Every year, the editorial review of nearly every publication seems to highlight 12 months of lunacy and sorrow with a few bright moments shining through. In looking back on 2016 — a year so surprising that social media has created a kind of shorthand for each new confounding headline: “2016, man…” — remembering those moments (like the death of Mother Angelica), and the questions (“What IS the ‘Benedict Option,’ anyway?”), and the horrors (as in the eyewitness accounts of a modern martyrdom) — the sheer abundance of fascinating material made it hard to select just 17.
In the end it seemed best to simply go with our favorite pieces — some of which were newsy, while others were the “personal little stories” that end up speaking constructively to our hearts. Let’s take a look back before we fully turn the calendar page. In (mostly) chronological order:
Zoe Romanowsky’s series on Catholic Innovators, has brought many creative, energetic and inspiring layfolk to the fore, but in February she found an innovator in a young Catholic bishop, Christopher Coyne, who is currently serving the people of Burlington Vermont. A self-confessed “Mac-geek” Coyne embraced digital outreach early on; now he is creating a digital Catholic High School for his very rural diocese:
We only have two Catholic high schools … we’re such a rural state — everything is spread out. How do we engage our Catholic families and Catholic students, especially at the high school level? And the idea of a digital Catholic high school came to fruition, not just as an online program, or as a curriculum for homeschooling families, or classes, but we asked: What makes Catholic school unique? It’s the formation.
Taking a look around the lack of charity in evidence among Catholics all over the internet, Deacon Greg shares some pertinent quotes from both the Catecheism and Fr. John Hardon, and asks:
…it’s worth asking ourselves whether we have, knowingly or not, been guilty of detraction. Have we intentionally taken away the good name of another? Have we sought to damage someone’s reputation (even if we thought they had it coming)? Have we entertained the dark joy of gossip?
Sometimes the best, most heartening and instructive lessons come from ordinary people living ordinary lives, like you and me. Larry Peterson, who shared a slew of good stories with us in 2016, inspired us with this one:
“Okay, Petie, here it is. And I ain’t never told this to anyone, so keep it under your hat. Every night when Midge and I go to bed, she grabs my hand and we say a Hail Mary. Then she says, ‘God loves you, Jumbo.’ Then we go to sleep.”
“That’s a beautiful thing, Jumbo. Midge is a great gal. She loves you a lot.”
“Yeah, I know, I know. But I never paid attention and just let her say her prayer and that was that. And she never bugged me about it, ever.”
“So what happened?”
“Well, last night, Midge was acting weird and suddenly passed out.
In anticipation of Pope Francis’ exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”), Aleteia observed comboxes and social media threads and decided it would be good to cover the basics of our teaching. Diane Montagna scored an interview with Msgr. John Kennedy, acting bureau chief of the Matrimonial Section of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and he was not only clear and informative, but kind of delightful, too. One of our best interviews of the year.
If I get an annulment, are my children illegitimate?
The children are never considered illegitimate. The legitimacy of children is determined by the laws of the country, not by the Church. Just as a divorce does not make children illegitimate, neither does an annulment granted by the Church. Canon law states that children born of a supposedly valid union are legitimate children. Therefore, if the marriage is later shown to have been invalid, the status of the children remains unchanged: they are legitimate.
Illustrated with intimate images taken by photographer Jeff Bruno, a month after her death Aleteia looked back at a remarkable farewell:
Here we see those final farewells, and how the legacy of one fervent and determined nun lives on in her community, is reflected in a daughter’s face, closed in prayer yet without the contortions of hopeless grief. Instead there is tranquility in a tender moment, and a sense of purpose and perseverance and surety — because these nuns possess “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” that is faith, and so they will go on, living lives of prayer, adoration and sacrifice, for the sake of the world.
