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Your kid and my kid are not playing in the pros

A note from Al:

If this sports doc is to be believed, and I have no reason to mistrust him, kids sports have changed a lot since my Little League and Biddy Basketball days. What changed first, the coaches or the parents or the kids? – Al Kresta

by Louis M. Profeta MD via Nuvo.net

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I don’t care if your eight year old can throw a baseball through six inches of plywood. He is not going to the pros. I don’t care if your twelve-year-old scored seven touchdowns last week in Pop Warner. He is not going to the pros. I don’t care if your sixteen-year-old made first team all-state in basketball. He is not playing in the pros. I don’t care if your freshman in college is a varsity scratch golfer, averaging two under par. He isn’t playing in the pros. Now tell me again how good he is. I’ll lay you two to one odds right now — and I don’t even know your kid, I have never even see them play — but I’ll put up my pension that your kid is not playing in the pros. It is simply an odds thing. There are far too many variables working against your child. Injury, burnout, others who are better — these things are just a fraction of the barriers preventing your child from becoming “the one.”

So how do we balance being the supportive parent who spends three hours a day driving all over hell’s half acre to allow our child to pursue his or her dream without becoming the supportive parent that drives all over hell’s half acre to allow our child to pursue OUR dream? When does this pursuit of athletic stardom become something just shy of a gambling habit? From my experience in the ER I’ve developed some insight in how to identify the latter.

1. When I inform you as a parent that your child has just ruptured their ACL ligament or Achilles tendon, if the next question out of your mouth is, “How long until he or she will be able to play?” you have a serious problem.

2. If you child is knocked unconscious during a football game and can’t remember your name let alone my name but you feel it is a “vital” piece of medical information to let me know that he is the starting linebacker and that the team will probably lose now because he was taken out of the game, you need to see a counselor.

3. If I tell you that mononucleosis has caused the spleen to swell and that participation in a contact sport could cause a life threatening rupture and bleeding during the course of the illness and you then ask me, “If we just get some extra padding around the spleen, would it be OK to play?” someone needs to hit you upside the head with a two by four.

4. If your child comes in with a blood alcohol level of .250 after wrecking your Lexus and you ask if I can hurry up and get them out of the ER before the police arrive so as not to run the risk of her getting kicked off the swim team, YOU need to be put in jail.

I bet you think I’m kidding about the above patient and parent interactions. I wish I were, but I’m not. These are a fraction of the things I have heard when it comes to children and sports. Every ER doctor in America sees this. How did we get here? How did we go from spending our family times in parks and picnics, at movies and relatives houses to travel baseball and cheerleading competitions? When did we go from being supportive to being subtly abusive?

Why are we spending our entire weekends schlepping from county to county, town to town, state to state to play in some bullshit regional, junior, mid-west, southeast, invitational, elite, prep, all- state, conference, blah, blah, blah tourney? We decorate our cars with washable paint, streamers, numbers and names. We roll in little carpool caravans trekking down the interstate honking and waiving at each other like Rev. Jim Jones followers in a Kool-Aid line. Greyhounds, Hawks, Panthers, Eagles, Bobcats, Screaming Devils, Scorching Gonads or whatever other mascot adorns their jerseys.

Somewhere along the line we got distracted, and the practice field became the dinner table of the new millennium. Instead of huddling around a platter of baked chicken, mashed potatoes and fruit salad, we spend our evenings handing off our children like 4 x 200 batons. From baseball practice to cheerleading, from swimming lessons to personal training, we have become the “hour-long” generation of five to six, six to seven, and seven to eight, selling the souls of our family for lacrosse try-outs. But why do we do this?

It’s because, just like everyone else, we’re afraid. We are afraid that Emma will make the cheerleading squad instead of Suzy and that Mitch will start at first base instead of my Dillon. But it doesn’t stop there. You see, if Mitch starts instead of Dillon then Dillon will feel like a failure, and if Dillon feels like a failure then he will sulk and cower in his room, and he will lose his friends because all his friends are on the baseball team, too, and if he loses his friends then he will start dressing in Goth duds, pierce his testicles, start using drugs and begin listening to headbanging music with his door locked. Then, of course, it’s just a matter of time until he’s surfing the net for neo-Nazi memorabilia, visiting gun shows and then opening fire in the school cafeteria. That is why so many fathers who bring their injured sons to the ER are so afraid that they won’t be able to practice this week, or that he may miss the game this weekend. Miss a game, you become a mass murderer — it’s that simple.

Suzy is a whole other story, though. You see, if she doesn’t make the cheerleading squad she will lose a whole bunch of friends and not be as popular as she should (and she’s REAL popular). If she loses some friends, she will be devastated — all the cool kids will talk about her behind her back, so then she’ll sit in her room all day, eating Ding Dongs and cutting at her wrists. Then, of course, it is only a matter of time until she is chatting on the Internet with fifty-year-old men and meeting up with them at truck stops. And that is why every mother is so frightened when her daughters have mononucleosis or influenza. Miss cheerleading practice for a week, and your daughter is headed for a career in porn. It’s that simple.

We have become a frightened society that can literally jump from point A to point Z and ignore everything in between. We spend so much time worrying about who might get ahead — and if we’re falling behind — that we have simply lost our common sense. Myself included.

There was a time when sick or injured children were simply sick or injured children. They needed bed rest, fluid, antibiotics and a limitation on activity. They just needed to get better. They didn’t NEED to get better.

I know, I know. Your family is different. You do all these things because your kid loves to compete, he loves the travel basketball, she loves the swim team, it’s her life, it’s what defines him. Part of that is certainly true but a big part of that isn’t. Tens of thousands of families thrive in this setting, but I’m telling you, from what I’ve seen as a clinician, tens of thousands don’t. It is a hidden scourge in society today, taxing and stressing husbands, wives, parents and children. We’re denying children the opportunity to explore literally thousands of facets of interests because of the fear of the need to “specialize” in something early, and that by not doing this your child will somehow be just an average kid. How do we learn to rejoice in the average and celebrate as a whole society the exceptional? I’m not sure, but I know that this whole preoccupation is unhealthy, it is dysfunctional and is as bad as alcoholism, tobacco abuse, or any other types of dependency.

