Dr. H. P. Bianchi is an assistant professor of history at a local community college, where he teaches courses on Western Civilization and Asian history. He received his master’s degree in modern German history from the University of Connecticut and his doctorate from The Catholic University of America. His research focuses on the question of secularization in Britain and the United States.

Dr. Bianchi is happily married and the father of two sons and a daughter. You might find him perusing one of his interests in gardening, disc golf, hiking, cooking and traveling when he isn't working.

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Catholics should definitely vote. My article's thesis is that Catholics should not publicly promote either of the major candidates, and when there is a discussion of current problems facing our country, Catholics should not address them from a Clinton or Trump perspective, but a Christian perspective. Thus, the church could serve as a alternative to the current political system.

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If Bianchi is proposing that we not vote at all, he is wrong. The choice is between a woman who could serve as an example of many of the seven deadly sins and a man who has his faults, but the biggest is that he is not a politician and has no experience "playing the game". BUT if the proposal is a write-in ballot for Jesus Christ, then he may have some merit in his thoughts.

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Fertile Soil

If you’re really thankful, you wouldn’t throw it away


At the mere mention of Thanksgiving, my mouth starts watering. The turkey, stuffing, mash potatoes, corn pudding, pie, and yes, sauerkraut (if you’re from Baltimore). It’s all so good. Spending time with family is nice, too, but the food, THE FOOD, is heavenly.

It has always been this way. At its very root, Thanksgiving is a holiday about giving thanks to God for providing food. We all know the historical origins of the holiday. (It’s not a day for shopping… boo). We get all warm and fuzzy around Thanksgiving about being grateful for food, with most even donating food to those less fortunate.

Yet, I am calling the bluff this year. We have a major food problem in this country. Consider these two facts: according to a recent series on NPR, “Forty percent of all the food in this country never makes it to the table — at a cost of $165 billion to the U.S. economy.” Yikes! We throw away forty percent of our food! But, here’s the real kicker. One in seven Americans do not have enough to eat. There is NO reason for anyone in twenty-first-century America to go hungry.

Here’s additional statistics from NPR’s report: 20 percent of all landfill waste is food, making it the number one form of waste, more than paper or plastic. If you’re you're keeping track, that’s 35 million tons of food. Just in case you missed it, we throw away 35 MILLION TONS of food every year.

Who’s to blame? Clearly, some of the fault lies with businesses. Grocery stores stock an incredible variety of food and certainly some of that supply is not sold before it goes bad. Restaurants also tend to prepare more food than they sell. However, only half of food waste comes from businesses, the other half is from consumers. On a positive note, there has been a national push for grocers and restaurants to donate unused food, but on the flip side, there has been no effort for consumers to cut back on their waste. That’s where you and I come in.

It is sad to see how much food is thrown away by American children. If you want to be depressed, stop by a school cafeteria and watch as children throw away whole meals, practically untouched. When I studied abroad for a year in Austria, I discovered they had strict laws about trash, and all biodegradable waste had to be collected separately. What shocked me is that the college’s cafeteria had one tiny bucket for food waste for the entire student body. We were instructed to only take small portions, and that it was taboo to throw away food. Why is there no stigma in America for discarding food?

We all need to take collective responsibility in reducing food waste in our homes. Here’s a list of things we’re doing (Please add to it in the comments below). First, buy only what you need. We switched to a weekly meal plan, and it hugely cut back on our amount of wasted food. We no longer have to stock all of the cooking essentials (It also reduced the amount we spend on food and our nightly stress around dinner time). Second, Tuesday is leftover night. I know it’s popular, but every week, we pull out all our leftovers and make a hodgepodge dinner. Third, think about portion size. We cook a lot, but only put a little on our plate. This is especially true with our children. Lastly, rethink the shelf life of food. We keep leftovers in the fridge for one week, hence the weekly leftover dinner. All the fresh fruit that is on its way out goes into a smoothie. For canned and packaged good, the “best by” date is not an expiration date, but when the flavors start to decline. Of course, be safe, especially with seafood and meat products. (Gorgonzola cheese always gets me. It smells rancid the day you open it, so how do know when it goes bad!?)

