News came out recently about Pope Francis’ changes to the annulment process. Many have questions, and some have bashed the Pope for these changes, saying he’s now, essentially, allowing divorce and remarriage. The critiques come from, I believe, a ‘fundamentalist’ approach to the Scriptural beliefs of marriage, divorce, and remarriage (see Mark 10, for instance.) However, Pope Francis isn’t just “okaying” divorce and remarriage – he is (in my humble opinion) making a pastoral move. This move, as it were, is taking into account various aspects. (Note: annulment is not divorce. For more, read this post on Catholic.com.) For TrueManhood, these aspects pertain to male leadership and faithfulness in general and I think they are worthy of discussion here.
The various aspects I see in this new decree:
- Marriage has trended strongly towards being merely a civil agreement, not a sacramental union imaging the Most Holy Trinity. When we reduce the Sacrament of Matrimony down to a civil contract, we are unable to freely give ourselves to our spouses, and it’s much “easier” to simply walk away. Men – it is common for people to say that “men are afraid of commitment.” I have witnessed this in some males, but not everyone. For a marriage to work and work well, it is my belief that a man must absolute commit to TrueManhood each and every day. If you screwed up yesterday, today is a new day.
- Marriage preparation, in many cases, is a laughable waste of time. This sounds harsh, but the facts are the facts. I hear story after story of people having terrible experiences in marriage prep, engaged encounters, and so forth. This isn’t to say that they are all bad – I’m aware of many good programs and approaches – but it’s something the Church must remedy. Priests (often whose hands are tied for various reasons) consent to marry uncatechized persons who are regularly breaking many of the Church’s basic requirements (ie: not actively involved in the life of the Church, cohabitating, engaged in pre-or-extramarital relations, contracepting, and so on) and thus bringing into question the validity of the sacrament from the very beginning.
- Marriages are ending in divorce at a staggering rate, and those involved need salvation too. Pope Francis has proven time and again that he takes the pastoral approach (that of the Good Shepherd… think “leave the 99 for the 1 lost sheep”) because people need love, care, and relationship before they will ever follow a set of rules. This is really the heart of true evangelization. Because of #’s 1&2 above, this group of individuals (again, uncatechized – meaning that they don’t know the teachings of the Church, thus are unable to apply them to their marriage and unevangelized – meaning that they don’t know the person of Jesus Christ in an intimate relationship) believe that they are unable to now be a part of the life of the Church (which is the means that Christ gave us to be united with Him in Heaven) and therefore leave. Pope Francis wants to minister to these people, and allow the faithful to do the same.
- The process for annulments has been extremely time consuming and costly. Although we don’t wish annulment on anyone, when valid, it is the right thing to do and to be granted by the Church. For some dioceses, the process takes years and costs hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. Pastorally, this isn’t helping the families in need of annulment, but making it much more difficult. Pope Francis’ plan is to streamline the process, cutting the Tribunals down from 2 to 1, and giving the judges more decision-making abilities. Some take this as lessening the process so as to be able to give annulments out like candy… but that’s not what this is at all. The entire process of annulment will still take place, but should be much more cost effective (Pope Francis wants them to be free, if at all possible) and be a much quicker process.
- The legal nature of annulments has likely turned some away from Catholicism towards other denominations. Because of the above mentioned issues, and the stigma that “a divorced person isn’t welcome in the Catholic Church”, this legalese is driving a wedge between baptized persons and a community which would support and build them up. The Church’s mission is for the salvation of all, not just a select group of people who are sinless. Because we all sin, we all need salvation!
I’m very well aware of the struggles of marriage… it’s really stinkin’ hard! Sometimes, annulments are what is right and good. When this is the case, they should be granted. When it’s not, then they shouldn’t. Whatever your current status (single, married, divorced, annuled, widowed, etc.) I suggest that you look up the Church’s teaching on marriage, why She says that marriage is so important, why She teaches that marriages are indissoluble, and why spouses should fight together to save their marriage. Use the Catechism of the Catholic Church, along with Sacred Scripture, encyclicals, writings of the saints (DEFINITELY see Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s work on the matter!) and see how it benefits your life. It will enrich you and hopefully you’ll be able to share that with someone else who might be in need of the knowledge too.
