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

The Mercy Pope: Five Takeaways from His First Five Years

Do you remember where you were five years ago, when the white smoke signaled that the College of Cardinals had selected the successor to Pope Benedict XVI? I do. I was standing in the campus ministry office at Boston College, dumbfounded at hearing that the conclave has chosen a pope from Latin America … a Jesuit … and that he had chosen the name “Francis.”  (Remember the confusion over whether he would be “Pope Francis I” or “Pope Francis”?)

Five years into his papacy, it might be easy forget that Francis has been a pope of surprises. Sure, he’s the first non-European pope in well over a thousand years and the first Jesuit, which is shocking enough. And yes, his chosen name is unprecedented, prompted by advice from his friend, Brazilian Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, who hugged him and exhorted, “Don’t forget the poor.” At the moment of his introduction at St. Peter’s Square, he broke with tradition by asking the 150,000 people gathered to pray for him before offering his first blessing as pope. The surprises continued: he refused to use a platform to elevate himself over the cardinals when he was introduced as Pope Francis, eschewed a private car and rode the bus with his brother cardinals instead, and elected to live in a small suite in the Vatican guesthouse rather than the Apostolic Palace, unlike his predecessors. His simple lifestyle has elicited widespread praise, as well as his work to make the Vatican more hospitable to those experiencing homelessness in Rome. Francis’ pontificate orbits around consistent words and actions marked by humility, tenderness, and inclusion. Perhaps the best word to describe Pope Francis’ example is mercy. If Pope John Paul II’s legacy is tied to his travels to evangelize (104 international trips to 129 countries, drawing immense crowds), he may be considered “The Missionary Pope” while Pope Benedict XVI’s emphasis on ecological stewardship earned him the nickname “The Green Pope,” and so it appears that Pope Francis may be remembered as “The Mercy Pope.”

The world has never seen a pope like Francis. As we celebrate the fifth anniversary of his pontificate, five key traits highlight his character, intentions, and impact: his radical vision for the Church, the way he mediates mercy, his attention to the power of place, his commitment to listening, and his support for synodality.

1. Francis has a radical vision for the church:

When Francis met with 5,000 journalists to introduce himself as pope, he described his vision for the Church as one that “is poor and for the poor.” This hearkens back to the words of Pope John XXIII, who, in a radio address a month before Vatican II, proclaimed his desire for a “Church of all and in particular the Church of the poor.” This is a radical vision for the Church because radical refers to “going to the origin” or the “roots.” This reflects the core values of Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry (e.g., Matthew 25:31-46), as well as the witness of the first members the Church (e.g., Acts 4:32-35).

Francis’ vision for the Church cannot be reduced to a service agency, however. In Evangelii Gaudium (“Joy of the Gospel”), Francis articulates his vision for the Church as reclaiming our relationship with God and one another. The Church is to be a living encounter with Christ, which means that Christians are to recognize Christ in the other as much as they are called to be Christ for the other. This is not some weighty, pious burden but an invitation to deep and lasting consolation resulting from experiencing the love of God in and through loving others. Francis’ vision for the Church is rooted in communion and a mission of renewed enthusiasm marked by joy and hope. Francis doesn’t just insist that joy is the best barometer of the Christian faith; he radiates joy in every encounter.

At the same time, Francis’ radical vision for the Church is to be like a “field hospital after battle.” The Church goes to the margins to tend to the needs of those suffering the effects of personal and social sin. Drawing near others involves savoring and sharing the “Joy of the Gospel,” which “tells us tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 88).

Francis has not changed any doctrine, but he seems to be shifting emphasis from defining or developing doctrine to the process of personal and communal discernment. Not only does this stem from his Jesuit formation (in the tradition of St. Ignatius’ “Spiritual Exercises”), but it highlights the freedom and obedience of one’s conscience as articulated in the Catechism (no. 1776). This is crucial for Francis’ vision of the Church as constituted by an informed and empowered laity whose full, conscious, and active participation is guided by spiritual discernment. This helps us look to the future where we all have a role to play in being available to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our midst, cooperating in the Church’s communion and mission. Any discussion of “The Francis Effect” on the Church has to account for the way Francis is energizing the laity to embrace their baptismal vocation to partner in the priesthood of Christ (CCC no. 1268).

Ultimately, Francis’ vision for the Church is a movement toward reform. Francis calls the Church – from personal beliefs and actions to institutional practices and structures – to turn away from sin, repent for the ways we have failed to love, and rededicate ourselves to Jesus. Each day is an opportunity to be rekindled by the “fire of Easter.”