I would love to have a son that is a pro athlete. I’d get season tickets; all the other fathers would point at me and I might get a chance to meet Sandy Koufax. It isn’t going to happen, though. But you know what I am certain will happen? I’ll raise self-reliant kids, who will hang out with me when I’m older, remember my birthday, care for their mother, take me to lunch and the movies, buy me club level seats at Yankee Stadium on occasion, call me at least four times a week and let me in on all the good things in their life, and turn to me for some comfort and advice for all the bad things. I am convinced that those things just will not happen as much for parents of the “hour-long” generation. You can’t create a sense of family only at spring and Christmas break. It just won’t happen. Sure, the kids will probably grow up to be adequate adults. They’ll reflect on how supportive you were by driving them to all their games and practices and workouts. They’ll call the ER from a couple states away to see how mom’s doing but in time you’ll see that something will be missing, something that was sacrificed for a piano tutor, a pitching coach, a travel soccer tournament. It may take years, but in time, you’ll see.

The Catholic Church’s German Crisis

A note from Al:

German Bishops don’t chart the way of the future. If they do, irreversible decline and not revival will be our fate.

This is what happens when the Church relies on the State taxes for its revenue. Conformity to the world has always been a problem for Christ’s disciples. See Romans 12:1-5. But when the Caesars of today have power over the Church, we will lose because they can coerce and we can’t. – Al Kresta

by George Weigel via CatholicWorldReport.com

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One rarely finds, among German churchmen today, a sobered openness, born of the recognition that something has gone terribly wrong and that another approach to evangelization and catechesis must be found.

The 21st-century Church owes a lot to 20th-century German Catholicism: for its generosity to Catholics in the Third World; for the witness of martyrs like Alfred Delp, Bernhard Lichtenberg, and Edith Stein; for its contributions to Biblical studies, systematic and moral theology, liturgical renewal, and Catholic social doctrine, through which German Catholicism played a leading role in Vatican II’s efforts to renew Catholic witness for the third millennium. At the Council, more than the Rhine flowed into the Tiber; let’s not forget the Seine, the Meuse, the Potomac, and the Vistula. But the Rhine’s flow was strong.

Which simply intensifies the shock on reading the German bishops’ report to the Vatican in preparation for this coming October’s synod. One of my correspondents deemed it a de facto declaration of schism. I read it as an unintentional cri du coeur: a confession of catechetical disaster and pastoral failure on a nationwide scale, to which the German episcopate has no response save to urge others down the path that has led Catholicism in Germany into profound incoherence.

When one tries to discuss this catastrophe with senior German churchmen, one rarely finds, these days, a sobered openness, born of the recognition that something has gone terribly wrong and that another approach to evangelization and catechesis must be found—an “All-In Catholicism” rooted in the joy of the Gospel preached and lived in its full integrity. Rather, what you often find is a stubborn doubling-down. “You don’t understand our situation” is the antiphon, typically spoken with some vehemence.

Yet is it really the case that we obtuse non-Germans don’t understand? The statistics on German Catholic practice—more accurately, the lack thereof—are not pontifical secrets. Those statistics are embodied by what visitors observe in German cities on Sunday: largely empty churches. Now comes this report for the synod, which suggests that, on matters of marriage, the family, the morality of human love, and the things that make for genuine happiness, German Catholic thinking is virtually indistinguishable from that of non-believers.

And still the German episcopate suggests that more dumbing down of Catholic doctrine and practice is the answer, now on a global scale. It’s quite remarkable. And it will certainly be remarked upon, and not favorably, in Rome in October.

In October 2001, I had an engaging, two-hour conversation with Cardinal Karl Lehmann, now one of the grand old men of the German hierarchy. We discussed the crisis of belief throughout Europe (and Europe’s related demographic meltdown) at length. Then the cardinal offered me a copy of his newest book, “Now Is the Time to Think of God.” I must say I found the title … striking. I knew he intended it as a challenge to the regnant secularism of the time, but you had to wonder: What else had this distinguished scholar, and his colleagues at the higher altitudes of German theology, been speaking about, these many years?

To make a very long story short, they had often been speaking-about-speaking-about-God: that is, they’d been chasing their tails in trying to respond to the crisis of belief in late modernity. And in doing so, they’d gotten stuck inside what Polish philosopher Wojciech Chudy, an intellectual great-grandson of John Paul II, called the post-Kantian “trap of reflection:” thinking-about-thinking-about-thinking, rather than thinking about reality—in this case, the Gospel and its truths. Less elegantly, I’d describe Chudy’s “trap of reflection” as the quicksand pit of a subjectivism become self-absorption, from which it’s hard to extract oneself and answer the Master’s call, “Come, follow me.”

The German Catholic crisis is not primarily institutional; the Catholic Church is Germany’s second-largest employer and its institutions are robust. The crisis is one of faith. German Catholicism is in crisis because German Catholics have not embraced the Lord Jesus and his Gospel with passion, conviction and joy, and are seeking their happiness elsewhere. That’s sad; that‘s tragic; that’s dispiriting.

But it’s also nothing to be commended as a model for others, except as a cautionary tale about the effects of surrendering to the spirit of the age.

 

Federal Court: MTA Must Run “Hamas Killing Jews” Ad

via AmericanFreedomLawCenter.org

On April 21, a federal court ruled that New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) violated the First Amendment by refusing to run the “Hamas Killing Jews” advertisement displayed below and must therefore display the advertisement on MTA buses.

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The ad’s sponsors, Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, and the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), sought to run the advertisement on MTA buses last August, but the MTA refused, claiming that Muslims in New York might understand the ad to be advocating violence, thereby inciting them to murder Jews as Islamic worship.

The American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) promptly filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the MTA for refusing to run the ad.  The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of the advertisement’s sponsors.  AFLC also filed a motion for preliminary injunction, asking U.S. District Court Judge John G. Koeltl to issue an order forcing the MTA to display the ad even in advance of a final ruling since the MTA’s conduct was a transparent and egregious violation of AFDI’s free speech rights protected by the First Amendment.

