Meditations on the Luminous Mysteries from the Saints of 1622 (Part I)

December 4, 2022

Earlier this year, on March 12, the Church celebrated the 400thanniversary of the most famous canonization ceremony of all time, when Pope Gregory XV proclaimed the sanctity of Ignatius Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Francis Xavier, Philip Neri, and Isidore the Farmer, giants in the history of the Church who, through their example, writings, ecclesial foundations, and heavenly intercession, continue very much to help and guide the Church. Their 400thanniversary is something that should joyfully be celebrated not just on March 12 or even the whole month of March but all of 2022. For that reason, as we ask them to join us in prayer for all the intentions we bring to God through our Lady as we pray the holy Rosary throughout the remainder of 2022. Let us ponder, during each of the mysteries, some aspects of their life and writings.

Let us begin: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The First Luminous Mystery — The Baptism of the Lord in the Jordan

When John was baptizing at the Jordan River, it was a sign of conversion and the need to be washed free of sin, but it was not yet a sacrament capable of cleansing us from sin. Everything changed when his cousin Jesus approached and descended into the waters. He sanctified the waters so that Christian baptism would be able to deliver on what John’s baptism indicated needed to be done — wash us free from all sin — and even more than that, have God the Father adopt us as His beloved sons and daughters in whom He is well pleased and have the Holy Spirit not only come down on us but dwell in us as His temple. What an awesome gift Baptism is!

This was the gift Saint Francis Xavier, the greatest missionary in the history of the Church after Saint Paul, brought to multitudes in Goa, the Pearl Fishery Coast of India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Japan and died on the shores of China seeking to bring the Gospel there, too. By the reports he sent to St. Ignatius in Rome, he ended up personally baptizing 700,000 Christians. In Travancore on the southern tip of India, he baptized 10,000 in a month, until his arm went completely numb. That right arm is now enshrined in the Church of the Gesù in Rome as a witness not only to his heroic perseverance in bringing so many to the Christian life but also of the importance of baptism for salvation.

We pray through his intercession asking for the grace of wonderous gratitude for the gift of our baptism, the most important day of our life, and for zeal like him to do our part in carrying out the Lord’s great commission, going to the whole world, proclaiming the Gospel to every creature, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to carry out everything Jesus has commanded, conscious that Jesus is with us always until the end of time.

The Second Luminous Mystery — The Wedding Feast of Cana

In Cana of Galilee, due to His Mother’s intercession, Jesus worked His first public miracle, changing 180 gallons of water into precious wine. But the Church has always grasped that that act of compassion and love was not the only miracle that day. Jesus also took the “water” of the institution of marriage from the beginning with Adam and Eve and raised it to the “wine” of a sacrament, a sacred, life-changing means of intimate communion with Him. From that point forward, the marriage between a Christian man and woman would become a sign of His own marital communion with the Church and a means by which man and woman, receiving His spousal love, would be strengthened to love each other as He loved them first.

We see this reality of Christian marriage lived in full splendor in the life of Saint Isidore the Farmer, patron of Madrid, and his marriage to Saint Maria Toribia. They were poor, but they knew how rich they were in God and shared the little they had, including their meager meals, with the poor. They had one son, Illan, whom they received with gratitude from God, but who died young, and so they needed to sanctify not only the death of a beloved child but also the hardship of not being able to conceive others. Eventually they took a vow of continence in order to turn their incapacity for children into an act of devotion. In their marriage they helped each other stay united to God and to grow in holiness.

Through Saint Isidore’s and Saint Maria’s intercession, we pray in a special way for all married couples, that they might cooperate fully with God’s desire to sanctify them through good times and bad, poverty and prosperity, sickness and health, all their days. We pray also for a greater love and appreciation, among believers and within society, for the gift of marriage, given to us so that we might grow in the image of God.

The Third Luminous Mystery — The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God and the Call to Conversion

At the beginning of His public ministry, Jesus proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” In Him, the fullness of time had come. God’s kingdom was at hand because the King Himself was present. And that reality is meant to change our life. We are supposed to convert from our old ways, from everything keeping us from living with the King, and from this point forward, to live with faith in Him, in what He is doing, and in everything He is saying.

One of the greatest conversions of all time happened in the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola. As a young man, he sought worldly glory in the service of his earthly king, as a valiant soldier on the battlefield. But after his right leg was shattered by a cannonball and left calf torn off in the Battle of Pamplona, he needed to convalesce for several months. Having exhausted all of the chivalrous romances on his shelves, he turned to a Life of Christ and a book on the lives of the saints. He was pierced by his own shallowness compared to the saints’ substance and roused by the courage of the martyrs in fighting the good fight on the battlefield that mattered most. After reading about Saint Francis and Saint Dominic, he asked one of the most important questions in history: “These men were of the same frame as I. Why, then, should I not do what they have done?” Led by their example and many graces, he made the commitment to serve the true King and to sacrifice everything to extend His kingdom, eventually founding the Jesuits and through them generations of Christians, saints, and martyrs.

Through his intercession, we pray in this mystery for the grace of our conversion, that we might grasp that what God wants of us is not a minor course correction or the elimination of a bad habit, but a death and resurrection, ultimately a new life, in which we seek first the Kingdom of God and His holiness. We also pray for the conversion of all those who are striving to build their own kingdom, that they might recognize that the King of Kings has indeed come, say to Him, “Thy Kingdom Come!,” and strive after holiness, as Francis, Dominic, and Ignatius have before us.

We will continue our reflection on the Luminous Mysteries through the lens of the Saints of 1622 in next weekend’s bulletin.

An Extraordinary Start to advent

November 27, 2022

Advent is about a two-fold triple dynamism: Christ comes to us in “history, mystery, and majesty,” and we go out to meet Him respectively in Bethlehem, in the sacraments, prayer, and daily life, and as He comes again — so that, transformed by the encounter, we will better follow and journey with Him. When I was first ordained, I gained a new perspective on this double three-fold spiritual movement by beginning the liturgical season on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, landing as Advent wreaths were being lit for vigil Masses on the First Sunday of Advent and returning a week later.

My fellow pilgrims and I had time, prayerfully and without haste, to enter into the longing of the Jewish people for the coming of the Messiah, to retrace the pivotal steps of that Messiah when at last He came, and to cultivate the virtues necessary for embracing Him on His return, reorienting life as a communal pilgrimage toward the heavenly Jerusalem. To help us meet Jesus “in history,” we were able to retrace His steps by journeying to Nazareth, where, through Mary’s fiat to the Archangel Gabriel’s news, the Word became flesh and dwelled among us. We visited Ein Karem, where Mary and Jesus growing within her went to care for Saints Elizabeth, Zechariah, and John the Baptist, before the voice of the One crying out in the desert had enunciated his first syllable.

We followed the angels, the shepherds, and wise men to Bethlehem, where we were able to anticipate Christmas with Mass in a cave at Shepherds’ Field and then recapitulate their short, transformative route to another cave, the Grotto of the Nativity, to adore Jesus in the place where He was born, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. We journeyed to a tense Temple Mount, where Jesus was presented on His fortieth day among the prayers and praises of Simeon and Anna, where at 12 He was “lost and found” doing God the Father’s business, and where He later drove out money changers and animal sellers and taught under the malevolent eyes of those seeking to kill Him.

We spent a peaceful afternoon in Nazareth, where, surrounded by Mary and Joseph, Jesus lived His hidden life and teaches us still about how our family life and work are meant to be part of the redemption. It was particularly poignant to examine how St. Joseph, this “just man,” teaches us how to relate to Jesus and to the Blessed Mother. We traveled to the Jordan River, where we were able to hear the voice of an adult John the Baptist calling us to make straight the paths of the Lord — which the Church ponders every Second and Third Sundays of Advent — and where, at the end of centuries of waiting for the Messiah, the camel-attired locust-and-honey-eater was able to point out Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and whose sandals he was unworthy to untie. We crossed into the extensive desert where Jesus prayed for 40 days and nights and was tempted.

We visited Cana, the site of His first miracle and the elevation of marriage to a sacrament traversed Jericho, where Jesus healed Bartimaeus and summoned Zacchaeus from the tree took a ride on the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus walked on water and calmed various storms, and from whose shores He called several apostles from their nets to become fishers of men visited Capernaum, the location of Jesus’ raising Jairus’ daughter, calling of Saint Matthew, proclaiming Himself as the Bread of Life, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, a paralytic lowered on the stretcher, a hemorrhaging woman, a man with the withered hand, a possessed man, and so many who met Him at the door of St. Peter’s house.

We likewise visited the places where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, gave Peter his name and the keys of the kingdom of heaven, hiked and was transfigured among Moses and Elijah, multiplied five loaves and two fish, and, after the Resurrection, cooked breakfast for the disciples and restored Peter to the essence of his vocation of loving, feeding, and protecting the Good Shepherd’s sheep and lambs. Finally we retraced Jesus’ footsteps in and around Jerusalem, visiting the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, examining His weeping over Jerusalem for its failure to recognize in Him its messianic visitation, following on foot Jesus’ route on Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday, not just listening to the Gospel accounts, but trying to enter, at least a little, into some of the physical exertions He Himself would have endured, as He walked, or was dragged, from place to place.

The Holy Land is traditionally called the “Fifth Gospel,” where one is able to do more than a “lectio divina” or meditation on the Word of God. We can do a “visio” or “habitatio divina,” seeing and entering into the Biblical scenes in which we become eyewitnesses of what happened millennia ago and, not just with our imagination but various senses, enter them. A pilgrimage to the Holy Land is also an enhanced way to meet Christ “in mystery,” the traditional way the Church has referred to meeting Jesus in the Sacraments, prayer, and in daily life.

We prayed in the Upper Room, where the Sacraments of the Eucharist, Holy Orders, Penance, and Confirmation were all instituted. We celebrated Christmas Day on December 1st in a cave where shepherds watched their flocks by night and there adored on the altar the One they went in haste to see. We climbed Mount Tabor (in vertiginous van rides) to enter into the holy cloud where Jesus conversed with Moses and Elijah and God the Father spoke, telling Peter, James, and John and all of us to listen to Jesus, especially to what He taught about His passion, death, and resurrection and our summons to deny ourselves, pick up our Cross, and follow Him. And we had the awesome privilege to celebrate Easter Mass within the Edicule built over the tomb of Jesus in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, placing the Risen Body of the Lord back into the empty tomb and then have that same Lord Eucharistically enter each of us.

Because of such mind-blowingly grace-filled opportunities, I have always found that meeting Christ in mystery is much easier in the Holy Land. The Holy Land is also a great place to prepare to meet Christ in majesty. Ranging through the sights of the Messiah’s first coming, in general, is excellent preparation for the reality of His second, but we also were able to enter into the holy longing of the Jewish people in the lives of Saints Joachim and Anne, Saint Zechariah, Elizabeth and John, whose homes we visited see the remnants of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and behold the Valley of Megiddo (Armageddon), both of which are associated with the Biblical accounts of Christ’s return and pray at the traditional site of Jesus’ ascension and ponder how He will one day return from where He went so that, by God’s mercy, He might bring us with Him to the place He has gone to prepare.

Mostly, however, we were able to prepare for Christ’s second coming by entering into the reality of how every earthly pilgrimage is a chapter in the book-long pilgrimage of earthly life. Making the steep 20-mile climb from Jericho to Jerusalem, we prayed the 15 Psalms of Ascent, which Jews for 2500 years have prayed in preparation for entering the holy city. There is an obvious application to the way we pray with joy and desire for the ascent to the Heavenly Jerusalem. The Church is, as we pray in Eucharistic Prayer III a “pilgrim Church on earth,” and together we seek to make that trek to the house of the Lord.

It was, in summary, an extraordinary and unforgettable start to Advent and will continue to live on in my priestly heart!

Saving thanksgiving for future generations

November 20, 2022

On December 16, 2020, we marked the 400th Anniversary of the Pilgrims’ disembarking in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and in 2021 we celebrated the quatercentenary of the first Thanksgiving feast. It was a brutal first year. Of the 103 pilgrims who had arrived, 52 would die before the long winter was over. Governor John Carver, their leader, succumbed to fever. Ten of the seventeen husbands and fathers, and fourteen of their seventeen wives, perished. The threat of famine was a constant menace until the March arrival of English-speaking Squanto, who taught the emaciated pioneers how to distinguish between poisonous and good plants, to tap maple trees for sap, to fertilize soil with dead fish, and to plant corn and beans. When that soil produced a humble harvest a few months later, they organized a feast to thank God who had helped them not just with the food they were blessing but with survival.

Every year the remembrance of that first thanksgiving is an occasion for families, friends, and indeed our whole country to get together to express gratitude — for believers, to God for non-believers, to whoever is listening for everyone, to each other for much appreciated kindness, love, and solidarity. In a consumerist age in which we are coaxed to focus more on what we do not have than what we do, when our polarized political and social culture tempts us to criticize far more than compliment, the fourth Thursday of November is an increasingly important opportunity to reset and detoxify.

I become more grateful every November not just for the generosity of God and others, but also for the feast of Thanksgiving itself and the manifold good it occasions. Catholics pray to God in the heart of every Mass, “It is right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks.” The feast of Thanksgiving allows us to fulfill that sweet and fitting obligation for the gift of life and so much besides. It also opens us up to the various planes of human redemption that can only be received by grateful hearts. A spirit of gratitude is essential not just to personal flourishing and happiness but to social growth and harmony. Even and especially for those who have experienced suffering and setbacks, who objectively would have plenty of reasons to bemoan or complain, Thanksgiving is a lifeline cast into the pit of self-pity, offering a path of escape as well as the permission and motivation to take it.

But we cannot take this gift of Thanksgiving for granted, as if it will somehow always be with us, passed down from generation to generation, with no effort needed on our part to protect and promote it. Thanksgiving regularly faces the annual challenges of those who are prevented from coming or choose to absent themselves, from family members who prefer to make it a midweek pseudo-Sabbath of NFL binge-watching, or others who regard it as a prelude to Black Friday binge-spending. But now, in an era of cancel culture and its push for the historical, cultural, and religious parricide of western civilization, Thanksgiving is facing a conceptual attack that should not be underestimated or ignored.

Similar forces to those that have been yanking down statues of Christopher Columbus and changing the second Monday of October to “Indigenous Peoples Day” who have been besmirching US history as an evil chronicle through the 1619 Project and critical race theory who are pretending that the great Franciscan missionary Junipero Serra was a sadist rather than a saint and who have gone after the memories and monuments of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Francis Scott Key, Theodore Roosevelt, Frederick Douglass, Lewis and Clark, Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary such fevered mobs are now aiming their iconoclastic and deconstructive crosshairs on Thanksgiving.

In a November 4, 2021, feature in the Washington Post entitled, “This tribe helped the Pilgrims survive for their first Thanksgiving. They still regret it 400 years later,” author Dana Hedgpeth interviews members of the Wampanoag Tribe on Cape Cod, whose members, she described, are “bracing for the 400thanniversary of the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving in 1621.” For the “Wampanoags and many other American Indians, the fourth Thursday in November is considered a day of mourning, not a day of celebration,” she wrote, since all the Wampanoags got from helping the Pilgrims survive was a “slow, unfolding genocide of their people and the taking of their land.”

The hyperbolic use of the word “genocide” is not unique to this particular reporter. It is used regularly in interviews of the Wamponoags and other indigenous communities to refer to the arrival of the pilgrims. Genocide, by definition, involves intent. It is the deliberate killing or harming of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group in order to bring about its physical destruction in whole or part. Rather than those who sought freedom from religious persecution in England who devoutly got together after a brutal year to give thanks to God, the pilgrims are being accused of slow-motion ethnic cleansing. The names of Bradford, Standish, Gardiner, and Carver should be numbered, in other words, alongside Ataturk, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot.

There are, of course, some who believe this calumny about the pilgrims, like they do about almost any westerner who landed on the shores of the new world. But their outlandish accusations are generally not given credence by reputable outlets like the Washington Post in lengthy features with no quotations from scholarly or contradictory voices. The first Thanksgiving, Hedgpeth recounts, “turned into a centuries-long disaster for the Mashpee [Wampanoags].” She links the arrival of the pilgrims to the “Great Dying” pandemic that preceded their arrival thanks because of the germs of fisherman from England along the Massachusetts coast, as if they were engaged in biological warfare rather than trying to catch cod.

Hedgpeth derisively makes the point that the Wampanoags were not even originally invited to the prayerful celebration of the first Thanksgiving but only came after they heard some festive gunshots, misinterpreting them as harbingers of trouble. Having arrived, however, they were invited to stay and share in the feast, which they did, something ultimately complimentary to pilgrims and the Wampanoags both. But not to Darius Coombs, a Mashpee Wampanoag cultural outreach coordinator, who told Hedgpeth, “For us, Thanksgiving kicked off colonization. Our lives changed dramatically. It brought disease, servitude and so many things that weren’t good for Wampanoags and other Indigenous cultures.” In exchange for introducing the “Boat People” to native foodstuffs like turkey, corn, cranberries, pumpkins, raspberries, and blueberries, the Wampanoags, it is implied, received smallpox, cholera, scarlet fever, whooping cough and the common cold. And later dirty water and dirty air. And nothing whatsoever good or even neutral.

Hedgpeth quotes Frank James, “a well-known Aquinnah Wampanoag activist,” who called welcoming and befriending the pilgrims as “perhaps our biggest mistake.” In 1970, he created a “National Day of Mourning” to replace Thanksgiving and, as Hedgpeth details, “debunk the myths of the holiday.” Hedgpeth mentions that this year some Wampanoags will go to Plymouth on Thanksgiving Day to mark this National Day of Mourning. Other recent articles have documented efforts to “cancel” Thanksgiving from school curricula or at least to supplant it from a “heart-warming multicultural celebration” to a “cruel reminder of European colonialism,” as one 2018 Washington Post described.

There is no question that indigenous peoples have suffered enormously from illnesses, xenophobia, war (among themselves and with settlers), unjust laws, and immoral actions against their persons, dignity, traditions, and lands. Those need to be acknowledged, apologized for, repented for and, to the extent possible, justly remedied. At the same time, such historic sufferings do not provide carte blanche for accusing the pilgrims themselves of atrocity crimes, for trying to eliminate the memory of that first thanksgiving harvest feast over 400 years ago, or for seeking to transform a much-needed day of national gratefulness and celebration into a day of shame, lament, and national self-loathing.

