Catholicism

Pod people: Covering both sides of what Pope Francis is saying and doing

Pod people: Covering both sides of what Pope Francis is saying and doing

So, Catholic GetReligion readers, is the Pope Francis glass half full today or half empty?

Well, some might say, that depends on whether the person answering is a liberal Catholic or from the conservative side of the church aisle. Is it really that simple? I don't think so.

Consider the stunning news out of Chicago, with the announcement that Pope Francis has selected a bishop admired by the left (which in media reports makes him a "moderate") to take the place of Cardinal Francis George, a hero of the doctrinal right. Is Catholic conservative Thomas Peters right when he claims, while discussing the moral theology of Bishop Blase Cupich:

Pope Francis’ choice of Bishop Cupich should actually pour cold water on liberal hopes of a leftward turn in the American episcopacy.
Yes, Bishop Cupich talks in a way that makes liberals feel comfortable, but the substance of what he says is almost always sound and orthodox. He told the New York Times “Pope Francis doesn’t want cultural warriors, he doesn’t want ideologues”, but do liberals ever stop and realize that cuts both ways?

Peters goes on to note that Cupich has, while speaking with a consistently progressive tone, has acted (with the exception of his decision to discourage priests from praying outside Planned Parenthood facilities) in ways consistent with Catholic teachings -- even when defending marriage. And religious liberty? Yes.

And speaking of the Catholic left, Religious News Service columnist David Gibson has perfectly stated the opinions of those who are dancing with joy after the news from Chicago.

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U2 is 'secretly Christian'? Say what? How long must we sing this song?

U2 is 'secretly Christian'? Say what? How long must we sing this song?

It's not a news piece, but there is a lot of chatter out in mainstream media right now about that Joshua Rothman essay in The New Yorker that ran under the headline "The Church of U2."

I'll be honest. I have no idea what that piece is trying to say, just in terms of the on-the-record facts about the band's history. It's like the last three or four decades of debate about what is, and what is not, "Christian" music never happened. It's like Johnny Cash, Bruce Cockburn, T-Bone Burnett, Mark Heard, Charlie Peacock, etc., etc., never happened. 

Here are the opening paragraphs, including the buzz term that everyone is discussing -- "secretly Christian."

A few years ago, I was caught up in a big research project about contemporary hymns (or “hymnody,” as they say in the trade). I listened to hundreds of hymns on Spotify; I interviewed a bunch of hymn experts. What, I asked them, was the most successful contemporary hymn -- the modern successor to “Morning Has Broken” or “Amazing Grace”? Some cited recently written traditional church hymns; others mentioned songs by popular Christian musicians. But one scholar pointed in a different direction: “If you’re willing to construe the term ‘hymn’ liberally, then the most heard, most successful hymn of the last few decades could be ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,’ by U2.”

Click pause for a moment. 

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Francis's feast is media's famine: Key detail omitted from coverage of Vatican wedding

Francis's feast is media's famine: Key detail omitted from coverage of Vatican wedding

In the media's rush to draw conclusions from the mass wedding at the Vatican last Sunday, where some of the couples being wed had been cohabiting, one point seems to have been overlooked by nearly everyone: Pope Francis's choice of date for the nuptials.

On the Catholic calendar, the Church is currently in the midst of what is called ordinary time. During all of this July, August, and September, there is only one Sunday in which a feast takes precedence over the normal Sunday liturgy.

Pope Francis had his pick of Sundays to preside over the mass wedding, and he chose that very Sunday. It would seem, then, that he wished that the couples would, from then on, remember that feast every year as the one upon which they were married. There is something about the nature of that feast that Pope Francis wanted the couples to associate with their vows.

What feast was it? The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

I believe the pope's choice of date is significant. Currently the media is abuzz with speculation concerning the upcoming Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, particularly with regard to a push among certain cardinals to permit Holy Communion for civilly divorced-and-remarried Catholics. Much of the debate concerns the question of how much the Church should expect members of the faithful to sacrifice. This was also an issue at the time of the contraception debate during the 1960s. At that time, those favoring relaxation of doctrine argued that it was simply too difficult for Catholic couples to follow the Church's ban on artificial methods of birth control. Pope Paul VI responded with Humanae Vitae, in which he quoted Jesus' words in Matthew 7:14: "the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life."

