The last few decades have seen a noticeable increase in concern for the environment. Organizations dedicated to protecting the planet have grown immensely in recent years, with Greenpeace currently claiming well over 2.5 million members worldwide, and the Sierra Club boasting 1.3 million members in America alone. In addition, the phrases "green" and "environmentally-friendly" have become huge advertising slogans, labeling products ranging from houses to clothing to food-packaging. The idea has taken over the media as well, making headlines in prominent publications time and time again, and becoming the theme of movies such as An Inconvenient Truth.
Waiting is something that we do each and every day – whether we like it or not. From instant oatmeal to instant messaging, we like things to be quick, easy and convenient. For example, transportation and communication are faster today than ever before. Years ago, traveling across the country would take days, weeks, or maybe even months. Today, we can travel from coast to coast in a matter of hours. Instead of hand-writing letters and waiting days, or even weeks, for a response, we simply jump on the computer and send an email or pull our cell phones out of our pockets and make a quick phone call or send a text message.
In my last article, I looked at the disturbing political indifference exhibited by young people in America today. However, I have also seen many examples of this indifference extending beyond the political realm. We see so many problems in our society today – poverty, abortion, injustice, and so many other forms of evil in our world. Yet when asked about these things, college students often show an attitude of apathy and complete indifference. Many times, they say that have no opinion about important issues of today, or that they have not given them any thought. Other times, they say that they are personally opposed to such evils, but they make no active effort to fight them. This is a dangerous attitude. If everyone were to think this way, how would these evils ever be stopped?
In 1971, the 26th Amendment was ratified, allowing U.S. citizens to vote at age 18. This opportunity was obtained through much effort and was viewed as both a privilege and a duty. Yet today, less than four decades later, young people seem to have forgotten the privilege that it is to have the right to vote.
In my last column, I examined the identity and role of the Holy Spirit. In this article, I will continue to look at this past World Youth Day in Australia in order to see more clearly what it means to live in the Spirit.
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you…” (Acts 1:8)
June 28 marked the beginning of the Year of St. Paul, as announced by Pope Benedict to commemorate the 2000th anniversary of St. Paul’s birth. The Pauline year, which will be celebrated with various liturgical activities, pilgrimages, prayer meetings, and artistic and cultural tributes, will focus on examining the person and teachings of St. Paul, as well as encouraging pilgrimages to the saint’s tomb and other places he visited during his life. There will be a particular focus on evangelization and ecumenism - promoting unity among Christians. The Holy Father noted St. Paul’s efforts, as Apostle to the Gentiles, to bring the Gospel to all people and to work for the “unity and harmony of all Christians.” Looking at St. Paul’s life gives us a powerful example of how we should evangelize in our own lives.
One of the things I have observed about college students is how much they seem to complain. Over the past year, I have noticed both myself and others slipping into a self-centered mindset that is characterized by a general lack of gratitude and tendency to complain about the most trivial matters. The dangerous part is that students often do not even seem to realize they are doing it. I think this mentality is caused by the independence and self-absorbed atmosphere that so often accompanies the college experience. As college students, we need to make an effort to foster humility and gratitude in order to avoid falling into this negative frame of mind.
“I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:14)
In my last article, I discussed the importance of having solid friends for support in college life. In this article, I want to examine some of the challenges of college friendships.