The best remedy for a culture of grievance is one of gratitude. Even if, like that first Thanksgiving, the Wampanoags were late to the feast, let us never stop inviting them, and others like Dana Hedgpeth, in the hope that they will realize what the rest of us already know: that there is indeed something to celebrate and that it is right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give thanks.

There is poverty and need

November 13, 2022

November is a time in which many of us slow down and thank God for the blessings He has given to us, to our family members and friends, and to our country. The anniversary of the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts, should lead us to thank God in a special way for all He has given over the course of the past four centuries, helping this land be transformed from a vast wilderness into the “experiment in ordered liberty” we have now, which remains the destination not only of tourists but also of millions of immigrants annually seeking to cross its borders. Despite so many blessings, including extraordinary wealth, there remains great poverty in our country, both material and spiritual. I would like, however, to celebrate and give God thanks for a group of holy women God has sent to address that two-fold poverty.

Fifty-one years ago, on October 18, 1971, Saint Teresa of Calcutta arrived in New York City with the first Missionaries of Charity (MCs) to the United States. Mother Teresa had founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950, four years after she had had a mystical experience — a call within her call as a religious — when Jesus summoned her to satiate His thirst and care for Him in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor. She left the Sisters of Loreto to found the MCs.

The sisters around her quickly grew and need for their care in India and beyond became heart wrenchingly obvious. By 1965, Pope St. Paul VI had erected them as a Pontifical Institute and they had permission, with the assent of local bishops, to open up houses in other countries. The first house outside of India was in Venezuela. The second house in this hemisphere was in New York City. Mother Teresa had first visited the United States in 1960 to give some talks to women’s groups. While in Manhattan, visiting with Dorothy Day, the future Servant of God took the future Saint to see the Bowery where Mother Teresa was shocked to see so many people lying sick on the streets a short distance from Wall Street. Day helped her to understand the demographics — some were homeless, others elderly, and most were alcoholics or addicted to drugs — and Mother never forgot the image of so many on the streets who were lonely, unwanted, and hungry for more than bread.

In 1969, Eileen Egan, a friend and supporter of Mother Teresa and longtime journalist, Pax Christi USA foundress, and staffer for the US Bishops’ international relief efforts, told Cardinal Terence Cooke that Mother Teresa was interested in sending a team of sisters to work in the inner city. He got the ball rolling and extended an official invitation on June 3, 1971. Four months later, on October 18, 1971, Cardinal Cooke welcome Mother Teresa and the four first sisters to New York. It was the feast of St. Luke, the “evangelist of the poor.” At first, Mother and the sisters coordinated with the Franciscan Handmaids of Most Pure Heart of Mary, an historically Black Congregation of religious women, at their convent in Harlem, as the sisters got to know the situation better, determined a specific apostolate and found the best place to live so that they could respond to the poor. Mother Teresa said on that day, “I don’t know how it will work out. I don’t know whom we shall help. All I know is that there is poverty and need.”

In the last 51 years, the Missionaries of Charity have opened up 50 convents in the United States, 42 with active sisters and 8 with contemplatives. The Missionaries are present in Ashbury Park (NJ), Atlanta, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Boston, Bridgeport, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Charlotte, Chester (PA), Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Gallup, Gary (IN), Harlem, Houston, Indianapolis, Jenkins (KY), Lafayette (LA), Lexington (KY), Little Rock, Los Angeles, Manhattan, Memphis, Miami, Minneapolis, Mohonoy City (PA), New Bedford (MA), Newark, Norristown (PA), Pacifica (CA), Phoenix, Plainfield (NJ), Richmond (CA), Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Spokane, St. Louis, and Washington DC. Of the 760 convents of Missionaries of Charity in 139 countries in the world, only India (244) has more than the United States. There is, of course, greater poverty in many places than in the United States, but the presence of so many Missionaries of Charity here is a sign, often ignored by the media, various politicians, citizens, and others, of the great poverty — material and spiritual — that remains in our country and the multitudes who are in need.

Throughout the world, the Missionaries of Charity operate homes and programs for the abandoned, the sick and dying, for sick and forsaken children, lepers, refugees, prisoners, former prostitutes, the homeless, the mentally ill, people with AIDS, the blind, aged, convalescent, alcoholics, pregnant women, victims of floods, epidemics, and famine. When they arrived in New York 51 years ago, the began to visit the elderly, cut their nails, and clean up their houses, to visit a hospital in Jersey City, and to bring Catholic children to Mass. They also began to visit different sections of the city to see where they would be most needed. When they came to the South Bronx, they knew.

As the first superior of the house, Sr. Andrea, wrote in 1972, “The South Bronx you can only compare to one place: Calcutta. The empty, deserted, burned out and vandalized houses, look even more ghostly than any of Calcutta’s slums, but in and around there live people, men, women and children in great numbers, in great poverty and in terrible neglect.” The street where their present convent and U.S. Provincial Headquarters is located was called by those in the 1970s a “cemetery for dead cars,” with windows and windshields smashed and insides torched. The neighborhood was just as bad, with people ubiquitously taking drugs around trashcan fire pits and the first (commercial) floor of most buildings burned out. Yet that is where they chose to establish their mission. The opened up a soup kitchen and a shelter for homeless women. They visited the shut-ins in three different parishes. They started catechetical programs for children and adult catechesis in Spanish.

To help children stay off the streets, they opened a recreation center on the ground floor of their convent, with a small carpentry workshop for boys, handcrafts for little girls, and cooking, typing and sewing classes for older girls and neighborhood mothers. In the summers, with the help of the city, they organized summer camps. In 1976, when Mother Teresa came to Philadelphia to give three talks at the international Eucharistic Congress, she announced that she was founding the first group of MC Contemplatives worldwide in the Bronx — led by Sr. Nirmala, who would become her successor — to pray for the needs of the poor, the Church, and the world.

When Mother Teresa stated, a half-century ago, “I don’t know how it will work out. I don’t know whom we shall help,” it is clear that I am among one of those her daughters have helped become a better Christian disciple and apostle as I seek to imitate their mission of charity. And I am sure many of those reading can echo that same appreciation. This Thanksgiving, let us express our gratitude together to God for 51 years and 50 convents of the Missionaries of Charity and ask Him to bless them with Himself, many vocations, and many apostolic fruits. And let us ask Him, through them, never to cease blessing us all.

At the service of vocations

November 6, 2022

On Sunday, May 15, Pope Francis canonized ten new saints. The headliners across the Catholic world were Father Titus Brandsma (d. 1942), the Dutch Carmelite martyred by the Nazis in Dachau, and Father Charles de Foucauld (d. 1916), the desert Trappist, pioneer in interreligious dialogue, and inspiration for the Little Brothers and Little Sisters of Jesus, who was murdered by Algerian marauders. They were joined by Indian layman Devasahayam Pillai, a convert from Hinduism and martyr (d. 1752), by French beati Fr. César de Bus (d. 1607) and Mother Marie Rivier (d. 1838), and by Italians Fr. Luigi Palazzolo (d. 1886), Mother Anna Maria Rubatto (d. 1904), Mother Carolina Santocanale (d. 1923), Mother Maria Domenica Montovani (d. 1934), and Fr. Giustino “Justin” Maria Russolillo (d. 1955). I would like to focus on St. Justin because in this age of urgent and incessant prayers for priestly and religious vocations, St. Justin is one of the great “vocation directors” of all time.

The future saint was the third of ten children born in 1891 to Luigi Russolillo and Giuseppina Russolillo, a poor, hardworking couple in Pianura, Italy, a suburb of Naples. He had a hunger for holiness from an early age, receiving his first Holy Communion precociously at the age of five and devouring the lives of the saints, each of whom he thought revealed to us a particular aspect of the life of Jesus. After his Confirmation at age 10, he desired to enter minor seminary, but his family did not have the resources to pay for his tuition, books, and seminary clothing. They appealed to a wealthy local landowner with a reputation for generosity to the poor, but the rich baron replied, “If you have no money to pay the seminary, let him become a shoemaker.” Shocked, the faithful mother said to her startled son, “Do not be afraid, your mother will make sure you go to the seminary, even at the cost of pawning her own eyes.”

Eventually, with some financial sacrifices of an aunt, he was able to begin his studies, but God used the rejection to fill him with zeal to help those in similar lowly circumstances follow God’s call to be priests or religious. He grasped that the Lord of the Harvest never ceases to call young men and women to the priesthood and religious life, but there is ever a need for people to cultivate, educate, and foster those vocations. And he became a faithful foreman of the Lord of the Harvest.

While he was still a seminarian, his parents allowed him to open their small home to receive young boys and girls for catechetical lessons, training in prayer, vocational discernment, and apostolic works. When he was ordained a priest, as the Litany of Saints was being chanted, he vowed to “spend my life stirring and cultivating vocations to the priesthood and religious life” and to associate with those who share the same ideal. On the seventh anniversary of his priestly ordination, he was appointed pastor in his hometown, and a month later, he opened up the rectory for what he called a “Vocationary,” a house where, in a spirit of prayer and study, he educated and guided initially 13 candidates who desired to dedicate themselves to diocesan priesthood or religious congregations but who were financially unable yet to attend the seminary, who did not know yet where God was specifically calling them. Later he opened up Vocationaries for those who had left the seminary, religious life, or the priesthood and needed to be rehabilitated, helping to save over 300 vocations.

In the Vocationaries, as well as in the religious institutes he founded, he focused on training in holiness through prayer and asceticism. He wanted to form his spiritual sons and daughters to live in full-time communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit following the example and with the intercession of the Holy Family. He wanted to help them lovingly to obey the commandments, the evangelical counsels, and approved divine inspirations, like the rule of religious communities, with humility, generosity, and faithfulness.

He repeatedly said to spiritual sons and daughters, “I want you to become a great saint!” and he sought to show them how. Originally, because of his love for the saints and desire to promote what the Second Vatican Council would later call the “universal call to holiness,” he desired to name the religious institutes he sensed God calling him to establish the “Congregation of the Servants of the Saints” and the “Sister Servants of the Saints,” before focusing more on God Himself and on the “divine vocation” He gives us to grow in His holy image and likeness.

The Society of Divine Vocations received its initial diocesan approval in 1927 and became a congregation of pontifical right 20 years later. It now exists in 16 different countries, being brought to the United States in 1962 by St. Justin’s younger brother Ciro, who likewise became a Vocationist priest and after helping to renovate many of his community’s residences in Italy and serving four years as a missionary in Brazil, came to Newark, New Jersey in 1955, just months before the death of his brother, to implant the SDVs in the USA.

The miracle for Fr. Justin’s 2011 beatification took place in 1998 in East Hanover, New Jersey when Ida Meloro was cured through his intercession of vaginal cancer. The miracle for his canonization occurred in 2016 for a Vocationist seminarian from Madagascar, Jean Emile Rasolfo, who was cured of acute respiratory failure, epilepsy, and various other serious maladies, after he was visited with a relic of Fr. Justin as he lay in a coma. We can make our own the prayer that the Church recites on his August 2 feast day: “O God, you called [Saint] Justin Mary to raise generous ministers for your work of universal sanctification, grant us, we pray, through his intercession, to discover and faithfully follow our vocation” and then mention the specific intention.

To read more about the inspiring life and work of the new saint and now heavenly vocational intercessor, I would recommend the 2017 work, Blessed Justin of the Trinity: At the Service of Vocations, by Fr. Louis Caputo, SDV, available for free on the internet.

St. John vianney's plan for Eucharistic Revival

October 30, 2022

As Catholics in the United States enter more deeply into the three-year Eucharistic Revival inaugurated by the American bishops on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, there are many lessons and much hope to be gained by successful Eucharistic renewals that have taken place in Church history. One of the most important was led by the patron saint of parish priests, Saint John Vianney, in his parish of Ars, France, in the 19th century.

When Saint John Vianney arrived at St. Sixtus Church in 1818, most of the 230 residents of the village assembled the next Sunday to learn the identity of their new shepherd. Few presented themselves, however, for Holy Communion at Mass and the following week, few presented themselves at Mass at all. As Spring came, songs of praise for God on the Lord’s Day were regularly routed by the cacophony of anvils, carts, and workers in the fields, and morning revelry in the taverns.

The lack of love for God, and almost total lack of awareness of the gift of God in the Holy Eucharist, flummoxed Vianney. As a young boy during the bloodiest years of the French Revolution, he used to travel furtively with his parents in the middle of night to isolated barns for clandestine Masses with hunted priests as volunteer sentinels kept vigil. The penalty for getting caught, for clergy, hosts, and attendees alike, was the guillotine. Nevertheless, the Vianney family, the heroic fugitive clergy, and the rest of the faithful all deemed attending Mass, worshipping the Son of God made man in the Eucharist, and receiving Him, important enough to die for. That those in Ars, after the atrocities of the terror had passed, would not use their freedom to give God thanks and praise on the Lord’s Day was a faith crisis Saint John Vianney could not duck.

His pastoral strategy to get his people to return to their Eucharistic Lord is a model of practical wisdom that can guide the Church today. It involved four essential steps. The first was to help his people recover a sense of importance of sanctifying the Lord’s Day. From the earliest days of the Church, Sunday has been treated as a “little Easter” and if people don’t recognize the importance of celebrating Easter, or prioritize other activities over it, they do not really grasp the basics of the Christian faith. The Curé of Ars, both in the pulpit with those who came to Mass and in walks throughout the village for those who didn’t, would stress the importance of Sunday as a divine gift to help us become who we are supposed to be. “The sabbath was made for man,” Vianney said, repeating Jesus’ words. “Man is not only a work horse but is also a spirit created in the image of God! He has not only material needs and basic appetites but needs of the soul and appetites of the heart. He lives not only by bread, but by prayer, faith, adoration, and love.” He didn’t hesitate to use fire and brimstone when necessary or to go out before Mass to find people in the fields. One farmer tried to hide himself behind one of his carts. Vianney reminded him, “My friend, you seem very much surprised to find me here, but the good God sees you at all times!” Eventually his persevering efforts worked, and the majority of the villager returned to Sunday Mass. That allowed the real work of forming them to live Eucharistic lives to begin.

The second step was to teach them what the Mass really is. “Attending Mass is the greatest action we can do,” he repeated, until they grasped the profound truth of those words. “All the good works taken together do not equal the sacrifice of the Mass, because they are the works of men and the holy Mass is the work of God. The martyr is nothing in comparison, because martyrdom is the sacrifice that man makes to God of his life the Mass is the sacrifice that God makes for man of his body and blood.” He helped them to recognize that in the sacrifice of the Mass, we participate in Christ’s sacrifice from the Upper Room and Calvary that made salvation possible, and that in the consecration, bread and wine are totally changed into Jesus Christ, really, truly, and substantially present under sacramental appearances, who gives that body and blood for us. “The tongue of the priest, and a piece of bread, makes God!” he said. “That’s more than creating the world!”

Once he had restored a sense of holy awe at what happens in the Mass, he was able to pass to a third stage: to help them grow in practical appreciation of the Lord’s real presence in the Eucharist. “He is there!” Vianney would often preach amidst tears, reminding his people that God Himself was among them on the altar and in the tabernacle. “If we had one favor to ask of Our Lord, we would never have thought … to ask God for His own Son, … to have His Son die for us, to give us His body to eat, His blood to drink. But what man couldn’t say or conceive, what He never would have dared desire, God in His love has said, conceived and acted on.” By his own reverence in the celebration of the Mass and his own example of prayer before the tabernacle, he helped them to see that Jesus in the Eucharist “awaits us night and day,” “waiting for us to go to Him to say our needs and to receive Him,” accommodating “Himself to our weakness: if He appeared in glory before us, we would never have dared approach.” He urged them to make more time for prayerful adoration of the Lord’s wondrous self-gift, visiting Him like we would a beloved friend.

The last step was to help them make frequent holy communions. His 31 years of famous 12-18 hour days hearing confessions was all to help his parishioners — and those coming from all over France — to be able to receive Jesus with clean souls. At the time in France, people seldom received. He tried to help his people prepare inwardly to receive Jesus worthily not just every Sunday, but as frequently as possible, even every day.

He described the power of Jesus in the Eucharist to make them holy. “Next to this sacrament, we are like someone who dies of thirst next to a river, just needing to bend down the head to drink, or like a poor man next to a treasure chest, when all that is needed is to stretch out the hand.” The Eucharist, he stressed, is the Living Water welling to eternal life and the world’s greatest treasure. He told his people that if they communicated more often and with greater love, “they would be saints.” He passed on to them his own astonishment for what happens in Holy Communion: “God gives Himself to you! He makes Himself one with you!” saying that if they really understood their happiness, they “would not be able to live” but “would die of love.” And so, he urged his people, “Come to communion, come to Jesus, come to live off Him, in order to live for Him!”

After years of patient work and prayer for the conversion of his people, St. John Vianney eventually rejoiced that every day the 7am Mass was packed with Catholics receiving the Lord as the source, summit, root, center, and treasure of their life. Pilgrims to Ars soon began to be amazed not just with Ars’ saintly Curé but with Ars’ holy Catholics. The simple, straightforward paradigm for Eucharistic revitalization of the patron saint of parish priest has no expiration date.

violence against religious freedom

October 23, 2022

On September 6, 2022, the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI), a Washington DC based think tank dedicated to achieving broad acceptance of religious liberty as a fundamental right across the globe, released a troubling but important new study on attacks against religious freedom in the United States entitled Religious Pro-Life Americans Under Attack: A Threat Assessment of Post-Dobbs America. Researched and written by a former FBI counterterrorism and intelligence expert, it’s a snapshot of a larger multi-year Investigative Report into domestic attacks on religious freedom that will be released next year.

The Threat Assessment was conducted and published not only because of a surge of attacks against religious and faith-based institutions since 2020 but as a “public-interest imperative” because, the Assessment states, “government officials, law enforcement agencies, and the media have too often responded inadequately or not at all” to these attacks. The report documents that since May 28, 2020, there have been 174 crimes against Catholic Churches, schools, and apostolates, including 4 assaults against persons, 26 incidents of arson, 76 incidents of the desecration of statues, 66 incidents of the destruction of property, 16 incidents of theft, and 81 incidents of graffiti. These have taken place across 38 states and the District of Columbia.

