Cardinal Chito and the Power of Christian Witness

If Pope Francis’ successor is Pope Francis II, there is a very good chance that Cardinal Luis Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila, will be the man who has succeeded him. And it’s easy to see why.

In I Have Learned From the Least, Cardinal Chito, as he is affectionately known to so many, provides us with an overview of his background and insights into his approach as a bishop, teacher, thinker, and man of God. What stands out most are his integrity, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and commitment to living a life of love.

Cardinal Chito is the paradigmatic ‘Francis Bishop’. His smile, kindness, and infectious joy draw people in to hear the Good News. His focus on the poor and vulnerable reflects the priorities and commands of Christ. He discusses the importance of meeting with the poor—listening and learning from them. Though possessing strong academic credentials, he is conscious of ensuring that abstract ideas do not distort concrete reality. Echoing Pope Francis, he says that theologians should smell of sheep a bit more.

His disciplined, precise mind is used to foster dialogue and fraternity rather than to feed culture wars and legalistic hunts for those who defy subjective purity tests. He notes that “when church leaders speak like angry politicians rather than as loving pastors, young people no longer want to listen to them.” He understands the importance of welcoming young people and fostering a sense of belonging, especially for those who have moved away from their families and feel isolated and alienated. This drives his welcoming approach, while motivating him to reach out to young people wherever they might be, even on social media.

He discusses the threats that consumerism, materialism, and secularism pose to young people without slipping into scolding those who may have been tempted by such false paths. He understands the power of witness. Young people need to see an alternative to those paths. They need to see faithful Christians who live out their faith, who live with authenticity, and live lives worthy of admiration and emulation.

Authenticity as a Christian means showing a sincere, consistent commitment to social justice, and Cardinal Chito’s commitment to the common good is clear. He talks about democracy and human rights. He calls out politicians for ignoring the poor. He emphasizes the need to care for God’s creation, noting that the poor and vulnerable are the first to suffer from the effects of climate change. He shows a keen understanding of migration—its root causes and its effects. He discusses the need to humanize globalization so that its benefits are more inclusive. This all reflects his commitment to Catholic social teaching and Gospel values. It shows a Christian worldview that takes its personalism and communitarianism not merely from philosophy or theology books but through encounter, especially with the poor and vulnerable.

In reading the book, one gets the sense that this is a person who is fully secure in his faith, his commitment to the poor, and his belief that love should animate his actions. He does not cling to the truth out of fear or insecurities. This confidence and comfort allows him to listen, engage in dialogue, and place his trust in God.


The Catholic Catalogue: Living a Catholic Life in the 21st Century

I received my copy of The Catholic Catalogue by Melissa Musick and Anna Keating on Fat Tuesday. Earlier in the day I googled “shrove” to see why it is sometimes referred to as Shrove Tuesday. I didn’t realize that I would have the field guide to such questions in my hands a few hours later. The book, which is immensely practical, interesting, and helpful, defines many of the terms that surround Catholic holidays, rituals, and customs. It provides an overview of the cultural practices of the Catholic faith, drawing on our rich tradition and practices from around the world.catholic-catalogue-melissa-musick-anna-keating-r

The book will appeal to Catholics of all stripes, but particularly to millennials and others who are interested in integrating their faith into their daily lives and adopting customs drawn from the Catholic tradition, but were not raised in a Catholic culture and missed out on many of these practices or have lived apart from this culture for a long time.

I found the book particularly valuable for my own family, as my wife and I look to create enduring traditions for our family and inculcate the values we hold dear to our children through our daily lives. My wife, Sarah, is a convert to Catholicism and I was raised in a climate where few feast days were celebrated or discussions of scapulars took place. Just a few months prior to this, we were trying to figure out how to get or make an Advent wreath and how people typically use them. Can we light the candle(s) each night? Is there a prayer many people say? The Catholic Catalogue is perfect for addressing precisely these questions.

The book covers everything from holy oils and incense to how to find a parish to Easter eggs, crafts, and legends to baptism to the funeral liturgy. The book is accessible without surrendering depth, giving the reader an authentic understanding of these practices that is easy to comprehend.

One of the best themes found throughout the book is the communal nature of the faith. This is at the very heart of Catholicism. These customs and practices are so important because they foster communion with God and one another in our daily lives. They reorient our lives away from the individualism of modern life and make us aware that we are persons, made by God and finding meaning in community.

The book is full of recommendations for coming together to live the faith. Whether this is among family or friends, it provides advice for people of all ages to live a richer, fuller Catholic life in greater communion with others.


