And They Say the Church is Dying!

Since 2005, the number of Catholics worldwide has increased from 1,115 million to 1,254 million, an increase of 139 million faithful. During the last two years, the presence of baptised Catholics in the world has increased from 17.3% to 17.7%.

There has been a 34% increase in Catholics in Africa, which has experienced a population increase of 1.9% between 2005 and 2013. The increase of Catholics in Asia (3.2% in 2013, compared to 2.9% in 2005) has been higher than that of population growth in Asia. In America Catholics continue to represent 63% of a growing population. In Europe, where the population is stagnant, there has been a slight increase in the number of baptised faithful in recent years. The percentage of baptised Catholics in Oceania remains stable although in a declining population.

From 2012 to 2013 the number of bishops has increased by 40 from 5,133 to 5,173. In North America and Oceania there has been a reduction of 6 and 5 bishops respectively, in contrast to an increase of 23 in the rest of the American continent, 5 in Africa, 14 in Asia and 9 in Europe.

The number of priests, diocesan and religious, increased from 414,313 in 2012 to 415,348 in 2013.

Candidates to the priesthood – diocesan and religious – dropped from 120,616 in 2011 to 118,251 in 2013 (-2%). An increase of 1.5% is recorded in Africa, compared to a decrease of 0.5% in Asia, 3.6% in Europe and 5.2% in North America.

The number of permanent deacons continues to grow well, passing from 33,391 in 2005 to 43,000 in 2013. They are present in North America and Europe in particular (96.7%), with the remaining 2.4% distributed between Africa, Asia and Oceania.

The number of professed religious other than priests has grown by 1%, from 54,708 in 2005 to 55,000 in 2013. They have increased in number in Africa by 6% and Asia by 30%, and decreased in America (2,8%), Europe (10.9%) and Oceania (2%). The significant reduction in women religious is affirmed: currently 693,575 compared to 760,529 in 2005: -18.3% in Europe, -17.1 % in Oceania, and -15.5 in America. However, an increase of 18% in Africa and 10% in Asia is recorded.–Vatican Information Service

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‘A.D.: The Bible Continues’ Exceptional Drama, Ministers and Martyrs a Great Read

If you missed the first episode of A.D.: The Bible Continues on NBC, you missed an exceptional drama.

No only were the acting, technical work and all that goes into a dramatic production was simply superb, but the first episode closely adhered to the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus as recounted in the Gospels and did it in a sensitive, but no saccharine, way.  The viewer was left with no doubt about the brutality of the Roman crucifixion, about the role of Caiaphas,  the high priest, nor of Pontius Pilate.

Its first episode — there will be a total of 12 in all, which is why you should set your recorders to capture the next 11 episodes — also left no doubt of the fear felt by Jesus’s disciples, nor the courage of Mary who was certain her son would rise. How could she be so sure?

“He raised himself, why not others?” she answered when challenged.

The series will rank along with The Ten Commandments as one of the great video tellings of crucial events in salvation history.

But you can greatly enhance your understanding of the series thanks to a new book by Mike Aquilina, the prolific Catholic author.  Ministers and Martyrs: The Ultimate Catholic Guide to the Apostolic Age, fills in the gaps, provides the information needed to make sense of it all.

Do you know where we get the English word “minister?”  Or what martyr originally meant?  Or just how ordinary the 12 apostles were?  Yes, they accomplished extraordinary things.  But what makes their accomplishment even more extraordinary, Aquilina says, is  that they lived in an ordinary world of smelly cities and dusty highways.

“Christianity, from the beginning,” Aquilina writes, “was not a theory to be found in books or a myth that yielded a moral.  It had a street address. . . . Only Christianity — and the Israelite religion from which it came — dared to present salvation in a way that was quite recent and historically verifiable.”

Aquilina explains the tension between the Pharisees, a lay movement that sought to have all Israel living in ritual purity, and the Sadducees, who held control of the establishment.  And then there was the Essenes, a third group that emphasized personal discipline who were committed to a strict regimen that ordered their daily lives.

