Category Archives: Faith & Reason

Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth

We don’t keep the faith for ourselves (cf Lumen Fidei, ch 3): faith is meant to be contagious, it is meant to be lived full time, it is meant for others. As the metaphor of light indicates, light allows us to see, to encounter, to meet someone anew. That someone is Jesus Christ, and those who faithfully follow Christ. Faith is passed on in a personal way.

A new initiative I heard about today is “Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth” is a great light, a wonderful meeting of others. Watch the video presentation.

Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth is present in 60 dioceses as it connects parishes, schools, and families to develop a chain of solid links of faith. Catholic faith is not a private relationship of the “I” and “Thou” but a communio, a “We”, a reflection of an openness that exists among the members of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are never alone; faith is an invitation to others first given to each person that love, mercy, hope and salvation is possible; that happiness is possible today in this world.

I would hope that Benedictine monasteries can be centers for this good work of Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth!!!  I am thinking this program would greatly assist the work of the new evangelization and faith formation programs.

The origins of this new work is based on the work of a University of Notre Dame sociologist, Christian Smith. In addition to his teaching and research Smith also directs UNDs Center For the Study of Religion and Society.

Though I am an alum of UND, I don’t know Smith personally, but I am familiar with his works, especially his book Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood (Oxford University Press, 2011). Professor Smith earned his doctorate at Harvard.

More info on Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth is found at this link.

Gay men and the priesthood: change in content, or difference in style?

This morning a friend asked me about Pope Francis’ statement on the plane ride to Rome coming from Brazil about gay men and the priesthood: did the pope change the Church’s teaching? No, was my reply. The teaching is not changed as the Pope echoed what the Catechism teaches. What the Pope did, I told Harry, was to emphasize a pastoral approach of mercy and helping each person attain a mature Christian faith, and that the Church has always held this approach but frequently gets forgotten due the subject. The approach of Pope Francis is to speak about the merciful face of Jesus Christ; but I have to say, Benedict also said as much but he was often roundly dismissed because of some people’s ideology. Hence, there is a line of continuity in the teaching and style of Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI. I don’t see the hard differences between the two.

Aaron Taylor wrote the following piece, “Francis and Benedict on gay priests,” for On the Square published online at First Things (7 August 2013). Taylor’s piece is a short but good piece covering the basic matters at hand; gives perspective that can’t be dismissed. I recommend the article.

Given the ruckus over Pope Francis’ comments on homosexuality, one could make the mistake of thinking he had announced a revolutionary change, not restated basic Christian doctrine:

If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person? . . . These persons must never be marginalized, and “they must be integrated into society.” The problem is not that one has this tendency. No, we must be brothers.

While the substance is old as the Gospel, the form is not what we are used to. Secular journalists are likely to see an irreconcilable contradiction between the Pope who made these comments and the Cardinal who warned that same-sex marriage is a “total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts,” a “move by the father of lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

Yet Christians ought to see no contradiction between a robust commitment to defending the dignity of all people, including gays and lesbians, and a robust commitment to opposing sexual sin. In both instances, Francis was simply doing what he does best: stating basic truths in blunt, common-sense words that everyone can understand.

Another alleged contradiction at which many reports are hinting lies in the fact that the Pope’s remarks do nothing to alter the current ban on ordaining homosexual men. Some may ask, if Francis is willing to admit that gays can seek God and be persons of good will, why not allow them to be priests?

Current Vatican policy on the ordination of homosexuals is a disciplinary matter, not a doctrinal one. In theory it could change (though I think it unlikely). But even if it did, there would be no reason to assume that more than a small minority of homosexuals have a genuine vocation. The idea often heard that the priesthood is an “ideal” state of life for homosexual men since they are already compelled to be celibate is woefully misguided.

Rather than focusing on the narrow question of gays and the priesthood, what we need most urgently at the present time are spiritual approaches that help gay Christians to integrate their sexual orientation with their faith in a manner that steers a safe course between the Scylla of indulging in sexual vice and the Charybdis of destroying their sanity through denial about their sexuality.