He who fears God behaves accordingly, and his friend will be like himself. (Sir. 6:17)
Today’s society seems to have a negative perception of young people. In my dealings with adults, I have seen many people who stereotype teenagers in harmful ways. I have come to see two major generalizations that are often held about young people. However, I have also found hope in a letter to children, written twelve years ago by Pope John Paul II. This letter reaffirms the value and dignity of the youth and calls all people to grow in holiness.Young people are often seen as being inadequate. Many employers are hesitant to hire teenagers because they are afraid they will be lazy, stupid, or incompetent. They think they will lack the skills, knowledge, or dedication for the job. This stereotype of teenagers as inferior human beings is harmful and degrading. Furthermore, it is false. While it is certainly true that some teenagers are lazy and inept, it is also true that there are many others who are just as talented, dedicated, and mature as most adults, and judging an entire group of people based on a few is destructive to the group as a whole.The second phrase I often hear about young people is that they are “the leaders of tomorrow.” While this view is more hopeful than the previous one, it still does not do justice to the youth of the world. Labeling young people as the scientists, doctors, and businessmen of tomorrow fails to recognize their value today. It suggests that they have potential for greatness in the future, but do not yet possess what is necessary for greatness now. Despite its good intentions of encouraging and motivating young people, this perspective is actually detrimental to the way in which they are viewed. Unfortunately for the youth, many adults have bought into either this mentality or the previous one, both of which are harmful labels.The late Pope John Paul II, however, was able to see beyond these stereotypes and generalizations and see deep into the heart of the youth. In his Letter to Children, written in December of 1994, he wisely reminds us that the call to holiness is a call to all people, young and old. He reminds us of the great dignity and worth of young people in their current state of life, not only in their potential as adults. Although his letter was specifically intended for small children, his message applies to all young people of today, including those in their teenage and young adult years.Very little is known about Jesus' youth. But, as the Pope points out, the one story we do have of the young Jesus is the story of the Finding in the Temple, in which twelve-year-old Jesus taught the teachers in Jerusalem. Although his public ministry had not yet begun, he was already starting his Father's work and spreading the Gospel.Clearly, the Pope places great value on the lives of young people. He puts emphasis on the way in which Jesus was able to carry out his Father's will as a child. And just as Jesus was able to make an impact on those around him as a child, all young people in the world today can make a difference in the lives of the people surrounding them. It is not necessary for them to try to do adult things; rather, they must simply strive to follow God’s will in their everyday lives, living out their youth in Christ.In his letter, John Paul II commissions children to pray for world peace. It is to the youth, not the adults, that he entrusts this important task. Why? Because he recognizes the power of a child's prayers. Children give an example of how to pray: with simplicity and complete trust. When Jesus says "unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven," (Mt. 18:3) he is pointing to children as models for adults. All people are called to imitate the simplicity and trust found in the hearts of children, who, in their simple wisdom, realize that "love and harmony build peace," while "hatred and violence destroy it." The Pope invites everyone to follow the example of goodness and purity set by small children, who "instinctively turn away from hatred and are attracted by love." The Pope then continues to ask children to pray to discover their vocations, and to follow them with love; to remember God’s love for them and to spread that love to the whole world. This is a message that applies to all people, and it is a good reminder to all young people of their inherent worth in God’s eyes. We do have immeasurable value - not only in the future, but now as well. We are capable of doing good things by following God’s will, and we even have the ability to set an example of holiness for the adults in our lives. These truths are so simple and yet so important in how adults look at young people and how young people view themselves. John Paul II saw this, and in his wisdom, he passed on this message to young people throughout the world. It is now time for the youth to respond to this calling and to live in the holiness for which we were made.
