Scandals these days are a dime a dozen it seems. In the world and in the so-called “faithful” of the Church, we need not look to far out our front door to see that there is a lot of darkness out there. All we need to do is take a gander into our own hearts and we can see just how dark things can be. It can be greatly discouraging. For those weak in faith to see the scandals within the Church can cause them to give up on the Christian life altogether. Although there needs to be people within the Church pointing out where the darkness is within Her members, it can seem that there are not a lot of great examples of holiness today. Even though we have great things like the lives of the Saints and have access to millions of books on these incredible Catholics of the past, we need authentic witnesses today. Two weeks ago, I saw a beautifully authentic example of this in one of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, and felt that it needed to be pointed out.
If you are not familiar with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate (FFI), they are a beautiful religious order founded by Fr. Stefano Maria Manelli and Fr. Gabriel Maria Pellettieri, two Franciscan Friars. According to their website they, “like the Seraphic Father St. Francis…strive to be perfectly conformed to the poor, humble, crucified Jesus through a life of charity, supernatural charity and poverty. They are totally consecrated to the Immaculate Virgin after the recent example offered by St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe.” Sadly, in recent years, the FFI received a crushing blow. The Institute, which was one of the fastest growing in the world, was brought to task by the Vatican “to restore among the Franciscans of the Immaculate the original charism that has characterized the service the Institute has rendered to the Church.” Fr. Fidenzio Volpi was assigned by the Congregation for Religious as Apostolic Commissioner to basically bring the order into line. Now a lot of what is being said online leans strongly in the favour of Fr. Volpi being tasked with ending the order itself. I cannot seem to get a clear statement as to the entire purpose of handing the Order over to Fr. Volpi. The situation, however, turned nasty.
The community was made to no longer offer the Mass of the Extraordinary Form, unless given express permission. The founder was also removed from leadership. The subordinates of the Founder were transferred to different countries. He shut down their seminary. He suspended ordinations within the Order. For a year he suppressed the activities of the Lay Apostolates affiliated with the Institute. He also suspended the publications of the Academy of the Immaculate, which produced beautiful catholic literature. There are certainly differing things being said online about how Fr. Volpi handled the Institute. There are people who say that Fr. Volpi slandered and defamed the founder, Fr. Manelli and his family. At any rate, Fr. Volpi truly in the eyes of outsiders, became the “thorn in the side” of this little institute, who though faithful to the Church’s Tradition, are not extremists by any means. Whether all the statements about Fr. Volpi are true or not, they have been treated (and still are, please pray for them) very badly by many members of the clergy and laity, and endure much slander and calumny. I share this because in the midst of all of the craziness at the hands of the Apostolic Commissioner, the Friars and Sisters of the Institute have simply kept their mouths shut and remained obedient. It smells of the sanctity of another Franciscan friar who was placed in solitary confinement for over ten years, the great St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio).
Yet, with all of this in mind, these kind Franciscans not only remain obedient, but they also remain completely humble. This is what inspired me two weeks ago. It was announced that Fr. Volpi died on June 7, 2015 (God rest his soul). The response to this from the FFI floored me again. Shortly after his death, Fr. Elias M. Mills offered a Requiem Mass for him. In the description of the video, it states that the Mass was done in “gratitude that the Franciscans of the Immaculate have for the faithful and beautiful service of Fr. Fidenzio Volpi to our community and an additional gesture of unbounded gratitude to His Holiness Pope Francis for appointing such a wonderful priest to guide and govern our Institute. May God grant Fr. Fidenzio a speedy entry into eternal rest and unending peace. Ave Maria!” I encourage you to watch the four minute video of the homily given at the Mass by Fr. Mills. For a community to speak in such kind and generous terms about a man who had done much to effectively destroy the Institute that they loved (though they may not openly admit it), is certainly a beautiful thing and an incredible example of christian charity. Loving your enemies is a true sign of a Christian, and these Franciscans knew how to best love Fr. Volpi, by offering the one thing in the world that matters most – the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. God bless the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. May we too learn how to speak well of those who have hurt us, and love them with the love that only Jesus Himself can give.