2. Francis mediates the mercy of God:

When, as a new pope, he answered the question, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” Francis’ reply was simple: “I am a sinner.  This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.” Francis reveals a person deeply in touch with the experience of God’s mercy. (This, too, points to Francis’ Jesuit formation, including the first week of the “Spiritual Exercises.”) In his book, The Name of God is Mercy, Francis writes:

“The centrality of mercy, which for me is Jesus’ most important message, has slowly evolved over the years in my work as a priest, as a consequence of my experience as a confessor, and thanks to the many positive and beautiful stories that I have known … [mercy] means opening one’s heart to wretchedness. And immediately we go to the Lord: mercy is the divine attitude which embraces, it is God’s giving himself to us, accepting us, and bowing to forgive … we can say that mercy is God’s identity card.”

Francis explains that he sees God’s character and purpose through the lens of the gerund (and neologism), “mercifying:” the act of showing mercy. We typically translate mercy as loving-kindness, but as I have written previously, this betrays the rich and varied meaning of the word in light of its biblical heritage. Mercy involves strength and steadfastness, graciousness and gratuitousness, faithfulness and tenderness, forgiveness and responsibility, solidarity and accountability. Mercy is “the measure by which we shall be judged” (to borrow a phrase from St. John of the Cross).

Mercy is the crux of Francis’ theological vision, the true north of his moral compass, the heart of his imagination for what is possible. Mercy inspires Francis’ pastoral approach, which he urges his brother priests and bishops to share in becoming more like shepherds “who smell like sheep” because of their close accompaniment with the people of God. This resonates throughout Amoris Laetitia, where Francis highlights mercy as a test of the Church’s welcome, especially to those who are vulnerable, marginalized, and in “irregular situations.” He insists, “The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for ever; it is to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it” (no. 296). Not only is mercy the work of God in our midst, but it is the “criterion for knowing who his true children are” (no. 310).

Francis is quick to point out that mercy is not without a backbone; it is essentially tied to truth and justice. However, Francis’ emphasis on mercy – and the way he mediates mercy in his words and actions – underscores his belief that mercy should lead the way forward. In Amoris Laetitia, he affirms that mercy should inspire our personal and communal “pastoral discernment” to be “filled with love, which is ever ready to understand, forgive, accompany, hope, and above all integrate” (no. 312). Mercy motivates Francis’ commitment to inclusion (a theme that can be traced from his early days as pope, to his 2017 TED Talk, “The Only Future Worth Building Includes Everyone,” to the current campaign to #ShareJourney with migrants and refugees through the four-step process to welcome, protect, promote, and integrate our brothers and sisters on the move, those who – just like us – are seeking peace in their families, homes, and neighborhoods). In those moments when Francis embraces a child, a man covered with tumors, or rushes to the side of a police officer who fell off her horse, he incarnates God-Who-Is-Mercy in the world and encourages us to do the same.

3. Francis knows place matters:

Francis recently shared in an interview that he doesn’t like to travel and he didn’t intend to travel much as pope. But as the migrant crisis – especially those fleeing chaos in the Middle East and Africa – continued to bring hundreds of desperate people to the shores of Italy, Francis said their suffering was like a “thorn in the heart.” Francis celebrated Mass on the tiny island of Lampedusa to denounce the “globalization of indifference” that turns a blind eye, deaf ear, cold heart, and closed hand to the thousands of people fleeing violence, economic deprivation, famine, drought, and flooding. In his homily, Francis reflected:

“Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the Levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: “poor soul…!” and then go on our way. It’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!”

Francis’ critique of the “globalization of indifference” goes beyond condemning moral apathy; he also points to the solution, which is accomplished by following the example of the Samaritan. This means interrupting our schedule, putting our agenda on hold, going out of our way and into the ditch to draw near to others in need. Proximity with the poor, marginalized, and oppressed will burst the “soap bubbles” of our self-concern (as anyone who has engaged in direct service knows). We learn about solidarity through contact with other people. This firsthand encounter serves as the catalyst for the kind of compassion, courage, generosity, and hope required to be the kind of people who routinely “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

In a globalized, digital world, one’s physical place might seem to be less significant. But Francis understands that we are formed by our social location. This is why he took up residence in the Vatican guesthouse, why he opts for a Fiat instead of a limo, why he can be found ministering to and with those in need, day and night.  When Pope Francis was asked about moments of particular consolation during his papacy, he discussed his visit to Tacloban in 2015.  He went to show his support after the island was devastated by a hurricane but he was the one gifted by all the smiles – the irrepressible joy – of all those who came to see him and celebrate the Eucharist together. Even in the midst of a tropical storm, Francis’ physical presence was a consolation to the faithful, just as they have been to him.

