Monday, April 28, 2008

"Faithful"- a reflection on a walking pilgrimage

“Jesus Christ is the Lord, Alleluia! Jesus Christ is the Lord, Alleluia! Sing it louder! Again!” The guitar-playing Franciscan brother alternately sings and shouts into the microphone that a high school boy in shorts and sandals holds in front of his mouth. Brother Andrew’s voice projects out of the speakers that are carried like backpacks by four of the approximately one hundred pilgrims who walk along the side of the Pennsylvanian roadway on a Sunday morning in August. We raise our voices as the brother demanded, singing the words and the notes again and again, until finally, it is impossible not to mean what we say.

“Up the hill! Keep singing, pilgrims! Jesus Christ is the Lord, Alleluia! Jesus Christ is the Lord, Alleluia!” As the road begins to incline upwards, my calves, almost distinct personalities by this point in the 67 mile walk, scream at me in anger. I push the pain out of my mind as I push my body up the hill, one of many I conquered in the past four days. I hold on tightly to the straps of my backpack and fill my lungs with air to lift up my voice with the rest of the pilgrims, who are as exhausted, sweaty, and smelly as I am. But none of us care.

“Look through the trees. There’s the shrine! Jesus Christ is the Lord, Alleluia! Jesus Christ is the Lord, Alleluia!” I stand on my tiptoes, following the pointing arms of the other pilgrims- there it is! The shrine! I had never seen it before in my life, and I would have found the architecture to be disappointingly modern, if the shrine didn’t represent everything I had gone through over the past four days. Suddenly laughing inexplicably, I join the others in cheering, and we all begin to move more quickly, sing more loudly, and randomly shout with joy.

“Jesus Christ is the Lord, Alleluia! Jesus Christ is the Lord, Alleluia! Jesus Christ is the Lord, Alleluia, Alleluia!” The pain in my aching, sore body melts away in a frenzy of emotion and my thoughts run together as I walk up the last hill, the shrine in plain sight. I can’t sing loud enough, the sun can’t shine brightly enough to match this, what I feel right now! I love all of you, every one of you, the people I’ve walked beside these days, and I don’t even know your names. It doesn’t matter, our names don’t matter, we are children of God and we are almost there! We’ve walked so far, offering up our sufferings, for the glory of God, and we’ve almost done it, we’ve almost done it! People cheer for us, people I’ve never seen, but I wave back at them like it’s them I’ve been longing to see. I sing so loudly my throat feels raw but it’s a wonderful feeling, the pain that comes from praising God as he deserves to be praised. This- this must be what heaven is like, seeing all the people you never even knew that you loved. They welcome you, and God’s presence is all around, in the religious brothers dancing beside us, in the frenzied, hysterical singing, in the annoying guy you never even liked before this moment, in the friend who has walked beside you all along, in the place, the most beautiful place you have ever seen, all of this is for Him. You almost hear, you can imagine what one day it will be like to hear, as a mixture of tears and sweat runs down your face, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pope Benedict's Visit: "Christ Our Hope"- My Experience

How can I even start to blog about my trip to Washington D.C. to see Pope Benedict? How can I even begin to try to unravel what the Papal visit means for the Church in America and for the universal Church? I'm far less articulate than I want to be but I have to try because neglecting to write anything about this experience, which has already impacted my life and will inevitably impact the world- would be almost unforgivable. I'm going to start out by saying that I'm a big fan of Pope Benedict XVI. I think he's exactly the man the Church needs, which makes a whole lot of sense when you think about the way the papcy works. He is a brilliant theologian and a stalwart defender of the truth. He's a liturgist with an appreciation for tradition. He's unbelievably articulate, gracious, and loving. If you can't tell, I have a bit of a Pope-crush. Even if he were none of these things, I would still love him because he is the successor to St. Peter and the Vicar of Christ. He's a major world player and a head of state, which explains the secular media buzz, but for Catholics, he is so much more than that. The first time I saw Pope Benedict was in 2007 on my pilgrimage to Rome when he lead the Angelus in St. Peter's Square from his window (video ). My classmates and I were completely in awe and so thrilled to see him in person. At the time, I had no idea that in a little over a year later I would be seeing the Holy Father in the United States. I was able to spend Holy Week of 2007 in Rome, attending the Holy Thursday Papal Mass, the Good Friday Papal service, Stations of the Cross with Pope Benedict, and Easter Sunday in St. Peter's Square. The entire week was completely overwhelming, because I was seeing the Vicar of Christ on a daily basis, during the high point of the Church year, with thousands of other Catholics. As I stood in St. Peter's Square on Easter Sunday, waving goodbye to the Holy Father, I shed a few tears, thinking that I would never see this amazing, holy man who I had grown to love and admire, in this world ever again.