If someone asked you for something every day, and you gave it to them every day, would you be upset, if you found out that they were throwing it away? I would. We pray, “Give us our daily bread.” In other words, we ask for food every time we pray the Our Father. Our discarding of food seems ungrateful and duplicitous.

This Thanksgiving we need to do more than thank God with our mouths. We need to thank God with our actions. Oh, and does anyone have any good recipes for leftover turkey? I’ll need it this Tuesday.   

November 24, 2014 03:25
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi


Why do you go to church?


Periodically, I hear about people who left the Catholic Church because they did not like their parish priest. In other cases, they left because they did not like the music or it wasn’t a welcoming parish or a myriad of other reasons.

Why do you go to church? Think about it for moment. Why do you get up on Sunday morning and go to Mass? Is it for the music? Is it for the fellowship? Is it for entertainment purposes? Is it for the homilies?

I hope not, because you won’t be going there for long. If you are looking for good music, you might be tempted to go to a concert instead of Mass. Certainly, the BSO provides better music than your parish choir.

If you’re attending church to be entertained, you’ll soon find something else that is more entertaining. From the sheer number of people wearing football jerseys at church, I feel many people view Mass as a warm up for the “real” entertainment of Sunday – the Ravens’ game. If Mass conflicts with a football game, I wonder which one people will attend? If they are looking to be entertained, it’s probably the football game.  

I have heard my share of homilies, running the gamut from life changing to not so life changing, to be charitable. If you’re looking for a great homily every Sunday, you’re going to be disappointed.  

Religion has a lot of competition. Many of the elements that churches try to emphasize - social justice, fellowship, enjoyment, a welcoming atmosphere – secular institutions do quite well. I would even contend that they do it better than a Catholic church.

Catholicism has a trump card. One point that no secular institution has: the promise of salvation. We should go to church to receive the Bread of Everlasting Life. As Jesus said, “Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you who eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eat my flesh, and drink my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54-55)

Receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is why we get up every Sunday morning, and if we truly believe it, we would never skip Mass or go to another church, no matter how bad the music or how bland the homily or how unwelcoming the church. We go to receive Jesus, and the value of these other elements is only in how they aid or diminish that key fact.

There is a lot of rhetoric about evangelization, especially the “new” evangelization. The recent synod that has been all over the news was called: Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization. The previous synod in 2012 was entitled: The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.

It might be advantageous to return back to the basics in terms of evangelization, which means emphasizing the one item that Catholicism has to offer – a promise of salvation through Jesus Christ. It can be done in novel ways and using new technology but the message must hinge on this point.

Next time you go to Mass, try not to get worked up about the music or the homily. Turn your attention to the one aspect that really matters, receiving Jesus.
 
 
 

November 13, 2014 03:47
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi


The Anglican question


In a widely praised move, the Church of England recently voted to allow for female bishops. It would seem to follow that the church’s shift toward popular opinion would result in an influx of new members. If one, however, looks at the American branch of the Anglican community, the Episcopalian Church, the predicated impact of the vote is quite the opposite.

The Episcopalian Church is far more progressive than its sister church in England. The American church consecrated Barbara Harris as its first female bishop in 1989, and in 2006, Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected as the head of the Episcopalian Church, the first female head of a national church.

Women priests in in York, England, react after the General Synod of the Church of England voted July 14 to authorize the ordination of women as bishops. The decision overturns centuries of tradition in a church that has been deeply divided on the issue. (CNS photo/Nigel Roddis, Reuters) 

The Episcopalian Church is proudly and unabashedly a modern church with its approval of contraception as a matter of private conscience, legal abortion, same-sex blessings, married clergy, and openly gay priests and bishops. It is a church that emphasizes a message of diversity, love, and acceptance. It should be thriving it the modern world, poised for a major revival, yet it is dying.

According to their data, weekly church attendance dropped from 856,579 to 657,831 between 2000 and 2010, a drop of 23.2 percent. In addition to a decline in church attendance, the Episcopalian community has been torn apart. Dioceses, parishes, and individuals have all splintered off to form their own communities or to join other denominations.  

I am not at this moment interested in the merits or lack of merits of female bishops, nor do I want to simply draw attention to the decline of mainline Protestant denominations. Rather, I'm intrigued by the phenomenon that a community so aligned with current trends seems to be declining the most in the modern world. Moreover, counter-cultural churches, such an Evangelicals and Catholics, are holding steady or increasing in size. 

