Why Catholics Should Have a Great Sense of Humour
Catholic Herald || By Francis Phillips || 23 April 2018
A book on self-esteem by a Benedictine monk reminds us how faith makes us joyful
Is it possible to be a practising Catholic and have a sense of humour? The question is absurd; as GK Chesterton might have riposted, although in more punchy paradoxical style: it is because Catholics know the divine purpose of their lives and the means to attain it that they can then set about living it with joy and gusto. By this argument, they will actually have a much keener sense of fun than your average atheist or agnostic. Saint Teresa of Avila is said to have commented, “God protect me from sad-faced saints” and Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, one of her spiritual daughters who had been a solemn and serious atheist philosopher before her conversion, admitted that she had never laughed so much as when she had become a Carmelite nun.
These musings have arisen as I have just read Humility Rules: Saint Benedict’s 12-Step Guide to Genuine Self-Esteem by J Augustine Wetta OSB (Ignatius Press.) Don’t be put off by the title which might not sound jolly (I have noted that most books on the subject of improving our “self-esteem” seem very earnest). The author, a monk at St Louis Benedictine Abbey in the US, has written a very amusing as well as wise book. It is also only 173 pages; always a recommendation in my view.
At this point, I must mention the illustrations in the book which are one of its funniest features. Wetta has taken medieval and Renaissance paintings of monks and digitally reconfigured them so that at second glance you realise the joke he is playing: there are monks as disc jockeys, monks as weight-lifters, monks as darts throwers, monks taking selfies and so on. In case you might think this is a very puerile kind of humour, I assure you it isn’t – but you would have to buy the book to know it.
As anyone who has read it knows, St Benedict’s original Rule is a miracle of brevity and psychological insight. Its core message is that genuine self-esteem means self-abandonment; instead of fixating on yourself, you simply focus on God and only regard yourself in the light of his gaze. Wetta explains that there are twelve rungs on the ladder of humility: fear of God, self-denial, obedience, perseverance, repentance, serenity, self-abasement, prudence, silence, dignity, discretion and reverence. When you think about it you see how they all hang together.
Wetta, as befits a monk at ease in his vocation, provides the persevering reader with “homework” at the end of each chapter. These include the light-hearted, “Spare the life of a bug. Bonus points if it’s a mosquito” to the more difficult, “Spend an entire day without correcting anyone.” I felt smug at the direction, “Spend an entire day without looking at the screen” as I practise this every Sunday.
On “Silence” he advises, “When you meet a wise person, listen to him and you will learn wisdom; when you meet a foolish person, listen to him and you will learn patience; when you are alone, listen to God and you will learn everything else.” Yet he doesn’t always suffer fools gladly; when a woman once asked him, “Why did you have to become a monk? Isn’t it enough just to be a good person?” he tells her, “No! God wants you and me to be saints – to give and give and give until it hurts!”
Wetta is an all-rounder. In his spare time he supervises the school juggling team, cultivates carnivorous plants, raises carpenter ants and surfs. His final “homework” is, “Give this book away” – so having read and laughed over it I shall do just that.
Source: Catholic Herald…
Priests are Performing Exorcisms Over the Phone, Cardinal Claims
Catholic Herald || By Staff Reporter || 17 April 2018
Rising demand means priests are saying some prayers over the phone, Cardinal Simoni said
Priests have been carrying out exorcisms over the phone as demand continues to rise, a Cardinal has said.
Speaking at the Vatican’s annual exorcist training conference in Rome, Cardinal Ernest Simoni said priests are delivering prayers of liberation, part of the exorcism ritual, remotely.
“There are priests who carry out exorcisms on their mobile phones. That’s possible thanks to Jesus,” he said.
However, some warned that the practice was not wise, as people who are possessed often writhe around violently and have to be restrained during exorcisms.
Professor Giuseppe Ferrari said: “Priests pray with people on the phone to calm them down, but if you are not there you cannot control the physical aspects. Some exorcists say it is effective. Whether it is orthodox or correct, I couldn’t say.”
Around 250 priests from 50 countries are attending this year’s conference at the Regina Apostolorum university as prelates from around the world report an increase in demand for exorcisms.
The course started in 2004, and since then the number of priests attending each year has more than doubled.
Earlier this year, Irish priest Fr Pat Collins said calls were rising “exponentially” and added that he was “baffled” Church leaders were not doing more.
“What I’m finding out desperately, is people who in their own minds believe – rightly or wrongly – that they’re afflicted by an evil spirit,” he said.
“I think in many cases they wrongly think it, but when they turn to the Church, the Church doesn’t know what to do with them and they refer them on either to a psychologist or to somebody that they’ve heard of that is interested in this form of ministry, and they do fall between the cracks and often are not helped.”
Last month, Italian exorcist Fr Benigno Palilla said there had been a surge in demonic activity in the country, and that Italy needed many more exorcists.
In his most recent apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis warns that the devil is not a myth but a “personal being who assails us”
“We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea,” the Pope wrote. “This mistake would leave us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable.”
Source: Catholic Herald…
Why Did We Forget How to Date? New Documentary Aims to Find Out
Catholic News Agency (CNA) || By Mary Rezac || 16 April 2018
It was about 10 or so years ago when Kerry Cronin, a professor at Boston College, noticed something was up with the way her young students were dating – or, rather, not dating.