I haven't been back to Rome since Holy Week of 2007; instead I traveled five hours by car to attend the Papal Mass at Nationals Stadium during "Christ Our Hope," Pope Benedict XVI's apostolic visit to the United States. We were fortunate enough to have obtained tickets to stand on the grounds of the National Shrine so we could catch a glimpse of Pope Benedict before he entered the Shrine to meet with the US bishops. The weather was absolutely perfect, and we stood near the Eastern entrance where the Holy Father was going to enter. We decided that standing right next to a group of about twenty Missionaries of Charity couldn't hurt either. After waiting in the sun for a few hours, the US Bishops and Cardinals arrived in charter buses and the excitement and reality that we were in the midst of the most powerful men of the Church in America, about to greet the Holy Father, began to set in. Around 5:15 pm the Shrine's bells began to ring, preceding the arrival of the Holy Father. As security officers on motorcycles drove past us, we craned our necks for any sight of the tell-tale white Mercedes known as the pope-mobile. Finally, the people pressed against the barricade to our right began to shout and cheer and we were able to catch our first glimpse of Pope Benedict XVI. The Holy Father was sitting in the pope-mobile, windows rolled down, and was enthusiastically smiling and waving at us. At the closest point, he was about fifteen feet away from where I stood, and I could see him clearly enough to make out the joy in his facial expression, especially the fantastic look of joyful recognition when he saw and acknowledged the Missionaries of Charity to my left.

When I saw him at such a close proximity, it was like I was able to realize more fully how accessible he is- yes, he's the successor to St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ, the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church, and a gifted theologian, but he's also a man like any other, one that I could develop a personal relatioship with. I think, on some level, or in some way, all of the people reaching out and calling out to him that day, this whole visit, were feeling and longing for the same thing. I feel that he somehow feels the same way about us. He's met a handful of US Catholics on his visit, but he wishes that he could meet all of us, and in those few moments, where he passed so closely to where we were standing, waving and smiling, he recognized our love and appreciation of him, this man we don't know personally but feel as if we do, and he returned our sentiments by appearing to us and for us. Although the vehicle was moving slowly, he was gone before we knew it, and his stepped on to the red carpet that lead into the Shrine and disappeared into the Basilica. It took us over an hour to make our way to the metro because of the congestion of people, as well as some protestors who didn't make things easier, which I'll write about later when I get the chance.

My personal experience with Pope Benedict XVI's apostolic visit to the United States continued when my companions and I attended the Mass at Nationals' Stadium in Washington D.C. We arrived at the stadium around 7 am, though the Mass wasn't scheduled to begin until 10. We were seated along the third base line on the first deck and we had a good clear view of the entire Mass. I can't ignore the fact that I wasn't thrilled by the musical selection. The musical selection was meant to signify the diversity of the Archdiocese of Washington where the Mass took place. There were at least three choirs that I can remember, the Papal Choir, the Children's Choir, and the Intercultural Choir. Some traditional hymns and chants were sung, but there were also more ethnic and contemporary song choices, such as Hispanic and African songs. I'm all for culture, but instead of reflecting and celebrating in diversity, there was much less of a sense of coherence and flow because of this. Also, the traditional things they chose weren't even that fantastic (ie. the responsorial psalm that sounded like "Don Juan Triumpant" from Phantom of the Opera). Marty Haugen's "Mass of Creation??" Let's be real people. Just not necessary, and at the Pope's Mass? On a positive note, the altar set up was beautiful, with a make-shift, but nice and functional baldichino and a really nice crucifix, and the Holy Father's trade-mark candles set up on the altar. The stadium erupted when the Holy Father arrived at 9:30, circling the stadium once in the pope-mobile, a nice touch. Pope Benedict seems like a shy, reserved person, and in comparison to Pope John Paul II he really is reserved, but when he's circling a stadium of 46,000 people in his custom Mercedes, he seemed more like a rock star than ever before. I don't think he was exactly lapping it up, but he must know how badly the people in the stadium wanted to see him close up, and the drive around the stadium did that for us in some way.

