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For U.S. Catholics, it’s time to stop the bleeding

15 Jun

The Catholic Church is bleeding.

It’s wounded from decades of abuse and neglect — sexual abuse, financial misconduct, cover-ups and the failure to adequately teach the faith, not to mention failure to live it. There’s enough blame to go around. Both lay people and the clergy have done their part to break trust with the faithful.

As a result, the Church is hemorrhaging. Badly. For decades, the in-joke among Protestants and Catholics has been that the second largest denomination in the United States is ex-Catholics. What was once a trickle is quickly developing into a massive flow.

Last year, a Georgetown study found that millennials leaving the Church stopped identifying as Catholics at a median age of 13, long before they ceased attending a parish.

A Pew study reports that more than half of adults who were raised Catholic have left the Church. “A significant minority of them returned, but most (four-in-ten of all those raised Catholic) have not.”

You get the picture.

Broken Trust

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and Archbishop Jose Gomez at a Nov. 12, 2017, presentation in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

As the U.S. Bishops meet this week in Baltimore for their General Assembly, they’ll discuss a host of issues. The abuse scandal is dominating the headlines, but the real underlying issue they should examine is broken trust. Catholics need to have confidence in their priests and bishops. Joe Catholic needs to know and see that Church leaders — priests, bishops and lay people — are living the faith they profess to believe.

Catholics are rightly outraged when news breaks that prelates like West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield are spending a thousand dollars a month on liquor. Having fresh $100 worth of fresh-cut flowers delivered to their offices daily. Dropping $350,000 in gifts to priests, bishops and cardinals across the country and at the Vatican. Not to mention Bransfield’s sexual harassment of priests and seminarians under his authority. I hardly need to mention the now-laicized former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

Bishop Michael Bransfield resigned last year, but an investigation showed accusations of homosexual harassment were credible and it detailed the bishop’s extravagant spending.

At the same time, the Associated Press reports that attorneys general across the country have gathered hordes of evidence on clergy sex abuse, seized through search warrants and subpoenas at dozens of archdioceses.

Hanging on by a Thread

Many have had enough. A Gallup poll in March showed that 37 percent of adult Catholics are considering leaving the faith. Who can blame them? It’s a terrible time to be Catholic. So why stick around when other denominations are more transparent and welcoming? But scandal has dogged other Christian (and non-Christian) churches as well. The Southern Baptist Convention — also meeting this week — is itself confronting the issue of sexual abuse.

A Time for Saints and Heroes

Other say this is a great time to be Catholic. Throughout its 2,000-year history, God has raised up saints to steer the Church right again during times of scandal, abuse and misconduct on the part of its leaders.

Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest who gave his life for a fellow prisoner at Auschwitz, on Aug. 14, 1941.

The response to the Protestant Reformation gave us great saints like Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, and Ignatius of Loyola. In our day, we have stalwarts like Pope St. John Paul II, Padre Pio, Mother Teresa, and Maximilian Kolbe. More saints are born out of troubled times than any other period in human history. Our day is no different.

The challenge for the bishops — and lay Catholics as well — is to rebuild trust. Jesus founded the Catholic Church, so we who believe that he is the Son of God need to amend our lives to conform to that belief. That’s the call of every baptized Christian.

Rocky Soil?

Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed is applicable here. A farmer scattered seed, and some fell on rocky ground while other seed fell on good, fertile soil. The seed that fell on rocky ground sprouted, but its roots failed to go deep. The plant withered and died. The seed that fell on good soil blossomed and produced a bountiful harvest. A faithful witness rebuilds trust and helps create that fertile soil for others to believe as we do.

The Catholic Church’s bleeding won’t stop any time soon. It will only begin to heal once our shepherds and other professed Catholics start living what they profess to believe.

Patrick Novecosky is a Florida-based media relations professional, founder of this blog and NovaMedia. This article originally appeared on June 15, 2019, at The Stream.

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Masculinity, heroism and the Gospel

28 Aug

(AUGUST 28, 2018) — There was a time not long ago when men were expected to be the provider, protector, and leader of their household—and of their culture, society, and nation. In our day, however, such “outdated thinking” is sometimes branded as “toxic masculinity.”

According to Wikipedia, “scholars have used the term toxic masculinity to refer to stereotypically masculine gender roles that restrict the kinds of emotions allowable for boys and men to express—including social expectations that men seek to be dominant (the ‘alpha male’) and limit their emotional range primarily to expressions of anger.”