Matthew Kelly, of the Dynamic Catholic Institute, recommends spending 10 minutes a day doing spiritual reading.  So did St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei.  Ministers and Martyrs is an ideal choice.  It’s highly readable and it provides context in which to view the A.D. series and the Gospels as a whole.

To turn A.D. into a learning experience, rather than just another TV drama, Veronica Burchard has written a Catholic Viewer’s Guide.  It’s not simply a Reader’s Digest version of the show, but rather offers a key Catholic principle for each episode.

In addition, for each episode, the viewing guide contains a short list of key events in the episode, map and timeline, important characters, background reading, terms to know, key Biblical passages along with writings of the saints, a focus question, discussion questions and suggestions for evangelization.

A.D., Ministers and Martyrs, and the Catholic Viewers Guide form a complete package that will greatly enhance your understanding of the events immediately following the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus.

The series second episode will be this coming Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday, on NBC.  That gives you time to buy the books at your local Catholic bookstore or to order them online and have them before the second episode.  You’ll be glad you did.

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Denying Christ in Our Everyday Lives

If you read the pocket New Testament published by Scepter Publishing as a basis for your mental prayer, you read this, this morning:

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the high priest’s maids came along. 67Seeing Peter warming himself, she looked intently at him and said, “You too were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68* But he denied it saying, “I neither know nor understand what you are talking about.” So he went out into the outer court. [Then the cock crowed.] 69The maid saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70Once again he denied it. A little later the bystanders said to Peter once more, “Surely you are one of them; for you too are a Galilean.” 71He began to curse and to swear, “I do not know this man about whom you are talking.”

Given what’s going on in the world today — from  beheadings by the Islamic State, to the Obama Administration’s refusal to recognize IS’s religious underpinnings, to the government’s efforts to restrict the right to practice one’s own religion in the contraceptive mandate of ObamaCare — it’s worth taking to prayer the question of whether we, in what we are doing and what we are leaving undone, are, like Peter, denying Christ.

These are times when believers need to step up and publicly acknowledge Christ.  There is strength in numbers, and we should be supportive of each other.

The least we can do is a silent witness by always wearing a cross.

One who does nearly all the time since her conversion to Catholicism is Laura Ingraham, the talk show pundit.  So does Scottie McCreery,  the entertainer.  Katie and Paige Rees of the Langelus Band nearly always wear a religious medal.

To be sure, wearing a cross can be, well, a cross.  The British Government actively sought to prevent Christians from having the right to wear a cross while at work.

If you choose to wear a cross, it doesn’t have to be large or garish.  Here’s a selection of cross necklaces, and here’s a cross lapel pin.

Rather than complain about the rising tide of secularism in the country, maybe the first thing we should do is simply silently profess our faith by consistently wearing a cross, whether as a necklace or a lapel pin.

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2 Ways Spirituality Helps Marriage Health of New Parents

Each year, millions of U.S. couples walk down aisles in churches, temples and mosques to get married. Many only occasionally return to a place of worship together. Does that mean their marriage is devoid of spirituality? Do spiritual dimensions of marriage help or hurt couples’ unions, especially when they become parents?

A recent study by researchers at Bowling Green State University identified two ways that spirituality helps the marriages of new parents fare better. The results were published in the October 2014 issue of the Journal of Family Psychology.

First, the more spiritual intimacy the couples said they shared, the higher the positivity and the lower the negativity the couples exhibited when they discussed high-conflict topics. Second, viewing their marriage as sacred facilitated more positive marital interactions.

“These two spiritual factors motivate couples to manage their conflicts in a kind and collaborative way,” said Dr. Annette Mahoney, a professor of psychology at BGSU, who led the study, which was funded by a $1.3 million grant from the Templeton Foundation. The study included analysis of couples’ videotaped interactions as well as husbands and wives’ responses to survey instruments.

