Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Why Is EWTN Boycotting Ben Carson?

by Justin Soutar

(NOTE: This article was originally published by Catholic Online Dec. 28, 2015 at )

Like tens of millions of Catholics and others throughout the United States and hundreds of millions of people around the world, I am immensely grateful to God for the priceless gift of the Eternal Word Television Network. From the day of its founding by a Poor Clare nun named Mother Mary Angelica in a Birmingham, Alabama garage some thirty-five years ago, this great tool of catechesis, inspiration, and evangelization has been faithfully proclaiming the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church both “in season and out of season,” strengthening and assisting those of us who are “inside the fold” while attractively presenting the beauty of our faith to those outside the Church, leading to many conversions to Catholicism. As someone who has been watching EWTN since 1993, I have been delighted to observe the steady growth of this Catholic cable and satellite network in national and global reach, professionalism, and the quality and variety of programming offered. Since its initial foray into shortwave and AM/FM radio back in the nineties, the advent of twenty-first century media technology has further extended the network’s reach to the Internet, satellite radio, mobile devices, and social media. Along the way, EWTN has acquired a new studio along with its own publishing house which offers our nation’s leading Catholic newspaper, the National Catholic Register, in both print and digital format together with an array of high-quality Catholic books. All of these providential developments have transformed the network from a small amateur TV station of humble origin into the world’s foremost Catholic media apostolate, which is now reaching well over one billion people across the globe.

Thanks to the ongoing prayers and sacrifices of Mother Angelica and her Poor Clare nuns as well as to the spiritual and financial support of its ever broader base of viewers, EWTN has continued to remain remarkably faithful to its mission, in general doing a fantastic job of nourishing and spreading the Catholic faith. Because of that, I have rarely felt the need to question or criticize a policy decision of the network’s leadership during my twenty-two years of watching EWTN. At the present moment, however, I do feel that it is important to raise a question and offer a little dose of healthy criticism regarding one aspect of the network’s programming and publishing that has been bothering me for some time. We are commanded to speak the truth in love, so that is what I will attempt to do here.

My current bone to pick with EWTN has to do with the network’s news programming and publishing—and specifically with its overall coverage of the 2016 presidential election campaign—in light of its mission to faithfully proclaim the truth of the Gospel. I have no objection whatsoever to the network offering extensive and in-depth coverage of this election campaign from a faithful Catholic perspective, as it has been doing over the past year on TV and radio programs such as The World Over Live, EWTN News Nightly and Candidate Conversations, as well as through the National Catholic Register. My problem lies with the fact that this coverage has been noticeably slanted—that is to say, unfairly biased—in favor of certain Republican candidates and against others, under the influence of the godless, radically secularist, worldly, dishonest, immoral, corrupt, and money-driven mainstream media establishment whose values are diametrically opposed to those of the network itself.

As a civil nonprofit corporation run chiefly by lay Catholics, EWTN has long prided itself, and rightly so, on its independence from official Church institutions as well as from corporate entities of both a religious and secular nature, which has allowed it to strike its own path and pursue its mission without unwelcome interference. Unfortunately, when it comes to covering American politics and world news, in recent years the network has gradually but perceptibly drifted from its core mission to be an independent voice of truth, and it is now almost slavishly following the lead of the worldly mainstream media both in the stories it is choosing to break and discuss and in the presidential candidates on whom it is focusing. Whereas EWTN News was once accustomed to offering a fresh and balanced perspective on well-known current events and highlighting important stories neglected by the mainstream media, the network’s journalism division is now largely caught up in the Beltway news cycle, airing and discussing much the same headlines and focusing on the same presidential candidates as Fox News, CNN, the New York Times, Politico, and all the other D.C. establishment media outlets. This is quite a sea change from ten years ago, when Raymond Arroyo and other Catholic journalists at the network were known for their refreshingly independent and investigative approach, often digging up interesting stories off the beaten path, occasionally presenting a different angle on well-known stories, and not infrequently interviewing news makers who were being unfairly attacked by the mainstream media--or who might otherwise never appear on television, radio or in print.

A paradigm shift has clearly occurred within the journalism department at EWTN. Prior to this shift, the network was focused on the objective truth of what is happening in the world today, and its priorities were to seek out and discover that truth and share it with viewers as an independent source of faithful Catholic news and commentary. Now the focus is on what is happening in the world as seen through the dirty and short-sighted lenses of the worldly and highly subjective mainstream media, and the priority seems to be to highlight and discuss whatever the mainstream media is highlighting and discussing at the moment. While EWTN News was once prized for original Catholic news and analysis you couldn’t get anywhere else, now its programming is often almost a lock-step imitation of secular mainstream media news broadcasts—secular news with Catholic overtones, if you will. Although faithful Catholic perspectives are still routinely offered on current events, the global Catholic network’s overall news agenda is now largely dictated by the mainstream media. It’s like an orchestra whose members have remained the same, but they now have a different conductor and are playing different music.

This shift seems to have begun back in 2008 when the TV studio for the network’s flagship news magazine, The World Over Live, was permanently relocated from Birmingham to Washington, D.C. Whereas prior to this big move, the weekly news program was produced in a small, devoutly Catholic media enclave on the outskirts of a large city in central Alabama, now it comes to us from Capitol Hill, where the idols of money and power generally hold sway and where the alluring yet toxic influence of the mainstream media is difficult to resist. Over time, this significant change of environment has led, regrettably yet predictably, to a noticeable change in both the content and tone of the EWTN News programming. Without constant vigilance and the help of God’s wisdom and grace, how could any good Catholic journalist who lives and breathes this radically secular environment not find himself being gradually influenced by it as time passes? It will increasingly reshape his ways of thinking and acting, until eventually he is hardly distinguishable from his worldly peers.

Yes, it must be acknowledged that a certain degree of worldliness has crept into the journalism department at EWTN. This is clearly evident from just a cursory glance at its coverage of the 2016 presidential election cycle thus far, which—with the notable exception of Raymond Arroyo’s brief interview with Senator Rand Paul, a true statesman of character and principle—has generally mimicked the mainstream media coverage. This coverage has been unfairly skewed in favor of wealthy Republican candidates such as billionaire real estate magnate Donald Trump, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, with insufficient attention given to the moral character, voting records, and issue positions of these candidates—the things that really matter to faithful Catholics looking to cast their vote responsibly in next year’s elections. Trump, a longtime Democrat and a good friend of Hillary Clinton, has donated money to Planned Parenthood, supports ObamaCare, and earned much of his fortune by forcing other companies into bankruptcy. That EWTN’s news director would unhesitatingly embrace him as a good candidate and give him so much positive attention on a faithful Catholic TV network this past summer was an example of irresponsible journalism that betrayed a serious lack of wisdom and discernment.

Meanwhile, just about every other leading and longshot Republican presidential candidate has been interviewed or discussed at some length on one or more EWTN news programs during this past year, indicating that some degree of fairness and balance does still prevail within that realm. However, there is one leading Republican candidate who, for no good reason, has been glaringly conspicuous by his near-total absence from the network’s news programming and publishing. Perhaps there is no better way to highlight the problem under discussion here than to pose the following simple question: Why is EWTN boycotting Ben Carson?

Now, it’s true that the term “boycott” usually refers to a consciously activist, deliberate and explicit decision to exclude a certain person, product, or service from one’s support or patronage because he, she or it in some way violates the principles held by the one engaged in the boycott. I am not aware of any conscious or explicit decision on the part of EWTN executives to ban Dr. Carson from the network airwaves or press; nor am I aware of anything in Carson’s character, achievements, or issue positions that would warrant such a boycott by a faithful Catholic media powerhouse. Yet the fact remains—having grown painfully obvious over the past few months—that, aside from occasionally mentioning him briefly in passing on a few programs and in one or two news articles, EWTN News has been avoiding Carson like the plague, neglecting to interview or discuss him and in general refusing to have anything to do with him. There seems to be an implicit, unspoken decision by the network’s journalism staff to simply ignore Ben Carson. And the answer to the simple question posed by this article is unfortunately also quite simple: EWTN is boycotting Dr. Carson because the corrupt and worldly mainstream media—from which the network’s journalism department now takes its cues—is deathly afraid of this particular presidential candidate and hates him with a passionate vengeance.

This, of course, leads to another question: Why does the Washington, D.C. media establishment so deeply fear and loathe Ben Carson? And the answer to this is that the Beltway media elite correctly perceives that Dr. Carson’s candidacy poses a major threat to everything it stands for. And what exactly does this radically secularist mainstream media empire stand for? Moral relativism, religious syncretism, unbridled materialism and hedonism, abortion on demand, continued funding for Planned Parenthood, the retention of ObamaCare and the unjust HHS mandate, unlimited government growth, higher taxes, endless national debt accumulation, the destruction of the nuclear family through sexual immorality and deviant lifestyles, the radical homosexual agenda, the continued stranglehold of powerful special interest groups on our national politics and economy, the recension of our Constitutionally guaranteed rights and liberties, and the thorough de-Christianization of our country.

