Living With dignity

November 28, 2021

In their June 2011 meeting, the bishops of the United States approved and published a superb statement against Physician-Assisted Suicide entitled, “To Live Each Day with Dignity.” It was a response of spiritual shepherds to wolves in white medical jackets who pretend that the compassionate response to those who are contemplating taking their lives is to give them the drugs to do it.

The movement in favor of physician-assisted suicide thinks that present circumstances harbinger an opening to persuading legislatures to allow what they morbidly dub “the ultimate right of the 21st century,” the right to kill oneself. With the baby boom generation now becoming seniors, with all the concern about the rationing of health care costs, and with an increase in the number of those with Alzheimer’s disease, and other dementias, assisted suicide proponents are trying to make a move for legalization in states they think might be friendly. “With expanded funding from wealthy donors,” the bishops noted, “assisted suicide proponents have renewed their aggressive nationwide campaign through legislation, litigation, and public advertising, targeting states they see as most susceptible to their message.” Drivers exiting the Callahan Tunnel in East Boston were confronted with a billboard paid for by the Final Exit Network suggesting that to die with dignity means to do so on one’s own terms. White letters against a black background proclaimed, “Irreversible illness? Unbearable suffering? Die with Dignity.” We have a special duty to be aware of the reasons why physician-assisted suicide is always false compassion, what St. Pope John Paul II called, “a perversion of mercy.”

The bishops observed that many people today fear the dying process and “being kept alive past life’s natural limits by burdensome medical technology. They fear experiencing intolerable pain and suffering, losing control over bodily functions, or lingering with severe dementia. They worry about being abandoned or becoming a burden on others.” They went on to add, “Our society can be judged by how we respond to those fears” and to those who have those fears “at the most vulnerable time in their lives.” Assisted euthanasia proponents believe that the proper way to respond is by facilitating “self-inflicted death” by giving doctors—who by profession are supposed to help save lives—the permission to kill through prescribing or administering a poisonous drug overdose when a patient requests it. People should have the right to end their lives, proponents assert, and doctors should have the legal right to “help” them.

The Church—and many others—recognize that eliminating the person in order to eliminate the person’s suffering is not an act of compassion. Most in our society readily understand that when someone is contemplating suicide at any age of life, he or she is normally suffering from a depression triggered by very real setbacks and serious disappointments and sees death as the only path to relief. The psychological professions know that people with such temptations need help to be freed not from life but from these suicidal thoughts through counseling, support, and when necessary, medication. Most in society grasp that the compassionate response to teenagers experiencing a crushing breakup, to unemployed fathers overwhelmed by pressure, to unhappy actresses feeling alone and abandoned, to middle-aged men devastated by scandalous revelations, is never to catalyze their suicide. Heroic police and firemen climb bridges or go out on the ledges of skyscrapers for a reason. Dedicated volunteers staff Samaritan hotlines around the clock for a reason. This same type of care and attention needs to be given by a just and compassionate society to suffering seniors or others with serious illnesses.

“The sufferings caused by chronic or terminal illness are often severe,” the bishops wrote. “They cry out for our compassion, a word whose root meaning is to ‘suffer with’ another person. True compassion alleviates suffering while maintaining solidarity with those who suffer. It does not put lethal drugs in their hands and abandon them to their suicidal impulses, or to the self-serving motives of others who may want them dead. It helps vulnerable people with their problems instead of treating them as the problem.” The bishops pointed out that once we allow doctors to start to kill patients with terminal illnesses, the meaning of the medical profession changes, from one that seeks always to save lives, to one in which it is possible to end them. Once that occurs, then it is a small step to allowing them to assist non-terminal patients in taking their lives and another to putting pressure on those who are in terminal illnesses to do family members and society a “favor” by ending their lives so that medical resources can be spent elsewhere.

“Taking life in the name of compassion,” they stated, “also invites a slippery slope toward ending the lives of people with non-terminal conditions. Dutch doctors, who once limited euthanasia to terminally ill patients, now provide lethal drugs to people with chronic illnesses and disabilities, mental illness, and even melancholy. Once they convinced themselves that ending a short life can be an act of compassion, it was morbidly logical to conclude that ending a longer life may show even more compassion.” Moreover, this agenda “actually risks adding to the suffering of seriously ill people. Their worst suffering is often not physical pain, which can be alleviated with competent medical care, but feelings of isolation and hopelessness. The realization that others—or society as a whole—may see their death as an acceptable or even desirable solution to their problems can only magnify this kind of suffering.” Not only can this undermine health care providers’ ability and willingness to provide effective palliative care or pain management, but it can also create the conditions in which society can begin to believe that sick seniors or those with difficult illnesses are “better off dead,” that assisted suicide is an “inexpensive treatment” that will allow government or private insurers to direct medical resources to those with lives others consider more valuable. Those with illnesses and disabilities are right, the bishops said, to be “deservedly suspicious when the freedom society most eagerly offers them the ‘freedom’ to take their lives.” To help them end their lives is “a victory not for freedom but for the worst form of neglect.”

There is an “infinitely better way” to care for the needs of people with serious illnesses,” what St. John Paul II called “the way of love and mercy.” This involves a “readiness to surround patients with love, support, and companionship, providing the assistance needed to ease their physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering.” It involves “effective palliative care” to treat the pain they are undergoing. The bishops added, “Learning how to face this last stage of our earthly lives is one of the most important and meaningful things each of us will do, and caregivers who help people through this process are also doing enormously important work. As Christians we believe that even suffering itself need not be meaningless—for as St. Pope John Paul II showed during his final illness, suffering accepted in love can bring us closer to the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice for the salvation of others.” To die with dignity is not to commit suicide, but to suffer and die within this mystery of the Lord’s own death.