To Pope Francis: thank you for challenging us all to be more pastoral and loving in our interactions and evangelization efforts. We could take a legalistic approach, but that will likely push people away. Instead, we remain faithful to the Church, with a true heart of charity, desiring that all come to know, love, and serve God. Specifically for the men reading this post, I want to encourage you to study the Church’s teaching on marriage, and then lead your wives/families in it. If your marriage is struggling at all, and you do this, you’ll find that the Church is urging the spouses to become a total gift of self, like Christ did for his bride (the Church). When you do this, marriage is what it is supposed to be. When you do this, marriage plays a huge role in your sanctification and your evangelization. Men, it’s now that we have the opportunity to shift the world’s thinking on what marriage is and how to do it successfully.
Some thoughts on the kinds of dads that I’ve either exemplified, or other kinds of dads I’ve come across.
- SPORTS-CRAZY DAD – The dad that just can’t be easy going at the games, and when
games aren’t going on, they’re living vicariously through their kid as if it was the pros.
- The “I DON’T KNOW HOW TO TALK TO MY KIDS SO I DON’T TALK TO THEM AT ALL DAD” – Dads who are either not educated enough on various topics, or who lack communication skills, or who just won’t take the time to learn about their kids so they fail to talk to them at all, about anything.
- The “I DON’T UNDERSTAND GIRL-STUFF SO MY DAUGHTERS AND I ARE COMPLETELY DISCONNECTED DAD” – Similar to the above, but specific to daughters and “female issues” – of all kinds. And there’s lots.
- SCREAMER-DAD – Everything gets this dad going, in a bad direction, and he just screams about it. Less than effective, if you ask me. Think: “Don’t make me stop this vehicle!” or “Do it, or else.”
- INTIMIDATION-DAD (“IntimiDad”) – IntimiDad uses his size, stature, and position of authority to try to force his children to do things. I typically see this with toddlers. It doesn’t work. Again, think: “Do it, or else.”
- OVER-COMMITTED DAD (works too much or is involved in too much) – I’ve written many times before about what kids really want and need from us. They want us, our time, and that’s how they see and experience our love. “Kids spell love T-I-M-E.
- TEACHER-DAD – This dad is patient and discusses various things with his children so that they learn from him. Even when he doesn’t think his kids are listening, he teaches, simply to plant a seed and begin the discussion. I think I’m this kind of dad most of the time.
- SWEET-DAD – This dad is emotionally sensitive, and takes the opportunity, especially with his daughters, to be sweet. This isn’t overly sentimental, this is the right amount of sentimentality because let’s face it, sometimes our kids just need it. Our daughters need sensitivity, and at the right time in the right amount, so do our sons.
- GIFT-GIVING DAD – Don’t buy your kids love, ok sir? Don’t make it “okay” that you’re not in their lives simply because you buy them stuff. Now, if your gifts are thoughtful, and you bought it for them because you know them and know they’d really like the thing, and really appreciate it, and that they’ll know you know them, then good on ya.
- APATHETIC-DAD – I see this all too often, unfortunately. This attitude can extend directly to the children because he just doesn’t care about them (either because he’s too ego-centric, self-centered, or just that insensitive) or because he’s flat out lazy. “Mom’s got it.” “Mom’ll talk to ‘em.” “Honey, you’ve got this one, right?” Stop it.
- PROUD-OF-MY-KID-NO-MATTER-WHAT-DAD – Thank you for not putting up pretentious walls, facades, or displays surrounding your kid. They’re your kid and you love them and are proud of them no matter what their accomplishments, likeability, or style.
I’m certain that I could write and write and write on this topic. There are so many kinds of fathers out there, and so many traits (good and bad) that could be discussed. Many of them we have discussed in the past and will continue to discuss in the future.
Remember an important concept to TrueManhood… our children learn what is right and wrong by watching us. If we want our boys to grow into TrueManhood, and our daughters to meet and marry a TrueMan, then we must show them what that is. “Jesus answered and said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, a son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees his father doing; for what he does, his son will do also. For the Father loves his Son and shows him everything that he himself does, and he will show him greater works than these, so that you may be amazed.” John 5:19-20. A major component here is how we treat our wife. Being a great-TrueMan-dad, means being a great husband first.
Thanks to my dad, Tony, for being an absolutely awesome dad! I have many fond memories of my childhood, and am so blessed to have him help me to raise my kids now, but there’s a concept that I always return to when I think about my relationship with my dad, and it’s this: he always SHOWED me how to be a man. He lived it. He didn’t have to say a lot, he lived it. I saw, first and foremost, that he loved/s my mother. That is who he is, as a man; he’s a husband, and all else stems from that.
