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Let’s Get Reacquainted With the Idea of “Offering it Up”

We Catholics who grew up straddling the cusp of the conciliar divide may have a vague memory of the phrase “offer it up.” It was advice frequently given by the sisters who taught us our catechisms: “When you are in pain, when you are disappointed, when your feelings have been hurt, offer these things up to the Lord and ask him to use your suffering” that He join it to His own pain on the cross, for the good of others. Offer it as penance for your own sins, or the sins of those who cannot or will not do penance for themselves; offer it for the sick, the lonely, or for their intentions.” “Penance” has received a bad name over the last forty or so years, largely because it was taught to many in the language of punishment rather than in the language of virtue, offering, and peace. So,…

Amid continued Midwest flooding, Catholic groups step up to help

Omaha, Neb., Mar 20, 2019 / 05:06 am (CNA).- As devastating flood waters continue to rise in parts of the Midwest, Catholics are working to raise funds for both short-term aid and long-term rebuilding efforts.

“Please join Archbishop [George] Lucas in praying for all those displaced or otherwise affected by the ongoing flooding,” said the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska.

A special collection in Omaha this weekend will help fund recovery efforts. Parishes have been asked to evaluate needs in their communities and request funds for both immediate recovery needs and long-term rebuilding.

“Grants may be distributed to purchase water, food, shelter, cleaning supplies, tools, building materials, and tuition assistance for displaced employees,” said archdiocesan spokesman Deacon Tim McNeil said.

He added that funds can go not only to the immediate needs of parishes, but to help with broader community assistance.

Nebraska has been among the hardest-hit states by severe flooding in recent days, although several other Midwestern states have also been affected as a “bomb cyclone” tore through the region last week, bringing with it strong winds and heavy rain. The floods that have resulted have washed out roads, destroyed homes, and burst dams, compounding the damage throughout the area.

The majority of counties in Nebraska are currently under a state of emergency, as are nearly half of the counties in Iowa.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said the storm has already caused “the most extensive damage our state has ever experienced.” Repairing damaged infrastructure could take months, and agricultural losses in ranching and growing crops could reach nearly $1 billion.

As residents scramble to evacuate, watching their livelihoods wash away in front of their eyes, their neighbors are doing what they can to offer support.

Catholic Social Services of Southern Nebraska is currently holding a bottled water drive to help students at Peru State College, who have been displaced for several days and are facing contaminated water for the foreseeable future.

The organization is also accepting donations to aid those who are suffering from the flooding.

“It is at times like these that we are all called to help our friends, relatives and neighbors who are suffering,” Catholic Social Services said in a statement. “Please help us help those who have lost so much.”

St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Elkhorn, Nebraska, is teaming up with Bethany Lutheran, Brookside, Peace Presbyterian and COPE to help with long-term rebuilding support for flood victims.

Proceeds from the March 15 Lenten Fish Fry at St. Patrick’s were donated to flood relief efforts.

Meanwhile, northwestern counties in the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph are in the path of the flood waters.

“The towns are preparing,” said Kevin Murphy, executive director of marketing and communications for Catholic Charities in the diocese.

He told CNA that the major highway in the area has been closed, as the Missouri River is expected to reach near-record flooding levels.

Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph could also be feeling the effects of the flooding in a very direct way - the organization's satellite office in Buchanan County sits just about 5000 feet from the river.

“We are monitoring the situation closely,” Murphy said.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, head of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, offered his prayers as the floods continue, while also calling Catholics to participate in relief efforts.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of life and the damage caused by the flooding throughout the Midwest these past few days,” he said in a March 19 statement.

The bishop prayed “that those affected by the floods will find the strength to rebuild.”

“We trust that the Lord will console them in their suffering,” he said. “Let us answer the Lord’s call to love one another and generously support our neighbors in this time of need.”

He noted that Catholic Charities USA is collecting funds to help flood victims throughout the entire region.
 

