Matt Walsh’s recent blog on the Thanksgiving/Black Friday controversy titled If You Shop on Thanksgiving, You Are Part of the Problem surprisingly takes aim at the American consumer. Typically, outrage concerning the increasing hours of Thanksgiving shopping is directed at major retailers, but Walsh points out that retailers need customers. If people did not shop on Thanksgiving, then the stores would not be open for the holiday.
It is easy to complain about the changing tradition of Thanksgiving. Last year, I warned that the traditional Thanksgiving family dinner could go the way of the Dodo bird, into extinction. I wrote about the sad transition:
At one point, our country valued giving God thanks, and for one day a year, we collectively expressed our gratitude to God for our food, homes, family, and country. The former importance of Thanksgiving is a testament to the Christian heritage of his country, but sentiments have changed, greatly diminishing the significance of the holiday. In its place, Black Friday has arisen.
Black Friday represents America’s obsession with stuff. In a few days, millions of Americans will wait hours in line, trample those who get in their way, and then fight to grab the latest must-have item, all in the name of a bargain. More than another event, Black Friday demonstrates the materialism and greed that has infiltrated our culture.
As I have continued to reflect on the sad state of Thanksgiving, I have begun to realize that the hostile takeover of Thanksgiving by Black Friday is not the main the problem. More troubling is that the cultural struggle is to keep two, ONLY TWO, days for God and family: Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Thanksgiving is one of the few days of the year reserved for family
Nearly everyone concedes there are 363 days a year for shopping. The only difference is that “social conservatives” are arguing for only 363 days of shopping, and the retailers are pushing for 365 days. That’s not a big difference.
Christmas already has become so absorbed by consumerism that it’s hard to find a young child that values the birth of Jesus over presents and Santa, and sadly, we’re witnessing the decline of Thanksgiving before our very own eyes the past few years.
Somehow, you are considered a countercultural radical if suggest two days, let me repeat TWO DAYS, with no shopping. That’s not the Catholic perspective. Rather, a clear priority exists in our faith: God, family, and then somewhere toward the bottom, shopping.
We need to abate our obsession with shopping, and find time to rest every week. It’s pretty clear in the Bible: “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” And in the Catholic Catechism, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound . . . to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord's Day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body."
We shouldn’t embrace Sunday as a day of rest just because is a commandment and emphasized in the Catechism. It is also a wonderful and enjoyable practice. Growing up, I loved Sundays. We would get up leisurely, go to Mass, have a family brunch, and then play games as a family. There was no shopping, no activities, not even homework until the evening. It was a day for worshiping God and leisure time with the family. I cherished it.
If you are too busy Monday through Saturday that you must shop on Sunday, then you are too busy. Look at your schedule, and take something out. The 34 hours of television the average American watches per week, might be a good place to start, but do not skimp on God and family time.
Moreover, think of all the retail workers who are required to work on Sunday. They cannot go to church, they cannot rest, and they cannot spend time with their families.
Some might counter that it’s an economic necessity for stores and restaurants to be open on Sunday. I would respond that Chick-fil-A seems to be expanding even though they are closed on Sunday. Likewise, Paramus, New Jersey is one of the largest retail centers in the world, doing $5 billion in retail sales per year, but none of it on Sunday because of the town’s strict blue laws.
It would be wonderful to have one day per week where there is no traffic, no shopping stress, no running around. Even if a person is not religious or even Christian, they would agree that some down time with those that matter the most is a good thing.
Matt Walsh points out in his blog that there is a level of hypocrisy in individuals who complain about stores being open on Thanksgiving and then go shopping on Thanksgiving. I find it equally odd that proponents of family time and defenders of traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas practices fail to mention the collapse of Sunday as a day of rest.
I see the root cause of the increased amount of shopping on Thanksgiving not due to greedy retails stores or even shoppers hungry for a good deal. Rather, it is due to the blurring of sacred time and profane time, or more specially, the decline of sacred time. Sacred time is special time set aside for God, when worldly activities are suspended. Once the idea of sacred time, with Sunday at its center, decreased in importance, it was only a matter of time before all holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas included, were overrun by consumerism.
Are you upset with the collapse of Thanksgiving? Then, do something. Matt Walsh suggests we set out by not shopping on Thanksgiving. It’s a start, but we need to go farther than building a cultural defensive wall around Thanksgiving and Christmas. I suggest we begin by re-sanctifying time, holding holy each and every Sunday.