Prior to the May 2, 2022, release of the draft of the Dobbs v. Jackson decision that on June 24, 2022, would overturn Roe v. Wade, attacks against Catholic sites have increased in the country from an average of one every five days to one every three. Thirty-two Catholic churches have been vandalized since the Dobbs leak, including 17 churches where the vandals made clear their pro-abortion motivation through graffiti messages or by damaging pro-life memorials. The day after Dobbs was published, arsonists burned to ashes St. Colman Catholic Church in Shady Spring, West Virginia, where faithful had worshipped for 145 years. Five days later, arsonists attacked St. Anthony of Padua School in Lorain, Ohio, inflicting about $1 million in damage.

This pattern of assaults against Catholic institutions was addressed in January 2022 on behalf of the U.S. Bishops by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty. “For nearly two years,” he said, “the U.S. bishops have noticed a disturbing trend of Catholic churches being vandalized and statues being smashed. … An attack on a house of worship is certainly an assault on the particular community that gathers there. It is also an attack on the founding principle of America as a place where all people can practice their faith freely. And it is an attack on the human spirit, which yearns to know the truth about God and how to act in light of the truth.” He also noted the harm such attacks wreak on the social fabric: “The defacement of such public symbols of the sacred degrades our life together and harms the common good.”

The RFI Assessment also details that such attacks are part of a broader pattern of assaults on religious freedom involving litigation, legislation, government administrative action, and public smear campaigns, but now increasingly involving violence. Since the Dobbs leak through the end of August 2022, 63 pro-life pregnancy resource centers across 26 states and the District of Columbia, have similarly been attacked. Twenty-eight of them are explicitly religious, but almost all are staffed by people motivated by their faith. The pregnancy resource centers provide diapers, formula, food, clothing and other daily necessities, fund, find or provide living accommodations, do adoption referrals, pregnancy tests, sonograms, counseling, parenting classes, employment assistance, and post-abortion healing.

It notes that even though it is a federal crime whenever anyone “intentionally obstructs, by force or threat of force, including by threat of force against religious real property, any person in the enjoyment of that person’s free exercise of religious beliefs, or attempts to do so” as well as whenever someone “intentionally defaces, damages, or destroys any religious real property, because of the religious character of that property, or attempts to do so,” there has been a tepid and “passive” response by federal law enforcement agencies and paltry coverage from the media. Such indifference and neglect, it says, have “consequences for religious free exercise, pluralism, and the safety and security of all religious communities in America.”

The Threat Assessment is meant to assist in understanding the larger patterns of these attacks, bring them to the public’s attention, counter its negative impact on religious freedom, help Church and pro-life institutions prepare for potential attacks, and catalyze action by elected representatives, government officials, and the media. Presently, it states, there is a “permissive” social environment regarding such attacks where groups like Ruth Sent Us and Jane’s Revenge — with its signature graffiti, “If abortions aren’t safe, neither are you” — can vandalize with seeming impunity.

Because of that environment, it predicts that “low threat crimes” like graffiti, broken window and doors, and destruction of outdoor statues are likely to continue unabated. “Medium threat crimes” involving costly property crimes without physical harm to persons, it states, will likely increase as will “high threat crimes” like armed and attacks, arson with people inside, assaults with vehicles, and similar attempted deadly assaults, because “significant numbers of hostile actors are aggrieved and calling for vengeance.” It also warned that low threat crimes may increase to medium, and medium to high.

The Assessment said, “it is imperative that pro-life congregations and organizations, and responsible media outlets, take the current threat environment seriously and that government authorities act decisively to prevent, investigate, and prosecute criminal attacks against these institutions.” It is a sobering report, but one that evokes Jesus’ admonition in the Gospel: “Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared” (Mt 24:42-44).

The Church Post Covid-19

October 16, 2022

Over the past few months, the Centers for Disease Control loosened most of its Covid-19 guidelines, and many other national, state, and local governments, institutions and industries have recently done the same. It is an important marker that collectively almost everyone wants to move on from the pandemic. While there are still variants and people whose conditions make them vulnerable, while some continue to suffer with long Covid, while we continue to mourn those who have died because of it, we give thanks to God that, for the most part, the pandemic and the revolution it caused to daily life are over.

There are many analyses being done as to the long-term impact of the pandemic on health care, the economy, culture, remote work, travel, schools, interpersonal interaction, child psychology, and other social dimensions. It is similarly important for the leaders and faithful of the Church to take this time to examine the impact of the pandemic on Catholic life. Several surveys have shown that one-third of American Catholics who were coming to Mass at the beginning of March 2020 now no longer regularly attend. The decision to lock Churches and prevent access to the Sacraments during the worst months of the pandemic has had a calamitous impact on the faith life of millions of Catholics, on the vitality of their parishes and dioceses, and on the Church’s whole mission.

Some of the faithful just lost their good habit of keeping holy the Lord’s Day. Others began to watch Mass on television or via livestream and have continued to substitute virtual participation for real participation. Others concluded that Mass must not be all that important if Church leaders — during a deadly pandemic when many were dying and others were wondering if they would be next — rather hastily had decided to eliminate the possibility of attending Mass and receiving other Sacraments.

As the Church in the United States enters more deeply into the Eucharistic Revival, it is important to assess with candor and courage the way pandemic decisions have impacted Eucharistic life and faith. For some, shutting off access to Mass and receiving Holy Communion increased their hunger for Holy Communion, gratitude for the Mass, and appreciation for the gift of the priesthood that makes the Eucharistic Lord available. For many others, however, perhaps especially for those whose Eucharistic faith may have been weaker, the decision to suspend the public celebration of Mass attenuated or eliminated that hunger.

It’s easier to tear down than to build. It’s impossible to deny that the decision to shut down access to the Mass, made hurriedly and under duress, has had disastrous consequences. It’s important for Church leaders and faithful to admit that a mistake was made, learn from it, and resolve not to repeat it. Pandemic decision-making did not communicate courage but fear. It did not show that we are the spiritual descendants of the Martyrs of Abitene, Gorkum, and Casimari, of Saints Tarcisius, Oscar Romero, and Pedro Maldonado, and other Eucharist martyrs and saints. It did not confirm that the Eucharist is the source and summit, root and center of the Christian life, but seemed to prioritize the health of the body over the health of the soul.

That does not mean we should have ignored the pandemic, its dangers, and legitimate precautions. The obligation to attend Mass should have been suspended so that those at high risk, who care for those in high risk, who were uncomfortable putting themselves at risk, or who work in health care and similar professions, could with clean conscience make the decision not to come. Stopping the distribution of the Precious Blood was obvious for epidemiological reasons. Following the best advice of medical professionals with regard to social distancing, masks, and handwashing, as well as legitimate governmental restrictions regarding indoor crowd size, was prudent.

But while doing all of that, it was still possible to maintain access to Mass and Holy Communion, whether that meant celebrating outdoors in parking lots and fields, celebrating indoors with successive crowds of small, socially-distanced people, celebrating livestream and then allowing people to come for Holy Communion, or many of the other temporary solutions creative priests, when given the permission, devised while respecting legitimate civil and ecclesiastical regulations. Such efforts testified to the importance of the Holy Eucharist in the life of faith, especially in the most trying times.

In some places, however, dioceses — not draconian secularist governments — prevented even such balanced and effectively safe solutions, as if the real priority were actually not to have Mass so that everyone would stay at home. Such decisions were scandalous to faithful and clergy alike. This post-pandemic period is a time — calmly, serenely, and wisely — to prepare to do much better the next time civil and health authorities declare a pandemic. Learning from our mistakes, it’s a chance to plan how to ensure access to the sacraments, balancing healthy precaution with the courage, and risk-taking that should characterize anyone who claims to be following the Crucified One who calls us to love as He loves.

There are some other lessons we can learn. Diligent priests became better and lazy priests became lazier, and the level of fatherly concern had an impact on the rate of return of the faithful. Some priests did everything possible to reach their people and help them grow in faith, with outdoor and livestreamed Masses, Eucharistic processions in flatbed trucks, confessions in parking lots, anointings in hazmat suits, regular phone calls, emails, videos, interactive Zooms and more. Other priests did very little, not offering confessions, not telephoning parishioners, not even celebrating private Masses in their Churches because of a pseudo-theological hang-up about Masses without a congregation. Out of fear or indolence, they hid the talent the Lord had given them in the ground (Mt 25:25).

Many government leaders manifested their ignorance or hostility toward faith and religious freedom, considering alcohol stores essential services but not Churches. Only a small percentage of Church leaders and faithful stood up to these abuses. We need to be prepared to be bolder the next time. Catechesis was confused. To downplay the severity of shutting off access to sacraments, some dioceses’ messages made it seem as if spiritual communions were commensurate with sacramental communions, perfects acts of contrition were equivalent to sacramental confessions, and prayers as one was dying were tantamount to the Anointing of the Sick. Nowhere close. God who created the sacraments can indeed work outside of them, but the sacraments work by their valid celebration whereas these substitutions are totally dependent on the (often imperfect) dispositions of the recipient.

Science, the new secular religion, was manipulated. Rather than “following the science,” some scientific leaders regularly engaged in misinformation for the sake of behavioral crowd control, like we saw, among other things, with changing, contradictory information about masks. Many dioceses, however, followed their advice as if they were obeying the commandments. Bad scientific guidance made it seem as if the distribution of Holy Communion were the most dangerous act imaginable. It’s important for bishops, in order to lead effective in such circumstances, to have their own well-formed scientific experts as advisors, to assist them to teach effectively and make right decisions.

Catholic schools were overall a great success story, because, unlike many of their government funded counterparts, teachers and staff prioritized the education of children over their own safety. Finally, while the Church permits and encourages people to receive the Covid vaccines, she also supports the right of people to refuse them. The Church didn’t defend the latter as much as it vigorously promoted the former. She also allowed vaccine apartheid to impact the way we worshipped, dividing people into vaccinated pews and non-vaccinated pews, permitting only vaccinated people from participating in certain events, entering the rectory, or returning to work in Catholic facilities. If in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free person (Gal 3:28), there also should not be in His Church vaccinated and unvaccinated. Such division does not come from above.

In the Church’s response, there are some things to be proud of, others to be embarrassed about, and much to learn. Now is the time for a conversation about that response to take place.

Defending pregnancy centers

October 9, 2022

Since the leak of what became the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision in May, pregnancy help centers — crisis pregnancy centers that help pregnant women with free medical care, ultrasounds, counseling, personal support, maternal and job training, adoption referrals, and sometimes even free room and board — have come under two forms of attack.

The first has been violence from domestic terrorist groups and pro-abortion vigilantes, as several centers across the country have been firebombed, had windows shattered, plastered with graffiti from groups like Jane’s Revenge and Ruth Sent Us, or otherwise vandalized. Jane’s Revenge has claimed responsibility for various arson attacks, threatening that if pregnancy help centers did not close voluntarily, it would be “open season” on them, and would result in damage worse than what can be “easily cleaned up as fire and graffiti.” They have left menacing messages on the outer walls of various centers: “If abortion isn’t safe, then you aren’t either.”

The second attack has been verbal assaults from abortion promoters like Senators Elizabeth Warren (D- Massachusetts), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), who have accused pregnancy help centers of deception and torture and introduced federal legislation to try to empower the Federal Trade Commission to regulate and levy draconian fines against them. “In Massachusetts right now,” Senator Warren said in early July to a Boston television station, “those crisis pregnancy centers that are there to fool people who are looking for pregnancy termination help outnumber true abortion clinics by three to one. We need to shut them down here in Massachusetts and we need to shut them down all around the country.” She added, “You should not be able to torture a pregnant person like that,” loathe to use the word woman but not to insult pro-life women and men. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey joined the seemingly coordinated effort, tweeting out a danger alert on July 6 — complete with a scary “Warning!” meme emphasizing the point — stating, “Beware of crisis pregnancy centers that try to prevent people from accessing abortion care.”

According to 2019 data from the Charlotte Lozier Institute surveying 2,132 Pregnancy Help Centers nationwide, these centers served close to two million people with free services and material assistance valued at over $266 million. Altogether they offered 967,251 free consultations, 486,213 free ultrasounds, and 731,884 free pregnancy tests. 291,230 clients attended free parenting and prenatal education classes and 21,698 attended free after-abortion support and recovery sessions. 810 centers offer free STD testing, 563 free STD treatment onsite, and 305 free abortion pill reversal treatment. Nearly every location offers free material assistance like diapers, baby clothing, car seats, and strollers. They are staffed by 14,977 paid employees (25 percent of whom are licensed doctors and nurses) and 53,855 volunteers (12 percent licensed doctors and nurses). Though not included in the Lozier Institute data, many centers also offer free job training and referrals, help with mothers’ medical appointments throughout pregnancy, and even, when needed, process access to housing where they can stay during pregnancy and for the first several months after their baby is born.

So why are they being attacked? Jane’s Revenge says it is because pregnancy help centers “impersonate healthcare providers in order to harm the vulnerable.” Senator Warren has said because they try to “fool” people with lies, “misleading statements related to the provision of abortion services,” “disinformation,” and because they somehow “torture” those who enter their doors. Attorney General Healey said it was because they “prevent people from accessing abortion care.” What are they talking about? These critics claim that pregnancy help centers’ billboards, internet postings, and telephone book entries advertising things like, “Pregnant? Need Help?” or “Considering abortion? Need help?” are misleading, because, we can assume, they believe the only help a pregnant woman, including one thinking about ending the life of the baby boy or girl growing within her, needs is the bloody end provided by Planned Parenthood. They also complain that some pregnancy centers use color schemes similar to Planned Parenthood, leading some women, they say, to think that pregnancy help centers are franchises of the nation’s largest abortion provider, as if the baby colors that Planned Parenthood uses to mask its baby destruction chambers should not be used by centers that actually cherish babies and want to help children come safely to birth and life.

Similarly, critics are outraged that when pregnant women go to most pregnancy help centers, they receive ultrasounds, which show that what is growing within is not an infection, wart, clump of cells, or baby orangutan, but a human being, their own flesh and blood, at the same stage of existence they themselves once were in their own mom’s womb. Studies show that 90 percent of moms who see the sonogram of their child choose to let their child live. If women are thinking about abortion, they also normally receive information about the health consequences of abortion, from the psychological trauma many women experience after abortion, to scientific studies about the link between abortion and breast cancer and other health consequences, truths that the abortion industry tries to pretend don’t exist or are fabrications, much like it tries to feign that abortions are healthcare rather than the ruthless, deliberate destruction of human life.

The real reason why pregnant help centers are so opposed by abortion zealots is because they expose one of the biggest mendacities of the abortion industry: that pro-lifers only care about the baby in the womb, not the mother, and stop caring once the baby is born. Pregnancy help centers — which have obviously become even more needed after Dobbs, when access to abortion will become more difficult in many jurisdictions — give compelling witness to the many ways that pro-lifers love both mom and baby not only during pregnancy but long after, especially women in financial difficulty, or who have suffered rape, incest, human trafficking, abandonment by boyfriends and family members and other horrors.

Another mostly unspoken reason why some abortion enthusiasts oppose pregnancy help centers is because they think abortion is not only a good choice for individual women but, like the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, has a good eugenic outcome for society in eliminating those children that are socially unwanted. The success of pregnancy help centers, of the ultrasounds they offer, of the Good Samaritan care they give for both mother and child, all lead to more socially “undesirable” babies being born and fewer pregnancies ending in death. In their opinion, abortion is simply a good thing — good for our “planet,” for our cities, for our economies, for “pregnant persons,” and even for the victims, lest they be born in deprivation. And such militants cannot stand the existence of institutions that recognize that abortion is the greatest human rights abuse of our day and are trying to work to save and help both vulnerable mothers and endangered children.

That is why it is necessary for us, in the wake of Dobbs and in response to the physical, verbal, and legislative attacks pregnancy help centers are undergoing, to defend them, support them, expand them, volunteer at them, and help vulnerable women find them.

Respect Life Sunday 2022

October 2, 2022

Today, which the U.S. Bishops have designated as Respect Life Sunday, there are many life issues that we could consider. But there is one that is worth our attention since it is, I think, a major stumbling block to the pro-life message. It concerns abortion and the welfare of women. The media often structures the abortion debate as a conflict between women and those who claim to represent the unborn child. The message is conveyed that pro-life equals anti-women. Those who promote respect for the rights of the unborn child are said to be against women. Once this assumption is accepted, the pro-life position is cut off before it is even heard. After all, what woman wants to listen to someone who is, they are told, anti-woman?

For this reason, leaders in the pro-life movement have tried to stress that they are not, and never were, anti-women or anti-women's rights, properly understood. One sees this idea put forward in some of the posters displayed at the March for Life in Washington D.C. They said, "Here till no more women cry, till no more children die."

This love for women as well as their unborn children is not just a matter of words, or a pro-life public relations ploy, but a proud legacy of the pro-life movement. The Catholic Church has manifested this love in concrete ways, especially in direct services to women experiencing problem pregnancies.

But beyond the offering of services to pregnant women, we should consider this too: that the Church and the pro-life movement help women specifically by helping them to choose life. By educating people's consciences about the importance of respect for life and the serious moral evil of abortion, the Church is in fact serving women. It is always a benefit to a person to support them in doing what is right. And when we support a woman and help her choose life, we help her in a way that touches the very core of her person. We help her walk the path of virtue and confirm and strengthen her in making rightful moral choices. When a woman has chosen life, she has manifested good moral judgment, inner strength, and love for the child within her. While her choice may be painful, she maintains an inner self-esteem because she knows that another person has benefited immensely from her sacrifice. And the spiritual reward God will give her we cannot begin to imagine.

If we are going to say then that the pro-life movement seeks to help women as well as unborn children, we have to look at the other side of the coin as well. In other words, we should consider that abortion hurts women. That abortion is a violation of the human rights of unborn children must be affirmed. As St. Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical, the Gospel of Life, 58: “Among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable.” The Second Vatican Council defines abortion, together with infanticide, as an "unspeakable crime." The one eliminated is a human being at the very beginning of life. No one more absolutely innocent could be imagined. He or she is weak, defenseless, even to the point of lacking that minimal form of defense consisting in the poignant power of a newborn baby's cries and tears.