By contrast, Ben Carson is a devout Christian who stands for moral absolutes, hard work and sacrifice, the right to life of the innocent unborn and an end to legalized abortion, the repeal of ObamaCare and the HHS mandate, smaller government, lower taxes, a balanced budget, traditional marriage and family values, personal responsibility, and a return to strict Constitutional government. However, Dr. Carson’s values alone cannot adequately explain the malicious ferocity of the mainstream media’s coordinated vitriolic assault on him or why he is perceived as being such a formidable threat to the establishment. Other Republican and Tea Party presidential candidates claim to stand for these things as well, yet they are not being half so viciously attacked by the mainstream media. Why is Ben Carson being treated differently?

The answer is that he is different from the other Republican presidential candidates in key respects—and these differences may collectively afford him a decisive advantage over his rivals when it comes to winning both the Republican nomination and the presidency. Among the unique characteristics that set Dr. Carson apart from the rest of the field:

1. He is a citizen statesman running for president by popular demand for the good of our country, not a career politician seeking high office for his own benefit.

2. He is a devout Christian man who reads the Bible daily and puts his faith into practice, not a Christian in name only.

3. He is a trustworthy and courageous man of impeccable character and principle who always strives to do what is right, or what he thinks is right, in any given situation regardless of public opinion or other external pressures.

4. He is a clear and independent common-sense thinker whose issue positions are not predetermined by partisan rhetoric.

5. He is a great communicator, blessed with a unique ability to discuss and explain complex issues and topics in simple terms that anyone can understand.

6. He has a clear vision for America’s future based on a return to sound Constitutional government and the wisdom of our nation’s Founders.

7. He is a splendid example of the American dream and a role model for American youth, having risen from childhood poverty to become one of the world’s greatest neurosurgeons.

8. As a philanthropist, he has made a significant contribution to improving America’s education system through the Carson Scholars Fund.

9. He is the most highly decorated American civilian among all the presidential candidates and the only one to have received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

10. He has built up, and continues to steadily build up, a massive following among the American people, having already sold far more books, recruited far more campaign volunteers, and received far more individual donations than Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or any other presidential candidate.

Those running the mainstream media establishment are all too happy to promote politically correct presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump who are in line with their own radically secularist philosophy and values. But the mere thought of a principled citizen statesman like Dr. Carson even approaching the White House is enough to send them into panic. The fact of the matter is that, despite his lack of political correctness, Ben Carson stands a significant chance of being nominated and elected President of the United States. The media elite is clearly aware of this, which explains their vicious and despicable attempt to destroy Carson’s candidacy. They desperately wish that he would just go away.

But the biggest reason of all for the mainstream media’s fear and hatred of Ben Carson is this: polls consistently indicate that he is the only Republican presidential candidate who can decisively defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election. Another unique characteristic of Dr. Carson as a presidential candidate is that, as an African-American who is deeply respected among his own people, he is the only Republican candidate who can realistically win a significant percentage of the black vote. If he were to win only 17 percent of the black vote in the general election, he would defeat Hillary Clinton and win the presidency. Furthermore, despite the mainstream media’s all-out effort to destroy his candidacy, polls reveal that Ben Carson has now gained the support of about 20 percent of African-American voters—and that percentage is likely to grow in the near future. In other words, Dr. Carson is the only Republican presidential candidate who can put an end to Hillary Clinton’s hope of finally becoming president herself. And therefore, Ben Carson is the only Republican who can realistically win the White House in 2016.

As the Second Vatican Council reminded the Church, those who are in charge of the communications media bear a serious responsibility to transmit the truth and to help shape public opinion in accordance with what is objectively true and good and right. When it comes to the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, the truth is that Ben Carson is the only viable alternative to Hillary Clinton as America’s next president. Therefore, EWTN should be taking advantage of its unique position as an independent and massively influential bully pulpit to help promote Dr. Carson’s candidacy among its U.S. viewers, listeners and readers and to galvanize millions of faithful American Catholics in support of his presidential campaign. I am not asking the network or its journalists to explicitly endorse Ben Carson for president (although that might not be such a bad idea); I only ask that they candidly recognize his providentially unique qualifications to lead our nation in light of the basic realities of the current presidential landscape and give him the fair share of attention he deserves.

EWTN’s beautiful and appropriate motto is “Sharing the Splendor of Truth,” and the network continues to do just that in admirable fashion as far as Catholic doctrine, liturgy, the sacraments, morality, prayer and spirituality are concerned. But when it comes to the Catholic media apostolate’s news coverage of the critically important 2016 presidential election season, the truth is not served by sweeping the best and most promising candidate in the race under the rug. It seems clearly apparent that Ben Carson has received so little attention on EWTN thus far because he has been so perniciously attacked, maligned, and belittled by the morally toxic Washington mainstream media establishment. That’s a shame. A faithful Catholic television network should not be permitting the lies and deceptions of worldly mainstream media outlets to influence the decisions of its own journalism department. On the contrary, EWTN should do whatever is necessary to reclaim and preserve its original identity as an independent voice of truth and reason, clarity and common sense in a world ever more filled with lies, irrationality, ambiguity and craziness. Instead of allowing itself to be dragged along by the Beltway media machine, EWTN News should be setting its own agenda based on its own values and striving to influence political discussions and events in a wholly different direction.

The unjustified and irrational EWTN media blackout of Ben Carson must end. The network can, and should, utilize its tremendous influence to support and further advance the presidential candidacy of Dr. Carson with the true good of our country in mind. As Catholics vote, so goes our nation. If we can get a majority of American Catholic voters firmly committed to Ben Carson, we can elect a new president who shares our Christian faith and moral values and prevent another radically secularist, scandal-ridden career politician from succeeding Barack Obama. That is a goal worth achieving, but it may be very difficult to achieve it without the vital support and assistance of the Eternal Word Television Network.

Copyright © 2015 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Quote of the Day

"Our heart was already joyful in awaiting this moment; now that joy abounds and overflows, for the promise has been at last fulfilled. Joy and gladness are a sure sign that the message contained in the mystery of this night is truly from God. There is no room for doubt; let us leave that to the skeptics who, by looking to reason alone, never find the truth. There is no room for the indifference which reigns in the hearts of those unable to love for fear of losing something. All sadness has been banished, for the Child Jesus brings true comfort to every heart."

--Pope Francis

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas Reflection

"This act of redemption marked the high point of the history of man within God's loving plan. God entered the history of humanity and, as a man, became an actor in that history, one of the thousands of millions of human beings but at the same time Unique! Through the Incarnation God gave human life the dimension that he intended man to have from his first beginning; he has granted that dimension definitively--in the way that is peculiar to him alone, in keeping with his eternal love and mercy, with the full freedom of God--and he has granted it also with the bounty that enables us, in considering the original sin and the whole history of the sins of humanity, and in considering the errors of the human intellect, will and heart, to repeat with amazement the words of the Sacred Liturgy: 'O happy fault...which gained us so great a Redeemer!'"

--Saint John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis (1979), no. 1.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Advent Reflection

“'The Lord is near,' says the apostle Paul, and nothing should make us anguished. The greatest mercy lies in his being in our midst, in our being in his presence and company. He walks with us, he shows us the path of love, lifts us up in our falls, holds us to our labors, accompanies us in all circumstances of our existence. He opens our eyes to see ourselves and the world's miseries, but also fills us with hope. 'The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.' (Phil 4:4-7). This is the source of our life made peaceful and happy; nothing can steal this peace and joy, despite the sufferings and trials of life. Let us cultivate this experience of mercy, peace and hope during Advent, through which we are making our way in light of the Jubilee year. Announcing the Good News to the poor, as John the Baptist, performing works of mercy, is a good way to look for the coming of Jesus at Christmas."

--Pope Francis

Friday, December 11, 2015

Quote of the Day

"It is becoming more and more the trend today to separate this festival from Christianity and to reject its Christian beginnings, like a rocket that thrusts the first stage away from itself when it reaches altitude. In America, in the process of commercialization and the pursuit of sentimentality, the display windows of large shops, which in former years were decorated with crèches at Christmas time, are now equipped with mythological representations, with deer and stags or Santa Clauses, whereby what is truly mythical is set side-by-side with what is Christian. Of course a lingering echo still remains of what touched people when they learned that God became a man. But this is an attempt to keep what is beautiful and touching and to get away from anything in it that makes demands upon us."

--Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), God and the World (Ignatius Press, 2000), p. 217

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Reflection for the Immaculate Conception

"The attitude of Mary of Nazareth shows us that being comes before doing, and we must leave it to God to truly become as He wants us to be. It is He who does so many marvels in us. Mary is receptive, but not passive. Just as, at a physical level, She receives the power of the Holy Spirit but then gives flesh and blood to the Son of God that is forming in Her, She also receives the grace and corresponds to it with faith, on a spiritual level. For this reason, St. Augustine says that the Virgin 'conceived first in the heart before the womb' (Discorsi, 215,4). Faith was conceived first, then the Lord!

"This mystery of the acceptance of grace, who in Mary by a unique privilege, was without the obstacle of sin, is a chance for everyone. St. Paul, in fact, opens his Letter to the Ephesians with these words of praise: 'Blessed be God, Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the Heavens in Christ' (1:3). As Mary was greeted by St. Elizabeth as 'blessed among women' (Luke 1:42), so have we always been "blessed", that is loved, and therefore 'chosen first from the creation of the world to be holy and immaculate' (Eph. 1:4).

"Mary was preserved, while we were saved thanks to Baptism and the faith. All however, be it Her and us, through Jesus Christ, 'for the praise of the glory of his grace' (v.6), that grace from which the Immaculate was filled in its fullness."

--Pope Francis

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Quote of the Day

"It is not the actual physical exertion that counts towards a man's progress, or the nature of the task, but the spirit of faith with which it is undertaken."

--Saint Francis Xavier

Friday, November 27, 2015

Quote of the Day

"Globalization is a phenomenon that challenges us, especially in one of its principal manifestations which is emigration. It is one of the 'signs' of this time that we live in and that brings us back to the words of Jesus, 'Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?' (Luke 12:57). Despite the large influx of migrants present in all continents and in almost all countries, migration is still seen as an emergency, or as a circumstantial and sporadic fact, while instead it has now become a hallmark of our society and a challenge.

"It is a phenomenon that carries with it great promise and many challenges. Many people forced to emigrate suffer, and often, die tragically; many of their rights are violated, they are obliged to separate from their families and, unfortunately, continue to be the subject of racist and xenophobic attitudes.

"Faced with this situation, I repeat what I have affirmed in this year’s Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees: 'A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization – all typical of a throwaway culture – towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world.'"

--Pope Francis

Monday, November 23, 2015

Our Shepherd Among Us: Reminiscences and Reflections (Part Three)

by Justin Soutar

After making the short flight from New York to Philadelphia on Saturday morning, September 26, Pope Francis found himself standing in front of historic Independence Hall that afternoon, where he delivered an important address on the topic of religious liberty to the substantial crowd gathered on the Mall. While following his prepared text, the Holy Father also inserted a number of impromptu remarks to help flesh out his thoughts. He began by observing that the truths enshrined in our Declaration of Independence--that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that governments exist to protect and defend those rights—“must constantly be reaffirmed, re-appropriated and defended.” The pontiff then highlighted a key aspect of religious liberty. "Religious freedom certainly means the right to worship God, individually and in community, as our consciences dictate,” Francis acknowledged. “But religious liberty, by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families.” Then the pope underlined what he had just read by adding off-the-cuff: “Because the religious reality, the religious dimension, is not a subculture. It is part of the culture of any people and any nation.”

As American Catholics and Christians whose religious freedom is increasingly threatened by the tyranny of radical secularism, these were important words for us to hear. We needed to be reminded that the Christian religion is inextricably woven into the fabric of our national culture, and that we should take pride in this fact rather than allowing militant secularists to intimidate us into being ashamed of it. “In a world where various forms of modern tyranny seek to suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality,” Francis proclaimed, “it is imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others.”

That evening at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Pope Francis participated in the Festival of Families, a spectacularly beautiful celebration of Catholic family life that marked the ceremonial climax of the World Meeting of Families. Here he laid aside his prepared text for the occasion, choosing instead to speak off the cuff about the beauty of family life to his on-site audience of about one million people from all over the world. Thanking the assembled families for their testimonies and their presence, the Holy Father assured them “that it is worthwhile to live as a family, that a society grows strong, grows in goodness, grows in beauty and truly grows if it is built on the foundation of the family.” He reminded them that when God sent His Son into the world to redeem fallen humanity, he came to live among us in a family through the loving obedience of Mary and Joseph.

“God always knocks at the door of hearts,” Francis said. “He likes to do this. It comes from His heart. But, do you know what He likes best? To knock on the doors of families and find families that are united, to find families that love each other, to find the families that bring up their children and educate them and help them to keep going forward and that create a society of goodness, of truth, and of beauty.” As usual when discussing this subject, the pope did not gloss over the difficulties of family life: “In families, we argue; in families, sometimes the plates fly; in families, the children give us headaches. And I’m not even going to mention the mother-in-law. But in families, there is always, always, the cross. Always…But, in families as well, after the cross, there is the resurrection. Because the Son of God opened for us this path.” Francis concluded his remarks to the tens of thousands of families present by reminding them to take special care of their children and their grandparents--whom he referred to respectively as the “strength” and the “memory” of a family--as “a sign of love that promises the future.”

“All of Us Need to Be Cleansed”

Around 11 AM on Sunday morning, September 27, after meeting with bishops, priests and seminarians at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Pope Francis went to visit more than one hundred male and female inmates at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia. This was one of the most memorable parts of our Holy Father’s visit to the United States because it gave such vividly personal expression to the theme of divine mercy that has defined his pontificate from the very beginning. The pope sat in a large wooden chair that had been handcrafted for the occasion by a team of male prisoners skilled in carpentry work. His address to the inmates was strikingly heartfelt and poignant, full of Christ-like compassion and encouragement for these men and women who had committed various crimes in the past. Francis acknowledged that their period of incarceration was “a painful time” not only for them but for their families and society, and then warned that a family or society "which cannot share or take seriously the pain of its children, and views that pain as something normal or to be expected, is a society ‘condemned’ to remain a hostage to itself, prey to the very things which cause that pain.”

The Holy Father himself was offering a different example that morning, an example of compassion and solidarity, by personally identifying with these wounded children of God who had been relegated to the outskirts of society and who are often forgotten and marginalized by their free brothers and sisters. “I am here as a pastor, but above all as a brother, to share your situation and to make it my own,” the pope told the inmates. Recalling the Gospel scene in which Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, Francis reflected that life is a journey along different roads that leave their mark on us. “Life means ‘getting our feet dirty’ from the dust-filled roads of life and history,” he said. “All of us need to be cleansed, to be washed.”

“We know in faith that Jesus seeks us out,” the Holy Father continued. “He wants to heal our wounds, to soothe our feet which hurt from travelling alone, to wash each of us clean of the dust from our journey. He doesn’t ask us where we have been, he doesn’t question us about what we have done. Rather, he tells us: ‘Unless I wash your feet, you have no share with me’ (John 13:8)…Jesus comes to meet us, so that he can restore our dignity as children of God. He wants to help us to set out again, to resume our journey, to recover our hope, to restore our faith and trust.” These encouraging words revealed the pastoral heart of Pope Francis—a compassionate and charitable heart that reaches out to everyone regardless of their background or their situation, offering hope for redemption through a personal encounter with Christ. The pope then criticized prison systems that carelessly neglect to heal the wounds of their inmates or to offer them hope for a better life. “It is painful when we see prison systems which are not concerned to care for wounds, to soothe pain, to offer new possibilities,” he said. “It is painful when we see people who think that only others need to be cleansed, purified, and do not recognize that their weariness, pain and wounds are also the weariness, pain and wounds of society.”

After finishing his address, Pope Francis took time to greet most of the seated inmates individually. In a particularly poignant moment, he warmly embraced a male inmate who stood up to greet him, drawing a smattering of applause from the others. As the pontiff made his rounds and then bade the prisoners farewell, I was a bit disappointed that the commentary of Raymond Arroyo, Fr. Gerald Murray and Robert Royal on EWTN was mainly confined to the awful crimes these people had committed, the duty of those responsible for the common good to protect society from unjust aggressors, and the moral licitness of the death penalty as just punishment for murder. While everything they said may have been true, their rather clinical and juridical attitude towards this deeply moving, authentically Christian personal encounter of Pope Francis with the least of Christ’s brethren seemed to evince just a bit of the rigorist tendency, persistently decried by Francis, of those who are so caught up in their knowledge of Church doctrine and legal matters that they cannot see the person in front of them. By zeroing in on the justice aspect, on doctrinal and criminal details, Arroyo and his fellow guests essentially missed the point of what the pope had just said and what he was now doing right in front of their eyes on the TV screen—performing two works of mercy, visiting prisoners and comforting the sorrowful. As Mother Teresa would remind us, these people sitting behind bars are Christ in his distressing disguise, and whatever we do for them we do for Christ himself (Mt. 25:34). “’I was…in prison and you visited me’” (Mt. 25:35, 36).

