prayers

Wait a minute: Catholics have a special 'version' of St. Mary who handles hurricanes?

Wait a minute: Catholics have a special 'version' of St. Mary who handles hurricanes?

I thought I had seen just about everything, in terms of strange news-media takes on ancient-church teachings on prayer and the saints. Apparently not.

Just the other day, I wrote a post praising a news report on this topic, in part because of a short, clear, explanation of the term “venerate,” as opposed to “worship,” when dealing with a relic of a Catholic saint. See this: “Facing the heart of Jean Vianney: Reporters should be careful when covering saints and prayer.”

Now we have this “Oh, no!” headline at CNN.com: “As hurricane season starts, coastal Catholics call on this holy go-between for protection from devastating storms.”

Let’s start with the basics: Do Catholics believe there is some form of divinity, other than the Holy Trinity — God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — who hears prayers and performs miracles?

In this headline the “holy go-between” is clearly St. Mary, the mother of Jesus. The term “go-between” is a bit brash, but does hint at the early church belief that is is proper to ask saints to join their prayers to God for a miracle or an answer to some other request. Are these believers claiming that the saint — St. Mary in this case — has the power to protect them or is that a God thing?

Truth be told, I have heard Catholics say things like “I prayed to St. Name Here and this or that happened.” In most cases, if you ask, “So you’re saying the saint performed this miracle?”, they will pause and acknowledge that it is God who hears prayers and responds, in one form or another.

So we need to see if this CNN.com report gets that right. But that isn’t the main reason a Catholic journalist sent me this CNN link. Check out this overture and see if you can spot the heresy in this news story:

(CNN) As Hurricane Matthew whipped up Florida's Atlantic coast in 2016, Beth Williby got scared.

"That hurricane, in particular, just got my back up," the Jacksonville mom of four recalled. "So, I did what any modern woman would do, and I Googled: Who do you pray to for protection from hurricanes?"

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When it comes to Alex Trebek's 'mind-boggling' cancer recovery, have prayers really helped?

When it comes to Alex Trebek's 'mind-boggling' cancer recovery, have prayers really helped?

In March, when longtime “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek revealed his diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer, he pledged to beat the “low survival rate statistics for this disease.”

Trebek, 78, told viewers he’d do so “with the help of your prayers.”

“So, help me,” he concluded. “Keep the faith, and we’ll get it done.”

Today, People magazine reports that Trebek — in a cover story due on newsstands Friday — said he is in “near remission” and has experienced a “mind-boggling” recovery.

To what does Trebek attribute this amazing turn of events?

“Well wishes” is one way to put it, and People uses that phrase.

But is the answer deeper — more spiritual — than that? More from the magazine:

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Facing the heart of Jean Vianney: Reporters should be careful when covering saints and prayer

Facing the heart of Jean Vianney: Reporters should be careful when covering saints and prayer

This post is brought to you by the letter “V” — as in “veneration.”

Trust me, as someone who has made the journey from being a Southern Baptist preacher’s son to ancient Eastern Orthodox Christianity, I am well aware that talking about prayer and the saints is a theological minefield. Part of the problem is that some Catholics do, from time to time, use language that is a bit, well, sloppy or sentimental when talking about the saints. This then lights fuses for many Protestants who are quick to attack centuries of tradition seen in ancient churches.

Now, mix in a news hook that involves “relics” and you have the potential for mistakes that can cause waves of angry emails to the newsroom.

So here is the Gannett Tennessee wire story that I want to praise. The headline in the Knoxville News-Sentinel version: “Why the (literal) heart of Saint Jean Vianney is coming to Knoxville.”

NASHVILLE — Catholics in Tennessee are lining up to see a relic of a nineteenth century French priest.

The heart of Saint Jean Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, is traveling the country and making a one-day stop at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Knoxville. … On Wednesday, the heart relic was at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville.

After the morning Mass wrapped up, churchgoers stood single file in the center aisle waiting to take in the small, dark object nestled in an ornate, gold case. The relic is considered to be the physical, incorrupted heart of Vianney, who died Aug. 4, 1859.

The faithful took turns quietly kneeling before the relic under the watchful eye of a member of the Knights of Columbus. The fraternal Catholic organization is not only sponsoring the relic's seven-month tour of the U.S., but guarding it while on public display.

Right. The big word is “kneeling.” Here in the Bible Belt that kind of language, and action, can make lots of people sweat.

But the story quickly turns to the Rev. Edward Steiner, pastor of the Nashville cathedral, for an explanation of what is happening and what is NOT happening:

The Catholics who approached the relic are not worshiping it, Steiner said, but venerating it.