This is why Francis doesn’t just insist that we should be building bridges, not walls; he goes to the US-Mexico border to celebrate the Eucharist with people separated by the border wall. Standing at the border near Juárez (where more than 1500 women and girls have been murdered since 1993), Francis brings attention to the place where more than 6,000 migrants have died since 2000, a “mass disaster” that goes unnoticed by too many. When Francis celebrates the Eucharist at the border, he shines a light on the Body of Christ as a “body of broken bones,” disfigured by drug smuggling, human trafficking, and unchecked violence. In his homily, Francis speaks from this place to conscientize Christians and all people of good will, pleading, “Let us together ask our God for the gift of conversion, the gift of tears, let us ask him to give us open hearts … No more death!  No more exploitation!  There is always time to change, always a way out and always an opportunity, there is always the time to implore the mercy of God.”

By word and deed, Francis exhorts us to move our feet to draw near our brothers and sisters rather than stand in judgment at them from a distance. This is what it means to be a church that is like a “field hospital after battle,” going to the frontiers that are from the center of status, privilege, and power. When we take up the vantage point of the vulnerable, we better understand the circumstances they face, the personal and structural obstacles to their dignity and freedom, and the ways that this restriction of choice becomes a deprivation of life.

And Francis recognizes that when we cannot take up a particular location ourselves, we can still be formed by having a place brought to us. This is why he celebrated Mass with crosses and a chalice made from the wood of capsized boats that carried migrants. (Theologian Fr. Dan Groody travels with a chalice made from this same wood, giving emphasis to the connection between Christ’s suffering and those of these “crucified peoples.”) Every time we attend Mass, we are invited to think, feel, and pray in union with the whole Church, a church that Francis calls to be “without frontiers and a mother to all.” Francis’ travels bring to light forgotten people and places, making the Church more “catholic” (i.e., “pertaining to the whole” or universal) in seeking to affirm unity in its diversity.

4. Francis listens:

When Francis goes to the margins, he doesn’t only go to evangelize; he also goes to be evangelized. He takes seriously Jesus’ claim that he can be found in the least, the last, and the lowly (Matthew 25:40). He seeks to learn about the lived experiences of others and to draw on this wisdom to enrich the whole Church. This is why he made sure Laudato Si’ was informed by bishops, scientists, and people living in the Global South so that his call to care for all creation would be theologically sound, empirically-grounded, and prophetically inspired by the experiences of those who are already facing the effects of climate change (the poor are being hit first and worst). As a result of this listening, Pope Francis clarified how and why the great command to love of God and neighbor is essentially linked to care for our shared home, our ecological common good.  He asserts the need for ecological conversion and integral development: “We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the underprivileged, and at the same time protecting nature” (no. 139). Francis beckons for each of us to pause from the busyness of our daily routine to “hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (no. 49).

Francis’ habit of listening is surely what gave rise to his famous “Who am I to judge?” line in response to a question about homosexuality. It is the reason why, earlier this year, he married the flight attendants on a plane in Chile – and reminded critics that “sacraments are for people” (which sounds a lot like Jesus responding to his doubters in Mark 2:27). Francis has been formed by this practice of listening, and this is beginning to shape the Church, as well. His stress on listening was the impetus for the Lineamenta that informed the pastoral priorities in Amoris Laetitia. During his visit to the United States, he highlighted the need for dialogue, including his willingness to be a part of that process himself. In the midst of controversy surrounding the church’s mishandling of priests’ abuse of children, Francis continues to listen to victims of abuse – almost weekly. (“They are left annihilated. Annihilated!” he reports.) Francis’s listening will continue to shape the Church in the future, as he seeks counsel on questions related to married priests, women deacons, and even as he considers what his adversaries and critics have to say about him.

