Catholic Trends/Summer ’17


         Pope Francis v. the Alt-right. The struggle between progressives and conservatives under the Francis pontificate took a dramatic turn when the New York Times linked alt-right standard bearer, Steve Bannon (former Breitbart News editor, current advisor to President Trump, and self-identified but non-practicing Catholic) to the Vatican. According to the Times, Bannon and archconservative Cardinal Raymond Burke had a “meeting of the hearts” back in 2014 over the belief that Islam poses an existential threat to the secularized West. And it makes the case that Bannon and the alt-right are in league with Burke and Vatican hard-liners looking to undermine Pope Francis.

This fight over the direction of the Vatican is not something new. As

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne points out, this struggle is a continuation between progressives and conservatives: (the NYT’s story) “…brought into relief the struggles inside the church—and particularly within American Catholicism—over the pope’s stewardship, his emphasis on battling poverty, his insistence on the importance of welcoming immigrants and refugees, his relative openness to modernity” (WP, 8-2-17).

Adding to this tension is the linkage the alt-right is making with conservative pro-family groups. The latter, who are explicitly pro-life (at least in terms of abortion), anti-LGBT rights, and pro-“natural” family agenda are making common cause with far-right political groups. In the 2016 Presidential election, 60% of regular Mass attendees voted for candidate Donald J. Trump.

So, Bannon’s outreach to the Vatican may be part of a long-term strategy to link conservative Catholicism with right wing populism, which may seem conspiratorial, but Pope Francis certainly takes the linkage seriously. In a recent interview with an (unofficial) Vatican publication, Francis explicitly called out Bannon and the alt-right as being resistant to Gospel values via planting the seeds of division, eroding our sense of solidarity with all the faithful, and ignoring the preferential option for the poor.


U.S. Catholics’ View of Muslims. CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) polled adult Catholics (Bridge Initiative, 9-12-15) few U.S. Catholics have a favorable view of Muslims (only 14%), while 30% have very unfavorable. 45% are neutral. One contributing reason to this state of affairs is that Catholics are less likely than the general population to know a Muslim personally. Not surprisingly, when one does know a Muslim personally, the person’s views about Islam changes for the better.

Ignorance is not bliss, but can be harmful. Nearly half of Catholics can’t name any similarities between Catholicism and Islam despite the fact that the latter is monotheistic, believes that Scripture is revelatory, recognizes Jesus as the Son of God who will preside at the Last Judgment, has a sense of social justice, and recognizes the witness of the Old and New Testament prophets. The majority of Catholics incorrectly believe that Muslims worship the Prophet Muhammad.


Priest shortage and Catholic parishes. In 1990 there were 34,114 active diocesan priests serving 19,131 parishes serving a population of 57.4 million Catholics. With the declining number of priests and demographic shifts, especially in the Midwest and East, there are today less diocesan priests, 25,760, (decline of c. 9,000), serving fewer parishes 17,233

(less 1,900), with a burgeoning population of 67.7 million Catholics. Today, there are 3,400 parishes without a resident priest.


         Top Dioceses by Total Ordinations (over 3 years).   There were 20 dioceses who ordain at least 15 priests from 2013-2015. Numero uno was Chicago, IL with 40 ordinands with a Catholic pop. of 2.2 million.

Lincoln, NB, Lafayette, LA, and Trenton, NJ were at the bottom rung. Sacramento, CA was about in the middle (11) with 18 ordinands for a pop. of 1 million.


Children Raised by Catholic Parents More Likely to Stay Catholic. When I preside at baptisms, I remind the assembly that the best, sure-fire way to predict whether the child will practice her/his faith as an adolescent and adult is whether the parents are enthusiastically active in living their Catholic faith. A report of the Pew Research Center (2014) bears this out: most people raised exclusively by Catholic parents (62%) continue to identify as Catholics in adulthood. But those raised by one Catholic parent and one non-Catholic parent have less than a 50% chance.

Americans are most likely to be religiously unaffiliated if they are raised exclusively by parents who are unaffiliated themselves.