In common parlance, however, men who exercise authentic masculinity are often branded as being infected with toxic masculinity. Certainly, the most toxic thing for anyone—man or woman—is sin.

Further, as rational, God-fearing men, we can all agree that “stereotypical gender roles” are just that—stereotypes. True, some men seek to be dominant, alpha-male types and have a limited range of emotion. The converse is also true. Some men have a wide emotional range and have no interest in dominating anyone.

However, the vast majority of boys and men (at least in my experience) fall somewhere in the middle. We have a normal range of emotion and seek to find our place in the culture, our families, and our communities.

But the bigger question is this: What do scripture and our faith tradition teach us about what it means to a man? First and foremost, men (and women, too, of course) are called to be saints. We’re called to be holy. This is the primary reason we exist. “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven,” the Baltimore Catechism teaches.

Noted Catholic therapist and author Peter Kleponis expands on that concept: “To live a happy, fulfilling and productive life, we need to know our primary purpose, our mission. For men, that mission is to be effective leaders, providers, and protectors. This is our nature.”

Catholic men, especially fathers, need to understand their nature and purpose, and then they need to model it for their children. We need to embrace our masculinity, not shun it. But I’m talking about authentic masculinity, not the toxic variety. A true man protects and defends his wife, children, his faith and all that is good and true.

Men of God who seek holiness must also be the faith leaders in their homes. Studies show that if men want their children to embrace the faith, they must model it for them. When I met my wife on AveMariaSingles.com in 2001 and started talking on the phone, one of the first things I asked her was if I could pray with her. Every time we got on the phone, I’d lead a prayer.

Now, nearly 18 years later, I lead our family in prayer every night. Then I pray with my wife before we go to sleep a few hours later. Prayer is the glue that connects us to God and to each other. My life is living proof of that.

Our faith calls men to stand in stark contrast to toxic masculinity. Men must be bold warriors for Christ. That can’t happen unless our lives are rooted in prayer. We must develop a habit of praying the rosary regularly. St. Padre Pio instructs that “the rosary is the weapon for these times.” There can be no heroism, no holy boldness without a committed prayer life. While rooted in prayer, we must also temper our strength with tenderness, just as St. Paul instructs:

“I urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1-3).

St. Augustine, whose feast day we are celebrating today, wisely counseled: “You aspire to great things? Begin with little ones.” In our day and age, there can be no better advice.

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is a seasoned Catholic speaker, journalist, and thought leader who founded NovaMedia this blog. This article was originally published by The Troops of St. George on Aug. 28, 2018.

The practical wisdom of St. Josemaría Escrivá

26 Jun

by Patrick Novecosky

(JUNE 26, 2018) — Men need tough role models—other men who are bold, fearless and champions of the good. We need these types of mentors because, left to our own devices, we become complacent, lazy and stagnant—whether we’re a young man, middle aged, or nearing the end of our life’s journey.

The Bible affirms this wisdom: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). The great Spanish saint, Josemaría Escrivá, had a knack for practical insights into the human heart—especially those of men and boys.

He drew inspiration from his father’s work as a merchant and partner in a textile company. When he was a young 26-year-old priest, he went on a prayerful retreat where he discerned more precisely God’s will for his life. He founded Opus Dei (Work of God), a way by which men and women might learn to sanctify themselves by their secular work.

“You must realize now,” he wrote, “more clearly than ever, that God is calling you to serve Him in and from the ordinary, secular, and civil activities of human life. He waits for us every day, in the laboratory, in the operating theatre, in the army barracks, in the university chair, in the factory, in the workshop, in the fields, in the home and in all the immense panorama of work.”

No matter your station in life—student, teacher, bus driver, scientist or politician—the Lord is calling us to serve Him where we are. Like the old saying goes, “Bloom where you’re planted.” Our call to holiness is the same. We can’t wait to begin a life in holiness until we’re older, richer or wiser because God needs us to shine right now—for ourselves and for those he surrounds us with.

Saint Josemaría Escrivá’s feast day is today. He looked at life and holiness in very simple terms, which make his advice incredibly practical for every man, woman and child.

“Either we learn to find the Lord in the ordinary everyday life or else we shall never find him,” he said, echoing the “bloom where you’re planted” adage.

Escrivá also taught about joy.

“Christian optimism is not a sugary optimism, nor is it a mere human confidence that everything will turn out all right,” he explained. “It is an optimism that sinks its roots into an awareness of our freedom, and the sure knowledge of the power of grace. It is an optimism that leads us to make demands on ourselves, to struggle to respond at every moment to God’s call.”