Federal court reaffirms tax exempt clergy housing allowances

Chicago, Ill., Mar 19, 2019 / 05:02 pm (CNA).- The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld tax-free housing allowances for clergy, a decision welcomed by pastors, religious organizations, and others who say the allowances make their ministries affordable and strengthen limits on the ability of government policy to interfere with clergy.
 
The law’s effect is “neither to endorse nor to inhibit religion, and it does not cause excessive government entanglement,” the March 15 decision said, adding that Congress has provided federal tax exemptions for religious organizations since 1802.
 
The federal law challenged in court is the Administrative Procedure Act of 1954. It provides that a “minister of the gospel” does not pay income taxes on compensation designated as a housing allowance. Religious leaders save about $800 million in taxes a year due to the benefit, the Associated Press said.
 
Among those who benefit are Pastor Chris Butler of Chicago Embassy Church, on the south side of Chicago, Ill.
 
“This ruling is a victory not just for my church but for the needy south side Chicago community we serve — our youth, our single mothers, our homeless, our addicted, and our victims of gang violence,” Butler said in a statement. “I am grateful that I can continue serving them and living side by side with them to make our neighborhood a safer, more peaceful place.”
 
The religious freedom legal group Becket had intervened on behalf of Butler’s and several other congregations. His church cannot afford a full salary for him, so the housing allowance makes it possible to live near his church.
 
The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation has been challenging the law for a decade, the Associated Press reports. It argued that the law discriminates against secular employees. It argued that clergy can used untaxed income to buy a home and deduct interest paid on mortgage and property taxes, which constitutes “double dipping.”
 
The group is deciding whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
 
Its leadership saw the decision as a significant defeat.
 
“It’s a blow,” Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, told the Associated Press.
 
In 2013 comments on the case, Gaylor criticized “some of these mega-church pastors with huge mansions” who can be paid “an enormous amount in housing allowances.”
 
In 2017 U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that the exemption is an unconstitutional benefit to religious persons and no one else, thus violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
 
The three appeals court judges who upheld the law are Republican appointees.
 
The Becket legal group’s arguments in favor of the exception cited treatment of other employers.
 
For the past century, both Congress and the IRS have recognized the convenience-of-the-employer doctrine, which upholds that employees may exclude housing benefits from their income if the benefits contribute to the convenience of the employer. This doctrine has been applied to religious and non-religious groups alike.
 
Becket argued that if the housing allowance is ended, then the IRS would be discriminating particularly against religious leaders, since other secular workers receive a similar exemption.
 
Holy Cross Anglican Church in Wisconsin and the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia were among Becket’s other clients in the case.
 
Other backers of the law include the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom.
 
“The power to tax is the power to destroy, and so refusing to tax a minister’s housing expenses is simply the best way to ensure the free exercise of religion and prevent the excessive entanglement of government with religion,” Erik Stanley, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said in response to Friday’s ruling.
 
Stanley, who is also director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries, backed the court decision on the grounds that “declining to tax the housing support money that congregations provide to their ministers is not in any way a government establishment of a particular religion or any religion.”
 
Its amicus brief in the case, Gaylor v. Mnuchin, was submitted on behalf of nearly 8,900 ministers and churches.
 
The ADF amicus brief “demonstrated just how many ministers would be directly and negatively affected if those attacking the housing allowance were to prevail,” said Stanley.
 
“The 7th Circuit was certainly right to recognize ‘that the survival of many congregations hangs in the balance’,” he said.
 
The legal group noted that the court decision said a tax exemption does not “connote sponsorship, financial support, and active involvement of the government in religious activity.”
 
“Congressional action to minimize governmental interference with the decision-making process in religions…does not violate the Establishment Clause,” the ruling said.

Maryland House votes to remove statute of limitations for child sexual abuse

Annapolis, Md., Mar 19, 2019 / 04:02 pm (CNA).- The Maryland House of Delegates has approved a bill to entirely remove the statute of limitations for filing lawsuits related to child sexual abuse.

