Guest Post: Hearing the Divine Call by Max Bindernagel

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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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 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.


God and the Humanities

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By: Jack Segelstein

The humanities, ironically, is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “secular letters as opposed to theology.” The field spans Latin, literature, philosophy, history, and music to name a few of its disciplines, and comprised the core of medieval Western education along with math and science.

Despite its storied history, many today feel the humanities are dying. Universities are becoming increasingly pre-professional, and students are electing to major in STEM fields or begin pursuing their careers in finance and consulting at the undergraduate level. This decline is well documented and need not be belabored here. Many, too, have engaged in a theoretical defense of the humanities. Some of these have happened to be the greatest human minds the tradition ever produced, so my best efforts would surely come in vain. For the sake of originality, I will turn to something else.

Thomas Hardy, the great 19th century novelist and 20th century poet, was by most accounts an agnostic. He seldom wrote about God or religion, but he not infrequently treated questions of faith and the supernatural. In his poem “The Darkling Thrush,” a speaker—in all likelihood Hardy himself—stands alone in a wood made desolate by frost and wind. He is, then, surprised to hear “a full-hearted evensong of joy illimited.” Inexplicably, it came from “an aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small.” There was no “cause for carolings” the speaker could discern in the wood, causing him to wonder if “there trembled through/ His happy good-night air/ Some blessed hope, whereof he knew/ And I was unaware.”

It strikes me that this is the highest end of the humanities: to help us perceive and cherish the blessed hope of Christ in all human experience. Aristotle said the purpose of art is to imitate the truth of nature. Happily, God created nature. The act of creation necessarily imbued the natural world with God’s own mystery and beauty. Thus, the truth we find in nature and imitate in art is a very real representation of divine truth, not unlike the fruit of theology.

Hardy wrote a poem not because he heard a bird sing, but because Hope “trembled through” the frosted air he breathed. Through the humanities, may we become, like Hardy, more attuned to the abounding hope, truth, and beauty of this world.

From The Hoya: To Love and Be Loved

Originally published on 10th February 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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By: Mitchell Tu

With Valentine’s Day approaching, perhaps now is a good time to give the men of Georgetown some advice for their dates.

Since it is Saint Valentine’s Day, I do not know anywhere better to turn than the great source of knowledge that is the Catholic Church — after all, as Pope Benedict said, to be a Catholic is “to live, to love and to be loved.”

First things first, gentlemen: Make sure you listen to your date. Although midterms are coming up and your mind might be preoccupied with this terrible season of Georgetown basketball, all of that should take a back seat on Valentine’s Day. When you listen, what you are doing is communicating through your actions that you care about your date.

“But,” quite a few male friends of mine have interjected, “isn’t it obvious I care about her? Why does she get annoyed when I zone out for a couple of minutes or check my phone when I’m with her?” Here, Catholic thought would reply that every one of your actions demonstrates an ordering — that is, your actions align with your broader priorities.

Demonstrating that you are prioritizing your significant other is not enough, however. It might get you through the first date and the early part of your relationship, but it will not make you or your romantic partner sustainably happy. So what does long-term happiness require? Again, when it comes to romance, the church would point out that what people really want is to love and be loved. Caring about someone or “loving” someone, as we commonly understand it, is only one piece of the puzzle.

Loving is more than telling someone you love them and care about them. True love requires vulnerability and intimacy. Can you be there when your partner has a problem or is going through a hard time? In my experience, this is usually not the hardest part for men.

Being loved is the oft-forgotten corollary to loving, but it is just as important. You will never be able to have an enduring relationship if you do not allow your partner to love you fully, because you will always be holding back.

This is the nugget of wisdom the Catholic Church has stumbled upon. Every strong relationship, romantic or otherwise, requires both people to love and to be loved. It is impossible to complete one component successfully without also fulfilling the other.

But, if you do let yourself be loved and you love your significant other in return, then what comes next in the mind of the church? Well, one would expect that the relationship would “overflow,” which means its love and joy would benefit everything and everyone around you, including family, friends and even strangers.

In other words, “love will change the world.” Who said theology cannot be romantic? After all, for Catholics, all human romance really points to the greatest love of all: God’s love for us. Everything required for deeply loving your significant other — listening, intimacy, vulnerability, willingness to love the other and allowing oneself to be loved — is precisely the same as that which God calls us to embody in our relationship with Him.

This Valentine’s Day, may all relationships here at Georgetown be glorified by the light of God’s love, and may that love overflow into our entire community so as to promote its welfare and secure its happiness.

