Notes From Spain

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By: Richard Howell

Catholicism has played an important role in Spain for nearly two thousand years. Indeed, it has shaped Spain’s history, festivities, and national identity. Today, the people and their society are still distinctly and culturally Catholic. And yet, beyond that, the Church is but a whisper of its former self in Spain.

Most Spaniards, if they are religious (and even if they’re not), will profess being Roman Catholic. Very few, however, consider religion important in their lives, and even fewer regularly attend mass. Catholicism has slipped into being a passive characteristic of the Spanish. Much like right or left handedness, it’s just something the Spanish are born with but which has little direct influence on their lives.

The lack of influence and importance is perhaps the biggest loss. Here at Georgetown and in much of the US, a Catholic can still find thriving communities. The Church, after all, is not just an institution we participate in but a community we build with friends and family, love and hope. Being Catholic is not just an identity label, and it should have more of an effect on your life than some inherent characteristic like the color of your hair. It is through active engagement that the full potential of the faith is reached.

Spain, then, can serve as a learning experience. Even staunchly religious societies can leave their faith by the wayside and drift into complacency.  Part of this is due to growing secularism, but much is also due to the hypocrisy of the Church in siding with the repressive Franco regime. Its profession of the virtues of love belied the uneasy alliance with a ruler who used fear and violence to maintain power.

It is thus important not just to profess being a Catholic or even memorize the dogma. If Catholicism is just a label, or memorized stories, it may as well be dead doctrine. For the Church to continue as an organization, as a dynamic institution, we must engage it as a member of the community. The people in front of you at mass are not strangers, they are part of a greater Catholic family. If it were just a gathering of strangers, the mass would have more in common with a subway ride than a celebration.

Moreover, it is important in our engagement to avoid the hypocrisy of the Church under Franco. There is often a tension among those who try to live out the message of Christ. There are those who focus on his condemnation of sin and others who focus only on his message of love. To build the community, it is important to be welcoming, understand the value inherent in each person, and greet those around us with love. As for condemnation, it should be for the sin, not the sinner, and always be with the humble understanding that the condemnation comes from a fellow sinner.

As religious observance falls in our country, history can be a good teacher. In Spain, the Church has waned to be of little relevance in the lives of most Spaniards. If we are to avoid that fate in the US, every Catholic must realize the value of participation in the greater Catholic community outside of mass. He must also realize the value of all parts of the message of Christ and avoid becoming a partisan or hypocrite. Each of us is the Church, and through our actions we can either build it or allow it to fall to irrelevance.

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From The Voice: Joy And Hope In Gaudium Et Spes

Originally published on February 2nd 2018, this article was taken from the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus’s column in The Georgetown Voice, entitled Gaudium et Spes. The column, written by members of the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus, appears online every other Friday.

By Jack Segelstein and Max Wolfgang Rosner

October 1962 was a busy month.

On the 6th, the Sino-Indian War broke out, which would claim over 10,000 casualties in the span of a month. On the 9th, Uganda gained independence from the United Kingdom, and, two weeks later, admission to the United Nations. And from the 16th to the 28th, the Cuban Missile Crisis terrified the world with the prospect of nuclear armageddon.

And on October 11, 1962, Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council, what some observers call the largest meeting in recorded human history. This assembly, often dubbed Vatican II, is the most recent of the Church’s 21 ecumenical councils, during which leaders of the Catholic Church assemble to develop and promulgate its teachings.

Even when considered in the context of the Church’s 2,000-year history, Vatican II was exceptionally important for a number of reasons. Unlike its predecessors, it was the first ecumenical council to address all of humanity, not just the Catholic faithful. Moreover, Vatican II was uniquely conscious of its historical moment, and sought to address the social, political, and spiritual needs of contemporary society.

This is seen clearly in the document entitled Gaudium et spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

Gaudium et spes articulates a relationship of reciprocity between the Church and the modern world, in which each offers the other some definite service. Thus, the two are “bound up” and exist in a relationship of “solidarity.” First, in terms of what the world offers the Church, Gaudium et spes claims that even those not directly involved in the work of the Church bolster its ministry. “[W]hoever promotes the human community at the family level, culturally, in its economic, social and political dimensions… is contributing greatly to the Church…”

In the preface to Gaudium et spes, we begin to see how the Church conceives of its service to the world: “Human society deserves to be renewed,” the Church claims. This may strike us as odd—what needs to be renewed? After all, in the past 50 years, extreme global poverty has declined considerably, countless diseases have been cured, more communities have formed across greater distances than ever before, and most of the world’s population no longer feels compelled to rehearse nuclear drills.

