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Archive of March 11, 2012

Church celebrates St. Patrick's life of holiness on March 17

Denver, Colo., Mar 11, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

On March 17 Catholics will celebrate St. Patrick, the fifth century bishop and patron of Ireland, whose life of holiness set the example for many of the Church's future saints.

St. Patrick is said to have been born around 389 AD in Britain. Captured by Irish raiders when he was about 16, St. Patrick was taken as a slave to Ireland where he lived for six years as a shepherd before escaping and returning to his home.

At home, he studied the Christian faith at monastic settlements in Italy and and what is now modern-day France. He was ordained a deacon by the Bishop of Auxerre, France around the year 418 AD and ordained a bishop in 432 AD.

It was around this time when that he was assigned to minister to the small, Christian communities in Ireland who lacked a central authority and were isolated from one another.

When St. Patrick returned to Ireland, he was able to use his knowledge of Irish culture that he gained during his years of captivity. Using the traditions and symbols of the Celtic people, he explained Christianity in a way that made sense to the Irish and was thus very successful in converting the natives.

The shamrock, which St. Patrick used to explain the Holy Trinity, is a symbol that has become synonymous with Irish Catholic culture.

Although St. Patrick's Day is widely known and celebrated every March the world over, various folklore and legend that surround the saint can make it difficult to determine fact from fiction.

He is often mistakenly recognized as the man who drove away snakes during his ministry despite the climate and location of Ireland, which have never allowed snakes to inhabit the area.

St. Patrick is most revered not for what he drove away from Ireland, but what brought and the foundation he built for the generations of Christians who followed him.

Although not the first missionary to the country, he is widely regarded as the most successful. The life of sacrifice, prayer and fasting has laid the foundation for the many saints that the small island was home to following his missionary work.

To this day, he continues to be revered as one of the most beloved saints of Ireland.

In March of 2011, the Irish bishops' conference marked their patron's feast by remembering him as “pioneer in an inhospitable climate.”

As the Church in Ireland faces her own recent difficulties following clerical sex abuse scandals, comfort can be found in the plight of St. Patrick, the bishops said. 

They quoted The Confession of St. Patrick, which reads: “May it never befall me to be separated by my God from his people whom he has won in this most remote land. I pray God that he gives me perseverance, and that he will deign that I should be a faithful witness for his sake right up to the time of my passing.”

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Lesbian woman denied Communion identifies as Buddhist

Washington D.C., Mar 11, 2012 (CNA) - Information published online by a Maryland woman who was recently denied Communion because of her lesbian relationship suggests that she is actually a Buddhist and an active “gay rights” supporter.

Barbara Johnson, 51, has become the subject of recent media attention after claiming that she had been denied Communion at her mother’s funeral, where she introduced her lesbian partner to the priest, Fr. Marcel Guarnizo, before Mass.

However, the website for Art Works Studio School in Mt. Rainier, Md., which Johnson founded, states that she “considers herself a student” of “Buddhist philosophy.” The school’s Twitter page also contains recent posts criticizing the Maryland Catholic Conference for its hostility to “gay rights.”

Johnson complained after she was denied Communion on Feb. 25 at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Md., which is part of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. She said that Fr. Guarnizo told her she could not receive the sacrament because her homosexual relationship was a sin in the eyes of the Church.

The issue of “gay rights” has become a heated topic in Maryland recently, as lawmakers approved a bill in late February to legalize “gay marriage” in the state. The law will not take effect until 2013, allowing time for the Maryland Catholic Conference and other pro-marriage groups to work to overturn the legislation with a referendum in November.

In addition to the description on her art school’s website, Johnson also identified herself as a Buddhist in a recent paper posted online for a master’s degree program at Kutztown University.

In the paper, Johnson discussed working at a local Catholic school, saying, “in my interview with the principal we talked openly about my being a lesbian and a Buddhist.”

She explained that she decided to take the job, despite the difficulties posed by the “homophobic world of education,” because she is a “naturally born agitator” who “enjoys challenging the status quo.”

After being denied Communion last month, Johnson wrote a letter to Fr. Guarnizo, warning him that he would “pay dearly” for what he had done. She has said that she will not be satisfied until he is removed from parish ministry.