Guest Post: Abortion and Intrinsic Evil by Fr. Fields, SJ


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By:Stephen M Fields, SJ, Associate Professor of Theology, Georgetown University

The annual ‘March for Life’ convenes on the nation’s capital every January, the anniversary of ‘Roe v. Wade,’ the Supreme Court’s decision making abortion easily accessible.  In the wake of this year’s recent March, it is worthwhile for us to review why the Catholic Church insists so strongly on the pro-life stance.

The Church is guided in its teaching, not first and foremost by its religious faith, but by the “natural law.”  This is the system of ethics based on a rational reflection on human nature and its ends and purposes.  From this reflection, an understanding of what is good and bad, right and wrong, emerges.  The natural law, then, is simply those ethical norms that arise from the way our nature is intrinsically structured.  This structure is known by what we call “right reason”: that is, reason thinking consistently, coherently, and honestly about who and what we are and about our destiny and purpose.

The development of the natural law has a long history in the West.  We find it, for instance, in Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, in Cicero and the Roman jurists.  It was brought to a high point by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century, and it continues to be developed today.

A basic and fundamental norm of the natural law affirms the following: Evil may never be done, even to bring about a good purpose.  In other words, a good end never justifies a means that is wrong.  We see this clearly in Socrates, who argues that doing wrong does profound injury, not first and foremost to the person injured, but to the perpetrator — to the human being doing the injuring.  This is because doing evil fundamentally violates the dignity and integrity of our very nature.

The rule that evil may never be done stands at odds with other views of ethics, such as utilitarianism.  This states that what is good is determined by what produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people.  According to this system, one may make a moral case for the killing fields of Cambodia under Pol Pot in the 1970’s, and the massacres at Strebreniza in recent years in the Balkans.

Why then we might ask, is abortion an act that is intrinsically evil, and so may never be done, even to produce a good result?  The natural law shows us that abortion is what we call “the direct taking of innocent human life.”  As such, it is fundamentally wrong.  Let us explain these terms.

First, why is the fetus “human life”?  It is equipped from conception with the genetic and chromosomal material that defines humanity.  Human life constitutes a continuum from conception to death.  There is no point in this continuum where it makes sense to draw an arbitrary line and to say that at this point the embryo or fetus is not human.

Second, why is the fetus “innocent” human life?  The fetus has done nothing wrong that merits, in justice, any harm to itself.  It is not, for instance, a criminal convicted by due process and therefore worthy of punishment.  It is not a soldier fighting in a just war and therefore liable to harm.  In strict justice, therefore, the embryo and fetus merit protection and nurturing.

Third, why is abortion the “direct” taking of innocent human life?  The direct doing of any act means that a person consciously intends to do that act.  In other words, the person does not do something wrong by accident.  When, for instance, we are involved in an automobile accident and someone is harmed or injured, if we are obeying the speed limit and we skidded on some hard-to-see oil on the highway, then we would be judged far less severely than if we had been driving while under the influence of alcohol.  In the first instance, we would have harmed an innocent person indirectly.  We would not have consciously intended it, nor would we have done anything within our reasonable power to bring about the injury.  In the second instance, we would be much more directly responsible for harming an innocent person, because we had done something wrong – the drinking – that led to the injury.

In sum, then, because abortion is the direct taking of innocent life, it is always and everywhere wrong, no matter what the circumstances or the intention of the person doing it.  Consequently, it may never be done.

From The Hoya: Why We March

Originally published on 27th January 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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By: Richard Howell

Today, the 44th annual March for Life winds its way through Washington, D.C., starting at the Washington Monument and heading toward the steps of the Supreme Court.

We, the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus, attend the March every year in accordance with our desire to promote a culture of life on campus and around the nation. We oppose euthanasia, the death penalty and particularly abortion because of our belief in the supreme innocence of its victims.

We march because we believe each individual human being is created uniquely and lovingly by God. The act of creation does not occur at birth, but rather at conception, when the process of life begins. This belief is not only the official position of the Knights, but that of the Catholic Church and, ostensibly, the university as well.

Although we champion Georgetown’s values by marching, we will go this year, as we have in the past, without the university’s support. While many of our peers attending institutions such as University of Notre Dame and Catholic University of America receive a day off from class to attend, Georgetown University has refused the petitions of its attendees for a similar allowance.

The inaugural March for Life was held Jan. 22, 1974 and attracted 20,000 marchers. That day marked the first anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that reasoned a woman’s right to privacy allowed her to decide whether to have an abortion.

