Facing death

All families, “without exception,” experience death, the pontiff said. Nonetheless, when it strikes a beloved family member, death never seems natural. …

Whenever a family who is in mourning “finds the strength to protect the faith and the love which unites as to all those we love,” he added, “this prevents death from taking everything. The darkness of death is confronted with a more intense work of love.”

“Our loved ones are not lost in the darkness of oblivion: hope assures us that they are in the benevolent and powerful hands of God. Love is stronger than death.”

The Pope added that, in maintaining this faith, the experience of mourning acts to strengthen solidarity within ones own family, and promotes an awareness of the suffering of other families.

“This faith, this hope, protects us from a nihilistic vision of death, as well as the false consolations of the world,” he said. …

He drew attention to the “simple and strong” witness of many families who grasp, through their faith in the Lord’s crucifixion and death, the “irrevocable promise of the resurrection of the dead.”

“God’s work of love is stronger than the work of death.”

Pope Francis

World Meeting takeaways

Michelle Bauman interviews Archbishop Chaput in the wake of the 2015 World Meeting of Families. At the Sunday Mass, Pope Francis announced the 2018 World Meeting would take place in Dublin. Since planning for Dublin will get underway before long, it’s worth spending a few minutes with Chaput on takeaway

What do you hope that the U.S. Church – and the country as a whole – will take away from the Pope’s words?

Francis had important things to say about immigrants, human dignity, religious freedom and other specific issues. But his greatest skill is his ability to help people encounter the core elements of the Gospel in a simple, accessible way. He’s a healer and a guide, not a polemicist. People are eager for that kind of voice.

Some media reports have debated Pope Francis’ words in terms of liberal or conservative. Is this a good approach to viewing the Pope?

It’s a big mistake. He doesn’t fit easily into political categories. People bicker over his comments on climate change, but they miss the deeper implications of his remarks. Nature, including human nature, is a gift. We’re stewards of the world we’ve inherited. Creation – from the oceans and forests to our own sexuality – is not just dead matter we “own” and can manipulate with technology. When Francis talks about man’s abuse of the environment, he means not just the chemical waste we dump into the air but also the poison we pump into our bodies to suppress our natural fertility. His words are more subtle and more far-reaching than simple left/right divisions. That’s easy to miss if we’re too quick to draw partisan conclusions.

What, in your opinion, is the state of the family in the United States? What are some of the greatest challenges that it faces? What are the greatest causes for hope?

The biggest challenge is the hyper-individualism encouraged by our mass media and the dynamics of a consumer economy. Francis touched on this when he was in Philadelphia. Our country was built on individual rights and dignity. That premise works very well as long as individuals understand that they’re part of a larger community and honor their obligations to other family members, neighbors and God. But the more radically we focus on ourselves, the more our links to other people break down. American culture tends to promote a distorted set of individual appetites and illusions. The family and religious faith inevitably suffer.

A more joyful place

Philadelphia during Pope Francis’s visit was also amazing from the perspective of returning Center City to her people. The ability to walk freely through the streets—from the Pine Streets to the avenues—was something I consciously stored in my mind in order to return to it in the future.

John Gruber shared Cory Popp’s short time-lapse film (in 4K, no less) of the city during this special time. Inga Saffron, meanwhile, wrote that “closing the streets opened up the town: “While no one would advocate making the traffic box a permanent feature of the city, this carless weekend has opened our eyes to the possibilities of closing streets and limiting traffic. We’ve seen that closing Center City streets, far from paralyzing the town, can make it a more joyful place.”

Pope Francis

Pope Francis closed out the 2015 World Meeting of Families this afternoon by celebrating Mass in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was a beautiful day, despite being somewhat overcast as Philadelphia makes its way into autumn. I was extremely fortunate to have a great seat for the Mass, and snapped these photos shortly after I arrived, which was about four hours prior, along with a short clip before the mass began:

It’s been surreal to have Pope Francis in Philadelphia, and the few World Meeting events I was able to attend were nourishing ones. Last night, after Pope Francis’s Independence Mall address, I captured a few minutes of his roughly 20 minute address at the Festival of Families:

I want to share that partly because the translator is good, partly because it was a beautiful early nighttime setting from where I watched on Broad Street, but mostly because it shows Francis at his best and with none of the stiffness and formality that had to characterize “bigger” moments of his American tour.

Pope Francis at Independence Hall

I was able to see Pope Francis today. It’s the first time I’ve seen a pope in nearly 15 years, since I was able to see Saint John Paul the Great in Rome in November 2000. After he greeted those assembled on the Mall, he was given a brief tour inside Independence Hall by the National Park Service. As he emerged, the orchestra began a rendition of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. It was a perfect moment.

Pope Francis spoke in Spanish for about twenty minutes on the American founding, religious toleration, globalization, and immigration. The New York Times published Pope Francis’s translated remarks, from which I excerpt some of the more direct and important portions:

In this place which is symbolic of the American way, I would like to reflect with you on the right to religious freedom. It is a fundamental right which shapes the way we interact socially and personally with our neighbors whose religious views differ from our own.