And They’re Not Coming Back. One often hears that when a young person drifts away from their Catholic faith that they will return when they have children of their own and want them to be baptized, to receive 1st Communion, and be confirmed. Not so, according to CARA and St. Mary’s Press study (2015). When asked Is there anything that would make you consider returning to the Catholic faith in the future (?), only 13% said yes and 87% said no.

Among those who leave there were some commonalities. Many lacked any forma religious education. They simply did not know their faith. 76% had no Catholic schooling at any level and 58% had no parish religious instruction.

They were weakly tethered to the church. 63% received 1st Communion, but only 33% were confirmed. 54% attended Mass rarely or never (28%), or a few times/year (26%).

When they stopped self-identifying as Catholic: under age 10 (23%), age 10-12 (24%), age 13-17 (39%), age 18-20 (11%), and 21-25 (3%).

In sum, if one is loosely affiliated with their parish and are poorly catechized as children and adolescents, the chances of being a self-identified and practicing adult Catholic are remote.

Contributing to this sobering state of affairs, is that compared to past generations, parents, many of whom are under-catechized and irregularly practice their faith (only 25% of American Catholics regularly attend Mass), seem more likely to allow their children to make their own choices about whether to continue as Catholics. Some do so as early as receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation.


Five Trends Affecting Parish Life.   The study of the Catholic Parishes of the 21st Century (2017), found the following trends:

  1. Declining vocations to ordained and non-ordained religious life.
  2. Catholics migration from the inner city to the suburbs and from the North and Midwest to the South and West.
  3. Growth in the U.S. Catholic population fueled by immigration. 25% of U.S. Catholics are foreign-born, especially Spanish-speaking. As many as 25% of parishes celebrate weekend Mass in more than one language.
  4. The continuing impact of Vatican II. The “priesthood of the laity” and “lay ecclesial minister” is now an important and accepted component of parish life.
  5. Declining participation in the sacraments. Cover your eyes! Today, only 25% of adult Catholics attend Mass weekly. While the Catholic population has grown by 30% since 1985, Catholic marriages are down 57% and infant baptisms have decreased by 27%.


While the latter are sobering stats., we don’t want to lose sight of the centrality of the Eucharist to parish life, the efforts of dedicated clergy and lay people to serve God while serving their parishioners and secular culture, and the humble recognition that the Church does have a human dimension in which we make mistakes, but remain faithful and committed nevertheless. As long as the Lord builds the house (cf. Ps 127) we have many reasons to be optimistic about the future of U.S. Catholicism.


Climate Change Concerns Catholics More than other Christians. In the aftermath of Pope Francis’ beautiful and challenging encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, U.S. Catholics are more likely to be concerned about climate change than other Christians (according to a CARA survey, May 16-26, 2016). Overall, 63% of U.S. adults agree that temperatures on Earth are getting warmer in response to higher concentrations of heat trapping greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide and methane. 65% of Catholics agree this statement and 68% believe that it is a result of human activity. In contrast, 46% of Evangelical Christians and 59% of mainstream Protestants agree. Moreover, Catholics are also more likely than other U.S. adults to believe they have a moral responsibility to do what they can to combat climate change.


Americans look for good sermons and a warm welcome. According to the Pew Research Center (8-23-16), “About half of U.S. adults have looked for a new religious congregation at some point in their lives, most commonly because they have moved.” When they do so, the overwhelming majority say the quality of preaching played a major role in their decision. They also want to feel welcome—that somehow their presence is appreciated by the gathered assembly.


They Like Us! According to another Pew Research survey (January 9-23, 2017) 66% of Americans have a favorable feeling towards Catholics. The most highly regarded are Jews at 67%.






So-called “5 non-negotiable actions”

            I just finished reading your Summer edition of ‘Catholic Trends’.  I am diametrically opposed to much of it.  According to the Voters Guide for Serious Catholics, which is published by Catholic Answers Action (copy attached), there are five non-negotiable actions which are intrinsically evil and therefore against moral law.  They are abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning and homosexual marriage.  The guide states further, “It is a serious sin to deliberately endorse or promote any of these actions…”


Dewey Lee

Thank you for your response. I am familiar with the group you mentioned as I did read their pamphlet they distributed for the 2004 election.

