Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Boycotting HBO -- Bill Maher bashes Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic Church

Preparing for the papal visit to the USA almost two weeks ago, HBO's Bill Maher made some rather negative (to say the least!) and outrageous statements about the Holy Father and the Catholic Church.

For his April 11, 2008 live broadcast, (HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher", Maher said of the Catholic Church:

"In fact, whenever a cult leader sets himself up as God's infallible wingman here on earth, lock away the kids. Which is why I'd like to tip off law enforcement to an even LARGER child-abusing religious cult. Its leader ALSO has a compound, and this guy not only operates outside the bounds of the law, but he used to be a Nazi and he wears funny hats! That's right, the Pope is coming to America this week, and ladies: he's single! . . .

. . . How DOES the Catholic church get away with all of their buggery? Volume, volume, volume! If you have a few hundred followers, and you let some of them molest children, they call you a "cult leader." If you have a billion, they call you "Pope." It's like, if you can't pay your mortgage, they call you a "deadbeat," but if you can't pay a million mortgages, you're "Bear Sterns" and we bail you out."

Someone I know decided to cancel his household subscription to HBO based on this. When he called up the satellite company to cancel the HBO subscription, the agent on the other end of the line tried to persuade him that one month of HBO equals two DVDs. He stated that wasn't the point -- it wasn't about pricing.

The agent continued and asked what the cancellation was about. He stated that he was doing so in protest over Bill Maher's caustically negative remarks about Pope Benedict XVI, the Catholic Church in general and the pope's visit to the USA.

The agent was quiet and then commented that she agreed with his position. In fact, she noted, she had just been working one hour that day and had already received over two dozen cancellations for HBO -- all for the same reason! She further suggested that HBO would likely be hurting over this.

The man who called to cancel his subscription is a Franciscan. And he apparently became an unwitting, yet willing, participant in a movement to boycott HBO!

What do you think about this? How might you handle this situation? Boycotting can be a very powerful instrument -- via the proverbial pocketbook! -- to bring about justice.

Yesterday -- Earth Day -- Everyday Earth Day!

"Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs."

from the "Canticle of the Creatures" by St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)

Yesterday as I perused the comic section of the newspaper (and I do enjoy the comics!) I noticed that many of the strips referred to Earth Day yesterday, Tuesday 22 April 2008. The characters were planting trees or recycling or some other "green" activity that promoted respect for the planet we call home, with either an overtone or undertone of humor for good measure.

Such reminders are good, and even necessary, for us poor frail humans who are prone to forget (amnesia!). Sadly, Earth Day can be relegated to a one-day affair -- as though care for the planet were limited to a single day or series of events.

St. Francis of Assisi's "Canticle of the Creatures" (sometimes called "Canticle of the Sun" or "Canticle of Brother Sun") echoes Psalm 148 and the Canticle of the Three Youths found in the Book of Daniel, chapter 3 (Septuagint -- in Catholic and Orthodox versions of the Holy Bible). Here, the founder of our Order is not extolling creation for creation's sake. Rather, he praises God for all of creation. God is the author of all life, of all that exists. Hence, to God belongs all praise, glory, honor and worship.

As members of the Franciscan family, we periodically sing the popular hymn, "All Creatures of our God and King", which is an English rendition of St. Francis' Canticle. There have been some others, but none with such endurance (e.g. Marty Haugen's "Canticle of the Creatures"). But care for the earth is not an "option"; it is a necessity. Not being alarmist, but this is our home, a gift from the Creator of all, entrusted to humanity which, as Genesis 1 states, is created in the image and likeness of God. What a tremendous gift we have received! What an awesome responsibility with which we are entrusted!

Many major Christian leaders, including the late Pope John Paul II and the current Pope Benedict XVI have encouraged and exhorted and admonished governments and individuals to foster respect for our earth. Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople of the Orthodox Churches is also a leading advocate of care for the earth.

Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople at the Phanar in Istanbul, Turkey (Constantinople) in 2006

As Christians, following Holy Tradition from Scripture and many Saints, to respect the Earth and care for our planet is genuinely an act of worship. Like the Psalms and Canticles of the Bible and like St. Francis, we praise God for creation and with creation. In doing so we fulfill the great commandments to love God with our whole being and to live our neighbor as ourselves!

In fact, the vocation of humanity is to give conscious and reasonable voice on behalf of creation to the glory of God -- it is a "priestly" act!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Benedict’s Visit Reflects Changing Church

An article by Bro. Jason Welle, OFM, during his year in the province at Sacred Heart Parish in McAllen, TX

Pope Benedict XVI won’t be visiting Texas (this time!), but the Franciscan friars in the Rio Grande Valley, have still been eagerly awaiting his arrival. Personally, I’ve felt a close affinity to this pope ever since his election. My family heritage is Germanic and I had the chance to help another Franciscan friar lead a group of high school students to see the Holy Father at World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, in 2005. Seeing Benedict speak German in his home country was a wonderful thrill, but following this visit through the news with our parishioners has been a great blessing as well.