The bishops ended their statement with a specific call to Catholics to become “messengers of the Gospel of life” and “leaders in the effort to defend and uphold the principle that each of us has a right to live with dignity through every day of our lives.” Catholics, they said, need to be on the front lines not only in preventing legislative enactment of assisted-suicide but also in caring for those with chronic or terminal illnesses. They reminded us that “the choices we make together now will decide whether this is the kind of caring society we will leave to future generations.” They summoned all of us to get together to “build a world in which love is stronger than death.”

Living the reality of the kingdom

November 21, 2021

The Solemnity of Christ the King is an occasion for us every year to recalibrate our life to the reality of Christ’s Kingdom and to follow the criteria Christ gives us to enter it, live in it, and proclaim it.

The annual feast is much needed to fight against the perennial temptation to view the world through the lens of earthly power and squeeze our understanding of God into that prism. This was happening in 1925 when Pope Pius XI established the Solemnity. There was a militant atheism—the most notorious examples were in Russia and Mexico—seeking to repress belief in Christ and suppress Christian presence in the world. There was, moreover, a much larger secularizing trend that was attempting to order life without reference to God and make faith exclusively private. Then there were the burgeoning fascist movements keen to instrumentalize the Church for political ends. All were trying to amputate innate human transcendence, make the State or political leaders the object of faith, hope, and love and supplant Christian works of mercy with the bureaucratic largesse of the State.

This flattening of faith is still happening today in other forms. Many, for example, spend more time thinking about who is in charge in Washington—or Beijing, Moscow, Budapest, Caracas, or Havana than who is in charge of the universe. Some priests and faithful seem to want the pulpit to be used to endorse individual political ideology rather than to endorse Jesus Christ and His evangelical platform. Some will spend all night watching election returns but not have time to adore the King in a holy hour. They will labor indefatigably to elect favored candidates, give maximal contributions to campaigns, parties, or political action committees, but often will not work anywhere near as hard or contribute as much to building up Christ’s Kingdom.

This is not to disparage political involvement. Some political issues are literally questions of life and death, common good, and intrinsic evil. Catholics are called to be salt of the “earth,” light of the “world” and leaven, including in the political dimensions of community life. The question, however, is whether Catholics will be in the world but not of the world or become worldly. And when Catholics become of the world, they often import worldly categories into the Kingdom that subsists in the Church. This mundanity happened with liberation theology. It occurs occasionally with Church charitable work, when Church agencies behave, as Pope Francis has said, like NGOs. It also happens when people begin to look at things in the Church with political categories, treating popes and bishops as if they were politicians, evaluating Church documents as if they were political manifestos, and attempting to understand everything according to the political matrix of liberal versus conservative. The Solemnity of Christ the King is meant to serve as an annual inoculation against this spiritual pathogen.

The Divine Physician Himself had to battle against the politicization of His messianic work. Many of His fellow Jews anticipated that when the long-awaited one came, He would rule as His ancestor David had done, defeating foreign powers, triumph over all who opposed Him, and extending His dominion “from sea to sea and … to the ends of the earth” (Ps 72:8). Jesus regularly had to instruct those whom He had healed not to say anything lest the mobs carry Him off to crown Him a king according to their erroneous, earthly expectations. The apostles themselves sometimes succumbed to this temptation, competing against each other for the top cabinet positions in the messianic administration they imagined Jesus was about to inaugurate.

We see the brutal contrast between the Kingdom Christ came to inaugurate and the political kingdom people expected on Good Friday. Mocked by Pilate by the crown of thorns and the derisive inscription “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” and ridiculed by the crowd, chief priests, soldiers, passers-by, and the bad thief, the last thing the crucified Jesus looked like on Calvary was a king. The only demonstration of kingly power most could comprehend was earthly force: saving Himself and others like some comic book superhero or WWE champion, routing Romans and Sanhedrin alike. Yet, rather than using power to subjugate those who opposed Him, Jesus endured abuse to save His abusers. The kings of the age used to send soldiers to die in wars for the king’s aggrandizement, yet Jesus was dying so that His subjects could live.

When Pontius Pilate, who believed that kingship meant having the power to crucify or pardon, asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?,” he was unprepared for Jesus’ answer: that His “kingship is not of this world” and, “for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.” Jesus’ Kingdom is not about earthly power but divine. He came not to be served like earthly rulers, but to serve, and to give His life in ransom. And He summoned His followers not to “lord” over others, but to become the servant of the rest, reigning with Him through self-giving, loving service of the least.

This is not the spirit with which many celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. We prefer to focus on the “objective reality” of Christ as King of the Universe and belt out hymns like Christus Vincit or To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King, proudly proclaiming that Christ conquers, reigns, and commands, and thereby putting all earthly or pseudo-divine power grabbers in their place. As we see in Jesus’ earthly life, however, He is far more interested in the “moral dimension” of this feast, getting us to “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

In the Gospel, Jesus described the moral characteristics of those who “inherit the kingdom.” They are born anew from above and keep their baptismal garments ready for the banquet of the Kingdom. They are poor in spirit since, He said, it is harder for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a rich person to enter the kingdom. They seek the Kingdom first, willing to lose body parts to enter, to welcome it like a child or a wise virgin, and to treat it like a pearl of great price or a buried treasure. They care for the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned. They do the will of God the Father, treat others with the mercy they have received, live in communion with others, and suffer for the Kingdom. They receive Christ’s words and work on good soil and allow it to grow like the mustard seed. They permit Christ to plant them in the field of the world as hardworking harvesters honored to work.

As we celebrate Christ the King in the midst of contemporary political concerns, it is helpful to remember what the Eucharistic Preface of the Solemnity reminds us, that Jesus came to establish a “kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” The best way we can serve both God and Caesar, to be the king’s good servant but God’s first is through holiness of life. The greatest crises that face us, St. Josemaria recalled, are “crises of saints.” God provides the grace we need to unite ourselves to Him and become seeds of the Kingdom in the world, capable of leading others to Him who is just, grants us peace, and shows us how to love.