He rallied everyone around him to become a saint—to be holy, to strive for holiness, to model Christ. He encouraged people to embrace the sacraments and to love the Mass. He believed that sanctity is a decision aided by God’s abundant grace and mercy. Just like love is not so much a feeling, but a choice, so is holiness. It’s available to everyone, and there’s no better time to start living that life than now.

“Don’t wait until you are old to start becoming a saint,” he said. “Begin right now. Cheerfully and joyfully, by fulfilling the duties of your work and of your everyday life.”

I can think of no better way to step into summer than to make a firm decision to become a saint. Choose to pray always, attend Mass as often as you can, go to Confession regularly, and to love passionately and joyfully, and to want heaven for everyone.

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is the president of NovaMedia and editor of this blog. This article appears simultaneously in the blog section of The Troops of Saint George.

Dads: Model your lives after God the Father

12 Jun

by Patrick Novecosky

(June 12, 2018) — One of the key points I hit every time I give a talk is this—we’re at war. The battle raging all around us is a war of ideas, a war over the best way to run our country, the best way to raise our children, the best way to live our lives.

This war is bigger than left versus right, liberal versus conservative. The real war is a spiritual one. It’s a battle for souls that will rage until Jesus comes again in his glory. Men cannot be passive. We’re called to engage.

Father’s Day is a great time to take stock of the battle—and the role we’re called to play in this war for souls. At the end of it all, when we take our last breath, we’ll face Him—the Lord of Lords. If we’ve been faithful and selfless, living our lives for others, we can expect Jesus to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).

But Jesus will likely also ask us, “Who did you bring with you?”

It’s not time to shrug and say, “I dunno.”

Our job as members of the Church Militant, in a nutshell, is to get to Heaven and to take as many people with us as we can. If that’s firmly planted in your frontal lobe, chances are you’ll be counted among the saints in Heaven.

Fight the good fight

Three years ago, Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted challenged men to step up and be leaders in the culture war—and to be spiritual leaders in the home and society

“Men, do not hesitate to engage in the battle that is raging around you, the battle that is wounding our children and families, the battle that is distorting the dignity of both women and men,” he wrote in his apostolic exhortation entitled Into the Breach. “This battle is often hidden, but the battle is real. It is primarily spiritual, but it is progressively killing the remaining Christian ethos in our society and culture, and even in our own homes.”

The battle he describes is real. When men fail their families, children suffer. The Fatherhood Initiative reports that children with absent fathers are:

  • Four times more likely to live in poverty;
  • More likely to suffer emotional and behavioral problems;
  • More likely to commit a crime and go to prison;
  • Seven times more likely to become pregnant as a teen;
  • More prone to neglect, abuse and substance abuse;
  • Twice as likely to become obese; and
  • Twice as likely to drop out of school.

That’s just the physical side. The spiritual side is even worse. When men fail to lead spiritually, children suffer in a way that has eternal consequences.

A 2000 study found that when both fathers and mothers attended church regularly, about 41% of the children would go to church when they reach an adult stage. Amazingly, when the father attends church on an irregular basis, 60% of the children reaching adulthood will be irregular attendees or drop out altogether. When the father doesn’t ever attend church, only 2% of children that grow into adulthood will attend church with nearly none of them ever becoming Christian.

When this same equation is with the mother, the numbers are not nearly as drastic. The conclusion is that fathers have the greatest influence on their children’s lives and have the most impact on their becoming a Christian and attending church regularly as adults (Patheos.com, The Importance of Good Christian Fathers).

Modeling God the Father

Herein lies the challenge for us as fathers. Our call is to mirror God the Father, which begins by being a devoted son of the Father. No small task, but it must always be rooted in prayer. Our children will do what we do far sooner than they’ll do what we say. Our words matter, but our actions speak far louder. If we’re devoted to our faith—praying the rosary, going to Mass, leading the family in prayer—our children are much more likely to take the faith seriously.

We must love our wives. Never stop trying to win her heart… even if you already have. My father was madly in love with my mother to the day he died. I’m convinced his love for her only increased when he crossed the threshold of Heaven. When your sons witness your love for your wife, they’re more apt to do the same when they’re married. Your daughters will look for a husband who will love her like you love your wife.

We must love our children. Each one is a precious gift from God. Irreplaceable. Unique. Each has the potential to change the world. And they will. They need to feel loved, safe and valued. I always think of Viola Davis’ memorable line in The Help: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

Bishop Thomas Olmsted

On top of that, our children need to know they are loved eternally. God loves them, and their destination is heaven. If we get this right, the rest is gravy.