But in addition to this, what has also come to light during the years of abortion on demand is the destructive effects of abortion on the women themselves who choose it. A woman does not help herself by taking the life of her unborn child. Rather she hurts herself. Abortion is a lose-lose proposition.

For example, by choosing an abortion, women have suffered medical complications and even death. The substandard care they have received at the hands of abortion providers is documented extensively. This is as one would expect it.

Regarding the psychological effects of abortion, one can say at the very least that there is no evidence of its having positive therapeutic value. On the contrary, there is substantial evidence of its ill effects on women. A number of psychologists have identified what they once called Post-Abortion Syndrome, now re-defined as Post Abortion Trauma. This condition usually manifests itself five years after an abortion, when a woman begins to experience problems such as depression, nightmares, low self-esteem, unexplained anger, or substance abuse. The roots of these problems are repressed guilt and the lack of an opportunity to grieve the loss of one's child. To help women dealing with Post Abortion Trauma, the American Bishops have supported programs such as "Project Rachel." These and other similar programs help women face the truth about what they have done and to open their hearts to God's healing love and mercy.

But as bad as such effects may be, the most serious harm women suffer from abortion is the harm done to the conscience itself. We never help another person by conspiring with them to silence the voice of conscience. And in the case of abortion, as Post Abortion Trauma manifests, the voice of conscience is screaming. We never help a person by confirming them in a state of denial about what is really in the womb or about the moral wrongfulness of what they are doing. As much as a woman may feel that abortion is the answer to her problem, we must never cooperate with her efforts to obtain one. To do so would be to conspire with a woman against herself.

One can see then, that when a woman is with child, her life and the life of the child are already so closely bonded that to help one is to help the other, and to hurt one is to hurt the other. The pro-life movement and the Catholic Church are actively committed to helping and loving both and have proven that commitment in a way worthy of praise.

As St. Pope John Paul II once remarked to a group of American Bishops, "The pro-life movement is one of the most positive aspects of American public life, and the support given it by the bishops is a tribute to your pastoral leadership." On this Respect Life Sunday, let us be grateful for the pastoral leadership of the American Bishops, and answer their call to promote respect for the lives of unborn children, and to serve women in problem pregnancies with a love and compassion worthy of the name "Christian."

Martyr of the Sacrament of confession

September 25, 2022

Fr. Giuse Tran Ngoc Thanh, 40, ordained in 2018, had just celebrated the 6pm Vigil Mass in Sa Loong Parish in Dak Mot, a missionary part of the Diocese of Kon Tum where he was recently put in charge. The Mass was for the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, in which the Church ponders how Jesus’ fellow Nazarenes, after having heard Him preach, passed quickly from amazement to doubt to trying to murder Him. We also hear about the sufferings of the prophet Jeremiah and listen to St. Paul’s famous Canticle describing how love is patient, kind, and enduring. Fr. Giuse, after having preached on those readings, would soon proclaim in body language the prophetic dimension of those words.

Right after Mass was done, Fr. Giuse went to hear confessions in the plastic chair of the make-shift confessional at the end of the Mission chapel. At 7:15pm, Nguyen Van Kien, a young, non-practicing Catholic whose mother was at the Mass, rushed with a machete and struck Fr. Giuse twice in the head. He collapsed in blood, the children and adults in the Church all screamed, and a Dominican brother and choir director, Br. Anthony Phan Van Giao, ran to try to defend the priest.

When Kien raised the machete to slash Br. Phan’s head as well, the choir director raised a plastic chair to defend himself, but it proved no defense, being split in half. Kien started to chase Br. Anthony with the machete into the middle of the chapel, but when the young Dominican saw the many children present and grasped the possibility that they could be massacred, he courageously turned toward Kien, who sought to gash him again. The tiny Brother was able to divert the killer’s arm, get behind him, and put him in a chokehold, as fellow parishioners rushed in.

Br. Anthony begged the parishioners not to pummel Kien in retaliation but to restrain him and call the police. He went to care for Fr. Giuse and got a member of the parish to rush him to the hospital in Ngoc Hoi about 8 miles away. After bleeding for about five hours, Fr. Giuse died at 11:30pm that night. Before he breathed his last, he forgave his murderer. He was buried the following day. His grave has since become a place of pilgrimage for Christians and others queuing in line to pray, lay flowers, and pay their respects.

There is confusion about what would have led Nguyen Van Kien to attack Fr. Giuse in the confessional. Some have described him as mentally ill, but the Bishop of the Kon Tum Diocese who celebrated his funeral repeated Kien’s parents’ assessment that he was not “insane in the usual sense,” but rather “lethargic and does not practice the faith.” Several said he was a drug abuser. While he has a sister who is in a discernment house pursuing a possible religious vocation, he likewise has a younger brother who served three years in prison for manslaughter. His parents stated that while he had made money working on farms and repairing motorcycles, he would also “get angry, mess around, loudly curse people, smash television sets, even the shrine in his house, and beat his family members.” He was also “paranoid,” they added, about being bullied and about potentially not being able to find a wife. The Vietnamese Dominicans, who have said that they also forgive him, want a trial at least so that the motivation for the killing comes to the light.

Many have immediately begun to call Fr. Giuse a martyr of the confessional. While there have been several priests who have been martyred for protecting the seal of the Sacrament of Confession — like St. John Nepomuk (d. 1393), St. Mateo Correa (d. 1927), Bd. Felipe Císcar Puig (d. 1936) and Bd. Fernando Olmedo (d. 1936) — I am unaware of any priest who was slain while hearing confessions. Until now.

While there is always, from a human dimension, a natural revulsion to the killing of the innocent, and the death of this young missionary priest and religious, son and brother, must be sincerely and viscerally lamented, there is also from a sacramental view something quite glorious about his death.

The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is all about death and resurrection. Jesus Christ was brutally murdered — flesh ripped apart by Roman soldiers, hammered by His limbs to wood, mocked and crowned with thorns — but through that death and subsequent resurrection He took away the sins of the world. The confessional is the place where, to use Jesus’ words in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the “dead … come to life again” (Lk 15:24). For a priest ordained in the person of Christ, instructed at his ordination to model his life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross, there is this logic of death and resurrection built into the celebration of all the Sacraments, but it is particularly pronounced in the Sacrament of Confession. Its regular practice involves a form of martyrdom.

There is, often, a martyrdom of waiting. St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests and the most famous and heroic confessor in the history of the Church, had to wait in the confessional for almost a decade before his parishioners started to avail themselves of the gift of God’s mercy. He did wait, however, as a profound testimony to the importance of the Sacrament. After ten years of patient prayer and preaching, his parishioners — and multitudes from throughout post-Revolutionary 19th century France — came without stop. Many priests still experience this martyrdom of waiting, which is a real death to spiritual worldliness, as they tenaciously serve as ambassadorial advertisements crying out “Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20).

But when people grasp the importance of the Sacrament, there can be another form of martyrdom, which we can call the “martyrdom of the crowds,” when so many people come that one is “trapped” for hours within. This happened in Ars, where, for the last 30 years of his life, St. John Vianney needed to hear confessions for 12-18 hours a day. He referred to his confessional as the Cross to which he was nailed throughout the day as he sought to dispense the redemptive power of Christ’s blood one-person-at-a-time to those for whom Christ died. He also referred to the wooden box of the confessional as his “coffin,” where he died to himself so that the merciful Redeemer could live.

There’s something like this that takes place when a priest has the happy burden of confessing long lines. In the midst of sharing the great joy of heaven and the often profound human joy of forgiven penitents, there is also a form of self-death involved, as the priest resigns himself to what it takes interiorly to remain basically immobile and give full attention to each person for hours. He battles fatigue and repetition, tenderly weeps with those who weep, and occasionally struggles with penitents who need extra loving firmness to extricate themselves from near occasions of sin. While many can appreciate such a priest’s priorities, commitment, and stamina, few can grasp how it is the experience of the grain of wheat (Jn 12:24).

But the most pronounced aspect of the martyrdom of the confessional is the Sacramental Seal of Confession, which prevents a priest from revealing the contents of what he hears, even should he be threatened with imprisonment, torture, or death. Sometimes the martyrdom is relatively routine, when the details of what a priest has heard linger in his mind and soul, like the details of violent crimes that have been confessed, or when he recognizes too late that he should have given different advice. Other times the martyrdom is more pronounced, like when a priest is accused of saying or doing something in the confessional he did not do but cannot say a syllable in self-defense. Other times it is extraordinary, when priests are murdered for protecting the seal, like we see in the lives of the saints I mentioned above.

At a time when different countries and states are trying to require priests to break the Sacramental Seal in particular cases — something priests not only cannot do under canon law but simply won’t do — this aspect of martyrdom will likely be witnessed more frequently in upcoming years, as priests are involuntarily assigned by the state to ministry in prison.

On January 29, little did Fr. Giuse know what awaited him after Mass as he donned a purple stole and sat down to hear confessions. But the normal practice of the martyrdom of the confessional doubtless prepared him for what the Lord knew was coming. And his martyrdom to the Sacrament of Christ’s mercy is a poignant reminder to his fellow confessors and indeed all the faithful of the importance of the Sacrament, the worthy sacrifice it entails, and the life it imparts.

Pope francis and the eucharistic revival

September 18, 2022

Ten days after the Church in the United States began the three-year national Eucharistic Revival on June 19, Pope Francis gave a major contribution to it, in his apostolic letter Desiderio Desideravi, dedicated to the liturgical formation of the people of God. One of the most important parts of the Revival is to help make the celebration of the Mass the practical source, summit, root, and center of the life of the Church and of individual believers. For that to occur, the Church’s theology of the liturgy must be assimilated, prayed, and lived. That’s what Pope Francis tried to do in his June 29 letter, giving “some prompts or cues for reflections that can aid in the contemplation of the beauty and truth of Christian celebration,” and inviting us “to rediscover, to safeguard, and to live [its] truth and power.”

Fifteen years ago, in his apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict called for a “mystagogical catechesis” and “education in Eucharistic faith” so that the faithful could “be helped to make their interior dispositions correspond to their gestures and words,” and the hopes of the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council toward the faithful’s full, active, conscious, fruitful, and devout participation in the Mass could be fulfilled. What Pope Benedict called for — and in a sense had previously tried to sketch in his pre-papal book The Spirit of the Liturgy — Pope Francis has in fact provided in this eloquent, down-to-earth, and beautiful letter.

Pope Francis’ liturgical catechesis begins with Jesus’ “burning” and “infinite” yearning to bring everyone into communion with Him through eating His Body and drinking His Blood. At the beginning of the Last Supper, Jesus told the apostles, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Lk 22:15) and that desire, the Pope says, precedes our attendance at Mass and every pious reception of Him. Pope Francis zealously calls on the Church to work “so that all can be seated at the Supper of the sacrifice of the Lamb and live from him.” He urges us not to “allow ourselves even a moment of rest, knowing that still not everyone has received an invitation to this Supper or that others have forgotten it or have got lost along the way in the twists and turns of human living.”

The Mass is the means, Pope Francis continues, for us concretely to encounter Jesus Christ, to receive His incarnate love, to enter into the power of His Paschal Mystery, and together with Him give full, pleasing, and perfect worship of God the Father. The problem today is that many people attend Mass without consciously encountering Christ, without an awareness of what is taking place. That’s why, he says, there are enormous stakes in the Church’s getting the liturgy right and forming others to appreciate it, enter into it, and live it.

The Holy Father credits the Second Vatican Council and the liturgical movement that preceded it with reawakening a fuller “theological understanding of the Liturgy” and its role in the life of the Church. He underlines that “it is not an accident” that Vatican II “began with reflection on the liturgy” because, as St. Paul VI said during the Council, “the liturgy is the first source of divine communion in which God shares his own life with us, … the first school of the spiritual life, [and] … the first gift we must make to the Christian people.” Everything must begin with the worship God.

The central question, Pope Francis says, is how do we learn to pray and live the liturgy? What formation is needed so that we may conform ourselves to Christ and abide in communion with Him? He describes several “starting points,” so that the fruits of the Conciliar liturgical reforms will be accessible. First, we must understand and live the liturgy as properly centered on God and divine self-giving. This, the Pope says, is the antidote for the neo-Gnostic spiritual poison of egocentric emotivism as well as for the neo-Pelagian toxin of self-centered activism. Second, the liturgy must lead us, through the beauty of the celebration, to the “beauty of the truth.” This is far from ritual aestheticism, or even a “greater interiority” or “sense of mystery,” but rather leads us to amazement at God’s saving plan through Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection, and ultimately to the astonished encounter with, and adoration of, Christ in the liturgy.

Third, there is a need for a proper “art of celebrating” the Mass by both priest and people. Priests must recognize that they are called to be a “particular presence of the risen Lord,” allowing the faithful, through the priest’s gestures and words, to sense the burning desire of Jesus to give Himself with them. For that reason, the priest must receive continuous liturgical formation so that through the Mass He may truly evangelize, teach, and set proper example. Such an art of celebrating obviously involves, Pope Francis stresses, fidelity to the rubrics of the Mass lest the faithful be “robbed” of what they are owed. The Holy Father underlines, however, that the faithful must also recognize that it is the Church, and not the priest alone, who celebrates the liturgy in communion with Christ. Hence, they must be helped to acquire the “discipline” of the Holy Spirit that not only forms their feelings, attitudes, and liturgical behaviors but conforms them to Christ.

For this to happen, fourth, the faithful must be helped to rediscover the meaning of “symbolic action” in an age in which many are “illiterate” with regard to understanding the meaning of the symbols and have therefore lost the ability to “relate religiously as fully human beings.” This recovered literacy must be both intellectual and experiential. Finally, Pope Francis emphasizes the importance of liturgical silence, which gives the Holy Spirit room to act so that He may help the faithful receive God’s word, grace, and Eucharistic self-gift, rather than look at liturgical as primarily a human action.

The one controversial part of the letter concerns Pope Francis’ words about the celebration of the Latin Mass according to the pre-conciliar liturgical books. The Holy Father candidly admits, “I do not see how it is possible to say that one recognizes the validity of the [Second Vatican] Council … and at the same time not accept the liturgical reform born out of Sacramentum Concilium,” Vatican II’s liturgical constitution. That’s why, he insists, “we cannot go back to that ritual form that the Council Fathers … felt the need to reform” — a reform, he said, whose fidelity to the Council Saints Paul VI and John Paul II “guaranteed” through approving the liturgical books. For that reason, the Holy Father says, he published his motu proprio Traditionis Custodes last July.

Most supporters and attendees of the pre-Conciliar form of the Latin Mass, however, would say that they, just like Pope-emeritus Benedict, absolutely accept the validity of the Council and its liturgical reforms but object to the post-Conciliar liturgical abuses, craziness, and iconoclasm that took place supposedly in the name and spirit of the Council, what Pope Francis himself calls “imaginative — sometimes wild — creativity.” Such changes, which were neither approved by the Council or by Paul VI and John Paul II, are, they assert, a total betrayal of the Council’s vision and seem to be a far bigger threat to its liturgical reform than love for the pre-Conciliar liturgy. Most who attend the traditional Latin Mass say they do so out of desire for consistent liturgical reverence and fitting Eucharistic piety — not because they reject the Council and its authentic liturgical reforms, but only the false and foolish mutations pretending to have the Council’s mandate.

The faithful attached to the traditional Latin Mass have, moreover, often shown themselves to be far more aware of Jesus’ passionate desire to celebrate the Passover with us, and far more deeply formed in the liturgical virtues Pope Francis mentions he would like to see in every Catholic, than those who have been schooled by the sadly uneven, average, and occasionally “wild” celebration of the reformed liturgy. Most should therefore be considered and treated as allies, rather than misunderstood and suspected as opponents, of the Pope’s timely and prayerful push toward true and fitting worship and toward the Church’s full Eucharistic revitalization.

The Cross, our only hope

September 11, 2022

During a trip to New York City in early 2015 for a Conference, one of my first excursions was to go to Ground Zero to visit the 9/11 Museum that had opened about ten months prior. Every time I had visited New York over the previous 14 years, I had made a pilgrimage to the site to pray. Having travelled to New York City once or twice a year growing up, I experienced an inner urgency to go to where the Twin Towers once stood, since it was there, as a result of the events of 9/11, that I became in spirit a New Yorker.

What happened to me on 9/11 can only be described as a “conversion.” A conversion is not just a minor change of behavior, but a death and resurrection: part of us dies and a new person is born. That day, as I ministered to shocked fellow seminarians, friends, family members, and strangers, and alternated holy hours before the Blessed Sacrament and my television screen, the deepest sense of solidarity I had ever experienced emerged. We were all united in suffering because of the attacks, in mourning for those who had their earthly lives robbed, in the call to respond heroically. Not only was New York changed that day — and, as many New Yorkers will say, became like a small town where people were no longer strangers but cared for each other — but New York became an even greater symbol of our country and of American resilience.

To visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum is a somber experience. It slows my breathing. It upsets my stomach. It renders me speechless. It brings to the surface many of the emotions I endured over twenty years ago. I’ve always been disappointed in the Memorial, entitled “Reflecting Absence.” It features, where the Twin Towers once stood, two reflecting pools with waterfalls falling 30 feet from the ground level — where the 2,983 names of those who lost lives on 9/11 (as well as the Feb. 26, 1993, bombing of the World Trade Center) are poignantly inscribed — toward a central hole where the water drops anew, seemingly into oblivion. Architect Michael Arad won a competition that involved 5,201 submissions from 63 countries. He wanted to have the pools represent “absence made visible,” with water flowing into voids that can never be filled. He succeeded in his artistic aims. But the monuments are devoid of hope. The falling water brings to mind the collapsing towers, and the second waterfall evokes a drain, sucking the names of the deceased and all of us continuously downward, until seemingly the “absence” of all good we call Hell.