On March 24, 2015, the court held a five-hour-long hearing that included live testimony from MTA employees, including the MTA’s director of security, Raymond Diaz, followed by oral argument.  The court’s ruling granting the preliminary injunction was issued today.  In his opinion, Judge Koeltl made clear that the MTA’s refusal to run the “Hamas Killing Jews” advertisement was a blatant violation of the First Amendment and that the MTA’s claim that the advertisement advocated violence or was likely to incite violence was “thoroughly unpersuasive,” particularly in light of the fact that the same ad had run earlier in Chicago and San Francisco without incident.

Judge Koeltl continued along this line:

The defendants [the MTA and its top executives] contend that the advertisement could be read as urging a subset of Islamic extremists to follow Hamas’s command, but if that group is as violent and radicalized as the defendants contend, presumably they would not need a bus advertisement to remind them of Hamas’s interpretation of the Quran. . . . It strains credulity to believe that New Yorkers would be incited to violence by ads that did not incite residents of Chicago and San Francisco to similar acts.  This is not to minimize the terror threats to New York City, but those threats do not arise from these fleeting advertisements.

In arguing that granting the injunction is against the public interest, the defendants point to the global and local threat posed by terrorism.  But as explained throughout this opinion, such generalized fears, only tangentially connected to the ad in question, do not outweigh the public interest in protecting First Amendment rights.

David Yerushalmi, AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel, commented:

Judge Koeltl’s well-written and considered opinion sends a loud and clear message to Islamic terrorists around the globe as well as to those government bureaucrats who believe that Sharia’s blasphemy laws are an exception to the First Amendment.  And that message is this: America’s liberties will not give way to Islamic terror threats nor to government bureaucrats who are quick to cast aside our liberties for fear of offending Muslims.

Robert Muise, AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel, added,

Under the First Amendment, the government is not permitted to impose special prohibitions on speech out of fear that some members of the public might react violently to its content.  Quite simply, the First Amendment knows no heckler’s veto.  This opinion forcefully confirms this fundamental principle of First Amendment jurisprudence.

Muise continued,

If the MTA was able to get away with this obvious ploy to manufacture a threat when this ad has already run without incident in Chicago and San Francisco for months, it could use this sort of pretext to shut down all unwanted speech.  This would not only make a mockery of the First Amendment, it would actually encourage the thuggery and violence the MTA claimed it fears.

AFLC has now won two federal lawsuits against the MTA, one against the Washington, D.C. transit authority, and one against the Philadelphia transit authority on behalf of its clients, Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, and AFDI.  Cases are still pending in Detroit, Boston, and Seattle.

Draft of revised San Francisco faculty handbook statement takes a broader approach

A note from Al:

The time will come when some Catholic or Evangelical Protestant leader will stand up in good faith and without rancor and simply say: “We can try and soften our language but the truth is no matter how we phrase it, you will not accept it. Our faith rejects certain acts as fundamentally immoral regardless of the best intentions of those who commit such acts. We cannot comply with your expectations. Christianity is a real thing. It has real content and clear boundaries. You wish it didn’t have certain rough edges or sharp corners. But it does. Stop thinking that reality is according to your definition. You can reject us but you won’t be able to change us because we are anchored in the Creator of reality.” – Al Kresta

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by Dan Morris-Young and Mandy Erikson via NCROnline.org

An alleged draft of a revised faculty handbook statement for San Francisco archdiocesan high schools and a cover letter by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone show a less strident approach to church teaching and practice than the much-debated original version and a conciliatory tone from the archbishop.

Yet even before the archdiocese released the recast language, some people privy to leaked drafts of the purported texts expressed concern over what they describe as a change in tone but not substance as well as phrasing that would diminish labor law protections for teachers and staff.

“The language is softer, but the message is still hurtful and wrong,” said graduating senior Jessica Hyman of Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory, one of the schools affected by the handbook, at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

Concerned Parents and Students: Teach Acceptance, a group that formed in opposition to the proposed handbook changes, held the press conference on the steps of the chancery to “reject Archbishop Cordileone’s revised Faculty Handbook” and “keep the current contract and handbook that have served the schools well,” according to its press release.

About 100 people attended the press conference at which parents, students and a union representative spoke. Many lamented the archbishop’s attempt to classify teachers as ministers, a move that would eliminate labor protections. Paul Hance, a history teacher at Junipero Serra High School and a member of the executive board of the teachers union, said lawyers for the group have reviewed the document and said it makes a stronger case than the previous draft for the minister classification.

“What would happen if the archbishop gets his way? We would have termination without legal recourse,” he said. “Our rights are not negotiable; our profession is teaching, not ministry.”

Speakers added that the revised draft would cast a pall on teaching. Teachers who fear they’ll lose their jobs if they suggest a viewpoint that differs from the archbishop’s cannot help their students understand different points of view or ask thoughtful questions, they said.

The archbishop “threatens what has been the cornerstone of my education, which is inquiry,” said Gino Gresh, a senior set to graduate from Sacred Heart.

Request for comment sent to archdiocesan officials early Wednesday were not acknowledged.

In a copy of what is said to be a working draft of a cover letter by Cordileone to accompany the rewritten handbook statement, the archbishop apologized for “lack of foresight on my part” for the “several unintended consequences” generated by his original document that “created tensions we have been experiencing.”

Titled “Statement of the High Schools of the Archdiocese of San Francisco Regarding the Teachings and Practice of the Catholic Church,” the free-standing, nearly 2,000-word instruction made public Feb. 3has generated international headlines and deep divisions within the Bay Area Catholic community.

The statement underscored teaching on Mass attendance, confession, teaching authority of the church, sex outside marriage, traditional marriage, homosexual acts, hell, purgatory, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, birth control, “artificial reproductive technology,” and human cloning.

It also put “administrators, faculty and staff of any faith or of no faith” on notice to “arrange and conduct their lives so as not to visibly contradict, undermine or deny” church teaching and to “refrain from participation in organizations that call themselves ‘Catholic’ but support or advocate issues or causes contrary to the teachings of the Church.”

Supporters of the statement praised Cordileone for laying out clear expectations for Catholic school employees and endorsed his stated motivation for developing the narrative: that the hot-button issues addressed are among the most sidelined by modern culture and that young people are under constant pressure “to conform to a certain agenda at variance with, and often aggressively so, our Christian understanding of the human person and God’s purpose in creation,” in the archbishop’s words.