This is the path of the kingdom, now and not yet, that Christ the King came to establish.

a pilgrimage of faith

November 14, 2021

One of the things I love to do in New York City is leading walking pilgrimages to the most beautiful Churches in Manhattan. It is a fun journey of faith, in which we see Christian truths beautifully displayed in so many different styles of architecture, sculpture, painting, and stained glass. It is an inspiring trek in which we discuss and witness in action the virtue of munificence — which many, even the brightest, can no longer define but which was considered during the Middle Ages one of the most important virtues: to do something lavishly generous out of love for God. It is a sacred excursion during which we not only pray at the stations along our path but are strengthened on the journey of life as the “pilgrim Church on earth.”

The route can vary, depending upon the interests and stamina of the participants, but normally I like to start at the beautiful nine-ton bronze doors opening to the nave of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, “America’s Parish Church,” where, with the help of sculptor John Angel, we are able to do a brief history of the Church in New York. On the transom we see John the Baptist and Mary pointing out and inviting us to adore as we enter, the Lamb of God and the fully-grown Fruit of her womb, respectively. Jesus in turn is giving the Great Commission to the apostles, sending them forth to preach the Gospel to all nations, representatives from most of which pass by every day on Fifth Avenue. On the door itself are six beautiful sculptures. The top two are St. Joseph, the patron of the universal Church, and St. Patrick, the patron of the Cathedral and the archdiocese.

Underneath them are four saints associated with New York: St. Isaac Jogues, the first priest ever to set foot in Manhattan in 1643, who was eventually martyred in Auriesville three years later St. Kateri Tekakwitha, born ten years after Jogues’ death in the very village sanctified by his blood St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the Italian born missionary who arrived in New York City in 1889 and quickly became a mother for thousands of orphans, students, and hospital patients in the New World and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Manhattan native, convert to Catholicism, and one of the most important figures in the history of Catholic schools. Those four orients us to the Catholic history of New York and to the fact that along our path we will be following not only in their footsteps but also those of St. John Neumann, ordained in New York in 1836, Bl. Francis Xavier Seelos, who arrived in New York in 1843, and many others — including, for example, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Paul VI, and St. John Paul II — who have spent time on the streets and in the churches of this city.

At the door of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, we can also consider a brief overview of the early history of the Church in New York: how from 1700-1784, Catholic priests were prohibited from entering the city how in 1785, there were about 200 Catholics and one priest among 230,000 inhabitants, when the first Catholic Church, St. Peter’s, was built how Catholic New York grew so quickly that in 1808, the Diocese of New York, encompassing New York State and eastern New Jersey, was established and the first Cathedral, now-Old St. Patrick’s, built and how the visionary and bold Archbishop John Hughes determined in 1858 that the population and geography of New York City would continue to grow exponentially and “foolishly” decided to build an enormous new Cathedral — then, the largest Church in the country and the nation’s second-tallest building — three miles north of where most of the people lived, correctly presaging that the site of the Cathedral would eventually occupy the heart of New York.

Visiting the recently renovated St. Patrick’s at the beginning of our odyssey allows us to orient ourselves in the living history of the Church in New York, putting on display its sources of vitality and showing the perennial attraction to the tens of thousands who enter every day to glimpse its beauty, say a prayer, attend Mass or confession or adore Jesus exposed in the Chapel of Our Lady.

From St. Patrick’s Cathedral, we normally journey three blocks north to St. Thomas the Apostle Church, an Anglo-Catholic Episcopal parish where the beauty of the world’s largest and most beautiful marble retablo, focused on Saint Thomas’ declaration of Jesus as his Lord and God and featuring 60 sculptures, leaves pilgrims in awe. Next, we head to St. Vincent Ferrer, on 65th and Lexington, where the neo-Gothic Church’s extraordinary stained-glass windows envelop you much like pilgrims experience in Paris’ Sainte Chapelle or Chartres Cathedral. Run by the Dominicans, this parish is thriving with young people and families and is one of the city’s most prayerful spots.

Ten blocks north is the Church of St. Jean Baptiste, run by the Blessed Sacrament Fathers and totally oriented — sanctuary, stained glass, and Church encompassing inscriptions — to celebrating the mind-blowing reality of Jesus’ real presence in the Holy Eucharist. This French-Canadian gem also features a shrine to St. Anne with half of the relics of the grandmother of God originally destined by Pope Leo XIII for the Church of St. Anne de Beaupre in Quebec. Out of all of the Churches in the city, it is my favorite.

From there we walk another ten blocks to the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, run by the Jesuits, which is so rich in symbolism, materials, and beauty that it is overwhelming. My favorite element of all are two stunning bronze doors, one dedicated to the gifts of the Holy Spirit and another to the Beatitudes, featuring reliefs of saints who have enfleshed those gifts and paths to Christ-like happiness. Designed by Ft. Patrick O’Gorman, SJ, pastor of St. Ignatius from 1924-29, these resplendent doors are the most powerful visual depiction of holiness I know.

After that, we make a long trek to the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the largest Gothic Cathedral and sixth biggest Church in the world. Light the great Cathedrals in Europe, it is taking centuries to build, only two-thirds completed since construction started in 1892. From an architectural point of view, it is extraordinary and a reminder of the soaring aspirations that built the Medieval Cathedrals from the perspective of faith, the Church is sadly operated more like a museum, concert hall, and center of ecological spirituality than a house of prayer. Next, we journey from the top to the bottom of Central Park to visit the majestic St. Paul the Apostle, founded by Fr. Isaac Hecker and run by the Paulists. It is inspired by elements of the early Christian basilicas in Ravenna and features the work of some of the greatest 19th-century American artists.