Francis’ commitment to listening shows his spiritual maturity. He seeks to be attentive and responsive to the movement of the Holy Spirit, not just in his own life, but among the whole people of God. His careful listening also points back to his Jesuit formation, in the tradition of St. Ignatius’ “Spiritual Exercises.” Those of us who have been Jesuit-educated can easily detect the ways that Francis “seeks God in all things” (through the “spiritual senses” to grow in dedication to and affection for what God loves), how he is a man “for and with others” (avoiding that “which might separate us from others”), how he demonstrates “care for the whole person” (making us responsible to promote human dignity), and his dedication to a “faith that does justice” (to pursue the fullness of life for all). Francis’ discernment of the will of God is rooted in the vision of Vatican II: listening to the joys and hopes, griefs and sorrows of the Church. He does more than “read the signs of the times;” he hears what they mean to God’s people. Like other beloved South American bishops (e.g., Câmara and Romero), Francis feels with the Church. His pastoral approach is profoundly Latin American, marked by a theology of accompaniment en conjunto (together). It is about sharing – not wielding – power as a discipleship of equals.

5. Francis embraces synodality:

Of course, listening matters little if it does not lead to action. Aside from the emphasis on mercy, the hallmark of Francis’ pontificate has been his support for synodality. For most, the word “synod” might denote a gathering of bishops. But the Greek roots of the word mean “journeying together.” This implies more than listening and shared discernment (e.g., the “evangelical discernment” he outlines in Evangelii Gaudium, no. 51). Synodality requires that we build partnerships. Synods – most notably on matters related to the family in 2014 and 2015 and the upcoming synod on young people that will begin in Rome next week – foster mutual respect, support, and accountability. They promote listening that becomes the pathway for collaboration as “coworkers in the vineyard.”

Synodality offers a more inclusive and egalitarian model for being church. It necessarily involves dismantling barriers to full and equal participation, especially those created by the sins of racism, sexism, and homophobia. In the spirit of subsidiarity, it assigns responsibility at the lowest effective level. Synodality helps the Church to become more freely and fully one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Francis’ endorsement of synodality is not an abdication of his authority, but a delegation of authority to those who are in the best position to offer fitting pastoral care. Bishop McElroy in San Diego offers an excellent case study of how synodality can expand our imagination of what is possible in response to Amoris Laetitia.

Ultimately, that’s the point of sharing the journey in synodality: to expand our imagination of what is possible as followers of Christ. Imagination is not about fantasy or illusion. Imagination – in a truly Ignatian way – is ultimately a function of our deepest desires. Imagination makes it possible to wake up from the delusion that we are separate from each other or that some lives matter more than others. Imagination calls each of us to be visionaries, seeking the reign of God in our midst so that we can continue to reach for it to become ever more fully realized in our time and place.

Francis’ encouragement of synodality reminds me of the line by the Jesuit priest and poet Dan Berrigan: if you want to be hopeful, you have to do hopeful things. Synodality is a sign of great hope; Francis trusts in the assembly, the people of God, the church. He is confident that the Holy Spirit is leading the way through the sensus fidelium, even if the way forward will not be in clear black-and-white terms. Francis rejects the allure of black-and-white thinking because such a facile approach does not cohere with the rich diversity of human experience. Through synodality, Francis is making room for the Holy Spirit – and for an empowered laity, too.

Indeed, these last five years with Francis give us many reasons to be filled with gratitude, just as they give us reasons to be filled with hope for what the future holds. There is more work to be done and Francis’ fifth anniversary is a time for us to be renewed in sharing this work. What would it look like for you to adopt Francis’ radical vision for the Church, his manner of mediating mercy, drawing near people and places of great need, listening to learn from others, and sharing the journey through collaboration? In what ways can we more fully embrace our baptismal vocation and make more room for the Holy Spirit to lead us where God needs us? What can we imagine possible for ourselves, our Church, and our world?

We do not know what is in store for us next. But Pope Francis offers some sage advice for the journey ahead:

“In the meantime, we come together to take charge of this home that has been entrusted to us, knowing that all the good that exists here will be taken up into the heavenly feast. In union with all creatures, we journey through this land seeking God, for ‘if the world has a beginning and if it has been created, we must enquire who gave it this beginning, and who was its Creator.’ Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope” (Laudato Si’ no. 244).

Pope Francis gives us many reasons – past, present, and future – to bask in the joy of our hope. The Mercy Pope is a living witness of God’s inexhaustible and unconditional tenderness, just as we are called to be, too.