In a March 1 statement, Fr. William Byrne, secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington, responded to the incident by explaining that priests have “an obligation to make sure that the sacraments are respected.”

“No one is entitled to the Eucharist,” Fr. Byrne said, explaining that the reception of the sacrament is “a blessing and a grace.”

Johnson did not respond to CNA’s attempts to contact her.

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Anchorage Catholic schools fight secular culture in effort to anchor faith

Anchorage, Alaska, Mar 11, 2012 (CNA) - Concerned by a recent finding that more than half of young Christian adults abandon their church in their 20s, educators in local Catholic schools are fighting that trend with a timeless weapon: truth.

“Everyone wants to psychoanalyze and say this generation is unlike any before, but in my opinion, the truth is eternal,” said theology teacher Bob McMorrow, who teaches at Lumen Christi High School in Anchorage.

“Young people are still attracted to Jesus. They’re still attracted to the Catholic Church,” McMorrow added. “We don’t need to repackage it every three years because our culture changes. We just need to authentically teach the truth.”

Knowledge and Love

Teachers must first cultivate in youth a deep knowledge and love of the faith, the church and its traditions, McMorrow noted. Then, they must counter the conflicting messages of secular culture and ingrain moral decision-making skills and apologetics.

“The problem is a lack of formation, a lack of understanding of what the Catholic faith is,” said McMorrow, who is also the youth director at St. Benedict Church. “If you understand what the church is, the history and the foundation; and you understand all the things that make us truly Catholic — the sacraments, our saints, our connection to Mary and her ability to intercede for us; and you understand the Eucharist, even partially, you can’t abandon that. You can’t go someplace else. There are so many things that are beautiful about our faith, and if they understand it at a real level, they will never let it go.”

Catherine Neumayr, principal of Holy Rosary Academy in Anchorage, agreed.

“We have such a rich, beautiful heritage. Most of the early popes lost their lives for the faith,” she said. “I just try to give them this knowledge that they can remember and draw on so when they’re lonely and sad in their 20s, they remember that church is something beautiful. There is something beautiful in the Eucharist, and they can always come home to the Eucharist.”

Moral Controversies Welcome

The nucleus of the Holy Rosary campus is a chapel containing the Blessed Sacrament so students are always in the real presence of Christ. In previous generations, many former Catholics left the church because they doubted the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Today’s Catholics ages 18-29 cite varying problems with their faith, including a third who have experienced significant doubts and 40 percent who believe Catholic teachings regarding sex and birth control are out of date, according to a 2011 study by the Barna Group, a national research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture.

Neumayr encourages teachers to challenge students by raising provocative questions about Catholicism and then guiding discussions: Are Catholics cannibalistic? Polytheistic? As a confirmation instructor at St. Benedict Church, she also clips news articles about controversial moral topics and instructs students to highlight a few key sentences, then share which statements they highlighted and why.

Lumen Christi principal Tom Sorci said his school proactively integrates moral dilemmas into the curriculum.

“They are being taught to keep their minds clean and their hearts pure, and it’s constantly reinforced in all our classes and Mass,” he said. “We teach them how to make good choices.”

“When you explain the Catholic process of how to make a moral decision, it makes sense and lots of them are very open to that,” McMorrow explained. “Catholic morality is beautiful and logical, and we need to train our young people in it so they can be good decision makers.”

The Age of Tolerance

The lessons are countercultural. Technology and media bombard youth with immorality and provide readily downloadable temptation, be it pornography or violent gaming. Neumayr has observed that younger generations tend to want the Catholic Church to operate like a democracy. If a majority of followers use birth control or support gay “marriage,” for instance, then many would argue the church should adapt to social norms.

“They think truth is dictated by society,” she said. “There’s this general call for tolerance, and few hold convictions as true.”

The Barna Group study reported that half of Catholics ages 18-29 have experienced significant frustration with their religion, and a quarter of them went through a period when they felt like rejecting their parents’ faith.

Another common sentiment Neumayr has perceived among teens and young adults is the sin of presumption — that is, a belief that dabbling in sinful behaviors is acceptable because God loves them unconditionally and wants them to be happy and therefore won’t hold them accountable.