After that — for most groups with the help of the subway — we head to the Church of St. Francis Xavier, designed by the famous Patrick Keely, and filled with 50 stunning murals, several series of marble sculptures of saints, and breathtaking architecture. The huge paintings of the Stations of the Cross in the nave are the most beautiful I have ever seen adorn a Church.

We conclude by heading to the Basilica of Old St. Patrick’s and, for those who are not exhausted, the Church of St. Peter, where, in the first two Churches in New York, we are able to focus a little on the Lord’s parable of the Mustard Seed. From 200 Catholics and one priest in 1784, a great and munificent Catholic legacy was built where, in some sense, immigrants and visitors from the whole world have been able to take refuge. Retracing and reliving that history and following in the footsteps of saints celebrated and unknown, we are strengthened not only for the pilgrimage of life but also challenged and emboldened to recapitulate that parable.

an Amen to god

November 7, 2021

There is an important prehistory to St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. Paul had promised to make a return visit to Corinth, but because of sufferings and hardship, he had not yet been able to come. Those who were opposed to his message of conversion took upon themselves to try to persuade others that he was unreliable: if he could not even be trusted to keep his word about whether he would be coming to Corinth, how could anything else he said — about God, for example — be reliable? Paul wrote that the source of his veracity is found in God. “As God is faithful,” he said, and then he gave a beautiful witness to how Jesus is the fulfillment, the definitive “yes” to all God’s promises. “For however many are the promises of God,” he wrote, “their Yes is in him.” And Jesus’ yes, he continues, is the source of our own. “The Amen from us also goes through him to God for glory.” God is the one, he asserts, “who gives us security with you in Christ” and “anointed us,” and “put his seal upon us” and “given the Spirit in our hearts.” God is faithful, God fulfills His promises, and our response to God is to reciprocate that fidelity but maintaining our fidelity to His covenants and imitating His yes. Jesus would say in the Sermon on the Mount, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one” (Mt 5:37). St. James himself would echo it: “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No,’ that you may not incur condemnation” (James 5:12). As Christians, we are not supposed to vacillate. Christ, Paul, and James want to help us imitate God’s fidelity.

Jesus describes for us in the Gospel how He wishes for us to make our life an Amen to God. He wants us to live up to our vocation and commitment to be the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World. What are we saying “yes” to in responding to these vocations?

In calling us to be the Salt of the Earth, Jesus summons us to a three-fold fidelity. The first is as a preservative. Salt was used to preserve meat or fish from rotting. There was obviously no electricity and therefore no refrigeration in the ancient world. If any fish or meat was going to last in the sweltering Middle Eastern climate, it needed to be salted. The salt was different than the meat or the fish, pointing to the fact that as Christians we are supposed to be distinct from the world, in it, but not of it. There was something more. There was an ancient saying that the animal and fish that were being preserved were already dead salt would serve almost as a life-preserver, something that would keep the meat or fish filets from likewise dying. It almost had a sense of the resurrection, giving them life whereas they, like the fish or animals from which they came, should be dead. All of this points to the fact that Jesus calls us to be His instrument to prevent the earth from going to corruption, from dying. We are supposed to keep the world and others good. We all know that there are certain people who when they walk into a room keep others on their best behavior, not because others are afraid of them, but because they lift others to a higher standard by the way they themselves live. Jesus wants us to be like that person. Does our presence cause others to change behavior, to police their language, to speak more about faith, to find opportunities to serve others? Or are we inert or someone who by our thoughts, words, and actions induce others toward worse conduct?

The second purpose is to start a fire. Like still happens in some parts of the developing world today, at Jesus’ time, people would take animal dung, mix it with a lot of salt, and then light it on fire. The dung alone could not be ignited, but when it was mixed with salt, the salt would be able to be lit and then would gradually heat the dung, which kept heat for a long time. Salt was the ancient equivalent of starter wood or lighter fluid for a barbecue. In calling us to be the Salt of the Earth, Jesus is reminding us of two parts of our mission. First, we see in this use of salt that it can redeem almost anything, even turning excrement into something good and useful. As Salt of the Earth, we are called to be God’s instrument for bringing good out of the evil we encounter, to help even those who were given over to evil to start producing something good. Secondly, salt is supposed to be a fire-starter. We are supposed to be easily lit and capable of heating others. Thus, it is totally incompatible for us to be waiting for someone else to light a fire under us. We are supposed to be the starter wood, the lighter fluid. We are called to light the world ablaze. Do we by our presence inflame with love for God and others?

The third and final function of salt at Jesus’ time is what we have maintained today, to give flavor to the food we consume. A little bit of salt can influence a whole meal. This points to the fact that we, as salt of the earth, are called to give flavor so that others can “taste and see the goodness of the Lord” we are supposed to bring joy. So many in the world think that to enjoy themselves, there has to be a frat house atmosphere, where there is plenty of booze, drugs, dim lights, lots of willing members of the opposite sex, and other types of behavior that leads people to hangovers, methadone treatments, STDs and other regrettable and preventable consequences. Jesus calls us to show what real joy in life is, to be people who are happy, who are truly blessed by living together with Jesus as the cause of our joy. We come to Jesus who says to us each time, “I have come so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” And we are called to bring that joy to the world. Jesus calls us not to let our saltiness become insipid, but to remain faithful to preventing our faith and others’ from being corrupted, to starting the fire of faith, and to bringing joy to the world.

In calling us to be the Light of the Word, Jesus is similarly summoning us to do other functions. The first is to illumine. Jesus says in St. John’s Gospel, “The man who follows me will have the light of life.” Jesus Himself is the light of the world and He calls us to reflect His light the only way we can do that is to follow Him. It is not enough just to know Him and His teachings. We need to follow Him, to walk as He walked, to love as He loved, to care as He cares, to do as He has done. The way we give off light for others is by following Christ so that they can follow us along the path of light on which Christ Himself is guiding us. We Christians are supposed to be like indicator lights on an airport runaway so that the people of the world in the midst of a ferocious storm at night do not crash but can land safely on the airstrip of heaven. Jesus wants us to radiate what He teaches us about how to live well, how to love well, how to die well so as to live for other, to others, to enflesh His teaching to such a degree that others see the light of His way of life shining from within us almost without our even trying. Jesus tells us in the Gospel that the way we give off His light is through deeds of genuine Christian love that leads others, in seeing them, to glorify God.