The 9/11 Museum is different, and amidst the journey through destruction, sadness, and grief on which we are led, it always intersperses signs of inspiration, love, and courage: phone calls from those on hijacked planes to family members, stories of how certain lives were saved, and the sacrifices heroically given. What stopped me in my tracks during my first visit, and somehow still does each time I take friends and visitors there, comes toward the end, where I see a colorful handmade sign announcing, “Catholic Mass EVERY SUNDAY. 10:30 AM. 10:30 AM. UNDER the CROSS on WEST” [Avenue]. The sign is right to the side of the “Cross at Ground Zero,” discovered in the ruins of 6 World Trade Center on Sept. 13, 2011, rescued, moved three weeks later, and blessed by Fr. Brian Jordan, OFM. Over the next ten months, until the recovery phase ceased, Father Jordan celebrated Mass under its arms for first responders, construction workers, family members of the victims, troops heading to Afghanistan, and others. The sign advertising the Mass and the Cross are, to me, the most fitting and ultimately effective way to respond to events of 9/11.

It’s the only way I knew how to respond on the morning of 9/11 when seminarians and faculty members asked what we should do after we saw the second tower collapse on television. A prayer service to God wouldn’t be enough. We needed God incarnate to come to us. That evening, I gave the reflection during Eucharistic Adoration, with a raw heart, about two things: evil and how God brings good out of evil.

We were three days before the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and I mentioned how on Calvary God brought the greatest good out of the greatest evil of all time and that God would not abandon us now. I urged all to huddle with Mary at the foot of the Cross and learn from her not just how to receive the fruits of Christ’s victory but to cooperate in His Mission of saving the world from evil, destruction, and death.

Father Jordan has a 2017 book, The Ground Zero Cross, that tells the story of the discovery of the Cross by Frank Silecchia, how the two of them worked with Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s office to excavate and move this 17-foot high T-beam to a place where it could inspire, inform and influence people’s reactions and prayer, and how Father Jordan perseveringly fought against lawsuits from the American Atheists Association to make sure it was enshrined as part of the 9/11 Museum. As Father Jordan makes clear, the Ground Zero Cross is far more than two pieces of perpendicular steel.

The most moving part of the book for me was how Father Jordan preached about God, death, life, love, and the Message of the Cross each Sunday, as well as on a frigid Christmas Midnight Mass, the feast of the Holy Family, on Epiphany, Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday, St Patrick’s Day, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Easter Sunday, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. He was representing the whole Church and every priest in the world. More than anything, he was acting in the person of Christ who had given His life on the Cross to take the venomous stinger out of sin and death, the Font of Living Water not flowing down into the depths of the netherworld but springing up inside us to eternal life (1 Cor 15:55 Jn 4:10).

On Good Friday, Father Jordan led an ecumenical Stations of the Cross with the Ground Zero Cross prominent in the background. When it came time to meditate on the death of Christ in the Twelfth Station, he asked everyone to kneel. There was complete silence except for the heavy machinery “doing its own version of a Gregorian chant.” He encouraged everyone to pray aloud the name of those they knew who died at the site and they were shouted out one-by-one. “To this very day,” he wrote, “it was the most powerful rendition of the Stations of the Cross I have ever experienced in all my years of ministerial priesthood.”

Ground Zero puts the meaning of the Cross into greater relief. As Pope Francis declared from within the 9/11 Museum on September 25, 2015: “This place of death became a place of life too, a place of saved lives, a hymn to the triumph of life over the prophets of destruction and death, to goodness over evil, to reconciliation and unity over hatred and division.”

Since the first millennium, Christians have sung and inscribed prominently on their Church façades the words, “O Crux ave, spes unica!,” which mean, “Hail, O Cross, our only hope!” The Cross is our only hope for two reasons: without Christ’s death on the Cross, we would have no hope of eternity and unless we, as Jesus said, pick up our Cross every day and follow Him, unless we glory in the Cross of Jesus and are crucified to the world, His victory would for us be ultimately unavailing (Mt 16:24 Gal 6:14). The Ground Zero Cross reminds us of that “only hope” and, as we mark the twenty-first anniversary of 9/11, continues to frame our response.

Labor Day Message 2022

September 4, 2022

Although Labor Day is a day of rest, it is also a day on which we celebrate the honor and dignity of human labor. Unfortunately, these two terms, "honor" and "dignity," are rarely correctly associated with labor in contemporary society since the meaning of human work is often distorted and reduced as it is viewed heavily – or only – through the lenses of productivity and efficiency. While it is obvious that businesses and corporations cannot continue to exist under sustained financial losses, an impoverished understanding of human labor can result in perceiving man as merely a sentient tool which is used to accomplish one ultimate goal: profit.

The Catholic understanding of labor is, however, very different from the way in which it is commonly understood in today's highly secularized society. In order to understand human labor in its fullest sense, it is necessary to begin with the human person. It is precisely at this point, at the inviolable dignity of the human person whose life is both created and sustained by God, that the Church draws her understanding of everything that has to do with human rights and society itself. Therefore, we never look at the human person in isolation, as an entity unto himself, but rather in context with the Creator who graciously willed him into existence through a superabundance of love.

Reflect for a moment on where we have derived our being and life: God has willed to create man, and in so doing, has created man in His image and likeness, endowing him with spiritual powers of intellect and will. Man is therefore an "outstanding manifestation of the divine image," the "only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake" (Gaudium et spes 17, 24). The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that "The human person participates in the light and power of the divine Spirit" (1704). These truths and concepts of our existence are, indeed, truly magnificent.

Further, the moment we reflect on the human person, we are immediately led to the Person of Jesus Christ who entered into our created world and became man, like us in all things except sin. We cannot think of the human person apart from Christ for a proper understanding of the human person is inseparable from the sacred humanity of the Savior of humankind. And it is no different with human labor: the full dimension of man's work is revealed and contained in Christ Himself.

As we reflect on the dignity and honor of labor, we are drawn to the tranquil setting of Nazareth and the Holy Family: here, in St. Joseph's carpenter shop, we imagine the young Jesus with mallet in hand, His foster father directing Him from behind, guiding His blows as He learns to carefully strike a freshly honed chisel in just the right manner and with just enough force to properly shape the wood. Soon, the Blessed Mother enters, sets a flagon of cool water on a wooden bench, and delicately kisses the young Jesus on the forehead. The work stops. The tools are set aside. She smiles and kneels beside her Son.

Mary, ever-Virgin and ever-sweet, carefully looks at her husband's and Son's work. The conversation is soft, peaceful, and meaningful. There is a grace infused joy that permeates the air. After a cool drink, the Holy Family enters into prayer, adoring and praising the Father for His boundless graces and love. Then, the young Jesus again takes up His mallet.

When God Incarnate entered into our created world, He sanctified humankind and the labor in which men engage in order to shape creation. It is in gazing through the supreme lens of the consummation of God's revelation, the Person of Jesus Christ, that the divine light of truth is thrown upon human labor. Its sanctity and dignity is then revealed, opening a doorway in which human labor is seen as a participation in God's work. And indeed it is, for God has willed to exercise His divine power through man: God sustains us and infuses us with the energy and grace to freely and actively take part in accomplishing His divine plan for mankind. We are not outside observers. We are free instruments of God's power and will.

Our Lord Jesus Christ practiced charity and mercy, sincerity and honesty always and everywhere. It is these types of virtues, demonstrated so perfectly in Christ's life, which are so desperately needed in today's work environment. In accurately seeing our existence as members of the one body of Christ, in understanding our ties of brotherhood within the human community, in correctly perceiving the honor and dignity of human labor which Christ Himself sanctified, it is possible to transform the workplace and the world according to God's plan of love and goodness.

Christ's Sacrament of Love

August 28, 2022

We are at the beginning of the U.S. Church’s three-year Eucharistic Revival, which began on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, and our own 12-week Eucharistic Revival entitled Source and Summit to rekindle and reignite Eucharistic faith and devotion in our parish family. What Jesus revealed to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque between 1673-1675 can provide an important program for all of us in the Church about how to live this Revival. That’s because Jesus’ revelations to this 17th-century Visitation nun in Paray-le-Monial, France, were essentially Eucharistic. Not only did three major revelations of Christ to St. Margaret Mary take place in connection to the Holy Eucharist — twice in Eucharistic adoration and once while she was preparing to receive Holy Communion — but devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is devotion to the mystery of Christ’s human and divine love, which led Jesus to give His Body and Blood for us on Calvary and to continue to give that Body and Blood to us on the altar.

In his third and final revelation to St. Margaret Mary, on June 16, 1675, during the Octave of preparation for the celebration of Corpus Christi, Jesus made the connection between His Sacred Heart and the Holy Eucharist quite explicit. Pointing toward His flaming heart crowned with thorns, Jesus said to her: “Behold the heart that has so much loved men that it has spared nothing, even exhausting and consuming itself in testimony of its love. In recognition, I receive from most only ingratitude, by their irreverence and sacrilege, and by the coldness and scorn they have for me in this Sacrament of Love. But what I feel the most keenly is that it is hearts that are consecrated to me that treat me in this way.”

Jesus connects the “heart that has so much loved men” with our response to Him in His “Sacrament of Love,” which is the way He self-identifies with the Holy Eucharist, an expression adopted by Pope Benedict in his 2007 apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, dedicated to the Eucharist as the source and summit of the Church’s life and mission. Jesus candidly laments that His self-giving love is unrequited. He spared nothing, exhausting and consuming Himself to show us how much He loved us, taking on our nature, putting up patiently with us as His creatures, even allowing us to persecute, mock, torture and crucify Him, and then going so far as to give us Himself under the appearance of bread and wine as our spiritual nourishment. In response, He says He receives from most, including priests and religious, only ingratitude, irreverence, sacrilege, coldness, and scorn.

Such words should pierce anyone who truly loves the Lord. But they also provide a path of reparation and love. The words Jesus gives us reveal what He would like to see from us with regard to His Eucharistic outpouring, namely, the reverse of what He bemoans, each of which should become a touchstone of the Eucharistic Revival. Instead of ingratitude, we ought to approach the Eucharistic Jesus with unceasing thanks instead of irreverence, great piety instead of sacrilege, with souls made holy and pure instead of coldness, with ardent love instead of scorn, full of praise. Let’s take each spiritual staple in return.

First, gratitude. We can never thank the Lord enough for humbling Himself to become our food and remaining with us always in the Holy Eucharist. Jesus once healed ten lepers but only one of the ten returned to thank Him (Lk 17:11-19) the Eucharist is something far greater than a miraculous cure from the world’s most foul and debilitating malady. How do we thank Him for that gift of love? First, we should not take Him for granted, but come to receive Him as often as we can and as well as we can, going to Mass not just when we are obliged to but because we want to. When we do receive Him, we should spend time in thanksgiving, immediately after receiving Holy Communion and for some time after Mass. If athletes winning championship can effuse on television with thanks to the Lord for an earthly crown how much more should we thank Jesus for His eternal gift? Similarly, grateful for His presence, we should come to Him in prayer, especially in Eucharistic adoration, where the eternal Son of God awaits us.

Second, reverence. We live in a casual and irreverent age, shown in our gestures, clothing, advertising, political discourse, vocabulary, and generalized secularization. This irreverence has impacted the liturgy, seen, for example, in the banalization of worship, art, music, posture, dress, and attitudes. The Lord deserves and desires reverence, which is a fruit of fervent faith and love. We can show that reverence by how we prepare for Mass, how we genuflect and kneel, how we dress, how we speak to and about Him, especially in the Eucharist, how we prioritize Him and desire to remain in His presence. We should behave as those who realize they are in the presence of God.

Third, holiness. There are so many sacrileges against the Blessed Sacrament: Satan worshippers stealing hosts for desecration, tabernacles vandalized, Eucharistic adoration mocked as “cookie worship,” or the tabernacle derided as a “bread box.” But the most common form of sacrilege is receiving Jesus in Holy Communion unworthily. This is a problem for greater than various Catholic politicians who obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin — like support for the destruction of innocent human life in the womb or false notions of the family — who nevertheless dare to approach the Lord. We see it in the many Catholics who, without sacramental absolution, routinely receive Communion after having voluntarily missed Sunday Mass, or who harbor hatred, or who are engaging in conduct or in relationships obviously contradictory to the Gospel. The Eucharist is not just food for saints but medicine for sinners, but sinners who have committed grave sins must first go to Jesus in the sacrament He established to receive His cleansing and be restored to grace before they come to receive Him in Holy Communion. God forbid we should ever receive Jesus in the Eucharist unworthily!

Fourth, ardent love. Some in the Church have been called, for good reason, the “frozen chosen.” They celebrate or attend Mass as a dry duty, without enthusiasm, without joy, devoid of passion. Jesus’ Sacred Heart is aflame with love for us and, like He did with St. Margaret Mary, He wants to immerse our heart within the furnace of His own and restore it to us, so that we might truly love Him and others with fire. The Eucharist is meant to be a sacrament of love not just because of Christ’s divine and human love for us, but our reciprocal love for Him. If we love Him, we will want to be with Him, please Him, spread knowledge and love of Him. The Eucharistic revival should therefore feature many acts of love.

Fifth, praise. There are some who ridicule Catholic faith in the Eucharist, but the most common form of scorn is indifference. How important it is for us to praise the Lord for who He is and what He has done for us, to make Him in the Eucharist the biggest difference of our life, to bless Him, as the Church does in the “Divine Praises” at Benediction. Praise is the highest form of prayer because it expresses love for God for who He is, even before we consider all He has given. The revival is a time for each of us and the whole Church to cry out, “Praise the Lord, my soul, all my being bless his holy name!” (Ps 103:1)

As the Church embarks on this Eucharistic revival, let us strive to do so in a way Jesus has suggested will please Him most keenly and continue to do so through the Revival and beyond. In response to His Eucharistic love, let us spare nothing in return, exhausting and consuming ourselves to show our gratitude, piety, purity, passion, and praise.

let the eucharistic revival begin

August 21, 2022

In the epic Lauda Sion Salvatorem Gospel Sequence he wrote for the inaugural celebration of Corpus Christi in 1264, and still used today, St. Thomas Aquinas touched upon the spirituality that should motivate Catholics in their approach to the Holy Eucharist. “Quantum potes, tantum aude,” he wrote in the second of 24 Latin verses, “However much you can do, so much dare to do,” before noting that reality of the gift of the Eucharistic Jesus far exceeds the capacity of all human praise and action.

This spirit of “daring to do all we can,” while it is meant to characterize our approach to the Eucharist in general, should mark in a special way the attitude of Catholics toward the US Bishops’ three-year Eucharistic Revitalization initiative, which commenced on June 19, 2022, the observance of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord. The US Bishops have established this initiative to increase Catholics’ Eucharistic faith, amazement, love, and life to a respond to a crisis in Eucharistic faith and life. Many Catholics no longer show a lavish gratitude toward the Eucharistic Lord. Many seem to believe they love Him “enough.” Some outright take Him for granted. Beginning this weekend at Divine Mercy Parish, in communion with the revitalization initiative of the US Bishops, we are kicking off a 12-week Eucharistic Revival entitled Source and Summit to rekindle and reignite Eucharistic faith and devotion in our parish family.

The present Eucharistic crisis is shown, for example, in the fact that only one out of five Catholics in the United States comes to Mass each Sunday and far fewer attend Holy Days of Obligation. It is also evidenced in recent surveys that show that only three of ten Catholics, and only half of those who attend Mass each Sunday, believe what the Church boldly professes about the Eucharist: that the Eucharist actually and astonishingly is Jesus — His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity — under the appearances of bread and wine that after the words of consecration, God Himself is really, truly, and substantially present on our altars, in our tabernacles, and within us who receive Him. As the Second Vatican Council famously described, the celebration of the Eucharist is the source, summit, root, and center of Catholic faith and life. If, therefore, Eucharistic faith and practice are weak, then all of Catholic life is enfeebled. Hence the urgency and importance of our Eucharistic Revival at Divine Mercy Parish.

This has become even clearer as we continue to emerge and recover from the pandemic. The 2020 Eucharistic lockdowns, during which there were no public celebrations of the Mass for weeks and months and all but a few Catholics were prevented from receiving the Eucharist, spurred some priests and faithful to dare to do all they could to try to make the Eucharist accessible: celebrating Masses outdoors even in inclement weather, leaving Church doors ajar for their “private Masses” and Eucharistic adoration, arranging for Holy Communion outside of Mass for spiritually starving faithful, taking the Eucharist on procession throughout parish neighborhoods, and livestreaming Masses so that people could unite themselves virtually at least to the Eucharistic sacrifice. For some who may have been tempted prior to take the importance of the Eucharist for granted, the pandemic helped jolt them to far greater appreciation for God’s supreme daily gift.

The lockdowns, however, simultaneously led some others to draw different practical conclusions and to grow colder in their Eucharistic habits. How important can the Eucharist be, some asked, if during at least the initial stages of a pandemic when many were fearing sudden death, Catholics were prevented from receiving the Eucharist and were being encouraged, as if they were almost equivalent, to substitute virtual Masses and spiritual communions? How could the Church speak of a Sunday Mass “obligation” when Church leaders seemed so quickly and eagerly not only to dispense people from Mass but to make Mass attendance, even with all proper precautions to impede transmission, impossible? Many of those who out of necessity began to watch livestreamed Masses from their home have since maintained the habit, reluctant to return either out of fear of being in crowds or because of the convenience of fulfilling one’s obligation without leaving home. The lessons communicated and drawn, in contrast to the spirituality of the Eucharistic martyrs like those of Abitene in 304, were that some realities — including physical health, fear of death, and cooperation with government restrictions — were more important than Mass attendance and receiving the Eucharist. The ongoing impact of this confusion, and even scandal, makes a Eucharistic Revival more pressing.

Back in 2004-2005, the Church universal tried to rekindle Eucharistic fire with the Year of Eucharist, convoked by St. John Paul II and completed by Pope Benedict. To mark it, John Paul wrote an encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucaristia, describing how the Church draws her life from the Eucharist and engagingly representing the Church’s Eucharistic understanding he penned an exhortation, Mane Nobiscum Domine, in which he sought to foster greater Eucharistic amazement and he planned a Synod of Bishops, to address various issues facing Eucharistic understanding and practice across the globe, over which his successor presided. Pope Benedict, reflecting on the deliberations of that Synod, wrote a 2007 Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, geared to helping the Church believe, celebrate, and live this great sign and means of divine love.

The U.S. Bishops have likewise sought to catalyze Eucharistic renewal through their 2006 pastoral letter Happy Are Those Called To His Supper, dedicated to what it means to be and grow in communion with Christ in the Eucharist, and their 2021 document The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church, pondering Christ’s self-gift in the Eucharist and our fitting response.

