Practical Holiness

In his new apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis offers a vision of holiness that is both deeply spiritual and deeply practical. I expected the former. In fact, when I first heard that the document would be about holiness, I wondered if it would have any practical resonance. A reflection on holiness could be inspiring, certainly, but would it speak directly to the challenges of faith in modern life?

I realize now that I did not give the Holy Father enough credit. Throughout the five years of his papacy, he has been consistently concerned with how the rubber meets the road for our Catholic faith. Gaudete et Exsultate is no different. This practical focus is yet another example of Francis the pastor responding to the needs of his flock.

Holiness often seems irrelevant or unachievable in our oversaturated, hyperconnected, postmodern world. Our lives are cacophonous, far from the cloistered silence that we imagine when we think of holiness. We divide our time between jobs, school, family, friends, hobbies, fitness, civic engagement, entertainment, and those rare moments that we can carve out for ourselves. Email, texting, and social media mean that others have access to us at every hour of the day. Silence is a foreign concept.

With all of these competing, urgent demands on our time and energy, faith becomes just one more responsibility to compartmentalize. It has its place in our lives (often, for forty-five minutes on the weekend) but that is where it remains.

Gaudete et Exsultate calls us to resist that compartmentalization, in favor of seeing our entire lives as a journey towards holiness. For Pope Francis, holiness is something we do. It has as much to do with how we carry ourselves through our lives as it does the amount of time that we spend in prayer: “We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves” (14).

There are times when the document reads less like a spiritual reflection and more like a collection of best practices. Take, for instance, his discussion of the Beatitudes (65-94), which examines how each one can be put into practice today. Or, immediately after, read his treatment of Matthew 25, where he connects Christ’s great criterion for Judgment with the current plight of migrants and refugees (102-3). He even talks about how Christians should treat each other online (115). Holiness is active.

At the same time, Francis realizes that our world desperately needs silence. “We are overwhelmed by words, by superficial pleasures and by an increasing din,” he says. “How can we fail to realize the need to stop this rat race and to recover the personal space needed to carry on a heartfelt dialogue with God?” (29). Contemplation and action go hand in hand. Carving out time for silent prayer may be countercultural, but not because it rejects culture. To the contrary, “It is not healthy to love silence while fleeing interaction with others, to want peace and quiet while avoiding activity, to seek prayer while disdaining service…. We are called to be contemplatives even in the midst of action, and to grow in holiness by responsibly and generously carrying out our proper mission” (26).

This is the vision of holiness that we need today: deeply spiritual, active, challenging, and real. Instead of fleeing the world to find God, Pope Francis calls us to a greater mindfulness of God’s presence in our everyday lives and how responding to God’s call sanctifies our daily activity.  In his own words: “We need a spirit of holiness capable of filling both our solitude and our service, our personal life and our evangelizing efforts, so that every moment can be an expression of self-sacrificing love in the Lord’s eyes. In this way, every minute of our lives can be a step along the path to growth in holiness” (31).

John Dougherty is the director of campus ministry at Saint Peter’s Prep in NJ, and you can follow him on Twitter @johndoc23.


Why I’m (Still) Angry at Stephen Hawking

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I get really mad at Stephen Hawking sometimes.

I think about this man – this great, honorable man who taught us so much about the world – and I find myself frustrated by him. Frustrated by his atheism. Confused by his outlook on life – by his unrelenting stance on the meaninglessness of the universe beyond random chance. How could he not see God in that which he studied?

For me, Hawking’s life and death are intimately personal. The disease from which he suffered is one I know too well. My grandmother was diagnosed with ALS with dementia in 2009. She died less than a year later.

I see Steven Hawking, and my first instinct is that it’s not fair. It’s not fair that his family got so much longer with him than I got with my grandma. It’s not fair that he got to live so long with this disease and that because his access to technology and his own body supported him for so long, he’s seen as a miraculous success for this disease with no cure.

But there’s also something about Hawking and his view of life that deeply troubles me. I know well the suffering Hawking had to experience in his life. There were likely moments where he struggled to speak something he desperately needed to express to a loved one, who could not decipher the meaning behind the words that his mouth could not enunciate. He will have woken up one day unable to move his fingers – later, unable to support his body on his legs, and still later unable to eat, drink, swallow. His mind was trapped inside a body that could no longer contain him, and he was given an expiration date and no hope of a cure.

