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


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.


The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe and Its Lessons for Today: An Interview with Daniel K. Williams

What was the pro-life movement like before Roe v. Wade? In Defenders of the Unborn, Daniel K. Williams, history professor at the University of West Georgia, provides an essential overview of the pro-life movement in this period. Millennial editor Robert Christian interviewed Williams on his groundbreaking book and its implications:

The pro-life movement is often associated with conservatism, but could you talk a little bit about the roots of the movement?

The modern American pro-life movement, which originated in the mid-twentieth century, was the creation of Catholic Democrats, most of whom subscribed to the social ethic and liberal political philosophy of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.  They believed that the government had a responsibility to protect the rights of minorities and provide a social safety net for the poor.  They viewed the unborn as a minority deserving of legal protection, but many of them also believed that the federal government had a responsibility to provide maternity health care for women facing crisis pregnancies.  In their view, the pro-life movement was a social justice and human rights cause. Read More


Christians Must Reshape How our Culture Views Poverty and the Poor

This talk was given October 1st 2017, at St. Luke’s Parish in Darien, Connecticut, as part of an ongoing speaker series about finding Christ.

Our savior was poor. “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ,” St. Paul wrote, “that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”It is hard, now, to hear just how radical that is. The din of time has mellowed the force of the fact. A different challenge presented itself to Christianity’s early preachers and practitioners: Convincing others, and themselves, that such a thing were really possible, and that it mattered.

To focus on the Latin west, it is worth noting that the ancient Roman social imagination was not organized around poles of poverty and wealth, but rather citizenship versus barbarianism. This is not to say that there were no poor people in ancient Rome; there were, of course. But their poverty itself was not a major source of social concern. “Poverty, in itself, gave no entitlement,” according to historian Peter Brown, “those who received benefits from the wealthy received them not because they were poor but because they were citizens.”

Which is not to say the ancients held the poor in high esteem — a failure to focus on poverty per se did not imply an absence of stigma. On the contrary, an ancient Roman legal text off-handedly identified poor persons among those unworthy of presenting complaints in courts of law or giving testimony; but by the middle ages, Christian authors would modify this rule on the grounds that poverty itself wasn’t a moral failure, and wasn’t “a kind of crime.”

But to get to that point, the preachers of late antiquity were tasked with reshaping the imaginations of their hearers. For them, the poor had to be, in some sense, invented, and their poverty presented as a moral issue. People that these fledgling ancient Christians had seen for years in one way, they were now asked to see in a new and peculiar light. The sermons of late antiquity, a period roughly between the third and eighth centuries, right around the time that Christianity was gaining serious ground in terms of adherence, authority and civic attention, tell the story of this reinvention.

“The poor man seeks money and has it not; a man asks for bread, and your horse champs a gold bit under his teeth,” St. Ambrose of Milan wrote, “And precious ornaments delight you, although others do not have grain.” To the pre-Christian imagination this scenario might’ve landed as gauche or petty; it’s in poor taste, after all, to notice the humiliation of a fellow citizen and carry on without mercy. But Ambrose insisted that it was worse than impolite; it was morally wrong: “Mercy is indeed a part of justice, so that if you wish to give to the poor, this mercy is justice…since the Lord our God has willed this earth to be the common possession of all and its fruit to support all.” The poor, in other words, have a claim and a right to the fruits of the earth, because God gave the comfort of nature to all to hold in common. Ambrose’s notary and biographer Paulinus commended the bishop for his own indifference to riches, so, “like a lightly clad and unencumbered soldier, he might follow Christ the Lord, who, being rich, became poor for our sake.”

The preachers of late antiquity set themselves to work upending the reactive, negative notions that developed about the poor among a newly accountable upper class. “You are often idling at the theaters all day,” said St. John Chrysostom, “or in the council-chambers, or in useless conversation. You blame many — but you fail to consider yourself as ever doing anything evil or idle. And do you condemn this poor and miserable person who lives the whole day in entreaties, teas, and a thousand difficulties?” Chrysostom elsewhere argues that the great inheritances common to the aristocracy suggest there’s no more virtue in the acquisition of wealth than the collapse into poverty: At least a poor man living in poverty doesn’t deny others use of the land.