I would argue that while we need to priortize our Faith because not every teaching has equal status, this approach strikes me as being arbitrary and I found myself asking, “Why these five?” Some would say that they condemn intrinsic moral evils, whereas capital punishment is not an intrinsic evil. This is compelling, but there is an argument that says that because something is an intrinsically moral evil does not make it more wrong than something that involves consequences. ‘Intrinsic evil’ is used by Catholic Answers Action selectively. The Catholic Church teaches that torture is an intrinsically moral evil as is the use of nuclear weapons, but these did not make the list.

So, a list like these begins to look suspiciously arbitrarily orientated towards an ideological lens that’s already decided what teachings we’re going to pay attention to and which ones were not. I discussed this syndrome in an earlier Catholic Trends, when I talked about ideological Catholics, who “speak the Catholic lingo with passion and some degree of knowledge and awareness.   But, their prior (political) ideological convictions determine how they appeal to their Catholic faith. They come to their Catholic faith with an ideological agenda, then they pick and choose elements of their Catholic Tradition that support their political agenda while conveniently putting on blinders to those Catholic elements that don’t support their agenda.”

So, these artificial structures don’t work. It’s too easy to say (1) abortion is wrong, (2) candidate Jones is pro-choice, (3) therefore, I can’t and won’t vote for candidate Jones. This argument is too facile and doesn’t demand much critical thinking. So, what’s the alternative?  We need to go our touchstone core beliefs that we always have to adhere. In a previous issue of Catholic Trends, I identified them as (1) the right to life at all stages of human existence, (2) concern for the Common Good, (3) prohibition against euthanasia, and (4) concern for the environment in which Creation has rights (cf. Pope Francis encyclical Laudato Si).

            The five non-negotiables are too neatly packaged. I would argue that there’s a difficult and protracted discernment that’s going to take place to these four fundamental principles and bring them to bear on very complex situations.

Some would prioritize on the degree of Catholic Church teaching. Some would say that abortion is a dogmatic teaching while capital punishment is an authoritative teaching. While abortion has never been proclaimed dogmatically, it has from the Early Church consistently been taught universally by the Church. So, let’s accept that it is for all practical purposes a dogmatic teaching. When we’re bringing our faith to bear in the public arena, such as the voting booth, a dogmatic prioritization in the public arena is frankly insufficient. Why? A teaching may have greater dogmatic status, but our ability to implement it in the public arena in a particular context may be limited.

So, as a Catholic, I not only want to hold dear a certain teaching but ask myself is this political candidate or incumbent going to be able to implement this teaching in this particular context. I could say that it grieves me that this politician holds such a view, especially if he or she is a Catholic, but I don’t think he has much to do with this issue. So, I’m going to focus on those elements of Church teaching that they’ll have a real impact on. So, we want to avoid the simplistic, artificial prioritization that doesn’t pay attention to the principles of Church teaching to this particular circumstances.

Which leads us to prudential judgments.

            The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in the 1980s distinguished matters of moral principle from matters of practical implementation. In their reflection on War and Peace and a pastoral reflection on the economy, they made a distinction in their role as teacher:

We teach with authority when we pronounce on basic principles of morality. We also make informed judgments on particular policy initiatives.” But, they recognize that there is a difference between binding moral doctrine and prudential judgments about policy. For example, the bishops would argue that based on gospel-based principles that we have an obligation to minister to the needs of the poor (cf. ‘preferential option for the poor’). They make a prudential judgment on how to best do that, while recognizing that Catholics in good faith could disagree.

We’re very inconsistent in recognizing this principle. Folks like Catholic Action Answers tend to conflate the two. But, it is a hallmark of Catholic teaching that we do make such a distinction. But, we sometimes fail to make it when it comes to the abortion issue. We must make a distinction between every Catholic’s obligation to oppose abortion and the prudential judgment that we make and the pastoral reflection that our bishops offer us about which policy path is most likely to get us to that objective.