One such approach, suggested by Cardinal Ratzinger in his Pastoral Letter on the Care of Homosexual Persons, is a spirituality of vicarious redemptive suffering for gay people:

What, then, are homosexual persons to do who seek to follow the Lord? Fundamentally, they are called to enact the will of God in their life by joining whatever sufferings and difficulties they experience in virtue of their condition to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross. That Cross, for the believer, is a fruitful sacrifice since from that death come life and redemption.

The fact that God gives homosexuals a heavy cross means that they have an opportunity to unite their sufferings to those of Christ and become instruments of salvation on behalf of others. It is classic Pauline spirituality: “In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24).

Ratzinger’s approach will not be appealing to all gay people, nor need it be. The Church has always accommodated a range of spiritualities within the boundaries of orthodoxy, and gay Christians’ own experience of their sexuality is diverse. For some, it is a great struggle bound up with a history of abuse and compulsive sexual behavior. For others, it is a fact of life that does not cause particular suffering.

Elizabeth Scalia suggests that “homosexuals are in fact ‘special and exceptional others,’ . . . created and called to play a specific role in our shared humanity.” And Joshua Gonnerman tells us that, as a celibate gay Christian, there are nevertheless many things in his experience of being gay that he finds valuable. These new approaches complement rather than contradict the spiritual approach outlined by Ratzinger, and are also grounded in the Pauline witness. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle makes clear that every Christian is given gifts for the building up of the Church. There is no reason whatsoever to assume that gay Christians are an exception to what Paul says.

Aside from the litmus test of orthodoxy, the mark of a healthy spiritual approach to homosexuality should lie in the fact that it empowers gay Christians with a sense of moral agency. Gays are not to be “marginalized,” as the Pope notes, but neither are they to be patronized by well-meaning Christian organizations that portray them as helpless sex addicts who are simply passive recipients of the Church’s pastoral care. With the recognition that one has received gifts from God for active participation in the life of the Church, there comes a grave responsibility to follow the moral law. Christ’s calling restores to people the grace necessary to live in right relationship with God, but this means that gay Christians cannot portray themselves as victims of external forces if they fail to live up to their Christian calling.

Above all, a healthy spiritual approach to homosexuality ought to make clear that gay Christians have a legitimate place within the Body of Christ without having to pretend that they don’t exist by being pressured either into marriage or into becoming closeted priests. Though we should not overstate the innovation in Francis’ off-the-cuff remarks, the Pope has made a significant contribution to the development of a healthy spirituality for gay Christians by speaking of the need to integrate them within society (the Church is a society, too, after all), and by his recognition that many gay Christians already exist within the Church who are of “good will” and wish to “seek the Lord.”

Aaron Taylor, a Ph.D. student in ethics at Boston College, holds degrees from the University of Oxford and from Heythrop College, University of London.

Christian freedom means talking about God, listening to God –to be truly free

Jesus is oriented toward the Father. His face is set on God. As Saint Luke says, “Jesus steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.” Today’s Angelus text given by Pope Francis is a marvelous for study and prayer. “If a Christian does not know how to talk with God, does not know how to listen to God, in his own conscience, then he is not free – he is not free.”


“So we also must learn to listen more to our conscience. Be careful, however: this does not mean we ought to follow our ego, do whatever interests us, whatever suits us, whatever pleases us. That is not conscience. Conscience is the interior space in which we can listen to and hear the truth, the good, the voice of God. It is the inner place of our relationship with Him, who speaks to our heart and helps us to discern, to understand the path we ought to take, and once the decision is made, to move forward, to remain faithful.”

Pope Francis presents Pope Benedict XVI as an example of this discernment. I recommend that you consider reading the Pope’s Angelus text here.