Sr. Theresa did our consciences a lot of good with her weekly column (which will become monthly as she is headed to grad school), and this one spoke to many:
On the Day of Atonement, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, had the honor of going into the holy of holies on the day the angel told him that he and his wife would have a child. The people eagerly waited outside for him to give them a blessing after he offered incense. When Zechariah came out mute because he did not believe the angel’s message, the lack of a blessing amplifies the dishonor and the tragedy of losing his voice. I am sure the people went home very disappointed. Blessings are precious. When a priest, who by his ordination is configured to Christ, gives his final blessing, we are being blessed by God himself. If Jesus were standing ready to give us a blessing before we left Mass and went back out into the world, wouldn’t you wait for it?
Orthodox conservative columnist Rod Dreher wrote a lot about the “Benedict Option” in 2016, and John Burger did a great job of helping our readers understand an idea and movement that is less about seeking to “escape” from social trends, than about Christians seeking a return to what they are called to.
For the most part, Christians have had a happy — some would even say “privileged” — time of it in America, where Christianity and Christian churches were essentially left alone as they freely exercised their religion within society both privately and, up until recently, in partnership with the government.
Well, that was then, and this is now. The very effective cooperative partnership that existed between the U. S. government and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to serve victims of human trafficking was ended due to the Obama administration’s insistence that contraception and abortion be included in any assistance provided to victims. Some cities have seen Catholic adoption services come to an end because they cannot conform to anti-discrimination laws that, in legal suit after suit, are adjudicated against religious freedom.
In general, Christians are firmly being told that if they wish to remain in the public square and involved in social services, parades, or business enterprises of any kind, they will have to sacrifice their values and teachings to the shifting morals of the times and resultant regulations, or be ready to give up their business and abandon their missions.
The time of “privilege” appears to be over.
Although readers were generally enthusiastic about our “Practicing Mercy Series,” which ran throughout the Year of Mercy, by far the piece that most resonated with them was Joanne McPortland’s essay on a subject most of us fail in: knowing when to shut one’s mouth.
Today we would amend James’s description to include the typing fingers and the texting thumbs, equally susceptible to Hell’s arson and equally setting lives on fire with malice.
Here, then, are just of few of the many situations in which I need to practice mercy by holding my tongue — and atoning for the times I have not.
When I must have the last word. Whether it’s a tussle with a family member about whose chore it is or who started it, or an online political argument, I rarely know when to quit. But there is no scorekeeping in love and mercy (or where would we sinners be?). None of us is right 100 percent of the time, and seldom are the things we argue about even 10 percent important. There’s a reason we call some people gracious losers — because they model grace by how they hold their peace.
9) Is the Way We’re Fighting Poverty Actually Making Things Worse?, by Zoe Romanowsky His new documentary film “Poverty, Inc.” is winning awards and changing minds across the spectrum
The war on poverty has been going on for a while, but the divide between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots has never been wider or deeper, and the consequences of chronic hopelessness are showing themselves to be dire. Zoe Romanowsky, again as part of her Innovators series, talked to filmmaker Michael Matheson Miller about how conventional practices are making things worse, not better, as he documents clearly in “Poverty, Inc”, praise for which transcended political spectrums:
We tend to treat poor persons as objects — objects of our charity, objects of our pity, objects of our compassion — instead of treating them like subjects and protagonists of their own stories. And when I say “subjects,” I don’t mean of a king or queen, but in the sense of the grammatical, as another “I.” We did more than 200 interviews around the world for the film, and we let people tell their stories and share their experiences so the audience can better understand the “poverty industry.”
This is a secular film, for general audiences, but for those who are aware of it, the whole driving force is really the philosophical anthropology of the Catholic Church, and specifically the philosophical anthropology of John Paul II.
Larry Peterson recalls his father’s own generosity — and bravery — in assisting neighbors for whom the horror of the Holocaust could never end:
Sophie Rabinowitz had been having nightmares created years before, when her two boys, ages 12 and 9, were clubbed to death by the Nazis as they made her and Leo watch. Leo and Sophie had begged their captors to kill them and spare their children but the Nazis tortured the parents further by allowing them to live.