth Day welcoming ceremony in Blonia Park in Krakow, Poland, July 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
My wife and I recently finished watching a series on Netflix. As with any well-written show, I found myself engrossed in the characters and storyline. Throughout the day, I caught myself thinking about the latest plot twist and counting down the hours to when I could watch the next episode.
In my last blog post
, I wrote that “Catholics no longer think like Catholics. They think like Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, socialists, or secularists, but not as Catholics.” What is the key to restoring a Catholic way of thinking? In short, Catholics must seek to think like Jesus.
And for me to think like Jesus, I need to replicate my experience of “binge watching” television shows such as "Lost," "Downton Abbey," "Blacklist" or more recently, "Stranger Things" by “binge meditating” on the life of Jesus. In the past, while commuting to work, sending an email, or watching the children, I was reviewing the latest episode of the show in the back of mind. As a Catholic, I need keep the mindfulness of a world beyond our present world, but replace the television show with the life of Jesus. In this process, my life will be less molded by the fictional characters of the newest hit show, and more by the life of Jesus.
The concept of imitating Jesus has a rich tradition in Catholicism. In the New Testament, St. Paul commented, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord,” (1 Thessalonians 1:6) and St. Peter wrote, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Saints built on this biblical tradition, and fully developed the idea of following Jesus. Famously, St. Francis of Assisi emphasized a literal imitation of Christ, and Thomas a Kempis wrote The Imitation of Christ
, perhaps the most popular devotional book ever on the concept.
Quite simply, Jesus is the model Christian. He is the paradigm. To follow in his steps, Catholics must immerse themselves in the life of Jesus. That is, they need to read and reflect on the Gospels. Often Gospel passages are plucked out of context to justify a position, but we are called to accept the whole Gospel, the parts that are easy to follow and the parts that hard to follow.
Beyond reading the Gospels, Catholics should mediate on the mysteries of his life – his birth, his death, his resurrection, with particular focus on a daily reflection on his passion and death. As Catholics become more aware of the life of Christ, they should have a greater sensitivity to the living like Jesus. It has become trendy to speculate “what would Jesus do?” but seeking to live out that simple phrase is the essence of being a Christian, uniting our will with the will of Jesus.
It can be intimidating to imitate Jesus. While he was fully human, he was also God. The gap between Jesus and humanity is vast, and it is hard to ascertain how we can be like Jesus. Moreover, Jesus lived in a different time and had a different vocation from most modern Americans. How does a modern, married, businessman model his life on Jesus? It is helpful to look at the lives of Mary and the saints. Mary is highest of all creatures, and Catholics understand her as means to become closer to Jesus. Mary’s life provides a perfect example of how we are called to unite with Jesus. In addition to Jesus and Mary, the saints provide further examples in numerous vocations, time periods, and locations. In the wisdom of the church, she provides the saints as tangible models to imitate the life of Christ. Therefore, the formation of a Christian mindset is aided by knowledge of the lives of saints, and reading their spiritual instructions.
Even with the examples of Mary and the saints, it is still difficult to imagine how we can become like Christ. Fortunately, God has done the majority of the work. The wonderful mystery of the Incarnation is that God became man, entering the world as a little and poor baby in Bethlehem. We do not have to cross the great abyss to encounter Jesus; he crossed it for us. During his life, humans were able to see God face to face. With his Ascension to heaven, however, Jesus did not leave us. God sent the Holy Spirit only 10 days later at the great feast of Pentecost, and he also left us the sacraments. Jesus is present to us in Mass, and in the Blessed Sacrament. We need to spend time with Jesus in order to become more like him, and for us, we are with Jesus through frequent reception of Holy Communion and visits to the Blessed Sacrament.
Catholics no longer think like Catholics because they do not think like Christ. We have immersed ourselves in the lives of politicians, celebrities and fictional characters rather than the life of Christ. We can restore a Catholic mindset by imitating Christ, which begins with reading the Gospels, studying the lives of Mary and the saints, and regular reception of Holy Communion and visits to the Blessed Sacrament.
