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November 19, 2017
Archive of November 12, 2017

Is the Benedict Option the only option?

Denver, Colo., Nov 12, 2017 (CNA) - When Josh and Laura Martin, both converts to the faith, moved their growing family of six from the city of Dallas, Texas to the hills of Oklahoma, they didn’t necessarily know that they were participating in the “Benedict Option.”

“We initially just wanted to get out of the city and raise our family in a more protected, slower-paced environment,” Josh told CNA.

“With all the families out here searching for the same thing, we gravitated towards it and made the leap.”

They moved to be close to the Benedictine Abbey at Clear Creek, Oklahoma, where dozens of other families from around the country have congregated over the course of the past 15 years or so.

Dubious of the direction in which the morals of modern society seem to be heading, they came in search of a slower pace and a more liturgical life with a community of other like-minded Catholics. Many villagers attend daily morning Mass with the monks before 7 a.m., and the traditional Latin Mass on Sundays. The monastery serves as the center of the community, the monks as a real-life example of religious life to the youngsters.

Journalist Rod Dreher is credited with dubbing this phenomenon “The Benedict Option,” a term inspired by the last paragraph of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s book, After Virtue, in which he wrote about waiting “for another - doubtless very different - St. Benedict.” This new Benedict would help construct “local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages.”

Just as Benedict was looking to escape the crumbling and increasingly anti-Christian culture of Rome, families like the Martins are looking to the hills of Oklahoma to escape today’s secular society, where Christian values are seen as increasingly foreign or even hostile to the status quo. They are disturbed by trends such as the legalization of gay marriage, of the increasing popularity of gender ideology, or the shrinking of religious freedom.

In his recent book, “The Benedict Option,” Dreher calls the new societal trends and values “The Flood,” and argues that Christians can no longer fight the flood - they must figure out a way to ride it out and preserve their faith for generations to come.

“...American Christians are going to have to come to terms with the brute fact that we live in a culture, one in which our beliefs make increasingly little sense. We speak a language that the world more and more either cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears,” he writes.

“The idea is that serious Christian conservatives could no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them.”

Communities like the one surrounding Clear Creek Abbey seem to be the most obvious examples of the Benedict Option, their lifestyles most resembling the villages that grew up around the Benedictine monasteries in Europe centuries ago. However, Dreher does expand the definition to include other forms of Christian communities, like those that form around classical schools, such as St. Jerome’s school in Hyattsville, Maryland. The phenomenon is also occurring not just among Catholics, but among Protestant and Orthodox Christians as well.

Mike Lawless, his wife Kathy, and their children first learned about the community surrounding Clear Creek when they were living in San Diego. They were part of a homeschool group, and lived on the edge of town, as far away from the city hustle and bustle as possible.

But when a friend told them about the families moving near Clear Creek Abbey, the whole family of six (going on seven) loved the idea of the novelty and adventure of moving to the hills of Oklahoma, so they packed up and made the leap.

“What we were looking for was a healthier culture,” Mike told CNA. He wanted to raise his children in an environment that wasn’t heavily influenced by the prevailing secular culture.  

When Josh and Laura Martin moved in 2007, they were expecting their fifth child. They too were looking for a better place to raise their family.

It was rough going at first. The land by Clear Creek Abbey is not great for farming. Josh tried to make the leap from management positions to manual labor, but it ultimately didn’t work.

“I just fell flat on my face, burned up all my money, learned a lot of good valuable lessons I wouldn’t trade for anything,” Josh said. “After 4-5 years we realized that you have to do something that you know how to do.”

He’s now in a management position for a medical device company in the area, and things have been a lot better. Similarly, Mike Lawless tried to make living off the land a priority. But after his attempts at farming and cattle were heading in a “direction that wasn’t positive,” he had to scale back his agricultural projects and return to the work he knew, which was mechanical engineering.

“That romantic vision was shattered there pretty quick when we moved,” Mike said.

Most families in the area do not subsist off the land alone, but there are few options for work in town. The Institute for Excellence in Writing, directed by Clear Creek villager Andrew Pudewa, employs some people in the area. Others, like Mike, do much of their work remotely. Still others make the hour commute to and from Tulsa for work.

Despite the sacrifices, the geographic retreat is an important aspect of the Benedict Option for many of its adherents.

“Being in a rural area, where you’re not maybe as distracted by the noise and goings on of the city, there’s a little bit more quiet, and that silence gives you the opportunity to appreciate (the liturgical season) more,” Laura Martin told CNA.