We continue to hold that abortion is the most pressing issue of our time even 45 years after Roe, as nearly 60 million abortions have been legally sanctioned in the United States, roughly the same number of people who died in World War II.

Although Nellie Gray, the founder of the march, had originally intended it to be a one-time event, she instead pushed to have an annual march to keep issues the opposition of abortion, the death penalty and euthanasia on the national radar.

Since then, the March has attracted hundreds of thousands of protesters, including more than 600,000 in 2013. Featured speakers have included sitting presidents such as Ronald Reagan in 1987 and George W. Bush in 2003, as well as numerous members of Congress. This year, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway and Cardinal Timothy Dolan are set to deliver addresses.

Together, we reject the arbitrary distinction between born and unborn because we believe life persists fundamentally unchanged from womb to world. A child is no more alive one minute after birth than one minute, or even six months, before. Accordingly, no utilitarian argument could dissuade us from our stance against abortion.

Further, we reject the claim that a society, family or single parent would be so disadvantaged by the birth of a child so as to justify the destruction of the child’s life. No one has a right to determine for another when life is worth living.

Of course, we hope that all those sympathetic to the cause attend despite the university’s lack of accommodation, but more importantly we hope this occasion might instigate a respectful dialogue on campus centered on life, which we and the Catholic Church hold to be the single most essential value of human existence.

Many on campus disagree with us, often in the name of principles such as liberty and privacy. However, there is no scale on which to measure the value of a human life, which is qualitatively superior to privacy, liberty or any other right. The only choice, then, is whether or not to recognize the worth of every human being. Those of us who identify as pro-life stand on the side of human dignity and will not allow life to be cheapened.

Although the fetus starts as a clump of cells, it rapidly and ineluctably changes. I, too, am a clump of cells, but I am not the same clump as when I was conceived, nor will I be the same in 10 years. Life, then, is fundamentally a process of growth and change, which has its decisive, fragile and miraculous beginning in the womb.

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A Perspective on Fraternity


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By: Paul Luke Keh

I was drawn to write about this topic because of a comment a friend made during a discussion a group of us were having over dinner at the start of last semester. Asked about my extra-curricular activities in Georgetown, I came to talked about my involvement in the Knights of Columbus. Mentioning the Knights as a fraternity immediately drew laughter, and someone commented, “That’s not a fraternity.”

Perhaps it was my insecurity as an international student and freshman, but at that point I never got to defend the Knights as a fraternity, because I was afraid that I misunderstood what a fraternity was. Having never grown up in the US (I lived in Singapore all my life), my only understanding about fraternities before I came to the US was in stories about “frat parties” and that it was some sort of brotherhood.

But joining the Knights six months ago changed that perspective quite a bit: I saw true Christian brotherhood, opportunities to speak about my faith and hear the stories of my other brothers and sisters in Christ, and to be there for the poor in our society.

To me, fraternity is so much more than an “organised brotherhood”, especially in the case of Christian fraternity. Christ called his apostles from all walks of life, and together they journeyed with him, even after Jesus’s death and resurrection. As Christians, we are all called to be people of great character and to live our lives in communion with Christ.

But alone, we can only do so much: all of us have our personal troubles and failings, and without a community from which we can draw strength from through mutual support, sometimes we are consumed by these things that draw us away from God. This was something that I experienced sometimes before I joined the Knights here in Georgetown.

The privilege of being in a fraternity is that we can push each other, and ourselves, to abide more deeply in our faith, so that together we draw closer to God and be examples within our communities of what our faith stands for.

Pope Francis had this to say about the importance of community and fraternity in living out our Christian faith with mercy and understanding.

“In reality, before the Lord we are all sinners and all in need of forgiveness. All of us. Indeed, Jesus told us not to judge. Fraternal correction is an aspect of the love and the communion that should reign in the Christian community. It is a mutual service that we can and must render to each other … and it is possible and effective only if each person recognizes himself as a sinner and in need of the Lord’s forgiveness. The same awareness that enables me to recognize the errors of the other; first of all reminds me that I myself have made, and make mistakes, many times.”

— Angelus, Sept. 7, 2014

As I look back on my first semester with the Knights, I give thanks for all that this community has given me. It was not easy being an international student, alone in a new country, but I found a family here: one that looks out for one another, and one that looks to serve the vulnerable in our society.

Moving forward, we should continue to be open to expanding our fraternity so that others may come to experience the warmth of Christian fellowship and the joy that stems from a closer relationship with Christ.

God bless.