We need to take seriously our Catholic moral principles and the prudential judgments that our bishops make because they do a very thoughtful analysis. But Catholic teaching is clear: the application of moral teaching is the realm of prudence. While we believe the Magisterium is assisted by the Holy Spirit in the articulation of doctrine, one would say that there is no special assistance by the Holy Spirit in the realm of prudence. Anyone who knows Church history recognizes that while no pope has ever taught heresy (while some bishops have !), many were imprudent (cf. many of the Renaissance popes).

In the Vatican II documents Gaudium et Spes the conciliar fathers said that “the Church has this precious revelation, which has come to us through Jesus Christ witnessed in Scripture and Tradition. ….We believe that divine Revelation brings a Wisdom that we bring to the world.” But, the Fathers added that the Church does not have a ready answer for every concrete problem that’s out there. So, that’s the recognition that we have the Wisdom, but the application is complicated.

So, the Catholic Church is not a ready-make political answer machine. “Let the layman not imagine that his pastors are always…experts, that to every problem that arises, however, complicated, they can readily give him a concrete solution, or even that such is her mission. Rather, enlightened by Christian wisdom and giving close attention to the teaching authority of the Church, let the layman take on his own distinctive role” (G&S, #43). The Magisterium and the clergy are to guide the laity, to articulate the doctrine, the Catholic moral vision that should inform us, invite us into the life of the Church, that school of discipleship. But, the laity are called to take the INITIATIVE of applying it. Vatican II was calling Catholics to an adult faith but when you do that, things get messy.

(If this sort of reflection interests you, I encourage you to read Richard Gaillardetz, Teaching with Authority: A Theology of the Magisterium in the Church).

Does Pope Francis every get discouraged? Has he ever had a crisis of faith? These were some of the Qs posed to our Holy Father at his visit to Villa Nazareth (cf. L’Osservatore Romano; 15 July 2016).

            “You have asked such a personal questions. (Re. the first), “we must have courage to move forward and not being ashamed of being a Christian, of being seen as a Christian, and the patience to bear on one’s shoulders the burden of each day, even the pain, even one’s sins, one’s inconsistencies.

(Now) “Have I ever found myself in a crisis of faith?” Many times I have found myself in a crisis of faith and sometimes I have even had the nerve to reproach Jesus: “But why do You allow this?, and even to doubt: “But is this the truth or is it a dream?” …A Christian who has not felt this, at times, whose faith has not faced a crisis, is missing something: he is a Christian who is content with a little mundanity and in this way moves on in life. …I’ve been told that in Chinese the term for ‘crisis’ is made with two ideograms: one is the ideogram for risk and the other is the ideogram for opportunity.

…A Christian …should not be afraid to face a crisis: it is a sign that he is moving forward, that he is not anchored to the shore of a river or the sea, that he has set sail and is moving forward. And there are problems, crises, inconsistencies, and the crisis of one’s own sin, which make us so ashamed. How do one avoid growing weary? It is a grace. Ask it of the Lord: “Lord, let me not grow weary. Give me the grace of patience, to move forward, to wait for peace to come.” I don’t know: this is my response (to your questions).

The Name of God is Mercy by Pope Francis (Random House, 176 pages, $26). While this is a wonderfully rich book by our Holy Father, but am I the only one to think that the title is a bit odd? While mercy is an attribute of God, it’s not God’s name! At the Burning Bush, Moses asked explicitly, “What is your name?” God did not answer ‘Mercy.’ Instead, God answered, “I AM WHO AM,” and further, “Tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you” (Ex 3:14). Given that God chose to reveal his name to a mere mortal, it seems that no other mere mortal, even if he is a very saintly Pope, is free to contradict God or imply that God’s self-identification was inadequate.

In one of the shortest of the book’s nine chapters, the Pope draws a useful distinction between sin and corruption. He defines corruption as smug self-satisfaction, losing awareness of one’s true inner nature: “The corrupt man is the one who sins but does not repent, who sins and pretends to be a Christian, and it is this double life that is scandalous.”