Critics said the document ignores the role of conscience, invades individuals’ private lives, focuses too heavily on sexual issues, and employs divisive, hurtful language.

The harshest criticism focused on the Feb. 3 text’s usage of language such as “gravely evil,” “intrinsically evil,” “gravely immoral” and “grave moral disorder” in regard to primarily sexual and reproductive teachings. The phrasing can effectively marginalize and diminish gay people and others, it was argued.

Well more than 4,000 words, the revised draft seen by NCR does not employ those descriptions and underscores: “The Gospel cannot be reduced to a list of truths no matter how comprehensive because the Gospel is a person, the anointed one, Jesus of Nazareth, who is Lord.”

After reading the draft, Jesuit Fr. John Coleman, who wrote a blog in February critical of the rationale and approach of the initial text, said in an email that the tone of the new draft “is worlds apart from the earlier handbook.”

“I could easily sign off on this one without any problem. Even the sexual stuff is more nuanced and less terrifying,” wrote Coleman, a Bay Area sociologist who was a professor of religion and society at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley (1974-97) and held the Charles Casassa Chair in Social Values at Loyola Marymount University (1997-2009).

Written by a group of five high school theology teachers recruited by the archdiocese, the new document says in its preamble that the contents follow “the general structure of the Catechism” and “offer a short compendium of some important teachings.”

Superintendent of Schools Maureen Huntington lauded the committee’s work.

“From my perspective,” she wrote in an email to NCR, “the Context Committee … did an excellent job of articulating the Church’s teachings in a variety of areas within the Four Pillars of the CCC. They were able to bring the Church’s teachings into our daily life and assist us in understanding not only what the Church teaches but why.”

Huntington confirmed indications in the archbishop’s leaked cover letter that the new document will be open for review and refinement and is not scheduled for immediate inclusion in the 2015-16 faculty handbooks. The four high schools affected by the faculty handbook are Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory and Archbishop Riordan in San Francisco, Marin Catholic in Kentfield, and Junipero Serra in San Mateo. There are also 10 other independent Catholic high schools in the archdiocese.

Jim Jordan, a Sacred Heart teacher, called development of the new faculty handbook proposal “a small victory for us in that there will be no handbook change this year, which means we’ve stemmed the tide for the moment.”

“We’re well aware that other dioceses across the country are following closely, so we feel our resistance has given pause to bishops thinking of imposing similar employment policies,” said Jordan, who was among teachers who organized a petition effort among the four schools’ faculty and staff in March asking Cordileone to forego the handbook statement and retain the existing document. Eighty percent of the schools’ faculty and staff signed.

The archbishop, added Jordan, “is not backing down at all, merely slowing down. As for the revised handbook language, the committee who drafted it was never authorized to act on behalf of the schools.”

In its press statement Wednesday, Concerned Parents and Students: Teach Acceptance wrote:

“The Archbishop is attempting to reclassify all employees of four schools within the Archdiocese as part of the ‘ministry’ and ‘mission’ of the church in order to eliminate anti-discrimination and other workplace protections for those staff members. He has also proposed that teachers and staff at the schools accept handbook language that, among other things, condemns homosexuality, same-sex marriage, contraception, and use of assisted reproductive technology. These proposals, originally made public in February, were met with an overwhelming outcry from teachers, parents, students and allies of the four schools.”

Kathleen Purcell, a constitutional attorney and former Catholic high school teacher, was quoted by the group, saying, “Under the revised handbook language, teachers would not be able to dissent or discuss ideas that conflict with the Archbishop’s understanding of Catholicism without risking their jobs. This fundamentally alters the character of our schools. Teachers whose jobs are under threat if they step outside the line cannot provide a safe environment for students to learn.”

The protest organization also wrote: “The Archbishop has many platforms from which to educate faculty, students, parents and other members of the school community regarding his interpretations of Church theology, other than an employee handbook.”

Jim McGarry, a lead organizer of Concerned Parents and Students, sent an open letter to administrators of the four schools and others based on the circulating revised handbook text. He warned against communications “particularly aimed at parents” that “implied that all things will work out in time and nothing that you love about your school will change.”

“The suggestion is that we will weather this storm by being who we are. Could this be a false hope? Instead, what is needed is an ‘apocalyptic’ tone,” he added. “If our teachers’ integrity is compromised in labor agreements and if this faculty handbook language is instituted, it will lethally damage our students, our teachers, our schools and our mission. Even muted, the Archbishop’s rhetoric of judgment and selectivity about and atomization of the moral life of our students and their families is not simply a storm to be weathered. It is the precipice of a disaster.”

Don’t Just Discern Your Vocation

A note from Al:

When I returned to the Catholic church I was struck by a social phenomenon I didn’t see so clearly as an evangelical Protestant: the perpetual agonizing over discernment to priesthood or marriage. In a few personal cases, I thought it was pathological and masked an insecurity and fear of failure that would, in the long run, lead to life-long unhappiness. This Dominican writer gets at some of the same observations I made but never articulated so well. –  Al Kresta

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by Br. Gabriel T. Mosher, O.P.

There’s a cause for today’s vocation shortage that’s rarely addressed. Too many people are discerning; not enough people are deciding. I know they mean well, but instead of courageously pursuing the priesthood or religious life they form safe communities where they can muse on ideals instead of act on principles.

I call them the Order of Perpetual Discerners. I’m not questioning their piety. I wouldn’t dream of impugning their intentions. However, they fundamentally misunderstand how to discern God’s will. They agonize over the call. They seek spiritual directors and confidants to emote about the vexing feelings they’re experiencing. The sad result is that they never actually discern; they only dream.

The narcissism pervading our culture is a major cause of this trend. We act as if it’s a virtue. Popular culture promotes it. Popular Christian culture is ensnared by it. It’s not surprising that the modern obsession with self-care was bound to cause some problems. The philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard provides intellectual soil for it. Personality cults popularize it. Televangelists and magazine rack mystics sell it. Our contemporary culture has been perfectly constructed to cultivate narcissistic Christianity. Combine the popular psychologism preached in our parishes with a society steeped in postmodern despair and you get exactly what we’ve got — a simulacrum of the Corinthian Christianity that St. Paul fought against.