The second thing light does is provide warmth. We are supposed to live and love with a particular Christ-like warmth, to make others’ hearts burn. Christian love is itself a form of light that opens people up to the exodus from darkness and fuller immersion into Christ’s light as children of the light. In an anti-intellectual age, this warmth is so key. Jesus tells us that we are not supposed to hide our light under a bushel basket but to set it on a stand to give light to the entire house. Similarly, we are supposed to be humbly proud of Christ’s teaching and absolutely committed to faithfully passing on the Gospel not just in the light of words but in the warmth of loving service.

Our Amen always involves this salt and this luminescence. We are summoned by the Lord to preserve people’s “yes” and prevent it from devolving into a “no” to catalyze the “yes” of faith by our own “yeses” to show that the “yes,” although hard at times, leads to joy to learn and teach our faith better so that our and other’s “yeses” can be more secure and to encourage others toward saying “yes” by the love we have for them.

Every day we have a chance to reiterate our yes to God in the Amen of the Mass — the Amen to the prayers we make to Him with faith, the grateful Amen we make to the liturgy of the Word, committing ourselves to build on the rock of what Jesus says, our Amen to receiving Him in Holy Communion, as He seeks from the inside to make us the salt and light the world needs.

we need courage!

October 31, 2021

I am often asked what I think is the biggest challenge — or need or crisis — facing the Church in the United States. “Faith” is always an appropriate answer to that query: since God is always faithful, what we need is to trust in Him, bank on His promises, receive well the help He gives, and respond wholeheartedly. Over the last several years, however, when prompted about what the Church in our country needs most, I have been responding, “Courage!” While there is no doubt a widespread crisis of faith, I think a more urgent issue is that, among those with faith, there is a softness and timidity before the challenges, contradictions, and crosses we face.

When, for example, Jews encounter anti-Semitism and Muslims confront Islamophobia, they respond vigorously and marshal the public to get involved, whereas Catholics, despite our much greater numbers, largely let bigots get away with it. Anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice because Catholics tolerate it. We permit it not because we are “turning the other cheek” — by which Jesus instructed us not to “play the victim” but rather to defend our dignity without vengeance — but because we often do not have the resolve to stand united against the cultural bullies. The lack of courage happens not just in terms of religious freedom, but also with regard to the call to defend the truth and share the faith. Many Catholics are cowed before the elites who are forcing their values revolution on everyone else. Rather than witnessing to Christ and the faith, many Catholics, to echo Cardinal O’Malley’s quip, have seemingly entered a witness protection program.

Inside the Church, we see a similar faint-heartedness with regard to confronting all types of conspicuous problems: clergy who violate their sacred promises and live a double life, parishes and schools that no longer come close to paying their bills, Catholic politicians who betray God and their faith to win elections, faithful who require fraternal correction concerning practices that everyone knows are immoral. And at a personal level, many of us are wimpish in the fight against sin and in the persevering effort to love and grow in holiness.

Cowardice is antithetical to Christian faith and life. The most common phrase in Sacred Scripture is “Be not afraid!” It appears 104 times in the Old Testament, 44 times in the New Testament. Against our fears, God insistently tells us to take courage. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us not to be afraid of His call (Lk 5:10), of drowning at sea (Mt 8:26), of wars and insurrections (Lk 21:9), of the death of loved ones (Lk 8:50), of those who can only kill the body but cannot harm the soul (Mt 10:28), or of what will happen to Him in his Passion (Jn 14:1). To believe in Him, to trust in His accompaniment, to have faith in His victory over suffering and death, He suggests, is to be filled with courage. We see that fortitude, a gift of the Holy Spirit, in the apostles after Pentecost, when they boldly announce the Gospel even when the same members of the Sanhedrin who had had Jesus crucified were trying to intimidate them. They continued unafraid, trusting that since even savage execution could not keep Jesus in the tomb, they had nothing to fear.

The Church in every age is meant to be at a spiritual level what a marine boot camp is meant to do militarily: to train people to persevere courageously. But where can Catholics go to grow in courage? Where can we learn how to remain faithful despite our fears? Who can be the drill instructors of our Christian soul?

I think there is no better place in the United States to be formed in courage than the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, New York. It is the site of the martyrdom of Saints Isaac Jogues, Rene Goupil, and Jean de Lalande and the birthplace of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha. If one cannot but become more Marian visiting Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima, or more Eucharistic at Lanciano or Orvieto, one also cannot help growing in holy audacity in Auriesville.

I have spent a lot of time there over the years, praying, traversing the sacred spots fertilized by their blood, leading others to ponder the faith and love that made those saints dauntless until the end, and celebrating Masses in the unique 6,800 seat Church on the grounds — called the “Colosseum” after the Flavian Amphitheater in Rome where so many early Christian martyrs proved that they had more valor than the greatest gladiators. The Shrine is truly one of the great treasures in U.S. Catholicism, but also one of our country’s most underutilized spiritual resources. If we are going to have a rebirth of Catholic courage, I think the school of the North American Martyrs and the Lily of the Mohawks is going to play a major role. It is impossible to get to know Saints Isaac, Rene, Jean, and Kateri and not be fortified by their fortitude.