The House voted 136-2 to advance bipartisan House Bill 687 on to the Senate, the Baltimore Sun reports. The bill would allow victims of child sexual abuse to file a lawsuit at any time, and those previously barred from filing lawsuits would be given a two-year window to do so.

Maryland had already increased the age limit whereon a victim could file a lawsuit from 25 to 38 years old. The change was made two years ago.

The sponsor of the bill, Maryland delegate C.T. Wilson, cited his own sexual abuse as a child by his foster father, as well as the Grand Jury report that detailed cases of clerical sexual abuse in Pennsylvania, as reasons he supports removing the time limit for when victims can file suits. He told the Washington Post that he thinks the bill is unlikely to be approved by the Senate.

Lawmakers are considering bills that would extend statutes of limitations in several other states.

On March 7, North Carolina’s Attorney General Josh Stein unveiled legislation called the SAFE Child Act, which has gained bipartisan support in the state legislature. The bill would extend the statute of limitations for misdemeanor child abuse from its current two years to 10 years. It would allow victims of child abuse to pursue a civil lawsuit against the abuser until age 50, rather than the current limit of age 21, and would ban high-risk sex offenders from contacting minors on social media.

A New Jersey bill, which the state’s Senate passed March 14, would allow child victims of sexual assault to file civil lawsuits until they turn 55 or until seven years from the time they become aware of the injury, whichever comes later. Adult victims of sexual assault would have a seven-year time frame after the incident to file a civil lawsuit, or until seven years after they become aware of the abuse, the Wall Street Journal reports. The bill would also create a one-time two-year legal window for civil complaints for anyone previously barred from filing civil actions.

New York recently extended its statute of limitations and created a one-year period during which those who were previously barred to bring their case to court may file lawsuits.

 

Lawsuit says West Virginia diocese knowingly hired sex abusers as teachers

Charleston, W.Va., Mar 19, 2019 / 03:58 pm (CNA).- The attorney general of West Virginia has filed a lawsuit charging that the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and its former bishop knowingly employed sex abusers in roles that worked with children and failed to disclose their backgrounds to parents.

The lawsuit alleges that the diocese advertised a safe learning environment in its schools while employing personnel who had been convicted or credibly accused of sexual abuse.

It says the diocese and retired Bishop Michael Bransfield covered up potentially criminal behavior, failing to be transparent with parents while allowing abusers to work around children.

In a March 19 statement, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston said that it “strongly and unconditionally rejects” the assertion that it “is not wholly committed to the protection of children, as reflected in its rigorous Safe Environment Program, the foundation of which is a zero tolerance policy for any cleric, employee or volunteer credibly accused of abuse.”

“The Program employs mandatory screening, background checks and training for all employees and volunteers who work with children,” it said.

The complaint draws attention to the case of Fr. Victor Forbas, saying the diocese knew of a credible abuse allegation against the priest but still placed him in charge of a children’s camp, and later assigned him as a high school chaplain after undergoing treatment for further accusations. The priest eventually pled guilty to sexual abuse of children in Missouri and went to prison.

It also highlights claims that Fr. Patrick Condron admitted to sexually abusing a student but was assigned to a Catholic elementary school after receiving treatment, without parents being notified of his history.

The suit also says that the diocese failed to conduct thorough background checks in hiring employees, and when the diocese became aware of employees’ histories – which included, in at least one case, a conviction for statutory rape –  it failed to notify parents about them.

“Parents who pay and entrust the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese and its schools to educate and care for their children deserve full transparency,” Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said in a March 19 statement.

“Our investigation reveals a serious need for the Diocese to enact policy changes that will better protect children, just as this lawsuit demonstrates our resolve to pursue every avenue to effectuate change as no one is above the law.”

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston said some of the information in the lawsuit is based on the diocesan public disclosure of accusations of clerical abuse against minors from last November, as well as other information given to the attorney general by the diocese in recent months.

