South Bend, Ind., Oct 21, 2016 / 03:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholics should look to Mary to be part of a religion that fights for truth, rather than assimilating to the popular culture, said Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.  

“If we want to reclaim who we are as a Church, if we want to renew the Catholic imagination, we need to begin, in ourselves and in our local parishes, by unplugging our hearts from the assumptions of a culture that still seems familiar but is no longer really ‘ours,’” Archbishop Chaput said.

“This is why Mary – the young Jewish virgin, the loving mother, and the woman who punches the devil in the nose – was, is, and always will be the great defender of the Church,” he added.

Archbishop Chaput addressed the 2016 Bishops’ Symposium at the University of Notre Dame on Wednesday. He spoke on “Remembering Who We Are and the Story We Belong To.”

He began his talk referencing an illustration, reportedly from the Middle Ages, of the Blessed Virgin Mary punching the devil in the nose. “She doesn’t rebuke him. She doesn’t enter into a dialogue with him. She punches the devil in the nose,” he said.

The illustration is apt, he explained, because, according to the Christian author C.S. Lewis, “Christianity is a ‘fighting religion’ – not in the sense of hatred or violence directed at other persons, but rather in the spiritual struggle against the evil in ourselves and in the world around us, where our weapons are love, justice, courage and self-giving.”

The problem is that many U.S. Catholics have abandoned this “spiritual struggle” and have assimilated too much into the popular culture “that bleaches out strong religious convictions in the name of liberal tolerance and dulls our longings for the supernatural with a river of practical atheism in the form of consumer goods,” he said.

Catholic Politicians have done this by following their own “ambitions and appetites” rather than being loyal to the Church, he noted. Laypersons and members of the clergy have done this through a “silent apostasy” of not standing up for the truth when they need to do so.

“For [Pope] Benedict, laypeople and priests don’t need to publicly renounce their baptism to be apostates.  They simply need to be silent when their Catholic faith demands that they speak out,” he said, “to be cowards when Jesus asks them to have courage; to ‘stand away’ from the truth when they need to work for it and fight for it.”

He also warned against a technocratic worldview that sees all solutions to problems as practical and technical solutions.

A Catholic can easily be swayed to believe that prayer should be set aside for practical solutions to problems, he noted. “Technology gets results. Prayer, not so much – or at least not so immediately and obviously,” he explained. “So our imaginations gradually bend toward the horizontal, and away from the vertical.”

Thus, what develops is a culture where “talking about heaven and hell starts to sound a lot like irrelevant voodoo,” he said.

“The Church of our baptism is salvific. The Church where many Americans really worship, the Church we call our popular culture, is therapeutic,” he said.

Archbishop Chaput exhorted his fellow bishops to challenge the faithful to heroic virtue and not to settle for mediocrity – as Pope Francis so challenged Catholics at the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

“To reclaim the Church for the Catholic imagination, we should start by renewing in our people a sense that eternity is real, that together we have a mission the world depends on, and that our lives have consequences that transcend time,” he insisted. While engaging the culture, Catholics must keep a healthy distance from it lest they assimilate into it, he added.

Challenging the faithful may drive some away from the Church, he admitted, but leaders must not be afraid to preach the truth in charity, no matter the consequences.

“Obviously we need to do everything we can to bring tepid Catholics back to active life in the Church,” he said. “But we should never be afraid of a smaller, lighter Church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness.”

And, he added, if preaching the truth is distasteful to Catholics who are not living out their faith, that “may in fact be more honest for those who leave and healthier for those who stay.”

It is this honesty that is required to preach the truth with love, he insisted, saying “there can be no real charity without honesty.” Examples of a lack of honesty today include when words are misinterpreted or abused – like the term “accompaniment,” he said.

Regarding “accompaniment,” Pope Francis “rightly teaches us the need to meet people where they are, to walk with them patiently, and to befriend them on the road of life,” he said. However, he maintained, others interpret this “accompaniment” wrongly.

“Where the road of life leads does make a difference – especially if it involves accompanying someone over a cliff,” he said.

The present times may be difficult for Christians, the archbishop admitted. “It’s a moment for courage and candor,” he said, “but it’s hardly the first moment of its kind.”


New York City, N.Y., Oct 21, 2016 / 01:17 pm (CNA).- While presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton traded verbal jabs at the Al Smith Dinner and showed some icy awkwardness, Cardinal Timothy Dolan thought a moment of prayer was the best part of the evening.

The cardinal had asked both politicians to pray with him, and the result showed “the evening at its best,” he recounted Oct. 21.

“After the little prayer, Mr. Trump turned to Secretary Clinton and said, ‘You are one tough and talented woman’,” Cardinal Dolan told the news site TODAY. “He said, ‘This has been a good experience, this whole campaign, as tough as it’s been’.”

“She said to him, ‘Donald, whatever happens, we need to work together afterward’,” the cardinal reported.