A strange disconnect exists between what people want in a church and what church they actually remain members of or join. To put it another way, if typical Americans made up their own religion based on their personal beliefs, they most likely would not join it. For example, 77 percent of Catholics support the use of birth control, 72 percent want married priests, 68 percent support women priests, and 50 percent support same sex marriages. Millions of Catholics would, therefore, find their views correlate better with the Episcopalian Church than the Catholic Church, yet the vast majority have not and will not leave the Catholic Church.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Catholic Church experienced a similar occurrence to what is unfolding in the Episcopalian Church. That is, young progressives initiated numerous reforms into the church, and oddly, after getting many of the changes they desired, they stopped attending church or left the Catholic Church completely. Consequently, church attendance dropped from the 1950s to 1970s in an unprecedented fashion.

Trends in religion are counterintuitive; the more in align a religious denomination is with popular opinion, the more it declines. As Pope Francis and the world’s bishops prepare to review church policies, they should take a hard look at the recent experiences of the Anglican community. Earlier this year, Catholics were asked their opinion on a range of issues in preparation for the upcoming Synod on the Family. If church leaders think there is a simple correlation between Catholics disagreeing with church teachings and declining church attendance and that the easy remedy is to modernize the church’s teaching, they have no understanding of Catholic Church history nor have they studied what has happened to other faith communities in the last decade.   

 

July 28, 2014 11:21
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi


The reform that no one wanted: Communion in the hand



Within Catholic circles, the Second Vatican Council is a flashpoint for debate, but there is one point that all Catholics – traditionalists, progressives, liberals, conservatives – agree on: the unprecedented level of change. Consequently, most scholars would argue that the council was the defining event of the modern church, and that nothing had a greater impact on the church since the Reformation.

As an historian of religious rituals, I have been fascinated on how this religious revolution played out on the parish level and how Catholics in the 1960s and beyond reacted to it. There is no shortage of institutional histories of the council, focusing both on the events in Rome and the implementation in the United States. These works, however, concentrate on the hierarchy and their actions in developing and executing changes following the council. Even works that promise a history of the council “from below” emphasize parish priests or records composed by clerics about the laity. The voice of the majority of Catholics seems lost in the historical literature of the modern church.

My initial thought was to do an oral history of the post-conciliar church, interviewing people who lived in the 1960s and 1970s. This approach is limited, however, by the small number of people that could be sampled and also by the lack of accuracy when dealing with distant memories.

In reading about the history of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, I began seeing references to the GIFT (Growth in Faith Together) program and an extensive survey that was part of the program. I discovered that upon returning from Rome, Cardinal Shehan developed a plan to visit every parish (either himself or an auxiliary bishop) in the diocese to discuss the changes that were taking place in the late 1960s. The meetings were contentious, and he described a heightened sense of “anxiety and confusion” in the parishes. He tasked the senate of priests to construct a program to address these issues, and the GIFT program was the result of their efforts.

It was a three stage program, including research, reflection, and response.  In the research phase, the entire parish would take a 60 question survey, and then in the reflection period, the parish would break
up into small groups to discuss the results of the survey and pick a few topics to learn more about. Lastly, in the response time, experts would come in and deliver lectures on topics selected by the parish during the small groups phase.

The program was piloted in two parishes in the fall of 1970, and then the senate of priests voted to implement the program in all the parishes. A thorough reading of the GIFT program reveals that it increased tension, rather than diminished it. The response sessions turning into debates, and the Catholic Review saw an eruption of heated letters to the editor in favor and in opposition of the program. Furthermore, the senate of priests’ vote was close with 115 priests voting in favor of expanding the program and 101 voting against it, highlighting the divergent opinions of the program.

The GIFT program lasted from 1970 to 1975 and 21 parishes took part. An impressive 13,796 Catholics responded, and though I am not an expert in statistics, such a high number should provide enough data to make a definitive statement concerning the laity’s reactions to the changes following Vatican II.

Over the winter break, I spent several days shifting through the survey results in the diocese’s archive, located in the basement of St. Mary’s Seminary (It is a closed box and not accessible to the general public). The survey results could provide evidence for many articles, even books, but I was initially only interested in questions dealing with the liturgy.