Earlier this November, American citizens cast their votes on many issues that will influence the future of the country. One of the ballot measures faced by voters in many states was an attempt to recognize same-sex unions as legitimate marriages. In the weeks leading up to the election, the topic of homosexual marriage became a very heated issue, with both sides arguing passionately to get their point across. Several weeks after the election, the debate has not disappeared, as both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage continue working to make their voices heard. Proponents of gay marriage claim that marriage is a basic legal right, which should not be denied to homosexuals simply because of their sexual orientation. They claim that since all people were created equal, everyone should have an equal right to marry, and that the government has no authority to prevent two homosexuals who love each other from entering into a lifelong committed relationship of love. The Church, however, tells us that there is a two-fold purpose to marriage: “the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life.” (CCC 2363) Marriage is intended to unite the couple and to allow for procreation. But two homosexuals can never procreate; nor can they ever truly be properly united. Therefore, a union of two homosexuals can never be a true marriage.Same-sex marriage is wrong because it violates the very nature of marriage. Marriage is intrinsically connected to sex, which is both unitive and procreative. The dual nature of sex cannot be separated, and sex is being misused when both purposes are not present. Man and woman are biologically complimentary; their bodies are designed in a way that allows them to come together in the act of sexual intercourse for unity and procreation. However, homosexual acts are disordered because the bodies of two men or two women were not designed in a way that allows them to come together in a sexual act that would be both unitive and procreative. Although pregnancy does not occur with every act of heterosexual sex, the possibility for new life is present. Homosexual acts, on the other hand, can never be open to life, and therefore can never fulfill the dual nature of sex. For this reason, a homosexual couple cannot live out a real marriage, which is open to life and exists for the very purpose of a family. Because it poses a threat to the family, same-sex marriage is also detrimental from a social perspective. The family is the basic unit of society, the building block that holds a community together and provides the safest environment for raising children. An attack on marriage is an attack on the family. It is an attack on the common good, and it is therefore the government’s role to step in and protect society by banning gay marriage. Marriage has always had limitations and restrictions. Even today, it is an accepted norm in most parts of the world that a man may not marry a close family member, an animal, or several people at the same time. These restrictions exist to prevent actions that violate the nature of sex and marriage. Gay marriage is just the same. It is unnatural. Marriage is not an open-ended, unlimited right. Rather, it is a gift, with boundaries that must be respected. Both the citizens and lawmakers of our nation should remember this when they are faced with decisions that will impact our country’s future.
A few weeks ago, I went on a retreat up in the Rocky Mountains. Autumn is a beautiful time in Colorado. The aspen leaves are turning a beautiful shade of yellow and slowly falling off the trees. I was able to go on a hike that Pope John Paul II hiked when he was in Colorado. As I reflected on the beauty of the leaves covering the ground and trees, I was overcome with a sense of awe at the beauty of nature. The gorgeous scenery around me was truly breathtaking, and as I reflected on the peace and order of nature, I realized what an amazing gift God has given us in the natural world. Each season has its own unique beauty. Breathtaking golden aspen leaves mix with the gorgeous reds and yellows of other trees to form a beautiful landscape scenery, before falling, one by one, to the ground. Autumn gives way to gorgeous winter mornings and pine trees covered with a blanket of pure, white, new-fallen snow. Eventually, spring comes again, bringing with it new growth, flowers budding, and green plants bursting with life. Soon, the warmth of the summer sun can be felt, along with the cool afternoon breeze that accompanies it. Although the four seasons are not experienced this magnificently in every region of the world, every place on earth has its own natural wonders and beauties. The natural world around us is constantly reflecting the glory of its Creator.St. Paul tells us, “Ever since the creation of the world, [God’s] invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.” (Rm. 1:19-20) God is glorified through His creation. The immensely complex design of every new budding flower and each colorful autumn leaf shows the love of a God who created the world and everything in it for us. With incredible care, He designed each detail, and combined them into a masterpiece of beauty. And He didn’t need to create any of it. He created all of it for us, so that we could enjoy it. The second chapter of Genesis paints a beautiful picture of God creating man and planting the Garden of Eden for him, filling it with various plants and animals, all for him! Everything else that is created exists for the man’s sake. God tells Adam and Eve, “Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.” (Gn. 1:28) Through this command, God gives humanity a great blessing, and also a great responsibility. We are called to be wise stewards of creation, to use nature to glorify God, and to truly care about the beautiful world that surrounds us. It is important for us to appreciate the wonderful creation that surrounds us and to use the resources of the earth wisely. We should always remember the great blessing that God has given us to enjoy in the glory of nature.
