For the past 10 days or so, I have been on the road, visiting Texas A&M University to give a talk, meeting with the friars under five years solemnly professed in St. Petersburg, FL, and attending the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress in California. It’s been a bit of a run… and as a result, it appears that I have forgotten to share a few videos with you!

Last Friday I announced a Lenten Series based on my book Let Go. Each Friday I’ll offer a reflection on something that I feel we as Christians need to let go of. Here’s the trailer:

On Monday, I released Catholicism in Focus video about the Rite of Penance. As the lenten season is a popular time to go to confession, I thought it was a good idea to explain what exactly it is that we go to do (or, at least, what we should go to do!) Here’s that video:

And finally, hot off the press today, is a video I recorded while at LA REC last week, in which I asked many of the spiritual leaders present to answer a simple question: What should people ‘Let Go’ of this Lent. Their responses were diverse and wise:

 

Click here to listen

Okay, so I realize that everyone is always disappointed in the most hyped movie of the year. Super fans will always set expectations too high, demand too much, and will never be happy. Everyone knows this, and no one wants to be a cliche.

But really. Can we all agree that the last The Rise of Skywalker was trash?

Again, not from the super nerdy point of view that such-and-such a character should have done this or that, or that the director didn’t pay enough tribute to some weird thing that happened in a movie 40 years ago. I’m not talking comic-con level bashing. I’m talking about the basic nature of the story telling. It was bad. It was disappointing. It was worth learning from.

Br. Tito and I generally don’t like to be negative on #EverydayLiminality, but there was just no other option with this movie. Let us know what you think.

It is a very strange situation to be in: you’re standing outside of mass greeting people as they arrive, and someone walks in drinking coffee or finishing some food. It’s rare, but it happens. Far more common is chewing gum while walking into mass, something that I see on a regular basis.

These things, to be clear, are not allowed.

While the Church does not require heavy fasting today like it did for centuries, the Tradition has not changed: fasting is required prior to receiving communion. As with the rule of fasting on Fridays, the Church of the 20th century realized that certain age-old rules were irrelevant or burdensome to some, and so looked to the people of God to act as mature adults and choose for themselves what seemed most appropriate. In the case of fasting on Fridays as well as fasting before mass, this effectively meant that most people abandoned the rule completely.

The Church wanted to make the fast clearer and easier, not nonexistent. There is still a required fast prior to receiving communion. The 1983 code of canon law states three directives:

  • §1. A person who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before holy communion from any food and drink, except for only water and medicine.
  • §2. A priest who celebrates the Most Holy Eucharist two or three times on the same day can take something before the second or third celebration even if there is less than one hour between them.
  • §3. The elderly, the infirm, and those who care for them can receive the Most Holy Eucharist even if they have eaten something within the preceding hour.

How did we get here, and why does it matter? All of this is answered in this week’s Catholicism in Focus.

Could there be any more important story in the whole Old Testament than the Israelite exodus from Egypt? In it, God rescues his people through his miraculous power; the people are give faith and God establishes a covenant with them; he fulfills his promise from long ago, showing his immense fidelity. All throughout the Old Testament, in almost every book, we hear the biblical writer saying, “Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt.” It is the foundational event that gives meaning to everything else that happens.

And yet… there are many who wonder whether it ever even happened.

As is the case with all ancient stories, our modern world is concerned with one thing, and one thing only: the facts. Who, what, where, when, and why? No embellishment. No commentary. No opinion. What actually happened? It is a mindset that is particularly helpful in crime solving, but ill-suited for theological reflection.

In this week’s Catholicism In Focus, I suggest that there are two extreme approaches to reading Scripture that we want to avoid: the strictly literalist, that takes every word at face value and does not consider science, history, or reason, and the strictly mythological, that focuses solely on the meaning of the story with no regard for historical evidence. Both of these approaches are prominent in our world, and both of them are seriously flawed.

Instead, what we must do is recognize that what makes the Bible the Word of God is not that it is a dictation of God from heaven, word-for-word how it happened, but rather a theological reflection on lived experiences people had of God. The focus is absolutely on the “truth” of the events, but without any “facts”—without an actual event to reflect on—there can be no truth.

This week’s video is a lesson in public discourse and attention to detail. That’s not what the video is actually about, but the reaction to it warrants that lesson.