It was the end of the year and she was talking to a group of bright, charismatic students who were full of plans for their future. Cronin asked her students if graduation meant some difficult conversations with their boyfriends or girlfriends – and she got blank stares.
“(They) were just really stellar people, beautiful inside and out, and had all kinds of charisma and everything and almost none of them had dated at all in high school or college,” Cronin told CNA. “And I thought wait, what? What’s going on?”
Further conversations with students proved to her that this group of seniors was not an anomaly, but the norm.
“I started talking to them about hookup culture and how that had impacted dating, and what I realized was that the dating social script was sort of gone,” she said.
And so, like any good professor, Cronin turned the problem into an (extra credit) assignment that she gave to her senior capstone class the following year.
While her students all thought it was a good idea, none of them had asked someone on a date by the end of the semester.
“And I realized they had no idea what I was talking about,” Cronin said.
So she tweaked the assignment to include a set of rules that students had to follow – ask a legitimate romantic interest out on a date. In person. Keep the date 60-90 minutes. Go out to ice cream or coffee – something without drugs or alcohol. You ask, you pay – but a first date should only cost about $10 anyway. The only physical contact should be an A-frame hug.
The idea caught on, and pretty soon these “Cronin dates” were the talk of Boston College. Today Cronin travels the country, speaking to college students about how to date, and continues to give the dating assignment in her classes.
Her renown as the ‘Date Doctor’ reached the ears of Megan Harrington and her colleagues, who were looking to create a documentary about dating in today’s world.
“We had put together a pitch at dinner, and there were 14 women at dinner, two were married and the rest were single, and a lot of us just didn’t know when the last time we went on a date was,” Harrington told CNA. “And we were kind of saying, what is going on?”
After hearing about Cronin, Harrington and her team decided to feature the dating assignment in their new film “The Dating Project” – part dating how-to, part dating documentary.
Besides Cronin’s dating assignment, the film follows five single people of varying ages and backgrounds who are looking for love – two college students, Matt and Shanzi; Cecilia, a 20-something living in Chicago; Rasheeda, a 30-something living in New York; and Chris, a 40-something from Los Angeles.
“Dating, at least here at (Boston College) has kind of a broad, uncertain, ambiguous definition,” Matt says in the film.
“Definitely hooking up is more common on a college campus,” Shanzi adds.
The uncertainty and ambiguity is a constant thread in every storyline. Cecilia wishes her Tinder date would tell her what he wants, Rasheeda can’t remember the last time she was on a real date, or what that even means. Chris is so overwhelmed by online dating he’s not sure where to begin.
The moniker “hooking up” is a term young people have embraced, Cronin noted in the film, because it could mean anything from making out to having sex, and everyone gains some social status from being able to say they “hooked up.”
Cronin tries to help her students see that it’s braver – and ultimately better – to get to know a person before becoming physically intimate with them, something the hook-up culture gets backwards.
“They don’t build great habits for marriage and family. It’s easy to let someone see your body. It’s hard to let someone see you,” she said.
Harrington said she was “shocked” at the amount of pressure on college kids to be very physical in relationships, “and I think that carries over when you get out of college, this pressure to fit in.”
“I knew it was there and it’s not a new thing, and technology has just made it easier,” she added.
Cronin said that while the hook-up culture is prevalent, she’s found that most students are unhappy with that status quo and are looking for a way out.
“They want the way out but nobody’s offering it to them,” she said.
That’s why the rules for her dating assignment are so important, she noted. It’s not that she wants to return to the 1950s or some other bygone era, she added, but there are good things to be gleaned from these “dating scripts” of yesteryear.
“The rules are to help you so that you know what you’re doing,” Cronin said. “You’re not asking someone on an uber romantic date, this isn’t a candlelit dinner with violins and flowers, this is just a cup of coffee, just to see.”
She put together the “rules” from what she remembered of her own days of dating, as well as advice from friends and feedback from students who have done the assignment, Cronin said.
The students, she added, welcome the dating guidance.
“I am amazed at how much this generation of young adults wants coaching in all areas of their life,” she said. “They are hungry for coaching, and they responded so well to these rules I was amazed. In some ways I have no idea why they would do this, but then they do and they’re happy and they want people to help them navigate situations where they need to be brave.”
Two of the three production companies involved in “The Dating Project” are Christian companies – Paulist Productions and Family Theater Productions. Most of the single people featured in the film end up talking about their faith and values at some point, some more explicitly than others.
Rasheeda is the most outspoken about her Christian faith in the film. At one point, she expresses dismay that she can’t seem to find a man who shares her values and wants something out of dating besides a sexual encounter.
Harrington, herself a Catholic, told CNA that faith wasn’t necessarily meant to be a central theme of the film, but faith and values are a topic that inevitably come up during the dating process, and each person in the film talked about it to the extent they felt natural.
What the film does show, Harrington said, is that Christians are not really any better at dating in the modern world than anyone else is.
“It’s very apparent that even in the Christian world, in this area of life – dating and relationships – we’re just as lost as anyone else, we’re really not leading the way,” she said. “I think it’s just as difficult for Christians as it is for anyone else.”
