Catholicism

How Motherhood Helped Me Understand the Incarnation

For me, as a mother, the incarnation becomes tangible thus: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus” and [not listed in Gabriel’s announcement] he’ll be brutally killed in front of you. It becomes tangible when I again picture this mother at the foot of a cross where her son hangs. He is the savior of the world, carrying out God’s perfect plan through his death and resurrection, yes. … But he is her baby.

Leading with Wisdom

Joan Chittister
Joan Chittister

MANY KNOW Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister as a prophetic spiritual writer and an engaging speaker; others call to mind her sister-leadership, her feminism, and her defiance of the Vatican. What Tom Roberts’ startling new biography uncovers, with the full cooperation of Sister Joan, are the horrors of a childhood filled with violence and poverty and the vivid details of her growth as a spokesperson for women’s equality in the Catholic Church.

The book’s three parts each deal with a phase in Chittister’s spiritual growth. The early years, with harrowing accounts of protecting her mother from a brutal and alcoholic stepfather and entering an Erie Benedictine community still steeped in old-world traditions, conclude with Chittister receiving her Ph.D. from Penn State, a first for her order.

Part two chronicles the tumultuous middle years when religious communities everywhere were adapting to a radically changing world. Chittister grew in critical consciousness about the role of women in the church and served three terms as prioress of her order, helping her community to move from its traditional vocation of teaching to serving a changing neighborhood. Their projects, under the umbrella term of peacemaking, took the form of urban gardens, art workshops, afterschool programs, peace centers, houses of hospitality, and soup kitchens, and eventually to the formation of online communities of monastic spirituality. For those who haven’t read Chittister’s own writing on these years, Roberts could have included more information on pre-Vatican II convent life here.

Part three finds Chittister moving beyond the community of U.S. sisters to worldwide leadership, ably assisted by her lifelong friend Sister Maureen Tobin. Chittister traveled on peacemaking journeys to Palestine and Israel, worked in Haiti and the Philippines, and took part in several worldwide conferences, including the 1995 U.N. World Conference on Women in Beijing and an ecumenical conference in Nairobi. All this while still plagued by the ravages of childhood polio!

In 2001, Chittister was invited to speak at the first international conference of Women’s Ordination Worldwide, to be held in in Dublin. Vatican officials ordered her prioress, the late Christine Vladimiroff, to “forbid and prohibit” Chittister’s participation. Roberts details the courage of Vladimiroff and the community as they collectively resisted the Vatican in support of Chittister.

When Chittister addressed the Dublin conference about discipleship, she asked “What do the people really need?” answering that “they need the sacred, not the sexist ... more prophets of equality, not more pretenders to a priesthood of male privilege. They need discipleship, not canonical decrees.” In her assertion that Christian discipleship will, sooner or later, “tumble a person from the banquet tables ... to the most suspect margins of both church and society,” she foreshadowed some of Pope Francis’ wisdom. She begged that the question of women as priests be seriously considered in papal circles, lamenting that it had not yet happened. (It still has not yet happened.)

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Stephen Colbert to Bill Maher: 'Come on Back' to the Church

YouTube / The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
Photo via YouTube / The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Bill Maher is known for his often vitriolic rhetoric against religion, especially Islam. But the comedian was actually raised Catholic. When Maher stopped by the Late Show to chat with Stephen Colbert, America’s most famous Catholic invited him to give Catholicism another try.

Their conversation was clearly tongue-in-cheek, but you can certainly feel some tension.

Pope Francis Arrives, Reassures U.S.: 'I'm a Catholic, Not a Communist!'

Image via Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS/RNS

Pope Francis touched down in Washington on Sept. 22 after a historic visit to Cuba, the first Latin American pope in history on his first trip to the U.S. He comes “as a migrant,” as a top papal aide put it, on a six-day visit filled with great expectations for the popular pontiff but also numerous challenges.

Among them are the sharp, even personal criticisms directed at him from American conservatives upset with his thundering pronouncements against economic injustice and climate change, and from conservative Catholics upset that his focus on the poor and marginalized is undercutting the Catholic Church’s focus on battling abortion and gay marriage.

Francis himself addressed those concerns even before he landed, telling reporters aboard the chartered Alitalia jet that everything he has said is in keeping with church teaching and laughing at repeated accusations that he is a communist or radical left-winger:

“I am certain I have never said anything more than what is in the social doctrine of the church,” Francis said, according to Catholic News Service .

“I follow the church and in this I do not think I am wrong.

