New in The Priest: “A Civil Holiday with a Catholic Twist”

My new article on various ways that Catholic parishes celebrate Thanksgiving Day appears in the November issue of The Priest. Here are the opening grafs:

Let’s be clear from the start: Thanksgiving Day in the United States is a civil holiday, not a Catholic one. But it’s hard to deny the holiday’s religious themes and its profound resonance with Catholic faith and values.

President Abraham Lincoln, when declaring it a national holiday in 1863, spoke of it as a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Thanksgiving certainly holds a place in the hearts of Catholic families as large as in those of other Americans. And the values it celebrates — gratitude to God, freedom and dignity, unity among families and peoples — are Catholic to the core.

For these reasons, observing Thanksgiving among Catholic parish communities in the United States is both common and fitting. Let’s take a look at the ways some parishes across the nation do it.

This is my first time on the pages (and webpages) of The Priest, so I’m excited about that. You can find the entire article online here.

New from OSV: My article on the revised rite of matrimony

Our Sunday Visitor has published my new article on the revised Order of Celebrating Matrimony, recently approved by the U.S. bishops for use in the United States. It includes a full run-down of what’s new, what’s not, and, interestingly, what the bishops wanted included but was nixed by the Vatican. The article is here.

Do the “faithful” need more attention from the Synod fathers?

I must admit, I’m not especially keen on the occasional pleas that we have heard for the Synod to be more attentive to “faithful” families, the thinking being that they need the Church’s pastoral care, too.

This came most prominently in a recent blog post from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, whom I respect a great deal and whose pastoral intuition is very often precisely on target (as I’ve noted on this blog here, here, and here). In a post he titled “Inclusion of the New Minority,” he opened noting that the theme of “inclusion” is a “very refreshing, consistent theme of the synod” and that the church “welcomes everyone, especially those who may feel excluded.” He continued:

Can I suggest as well that there is now a new minority in the world and even in the Church?  I am thinking of those who, relying on God’s grace and mercy, strive for virtue and fidelity: Couples who — given the fact that, at least in North America, only half of our people even enter the sacrament of matrimony–  approach the Church for the sacrament;  Couples who, inspired by the Church’s teaching that marriage is forever, have persevered through trials; couples who welcome God’s gifts of many babies; a young man and woman who have chosen not to live together until marriage; a gay man or woman who wants to be chaste; a couple who has decided that the wife would sacrifice a promising professional career to stay at home and raise their children — these wonderful people today often feel themselves a minority, certainly in culture, but even, at times in the Church!  I believe there are many more of them than we think, but, given today’s pressure, they often feel excluded.

Where do they receive support and encouragement? From TV?   From magazines or newspapers?  From movies?  From Broadway?  From their peers?  Forget it!

They are looking to the Church, and to us, for support and encouragement, a warm sense of inclusion.  We cannot let them down!

I saw it again more recently in a post by the popular and often very thoughtful Elizabeth Scalia. She went on at length about all of the “faithful families” who are “being under-served, and wandering about in serious pain and confusion because the pastors are distracted and delayed.”

These are the “faithful intact families” who follow church teachings, and the “faithful intact families” who suffer very real difficulties of all kinds, and the “faithful families” who have divorced and received or need annulments (not those who have divorced and remarried without annulments), and the “faithful families” who are “trying to figure out how to remain true to the Church and true to the love for their family members who are same-sex attracted”… A whole list of “faithful” people who need the Church’s attention. And the problem is, she says, that all of the attention the Synod is giving in its discussions of how to care for what we can only presume to be the “unfaithful” people is a “waste valuable time not discussing an awful lot of wounded sheep.” Someone, she says, needs to stand up and bang a few heads together and get these synod fathers back on track.

These cries for more pastoral attention to the faithful leave me feeling uncomfortable.

First of all, there’s no question that all Catholics, even the most faithful, need pastoral care. I won’t argue with that.

Second, the distinction between the “faithful” ones and the “unfaithful” ones baffles me a little. It seems to suggest there are certain sins and situations that define who gets to be called “faithful.” Do any of those intact-family parents cheat on their taxes, and if so do they still get to be called faithful? Any of those intact-family dads who dabble in online pornography, and if so do they still get to be called faithful? How about those parents of “same-sex attracted” children (really, it’s okay to say “gay”) who have failed once or twice in making their children feel loved and welcome? Are they still faithful?

But here’s the thing that nags at me about the posts above. Hasn’t most of the Church’s time in recent decades — indeed, recent centuries — been devoted to the care of these very faithful people? And is it really so troubling if the shepherds take some time to really give serious thought and discussion to how to offer pastoral care to the most difficult situations or those farthest from the Church? Do we think that such pastoral attention leaves the “faithful” ones without care, as though those very shepherds can’t walk and chew gum at the same time? And what does such a stance say about our response to the call to a new evangelization of the world?