Both Cronin and Harrington said that dating sites and apps are not bad in and of themselves, but they should be viewed as a tool.
“Use it as a tool to meet someone in person, because meeting in person is how you get to know someone,” Harrington said.
“The danger with apps is that people can become objects and we become consumers, and you’re swiping left and swiping right. Part of what is bad is that some people use them for just a hookup or sexual experience,” she added.
“The thing I think with any app is – have a plan, and that plan should be in line with your values and should result in you getting to meet someone face to face and having a conversation,” she said.
Cronin said the most heartening thing about her dating assignment has been that it gets students talking to each other about what they really want dating and relationships to look like.
“It’s one thing to give out an assignment to 25 students and that’s great, but what I was really heartened by is that most of those students go home to their resident halls and talk to their roommates and their friends about it,” she said.
“Within maybe two or three semesters of giving this assignment way back when, people were talking about it so actively and that was really wonderful, it ended up being one of the best thing about the assignment, because people knew about it, and it just gave people permission to go on casual, non-intense...dates,” she said.
She added that she hopes that this documentary will accomplish the same thing.
“My hope for this movie is that it will just get people to talk about our crazy fears and our crazy anxieties and why we hide so much and what it is we really want,” she said.
Harrington added that she hoped the film would encourage people to examine and re-evaluate their own relationships and dating behaviors.
“I think that the change has to come individually, we have to change ways in which we’re seeing people as experiences instead of as human beings,” she said. “You have to make a decision of changing a behavior that isn’t bringing out the dignity of the human person.”
“And if you’re of a faith, it has to be your relationship with God strengthening that and saying ok, I’m made in the image and likeness of God, and so is the other person,” she said. “So in order to change the dating culture, we have to change our own behaviors and look at the ways that we’re engaging with people.”
“The Dating Project” will show on April 17 in select theaters throughout the country. More information can be found at: https://www.thedatingprojectmovie.com/
Source: Catholic News Agency…
Facebook CEO Apologizes for 'mistake' of Blocking Catholic Content
Catholic News Agency || By Courtney Grogan || 11 April 2018
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced questions from lawmakers about his company’s censorship of Catholic content during his two-day congressional hearing following the revelation that millions of Facebook users’ personal data had been compromised.
Zuckerberg apologized and said that the company “made a mistake” in blocking a Catholic theology degree advertisement by Franciscan University of Steubenville, when asked about it by Washington state Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers on the second day of questioning.
The ad, which featured a crucifix, was rejected by Facebook over Easter on the grounds that its content was “excessively violent” and “sensational.” Facebook later apologized, saying that the ad had been blocked erroneously and did not violate terms of service. Zuckerberg on Wednesday emphasized the large number of ads that are reviewed daily by the Facebook team, saying, “I wouldn’t extrapolate from a few examples to assume that the overall system is biased.”
The tech CEO also expressed regret that he did not “take a broad enough view of our responsibility” to prevent tools from being used for harm, particularly with regards to “fake news, for foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.”
Senator Ted Cruz (R.-Texas) confronted Zuckerberg about alleged bias and censorship of political and religious content on the technology platform, saying Facebook “has blocked over two dozen Catholic pages” as well as conservative content “after determining their content and brand were, quote, ‘unsafe to the community.’”
In July 2017, CNA reported that Facebook blocked 25 Catholic pages in English and Portuguese. Facebook later apologized, saying the error was due to a malfunction rather than malicious intent. Earlier this year, another Catholic group said it was experiencing critical delays in approval of its fundraising content in support of vocations during the Christmas season.
Cruz continued to grill Zuckerberg over whether any Planned Parenthood or MoveOn.org ads had been removed. The Facebook CEO said that he was not aware of this ever occurring.
Pressed about bias, Zuckerberg said that “Facebook in the tech industry are located in Silicon Valley, which is an extremely left-leaning place,” but that he is committed to “making sure that we do not have any bias.”
Many lawmakers questioned Zuckerberg about his company’s policies for monitoring the ads and debates on its platform.
When asked to “define hate speech” by Senator Ben Sasse, Zuckerberg responded, “I think that this is a really hard question,” but reiterated his resolve to block efforts that spread hatred or violence.
Sasse continued, “There are some really passionately held views about the abortion issue on this panel today. Can you imagine a world where you might decide that pro-lifers are prohibited from speaking about their abortion views on your content — on your platform?
“I certainly would not want that to be the case,” responded Zuckerberg, who went on to say that a technological shift toward using artificial intelligence to “proactively look at content,” will lead create “massive questions for society about what obligations we want to require companies to fulfill.”
The Facebook CEO was called to testify before Congress in the wake of scandals involving privacy violations and foreign interference in the 2016 elections.
Zuckerberg apologized repeatedly for the scandal involving the data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica, in which personal information from 87 million accounts was “improperly shared.”
Addressing these privacy concerns, Senator Dick Durbin asked Zuckerberg if he would be comfortable sharing the name of the hotel where he was staying.
When the CEO responded that he would not, Durbin replied, “I think that may be what this is all about: your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy and how much you give away in modern America in the name of, quote, ‘connecting people around the world.’”