November 26, 2013 04:23
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
A few years ago, my oldest son, who was 2 at the time, was throwing his first epic tantrum. After about 15 minutes, I decided to document his “performance” by recording a video of it on my phone. I thought about showing it to him when he was older and uttering the stereotypical: “see what you put me through.” With him still in full screaming mode, I played back the minute long video that I had recorded.
Surprisingly, he instantly stopped the tantrum and sat next to me, intently watching the video. When it was finished, he asked to watch it again, and after three viewings, he calmly walked away, acting as if nothing had happened.
The strategy I stumbled upon proved to be successful in ending future tantrums, and now, I merely breakout my phone during a fit and he runs away, ending the screaming. Last week, my second son, who is 16 months old, threw his first tantrum, complete with falling on the ground, crying, and kicking. I shot and then showed him a video of his outburst, and he, too, quickly calmed down. Although being younger, the phone ended up in his mouth at the end of episode. Afterwards, I thought that I might be on to a universal parenting tip.
Why was my method successful? Children are drawn to watching videos. You could easily stop a tantrum by showing them a video of the Wiggles (“hot potato, hot potato”), but once that video ends, another fit will likely ensue. I am not a psychologist, but if you reward bad behavior, then your children will continue to misbehave.
It’s undeniable that the video draws them in. After recording the video, I typically step back and tilt the screen away from my son as I begin watching it. His curiosity is peaked, and it becomes irresistible for him to watch it. Next, the naturally calming effect of watching a video makes him open to absorbing a new perspective. However, it is the content of the video that triggers a substantial change in his behavior.
Children are born self-centered. They don’t have that ability to think from any other perspective than their own. If they are thirsty, they want a drink now, no matter if mommy and daddy are busy. One of the most important tasks of parenting is to teach your children how their actions impact other people.
When a child is throwing a fit, you cannot rationalize with them. Good luck with that. You can try to explain to them how ridiculous they look until you turn blue, but they will not listen. However, you can show them how ridiculous they look. Hopefully, when they see themselves on the video, they will realize that they are doing something wrong.
Recently, leaks about the NSA surveillance program have revealed that the government is collecting information about our Internet, email and phone use. An argument could be made that recording all this activity could deter people from doing something that would inflict a great deal of death and destruction. My general distrust of the government makes me a little weary of the program, and it seems like a step closer to the panoptic Big Brother.
A more apt analogy to filming a tantrum can be found in the spiritual world. In one sense, our entire life is being recorded, and I have an intuition that in the instant after our death, it will all be played back to us, the good and the bad. How will we feel about it? Content with our actions or discomforted, like a toddler after a tantrum?
Which leads us to the question, what type of Christian are we? Are we a phony Christian? That is, are we friendly to everyone when interacting face to face, but disparage others behind their backs? Do we present ourselves to others as an ideal family, but argue and disrespect each other when no one is looking? God does not care how we appear, but who we truly are as individuals.
One key to the spiritual life is not to wait until the last moment in our lives to review our past actions. One traditional practice is to perform a daily examination of conscience. Every night replay the day in your mind, thanking God for the many blessings and asking forgiveness for what we have done wrong. No one should be too ashamed of their sins to ask for forgiveness. Everyone make mistakes, and God is more than willing to dispense his mercy. We just need to ask.
I hope my parenting tip works for your child’s tantrums. More importantly, I hope we realize that we are all like children and need to review our daily actions. Ask yourself before engaging in an activity, if my parents, my spouse, my children, God or even a future you, saw me doing it, would they approve? Would they be proud of my actions?
October 18, 2013 03:13
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Well, the pope has done it again. His recent interview has unleashed a torrent of coverage. Even though, he distinctively stated that the church needs to talk less about abortion, gay marriage, and contraception, the media has exploded with articles on these very topics. A quick Google news search yielded 950 articles written on these topics in the last 24 hours.
The coverage has been amusing. The worst offense was NARAL's Facebook post, which simply stated: "Dear Pope Francis, Thank you. Signed, Pro-choice women everywhere."
Okay, what's going on with the coverage of pope? Here's what I think is happening...
Editor: I want you to cover the Pope.