Millennial of the Year 2017: Michael Wear

At a time when many prominent white evangelicals provide blanket support to a president that demonizes minorities, pursues policies that harm the poor and vulnerable, and erodes foundational democratic norms on a regular basis, our 2017 Millennial of the Year, Michael Wear, offers an alternative approach to faith in public life and Christian witness that is both authentic and ethical. In contrast to those who have helped to foster the resurgence of the darkest populist impulses in our country, those who have replaced their Christian worldview with one that simply reflects their party affiliation or ideology, and those who embrace, in both politics and religion, an extreme individualism that deeply undermines the quest for communion and the common good, Wear—the author of Reclaiming Hope—has articulated and executed an approach to politics that reflects his firm commitment to human dignity and the flourishing of all. At a time when American democracy is facing grave challenges, he offers an excellent model for how Christian citizens can serve God through engaging in politics and how all citizens can strengthen our democracy and work for a more just, authentically free country and world.

Michael Wear has delivered valuable messages and insights for those who care about their faith and the common good, including:

  • Politics cannot offer ultimate salvation but it is critically important
  • Politics is causing great spiritual harm in Americans lives, and a big reason for that is Americans are turning to politics to have their spiritual needs met
  • Voting is not about a person’s individual purity but just one way we express our love for God and our neighbors through the inherently pragmatic vehicle of democratic participation. Imperfect candidates are therefore not an excuse for withdrawal from participation entirely.
  • Intermediary institutions are critical and need government support, along with space to live out their values
  • The decency and dignity of the president matters
  • People on both sides of the political aisle have contributed to polarization and the culture war (though perhaps not equally)
  • There is common ground on abortion if both sides are willing to engage
  • The pro-life movement’s partisanship is self-defeating
  • Christians must address racial injustice
  • The way Christians operate in the public sphere affects the appeal of Christian witness.

Yet it’s not just his message, but his willingness to fight for his ideals within the system, that matters. He served in the White House faith-based initiative during President Obama’s first term and directed faith outreach for Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. While sharing many of the party’s highest ideals and best approaches to public policy, he has also worked for a more inclusive, just Democratic Party. Wear pressed the Democratic Party to improve upon its outreach to people of faith. He has called on the party to embrace a pro-family agenda that would strengthen the American family. And he has fought for a big tent Democratic Party against those who would impose an abortion litmus test that would exclude the over 20 million pro-life Democrats in this country from having real representation. Extremely skilled and politically adept, if he placed his ascent in the party above his faith, he would have had an easy path to positions of greater and greater power and prestige. Instead, he has chosen faithfulness. And with this approach, he has shown how to engage in dialogue and pragmatic action to promote the common good with thoughtfulness and integrity. Our country needs good examples of moral, responsible citizenship, and people of faith need to see excellent examples of faithful citizenship. Michael Wear offers both.

Why We Should Embrace Hope as We Enter 2018

Hope has eyes.

Hope sees the world differently and gives us new ground upon which to stand. It “gives us the courage to place ourselves on the side of good even in seemingly hopeless situations,” as Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Spe Salvi. Hope is not blind; rather, it changes how we see. It does this not by causing us to avert our eyes from a difficult reality, but by drawing our eyes to it so that something different can reveal itself. Upon healing the man born blind, Jesus tells his opponents, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” As long as we believe that what we see is in fact all there is to see, we lose what is most vital: our openness to all that remains hidden. We lose sight of the fact that we all have major blind spots. Hope gives us eyes to see what is otherwise unseen. “In a short time the world will no longer see me,” Jesus tells his followers, “but you will see that I live, and you will live also.”

Hope arises through suffering.

Hope emerges most brightly in deprivation and darkness because it offers us a vision that is not limited to what is immediately at hand. Hope is the star of Bethlehem, most visible on the darkest day of the year. Benedict calls this hope “great”: “Certainly, in our many different sufferings and trials we always need the lesser and greater hopes too—a kind visit, the healing of internal and external wounds, a favorable resolution of a crisis, and so on. In our lesser trials these kinds of hope may even be sufficient. But in truly great trials, I need the certitude of that true, great hope.” He even proclaims that our very capacity to suffer “depends on the type and extent of the hope that we bear within us and build upon.” Hope allows us to find meaning in our suffering, to see that although God does not will our suffering, God is fully committed to creating good from it.

Hope is a way of living with others.

“The saints were able to make the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them, because they were brimming with great hope,” Benedict exhorts us. In hope, “the dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.” Hope moves our feet. It is dynamic. It is not meant to be a mere idea; it is meant to be lived and it is meant to be given. Benedict XVI puts it this way: “Human life is a journey. Towards what destination? How do we find the way? Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history. But to reach him we also need lights close by—people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way.”

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.

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