About Jonathan Bennett

Jonathan Bennett is a writer, speaker, and small business owner. He started ChurchYear.Net in 2004, along with his brother David. The site gets over one million visitors a year. His writings have also appeared in church bulletins, newspapers, and other media.

Yes, The Pope Is Catholic

saint francisLately, Pope Francis has been making waves due to a few controversial comments, especially regarding gays in the church and abortion. Basically, he’s been accused of downplaying or changing Catholic teaching on core subjects.

In case anyone is worried, yes, the Pope is still Catholic. While there are certain hot button issues that face the Church (and many of these are very important), it doesn’t mean those are the only topics a bishop can discuss.

Just because Francis would prefer to talk about other things doesn’t mean he lacks belief in any other part of Catholic teaching. Nor does it mean the Pope thinks they’re unimportant. The hot button issues of our age have been debated and taught a lot. Almost everyone in the world knows where the Church stands on them.

Can most non-believers articulate where the Church stands on loving your enemy? What about Catholic teaching on the poor? Or war? Likely, those issues are a little more muddled in the minds of other Christians and those who lack any faith.

No Pope or bishop will be able to promote the entire Catechism throughout his reign. He will certainly have his own emphases. There are lots of faithful Catholics in the world promoting Church teaching on various topics, including life and sexuality. The previous popes have also done a great job emphasizing these issues.

Now, Pope Francis is choosing to discuss other topics, ones which might have a big impact on drawing people into the fold who might otherwise never give the Church a chance. Then, the catechesis on all issues can begin.

Picking the name Francis was probably a good indicator of how his reign would be. St. Francis of Assisi, fully and traditionally Catholic, nonetheless made sure that the Church would be exposed to a different perspective from the topics of the day.

So, yes, the Pope is Catholic. Catholic means universal and discussing long held, but previously de-emphasized topics doesn’t make him any less of a Catholic. In fact, it might make him an even better one.

Visiting Beautiful Churches

inside of gothic church paintingIf there’s one thing the Church doesn’t quite understand today, it’s the role of beauty in worship. While I appreciate the simplification of the liturgy and its translation into English, I still feel we’ve lost a lot of the mystery and beauty in our worship services (and where they’re held) today.

And, the beauty we’ve lost is most evident in the way we design churches. And it’s not just the Protestant mega-churches that are designed with no sense of reverence. Even many Catholic parishes have designed worship spaces rather than true churches that inspire beauty and awe.

Visiting beautiful churches has always been one of my favorite activities on trips, especially to larger cities. However, it’s kind of a shame that a person has to travel to see majestic Catholic churches. There was a time when every town had a beautiful church that inspired wonder and mystery.

But, in today’s reality, sometimes visiting beautiful churches requires some travel. It’s an activity I recommend, especially if you are on vacation or can get away. You don’t even have to attend worship services, just walk in the church, admire the beauty, and pray/meditate.

Sometimes shrines are even better than simple churches. They are often designed with beauty in mind and even have important, even miraculous, events attached to them. It’s quite meditative to pray in these places, knowing that God has touched the shrine in some special way.

So, if you are on vacation or are close to beautiful churches, it is a fun and fulfilling day activity to go out and visit these churches. It’s always refreshing to pray and meditate in places of extreme beauty. It’s a nice vacation idea to ground yourself in your faith while you’re away from home.

The Summer Rush

summer meadow paintingSummer is often portrayed as a time of rest and relaxation. I guess those people have never gone on vacation or tried to plan relaxation! However, summer is also considered down time in many churches.

Most parishes don’t have the choir during summer and attendance is often down. While social events can be well-attended, religious oriented ones aren’t. In addition, it’s likely that many of us take a summer break from devotions and prayer during summer too. The rest and relaxation time is just too much. Call it the summer rush.

However, summer doesn’t have to be a down time for your faith. There are ways to keep up with your spirituality during the summer months. I’m going to offer a few tips.

First, start a new discipline for the summer. This will make sure that you have something fresh to pursue. Maybe it can be a prayer walk in nature, a few minutes before the Blessed Sacrament, or a decade of the rosary. Trying something new just might give you more enthusiasm for prayer during the summer.