A Radical Catholic Reviews Radically Catholic in the Age of Francis

The 2016 US Presidential campaign has included a semantic battle over the proper terminology to use when discussing members of ISIS and other violent extremists who share their totalitarian aspirations. Some Republican candidates believe the best term is “Radical Islam.” This terminology is problematic for a variety of reasons, but particularly because of its lack of clarity and the incorrect insinuation that being radical requires violence and brutality. It does not. The recent book Radically Catholic in the Age of Francis demonstrates this perfectly.

This aversion to the term ‘radical’ among candidates like Ted Cruz is not surprising. Many of these candidates embrace a watered-down, bourgeois form of Christianity that pales in comparison to authentic devotion to the way of Christ. Christianity calls for a countercultural presence. Those who are immersed in (and inseparable from) the mainstream culture are unlikely to embrace the radicalism of Christianity. And this may explain why they view radicalism so negatively.

Radically Catholic in the Age of Francis features essays from Catholics on both the left and the right. The diagnosis of problems facing contemporary American culture is the strongest feature of the book. Those who believe in Catholic social teaching cannot help but be disturbed by the flaws in our economic system, the dysfunction in American politics, and the poisonous discourse that makes achieving the common good even more difficult. And serious Catholics are also aware that the Catholic vision is not entirely compatible with the American project (or, more specifically, the classical liberalism that many see as the philosophy that shapes American values).

The ideas about how we might build stronger communities and live more fulfilling, joyful personal lives are also very valuable. And some of the authors are correct to note that the politicization of everything can act as an obstacle to such betterment and that genuine reform must begin on the personal level. A number of the essays provide avenues for living counterculturally without embracing a culture war mindset. Read More


The Francis Effect: John Gehring on a Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church

The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church is an outstanding new book by John Gehring, Catholic Program Director at Faith in Public Life. The book provides an excellent overview of the key moments, debates, and consequences of Francis’ papacy, rooted in Gehring’s strong analysis and unfolding in an interesting and persuasive narrative. I highly recommend the book for everyone from those who read Francis’ daily homilies or Millennial every day to your favorite Catholic CEOs who head to the pews twice a year (Christmas and Easter Only) to non-Catholics who are fascinated by Pope Francis and interested in learning more about his papacy. It is rich in detail, but tightly written, which allows it provide great clarity and accessibility without oversimplifying. It serves as a great introduction for those who have not followed his papacy closely and a valuable resource for those who have.

The following is an interview with John Gehring on the book and Pope Francis’ papacy:

What makes Pope Francis radical?

John Gehring (JG): A journalist asked Pope Francis once if he was a “revolutionary.” The word, of course, carries a lot of baggage and elicits strong reactions so it would have been easy for him to dance around it. The pope didn’t shy away from it but said the true revolutionary is one who goes to the “roots.” The word radical comes from radix, which means the root. Francis is a radical in the same spirit as Jesus was a radical. He wants the Church to be rooted in the countercultural message of the Gospel, which is good news for the poor. Francis thinks the Church grows unhealthy and irrelevant when it becomes more about institutional maintenance and clerical privilege. He wants the Church to regain the capacity to convey what he calls the “freshness and fragrance” of the Gospel. This is the radicalism of the Holy Spirit at work in the Church. He also wants to change the root causes of inequality and poverty, which includes a critique of the ways unjust structures shape an economy of exclusion and a globalization of indifference. Read More


The Global War on Christians

The protection of religious freedom is fundamental to the protection of human rights. Franklin Roosevelt rightly included it in his “four freedoms”—freedom from fear and want, freedom of speech and religion. It is integral to the common good and fostering conditions that are compatible with human dignity. If we care about human flourishing, we must be conscious of threats to this cornerstone of human rights and freedom.

We should therefore be grateful that one of our finest journalists, John Allen, has written a book that highlights a myriad of grave threats to religious freedom around the world, The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution. Allen shows that in the real “war on religion,” Christians are facing beatings, starvation, and even murder. This book is essential reading for Christians who are concerned about their coreligionists’ plight and for every person on the planet who cares about human rights. It addresses an issue that is grossly underreported and too often ignored. And it is an exceptionally balanced account. In sectarian hands, focusing on the plight of Christians in particular would almost certainly be an absolute trainwreck, an abandonment of the universal values at the heart of the Christian faith and an authentic commitment to human rights. In the hands of Allen, the book is excellent, engrossing, and extremely valuable. Read More