Perhaps Francis is indicating a similar attitude to that of Paul VI by officiating at the mass wedding on the feast marking Jesus' self-sacrificial outpouring, and by making the Cross the center of his homily.

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Biden and nuns on the bus get (mostly) free ride from NYTimes

Biden and nuns on the bus get (mostly) free ride from NYTimes

Do nuns' habits have coattails? To read a New York Times story out of Des Moines, Iowa, the vice president is trying hard to hold onto them.

His latest effort, on Wednesday, was at a stop for the 2014 "Nuns on the Bus" tour -- not coincidentally, a prime stop also for presidential campaigning. It was a natural to link arms with nuns who have promoted liberal causes like Obamacare.

Biden's reported attitude toward their boss, though, was another matter:

DES MOINES — At a Vatican meeting a few years ago, Pope Benedict XVI unexpectedly asked Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. for some advice. “You are being entirely too hard on the American nuns,” Mr. Biden offered. “Lighten up.”
Last year, Mr. Biden seized on an audience with Pope Francis as another opportunity to praise the sisters who remained the target of a Vatican crackdown for their activism on issues like poverty and health care.
And on a visit to Iowa on Wednesday, Mr. Biden literally, as he might put it, got on board with the nuns.
“You’re looking at a kid who had 12 years of Catholic education,” Mr. Biden, wearing a white shirt and a red tie, said before a backdrop of the gold-domed Iowa statehouse and a “Nuns on the Bus” coach bus. “I woke up probably every morning saying: ‘Yes, Sister; no, Sister; yes, Sister; no, Sister.’ I just made it clear, I’m still obedient.”

In what ways he's been obedient after lecturing two popes isn't clear. The story does note that obedience is the issue also with Network, the nuns' group on the tour. They're a subset of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which, as the Times reports, is under a Vatican crackdown.  

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Bone again: MassLive could teach NYTimes how to report on relics

Bone again: MassLive could teach NYTimes how to report on relics

I wrote in this space on Tuesday that the New York Times' coverage of the Archbishop Sheen body battle was missing information on why relics are important to Catholics. By contrast, a recent article by Anne-Gerard Flynn at MassLive.com, although light on theology, captures the sense of the faithful who see in relics a living connection to saints.

Flynn seeks to capture the atmosphere of devotion among those venerating a relic of St. Anthony of Padua on loan to a local parish. She begins with an adept verbal snapshot of one woman paying her respects to the 13th-century Franciscan friar:

Springfield resident Brenda Madison was among the first area residents to venerate the relic of St. Anthony of Padua, and the physical experience of putting her lips to the glass reliquary containing the bone fragment of the saint, born in Portugual in 1195, left her in an emotional state.
"I teared up. I was just so happy. All of these years I have prayed to Anthony, and now I got that close to a part of the saint," said Madison, who attended a brief prayer service, Sept. 6, marking the reception of the relic into the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, at St. Michael's Cathedral.

Flynn's line about how "the physical experience of putting her lips to the glass reliquary ... left [Madison] in an emotional state" is subtle and powerful. Instead of asking an expert in Catholic theology about what it means to venerate a saint, she is trying to capture in words what such veneration means to the believer: physical contact with a person who, although dead to this present world, is alive in heaven.

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Forget black masses for a moment: Some journalists need to check facts on the Mass

Forget black masses for a moment: Some journalists need to check facts on the Mass

Truth be told, I have been sitting out the "black mass" media storms. I have no doubt that, for the ancient churches, we are dealing with sacrilege of the highest order. At the same time, I am very close to being a First Amendment absolutist and oppose blasphemy laws.

So why write about the following ABC News report (as run at Yahoo!) about the new brouhaha in Bible belt Oklahoma?