Some of the alleged misconduct described in the lawsuit took place over half a century ago, and some “are not accurately described,” the diocese said, noting that in some cases, reports of alleged occurrences were not made until decades later.

The diocese added that the allegations do not fairly depict the overall contribution of Catholic schools and their employees “who work every day to deliver quality education in West Virginia.”

Bishop Bransfield, who is named in the lawsuit, was restricted from ministry last week, following an investigation by Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, at the request of Pope Francis last September. The pope had accepted Bransfield’s resignation and asked Lori to look into allegations of sexual harassment of adults against the bishop.

On March 11, Lori announced that the results of that investigation have been sent to the Holy See, where a final decision about Bransfield will be made. Pending that decision, Lori said, restrictions are being placed on Bransfield’s exercise of ministry.

Bransfield had led the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston since 2005. During the 2012 criminal trial of two other priests in Philadelphia, he was accused of covering up sexual misconduct by other priests, as well as molesting a minor.

Two witnesses and a prosecutor alleged that Bishop Bransfield “may have known about sexual misconduct by [another priest] or abused minors himself,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Bransfield denied these allegations, calling them “completely false,” and the alleged victim later came forward to say that he was never abused by Bransfield.

Archdiocese of Milwaukee removes names of two bishops from buildings

Milwaukee, Wis., Mar 19, 2019 / 01:57 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Milwaukee announced Tuesday that it will remove from archdiocesan buildings the names of two former archbishops who were found to have reassigned priests accused of sexual abuse.

“As a sign of repentance, and because of the pain caused to abuse survivors and their families with regard to handling the sexual abuse allegations, I will change the name of the Archbishop Catholic Cousins Center,” Archbishop Jerome Listecki said.

The letters on the sign for the Cousins Center – which received that name in 1983 – were removed Tuesday afternoon. The archdiocese said a new name will be announced Friday.

In addition, the Weakland Center, named for Archbishop Rembert Weakland, will be renamed. Located in downtown Milwaukee, the center holds parish offices.

Archbishop William Cousins led the Archdiocese of Milwaukee from 1958 to 1977.

Weakland served as archbishop from 1977 to 2002. His resignation at the age of 75 came amid revelations that he had paid $450,000 to silence an adult male seminarian with whom he had a sexual relationship.

Both bishops failed to remove priests who had been accused, in some cases by dozens of people, of sexual abuse, archdiocesan documents have found.

Archbishop Listecki noted that the idea of changing the building names had been raised for several years.

“As the Church continues to restore trust in its response to clergy sexual abuse, the timing seemed right to do so now,” he said, according to WTMJ radio.

The archbishop voiced hope that the measure would be a step toward healing for abuse victims.

“Whether it be clericalism, a misguided intent to protect the institutional church or the desire to avoid scandal, regard for priest-offenders often trumped care for victims.  For this, I apologize to abuse survivors and to the faithful of this archdiocese,” he said.

Directors speak of ‘spiritual warfare’ while making pro-life film

Los Angeles, Calif., Mar 19, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The writers and co-directors of the upcoming film “Unplanned” have spoken of how they prepared for a “spiritual battle” to make the pro-life film in the hopes that it will change hearts and minds through it groundbreaking depiction of the abortion process.

 

“We, from the beginning, knew that it would be spiritual battle, spiritual warfare. It was prophesied over us that this is not a normal movie,” co-director Cary Solomon told CNA in an interview following a screening for press on March 18.

 

“Unplanned” dramatizes the truth-life account of Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson’s decision to leave the organization and become a pro-life campaigner.

 

Solomon and co-director Chuck Konzelman told CNA that they arranged for a priest to exorcise the set, and bless the cast and props.

 

“We tried to do Mass and adoration as much as we could,” said Solomon. For the Evangelical Christians involved in making the film, similar spiritual guidance was offered.

