Redefining What It Means to be a Role Model

Every few months a celebrity makes a mistake that ends up making headlines, and many parents cry foul: “What? That was my child’s role model!” There are two things very wrong with this reaction.  First, it treats celebrities as superhuman figures who should be above making mistakes. Second, why should a celebrity automatically be treated as a role model?

To begin with, we must remember that celebrities are people. They may excel at a sport or an art, be deemed beautiful or handsome, and grace the covers of our magazines, but they are human. They make mistakes and sin, just as we all do. The difference is that their transgressions are more public than our own. With the paparazzi constantly following them and cell phones everywhere, ready to launch the next viral video, a celebrity is not free to only reveal their sins in the privacy of the confessional. The sins of celebrities are between them, God, social media, tabloids, and the public. This is not fair to them as people. We, as Catholics, must remember that sin, while abhorrent to the Lord, is part of all of our lives. We need to be forgiving and pray that sin will have a diminished role in each of our lives and those who face the added scrutiny of a life lived in the public eye. We all need mercy.

We don’t seem to think it’s enough that celebrities win gold medals, sing beautifully, dance in ways that others can’t, or move us through their fine acting; we also ask them to  have spotless, sinless personal lives. We paint them as role models. In this lies a grave fault. It is perfectly fine to want to emulate the voice, athletic prowess, business savvy, acting skills, musical ability, or even the general professional success of another person. These are career goals—reflecting the desire to reach amazing levels of skill in something that may interest us.

However, painting these celebrities as role models is very different from striving to attain greatness of skill.  The traits we look for in a role model should go beyond the skills we admire and aspire to obtain.  A role model should show us how to live life—to live it well and fully. True role models are people who show us how to be good people. If you ask an adult about a role model, answers usually include parents, family members, teachers, neighbors, or clergy. Our role models aren’t famous, but they are often good, kind, devout people.

As Catholics we have a plethora of role models to whom we can look. While we can certainly strive for greatness in skill, we can also strive for greatness of spirit and love. We need only to look to our saints to find such role models. If a child wants to be a singer, we can direct her to St. Cecelia, patron saint of music, or to Saints Felicity and Perpetua who went to their martyrdom singing praises to God. These saints not only used their voices and talents for good, but they used their hearts for love and holiness.

If a child wants to be an athlete, direct him to St. Sebastian, patron saint of athletes. If a child wants to be a magician, direct her to St. John Bosco who brought children to the Lord through his magic tricks. We have no shortage of role models in our church. All of them had special qualities, perhaps even star qualities in different areas. What they have that our celebrities often don’t are eyes focused on Jesus. They aspire to heaven and holiness while using their gifts.

The next time a celebrity falls from grace, pray for their healing and grace.  At the same time, we need to turn our search for role models back to the Church and her many holy saints.

Gratitude for the Sacred Work of our Daily Lives

Yesterday’s celebration of Labor Day got me thinking about workers and the many jobs they work, both menial and skilled, white and blue collar, so many of which are essential to the functioning of our society. Some of us receive accolades for the work we do, while others get waves from young children enamored by our vehicles or some other eye-catching aspect of our jobs. But many of us work dutifully, regardless of praise or recognition. We work as part of our daily lives. As I reflect upon work and workers, my mind turns to numerous quotes by St. Josemaria Escriva, patron saint of ordinary life and the founder of Opus Dei, which translates as “Work of God.”

“Add a supernatural motive to your ordinary work and you will have sanctified it.”

“Any job, no matter how hidden, no matter how insignificant, when offered to the Lord, is charged with the strength of God’s life!”

“In God’s service there are no unimportant posts: all are of great importance. The importance of the post depends on the spiritual level reached by the person filling it.”

“Work with cheerfulness, with peace, with presence of God. In this way you will also do your task with common sense. You will carry it through to the end. Though tiredness is beating you down, you will finish it off well; and your works will be pleasing to God.”

“Before God, no occupation is in itself great or small. Everything gains the value of the Love with which it is done.”

“Let us work. Let us work a lot and work well, without forgetting that prayer is our best weapon. That is why I will never tire of repeating that we have to be contemplative souls in the middle of the world, who try to convert their work into prayer.”