The world needs such men who model our Heavenly Father. The world is desperate for your witness. Bishop Olmsted said it best to his flock in Into the Breach:

Men, your presence and mission in the family is irreplaceable! … We need faith like that of our fathers who defended the children of previous generations and who gave up their own lives rather than abandon their faith in Christ. My sons and brothers, men of the Diocese of Phoenix, we need you to step into the breach!

St. Joseph, patron of fathers, patron of families, patron of the Universal Church, pray for us!

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is the president of NovaMedia and editor of this blog. This article appears simultaneously in the blog section of The Troops of Saint George.

Finding a way through loss

10 Jun

My parents at their 50th anniversary in 2015

by Patrick Novecosky

When my parents married in 1965, they had two significant goals: to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary together and to raise a large family. They succeeded on both counts – nine children and 16 grandchildren. Then in October 2015, they celebrated a half century of wedded bliss with a church service and a gathering of friends and family.

A couple months later, my dad woke up with a backache. He thought it was nothing, but it didn’t go away. He had it checked out after a few weeks. Doctors suspected cancer, which was confirmed in the spring. He died in July 2016.

Their 50th anniversary in October 2015 was a memorable event

When I was growing up, I rarely pondered what life would be like without my parents. Although my father passed away, my mother is still spry at 71 years old. But I realize that the day will come when I’ll dial the phone number I’ve known all my life and she won’t be there to answer. That thought doesn’t frighten me. It makes me appreciate the half century of life I’ve had with them.

One thing is certain: life is a journey, not a destination. And it’s the bumps along the road of life and the people we meet along the way that make it worth living. Happily for me, my parents set the template for how to travel that road. They loved passionately and they lived passionately. They set priorities of faith, family and work – without missing the opportunity to celebrate successes and victories big and small.

Mark Twain famously wrote that “20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

My parents with their nine children

That’s the philosophy I’ve tried to live by. Early in life, my father encouraged me with similar advice. He wanted me to do what I love and love what I do for a career. Dad also taught me that turning down opportunities to gain wisdom and experience comes at a cost, and that cost is regret. I’ve been blessed to visit 26 countries. Only 170 more to go! And if I get the chance to visit number 27, I’ll go. Each stop along the way has taught me something and enriched my life experience.

Dealing with Dad’s cancer and death was hard on the entire family, but he raised me to be a man of faith – and he modeled it for me and my siblings. He had wonderful hospice care at home – a visiting nurse who gave extraordinary care to him and advice to my mother. But there came a point where Mom was no longer able to take of his daily needs.

During Dad’s last few weeks of life spent in the hospital, he never lost his sense of humor. When a nurse came to his room announcing, ™Time to take your vitals,” he quipped right back: “Well, you might as well take them. Nobody else wants them!” Mark Twain would have been proud.

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is the editor of this blog and the president of NovaMedia. This article appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Good Grief, a publication of Partners in Care Alliance.

Pope Benedict XVI@90

16 Apr

The Pope Emeritus continues to leave a remarkable legacy

By Patrick Novecosky

When Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI turns 90 years old today, it will likely be with little public fanfare — after all, it’s Easter Sunday! But for those of us who appreciate his legacy and massive contributions to the Body of Christ, we will mark the day with joy — and a toast to the man who now likes to be called “Father Benedict.”

President Bush and first lady Laura Bush lead the celebration of Pope Benedict XVI’s 81st birthday as he’s presented a cake by White House pastry chef Bill Yosses on April 16, 2008, at the White House in Washington.

The retired pope, who rarely makes public appearances, may participate in the Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, my sources tell me. No public celebrations are planned, but you can be sure that his inner circle of friends will shower him with well-wishes.

I was among the hundreds of media surrounding Benedict’s visit to Washington and New York nine years ago. I was at Andrews Air Force Base when the Holy Father set foot on U.S. soil for the first time as pope. Many Legatus members were on the White House lawn for the remarkable celebration of his 81st birthday. Who can forget the massive cake that President Bush had prepared for him?

Benedict’s birthday this year will mark yet another milestone. He will become only the second pope to live into his nineties. Pope Leo XIII, elected in 1878, lived to the ripe old age of 93 years, 140 days. He reigned on the Chair of Peter for 25 years, 150 days.

Legacy and impact

Although Benedict has been mostly silent since his resignation four years ago, his legacy and impact on the Church are still felt — and will no doubt be felt for many decades to follow. Markedly different in style and personality from his successor, Benedict’s depth and intellect were evident in his teaching.