Source: Catholic News Agency…
Selection of Quotes from Pope's Exhortation on Holiness
Catholic News Service (CNS) || 09 April 2018
Here is a selection of quotations from "Gaudete et Exsultate" ("Rejoice and Be Glad"), Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation on holiness:
-- "I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God's people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile."
-- "Holiness is the most attractive face of the church."
-- "The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts, rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them."
-- "In times when women tended to be most ignored or overlooked, the Holy Spirit raised up saints whose attractiveness produced new spiritual vigor and important reforms in the church."
-- "We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case."
-- "We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves."
-- "This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures."
-- "Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy."
-- "Thanks be to God, throughout the history of the church it has always been clear that a person's perfection is measured not by the information or knowledge they possess, but by the depth of their charity."
-- "Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy when he gave us the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12; Lk 6:20-23)."
-- "Giving and forgiving means reproducing in our lives some small measure of God's perfection, which gives and forgives superabundantly."
-- "We need to think of ourselves as an army of the forgiven. All of us have been looked upon with divine compassion."
-- "The saints are not odd and aloof, unbearable because of their vanity, negativity and bitterness. The Apostles of Christ were not like that."
-- "In this call to recognize him in the poor and the suffering, we see revealed the very heart of Christ, his deepest feelings and choices, which every saint seeks to imitate."
-- "It is true that the primacy belongs to our relationship with God, but we cannot forget that the ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for others."
-- "The saints do not waste energy complaining about the failings of others; they can hold their tongue before the faults of their brothers and sisters and avoid the verbal violence that demeans and mistreats others."
-- "Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humor."
-- "The saints surprise us, they confound us, because by their lives they urge us to abandon a dull and dreary mediocrity."
-- "A community that cherishes the little details of love, whose members care for one another and create an open and evangelizing environment, is a place where the risen Lord is present, sanctifying it in accordance with the Father's plan."
-- "I do not believe in holiness without prayer, even though that prayer need not be lengthy or involve intense emotions."
-- "We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable."
-- "The devil does not need to possess us. He poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy and vice. When we let down our guard, he takes advantage of it to destroy our lives, our families and our communities."
-- "Discernment is not about discovering what more we can get out of this life, but about recognizing how we can better accomplish the mission entrusted to us at our baptism."
-- "Let us ask the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us a fervent longing to be saints for God's greater glory, and let us encourage one another in this effort."
University Says Facebook Rejected Ad Because it Shows Jesus on Cross
Catholic News Service (CNS) || 04 April 2018
The Franciscan University of Steubenville said March 30 in a blog post that an administrator of its Facebook page noticed one of its ads had been rejected because it contained "shocking content, sensational content, excessively violent content."
"What was the offending image?" the blog post asked. "The San Damiano Cross. Jesus in glory, reigning from his cruciform throne. This is what the monitors at Facebook consider excessively violent, sensational and shocking."
The blog post at https://bit.ly/2GAGlRj includes a screen capture of the message of rejection from Facebook: "Your image, video thumbnail or video can't contain shocking, sensational, or excessively violent content."
The university said the San Damiano Cross image was one in a series of ads it posted to Facebook March 29 to promote two of the school's online master's degree programs -- in theology and in catechetics and evangelization.
The San Damiano Cross is the large Romanesque rood cross that St. Francis of Assisi was praying before when he is said to have received the commission from the Lord to rebuild the Catholic Church. The original cross hangs in the Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi, Italy. Franciscans cherish this cross as the symbol of their mission from God.
"Indeed, the crucifixion of Christ was all of those things," the blog post said. "It was the most sensational action in history: man executed his God. It was shocking, yes: God deigned to take on flesh and was "obedient unto death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:8)
"And it was certainly excessively violent: a man scourged to within an inch of his life, nailed naked to a cross and left to die, all the hate of all the sin in the world poured out its wrath upon his humanity," it added.
Pope Francis: People May Receive Communion in the Hand ‘where Permitted’
Catholic Herald || By Carol Glatz || 21 March 2018
Catholics can also receive while standing if they do so 'with devotion', the Pope said
Despite the chill and gusts of wind in St Peter’s Square, Pope Francis welcomed the beginning of spring with an impromptu lesson about gardening and how to grow into being better Christians.
“Does a tree or plant that is diseased bloom well? No! Does a tree or a plant that isn’t watered … bloom well? No. And does a tree or plant with no roots bloom?” he said before delivering his general audience talk March 21.
Christians can learn from what makes spring flowers flourish, the pope said, because for Christians, their root is Jesus and the water that replenishes those roots are the sacraments and prayer, which makes lives bloom with Christian virtues and good works.
“I wish that this spring would be for you a spring in bloom” and an Easter that blossoms, he said. Offering a saying that is well-known in Argentina, the pope said, “‘The flowers a tree puts forth come from what it has underneath.’ Never cut off (one’s) roots with Jesus.”
In his main talk, the Pope continued his series on the Mass, focusing on the rite of Holy Communion.
This rite is a continuation of Jesus’s offer at the Last Supper, where he said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him,” the Pope said. The priest or deacon distributes to the faithful “the bread of life and the chalice of salvation” in Jesus, he said.
After the celebrant breaks the consecrated bread, the people reflect on the words spoken at the altar, proclaiming Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” he said.