Attending the Mass celebrated by the Holy Father is always a blessing, and the presence of the Pope in America, celebrating the Eucharist, which is the cornerstone of the Catholic faith, truly displayed the universality of the Church, and was a visible sign of the communion members of the faith share with each other. For this week, all eyes were on Pope Benedict XVI as he moved from location to location, activity to activity. I know his general daily schedule, but I don't usually follow his activities so closely, but participating in this Mass, sharing the Eucharist, showed me that even now, when the Pope has left the US and has "disappeared," more or less, back behind the walls of the Vatican, I am united to him, and to the rest of the faithful, when we share in the Eucharistic meal. Maybe I'm theologizing too much, but the point I'm trying to get across is that though I won't physically close to the Pope Benedict for who knows how long, I can always be united to him through the Eucharist. There are many other things I want to touch on and elaborate about regarding the visit, especially the sentiments Pope Benedict conveyed in his homilies and speeches, but I don't have time to right now and it's beyond the point of this blog. This post is my immediate reaction and my personal experience with this papal visit. Overall, I'm convinced that Pope Benedict XVI loves the members of the American faithful, though he recognizes the problems we face, and he encourages us to overcome rather than succomb to the trials of our materialistic culture. The Papal Visit has deepened my love for the universal Church and I hope that the same seeds of love have been planted in the hearts of many many Catholics in the United States who were touched in some way by Pope Benedict's visit.

Photos: All credit to S. Hlabse, excluding photo of National Shrine (Knights of Columbus).

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Pope-Wannabes Protest Pope Benedict XVI

I'll be honest, sometimes I'm quite naive. I like to believe that every Catholic appreciates and accepts the fact that the Catholic Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures are inspired and inerrant, and that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on Earth. However, despite my naiveté, I'm often forced to face the facts not all people who consider themselves Catholic hold these particular views. Case in point, this news article on "Catholics" protesting Pope Benedict XVI and his impending visit to the United States. I've included a link to the article along with quotes that I found particularly "interesting," in addition to my personal commentary.

Yahoo News Article: Papal visit provokes array of protests

A few quality exerpts from the article:

"We cannot welcome this pope until he begins to do away with the church's continuing violence of sexism," said Sister Donna Quinn, coordinator of the National Coalition of American Nuns.

I'm wondering when these women are going to comprehend the fact that there's nothing Pope Benedict can do about the way that Jesus Christ established the priesthood.

"He has issued some of the most hurtful and extreme rhetoric against our community of any religious leader in history, and we want to call him into account for the damage that he's done," said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA.

Oh yeah. Really rough stuff. Particularly when he said this (sarcasm intended): "It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs."- from "On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons"

"Catholics wonder why there's this huge disparity between what the hierarchy says we should do in regard to contraception and what Catholics on the ground actually do," said Catholics for Choice president Jon O'Brien. He termed the ban [on contraception] "a great tragedy ... a policy that lacks compassion and understanding."

Let's see. The only disparity I can see is that the hierarchy teaches the divinely revealed truth and Catholics on the ground disagree with it.

The extent to which the pope addresses the varied grievances during his trip remains unknown. But the Vatican's envoy to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, said any dissent that might arise was regrettable. "Even in the Catholic church, nobody has the right to instrumentalize the visit of the pope to serve their personal interests," Sambi told the National Catholic Reporter. "The problem is that there are too many people here who would like to be the pope ... and who attribute to themselves a strong sense of their own infallibility."

I couldn't have said it better myself! :)

These people can say what they want and form as many coalitions as they want. The Catholic Church is a 2,000+ year old divine institution. They are asking for "reforms" that go against the very nature of the Catholic Church. Instead of protesting the Vicar of Christ and criticizing the Body of Christ (the Church), these individuals and groups would be better off studying what the Church actually teaches and why, or face the music and stop calling themselves Catholic.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Oprah: Philanthropic Celebrity or Preacher of Heresy?

The other day I was leisurely perusing cyberspace when I came upon a link that one of my friends had posted. I was curious, so I clicked on the link and watched the youtube video that came up. The video, which I'm also posting here, is a short video (6:54) containing clips of TV talk show host and "philanthropist" Oprah Winfrey speaking about religion, specifically addressing her Oprah's Book Club selection "A New Earth" by spiritual writer Eckhart Tolle which Oprah claims has changed her life, despite the fact that it can't be reconciled with Christianity. The video is an anti-Oprah propaganda video clearly containing some pretty cheesy images and a voice-over, but the actual content I thought was pretty interesting.

For the sake of this fascinating blog, I'll give you a few highlights of the video. First, a clip that looks like it was from a much earlier show rolls along like this. Oprah preaches: “There are many paths to what you call God…For [this woman] there might be something else and when she gets there she might call it the Light…There couldn’t possibly be just one way….” When an audience member cries out, “There is only one way and it is through Jesus,” to which a round of applause spread through the audience, Oprah again shouts, “There couldn’t possibly be just one way.” End of clip.