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Turn, turn, turn: There's a very good reason you didn't hear from Ira Rifkin last week

Turn, turn, turn: There's a very good reason you didn't hear from Ira Rifkin last week

GetReligion readers who pay close attention to international news, period, and religion trends in international news, to be specific, will have noticed that we didn’t have a Global Wire memo last week from religion-beat veteran Ira Rifkin.

Trust me, this wasn’t because Rifkin didn’t try to hit his deadline. He has filed under some of the most amazingly stressful and even painful situations. We are talking really old-school, on that side of the journalism-skills equation.

Well, last week, Rifkin couldn’t file because he was having surgery. No need for too many details, but everyone thought things were on the up and up, afterwards.

You know that old saying that “minor surgery” is surgery on someone else? This is certainly one of those cases — times 10. There were complications. Thus, I received a follow-up note from Ira about the surgery that included the following material. I think we can all agree that the lede is a bit of an understatement, but that’s Ira.

Life's become even more complex for me. …

I started having seizures  -- a very strange out of body experience -- and my heart stopped several times. I'm back in the hospital. … Strokes and/or brain damage have been ruled out. In any event I needed a heart pacemaker installed. … Though because my heart stopped again while on the operating table, they had to install an emergency one before circling back to install the permanent one.

I'm much better today but extraordinarily weak, mostly in bed and sleeping.

Rifkin will update his status when the time is right, I am sure.

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'Dear Jesus, send some angels': More notes of faith and prayer inside Southwest Flight 1380

'Dear Jesus, send some angels': More notes of faith and prayer inside Southwest Flight 1380

Several years ago, I was flying home from a reporting trip when the pilot came on the loudspeaker and reported trouble with the controls that direct the plane.

He said we needed to make an emergency landing, and rescue vehicles would be waiting as a precaution. But he stressed that the flashing lights on the ground shouldn’t alarm anyone because he didn’t expect any problem landing the plane.

That statement would have provided more comfort if I hadn’t kept asking myself: If the plane were going to crash, would he be so candid as to say so?

“Attention, passengers, I fully expect that we are all about to die. Please buckle your seat belts and get your affairs in order.” 

For an anxious flyer such as myself, that experience was scary enough.

But I can't even imagine what the passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 endured this week. As you no doubt heard, one passenger was killed and seven others wounded Tuesday after an engine exploded. 

However, as I noted Wednesday, devout Christian pilot Tammie Jo Shults is being praised for her "nerves of steel" in calmly maneuvering the plane to the ground and avoiding a much worse catastrophe.

Since I wrote that post, I've come across more faith-filled news coverage that needs to be highlighted.

The New York Times' front-page narrative today on the "20 Minutes of Chaos and Terror" is especially compelling:

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New request from Pope Francis: Pray for journalists to seek truth, cling to ethics

New request from Pope Francis: Pray for journalists to seek truth, cling to ethics

Yes, I'm following the Donald Trump hurricane on Twitter. No, I am not planning to watch the debate.

It's Sunday, for heaven's sake.

I feel like pointing journalists toward some think-piece material that is a bit more uplifting before we all dive back into the hellish White House race that has done so much to validate the concerns of (a) the feel the Bern folks worried about big banks and the power of the top 1 percent and (b) the many theologically and culturally conservative believers who have stood up to members of the old-guard Religious Right who -- even if some were reluctant -- bowed the knee to Donald Trump.

So, troops, who is Pope Francis requesting special prayers for this month?

Did you see this Catholic News Agency headline? "The Pope's latest prayer intention? That journalists be truthful." Here is the top of that:

Vatican City, Oct 4, 2016 / 09:27 am (CNA/EWTN News) -- In his latest prayer video Pope Francis dedicates the month of October to praying for journalists --  specifically that their work would always be motivated by strong ethics and respect for the truth.
The video, released Oct. 4, opens showing scenes of a television studio, recording studio, writing desks and satellites, which flash across the screen as the Pope speaks. Addressing viewers in his native Spanish, the Pope says he often wonders, “How can media be put to the service of a culture of encounter?”
“We need information leading to a commitment for the common good of humanity and the planet,” he said, and, as the faces of different journalists around the Vatican flashed across the screen, asked if viewers would join him in praying for those who work in the field of communication.
Specifically, he prayed “that journalists, in carrying out their work, may always be motivated by respect for the truth and a strong sense of ethics.”

Ah, there's the rub.

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Wait a minute, NPR: Catholics are the only Christians who seek the help of the saints?

Wait a minute, NPR: Catholics are the only Christians who seek the help of the saints?

The other day I received a note from a GetReligion reader who clearly knows some theology.