Common trends of vocational discernment typify the Catholic appropriation of this narcissism. The problem isn’t whether people are or are not discerning. The problem is people are stuck in their heads. It’s like they’re waiting for an infallible neon sign from God. “Constantine got his in hoc signo, so should I!” The truth is, however, God doesn’t usually operate that way. He’s the author of the ordinary, the mundane. God reveals the extraordinary only after we’ve embraced the ordinary.

The scenario I’m describing is ubiquitous. I frequently see it among candidates inquiring into my own Order. This narcissism is why so many will “come and see,” but so few will “stay to pray.” They’ve gotten stuck in the discernment trap and they lack the tools to get out. They try to get out by doing exactly what our culture has taught them to do. They look inward. Yet, by doing this they’ll never find what they’re seeking. Why? Because the answer is found on the outside not on the inside. Thankfully, this sickness isn’t unto death.

Technically the word discernment is a good one. It describes the ability to wisely chose one thing over another. It’s not simply the ability to separate good from bad. More specifically it’s the ability to place all the good things we encounter in a hierarchical order from what’s good to what’s best. Discernment is essentially an intellectual process of ordering perceived goods. However, we can get stuck in the process if we lack critical information. When this happens we become paralyzed because all our possible choices seem to be equally good. In this scenario we become incapable of discerning which vocation to choose. This is the discernment trap. The lacuna in our knowledge is often the result of asking the wrong question. We usually ask ourselves which vocation is better for me. Instead we need to simply ask which vocation is better.

I can already hear objections and outrage at what I just wrote. That’s because savvy readers know what I’m about to say. The best vocation is the one immediately ordered to contemplation. The best vocation is religious life. Moderns think this statement  is an insult to married couples. They think it’s antiquated hogwash. After all, didn’t the Second Vatican Council do away with thinking of religious life as objectively superior to married life?

Well, not exactly. The Council desired that we avoid minimizing the dignity of Holy Matrimony. Lord knows there’s been enough of that! What, then, does it mean for religious life to be objectively superior to married life? It’s simply the consequence of religious life being a more perfect reflection of beatitude. Married life is good but religious life is better. The Second Vatican Council affirms this position when it calls religious life an eschatological sign. It literally allows us to begin living on earth what the saints experience in heaven.

Probably most people reading this article have never heard this before now. That’s because it’s never, or rarely, preached. But it’s also because we rarely consider how God’s love affects our daily lives. What does this mean? It means God desires our highest good. This isn’t limited to His desire that we get to heaven. His love extends to all the particular aspects of our life. God wants the best for us at every moment of our lives in every possible way. When His love intersects with vocational discernment the ramifications are clear. He desires that we participate in the highest of form of Christian life. God desires that each of use enter religious life.

Once discernment is seen this way everything changes. The question is no longer about whether God desires me to live one way or another. No. I already know that God desires me to choose and possess the greatest good. Knowing this the process of discernment is no longer about guessing what’s in God’s mind. Discernment becomes a question of whether I’m capable of living religious life or not.

St. Thomas Aquinas was no stranger to the difficulties of discernment. He also excelled at placing things in their proper order. Wisely, he left a practical guide to help us get out of the discernment trap. Much of what I’m saying is found in Question 189 in the “Secunda secundae” of the Summa Theologiae. Each article asks very practical questions about religious discernment. Each are real questions from his day. Many of them were surely his own questions. Most of them are the same questions we continue to ask today. His conclusions are as helpful today as when the ink was still fresh. Tolle lege!

The reality is, however, that you can read about discernment until your eyes fall out. There is a simpler solution that Aquinas would appreciate. Enter the novitiate! Enter the seminary! Among good things there is no replacement for experiential knowledge. The Church knows this and has designed these structures to help your discernment. A pair of pants may look nice on the rack, but you’ll never know if they fit until you try them on. And, if you already know your size, what are you waiting for. Buy the pants! Entering the seminary or the novitiate doesn’t involve signing a contract in your own blood. They are trial periods for both you and the community. They are designed for you to “try on” the community. If a community doesn’t fit, you can always put it back on the rack.

Remember, you’ll never discover your vocation in your own head. Stop over-thinking it! Follow the example of our Blessed Mother.  When God calls, answer. After you answer, ponder. While you ponder it follow Him wherever He leads you. Be at peace. Abandon yourself to God’s will and you will undoubtedly save your own soul and win the salvation of many more. Make a choice and live it.

Why parents should stop hoping their kids will get married

A note from Al:

One way to reduce divorce rates is to avoid marriage. By 2016, the marriage rate is expected to fall to 6.7 per 1,000 people, a historic law and that includes second or third marriages. In 1867 it was 9.6 per 1,000. After WWII it reached a high of 16.4 per 1,000 and from the 60s to the mid 80s bounced around between 8.6 to 10.8. This piece poses some reasons for the remarkable decline of marriage. Hint: it wasn’t the push for homosexual so-called marriage. – Al Kresta

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by Brigid Schulte via WashingtonPost.com

Millennials are poised to become the nation’s largest living generation this year. As they grow as a percentage of the population, more of them will reach the age at which Americans historically have gotten married. And many baby-boomer parents are probably eagerly anticipating the big day when their son or daughter walks down the aisle (and the grandkids that will follow.)

But, according to new research, millennials are not showing many signs of interest in getting hitched as they get older, and, as a result, the marriage rate is expected to fall by next year to its lowest level to date.

That is a finding by Demographic Intelligence, a forecasting firm with a strong track record. “Millennials are such a big generation, we’re going to have more people of prime marriage age in the next five years than we’ve had at any time in U.S. history. For that alone, we’d expect an uptick in marriage rates,” said Sam Sturgeon, president of Demographic Intelligence. “That’s not happening.”

In the firm’s new U.S. Wedding Forecast, compiled from demographic data, Google searches and a host of other variables, Sturgeon projects that by 2016, the marriage rate will fall to 6.7 per 1,000 people, a historic low. That includes people getting married for the second or third time.

In 1867, the first year for which national marriage statistics were recorded, the marriage rate was 9.6 per 1,000 Americans. It peaked in 1946 at 16.4 per 1,000 as men were returning from World War II, and it bounced around from 8.5 in 1960 to a high of 10.8 in the mid-1980s. Starting in the 1990s, it began a long and, in the 1990s, precipitous drop.