Couples’ ratings of their spiritual intimacy were based on how often they revealed their spiritual beliefs, questions and doubts to each other, and listened supportively to each other’s spiritual disclosures without judgment. It didn’t matter whether the spouses were blue-collar employees with high school educations or wealthy professionals with advanced college degrees—the results were the same. The more spiritual intimacy the couples said they shared, the better they handled their top three conflicts.

“Spiritual intimacy is very, very important and undeniably a construct that matters,” said Mahoney.

Second, couples’ views on the “sanctification of their marriage”—how much they perceived their union as having divine significance and character—was predictive of more positive behavior by the spouses.

It is rare for what people say about the quality of their relationship to predict how they behave when their interactions are directly observed by researchers, Mahoney said, which is why the findings were remarkable.

“Sanctification of Marriage and Spiritual Intimacy Predicting Observed Marital Interactions Across the Transition to Parenthood,” was published in a special issue of the Journal of Family Psychology focused on spirituality and marriage. Joining her in the research were BGSU graduate student Katherine Kusner and Drs. Kenneth Pargament, a professor of psychology, and Alfred DeMaris, a professor of sociology.

The study involved 164 heterosexual married couples having their first biological child together. Previous studies have shown that there is potential for increased marital stress during the transition to parenthood, which makes it a prime time for analyzing the impact of spirituality on a marriage.

The couples’ interactions were videotaped in their homes during late pregnancy and when their child was 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months old. Couples then rated their own and their partner’s spiritually intimate behaviors, as well as their views on the sanctity of their marriage.

A unique feature of the study is that husband’s self-reports on the couple’s spiritual intimacy predicted not only his behavior, but also his wife’s. It was also true of the wife’s self-reports of the husband’s spiritual intimacy, according to study results.

Mahoney and her colleagues would like to see more research conducted on spiritual intimacy and sanctification among same-sex couples. “There’s no reason to believe the concepts are restricted to heterosexual couples. They could apply to same-sex couples as well,” she said.

And while 92 percent of the couples in the study reported they were Christian, Mahoney said she would expect that the two concepts in this study would also apply to couples, married or unmarried, of any religious community, and perhaps to some atheists as well. But more research is needed to confirm such hypotheses.

Mahoney also plans additional studies to identify additional spiritual factors that could harm couples’ marriages.

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Today’s news was a study in contrasts.  In Oregon, a woman  with terminal brain cancer whom ABC News called an “advocate for death with dignity” committed suicide. She said it was cancer that was ending her life, she was simply choosing when.

But CBS News reported that in Cincinnati, Ohio, a college freshman who also has with terminal brain cancer achieved her dream — to play a college basketball game.  You can see the very moving story  here.

We don’t know the religious background of either woman, but Lauren Hill is attending Mount St. Joseph University, a Catholic liberal arts university in Cincinnati.  Her attitude toward her disease is reflective of the best of Catholic thought and teaching.  Rather than wallow in self-pity and despair, she’s living her life to the fullest as long as she can.  And others — including Hiram College, which is affiliated with the Disciples of Christ, and the NCAA — moved heaven and earth to accommodate her.

On Saturday, The Wall Street Journal had a story about the personal journeys of each of the U.S. doctors who have had Ebola and been treated in the U.S. Each of them suffered immensely, and each noted that at their darkest hours, in the midst of incredible suffering, it was the hope inspired by a faith in God that kept them going.

To me, at least, that sums up the difference between Catholicism and atheism or agnosticism:  Catholicism gives one the courage and the strength live life to the fullest, to carry on, even in the face of certain death.  For those who lack a faith in God, who lack hope, it’s not a matter of living life as long as one can, but rather simply choosing when to die.

Lauren Hill is showing heroic virtue.  Pray for her, for her family and her friends.

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What Companies Can Learn from Pope’s Management Style

Pope Francis I is changing centuries of Church practice by decisively detaching prelates accused of severe wrongdoing from their positions rather than waiting years, or even decades, for determinations of guilt, and University of Chicago Booth School of Business Prof. Luigi Zingales believes he is setting an example that companies across the globe should follow.