The email concerned a passage in a National Public Radio story about St. Teresa of Kolkata that our reader knew, since I am an Eastern Orthodox layman, would punch my buttons. The reader was right. There is a good chance that NPR producers know little or nothing about Orthodox Christianity. Hold that thought.

The key to this case study is a very, very fine point of theology that is going to be hard to explain. It's possible that the story may have just barely missed the mark. However, it's more likely that it contains a spew-your-caffeinated beverage error that needs to be corrected.

Let's carefully tip-toe into this minefield. The passage in question focuses on the miracles, documented by church officials, that led to the canonization of the famous Albanian nun known as Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

A key quote comes from Bishop Robert Barron, the auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Read carefully and, well, pay attention to details about theology and church history:

Humanitarian work alone, however, is not sufficient for canonization in the Catholic Church. Normally, a candidate must be associated with at least two miracles. The idea is that a person worthy of sainthood must demonstrably be in heaven, actually interceding with God on behalf of those in need of healing.

Let me pause and note the presence of the word "interceding."

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Muslims praying in Catholic churches? For starters, journalists need to define 'pray'

Muslims praying in Catholic churches? For starters, journalists need to define 'pray'

Raise your hands, gentle readers, if you are familiar with this old saying: "There will always be prayer in public schools, as long as teachers keep giving math tests (or pop quizzes, etc.).

Actually, I don't know about you, but I did most of my public-school praying before Latin exams, and I was not praying in Latin. But I digress.

I shared that old saying simply to note that it only makes sense if the word "prayer" is defined as students sitting silently at their public-school desks praying for help. I would imagine that teachers would frown on a Catholic student getting out her rosary and reciting a Holy Mystery or two out loud. Ditto for students in a religious tradition that asks them to humble themselves with a few deep bows or prostrations. Burn some incense or light a few beeswax candles? I don't think so.

So what, precisely, does it mean to ask if it is acceptable to Muslims to pray in a Catholic church? I ask that question because of an interesting Religion New Service piece that ran the other day, with this headline: "Italian bishop tells priests not to let Muslims pray in churches." Here is the overture:

ROME (RNS) -- An Italian bishop has clashed with a pair of priests who want to invite Muslims to pray inside their churches in a bid to promote tolerance in a diocese in Tuscany.
“The deserved, necessary and respectful welcome of people who practice other faiths and religions does not mean offering them space for prayers inside churches designed for liturgy and the gathering of Christian communities,” Bishop Fausto Tardelli of Pistoia said in a statement. ... They can very well find other spaces and places,” Tardelli said.
The bishop was responding to pledges by two local priests, the Rev. Massimo Biancalani and the Rev. Alessandro Carmignani, to welcome 18 Muslim refugees by giving them space to pray inside their churches.

Note the emphasis on giving the Muslims "space to pray."

This raises all kinds of questions. Religion-beat pros, how many can you think of?

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Taking out the pews, taking out the pews, we will come prostrating, taking out the pews

Taking out the pews, taking out the pews, we will come prostrating, taking out the pews

Now here is a sad little story from this land of ours in which almost anything can be turned into a match to light the fuse on a new battle in the culture wars.

In this case we are not talking about a battle in pews -- because the story focuses on pews that were removed.

Let's go straight to the place that most educators across the country will see the story -- The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Changes in the interior design of a campus chapel at Wichita State University -- lambasted in some online circles as the work of Muslim students -- were, in fact, suggested by Christian staff members and students. The Wichita Eagle reports a former campus minister told the newspaper that removing Grace Memorial Chapel’s pews was intended to make the space more flexible, and that he had suggested the change.
But that’s not how Jean Ann Cusick, an alumna of the Kansas university, saw it. In a Facebook post this month, Ms. Cusick wrote that the changes in the chapel were an “accommodation” of Muslim students. Soon, news outlets like Fox News and Christian Today were weighing in.

Now a personal word. I must admit that the first thing that popped into my mind when I connected "pews" with "remove" -- in the context of Wichita -- was, I am sure, not a connection that would have made sense to others.

The first thing that I thought of was the nationally known establishment called Eighth Day Books -- which may be the best Eastern Orthodox bookstore (mixing in coffee, tea and beer) in all of North America. This is evidence of a very lively and growing Orthodox community in that zip code and I assumed -- naturally! -- that this might have led to a thriving community of Orthodox students on the major campus in town.

Now you know what ancient Christians like the Orthodox are going to want to do with pews, don't you? Get. Rid. Of. Them.

Think tradition! It's hard to do lots of bows and prostrations in a room full of wooden furniture. Right?

But, alas, this was not what people were worried about.

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