Deacon Jim McFadden








Catholic Identity & Political Conviction


How does Catholic identity inform political conviction? Since the Catholic vote could very well swing the upcoming national election, this is a good question. Without belaboring the obvious, not everyone who claims to be a Catholic has thoroughly embraced the Catholic faith. So, what shape does Catholic identity take?

  1. Nominal Catholics. The Catholic tradition plays a minimal role in how they form their judgment. Their beliefs are formed more by cultural factors than their religious tradition. If you asked them how they came to their political conviction with reference to Faith, they would have nothing to say.
  2. Ideological Catholics. This group is very vexing. They speak the Catholic lingo with passion and some degree of knowledge and awareness. But, their prior (political) ideological convictions determine how they appeal to their Catholic faith. They came to their Catholic faith with an ideological agenda, then they pick and choose elements of their Catholic Tradition that support their political agenda while conveniently putting on blinders to those Catholic elements that don’t support their agenda.

These “cafeteria Catholics” domesticate the Catholic faith. They tame it to fit the rules of their political household. They basically say, “I’m going to take my Catholic faith and shape it and mold it to fit my political agenda.” Ideological Catholics are found in all ends of the political spectrum—conservative to liberal—and probably includes most of us to some degree. Mea culpa!

  1. Conscientious Catholics. A goal to which we should aspire; namely, to embrace Catholic social teaching as a whole and work to have their Catholic faith shape their political attitudes and behaviors. Our faith shapes our political conventions, not visa versa. When the USCCB put out their document on Faithful Citizenship on Catholics and political elections, they’re after this third group.

Regarding the last one, our bishops said our moral precepts and judgments should be shaped by our Catholic faith and should take precedence over our attachment to a particular party. Ideally, our participation should transform the party to which we belong. We should not let party affiliation trump or transform our fundamental moral precepts. We want to avoid the temptation of what the great Protestant theologian Reinhold Neibuhr said, “to make our God the great Sanctifier of what we prefer to do anyway.”


A ‘Moral Revolution’ Against Nukes. Beatrice Fihn (Ex. Dir. Of the Int’l Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, based in Geneva) wrote a piece in the recent issue of Sojourners (August, 2016) in which she says that “It’s impossible to eliminate nuclear weapons and “upgrade” them at the same time.” She makes a very compelling case. The following is a condensed version of her reflection.

“ The International community has agreed that nuclear weapons should be eliminated…

“President Obama is the first sitting U.S. president to visit Heroshima, Japan, the site of the first nuclear weapon used in war, and his speech there in May was beautifully crafted….However, his words haven’t matched his actions as president.

“Not only have the U.S. and other nuclear-armed states failed to fulfill their commitments to nuclear disarmament, but each is currently pursuing enormously expensive upgrades and modernization programs. These countries are developing new, more-modern nuclear weapons and delivery systems, extending the planned possession of nuclear weapons for decades to come.

“ Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, more than 15,000 nuclear weapons still exist. Nine nations still possess them: the U.S. and Russia have 93% of the world’s nuclear weapons…

“By allowing such a large number of nuclear weapons to remain, the risk of an accident increases. Nearly 1,800 nuclear warheads are kept on high alert, ready to launch within minutes. New research paints a worrying picture of near misses, security breaches, and other events that could cause a catastrophe. Some say that the risk of a nuclear detonation is higher today than at the end of the Cold War.

In Hiroshima, Obama called for a “moral revolution” in order to reach a world free of nuclear weapons. But such a moral revolution will not be led by those who possess these weapons of mass destruction. Instead, the world is witnessing a surge in leadership from around the globe. A new focus on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons has emerged that looks at these weapons for what they are: indiscriminate, inhumane, and unacceptable.

“ Eliminating nuclear weapons is a task for people all over the world, not just a few selected states. We all have a duty, and a right, to work together towards this goal. The push for a treaty banning nuclear weapons is motivated by a fervent desire to ensure that no one else ever suffers, as the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did from these despicable weapons”


Why Catholics should be proud. Several years ago while attending the Religious Education Congress (REC) at Anaheim, I was dining at a crowded restaurant when a man belted out to his table companions, “I love being Catholic!” How great to feel and say that!

Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, president of DePaul University, reflected last year for America magazine (November 12, 2015) on many reasons why Catholics should be proud of the many services that U.S. Catholic institutions provide for the benefit of all.

  • 1/6 of Americans get their health care from a Catholic institution.
  • More than 1/5 of Americans living n poverty are served by Catholic charities.
  • Catholic schools are the largest provider of private K-12 education, enrolling nearly 1M students. In addition, the national Catholic school graduation rate is 99.4% of high school students. 84.9% of thee graduates of Catholic schools go on to college, compared with 39.5% of public school graduates.
  • The Catholic Church is the largest re-settler of refugees in the country.
  • U.S.-based Catholic Relief Services serves nearly 100M people in need in 93 countries.
  • The Society of St. Vincent de Paul serves over 14M people in need in the U.S. each year.


Most Americans agree with Pope Francis on Controversial issues. A KofC-Marist poll conducted shortly after Pope Francis’ visit to the United States found that the vast majority of Americans agree with him on a host of issues, including controversial ones. The majority of those surveyed agree with Pope Francis that:

  • We should support religious freedom—85% agree.
  • We should be more respectful of the earth and the environment—84% agree.
  • We should support life at every stage of development, including for the unborn—62% agree.
  • We should allow people to opt out of taking actions that go against their religious beliefs—57% agree.
  • We should view marriage as between one man and one woman—55% agree.
  • However, less than half (46%) agree with the pope on opposition to the death penalty.


            The ‘Francis Effect’ on attitudes towards climate change. A report from George Mason University compares national survey results before and after the publication on June 18, 2015 of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si (subtitled On Care for our Common Home) and presents these key findings:

Americans are more concerned about global warming.

  • More agree that global warming is happening—Americans overall from 62% in March to 66% in October; American Catholics from 64% in March to 74% in October.
  • More worried about global warming—Americans from 51% in March to 59% in October; American Catholics from 53% to 64%.
  • More say that the issue of global warming has become very or extremely important to them personally—Americans from 19% to 26%; American Catholics from 15% to 23%.


Parishes without resident priests. The 2015 edition of The Official Catholic Director indicates that there is a significant shortfall between the number of active diocesan priests and the number of parishes in the U.S. Currently, there are 3,448 U.S. parishes without a resident pastor. Most, 89%, are administered by non-resident pastors. 4% of parishes without a resident pastor are entrusted to a deacon, 3% to lay men or women, and 2% to a religious sister.

The dioceses that are impacted most by this shortfall are in the Midwest. The Diocese of Green Bay, WI has 81 parishes without a resident pastor. La Cross (WI) has 55 without, and Superior (WI) has 69. Outside the Cheese state, Dubuque, IA leads the parish pack with 97 parishes without a resident pastor, followed by Sioux City (IA) with 63.

St. Cloud (MN) has 71, Richmond (VA) 40, Rapid City (SD) 56, Springfield (IL) 73, and Winona (MN) 64.

One way the Catholic Church in America has adjusted to this priest shortfall is to consolidate parishes. The number of parishes peaked at 19,705 in 1989. Since that time the Church in the U.S. has reduced its total number of parishes by 2,381 nationally, a decline of 12% even though the total Catholic population has increased substantially during that time.


Reasons for leaving the Catholic priesthood. One reason for the priest shortage is the number of men who left the priesthood during the ‘70s and ‘80s. Twenty-five years prior to Vatican II it was a rarity for someone to leave the priesthood. The annual rate among diocesan priests did not reach one in thousand, according to priest-sociologist Joseph Fichter (SJ). But after Vatican II, priestly resignations skyrocketed over 40-fold to 4% a year. This phenomenon finally stabilized as the number of resignations have down by almost 50% since 1990.

Why they left. The majority left because of their desire to marry (59%). Other reasons include disagreement with Catholic moral teaching (36%), think more in a Protestant manner (29%), disappointment after Vatican II (20%), poor treatment (12%), burned out (5%), and other (10%).