The Pontiff’s decisions to reorganize the Vatican Bank, to lay off controversial and spendthrift Church leaders (“the Bishop of Bling”) and to approve the arrest of a former Vatican ambassador on charges of pedophilia “communicate to the outside, in credible ways, the values of those who sit at the top and, therefore, of the organization itself.”

Zingales explains that others who run large businesses should emulate Francis’ actions. “Too often, company leaders make proclamations solely for the purpose of image. Employees know it and ignore them. Only when statements are followed by facts do employees begin to listen. From today on, the Church’s war on pedophilia is not only a proclamation: it is a reality.”

Key to this new corporate behavior, according to the professor, is the understanding of the difference between criminal and managerial responsibility. He points out that while citizens have the constitutional right to be considered innocent until proven guilty, organizations do not have a duty to protect powerful members until definitive sentence is pronounced.

For a criminal conviction, Zingales says, one needs proof beyond reasonable doubt. While for disciplinary action, removal or layoff, the standards are and should be much lower, especially in the case of top managerial positions.

“In fact, in some cases, like that of the bishop, proof is not even needed: it is enough to have a reasonable doubt. It is a merely managerial ‘cost vs. benefits’ calculation.”

“If laws and rules are enforced, the first who should follow them are the leaders. Pope Francis has nothing to fear: he, himself, is an example. But is the same true for the summits of our large companies?” Zingales asks. Clearly, he thinks it should be, and with more companies taking responsibility for their leaders, they might be.


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The Church Gets It Right Again: This Time on Premarital Relationships

The Catholic Church is being proven right again.  This time by a serious academic study conducted at the University of Denver.

It finds the more people who attend your wedding to share in the launch of your marriage, the better the chances you will be happily married years down the road. And, reaffirming church teaching which urges chastity and opposes living together before marriage, the study also finds that the more relationships you had prior to your marriage, the less likely you are to report a high-quality marriage.

The study, “Before ‘I Do’: What Do Premarital Experiences Have To Do With Marital Quality Among Today’s Young Adults?,” from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia challenges the idea that “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” – the general notion that what happens in one’s younger years, before marriage, stays there and doesn’t impact the remainder of one’s life.

How people conduct their romantic lives before they tie the knot is linked to their odds of having happy marriages, the study’s authors argue. Past experiences, especially when it comes to love, sex and children, are associated with future marital quality.

Those who have had more romantic experiences – for example, more sexual or cohabiting partners – are less likely to forge a high-quality marriage than those with a less complex romantic history, the researchers found.

Raising children from prior relationships can add stress to a marriage. For women, but not for men, having had a child in a prior relationship was associated, on average, with lower marital quality.

In Marriage, More Experience Isn’t Better

Study co-author Galena K. Rhoades, research associate professor of psychology at the University of Denver, said, “In most areas, more experience is better. You’re a better job candidate with more experience, not less.

“When it comes to relationship experience, though, we found that having more experience before getting married was associated with lower marital quality.”

More experience may increase one’s awareness of alternative partners, the researchers speculate. People who have had many relationships prior to their current one can compare a present partner to their prior partners in many areas – like conflict management, dating style, physical attractiveness, sexual skills, communication ability and so on. Marriage involves leaving behind other options, which may be harder to do with a lot of experience, the researchers say.

More relationship experiences prior to marriage also means more experience breaking up, which may make for a more jaundiced view of love and relationships, Rhoades said. It’s also possible that some people have personality characteristics – such as liking to take risks or being harder to get along with – that both increase their odds of having many relationship experiences and decrease their odds of marital success, she added.

Rhoades and co-author Scott M. Stanley came to these insights by analyzing new data from the Relationship Development Study, an ongoing national study based at the University of Denver and funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Between 2007 and 2008, more than 1,000 Americans who were unmarried but in a relationship, and between the ages of 18 and 34, were recruited into the study.