Pope Francis tells La Civilta Cattolica to be concerned with dialogue, discernment, and frontier

Francis with La Civilta Cattolica 2013.jpg

It is usual with a new Roman Pontiff that a meeting happens with the Jesuits who publish the journal La Civiltà Cattolica; Pope Francis met on June 14, 2013 with the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Father Adolfo Nicolás and the editor, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, and their respective staff members. The bi-weekly journal is a highly regarded publication that has a unique relationship with the Holy See since 6 April 1850 in Naples.

La Civiltà Cattolica is Italy’s oldest journal; the articles communicate the Holy See’s point of view and is reviewed by the Vatican Secretary of State before they are published. The editorial policy works to confront significant problems of humanity, society and the Church, to publish articles on human, theological, philosophical, moral, social, cultural, political and literary formation, and they try to offer a chart important events related to Church life plus events concerning Italy and other nations.

Three controlling ideas that will direct La Civilta Cattolica: dialogue, discernment, and frontier.

The Pope’s address:

I am happy to meet with you, writers, your whole community, the Sisters and the staff of the administration of the House. Since 1850, the Jesuits of the Civiltà Cattolica have been engaged in a work that has a particular link with the Pope and the Apostolic See. My predecessors, meeting with you in audience, acknowledged many times how this link is an essential feature of your review. Today I would like to suggest three words to you that might help you in your endeavor.

The first is dialogue. You carry out an important cultural service. Initially the attitude and Civiltà Cattolica was combative and often, also, harshly combative, in tune with the general atmosphere of the time. Reviewing the 163 years of the review, one gathers a rich variety of positions, due be it to the changing of the historical circumstances, be it to the personality of the individual writers. Your fidelity to the Church still requires that you be hard against hypocrisies, fruit of a closed, sick heart, hard against this sickness. However, your main task is not to build walls but bridges; it is to establish a dialogue with all men, also with those who do not share the Christian faith, but “have the veneration of high human values,” and even “with those who oppose the Church and persecute her in various ways” (Gaudium et spes, 92).

There are so many human questions to discuss and share and it is always possible to approach the truth in dialogue, which is a  gift of God, and to enrich ourselves mutually. To dialogue means to be convinced that the other has something good to say, to make room for his point of view, for his opinion, for his proposals without falling, obviously, into relativism. And to dialogue it is necessary to lower one’s defenses and to open the doors. Continue your dialogue with the cultural, social and political institutions, also to offer your contribution to the formation of citizens who have at heart the good of all and work for the common good. The “Civilta cattolica” is the civilization of love, of mercy and of faith.

The second word is discernment. Your task is to gather and express the expectations, the desires, the joys and the dramas of our time, and to offer the elements for a reading of the reality in the light of the Gospel. The great spiritual questions are more alive today than ever, but there is need of someone to interpret them and to understand them. With humble and open intelligence, “seek and find God in all things,” as Saint Ignatius wrote. God is at work in the life of every man and in the culture: the Spirit blows where it will. Seek to discover what God has operated and how His work will proceed. A treasure of the Jesuits is in fact spiritual discernment, which seeks to recognize the presence of the Spirit of God in the human and cultural reality, the seed of His presence already planted in the events, in the sensibilities, in the desires, in the profound tensions of hearts and of the social, cultural and spiritual contexts. I recall something that Rahner said: the Jesuit is a specialist of discernment in the field of God and also in the field of the devil. One must not be afraid to continue in discernment to find the truth. When I read these observations of Rahner, they really struck me.

And to seek God in all things, in all fields of knowledge, of art, of science, of political, social and economic life, studies, sensibility and experience are necessary. Some of the subjects you address might not have an explicit relation with a Christian perspective, but they are important to appreciate the way that persons understand themselves and the world that surrounds them. Your informative observation must be broad, objective and timely. It is also necessary to give particular attention into the truth, goodness and beauty of God, which are always considered together, and are precious allies in the commitment to defend the dignity of man, in the building of peaceful coexistence and in protecting creation carefully. From this attention stems serene, sincere and strong judgment about events, illuminated by Christ. Great figures such as Matteo Ricci are a model of this. All this requires keeping the heart and mind open, avoiding the spiritual sickness of self-reference. Even the Church, when she becomes self-referencing, gets sick, grows old. May our sight, well fixed on Christ, be prophetic and dynamic towards the future: in this way, you will always be young and audacious in the reading of events!