When you read the story, try to forget the whole black mass thing. Instead, focus on the facts in the story's material about the Catholic Mass itself. Just to keep things straight in some of these quotations, a key voice in this story is the leader of the devil-worshiping group, one Adam Daniels of Dakhma of Angra Mainyu.

The first strange reference is actually pretty mundate.

The upcoming event has generated controversy because black masses  mock Christianity and the rituals that make up their services but organizers see it as an integral part of their religion.

Yes, ignore that "Christianity" is singular and, thus, clashes with the plural reference -- "their services" -- a few words later.

Obviously, a black mass is offensive to all Christians, but that's almost beside the point. The dark rite mocks the belief of Catholics, and other ancient Christians, that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ during the Mass. The whole point is to desecrate what has been consecrated. 

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Concerning Pope Francis, 'trial marriages' and poorly covered media rites

Concerning Pope Francis, 'trial marriages' and poorly covered media rites

When covering major events that are directly linked to the liturgical work and authority of the pope, it never hurts to spend some time reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In this case, let's look at the material found at this reference point: Paragraph 2391 -- IV. Offenses Against the Dignity of Marriage.

Some today claim a “right to a trial marriage” where there is an intention of getting married later. However firm the purpose of those who engage in premature sexual relations may be, “the fact is that such liaisons can scarcely ensure mutual sincerity and fidelity in a relationship between a man and a woman, nor, especially, can they protect it from inconstancy of desires or whim.” 184 Carnal union is morally legitimate only when a definitive community of life between a man and woman has been established. Human love does not tolerate “trial marriages.” It demands a total and definitive gift of persons to one another. 185 (2364)

Now, with that in mind, let's look at some important -- yes, rather picky -- issues of verb tense in the mainstream news coverage of that remarkable wedding rite that took place at the Vatican.

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Tales from the crypt: NYTimes reports on Sheen body battle

Tales from the crypt: NYTimes reports on Sheen body battle

The New York Times took its time getting around to the news that broke Sept. 3 concerning the dispute over the remains of saint-in-the-making Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, but Sharon Otterman's story that went online yesterday is worth the wait.

Otterman, the Times' Metro religion reporter begins with a soft lead before getting to the, ahem, body of the story:

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Peoria, Ill., has already constructed a museum in honor of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, a native son whose Emmy-winning television show during the 1950s brought Catholicism to the American living room. It has documented several potential miracles by him and compiled a dossier on his good works for the Vatican.

It has drawn up blueprints for an elaborate shrine in its main cathedral to house his tomb and sketched out an entire devotional campus it hopes to complete when its campaign to have him declared the first American-born male saint succeeds.

There has been just one snag in the diocese’s carefully laid veneration plans: the matter of Archbishop Sheen’s body.

We are then given some straight-up details: Peoria Bishop Daniel R. Jenky recently announced that the effort to canonize Sheen -- who was nearing beatification -- is being stalled because Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, refused to permit his body to be released from its crypt at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

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In the bloody Middle East, journalists must strive to use accurate labels

In the bloody Middle East, journalists must strive to use accurate labels

At first glance, there would seem to be little connection between the two items that I want to spotlight in this post. The connecting thread is that, every now and then, people in the public square (including journalists) need to be more careful when assigning labels to some of the key players.

So what happened in the Breitbart headline pictured above -- since taken down -- linked to the speech by Sen. Ted Cruz at the recent "In Defense of Christians" conference, an event focusing, in particular, on the brutally oppressed ancient churches of the Holy Land. Surf a few links in this online search to catch up on this media storm on the political and cultural right.

It's a complicated news story, one that hits home for me because of the years I spent in a majority-Arab Eastern Orthodox parish. Trust me when I say that I understand that some Arab Christians are anti-Israel and I have met some who sometimes veer all the way into anti-Semitism. I understand that some focus their anger on Israel, since it's hopeless to curse the radical forms of Islam that have, over decades and centuries, have inflicted so much pain on their families and communities. I understand that some of the Christians who heard Cruz praise Israel, in the bluntest possible terms, were offended. Read the details and make up your own mind.

Now look at that headline. 

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