Reporter: But, I cover sports, and I really don't know anything about religion.
Editor: No problem. You just have to take a few quotes out of context and use the words controversial, groundbreaking, radical, and the like.
Reporter: I thought our job was to enlighten the people, not sensationalize the news and thereby confuse them.
Editor: Hahaha, you are new to this area. When I started covering Pope Benedict, my editor instructed me to do the same things, expect use words like backwards, archconservative, medieval, and so on. My articles were wildly popular. You'll do just fine.
Does the media purposely distort the sayings of religious leaders in order to make news out of something that is not newsworthy, or are they completely ignorant of church teachings? It's probably a little of both.
Every time I read an article about the church, I see a potential blog, clarifying what the church actually teaches and how the article distorts an out of context statement. Specifically, Benedict was made to look like a backwardness conservative, and Francis is made out to be a radical progressive.
Pope Francis greets a child as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 11. Addressing a group of Catholic gynecologists Sept. 20, the pope condemned abortion as the product of a"'throwaway culture."(CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Undoubtedly, there has been a major shift is the way the message has been delivered. In the past few months, I have learned that appearances are very significant, but I also discovered that the "experts" exert little to no effort in discerning the substance of what they are reporting.
The Catholic blogosphere spends so much time clarifying what is in the news. Every new "controversy" is followed by hundreds of blogs trying to defuse the storm. As a blogger, I am tired, and I think many Catholics have a similar sentiment.
The saddest element of this trend is that the last two Popes have developed beautiful, nuanced theologies. Numerous times, the whole message has been overshadowed by one line, and the vast majority of people miss the whole message, only learning of one contentious line through the news.
I would suggest reporters invest in a little book called the Catechism of the Catholic Church. When reporting on a topic, lookup the relevant section in the Catechism. If the text is similar to the new, controversial statement (it almost always is), then it is NOT new and NOT controversial. I doubt that this will happen, but we can always hope.
For us Catholics, we need to invest in doing the extra work. Never get your religious reports from the media. Instead read the entire interview, homily, or speech of the pope. Seek out non-traditional media reports, written by an individual adept at theology for analysis. You'll find yourself less frustrated, far more informed, but also more inspired.
I'll leave you with a quote from the pope:
We should not allow our faith to be drained by too many discussions of multiple, minor details, but rather, should always keep our eyes in the first place on the greatness of Christianity ... I was asked to give interviews and I always knew the questions in advance. They concerned the ordination of women, contraception, abortion and other such constantly recurring problems.
If we let ourselves be drawn into these discussions, the Church is then identified with certain commandments or prohibitions; we give the impression that we are moralists with a few somewhat antiquated convictions, and not even a hint of the true greatness of the faith appears. I therefore consider it essential always to highlight the greatness of our faith - a commitment from which we must not allow such situations to divert us.
In this perspective I would now like to continue by completing ... what matters above all is to tend one's personal relationship with God, with that God who revealed himself to us in Christ.
That is, the quote is from the "archconservative, backwards" Benedict, which shockingly resembles the "controversial, progressive" section of Francis' interview.
September 22, 2013 08:21
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Ten years ago following John Paul II’s condemnation of the invasion of Iraq, I penned an email to my friends and family. I explained that the pope was not speaking “ex cathedra”, but rather, he was making a personal statement. As such, it was not infallible, and Catholics were, therefore, not bound to accept his statement as an official teaching of the church. Moreover, I argued that the pope was wrong, and I cited numerous examples from history when popes erred on political stances.
My email, which still is in my sent box, was riddled with the standard pre-war jargon. It was not a preemptive war, I wrote, but a defensive war against a constant aggressor in Saddam Hussein. We could not appease him, like the great powers did with Hitler in the 1930s. The credibility of the United States and the United Nations demanded action.
I even cited a section of the Catechism: “Peace is not merely the absence of war... Peace cannot be attained on earth without safeguarding the goods of persons, free communication among men, respect for the dignity of persons.” Thus I maintained, peace could only be achieved in Iraq, if we went to war.
I was wrong. In retrospect, I do not believe the war was justified. From a historical perspective, it was far longer and more costly (in innocent human lives) than anyone anticipated. The current state, 10 years later, is on the brink of collapse, and the whole region is in turmoil.