“There’s fewer distractions, and that is helpful I think in focusing on trying to regain some of the culture that we’ve lost or the connections that we’ve missed in our busy lives, so that element has been really helpful for us to grow in our faith.”  

But one of the main critiques of the Benedict Option has stemmed from this idea of separation - both culturally and geographically. How can the faithful evangelize, as they are called to do, if they embed in communities of likeminded people in remote countryside hills?

“It’s not an insular community,” Josh insists, “but it is a sort of retreat because the cultural forces are so overwhelming that it’s difficult for me to imagine...trying to raise my family in that environment, so somewhere in that mix is the Benedict Option.”  

The Martins are aware of the dangers of becoming too insular. They send two of their kids to public school, and they let their kids play soccer on a local league, which has made them a lot of local, non-Catholic friends. But not everyone in the village agrees on this, or other subjects. The use of T.V. and internet varies widely among families, as do opinions about whether women should wear anything other than skirts (and of what length those skirts should be), or how much contact is maintained with the outside world.

The Martins were careful to specify they spoke only for themselves.

“Out here it’s very dangerous to speak for the community, because...there’s not one unified approach, there are many dissimilarities,” Josh said.

But what there is, is a strong sense of community and a desire to live out the Catholic faith. Whether it’s for funerals, weddings, baby showers, dances, parties - almost everyone is involved, he said.

“Weddings are just a complete madhouse,” Josh said, laughing. Baby showers can sometimes include 60-70 women. When a new family arrives, everyone pitches in to help them move furniture and get settled.

“There’s a huge sense of cohesion,” he said. “Your life is so intertwined with the community. There’s a strong identity of being definitely Catholic that would be very difficult to leave.”

What about parish life?  

For many Catholics, uprooting their lives and moving to Oklahoma (or near other monasteries) simply isn’t an option. The most basic building block of Catholic community and society available to them is their local parish.

Dreher writes of the importance of living in proximity to one’s parish, so that it can all the more easily become the center of one’s life. But Christians must still be discerning about whether their local parish is teaching the true faith, or whether it has been too compromised by the secular culture.

“The changes that have overtaken the West in our modern times have revolutionized everything, even the church, which no longer forms souls but caters to selves,” Dreher writes.

“As conservative Anglican theologian Ephriam Radner has said, ‘There is no safe place in the world or in our churches within which to be a Christian. It is a new epoch.’”

To be sure, parish life has seen significant shifts in the United States. When waves of Catholic immigrants arrived in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they found stability and community in the New World at their local, often ethnically segregated, parish. Often ostracized for their faith in other areas of society, they looked to their parish not only as a source for the sacraments, but as a place to meet friends, host meetings and dances, to rely on as a second family.  

Society has since shifted. As Catholics became more accepted into mainstream society, they no longer looked to their parish as their only source of community. And as ethnic ties became looser, the need for Polish Catholics to go to the Polish parish, for example, dwindled. The hub of Catholicism, once the East Coast, shifted west as people moved out of the city.

But while things have changed, that doesn’t mean that flourishing parishes can’t be found today, said Claire Henning, executive director of Parish Catalyst, a group that studies what makes parishes thrive.

“I’ve become more aware of how I’ve always perceived a parish as a building - but it really isn’t that, it’s a living, breathing ecosystem that expands and contracts depending on who’s there.”

For their recent book “Great Catholic Parishes,” William Simon, founder of Parish Catalyst, identified four characteristics of thriving parishes: shared leadership among clergy and laity, a variety of formation programs, an emphasis on Sunday and the liturgy, and evangelizing to people both in and out of the pews.

One of the main questions these thriving parishes are constantly asking of themselves is: “How do we speak the language of the Gospel to the people of today?” Henning said. “So you need people who are thought leaders to be thinking of that.”

St. Mary’s parish in Littleton, Colorado, is one such parish, with around 1800 registered families, an orthodox Roman Catholic faith and a thriving community life.

“The goal is to be a family of families,” said Linda Sherman, director of family life and service for the parish.

“What we’re looking for is to support families in all their various nuances and ages, to support them in their Catholic faith, and as they are growing in their faith and growing closer to God.”

It can be difficult to create a sense of community in such a large parish, Sherman admits, but the key is getting families involved in ministry.