 

Despite anticipating the usual stresses of the production process, Konzelman and Solomon told CNA that they found “profound moments of tremendous peace” on set, which is atypical of the movie-making industry.

 

“It was amazing. We didn’t have any problems that you would normally have on a movie,” said Solomon. Konzelman agreed, and added that the set of “Unplanned” was “the calmest set [he’s] ever been on.”

 

“There was no screaming, there was no tension--the average day would have no incident,” said Konzelman. “That’s just not normal in filmmaking.”

 

Despite the relative calm on set, other incidents plagued the cast and crew, as well as their families. Thankfully, nobody was seriously hurt, but there have been several close calls.

 

“We've had probably 15 accidents where people or family members of people who worked on the movie, were in a car crash, [...] and the person would just walk away,” said Solomon.

 

“They’ve all been crazy violent,”  he explained. One person survived a bike accident that destroyed her helmet, and a producer’s car was split in half after being t-boned.

 

Lead actress Ashley Bratcher, who plays the role of Abby Johnson, survived a near death-car accident under bizarre circumstances.

 

"Ashley herself, she had a deer, a stag, jump backwards--I've never seen deer jump backwards--on the highway into her car and wiped out her car and almost killed her,” said Solomon.

 

The accident saw both airbags deploy and left Bratcher trapped in her car. “And yet, she got out and walked away. She was stuck on the highway, in the dark."

 

Konzelman said that despite the challenges faced during filming, and the financial hurdles to completing production, he never doubted that there was a higher interest supporting the film.

 

"It took two years for us to raise the money for this film, from the production to the marketing, which I never would have expected that would be the case,” he said.

 

“The Lord has told us this from the beginning--and this is obviously putting it in human speak-- ‘I’ve got this. I got you. Do not fear, for this is for my glory,’” said Solomon.

 

The film provides an uncensored, graphic, look at the realities of abortion, and received an R-rating from the MPAA. “Unplanned” is the first R-rated film to be distributed by Pure Flix, a Christian movie production company.

 

The co-directors previously told CNA that they would not be challenging the rating, which they feared was motivated by the movie’s political message.

 

“No one’s ever seen [a graphic presentation of abortion] before. It’s been very carefully and very studiously avoided by the [entertainment] industry,” Konzelman said.

 

He explained to CNA that Planned Parenthood employs a director of arts and entertainment engagement, “who teaches the mainstream film industry and television industry how to film in accordance with their guidelines.”

 

“Unplanned” is unique, Konzelman said, because it tells the story of the abortion industry from the perspective of someone who was once a part of that industry, and does not sugar coat the reality of abortion. He and Solomon hopes her story will inspire other people to either leave their jobs in the abortion industry, or to change their minds on the issue.

 

“Seeing [an abortion procedure] is what changed Abby’s life. No matter how pro-choice you are, you can’t be more pro-choice than Abby Johnson was,” said Konzelman.

 

Prior to becoming clinic director, Johnson herself underwent two abortions. Both of these are shown in the film.

 

“And yet, one look at the process taking place in front of her eyes in real time, changed her entire life,” Konzelman said.

 

In fact, the film has already changed the perspective of one viewer: Solomon’s father.

 

Solomon told CNA that showing his “far left,” pro-choice atheist father a short clip of the film caused him to change heart entirely on the issue. Solomon shared a clip where two volunteers from the Coalition for Life group pray over a 55-gallon drum containing fetal remains.

 

He said his father told him that “Unplanned” was “gonna change the world” because of its unflinching portrayal of abortion, which was something he had not previously seen or thought about.

 

The movie “showed what we [as a society] never wanted to see,” Solomon’s father told him. “And now when you know, you can’t un-know.”

 

Unplanned will be released in theatres nationwide on March 29. The film is rated R due to disturbing images and violence.