The simple answer to the laity’s reception of the liturgical changes can be found in question 19: “Changes in the Mass have harmed rather than helped me to worship” and 27% agreed and 68% disagreed (with 5% not answering). These results confirm the standard narrative that the majority of Catholics preferred the new Mass with its use of English and more community oriented worship. Yet, a sizable minority, nearly a third, desired to go back to the old Mass. The traditional percentage is much higher than the often cited numbers compiled by Andrew Greeley, which claim that 85-87% preferred the new Mass. To this point, I was not overly surprised by the results.

What piqued my interest was question 23. This question, unlike the other questions, changed several times, and I have not determined the reason behind the shift. Its three versions with survey results are: I like to participate actively at mass: 75% agree and 24% disagree; There should be more lay participation in Sunday Mass: 35% agree and 64% disagree; I would prefer to take Communion in my hands: 17% agree and 82% disagreed. The first two versions reveal that people wanted to be part of the Mass, but not front and center.


Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York distributes Communion at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York June 21, 2013.(CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz) 

The version relating to the reception of Communion in the hand is perplexing for a variety of reasons. First, the 1970s were not a traditional era. As seen above, most people approved of the main liturgical changes, and when it came to social issues, they were exceedingly liberal, with 68% disagreeing with the church’s teaching of contraception. Second, it is also curious that there has been nearly a universal switch. I have no statistics about current practices, but from my own personal experiences, almost everyone receives Communion in the hand.

Communion in the hand was not authorized by Vatican II; though in some countries, like Germany and the Netherlands, the practice became more commonplace after the council. To address the question, Paul VI surveyed the world’s bishops on the topic, and released a document, Memoriale Domini, to explain the church’s position. Below are the questions sent to the world’s bishops and their responses.

1. Do you think that attention should be paid to the desire that, over and above the traditional manner, the rite of receiving holy communion on the hand should be admitted?

Yes: 597 No: 1,233 Yes, but with reservations: 315 Invalid votes: 20

2. Is it your wish that this new rite be first tried in small communities, with the consent of the bishop?

Yes: 751 No: 1,215 Invalid votes, 70

3. Do you think that the faithful will receive this new rite gladly, after a proper catechetical preparation?

Yes: 835 No: 1,185 Invalid votes: 128

Since the majority of bishops opposed the vote, the pope issued a clear and poignant statement on Communion in the hand. “The Apostolic See therefore emphatically urges bishops, priests and laity to obey carefully the law which is still valid and which has again been confirmed. It urges them to take account of the judgment given by the majority of Catholic bishops, of the rite now in use in the liturgy, of the common good of the Church.” He, however, left open the option of a local conference to continue the tradition of receiving Communion in the hand, if the practice was already in place.

As an historian, I have two questions related to Communion in the hand. First, why was this reform the one that no group wanted? The pope and bishops, who a few years before passed sweeping liturgical reforms, came down on the opposite side on this issue. The laity also favored the majority of the liturgical changes, but not this one. What made the traditional practice of receiving communion, kneeling at a communion rail and on the tongue, so popular even with a progressive generation?

Secondly, how did the shift happen so rapidly? My first memories of going to Mass come from the mid-1980s, only 15 years after Memorial Domini, and Communion in the hand had already become the norm. How did a practice go from being unpopular to the universal practice in 15 years or less?

Of course, these questions on the reception of Communion touch on more than one aspect of the liturgy. Its significance relates to the meaning of Communion, the role of laity, the changing of the liturgy in general, and much more. I am interested in hearing your thoughts, especially if you lived through these events in 1970s.    

 

 

April 10, 2014 04:13
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi


The growing elitism of Catholic education

 
One of the hot topics during our family’s Christmas gathering was Catholic education. My oldest niece is a senior in high school, and as with everyone her age, she is consumed with selecting a college. Her parents are allowing her some freedom, but prefer that she attends a college with a good, Catholic environment.

They were all impressed with The Catholic University of America. For my sister and brother-in-law, it was local and had a good religious atmosphere, and for my niece, it had solid academic programs and quick access to the city.

I spent many years at CUA, earning my doctorate, and my sister asked my opinion of the school. I enjoyed my time there, and heartily approved. Then, I heard the price - $52,852. (I had my tuition covered through a teaching assistantship).