“Sanctifying one’s work is no fantastic dream, but the mission of every Christian — yours and mine.”

“Work is part and parcel of man’s life on earth. It involves effort, weariness, exhaustion: signs of the suffering and struggle which accompany human existence and which point to the reality of sin and the need for redemption. But in itself work is not a penalty or a curse or a punishment: those who speak of it that way have not understood sacred Scripture properly.

It is time for us Christians to shout from the rooftops that work is a gift from God and that it makes no sense to classify men differently, according to their occupation, as if some jobs were nobler than others. Work, all work, bears witness to the dignity of man, to his dominion over creation. It is an opportunity to develop one’s personality. It is a bond of union with others, the way to support one’s family, a means of aiding in the improvement of the society in which we live and in the progress of all humanity.

For a Christian these horizons extend and grow wider. For work is a participation in the creative work of God. When he created man and blessed him, he said: “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and conquer it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all living animals on the earth.” And, moreover, since Christ took it into his hands, work has become for us a redeemed and redemptive reality. Not only is it the background of man’s life, it is a means and path of holiness. It is something to be sanctified and something which sanctifies.”

“Work is born of love; it is a manifestation of love and is directed toward love. We see the hand of God, not only in the wonders of nature, but also in our experience of work and effort. Work thus becomes prayer and thanksgiving, because we know we are placed on earth by God, that we are loved by him and made heirs to his promises. We have been rightly told, “In eating, in drinking, in all that you do, do everything for God’s glory.”

“And so, as the motto of your work, I can give you this one: If you want to be useful, serve. For, in the first place, in order to do things properly, you must know how to do them. I cannot see the integrity of a person who does not strive to attain professional skills and to carry out properly the task entrusted to his care. It’s not enough to want to do good; we must know how to do it. And, if our desire is real, it will show itself in the effort we make to use the right methods, finishing things well, achieving human perfection.”

Let us sanctify our work in prayer, making it holy. And let us thank each other for the work we do, as all of our work is sacred. We’re never too old to wave and smile or wish someone a blessed day.

Gay Scouts? New Policy, Same Mission

The Boy Scouts of America have officially stated that they will allow openly gay boys to be members of their organization.  This statement brings joy for some and makes others angry.  After 18 years participating in various scouting organizations as both a scout and a leader, I went back to the basics to see if this statement fits with the stated goals of the organization.  In my search, I discovered that being part of a faith tradition was one of the six essential needs of young people that the Boy Scouts of America seek to address.  The organization explains the need for faith traditions in this way:

Young people need faith. There is abundant evidence that children benefit from the moral compass provided by religious tradition. We acknowledge that faith can become an important part of a child’s identity. Each of the major faiths breeds hope, optimism, compassion, and a belief in a better tomorrow. Scouting encourages each young person to begin a spiritual journey through the practice of his or her faith tradition. One of the key tenets of Scouting is “duty to God.” While Scouting does not define religious belief for its members, it has been adopted by and works with youth programs of all major faiths.

In fact, the Boy Scouts of America have many charters by faith organizations who sponsor scouting through their churches or other places of worship.  The Church of Latter Day Saints has the largest number of religiously-affiliated charters, with the Catholic and Baptist churches following closely behind, with the third and fourth largest numbers, respectively. Many of these churches are letting go of their charters because of this recent decision.  One pastor said, “We’re a Bible-believing church, and the Boy Scouts have opted to pursue a different moral path.”

As Catholics, we know that many of our parishes are connected to the Boy Scouts of America.  The boys and young men who participate learn about their faith as well as the other essentials of scouting.  Learning about and practicing faith should not be limited to only kids who identify as straight .  Rather, both those who identify as straight or gay can be faithful to their faith tradition.  I fail to see the Boy Scouts of America following a different “moral path” than the “Bible-believing” church. Continuing to explore the debate, I moved on to the Overview of Boy Scouts of America at the Boy Scouts of America website.  It begins with their mission statement:

The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law.

Now, how does this pertain to gay or straight boys?  Well, it seems that both gay and straight boys can learn to make ethical and moral choices.