In fact, in 1984, when baby boomers were at prime marrying age, a total of 2.48 million marriages were recorded, the highest number the country had seen. In 2013, the most recent year for which there is data, the number of marriages had dropped to 2.13 million.

“We won’t get anywhere close to that high number of marriages again,” Sturgeon said.

Demographers cite several reasons reason for the massive generational shift in marriage trends.

1) Millennials continue to delay marriage because of economics, education and preference. In 1960, fewer than 8 percent of women and 13 percent of men married for the first time at age 30 or older, University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen has calculated. Now, nearly one-third of women and more than 40 percent of men who marry for the first time are 30 or older.

Cohen, who has tracked falling marriage rates around the world, has projected that, if the current pattern continues, the marriage rate will hit zero in 2042.

2) The United States continues to become more secular and less religious. The Pew Research Center reported recently that the share of Americans who describe themselves as Christians dropped from 78 percent to 71 percent between 2007 and 2014, while the number of atheists, agnostics or those of no faith grew from 16 percent to 23 percent.

3) Millennials have alternatives. In the past, living together or having children “out of wedlock” was met with severe social stigma, but no longer. Cohabitation rates are on the rise — 48 percent of women interviewed between 2006 and 2010 for the National Survey of Family Growth cohabitated with a partner as a first union, compared with 34 percent in 1995.

Births to unmarried women also are on the rise. Forty-one percent of all births are now to unmarried women, 2.5 times as high as was reported in 1980 and 19 times as high as in 1940.

“Marriage is, in some ways, in the worst place it’s ever been,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, director of the National Marriage Project and founder of Demographic Intelligence. “I don’t think we’re ever going to see a major upswing. But we may have reached a plateau. The numbers suggest we may be touching bottom.”

Hopeful signs, Wilcox said, are rising rates of marriage among the educated. The U.S. Wedding Report notes that weddings for college-educated women rose from 30 percent in 2008 to 36 percent in 2015. And middle-class desires for two parents to be involved in the lives of children bode well for stable marriages, he said.

In addition, the growth of the Hispanic population should propel the percentage of Hispanic brides from 15 percent in 2008 to 18 percent this year, according to Demographic Intelligence.

Monitoring the Future, an ongoing survey of youths, further reports that 80 percent of female high school seniors and 72 percent of males in 2006 to 2010 said marriage and family are “extremely important” to them — numbers that have remained consistent since the mid-1970s.

That shows a strong marriage norm in the United States, Sturgeon said. But whether millennials will follow it is anyone’s guess. “We kind of hope we’ve reached a floor,” he said, “but we really aren’t sure.”

Brit Bertino, a wedding planner in Las Vegas and vice president of the Wedding Industry Professionals Association, is seeing the trends firsthand. Despite record tourism in the past year, and Las Vegas’s reputation as the “Wedding Capital of the World,” the number of marriage licenses issued there has dropped nearly 40 percent in the past decade.

“My business is definitely down. I’m seeing a 50 percent drop just from last year,” Bertino said. “Las Vegas is definitely hurting.”

But Bertino also understands why. At 31, she, is a millennial, too. And though she’s in the wedding business and said she would like to marry someday, she is in no rush.

“I’m not very traditional, so I wouldn’t mind having a child before marriage,” she said. “Like a lot of people, I’m holding off on marriage until I’m sure I’ve found the right person.”

 

Pope Francis to parents: Come out of ‘exile’ and educate your children

A note from Al:

Pope Francis knows that, for a variety of reasons- deference to the cult of experts, distrust between teachers who usurp the role of parents and parents who want education not indoctrination, preoccupation with wealth and consumerism rather than mentoring one’s children, the lost confidence in the wisdom of elders, addiction to entertainment or substances and focus on one’s own pleasure rather than one’s responsibility as a parent, ctc., -for whatever reason- many parents have exiled themselves from their role as primary educators of their children. This problem is severe. “In our days, the educational partnership in crisis. It’s broken.” Can Catholic parents find a way to model a new way of parenting. See Deuteronomy 6:4-7; Prov 1:8; 4:1; 6:20; 10:1; 13:1; 15:20; 23:22; 31:1; Ephesians 6:1-4. Enjoy. – Al Kresta

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by Elise Harris via CatholicNewsAgency.com

.- In his general audience Pope Francis spoke of the essential role parents play in educating their children – a role he said has been usurped by so-called experts who have taken the place of parents and rendered them fearful of making any correction.

“If family education regains its prominence, many things will change for the better. It’s time for fathers and mothers to return from their exile – they have exiled themselves from educating their children – and slowly reassume their educative role,” the Pope said May 20.

He gave harsh criticism to the “intellectual critics” that he said have “silenced” parents in order to defend younger generations from real or imagined harm, and lamented how schools now are often more influential than families in shaping the thinking and values of children.

“In our days the educational partnership is in crisis. It’s broken,” he said, and named various reasons for this.

“On one part there are tensions and distrust between parents and educators; on the other part, there are more and more ‘experts’ who pretend to occupy the role of parents, who are relegated to second place,” he said.

The Pope spoke to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly general audience. His focus on the vocation of families to educate their children is part of his ongoing series on the family.

Since the end of last fall Francis has been centering his Wednesday catechesis on the theme of family as part of the lead-up to the World Day of Families in September, as well as October’s Synod of Bishops on the Family.

In his address he stressed that educating and raising children in the human values which form the “backbone” of a healthy society is a responsibility that each family has.

However, many difficulties often impede parents’ ability to properly educate their children. Today parents are spending less and less time with their children, and meeting their needs after a long day of work can be exhausting, he noted.

In off the cuff remarks, Francis also highlighted the struggle faced by the increasing number of divorced or separated families. Many times children in these families are “taken as a hostage,” while their mother and father speak badly about each other.

To do this “does so much bad” to children, the Pope noted, and stressed the importance for parents in these situations to “never, never, never take your child hostage.”

“You are separated because of many difficulties and reasons, life gave you this trial, but may the children not be the ones who bear the weight of this separation! May children not be used as hostages, against the other (parent),” he said.

Although this important task can be very difficult for parents who are separated, the Pope said that it’s not impossible, and that “you can do it.”