Having spent a lot of time in higher education, I know that tuition costs have escalated across the board, but there is something wrong with charging a teenager $52,852 for one year of college. Indebting a young adult with $211,000 in loans is not Catholic, and borders on being immoral.

After recovering from the shock, I reviewed a lot of other Catholic colleges. While many are cheaper than CUA, it pains me that all the schools were over six figures for four years of education. In good conscience, I could not recommend these schools to my niece unless she received a substantial scholarship.  

My own family is at the opposite end of the spectrum, with my son entering kindergarten in the fall. I desperately want to send him to our parish school, and if we made some sacrifices, we could afford to send him there. Cutting out money budgeted for cable TV, going out to eat, and vacations would get us halfway there, and teaching extra classes would cover the other half. Here’s the problem. We have another son, and we would like to have more children. Since our parish has no family discount, what will we do in the future?



Over the Christmas break, I also spoke with my brother-in-law’s brother, who has six children in Catholic elementary and high schools. He spends over $50,000 a year on tuition. That’s not cable and Starbuck’s. That’s our entire post-taxes income.

Here’s the crux of the issue. Unless you have one or maybe two children or you’re incredibly wealthy, Catholic education is out of reach. That’s saddens me greatly. As a teacher, I understand the importance of education. Outside of the family, school is the most importance influence on a child.

Why is Catholic education so expensive? First, it is not going to the teachers. For a short time, I taught at a Catholic school. My mother, two siblings, and countless friends have also taught at Catholic schools, and the pay is, well, not very good. Catholic school teachers work just as hard but are paid far less than their public school counterparts, and they deserve our gratitude.

From a historical perspective, I see two main causes in the increase of tuition costs at Catholic schools from fifty years ago. First, the number of nuns, brothers and priests teaching at Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore dropped from 2,122 in 1964 to 1,328 in 1974, and lay teachers, who required a salary, increased from 605 to 1530. In the same era, the number of parochial schools dropped from 108 to 87. I assume as a result of increased costs. The second cause, for which I don’t have any data, is the drop in parish contributions. Suffice it to say, fifty years ago, a lot of people threw a dollar in the collection basket, and today, a lot people still throw just a dollar in.

What can be done? It seems unfair that individuals who send their children to Catholic schools have to pay twice: once for public schools through taxes and again for Catholic schools through tuition. If a voucher program could be initiated, allowing some of the tax money paid by the individual to go to a Catholic school, it would make Catholic education far more affordable. The power of choice and competition would also improve the whole school system – public and Catholic.

Secondly, Catholic schools could trim their budgets. My greatest pet peeve is massive sports programs at Catholic schools. I am a huge fan of sports, and I think everyone should play sports to increase physical health, discipline, and teamwork. I don’t see the benefit of stadiums and state-of-art workout facilities, and hypercompetitive interscholastic leagues. I wish the fundraising for football teams could go instead to scholarships.     

Thirdly, it takes the whole parish community to lower costs. It can only be done if everyone chips in with their time and money. Everyone needs to help, but I have a special petition for the uber-wealthy Catholic. It might be nice to have a building named after you or to purchase new, flashy technology, like SMART Boards for all the classrooms. Yet, education can be done without any of these exciting products. I suggest endowing a scholarship fund for Catholic schools. It’s not flashy, but if I had money, that’s what I would do with it.

You see many of these principles playing out in home schooling co-ops. They are a community effort, built by volunteers without the frills of some of the more expensive schools. They are affordable and focused on building up the faith.

However, I prefer Catholic schools and want to save them. School administrators have to make a very important choice. Enrollment is declining in many of their schools. How are they going to increase it?

Are Catholic schools going to become schools for the elite with the excessively high tuition pushing away many Catholic families, especially large Catholic families? Are the large donations going to build grand buildings, top sports program, and high tech classrooms? Or, are administrators going to everything they can to lower tuition costs? Both strategies might attract students, but the former will mean more elites, and the later will result in more Catholics.

     

January 07, 2014 12:05
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi


Let’s not forget the rosary


Pope Francis has proved to be a headline maker. Time’s “Person of the Year” sneezes and the world’s news agencies go crazy. Well, not exactly.