As a devout Catholic and as someone who watched my grandmother and my family grapple with ALS, I have trouble reconciling Hawking’s atheism with his disease – almost as much trouble as I have reconciling his genius, his love of the cosmos, with his belief that there is nothing beyond it. I cannot bear to think that this suffering that he underwent, that my grandmother underwent, and that thousands of individuals per year undergo has no purpose – that it simply is. Read More


God vs. Your Financial Planner

As a financial planner, I encourage people to take control of their finances and plan for their future. I often wonder if this contradicts my faith, which teaches us to entrust our lives to God. Matthew 6:26 tells us that our Father will provide for our needs. Jesus Himself calls us to trust: “No one can snatch you out of my Father’s hand.”

When we take control of our finances, we develop a plan for everything –we determine how much we need to set aside in our 401(k) and IRAs so we can retire comfortably, develop a budget so we can save for a house or a vacation, buy insurance to protect our loved ones from unexpected events, etc. Numerous studies have shown that a comprehensive financial plan helps working families build more wealth, reduce debt, and achieve at least one financial goal.

However, Ignatian spirituality teaches us detachment, where we accept whatever life presents. Having a financial plan necessitates we take control, while our spirituality invites us to surrender to the future that God has prepared for us.

Ultimately, I’ve come to believe that these approaches are not contradictory and that they in fact reinforce each other.

God encourages us to work. Proverbs 6: 6-11 commends the ant that stores food in the summer even without an overseer, in contrast with a lazy man who does nothing and comes to poverty. In the parable of the talents, Jesus alludes to God’s appreciation of putting our talents, gifts, and resources to work, so they may grow. Just like we take care of our own health and visit the doctor regularly, we need to take care of our personal finances, so we can be better stewards of our money.

At the same time, Jesus tells us we are not to worry about anything. The Bible is filled with verses reminding us to not be afraid. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD in Jeremiah 29:11:, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” This establishes God’s good plan for all of us.

We all have life goals. However, as we seek God in our daily lives, we develop an awareness that we do not need to achieve our life goals in order to be happy. We can be happy now, with the gifts and graces that God has bestowed upon us. We can simply view our life goals as preferences. It would be nice to go on a vacation in Paris, for instance. But if we cling on to them too much and believe that achieving them is necessary for our happiness, then we risk becoming enslaved by them.

When we turn to God to fill the void inside us, our urge to splurge on things we don’t need is reduced. When our hearts are filled with gratitude for the gifts we receive each day, we stop comparing ourselves to our co-workers’ latest car acquisition. When we spend less, it makes it easier to work towards giving 10% of our income to our church or charities. When we live a simple life, it frees up the clutter and helps us focus on the things that matter most.

When we develop a financial plan and organize our financial lives, our energy is redirected from worrying about and scrambling for money to helping others and discerning how God is calling us to serve.

I believe all of us need to take steps to get our finances in order. But, more importantly, we need to lift all our efforts up to God and surrender to the future that He has in store of us.

Alvin Carlos is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and Chartered Financial Analyst at District Capital Management. He is a parishioner at Holy Trinity in Washington, DC, a Jesuit parish. He practices Ignatian Spirituality and is currently undertaking the Spiritual Exercises.


Can We Stop Sexual Harassment and Abuse When Most Men Habitually Objectify Women with Pornography?

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the numerous reports of sexual harassment and assault that followed, our nation is engaging in an ongoing conversation about the culture of complicity that allowed such predatory behavior to continue unabated. Over the next few months, we are bound to see (thankfully) many articles describing the pervasive nature of this culture of complicity in other industries (the music industry, service industry, etc.). All of this will hopefully lead to structural changes through enacting laws, policies, rules, and customs specific to those industries. But sexual assault and harassment is a cultural problem, not merely an industry problem, and I fear that focusing on specific industries alone will fail to address the wider culture of complicity, as it exists in society as a whole.

Guilt is an uncomfortable feeling that humans try to avoid, and focusing on sexual harassment in specific industries allows people who are not part of that industry to ignore their own involvement in the wider culture of harassment. Someone who is not in the entertainment industry can easily say, “If I were there, I would have said something. I would not have ignored the obvious predatory behavior,” without recognizing the myriad ways that most people already accept the sexual degradation and harassment of women. In our national conversation surrounding these scandals, although we have sought out hidden contributors to this abusive culture, we have avoided one elephant in the room: porn. Read More


Why Dianne Feinstein’s Approach to Amy Barrett Threatens Latinas

Notre Dame Law Professor Amy Barrett was recently confirmed by the US Senate as a judge for the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. This confirmation, however, did not draw as many headlines as her contentious confirmation hearing.