September 06, 2016 10:08
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
A world Youth Day pilgrim prays at Sacred Heart Church in Krakow, Poland, July 28. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
Soon after the terrorist attack in Orlando, Catholic leaders, writers and commentators issued “Catholic” responses to the tragedy. The reactions to the violence, however, were often contradictory and the ensuring debate over whether Catholics should apologize was contentious. Bishops were pitted against bishops, cardinals disagreed with the pope and Catholic bloggers detailed every stage of the dispute.
A similar discord among Catholics can be found in opinions about the presidential election. Certain Catholic commentators claim that a Catholic could never vote for Trump, while others respond that a Catholic could never vote for Clinton. This sequence of disagreement is repeated with every major global event, political issue and election. These “Catholic” responses seem to betray more about the authors’ personal views than their Catholicism. The only common link among all these “Catholic public opinions” is the authors’ claims to be Catholic.
One cause of the bifurcation of Catholic viewpoints is the death of a collective Catholic mindset.
Catholics no longer think like Catholics. They think like Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, socialists or secularists, but not as Catholics.
In the past, historians attempted to categorize the collective thought of a historical group, and numerous books appeared detailing the Greek mind, the Victorian mind or the Islamic mind. Other scholars explored the Zeitgeist or the “spirit of the age,” trying to capture the essence of a particular time period. French historians in the mid-twentieth century looked at mentalite, which could be defined as the thoughts, values and beliefs of a shared community. German scholars used the term, Weltanschauung, or worldview, in an effort to describe the way an individual or group viewed life and the world.
Some Christian thinkers sought to borrow these theories from the social sciences and apply them to Christianity. Harry Blamires, a devout Anglican and friend of C. S. Lewis, wrote The Christian Mind, The Post-Christian Mind, and Recovering the Christian Mind. Monsignor Romano Guardini held the unique position at the University of Berlin of chair in the Philosophy of Religion and Catholic Weltanschauung, and prolifically wrote on the encounter of faith with the world. These past attempts to examine the fundamental aspects of a Christian mindset, however, have fallen from favor.
In the academic world, the broad categorization of a mentalite or zeitgeist is seen as an overgeneralization. Critics claim that no one can summarize millions of individual minds, and any attempt to draw a generalization would merely rely on stereotypes. Current academics seek to disrupt and complicate the standard categories, rather than reinforce them. They look for the female who challenges gender roles, or they highlight the young Muslim who promotes secularism.
From a popular perspective, a collective mentality has a negative connotation, connected to the ideas of herd-mentality or groupthink. This hostile attitude is manifest particularly in an older generation of Catholics who grew up in a church still promoting a traditional mindset but who came of age in a culture that promoted a modern, secular way of thinking. They can promptly recall memorized sections of the Baltimore Catechism, but jokingly refer to it as a form of brainwashing. Modern culture values critical thinking and individualism, and celebrates revolutionaries and trailblazers. Individuals who protest, contest, revolt and critique are praised; while those who uphold and defend are dismissed. All this, regardless, of the positions held. Thus, not only are the particular tenants of a Catholic mentality under attack, but the very concept that Catholics should think a particular way is questioned.
Preliminary steps to recover a Catholic mindset
In order to begin thinking like a Catholic, individuals must first reduce their exposure to secular mentalities. Modern American are inundated with beliefs and values hostile to a Catholic mindset, and Catholics need to limit this exposure, especially through the media — television, the Internet and movies. One, for example, cannot listen to heavy metal music or hip hop for hours, and then, attempt mental prayer. Your mind would be flooded with noise. Similarly, if one is inundated with the rhetoric of a secular mentality, you cannot turn it off, and think like a Catholic.
Secondly, a Catholic mindset must focus primarily on religious elements. In the last few decades, ambiguities have blurred the nature of the Catholic Church. Some see the Church as a place for fellowship. Others see the Catholic Church as an institution working for social justice and still others expect to be entertained at church. If a group of Catholics exclusively focus on any of these aspects, they will be an utter failure. Nonreligious institutions are far more proficient at entertaining or political activism.
Catholics need to focus on the church’s fundamental function, the salvation of souls. No secular institution offers this function. There is no competition in this endeavor, the most important task of the church. At its fundamental level, the Catholic mindset thus needs to exclusively focus on religious elements, without the political and social ambiguities.