Two weeks ago, the pope revealed, as an aside, that he was a bouncer, and the news seems to be everywhere. On the other hand, the pope joked that he was a pharmacist and handed out rosary beads packaged in what looked like a medicine box, and it received little mention outside of Catholic circles.

A Google news search reveals 10 times more articles were written on the bouncer story than the handing out of rosaries, and both pale in comparison to the coverage of the pope’s recent economic statements.

People forget that the pope is not a politician or economist, but a spiritual leader. After leading the Sunday Angelus, on Nov. 17, he provided sage spiritual advice. Handing out nearly 20,000 boxes containing rosaries, he told the massive audience that the rosary is “spiritual medicine” and “good for the heart.”

Younger Catholics might consider the rosary old fashioned, and a waste of time. Experience, however, reveals that it is a powerful prayer, which can heal and bring one closer to God.

My sister recently passed on a story about a chance encounter and the power of the rosary. She is a member of the Sisters of Life, and during Advent, the Sisters stand outside their convent, singing carols and offering hot drinks to people passing by the convent. My sister recounted a story that began four years ago when they were caroling … .

A woman walking by stopped to take in the sights. Her hair was dyed pink but there was a sad searching in her eyes. I greeted her and asked her name, “Casey,” she responded.

Talking about familiar carols segued into conversation about how much her life had changed since she’d sung those songs as a child. She was working as a “dancer” and shared some of the pain and burdens she was carrying and the lack of confidence she had in herself, in life, and in God. And her eyes spoke further, of her desire to know it could be otherwise.

I was happy to be with someone with such an open and searching soul. It’s a strikingly beautiful thing in this world, and I told her so. I prayed “Dear Lord, love through my eyes, my words, my presence. Help her to know how precious she is!”

We spoke about Christmas and Mary as a mother who always leads us to the baby Jesus. “Do you know that you can talk to her like you’ve talked to me? That she knows your heart and wants to take care of you?” Casey was listening with a smile and glistening eyes. I spoke about praying the Hail Mary and the power of the rosary. She asked if I had one for her. Reaching into my pocket, my heart sank.

Just a few weeks prior, my father had given me his rosary – a beautiful wooden one with a large crucifix. I loved it. Yet in the moment when Casey asked, I knew it was for her. Placing it in her hands, I said, “This belonged to my father, but it is yours now.” Hesitating, she took it, and I invited her to walk with me to the crèche in the little garden next to our convent. We paused, looking at the simple figurines.

“Where is the baby Jesus?” Casey asked. “Oh,” I said, “He’ll arrive in the manger on Christmas day, although it sure feels empty without Him… Jesus may not be in the crèche now, but He lives in our hearts. He desires for Christmas to happen in our hearts. We only need to say, ‘Yes, come Lord!’”

A child in St. Peter's Square holds a figurine of the baby Jesus as Pope Francis leads the Angelus at the Vatican Dec. 15. Children observed an annual tradition by bringing their Nativity figurines for the pope to bless. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)


After we spent some time in silence there I thanked Casey for entrusting her story to me and assured her of my prayers, leaving her alone in front of the rustic scene. After a few minutes of quiet she slipped out into the night.

Two weeks later, the doorbell rang; it was Casey. She explained, “A couple of weeks ago I came by, the night you were all singing, and a Sister gave me her rosary. Would you mind telling her… that night I left my job at the strip club, and gave my life to the baby Jesus.”

Four years later, just last week, I was in Manhattan walking near Bryant Park with a group of Sisters when a woman approached looking happy to see us, and asked us to pray for a heart procedure she was about to undergo. As she spoke I recognized her face – and yet she was so changed. I placed my hand on her shoulder and said, “I know you, I know you!” Casey looked at me with a smile and replied, “You gave me the rosary! I still have it and pray it every day. And I know that God loves me.”

So many people are hurting and suffering, and they are seeking help. They seek escape in alcohol or drugs, or try to cure themselves by going to therapists. They forget that they have a mother and father in heaven, waiting to hear from them, waiting to heal them. Perhaps this advent season, it is time to dust off the beads in the drawer and pray the rosary.
 

December 16, 2013 10:21
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi


If you shop on Sunday, you are part of the problem

 

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


Clarifications


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


Shock Culture from Rites of Spring to Miley Cyrus


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


Prayer Problems: Are Catholics Bad at Praying?


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
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi

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