This moment is an invitation, “calling us to experience the intimate union with Christ, source of joy and holiness,” the Pope said. It is also an invitation to an “examination of conscience, enlightened by the faith,” he said.
On the one hand, “we see the distance that separates us from the holiness of Christ; on the other, we believe that his blood was shed to take away the sins,” he said.
Just as baptism washes away sin, he said, “we are all forgiven or will be forgiven each time we approach the sacrament of reconciliation.”
“Do not forget! Jesus always forgives. Jesus never tires of forgiving. It is we who tire of asking for forgiveness,” he added.
When St Ambrose wrote, “I, who sin continually, must always have a remedy,” he was reflecting on the salvific power of the blood shed by Christ, the Pope said.
The same faith is at work, he said, when the assembly looks to the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, and beseeches, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul will be healed.”
When the people process toward the altar to receive Communion, the Pope said, “in reality, it is Christ who comes toward us to assimilate us in him.”
Receiving the Eucharist means letting oneself be transformed by what is received, he said.
“Every time we take Communion, we resemble Jesus more,” increasingly being transformed in Jesus and stripping away one’s selfishness by uniting oneself closer with Christ, he said.
Just as the bread and wine are turned into the real body and blood of Christ, he said, so too are those who receive the gifts, transformed into “a living Eucharist,” becoming “body of Christ.”
“We become what we receive,” he said.
The Pope said receiving Communion can be done standing “with devotion” or kneeling, whichever has been determined by each bishops’ conference, and Communion can be received on the tongue or, “where it is permitted”, in the hand.
He encouraged people to use the time after receiving Communion to pray more deeply, silently speaking with Jesus from the heart.
“The Eucharist makes us strong, to give us fruit, flowers of good works,” he said. Receiving the Eucharist is receiving Jesus, who “is so good and so great,” he transforms people.
Source: Catholic Herald…
Stephen Hawking: What an Atheist can Teach Believers
Spotlight.Africa || By Anthony Egan, SJ || 15 March 2018
What might people of faith learn from the life of the late Stephen Hawking? As a self-proclaimed atheist who once observed that God was superfluous to his theory of the universe, Hawking nonetheless has much, I would suggest, that believers should take seriously as they seek to understand both God and the universe.
Some biographical details seem appropriate at this point, particularly as Hawking’s remarkable life seems so closely tied to his work. Born on the 300th anniversary of Galileo’s death (January 8th 1942), diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1963 while still working on his PhD and told he had only a few years to live, physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking died on March 14th 2018 – the anniversary of the birth of another great scientist, Albert Einstein. Universally acknowledged as one of the greatest scientific minds of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, he was a cultural icon too for his refusal to let his motor neurone disease impede his quest to understand the nature – and origins – of the universe. While for Hawking this was probably a combination of secular stoicism and intellectual curiosity, it can also perhaps be read as a kind of faith, not in any divine providence as such but in a sense of commitment to engage with life in its most basic sense, a purpose that transcends obstacles in pursuit of a higher goal: meaning-making or insight.
Hawking’s breakthrough insight, published in the March 1974 issue of the journal Nature, that applied quantum theory (itself a monstrously complex theory of subatomic particles) to black holes led him to develop his unified theory of nature. To his initial chagrin this contradicted his earlier theories about black holes but – faithful to his discipline – he drew on his new insights (built in part upon his debates with fellow physicists) and presented to the world the idea that black holes could indeed collapse, and that they emitted radiation until they disappeared. This theory – called Hawking radiation – was highly theoretical and controversial. Attempts to simulate it experimentally suggested Hawking was right, but as often happens in the scientific community the results were hotly disputed.
The dynamic of this process, a questioning search for truth rooted in dialogue and the willingness to revise or even jettison ideas that no longer work, seems to me the natural allegory of a religious community at its best: engaging honestly with faith’s resources to understand where God can be found now. In short, doing theology.
Hawking’s fame grew. Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society later in 1974, he was subsequently appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University (1979-2009), a position held in the 17th Century by Sir Isaac Newton. He continued to work on his grand theory of everything, even as the Lou Gehrig’s disease took its toll. For most of his career Hawking was confined to a wheelchair; in the last two decades he was effectively paralysed, communicating in a kind of code with a finger while it still could move and by blinking his eyes. Through technical wizardry these movements were processed into an artificial voice machine connected to his chair.
His condition did not stop him from producing a swathe of important articles and books. His most famous book A Brief History of Time (1988), in which he expounded on a universal theory of physics, sold nearly 10 million copies. Though aimed at a popular audience, it is still a hellishly complex book. A subsequent book, The Grand Design (2010) co-authored with colleague Leonard Mlodinow, explored among other things the mathematical possibility of multiple universes, a ‘multiverse’.
Courage in the face of obstacles seems to me another metaphor for faith lived by action. It is moral courage that takes believers and non-believers from a position of passivity and powerless to action and a sense of agency. While action is inevitably constrained by personal and social circumstances, the will to act as best one can distinguishes victim from victor, onlooker from agent, ‘subject’ from ‘citizen’ of sapient life.