All of these documents are excellent doctrinal pillars for Eucharistic renewal. The US Bishops, however, are focused on helping the Church make the Church’s Eucharistic faith practical by concentrating on improved Eucharistic preaching, the celebration of Mass, Eucharistic adoration, various expressions of Eucharistic piety (like Corpus Christi processions and 40-hours devotions), Eucharist-inspired charity, and a July 2024 national Eucharistic Congress. They are encouraging all Catholics to come on board and dare to do all they can to express the Church’s Eucharistic faith, gratitude, and love, through personal, familial, and parochial initiatives and through participation in diocesan and national events. Hence the reason while we are entering into this 12-week period of Eucharistic Revival at Divine Mercy Parish.

The hope of the Revitalization is for every Catholic, in daring to do all he or she can, to become a Eucharistic missionary and, through a life gratefully centered on the Eucharistic Lord, infectiously draw others to Him, as He lovingly remains with us always until the end of time in this greatest of sacraments and seeks to nourish us each day with Himself.

Let the Eucharistic Revival begin! Let us dare to do all we can to make the Eucharist the source and submit of our lives – individual, family, and Church family here at Divine Mercy Parish!

The Renewal of the Clergy

August 14, 2022

Each year, on Holy Thursday, the Church asks us to pray for priests, future priests, and the renewal of the priesthood Jesus instituted during the Last Supper. The celebration of the Chrism Mass, traditionally held the morning of Holy Thursday but often anticipated earlier in Holy Week, features the moving rite in which priests renew before their bishop their dedication to unite themselves closely to Christ and strive to imitate Him, to be faithful ministers of His mysteries, to celebrate the Eucharist with sincere devotion, to sacrifice worldly pleasures and ambition joyfully for the good of Christ’s flock, and to teach the Christian faith and share Christ’s peace and love.

The bishop, in turn, asks the faithful to pray for their priests and for Him, that God may bless them with the fullness of His love and help them to remain faithful, lead others to Him, fulfill their duties, teach and serve, be a genuine sign of Christ the High Priest and Good Shepherd. This ceremony takes place annually in those Dioceses teeming with baptisms, conversions, new parishes, and priestly vocations as well as in those that are struggling, merging and closing parishes, and importing missionary priests. Whether in propitious and adverse times, the rite is a sign of hope by which the Church turns to the Master of the Harvest and prays for the total reinvigoration of her priestly laborers.

In a new book, Archbishop Alfred Hughes describes what type of renewal priests and bishops today, especially in the United States, need most. In Priests in Love with God and Eager to Witness to the Gospel (Ignatius Press, 172 pp.), the emeritus Archbishop of New Orleans draws from his nine decades of experience as a disciple, priest, seminary professor, spiritual director, and bishop to provide a succinct, eloquent, and timely prophetic summons for the Church to go beyond the necessary disciplinary reforms of recent decades to a rebirth in priestly virtue.

Seamlessly interweaving history, Sacred Scripture, theology, and the daily newspaper, Hughes confronts head-on, among other subjects, the “special challenges of the clergy sex abuse scandal and the sometimes inept way in which some bishops have handled it,” the obstacles to priestly ministry that have arisen during the pandemic, the way the thorn of racism in society and within the Church impacts the priest’s fatherhood and the Church’s motherhood, and the harm done to the credibility of the proclamation of the Gospel by the narcissistic perversion of the priesthood called clericalism.

Hughes makes the case that throughout Church history, whenever the Church has faced daunting difficulties, God has raised up saints, “remarkable men and women to model what it means to take the Gospel seriously,” who show that renewal always begins with God and with priests’ aligning their life to Him. The “ultimate antidote to scandal,” he says, is not found in “structural reforms” or in a “merely cultural Catholicism,” but in “holiness of life.” Such a spiritual and moral renewal of the clergy will “provide the only credible witness that ordained leadership in the Church has turned a corner” and “counteract the public image of sinfully compromised clergy.”

Priestly holiness begins, he asserts, with priests dropping to their knees in adoration before God. There they learn how to embrace interiorly the “dark night” on which God seeks to lead every believer — and grasp how to guide the Church through the dark night’s ecclesial equivalent. Sacerdotal sanctity must extend, he argues, to priests’ living with integrity “radical embrace of Gospel simplicity of life, chaste celibate life and love, and joyful obedience.” These evangelical virtues are “the God-given antidotes to clericalism” not to mention many forms of “anti-clericalism,” he continues, because they “counteract the threefold vices that lead to clericalism,” respectively, entitlement, manipulation, and egotism.

Hughes buttresses these conclusions with a brilliant journey through Church history, with chapters dedicated to the priestly life, writings, and reforms of the apostles, of Saints Ignatius of Antioch, John Chrysostom, Augustine, Gregory the Great, Bernard, and Thomas Aquinas, and of Cardinal de Bérulle and the other members of French school of priestly spirituality. He also tackles the challenges of Martin Luther and the response of the Counter-reformation, as well as the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and the extent to which they have been implemented or rejected.

Throughout the work, while not downplaying the grave challenges, he radiates hope and confidence because, he says, Church history reveals that God the Holy Spirit regularly renews the gifts of Pentecost and unleashes them for the reform and holiness of God’s people. Now is a time, he writes, for “releasing the power of the Holy Spirit” anew, so that bishops and priests “on fire with zeal because they have met the Lord in a transforming way” will help the whole Church come alive.

Archbishop Hughes is a man filled with that Spirit, His gifts and His fruit. His new book, which exudes the Spirit’s wisdom and fire, is an important contribution to the renewal of the clergy and the reform of the Church.

Post-Roe America!

August 7, 2022

We now live in a post-Roe America. Thanks to the June 24th Dobbs v. Jackson decision by the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood, abortion-on-demand is no longer the law of the land. The date of the decision was not lost on Catholic observers. Most years, June 24th is the Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, when the Church ponders the one who, even in St. Elizabeth’s womb, was already pointing out and leaping for joy at the presence of God-in-the-womb. On that day, Catholics listen to prophetic words about how the Lord knits us together and knows us by name in our mother’s womb. We also hear the question made at John’s birth, “What, then, will this child be?” a wondrous query pointing back to John’s conception by God’s grace and for a divine mission. Every year on the anniversary of Dobbs, Catholics will therefore be able to deepen their understanding of God’s role in the conception of every child, His care for the child’s growth, His knowing each by name, and the future for which He has given each child life.

This year, however, by a rare coincidence that happened for the first time since 1960 and will happen only twice more this century, June 24th was the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which, as a feast of the Lord Jesus, takes precedence over the celebration over the birth of His precursor. The Sacred Heart is a celebration of how the Son of God took on our humanity and had a human heart that began beating early in pregnancy in Mary’s immaculate womb, a heart full of mercy for the human race, and a heart that is wounded by ingratitude, indifference, irreverence, coldness, sacrilege, and scorn.

In his earthly life, Jesus emphasized that He identified with the “least” of His brothers and sisters, saying that whatever we do to the littlest ones made in His image, we do to Him (Mt. 25:31-46), and that whoever receives a little child in His name receives Him (Mk 9:37). Abortion, therefore, is always (at a deep spiritual level) a Herodian attack on Holy Innocents in the place of Jesus Himself and with which He identifies personally. Therefore, there was special fittingness to the fact that, on the Solemnity of Jesus’ Sacred Heart, the legal warrant for the desecration of the least of Jesus’ brethren — more than 63 million baby boys and girls in the United States alone since Roe — would not only be overturned but exposed as a judicial disgrace on the magnitude of Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson.

Justice Samuel Alito’s seismic opinion for the Supreme Court majority demolished a half-century’s worth of pseudo-scientific inventions, half-truths, embarrassing legal arguments, and illogic that have been used to justify abortion, defend Roe, and destroy human life since 1973. In its place, Alito returned abortion decisions to the states, to state legislators, and to the citizens who elect them. Many scholars argue he also laid the legal foundations for a later determination that — based on the now obvious scientific fact of the humanity of the child in the womb and Constitutional principles that rights, like the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as described in the Declaration of Independence, cannot be taken away without due process — can be used to overturn all laws permitting abortion.

In the interim, however, the battleground for the defense of human life has been returned to the democratic process, which will have mixed results. Abortion will be legally or practically impossible in many states while in others it will be permitted, celebrated, and even publicly paid for during all nine months of pregnancy. Those who have been active in the fight over abortion on either side will remain active as they seek to persuade their fellow citizens and elected representatives of the wisdom of their respective cause. The vast majority of U.S. citizens, however, who perhaps have had opinions on abortion but who for the most part remained spectators while unlimited access abortion was the legal law of the land, will now have far greater responsibility.

Polls show that this majority is conflicted on abortion, desiring abortion to remain legal in extreme circumstances while supporting abortion restrictions in many ordinary ones. While the legislative compromises flowing from that present state of voter conflict will take different forms in different states, there will be an opportunity for supporters and opponents of abortion to make the cases on the respective principles of their causes. While such public debate will involve lots of patient work, pro-lifers should be hopeful that conscientious citizens, once they admit the humanity of the human being growing in the womb, will recognize that those who are bigger, older, and more politically connected should not have the ability to take the life of those who are smaller, younger, and totally vulnerable.

In most states, there will hopefully be joint efforts to address the pressure points that lead women to choose abortion, like dramatically-expanded care for pregnant women, improved access to ultrasounds (which dramatically decrease abortion rates), long-term public support for families as a common good, help for women who would opt to give their children up for adoption as well as reform of the costs and procedures for those couples desiring to adopt.

In blue states, where (despite sizeable percentages of Catholics) there are radically permissive abortion policies already on the books, there will be a patient uphill climb. Pro-life Catholic leaders, parishioners, and citizens will now necessarily have to be clearer about how it’s not possible to be a good disciple of Jesus Christ and vote to support the legal destruction of those made in His image. There is a need for conversion and the Church must preach that message lovingly, patiently, prayerfully, humbly, courageously, clearly, and perseveringly, since having, supporting, or facilitating abortions is a moral decision on which we will be judged, on which millions of lives are at stake and on which the future of humanity depends. Even if the struggle is long, the Dobbs decision after 49 years of prayer, work, advocacy, and care is clearly a reason for hope.

For her pro-life witness, the Church will suffer. Groups like Jane’s Revenge, Ruth Sent Us, and others have vandalized Churches and pregnancy help centers and threatened to unleash continued rage. It shouldn’t surprise us that those enveloped in the darkness of the culture of death will try to damage and destroy. But we can pray that such infernal opposition will be a cause of awakening and conversion for those who call themselves pro-choice Catholics.

The Church’s pro-life witness and leadership may be costly, but saving lives, lives whom God has knit and for whom Jesus died, is worth it. And in the end, life wins!

Choose Your Flag Wisely

July 31, 2022

In St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, the training manual of authentic Jesuit spirituality and the most influential retreat program in the history of the Church, the founder of the Jesuits has us meditate on “Two Standards” — two flags or military banners — under one of which we must choose to march and fight. One flag is Lucifer’s, the other flag is Christ’s. Lucifer offers a life of riches, worldly honor and pride, as a prelude to other vices. Christ promises, in respective contrast, spiritual poverty, being hated and humility, which induce to other virtues. St. Ignatius instructs us to make the meditation four times and to beg Our Lady to intercede with Jesus for the grace to be received under His standard and to live in communion with His virtues. The purpose of the meditation is to help us to choose definitively whether we’re going to live by Christ’s principles or those of the world. It makes plain that worldly values and vices are popular, enticing, and enslaving, and that the values and virtues of Christ are unpopular, intimidating, and demanding. Yet those who seek to become disciples of the One who said, “Come, follow me,” are those who make the determined choice to stand and walk with Christ under His standard.

St. Ignatius’ summary of the Christian life and the way of the world — and the choice we must make between the two — with the image of contrasting flags is a helpful and fitting backdrop to understand the recent decree of Worcester Bishop Robert McManus to prohibit Nativity School of Worcester from identifying itself as a “Catholic” school and from having institutional access to Mass, sacraments, and sacramentals. Flags matter. They symbolize our values. And Catholic institutions have a duty to transmit authentically Catholic values. Bishop McManus’ decision came after Nativity School in Worcester, despite an official warning and several interventions, refused to take down from its flagpole Gay Pride and Black Lives Matter Flags that were flying under the Stars and Stripes.

Bishop McManus stated that “these symbols embody specific agendas or ideologies [that] contradict Catholic social and moral teaching.” The Gay Pride flag, he said, “represents support of gay marriage and actively living a LGBTQ+ lifestyle,” and, while “the Catholic Church teaches that all life is sacred and … certainly stands unequivocally behind the phrase ‘black lives matter,’ … the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement has co-opted the phrase and promotes a platform that directly contradicts Catholic social teaching on the importance and role of the nuclear family and seeks to disrupt the family structure in clear opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church. The flying of these flags in front of a Catholic school sends a mixed, confusing and scandalous message to the public about the Church’s stance on these important moral and social issues.”

In response, Thomas McKenney, the President of Nativity School of Worcester, said that the school started flying the two flags “following our students’ (the majority of whom are people of color) call to express support for making our communities more just and inclusive. … Both flags are now widely understood to celebrate the human dignity of our relatives, friends and neighbors who have faced, and continue to face, hate and discrimination. Though any symbol or flag can be co-opted by political groups or organizations, flying our flags is not an endorsement of any organization or ideology they fly in support of marginalized people.” Announcing that Nativity would defy the decree and appeal the decision to the Vatican, McKenney declared that “Nativity will continue to display the flags in question to give visible witness to the school’s solidarity with our students, families, and their communities,” stating that “Gospel values, Catholic Social Teaching, and our Jesuit heritage compels us to do so.”

McKenney essentially admitted that he is aware that the Gay Pride and Black Lives Matter flags have become symbols of movements that go far beyond justice, inclusivity, and the defense of those who face hatred and discrimination. They have indeed been co-opted by political groups, organizations, and movements that — as both gay leaders and the co-founders of Black Lives Matter Global Foundation have attested — push notions of human anthropology, sexuality, race, and social harmony diametrically opposed to Catholic teaching.

In the introduction to his decree, Bishop McManus said that the Diocese had attempted “to find alternatives to flying the Black Lives Matter and Gay Pride flags,” so that unambiguous Catholic teaching with regard to the dignity of every person regardless of race or sexual self-identification could be affirmed without recourse to highly ambiguous and politicized symbols. It doesn’t seem, however, that the school finds the coopted “mixed, confusing and scandalous” meanings a problem. McKenney’s affirmation that continuing to fly the flags is “not an endorsement” of the other meanings is obviously not equivalent to saying the school shares Bishop McManus’ legitimate concerns. If a Catholic school below the Mason-Dixon line were flying a Confederate flag out of “support for southern values” while declaring it was not endorsing any organizations or ideologies that might “co-opt” the symbol, McKinney, likely every student at Nativity and doubtless the local bishop would recognize the insufficient justification and rightly object.

Nativity School of Worcester was founded in 2003 by Jesuits associated with the College of the Holy Cross to provide a tuition-free fifth-to-eighth grade education to inner-city boys from families facing economic hardship. It is one of 64 such schools across the country all of which follow a very successful model of low student teacher ratio (Nativity Worcester has 61 students, 14 teachers and 10 staff), high academic standards, and rigorous discipline, including mandatory after school and summer programs, which leads to extraordinary results in getting its alumni into top high schools, seeing them graduate and head on to university, where most are first generation college students.

But its discipline and high standards do not seem to extend to forming its students to grasp, in contrast to the spirit of the world, the full teaching of the Church with regard to racial, social, sexual morality, or to appreciate the responsibility and authority of a Catholic bishop to ensure unequivocal fidelity to Catholic teaching in institutions claiming to be Catholic. An institution that prides itself on “Gospel values, Catholic Social Teaching, and … Jesuit heritage” has a particular responsibility to help students distinguish between the zeitgeist and the truth entrusted by Christ to His Church, and to set the example of choosing wisely and well the flag they will wave and underneath which they will live.

Saint Ignatius did not call his spiritual sons to stand under banners celebrating the sexual revolution and family disintegration, but with the Church under the Standard of Christ. Bishop McManus has forthrightly made Nativity choose between waving the Pride and BLM flags or flying under the Catholic banner. Let’s pray, through the intercession of Our Lady and St. Ignatius, that after further reflection Nativity’s leaders will choose the latter and set an example that will lead students to, rather than away from, Christ and the way of the Gospel.

Responding to Mass Killings

July 24, 2022

The list of deadly mass shootings continues to grow. The names of Tulsa, Uvalde, Buffalo, Boulder, El Paso, Virginia Beach, Thousand Oaks, Pittsburgh, Santa Fe, Parkland, Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas, Orlando, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Fort Hood, Blacksburg, and Columbine, have become synonymous with such rampages. In the last 15 years alone in the U.S., there have been 20 different shootings killing at least 10 people. After each, there is mourning and righteous indignation, but little action, especially at the federal level. In fact, as soon as politicians and media begin to clamor for gun control, gun sales skyrocket. This is an illustration of the fundamental chasm that exists in the national conversation about guns.

Some clearly want to eliminate all or most guns, even though the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the right to keep and bear arms, 44 states have similar provisions in their state constitutions, and the U.S. Supreme Court, in its 2010 decision McDonald v. Chicago, held that the Second Amendment applies even in those states that do not have such a provision. Gun control activists nevertheless note that guns, especially semi-automatic assault weapons, facilitate the homicidal aims of those tempted to take the lives of one or more, and they argue that for the sake of our children and others, we must make it much harder, if not practically impossible, to own or possess them.

When atrocities occur, gun enthusiasts complain that gun control activities are exploiting the situation to try to take away their guns — and gun sales rise as insurance against that eventuality. They argue that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, and generally try to focus the attention of society on the killer rather than on the means the killer employed. They worry, sometimes to a paranoid degree, that if they give an inch toward gun regulation, they’re hopping on a slippery slope that will lead ultimately to the undermining of the constitutional order and to their being stripped of the ability not only to hunt but to protect themselves and their families against criminals, corrupt police, and overreaching government.