Perhaps one of the most important ministries that St. Mary’s offers is called Mother of Mercy ministry, the purpose of which is “to fill in the gaps of people who don’t have an existing support system of families in town,” Sherman told CNA.

How it works: anyone can sign up for Mother of Mercy, either offering or asking for services ranging from lawn-mowing to rides to the doctor to babysitting. It connects volunteers with folks who need them, and helps people feel like they have a local support system, she said.

There are also youth groups, young adult groups, family groups and bible studies that allow people to grow in their faith in smaller settings, which then strengthens both their faith and their connection to the parish.

It’s become increasingly important for parishioners to find a community of others who share their faith and values, Sherman said.

“It allows you to be stronger in your faith if you have people around you who support you in your values. And that’s whether you’re newly married or you’re 50 years old and you’re working in a job with people who don’t have the same faith life as you, or any faith life,” she said. “You don’t want to feel like the odd man out.”

And while Dreher expresses concerns about the orthodoxy of many parishes and churches, Henning said it is the churches that focus on liturgy and discipleship that prove to be the best parishes.

“They actually are strategic about planning for discipleship, they challenge and engage the spiritual maturity of their people,” she said.

“And they really excel on Sundays. There’s an intense interest on preparing good homilies, they get the best music they can get, they’re very hospitable. And they really do have a plan for evangelization, they enter into mission, and they have a vision and structure for moving beyond the doors of the church.”

Prayer and the Eucharist are also central to thriving parishes, as Simon points out in his book. St. Mary’s parish has a 24-hour adoration chapel, accessible by code.

“The Eucharist is the source of unity for the parish; is is the supreme action that unites all who experience it to Christ and to the prayer and tradition of the universal Catholic community,” Simon wrote.  

Catholicism in the city: Ecclesial Movements

Another popular form of community within the Catholic Church, particularly in the post-Vatican II years of the 20th and 21st Centuries, has been Ecclesial Movements. These include groups such as Opus Dei, Focolare, or the Neocatechumenal Way.

In e-mail comments to CNA, Dreher said that he did not know enough about Ecclesial Movements to say whether or not they could constitute a “Benedict Option.” But they seem to have markedly different philosophies when it comes to living the Christian life in the world.

Ecclesial Movements seek to re-engage the laity in their faith and to evangelize the world. They include a variety of charisms, educational methods and apostolic forms and goals, and while they have local bases, they are not geographically bound to one location. Many have a presence in countries throughout the world.

Holly Peterson is the director of communications for Communion and Liberation, one such ecclesial movement that was founded by Italian priest Fr. Luigi Giussani.

As a young priest in 1950s Italy, where basically everyone went to Mass and Catholic school, Fr. Giussani began to realize that the faith didn’t actually mean anything to the real, lived experiences of the young students he was teaching. They went through the motions of the faith, but they didn’t seem to know what it meant to really live a Christian life.

“He later defined it by saying that he had this question in him - have the people left the church? Or has the church left the people?” Peterson told CNA.

Fr. Giussani started taking his students on retreats and excursions in the mountains so that he could teach them how to live an authentically integrated life of faith - much in the style of Pope John Paul II, a close friend of Giussani and the movement.

“He understood that...he needed to introduce them to life, because through their experience of life they would begin to understand who God was, who Christ was,” Peterson said.  

As his students grew up and continued following his teachings, a movement was born. Membership in Communion and Liberation is freely given - there’s no registration or membership requirements, and there are many different levels of association, but a standard commitment is attendance at the weekly meetings, called School of Community.

School of Community is more than just a meeting, Peterson said. It’s a chance for catechesis, for members to be spiritually fed, but also for them to develop Christian friendships that grow outside of the official meetings. Members form strong friendships and communities that carry on outside of the weekly meetings. They go out to dinner, help each other with babysitting, have parties, and just live life together.

The movement also has consecrated lay men and women - called Memores Domini - who live in community but work in the secular world. There are doctors, rocket scientists, secretaries, teachers and many other kinds of professions found amongst the members.

But regardless of the level of association, CL members have a markedly different way of viewing the world than the Ben-Oppers.

“We’re not afraid of doom and gloom around the corner, not to say that that’s wrong, but that’s not our style,” Peterson said.

“Instead we desire to dive into the deep end of the pool. We want to be present where people are suffering, we want to do what Pope Francis has called us to do, which is to go to the periphery.”