Furthermore, the EWTN commentators neglected to affirm that these incarcerated men and women, like themselves, were made in the image and likeness of God and that they retained their innate human dignity regardless of what they had done that had necessarily led to their confinement within these walls. Nor did they hint at the corruption and related issues affecting the current US criminal justice system, including the urgent need for prison reform and the sad reality that some of those incarcerated and executed each year are actually innocent of the crimes of which they have been convicted. Finally, mention could have been made of the fact that human justice is never perfect and that everything will be satisfactorily sorted out for all parties only by Christ Himself at the Last Judgment, where each of us Christians will be judged based not on our knowledge of the faith, but on how well we have put that faith into practice. May our prejudices not hinder us from following Pope Francis’ Christ-like example in this regard and encouraging others to do the same.

Faith and Love in the Family

That Sunday afternoon, under mostly cloudy skies, the Argentinian pontiff celebrated the much-anticipated Closing Mass for the World Meeting of Families at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, another spectacular event which drew nearly 900,000 participants according to the official host, Archbishop Charles Chaput. In an apparent oversight, the pope’s homily was delivered in Spanish without translation of any kind, and I felt sorry for the English-speaking majority of the vast congregation present who essentially missed it. The Mass readings for that Sunday focused on how the Holy Spirit can act outside the visible confines of the Church or the community and how we should recognize and affirm such divine activity even when it is manifested in unlikely places. In his homily, Francis alerted his hearers to “the temptation to be scandalized by the freedom of God, who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike (Mt. 5:45), bypassing bureaucracy, officialdom and inner circles”; such a temptation, he warned, “threatens the authenticity of faith. Hence it must be vigorously rejected.” Explaining why Jesus’ condemnation of scandal was so harsh, the Holy Father added: “For Jesus, the truly ‘intolerable’ scandal consists in everything that breaks down and destroys our trust in the working of the Spirit!”

Turning to the subject of faith, Pope Francis next spoke of the importance of “little gestures” of tenderness and affection that are learned in the family, such as a warm meal or a hug or a blessing. “Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home,” he said. “Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love.” Francis urged us to be open to these “little miracles of love,” these “prophetic gestures” that point the way to God’s unbounded love. He then asked whether we are living this way in our families and societies. The pope exclaimed, “Would that all of us could be open to miracles of love for the sake of our own family and all the families of the world, and thus overcome the scandal of a narrow, petty love, closed in on itself, impatient of others!” Here he inserted an off-the-cuff remark, asking us family members whether we yell at each other or speak with love and tenderness.

In keeping with his theme of care for creation, Francis also asked what kind of world we are leaving to our children. “Our common house can no longer tolerate sterile divisions,” he proclaimed. “The urgent challenge of protecting our home includes the effort to bring the entire human family together in the pursuit of a sustainable and integral development.” Affirming marriage as “the covenant of man and woman, which generates life and reveals God,” the Holy Father concluded by praying that God may “grant to all of us, as the Lord’s disciples, the grace to be worthy of this purity of heart which is not scandalized by the Gospel!” At the end of the Mass, Francis thanked the assembled worshipers in English for their witness of family life and, as always, reminded them to pray for him.

A Stunning Success

Pope Francis clearly scored a massive hit with American Catholics and the general public during his unforgettable visit to our country late last month. Perhaps more strikingly than any other foreign voyage he has yet undertaken, the pope’s whirlwind tour of America showcased the genius of Francis at its classic best. In both word and deed, our Holy Father proclaimed the truths we needed to hear with clarity and conviction, yet in an attractive way, while consistently manifesting an accurate understanding and sincere appreciation for our unique history and cultural heritage. He knew his audience more intuitively and was better prepared to visit the United States than most of us expected. In short, Francis surprised us once again with a brilliant performance—although it wasn’t surprising to see an increase in the respect and esteem of American Catholics and the general public for our beloved Shepherd in Christ following his brief but intense sojourn among us. Although decades will be required to fully assess the impact of this latest papal visit on the American Catholic Church and on our country in general, as well as to place it within an accurate historical perspective, we can safely conclude for the moment that Pope Francis’ Pastoral Visit to the United States was a stunning success, and that we will continue to reap its fruit for years to come.

Copyright © 2015 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Reflection for Solemnity of Christ the King

"Divine authority is not a power of nature. It is the power of God's love that creates the universe and, incarnating itself in the Only Begotten Son, descending into our humanity, it heals the world corrupted by sin. Romano Guardini writes: 'Jesus' whole existence is the translation of power into humility … it is sovereignty that here abases itself in the form of servant' (Power and Responsibility, Regnery, 1961).

"Often for man authority means possession, power, dominance, success. For God, instead, authority means service, humility, love; it means entering into the logic of Jesus who stoops to wash the feet of his disciples (cf. John 13:5), who seeks man's true good, who heals wounds, who is capable of a love so great that he gives his life, because he is Love. In one of her letters, St. Catherine of Siena writes: 'It is necessary that we see and know, in truth, with the light of faith, that God is the Supreme and Eternal Love, and he cannot will anything if not our good' (Ep. 13 in: Le Lettere, vol. 3, Bologna 1999, 206)."

--Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, January 30, 2012

Thursday, November 19, 2015

On Welcoming the Stranger

I would like to offer a few reflections on the Middle Eastern refugee crisis, which is currently absorbing much of the attention of our government and news media.

First of all, I believe that the position of our Republican lawmakers and conservative commentators on this issue--namely, that the U.S. should categorically refuse to grant asylum to any innocent refugees from Syria or Iraq whatsoever--is sadly misguided, as it is based on fear and unhealthy nationalism rather than facts and clear rational thinking. Those who hold this position are painfully aware of the ongoing violence being perpetrated in Syria by anti-government rebels and terrorist guerillas affiliated with the notorious organized crime ring known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and they are rightly concerned to protect our national security by ensuring that such violent and lawless fanatics do not find their way onto U.S. soil. However, their jingoistic and exclusionist approach of "Just say NO" to allowing any Syrian or Iraqi refugees into our country is a simplistic and inadequate solution to a complex and far-reaching problem.

To begin with, it is worth reminding ourselves that the vast majority of the so-called "Syrian rebels" belonging to ISIS who are engaged in conflict with the Assad regime are not native to Syria at all, but are actually foreign fighters who have been recruited by ISIS from neighboring countries. Secondly, by its outrageously immoral and recklessly dangerous foreign policy strategy of arming and funding these ruthless "Syrian rebels," the Obama administration is directly responsible for the growth of ISIS into a powerful totalitarian guerrilla terrorist organization that has spread all over the Middle East, seizing control of large portions of Iraq and Syria and wreaking such terrible havoc in those areas. Thirdly, by gratuitously feeding the ISIS monster, our own government is indirectly responsible for the resulting mass exodus of refugees from the heartland of the Middle East. The least we can do to make amends for such madness is to offer safe haven to some of these innocent refugees who have lost their homes, their possessions, their churches, and their homelands at the hands of U.S.-sponsored terrorists.

Opponents of allowing Iraqi and Syrian refugees into our country assert that we should help resettle them elsewhere in the Middle East. Easier said than done. The entire Middle East is about half the size of the continental U.S. and ISIS cells are all over the place, including North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Where can four million refugees go? Several million Iraqi and Syrian refugees are already packed into UN-administered camps in Jordan and Lebanon, the two friendliest countries in the region, and these nations' already strained resources simply cannot accommodate another vast influx of refugees. Some could perhaps find refuge in Israel, but that nation's population density is already high so only a few if any would be allowed in there. Religious freedom is under attack in Turkey and Iran. Egypt has its own issues to deal with. And forget about Saudi Arabia, where it is illegal to be a Christian. Thanks to the misguided and foolish foreign policy of Presidents Bush and Obama, the Middle East is now an unstable and dangerous place. Trying to convince and help the refugees to stay there would not be wise and would not yield positive results. Most of them would prefer to relocate to Europe, Canada, or the United States. And who can blame them?

Fears that ISIS terrorists will take advantage of a Middle Eastern refugee influx to sneak into this country legally through our refugee system are groundless. Under current law, all refugees seeking to enter the United States must go through a lengthy and rigorous one and a half to two year screening process involving extensive background checks for the sake of our national security. No ISIS terrorist suspect disguised as a refugee would ever make it all the way through this stringent system. As proof of this, it should be pointed out that of the 750,000 refugees who have entered the U.S. through our refugee process since September 11, 2001, not a single one has been arrested on charges of domestic terrorism. We can admit Iraqi and Syrian refugees into our country without compromising our national security one iota.