Jesus lived for 33 years. During His time on earth, Jesus saved the world. Pretty huge shoes to fill – impossible shoes to fill, actually. I’ve just celebrated my 33rd birthday. During this, my “Jesus-year”… hopefully NOT my last year on earth… I will remain focused on true manhood.
During my life, I’ve been incredibly blessed. I’m married to a great woman, the mother of my four incredible children. I have, and have had many, a great job. I’ve been to 49 of the 50 states in our spectacular country. I’ve successfully completed 18 years of schooling. I played college sports. I’ve bought and sold homes and vehicles. I’ve met countless numbers of awesome people, and have some of the world’s best friends. I’ve spoken to thousands and thousands of people, been on numerous radio programs, and helped write a book. Although these and so many others neat things have happened to me, none of it matters if I don’t attempt to fulfill God’s call for my life, the call to live true manhood. It’s not about these worldly accomplishments; it’s about who I am and how I’ve lived.
Jesus was THE TrueMan. Simply put, all that Christ did can be reduced to one simple concept… love. That is the prevailing mark of a TrueMan… that he loves (verb). In the most authentically masculine way, Christ loved. That’s because He was, is, and always will be love. This isn’t some lame modern-day version of teddy bears, glittery hearts, and boxes of chocolates. This is the real version of love, to do the greatest good. To give your life for your friends. This is TrueManhood.
During this year, I pray that I’ll be able to grow as a husband first (my vocation), as a father, as a leader, and as an evangelist. I also hope to accomplish some long-standing goals for this ministry. To follow in Christ’s footsteps and make this year the best it can be. My impact won’t save the world, but I hope that it, in even a small way, is able to positively influence the lives of men. One of my goals is to expand TrueManhood’s retreat ministry. I also have the goal of expanding our scope and reach, gaining back ground that was lost between 2011-2013. The problems we discuss here are numerous, and there aren’t enough positive voices out there in this fight. We’ll keep doing what we do, hopefully with “bigger and badder” videos, more impactful content, more frequent posts, more guest contributors, and a wide-array of resources to help men along their journey towards TrueManhood.
Regardless of how old we are, brothers, we are called to TrueManhood. This call is something special, and the world depends on us to live up to the call. As I go into my Jesus year, I’m praying for many things, but specifically, my prayer would be this: “Jesus, my Lord. I love you. Thank you for your example to me for what it means to be a man. I ask for guidance, strength, discipline, and courage to pursue TrueManhood with my whole soul. May my efforts be yours, may my will be yours, may my heart be yours. Amen.”
We’re no strangers to the lore of the martyrs: their sacrifice, their bravery, their unshakable beliefs. But why do it? What is the incentive, the allure? Word on Fire contributor Jared Zimmerer examines the appeal of martyrdom and why it’s not only something we crave but something we can do.
Throughout history, men and women have given the ultimate sacrifice for what they believe. Whether that cause is for the good nature of faith, freedom and family or the ever promising yet always short-lived notions of money, grandeur and worldly honor, people tend to find the sacrifice worth the fatal end. The history of the Catholic Faith is riddled with servants of Christ who have endured and glorified some of the worst physical pains known to man. Without knowledge of the good they died for, their sacrifice seems not only vain, but idiotic. However, the transcendent characteristic of their deaths, which can only make sense to those willing to search for it, brands the gruesome scenes worthy of celebration.
One of my favorite paintings, the Last Judgment fresco by Michelangelo seen in the Sistine Chapel, depicts a few of the more popular saints in the way in which they were martyred. There is St. Lawrence with his grate and St. Bartholomew with his knife and flayed skin, St. Andrew with his cross, St. Sebastian holding up the arrows with which he was shot, St. Blaise with his wool combs and St. Catherine with her wheel. These martyrs are put upon pedestals through Church history because mankind recognizes their sacrifice. But could that recognition go further than just human admiration? Could it be perhaps that we were made to “die with our boots on” so to speak?