When Dianne Feinstein questioned Barrett’s qualifications during her Senate confirmation hearing, something gave her “a very uncomfortable feeling.” She believed Barrett’s religious beliefs posed a threat both to her and the country as a whole.

Public discourse surrounding the hearing largely centered on whether or not Feinstein committed a legal faux pas by imposing a religious litmus test. However, I would suggest that Feinstein’s line of questioning has also created a dangerous precedent that may open the door to increased discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or sex.

But wait a second, you might counter—Amy Barrett is white; Senator Feinstein is white. Both are women–where am I going with this and why does everything have to be about race?! I bring this up because Amy Barrett and Dianne Feinstein do not represent or speak for a large number of women in the US, past or present.

Latino Americans make up the largest minority group in the US, and while religious diversity certainly exists within that group, a majority still claim that religious beliefs are important to them and a majority of those continue to identify as Catholic. For generations, many of us have found a way to integrate our faith and left-of-center political views, likely because of the history, culture, and political legacies of the countries our ancestors called home.

Many of these people are women–they are women of color. A precedent of silencing or rejecting a person based on their perceived religious views gives people with racist or sexist inclinations and biases—even implicit biases—an easy road to follow.  “She’s Catholic–she will undermine so much that we’ve worked for,” can easily become a path for denying Latina women positions of power and preserving racial and gender imbalances in influence and power.

Given the Catholics who currently dominate political power and media influence in the US and claim to speak on our behalf, Feinstein’s caution against confirming Amy Barrett is not a clear sign of anti-Catholic bigotry. But it does echo the tactics of past movements that have sought to suppress immigrant Catholic groups and their beliefs in the name of protecting America.

She told people like me that she will determine if I’m worthy of having a voice in her party or if I should stay quiet and just provide her a vote. Her approach threatens where I can and can’t work; what I can and can’t think; who I can and can’t be. If I, and my family, are really American or not. For a feminist who claims she values the contribution of my family to this country, this is pretty ironic.

Desiree Garcia works as a designer in the tech industry, a job that provides more insight into our faith than you may think.


Noah the Environmentalist: The Great Flood and Ecological Justice Today

The story of Noah and his ark is often one of the first biblical narratives children learn and one of those most widely-known by adults. With many Scripture stories being unapologetically anthropocentric, there is something endearing yet dramatic about the inclusion of every perfectly paired-up creature-couple in this perilous tale of survival. With the assurance that, thanks to Noah, every creation breathed into existence by God continues to live, we tend not to think much about the unfortunate members of each species who were left in the waters below the ark’s hull. Yet, when climatic phenomenon such as Hurricane Harvey hit, the plight of those caught in great floods surges to the forefront of our attention. Could this situation have been prevented? Who will save these worthy souls? How will life be restored to right relation after the water subsides? Can I help? The story of the Great Flood and Noah’s role throughout its unfolding suggest much for how humanity is called to act in response to today’s rapidly changing weather patterns and our own, increasingly prevalent, great floods.

The creation accounts of Genesis make known the human call to care for creation (Gen. 1:28). The story of the Great Flood (Gen. 6) clarifies exactly what that means and suggests the interconnected way in which human and non-human creation’s survival must be conceptualized. Anne M. Clifford writes:

God gives Noah a mission. He is to participate in God’s plan for the survival of living species. God instructs Noah to build a huge ark and directs, “Of all kinds of birds, of all kinds of beasts, two of each will come into the ark to stay alive” (Gen. 6:20). The species of the earth that were gathered included clean and unclean, domesticated and wild animals. Many of these animals were of no real use to the people. God’s directive makes the meaning of having dominion clear: Noah and his family are charged with seeing to the survival of the other living creatures (not only the ones of direct benefit to humans).

The survival of all creation is prioritized not because of any direct value or benefit it holds for us personally, but because each creation serves a purpose in God’s grand design and, furthermore, all creation is of God and deserves to live. God’s command to humans about their role in creation’s survival does not present a passive relationship, where we merely coexist, or even a relationship where we consciously refrain from destroying or harming non-human creation. What God’s command calls for is conscious, compassionate action on the part of humanity to see to the survival, livelihood, and flourishing of all.