Francis also observed how frequently parents are “paralyzed” by the fear of making mistakes, and hesitate to correct their children.

He recalled an episode from his own life when he had said a bad word to a teacher. The next day his mother came to the school and made him apologize, and then corrected him at home.

Nowadays this wouldn’t happen, because too often a teacher who tries to discipline a child is criticized by the parents, he said.

“Things have changed. Parents shouldn’t exclude themselves from the education of their children…The relationship between family and school ought to be harmonious.”

Pope Francis also cautioned parents against commanding or discouraging their children by asking them to do what they aren’t able to.

When a parent tells their small child to run up the stairs without taking them by the hand and helping them step by step, they are “exasperating” the child, and asking them to do something they can’t.

The relationship between parents and their children should be balanced and founded on wisdom, he said. Children should be “obedient to parents, which pleases God, and you parents, don’t exasperate your children asking them to do what they aren’t able to. Understood?”

Francis said that the Church and all Christian communities are called to accompany and support parents in their educative role. He noted that this is done by living according to God’s word and cultivating the virtues of faith, love and patience.

Jesus himself was raised in a family, he said, explaining that “when he tells us that all who hear the word of God and obey are his brothers and sisters, he reminds us that for all their failings, our families can count on his inspiration and grace in the difficult but rewarding vocation of educating their children.”

Pope Francis closed his audience by praying that all parents would have the confidence, freedom and courage needed in order to fulfill their educative mission.

He then went on to greet pilgrims present from various countries around the world, including Great Britain, Finland, Norway, South Africa, China, India, Korea, Canada, the United States of America, Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Panama and Chile.

New Documents Reveal Bin Laden Wanted to Set Up Shop in Iran

A note from Al:

The big story which the mainstream press hasn’t developed yet is the weird relationship between the only Islamic Republic, Iran, a nation state rooted in Shiite Islam and Sunni jihadists rooted in Wahhabism. They regard one another as heretics. They aren’t friends and Sunnis regularly destroy Shiite shrines. Sunnis want their caliphate and the Shiites see themselves as the victors of Islamic history, Iran being Allah’s choice to govern the Islamic world.

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by Katie Zavadski via TheDailyBeast.com

New documents taken from his compound show the group was much more tolerant of the Shiite state than its successor, ISIS. It even contemplated opening an office there.
An undated report on Al Qaeda’s external operations reveals that the group tried to establish a recruitment office in Iran but backed off because it was deemed to be too expensive.“[W]e have thought to open an office for ourselves in Iran, to receive whoever comes to join us or someone traveling, but we have backed off this idea because it will be very expensive,” the document reads (PDF). Though undated, it is likely from 2006 or later, given a later passage’s emphasis on attacking Danish targets, presumably over Muhammad cartoons.

Another document, however, concerns itself with the group’s public image, and gives instructions for a would-be spokesman for the group.

“It is better if he comments on what Saudi Arabia channels have been circulating,incorrect news that stated al-Qa’ida has links to Iran,” it reads.

Those are just revelations from a massive document dump by the U.S. of files it obtained during the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Dubbed “Bin Laden’s Bookshelf,” the document dump includes the sheikh’s English-language library and correspondence with close associates and family. Many of the sources point to a complicated history between Iran and Al Qaeda, which included mass imprisonment and strategic permissiveness.

Many al Qaeda members and families found themselves in Iranian custody after fleeing Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion in 2001. In one account, the Iranians are referred to as “people whose mannerisms resemble those of the Jews and hypocrites.” A detailed inventory of arrests suggests that Iran detained many high-level members of the terrorist group, including Abu Ghaith and Sayf al Adl.

“I think it’s irrefutable that Iran would turn a blind eye to al Qaeda activities” when it benefited them, Brookings Institution fellow Will McCants told The Daily Beast. Al Qaeda didn’t have as hardline an anti-Shia stance as some of its successors like ISIS because “they understand they have to make compromises.”

Despite some sharp language, McCants said al Qaeda leaders seemed to be sometimes happy with a “detente” with Tehran.

The Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Clint Watts, however, told The Daily Beast that the documents show Al Qaeda members “seem to be pretty hating on Iran.”

Among those held in Iran appear to be Bin Laden’s wife and son, Umm Hamzah and Hamzah. One letter states that they are to be kept in a safe house once they leave the country, until Bin Laden decides whether to send the boy to Qatar. Another letter shows a concerns that Iran would spy on Bin Laden’s family after they leave:

Before Um Hamzah arrives here, it is necessary for her to leave everything behind, including clothes, books, everything that she had in Iran… Everything that a needle might possibly penetrate. Some chips have been lately developed for eavesdropping, so small they could easily be hidden inside a syringe. Since the Iranians are not to be trusted, it is possible to implant a chip in some of the belongings that you might have brought along with you…”

Documents revealed much more about Al Qaeda.

Tree-Huggers

A letter apparently addressed to a senior Al Qaeda urges leaders to tell fighters to not “cut down trees on a large scale […] without replacing them.” “Cutting down trees should be limited to the needs of the people and local consumption and not for export,” the August 2010 letter reads. “I am sure that you are aware thatclimate change is causing drought in some areas and floods in others.”

Another document, a “Letter on the implications of climate change,” calls on Muslims to participate in relief work and to prepare in advance for future natural disasters. At the same time, however, the letter takes time to critique an “Islamic” London-based NGO for providing aid to Christians and Hindus, and for employing female aid workers. It notes that the NGO said it would be unlikely to be able to help mujahideen in Pakistan.

Conspiracy Theories

“Jews were able to control world forces with these two sciences, sociology and psychology,” reads one. (Another document released from that trove instructs members to “avoid talking about the Jews and Palestine when talking to the Germans. This subject is very sensitive to in Germany, and it will bring negative results to our goal.”)

About half of the 38 English-language books Bin Laden possessed were about conspiracy theories, from freemasons to even 9/11.

Human Resources

The U.S. also released an official application form for Al Qaeda.

“Please enter the required information accurately and truthfully,” it reads. “Write clearly and legibly. Name, age, marital status. Do you wish to execute a suicide operation?”

Thirst for Poison

In an English-language document taken from bin Laden’s compound, Al Qaeda said it planned to use cyanide and ricin in terrorist attacks.