What about the Scout Oath and Scout Law?  Let’s look at the Boy Scout Oath, one that all scouts make:

On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty to God and my country, to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, and to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

This is pretty straight forward.  Boys will do a job when needed by God or their country, will obey the Scout Law (to come), help others, and keep themselves strong, thinking, and moral.  Can both gay and straight boys do these things?  Yes.  They can do their duties, obey the law, help people, and be strong, thinking, and moral people.

Now, let’s look at the Scout Law:

A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

Once again, all these qualities can be adopted by both gay and straight boys.

So, I went back to the six essential needs of young people:

Scouting, with programs for young men and women, helps meet these six essential needs of the young people growing up in our society: Mentoring, Lifelong Learning, Faith Traditions, Serving Others, Healthy Living, Building Character

Scouting offers a place where young people can be mentored.  That means that young people will have adults who help guide them to complete tasks and grow to be the best they can.  They will have support to learn and grow.  That brings us to the next need—lifelong learning.  That is something that will help young people to be successful adults.  A good mentor can truly instill a love for learning a variety of things that can last a lifetime. Furthermore, the organization Boy Scouts of America meets the needs of young people by serving others.  A quick glance at the first few pages of their website lists many of the ways in which scouts have served their communities, locally and far away, directly, and through gifts.  Pope Francis has clearly highlighted the need for serving others .   Next, scouts learn about healthy living, both mental and physical.  These things all build a strong and healthy character.

All children in scouting have this opportunity.  They learn to do what is traditionally associated with scouting–tying knots, building fires, earning badges, camping, and completing merit badges by learning about different subjects.  They also learn, through mentoring, to be strong persons and leaders, while also learning to collaborate and cooperate in order to fulfill their duties and tasks.  In short, scouting prepares young people to be future leaders in all sectors.

What is special about scouting compared to other places with mentoring programs?  Growing up is complicated.  Children need a place to be supported.  Some children find mentors in sports, some in schools, and others in music.  Scouting is different because it is not specialized.  Scouts can explore many areas; in fact, they are encouraged to experience as many as possible.  There is a place for everyone. Scouts are allowed to express themselves and grow in who they are.  In fact, each scout is supported in such a way that he can excel with his own personal strengths and overcome weaknesses.  Fulfilling the six essential needs makes sure that all boys do their best.   Being gay does not exempt children from the six essential needs.  Gay or straight, all still have those needs, and those needs must be met somewhere.  Scouting could be a safe haven for boys to grow in a supportive place.

In allowing gay members, the Boy Scouts have not changed their mission, oath, or law.  They have simply said that these can be carried out by boys who identify as either gay or straight.  People who are gay can be faithful and follow the bible and God’s law as moral persons.  Engaging in moral conduct and having a homosexual orientation are not mutually exclusive. And that’s why the US Conference of Catholic Bishops submitted this statement to Catholic scouting families: “We should be encouraged that the change in BSA’s youth membership standard is not in conflict with Catholic teaching.”  Indeed, it does not refute one part of Catholic teaching, as nothing at the core of the organization has changed.  The only difference now is that boys can be free to be themselves, live honestly, and can have a safe place to become the best person that each can be.  Let us, as a Church, keep our Boy Scout charters and support our boys in becoming their best—each and every unique child of God.

God is Indeed Present in Our Schools

Certain politicians argue that God has been expelled from our schools.  But God’s presence isn’t just found in school prayer and displays of the Ten Commandments.  God is always present, though sometimes it takes a tragedy for people to realize this.

Last week we once again saw destruction in our schools, as devastating tornadoes hit Oklahoma. While I saw the wreckage, I also saw that God was not at all absent from our schools.

On Tuesday morning I walked into Walmart and noticed two school buses unloading students. Inside the store, students were in small groups, filling carts with bottled water, gatorade, baby formula, diapers, wipes, flashlights, and work gloves. They stood at the checkout counter while all the other shoppers marveled at their generosity. These children choose to come to Walmart to shop for the victims of the recent tornadoes.

It wasn’t until I returned home that I learned the background behind this school shopping trip. In fact, these children were scheduled to visit the state capitol for an end-of-the-year field trip. Instead of a day of fun, they chose to take the money they would have spent on gas and admission and spend it on supplies for those in need.