The dinner takes its name from former New York Gov. Al Smith, the first Catholic to be nominated for U.S. president. Smith’s great-grandson, Al Smith IV, co-chaired the event. The cardinal sat between the Democratic and Republican candidates.

Cardinal Dolan said the latest event was like “a family dinner where you’re just hoping things go well.”

It comes near the end of a tense and often unpredictable political campaign.

Clinton is at odds with Catholicism on several major issues. She is a strong supporter of legal abortion, taxpayer funding for abortion, and LGBT activism. Catholics’ religious freedoms are under pressure from her political allies. A leaked February 2012 email from her current campaign manager John Podesta appeared to show him wanting to promote a “Catholic Spring”-type revolution within the Church in response to religious freedom controversy over mandatory contraceptive coverage. His email, posted to Wikileaks, appeared to suggest former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of slain 1968 presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, could play a role in aiding a Catholic political revolt within the Church.

For his part, Trump has antagonized many Hispanics and others over his remarks on immigrants and Muslims. While he has claimed a recent conversion to pro-life beliefs and policy, many commentators have questioned his personality and his character, especially following release of a 2005 tape of his lewd banter that appeared to condone and admit sexual assault. Multiple women have also accused him of assault, harassment and misbehavior.
Despite these tensions and controversies, the Al Smith Dinner is traditionally intended to be a lighthearted affair that allows the candidates to roast each other humorously and to mock themselves.

The famously boastful Trump, who spoke first Thursday evening, joked that his modesty is “perhaps my best quality” and even better than his temperament. He joked that his companies’ buildings were built with his own “beautifully formed hands,” while Cardinal Dolan’s buildings were built “with the hands of God, and nobody can compete with God. Is that correct? Nobody. Right?”

He joked that the heads of major media companies were part of Clinton’s campaign staff and he poked fun at the fact that his wife used a speech apparently that appeared to be plagiarized from First Lady Michelle Obama.

Trump’s jokes at Clinton’s expense at times hit hard and drew boos from a crowd that grew unsympathetic.

“I don’t know who they’re angry at Hillary, you or I,” he said in response to an unfavorable response to his joke. “For example, here she is tonight, in public, pretending not to hate Catholics.”

He said the dinner guests could agree on the need to support disadvantaged children.

“We can also agree on the need to stand up to anti-Catholic bias, to defend religious liberty and to create a culture that celebrates life,” he said. “America is in many ways divided like it’s never been before. And the great religious leaders here tonight give us all an example that we can follow.”

Clinton, who went second, joked about her “rigorous nap schedule,” the fees she normally charges for speeches, and the incongruity that a dinner named for the populist Al Smith is held in “this magnificent room, full of plutocrats celebrating his legacy.”

She also joked that Trump would rate the Statue of Liberty based on her looks, that he was following a teleprompter script written by the Russians, that he was not really a billionaire, and that was not getting support from the Republican Party.

“I understand I am not known for my sense of humor,” Clinton said. “That’s why it did take a village to write these jokes.”

“And whoever wins this election, the outcome will be historic. We’ll either have the first female president or the first president who started a Twitter war with Cher,” she said.

Clinton said that opponents of Al Smith’s candidacy targeted him for his Catholic faith and spread rumors he would ban Bible reading and annul Protestant marriages.

“Rhetoric like that makes it harder for us to see each other, to respect each other, to listen to each other. And certainly a lot harder to love our neighbor as ourselves,” she said, adding “you certainly don’t need to be Catholic to be inspired by the humility and heart of the Holy Father, Pope Francis. Or to embrace his message.”

The next day, Cardinal Dolan told TODAY that the two candidates are “kind of awkward together” but said it was not a surprise. He said there was similar “iciness” four years ago when Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Obama

“The purpose of the evening is to break some of the ice, and thanks be to God, it works,” the cardinal said.

The dinner is a fundraiser for New York Catholic Charities. This year’s event netted about $6 million.


Denver, Colo., Oct 21, 2016 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For years, Cecilia Cunningham and her husband took their children trick-or-treating in their then-suburban Philadelphia neighborhood.

“It was the kind of neighborhood outside of Philadelphia where everybody knew each other, and it was a really fun neighborhood thing,” Cunningham told CNA. “People were just out talking while kids were trick or treating, and it had been really nice up until that point.”

That point, Cunningham recalled, was in the early 1990s, when pop culture saw a resurgence of the character “Freddy Krueger,” a skinless serial killer who slashes and kills his victims with a razored glove and first appeared in the 1984 film “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

Cunningham’s youngest at that point was a year and a half, “and she spent the entire night crying upstairs because of all these kids coming to our door; every other kid was Freddy Krueger.”

That year, Halloween seemed to have taken a sharp turn towards the sinister and the dark, Cunningham said.

And she wasn’t alone in her observations. Several moms from the neighborhood and her weekly rosary group had noticed the same thing. That next fall, as Halloween approached, they decided that instead of trick-or-treating, they would host an All Saints Day party at their parish, complete with a potluck, saint costumes, and tons of candy.