Religious freedom certainly means the right to worship God, individually and in community, as our consciences dictate. But religious liberty, by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families.

Our various religious traditions serve society primarily by the message they proclaim. They call individuals and communities to worship God, the source of all life, liberty and happiness. They remind us of the transcendent dimension of human existence and our irreducible freedom in the face of every claim to absolute power. We need but look at history, especially the history of the last century, to see the atrocities perpetrated by systems which claimed to build one or another “earthly paradise” by dominating peoples, subjecting them to apparently indisputable principles and denying them any kind of rights. Our rich religious traditions seek to offer meaning and direction, “they have an enduring power to open new horizons, to stimulate thought, to expand the mind and heart” (Evangelii Gaudium, 256). They call to conversion, reconciliation, concern for the future of society, self-sacrifice in the service of the common good, and compassion for those in need. At the heart of their spiritual mission is the proclamation of the truth and dignity of the human person and human rights. …

In a world where various forms of modern tyranny seek to suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality, it is imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others.

We live in a world subject to the “globalization of the technocratic paradigm” (Laudato Si’, 106), which consciously aims at a one-dimensional uniformity and seeks to eliminate all differences and traditions in a superficial quest for unity. …

The Quakers who founded Philadelphia were inspired by a profound evangelical sense of the dignity of each individual and the ideal of a community united by brotherly love. This conviction led them to found a colony which would be a haven of religious freedom and tolerance. That sense of fraternal concern for the dignity of all, especially the weak and the vulnerable, became an essential part of the American spirit. During his visit to the United States in 1987, Saint John Paul II paid moving homage to this, reminding all Americans that: “The ultimate test of your greatness is the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenseless ones” (Farewell Address, 19 September 1987, 3).

I take this opportunity to thank all those, of whatever religion, who have sought to serve the God of peace by building cities of brotherly love, by caring for our neighbors in need, by defending the dignity of God’s gift of life in all its stages, by defending the cause of the poor and the immigrant. All too often, those most in need of our help are unable to be heard. You are their voice, and many of you have faithfully made their cry heard. In this witness, which frequently encounters powerful resistance, you remind American democracy of the ideals for which it was founded, and that society is weakened whenever and wherever injustice prevails.

Independence and identity

Pope Francis will be speaking tomorrow on Independence Mall. I was fortunate to be able to get one ticket to the afternoon speech, which I’ve heard will focus on religious liberty, immigration, and identity in a time of globalization.

It’s incredibly meaningful to me that Pope Francis will visit Independence Hall, which is a physical symbol of our Declaration of Independence and its values. Christianity permeates the Declaration’s confident proclamation of some of the self-evident rights of man, but precisely how those rights are best secured for the people is a conversation that will continue for as long as we continue as a people.

It seems fitting to me that Pope Francis will contribute to this conversation tomorrow, even though I suspect some of the Founders would be aghast if they could have seen so far into the future as to witness a pope addressing the nation in front of the Pennsylvania State House.

I’m excited to be there.

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Cultural values

I attended another World Meeting of Families event tonight, this time from The Culture Project, which brought together panelists to speak to different aspects of the Culture of Life at the Loews.

I’ve known a few of The Culture Project missionaries for many years, and when their organization was getting on its feet earlier this year the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia was one of their first supporters. I’ve written before about the Culture of Life as something beyond politics, and The Culture Project speaks to that directly as “an initiative of young people set out to restore culture through the experience of virtue.” In its own way, this is just another echo of President Washington’s insight that “only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.”

In our own time, we’ve slipped into a mentality that privatizes public thought on differences in personal conduct. In essence, we have a sort of cultural libertarianism. Yet it’s not a culture of pluralistic values so much as a culture of value-neutral sentiment.

What were three small things I took away from Loews panel? Insights relating to family life, and the personal virtues that shape public culture:

  • We need to talk with God about our kids before we start thinking about what we say to our kids about sex.
  • Kids need a context for what they’re seeing in the culture, in public life. If you drive past a billboard with provocative messages, address that directly through conversation. The world fills silence with contrary messages.
  • Pray for those who disagree just as you pray for yourself.

World Meeting of Families

Pope Francis arrived in Washington, DC yesterday afternoon after leaving Havana. He’ll speak to Congress tomorrow before heading to New York where he’ll address the UN General Assembly. Finally, he’ll come to Philadephia where he’ll close out the 2015 World Meeting of Families by speaking on Saturday at Independence Hall and celebrate Mass on Sunday at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

So while Pope Francis is speaking and earning headlines this week, Philadelphia is hosting thousands of pilgrims from around the world who are participating in the World Meeting, which is why Francis is here in the first place. It’s an opportunity for renewal among the faithful, culminating in the public witness of the weekend’s public events.