Resist the urge to let vacation be a break from your faith. If you go on vacation, try to attend a service and make sure to emphasize family prayer. It could actually be fun. Praying together on the beach or attending a mass at a new parish in the mountains could be a breath of fresh air that everyone’s faith needs.

Finally, bring God into the midst of the stress. Take a few minutes a day just for you to be mindful of your situation and pray. It could be five minutes on your porch in the morning or silent prayer while you sunbathe at the swimming pool. Be more centered and spend time with God.

Don’t let the summer rush and the busy months get you stressed out. Find a way to keep your spirituality alive in the midst of the summer months.

The Best Laid Plans

pentecost holy spirit iconThere are many ways to get from point A to point B and there may even be a better or personally preferred route. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the only way.

Last night  was driving to visit my brother and encountered a detour. I was aggravated at first. It only ended up adding a few minutes to my trip. But, the new road actually took me by some breathtaking scenery. I was able to go to the top of a hill that allowed me to see the previous route from a distance, in a new perspective.

Basically, this relates to spirituality in a couple of ways. First, it shows how we can do something everyday and still find new meaning when we step back and take a different perspective. What becomes routine can easily become more meaningful and exciting if we simply step back a little and really examine it.

However, the most important point is that sometimes there are many ways to get from point A to point B. Our best laid plans may not always be the right ones in eyes of God. He has the best in mind and sometimes our chosen roads and paths might not always be his.

Not only might he have a different path in mind, but that path likely has its own share of beauty, and most importantly, purpose. God’s plans aren’t always completely in line with our own. Perhaps he takes us a certain path because we are needed to influence and touch the broadest number of people. Or maybe we’ll learn some important lessons along the way.

So, be open to the path of the Holy Spirit in guiding us to what God has in store for us. The Spirit might not take us the most direct or even our preferred route. But, he has the best way of getting us there in line with the perfect plan of God. The best laid plans of people aren’t always what God wants.

God Doesn’t Want You Miserable

Image of Jesus on the crossSometimes Christianity gets a bad reputation as being depressing and stifling. Of course, this is odd when we look at the Scriptures, which show our founder as a fulfilled man who was resurrected from the dead. You don’t get much more joyful than conquering death!

However, Christianity sometimes comes across as simply being about suffering and rules. Granted, Jesus suffered and we can share in that. Also, Christianity definitely has rules.

But, our attitude towards both of those go a long way in determining our general mindset. Sometimes people who are naturally inclined towards depression or anxiety overly focus on the suffering and rules to the exclusion of the other aspects of the Christian Faith.

For example, yes, we are called to share in the suffering of Christ and the world. But, remember the suffering of Christ is a transforming suffering. In other words, our suffering and sharing in the suffering of others has the goal in mind of creating meaning and joy within suffering. Remember, the suffering of Jesus led to our redemption and his resurrection.

So, the point of suffering with Christ isn’t meant to make us miserable. It’s actually meant to make us much happier and closer to God. That, of course, is a joyful thing!

Also, while the rules within the Christian Faith are genuine, they’re actually meant to make our lives better and more meaningful. Our main focus should be the effect of the rules: a more godly life and a closer relationship with God.

Yet, some of us are so “rule oriented” or were raised that way, that all we can focus on is meticulously following a set of rules. This isn’t healthy or what God intends for us. God wants us to follow him and have a genuine relationship with us. The rules help us achieve that relationship. They’re not the end in and of themselves.

Some people simply just need reminded that God doesn’t want them miserable. In fact, God wants us the opposite. He wants us happy and joyful, no matter the circumstances. We can do this because he sent his son who died and rose to free us from the bonds of sin. That is very joyful needs indeed!

Taking Lent Beyond Easter

Jesus carrying the cross by El GrecoI have always enjoyed Lent, even the fasting side of it. It’s much easier to be appreciative of the feasting when we’ve also experienced the fasting. However, we must never forget the main purpose of Lent, which is to become spiritually stronger and a better Christian overall.

So, as Lent winds down, it may be helpful to look at ways you can take your Lenten experience beyond Easter and actually integrate it into your life. While I don’t think the fasting should continue through Easter (Easter is a time of celebration, so celebrate), the spiritual ideals we’ve practiced certainly should. Here are a few ways to integrate your Lenten experience into your everyday spiritual life.