In the life of Christ, the model of how to live, we find that he was enveloped in his cross the day he was born. An Eternal King born in a smelly cave-like place surrounded by farm animals and hunted by a tyrant, it’s as if the shadow of the cross was already there. We too are born to have crosses. When Christ stated, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24), He didn’t say, “Go find a cross.” He made the statement as if each of us already had one to carry. That cross, the burden of sin, was given to us the day we were born, thus the need for baptism. So, it might feasibly be that we glorify martyrdom because from the minute our soul entered our bodies in our mother’s womb, we were meant to die to self. Whether our martyrdom is red, through the spilling of our blood, or white, through the purity of our lives, it appears that difficulty and hardship is part of being human. “It is part of the discipline of God to make His loved ones perfect through trial and suffering. Only by carrying the Cross can one reach the Resurrection.” – Venerable Fulton Sheen, Life of Christ
It’s interesting that in a society removed from accepting crosses, there has been a resurgence of super-hero movies. In these characters we vicariously experience something that our souls crave. It seems that every single day one or all of my boys are dressing up as Iron Man, Superman or finding some way to turn a Lego into a weapon. At that young of an age, it can only be considered natural. These fictitious heroes don the very spirit of our beloved martyrs and portray the virtuousness of sacrifice on the big screens. What must be realized is that we have a whole slew of super-heroes in the history of man, many of whom can be seen on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. One turning point for my own faith was in the study of the martyrs. I wanted what they had. Passion, drive and the willingness to die; it brought back my old childhood dreams of knowing and believing that I was destined to be a hero. So, digging further into the knowledge and writings of our Catholic forefathers I found one trait that gave them those virtues: Love.
We were made by love, to love; therefore an act as majestically odd as martyrdom only makes sense in the parameters of love. If you didn’t love your country, you wouldn’t give your life for her. If you didn’t love your faith, the mere thought of accepting torture before denying Christ would have you running for the hills. Seeing that love is an act of the will, martyrdom is the extreme act of love. A mother willing to wipe up the bathroom after an ‘accident,’ a priest willing to get up in the middle of the night to perform the last rites or hear confessions for hours on end, these are acts of the will, small but highly necessary martyrdoms that helps in the construction of our ladders to heaven.
Without a transcendent cause, martyrdom makes absolutely no sense. If you did not believe in an afterlife that would reward you for your sacrifice there is no point in giving it. Nevertheless, if you believe in something greater than yourself to your very core, then you would sing on the pathway to your death, just as the martyrs of the Roman coliseum did. Such joy, such reverence for death, silences a crowd desiring blood. Admiring the martyrs, desiring to give everything for the spiritual battle, is a grandiose but highly reachable objective. What must be remembered is that many of the red martyrs practiced white martyrdom each and every day. Through the example of our new Pontiff we see how shocked, yet highly intrigued, the world views daily, selfless martyrdom. Perhaps the Church has been blessed with Pope Francis to remind us of the beautiful eccentricity of martyrdom.
“Whoever does not seek the cross of Christ doesn’t seek the glory of Christ.”
— St. John of the Cross
Jared Zimmerer is an author, husband and father of four from Denton, Texas, whose apostolate, “Strength for the Kingdom,” teaches about the inherent connection between spiritual and physical fitness. Find more of Jared’s work at JaredZimmerer.com.
Happy Feast of St. Joseph! As you’ll hear in this vlog (below), St. Joseph is my favorite saint. He is such an incredible example to us, and for me personally, has played a huge role in me growing into the man I am today. St. Joseph is so complex, and has so many dimensions, it is hard to decide what to discuss!
I titled this post “example to the example” because it forces us to look a level or two deeper than we normally look. St. Joseph is not merely a saint. Not merely Mary’s husband. Not merely the most chaste spouse. St. Joseph is the example by which Jesus – the perfect example of masculinity – learned to be a man. Whoa! What a huge role that was.
St. Joseph – I ask you to intercede for me. Take my needs to your son, The King, and beg Him, on my behalf, for the grace necessary to be the man, the husband, and the father He is calling me to be. Thank you for your example to me, and the daily reminder you give me through my wife and children.
Here’s an old video that I was asked to help with, back in 2011, to help promote the movie “Courageous”. In this video, I speak about being a chaste spouse. [This project was a St. Joseph Novena – a video a day, leading up to Father’s Day.] (Disregard dates, my title, etc. – the information is outdated.)
He shares his life, before sexual purity and now during it. He shows that it’s a journey, and when faced with the hard decisions, a man has to know where he stands. And for many reasons, he is preaching abstinence. He mentions pleasure, let me tell you, it’s more pleasurable to give yourself selflessly to your wife than to use and abuse a girl and yourself.
The message is true, there is healing from past sexual sins. And his comments about men being brought up by society, and what our times goes to and how we treat women… all on point.
Thanks to Jonathan for sharing this link.