The vast majority of people in the middle recognize that if we can get away from these extremes, there is ample room for progress. Most admit that there must be attention on the killers and not just their guns: studies have shown that many are loners from broken families who spend much of their time on the internet or playing violent videogames, who feel aggrieved, lack empathy, and seek to be heard and taken seriously by attention grabbing massacres. There’s not just a mental health crisis, but a relational, familial, cultural, and spiritual one. Most also admit, however, that such troubled boys and men should not have easy access to guns and ammunition, so as to diminish their capacity to carry out atrocities based on their interior demons.

It’s time for those who recognize the truths on both sides to come together to start addressing at least some of what almost everyone recognizes can be done. In recent articles for the New York Times, Nicholas Kristoff has ably tried to sketch what’s possible. “This will be painful for many of my fellow liberals,” he writes, “but I suggest that we work harder to engage centrists, talk about ‘gun safety’ rather than ‘gun control,’ and jump into the weeds … on technocratic details.” He cites surveys from Pew Research Center and Quinnipiac University that show that a majority of those who own guns and a majority of those who do not both support: background checks for all gun buyers as well as for private sales and at gun shows preventing the mentally ill from buying guns banning the sale of guns to those convicted of violent crimes or on no-fly or watch lists federal mandatory waiting periods on all gun purchases creating a federal database to track gun sales and banning the sale of magazines with ten bullets or more and banning modifications that make semi-automatic guns work like automatic weapons.

Kristoff also asks about raising the minimal age to own a gun from 18 to 21, since Americans 15-19 are 82 times as likely to be killed with a gun than teens of the same age in countries of similar socio-economic levels. Americans from 18-20, while comprising only four percent of the population, account for 17 percent of those who commit murder. Such a regulation may have stopped the Uvalde and Buffalo shootings, both carried out by 18-year-olds. If 18-year-olds cannot legally buy a beer, he asks, should they be able to buy handguns and AR-15 rifles? “These are pragmatic steps that won’t eliminate gun violence or avert every shooting,” Kristoff writes, “but they can make our country a bit safer.” And, he adds, “They would at least break the paralysis on sensible gun policy.” He suggests doing with guns what we do for cars: focus on safety, license users, and train them. Such policies would also impact and reduce the use of guns for other murders, accidental homicides, and the spate of suicides.

The U.S. Bishops have long advocated for practical steps to break the impasse. They have repeatedly urged for improved access to mental health care and earlier interventions, an honest assessment of the violent images and experiences that inundate the young, a ban on assault weapons, universal background checks, limitations on civilian access to high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines, the criminalization of gun trafficking, gun locks and storage, a minimal age for gun purchases, and the banning of “bump stocks” that help guns fire at the speed of automatic weapons.

On June 3, the heads of four different departments in the U.S. Bishops Conference jointly sent a letter to Members of Congress summoning them to action. They noted, “There is something deeply wrong with a culture where these acts of violence [like in Uvalde, Buffalo, Dallas, Laguna Woods and Tulsa] are increasingly common. There must be dialogue followed by concrete action to bring about a broader social renewal that addresses all aspects of the crisis, including mental health, the state of families, the valuation of life, the influence of entertainment and gaming industries, bullying, and the availability of firearms. … We must unite in our humanity to stop the massacres of innocent lives.”

While advocating bipartisan action on background checks and extreme risk protection orders (“red flag laws”), they note, “Not even the most effective gun laws, by themselves, will suffice to address the roots of these violent attacks in our country.” There is also a need, they say, to confront family instability, suffering and childhood trauma, as well as the moral state of cities. They quote Pope Francis’ 2015 words to a joint session of Congress: “Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?” That’s a question for which there can never be a justifiable answer.

Working together to prevent deadly weapons from ending up in the hands of those who intend or are at risk to massacre the innocent is what society and her leaders must now ensure.

Communion and the Salvation of Souls

July 17, 2022

On May 20, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco sent a letter to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and a resident of the city, informing her that “you are not to present yourself for Holy Communion and, should you do so, you are not to be admitted to Holy Communion, until such time as you publicly repudiate your advocacy for the legitimacy of abortion and confess and receive absolution of this grave sin in the sacrament of Penance.” The letter was the result of many years of an unsuccessful pastoral effort by Archbishop Cordileone to persuade Speaker Pelosi of the error and immorality of her support for abortion. It was also the direct result of her refusal of various requests to discuss one-on-one her more recent push to codify the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in federal law as well as her failure to respond to his April 7, 2022 letter warning her that unless she publicly repudiated her advocacy for abortion, or refrained from referring to her Catholic faith in public and receiving Holy Communion, he would have to issue such a decree, consistent with Church law.

Those who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin,” Canon 915 specifies, “are not to be admitted to Holy Communion,” and Speaker Pelosi’s persistent public support for the intentional killing of unborn human beings, despite having been privately corrected by her Archbishop, certainly meets the canonical description. Archbishop Cordileone — who says he finds “no pleasure whatever in fulfilling [his] pastoral duty here” — is simply doing his job, for the sake of Speaker Pelosi’s soul and to remedy the scandal and confusion her actions are causing with respect to the evil of abortion and to the worthy reception of Holy Communion.

Despite the lucidity of Canon 915, and a 2004 Letter to U.S. Bishops by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) applying it to the situation of abortion and euthanasia, most U.S. Bishops have been hesitant to apply the canon. They have preferred, rather, to emphasize Canon 916, which says that a person conscious of grave sin is not to receive Communion without previous sacramental confession. In their November 2021 document, The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church, for example, the U.S. Bishops reiterated, “If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to reject the defined doctrines of the Church, or … repudiate her definitive teaching on moral issues, … he or she should refrain” from receiving Holy Communion (48).

But what happens when someone — despite the precision of the Church’s teaching on abortion and the norm that those who consciously and stubbornly reject Church teaching on abortion should refrain from receiving Holy Communion — comes to receive any way? What occurs when a bishop meets with a member of his flock to speak about the incongruity of the person’s public actions and instructs the person to refrain, but the person defies the instruction? The U.S. Bishops, in their November pastoral, declare that it “is the special responsibility of the diocesan bishop to work to remedy situations that involve public actions at variance with the visible communion of the Church and the moral law,” which is what Archbishop Cordileone sought to do with Speaker Pelosi, unfortunately to no avail. The U.S. Bishops did not unambiguously state, consistent with Canon 915 and the 2004 Ratzinger Letter, that the bishop must refuse, but they did say that the diocesan bishop in question has a responsibility to “guard the integrity of the sacrament, the visible communion of the Church, and the salvation of souls” (49).

The integrity of the Eucharist is at stake when those who scandalously and intransigently persist in public grave sin, like support for abortion, continue to receive sacrilegiously. The visible communion of the Church, moreover, is fractured when those who consciously separate themselves from what St. Justin Martyr in the second century described as doctrinal, sacramental, moral communion nevertheless pretend that they’re in communion. And the salvation of souls is at stake when people live and die in a situation of unabsolved grave sin, rejecting communion with the truth of the faith about abortion and with the love of our littlest neighbors made in Christ’s image. Those who consume the Eucharist in a state of sin, St. Paul affirms, “have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord,” (1 Cor 11:27) and, as St. Thomas Aquinas warns in the Lauda Sion, “Bad and good the feast are sharing, of what divers dooms preparing: endless death or endless life.” That is what is on the line.

There are many bishops and faithful who hesitate, for different reasons, from publicly supporting Archbishop Cordileone’s decision. The larger issue, they say, is getting people back to Mass and into Communion, and it’s counterproductive to focus on refusing Holy Communion to those who are still attending. They worry that in remedying the scandal caused by a pro-abortion politician, the Church might be causing a greater scandal by making it seem the Church is letting the Eucharist be manipulated toward partisan political ends, or by discouraging those who disagree with Church teachings from thinking they’re still valued members of the family. Some note, moreover, that because some parishes are effectively pro-abortion, and those in Speaker Pelosi’s situation will always somewhere be given Holy Communion, such a decree, rather than strengthening visible communion, might undermine it.

But even if people are uncomfortable with and distinguish themselves from Archbishop Cordileone’s straightforward application of canon law and its potential consequences, the unambiguous message of the Church — prelates and faithful — should be a resounding, “Speaker Pelosi should absolutely not be receiving Communion.” The US Bishops’ document, which passed 222-8 last November, and Canon 916, make that quite clear. When a bishop, or a prominent Catholic voice, distances himself from Archbishop Cordileone’s action, while not simultaneously emphasizing, “but we all agree that she should not be receiving Holy Communion,” such an action cannot but suggest by omission — scandalously — that Speaker Pelosi, despite her pertinacious abortion advocacy, is fine receiving Holy Communion.

Some prelates have said that they would never refuse anyone Holy Communion, including those who obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin. Such a declaration suggests they wouldn’t refuse a busy abortionist who has just finished a full Saturday, a Satan-worshipper wanting to steal communion for a sacrilegious ritual, a mobster or school serial killer trying to receive with blood dripping from his hands, a Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard wearing his hood, a human trafficker gripping his teenage victim, an avowed militant atheist, or a non-Christian with no idea what — or better Who — the Eucharist is. Never to refuse anyone Holy Communion is the equivalent of the Blessed Mother’s never refusing to give the Baby Jesus to anyone, including Herod’s henchmen. It is the opposite spirituality of Saint Tarcisius, who gave his life to protect the Blessed Sacrament from teen gang members wanting to profane it. Such dereliction is not a badge of honor, but a cowardly failure of Eucharistic stewardship and of love for Jesus in His extreme Eucharistic vulnerability.

Other critics argue that abortion is not the only grave issue and Speaker Pelosi is not the only scandalous figure violating Canon 915. Both true. But such whataboutism proves rather than undermines the importance of Archbishop Cordileone’s action: the path to remedy other such scandals, after all, has to start somewhere. Others who have criticized Archbishop Cordileone’s action have quoted Pope Francis’ words that the Eucharist is not a “prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (Joy of the Gospel, 47). The U.S. Bishops point out in their recent document, however, that the “weak” refer to those with venial sins, not mortal (45). Pope Francis, moreover, himself has regularly distinguished “sinners” from the “corrupt.” Sinners, he says, are those who recognize they’ve erred and humbly approach God’s mercy. The corrupt, on the other hand, are “solidified in sin,” “varnished putrefaction” refusing to acknowledge they’ve sinned. Those who obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin are, by Pope Francis’ terminology, “corrupt,” not weak. They are not beyond God’s mercy, but they first must recognize that and why they need it.

That’s what Archbishop Cordileone is trying to do with Speaker Pelosi. And in his care for the integrity of the sacrament, the communion of the Church, and Speaker Pelosi’s salvation, he deserves the Church’s prayers and full support.

foul language and the gospel

July 10, 2022

One of the unfortunate controversies about Mark Wahlberg’s new movie Father Stu, especially in Catholic circles, concerns the movie’s heavy use of foul language. One reviewer counted 51 excretory expletives, 43 sexual profanities, as well many verbal condemnations, some invoking God’s name. For a movie that runs just under two hours, that’s an average of about one obscenity a minute. The amount of swearing in the movie has detracted from its potential impact by distracting many from what should be the headlines: the inspiring story of Father Stuart Long and the laudable, persevering work of Wahlberg to make a movie about him. It has also dissuaded some of the most dependable supporters of faith-based films from attending, as well as made them reluctant to take their parents, their kids, or their friends.

There were two reasons given for the cussing carpet bombing. The first is that, prior to his conversion, Stu Long often used vulgarities. Hence no one would have expected him in the movie to sound like Ward Cleaver, Fred Rogers, or Richie Cunningham. To make the point that he was a man of unclean lips, however, how many swears does it take? Wahlberg in an interview stated that in the editing process he had cut out an additional “74 F-bombs.” That implies a realization that the extra expletives were unnecessary to convince the viewer that Stu had an unredeemed tongue. But why did the filmmakers think they still needed 100 obscenities — 100 — to make that rather unsubtle point?

The second reason for the effusion of profanity was to make the movie “real,” in order to try to reach those who, like the young future Father Stu, would be turned off by a saccharine faith-based film. Profanity, in other words, with the R-rating it garnered, was not just tolerated but treated as a feature. As Wahlberg stated in an interview, “We all know whom Jesus came to save. … These are the people we’re trying to talk to, especially young people. … You go to the gas station, you go anywhere, you hear this language all the time.”

We can applaud the evangelical motivation, to reach those who on the peripheries and try to interest them, so that the powerful story of Stu’s eventual conversion might impact them. We can also acknowledge that if the movie regularly substituted “fudge,” “shucks,” “darn” and “doggonit” for the offensive expressions, there would be plenty who would deem such a sanitized lexicon a foreign language and find those who use it about as interesting as staid professors of ancient Egyptian philology.

But it’s important to question the premise of Wahlberg’s argument: that in order to be “real” and connect with people today in circumstances similar to the pre-converted Stu, we need to employ foul language — and employ it a lot. To be a fisher of men today, do we really need to cuss like a sailor?

The real Father Stu Long clearly didn’t think so. He was a priest who connected with young and old, male and female, sick and healthy, and almost every group except those who didn’t appreciate blunt, manly talking about God, life, love, sin, mercy, and almost any other subject. As his good friend and ordination classmate Fr. Bart Tolleson said in an interview, “The ironic thing is that Stu worked really hard to clean up his own language, and he challenged other [people], especially guys, to clean up their language. He had many unusual penances he would give them to help them in their use of language.”

Another friend, Marguerite Zink, said in a Facebook post, that Father Stu “actually had a ‘swear jar’ in his nursing home room for his visitors to contribute to when they swore, as he did not swear after his conversion.” He did not swear after his conversion. It is regrettable that that aspect of the converted — and still super relatable — Father Stu was not shown in the movie. Father Tolleson and Mrs. Zink both appealed to potential viewers not to allow the bombardment of bad language turn them away from seeing the movie. Similarly, leaders in the Diocese of Helena, who had serious reservations about the number of obscenities when they saw the initial script, stated, “Viewers should be warned that the film contains objectionable language, violence and adult content. It’s our hope, however, that the redemptive story of Fr. Stu’s conversion will invite viewers to faith and strengthen believers. … Father Stu, raw and unfiltered, combative and grace-filled, witnesses to the truth that no one is ever beyond the reach of redemption.”

That’s clearly an endorsement of Father Stu the priest and seems to be one of Father Stu the movie. But it’s certainly not an affirmation of the movie’s use of “objectionable language” or of the questionable evangelical strategy behind doing so. The alternative to faith-based films that flatten human life to morality plays fit for small children is not to saturate movies with profanity, which is a cheap and shallow caricature of “reality.” To be real, there are far more effective ways than the use of vulgarities that, whether intended or not, blaspheme God, anathematize others, verbally profane human love and sexuality, or orally disgorge references to excretory orifices and output — otherwise, Popes, priests, religious sisters, missionaries, catechists, parents, presidents and schoolteachers would all have to start modeling their speech on the glossary of R-rated rappers.

To be real, rather, starts with character development, and allowing that character to shine on the big screen: someone who listens, understands, cares, shares others’ joys and burdens, speaks truthfully and respectfully, is humble, has a sense of humor and exudes a rich and attractive humanity. This is what we clearly have in the real Father Stu Long, who became more relatable, real, and attractive after his conversion, not less. To think that to draw people in we have to use filth for their ears is as mistaken as thinking we need to use porn for the eyes. It’s a superficial and condescending understanding of the unchurched. It emulates the mentality we sometimes see in silly clergy who think that to be relevant with the young they need to quote Justin Bieber and Dua Lipa.

Such an approach doesn’t take seriously the intrinsic attraction of Christ shining through His authentic faithful and shows a defective understanding of the power of the Gospel and how God has made people for it. The way to draw people toward Christ is not by using the desensitizing language of the gutters. As Jesus, Paul, Francis Xavier, Francis Xavier Cabrini and all of the great evangelizers have shown, it’s by reminding them of their dignity and summoning them, if even by small steps and simple, clean words, to aspire to a standard of greatness. That’s a lesson Father Stu Long learned and lived — and one that this otherwise fine movie about him, to its detriment, unfortunately didn’t grasp or depict.

Religious Liberty

July 3, 2022

It is the Fourth of July weekend, a time to reflect on liberty and freedom. Many today have concerns that their freedom is being eroded by increasing and over-reaching governmental intrusion. And, while as Catholics steeped in the moral vision of the Scriptures and Tradition we seek to balance individual rights and the common good, we do rightly have concerns that one of our most fundamental rights recognized in the First Amendment is being threatened by an unprecedented mandate that we violate our consciences and surrender our religious liberty simply because the government demands it.

Note the language that the First Amendment “recognizes” our freedom to freely exercise our religion. For the State does not grant us this right, God does. It is among those rights the Declaration of Independence so nobly calls “unalienable” rights and says are endowed by our Creator. Hence, in no way can our right to religious freedom be abridged simply because a president, a congress, or a director of a government agency says so. They did not give us this liberty, and they cannot take it away. We will not and cannot cede to man, what God has given.

And mind you, the recent Covid-19 mandates were only the latest and boldest move of what has been a steady stream of threats eroding our religious liberty. These issues affect not only Catholics, but people of many religious backgrounds. However, the Catholic Church is particularly targeted and threatened because we have stood so vocally and firmly in opposition to many aspects of the cultural revolution in America such as abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, the increasing “genocide” against the disabled via selective abortion and pernicious prenatal screening, gay “marriage,” and so forth.

As the wider American culture continues to move away from Biblical teachings and Natural Law norms, our Catholic adherence to this age-old wisdom has come to be seen by many as obnoxious, and we are considered to be an influence which must be strongly withstood. Rather than understand our concerns as a principled stance rooted in Biblical norms that we cannot simply set aside, many, in the wider culture, have chosen to describe our stance as bigoted, reactionary, hateful, and broadly intolerant. As such, many see the repudiation of our religious rights and liberty as “righteous” and as a vindication of their cultural agenda. But the rejoicing in some circles and the active attempt by some to suppress our religious liberty is short-sighted. For, if the government can deny the liberty of one group, all groups are threatened. If the government can attempt to legally force a large segment of the US population to act contrary to their conscience, no other segment is safe either.

The threat to religious liberty is both real and growing. For if the government can seek to compel in these matters offensive to long-standing Catholic teaching, it can just as easily come after what others consider sacred and right. Do not be deceived, this is about a serious threat to the First Amendment and to the religious liberty of all, not just Catholics, and not just the various churches, but against you, as an individual citizen as well. It is not just the Church that has religious liberty, YOU have religious liberty and no government or official has the right to prohibit the free exercise of your religious duties.