These millions of refugees are not terrorists, and they do not pose a credible threat to our national security. On the contrary, they are innocent victims of terrorism--ordinary men, women, and children who have lost everything at the hands of godless ISIS fanatics and who are simply looking for a place where they can live decent and normal lives in peace, security, and freedom. Many of them share our Christian faith, which was originally brought to their lands by the Apostles themselves. They keep alive a rich and ancient cultural heritage. Like most immigrants from Mexico and Central America, they are willing to work hard to support their families and would make a significant contribution to our nation's economy if given the opportunity to do so. Some would probably want to stay here only temporarily and then return to their homeland in a few years or so once conditions improve there, while others would wish to settle here permanently and eventually become full-fledged American citizens. And we have a large country with plenty of room, lots of opportunities, freedom and security, a secure refugee admission process, and a long and proud history of welcoming and assimilating millions of immigrants and refugees who fled unfavorable conditions in their home countries. It would be the height of arrogance and a repudiation of our national heritage to simply shut and lock the doors of our borders in the faces of these desperate refugees without a second thought. That is not how a Christian country like ours should act in response to a refugee crisis like this.

As Pope Francis reminded us in his address to Congress this past September, the Golden Rule should guide our nation's policy toward those innocent human beings seeking to enter our nation. We should treat the Syrian and Iraqi refugees as we would want to be treated if we were in their place. If we want security, we should provide security for those at risk who face an uncertain future. If we want opportunities, we should provide opportunities for those whose options are limited. It's a matter of basic justice and respect for human rights. Where justice and human rights are not recognized and respected, peace cannot flourish. Furthermore, we should bear in mind that these refugees are actually Christ Jesus in a distressing disguise, and that whatever we do for them, we do for Christ himself. "'"I was...a stranger and you welcomed Me"'" (Matthew 25:35). This doesn't mean we have to admit all four million refugees into our country in the next couple of years, which would be impossible to do in any case given the necessary rigors and limitations of our refugee admission system. Besides, many will no doubt find refuge in Europe and Canada, where quotas are already being set. However, as part of the world community, we can and should be open to helping these other countries shoulder and absorb part of this massive refugee burden.

We should commit to admitting a certain number of Syrian and Iraqi refugees over the next two to three years--50,000 at the very least, perhaps even 100,000 to 150,000. While the exact quota to be determined by our government is a matter for healthy debate, we should all agree that zero is not an acceptable number. We must not abandon hundreds of thousands of our fellow brothers and sisters to homelessness and deprivation without expecting the negative consequences to affect our own country sooner or later. Such a foolish rejectionist policy reeks of callousness, prejudice, xenophobia, and indifference.

Welcoming a certain number of refugees from Syria and Iraq into the U.S. through the appropriate official channels will have great benefits not only for the refugees themselves, but for our country as well. In addition to the boost they will give our struggling economy, their presence here will present an opportunity for mutual cultural exchange and friendship that will enrich the lives of  Syrians, Iraqis, and Americans, building lasting bridges for a better future for everyone. By providing a friendly safe haven to these marginalized individuals, we will have made a significant contribution to building a more just, more humane, and more peaceful world. And by acting in a truly Christian manner towards these people, we will win the favor of Divine Providence and earn the heavenly reward promised to those who care for the least of Christ's brethren. In short, while there are many good reasons to admit Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the United States, there are no good reasons whatsoever to keep them out.

Copyright 2015 Justin D. Soutar.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Quote of the Day

"Hope: this virtue that is so hard to live. The smallest of the virtues, but the strongest. And our hope has a face: the face of the Risen Lord, who comes “with great power and glory,” and this will manifest his love, crucified and transfigured in the Resurrection. The triumph of Jesus at the end of time will be the triumph of the cross, the demonstration that the sacrifice of oneself for love of neighbor, in imitation of Christ, is the only victorious power, the only stable point in the midst of the upheavals of the world."

--Pope Francis

Monday, November 16, 2015

Our Shepherd Among Us: Reminiscences and Reflections (Part Two)

by Justin Soutar

The Prayer of the Church

After leaving the White House, Pope Francis headed to St. Matthew’s Cathedral in downtown Washington, a beautiful and historic church whose unusual Romanesque architecture evokes an earlier era of Christianity. This was the parish of America’s only Catholic president to date, John F. Kennedy, during his administration (1961—1963); his remains are buried beneath a circular marble slab in front of the cathedral’s main altar. Here the Holy Father joined Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, and several hundred bishops from around the United States for midday prayer. Francis then delivered an hour-long address in Italian in which he shared with the bishops his own experiences as a pastor, focused on the basic qualities needed in a shepherd, and praised their defense of the unborn and their assistance to immigrants and refugees. After greeting a few of the bishops personally, the pope had Cardinal Wuerl tell them in English that he was sorry he couldn’t greet each of them individually. He tapped his watch and looked at them with an expression of wide-eyed regret. They understood and applauded.

Later that sunny Wednesday afternoon, Pope Francis proceeded to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and officiated at the canonization Mass of Father Junipero Serra, the famous eighteenth-century Franciscan priest who founded many of the California missions and who was beatified by Pope John Paul II. The Mass took place outside the basilica to accommodate the large and remarkably diverse crowd of bishops, priests and thousands of lay faithful from across the nation who took part in this historic ceremony--the first canonization ever performed on US soil. In his homily, Francis urged his listeners to guard against the apathy that often creeps into their hearts through the monotony of daily routines by going outside of themselves to proclaim the joy of the Gospel to others, following the missionary example of Father Serra. Early that evening, before retiring to his quarters for the night, the Holy Father paid a surprise visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor at their home in northeastern Washington; the religious congregation's ongoing legal fight against the HHS mandate has been making national headlines for several years.

Francis Makes History

On Thursday morning, September 24, Pope Francis headed to the US Capitol for another historic event: the first-ever papal address to a joint session of Congress. Respectfully welcomed and escorted into the packed semicircular House chamber, the 78-year-old Argentinian pontiff took the podium and slowly delivered his lengthy, masterfully written prepared text in his heavily accented English. As I joined millions of viewers across our country and around the world watching the unprecedented event live on EWTN, I was pleasantly surprised at how remarkably well Francis’ address was received by these members of Congress. He was interrupted over and over again by vigorous applause, receiving at least a dozen standing ovations from the entire assembly. I think this impressive reception was due not only to the respect which most of these senators and representatives already had for Pope Francis, but also to the power of the religious and moral truths which he was proclaiming authentically and with conviction. As human beings fashioned in God’s image, we are made for truth, so when we hear it faithfully proclaimed, it resonates deep within us; this holds true even for corrupt politicians who routinely ignore and betray such truths in the daily business of government. The thread of Francis’ speech was brilliantly woven around four great Americans whose anniversaries are being celebrated this year: Abraham Lincoln, “the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that ‘this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom’”; Martin Luther King, Jr., who marched as part of a campaign “to fulfill his ‘dream’ of full civil and political rights for African Americans”; Dorothy Day, “who founded the Catholic Worker Movement” and whose “passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel”; and Thomas Merton, “a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church.”

Francis began his address by reminding the assembled lawmakers of the fundamental truth—-often obscured these days by corruption and partisan rhetoric—-that the real business of politics is the pursuit of the common good. Next, turning to the grim situation of a contemporary world marked by hatred and violent conflict, the Holy Father urged vigilance in combating the dangers of religious and ideological fundamentalism. He also warned against the temptation of “the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners,” a temptation to which certain Americans often succumb in the realm of foreign policy. Francis added some welcome words of wisdom: “The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.” The pope encouraged a different response to evil, “one of hope and healing, of peace and justice…We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.”

Turning to the refugee crisis in the Middle East and the ongoing phenomenon of mass migration across our nation’s southern borders, Pope Francis began to quote the Golden Rule from Matthew 7:12 but was interrupted by a full standing ovation from the overwhelmingly Christian assembly. “Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated,” said the Holy Father. “If we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.” Indeed, the pope was right: this core teaching of Christ should be the main reference point guiding our nation’s approach to these complicated and controversial issues. Of course, allowing this teaching to guide our immigration policy doesn’t mean we should leave our borders entirely unsecured or grant unconditional amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants who are desperate to feed their families, but it does mean we should treat these people with basic respect for their humanity and concern for their welfare while working to reform our bureaucratic immigration system and address the root causes of mass migration to the US. While on the topic of the Golden Rule, Francis did not fail to remind the legislators of their responsibility “to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development,” a clear reference to the rights of the unborn that drew vigorous applause from this largely pro-life Congress.

Seizing the Moment

After briefly discussing the need to address poverty, hunger, and “environmental deterioration caused by human activity,” Pope Francis tacitly lauded the recently restored diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba—a rapprochement in which he himself played a critical role behind the scenes. "When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all,” he said. The Holy Father pointed out that such a reconciliation between formerly estranged peoples “requires courage and daring,” which he distinguished from “irresponsibility.” In this context, Francis defined a good political leader as “one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism.” I find it telling that the pope used the word “pragmatism” in this sentence instead of the word “idealism” that one might have expected him to use. Clearly, he was warning us against the dangerous tendency to view reconciliation between enemy nations simply as an idealistic dream that is not practical or attainable in the real world. The pope realizes that such a defeatist mentality would discourage us from sowing and patiently nurturing the seeds of dialogue that can, with time, ultimately yield the abundant harvest of reconciliation. Francis was pointing out that tearing down a wall of division between two peoples should rather be viewed as something of practical urgency, something that should be done as soon as circumstances permit, a concrete response to a profound human need for social communion, something with positive real-life consequences for millions of people on both sides. The pontiff then urged Congress to stop the global arms trade and work to end the many armed conflicts around the world—again, not as idealistic dreams, but as practical goals to be accomplished as soon as possible for the good of the entire human family.