For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.
A few weeks back, we celebrated Corpus Christi. This solemnity is a day we remember the Body and Blood of Christ present in the Eucharist. We recall the truth that he is fully present in the consecrated host and wine and recognize them as his flesh and blood. It is an essential truth that we believe as Catholics.
At the parish I was attending on this feast day, we heard briefly in the homily of what Corpus Christi was and that the Eucharist is the true presence. This should already be known to Catholics. However, instead of teaching further, a representative of the church council was called up to give an overview for the parish about changes and additions that are going to be made to help the community. I felt like I was at a parish council meeting.
To make things more awkward, the children that had received first communion the week before were invited back with their families in their outfits so that they could be congratulated again. They were told to stand up and be congratulated by the parish, where all the members applauded. Our attention was turned to ourselves, where our focus should have been directed to Jesus. In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.”
What happened that weekend at the parish I was at made me think of the feeling of being upstaged at a celebration that was meant for you. You invite all your loved ones to celebrate. You provide food and drink. You make sure to spend time generously with all that come. Then, people begin to turn all their attention to the television. I can imagine the hurt, and the feeling of being old news or of being unimportant.
On Corpus Christi, we are reminded of Christ’s sacrifice for us. We are reminded of the last supper, the passion, the death, and resurrection. All those things we celebrate any given Sunday, but Corpus Christi is devoted to recalling the very gift of Christ present in the Eucharist and its sacredness.
Sadly, so many of us treat the Eucharist and the act of receiving communion as a right and not as a gift and privilege. At times we can forget the significance of the Mass and the sacrifice that takes place, and we simply go through the motions without reverence to the person we have received.
We should all reflect daily on the gift of the Eucharist. And lets be real here: it should humble us immensely. After we receive the Eucharist, we should be quiet. We should silence our hearts and minds and just thank Jesus for being with us. We should beg for the grace we need to be better people, and offer our hearts to him and our lives as homage.
Pray for our parishes, for the body of Christ and her members, that we may all recognize the precious gift of the Eucharist. Let us call each other to love him better, especially in the Blessed Sacrament.
Picture the scene: It’s around 5 o’clock in the evening and my family and I are wrapping up a weekend visiting grandparents with a birthday party for my nephew. Life seems relatively idyllic – family, friends, contented children… birthday cake!
However, as any parent will be able to relate, the tide can turn in a second. Within moments, I had my introverted twin shying away from the boisterous party, his brother throwing a tantrum on the kitchen floor because he couldn’t go outside to play in the mud and their older sister battling post-nap grumpiness.
My husband and I are not dummies. We can take a hint.
Hurriedly, we began to pack up to go home. I had two kids in and out of time-outs and a weekend’s worth of luggage to organize.
“When you are finished crying, you may have birthday cake.” I would say to my three-year-old as I hurried past, throwing armfuls of clothes into the open suitcase.
Throughout the whole ordeal, I found myself uncharacteristically unflustered. I credit this to remembering Pope Francis’ address on May 20th, 2015:
“And you, parents, do not exasperate your children, asking them to do things they cannot do.”
Despite the loud cries of my children, I found myself reflecting on these words. That night at the family farm, I knew that my kids were tired – we hadn’t slept well the night before and there were missed naps, in favour of spontaneous fun with cousins. They were hungry – it was dinnertime after all, but they were too tired to find anything appetizing. It had been a long (albeit, wonderful) weekend, but these toddlers had reached their limit .
To have tried to extend the stay would have been, well, exasperating to them. To ask them to do anything else but cry out their exhaustion, hunger and frustration would have been a fruitless war to wage.
Besides, when your kids are not happy, you are not happy. Nobody wins.