Of course, the world has witnessed a number of calamities since the ’60s, too. Of those, the Church is particularly concerned with what we’ll call a crisis of meaning. “Man painstakingly searches for a better world, without a corresponding spiritual advancement,” reads Gaudium et spes. The Church believes that this existential crisis transcends the material, the political, the shortsighted. Our material freedom has not necessarily yielded a spiritual freedom.

Gaudium et spes translates to “joy and hope.” Ultimately, this has been the promise of the Church since Christ and remains its promise today. Even though the promise remains the same, the Church speaks uniquely to and for all of us, here and now, as Vatican II makes clear.

Let’s take a look at three ideas that find particular emphasis in the modern world and at Georgetown: dignity, rights, and social justice. What does the Church have to say to us about each of these today, and what do they have to do with joy and hope?

The Church holds that every human person is endowed by God with an inherent dignity, not unlike the dignity of God Himself. Because we are made in His image, we are accorded inestimable value and certain inalienable rights.

With our dignity and our rights come the responsibility to promote the dignity and rights of our neighbors. Thus, the Catholic vision couples our individual rights with our responsibility to others. In this way, rights—and, more broadly, justice—cannot be understood outside the context of community.

This may sound alien compared to the way we typically talk about rights. For us, rights are competing. “You have no right to be on my property!”—I have the right to free speech!” As a result, rights have become politicized, even weaponized. We are led to believe that our dignity is bestowed on us by political victories instead of by God. This situation obscures and cheapens our dignity.

In Gaudium et spes, Church leaders reject this individualized conception of rights. Throughout Vatican II (and even before the Council), the Church promoted myriad rights: life, religious freedom, unionization, a living wage, and so on. Gaudium et spes adds freedom to the list—freedom to pursue “the service of the human community.”

At Georgetown, this is what is meant when we are called to be men and women for others, a phrase coined by Pedro Arrupe, S.J., the Jesuit Superior General elected in the midst of Vatican II. Social justice, the fruit of this Georgetown value, illuminates our dignity and brings our rights to fulfillment. Service works both ways. In serving others, we not only enhance their freedom; we enhance our own as well.

The Church is often thought of as an institution whose eyes are set above this world, promoting a theology of heavenly anticipation and ascetic forbearance. Even at Georgetown, many assume the Catholic faith discounts the joy, hope and suffering of this world, because it pales in comparison to what is to come in the next life. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, the Church focuses relentlessly on renewing this world, and professing the birth of a new humanism. This renewal must be “founded on truth, built on justice and animated by love.”

Justice is attainable, but not without hope, joy, and love.

In this column, we will explore why these ideas matter to our world and to our university. We invite you to join us.

 

From The Hoya: Building a Better City

Originally published on 7th April 2017, this article was taken from the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus’s rotating column in The Hoya, entitled The Round Table. The column, written by members of the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus, is published every other Friday.

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Image Credits: Paul Luke Keh

By: Hunter Estes

Washington, D.C., has been my home for more than just my time at Georgetown. I moved here when I was 12, after my dad was transferred to the Pentagon, and I have loved this city ever since. Having lived here for a few more years than most, I feel that I have a more complete view of D.C., one that includes much beauty, but also much struggle.

When I first moved to the nation’s capital, I was awestruck by the monuments and the statues and reveled in the symbols of liberty, freedom and tradition that stood throughout the city. Unfortunately, I think the magic of this city can often cover up some of its deeper faults.

I have come to see the deeply entrenched poverty that consumes one in five D.C. residents. I saw one of the fastest-growing homeless populations in the United States, with a 34.1 percent growth in the past six years. I saw monuments rising into the sky, but at the same time saw high school graduation rates remain as low as 42 percent. I witnessed the enduring legacies of our Constitution and Declaration of Independence, but also noticed rising crime rates becoming legacies of their own.

At Georgetown, we often talk about the wonderful ways we can interact and engage with the city. We hike through the District with friends in an attempt to “break the bubble,” on a constant search for new, hip places and events to try, rooms to escape and art galleries to appreciate. The fact is that D.C. has plenty to offer, and could easily keep somebody excited for four years, especially with school to occupy most of the time.