Saint Isaac Jogues’ life is one of the greatest examples of courage and apostolic ardor in the Church’s annals. During his first Missionary journey (1636-1644) to Quebec and Ontario as a Jesuit missionary, he, along with lay missionary (and eventually Jesuit brother) Rene Goupil, was captured by the Mohawks, dragged hundreds of miles to Auriesville, and brutally tortured. Goupil was soon tomahawked to death for blessing a Mohawk boy. Jogues, however, survived and after a couple of years was rescued through the help of the Dutch. He returned to France, where — because his missionary letters had made him famous — he was treated as a hero. His thumbs and index fingers had been bitten off by captors to prevent him from using guns, but it also meant, by the rubrics of the time, he could not hold the Host in the celebration of the Mass, leading to his going 17 months without receiving the Eucharist and 20 months without celebrating Mass. Pope Urban VIII, however, gave him an exemption, saying that it would be inappropriate for a martyr for Christ not to drink Christ’s blood.

Despite his mangled hands and other injuries, he courageously asked to return to the Missions, and even more valiantly returned to Auriesville in 1646, with Jesuit lay brother Jean Lalande, aware that it might eventually mean their death. Out of love for God and those who had tortured him, they took the risk and were tomahawked to death in October 1646. But their death was not in vain. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians. Ten years after their martyrdom, St. Kateri Tekakwitha was born in the village. When she was 20, she asked the new wave of Jesuits who had come to her village for instruction in prayer and baptism. Normally candidates for baptism had to wait two years, to test their faith to ensure they would keep it despite the many hardships it might bring, including martyrdom. After one month, however, her faith was recognized as indomitable and mature enough to endure.

Her sufferings on account of her baptism— from her uncle, from her fellow residents, even from the children — would become so acute that the Jesuits, to save her life, arranged for her escape to their mission of Kahnawake south of Montreal, where she would spend the last three years of her life dedicated to prayer and charity in the midst of brutal wintry conditions. She is a simple, approachable, contagious example of the courage that loves God with all one’s mind, heart, soul, and strength, without counting the costs.

A pilgrimage to Auriesville — to the place of St. Kateri’s humble birth and SS. Isaac’s, Rene’s, and Jean’s glorious birth into eternity — helps everyone to breathe the air of audacity and to be bolstered with the courage needed to remain faithful on the pilgrimage of life. It is part of the means our faithful God provides to help us meet the challenges of the age.

the virtue of chastity

October 24, 2021

There are many virtues that Christian piety has predicated of Saint Joseph that, especially during this Year of Saint Joseph, Catholics are called to ponder more deeply and imitate more closely. Joseph is just, faithful, obedient, humble, prayerful, silent, charitable, hardworking, provident, protective, courageous, zealous, prudent, patient, loyal, and simple. One of the most important of his virtues for our time in history, however, the one that the Church features during the litany of “Divine Praises” that we proclaim during Adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, is that Joseph is “most chaste,” a title given only to him and to our Lady. It is a translation of the Latin castissimus, a superlative that can be rendered “most,” “very,” or “supremely” chaste. Against any temptation to minimize the virtue, Saint Joseph inspires us to become maximally chaste.

We are living at a time in which no part of our Catholic faith and life is as caricatured, contradicted, criticized, condemned, calumniated, and contravened as our Catholic teaching about chastity. Many outside the Church, and even some inside, look at the Church’s teaching as something as outdated as Victorian clothing, as the path to repression rather than love, as training ground for prudes not saints. The sexual revolutionaries who trumpet the right to sex with whomever we want, whenever we want, wherever we want, and however we want, the culture that has contributed to the epidemic of broken hearts, marriages and families, sexually transmitted diseases, sex crimes and abuse, human trafficking, prostitution and pornography, sexual addictions, teenage pregnancies and abortions, claims that chastity is against our biology, by shackling a natural urge it is against our rational nature, by restraining our freedom it is part of the “Bad News” instead of Good.

Contrary to what many mistakenly believe, the Church’s teaching on chastity is not a type of asbestos with which to suffocate the most passionate of human experiences. It is a wisdom that seeks to help those flames not destroy what God wants the sexual urge to lead to: real love, so that we might genuinely love others as Christ has loved us. Rather than negative and prudish, the Church could not have a more exalted appreciation for human love and the chastity that makes it possible. In the midst of this widespread misunderstanding and mockery of the Church’s teachings on human sexuality, not to mention the mounting misery that has come from its rejection, there is added urgency for the Church to help Catholics and non-Catholics alike to recapture, treasure, and protect the truth and beauty of chaste human love. The Year of Saint Joseph is a special time during which all the faithful can better learn, and to learn to live, the call of God with regard to chastity.

The stakes are enormous. Saint Paul, immediately after giving the ancient Christians in Thessalonika the summary of our Christian vocation, “This is the will of God, your sanctification,” tells them immediately, as an explication of that summons, to “abstain from porneia” a Greek term that refers to all sexual sin and is generally translated as unchastity. Since holiness is the full flourishing of love in a human person, one cannot truly love unless one is chaste. Chastity is indispensable for us to become fully human, holy, and eternally happy. The Gospel of Chastity, therefore, is an essential part of the Church’s mission for the salvation and sanctification of the human race.

To act on this summons, it is essential to know what chastity is. Even among clergy, religious, consecrated, and catechists, chastity is regularly confused with continence (abstinence from sexual activity) or celibacy (the state of being unmarried). When the Catechism emphasizes that “all Christ’s faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life,” and that “married people are called to live conjugal chastity,” many married couples are left scratching their heads, wondering how they can be both “chaste” and start a family. The reason for the confusion likely stems from the fact that when the term “chastity” is often used, it is employed in the context of the sexual education of teenagers (who are called to continence in chastity) or in the description of the promises or vows professed by priests and religious (who are called to celibate continence in chastity). The confusion points to the urgency and importance for all in the Church to understand what chastity is and how all the baptized — married couples, singles, priests, consecrated, those with same-sex attractions, and opposite-sex attractions —are called to it.