“There are governing principles that are imbued in us by our creator, by our nature and not merely by our environment, and that concept is absent in adolescents, especially in public schools,” Neumayr said. “It’s just not in the (public) curriculum to be taught that man is faith and reason, soul and body. They’ve been taught that all natural law is relative to ‘me and what I consider moral or immoral.’”

Distracted Families

McMorrow, father of six, noted that younger generations are so tuned into technology and so overextended in extracurricular activities that practices like family rosary, daily Mass or community service are rare.

“We lose track of the main goal of the family,” he said. “No wonder it’s not sinking in and taking root. We’re sending them to college just touching on the surface of the one thing they really need, and that’s faith.”

Sending such “at-risk Christians” into the collegiate culture can be perilous for their faith. A Pew Forum survey indicated that nearly three-quarters of Americans who change their religion leave their childhood faith in their 20s, usually by 24.

“In college, students are being challenged on the traditional ideas that their family and their early education taught them, in a hedonistic atmosphere,” Neumayr said. “Religion is challenging and filled with paradox, and that’s just not perceived as useful in college. By the time you graduate, you’re this man of reason, and if you can’t feel it, taste it, see it — it’s not important.”

“If you don’t have the wonder, the love, the attachment to this religion you belong to, and you don’t have anything that ties your faith with your peers or your teachers or the books you read, you can become lost,” she added.

After college young adults are delaying the classic hallmarks of adulthood, such as marriage, children and financial independence. Modern 20-somethings are not settling down, starting families and returning to church by age 30, as was often the case in the past. The Barna Group study indicated that a staggering 56 percent of once-active Catholics left the church between ages 18 to 29.

“I am absolutely concerned,” McMorrow said. “My goal is to do youth ministry effectively so when people are 25 they’re still actively Catholic. You can’t judge a Catholic school or youth ministry by what we’re doing now, but so that when they are at that point in their 20s, they can’t imagine their life without the Catholic faith at the center.”

Posted with permission from Catholic Anchor, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Anchorage.

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Jesus not political but prophetic, Pope says

Vatican City, Mar 11, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Jesus was a prophetic voice but not a violent political revolutionary, Pope Benedict XVI said in Sunday comments on Christ’s expulsion of the animal sellers and money changers from the temple in Jerusalem.

“It is impossible to interpret Jesus as a violent person. Violence is contrary to the Kingdom of God, it is a tool of the Antichrist. Violence never serves humanity, but dehumanizes,” said the Pope in his March 11 Angelus address at the Vatican.

His remarks criticized the occasional interpretation of this episode in a political revolutionary sense that places Jesus in line with the Zealot movement.

The Zealots were a Jewish political movement who were “zealous” for God’s law and “ready to use violence to enforce it,” the Pope explained. They were waiting for a Messiah who would liberate Israel from Roman rule. Jesus, however, “disappointed them in this” to the extent that “some disciples deserted him and even Judas Iscariot betrayed him.”

Though Jesus was not being political he was being prophetic, said the Pope. The prophets “in the name of God, often denounced abuses, and they did so sometimes with symbolic gestures.”

The key to understanding the actions of Christ, the Pope said, is to listen to Jesus’ words during the event: “Take these things and make not my Father’s house a market!”

These words reminded the disciples of Psalm 69: "Zeal for your house consumes him."

This psalm is “a cry for help in a situation of extreme danger because of the hatred of enemies,” the Pope said. This is the same situation that Jesus will experience in his passion. It is “zeal for the Father and for his house” which therefore led Jesus to the cross.

His zeal, though, is “the zeal of love that pays personally, not that of a person who wants to serve God through violence.” In fact, the “sign” that Jesus gave as proof of his authority was his own death and resurrection when he said he would “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it.” This “temple” was his own body.

“With Easter Jesus begins a new cult, the cult of love, and a new church which is Christ himself, the Risen Christ, by which every believer can worship God the Father ‘in spirit and truth,’” the Pope concluded.

“Dear friends, the Holy Spirit has begun to build this new temple in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Through her intercession, we pray that every Christian becomes a stone of this spiritual house.”

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October 31, 2014

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