Christ, having been Himself poor, was believed to hold the earthly poor especially close to Himself — a strange thought to a culture more accustomed to thinking of Gods favoring heroes, great beauties and bold conquerors. Almsgiving, Ambrose wrote, can “make God your debtor by a kind of pious usury,” an admittedly unsettling notion to modern ears. But God was understood to consider alms given to the poor as a gift made to Himself, so dearly did He love them. Read More


Yes, You Can Regulate Evil: Why Catholics Should Support Stricter Gun Laws

“You can’t regulate evil.”  These words, spoken by Matt Bevin, the Governor of Kentucky, seem to resonate with so many Americans.  Horrific acts of brutal violence are the price we pay for living in a free society, or so people claim.

Nevertheless, as Catholics, we do not believe this, and our faith does not teach this.  The fatalistic attitude that bad things will happen because bad people exist fails to take into account the very purpose of laws.  The essence of law is to regulate and reduce bad behavior, in addition to directing citizens towards making good decisions.  Catholics believe that good laws can help to create better people.  Laws should point society towards the common good.

St. Thomas Aquinas argues that laws can do two things: first, the coercive power of laws can pressure or scare citizens into obeying rules, and second, laws can work to create more virtuous citizens.  Through this coercive element of law, even those who are the most vile and dangerous to society can be pushed in the direction of virtue.  By prohibiting the unethical behavior that citizens might engage in, laws teach citizens good and virtuous behavior.

While Aquinas points out that laws cannot aim to create a perfect society filled with citizens who possess all the virtues of goodness, laws should always be oriented towards creating a system that promotes the common good and welfare of society.  Obviously, Aquinas states, society cannot prohibit all vices; it would be impossible to do so.  Nevertheless, in order to promote the common good, laws need to prohibit the most egregious misdeeds that people are capable of committing.  These include laws against assault, murder, etc.  Violence perpetrated by guns clearly falls into this category.

The simple fact of the matter is that Catholics need to support stricter gun laws and restrictions on weapons. There is a culture of violence and death that is abetted by our excessively libertarian approach to guns. The absence of adequate regulations results in harmful, unethical behavior that can be reduced. There’s no way around this; if you are Catholic, then you need to be in favor of creating governmental policies that will reduce gun deaths.

Using law to promote virtue and goodness in people might sound far-fetched, but we only need to look to civil rights laws that promoted and protected the equality of women, ethnic and racial minorities, religious minorities, persons with disabilities, and gay, lesbian, and transgender persons to find real examples of this in action.  Various laws have helped to shift public opinion and have created a society that not only protects but also accepts and embraces people who were previously oppressed or ostracized. Bigotry, injustice, and inequality remain, but changes in law have dramatically shifted both behavior and attitudes in a positive direction.

Why should our attitude about guns be any different?  Why couldn’t well-designed laws and regulations on firearms help to create a more virtuous community?  The very point of law is to regulate evil and to convert those who might otherwise commit that evil. From a broad lens, it seems obvious that the United States has a great deal of room for improvement on this.

It is true that crafting legislation in this area is an incredibly complex issue in the US; and there does not need to be a “one size fits all” approach to regulating guns.  Aquinas makes the point that different communities might need different variations of the law to match the needs of the community.  We can do the same with guns.

Rural areas will likely need different rules and regulations than large cities, and areas with lots of hunters will need different laws than places where hunting is non-existent.  But this is the beauty of the American federal system.  Local, state, and the federal government can all engage in the policy making process to make laws that make sense for their area.

Given how pervasive gun violence is in this country, doing nothing is not an option.  If we take the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas seriously, then Catholics need to be on the front lines of this fight for better gun control.  To continue to throw our collective hands up in the air and to say “these thing happen” only further invites these things to happen.