Yet, our city, in many ways, is splitting apart. In some places, new businesses flourish and real estate prices are booming. In others, infrastructure is crumbling, and schools are failing. We, at Georgetown, have the opportunity to either isolate ourselves or become an integral part of the rebuilding of D.C. As members of this community, we have a duty to invest more than what we get out of the District. We are called on to be a part of the solution.

The first step to helping the city is active reflection. Only then can we truly start to both appreciate the greatness and recognize the failings of our city. If Georgetown is to play a role in the revitalization of Washington D.C., then we should do so in a uniquely Georgetown way: a uniquely Jesuit, uniquely Catholic way. Jesuits take part in the daily Examen, in which they think back through their day and look on how they succeeded and how they failed. Reflection is rooted in our history, and I believe we should begin this process by reflecting on where we have succeeded and failed as a school.
Many of our failures stem from lack of awareness, and the only way we can help is by being informed. We can change this in small ways, through town halls and forums, bringing in speakers to talk about local issues. So often, we focus our attention on national and international affairs, but if we want to change the world, the easiest place to start is in our own backyard. People are left without homes just outside the front gates, and too often even Georgetown food banks are short on both food and volunteers.

But we have also succeeded in many ways. I believe we need to build upon the success of groups that engage with the city more tangibly. By tutoring children and volunteering in food shelters, we can help make immediate change.

How much has been accomplished if, at the end of four years, all that we have gained is a series of letter grades from classes? There is so much more to our education on the Hilltop. We are called to a higher sense of service, to not only take from this city, but to give. By increasing our school’s integration with the community we can have an immense effect on D.C.’s future. We can help this city change, and we are called to as Hoyas.

 

“Lord, who is my Neighbor?”: A perspective on Charity

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Image credits: flickr.com

By: Paul Luke Keh

“Those whom the world rejects must move you the most!”

– St. Louis de Montfort

In this period of Lent, Catholics all over the world are called to engage in fasting, penance and charity, in our preparation for the passion of our Lord on Good Friday and His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Since previous blog posts this Lent have spoken of fasting and penance, I write today to share my perspective on charity and works of mercy as Catholics.

The Catholic church has long emphasized an option for the poor, and as Christians we are called to be present and to give to the less fortunate. Pope Francis has repeatedly called us to serve the poor and to always keep them in our prayers in his message:

“Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society. This demands that we be docile and attentive to the cry of the poor and to come to their aid.”

– Pope Francis, Evagelii Gaudium, 187

I have no doubt that we all feel a strong connection to helping the poor, and indeed the Knights of Columbus in Georgetown have been very active in our efforts to be present to those who are poor in our midst. We are called to respond to Jesus’s message

“… for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

-Matthew 24:35-36 (NRSV)

But I feel that Christian charity and works of mercy means so much more than just giving to the poor and those in poverty.

To me, it means being there for those whom the world reject, in every sense of the word: it means being there for people suffering from drug addiction, to stand with undocumented migrants. It means being present to those who come from broken families and relationships, to be with refugees and religious minorities, to be willing to stand up for those that society frowns upon even if that means that we are judged by others for doing so.

Modern society has sometimes made it easy to judge a person’s worth by their economic potential, by their ability to contribute, by the amount of “right” they have done in their lives. But everyone has done wrong in their lives, and no one has any say in conditions of their birth: to despise them for what they have done or who they are is to reject Jesus and the message He gave us, for He said:

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

– Matthew 24:40

Somebody once told me to picture the scene in your life that you are most ashamed of, one that you don’t want to remember, and now imagine that that scene is now the only one that people talk to you about. That is what it feels like to be rejected by society, to be despised for the things you did, or for who you are. While the Church recognises that some things are sinful, and that some things must never be permitted, we should also remind ourselves that we reject the sin, not the sinner.

Charity and works of mercy should always be our first response to those whom the world rejects, not condemnation, so that through us the world may see the saving power of God. St Francis of Assisi is known to have instructed others to “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.” This, to me, is the most powerful form of evangelisation.

This period of Lent is a time for introspection and preparation. Let us pray for the courage to give of ourselves to those who need our help most, and to have the humility to ask the Lord, who is my neighbor?

“… Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

– Luke 10:36-37

From The Hoya: Our Essential Suffering

Originally published on 24th March 2017, this article was taken from the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus’s rotating column in The Hoya, entitled The Round Table. The column, written by members of the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus, is published every other Friday.