Two weeks ago, Pope Benedict XVI spoke to a crowd of the faithful who gathered outside his summer residence to pray with him. (See this CNA news article for August 21, 2006). He spoke to them about the danger of excessive busyness and the importance of taking time to slow down in our lives. The Pope’s words are important for all Catholics. In today’s busy world, we all need to slow down. The Pope quoted St. Bernard, a Doctor of the Church who lived in the 1100s and warned that being too busy can result in spiritual suffering, loss of intelligence, and the loss of grace. If we become too busy physically, we can hurt ourselves spiritually. In today’s world, we are constantly busy. Technology has given us nearly-instant communication and transportation. We are always doing something – we have continuous access to entertainment at our fingertips. Our world is also filled with noise. Radios, i-pods, and cd players give us constant access to music, while cell phones ensure that even when we are alone, we always have someone to talk to. People today spend very little time in silence, whether they are waiting to catch a flight at the airport or stuck in traffic. We are surrounded by a busy, noisy society that places very little value on peaceful silence and reflection. But the more we fill our lives with noise and activity, the fewer opportunities we give ourselves for quiet prayer and reflection. When people are too busy, they tend to be irritable and get stressed out easily. They are in no condition to glorify God through their lives, and they are too busy to see the grace of God at work in the world around them. That is why it is important for us to slow down and take some time to grow closer to God. Instead of thinking of God for just a few minutes when we wake up or fall asleep, our prayers to God should be constant throughout the day. Slowing down will give us more time for reflection in our daily lives. We will be able to see God in the small things that happen every day, to recognize God in the beautiful creation that surrounds us and in the people that we encounter in our lives. We will be able to spend more time throughout the day thinking about God, and as a result, we will be more fully able to offer our entire day and everything that we do to glorify Him. In addition, the more time we spend in silence, the better we are able to hear God. God does not speak to us loudly over a megaphone; rather, He speaks to us in the quiet stillness of our hearts. Therefore, it is important that we know how to listen to Him and hear His voice. In today’s busy, chaotic world, we can easily miss His voice if we do not slow down long enough to listen. Only in silence and prayer can we truly hear what God is saying in our hearts. It is important to our spiritual health that we do not become exceedingly busy to the point that we are never able to hear God speak in our lives. We need to make sure that we are able to spend an adequate amount of time in reflection and prayer. I see the problem of excessive busyness as being a major problem among teenagers as well as adults. Many young people are involved in school, sports, clubs, and other activities. They are often busy from the moment they wake up until the moment they go to sleep. This way of life can become dangerous for teenagers, as it can for anyone. A schedule that is overly busy is not healthy physically or spiritually. We need to remember to allow ourselves enough time to see the goodness of God in our lives. The Lord tells us, “Be still and know that I am God,” (Ps. 46:11) and this is important advice for us to follow as we strive to live as Christians.
“Praise the Lord, who is so good; God’s love endures forever.” (Ps 136:1)We live in a world of change. Anyone who has bought a cell phone, laptop, or ipod recently can testify to this fact. Today’s latest models and hottest technology will become obsolete within a few weeks. New versions are constantly introduced, advertised as “better” because they are smaller, faster, and have the capability to take more pictures and videos. Change is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can become bad when it causes us to lose focus on what is truly important. As technology continues to improve, it becomes necessary to take a step back and examine what is really important in our lives. In a world of “new and improved,” we must remember that some things do not change. Fads and fashions will come and go, but the most important things remain constant through it all.God’s love for us never changes. God tells us, “With age-old love I have loved you.” (Jer. 31:3) Our society tells us that anything old is outdated and has no value, but this is not true. God’s love has no need to be “new-and-improved” because it has been a perfect love all along. Unlike the world around us, God’s love for us does not change. God’s unchanging love can be seen throughout the Old Testament. Even as He was leading His people out of slavery in Egypt and into freedom in the Promised Land, they repeatedly turned away from Him. They worshipped false gods and ignored the commandments that had been given to them. But despite their many sins, God never stopped loving them. Rather, He sent prophets to call them back to Himself. Time and time again, He drew them into His infinite love, never abandoning them, but always showering His mercy upon them. The ultimate sign of God’s boundless love can be seen in the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus Christ, whom He sent to die for our sins in order that we might gain salvation.Today, just as in Biblical times, God continues to love us with a love that is unconditional and unchanging. He loved us into existence, and His love sustains us every day of our lives. If God stopped thinking about and loving us for just a single moment, we would cease to exist. But the Bible tells us that God will never stop loving us, that even “deep waters cannot quench [His] love, nor floods sweep it away.” (Song 8:7)No matter what we do to separate ourselves from God, He continues to love us. Even in the depths of our sin, God loves us completely. There is nothing we can do to erase God’s immense love for us. This is a comforting thought when we feel as though we are so weighed down by sin that we are not worthy of God’s love. God does not love us because we deserve it - we will never be worthy of His love; rather, He loves us unconditionally. His love is not something that changes and falters, but something that remains steady and true despite all obstacles we place in front of it through our sins. In a world of constant change, it is important for us to realize that the one thing that does not change is the one thing that matters most. The vast love of our Heavenly Father is immeasurable and eternal. Nothing we or anyone else can ever do will ever change God’s infinite love for us.