It is difficult to deny that the rate at which atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, sea water levels, and the earth’s temperature are rising are primarily due to the actions of humans. We know that irresponsible use and abuse of creation has ushered in much of the climate change and environmental degradation experienced today. Storms exist as part of the natural weather patterns on the planet, but warmer oceans produce stronger storms and heavier rains, which in turn increase flooding. “The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted,” Pope Francis writes, by our attempt to dominate and control creation, by our insistence on consuming that which was not meant for our limitless use. He explains, “Responsibility for God’s earth means that human beings, endowed with intelligence, must respect the laws of nature.” This requires looking beyond immediate and personal desires and considering how one’s choices affect the entirety of creation. It is good to aid those suffering in the wake of the storm, but it is better to prevent the storm in the first place by
(as Pope Francis says in Laudato Si) “respecting the rhythms inscribed in nature by the hand of the Creator.” Just as on Noah’s ark, Clifford explains, “human survival and that of animals are intimately related (Gen 7:1-4).” Pope Francis is right: “the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism.” And neither does the world today.

In the biblical story of the Great Flood, Clifford notes, “we find God deeply grieved about the extent of the wickedness of human beings. Their sins result in an ecological disaster of worldwide proportions.” While the particular sins in question may differ, the underlying themes of the Scripture story and our current reality are the same. Act justly or bad things happen. This is not a divine threat, but the natural consequence of disregarding the rhythms and relationships designed by God. Acting in discordance with God’s will brings disaster; acting in accordance with God’s will brings abundant life.

Noah, in an example of right relationship between God, humanity, and non-human creation, is entrusted with all of creation’s care. This gives us direction and this gives us hope. Pope Francis tells us, “Although ‘the wickedness of man was great in the earth’ (Gen 6:5) . . . through Noah, who remained innocent and just, God decided to open a path of salvation…. All it takes is one good person to restore hope!” Imagine the significant impact that can be made by many of us collaborating together and cooperating with God.

On September 1st, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew issued the first ever Joint Message on the World Day of Prayer for Creation, a message that both states and reflects the necessity of working together to restore right relation among creation. Appealing to those in social, economic, cultural, and political positions of power expands their emphasis even beyond the context of theists. Creation care is an issue of universal importance from an ethical perspective. For believers, it is also an issue of salvation.

God designed creation in a way that allows it to survive, to grow, to adapt, to flourish! Human beings are a part of this sacred creation–arguably the only part that has acted in a way that disrupts the incredible design, but also, the only part that has the ability to make it right. With Noah as faithful environmentalist exemplar, we must strive to listen to God’s call in the face of rising storms today. The floods can be prevented and God calls each of us to participate in that mission.

Stephanie Clary will receive her MA in Systematic Theology from Catholic Theological Union as a Bernardin Scholar and currently serves as the Manager of Mission Outreach and Communication for the Diocese of Burlington and the Assistant Editor of Vermont Catholic.


Catholic Social Teaching, Private Property, and the Redistribution of Wealth

As an American, it is difficult at times to think beyond the right/left dichotomy that permeates our economic and political landscape. This often makes it difficult for Catholics on either side of the aisle to understand what the Church teaches about the ownership and use of property. As we should always strive to be Catholics first and Americans second, my hope with this article is to concisely share with you what the Church teaches concerning private property, the common good, and the role of government. I hope to dispel any notion of the Church being capitalist or socialist, as She cuts through and transcends both of these ideologies.

To begin with, the Church recognizes the right to private property. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says, “Private property…constitutes one of the conditions for civil liberty” and “…is an essential element of an authentically social and democratic economic policy…” (Paragraph 176). Further, Pope Leo XIII states, “Private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable. The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners” (Paragraph 46). The defense of private property is one of the reasons that the Church condemns communism (Paragraphs 111-118). Further, the right to private ownership is a natural right given to us by God, not one merely granted by the state (Paragraph 45).

However, while private property is indeed a natural right, it flows from what the Church calls “the universal destination of goods.” The Catechism says, “The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race” (Paragraph 2402). Likewise, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council stated, “God intended the earth with everything contained in it for the use of all human beings and peoples” (Paragraph 69). Read More