Pope Francis didn’t just leave it there, however. His whole discourse was directed towards the proper education of children:
“It is time that fathers and mothers… reassume fully their educational role… And this must be done so that the children grow in responsibility for themselves and others.”
As I was hurrying to leave the party, I realized that it was still necessary for me to have my tantruming toddlers in a time out. I knew what the cause of their frustrations were and I was sympathetic. However, I want my kids to learn that it is never okay to express their frustrations through screaming, kicking and thrashing on the floor. Sure enough, after a few minutes, all three of the kids had settled down enough to return to the group and eat a few mouthfuls of dinner before we left.
“Therefore, the relation between parents and children must be one of wisdom, of very great balance.”
Pope Francis offers this encouragement to us, the parents of today. We have it in us to be wise and to raise our children well! It is so difficult to ignore so-called “experts”, to stick to tough love when it would be easier to just give in to avoid a scene.
Truly, we have the best encouragement that heaven can offer. Our own parenting should be modeled on the relationship we, ourselves, have with God, our Father. He knows when life is challenging us and causing us to struggle, but we are still held to responsibilities of our Christian life. And when we throw our tantrums when we don’t get our way, our Father quietly and patiently intervenes, correcting us in order to help us grow in maturity. He, as the ultimate parent, sees the bigger picture – He sees how kind, but firm discipline will ultimately result in a more fruitful faith in us.
In this world that seems to be spiraling out of control fast, this small but growing revival of faithful parenting with Christ and the Church is the witness society needs to see. Pope Francis sets the stage in Rome for us through his discourses on the family and many people, including myself, find great comfort and inspiration from his words.
I can’t help but wonder, however, how much of his words are so often only reaching the proverbial “choir”. I suppose this means that the meat of his and the Church’s calls to the renewal of the family has to come from the choir – that is, from us.
That’s the beauty of our faith, though, isn’t it? The seeds are often planted at the grassroots level – in our parishes, in our schools, in our families. We, the parents of today, are the labourers in the Christ’s vineyard and our unique mission is this: to teach our children how to live in the world and to live for God, so that they are able to one day go out and do the same. We, the parents of today, don’t build the Church with physical bricks! We are building the Church by raising members of His body!
When you struggle through praying a family rosary after dinner while your toddler is hitting his brother over the head with a foam baseball bat – you are building the kingdom!
When you literally juggle children in the pew while missing every single word spoken at mass, Sunday in, Sunday out – you are building the kingdom!
When you enforce a time-out as you desperately try to leave the party in a hurry – you are building the kingdom!
It sounds wonderful, but make no mistake – it’s certainly not easy. As parents, we are called to be more than just “best friends” with our kids. We are called to be their protectors, comforters and nurturers, yes. But, possibly more importantly, we are called to be their teachers. Sometimes it takes a firm, gentle hand. Sometimes, love isn’t so cuddly and idyllic.
Remembering all the while that the correcting, the not-exasperating, the seeking of wisdom to discern the difference is truly love lived out.
Even considering all of this, the question for all of us continues to be: How can we guide our children into becoming responsible, respectable, loving and faithful adults in this world today?
According to Pope Francis, “only love, tenderness and patience can do this.”
And, God willing, as little exasperation as possible.
I sat down today to write a blog about pornography, and it just so happened that society is providing me with an incredible reminder of why I need to. On the day I’m writing this there are two porn-related stories trending on social media. Ostensibly, they are unrelated, but I don’t think the connection could be more obvious if it was written across a two-by-four smacking us all in the face.
The first story is about former playboy model Holly Madison, who talks about her deep misery and suicidal thoughts while working in the playboy mansion. “Would he even miss me? No, I was certain I was just another warm body – as we all were. ‘Just another blonde,’ I could hear him say.”
Second story? A porn site using crowd-funding to shoot porn in space. I won’t link to it, but suffice to say it is getting huge support.