Why Boys Should Have Libraries

I am blessed to be the priest of a parish school, and one of the most delightful aspects is getting to visit each classroom every week, from kindergarten to eighth grade. I pray with the students, provide pastoral care, and answer their questions. One of our students, a young seventh-grader named Hayden, has shown great interest in literature. He and several other middle-school boys regularly ask me about the best ways to foster their intellectual lives, and which books to read. I recently gave Hayden a few books, along with the letter below: ____________ Hayden, Every Catholic man should have a well-stocked library. The reason for this is two-fold. First, Catholic men are protectors of knowledge. This has been our duty since the destruction of Rome in 476 AD, when countless monks and priests dedicated their lives to preserving ancient texts from around the world. You have now been entrusted…

‘The Mind of Pope Francis’

It isn’t easy to write an intellectual biography of a man who frequently asserts that “realities are more important than ideas.” There is no doubt that Pope Francis is a highly intelligent and supple thinker, but unlike his two immediate predecessors, he did not earn a doctorate in either theology or philosophy. As anyone who has read his encyclicals and apostolic exhortations will know, this pope prefers rhetoric, the art of persuasion, to dialectic, the science of conclusive proof. That said, it would be a mistake to draw the contrast too strongly. As Massimo Borghesi shows in his comprehensive survey of the sources that have shaped the pope’s thinking, Francis has read broadly over the course of five decades. This reading informs the way he looks at the world and how he exercises the Petrine Office.

Borghesi’s account is richly documented and quotes generously from Pope Francis’s own words, including four audio recordings that the pope provided specifically for this project. The original Italian edition of the book is subtitled “an intellectual biography,” and The Mind of Pope Francis does indeed follow a generally chronological sequence. In doing this, it relies heavily on Austen Ivereigh’s biography The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.

Like Ivereigh, Borghesi understands the pope’s life and work to be an ever-shifting negotiation of various polarities found in both church and society, polarities that have been locked in struggle throughout his adult life. For example, in the Argentina of the 1970s, Borghesi identifies a polarity between a “revolutionary messianism” (which for him includes liberation theology) and “the anticommunist crusade of men in uniform” (the military dictatorship of Argentina’s Dirty War). Among the Jesuits during the same period there was another polarity between the traditional values of religious life as they had been lived in Argentina, and the new vision of Jesuit life proposed at the Order’s thirty-second General Congregation, one focused on the defense of the poor and the promotion of justice. In a trenchant analysis of Amoris laetitia, Borghesi frames the debate over that apostolic exhortation in terms of yet another polarity: mercy and truth. And related to this is the polarity between the doctrinal element of the church’s teachings and the pastoral element.

Bergoglio’s response to these polarities and others has been to recognize the value in each pole while recognizing the dangers in absolutizing one over the other. He does not, according to Borghesi, propose a “synthesis” that reconciles the two. For one thing, that sounds too much like Hegel (or Marx, for that matter), and Borghesi has an almost obsessive preoccupation with separating the pope’s thought from that particular German tradition (though not from the German Romanticism derived from Hegel’s competitor, Friedrich Schelling). Any synthesis one might arrive at, through dialogue and discernment, is provisional, always subject to renegotiation as the situation changes. This is what it means for reality to be greater than ideas. One reason this pope welcomes dissent and debate is his understanding of the need to respect and preserve an open-ended negotiation of the different values at stake in these polarities. It is always necessary for those representing different sides to keep talking to and with one another, as long as they realize that their unity is always greater than whatever may divide them at the moment.

This general framework for understanding how Francis has approached the conflicts he has had to address as pope is very fruitful, although it carries with it the risk of oversimplifying the different sides of various conflicts in order to emphasize their opposition to one another. This is a temptation to which Borghesi succumbs at times, for instance in his portrayal of the liberation theology of the 1970s and ’80s.

Borghesi has various names for the basic style of thinking that Pope Francis has developed for dealing with conflict, often calling it an “antinomian dialectic.” By using the term “antinomian” Borghesi does not mean to suggest that Francis’s approach is opposed to the moral law, but rather that it recognizes the irreducible—and potentially creative—presence of different sorts of antinomies in human life. For decades, Francis has been attracted to thinkers who recognize this “antinomian dialectic.” Some of them have developed systems of thought—in philosophy, theology, political theory, or history—that work out its details. Others have reexamined the history of the church or of Christian theology from the vantage point it provides.