The third word is frontier. The mission of a review of culture such as La Civilta Cattolica enters the contemporary cultural debate and proposes, in a serious and at the same time accessible way, the vision that comes from the Christian faith. The break between Gospel and culture is undoubtedly a tragedy (cf. Evangelii nuntiandi, 20). You are called to give your contribution to heal this break, which passes also through the heart of each one of you and of your readers. This ministry is typical of the mission of the Society of Jesus. With your reflections and your deeper, support the cultural and social processes, and all those going through difficult transitions, taking account also of the conflicts. Your proper place is the frontiers. This is the place of Jesuits. That which Paul VI, taken up by Benedict XVI, said of the Society of Jesus, is true for you also in a particular way today: “Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and acute fields, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, there was and is the confrontation between the burning exigencies of man and the perennial message of the Gospel, the Jesuits have been and are there.” Please, be men of the frontier, with that capacity that comes from God (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:6). But do not fall into the temptation of taming the frontiers: you must go to the frontiers and not bring the frontiers home to varnish them a bit and tame them. In today’s world, subject to rapid changes and agitated by questions of great relevance for the life of the faith, a courageous commitment is urgent to educate to a faith of conviction and maturity, capable of giving meaning to life and of offering convincing answers to all those seeking God. It is a question of supporting the action of the Church in all fields of her mission. This year La Civilta Cattolica has been renewed: it has assumed a new graphic appearance, it can also be read in a digital version and it brings its readers together also in the social networks. These are also frontiers in which you are called to operate. Continue on this path!

Dear Fathers, I see young, less young and elderly among you. Yours is a unique review of its kind, which is born from a community of life and of studies; as in a harmonious choir, each one must have his voice and harmonize it with that of others. Strength, dear brothers! I am sure I can count on you. While I entrust you to the Madonna della Strada, I impart to you, writers, collaborators and Sisters, as well as to all readers of the review, my Blessing.

Music has the power of the heart

a chorus.jpg

It seems the only possible means to process the Boston tragedy which is being lived today gives voice to man’s desire to speaking with the Infinite,  speaking with the Triune. 

The heart is deeply moved by the power of music notes. Indeed, music has the power of the heart because it has the ability “to sense infallibly the true and the genuine.”

Some of my thinking on music recently has been informed by the thinking of Pope Benedict XVI who had a profound appreciation for music as reaching the inner depths of the souls. In his book, A New Song for the Lord, then Cardinal Ratzinger said, faith becoming music is part of the process of the Word becoming flesh (p.122 ). And in his book Salt of the Earth, he answers a statement about Mozart:

You are a great lover of Mozart.

Yes! Although we moved around a very great deal in my childhood, the family basically always remained in the area between the Inn and the Salzach. And the largest and most important and best parts of my youth I spent in Traunstein, which very much reflects the influence of Salzburg. You might say that there Mozart thoroughly penetrated our souls, and his music still touches me very deeply, because it is so luminous and yet at the same time so deep. His music is by no means just entertainment; it contains the whole tragedy of human existence.

There aren’t too many experiences in life that you can claim to experience a “thoroughly penetrated our souls which also illumines the soul. Hence, what we experience in music is not mere entertainment.

In response to an email I sent about my friend Paul J. Murray’s this Sunday’s program, A Concert for Peace, a friend of mine, Jane, sent me this article because like many of us, she has been moved by the beauty of music. Like Jane, I, too, was moved by parts of this article this regard, and I recommend that you consider the author’s expertise.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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