“And the periphery isn’t necessarily skid row of L.A., though that is the periphery as well,” she added. “My periphery could be my workplace, where everyone might live a pessimism that’s so thick and so sad, where they have absolutely zero hope in front of the reality that we live.”

The Community of the Beatitudes, founded in France, is another active ecclesial movement. Like the name implies, they strive to live the teachings of the Beatitudes within their community. Their charism is Eucharistic and Marian, and in the Carmelite tradition.

The community has consecrated brothers and sisters, as well as several hundred lay members and friends at various levels of association, that are active throughout the world. In the beginning, lay members lived in community with the consecrated members in huge monasteries in Europe that allowed each vocation to have it’s own separate wing. But more recently, the Vatican told the community that the lay members must not live directly with consecrated members.

“Rome said lay must be real lay, you don’t stay set apart,” Sr. Mary of the Visitation, a member of the community in Denver, told CNA.

“So obviously they are lay people, they receive the spirit and the charism of the community, they are full members of the community, they’re fully part of the liturgy, but they live in the world.”

The Community of the Beatitudes, much like Communion and Liberation, quickly spread all over the world. Their apostolates serve the immediate needs of their surrounding communities in various ways - schools, hospitals, catechesis - rather than focusing on one particular type of ministry. Members and friends of the movement regularly come together for meals, liturgy, faith formation and service.

Sr. Mary of the Visitation said that while her community anchors her, she desires to invite more people to live a life following the Beatitudes.

Although rooted in prayer, “we live in the world,” she said. “So if I’m going for a walk in the neighborhood, I will meet people, obviously when they see my habit they will think about God, but then we can have a conversation and go deeper.”

Sr. Mary said that on the one hand, she understands the Benedict Option desire to preserve the good, and to separate oneself from evil. Preserving oneself from too much T.V., or other inappropriate media, is a good thing, she said.

But she also worries that the Benedict Option may look at those in the world as “other,” rather than as brothers and sisters.

“What I dislike in this idea, is that it would mean that the world is bad, and the Benedictine Option is good. But we’re not in a movie with the bad and the good. We are in the reality of life, where the world is within me, and this is the most difficult part is to convert myself,” she said.

“And I really think that my brothers and sisters from the world, I cannot judge them, I cannot be separate from them, because I don’t want to go to heaven without them.”  

There have been concerns among some that ecclesial movements are taking the place of the parish in members’ lives. But lived properly, Peterson said, that’s not the case - movements should serve to strengthen parish communities.

“We try to be very engaged in the parish for that reason,” she said, “doing charitable work, teaching in parish schools, a lot of musicians in the movement are active in their parishes.”

Ultimately, she said, “I think these movements are the way that God is rejuvenating the Church...movements are called to give people life so that they can live in this crazy world here.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 26, 2017.

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What's the most convincing argument against porn? Science.

San Francisco, Calif., Nov 12, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - In 2013, Beyonce Knowles topped GQ’s list of “The 100 Hottest Women of the 21st Century.”

That same year, the “definitive men's magazine” that promises “sexy women” along with style advice, entertainment news, and more ran a shorter listicle: “10 Reasons Why You Should Quit Watching Porn.”

The list included reasons such as increased sexual impotence in men that regularly viewed pornography, and a reported lack of control of sexual desires. It was inspired by an interview with NoFap, an online community of people dedicated to holding each other accountable in abstaining from pornography and masturbation.The site clearly states that it is decidedly non-religious.

Matt Fradd, on the other hand, is a Catholic. Fradd has spent much of his adult life urging people to quit pornography, and developing websites and resources to help pornography addicts.

But even though he’s Catholic, Fradd’s recent anti-porn book, “The Porn Myth,” won’t quote the saints or the Bible or recommend a regimen of rosaries.

“I wanted to write a non-religious response to pro-pornography arguments,” Fradd said.

That’s not because he’s abandoned his beliefs, or thinks that faith has nothing to say about pornography.

“Whenever I get up to speak, people expect that I’m just going to use a bunch of moral arguments (against porn). And I have them, and I’m happy to use them, and I think ultimately that’s what we need to get to. But I think using science...is always the best way to introduce this issue to people.”  

“In an increasingly secular culture, we need arguments based on scientific research, of which there’s been much,” he said. It’s why he cites numerous studies on each page of his book, and why he’s included 50 pages of additional appendixes citing additional research.  