I attended the Collegium Institute’s event last night: “Family: The Home of Holy Anarchy,” which was a presentation and panel discussion on “the nature of the family in an age of scientific control.” I had gotten notice about it from the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council. It was a great, led by Fabrice Hadjadj:

Fabrice Hadjadj, 44, is a French philosopher and prolific author. A former atheist and anarchist, he entered the Catholic faith in 1998. Widely recognized as one of Europe’s rising Christian scholars, Hadjadj’s book Réussir sa mort: Anti- méthode pour vivre, won the French Grand Prix Catholique de Littérature in 2006. Currently Hadjadj teaches philosophy and directs the Philanthropos European Institute for Anthropological Studies in Fribourg, Switzerland. Married to the actress Siffreine Michel, Hadjadj and his wife have four daughters and two sons. In 2014, Pope Francis named Hadjadj as a member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

Some of my meager notes from the night:

  • We understand the family to be the guardian of human freedom and dignity, and its “holy anarchy” comes from its role as the first cell of society, standing apart from the state as a unique institution.
  • “Family as fairytale” is the embrace of its “begotten” nature. It wasn’t something “made” but represents a gift. It is outside of human creation.
  • No technical solution can account for the inexplicability of life.
  • “Made” things have purpose. What’s the “purpose” of new life? Charles, your friend, has no “purpose,” because he is a gift rather than a tool.
  • Christians can be seen as a people of inexplicability, a people of strangeness.
  • The link between our body and our soul is beyond anthropology.
  • The church, a spiritual organism, is now a defender of the flesh—sex, and its created nature.
  • There is a new Gnosticism, not against the flesh versus spirit, but against the flesh versus technology.
  • To explain human dignity today, we have to ground it in the fact that this body is first a Temple of God.
  • Fatherhood as “authority without competence.” Yet there exists a natural responsibility of the soul. A response to “what is.” That is where authority draws its source.
  • We’re cultivating family, not “building” it. It’s not engineering. Culture v. technology.

Philistines

In light of Sean Wilentz’s recent New York Times opinion piece on America’s Constitutional history, and within the context of my approach of “appreciative thinking” as a balance to excessive (and literally) critical thinkers, Rod Dreher shared something a while ago that’s been sitting in my notes:

Reader Richao is tired of the ugly Americans passing philistine judgment on past eras of Western history:

“…I find myself wondering: All these committed modern [people] who find any acknowledgement of the accomplishments of prior eras in Western history so threatening – are they boors only with respect to the Western tradition, or does their boorishness pervade every interaction with the unfamiliar and foreign?

“I can’t imagine traveling with these folks. Well, actually, I can because I have. Every expression of admiration for how certain things are done in the country one is visiting countered with a but-have-you-seen-how-they-treat-their-pets, or a well-yeah-but-look-how-the-men-treat-the-women, and on and on and on in a never-ending stream of obnoxiousness.

“When I reflect on the past and admire certain of its beauties and glories and accomplishments, it’s much like my periodic reflections on my extensive time living in an utterly foreign Asian country. Yes, much of social and business life reflects values that I frankly find offensive or misguided or discriminatory – but I can still admire the admirable and exercise my imagination with sufficient creativity to step into that mode of seeing the world (knowing the language helps) temporarily to savor its particular pleasures without wishing that I were still living there (though even that form of nostalgia has its own pleasures).

“Why oughtn’t I practice the same imagination and generosity with respect to those in our own civilization who have preceded us? Why oughtn’t you? Yes, it’s true that life would’ve been more unpleasant in many respects for any of us than the present day – and more unpleasant in particular ways for those of us who are gay or women – but the same is true of life in a third world country (or even, as in Asia, a sufficiently culturally different first-world country). But many of you, I’m sure, continue to travel to these places, in part to find your imagination captured, to savor a different way of life, a different way of seeing the world. But if held to the standard to which you hold those of us who like to periodically visit and admire the past, well, what’s the point? Alternatively, if that’s not part of why you travel – if you carry yourself abroad in as ugly and unimaginative and boorish a manner as you carry yourself with respect to your past – do us all a favor and keep the ugly American (a phenomenon I believe as common on the left as on the right anymore) at home.”

If it’s true that “the past is a foreign country,” we should treat it like one. That starts with a curious and diplomatic attitude.

Addressing wounds directly

Pope Francis arrived in the United States this week. He’s scheduled to visit New York, Washington, and Philadelphia, where he’ll conclude the World Meeting of Families and celebrate Sunday Mass on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I’ll be there.

Earlier this year Pope Francis addressed family life in a series of public remarks. One of them in particular struck me:

“We know well that every family on occasion suffers moments when one family member offends another,” the Pope told pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square…

The resulting wounds “come from words, actions and omissions which, instead of expressing love, hurt those nearest and dearest, causing deep divisions among family members, above all between husband and wife,” he noted.

Hiding these hurts “only deepens such wounds” and can lead to a buildup of anger and friction between loved ones, the Pope continued.

“If these wounds are not healed in time, they worsen and turn into resentment and hostility, which (then) fall to the children,” he cautioned, adding that when the wounds are particularly deep, “they can even lead a spouse to search for understanding elsewhere, to the detriment of the family.”

Pope Francis’ address was the latest in a series of teachings dedicated to the family. Recent speeches have focused on welcoming childrenvaluing marriagefragility of the human conditionpovertyillness in the family and the death of family members.