I’m a member of one of those families I think (hope) Elizabeth would put in the category of “faithful.” There were a few years, early on, when my wife and I were living in an “irregular” situation (we may have been “unfaithful” then). But we did what we needed to do, went through the processes we needed to attend to, and abstained from receiving Communion throughout that that time (so maybe we were faithful after all). For a long time now we’ve been “in good standing” with the Church and working hard to raise what I truly hope is a faithful Catholic family.

And as one of those faithful, I say to the Synod fathers: I am happy to cede some of the time you spend caring for me and thinking about me to the faraway sheep, those who are more hurting or more angry than I have ever imagined being, those for whom talk of God’s love and mercy (which I know deeply and rejoice in regularly) is nothing but a foreign language. Talk about them. Pray about them. Argue about them. Listen to them. Learn from them. In doing so, you are at the very same time teaching me and my own family how to be better Christians and a more faithful family as well.

As the Synod begins

In the conversation about marriage and family life that Pope Francis initiated over a year ago within the Catholic Church, we have heard a lot about what is and isn’t faithful to church teaching. More “progressive” figures, such as Cardinal Kasper, have proposed new pastoral approaches for our consideration, while more “conservative” minded figures, like Cardinal Burke, have rejected them as being unfaithful to Scripture, tradition, and Church teaching.

Having spent a good portion of the last several years exploring the thinking and the story of Fr. John Courtney Murray, SJ, I have to say the current situation has a very familiar ring to it. Murray got himself into trouble with the highest authorities in Rome for suggesting that, despite what might seem to be the case, support for the idea of religious freedom as a human right was not contrary to Church teaching and is in fact a true and important element of that teaching. He was criticized for contradicting the magisterium and Scripture. His work was condemned as erroneous by the Vatican’s doctrinal authorities.

And then, a decade later, he was dramatically vindicated in almost the weightiest way possible: through a declaration of an ecumenical council of the Church.

Just because someone — even someone with great ecclesial authority — thinks a proposition is contrary to Church teaching does not mean it is. It may be, of course. Some ideas are. But to treat as a villain — as a certain Catholic cable news channel has done for going on two years now — faithful pastors and theologians who work hard to offer new pastoral approaches in ways that is faithful to the Gospel and to the Church is wrong and does a disservice to the Church and to the truth.

Come, Holy Spirit, upon the Synod. Enlighten those participating in it with your holy Wisdom.

“Solidarity in times of sickness”

Beautiful words from Pope Francis at his general audience this morning about sickness, suffering, and family bonds:

Faced with sickness, difficulties can arise in the family as a result of human weakness. But in general illness strengthens family bonds. And I think of how important it is to educate children, starting from infancy, on the importance of solidarity in times of sickness. An education that shelters them from sensitivity to human sickness hardens the heart and anaesthetizes the young to the suffering of others, rendering them incapable of facing up to suffering and living the experience of limits.

The weakness and suffering of our most loved ones … can be … a school of life … and especially when illness is accompanied by prayer and the fraternal, affectionate closeness of families. The Christian community is well aware that the family, during the trials of sickness, must not be left alone. … This Christian closeness of family to family, is a true treasure for a parish: a treasure of wisdom, that helps families in difficult moments and enables them to understand the Kingdom of God more clearly than through words.

Questioning the status quo on the economics of family life

Our Sunday Visitor has posted a new column I wrote for its Daily Take blog, on the economics of raising a family today. In the piece, I question the choice that most young families are forced to make in a society structured to accommodate a two-working-parent home: we must either choose to have both parents work — in which case the family suffers in a variety of ways associated with regular childcare outside the home — or one parent stays home, in which case the family suffers in a whole other set of ways. My main point is that lay Catholics — who belong to a Church whose social teaching insists on the centrality of family life, not only for the well-being of each family and the individuals who make it up, but for the good health of society — should push harder for a conversation about better solutions. I’m well aware, by the way, that my piece does not even mention single-parent families, which are of course quite common today. I had a hard time sticking to the word count I was given for this column even without getting into that aspect of the question. But the fact is, the fact of single-parent families only makes my point stronger and more urgent. Read the whole post here.

“Strong and orthodox faith is never afraid of discussion”

Reflecting on the Church’s recent synod experience, Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin offers wisdom and common sense in an interview reported in a new article from the Catholic Herald:

Archbishop Martin said he believed that “a longing for certainties may spring from personal uncertainty rather than strong faith.”

“A strong — and indeed orthodox faith — is never afraid of discussion,” he said….

Archbishop Martin also said that “a church which becomes a comfort zone for the like-minded ceases to be truly the Church of Jesus Christ.”

Plenty of other good stuff in the full article, which is here.