After that clip my thoughts were, well, maybe poor Oprah's just a little confused. She just loves everyone so much she wants Christians and non-Christians alike to be able to enter Heaven and experience eternal joy. Or maybe my thoughts weren't exactly like that. They might have just consisted of my heresy alert sounding at maximum volume. I was going to include a lengthy quote from to clear up the teaching on Salvation outside the Church but it's not really that relevant. Straight up, the Catholic Church is the way to salvation, however, God's mercy is so great we can't comprehend its reaches, and there's "baptism of blood" and "baptism of desire." The thing that really is no good is "knowingly and deliberately (that is, not out of innocent ignorance) commit the sins of heresy (rejecting divinely revealed doctrine) or schism (separating from the Catholic Church and/or joining a schismatic church)" (From, which sounds like what is going on here. In other words, I'm pretty sure that Oprah is trying to make her own religion.

Let's move on to the issue of the Oprah's Book Club selection "A New Earth" by Eckhart Tolle. A little bit of research on good old Wikipedia revealed that Tolle is an extremely popular "spiritual writer" (meaning, what?) not associated with any organized religion (meaning that he has no foundation for anything that he says). From my research, Tolle doesn't seem to preach anything new, or anything extraordinary for that matter. Then why is Oprah so obsessed with him (and intent on spreading his "teachings" with all of her fans? Because Tolle's substitute for religion is just the kind of touchy-feely, "spiritual" rather than religious, me, me, me, garbage that people eat up. Why is this accepted so easily, even though it has no foundation or solid belief-system? Because there is no concept of sin. In a "religion" that states that "Man has created God in his own image" (Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth) there can be no sin if you are your own God. It is interesting that Tolle's spirituality is built upon the concept that God is a feeling experience, not a believing experience, and yet Tolle and Oprah are telling people what they believe through an online class reaching 2 million people and through New York Times Bestselling books.

This is the sort of relativistic fluff that our society laps up so easily. So why am I devoting my time to it? I think that the most dangerous part about this spirituality, and the fact that Oprah is attempting to spread it, is because she claims that this spirituality doesn't stop her from being a Christian. However, she makes statements that are absolutely irreconcilable with Christianity. And she urges Christians that admire her to believe the same things. A few examples: “God is. God is a feeling experience, not a believing experience. If your religion is a believing experience, if God for you is still a belief, then it’s not truly God.” And the classic "I am a Christian who believes that there are many paths to God other than Christianity.” Cool.

However, this one really takes the cake. “I understand…that what I believe is that Jesus came to show us Christ’s consciousness. Jesus came to show us the way of the heart and that what Jesus was saying to show us the higher consciousness that we’re all taking about here. Jesus came to say, 'Look I’m going to live in the body and show you how it’s done. These are some principles and some laws that you can live by to know that way.' And when I started to recognize that, that Jesus didn’t come to, I don’t believe that Jesus came to start Christianity.” What??? What does that even mean? From what I can understand, Oprah thinks that Jesus came to give us an option of how to get to Heaven. Ok. Find that in the Bible for me and we may be ready for a discussion.

Here's what I have for you, Ms. Winfrey (I would have more quotes, but I'm a Catholic, after all). Matthew 16:18- "And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it." (Didn't come to start Christianity.... yeah ok). John 14:6- "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (reconcile that with “I am a Christian who believes that there are many paths to God other than Christianity.”-Oprah). Apparently, neither Oprah nor Tolle really take the Bible seriously, and my Scripture quotes wouldn't mean much to them, though they do attempt to, as far as I can see, confuse Christians by saying that there are many "jewels" in the New Testament, and that religion can open the door to God or close you off to God. Mostly close you off to God if you begin to actually believe in God instead of just feel God. If you believe in something, then there becomes the possibility that you may disagree with someone else, and that just can't be tolerated. There's no objective truth, because how can a "feeling" be wrong? Who's to tell me that what I feel is wrong?

This activity has served mostly to leave me disgruntled and angry, as usually happens when someone makes completely no sense and manages to spread a nonsensical Christian heresy to several million people. I can only hope that the people being taken in by the untruths promulgated by Oprah will realize that though the things she says sound attractive (perhaps for 1.3 seconds or so), they are lies, through and through, there's nothing to them. If you're looking for the Truth, look to Jesus Christ. If you're looking for Oprah's lies, you know where to find her.
(Picture from
Edit: It's been pointed out to me by someone smarter than me that because Oprah is not Catholic she really can't preach heresy. I really thought rhyming celebrity with heresy in the title was clever so I'm not going to change it, but I suppose it makes more sense to write that Oprah could be leading Catholics to commit heresy, (like the caller Kelly in the clip, who was Catholic). I think I might get a little excited when I think heresy is involved.