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Image Credits: Pexels.com

By: Jack Segelstein

The first day of Lent is perhaps the busiest day of the year for Dahlgren Chapel. Far more Hoyas come to Mass on Ash Wednesday than attend weekly Sunday service, even though only the latter is morally obligated by the Catholic Church.

There are two ways to view this discrepancy. The first is with cynicism. People on campus and around the world come to Ash Wednesday mass because they “get something.” They receive a mark that distinguishes them as dutiful believers like voters sporting buttons on Election Day.

I am in no position to say whether this is true or to what extent it motivates Georgetown students. If it were true, however, it would smack of more than a little irony. The ashes are first and foremost a mark of penitence. They remind us of our sinfulness and mortality, which we are meant to remember throughout Lent.

It is not a “happy” day like Easter and Christmas, but one of solemnity, mortification and sorrow. Christians are spiritually called to walk and suffer with Christ as we remember his 40 days of fasting in the desert to prepare for the temptations of the devil and ultimately his death and resurrection.

My second perspective is hopeful, not cynical. Scores of Hoyas attend Ash Wednesday Mass because they are each responding with empathy and humility to the memory of Christ’s suffering. Thes ashes serve as a source of shame, not pride or ostentation.

But why the shame? For many, Lent is the epitome of Christianity’s ostensibly austere deprecation of humanity. It is often said that the Christian life is fundamentally one of guilt, tragedy and postponement until “eternal life” begins.

If I felt this to be true, I would not be Catholic. G.K. Chesterton, the 20th century Christian apologist, held that the natural — and most mysterious — state of the human person is joy. He felt Christianity better recognized this fundamental claim about humanity than did any other faith or philosophy.

Food tastes better when you are hungry. Assuming we have food available to us, we only allow ourselves to get hungry when we restrain ourselves and exercise discipline. Despite the “suffering” that is hunger, we are more fully rewarded for it when we get around to a meal.

This is, more or less, the logic of Lenten fasting, save for one crucial piece. Christianity shows us that hunger itself has intrinsic value, something that has nothing to do with later consuming food. The same applies to all suffering. In fact, all suffering entails a sort of joy.

I do not expect most of you to buy this. I was a recent convert to Catholicism when this principle — sometimes called the neighborhood of joy and pain — was first explained to me, and I was actually offended by it. I thought it perversely misunderstood the often-unutterable suffering in the world.

However, if you distill Christ’s life to one essential act,  he elected to suffer on the cross to save us. Yes, it was Christ’s destiny to die on the cross, but he exercised real, utterly human discipline in submitting to his captors and enduring each nail.

We are, then, profoundly Christ-like when we suffer. Further, we have the opportunity to offer our suffering for him precisely as he did for us. Far from perverting human suffering, Christ’s suffering allows it to be redemptive.

Perhaps some people object to my locating Christ’s essential action in suffering instead of love. But surely they are not mutually exclusive. Love is giving oneself over to another — it entails sacrifice and requires suffering. Indeed, there has never been a greater act of love in all of human history than Christ’s suffering on the cross.

While it is true that fasting — and its accompanying suffering — helps purge us of our sin, it does much more. It allows us to more fully love God and one another, thereby more closely resembling Christ. We wear the ashes in shame precisely so we have less reason to be ashamed

To all those observing Lent, suffer. Not mindlessly or masochistically, but lovingly. Call to mind your mortality and sinfulness, but remember how they make God’s love and suffering for us all the more remarkable. For this, rejoice.

Guest Post: Hearing the Divine Call by Max Bindernagel

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Image Credits: Pexels.com

By: Max Bindernagel,  Chaplain in Residence in Georgetown University

“Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3. 10 (NRSV)

Today, “discernment” is as popular a spiritual topic as any, and there seems to be a great interest, especially among young people, about how one can be best attentive to the voice of God.  Unfortunately, for many this tends to take the form of an “existential crisis” in one’s life.  People searching for God’s will torture themselves over the many questions (often good, legitimate ones) which accompany this search: What does God want from me?  When will he let me know?  How can I hear him?  Out of a genuine concern for doing God’s will and following the promptings he inspires in one’s heart, this search easily becomes fraught with all kinds of needless anxiety.