Pornography, in so many ways, truly is the sin of our time. It’s perfectly designed for our lazy, entitled culture. It’s so easy to find, so easy to hide, so easy to rationalise. It’s so easy to say that this sin hurts no one, that it just makes people happy. But that’s not the reality.
I titled this blog after a song, whose lyrics hit me hard on this topic. The song, “XX (City Grave)”, by Silent Planet, captures the viewpoint of a human trafficking victim, with the band’s signature, raw, emotionally-intense lyrics.
Given that the vocal style of this band may not be to everyone’s liking, let me quote it here (the lyrics are well worth the read). The footnotes are also directly from the lyricist.
This injustice renders my thoughts ineffectual. Forgive me, Lover, and forget my sullen face. Privilege brings us to this place of human currencies. (We) buried our sisters in a glass display, only to evaporate to a toxic skyline – underneath we sell off the bodies.
My body became a graveyard where they buried thirsty souls. Show me your righteous leader; I’ll show you the bullet holes. The preacher[i] with the parched tongue and the “God” that he controls: “Shake off the sin! Shake off the sin!” And spit out your cacophony of lies.
I’ll climb through your screen and bleed out the image you left in me.[ii]
But God, are you a man? Then how do you see me? From where you sit up in heaven[iii], looking down on my hell. My body chokes back.
“I have nothing to draw with and the well is deep – where can I get living water?”[iv]
Enslaved in the “Land of the Free”[v] – my prison is our wedding bed where you left me for dead. You’ll leave us for dead. Apathy was our anchor to a digital sea[vi] where you drown in the comfort of our complicity.
Can Love save me? Will Your wrath avenge us?[vii]
i. Our sister’s captor; Several famous pastor types – names omitted for legal reasons
ii. Sex slaves forced into pornography, speaking back to our collective male gaze.
iii. Psalm 115:3; 139:8
iv. John 4:11
vi. Thrice, 2007
vii. Deuteronomy 32:35
There’s a very clear message here. Our apathy, if we consume porn while convincing ourselves it’s hurting no one, is enabling the victimisation of numerous people.
Human trafficking is a vast, global epidemic, and it is fueled by pornography and its related businesses – notably strip clubs and prostitution (both legal and illegal). And not all victims are trafficked. So many women are taken advantage of due to poverty, drug addiction, or other desperate circumstances, and abused horribly by the porn industry. There’s no escaping the fact that every dollar a pornographer makes contributes to abusing more people.
The Parallel Victims of Pornography
When digging a bit deeper into the lyrics of this song, I began to notice something else – hidden, but incredibly expressive.
There are several sections of this song which, in various ways, express the misery and victimisation of both the sex slave and the porn user.
The first example of this that I noticed, was the line, “But God, are you a man? Then how do you see me? From where you sit up in heaven, looking down on my hell.” At first read it’s clearly a despairing question from the trafficked woman, horrifically abused by men, to the God-man, Jesus. But it also equally expresses the self-realisation of an addicted man, reduced to an empty shell scrolling through images, compared to all that a man should be.
Then there are the two lines about burial: “(We) buried our sisters in a glass display,” and “My body became a graveyard where they buried thirsty souls.” What it expresses, to me, is the spiritual death caused by porn. The “thirsty souls”, thirsting for the truth and love of God, are buried instead in addiction and self-centeredness.
What Can We Do?
Pornography can be an overwhelming addiction in the lives of many people. With the way it now pervades society, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, to feel like it’s useless to fight. But again, reality isn’t as things appear. There is always hope, and in fact certainty of defeating a porn addiction in the grace of God. As someone who was once an addict, I know that God can provide the strength to carry on, and build a life without porn. With repentance, and Confession, he can make the broken whole again.
In the fight against human trafficking, there is also good work being done to free slaves, and stop those responsible. Just one example is the heroic team at Operation Underground Railroad.
If you’re struggling with porn, remember that you’re never alone. I and many others are praying for you, and God is there to lend his strength. Believe in Him – His truth will set you free.