Francis concluded his historic address to the Senate and House of Representatives by turning to the subject of the family. He reminded his audience how essential the family has been to the building of this country and expressed his concern about contemporary threats to marriage and family life. "Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family,” said the Holy Father, apparently referring to attempts to redefine marriage based on gender ideology and to equate deviant homosexual relationships with traditional marriage. Focusing mainly on the challenges young Americans currently face, the pope lamented that many “seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair.” “At the risk of oversimplifying,” he continued, “we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.” The pontiff’s diagnosis is accurate: we live in a highly secularized materialistic culture that glorifies individualism and eschews long-term commitment, while an unfavorable economic climate makes it difficult for many young Americans to start a family and prosper. Francis declared that we need to face these problems “together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions.”

After leaving the House chamber and briefly greeting an enthusiastic crowd of some 50,000 people gathered on the Mall in front of the Capitol, Pope Francis paid a midday visit to the homeless and poor of Washington in Saint Patrick’s Church. Before leaving the city later that afternoon, His Holiness made another unscheduled visit that eloquently underscored his heartfelt concern for religious liberty. He stopped by the Vatican embassy to meet with Kim Davis, the Christian county clerk from Kentucky whose refusal to issue marriage licenses for homosexual couples based on her religious convictions led to her arrest and imprisonment earlier in the month. “Thank you for your courage,” the pope told her in English. “Stay strong.” President Obama had made his point at the White House the day before; now Pope Francis had made his.

New York and Philadelphia

Partly cloudy and windy conditions greeted the Holy Father as he arrived at JFK Airport in New York City around 5 PM. Under heavy security, he was transferred from the American Airlines jet to a police helicopter, from helicopter to the Fiat, and then from Fiat to popemobile. Surrounded by dozens of police vehicles, Francis made his way up an empty stretch of Fifth Avenue to pray Vespers in the historic and magnificently renovated Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. On Friday morning, September 25, he became the fourth pope to visit the United Nations headquarters and address the General Assembly. In his long and well-written speech, Francis commended the organization for its important work for world peace during the last seventy years, condemned the gender ideology that blurs the differences between men and women, and urged respect for the human rights and dignity of all peoples and families. Afterward, the Holy Father participated in an inter-religious memorial service at the former World Trade Center site, where he reiterated his predecessors’ forceful condemnation of violence against innocent human beings and prayed fervently for peace.

That evening, Francis presided over a spectacular Mass at the iconic Madison Square Garden arena, which was filled to capacity. Near the end of the liturgy, when Cardinal Dolan thanked him for coming to visit, the throng of at least 20,000 worshipers gave the pope a standing ovation that lasted several minutes. It was a moving and unforgettable moment to witness live on television. America’s Catholics had truly embraced Pope Francis. He was their loving Shepherd who had gone beyond his comfort zone to reach out to them, and they, his loyal flock, were now responding with love and gratitude. “Thank you, and please, don’t forget to pray for me,” the Holy Father added with a smile as the liturgy concluded.

(To be continued)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Quote of the Day

"As sailors are guided by star to the port, so are Christians guided to Heaven by Mary."

--St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

Monday, November 9, 2015

Our Shepherd Among Us: Reminiscences and Reflections (Part One)

by Justin Soutar
(NOTE: Here is the first installment of a three-part article series recapping Pope Francis' unforgettable visit to the United States earlier this autumn. This series was originally published on the popular website Catholic Online and can be read there as well. God willing, I will post Part Two next Monday and Part Three the following Monday. J. S.)

Towards the end of September 2015, our Holy Father Pope Francis made his eagerly anticipated Pastoral Visit to the United States. Like those of his saintly predecessors—the cerebral trailblazer Paul VI, the energetic actor John Paul II and the scholarly gentleman Benedict XVI—Francis’ visit to America was an historic and memorable occasion that was shared and experienced by millions of Catholics and non-Catholics alike, both here at home and around the world, thanks to extensive national and international media coverage and the power of modern communications technology. Like his three predecessors who came to this land over the course of the last fifty years, Pope Francis was afforded a personal glimpse of the vitality and vicissitudes of his substantial flock here in America—and, conversely, we American Catholics experienced the blessing of encountering our Shepherd in person and the opportunity to renew our love for and allegiance to the Successor of Saint Peter.

Of course, each papal visit to this country has been unique. That of Blessed Paul VI in 1965 was confined to New York City, where he became the first pontiff to address the United Nations Organization. The great Saint John Paul II crisscrossed America like no other pope before or since, touring nearly all of our major cities during his five pastoral visits in 1979, 1987, 1993, 1995 and 1999. With his rock-star charisma and passionate fidelity to the truth of the Gospel, these spectacular visits sparked a much-needed revitalization of the Catholic Church in America at a time of profound doctrinal and liturgical confusion resulting from erroneous interpretations of the Second Vatican Council. During his single pastoral visit in 2008, which was restricted to Washington, D.C. and New York, Benedict XVI was respectfully welcomed by President George W. Bush and endeared himself to the American people with his humble and genial personality; that, along with his firm condemnation of priestly sexual abuse, took many of his critics by surprise.

Groundless Apprehension

In the weeks and months preceding this latest papal visit, a good deal of discussion in both Catholic and secular media revolved around the question of whether Pope Francis would really click with American Catholics and the American people in general, and there was some apprehension that he might not, for several reasons including the following: 1) he didn’t speak English, our official language and that of the great majority of American Catholics; 2) he was largely ignorant of our country’s unique history and culture; 3) he was highly suspicious of, if not downright hostile to, the capitalist free-market economic system through which our nation has achieved unrivaled wealth and prosperity. Polls showing Francis’ favorability ratings among US Catholics dropping somewhat in advance of his visit seemed to confirm this sense of apprehension. Based on these assumptions, some observers even ventured to assert that Pope Francis himself was not at all eager to visit the United States, dismissing the Holy Father’s own statements to the contrary as merely exercises in formal courtesy.

Thankfully, however, all of these fears turned out to be groundless, due in large measure to the efforts of the pope himself. Of course, Francis has by now amply demonstrated his ability to transcend language barriers by speaking the universal language of Christ’s love to everyone through his simple lifestyle and deeply meaningful gestures. But he knew that gestures alone would not be enough to fully connect with the American people. So despite his advanced age and the difficulties involved, Pope Francis took it upon himself to learn the American language so that he could communicate verbally with us in our familiar native tongue. It must have been a great sacrifice for him to do this, but the result was definitely worth the effort. It was truly wonderful to hear our Argentinian Holy Father speak directly to us Catholics and Americans without the need for an interpreter in his brief prepared remarks at the White House and in his lengthy, well-written address to Congress; hundreds of thousands of English-speaking worshipers also appreciated that he said parts of the Masses at Madison Square Garden and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in their language. And then there were those brief spontaneous remarks he ventured in English at key moments that added extra flavor to many of the gatherings, which usually concluded with “Please don’t forget to pray for me” and “God bless America!” that endeared him to us all the more.

It is true that until recently, Francis could boast only a passing knowledge of American history and culture. However, during an in-flight press conference on his return trip from South America to the Vatican back in July, he promised to read up on these subjects in preparation for his visit here. He obviously kept that promise, for in his addresses and homilies given during this visit, he demonstrated a good working knowledge and understanding of, as well as a keen appreciation for, our nation’s rich historical and cultural heritage. This was quite evident in his masterfully written address to Congress, in which he acknowledged that we are a nation of immigrants and discussed in some detail the different contributions of four well-known Americans to the political and spiritual development of our country. Francis’ grasp of our history and culture was even more clearly evident in his address at Independence Mall in Philadelphia, in which he reminded us that the inalienable God-given rights enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, especially our fundamental right to religious liberty, must be protected and defended.

And finally, there was the claim that Pope Francis regards free-market capitalist economics in general with suspicion and hostility. The Holy Father deflected this inaccurate criticism in his address to Congress by clearly affirming the important role played by entrepreneurship and the creation of wealth in the fight against poverty. He underscored his point by quoting a brief passage from, of all places, Laudato Si' (Praise Be to You), his lengthy encyclical on the environment: “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.” Like his predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Pope Francis is not opposed to business or capitalism per se; he is only opposed to the selfishness and greed that can, and often do, transform them into destructive forces that negatively impact human society and the natural environment.

