Throughout the middle ages, it was easy to have a rather “isolationist” approach to people of other faiths. They either lived in other countries than most Christians, or in the case of Protestants, didn’t exist yet. When everyone around you is of the same faith, there’s not much you need to do.

But what happens when you live in 21st century America? What do you do when the majority of people around you are not of your same faith? While some in the Church would still prefer to treat them as if they don’t exist and hide in our own bunkers, this is hardly practical, nor is it in our best interest. Relating to people of other faiths not only offers the opportunity for evangelization, it allows us to strengthen our own faith.

In this video, I want to talk about what makes good ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. Rather than focusing on what we have in common, resting in the lowest common denominator of faith, I suggest jumping right into the deep end: focus on the differences. As far as I’m concerned, it’s only when we show who we really are and what we really believe, humbly and respectfully, that coming together in these ways is worth it.

If you’ve paid any attention to the Catholic Church over the past 50 years, you know that we are a diverse group of people that likes to swing the pendulum of society back and forth. Forget about the “culture wars” of politics, they’re right here in our Church.

Just like the rest of the world, I recognize two problems in our Church: 1) we are a reactionary people, preferring hot takes and quick decisions that favor shallow answers and false dichotomies, and 2) we are unable to conceive of a Church and world in which there might be more than one correct answer. Both of these things are on display when our people argue such things as liturgical norms, social justice, clerical attire, relationships with those outside the Church, and political involvement.

For a Church as rich in diverse traditions as us, this is troublesome.

In this video, my central thesis is this: the faith remains the same, but the way it is expressed and lived necessarily changes with generations. As we grow older, as we learn more, as the world changes around us, our approach to Christian living will inevitably grow with it.

When you hear someone mention the Book of Revelation, what is your first thought? Mine… is to run away as quickly as possible. The reality is that the vast majority of people who quote passages from this book don’t entirely know what they’re talking about and are use its words to promote conspiracy theories, doomsday predictions, and condemnations against the Catholic Church.

Hard pass.

But that doesn’t mean that the book itself is wrong or problematic. In fact, it’s a great book. Surprisingly hopeful. Kind of the exact thing we need in our day. In this episode of Catholicism in Focus, I offer a few keys to approaching the book in the correct way, as well as a brief overview of its contents.

Things these days… yeah. They’re not great. As a new priest, I find myself frustrated with all that I can’t do these days, but I can’t say that the outcome of my life has been dramatically changed. I cannot say the same for those in high school today.

At a time when people are trying to find themselves and their place in the world, it seems like the world is falling apart. I feel incredibly sorry for those who have missed out on such big moments in their lives, who find themselves at a loss and without direction. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be 17 today.

And yet, there’s another part of me that is not particularly sympathetic at all. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I’m sort of allergic to throwing oneself a “pity party,” of moping around and giving up.

Things are tough, yes, but feeling sorry for yourself isn’t going to make things better.

In this week’s video, I want to highlight a saint for our age. Her name is Claudine Thévenet, and she is someone that I think teenagers can relate to. Although her college plans were thwarted by a pandemic, she did go to high school during the French Revolution and witness two of her brothers being executed.

So… it’s sort of a push, I guess.

She not only survived a tragic time, it made her into a laudable saint. Her resilience, commitment to service, and love of Christ are qualities that we can learn from today.

Everyone knows that there are seven sacraments in the Catholic Church. Not everyone knows, or receives, the fullness of each sacrament.

Of particular importance today, I think, is an appropriate understanding of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. As I discuss in this week’s Catholicism In Focus, it is not one that many people quite understand, and their misunderstanding is among my largest pet peeves in the Church.

In short, the sacrament is meant for the sick, not just the dying. Don’t wait until the last moment, when someone is already unconscious, to receive this wonderful gift from God.

Overcoming Vices

Here in the United States, there seems to be a universal belief that we are free to do whatever we want. Not legally free, but simply capable. If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything! It’s the sense that no matter what we’ve done up to a certain point, we are always able to act, unbiased, unconstrained, in any way we want.

This, obviously, is nonsense.

Besides any physical limitations we may have (you can’t fly no matter how hard you try) there will always be limitation on your will. Certain things are easier to do than others. Saying “no” to a decadent chocolate cake is not simply a matter of not eating it; if you are a sweet tooth or have no impulse control, saying “no” to this treat will be nearly impossible. We train our wills over time.

The habits that we form, good or bad, have an incredible grasp on what we do. They can influence to do what’s right, making it easier to do what we want to do, or they can condition us to resort to bad things when we’re having a tough day. The habits we create have a serious effect on our lives, physical and spiritual.

As Christians, it is imperative that we form good spiritual habits (virtues) and avoid bad ones (vices). In these two videos, I discuss the importance of forming habits and how to overcome bad ones.

Five years ago, Pope Francis promulgated Laudato Si, the first ever encyclical devoted to the environment. It is a fantastic work of theology, looking to the signs of the times and offering a comprehensive approach to the ills facing our world.