VERY RARELY do I get excited about a movie debuting in the theaters. To put my theater-movie-watching in perspective, the last two movies I’ve seen in the theater have been “Tangled”, which I took my oldest daughter to as a special daddy-daughter date and the 4th Indiana Jones. (That one came out in the summer of 2008.) So, you can see that I don’t frequent the movie theater. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy movies, but I struggle terribly to find time to go to the theater and I struggle even more with paying ticket prices for movies nowadays! (Tangled was a matinee with a coupon, and someone gave me free passes for Indiana Jones.)
BUT… I must say that I am VERY excited about an upcoming movie that is making its way to the big screen tomorrow (Friday, September 30, 2011). The movie is called “Courageous”. The producers of this film also produced the movie “Fireproof” (and a few others), which I thought was a good movie. If “Fireproof” was good, “Courageous” is great! I had the privilege of pre-screening the movie with my colleagues at our office and have the honor of being part of The King’s Men, one of the ministry-resources for men after they see the movie.
For the pre-screening, I went in very skeptical. I went in believing that Sherwood Pictures was going to make the movie cheesy with Bible innuendos and very heavy, to the point of burdensome, like they did in “Fireproof”. Not so. “Courageous” was very well done and had just the right amount of the “Jesus-factor” so as to still be relate-able as a tool for evangelization purposes with men who are non-believers. This movie has action, drama, suspense, thrills, excitement and a host of other great characteristics. I cannot recommend this movie high enough. Go see it, even at current ticket prices, and show Hollywood that Americans want good, wholesome entertainment and not the garbage they have been spewing for years.
This movie is real. It is about real men, attempting to live through some real life issues and situations. It’s very practical and very helpful. The acting is top notch, the storyline is right on and the cinematography is great. Again, I cannot recommend this movie enough. (The trailer is located on our homepage on the right side.)
After you see the movie, you may want to get involved. If you desire to follow in the example of the men in the movie, and become part of a small men’s group, I have a turn-key solution for you. I’m happy to recommend a format for a men’s small group meeting that is easily duplicated, dynamic, and proven. We do not charge dues, have no membership and offer incredible support to our leaders. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel – we have the track record of a program that works. Men’s lives are changed because of it. Men who invest themselves into a men’s small group experience extreme growth and positive change. Don’t wait another day! If your parish/church/group/city/area gather enough men together, I can personalize a leader’s training workshop for you and train all of your facilitators in a day-long training session, complete with resource manual and all the how-to’s and nuts and bolts you could ever need.
If we don’t currently have any groups nearby, maybe this is the day you step up and start one. Contact me for all the resources and support you need. Info@TrueManhood.com.
Almost two years ago I became aware of a very impressive young man named Ryan Kraeger. Ryan haswritten a few articles for TrueManhood.com before, so you may recognize his name. I got to know Ryan over email and social networking connections and am thoroughly impressed with not only his writing, but with Ryan as a man. He is young and vibrant and doing great things in our world.
First, I want to draw attention to his service to our great country! Ryan is a Staff Sergeant in the US Army and hopefully soon (November ’11) will be graduating from Special Forces training. Great job, Ryan – we are proud of you and honored by your sacrifice. (Ryan shares some of his military experiences in his writings. Great stories!)
Next, I would like to draw your attention to two books written by Ryan. They are hot off the presses and are awesome. I give my full recommendation of these books. The first is entitled, “What Every Boy Man Needs: A Young Soldier’s Thoughts on Christian Manhood”. The second is “My Dearest Sisters: Thoughts about Modesty from Your Brother…”. Ryan “gets it”, and I think his writings will help others “get it” too.
For more on Ryan and/or to order his books, visit his website, The Man Who Would Be Knight.
We concentrate our energy on forming and building men. At Fraternus, a great Catholic apostolate, they concentrate on forming boys into men. “Mentoring boys into virtuous Catholic men.” That’s what they’re all about.
What’s happening in these boys’ lives is transforming, and will make an impact on them for years to come. For boys, you have to engage them with the things that speak to their inner being – the things that make them wild, rough, adventurous and challenged. This is the way Christ lived, that’s why it’s so appealing to boys. It’s real, it’s authentically masculine and it’s really fun.
When you can reach a boy, you can teach him and form him. When a boy is taught and formed properly, he becomes a great man. Our world needs a lot of great men.
Please take a few moments to watch their video and visit their website.
