Monday, October 28, 2013

"Let the children come to me" - A Child with Pope Francis (*Updated: October 29*)

In late September Irish journalist Gerald O'Connell made the following beautiful observation on Twitter as he watched the pope greet the marginalized in Sardinia:
The pages of the gospel came alive again yesterday during an address Pope Francis gave to families.  I don't know all the specifics, but apparently a little boy (pictured above) ran up on stage to Pope Francis and started playing, as little boys are want to do.  Pope Francis simply embraced the boy and allowed him to play while he continued speaking.  To see the pictures is to see Luke 18:16 in action:
"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God."
The pictures are moving, so I've embedded some of my favourites below from the Facebook page.  *Update #1*: There's now a video on Rome Reports that summarizes the purpose of the event, at the end of which reference is made to the little boy.  The video is below.

*Update #2*: Buzzfeed has a page that contains even more pictures and gifs of the little boy.  Click here.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"Touch 'em all, Joe!" - 20th Anniversary of a Home Run

On this night twenty years ago, my beloved Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series on a walk-off 3-run home run by Joe Carter.  Carter's home run was capped by the signature call made by the late Tom Cheek, the Jays' radio play-by-play man at the time.  Whether you're a Jays fan or not, a baseball fan or not, this home run call is something special.  Enjoy.

Friday, October 18, 2013

"Ideology Frightens" - Pope Francis on Faith and Ideology

Pope Francis' daily mass homilies continue to be windows that provide key glimpses of the pope's mindset as he guides the church.  To get synopses of his daily homilies, go to the Vatican's main news site,, where there is a specific site devoted specifically to these homilies here.

Yesterday's homily was a whopper.  As became abundantly evident in his interview published by America, Pope Francis has little patience with a Catholicism that places 'rules' above the human person and above love.  Francis insists that the person must always be seen and accompanied in love.  This, for Francis, is the starting point before anything else.  The Pope hammered home this point again yesterday with a homily on faith and ideology.  I find his words compelling, but I know that there are undoubtedly others who do not for reasons that I do not want to discount.  I'm posting a video of the homily, as well as the homily itself, for the sake of dialogue and understanding.  So...feel free to give your take below.  Both the video and the text are from Rome Reports.

The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.
The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens. Ideology chases away the people. It creates distances between people and it distances the Church from the people. But it is a serious illness, this ideology in Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh? Already the Apostle John, in his first Letter, spoke of this. Christians who lose the faith and prefer the ideologies. His attitude is: be rigid, moralistic, ethical, but without kindness. This can be the question, no? But why is it that a Christian can become like this? Just one thing: this Christian does not pray. And if there is no prayer, you always close the door.
When a Christian does not pray, this happens. And his witness is an arrogant witness...These do not pray, abandoning the faith and transforming it into moralistic, casuistic ideology, without Jesus. And when a prophet or a good Christian reproaches them, they the same that they did with Jesus: ‘When Jesus left, the scribes and Pharisees began to act with hostility toward him’ – they are ideologically hostile – ‘and to interrogate him about many things,’ – they are insidious – ‘for they were plotting to catch him at something he might say.’ They are not transparent. Ah, poor things, they are people dishonored by their pride. We ask the Lord for Grace, first: never to stop praying to never lose the faith; to remain humble, and so not to become closed, which closes the way to the Lord.
Image from BBC News

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Pope Francis and Blessed Pope John XXIII on the Church & the World

I had the opportunity last night to hear a lecture given by Dr. Michael Higgins, an esteemed Catholic scholar who studies Merton in addition to a multitude of other figures.  His lecture was on points of connection between Blessed John XXIII and Thomas Merton, but included some interesting comparisons between John XXIII and Pope Francis.