The Catholic mindset should not seek to compromise on its principles. Progressive commentators often propose finding a theological meeting point between the Catholic worldview and the secular worldview, and they believe this shared intersection could become a place for dialogue. While it is necessary to engage with everyone, the purpose of the encounter for Catholics is to bring others to Christ, and not to change the tenants of the faith for the sake of dialogue.
Compromising the fundamentals of Catholicism will only hurt the church and fail to attract others to it. For current members, the result of a watered-down faith is lukewarm Catholics, who are ambivalent about their faith and immobilized. For those who are the object of the outreach, why would they be moved to join the Catholic Church? Who willingly makes the sacrifice to become Catholic for partial truths? It sounds like common sense, but the Catholic mindset should be unabashedly Catholic.
The only mechanism to ensure a unified Catholic mindset is to control membership. In every example, dissenters within an organization weaken the group. If the Republican Party is run by individuals espousing Democratic ideals, then the Republican Party will do poorly. If a pro-life group has members supporting abortion, they will be removed from the group. It makes no sense for members of an institution to not support its most basic ideals and principles. Yet, the Catholic Church has numerous Catholic politicians and individuals working at Catholic universities among many other Catholics who publicly denounce Catholic teachings.
In order to unify a Catholic mindset, those converting to Catholicism should go through a long process which instructs them in the faith and guarantees that they are serious about Catholicism, and not joining the faith for pragmatic reasons. More importantly, a second mechanism needs to be in place for adult Catholics, who were baptized as infants. The Catholic faith has clearly delineated teachings on numerous issues, and if a Catholic publicly denounces those teachings, then there must be some repercussion. If the church fails to correct erring Catholics, people will not know what Catholicism entails, resulting in confusion over what are the key elements of Catholicism.
Catholics often find it easy to compromise their positions, to water-down the faith in order to accommodate current trends in popular culture, and to ignore Catholics who denounce the faith, but these action harm the church. If Catholics only share what is popular, they will focus on what is vague and fluff, barely moving beyond that God is love.
Conversely, if Catholics collectively followed the preliminary steps I outlined above, they actions will result in an increased level of rebuke and persecution. Quite simply, if Catholics seek to be Catholic and reject secular culture, then there will be pushback from society. People with a strong religious mindset can be difficult to live around. They point out immoral actions, they stand for objective truths, they critique society and so forth. All of these actions can make people uncomfortable and result in an intensification of persecution against Catholics.
The pushback against a stronger Catholic mentality is not necessarily a bad thing. It will lead to unity among Catholics, as external threats typically help to heal internal divisions. Periods of persecution, historically, also led to internal growth. The church grew through the initial persecutions under the Roman Empire, and amid the strong anti-Catholicism in United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
In sum, very few Catholics think like Catholics. In order to restore a Catholic mindset, Catholics needs to break away from secular culture and embrace an abashedly Catholic way of thinking. This mentality would focus primarily on religious elements and not compromise on truths. Additionally, the church should have a tighter monitoring of membership and Catholic institutions, and in the face of these efforts, Catholic should expect renewed persecution.
Principles of a Catholic mentality
The above points highlight step towards reestablishing a Catholic mindset, but what are the basic principles of Catholic thinking? What elements of Catholicism are mentioned over and over again for the last two thousand years? What is present in the Bible and repeated in the works of the Church Fathers and saints? I postulate these seven essential points. All Catholics should…
1. Seek to imitate Jesus
2. Place God at the center of all activity
3. Have an eternal perspective
4. Respect tradition
5. Have a missionary zeal
6. Be mindful of good and evil
7. Love selflessly
In the following weeks, I will elaborate of each of these points. They are not the basic teachings of Catholicism. They are the context through which Catholics should see the world, and not merely political or global events. They should provide guidance on everyday events: how to raise my child, how do I divide my time, what media should I consume and countless other decisions we face on a daily basis.
August 07, 2016 06:27
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
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 email@example.com with “Oral History” in the subject line.
November 15, 2015 10:03
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By Dr. H. P. Bianchi