By exploring the origin and nature of the universe, Hawking inevitably found himself dealing with the ‘God question’. Here too we saw not a kneejerk atheist, but an atheist who directly or indirectly was ready to engage with believers willing to debate with him. In his work Hawking dealt with scientists who were believers, either individually or through organisations like the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Based on his interpretation of the evidence he concluded that God was a ‘metaphor’ for the cosmos he tried to understand, a ‘possibility’ that could not be disproved but who seemed superfluous to his theory, and on balance probably did not exist.
I suspect believing scientists would agree with much of Hawking’s cosmology, and where they may disagree it would be on scientific issues primarily, not out of a kind of dogmatic reaction. And, precisely on the limits to the science they see in his theories, they would argue that God – however metaphorically interpreted by historic scriptures and doctrines – is more ‘probability’ than possibility, that which is within, before and beyond the material universe or multiverse. Here too, though perhaps in the somewhat different language of mathematics, they come to the same conclusion as the best of religious traditions’ theologians and philosophers.
Undoubtedly such views – holding together philosophy and astronomy, myth and math – may unsettle many believers. Such a scenario Hawking himself may have anticipated in a famous comment in an interview where he concluded that, in a battle between science and religion, science would ultimately win because while religion rested on dogma backed by authority (sometimes even force) science was based on truth derived from evidence. The later he called bluntly facts.
Philosophers of science who follow Thomas Kuhn’s approach – which embraces a more complex view where sometimes scientists (including at times Hawking himself, I should note) started with hunches that had to be tested and verified – might object to Hawking’s bluntness here. But theologians, religious leaders should primarily see it as a friendly challenge.
It is a challenge to interpret beliefs in the light of the best available scientific knowledge. (Given the Latin roots of the word ‘Scientia’, the latter two words could if I were mathematically inclined be simply ‘knowledge2’). It is a challenge to avoid intellectual laziness, or complacency, the temptation to assume because we believed something a certain way in the past we need no longer examine it. Or to simply assert beliefs from a position of ‘authority’ – even sometimes by naked power.
Scientists like Hawking do not simply affirm and repeat the claims of their intellectual predecessors. While honouring the genius of those before them, they question, theorise and experiment to see the gaps in understanding, correct the mistakes, refine questions and propose better answers. 100 years from now, no doubt, a future Lucasian Professor of Mathematics will unpick some or all of Hawking’s theories. This is not disloyalty, nor ‘heresy’: it is the very process of science itself.
It is also the last and best challenge and gift Stephen Hawking has given believers. Do we have the moral courage and sufficient spiritual conviction to take it up?
Stephen Hawking was a Longtime Member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
Catholic Herald || By Carol Glatz || 14 March 2018
The academy said he told four popes he wanted to 'advance the relationship between Faith and Scientific Reason'
Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who said he did not believe in God, was still an esteemed member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and fostered a fruitful dialogue between science and faith.
The academy, which Pope Pius IX established in 1847, tweeted, “We are deeply saddened about the passing of our remarkable Academician Stephen #Hawking who was so faithful to our Academy.”
“He told the 4 Popes he met that he wanted to advance the relationship between Faith and Scientific Reason. We pray the Lord to welcome him in his Glory,” @CasinaPioIV, the academy, tweeted March 14.
The Vatican observatory, @SpecolaVaticana, also expressed its condolences to Hawking’s family.
“We value the enormous scientific contribution he has made to quantum cosmology and the courage he had in facing illness,” the observatory tweeted in Italian.
The British-born theoretical physicist, cosmologist and popular author died March 14 at the age of 76.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster tweeted, “We thank Stephen Hawking for his outstanding contribution to science. As a member of the Pontifical Academy of Science, he will be missed and mourned there, too.”
Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury tweeted, “Professor Stephen Hawking’s contribution to science was as limitless as the universe he devoted his life to understanding. His was a life lived with bravery and passion. As we pray for all those who mourn him, may he rest in peace.
Blessed Paul VI named Hawking a member of the papal academy in 1968. The academy’s members are chosen on the basis of their academic credentials and professional expertise – not religious beliefs.
Blessed Paul, the first of four popes to meet Hawking, gave the then 33-year-old scientist the prestigious Pius XI gold medal in 1975 after a unanimous vote by the academy in recognition of his great work, exceptional promise and “important contribution of his research to scientific progress.”
Pictures from the academy’s archives show the pope kneeling before Hawking, who was seated in a motorized wheelchair, to present him with the medal and touch his head.
Hawking had most recently met Pope Francis when he delivered his presentation on “The Origin of the Universe” at the academy’s plenary session on science and sustainability in 2016.
In interviews and his writings, Hawking asserted that God had no role in creating the universe.
Yet his avowed atheism did not keep him from engaging in dialogue and debate with the church as his work and contribution to the papal academy showed.
He also debated on CNN’s “Larry King Live” in 2010 with Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer — a philosopher and educator — over the scientific underpinnings of the beginning of the universe and the theological arguments for the existence of God.
Vatican astronomer, Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, who has studied both physics and philosophy, told Catholic News Service in 2010 that “the ‘god’ that Stephen Hawking doesn’t believe in is one I don’t believe in either.”
“God is not just another force in the universe, alongside gravity or electricity,” he added. “God is the reason why existence itself exists. God is the reason why space and time and the laws of nature can be present for the forces to operate that Stephen Hawking is talking about.”