Pope Francis’ Morning Homilies and His Vision for the Church

Pope Francis wasted little time in capturing the public’s imagination. And every day there seemed to be something new: an act of humility, a clever expression, or a challenge for each of us who wishes to follow in the way of Christ. We knew Pope Francis was doing something special, but it still took many of us some time to realize how valuable it would be to closely track everything the Holy Father was saying, in particular in his daily homilies. Reading through Morning Homilies, a collection of Pope Francis’ homilies from roughly his four first months as pope, therefore, not only reminded me of some of his most memorable phrases and key concepts, but exposed me to many more that I missed in those first months. It is an excellent collection, whether you have read these before, never read a single one of the pope’s homilies, or are somewhere in between.

Francis reminds us that we are sinners, cautions us against pride, and rails against gossip and slander. He calls for a Church that is free of ideology, saying that “when ideology enters the mind, nothing of the gospel is understood,” as the ideologists “falsify the gospel” and “end up becoming intellectuals without insight and moralists without kindness.” He tells us to embrace humility, kindness, service, and fraternal love. This, he says, is how the salvation of souls is achieved. We are called to do both great things and little things in our everyday lives.

Francis tells us to not be lukewarm Christians who follow “common sense” and embrace “worldly prudence.” This lukewarmness closes us in on ourselves. We are not to become “good-mannered armchair Christians.” We must not spend too much energy pursuing comfort, as “the comfort culture makes us not very brave, makes us lazy, also makes us selfish.” And we shouldn’t over-intellectualize our lives and the faith. Francis reminds us, “Jesus Christ’s salvation is real and actual. Jesus Christ didn’t save us by an idea, by an intellectual program. He saved us by his flesh, by his real flesh and blood.”

In these homilies, Pope Francis warns that the Church must not let bureaucracy dominate and become an NGO, divorced from its authentic mission. He cautions that when “the organization comes first, love collapses, and the poor church becomes an NGO.” Francis endorses Pope Benedict’s statement that the Church does not grow through proselytism. Instead, it grows “by attraction, by witness, by preaching.” He explains, “Christians who are afraid to make bridges and prefer to build walls are Christians who are unsure of their own faith, unsure of Jesus Christ.” This church loses the courage to go out to the edges. Pope Francis tells us that the Church should neither “go backward” nor embrace an “adolescent progressivism” that simply adopts the values of the dominant culture. We must reject being “slaves to superficiality” or “slaves to rigidity.”

Instead, we are called to trust in God, to embrace mercy, and to pursue the kingdom of God. And this can only be done personally—by each of us, flawed though we are, through our relationships with others. This is how we become “full-time Christians.” This is how we become “Christians in deed and in truth.”

These homilies helped to set the tone for Pope Francis’ papacy and offer us a look at his vision for the Church and for each of us. They are spoken with clarity and conviction. They are merciful but challenging. Francis reminds us that we are sinners, but also that we are called to greatness. Reading these homilies and thinking about how you might translate these lessons into your life might help you to take a step in that direction.


Kerry Weber Discusses Mercy in the City with Millennial

Kerry Weber is one of the most talented millennial Catholic writers on the planet (and that sentence is still true if you remove the word ‘millennial’). And every time the subject of her recent book, Mercy in the City: How to Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Visit the Imprisoned, and Keep Your Day Job, has come up in conversation, people have raved about it and told me I must read it. Katie Diller has already written a great review of the book for Millennial, which you can check out here. You can also read Kerry Weber’s article “Mercy in the City: Making Mercy a Verb,” which we were happy to run here at Millennial.

Given what everyone had told me, I came in with big expectations, and I must say that the book exceeded these. It is wonderfully written, engaging, and fun to read. Some lines were deeply insightful, while others made me laugh out loud. It’s a must-read for every millennial Catholic, but beyond this, I would recommend it for everyone, especially Christians of all ages and young people who are “nones” right now. I had the opportunity to ask Kerry a few questions about the book in the interview that follows:

Robert Christian: Given the title, Mercy in the City, what role does the setting play in the experiences you write about in the book? In the West, urbanization has been connected to secularization. Is there something about living in a city that makes it harder to be religious or to practice these works of mercy? Are there advantages or unique opportunities that the city might present?