First, write down what you got out of Lent 2013 and what practices worked to make you a better person. I have had many fruitful Lenten experiences and guess what? I don’t even remember the details! So, before Lent is over, keep a log of helpful practices, thoughts, and ideas. Then, periodically throughout the year, go back to your journal. Make sure you continue what has been a blessing to you.

Second, return to fasting when Easter is over. While the Catholic Church requires Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as fast days, there is nothing stopping you from fasting other days of the year (although Sundays and other holy days are always feasts). Fasting is a good practice that we too often forget outside of Lent. Pick a day throughout the week a few other times a year and fast. I try to fast at least once in the summer, winter, and fall (Lent falls in the spring).

Finally, keep it simple. I have always found the simplicity of Lent to be very spiritually satisfying. It forces me to be a little more rugged and sparse. The lives of most people are chaotic and leave little time for rest and contemplation. Whatever your Lenten discipline, your life was likely more simplistic and more focused on your spiritual life. Make an effort to keep this going.

I wish you a blessed rest of Lent and beyond. Whatever you’ve accomplished, I pray you can continue it throughout the rest of the year and be continually serving God and having a blessed spiritual life.

Renew Your Lenten Discipline

A statue of JesusMany people get really excited about their Lenten discipline on Ash Wednesday and it continues through the first week or so of Lent. But, by the second week or a little later, perhaps the original excitement has faded. Then, your plan to give up sweets or to do an act of charity each day has pretty much fallen by the wayside. Basically, for many people in Lent, goal ideas meet reality. And, reality isn’t as exciting. But, just because you get off the track early, doesn’t mean you can’t recover. Here are a few tips to renew your Lenten discipline.

First, don’t beat yourself up. A lot of people I talk to tell me that they start by cheating on their goals a little bit, then just stop doing it altogether. In many cases, that is a result of guilt or shame over failing to follow through. However, remember that the purpose of Lent is to grow spiritually stronger. Think of it as training. Sometimes we fail while  we train. Remember the purpose of Lent and don’t let the guilt make you give up. Which brings us to the second tip…

If you give up the discipline, even for days (or weeks), it’s perfectly fine to start over. Just because you’ve eaten five giant snickers bars doesn’t mean you can’t spend the rest of Lent following your chosen fast. While forty days of fasting is ideal, it’s still better to follow your goals for twenty five days than five (or none). So, get back on the wagon and finish your fast, even if you’ve not been terribly successful since the beginning.

Third, remember that prayer is the foundation for all spiritual disciplines. We can’t lose track of that during our Lenten fast. So, if you haven’t made prayer your foundation throughout Lent, you’ll be much more likely to fail at the other things you’re attempting. If you haven’t, add prayer to your list of disciplines. Try the liturgy of the hours, a great resource, especially morning and evening prayer.

So, best of luck keeping your Lenten discipline, even if you have to start over. It’s worth it to renew your spiritual discipline because you are training to create a better relationship with God and to live a more spiritually satisfying life.

Finding God In The Winter

shed in winterIt’s a hard time of year, emotionally, for many people, especially those in the Northern hemisphere. The weather is cold, the world seems dead, and seasonal depression can be a problem. However, for Christians, the winter can be a good time to reflect on the nature of God and life (and find great meaning and joy).

First, while the winter is “dead” it’s not really. There is a lot of life within the winter months, but we may have to look for it. It’s not all around us like during the summer months. Finding a green leaf, a roaming animal, or a sign of life is a challenge. It’s just like finding God’s presence in our everyday lives. Sometimes it’s very obvious. But, during the other moments (especially the difficult ones), we may have to look. But, like winter life, God is always there.

Second, Christianity has always recognized the role of death in leading to life. Just as we can’t appreciate and understand the resurrection without the crucifixion, so the joy of spring cannot be understood without the winter.

Third, the winter is actually a great time to get outside and meditate on the wonders of God. It’s typically quiet and empty. The distractions are gone and it’s a great season to communicate with God outdoors. I challenge you to get out in nature and make an effort to pray in the silence of winter.

Lent comes as winter ends and spring begins, which is very appropriate too. We sometimes have to force ourselves to do penance, but, in time, that penance can become natural and even joyful. This too is like the transition from winter into spring.

God bless you this winter. Don’t just hope for spring, but enjoy what winter has to offer (and appreciate the amazing symbolism built into God’s creation).