Who are the atheists? The increasing number of people falling into the ‘none/other’ category re. religious affiliation raises the questions about their make-up. The Barna Group, which specializes in studies of evangelical or born-again Christians combines atheists and agnostics into one group, which they call ‘skeptics.’ Skeptics represent 25% all un-churched adults. Nearly 33% of skeptics have never attended a Christian church service in their lives. Their findings show the following demographic trends among them:

  • They are younger. Some 34% are under 30; in contrast, the proportion who are 65 or older is 7%.
  • They’re more educated. 50% of skeptics have a college degree.
  • More are women. In 1993, only 16% of skeptics were women, but 2013 that figure had nearly tripled to 43%.
  • They’re more racially diverse. While 74% are white, 26% come from varied ethnic backgrounds.
  • They’re more dispersed regionally. In decades past, they tended to be concentrated in the Northeast and West. They are now broadly dispersed across all nations.

(cf. “2015 State of Atheism in America,” March 24, 2015, which appeared in The Barna Organization (


Pope Francis on witness and taking a risk. Since the beginning of our Holy Father’s pontificate, I think I’ve read nearly anything he has published: Sunday homilies, Wednesday General Audiences, encyclicals, Apostolic Exhortations, reflections to special groups, etc. But, my favorite ones are his daily Mass homilies given at Domus Sanctae Marthae and his off-the-cuff interviews given on the papal airplane or other venues. These interviews are fascinating because he really speaks what is on his mind in a coherent and compassionate matter. His remarks drive some to distraction, but they are always worthwhile to plug into because they reveal what the Holy Father is thinking in an unedited fashion. Recently, the Pontiff met in the faculty chapel of Villa Nazareth with 70 students in which he talked about ‘witness, martyrdom, poverty, work, family, economy, and refugees (cf. L’Osservatore Romano; 15 July 2016).

Here’s what Francis said about giving witness.

            Question: “Holy Father, we young people need credible witnesses. Sometimes we are at a standstill in life, prey to the illusion of success and to the worship of our own ego, and unable to give of ourselves. How can we reawaken the greatness and the courage of comprehensive choices, of the impulses of the heart in order to face …challenges?”

            FRANCIS: Thank you. A key phrase is: “We young people need credible witnesses”. And this is precisely the logic of the Gospel: to bear witness. With our lives, the way we live, the choices made…But witnesses to what? …We Christians witness to Jesus Christ who lives, who has accompanied us: …in pain; he died for us, but he lives. …The witness that young people seek: it is the witness of the “slap”. The slap is a beautiful daily witness! The one that wakes you up and says to you: “Look, don’t delude yourself with ideas, with promises (such as) the illusion of success, (which is) the worship of one’s ego.

(Secular culture encourages us to) look at ourselves, one’s ego. That’s what the narcissism of today’s culture offers us. And when we have not witnesses, perhaps life goes on fine for us, we earn well, we have a profession, a nice workplace, a family…but you used a very powerful phrase: “We are men and women at a standstill in life.”   In other words, people who do not walk, who do not move. Like conformists: everything is a habit, …(which) leaves us calm, we have what is necessary, we lack nothing, thanks be to God….How do we reawaken the greatness and the courage of comprehensive choices, of the impulses of the heart in order to face “academic and emotional challenges?” The phrase I use very often is: take a risk! Take a risk. Whoever does not risk does not walk. But what if I make a mistake?

Blessed be the Lord! You will make more mistakes if you remain still, stagnant: that is the mistake, a bad mistake, closure. Take risks. Risks for noble ideals, risks that soil your hands as the Good Samaritan did. When we are more or less calm in life, there is always the temptation of paralysis, to avoid taking risks: to be calm and quiet….”How can we reawaken the greatness and the courage of comprehensive choices,” you asked, “the impulses of he heart in order to face academic and emotional challenges”?

Approach the problems, go out of yourself and take risks, take risks. Otherwise your life will slowly become a paralyzed life; happy, content, with the family, but at a standstill there…It is very sad to see a life at a standstill: it is very sad to see people who seem more like mummies than living beings. Take a risk! Take a risk. And if you make a mistake, bless the Lord. Take a risk. Move forward! I don’t’ know, this is what came to mind to say to you.

Compiled by Deacon Jim McFadden