 

The church for Francis is itself a rich symphony of differences and polarities, a reality that is always greater than any set of ideas.

The story begins in the 1960s during the future pope’s training as a Jesuit. His studies were dominated by a calcified Neo-Scholasticism that was only slowly giving way to the new theologies emerging in the 1950s and ’60s. Under the influence of Miguel Ángel Fiorito, however, the young Bergoglio developed a lifelong interest in the study of Ignatian spirituality. A book by the French Jesuit Gaston Fessard, La Dialectique des ‘Exercices Spirituels’ de Saint Ignace de Loyola, became “a major force in Bergoglio’s intellectual formation,” Borghesi writes. Fessard presents the Spiritual Exercises as a method for discerning a path forward in the presence of a God who is found in the smallest details of life, but who also exceeds even the most expansive horizon for the future that we can imagine. Francis says he was also influenced by Michel de Certeau, another French Jesuit. De Certeau’s biography of the early Jesuit Pierre Favre deeply impressed the young Bergoglio because it emphasized the mystical character of the Ignatian charism, rather than portraying Jesuit spirituality as a rule-bound training regimen for soldiers of Christ. These and similar works laid the spiritual groundwork in which Bergoglio found corresponding intellectual tools in later decades.

During the period when he was a leader of Argentina’s Jesuits, Bergoglio was drawn to a number of Latin American thinkers who provided some of these tools. From the philosopher Amelia Podetti, Bergoglio first learned to think in terms of going to “the peripheries.” He was also drawn to her reading of Augustine’s City of God, which still influences how he thinks about church and state, faith and politics. Meanwhile, he was becoming involved in the so-called “theology of the people” represented by figures such as Lucio Gera, Rafael Tello, and Juan Carlos Scannone.

But Borghesi believes it was the Uruguayan philosopher and social critic Alberto Methol Ferré who had the greatest influence on Bergoglio. And so an entire chapter of The Mind of Pope Francis is devoted to presenting Methol Ferré’s thought, with barely a reference to Bergoglio himself. According to Borghesi, Bergoglio took from Methol Ferré a particular critique of the liberal, technocratic-hedonistic model for society that has dominated our globalized world. Bergoglio also adopted Methol Ferré’s ideal of the Latin American church as a “source church” rather than just a reflection of the church in Europe.

Next, Borghesi turns to the influence of Romano Guardini, whose work Bergoglio was sent to study in Germany in 1986. Although the four maxims the pope often repeats (time is greater than space; unity prevails over conflict; realities are more important than ideas; the whole is greater than the sum of the parts) can be traced back to a nineteenth-century Argentinian politician, Juan Manuel de Rosas, their conceptual underpinnings are largely borrowed from Guardini. Borghesi lays these underpinnings out in helpful detail, and also examines Guardini’s influence on the pope’s diagnosis of modern society in Laudato si’.

Finally, Borghesi explores the influence on Francis of the founder of Communion and Liberation, Luigi Giussani, whose book L'attrattiva Gesù (“The attractiveness of Jesus”) helped shape the pope’s views on the centrality of encounter with Christ, the priority of the pastoral, and the preeminence of mercy.

Along the way, Borghesi presents many other figures—too many to cover here—including Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac, and Hans Urs von Balthasar. Reading this book, one is left with a deep sense of Pope Francis’s intellectual curiosity and aptitude, as well as his originality. In searching for Francis’s intellectual roots, Borghesi has set himself a difficult task: it is really only with Guardini that clear and direct lines of influence become apparent. For other figures, we have the pope’s testimony that he read and learned from their work as a whole, but few direct statements on which particular elements of their thought impressed him. And it is here that one difficulty with this book emerges. Borghesi likes to offer sweeping overviews of a whole system of thought (Methol Ferré’s, for example), but that means the reader is sometimes left to wonder exactly which parts of the system in question actually influenced Francis, and how the ideas of one thinker connect to those of another in the pope’s thought.