Okay, so he’s not here yet (will be installed on Sept 8, 2011), but the faithful in Philadelphia are very excited to welcome him! Archbishop Chaput is an incredible shepherd and has always been wonderful to me on a personal level. I had the privilege of meeting him while in college; while still an anti-Catholic/sola scriptura/ evangelical. I then was able to meet him several more times, post reversion, working with FOCUS (The Fellowship Of Catholic University Students) and then on a more personal note when I was Director of Catholic Campus Ministry at the Air Force Academy; he was always wonderful about coming to the Academy to speak to the Catholic cadets. His leadership is second to none, but his humility is that of Christ. He is an incredible man and we are blessed to have him as our new archbishop.
(Our journeys are similar… from Kansas, to Colorado, to Pennsylvania. And, I hear he’s a Steelers fan!)
Here’s an interview with him from Catholic News Agency…
Q: You must have some interesting thoughts about being appointed to the See where the Declaration of Independence was written, the “City of Brotherly Love” where the first American male saint — St. John Neumann – was bishop.
A: I don’t think it’s real for me yet. I could give you half a dozen reasons why other men might be more qualified, and why I’m the implausible choice. But I do believe in the Holy Father’s wisdom, so I accept that the See of Philadelphia is where God wants me to be. My life as a priest – first as a Capuchin Franciscan and now as a bishop – is shaped by a commitment to obedience; obedience to God as Father. The voice of the Pope is the voice of the Father for me.
I’m going to miss the Archdiocese of Denver very, very much. Colorado has been home to me for 14 years. The priests and people there have been unfailingly generous. They really are my family, and a part of my heart will always be in Denver.
But I look forward to embracing the new family that God is giving to me, the family that is the Church of Philadelphia. Over the years I have had many friends, both priests and laypeople, with roots in Philadelphia, and I’ve always been struck by their faith and their goodness. So it’s a great privilege to be sent there. The fact that Philadelphia is where of the Declaration of Independence was signed and the center of so much of our country’s early history, means a great deal to me. I think the United States has been blessed by God in unique ways. Because of that blessing, America has a duty to be a blessing for the world and for all people. I also think that words like “the City of Brotherly Love” should be more than just a good tourist slogan. Philadelphia is one of this country’s truly great cities, and I want to be part of renewing and deepening the best in this community.
I’ve been praying to St. John Neumann a lot since getting the news. I want to love the priests and people of Philadelphia with the same zeal he brought to his ministry. At least I can guarantee that no one will work harder, or try harder, than I will.
Q: What are the main challenges you might face in your pastoral mission?
A: The biggest challenge, not just in Philadelphia but everywhere, is to preach the Gospel in a way that captures the imagination of God’s people. The biggest task that lies before us is evangelization. We need to have confidence in the Gospel. We have to live it faithfully, and to live it without compromise and with great joy.
The Church in Philadelphia is at an important point in her life. It’s not a time to be embarrassed about what we believe. In fact, it becomes even more crucial to preach the Gospel – both within the Church and outside the Church.
Q: Regarding the grand jury report and allegations involving the clergy, what needs to be done in restoring the mission and the morale of the priesthood? What are your ideas about the priesthood, and also the relationship with the laity?
A: I haven’t read the grand jury report yet, and it will be awhile before I fully understand the issues. I need to hear from the people involved in these matters and to learn the facts before I comment.
I do know that priests’ morale across the country has been seriously wounded by the abuse scandal. I’m sure the priests of Philadelphia carry this burden in their own unique way. But we know that Jesus, when he chooses men to be priests, chooses them with a brother’s love, and I want to be a sign of that love to my brothers. We have to deal with scandal in an honest, thorough, confident way. We can do that, even when it’s very painful, because we know that Christ rose from the dead. “Jesus Christ is risen” — these aren’t just powdered words; they’re a statement of fact. That should give us confidence that what happens in the Church, even when it seems death-dealing, can be turned into a moment of resurrection.
Q: What catches your attention most about the local Church in Philadelphia?
A: I have a lot to learn about Philadelphia, but I’m eager to get started. I did live in western Pennsylvania for 10 years – first as a seminarian, then as a seminary professor, and eventually as a part of the administration of the Capuchin Province of St. Augustine based in Pittsburgh. My time in the state was delightful. I look back on it with great joy. The men and women of Pennsylvania that I’ve met are wonderful people; good, generous and creative. I look forward to being a part of their lives.
Q: You’re a Native American and quite proud of your heritage. Can you talk a little bit about your background, and what that means to you?