Our parish’s religious education programs have found different ways to draw attention to the Holy Father’s message. In my fourth grade CCD class, the kids acted out a play about Shepherd One landing at Andrews Air Force base—although the Texan kids clamored more for the roles of President Bush and the First Family than for the papal entourage! My 12th grade class read and discussed some commentary on the pope’s trip, and my adult education Bible study integrated conversation about Benedict’s style of leadership with that of St. Paul, as we continued our reflections on 2 Corinthians. In the wake of Good Shepherd Sunday, we asked ourselves what kind of shepherd Jesus was, what kind of shepherd Paul was, and what kind of (German) shepherd Benedict is.

These discussions are exciting because here in deep South Texas, just a few miles from the Mexican border, we live in a unique cultural mix. Many commentators have observed the growing presence of Hispanics in the Catholic Church throughout the United States, and Benedict’s recent creation of Texas’ first cardinal, Archbishop Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, seems to acknowledge the significance of this for the future of the American Church. In many places throughout the country, different cultural groups live side-by-side in the same parish or neighborhood but yet remain distinct and separate. We feel blessed here in McAllen to minister in a poor, downtown parish where Spanish and English speakers mix freely, working together for the future of this community. The friars of the Assumption Province came to this parish two years ago and were warmly welcomed, as we continued the long Franciscan tradition of reaching out to those on the margins. Our friars occasionally run into problems communicating, but Catholics here appreciate the sincerity of the effort; we pray that American Catholics will extend the same openness to the Holy Father’s words as he calls us all to hold up the richest parts of our tradition and preach Christ our Hope!

Bro. Jason Welle, OFM, kneeling, renews his religious profession in the hands of our Provincial Minister, Fr. Leslie Hoppe, OFM

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Papal Visit Upcoming -- "Wilkommen!"

One of the expectations for the upcoming visit by Pope Benedict XVI to the United States of America will be to animate the faith of the Catholic community in this country. Can he do it?

Well, he certainly can try! Something I have noticed in reading and observing -- reading the Holy Father's encyclicals on love (Deus Caritas Est) and hope (Spe Salvi) as well as other speeches and documents, is that Benedict is the quintessential teacher. Having been a seminary professor in his native Germany prior to being ordained bishop in the late 1970s, he is methodical in his explanations and in his praxis.

Pope Benedict XVI apparently sees himself very much in line with his predecessor, the late Pope John Paul II, whom he has declared to be "Servant of God", a title given to one who is seriously being considered for the processes of beatification and canonization. And the current pope seems to consider himself very much in tune with the spirit and original direction of Vatican Council II, begun by Bd. John XXIII and continued and concluded by his other predecessor, the Servant of God Paul VI.

Without being intentially contentious (he seemed to be genuinely surprised by the violent reactions by some Muslims worldwide to his professorial presentation at the University of Ravensburg in Germany in September 2006), the Holy Father attempts to methodically present his perspective and his teaching in a rational and deliberate manner.

Yet, as the February 2008 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has noted, Catholics in the U.S, as well as other practitioners of religion (or no religion, for that matter!) are rather fluid in their self-identification. Many Catholics eschew the notion of the Catholic Church as having an exclusive claim on being the "one true Church" and, likely from living in such a pluralistic society as ours, many have abandoned exclusive teachings by the Church.

This is especially visible among Catholics and their choices regarding sexual practice (e.g. artificial contraception and pre-marital sexual relationships). And, of course, divorce among Catholics has continued, even with pre-marital preparation (e.g. Pre-Cana courses).

A relatively small cadre of practicing Catholic young people seem intent, perhaps militantly so, on their identity as Catholic. They participate in all sorts of Catholic-oriented activities, and they number in the thousands, for sure. But, quite frankly, are they the majority of Catholic youth? It would seem not. Just look at the pews in the average Catholic parish on Sunday morning!

Allegiance to the Catholic Church as an institution in the U.S.A. has been suffering for several decades; none of this is new. It does seem to have hastened, however. Perhaps some of this can be traced to the sexual abuse crisis in the American Church which blew up in spring 2002. (By the way, the U.S. Church is not the only one to be struggling with these very issues.)

Thus, Pope Benedict XVI is preparing to arrive in our country to animate Catholics -- by promoting active practice of the Catholic Faith , especially among youth, I am sure. He is emphasizing the necessity of promoting the Culture of Life, as espoused by the Servant of God John Paul II. He will likely encourage the member nations of the U.N. and our U.S. government to work toward an end to the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, speak on behalf of persecuted Christians, seek to promote human rights, and to defend human life, especially the most vulnerable (the pre-born, the aged and the disabled).

And Pope Benedict will likely speak to Catholics to promote a Culture of Vocations among Catholic youth, as proposed by the Intercontinental Congress of Catholic Youth in Canada in 2003. Let's see how this plays out -- especially how our Catholic people here in the United States respond to his messages.