Over the course of the next five years and 11 waves of data collection, 418 of those individuals got married. The authors looked closely at those 418 new marriages, examining how the history of the spouses’ relationships and their prior romantic experiences were related to the quality of their marriages. The 418 subjects were reasonably representative of unmarried adults in the United States in terms of race and income. All analyses in the report control for race and ethnicity, years of education, personal income, religiosity and frequency of attendance at religious services.

Sliding vs. Deciding

Past studies show that couples often “slide” into living together rather than talking things out and making a decision about it. In this study, participants who lived together before marriage were asked directly if they made a considered decision about premarital cohabitation or slid into it; they indicated their degree of “sliding versus deciding” on a five-point scale. The more strongly respondents categorized the move as a decision rather than a slide, the greater their marital quality later on.

“We believe that one important obstacle to marital happiness is that many people now slide through major relationship transitions – like having sex, moving in together, getting engaged or having a child – that have potentially life-altering consequences,” said Stanley, research professor and co-director of the Center for Marital & Family Studies at the University of Denver, as well as a senior fellow for both the National Marriage Project and for the Institute for Family Studies.

Often these risks co-occur. For example, those who have multiple cohabiting partners are also more likely to have children before marriage and with more than one partner.

“Another way to think about ‘sliding versus deciding’ is in terms of rituals,” Stanley said. “We tend to ritualize experiences that are important. At times of important transitions, the process of making a decision sets up couples to make stronger commitments with better follow-through as they live them out.”

This finding could also simply reflect that couples who deliberately decided to cohabit are better at talking about important transitions in general, a skill that could help them build a happy marriage, he added.

More Guests, More Stable

Having more guests at one’s wedding – the biggest ritual in many relationships – is associated with higher marital quality, even after controlling for income and education, which may be proxies for how much the wedding might have cost, the study found.

Among couples who had weddings, the sample was divided into those who had weddings with 50 or fewer attendees, 51 to 149 attendees, or 150 or more attendees. Among each grouping, 31 percent, 37 percent, and 47 percent, respectively, reported high marital quality.

“In what might be called the ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ factor, this study finds that couples who have larger wedding parties are more likely to report high-quality marriages,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project and a professor of sociology at U.Va. “One possibility here is that couples with larger networks of friends and family may have more help, and encouragement, in navigating the challenges of married life.

“Note, however, this finding is not about spending lots of money on a wedding party. It’s about having a good number of friends and family in your corner.”

Stanley added, “Our bottom-line advice to Americans hoping to marry is this: Remember that what you do before you say ‘I do’ may shape your odds of forging a successful marital future.”

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New Study Finds Hormonal Contraceptives Increases Risk of Gestational Diabetes

While the Obama Administration is pushing the use of contraceptives — and demanding Catholics pay for them — evidence continues to accumulate showing the health dangers of using hormonal contraceptives.

The latest, released today by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, found women who used hormonal methods of birth control had higher odds for gestational diabetes than did women who used no contraception.

Researchers analyzed data collected in 2007 and 2008 by the Missouri Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) to determine if type of contraception before pregnancy influenced maternal risk for GDM.

Of the 2,741 women who completed the 2007–2008 PRAMS survey, 8.3% were diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and 17.9% of the respondents had used hormonal contraceptive methods. Women who used hormonal methods of birth control had higher odds for gestational diabetes than did women who used no contraception.


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Why Most Catholics Don’t Practice Adoration

Trying to get adoration started in any parish is a really difficult job.  In one parish, just one person plus a deacon showed up for adoration followed by benediction — a commitment of just 20 minutes for adoration itself.

That wouldn’t be a surprise to University of Virginia psychologist Timothy Wilson, who in a series of 11 studies found most people ages 18 to 77 would rather be doing something – possibly even hurting themselves – than spending even brief periods of time alone in a room with nothing to do but think, ponder or daydream.