If there is one bright spot for me in this sad episode, it is that I learned a great lesson. In 2003, I was a cocky, know-it-all 23-year-old, and without consideration, I dismissed the opinion of one of the most brilliant and holiest individuals of our time. Additionally, I believed in our political leaders (WMDs and all) over the wisdom of the church. Today, I am far more cautious.
It seems like déjà vu. Another president, ironically a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, is pushing for war in the Mideast. On the other end, a new pope is calling for dialogue and prayer. I do not know what the best approach is to the bloody civil war in Syria, but this time, I am more inclined toward prayers over missiles.
Many people have laid out the case against the war. The prospects of a positive outcome are slim as the rebels are backed by al-Qaeda, and the chemical weapons (as well as American weapons) would likely fall into the hands of terrorists. Even with a victory, a post-Assad regime would mean the elimination of ancient Christian communities and other minorities as well, through mass killings and a forced exodus. In short, the violence and tension would only increase after the regime fell.
Additionally, the United States does not have a longterm plan. Bush argued, with oversimplified logic, that America should topple dictators and bring democracy to the Middle East. It was a plan, a bad one, but people could rally around and fight for the cause of freedom. As I understand our current position, our strategy is not to get involved in Syria’s direct future, but only to supply weapons and launch missile strikes. It does not seem sensible to provide more weapons and missiles to a region that already has too many, and then, just leave.
The Iraq war has left me with a bad taste for war and politics in general. So, what should we do with Syria? The pope has suggested prayer and fasting. To many, he must appear naïve.
At the time of Jesus, many in the Jewish community wanted a messiah to lead a military revolution against the Roman Empire. Instead of a warmonger, they got a prayermonger. On the crucifix, the symbol of our faith, he offered a prayer of forgiveness for his Roman tormentors, not a call for revenge.
In the early church, Christians faced a long and brutal persecution from the same Roman Empire. They did not launch an armed resistance, but like Jesus, they prayed for them. In the end, God rewarded their persistence in prayer.
Sadly over time, the church drifted away from the message of prayer instead of war, but in the last two centuries, stripped of her power, armies, and state, she has rediscovered it. In the world of realpolitik, recent popes would have been bad politicians, and even worse generals. That’s okay, because they have been good Christians.
In the future, military action may be justified, and I’ll support our nation. In the interim, I will follow the call of the pope to fast and pray
(especially this Saturday) for Syria. Sorry Obama, this time I stand with the church.
(My conscience is troubled by the fact that we are not doing enough for the people of Syria, and perhaps, the missile strikes will help them. My position against the strikes, however, is confirmed by the numerous westerners and western religious
living in Syria that have asked Obama not to expand the American war effort)
September 03, 2013 04:42
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
I was always perplexed by modern art. Why would anyone pay millions for a canvas painted completely blue? Furthermore, why should such a painting hang in a museum? I, with no artistic talents, could produce a better painting. Heck, my four-year-old could do better.
I finally got modern art when I picked up a book about Rites of Spring, a 1913 ballet. It was not any ballet. It was history’s most controversial ballet. The Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky, departed radically from traditional music, using irregular rhythms and dissonance. Choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky, the performers danced in a choppy and disjointed style, far different from standard ballets.
Needless to say, the performance caused a riot. With boos descending from the audience and people leaving en mass, Stravinsky and Nijinsky hailed it a major success. In a flash, I understand the ballet, modern art, and all of post-modern culture.
In a Christian culture, the end means of art is beauty, and since beauty is an attribute of God, it is considered objective and timeless. Art from the Christian era, the Pieta or Notre Dame, is beautiful and will always be considered beautiful.
In the post-Christian worldview, art is detached from God, and there is no objective aim. Artists no longer desire that their art be beautiful, but new. Culture has thus become a rat race to produce newer and newer art forms, measuring their success in the shock factor.
I mistakenly thought that artists wanted to produce beautiful paintings or beautiful music. The painter of the blue canvas did not want me to stand in awe of his work, but stand there confused, saying I could do that. Stravinsky did not want applause and rave reviews. He wanted boos and rioting. In both cases, they wanted to shock the viewer.
Here’s the catch. You cannot do the same thing twice. The second person to paint a blue canvas will not be in museum. You have to invent a stranger, more radical form of art, which brings us to Miley Cyrus.