Fradd is careful to clarify in his book that it is not a book against sex or sexuality. What he does want to do is challenge the way many people have come to think about pornography, and question whether it leads to human flourishing.

“This book rests on one fundamental presupposition: if you want something to flourish, you need to use it in accordance with its nature,” Fradd wrote. “Don’t plant tomatoes in a dark closet and water them with soda and expect to have vibrant tomato plants. To do so would be to act contrary to the nature of tomatoes. Similarly, don’t rip sex out of its obvious relational context, turn it into a commodity, and then expect individuals, families and society to flourish.”

But why dedicate a whole book to the scientific effects of pornography?

Fradd said that the sheer volume of pornography consumption makes this an especially urgent book - and it’s at least two decades too late. According to one survey, about 63 percent of men and 21 percent of women ages 18-30 have reported that they view pornography several times a week - not to mention those viewing it slightly less often.

“If we have an iPhone we have a portable X-rated movie theater. And some studies suggest children as young as 8 are being exposed to it,” Fradd said.

Fradd recalls in his book a study done by Melissa Farley, director of Prostitution Research and Education. When Farley’s team set out to do a study about men who buy sex, they had a difficult time finding men who don’t do so.

“The use of pornography, phone sex, lapdances, and other services has become so widespread that Farley’s team had to loosen their definition of a non-sex buyer in order to assemble a hundred-person control group for their research,” Fradd wrote.

Throughout the book, Fradd uses scientific research to debunk numerous and prevailing “myths” or arguments about pornography, including the ideas that pornography empowers women, that it isn’t addictive, and that it’s a healthy part of sexuality and relationships.

One of the most commonly believed myths is that pornography doesn’t hurt anyone, Fradd said. But he has found that pornography harms people personally, relationally, and societally.

On the personal level, a 2014 study from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin found that frequent pornography use in men was associated with decreased brain matter in certain areas of the brain.

The abstract explained that the association may not be causation, but correlation, “which means that if porn isn’t shrinking your brain, it would mean that people with small brains like porn more,” Fradd said.

“It’s not a feather in your cap, either way.”

As for whether or not pornography empowers women, Fradd said that while he agrees that a woman who consents to producing pornography is in some sense “better” than a woman who is forced or coerced, it's not by much, because pornography is still being used by the consumer to treat another person as a means to an end.  

“No matter the level of consent, it is a manly thing to treat a woman who has forgotten her dignity with dignity nonetheless,” Fradd wrote.

Fradd also quotes Rebecca Whisnant, a feminist theory professor, who once refuted the myth of porn as female empowerment in a talk:

“Feminism is about ending the subordination of women. Expanding women’s freedom of choice on a variety of fronts is an important part of that, but it is not the whole story. In fact, any meaningful liberation movement involves not only claiming the right to make choices, but also holding oneself accountable for the effects of those choices on oneself and on others,” she said in a 2007 talk.

These women are also perpetuating a system that robs women, as a group, of empowerment, Fradd said, such as women who are sex trafficked while participating in the porn industry. By some estimates, two million women and girls are held in sexual slavery at any given time.

It’s part of the reason why Fradd is donating all of the proceeds of “The Porn Myth” to Children of the Immaculate Heart, a non-profit corporation operating in San Diego, Calif, whose mission is to serve survivors of human trafficking.

Porn also disempowers the women whose relationships are destroyed by men caught up in pornography addictions, Fradd noted.

“Ask the millions of women whose husbands habitually turn to porn. Do these women feel empowered by pornography?” Fradd asked.

Pornography use in marriage is one way that porn harms relationships. According to Fradd’s research, a survey of 350 divorce lawyers reported in 2003 that pornography was at least part of the problem in half of all divorce cases they saw.

Another commonly believed myth is that marriage will solve a porn addiction, which shows a misunderstanding of the psychology of addiction in the first place, Fradd explains.

But pornography can also damage the relationships of a single person looking for love.

A 2011 TED talk by psychologist Philip Zimbardo said that studies showed a “widespread fear of intimacy and social awkwardness among men,” and an inability to engage in face-to-face conversations with women, Fradd wrote.  

“Why? Zimbardo says this is caused by disproportionate Internet use in general and excessive new access to pornography in particular. ‘Boys’ brains are being digitally rewired in a totally new way, for change, novelty, excitement.’”

And Zimbardo is not alone in his observations. As Fradd notes, neuroscientist William Struthers wrote in 2009 that “With repeated sexual acting out in the absence of a partner, a man will be bound and attached to the image and not a person.”