One of the texts Dr. Higgins quoted last night was from John XXIII's opening speech for the Second Vatican Council, and specifically the often-quoted section of the speech having to do with the Catholic church's attitude toward the world:
In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen, much to our regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, are not endowed with too
much sense of discretion or measure. In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin. They say that our era, in comparison with past eras, is getting worse, and they behave as though they had learned nothing from history, which is, none the less, the teacher of life. They behave as though at the time of former Councils everything was a full triumph for the Christian idea and life and for proper religious liberty.
We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand.
In the present order of things, Divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations which, by men's own efforts and even beyond their very expectations, are directed toward the fulfillment of God's superior and inscrutable designs. And everything, even human differences, leads to the greater good of the Church.
After hearing again Pope John XXIII's words, I immediately recalled an important section of Pope Francis' interview with America:
[T]here is a temptation to seek God in the past or in a possible future. God is certainly in the past because we can see the footprints. And God is also in the future as a promise. But the ‘concrete’ God, so to speak, is today. For this reason, complaining never helps us find God. The complaints of today about how ‘barbaric’ the world is—these complaints sometimes end up giving birth within the church to desires to establish order in the sense of pure conservation, as a defense. No: God is to be encountered in the world of today. (emphasis mine)
A little over a month ago I attended a conference at which one Catholic biblical scholar gave a talk that consistently referred to contemporary 'culture' and 'world' derisively and with scorn, as if the world was diametrically opposed to the values and ideas of the church and could therefore provide nothing of value.  I have to admit that I simply don't understand this perception of the world.  It doesn't accord with my own experience, but more importantly, it doesn't accord with the way in which the church has viewed the world throughout its history.

And it would appear that Blessed Pope John XXIII would have no truck with this sentiment, nor will Pope Francis.

Image of Blessed Pope John XXIII from The Washington Post website.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Pope Francis on Kissing and Caressing Jesus' Wounds

The image of St Francis kissing the leper has been consistently in my mind since last Thursday's celebration of Francis' Transitus. In a reflection on St Francis I gave at our celebration of the Transitus here at Bellarmine University, I mentioned how moved I've been to see Pope Francis emulate St Francis in his interactions with people, often embracing and kissing the ill and marginalized.

Last July, during one of his last morning masses before his summer vacation, Pope Francis gave a homily on the apostle Thomas and his need to touch the wounds of Christ.  I didn't notice this homily back in July, but it has since been brought to my attention.  Exceptionally beautiful, but also very challenging.  Francis here puts a mirror up to all of us, and asks us how willing we are to kiss and caress the wounds of Jesus in our wounded brothers and sisters.

Video of the homily is below, as is a translation of the homily.  Both are from

[Thomas] was stubborn. But the Lord wanted exactly that, a stubborn person to make us understand something greater. Thomas saw the Lord, was invited to put his finger into the wounds left by the nails; to put his hand in His side and he did not say, 'It's true: the Lord is risen'. No! He went further. He said: 'God'. The first of the disciples who makes the confession of the divinity of Christ after the Resurrection. And he worshiped Him
In the history of the Church there have been some mistakes made on the path towards God. Some have believed that the Living God, the God of Christians can be found on the path of meditation, indeed that we can reach higher through meditation. That's dangerous! How many are lost on that path, never to return. Yes perhaps they arrive at knowledge of God, but not of Jesus Christ, Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity. They do not arrive at that. It is the path of the Gnostics, no? They are good, they work, but it is not the right path. It’s very complicated and does not lead to a safe harbor.
We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to our body – the body – the soul too, but – I stress - the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked because it is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he's in jail because he is in the hospital. Those are the wounds of Jesus today. And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards Him, but through these His wounds. 'Oh, great! Let's set up a foundation to help everyone and do so many good things to help'. That's important, but if we remain on this level, we will only be philanthropic. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus, we must caress the wounds of Jesus, we need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness, we have to kiss the wounds of Jesus, and this literally. Just think of what happened to St. Francis, when he embraced the leper? The same thing that happened to Thomas: his life changed.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Visit from "Sister Death" - The Transitus of St. Francis *Updated with a cartoon*

I had the honour tonight to give a brief reflection on St Francis at a celebration of his Transitus in our beautiful chapel here at Bellarmine University.  We have three Franciscan friars from Kerala, India working in our campus ministry office, and they graciously asked if I would say a few words before the story of his death was recited.  I'm posting my reflection below.