“We knew would be really important (to have candy) for kids who had been trick or treating, and it was an absolute blast, it was really so much better than we expected,” Cunningham said.

As some Catholics see darker elements of some Halloween celebrations, parents like Cunningham often face similar dilemmas – what to do about Halloween?

The History of the holiday

The exact origins of Halloween and its traditions are somewhat muddled.

Some historians claim that Halloween is a “baptized” form of Samhain, an ancient Gaelic festival celebrating the harvest and marking the beginning of winter – the time of year when a significant portion of the population would often die.

Because of the fear of death that came with winter, celebrations of Samhain seemed to have included going door to door asking for treats dressed in costumes, which were thought to disguise the living from  life-taking spirits.

The Catholic feast of All Saints Days traces its origins in the Church to the year 609, and it was first celebrated in May. However, in the 9th century, Pope Gregory IV moved the holiday to Nov. 1, so that Oct. 31 would become the celebration of the vigil of the feast – All Hallow’s Eve.

While some historians believe this move was made so the holiday could coincide with, and thus “baptize”, the holiday of Samhain, other historians believe that this may have been because the Germanic church was already celebrating All Saints Day on November 1, and the move had less to do with Samhain than previously thought.

An exorcist’s perspective

Father Vincent Lampert is a Vatican-trained exorcist and a parish priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis who travels the country, speaking about his work as an exorcist and what people can do to protect themselves against the demonic.

He said when deciding what to do about Halloween, it’s important for parents to remember the Christian origins of the holiday and to celebrate accordingly, rather than in a way that glorifies evil.

“Ultimately I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the kids putting on a costume, dressing up as a cowboy or Cinderella, and going through the neighborhood and asking for candy; that’s all good clean fun,” Fr. Lampert said.

Even a sheet with some holes cut in it as a ghost is fine, Fr. Lampert said.

The danger lies in costumes that deliberately glorify evil and instill fear in people, or when people pretend to have special powers or dabble in magic and witchcraft, even if they think it’s just for entertainment.  

“In the book of Deuteronomy, in chapter 18, it talks about not trying to consult the spirits of the dead, not consulting those who dabble in magic and witchcraft and the like,” he said, “because it’s a violation of a church commandment that people are putting other things ahead of their relationship with God.”

“And that would be the danger of Halloween that somehow God is lost in all of this, the religious connotation is lost and then people end up glorifying evil.”

It’s also important to remember that the devil and evil spirits do not actually have any additional authority on Halloween, Fr. Lampert said, and that it only seems that way.

“It’s because of what people are doing, not because of what the devil is doing. Perhaps by the way they’re celebrating that day, they’re actually inviting more evil into our lives,” he said.

One of the best things parents can do is to use Halloween as a teachable moment, Fr. Lampert said.

“A lot of children are out celebrating Halloween, perhaps evil is being glorified, but we’re not really sitting around and talking about why certain practices are not conducive with our Catholic faith and our Catholic identity. I think using it as a teachable moment would be a great thing to do.”

Trick-or-treating Catholics

 Anne Auger, a Catholic mom of three from Helenville, Wisc., said that while she lets her kids dress up in costumes and go trick-or-treating, she’s found that she has to screen the houses as they go, avoiding ones that are decorated with scarier things.

“Last year we had this experience this person came to the door dressed like this demonic wolf with glowing eyes and it was like, what on earth?” she said.

“Sometimes people dress up like witches and I can understand that, but this was a whole new level. It’s just so different from when we were little.”

She also makes sure to emphasize to her children the significance of Halloween as it relates to All Saints Day, Auger said.

“We let them know that we’re having a party because it’s celebrating the saints in heaven, we’re celebrating them, so when they’re trick or treating and doing all of this we tell them it’s because it’s a party for all the saints.”

Kate Lesnefsky, a Catholic mother of seven children ranging from ages 3-16, said she thinks it’s important for Catholics not to shun Halloween completely, since it has very Christian origins.

“I think as Christians we’re so used to being against the world, that sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot, even though it might have been something that actually came from us,” she said. “But then we lose the history of it, and we think, ‘Oh well this is the devil’s day,’ just because some people say it is.”

Lesnefsky said she lets her kids choose their costumes for trick-or-treating, as long as they’re not too scary or demonic. The next day, her children go to Mass for All Saints Day, and the family uses it as an opportunity to talk about what it means when someone passes away, and what it means to be a saint.

“I have a sister that died when I was 19, so we talk about different people that we know in heaven, or my grandparents, and we’ll talk about different saints,” Lesnefsky said.

And while haunted houses and horror movies are off limits to her children, Lesnefsky said she thinks Halloween is an important time for Catholics to celebrate and be a witness in the culture.

“As Catholics it’s important that we don’t become fundamentalist Christians, I think that can be a detriment to our faith,” she said. “If we are negligent of knowing history, then we don’t even know about things that could be life-giving in our culture.”


This article was originally published Oct. 31, 2015.