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 18:3) With these words, Christ charges his followers to become like little children. But what does that mean? Surely Christ is not telling us to be irresponsible and immature as little children often are. No, Christ is not telling us to be childish, but rather, childlike. This can be better understood by examining Christ’s next assertion, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 18:4) Being childlike in the eyes of God means being humble enough to acknowledge that God is the One who created us and provides for us. It means accepting our dependence on God and trusting in His divine love and providence.A small child is completely unashamed to ask his parents for the things he needs. If he is hungry, he asks for food. If he is thirsty, he asks for water. In the simplicity of his childhood, he accepts his dependence on his parents. He knows that he cannot provide for himself, and he is always willing to ask for help. Just as a small child will readily ask his human father for the things he needs, we must be unashamed to ask our Heavenly Father to provide for our needs. Too many times, our pride prevents us from acknowledging our need for God. We try to do things on our own, forgetting the words of St. Paul, who reminds us that I can do nothing on my own, but “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13)This is a difficult message for Christians of all ages, but especially difficult for teenagers. In the transition from childhood to adulthood, many teenagers are eager to grow up and try to distance themselves from anything that seems remotely childlike. Because they associate physical and emotional maturity with independence from their parents, it is difficult for them to understand that spiritual maturity actually calls for a greater level of dependence on God. The struggle to understand this truth is made more difficult by a culture that glorifies doing things on your own. Today’s popular movies, books, and songs continually stress the importance of independence and portray asking for help as a sign of weakness.Asking for help, however, it not a sign of weakness, but a sign of humility. Even Jesus, the perfect God-Man, turned to his Heavenly Father in times of need. Christ gives us a perfect example of childlike reliance on God. Throughout his ministry, he relied on God to provide for him, and he was never disappointed. As he suffered his agony in the garden, he cried out “Abba,” a word that can best be translated not as “Father,” but as “Daddy,” a personal, informal address that a small child would use to call his father when he was frightened.Jesus called on the Father as a kind, loving Daddy who would come to his aid. We must do the same. We must acknowledge that God is our merciful, loving Daddy - without Him we can do nothing; with Him we can do anything. We must embrace our dependence on Him and place our trust in Him, living as a small child who is perfectly confident that his father will continue to provide for all his needs. Only then can we truly live as Christians, relying on our loving Father to care for us.