Miley Cyrus poses with Lady Gaga, two celebrities that perform and dress for shock value. (Image via Flickr, JOnasIsMyMiddleName)
I did not see MTV’s video music awards (MTV still exists?), but what I have gathered from my Facebook feed and the news, Miley Cyrus performed a tasteless and provocative number. The reactions have all been negative, but in terms of the world, she was a huge success. That is, winning today is measured by shock value, not beauty.
Miley Cyrus realizes all press, good or bad, only keeps her in the news for longer. Her act surpassed Britney’s infamous kiss with Madonna and Lady Gaga’s meat dress. She’s the newest, most shocking celebrity, but by doing so, she has ventured the farthest from true beauty. Was it worth it?
Sadly, we are far from correcting the course of our culture. I hope that eventually we issue a collective: ENOUGH! And, demand an end to shock culture and insist on a rediscovery of true beauty. In the interim, I am scared what will happen next year on MTV.
August 27, 2013 09:23
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Hemant Mehta, author, blogger, and atheist, recently noted on a CNN interview
: “If you ask young people, 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.”
A month ago, Mehta’s blog, Why are millennials leaving church?
, created a torrent of reactions. After reading it and spurred on by my own interest in millennials and secularism, I began to research his arguments more thoroughly, and in turn, I came upon his interview.
I expected to dismiss the content of his remarks quickly, and while most of it is based on questionable logic, I found myself agreeing with his point in the above quote. That is, the church is widely viewed by young people as an anti-institution.
I, however, disagree with Mehta, that the problem is the church’s opposition to certain activities. Progressive Protestant churches with lax moral teachings have seen their numbers dwindle much faster than traditional Protestant and Catholic churches. The solution cannot be to abandon tough, unpopular moral stances.
A young woman is pictured praying
The problem is in the false perception and lack of knowledge surrounding the church. Ask a millennial what the church prohibits with regards to sexuality. You’ll receive an instantaneous and lengthy response. Ask the same millennial to describe the church’s theology concerning sexuality. You’ll be greeted by silence. To paraphrase Mehta, young people see the church primarily as an institution that says: No!
Sadly, they are never given the positive message of Christianity. Returning to our example, it is correct that the church prohibits many sexual acts. However, there is a beautiful theology of the body rooted in the Bible, expounded by theologies for centuries, and eloquently synthesized by John Paul II. Yet, few young Catholics know anything about it.
Pope Francis is keenly aware of this situation with the youth. Throughout his papacy and particularly at World Youth Day in Rio
, he has sought to draw people into the faith through highlighting the positive message of Catholicism. He is not reversing or changing moral teachings, but he believes that it is more effective to help people do good than prevent them from doing evil.
Taking a lead from the Holy Father, the church can alter its perception while remaining true to its teachings. One step that I have frequently advocated is to reduce the role of the church in the political sphere. Political campaigns initiated by the church typically seek some prohibition. In addition, political actions are the most public of the church’s endeavors, and therefore, these actions heighten the view of the church as a purely negative institution. Moreover, due to the secular state of the government, theological arguments cannot be made on behalf of the church to explain its positions on political issues. In short, the church is portrayed in the media as publicly condemning something without any logical reason.
The energy directed towards politics should instead be used to educate the youth. Religious education programs should provide answers and arguments on the tough issues to young Catholics before they enter the world. They should know why they believe something is wrong, not just that it is wrong. It is a profound knowledge of the faith that will allow them to see through the “anti” view of the church, and subsequently, reserve the flow of millennials out of churches.
August 23, 2013 03:17
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Every night, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert dish out a healthy dose of satire, poking fun at the political and cultural leaders of the day. Given the situation in the world, there is no shortage of material. Their shows are funny and wildly popular.
While Stewart and Colbert are honest about their satirical role, most of the real media follows a similar hypercritical path, though sliding from satire to cynicism. Watching or reading the news, we get a constant barrage of negativity directed toward figures of authority. This distrust of leaders is reinforced in movies, television shows, and music, painting them all as corrupt. Added to the mix, reality television and pop entertainment shows expose the shallowness of celebrities and our cultural elite. In the end, we feel like all of American culture is perverted.
Much of the negativity is justified, and I am glad that individuals are pointing out abuses of power. However, a distinction exists between a healthy questioning of those in power and the disease of complete cynicism. The latter occurs when we lose all hope and faith, and distrust everyone and everything.