The first step in the Church’s teaching on chastity is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Catechism describes chastity as a vocation, a gift from God, and a grace but at the same time it talks about it as the “fruit of spiritual effort” that includes the “apprenticeship in self-mastery” so that the person “governs his passions and finds peace” rather than letting himself be “dominated by them.” It is linked fundamentally to the virtue of temperance or self-control. This self-mastery is a “long and exacting work,” it goes on to say: “One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life.” But the end is a “successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.” Chastity, therefore, is a “school of the gift of the person that leads to a spiritual communion,” based on Christ’s chastity, which is at the basis of all friendship, not to mention other relationships.

But that look at chastity as the temperate integration of the sexual urge never struck Saint John Paul II as adequate. The sexual urge is meant, he wrote in various pre-papal essays, to lead us ecstatically out of ourselves to communion with others and God, to recognize that we are not self-sufficient. Moderating the sexual urge is not the main point we need to orient it appropriately so that it actually brings about communion rather than destroys it. Chastity is not linked fundamentally to temperance, he wrote in his 1960 work, “Love and Responsibility,” but rather to love. In contrast to lust, which “reduces” another person to the values of the body or erogenous zones and which “uses” others for their own emotional or physical gratification, chastity is the moral habit that raises one’s attractions to and interactions with another to that person’s whole dignity, body and soul.

In his papal catechesis on “Human Love in the Divine Plan,” popularly called the Theology of the Body, Saint John Paul II taught that the virtue of chastity is likewise bound to the virtues of purity and piety. Purity impacts our vision: “Blessed are the pure of heart,” Jesus taught, “for they shall see God.” Purity allows us to see God in others, to recognize a reflection of the image of God. Piety is the habit that helps us, once we have remembered or recognized that no other person is a “mere mortal” and to treat that person according to the image of the Divine Giver in them. Linked to piety, chastity helps us to see and treat the other as sacred subject instead of a sexual object. Chastity, therefore, is connected to all four virtues — self-control, love, purity, and piety. It is what helps us keep our romantic love (eros) capable of the love of friendship (philia) and true Christian self-sacrificial love (agape). Living chastely does not relegate people to a “loveless life” but makes true love possible, through the integration of eros consistent with philia and agape.

Saint Joseph shows us this type of chaste love to a maximal degree. Contrary to some Christian art that depicts him looking the age of Mary’s great grandfather, Joseph was certainly young enough to journey through the desert twice and to be a tekton (“construction worker,” far more than carpenter), one of the most physically demanding of ancient professions. Yet even though he was young and manly and lived with the most attractively virtuous woman of all time, he kept his love for her “most chaste,” seeing God within her during her pregnancy and beyond and reverencing her with pure love. He is the model of a Christian gentleman who regulates and channels his love for his wife according to that woman’s vocation and overall good, rather than his own desires and needs. That is why Christians in every age bless him before the Eucharistic Son of God he raised, recognizing that the most fitting form of praise is imitation.

COVID and Conscience

October 17, 2021

Over the last few weeks, I have had conversations with several Catholics confused, upset, sometimes angry and feeling betrayed and abandoned by the Church for being refused “conscience exemption” forms with regard to new mandatory COVID vaccination policies by municipalities, workplaces, schools, restaurants, entertainment, and other venues. Many of them are aware that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith last December emphasized that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and…, therefore, … must be voluntary.” Therefore, they do not grasp why, as government and private entities are overreaching and pressuring them to get vaccinated, when they approach the Church for help, in most locations they leave empty handed. They particularly do not understand why some bishops would be directing their priests not to sign declarations of conscience exemption, as if the priests who do so, and those who ask them, are doing something wrong.

These questions are often coming from well-formed and informed Catholics, including clergy, religious, seminarians, lay people with advanced theology degrees, parish leaders, daily communicants and more. It is an indication of how poorly some pastors and bishops have explained their rationale for refusing to sign such exemptions. It is a manifestation of how confused people are in general about the bioethical analysis of various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also a sign about how imprecise, and sometimes mistaken, many Catholics’ understanding of conscience is.

I would like to share a couple of points from the conversations I have had in the hope that they might remedy some misunderstandings. The first is about what conscience is and is not. Contrary to popular misinterpretation, conscience is not a “feeling” or “strong opinion” about what we want to do or avoid. It is not, as St. John Henry Newman wrote in 1875, “the right of thinking, speaking, writing, and acting according to [one’s] judgment or humor, … demand[ing] … to be his own master in all things and to profess what he pleases.” We see this erroneous understanding of conscience, for example, in those who try to justify aborting unborn children, lying for a “good reason,” stealing from the rich, marrying those married to others, sleeping around, manufacturing children in fertility clinics, refusing to help the homeless, and vindicating immoral actions on the basis of good intentions or moral ends. This false notion of “conscience” is used, essentially, as a justification to get out of what they do not want to do and to provide carte blanche for what they do. So understood, “conscience” is the triumph of subjectivism, in which our thoughts and desires, whether objectively right or wrong, become the moral law.

The true notion of conscience, on the other hand, is an inner organ trained to be sensitive to God’s voice, helping us to evaluate morally what to do or avoid. It is a dialogue with God whose guidance resounds within and which we apply moral truths discerned through revelation, reason, and prayer to past, present, or future acts, leading to a judgment as to whether those actions are good or evil.

When people, therefore, come to me to speak about conscience objections to the COVID-19 vaccine, I generally ask, “So you believe God is telling you not to get the vaccine?” For a few, especially those who have dedicated their life to opposing the evil of abortion and to fostering a culture of life, the answer is yes. Since every approved COVID vaccine now available is tainted in some way by being developed, manufactured, or tested against cell lines derived from abortions decades ago, they believe that God would never want them to cooperate at all with that evil, even though the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith says that “remote, passive material cooperation” with the evil of those abortions is morally licit “if there is a grave danger, such as the otherwise uncontainable spread of a serious pathological agent — in this case, the pandemic spread of the … virus that causes Covid-19.” They believe God is asking them to give this form of witness to the sanctity of human life.