St Francis of Assisi is, as you know, one of our most popular saints.  We place statues of Francis in our gardens, we bless our animals on or near his feast day, and we make pilgrimages by the millions to Assisi to pray in the presence of his holy relics and to soak in something of the life of this great man.  When we picture St Francis of Assisi, most of us undoubtedly have an image in our minds of a meek and kindly man with a bird perched on his shoulder.  And it was because we have this image of the kind and gentle St Francis that so many of us were excited last March when Cardinal Bergolio was elected pope and took “Francis” as his papal name, the first bishop of Rome ever to do so.
But I can’t help but wonder if we drastically misunderstand St Francis by ‘taming’ him in the way that we do.  For when we tame St Francis we tame Jesus.  It’s no accident that, on this celebration of the Transitus of St Francis, we read the story of Francis’ death alongside of the narrative of Jesus’ passion.  While we are all to be icons of Christ to others, while we are all to manifest Jesus’ gentle love, some have done this better than others.  And there have been very few indeed who have so vibrantly and beautifully manifested Christ-likeness as St Francis did.  Yes, it very good to remember the Francis who preached to the animals and to remember the unity that we humans have with Sister Mother Earth, with Brother Sun and Sister Moon, and with all who share our created existence.  But we mustn’t forget that St Francis, in his example and his teachings, advocated a truly radical way of relating to God and to one another.

We mustn’t forget the vigour with which Francis fully embraced Lady Poverty, giving up his desire for this-worldly ambition and prestige, giving up an attachment to wealth and property, giving up an attachment to things, in order to devote himself fully to God and to others.  He understood fully that Jesus Christ reveals to us a God who is primarily characterized not as all-mighty and all-powerful.  Francis saw, rather, that Jesus reveals a God who embraces Lady Poverty because humility and an utterly generous love characterizes God completely.  The same kind of all-consuming love demonstrated by God in creation and revealed most fully in the person of Jesus Christ, is the kind of love for God and for others that Francis himself tried to emulate in his life.

But living out a life of generous love is not an easy task, for such love calls us to abandon much of what we consider most important and calls us to embrace fully (and sometime literally) those who are generally excluded by our society and even by our church.  Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has endeavoured in the short time he’s been our Pope to emulate in his words and actions precisely the kind of generous love shown by his namesake, St Francis.  And we love to see this.  I have personally been moved, sometimes to tears, when I’ve watched Pope Francis greet pilgrims after his general audiences.  One time I saw him quickly tell the driver to stop the pope-mobile so he could go down and greet a physically and mentally disabled man.   And I saw Pope Francis, without any hesitation at all, embrace this man and kiss him.  The look on the man’s face when he had been kissed literally brought me to tears, and as I’ve thought about that embrace and kiss, I’ve thought that what I witnessed was nothing other than what St Francis did when he kissed the wounds of lepers.  Now all of this is beautiful to see…but it’s beautiful to see from a distance.  Our reactions change dramatically when we come to realize that what Pope Francis and St Francis are saying is that we must follow their lead.  It’s comfortable to watch others do the dirty work of love.  It becomes decidedly less comfortable to know that we ourselves have to do this dirty work. 

But it was because he loved so fully that St. Francis was able on this night to welcome Sister Death warmly, and so to fly to the embrace of the God who is love. I pray that we might follow his lead in his life and his death.

*Update* After reading my reflection above, a friend of mine sent me the following cartoon about our image of St Francis.  Excellent!

Caravaggio's "Ecstasy of St Francis" from the Web Gallery of Art

Image of Pope Francis from 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

"Why do I Have to Work so Hard in your Class?": An Explanation for Undergraduates

This is the last in a series of blog posts addressing three common questions I receive from my undergraduate students:
  1. Why do I have to study anything outside of my major? (I address that question here)
  2. Why in particular do I have to study theology, especially since I'm not religiously affiliated? (I address this question here and here).
  3. Why do you make us work so hard for your class when it isn't my major?
I'll address the last question in this post.  And because my answer to this question is fairly straightforward, this will be my shortest post in the series.

While students generally enjoy the courses I teach, students (albeit a minority of them) consistently comment that I am too stringent in my grading of assignments and exams, and that I assign far too much reading and writing for a course that is outside their major.

The assumption underlying such comments is that courses in the discipline of theology are not as important or significant as courses in their major, and I've already addressed the problems inherent in such an assumption here.  I obviously take the discipline of theology seriously, and as such, I certainly think that students should actually have to do significant study in the discipline just as they do significant study in other disciplines.

To reduce the level of reading and writing in my classes, as well as to lessen my standards of evaluation of my students, would be tantamount to an admission that the discipline of theology is less important and less rigorous than other academic disciplines. Moreover, I don't believe that I benefit students by providing easy grades in my classes.  While all students may not be theology majors, I do believe that all students have the potential to think critically and study fervently, and that central to my job as their instructor is to challenge students continually to develop their capacities to think critically and clearly, even if about a subject in which they have little interest.

Anything less would, I think, disrespect both the discipline of theology as well as the students themselves.

Image from