“A few grams of Cyanide (easily manufactured and sold by the kilo in third world countries) or Ricin diluted in water and injected randomly in anything ingested on super markets shelves, picnics, restaurants etc […] are just examples of what multinational Terror Franchises need to disseminate NONSTOP, UNPREDICTED, INVISIBLE SUDDEN DEATH,” a document said. It includes a terrorist wishlist including explosives, toxic agents, electronics, and more. The author is believed to be Abu Hafez, the leader of Al Qaeda’s external special ops.

Osama Bin Laden’s Bookshelf Reflects His Fixation on West

A note from Al:

Notice Osama bin Laden’s bookshelf. It had a few mainstream political science books like Paul Kennedy’s classic The Rise and Fall of Great Powers which warned against U.S. overreaching and Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward. Most interesting are the presence of conspiracy books including one written by a Holocaust denier. In Egypt they still publish The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forgery turn of the century Czarist Russia. This last generation of jihadists are a product of very limited educational experience and openness to the whole of created reality. Their education in America would be considered cranky and cultic for the most part. They have no interest in the humanities and no real appreciation for history unless told from their narrow Islamic perspective. They see themselves as an aggrieved and victimized people and this warps their view of the world and us. Take a look. – Al Kresta

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by 

Among the books, periodicals and letters found in Osama bin Laden’s hide-out in Pakistan was a copy of the former C.I.A. officer Michael Scheuer’s 2004 book, “Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror,” which describes the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as “the most respected, loved, romantic, charismatic and perhaps able figure in the last 150 years of Islamic history.”

Also in his library was a copy of Michel Chossudovsky’s conspiracy-minded book “America’s ‘War on Terrorism,’ ” which argued that 9/11 was simply a pretext for American incursions into the Middle East, and that Bin Laden was nothing but a boogeyman created by the United States.

It should not come as a surprise that the terrorist leader was concerned with his legacy and world image — after all, he was famously recordedwatching video of himself on television. Holed up in Abbottabad for perhaps as long as five years without an Internet connection, Bin Laden had plenty of time to read about himself, Al Qaeda and his enemy, the United States.

Bin Laden learned English at an elite Western-style high school in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, where he was by most accounts a serious, sober student, and his library suggests that he spent his last years in hiding as a student again — but a student of terrorism, fixated on American imperialism.

The declassified list released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence includes art books (“Arabic Calligraphy Workshop”) and health books (“Grappler’s Guide to Sports Nutrition”) described as “documents probably used by other compound residents.” Bin Laden’s books, however, appear pretty much work-related — little or no recreational reading, it seems, for the Qaeda leader.

Some of the books are mainstream history or journalism: “Obama’s Wars” by Bob Woodward, “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” by Paul Kennedy, “The United States and Vietnam 1787-1941” by Robert Hopkins Miller. Others are conspiracy-mongering tomes like “Bloodlines of the Illuminati” by Fritz Springmeier, “The Taking of America, 1-2-3” by Richard Sprague, and “Secrets of the Federal Reserve” by Eustace Mullins, a Holocaust denier.

There are two works by Bin Laden’s early mentor, Abdullah Azzam (“The Defense of Muslim Lands” and “Join the Caravan”), about jihad.

There is also a sizable cache of documents relating to France, such as “Wage Inequality in France” and “France on Radioactive Waste Management, 2008.” And there are books by the left-wing writers Greg Palast (“The Best Democracy Money Can Buy”) and Noam Chomsky (“Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance”) that Bin Laden probably thought ratified some of his own views about American imperial ambitions and corporate corruption.

While stuck in Abbottabad, Bin Laden seems to have been studying publicly available United States government documents and articles and radical publications. He also read Foreign Policy magazine articles and RAND Corporation studies on counterinsurgency, trying to keep a handle on the war on terrorism he had set off.

His bookshelf is a weird hodgepodge. It’s hard to know how complete a list it is, and whether he requested certain books from aides, or if aides sent him works they thought he might like or that might influence his thinking.

The declassified letters and correspondence reflect Bin Laden’s managerial concerns — Al Qaeda had become a kind of giant corporation. His self-prescribed syllabus included works on global issues, like climate change, and ran a spectrum from historical works to crackpot conspiracy tracts.

The eclectic nature of the list speaks to both Bin Laden’s reach as Al Qaeda’s leader and his limitations as an international fugitive; his ambitions to think globally and his naïve susceptibility to theorists who talk conspiracy to explain the perfidies of the West; his fascination with America and his determination to find new ways to attack it by trying to understand the dynamics of its political and economic systems.

As Steve Coll wrote in his compelling biography of the Bin Laden family, “The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century”: “Osama was not a stranger to the West,” having grown up in one of Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest families and traveled abroad, “but by age 15, he had already erected a wall against their allures. He felt implicated by the West, and by its presence in his own family, and yet, as he would demonstrate in the years ahead, he lacked a sophisticated or subtle understanding of Western society and history. He used his passport, but he never really left home.”

Kresta in the Afternoon – May 21, 2015

Talking about the “Things That Matter Most” on May 21, 2015


4:00 – ISIS, Ramadi, Palmyra and Mohammad Cartoons

Robert Spencer joins us to discuss the latest movements from ISIS, as well as his experience with the Mohammad cartoon contest in Texas. We’ll also discuss the significance of recently-released documents recovered from Osama Bin Laden’s compound.

4:20 – Is the Beatification of Oscar Romero a Turning Point for Catholics?

Oscar Romero will be beatified on Sunday. What, if anything, does this indicate about the state of the Catholic Church? We’ll talk about it with Sam Gregg.

5:00 – Kresta Comments: Pope Francis to Parents: Come out of “Exile” and Educate your Children

5:20 –Kresta Comments: What the New Documents tell us about Osama Bin Laden

5:40 – Dorothy Day and the Story of the Catholic Worker Movement

When Dorothy Day was a young woman in the early 20th century, she embraced what many felt were the “answers” to happiness, including abortion, communism and free love. What followed was a life of pain and suffering. She converted to Catholicism in 1929 after she was changed by love and the overpowering awareness of the reality of God’s love and mercy. We hear about her life from Dr. Lance Richey.

 

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