A: I’m Native American on my mother’s side. I’m a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi tribe. Our reservation is in northeastern Kansas.
Being Indian was probably the entry point for my becoming a bishop. One never knows why one becomes a bishop, but my first assignment was the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota. I suspect I was sent there was because of my engagement with the Native American Catholic community in the United States. The Holy Father was looking for a way to reach out in special love to the native people. So I see my episcopacy, in some ways, as born from that part of who I am.
The Native American people – the original inhabitants of this land – are a very diverse group with many, many gifts. I’ve always hoped that through my service as a bishop, those gifts can be recognized by the Church all the more, and that the Church can better meet the needs of Native people.
I was blessed to be the first Native American archbishop, and my people were honored by that.
Q: You’re also a Franciscan Capuchin. St. Francis had a pretty radical approach to the Gospel, and the Capuchins were known as reformers within the Franciscan community. How does this shape how you see the Church’s task, and your role as a leader?
A: Francis was radical in the root meaning of the word “radical,” which means to go “to the root” of the matter. He wanted the friars to live the Gospel clearly, without compromise. The word he used was, “without gloss.” It was a custom, in the Middle Ages, to develop commentaries on the Gospel, and sometimes those commentaries would explain away the Christian’s responsibility to live the Gospel without compromise in every moment of our life. Francis rejected any kind of effort to diminish the demands of the Gospel.
Of course, I have to live that discipline personally in my own life. That’s the most important part of my Capuchin identity. But then I have to preach the Gospel in the same kind of way, in a way that’s clear, that’s always fresh, and always without compromise.
Before anything else, we’re called to be Catholics. That should be the defining part of who we are. Whether we’re Indians or Germans or Irish; whether we’re Democrats or Republicans, we are Catholic first. Everything else is secondary. Francis called his brothers not only to live that Catholic identity personally, but to preach that unvarnished Gospel with clarity. And I hope that my service as a bishop always enables me to do that.
Q: You’ve talked about this issue of Catholic identity frequently. Why is that so important to you? Is there something about American culture that encourages people to compartmentalize their faith from the rest of their lives?
A: Many of the dominant themes of our time work contrary to the Gospel. All of us who are Catholics are very much influenced by our culture and by our society’s criticism of the Gospel. Because of these pressures, Catholics are often tempted to be embarrassed by their faith, and to make decisions that are compromised by our desire to somehow please the world, while satisfying God. We often can’t do both. We always need to choose to please God first.
We need the support of the Church, the help of our brothers and sisters in faith, to live the Gospel in this difficult environment. That’s why I’ve spent so much time in these last years, as a bishop, writing and speaking about this. I want the Church to have confidence in the Gospel and Christians to support one another, regardless of the opposition to the Gospel in our culture.
We owe it to our country and the age we live in, to be faithful Catholics. If we’re good Catholics first, then we’re good citizens, and if we’re good citizens, then we’ll be a force of transformation for justice in the world. If we don’t live as faithful Catholics, we betray the Gospel. We forfeit the opportunity God gives us to make a significant difference for the evangelization of culture.
Q: Many Catholics now serve in Congress, in state houses, in governors’ mansions — we even find Catholics as a majority on the Supreme Court. But we often don’t see the content of Christian social teaching reflected in society. Does this relate to that issue of Catholic identity?
A: There’s an obvious temptation, in political life, to compromise Christian virtues and values because of the pressures of the society around us. But I wouldn’t first point to governors, or congressional representatives, or Supreme Court justices. I’d point to ourselves. If our political leaders lack conviction about their faith, it’s because the members of the Church lack conviction about their faith. Political leaders are no different from the rest of us. So if we point fingers at them, we’re also pointing fingers at ourselves, and at the broader Church community.
So the Gospel should be preached, first of all, in the Church. Naturally, we need to preach it to political leaders as well. But they’re not alone – not by a long shot — in their tepidity and compromises of the Gospel. If Catholics in their homes and parishes understand that, they’ll realize that a serious conversion needs to take place in all our lives, and not just in the lives of politicians.
Q: If this applies to every member of the Church, how do you think it applies to bishops? What do you think is the role of a bishop in American society?
A: A bishop, before he’s a bishop, is a Christian. And before he’s ordained, he’s baptized. So I think that anything that we say about Christians, we have to say about bishops, too. And bishops, because they’re raised up to be a sign of the presence of Christ in the Church, need to live the Gospel more clearly and more authentically, without compromise, than anyone else.