A helpful corrective comes from Bl. John Henry Newman, the 19th century English theologian, convert, and cardinal.  In his homily “Divine Calls,” Newman comments on the many examples of God’s call as seen in Scripture, especially the call of Samuel.  The common theme among the many instances in which God prompts various men and women to do his will lies in the response: “prompt obedience.”  Like Samuel, who, once he knew Whom he was hearing, obeyed and listened attentively, so too we ought to eagerly and quickly obey the promptings of God in our own heart.  There is something childlike in the trust that this requires; if we know and trust that God has our good in mind, what reason do we have to be anxious?

But how do we hear that voice in the first place?  Newman was not satisfied with those who said that God’s call has already been answered by us when we were baptized, and who say that it therefore remains “not a thing future with us, but a thing past.” On the contrary, God is constantly at work in our lives, and our labor is to respond consistently to his ever-deeper call to holiness.

In the daily trials of life, often “indefinite and obscure,” “sudden and unexpected,” we answer God’s call by obeying him.   We learn something new which we know to be true but which we find difficult to accept; and we follow God’s will by accepting it rather than fighting it.  We deal the loss of a loved one, and through much grieving and pain we come see that God alone endures; and in this we follow God’s will.  We are challenged by a situation in which we must choose to stand by our faith or to abandon it; and in remaining steadfast, we follow God’s will.

For those who make a regular practice of this prompt obedience, the “bigger questions” about discerning one’s vocation will be shown with greater clarity.  When we follow God’s inspirations in the small things in life with greater ease (in the circumstances of life, in our conscience, in studying our faith), we develop a deeper attentiveness to God’s greater plan for our lives.  This work of answering the Divine Call is one of mutual trust, where our freedom and his are totally intertwined.  As Newman puts it:

“This is a call to higher things; let us beware lest we receive the grace of God in vain. Let us beware of lapsing back; let us avoid temptation. Let us strive by quietness and caution to cherish the feeble flame, and shelter it from the storms of this world. God may be bringing us into a higher world of religious truth; let us work with Him.”

This essay was written with reference to a homily by Bl.  John Henry Newman. 

 

The Truth about the Ashes

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Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

 By: Board of the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus

This Wednesday, March 1, a curious sight will return to Georgetown’s campus as many, young and old, walk their daily routes with crosses of ashes marked across their foreheads.

To the outside observer, this occurrence might seem a bit odd, but to a Roman Catholic, the practice presents a different meaning, denoting that Ash Wednesday has arrived, and with it, the season of Lent leading to the Easter holiday.

Look below to find answers to important questions about Ash Wednesday presented by the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus.

Do you have to go to mass?

The first question that might arise for a Catholic on Ash Wednesday might be: “Is this a holy day of obligation?”

The answer to that question is no, however, it is recommended that one make an effort to attend a mass on this day, and receive their ashes.

On campus, traditional masses with a distribution of ashes will be held in Dahlgren Chapel at 12:10 p.m., 5:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. with an ecumenical service also featuring a distribution of ashes offered at 7:30 p.m.

Just off campus, the Holy Trinity Catholic Church will host Ash Wednesday masses at 7:00 a.m., 8:00 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

What do the ashes mean?

In the simplest terms, the ashes distributed at the start of Lent are marks of repentance. They are an acknowledgement of the frailty, or the imperfection of all Catholics as human beings.

In recognizing the faults symbolized in the ashes, Catholics are meant to re-affirm their connection to God. Catholics then strengthen this bond throughout Lent when they fast, or alternately, make an effort to do good works for others.

Where do the ashes come from?

According to some sources, the Ash Wednesday holiday harkens back to an ancient practice of repentance seen as early as the story of Jonah and the people of the sinful city of Nineveh.

Upon hearing that God would destroy Nineveh in 40 days if they did not change their ways, the Ninevites “great and small” began fasting, wore sackcloth, and even their king “covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in the ashes.”

Early Christian communities adopted the practice of outwardly marking repentance with ashes, with the ritual appearing in the Roman Missal—the book which guides priests through the rites of the mass—as early as the eighth century, or the 700s A.D.

The ancient practice has been observed into the modern day, with one parish in Galway, Ireland, this year instituting a drive-thru service for its busy and mobile population.

“It’s about meeting people where they are,” Fr. Paddy Mooney, the priest of the parish told The Irish Catholic, a local Catholic media outlet. “We’re just putting [the initiative] in front of people to help them think of Lent, as a reminder of it.”

But what is the truth about the ashes?

The truth about the ashes is that they arise from a tradition over 2,000 years old—they serve to connect Catholics to past generations of believers, even as the Catholics wearing them today seek to bring themselves closer to God.