In other words, men can start preferring pixels to people. According to NoFap’s statistics in 2013, about half of their users had never had sex with a real person, meaning their only experience of sexual intimacy has been digital.

That reason alone has been why many people, men especially, have sought to kick their porn habits, Fradd said.

“I know agnostics or atheists who quit porn literally because they couldn’t have sex with people they were hooking up with. That’s why they quit porn. And these guys are fit, good-looking young men, who couldn’t get an erection around a young woman. But they realized if the woman left and they opened up their laptop they’d get an immediate erection.”

Studies have also shown that pornography addiction is driven by the increase in amounts, and varieties, of material readily available to anyone with access to the internet.

“People find themselves viewing more and more disturbing pornography, and the reason for this is because of a decrease in dopamine in the brain, which happens because of the addiction one has, and they end up seeking out more graphic, violent forms of pornography just to boost the dopamine enough to feel normal,” Fradd said.

“People don’t wake up when they’re 30 and decide to look at child porn or feces porn or something disgusting like that. These are big things that people spiral into, and the industry has to keep pushing the envelope because it’s addictive,” he added.

While the statistics of pornography can be disturbing and depressing, Fradd stressed that there was still hope. He devotes several chapters in the book to protecting children from pornography, dealing with pornograpy in marriage, and getting help for those addicted to pornography.

Fradd himself has spent years in ministry to those with pornography addictions, and helps run the site Integrity Restored, which offers numerous resources to help those struggling with addictions and those in ministry to them.

The most effective steps for someone to follow for someone addicted to porn?

“They should find a spiritual director, they should go to therapy, and they should find a 12-step group (like Sexaholics Anonymous),” Fradd said. “With those three things together, we’ve seen the most success.”

Often well-meaning Christians will relegate pornography addictions to the spiritual realm, telling people that they simply need to pray more, Fradd said. And while prayer isn’t a bad thing, it doesn’t address the psychological aspect of addiction.

“When people do things like put a picture of Mary on their laptop or pray more, it doesn’t actually usually work. It’s not a solely spiritual problem, so what we don’t need is a solely spiritual answer,” he said.

Just as you should encourage a clinically depressed person to seek counseling and therapy, you should also encourage someone experiencing addiction to seek professional help, he added.

Fradd said he’s also been encouraged by the number of celebrities who have recently spoken out against pornography, such as Pamela Anderson, British comedian Russell Brand, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and former NFL player and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” actor Terry Crews, to name a few.

Slowly, he said, society is catching up to the science that shows how harmful pornography can be.

“We’ve reached a tipping point in our culture such that everyone either struggles with porn and/or knows someone who does, and we all see the negative effects,” he said.

“So the porn industry’s cronies can tell us that pornography is healthy for well-rounded adults,  but they now sound like the tobacco apologists sounded like in the '80s. In light of the evidence, their assertions seem increasingly ridiculous.”

Fradd’s book is available at: https://www.thepornmyth.com/

...

This article was originally published on CNA March 26, 2017.

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If you died today, would you be ready? Pope Francis asks

Vatican City, Nov 12, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Sunday Pope Francis encouraged people not to wait to reflect on their lives, but to ask themselves: If this was my last day on earth, am I prepared? Am I cooperating with God’s grace?

“It would be nice to think a little bit: one day will be the last. If it was today, am I prepared?” he asked Nov. 12. “Here, therefore, is the meaning of being wise and prudent: it is not to wait for the last moment of our life to cooperate with the grace of God, but to do it already, from now.”

The basis of the Pope's Angelus reflection on preparing for the Kingdom of Heaven was the day's Gospel passage of the parable of the ten virgins: five wise and five foolish.

In the parable, which he said, "tells us the condition to enter the Kingdom of Heaven," we hear the story of five virgins who are wise and prudent, bringing oil for their lamps while they wait for the bridegroom. The other five, however, are foolish and are not prepared with oil.

Therefore, when the arrival of the bridegroom is announced the five foolish virgins realize, too late, that they are not prepared. Thus, the wise virgins enter into the banquet hall with the bridegroom and the door is closed on the foolish.

"What does Jesus want to teach us with this parable?" Francis asked. He reminds us to be prepared to meet the Lord, which means not only having faith, but also living a Christian life, “full of love, charity, for our neighbor.”