How the Vatican Links Human Trafficking, Climate Change, and God

Vladimir Wrangel / Shutterstock.com
Sunset over the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Photo via Vladimir Wrangel / Shutterstock.com

On July 21 and 22, the Vatican hosts two conferences on human trafficking and climate change, bringing the mayors of major cities — including several in the U.S. — to Rome for the events. What do human trafficking and climate change have to do with each other? And what does Catholicism have to do with them? Let us explain.

Q: Why is the Vatican concerned with human trafficking and climate change?

A: If Pope Francis has two pet issues, they are human trafficking and climate change. Since the first year of his papacy he has spoken against human trafficking, calling it “a crime against humanity” and lamenting it as modern slavery. It’s an even bet that when the pope addresses the United Nations in late September he will hammer it as one of the crucial issues of our time. Ditto on climate change. In June, the pontiff published his encyclical — the highest teaching of the church — on climate change.

“Our home is being ruined and that hurts everyone, especially the poorest among us,” Francis said just before the publication of the encyclical.

Jim Gaffigan's Catholic Comedy

Image via TVLand/RNS
Image via TVLand/RNS

Jokes about somebody’s religious beliefs are often duds.

But jokes about your own religious beliefs somehow push the line between funny and offensive, making room for laughter and, occasionally, sharp commentary.

That’s the philosophy behind The Jim Gaffigan Show, a new series premiering on TVLand on July 15 featuring Jim Gaffigan — the popular stand-up comedian known for his Comedy Central special and the books Dad Is Fat and Food: A Love Story — and his wife, Jeannie.

The husband-and-wife team say their Catholicism — with its daily prayer, weekly Mass, and rosary recitation with their five kids — is such a part of their own lives that not including it in their work would be dishonest.

“It’s part of the story,” said Jeannie Gaffigan, an executive producer of the new show and Jim’s frequent collaborator.

Five Faith Facts about George Pataki, a Catholic Who Doesn’t Always Toe the Line

Former New York Gov. George Pataki speaks in Nashua, N.H on April 17, 2015. Imag
Former New York Gov. George Pataki speaks in Nashua, N.H on April 17, 2015. Image via RNS/REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Pataki is Roman Catholic but has frequently taken stances that conflict with Catholic teaching. He supports abortion rights and tried to restore the death penalty in New York state. He doesn’t often invoke his faith and has selectively highlighted his Catholicism. Here are five faith facts about the married father of four.

Who Was St. Patrick, and Would He Drink Green Beer?

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons / RNS
St. Patrick of Ireland. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons / RNS

For Catholics, Episcopalians and some Lutherans, March 17 is the Feast Day of St. Patrick. For the rest of us, it’s St. Patrick’s Day — a midweek excuse to party until we’re green in the face. But who was Patrick? Did he really drive the snakes out of Ireland or use the shamrock to explain the Trinity? Why should this fifth-century priest be remembered on this day?

Q: Was St. Patrick a real guy, and would he approve of green beer?

A: Yes, Patrick was a real person, but not much is known of his life. He was born in the late 300s when the Roman Empire extended to England, so he was not “really” Irish — like the vast majority of people who celebrate his day. In his “Confessio,” one of only two surviving documents attributed to him, Patrick wrote that while his father was a Christian deacon, he was not devout. At age 16, Patrick was captured by Irish marauders, carried across the Irish Sea and enslaved. Patrick spent six years alone in the wilderness tending his master’s sheep, praying constantly. “It was among foreigners that it was seen how little I was,” he wrote. He began to have visions and hear voices that told him: “Look, your ship is ready.” So Patrick left his first flock and walked 200 miles to the coast. It’s a pretty safe bet he would have loved a beer, green or otherwise, as he stepped into a boat bound for England.

Addressing the Changing Face of Faith

Rawpixel / Shutterstock.com
Rawpixel / Shutterstock.com

The 6.5 million people in the greater Houston area now surpass New York City and Los Angeles as the most racially and ethnically diverse urban area in the U.S. That's the site where a broad spectrum of U.S. church leaders met this week to consider the impact of immigration on their congregations, and on the rapidly changing expressions of Christianity within North American culture.

The group gathered at the annual convocation of Christian Churches Together in the USA, which includes the leadership of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, several Pentecostal and evangelical denominations, the Orthodox Churches, some Historic Black churches, and nearly all the major historic Protestant denominations. All of these are experiencing the impact of immigration. Most dramatically, for instance, 54 percent of millennials — those born after 1982 — who are Catholic are Latinos. Of the 44 million people living in the United States who were born in another country, 74 percent are Christian, while only 5 percent are Muslim, 4 percent Buddhist, and 3 percent Hindu.

While church leaders in the U.S. have expressed united support for the reform of U.S. immigration laws, this is the first time an ecumenical body has gathered to examine together the actual consequences of immigration on the life and witness of its churches.

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