We can’t preach to others what we don’t embrace ourselves. And because we sometimes don’t practice these things ourselves, sometimes we’re embarrassed to preach these things to others. This is also why those who are called to preach the Gospel might sometimes be silent.
So I think that bishops always have to be engaged in the process of their own personal conversion – prior to calling others to conversion. At the same time, we can’t let our sins and our failures cripple us; otherwise the Apostles themselves would have stayed silent. We have to practice what we preach. But even if we don’t, we always have to preach the Gospel. And if we preach it to others, conscious that we need to be converted ourselves, then things really will begin to change.
Q: From your perspective as a bishop, where are we as a Church, and as a nation, on the issue of abortion?
A: I think that our country, in some special sense, is going to be judged by God on that issue. If we’re not able to protect the most vulnerable members of our society, then we aren’t living up to the public commitment we have as a nation to protect the life, liberty, and happiness of every individual. The unborn child certainly shares with us our human dignity, and has a right to those protections. That’s why I believe this remains one of the fundamental issues of our time. We can’t be a people of justice if we don’t protect the life of the unborn child.
This is, of course, just one of the pressing issues of our time. Also vitally important is the question of the meaning of marriage. Family life is the foundation stone of all community. It’s the first community that we’re born into. The health of our families will lead to the stability or weakening of our society.
The Church’s efforts today, to protect the traditional meaning of marriage, are on behalf of stable family life, for the sake of children. Marriage is a relationship of a man and a woman, in a stable and faithful way, for the sake of children. The most important thing for our development into mature adults is that we know that our fathers love our mothers and our mothers love our fathers. If we don’t know that, then a certain kind of instability enters our lives. Anything we do, as a country, to undermine that meaning of marriage, creates a danger – a clear danger – to the long-term health of our country.
Q: The fact that civil laws favoring so-called gay “marriage” have been approved in several places, in the last two years, has led some people to say that the Church, and especially the bishops, have “lost the argument” in the American culture. How do you think individual Catholics should approach this issue in their communities? And what is the right role of the institutional church and the bishops?
A: We only lose when we stop working and struggling for what we believe to be true. In a very general sense, the battle was “lost” the day after Golgotha. Except the disciples didn’t get the memo.
I don’t think we’ve lost the marriage issue at all. Even framing the question that way shapes the answer in a wrong direction, because the language of a debate conditions how we think. If we concede the language, we concede the issue. I do think we’ve been allowing ourselves to lose the marriage debate for years, rooted in our confusion about individual and community rights, and our fear of being portrayed as “against” other people. Catholic teaching on sexuality and marriage is for human dignity; it is for human happiness and the virtuous development of family and society. It is “against” only those behaviors that undermine those goals. When people try to frame Catholic belief as an intrinsic hostility for individual persons or groups, they are not being honest.
Cohabitation today without marriage is quite common, with children being born outside the context of married love, and many people are confused about what marriage really means. Generally, people think “marriage” means a loving relationship between two people that has a sexual component. But that’s not what marriage means. It means a specific kind of loving relationship, for the sake of children. And the more we’re confused about that, the more damage we do to ourselves. So we need to have confidence in our faith and keep fighting this fight with a spirit of serenity. The Gospel is true, and the Church is right about the purpose of human sexuality, whether our critics like the message or not. So much is at stake –not just the moral teaching of the Church, but the health of our communities and our country. If we love our country, that means we fight for the things that protect our country and make it strong.
Q: Four years ago you wrote a book on Catholic political and social engagement, “Render Unto Caesar.” If you had to write that book today, would it have a different accent? In other words, what issues look most important to you today for Catholic political involvement in the United States, and in general, Catholic involvement in the public square?
A: When I wrote that book, four years ago, I was responding to a request from a friend – a young husband and father — who had run for state office, but found it troubling because of the pressure in party politics to embrace issues contrary to Catholic belief. I wanted to engage Catholics in a reflection on their responsibility for our country, and how politics can never be separated from faith even though “separation of Church and state,” properly understood, is a principle that’s worked well in our country. My point is that separation of Church and state was never intended to mean that we separate our faith from our social, economic and political life.
I have a high regard for the book’s publisher, and we’ve talked about doing an updated edition of “Render Unto Caesar.” Since my appointment to Philadelphia, I’ve had a certain kind of enthusiasm for a new version. So, give me some time, and you never know. Maybe I’ll have some additional thoughts on faith and public in the 21st century.