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Commentary: Advent is the remedy to our spiritual crisis

Sun, 12/02/2018 - 16:29

Denver, Colo., Dec 2, 2018 / 02:29 pm (CNA).- “Insincerity was an evil which sprang up within the Church from the first,” wrote Blessed John Henry Newman in 1839. “Ananias and Simon were not open opposers of the Apostles, but false brethren.”

Any of us, he said, can affect a certain kind of religiosity without sincerity, any of us can be tempted to put on the trappings of faith without the interior disposition. Any of us can be tempted to give the appearance of love when, in truth, we do not love.

Real faith grows when we have the humility and the honesty to profess what we really believe, to speak what we really know, and to stand before God and one another as we really are.

Jesus transforms us, Newman taught, when we come before him as we are.

That lesson resonates with many Catholics this year. The past six months have proven difficult. The Church faces a crisis that does not need ongoing enumeration. But it is a crisis in which sincerity has come into question, in which trust has been eroded, and in which many Catholics are no longer certain who they can believe, and what they can trust.

And, for at least some Catholics, it has occasioned a crisis of faith itself.

Advent is the spiritual remedy to that crisis.

Advent, Pope Benedict XVI taught, is an invitation to return “to the heart of our faith, which is the mystery of Christ, the Messiah who was expected for long centuries and was born in poverty, in Bethlehem.”

Christ came into the world because sin is real, and because he sets us free from sin. This Advent, we need to remember that.

“In coming among us, he brought us and continues to offer us the gift of his love and his salvation,” Benedict said.

Because Christ is present, Benedict said, we “may speak to him, presenting to him the suffering that afflicts us, our impatience, the questions that well up in our hearts. We may be sure that he always listens to us! And if Jesus is present...we may continue to hope, even when others can no longer assure us of any support, even when the present becomes trying.”

That we are marred by sin should be no surprise. Advent reminds us that sin is defeated, in the Messiah who came into the world at Christmas, and who will come again.

In fact, the trying afflictions of the present moment are exactly why Jesus has come- because sin exists in the world, even among members of the Church. It is Christ in whom we can place our trust- because Christ is the one who came into the world to defeat sin and death through his own Passion.

Advent also reminds us that the Church, the Body of Christ, is human and divine, just as Christ himself is. That the holiness of the Church does not depend on the holiness of her members or ministers. That even as she must follow a path of penance and renewal, she is more than what we can see, and especially more than the headlines of recent months.

There is a danger, amid the scandal of the moment, that we might reduce our vision of the Church to the sociological, that we might see only the scandal, and not the grace. Christ is present to us in and through his Church- even if actions undertaken in the Church's own name, set amid the disordering chaos of sin, are the source of our pain, or even of our despair. That is the scandalous proposition of the Gospel.

Advent reminds us that the Church is Christ’s Mystical Body, and that even as her fallen humanity is on full display, she is nonetheless the sacrament of our salvation. The Church, the Body of Christ, is a source of grace, even as she is in need of grace.

Jesus has come into the world, and he is coming again. He is present, even in our great difficulty. He loves as we are, and he wishes us to transform us. Advent is here.

Come Lord Jesus, come.  


How a 'messy family' can be a holy family

Sun, 12/02/2018 - 14:00

Steubenville, Ohio, Dec 2, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- When Mike and Alice Hernon started their podcast on marriage and family in 2015, they didn’t think anyone would listen, outside of their family and maybe a few close friends.

Both from big families - Alice the second of 10 siblings, and Mike one of six - and parents of 10 children themselves, the Hernons would often get asked for parenting advice at extended family gatherings.

At the urging of their siblings who were benefiting from their advice, the Hernons started a marriage and family podcast.

“At the beginning if you listen to our first two or three episodes, we kind of start off by saying something like, there are probably just like five of our brothers and sisters and their friends listening,” Alice told CNA.

But over the past three years, the podcast grew from a small fanbase of friends and family to 10,000 listeners per month.

“We literally did zero marketing! We didn't do anything” to promote the podcast, Alice said.

“We didn’t have time,” Mike added. They were too busy with work and with their own family life.

Sensing a growing need among parents and families for guidance and support, and with the support and partnership with Our Sunday Visitor Institute, Alice and Mike have decided to expand their podcast into a full-time marriage and family ministry called The Messy Family Project.

In addition to the podcast, the Hernons will now offer their advice, support and encouragement through videos, downloadable resources, and live events such as retreats and workshops.

“One of our taglines is: 'we're not experts' because neither of us have counseling degrees, we're not professors, we're not doctors,” Alice said. “We are really just older parents who are ahead of most of the people who are listening to us, so what we want to do is just kind of give that encouragement, that practical advice, but without being dogmatic.”

They’ve gained their wisdom from their own families of origin, from years of experience raising their own children (who are now ages 6-23), and from the teachings of the Catholic Church, and from interacting with families through various ministries over the years.  

Their mission: “to empower parents, strengthen marriages and bring families to Christ.”