The constant complaining, mockery, and satire have taken a toll on Americans. There is a common sentiment that all politicians are corrupt and all political institutions are self-serving. I am sympathetic to this view, but it needs to be moderated.
(Photo via Flickr, espensorvik)
The Catholic Church has also been hit hard by this wave of cynicism. The word most associated with the church is corruption. All priests are sadly grouped together as pedophiles or pedophile enablers. I do not deny that there is some corruption and some pedophiles in the church. The problem is that many make blanket statements about the whole institution.
A certain comfort exists in being a cynic. It is easy to disparage others. There is very little risk in being a cultural critic as everyone prefers the outsider, the opposition group, or whistleblower. It is much harder to stand for something positive. It is difficult to create something new, and to maintain it in the face of challenges. That is why the majority prefers to stay on the sidelines and judge the few that try to do something constructive.
Moreover, cynics can bask in their criticism. We all enjoy pointing out the idiocy of Hollywood and Washington. It makes us feel good to look at other people’s problems, and then tell ourselves that we look okay by comparison.
Then again, the supposed benefits of being a cynic are temporary and superficial. Cynicism destroys you from within. In the end, a cynic loses faith in everything and believes in nothing. Religion is mocked to the point that a person becomes an atheist. People become so disenchanted with politics that they grow into political skeptics. The family has been so mocked that it has become meaningless to many. Love has been so disparaged that many believe all affections are fake and phony. For a cynic, ultimately nothing is left.
The rise in cynicism has been caused by the increasing faith our society places in humans. We hope in a politician, celebrity, or athlete, and then, they let us down. How many Americans thought Obama was going to turn America into a utopia? How many people believed Lance Armstrong was the greatest athlete? In turn, one begins to think everyone and everything is a farce.
We can take several steps to reduce the amount of cynicism in our society. First, we need to temper the negativity in our lives. Initially, we could cut back on consumption of cynicism through reducing our exposure to the media, especially the news. Next, we have to end perpetuating it. Stop complaining. Stop gossiping. Everyone has faults and makes mistakes. Pointing out those faults should not be the focus of our lives.
Second, we need to celebrate the positive in this world. There are many great people who lived in the past and many living today. We do not hear about them very much, but we should seek out those that inspire us – the saints are a good place to start – and read their lives. Without a doubt, we need to celebrate the good much more than we complain about the bad.
Lastly, put your faith in something that will not disappoint. People will fail you. God will not. God is the ultimate cause of hope in this world. So much so, if we all hoped in God, cynicism would cease to exist.
July 17, 2013 10:56
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” Hearing this passage, I was reminded of Ross Douthat’s argument that how people answer this question is the root of one of American’s greatest heresies. In his book, Bad Religion, he claims modern Americans too often fail to accept the Jesus found in the Gospels; rather, they superimpose their beliefs and vision on Jesus.
People are in the bad habit of only citing their favorite biblical passages and pigeonholing Jesus into a segment of modern society. Some maintain that Jesus was a conservative, who if alive today would vote Republican. Others counter that he was a liberal, and would be a Democrat. He has been fashioned as peacemaker, but also used to justify war. He also has been called a feminist, and conversely, an upholder of traditional gender roles. Not surprisingly, conservatives see him as a conservative, and liberals see him as a liberal. Thus, commentaries on Jesus are more autobiographical than an honest assessment of Jesus.
Douthat argues that most people selectively embrace the Gospels. They only focus on what they agree with and disregard the rest. Their Jesus is not the person who lived 2,000 years ago. Their Jesus is a made-up reflection of themselves, affirming their political, social, and cultural positions.
Famously, Thomas Jefferson cut out sections of the Bible that he found disagreeable. While most people today are not so brash, they are effectively doing the same thing, throwing out the sections of the Bible which they do not like.
(Image via Flickr, Mike Johnson)
Reflecting on Douthat’s commentary, Christians need a new way to read the Gospels. Rather than going through the text, finding the areas we are fond of, and contemplating those passages. We should study the sections that are difficult for us to understand, focusing on grasping those areas.
Everyone loves how Jesus articulated the Golden Rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But, do we embrace his teachings on wealth: “Sell whatsoever you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me,” or do we accept the gravity he gives to sin: “It is impossible but that offenses will come: but woe to him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones”? Even the disciples commented, “This saying is hard, and who can hear it?” when Jesus said, “Eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood.”