Source: Catholic Herald…
Lightning Strikes Church in Rwanda, Kills 16
The New Times || By Kelly Rwamapera || 12 March 2018
Sixteen people were struck dead by lightning on Saturday in Nyaruguru District. All but one were worshipping at Gihembe Seventh-day Adventist Church in Nyabimata Sector.
Another one was killed from a farm in Ruheru Sector in the same district.
The victims were laid to rest yesterday.
At least 140 worshipers, who were injured from the same church were transferred to nearby health facilities. The deceased were all buried yesterday in Nyabimata cemetery, according to Collette Kayitesi, the vice mayor for social affairs in Nyaruguru.
Kayitesi said the district will incur all the costs of treatment as they did the cost of the burial of the 16 who died.
Hundreds of worshipers were gathered at the church during a Sabbath service that had been graced by a visiting choir, according to church elder Emmanuel Ruremesha, who survived the lightning strike.
During an interview with The New Times, Ruremesha, who was seated at the altar, said that the rain that brought the thunderbolt began at around mid-day when the service was at its prime.
“Normally, we finish at mid-day sharp but because of the visiting choir, we had extended the day’s programme so as to accord more time for the visiting choir. By the time it started raining we had just welcomed the preacher to the pulpit,” Ruremesha told The New Times.
Ruremesha says they had heard lightning strikes in the district the previous days so he warned worshippers not to use phones in church during the rain.
“Suddenly, there was a big bang, I saw a thunderbolt strike worshippers. We all fell down for minutes,” he said.
Marceline Mukamana, who lives near the church, was the first to arrive at the scene following the strike.
Mukamana, a community health worker, says she had just returned home for lunch when it started raining and then heard the lightning.
Minutes later, she heard a woman crying for help and ran thinking the church had collapsed upon people only to find it intact but all people inside strangely lying on the ground.
“It was very terrifying to see. I started moving back with my legs shaking. I realised I had to go home for my phone to call local authorities,” said Mukamana.
She called sector and district authorities who also called for ambulances from Munini Hospital to help.
Dr Innocent Ndebeyaho, of Munini Hospital, says 70 people were received at Munini Hospital and 70 at Muganza and Nyabimata hospitals.
“Those in health centres have been discharged with only four remaining while at Munini hospital 58 have been discharged, one transferred to University Teaching Hospital of Butare and eleven are steadily recovering.
Among the eleven still at Munini Hospital is a man who lost his wife in the lightning strike.
According to Ndebeyaho, the patient was yesterday helped to go to the cemetery to bury his wife “because he insisted he couldn’t afford to miss the burial of his wife. He was taken there in an ambulance with doctors.”
Response to the disasters
Alphonse Hishamunda, the acting Director of Risk Reduction and Preparedness Unit at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugees (MIDMAR), says the ministry have embarked on a campaign to sensitise Rwandans about lightning, through different platforms.
“It’s so sad that our people have died, we call upon all Rwandans to stand warned as we have always advised of lightning happenings because it’s rainy season,” he said, urging the general public to install lightning rods, especially in placed where many people meet.
Concerning the Nyaruguru lightning incident, Hishamunda said there are very few cases where lightning strikes people indoors but when it happens, it is due to houses lacking lightning rods.
“We recommend installation of lightning rods on all public buildings, avoid contact with electric conductors, including water, and using telephones when it’s raining” he advised.
Source: The New Times…
Are Religious Sisters Exploited by the Church? Three Sisters Respond
Catholic News Agency (CNA) || By Mary Rezac || 07 March 2018
Last week, the women’s edition of a magazine distributed in the Vatican published an article claiming that religious sisters in the Church are poorly treated and economically exploited.
The article appeared in Women Church World, a monthly women’s magazine published by L’Osservatore Romano, the newspaper of Vatican City. The Associated Press called the story an “exposé on the underpaid labor and unappreciated intellect of religious sisters.”
In the article, three religious sisters, whose names have been changed, expressed that the work of women religious is undervalued, that sisters are treated poorly by the priests and bishops they serve, and that they are not recognized or paid fairly for their work.
One nun, identified only as Sr. Marie, said that nuns often work long hours in domestic roles for little pay. She also lamented that some sisters are not invited to eat at the same table with the clergy that they serve, causing frustration and resentment.
Another sister in the article lamented that sisters with advanced degrees are sometimes tasked with menial jobs.
“I met some nuns in possession of a doctorate in theology who have been sent to cook or wash the dishes the following day, a mission free from any connection with their intellectual formation and without a real explanation,” said a religious sister identified in the article as Sr. Paule.
But several religious sisters have told CNA that the article does not reflect their experiences in religious life.
Mother M. Maximilia Um, who is the Provincial Superior of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George in Alton, Illinois, said that the article might indicate specific problems in particular sisters’ situations, rather than systemic institutional problems.
“None of the concerns or problems pointed out in this article can really be completely dismissed, but...I don’t think that they can be confined to relationships between men and women, and those who are ordained and those who are not,” she said. “I suppose in the end it’s a problem as old as sin.”
While Mother Maximilia’s order of sisters mostly serve in health care and education positions, they have “quite a history” of serving in the households of priests or bishops, like the sisters in the article.
However, the views of the sisters in the article do not reflect “the very real experience our sisters have had in these apostolates, where there is real care and concern shown for the sisters and for their service,” she said.