In the parable, the oil is a symbol for charity, he explained, which acts as a light for our faith, making it shine and become fruitful. On the other hand, if we live a life based on self-centeredness and our own interests, then our lives are made sterile and our faith “extinguished.”

"If, however, we are vigilant and try to do good, with gestures of love, sharing, service to our neighbor in difficulty, we can remain calm while we wait for the bridegroom's coming,” he reassured.

Though “the Lord may come at any time,” he continued, “even the sleep of death does not scare us because we have the oil reserve accumulated with the good works of every day.”

Look to the Virgin Mary, he said, who inspires us, through charity, to be active in our faith, “so that our lamp may shine here, on the earthly path, and then forever, at the wedding feast in paradise.”

Following the Angelus, Pope Francis spoke about Vicente Queralt Lloret and 20 companions and José María Fernández Sánchez and 38 companions, who were beatified in Madrid on Nov. 11.

Some were members of the Congregation of the Mission: priests, brothers and novices, he said. And others were laity who belonged to the Miraculous Medal Association. They were all martyred during the religious persecution of the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1937.

“We give thanks to God for the great gift of these exemplary witnesses of Christ and the Gospel,” he said.

Francis then concluded by greeting different pilgrim groups, including groups from Washington, Philadelphia, Brooklyn and New York. When he did, a group broke out in song for a moment, which the Pope paused to listen to. He then thanked them for the song before asking for prayers and wishing everyone a good lunch.

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Cardinal Parolin invokes God's wisdom on the US bishops

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Speaking to the US bishops gathered for the opening Mass of their plenary assembly on Sunday, the Vatican Secretary of State encouraged them to continue their prophetic witness in the face of the challenges facing the country.

Recalling the first reading from the Book of Wisdom, Cardinal Pietro Parolin said this “divine wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit,” which “enables us to serve God by doing his will.”

“May the fire of God's love inspire you as a body to make wise decisions free of all partisan spirit,” he added.

The US bishops were gathered for Mass Nov. 12 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore for their fall assembly. This year's assembly marks the centenary of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which was founded in 1917 as the National Catholic War Council.

The conference “originated in a Spirit-filled and wise response to the human suffering and displacement of the First World War,” Cardinal Parolin noted.

The bishops' conference began as America's bishops cared for those who were “forced from their homes and came to the new world in search of security and a new life.”

The cardinal invoked this past “as the Church in your country seeks to provide healing, comfort, and hope to new waves of migrants and refugees.”

Turning to the Gospel reading of the wise and foolish virgins, Cardinal Parolin urged the bishops to a prophetic witness and “to be a source of wisdom and strength,” saying that “the oil with which the Lord asks us to fill our lamps is above all purity and an authentic personal conversion.”

As olives had to be pressed to produce the olive oil for the virgins' lamps in Christ's parable, so must we stamp out whatever “stands in the way of our growth in Christ: our worldliness, our desire for human respect.”

He applauded the charitable institutions of the Church in the US, and encouraged the bishops to always bring people to relationship with Christ, “which alone brings true joy and satisfies the desires of the human heart.”

The Vatican Secretary of State looked forward to the series of “Encuentros” which are being held to assess and improve Hispanic ministry in the US.

“In this way you are seeking to foster that heightened sense of missionary discipleship which Pope Francis considers the heart of the new evangelization.”

“In the century prior to the founding of your conference, the challenge facing the Church in this country was to foster communion in an immigrant Church to integrate the diversity of peoples, languages, and cultures in the one faith, and to inculcate a sense of responsible citizenship and concern for the common good.”

“At the same time the Catholic community is called under your guidance to work for  a more just and inclusive society by dispelling the shadows of polarization, divisiveness, and societal breakdown by the pure light of the gospel ” he said. He praised the bishops particularly for “defending the right to life of the unborn” and for their concern for ensuring access to health care.

“I cannot fail to mention the contribution made by the USCCB to the discussion of important social issues and political debates, above all, when this involved the defense of moral values and the rights of the poor, the elderly, the vulnerable, and those who have no voice.”

He also discussed the importance of pastoral care, saying that “in this process of accompaniment may you continue to exercise your prophetic office.”

He gave thanks for the Spirit's gift of wisdom shown in the bishops' conference, and concluding, prayed that “you make keep the lamp of faith burning brightly.”

The bishops' fall assembly meetings begin Monday, and will continue through Wednesday.

 

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