Still, Borghesi does succeed in providing a compelling survey of the pope’s various intellectual sources, and in suggesting how they contributed to his fundamental understanding of the world and the church. The church for Francis is itself a rich symphony of differences and polarities, a reality that is always greater than any set of ideas. In highlighting this, Borghesi helps us grasp the intellectual roots of Pope Francis’s belief that differences and disagreements within the church must often be allowed to run their course—because no one, not even the pope, is in a position to say in advance what they may teach us. No doctrinal or theological vision, no matter how conceptually sophisticated, is equipped to resolve all the disagreements preemptively. Finally, Borghesi helps us to see that Pope Francis’s originality comes not only from the depth of his intellectual formation, but also from his practice of looking for the resolution of conflicts not only through careful listening and thoughtful reflection, but also through prayerful discernment. It is exactly the kind of originality one might expect from the first Jesuit pope.

The Mind of Pope Francis
Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s Intellectual Journey

Massimo Borghesi
Liturgical Press, $29.95, 344 pp.

How the Big Easy celebrates St. Joseph

New Orleans, La., Mar 19, 2019 / 03:31 am (CNA).- Catholic culture is everywhere in New Orleans. Mardi Gras is the city’s defining celebration. The city’s cathedral is one of its most well-known landmarks. And in the days leading to March 19, the people of New Orleans take up a Catholic tradition that began in the Middle Ages - they build “St. Joseph altars.”

In recent years, nearly 60 New Orleans Catholic schools and parishes have constructed annual devotional altars, as an expression of gratitude to St. Joseph, and as a labor of love for parishioners, friends, and neighbors.

"The original [St. Joseph’s] altar was built by the people of Sicily in thanks for his prayers to bring an end to their famine," said Sarah McDonald, communications director of Archdiocese of New Orleans.

"Today, they are considered a labor of love. As you are supposed to be working on the altar you are praying to St. Joseph to bless your family and to hear your intentions and pass them on," she told CNA in a 2018 interview.

The tradition began in Sicily, where St. Joseph's intercession is said to have helped the island through a severe famine almost 1,000 years ago. According to legend, people thanked St. Joseph for his prayers by building prayer altars, on which they placed food, pastries, flowers, wine, and, especially, fava beans.

The beans, which are said to pair well with Chianti, were the first crop Sicilians are believed to have grown once their drought ended.

The altars became a custom in Sicily. They came to New Orleans during a wave a Sicilian migration in 19th century.

"In New Orleans we have a very large Sicilian immigrant population coming over in the late 18th century/early 19th century, and with the Sicilian immigrants came the tradition ... of St. Joseph's altars,” McDonald said.

McDonald said the altars were first built in people's homes, for celebration with neighbors and families. They have now moved to parishes and are even found in some businesses, including grocery stores and concert venues.

Constructed over several days, the altars typically are made in the shape of a cross, with three tiers to represent the Trinity. A picture of St. Joseph is placed on the top tier. Altars are typically blessed by a priest.

The altars are covered with baked goods, flowers, candles, fruits, vegetables, and meatless meals. Many of the pastries and cookies have a symbolic meaning: some cookies are shaped as carpenter's tools or the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The food is an expression of gratitude for the local harvest, McDonald said, noting that after the festival canned goods and money are donated to those in need.

To complete the day, many parishes stage a reenactment of the Holy Family's search for shelter in Bethlehem, after which a feast is served.

Called "Tupa Tupa" or "Knock Knock," the custom has children representing the Holy Family knocking on the parish door looking for shelter. Two times the procession is denied shelter, and on the third knock everyone is let in for the feast.

 

This article was originally published on CNA March 19, 2018.