By learning our language, getting acquainted with our history and culture, and affirming the proper role of our free-market capitalist economic system, Pope Francis dissolved all remaining psychological barriers between himself and the American people, enabling him to seamlessly connect with his immediate flock and his wider audience. Having first won us over and gained our full trust, we were then receptive to his message, which was the authentic message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—a message of truth and love, a message of faith and hope, a message of mercy and forgiveness, a message of personal responsibility, of respect for human rights and dignity, of peace and justice, of care for creation, of the beauty of marriage and family life according to God's plan. The three overarching themes of Francis’ visit were the centrality of religious freedom, the importance of caring for the natural environment, and the critical role of the family in the life of the Church and civil society. I followed EWTN’s live coverage of this remarkable papal visit as it unfolded, and I appreciated the faithful Catholic commentary offered by news director Raymond Arroyo and his guests Father Gerald Murray and Robert Royal.

The Personal Touch

Pope Francis arrived on schedule at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., his American Airlines jet touching down shortly before 4 PM on Tuesday, September 22. Overcast skies and windy conditions seemed to reflect the general sense of apprehension surrounding this particular papal visit. However, that anxiety almost immediately began to dissipate a little. As the pontiff disembarked and set foot on American soil, closely shadowed by his security detail, he was warmly greeted on the tarmac by a brightly smiling President Obama and his family, Vice President Biden and his family, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, and other dignitaries, as well as by an enthusiastic crowd of about 1,000 people who were completely fenced in. The unusually high level of security at Andrews was maintained with remarkable uniformity throughout the pope’s stay in America, and it was reassuring to see our Holy Father so well protected at all times. After exchanging a few words of welcome with President Obama in a nearby building and then briefly greeting the crowd, Pope Francis boarded a small four-door silver Fiat and was driven under police escort to the papal nuncio’s residence, where he stayed during his visit to Washington.

Sunshine greeted Pope Francis as he emerged from the nunciature around 9 AM the following morning; he proceeded to personally greet several of the three hundred lucky Catholic schoolchildren assembled nearby. Then he was driven to the White House for the official welcoming ceremony accorded to him as a head of state. Although the ceremony was scheduled to begin at 9:15, Francis did not arrive until ten minutes later because of the time he spent with the schoolchildren. Running a little behind schedule for most of the public events, with the notable exception of the Masses, was a pattern throughout his visit which is typical of his quaintly slow personal style. Although some might be annoyed by this lack of strict punctuality on the Holy Father’s part, I find it charming and even somewhat refreshing. Unlike so many in our excessively fast-paced and self-centered world today, Francis is never in a hurry regardless of the importance of the appointment awaiting him. Of course, he does take his appointments very seriously, but he believes that taking sufficient time to encounter persons along the way is more important than maintaining rigid adherence to predetermined schedules at the cost of avoiding contact with people around him or gruffly brushing them aside. In this regard, Pope Francis gives us a valuable lesson in Christian charity that many of us need to hear, bombarded as we constantly are by the selfish ideas and attitudes of modern post-Christian secular society.

Two Speeches

A chorus of cheers from a crowd of some 15,000 people gathered on the south lawn of the White House greeted Pope Francis as the Fiat came rolling up. In his eloquent yet highly propagandistic welcome address to the Holy Father, President Obama stated that the pontiff’s visit “reveals how much all Americans, from every background and every faith, value the role that the Catholic Church plays in strengthening America.” Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s approach to the role of Catholicism in our national life has been dictated by its own radically secularist agenda. This was manifested by the fact that, for this very occasion, the President had deliberately reserved choice seats on the White House lawn for a slew of notorious Catholic dissidents and homosexual activists. Continuing his polished speech, Obama remarked to Francis, “You call on all of us, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to put the ‘least of these’ at the center of our concerns…to stand up for justice and against inequality, and to ensure that every human being is able to live in dignity—because we are all made in the image of God.” True enough words, but here again they rang quite hollow; under the elitist Obama administration, the US poverty rate has soared to 19 percent, the wealthiest 1 percent are richer than ever before, and taxpayer funding of abortion is the order of the day. But the worst hypocrisy came a little later when President Obama turned to the subject of religious freedom, declaring, “Here in the United States, we cherish religious liberty.” I cringed when I heard that. By forcing its unprecedented HHS mandate on our country and repeatedly refusing to rescind it, the Obama administration has clearly exhibited its utter disdain for the religious liberties of Catholics and other Christians in America.

In his brief address thanking President Obama for his welcome—-his first public speech given in English on US soil—-Pope Francis emphasized that religious freedom “remains one of America’s most precious possessions…all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.” This was a clear reference to the Obama administration’s egregious assault on our religious liberties with the HHS mandate. In his subsequent remarks, which were dedicated to the need to take responsible care of the Earth, “our common home,” Francis approved of President Obama for offering a proposal to reduce air pollution and highlighted the need to address the pressing concern of global climate change. “Climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation,” the pope declared. “We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about ‘a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change’ (Laudato Si’, 13).”

Initially I was somewhat put off by the fact that our Holy Father devoted nearly half of his introductory remarks to the topic of the environment, partly because I am convinced that global climate change is due principally to changes in solar activity and is thus largely beyond our human ability to control, partly because the global warming hypothesis which Pope Francis accepts does not square with the scientifically documented fact of declining global temperatures in recent years, and partly because I felt that His Holiness could have used the occasion to talk about an even more pressing issue such as abortion or radical secularism or the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. However, a close reading of what Pope Francis actually said reveals that the pontiff carefully avoided making explicit political or scientific statements. He was essentially laying out the Church’s perennial teaching on good stewardship of creation within the context of the present situation as he perceives it. He was apparently inferring that climate change is primarily a human-generated problem, but even if it is not, we do need to develop a strategy to deal with it because of its negative impacts on millions of people around the world. And even if increased carbon dioxide levels are not actually fueling a rise in global temperatures as the pope believes, we should still work together to reduce air pollution for the good of the planet and its inhabitants. Then too, it is the Holy Father’s prerogative and even his duty to speak about and emphasize whatever he believes is important for us to hear and think about, and it is clear from Francis’ choice of name, the length of his encyclical on the environment, and many of his addresses and homilies as pope that the responsibility to protect creation is a major theme of his pontificate. And while we Catholics are not obliged to agree with everything the Holy Father says on a matter of prudential judgment such as climate change, we should still listen respectfully to what the Vicar of Christ has to say to us on the matter, and we must not allow our prejudices to prevent us from accepting the Church’s basic teaching on the issue.

(To be continued)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Quote of the Day

"I assure you, dear families, that if you are capable of walking ever more decisively on the way of the Beatitudes, learning and teaching to forgive one another mutually, the capacity will grow, in the whole great family of the Church, to give witness of the renewing strength of God’s forgiveness. Otherwise, we might engage in very beautiful preaching, and perhaps even cast out a devil, but at the end the Lord will not recognize us as his disciples because we did not have the capacity to forgive and to be forgiven by others!"

--Pope Francis

Friday, October 30, 2015

Quote of the Day

"The greatest deception, and the deepest source of unhappiness, is the illusion of finding life by excluding God, of finding freedom by excluding moral truths and personal responsibility."

- St. John Paul II

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The One Hundred Day Reign of King Trump Has Ended

Photo by Gage Skidmore
Used with permission
Great news! After three straight months of lording it over the GOP presidential candidate field with buckets of his own money spent on glossy advertising, dozens of rousing campaign speeches, and the undivided attention and unremitting adulation of an obsequious and politically correct mainstream media machine, His Majesty Lord Donald Trump the Powerful and Mighty has finally been toppled from his lofty throne by the humble and the lowly. Much to the shock and confusion of Mr. Trump and his loyal media allies, award-winning neurosurgeon, author, speaker and philanthropist Ben Carson--who was widely dismissed as a longshot five months ago--has now emerged as the leading Republican presidential candidate in nationwide polls. For millions of faithful Carson supporters like myself, this is an incredibly energizing development that we have worked hard to achieve and a proud moment to witness in the ongoing saga of the Carson presidential campaign. For a devout Christian, soft-spoken, African-American, grassroots Tea Party candidate, a citizen statesman with no political experience and largely negative mainstream media coverage, to sneak up from behind and depose the wealthy and well-connected king of the GOP field several months ahead of the initial presidential primary elections is no small feat. This remarkable development is a testament to Dr. Carson's fidelity to traditional religious principles and moral values, his lifetime of stellar achievement, his unique communication skills, his respect for the Constitution, his hope-filled vision for our country based on the Founders' philosophy, the secure bond of trust he is slowly but steadily forging with a growing segment of the American people, and last but not least to the patient labors of The 2016 Committee in making him better known and convincing him to run for president in the first place.