We need to take these “hard” teachings, read them, understand them with guidance from the church, and embrace them. We are not asked to accept 10 percent of the Gospels or even 90 percent. We have to accept all of it.
The message of the Gospels should challenge us, not affirm or make us comfortable. Every time we read the Gospels, we should change, conforming our lives to what we have read. For too long, people have been molding Jesus into their image. They are forcing Jesus to change to fit them. Instead, we need to change. We should fashion ourselves into the image of Christ as laid out in the Gospels.
July 02, 2013 04:49
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
God gives us one thing: time. It can be 20 years, 40 years,
or 80 years. We do not know the exact amount, but what we do with this time is
of paramount importance, considering that our use of it will determine our
state for all eternity. When it is up, we will not be able to make any more
choices. Rather, we will have to accept those that we have already made, and
with them, the consequences, both good and bad. So, how do you use your time?
One way to determine our use of time is to examine how we
organize it. What are the key markers of events in our lives? What times do we look
forward to with anticipation?
Many people divide the week into the workweek and weekend.
They look forward to Friday night and dread Monday morning, signifying our
culture’s value of leisure. Others mark days by television shows. For several
years, I watched Lost on Wednesdays, and I eagerly awaited this show, reserving
the designated time slot to watch it. Still others intensely anticipate each
sports season as the calendar progresses from baseball to football to
basketball to hockey.
In other words, we can tell time beyond the typical calendar
terms – day, month, season, and year. Today is the day to watch American Idol
or fall is football season. Moreover, how we tell time reveals our values and
(Tom McCarthy Jr. | CR Staff)
Where is God in your schedule? Is Sunday morning
church-time? That might be a start, but we need to sanctify all of our time. God should not be
limited to one hour a week.
One view of secularization is that secular society is not
without religion, but it reduces religion from a way of life to an activity. A
way of life is infused into all activities, every day and all the time, as
opposed to an activity, which is done for a short time and then forgotten. Church
should not be like soccer practice or a television show, blocking out one hour
It is simple to infuse God into your daily routine. A
standard Catholic practice is to begin your day with a morning prayer (what you
think about first thing in the morning can reveal a lot about you) and end your
day with an evening prayer. Another daily devotion, the Angelus, is typically
recited at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. Many Catholics also reflect at 3 p.m., the
time of Jesus’ death, and recite the Mercy Chaplet. A more ambitious
undertaking is to follow religious, who pray the Liturgy of the Hours during
the course of the day, a demanding but rewarding devotion.
In addition to the day, the week also has many traditional
practices. Most importantly, Sunday is reserved as a day of prayer and rest. Of
course, we are required to attend Mass, but beyond this requirement, the rest
of the day should be spent with family and contemplating, putting aside work
and shopping. Furthermore, Wednesday and Friday are days of penance, and on
these days, we could fast, abstain from meat, or perform another sacrifice.
Certain days, such as the first Friday and Saturday of the month, have special
devotions, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary,
The church also has special designations for each month.
Famously, May is the month of Mary, and it is often celebrated with May
crownings. For every month, special rituals and devotions could be done to
remember the theme:
January is the Holy Name of Jesus
February is the Holy Family
March is St. Joseph
April is the Holy Spirit
May is Mary
June is the Sacred Heart
July is the Precious Blood
August is the Blessed Sacrament
September is the Seven Sorrows of
October is the Rosary
November is the Poor Souls in Purgatory
December is the Coming of Christ
Within the year, the church has defined numerous seasons,
such as the preparatory seasons of Lent and Advent and the celebratory seasons
of Christmas and Easter. Special dedications even exist for years, and we are
currently in the Year of Faith. In the recent past, years have been dedicated
to priests and to celebrate the Jubilee of St. Paul.
Beyond the regular cycles of time in the day, week, month
and year, Catholics celebrate many feasts days. The Christian calendar has two
influences: the Jewish lunar calendar and the Roman solar calendar. The old
Jewish calendar is the basis of how Easter is calculated, and since it is lunar
based, it fluctuates on our current calendar. Moving with it are the feasts
before Easter (Ash Wednesday and the feasts of Holy Week) and after Easter (the
Ascension and Pentecost). Mainly, these holy days celebrate the events at the
end of Jesus’ life.