The Da Vinci Code Part 2: The Da Vinci Opportunity…Continued from Part 1Part 1 of this article explained the danger that lies within Dan Brown’s best-selling book and recently released movie, The Da Vinci Code. Part 2 will give Catholics some ideas on how to react positively to the situation that has arisen.First of all, faithful Catholics must decide if they are going to buy the book and see the movie. While some have argued that this is the best way to understand the proposals made by Dan Brown and to dispute them, Catholics should be wary of sending the wrong message to Hollywood. The harsh criticism that the movie has received from many religious figures has been contradicted by long lines at the theater. In this case, actions clearly speak louder than words. The high turnouts to see the movie are telling Hollywood that anyone who chooses to write a controversial book or produce a heretical movie will be rewarded at the box office. This is certainly not the message we want to be sending to our entertainers. Imagine for a moment what would happen if The Da Vinci Code had received a less encouraging welcome at the box office. Dan Brown, along with everyone else involved in the publication of the book and making of the movie, would have seen that their attacks on Christianity were not welcome, and this would have discouraged others from following in their footsteps. Those who do choose to see the movie should be prepared to give it serious thought and discussion. Many Church leaders have called on Catholics to take the controversy surrounding The Da Vinci Code and turn it into an opportunity to spread and deepen their faith. In the countless discussions that are inevitably occurring with the release of the movie, Catholics have a chance to share their faith with others and explain to non-Catholics (and maybe even other Catholics) what the Church truly teaches. Of course, this would require that Catholics be informed about their faith. That is the true opportunity that The Da Vinci Code is providing for Catholics: a chance to become better educated about their own faith. The controversy sparked by the book and the movie has prompted numerous attempts to teach the truth about the Catholic faith. Many books and pamphlets have been published, as well as lectures and discussions being held throughout the country and across the world to inform the public of the truth. Serious Catholics should take advantage of these opportunities to learn more about their faith, particularly Church doctrine and history. However, such learning is not limited to issues dealt with in The Da Vinci Code. Rather, we can always learn more about all aspects of our faith. One of the most beautiful things about Catholicism is that there is always more to learn. We can never exhaust our faith; we can always grow deeper into a relationship with our infinite, loving God.
By now, everyone has heard the arguments surrounding The Da Vinci Code. This controversial book and movie have been dominating the headlines for months. Everywhere you look, you hear about the book’s factual flaws and how many of the claims made in the book are simply not true. But according to its author, Dan Brown, the book is a work of fiction and has no need to be historically accurate. What, then, is the big commotion being caused by the book, and now, the movie? What is the danger in something that is openly acknowledged to be fictitious? How can a work of fiction pose a threat to Catholics?The answer involves not only what is being said in the novel, but also how it is being said. There is little danger in a fictitious novel if its readers clearly understand that it is fiction. However, The Da Vinci Code mixes fact and fiction in such a way that much of its audience will not be able to distinguish between them. And Dan Brown does little to help inform his readers which claims are true and which he has simply fabricated. Rather, he presents the material in a way that subtly suggests that it is all true, while in fact, most of the story’s central ideas are anything but true. The book makes false claims and makes up evidence to support them. Neither these claims nor their evidence have any basis in truth. But readers who do not realize that the evidence is false may be willing to accept the claims as being fact. In this way, The Da Vinci Code can mislead its readers.Yet even with this misleading portrayal on information, Catholics might be able to read the book and watch the movie without a problem if they were better-formed in their faith. The problem for most Catholics today is that they simply do not understand their faith as well as they should. For example, many Catholics have never even heard of the three early Christological Councils and have no understanding of the early heresies that threatened the Church. Both of these ideas, however, are present in the book and movie, and uninformed Catholics can easily be led astray by Dan Brown’s proposals. Even many well-meaning, devout Catholics lack education about the Church’s history and teachings. This lack of knowledge renders them unable to identify the false elements present in The Da Vinci Code, and this is where the book and movie can become dangerous to Catholics. They can lead people to question and doubt their faith needlessly.Questioning one’s faith in not necessarily wrong; rather, it can be a way to examine more deeply the truths of our faith. Such questions, when asked in the correct manner and with the right intent, can actually strengthen our faith. This type of questioning, called positive questioning, seeks a deeper understanding of one’s faith in order to know and live the truth. However, The Da Vinci Code sparks a different type of questioning, negative questioning, which seeks to deny and escape from the truth. The lies hidden within The Da Vinci Code can easily confuse readers who are not well-formed, and such readers may be led to question the truths of their faith. Their lack of knowledge will hide the answers to these questions from them, and since they are uninformed about the truth, they will see only the false evidence provided by Dan Brown. Their unanswered questions may then plant the seeds of doubt in their hearts, and with no reassurance from the culture that surrounds them, their faith could be considerably shaken, if not completely shattered.The danger of Da Vinci is therefore a very real problem for Catholics. The lies that Dan Brown proposes pose an imminent threat to all but the most well-formed Catholics. This is something that all Catholics should be aware of and be prepared to address if they plan on reading the best-selling novel or seeing the movie.To be continued…