Mother Marie Julie is the Superior General of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady, Mother of the Church, headquartered in Connecticut, whose apostolates are primarily in health care and education. Their charism is “to serve the people of God in a spirit of heartfelt simplicity.”
“So by our charism, we’re not looking to get our name in lights, we’re not looking for adulation or praise or notice even, we just want to be in the heart of the Church, and I think that’s pretty much the feeling of most religious congregations and their members,” Mother Marie told CNA.
She added that she was “saddened” by the L’Osservatore Romano article, because, she said, it paints a “misleading and bleak picture” of religious life, and does not emphasize the gift of the vocation, both to the consecrated individual and to the Church at large.
“There are disgruntled people everywhere, and also I have to admit there is probably some truth to what was written in that article, I can’t say that those people have never had any of those experiences,” she said. “But that has not been my experience or the experience of those sisters that I know.”
Rather than a feeling of servitude, religious sisters typically feel that they are daughters of the Church, and are loved and respected as such, said Mother Judith Zuniga, O.C.D., Superior General of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, California.
“I feel and know myself to be a daughter of the Church, which in essence means that the Church is my Mother and I sincerely love her,” Mother Judith told CNA by email.
“If there is sexism and discrimination, my sisters and I have not experienced it. There seems to be more a feeling of respect, affection, and gratitude for the services we render, for who we are. This would be the more standard response we've received from people within and outside the Church,” she said.
When it comes to monetary compensation, Mother Maximilia noted that while the salaries or stipends of a sister doing domestic work might be less than what she might make in other apostolates, “that was never an issue for us because first of all we see this as a real service to the church,” she said. Furthermore, the households in which sisters served often provided other compensation, such as meals or lodging.
“I feel like we were always adequately compensated for service,” she said.
Mother Marie told CNA that sometimes, if a particular parish is struggling, the sisters serving there might be paid less, or paid later as the funds come in, but “those are the parishes that are struggling, that is not the norm by any stretch of the imagination,” she noted.
“We don't expect that we would live simply on the love of God, we have to have insurance and we have responsibilities and overhead,” Mother Marie said. “But when that happens - when we’re in a ministry and we’re not paid adequately as the world would see it - that’s not servitude, that’s Gospel, and that’s a privilege,” she said.
Religious sisters in the Church typically make three vows - those of poverty, chastity and obedience. During the celebration of the final profession of those vows, a sister often lies prostrate, face down, before the altar and the cross, in a symbolic gesture that she is giving up her old life and rising with Christ as someone who totally belongs to him, Mother Marie said.
That moment is “one of the holiest moments of our lives as sisters,” Mother Marie said.
“When we laid our lives at the service of the Gospel, we also laid at the foot of the altar our expectations for what we would gain in life,” in terms of worldly success or recognition, she said. Instead, “our hope is that we would gain souls, and I know that that might sound sort of Pollyannish, but that’s what gets us up in the morning,” she added.
Regarding the complaint that sisters with advanced degrees might be working in positions of service that are considered less intellectually stimulating, Mother Maximilia said that kind of thinking reveals a bias about what makes work valuable.
“The thought that [intellectual work] is objectively more valuable is already a biased opinion,” Mother Maximilia said.
“The point of any work is to serve and love God and neighbor, and I think actually that shows itself in a very particular way in direct service to a person’s needs,” she said.
“I would argue that it often is very intellectual work to balance and manage a household, so I think first of all we have a skewered notion of what valuable work is, and I would accentuate that what makes work valuable in the end is love, and we’ve always understood that service to the clergy is primarily that,” Mother Maximilia said.
It is natural, Mother Marie noted, that a religious sister with an advanced degree would want to work in her field of expertise at least for a time, and that is often the plan for those sisters. However, sometimes extenuating circumstances necessitate that sisters serve in other apostolates.
“If God calls us to do something else either through our superiors or the signs of the times or just through events, then we respond to that...we see that as the will of God,” she said.
When a sister is serving in a position that may not have been her first choice, it is not unlike the sacrifices that mothers and fathers make for their families, she added, such as staying up all night with a sick child, or taking a lower paying position in order to have more time for their family.
“That’s done for love, and it’s love that drives what we do, and a recognition of this great gift that we have,” as consecrated people, she said.
Mother Judith added that while education is a good and necessary thing, it is not ultimately the measure by which souls will be judged at the end of their lives.
“In the final analysis, when we come to the end of our life and we come before the Lord, I think it's safe to say that He's not going to ask us how many degrees we had or how we used our education,” she said. “He's going to ask us how we loved.”
Mother Judith noted that the article misses, as contemporary culture often misses, the gifts that women in their femininity bring to the world, regardless of what specific tasks they are performing.
“We live in a culture that doesn't seem to value the true gifts that women bring to our culture - motherhood, gentleness, patience, intuition, sensitivity, attention, warmth and the list goes on. These qualities are now seen in a negative light, seen as weaknesses, when in fact, it's our strength,” she said.
“For consecrated religious, these elements of true femininity should be even more deeply rooted in us simply because of who we are. People see us and right away they associate us with God, the Church and rightly so. What a blessing and privilege it is to be a daughter of the Church.”
Source: Catholic News Agency…