If you haven’t read it yet, I cannot encourage you enough. It is really good. And incredibly important. And about more than just the environment.

Beyond this week’s Catholicism in Focus, which offers and overview, here are some of my favorite passages:

The social environment has also suffered damage. Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless. We have forgotten that “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature”. (#6)

If we approach nature and the environment without…openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. (#11)

The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. (#23)

There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. (#25)

The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet… The impact of present imbalances is also seen in the premature death of many of the poor. (#48)

Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” (#120)

“There is a tendency to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos. We forget that the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development.” (#136)

Where are Catholic Teachings in the Bible?

It is often said by fundamentalist Christians that Catholic doctrines are made up, that we’ve disregarded God’s Word to follow the laws of man. It’s utterly ridiculous. Catholics were the first Christians, and we were the ones who compiled the Bible. Anyone who has ever read a papal encyclical or official document of the Church knows that there are references to Scripture in every paragraph.

Everything we do finds its foundation in Scripture.

But that doesn’t mean that everything exists today just as it did 2000 years ago. The Church grows and develops. Implicit or minor teachings in the Bible took on flesh as the Church became greater aware of its mission. To suggest that every detail of what we do now is found in Scripture is not a fair claim—no Christian community could live up to that standard.

The problem, unfortunately, is that many Catholics (or other Christians) don’t know where the foundation is for many of our doctrines. In this week’s Catholicism In Focus, I offer the biblical foundation for some of our most contested beliefs, showing exactly where and why we believe what we do.

The Horrifying Truth about the Porn Industry

There is no doubt that pornography is obscene. The idea of filming people performing sexual acts on one another is the essence of perversion. Television and movies have limits to how much of this sort of content is allowed because decent people don’t want to see it.

Some, of course, will argue that it is nothing more than free speech, that it may not be something for everyone, but that doesn’t make it illegal. For years, I granted this argument.

Not anymore.

The problem with this idea is that it assumes everyone on screen is freely consenting to be filmed, is there without coercion, and is receiving just remuneration for their work. Sadly, none of these points are guaranteed. As I discuss in this reflection, there is a direct link between pornography and human trafficking.

Viewer discretion is obviously advised.

Christianity. Pure and Simple.

Has anyone ever asked you why you are Christian? I hope so. It’s a seemingly easy question to answer, and yet, I worry that many cradle-Christians don’t know what to say (I don’t think that this is purely a Catholic issue, but one for all who grew up in the faith and have never known anything else.)

So here’s my answer. It’s a longer form of what could possibly be said in that situation, but it boils down to just one thing: I am a Christian because I have experienced the healing love of Jesus Christ. I would not respond with philosophical truths, testimony from others, accounts from the Bible, or moralistic imperatives, although each of these things bear truth as well. Christianity, as far as I can see, is a matter of relationship at its very core. Pure and simple, if you don’t have that relationship, if you’ve never had that encounter, nothing else will make sense.

And so encounter him. Let him encounter you. I will leave you with one of my favorite passages from Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium:

I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!

The question of ordaining women to the priesthood is not open to debate. At least, not according to John Paul II. In his 1994 letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, he states, “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

In other words, the Church will not and cannot ordain women to be priests.

The point of this week’s Catholicism In Focus is not to spark a debate. I have no interest in sharing my own opinions or hearing others’. What one thinks about a doctrine is of no consequence, really, especially when few people know what the doctrine actually says.

The purpose of this video, then, is to look at the rationale given in this definitive statement and to understand its limits. Why can women not be ordained priests, according to the Catholic magisterium? How does this limit their scope of leadership in the Church? In what ways has this doctrine been inappropriately applied to prevent women from active participation? These are the questions I seek to answer, particularly the final one.

Women may not be able to be ordained priests, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways for them to have legitimate influence. Until those ways become the norm and not the exception, we’ve got some work to do.

What is a Mortal Sin?

Do you know what really grinds my gears? Finding parish or youth group websites posting lists of mortal sins. Not only does no such list exist in the magisterial teaching of Catholic Church, it would be impossible to make one.

For starters, as I discussed in a previous video, there is no such thing as an act that always bears culpability. The act itself is important, but one must always consider the intent of the actor and the circumstances in which they acted.

On top of that, for something to be a mortal sin, it must have more than just “grave matter.” Simply being serious (or what these homemade lists believe to be serious) isn’t enough. There must also be full knowledge and complete consent on the part of the actor. If they don’t know what they’re doing or are not completely free to say no, it cannot be a mortal sin.

Again, for those sitting in the back. Just because someone has done something grave doesn’t make it a mortal sin. In fact, there are many times in which it isn’t.

So when you see a list suggesting that illegal drug use, theft, gossip, anger without justification, superstition, and pride are all mortal sins, without any reference to intent, circumstances, knowledge, or freedom, please remember what the Church actually teaches. There is no such thing as something that is always a mortal sin no matter the circumstances. There are things that consist of grave matter, yes, but that’s not the same as being sinful, and it most certainly isn’t the same as culpability.