When I was in the store, I didn’t hear anyone say anything specific about God, but these children demonstrated what God wants of us. They were giving generously to the “least among us.” God isn’t absent from our schools. He lives in the spirits, hearts, and actions of His children. Outward signs of religion do not lift up God’s people as much as these displays of faith in action that come from within.  Let us look to the hearts of children and not classroom prayers or public displays of Christianity to see that God is truly present in schools.


Keeping Jesus Company

When my son was three he discovered the Tabernacle.  He asked, “Mommy, what is that gold box?”  To make it understandable to him, I answered, “That’s where Jesus goes night-night.”  That seemed like a good choice of words until the next weekend when my son questioned, “Mommy, who stays with Jesus when He goes night-night?”  Wow.  That was not on my radar when I gave the night-night answer.  I responded as best I could, “Well, Mary keeps Him company.” Answer one was a bust, “But Mommy, that’s just a statue.  It’s not real.” So, I tried again, “Well, all the Saints and angels stay with Jesus and the Holy Spirit too.” Answer two was also a bust: “But Mommy, we can’t see them.”  So, I pulled out the one answer that is said to satisfy even the greatest question—”It’s a mystery, son.”  Answer three, to a three year-old, was probably the worst one yet.  So, I deferred to the wisdom of the priest who shared an equally unsatisfactory answer with his audience, citing the fact that Jesus was accustomed to being alone since He had spent forty days in the desert alone and fasting.

After we left, I thought about this question, so innocent, but so full of meaning.  My son’s question had special significance, because at the time he was afraid to go to sleep alone..  He must have projected his fears upon Jesus, thinking that Jesus wouldn’t want to be alone at night either.

And, in fact, He never really is.  Who does keep Jesus company when He goes night-night?  Well, we do.  All across the world, in our universal Church, there are chapels open for Adoration.  We kneel and sit in front of the Divine Presence of the Eucharist, and we keep Jesus company.

On Holy Thursday, with altars stripped bare and the Eucharist moved to a quiet place for Adoration, let us remember that Jesus, despite his forty days in the desert, still longs for us at “night-night time.”  He wants us to keep Him company.

Many years ago Jesus appeared to Saint Margaret Mary, who described His appearance in these words:

Jesus Christ, my kind Master, appeared to me.  He was a blaze of glory—his five wounds shining like five suns, flames issuing from all parts of his human form, especially from his divine breast which was like a furnace, and which he opened to disclose his utterly affectionate and lovable Heart, the living source of all those flames.  It was at this moment that he revealed to me the indescribable wonders of his pure love for mankind: the extravagance to which he’d been led for those who had nothing for him but ingratitude and indifference. ‘This hurts me more,’ he told me, ‘than everything I suffered in my passion.  Even a little love from them in return—and I should regard all that I have done for them as next to nothing, and look for a way of doing still move.  But no; all my eager efforts for their welfare meet with nothing but coldness and dislike.  Do me the kindness, then—you, at least—of making up for all their ingratitude, as far as you can.’

Fr. Michael Gaitley summarizes this, saying, “Behold this Heart which loves so much yet is so little loved.  Do me the kindness of making up for all their ingratitude, as far as you can.”  Yes, Jesus longs for us.  His Heart longs to be kept company at “night-night time.”  Let us all come to him as we can and keep Him company by loving Him as he loved and still loves us.


The Case against an American Pope

Before I begin, please allow me to clarify. I am very thankful to live in a country where I am free to worship and live as I choose. I am infinitely more thankful to be a Catholic person, free to live the teachings of the Church, receive the sacraments, and share in her holiness. The Church is at the center of my Catholic life, and America is where I live out that life.

While centered in the Vatican, our Church is the Universal Church. It must continue to teach from its holy foundations and share the good news. The Holy Father must think of all his children, his flock as a whole. He must be fully consumed by the entirety of God’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Conversely, we live in an all-consuming country. Radio talk show personalities like Michael Savage insist that Americans live in the “greatest country on God’s green earth.”  In an age where manifest destiny should be extinct (what with the earth already fully discovered), our country is still one in which newspapers tie our foreign policy to notions of “exceptionalism.”  We also live in a deeply divided and politicized nation. Finally, despite the divisions in our country, there is a strong undercurrent of nationalism stressing that we should be Americans first and everything else second.