At this point, I feel sorry for the tens of millions of Americans, including many good and well-intentioned people, who have been duped by the mainstream media into supporting Donald Trump for president and believing that this billionaire real estate and casino magnate is just the kind of man we need to lead our country. The truth is that, aside from Hillary Clinton, Trump would make the worst possible president of the United States to succeed Barack Obama. He is an arrogant, greedy, dishonest, corrupt, and elitist Republican in name only presidential wannabe driven by lust for power who has identified himself politically as a Democrat for most of his life, who has donated millions of dollars to the Clintons, who likes ObamaCare, who supports Planned Parenthood, who has amassed much of his fortune by forcing other businesses into bankruptcy, who favors the irresponsible fiscal policies of the Federal Reserve and the Obama administration, and who could care less about the average American struggling to make ends meet. To be sure, Trump talks a great game on any number of issues to make himself look like a conservative Republican; but if (God forbid) he ever ended up in the White House, he would turn out to be just another corrupt and scandal-ridden career politician beholden to the special interest groups that have made him rich and that control the Washington establishment. Much like his good friend Hillary Clinton, he is a dangerous demagogue stirring up the masses with bold rhetoric and empty fantasies in a strenuous yet ultimately fruitless effort to seize the powerful office of president he craves.

Thankfully, Americans are now waking up from the mainstream media deception to the reality that Donald Trump cannot be trusted, and they are choosing instead to rally around a trustworthy citizen statesman who actually represents their interests and who is running for president by popular demand, Dr. Benjamin Solomon Carson. And this is occurring, ironically, despite the best efforts of the mainstream media to convince the American people that Ben Carson is not qualified to serve as president. Naturally, the media elites, who are closely tied to the corrupt Washington political establishment, are shocked and confused by this development because they didn't see it coming, and they are disturbed by it because of what it portends for the future of that establishment should Ben Carson be nominated and elected President of the United States next year. They just want Dr. Carson to go away, but that's not happening, so now they will resort to concocting and launching further malicious attacks on his character and abilities and to craftily manipulating public opinion in their increasingly desperate attempts to destroy his candidacy. Furthermore, they will utilize psychological warfare, claiming that Carson's leadership of the GOP presidential field is just a fluke and that his candidacy will fizzle out by the time the primaries roll around.

I fully expect that, notwithstanding this onslaught of mainstream media hostility, Ben Carson will continue to steadily build momentum in the polls during the final weeks of 2015, leaving Donald Trump's record high of 32 percent in the dust as he eventually gains the support of 45 to 50 percent of likely Republican primary voters by the end of this year, which will make him the first and only GOP presidential candidate this election cycle to achieve such a feat. Based on his progress so far, Carson is likely to rise dramatically above the rest of the GOP field between now and the early presidential primaries in January, and the likelihood of his actually winning the Republican nomination for president in 2016 will continue to grow with each passing day. I personally believe that God is raising up Dr. Carson to be our next president so that our broken, weakened, and worn-out nation can be healed, strengthened, and renewed through his wise leadership, and that all the efforts of his enemies to prevent this from taking place will ultimately come to nothing. The remarkable saga of Ben Carson's unexpected rise to political prominence signals an exciting turning point in American history. We the people have been betrayed and disappointed time and time again by corrupt politicians, and even by former Tea Party leaders who have succumbed to the Washington establishment, but with a true citizen statesman like Dr. Carson at the helm, we are going to take our country back.

Trump for king.
Hillary for queen.
Ben Carson for president!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Quote of the Day

“Times are changing and we Christians must change continually. We must change whilst remaining fixed to our faith in Jesus Christ, fixed to the truth of the Gospel but we must adapt our attitude continuously according to the signs of the times. We are free. We are free thanks to the gift of freedom given to us by Jesus Christ. But our job is to look at what is happening within us, discern our feelings, our thoughts and what is happening around us and discern the signs of the times – through silence, reflection and prayer.”

--Pope Francis

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Hillary Clinton at the Witness Stand

This morning, former Senator, former First Lady, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took the witness stand in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol building to testify before the Benghazi Committee regarding her role as Secretary of State during the mysterious terrorist attack of September 11, 2012 that claimed the lives of four American civilians at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya. This Congressional investigation, led by Representative Trey Gowdy, represents a noble attempt to probe beneath the Obama administration's inconsistent and unsatisfactory official account of this tragedy in order to find the real answers to the perplexing questions of what actually happened, who was responsible, and why the State Department refused requests for additional security at the Consulate prior to the attack. The problem is that, in its efforts to pierce the administration's thickly woven veil of secrecy surrounding this terrorist crime and get the full truth of the matter to the American people, the Benghazi Committee is up against corrupt and deceitful politicians, a heavily biased mainstream media, and a super-secret spy network from one of America's closest allies in the Middle East.

It would be downright foolish to accept the testimony of Hillary Clinton regarding the Benghazi terrorist attack at face value. As a deeply corrupt, dishonest and power-hungry career politician, Mrs. Clinton has too much at stake to clearly admit to any kind of criminal wrongdoing on her watch as Secretary of State, such as failing to ensure the safety of American diplomatic personnel at an overseas embassy or sending classified information through a private unsecured email server or permanently deleting thousands of emails containing such sensitive information. Why? Because such an admission would not only jeopardize her dream of becoming President of the United States, it would also undoubtedly lead to the discovery of incriminating evidence against her erstwhile collaborators within the State Department, ultimately exposing a massive crime ring within the Obama administration. In fact, for many months now, she and her allies in the administration have been desperately attempting to shut down the Benghazi Committee and destroy Congressman Gowdy's reputation in order to prevent the full story of the Benghazi attack from ever seeing the light of day. Thankfully, these evasive political tactics have not yet proven entirely successful, since Hillary has finally been cornered, forced by Congressional subpoena to testify under oath on the matter. What she had to say, though, was (quite literally) another story.

In their efforts to suppress or deflect attention from the truth and advance their political careers, Mrs. Clinton and President Obama can count on their fluently deceptive and reliantly subservient mainstream media buddies to influence public opinion in their favor by presenting the Benghazi Committee as a cynical Republican political maneuver to destroy Hillary's reputation prior to the 2016 presidential election. This deliberate misrepresentation has produced its intended effect, convincing roughly seventy-five percent of Americans to view the Congressional Benghazi investigation as a politically motivated scheme rather than as the sincerely honest and important fact-finding mission it really is. By discrediting the Committee in the minds of the American people, the mainstream media hopes to diminish the impact of the incriminating revelations about Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration that are certain to emerge from this Congressional investigation.

Corrupt politicians who lie to protect their careers and mainstream media journalists who lie to protect the politicians would be sufficient to make Representative Gowdy's critical job a challenging task to fulfill. However, there is also a third and virtually unknown factor at play in the Benghazi affair that rarely, if ever, surfaces in any of the discussions on the matter, and that is the probable role of Israeli intelligence in producing the anti-Islamic video that allegedly provoked the attack, in the attack itself, and in the Obama administration's cover-up following the attack.

While Hillary Clinton and President Obama may be inveterate liars, some grains of truth are probably embedded in their insistently reiterated story that the despicable anti-Islamic video Innocence of Muslims sparked protests that led to the attack. Based on my years of research into this area, I have little doubt that this video was clandestinely produced by Israeli intelligence agents at the behest of radical Zionists and deliberately released on the Internet to coincide with the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Apparently the goal of Mossad, Israel's highly advanced intelligence agency, in secretly creating and releasing this video was to stir up Muslim outrage throughout the Middle East, which would spark violent protests in multiple countries, forming a suitable backdrop for the dramatic act of violence that the agency itself was planning to carry out against innocent American civilians at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi. The video would then serve as a convenient scapegoat for the terrorist attack--an attack which was carefully designed to appear as if it was carried out by al-Qaeda, with all traces of its true source diligently hidden from plain view.

For a number of years now, anonymous Mossad spies have excelled at the dark art of perpetrating such "false flag" terrorist attacks in selected locations all around the world, including right here in the United States on September 11, 2001, in order to further the radical Zionist agenda of world domination. But just as the Congressional 9/11 Commission was never able to identify the exact details or the real perpetrators of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, so the Benghazi Committee will most likely fail to unearth the actual details or perpetrators of the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. If Israeli intelligence was actually involved in the Benghazi affair, and if Hillary Clinton is aware (as I suspect she might well be) of this highly secretive involvement, she would not divulge any information about it to the Benghazi Committee for fear of certain and swift retaliation from Mossad. Members of an elite, high-tech and global organized crime ring, Israeli spies operate in absolute and perpetual secrecy, and they retain this indispensable cloak of darkness by threatening to kill anyone "in the know" who would even think of revealing their true identity and activities. Such are America's nameless and faceless back-door enemies, who will continue to craftily manipulate our national politics and foreign policy, using terrorist violence when necessary in order to further the godless agenda of radical Zionism.