The participants, by and large, enjoyed much more doing external activities such as listening to music or using a smartphone. Some even preferred to give themselves mild electric shocks than to think.

“Those of us who enjoy some down time to just think likely find the results of this study surprising – I certainly do – but our study participants consistently demonstrated that they would rather have something to do than to have nothing other than their thoughts for even a fairly brief period of time,” Wilson said.

The period of time that Wilson and his colleagues asked participants to be alone with their thoughts ranged from six to 15 minutes. Most of whom reported that this “thinking period” wasn’t very enjoyable and that it was hard to concentrate.

“That was surprising – that even older people did not show any particular fondness for being alone thinking,” Wilson said.

He does not necessarily attribute this to the fast pace of modern society, or the prevalence of readily available electronic devices, such as smartphones. Instead, he thinks the devices might be a response to people’s desire to always have something to do.

In his paper, Wilson notes that broad surveys have shown that people generally prefer not to disengage from the world, and, when they do, they do not particularly enjoy it. Based on these surveys, Americans spent their time watching television, socializing or reading, and actually spent little or no time “relaxing or thinking.”

Most reported they found it difficult to concentrate and that their minds wandered, though nothing was competing for their attention. On average the participants did not enjoy the experience. A similar result was found in further studies when the participants were allowed to spend time alone with their thoughts in their homes.

“We found that about a third admitted that they had ‘cheated’ at home by engaging in some activity, such as listening to music or using a cell phone, or leaving their chair,” Wilson said. “And they didn’t enjoy this experience any more at home than at the lab.”

An additional experiment randomly assigned participants to spend time with their thoughts or the same amount of time doing an external activity, such as reading or listening to music, but not to communicate with others.

Those who did the external activities reported that they enjoyed themselves much more than those asked to just think, that they found it easier to concentrate and that their minds wandered less.

The researchers took their studies further. Because most people prefer having something to do rather than just thinking, they then asked, “Would they rather do an unpleasant activity than no activity at all?”

The results show that many would. Participants were given the same circumstances as most of the previous studies, with the added option of also administering a mild electric shock to themselves by pressing a button.

Twelve of 18 men in the study gave themselves at least one electric shock during the study’s 15-minute “thinking” period. By comparison, six of 24 females shocked themselves. All of these participants had received a sample of the shock and reported that they would pay to avoid being shocked again.

“What is striking,” the investigators write, “is that simply being alone with their own thoughts for 15 minutes was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock that they had earlier said they would pay to avoid.”

Wilson and his team note that men tend to seek “sensations” more than women, which may explain why 67% of men self-administered shocks compared to 25% of women.

Wilson said that he and his colleagues are still working on the exact reasons why people find it difficult to be alone with their own thoughts. Everyone enjoys daydreaming or fantasizing at times, he said, but these kinds of thinking may be most enjoyable when they happen spontaneously, and are more difficult to do on command.

“The mind is designed to engage with the world,” he said. “Even when we are by ourselves, our focus usually is on the outside world. And without training in meditation or thought-control techniques, which still are difficult, most people would prefer to engage in external activities.”

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Supreme Court Invalidates Massachusetts’ 35-Foot Buffer Zone Around Abortion Clinics

The Supreme Court unanimously held Massachusetts’s law establishing a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics violates the First Amendment.  The decision appears to focus on the fact that the zone includes public sidewalks and roadways.

It’s not a sweeping decision.  It says states can pass laws that specifically insure access to clinics.  But states can’t more broadly restrict speech on public sidewalks and roads.

It also rejected the protestors’ argument that such restrictions are viewpoint-based and require strict scrutiny.

the Massachusetts law violates the First Amendment. This is a law that imposes a thirty-five-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics. – See more at:
the Massachusetts law violates the First Amendment. This is a law that imposes a thirty-five-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics. – See more at:
the Massachusetts law violates the First Amendment. This is a law that imposes a thirty-five-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics. – See more at:
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