Do not allow others to describe the First Amendment merely as the “freedom of worship.” It is far more. It is to be able to freely exercise one’s religion. You are not a Catholic merely inside the church building. You are a Catholic at the supermarket, at the job, in the political arena, in the influence of public policy, and in the daily discourse that seeks to influence the thinking and behavior of your fellow citizens. We, as believers, have the same rights as any other citizens or groups to advocate and organize for causes and courses of action we see as helpful to this country. An essential part of the free exercise of our religious duty is to evangelize the culture and everyone who will listen. It is unacceptable to speak of religious liberty as merely the freedom to worship inside a Church building it is far more.

The extreme secularists presume they can simply wear us down by their repeated and numerous legal maneuverings. And, frankly, they may be right, unless people like you and I are vigilant and unflinching in supporting the Church as she battles these attacks. And don’t be too sanguine about how we should be willing to endure persecution. We should endure and persevere, but that does not mean we simply surrender our Constitutional rights at the door and let secularists and proponents of the cultural revolution isolate us. We have every Constitutional right that any American does, and we cannot simply let the Church be silenced by either ignoring the problem or minimizing it.

There is an important Battle underway. Where do you stand? What will you do? To quote Martin Luther King Jr., “My daddy always said, ‘If you find a good fight, get in it.’” Well, this is a good fight, a necessary fight. Get in it!

The Triumph of the Victor-Victim

June 26, 2022

On some Good Fridays, especially those that occur on sunny spring days, it can be spiritual challenging to enter interiorly into darkness that descended upon ancient Jerusalem at the place called the Skull, to meditate vividly on the gruesome details of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, and to consider the reality of evil and the evil one who with earthly co-conspirators sought to put to death the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Good Friday 2022, after several weeks of witnessing the passion of the people of Ukraine, scrutinizing the atrocities in Bucha and Mariupol, beholding the bloody images of bombed schools, shelters, train stations, and apartment complexes, and listening to the traumatic horror stories of those who have suffered the massacre of family members and friends, the destruction of homes, neighborhoods, and livelihoods, it is far easier to visualize the maleficence of what happened on Calvary. It is also easier to recognize Golgotha’s saving relevance.

At 3 pm on Good Friday, it appeared as if evil had won. Jesus was not just dead, but had been publicly and ignominiously executed, after having been brutally scourged, beaten, spat upon, mocked, and crucified. As if that weren’t enough, there was also an earthquake, an eclipse of the sun, and the shocking event of the veil of the temple — God’s sanctuary — being torn from top to bottom. Everything was convulsing. The real world, it was facile to conclude, shows that might crushes right, death defeats life, and darkness extinguishes light.

However, when we jarringly behold the Pierced One on the cross, bathed in coagulated blood, crowned with thorns, lacerated to the bone with scourge marks, pinned through thick wood, we ultimately don’t see a humiliated casualty. We see the happiest person who ever lived — who came into the world so that His joy may be in us and our joy be made complete — at the supreme moment of His triumph. We hear Him proclaim, not in defeat but in jubilation, “It is finished!,” meaning “Mission accomplished! He who had said that to bear fruit, the grain of wheat needed to fall to the ground and die, who had declared that to save our life, we must lose it, was paradoxically conquering while being conquered. The Cross is His great sign of victory, not failure.

Saint Augustine pointed to this paradoxical reality when he wrote in his Confessions that Jesus on the Cross was simultaneously “both victor and victim” and “victor precisely because He was a victim” (Victor quia victima) He was “both priest and sacrifice” and “priest precisely because He was a sacrifice” (Sacerdos quia sacrificium). Basing himself on Sacred Scripture, Augustine argued that on Calvary, Jesus robbed death of its venomous sting and victory (1 Cor 15:54-55). By His death, He broke the power of the devil who holds the power of death (Heb 2:14). There Jesus fulfilled what He had announced on Holy Thursday, “Take courage: I have conquered the world!” (Jn 16:33).

On the Cross, therefore, Jesus turns the law of force right-side-up. Whereas in the world the vanquisher is victor and the vanquished is victim, Augustine teaches that Jesus, through becoming victim, in fact, becomes victor. By dying He destroyed our death. Through suffering the worst sin in human history, He exposed injustice in its most pristine form and expiated the sins of the whole world. But He did more than that: He changed the ultimate meaning of suffering and death, including atrocity crimes, by allowing us to unite our sufferings to His. The Church, as His Body and Bride, is united to Him on Calvary and through, with, and in Him, can become victors through being made victims united to Him, a lesson illustrated routinely in the lives of martyrs.

Jesus’ transforming death into life, defeat into triumph, is what allows us to have confidence to live His words and example about how to conquer evil with good. He calls us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to offer no resistance to those who are evil, to turn the other cheek, to give our cloak to those who ask for our tunic, to walk two miles for those who compel one.

In response to a technologically-advanced but ethically-primitive culture that retaliates with an eye for an eye and even tries to take out both eyes from others before losing one, Jesus proposes a different type of violence: a violence against one’s sinful capacity to treat others as inveterate enemies rather than potential friends, as competitors in the arena of survival of the fittest rather than as siblings and collaborators in building up the kingdom, as hard-hearted adversaries to be feared rather than those to be loved with heartfelt concern.

Prior to the crucifixion, Jesus’ words on peacemaking may have seemed utopian. With the crucifixion and all of Jesus’ actions leading up to it, they are the prescription for the medicine our sick world needs. This truth does not mean that those with tanks and bombs intent on evil should be allowed to pummel the innocent. Good shepherds must always protect the sheep and lambs from the wolves — and be willing to lay down their lives to do so.

But the motivation and spirit of the defense is different. It’s to stop evil rather than commit it. To recognize that we are not battling dehumanized enemies but fellow human beings with mothers and fathers, sometimes sons and daughters. To remember that there’s a far bigger, and eternal, context to our actions, and that winners and losers are not ultimately determined by demagogical declarations, diplomatic accords, or history books, but by God.

As we look at the Victor-Victim on Calvary, the Priest-Sacrifice wants that glance to transform our heart. Jesus on the Cross demonstrates for us — as Pope Francis mentioned during his Palm Sunday homily — how to love our enemies to the extreme. He shows us how to “break the vicious circle of evil and sorrow, to react to the nails in our lives with love, to the buffets of hatred with the embrace of forgiveness.”

But the Holy Father poignantly asked, “As disciples of Jesus, do we follow the Master or do we follow our own desire to strike back? … Do we follow the Master or not?”

Risen from the dead, that triumphant Master waves to us with gloriously scarred hands beckoning us to pick up our Cross and follow Him along the path of cruciform love so that we may experience the full fruits of His victory and help Him overcome monstrous present evils with far greater and lasting good.

The Theophany of Jesus in the Eucharist

June 19, 2022

We encounter in the First Book of Kings (1 Kings 8:1-7, 9-13) one of the most important scenes in the Old Testament, which has enormous significance for us as Christians to grasp one of the most essential lessons in Christian life. We read about the inauguration of the Temple of Jerusalem by King Solomon. His father David had wanted to build a house for the Lord but was stopped by the Lord Himself who rather wanted to build a house for David (which He fulfilled ultimately in the incarnation of David’s 28th generation grandson according to the flesh and God’s only begotten Son generated before the foundation of the world). David, however, prepared most of what was needed for his son Solomon to build the Temple after David’s death. Four years into his reign as king, when he was 22, Solomon began the building of the Temple. It took seven years to complete the edifice and another few years to do the decorations and get everything else ready. But, finally, after all of that preparation and hard work, they were ready to dedicate it. At the inauguration, they sacrificed “too many sheep and oxen to count.” The priests brought the Ark of the Covenant containing within the tablets of the Ten Commandments into the Holy of Holies and placed them underneath the sculpted wings of the cherubim. But then the most important thing happened: God came. He came in the form of a cloud (shekinah in Hebrew), just like He used to appear to the Israelites in the desert during the exodus. “The cloud filled the temple of the Lord,” the sacred author writes, “since the Lord’s glory had filled the temple of the Lord.”

It is often said that religion is man’s search for God, which is true to a point, but what’s distinctive about the history of salvation is that it details God’s search for man. Pope Francis talks about the mystery of primerear, that God always precedes us we’re searching for Him but when we find Him, we discover that He was there waiting for us first. In the cloud signifying God’s holy presence, God came to encounter His people. He wanted to have a stable place by which He could meet them, guide them, help them, and change them. The most important thing about the temple was the presence of God, God’s self-manifestation. It wasn’t how many sacrifices were made there on the part of man to God. The essential is that God was there to meet man.

Eight years ago, Pope Francis gave in the Vatican some beautiful thoughts on this section of the Old Testament, linking God’s theophany in the Temple that day to what we are privileged to experience in the incarnate theophany of Jesus in the Eucharist. He first stressed that in the celebration of the Mass something happens that is far more significant than all of our other prayers, from our personal prayers, our meditation on the Rosary, our reenactments of Biblical events that take place in Christmas Pageants, Passion Plays, Stations of the Cross and the like. The main point is not what we do — just as the main point about the Temple in Jerusalem was not the innumerable body count of animals sacrificed — but the fact that God comes to meet us, and in the Mass, He meets us in a way far more significant than He met the Jews in the cloud. Pope Francis said, “The Lord speaks to His people in many ways: through the prophets, the priests, the Sacred Scriptures. But with theophanies, He speaks in another way. … He speaks with his presence. This is what happens in the liturgical celebration. The Mass is not a social act. It is not a gathering of the faithful to pray together. It is something else. In the liturgy, God is present. In the Mass, in fact, the presence of the Lord is real, truly real.” He went on to say, “When we celebrate the Mass, we don’t reenact a representation of the Last Supper. … No, it is something else: it is the Last Supper itself! It is truly to live once more the Passion and the redeeming Death of the Lord. It is a theophany: the Lord is made present on the altar to be offered to the Father for the salvation of the world. … [The Mass] is a participation in this theophany, in this mystery of the presence of the Lord among us. … God draws near and is with us, and we participate in the mystery of the Redemption.”

Once we grasp the theophany of God in the Mass, it changes the way we interact with others. In the Gospel, we see what happened when Jesus and the apostles disembarked in Gennesaret. Even though the people of that time did not realize what we realize today — that Jesus, the human nature He assumed from us in the person of the Blessed Virgin, is the definitive temple where God’s glory dwells among us — they did grasp that in Jesus God had visited His people. And so, St. Mark tells us, “They scurried about the surrounding country and began to bring in the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak and as many as touched it were healed.” That is such a beautiful phrase, image, and historical fact: they “scurried about the surrounding country” to bring everyone to Jesus. Is that what we Catholics do today? We recognize that the same Jesus who came to Gennesaret comes here to Kenner every morning. In fact, He dwells here in this Tabernacle as He does in Catholic Churches everywhere. Do we hustle about the city and the whole surrounding region seeking to bring to Jesus those who are sick physically, or emotionally, or morally, or spiritually? Do we carry them in on mats, push them in in wheelchairs, drive them in with carts, carry them in on our shoulders? The same Jesus who healed so many there who merely touched the tassel on His cloak allows people to do far more here: He allows them, if they are ready, to receive Him within them. And He can work great miracles. But we need to care about those who surround us, about those who need prayers, about those who need God, just like the people in ancient Galilee loved their neighbors.

The Mass, as Pope Francis has reminded us, is God’s continuous theophany. As we come into communion with Him who is the definitive temple, let us let Him make us into the temple of His presence in the middle of the world, to dwell within us like He dwells in the tabernacle, to be filled with His presence. The glory of the Lord does not only come down upon this house of God (the Cathedral of Kenner!), but upon each of us. Let us ask the Lord for the graces we need to grasp this reality, to let it transform our lives, and to inspire us to scurry about seeking to bring all we know to participate in this most important reality in human life.

Have you met fr. Stu?

June 12, 2022

Thanks to Mark Wahlberg’s new movie Father Stu, the world outside of Helena, Montana, is being introduced to an extraordinary story of an ordinary man to whom God, contrary to worldly and ecclesial logic, gave the vocation to the priesthood and through whom God was able to meet, strengthen, and sanctify many over his six-plus years of priestly labor. And through the interest Father Stu is generating as a result of Wahlberg’s perseverance, personal investment, financial risk, and faith, God is able to reach and inspire millions more.

It’s a very positive sign that a movie like Father Stu would be made. In recent decades, the types of priests Hollywood has been interested in depicting have stereotypically been those who are corrupt and hypocritical, who are trying to “reform” the Church to align with the “times,” or who at best are more morally frail than faithful under trial. In Father Stuart Long, we have a convert whose life was a commentary on Jesus’ words “repent and believe,” who resolutely promoted the Church’s teachings on abortion, sexual morality, and euthanasia, and who despite being ordained a priest with a crippling rare disease, continued to fight the good fight, finish the race in a wheelchair, and keep the faith by zealously passing it on long past the time when self-pity and simple human weakness might have stopped most others (2 Tim 4:7). I would encourage those who do not yet know his story to consult his detailed 2014 obituary, a superb biographical sketch by Michelle LaRosa for The Pillar, a powerful video interview with him before he died, or the new movie (which takes liberty with various details).

In brief, however, after growing up in Helena, winning a golden gloves amateur boxing title, graduating with degrees in English literature and writing, moving to Hollywood in search of movie stardom, and working as a bartender, bouncer, and security guard, this fun-loving, strong, self-confident, kind but worldly 30-year-old had his life upended in a life-threatening motorcycle accident. When he recovered, he was convinced that his life had been saved for a reason. He started to search for that reason.

A desire to wed his live-in girlfriend, Cindy, who would only marry in the Catholic Church, led him to enroll in classes to become a Catholic. As he was being baptized at the Easter Vigil in 1994, he felt God calling him to become a priest. To test that call, he taught at a Catholic school for a few years, then gave away all he had and joined the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in New York, discerned a call to diocesan priesthood, was accepted as a seminarian for the Diocese of Helena and was sent to Mount Angel Seminary in Portland, Oregon.

Around the time he was ordained a transitional deacon in December 2006 and made his lifetime promises of celibacy, prayer, and obedience, he started to experience various physical difficulties, which were eventually diagnosed as inclusion body myositis. Because of Church law that requires candidates to ordination to be physically and psychologically healthy to fulfill their priestly duties (canon 1051), the seminary recommended that he not be advanced to priestly ordination. He made a pilgrimage to Lourdes in search of a physical miracle, but the grace he received was spiritual: a peaceful conviction that God was with him, and a desire to suffer with Christ whatever Christ willed.

Upon returning, he also received another gift: Bishop George Thomas of Helena told him that he had decided to overrule the seminary’s recommendation, convinced in prayer that the Lord wanted Stu to be an icon of Christ, the Suffering Servant, and show the redemptive power of Christian suffering. At the end of his December 14, 2007 ordination, during which he needed crutches, Father Stu matter-of-factly preached, “I stand before you as a broken man. Barring a miracle, I’m going to die from this disease, but I carry it for the cross of Christ, and we can all carry our crosses.”

I would like to focus on a few lessons from his uplifting life. The first is vocation. When Stu got the somewhat shocking sense that God was calling him to be a priest, he pursued it, and persevered in faithfully following that call no matter what serious obstacles arose. Likewise, we must praise Bishop Thomas for not taking the easy or cowardly way out, but to pray about Stu’s situation and follow the Lord’s guidance.

Church history is littered by the stories of future saints who were rejected by dioceses and religious orders because the aspirants were born of unmarried parents, were not of the right race or social class, were deemed too dumb, too poor, too frail, too old, were not virgins, or various other reasons. Saints John Vianney, Faustina, Frances Cabrini, Benedict Joseph Labre, Louise de Marillac, Margaret of Castello, Rose of Viterbo are among a long litany of those rejected because those testing vocations on behalf of the Church were thinking “not as God thinks but as human beings do” (Mt 16:23). It was not part of their discernment to ask whether God might be calling someone who was sick, older than 35, bad at Latin, or a widow. Thankfully, both Bishop Thomas and Father Stu listened to the God who chooses what is weak in the world to shame the strong (1 Cor 1:26-29) and obeyed His voice. And God was able to do so much with the five loaves and two fish of health Father Stu still had.

The second lesson is about divine mercy. Father Stu’s unlikely calling manifests the power of God’s mercy — an element in Father Stu’s story that Wahlberg’s movie powerfully depicts. In his initial interview for the seminary, Father Stu mentions God’s calling Saints Paul, Augustine, and Francis of Assisi to prove that sometimes God’s most effective ambassadors of mercy are those whose being and history exude it. He preaches three times in the movie, in prison, as a seminarian, and at his ordination, and each time describes God’s mercy. And after he enters the nursing home, we see how his principal ministry was anointing the sick and hearing the confessions of his fellow residents, staff, and people from all over greater Helena, who, at 8:30 each morning, would start to form a line stretching even outside the front door. They found in Father Stu someone whom they knew could understand their moral failings as well as someone who could give encouragement, advice, and surgical penances to overcome them in cooperation with God’s grace.

The third lesson is about redemptive suffering, the summons to make up what is lacking in our flesh of Christ’s sufferings for the sake of the Church (Col 1:24). Father Stu heroically embraced the Cross Christ had given him and his life became increasingly an image of Christ the Suffering Servant. When he had lost control over his hands, he would have his dad or a friend come with him to dip his finger in the Oil of the Sick and trace it over the person’s forehead and hands as he said the prayers of the Anointing. Likewise, trained servers would vest him, place the bread and chalice into his hands as he devoutly said the words of consecration at Mass, and lift Christ’s body and blood for him to consume. Several of those present for these sacraments have said it was like watching a crucified man celebrate them. Father Stu had indeed been crucified with Christ and the life he was now living was by faith in the Son of God who loved him and gave His life to redeem him (Gal 2:19-20).

There’s much more to say about the priest and about the movie. But I’d urge you to take advantage of the various means available to get to know this affable, lionhearted man and spiritual father better. Through him God has powerful lessons for our time about divine mercy, redemptive suffering, the life of faith, sacred calling, the gift of the priesthood, and so many other blessings our age and Church need.