CruxNow.com reports that due to age and limited vision, Benedict no longer writes, but with the consent of his successor, last year three lengthy interviews were published.

Pope Benedict XVI and President George W. Bush cross the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base on April 15, 2008, on the Holy Father’s first visit to the United States (Patrick Novecosky photo)

One was a 2015 conversation with Jesuit theologian Jacques Servais, on the doctrine of justification and faith. Then there was the interview with his Italian biographer, Elio Gueriero, published in the book Servant of God and Humanity: The Biography of Benedict XVI, prefaced by Pope Francis.

Last but not least, there was the book-length interview, Last Testament: In His Own Words, with German journalist Peter Seewald, with whom the pontiff had already done two similar projects. The book represented the first time in history that a pope described his own pontificate after it ended.

Listing Benedict’s contributions to the Church likewise would need book-length treatment. Instead, here are 10 pithy and potent quotes from the remarkable heart and mind of Joseph Ratzinger (hat tip to my friend Elizabeth Scalia at Aleteia.com):

1. “Evil draws its power from indecision and concern for what other people think.” 1st Station, Meditations for Stations of the Cross, Good Friday, 2005

2. “Holiness does not consist in never having erred or sinned. Holiness increases the capacity for conversion, for repentance, for willingness to start again and, especially, for reconciliation and forgiveness.” Audience, 31 January 2007

3. “Freedom of conscience is the core of all freedom.” Church, Ecumenism and Politics (2008)

4. “One who has hope lives differently.” Spe Salvi, 2 (2007)

5. “Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave.” Deus Caritas Est, 18 (2005)

6. “God’s love for his people is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice.” Deus Caritas Est, 10 (2005)

7. “The ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life but for great things, for goodness.” Speaking to German pilgrims, 25 April 2005

8. “It is true: God disturbs our comfortable day-today existence. Jesus’ kingship goes hand in hand with his passion.” Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (2012)

9. “The proper request of love is that our entire life should be oriented to the imitation of the Beloved. Let us therefore spare no effort to leave a transparent trace of God’s love in our life.” The Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine (2008)

10. “Violence does not build up the kingdom of God, the kingdom of humanity. On the contrary, it is a favorite instrument of the Antichrist, however idealistic its religious motivation may be. It serves not humanity, but inhumanity.” Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (2011)

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is the editor of this blog. This article appeared in the April issue of Legatus magazine.

The Case for Christ is a compelling love story

10 Apr

Starring Mike Vogel, Erika Christensen, Faye Dunaway
Run time: 112 minutes
Rated: PG
In theaters April 7

After reading Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Christ a few years ago, I attempted to contact him by email. In his book, the former investigative journalist recounts his journey from atheism to Christianity. He set out to prove that Jesus was a hoax and the resurrection never happened.

In my email, I challenged Strobel to write a sequel: The Case for Catholicism. I asked him to apply the same passion and take the same approach — turning over every rock, probing every historical crevice to prove that the Catholic Church is not the church founded by Jesus Christ. I’m not sure if my email got through. I didn’t receive a response.

Mike Vogel stars as Lee Strobel in The Case for Christ

Strobel’s best-selling book is now a full-length motion picture — a very important one at that. The film — produced by Pure Flix, the studio behind God’s Not Dead (and its sequel) and Woodlawn — cracked the Top 10 last weekend. It should be a massive hit, entering the box office race right before Easter.

The story is compelling, well-acted and better written than most Christian (or even mainstream) films these days. In the movie, Strobel (Mike Vogel, The Help, Cloverfield) is frustrated that his wife Leslie (Erika Christensen, Parenthood, Flightplan) finds Christ and gets baptized. He sees Jesus as his rival and sets out to prove that Christianity is a sham. In the process, Strobel uncovers massive amounts of evidence, but none of it backs up his own worldview. He discovers that it takes more faith to disbelieve in Jesus than to embrace the historic truths that back up everything about the Lord, his death and resurrection.

“In the end, The Case for Christ is a love story.” ~Patrick Novecosky.

In the end, The Case for Christ is a love story — Strobel’s love for his wife, his wife’s love for him and Jesus, and, ultimately, Jesus’ love for each and every one of us. In our age of rapid secularization and indifference to facts and the truth, The Case for Christ is one of the most important films of the past decade. Strobel’s book is powerful and compelling. The film version captures it perfectly. Let’s just pray he takes up my challenge. It would be a riveting sequel!

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is the editor of this blog. His review appeared in the April issue of Legatus magazine.