Kerry Weber: In my mind, New York City is almost one of the characters in the book. It’s a unique and fascinating place, but my hope is that, within that context of the larger story, it also offers an experience that is recognizable to people who live in other cities or rural areas. Because the struggles here are similar to what people struggle with everywhere: How can we be of service to others, exactly where we are right now? Of course, being in New York meant that I had the advantage being very close to a number of vibrant non-profits and parishes and social service organizations that grapple with this question every day and that do great work with and for people here. There are so many opportunities to be involved and inspired. Yet, it also is easy to feel anonymous in a city like New York. The good thing is that the city is filled with people yearning for connection, and sometimes all you have to do is reach out. I find living here to be a tremendous benefit for my faith life, because there are so many opportunities to find fellowship with people who value prayer and action. There are so many Catholic young adults here trying to live out their faith in a very real way; it is one of the many things I love about living in New York.

RC: My second question is somewhat related. You seem reluctant at times to be seen as too religious, not wanting to be seen as fanatical or preachy or like you are parading your faith. Do you see that as the product of your personality, of living in a relatively secular area as member of a generation where it is increasingly popular to be a “none” or “spiritual, but not religious,” or of the faith itself where we are cautioned not be hypocrites or to show off our devotion? Or is it some combination of these? Does your experience speak to some of the challenges or tensions that religious millennials might face when it comes to living out their faith, of being “in, but not of the world”?

KW: I’m pretty open about discussing my faith and religion in my day-to-day life, and I’ve found most people are willing to engage in conversations around faith in a positive way, even if they aren’t particularly religious or spiritual. So if there’s a seeming hesitation in the book, it’s not because I hoped to avoid being perceived as religious; but I do hope to avoid giving the impression that being religious means that I have everything all figured out. I think too often people feel that to be religious means that you can’t have any questions or doubts. But those doubts are a real part of religious experience, too. With that in mind, I wanted to be sure that the overall tone of the book was descriptive, rather than prescriptive. I wanted to say: “Here is how I’ve lived my faith; here is how I’ve struggled with these things. Hopefully my struggle will provide some comfort and solidarity in your own journey.” And hopefully we can learn from each other. Our efforts to be mercy in the world should be rooted strongly in our sense of community. In our (often imperfect) efforts to serve others, none of us has to go it alone.

RC: I’ve seen a lot of devout millennial Catholics who decide to “do something” for Lent instead of giving something up. You seem to see the value of doing both. Why is that? How are they related to one another?

KW: I value that combination of contemplation and action, because ideally one leads us to the other. Hopefully, our prayer compels us to act, to change our lives; and our actions, hopefully, are rooted in prayer and in communion with God. Lent asks us to turn inward and really look at how we’re living each day, but it also asks us to place our selves and our actions within the context of a broader community. It’s not just a self-help program. Sometimes this means stepping out of those spaces where we’ve become comfortable. Lent should be challenging, because it calls us to more faithfully live out the Gospel, and the Gospel is challenging. If it weren’t it wouldn’t do anyone much good.

RC: What was the most challenging thing you experienced in trying to complete the works of mercy?

KW: At times I found myself really overwhelmed by the number of things I had to do and also by the amount of suffering that exists in our communities. I think one of the most challenging things about trying to complete the works of mercy was recognizing that they’re not really things that can be completed. That mercy must become part of a process, part of how we live our lives. I can’t simply check off items on a list; I have to be present to others, to listen, to give of my self and my time. And that’s not easy; all of us are so busy, but we have to make sure we’re not so focused on getting things done that we miss seeing Christ in the people around us.

RC: What was the most rewarding part of the experience? And what were some of the most important things you learned about mercy, your faith, and/or your life?

KW: The most rewarding part of this was the sense of community that was built from my experience. I learned that when you’re trying to help others, you can’t make assumptions about what they need. It’s important to have a conversation, to figure out where your gifts and talents are and how those can be used to glorify God through service to others. And it’s important not to have an agenda, to be open to the God of surprises, to recognize that we might be able to give of ourselves in surprising ways, if only we would allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit instead of our own desires.

RC: When does the sequel come out? I think the readers are really invested in hearing about your life after this Lenten journey and, importantly, what happened next in your love life.

KW: Ha! Oh gosh, readers concerned about my love life (let’s be honest here: reader. hi mom!) may be happy to know that I have found a nice Irishman to whom I am getting married this May. In fact, I’m quite happy about it myself. As for sequels, I’m still thinking about what to write next. I know that it has to be a topic I really care about or it will get old fast. One nice thing about writing this book has been that it has really reinforced how much I hope to keep the charism of Mercy central in my life. In both the writing and in the conversations that have followed its publication, I am continually reminded about how much Mercy means to me, and I’m continually challenged to try to more fully live it out.