There is no room for this type of manifest-destiny spirit and politicization in the Church. The Church serves one master—God. If an American were chosen as Pope, he would be expected by some to cater to the whims of the American people. He may be expected to be an American first and a servant of the Church second. And it is almost certain that his worldview would reflect in some way assumptions based on American exceptionalism, however much he might hope to be free of these.  This would be a travesty for the Universal Church. In addition, the Catholic Church in America has become a big player in political debates. The Vatican has stated the teachings of the Church and has largely been able to avoid taking red or blue America’s side. An American Pope would not be granted such luxuries by the American press. In America, priests and bishops are scrutinized in the media by journalists and across the internet, particularly in the blogosphere, as if our country should be the focal point of Vatican decisions and dissemination of doctrine. If we had an American pope, this Americentrism would only increase.

This is not to say that we do not have holy American cardinals that lead their flocks with great faith and trust in God. We do. These cardinals are focused on sharing the Word of God and increasing the faithfulness of their flock. Unfortunately, this flock often places itself at the center of the Church and the demands that they place upon the Holy See are great. If one of our cardinals were to be pope, the demands would only increase. Contemporary Americans, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, would likely exert tremendous pressure on any pope, making ministry to the worldwide Church very difficult—even more so if the pope happened to come from the United States.

Should we hope that someday there will be an American Pope? Yes. We should hope and pray that someday our country will foster the faith of someone with a heart for people of all nations, someone who will be a strong and inspirational leader willing to stand for the Church and her holiness.  However, America does not seem ready to yield such a figure at this time within the current political climate. We should instead pray for a person who can unite our Universal and Holy Church to make her truly one. We should pray for someone who has a heart for people of all nations, especially the least among us. Regardless of provenance, the faith, heart, and leadership abilities of the new Pope will be what takes our Church into the future.


We Say Yes

We’ve explored how to leave the door open when the Church says no.  That open door gives us a chance to say yes.  We are, after all, a Church built on yeses.

In the Old Testament, those who laid the foundation for our Church said “yes.”  Abraham said “yes” to God when he was called.  Abraham said “yes” even to the sacrifice of his son.  Noah said “yes.”  Moses said “yes.”  The prophets and kings said “yes.” David said “yes.”

The New Testament beings with a holy “yes,” that of our Blessed Mother Mary. The Apostles said “yes”.  Peter said “yes” three times as he pledged to love the flock of Christ.  All the saints said “yes,” through pain, suffering, martyrdom, exhaustion, poverty, and, of course, faith and joy.

Today we have the chance to say “yes” as well.  Just as Peter and Mary, we say “yes” to love.  We say “yes” to loving our neighbor.  We say “yes” to loving our enemies. We say “yes” to loving the downtrodden, the marginalized, the outcasts.  We say “yes” to feeding the hungry. We say “yes” to clothing the naked. We say “yes” to visiting the sick. We say “yes” to caring for the poor.  We say “yes” to sharing the Gospel message.  We say “yes” to living our faith.  We say “yes” to receiving the Sacraments. We say “yes” to visiting the imprisoned.  We even say “yes” to loving criminals.

We say “yes” to forgiveness—both giving and receiving. We say “yes” to grace.  We say “yes” to mercy.  We say “yes” to healing. We say “yes” to trust. We say “yes” to obedience. We say “yes” to holiness.  We say “yes” to joy.  We say “yes” to  love.

Even more powerful is the fact that this is a constant “yes.”  When Mary said “yes” she didn’t just say it once.  She said “yes” on her journey to visit her cousin Elizabeth.  She said “yes” when she couldn’t find Jesus in the temple.  She said “yes” when she asked Jesus to perform his first miracle when she knew he would help even in our smallest needs.  She said “yes” on the road to Calvary.  Her “yes” was constant and steady.  We, too, need to say “yes” not once, but on a daily, minute-by-minute basis.

Let us characterize our Church with our “yes.”  Yes to forgiveness. Yes to compassion.  Yes to holiness.  Yes to grace.  Yes to mercy.  Yes to love.  Yes.