Based on the Roman calendar (very similar to the Gregorian,
which we use today), we have the fixed feasts, which are on the same day every
year. There are importance feasts of Jesus: Annunciation and Christmas and
Mary: Assumption and Immaculate Conception. Most of the fixed feasts, however,
are saints’ days, which celebrate a holy individual in the history of the
church. It is best to locate a calendar (or phone app) to help remind you of
the numerous feasts throughout the year.
Time is important. We should not kill time doing nothing.
Above are numerous ways to sanctify time, ways to do more than one hour a week
on Sunday morning. Do not try to do them all. Pick one or two and see how your
relationship with God grows.
June 26, 2013 05:05
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
A few months ago driving to work, I listened intently to NPR’s special report entitled, Losing Our Religion
. The particular story that caught my attention was a group interview of young “nones,” people who do not identify with any religion. Having written my dissertation on the process of secularization and studied the phenomenon of “nones” extensively, the majority of responses were predicable. Until, they were questioned: do you pray?
To my surprise, every interviewee acknowledged that they pray. With great candor, one admitted hypocritically to praying when hitting rock bottom, yet not believing in God. Others revealed that they often expressed a spirit of gratitude or did a daily examination. While not directed to a personal God, these actions contain many characteristics of prayer.
Reflecting on these responses, I concluded that prayer is a very natural response to certain circumstances. We often pray to God when faced with a great difficultly – a death, illness, or loss of job, or we offer a prayer of thanks when something good happens. It’s intuitive. We don’t even have to think about doing it.
Now, it’s time for my confession. Even though praying is a natural action, I am very bad at it. I went to Catholic schools, attended religious education classes, and heard thousands of homilies, and yet, I struggle communicating with God in a personal and meaningful way.
What did you think of the responsorial psalm from last Sunday? Were you blown away by its profound meaning? If you are like me, then you probably don’t remember it. I am not an expert in body language, but are most people at Mass present only physically? Too often, when I am praying the rosary or night prayers, I am planning the next day or daydreaming about something else. I am merely saying words with no movement of my heart.
(Tom McCarthy Jr. | CR Staff)
I feel like I am not alone, and I would argue that it is more a problem with Catholics than members of other denominations and faiths. In today’s Catholicism, there is a strong emphasis on verbal prayers. We teach children to memorize certain prayers, but neglect to instruct them what to do mentally while praying the words.
Communicating with God through prayer has many similarities with interacting with a spouse. It is natural and easy to communicate with your spouse at first, but over time, it takes work to develop and deepen your relationship. You cannot say the same thing over and over again, and not expect the relationship to become stale. You have to create new ways to express your love in order for your marriage to be fresh and vibrant. The same is true with our relationship with God. If we repeat the same prayers while we are zoning out, we will not grow in our love for God.
Most Catholics assume other faiths are more attentive toward mental prayer. Eastern religions, like Buddhism and Hinduism, are focused on meditation, and Protestantism has a rich history of spontaneous prayer. Catholics have even sought to integrate eastern mysticism and revivalism into Catholicism in order to enhance their prayers.
Borrowing or inventing new methods, however, is not necessary as Catholicism has a profound tradition of mental prayer. The church has always encouraged mental prayer, and countless mystics have written on the subject, climaxing in the writings of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. The current problem is not that Catholicism is opposed to this type of prayer, but that it has been forgotten and neglected.
We need to be part of a movement that restores mental prayer to the forefront by reading and learning from the classical texts. Yet even before exploring the writings of the mystics, we can begin with simple practices like taking a few minutes every day to meditate on the passion and death of Jesus while contemplating a crucifix or reading a passage from the Bible and then silently reflecting on it.
Some of the “nones” in the NPR report were former Catholics. Why did they leave? Perhaps, they were not taught how to properly pray, and therefore, they felt that their prayers were fake and empty, prompting them to leave the faith. It is our responsibility to ensure that does not continue to happen.
Catholic instruction should move beyond memorizing prayers. It should help people develop a deep and living prayer life by building on people’s natural desire to pray and develop and deepen it with proper guidance. Only with this renewed focus on mental prayer will young Catholics see their relationship with God as meaningful and thus remain devoted to the faith.
May 29, 2013 12:25
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By Dr. H. P. Bianchi