This mission has been on the hearts of the Hernons for a while, Mike said, because “we believe it’s more challenging to raise children today than maybe it ever has been.”

They offer their wisdom as older siblings who have been there, rather than as parents of a different generation, Mike said.

“There are challenges that our parents didn't have,” he said, “everything from technology to all of the cultural issues that are bearing on our children and our family life.”

They wanted to offer their support and advice for Catholic families to build their own unique cultures instead, which will look different depending on the individual family, Mike said.

“We don't try to say - this is the perfect plan. We try to share experiences, also the principles from the Church, because we believe the Church is an expert in humanity, an expert in real living.”

Creating a strong, welcoming and unique family culture, built on a Catholic identity, is one of the best ways to combat the cultural messages that are antithetical to Catholicism and family life today, the Hernons said. “The best defense is a good offense,” Mike said.

“Our ‘offense’ is creating your own family culture,” Alice said.

“Families need to not allow their children to be influenced by the world's culture more than by their own family culture, because when you create your own family culture...that culture is a very powerful influence on our children because it’s an unspoken set of beliefs and expectations.”

A strong family culture also allows parents to enforce values without being judgmental of other families, Alice said.

“Because when a child says, ‘Oh well Susie is allowed to wear that dress to prom,’ you can say ‘Yeah, but Susie's not a Hernon, and this is who we are,’” she said.  

Family culture is communicated primarily through relationships, the Hernons said - the relationship of the parents with each other, the relationships parents have with individual children, and then the relationships children have with each other.

“The grace for your family flows from the sacrament of marriage,” Mike said.

“More is caught than taught, and kids need to see what that marriage looks like, and you model for them in so many ways what true love is, what it means to lay down your life, what it means to have a vocation, a mission of service.”

The Messy Family Project offers resources that cover a wide variety of topics related to family culture - including discipline, growing spiritually as a family, managing screen time, fostering sibling relationships, strengthening marriages, and building community with other like-minded families.

These resources include downloadable worksheets for parents to work through together, because spouses are each other’s own best parenting resource, the Hernons said.

“One of our themes is that parents need to work together and listen to each other as the experts,” Alice said. “More than they listen to us, more than they listen to anybody else out there, they need to listen to each other. So we have worksheets for parents to go through and have conversations with each other.”

Much of the Hernons' inspiration comes from Pope St. John Paul II, and his teachings on marriage and family.

“Each family finds within itself a summons that cannot be ignored and that specifies both its dignity and responsibility: family, become what you are!” Pope John Paul II said in his 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio.

That quote “sums up the goal” of The Messy Family Project, Mike said in a press release.

The Hernons said they are also inspired by St. Mother Teresa and the Little Flower of Therese, who found joy and holiness even in the little things of life.

They are also inspired by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who said in a 2017 address: “When young people ask me how to change the world, I tell them to love each other, get married, stay faithful to one another, have lots of children, and raise those children to be men and women of Christian character. Faith is a seed. It doesn’t flower overnight. It takes time and love and effort.”

Alice said she hopes Catholic families can find inspiration and hope, even in troubling times in the Church and in the world, through The Messy Family Project.

“I think a lot of times, Catholics look at the (Church sex abuse) scandals and say - ‘How can we change the Church?’”

“That's important and we need to do that, but start with your family. That's the most influence you can have, is over your family, and I think that people forget that.”

Eucharistic procession for Hollywood homeless draws hundreds

Sat, 12/01/2018 - 17:56

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 1, 2018 / 03:56 pm (CNA).- Hundreds of Catholics processed through Hollywood’s Walk of Fame in a special Eucharistic procession for the poor this month.

The event was organized by the Beloved Movement, a forum that promotes discipleship and spiritual community.

An estimated 700 people attended the Hollywood Beloved Procession after Mass at Blessed Sacrament Church on Nov. 17.

As part of the event, volunteers on the walk sat and listened to some of the city’s homeless population on the boulevard.

Seminarians from St. John’s Seminary and Queen of the Angels led the procession. It was also attended by members of several religious orders, including the Friars and Sisters of the Poor Jesus and Daughters of St. Paul.

The procession concluded in the church parking lot with adoration, praise and worship, and silent prayer.

The Beloved Movement website says the procession seeks to remind people of the common dignity between those on the streets and those who are not. Since Christ bore the weaknesses of mankind, it says, there is no need to be afraid of each other.

“Jesus shared our weaknesses, wounds, and limitations so that we wouldn’t need to be afraid of them, in ourselves or in others,” the website reads. 

The Beloved Movement partners with various organizations to foster relationships between homeless people and non-homeless people in Los Angeles. Father Spencer Lewrenz, one of the primary organizers of the event, said those in poverty need more than just resources.

“There are more and more resources,” he told America Magazine when he was a seminarian in 2017. “And it isn’t helping.”

“My experience is there’s a lot of bitterness and despair among the homeless population because they feel like nobody cares,” he said. “If I can recognize where I feel a little homeless for whatever reason inside myself, then it kind of helps me be able to talk to that person.”