You see, my videos often deal with complex topics of philosophy and meaning, things that can never be taken at face value. My titles and thumbnails are designed to attract viewers, and if one is not careful to listen to the actual words I’m saying, they might be misled into hearing what they think I’m going to say, rather than what I’m actually saying.

In this case, I made a video about the role of traditions in our Church. The purpose of the video was to show that traditions are never static, that they never have a purely objective, unchangeable meaning to them, but rather that their place in the Church and how they are perceived grows and adapts as the culture around them does. What something meant to a people in 1200 is necessarily going to be different than what it means to people today.

As an example, I pointed to the cassock. There was a time when it was the main clerical garb of priests. Everyone wore it. It was normal. Today, that is not the case. The same garb, largely unchanged, is perceived differently in our Church and world because it is now the minority expression, because it represents a particular ecclesiology, because it is distinct.

The way traditions are expressed and experienced changes over time. There’s nothing controversial in saying that, and I was not in any way criticizing those who choose to wear it. I could have very well chosen to highlight the latin language, rosary, Franciscan habit, Friday fish fries, or any other tradition, as their role and perception has changed dramatically over time as well.

And that’s fine. There is no judgment one way or another.

My point in sharing this was to move away from a rigid, static understanding of the world, one in which we believe that supplanting a tradition from the past into our world will capture everything that that tradition meant in its time. You simply cannot recreate the past today; the world around the tradition has changed.

This is not to say, though, that I am against traditions, that old things can’t be renewed. In fact, my inspiration for the video was to show the complete opposite! Old things can and should be brought back from time to time with a renewed life to them, repurposed for our world today. The habit may have fallen out of favor with many religious because it came to be associated with clericalism and entitlement, but that’s not how the tradition is being experienced today. The world has changed, and many young people yearn for public witnesses. Unlike those of previous generations, they do not see it as a sign of separation, but rather a sign of evangelization, availability, and commitment. The tradition of old has disappeared because the world that defined it has disappeared, but the action itself has taken on a new life.

Hence the title: you can’t bring back old traditions. As that world fades away, the way the tradition is lived and experienced will necessarily be new. And that’s a good thing!

But that’s not how people read the title. They missed the subtly of the point. Instead, they saw a modernist who hates tradition. They saw someone with a contradictory point because he wears a habit but “belittles” the cassock. They saw a heretic looking to ruin the Church.

And they didn’t hold back from telling me such.

Yes, this video was intended to be about the new life of old traditions, but what it turned into was a lesson in public discourse and attention to detail. It served as a reminder that sometimes things aren’t always as they first appear, and when we jump to judgment and condemnation, we undermine our lives as Christians. I wrote the below message to my subscribers to draw attention to the problem:

“If you believe that I’ve said something that contradicts our Catholic faith, is mean-spirited, or illogical, especially on a highly nuanced theological topic (especially if you don’t have training in that topic) maybe ask for clarification before you jump to calling me heretic or unsubscribing.  I’m pretty good at responding to questions. With a little patience and offering me the benefit of the doubt, you might come to see that what I’m saying isn’t actually contradictory, mean-spirited, or illogical.”

In some ways I find the response appalling. Literally hundreds of comments in less than 24 hours questioning my priesthood, angrily yelling at me, or calling me an idiot. Plenty of others got the point I was making perfectly, repeating it back to me with confusion: “why are people so angry? They’re completely missing the point.” It has left me frustrated and a bit cynical, wondering if it’s even worth presenting complex takes on theology if the masses are going to misconstrue my words. Is it my responsibility to be concerned with how people will misunderstand my comments and be led astray by them? Even if many got the point exactly? Isn’t that on the ignorant, not me? Frustrating, difficult questions.

And yet, what an interesting opportunity. So often, all we do is preach to the choir. So often all we ever hear is positive feedback from those who already agree with us. Had I made this video or not, there would have remained plenty of ignorant people on the internet, plenty of people with underdeveloped, fuzzy, or even incorrect theologies. With a video that angers people to respond—even if that response is a bit inappropriate—there is an opportunity for dialogue. I have responded to many of my accusers and have clarified my words. I’ve listened to their complaints and have attempted to speak to their experience. Have I changed the world? Hardly. At times, I was not as charitable as I would have liked to have been. But some connections were made. Some people began to see things a bit differently, to grow in understanding.

And ultimately, wasn’t that the point of the video in the first place?