Most to whom I ask that question, however, honestly and humbly admit that they have not talked to God about it. Their opposition, they tell me, comes not from any interior divine illumination but from principled opposition on other grounds: because they do not trust what is portrayed as “the science” by scientific spokesmen do not think the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks, especially at their age object to the government’s forcing citizens to do something contrary to their principles have not gotten satisfactory answers as to whether there is a risk for present or future pregnancies are suspicious as to the constantly changing goal posts in response to COVID and believe that the seriousness of the disease, though real, has been exaggerated and absolutized against other important considerations. Such justifiable principles and sincere concerns are not, however, the judgment of conscience.

As vaccines mandates recently started getting proposed and enforced, three possible exemptions have normally been considered: religious, conscientious, and medical. Religious exemptions are when one’s faith prohibits the reception of the vaccine, something for which Catholics are ineligible since the Church teaches that it is possible morally to receive the vaccine — as Pope Francis and most bishops have illustrated by getting inoculated. Medical exemptions are geared to those with a history of anaphylaxis and who are allergic to components of the vaccine. That presently leaves Catholics who do not want to receive the vaccine with only one possible accepted avenue, conscientious objection, even if their objection is not truly one of conscience.

That dilemma brings us to the second point: why Church leaders hesitate to sign a conscience exemption declaration. Because of what conscience is, there is no way someone, including a pastor, can examine and affirm the contents of another person’s conscience. We can certainly share the results of our examination with others, but short of the few confessors in Church history with the charism of reading others’ souls, there is no way that assessment can be verified. Pastors can of course attest to the general teachings of the Church on conscience and how even an erroneous conscience must be followed as the voice of God. But that is something individual Catholics can likewise affirm. The Vaccine Exemption Template Letter of the National Catholic Bioethics Center is, therefore, fittingly written in the first person singular, beginning: “I am a baptized Catholic seeking an exemption from an immunization requirement. This letter explains how the Catholic Church’s teachings may lead individual Catholics, including me, to decline certain vaccines.”

The Letter avoids mentioning the words “religious” or “conscience” before “Vaccine Exemption,” because the Letter is neither. It nevertheless tries to suggest, somewhat expansively, that the phrases “principled religious basis,” “informed judgments,” “reasons consistent with [Church] teachings,” and the “assessment of therapeutic proportionality,” are individually or collectively the equivalent of the judgment of conscience, which they are clearly not. For those hoping, however, for a letter to submit in the face of a mandate, whether for true conscientious objection or other principled reasons, the Letter may suffice.

It goes without saying that the situation of vaccine mandates obviously places those with personal opposition to COVID vaccines in a difficult moral position. While the Church affirms with them the immorality of general vaccine mandates and wants to defend them against growing civil, social, and occupational extortion pressuring them to get jabbed, at the same time it cannot give false witness about conscience. Rather, in an age in which widespread confusion remains and against attacks on conscience are increasing — by governments and employers compelling medical personnel to participate in abortions and sterilizations, pharmacists to prescribe abortifacients, bakers to violate what they know is the truth about marriage, and other violations — the Church must be clear about what conscience is and is not and defend the witness to God that authentic conscience gives.

What is needed is to push for other avenues of exemption and other means of proving one is COVID-free, while reconsidering the ethical and practical wisdom of general vaccine mandates as a whole.

who is john paul ii for you?

October 11, 2021

In the recognition of his “heroic virtue,” Pope St. John Paul II was a true man of God. He had an immense impact on the entire life of the Church and in some way touched the lives of every individual Catholic. Who is Pope St. John Paul II for you? I say “is” rather than “was” because he is more than just a memory. Now that he is raised to the altars, we can be certain that he continues to care for the People of God, no longer as pope but as an intercessor in heaven. He is not simply a figure of past history, but very much alive in Christ and active in the Communion of Saints. Because he is a man of our own very recent times, we will all look towards Pope St. John Paul II in different ways. Who is Pope St. John Paul II for you? And what ongoing significance will his intercession have for you in your life?

I will start with myself. For me, Pope John Paul II was a man of the Eucharist. He fostered a great love for the Eucharist in the Church and led by example in spending much time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. He died in the Year of the Eucharist, which he had proclaimed, and the last of his 14 encyclicals would be dedicated to teaching on this great Sacrament. As I celebrate the Sacred Liturgy, I am always conscious that I am “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1), and I feel especially the presence of Pope St. John Paul II as a “man of the Eucharist.”

Many will remember when Cardinal Wojtyła was elected Pope. He was so young, vibrant, and athletic. Immediately he channeled his energy into his apostolic mission of declaring the Gospel to the entire world. As the first non-Italian pope for more than 450 years, he seemed to belong to all nations, and he undertook journeys to 129 different countries. He was like St. Paul–an evangelist who sought to be all things to all people. In the task of evangelization and mission, he will always be an inspiration to go the extra mile and to seek out ever new opportunities to “put out into the deep.”

Of course, there are those in the world who will remember him as a man who fought for peace and justice. He trained for the priesthood in secret during the Nazi occupation of Poland and then lived out his priesthood under Communism. On the one hand, these experiences led especially to his having a particular concern for Jewish-Christian relationships. On the other hand, his part in the fall of Soviet Communism is acknowledged even by secular historians. He showed us that a commitment to the Catholic faith also meant a commitment to human dignity and freedom, and he will continue to be for us an example and model of this struggle today.

For many who are younger, Pope St. John Paul II was “your pope.” In 1985, he marked the United Nations Year of Youth by calling young people to join him in prayer in Rome on Palm Sunday. During the rest of his pontificate, he met with young people for World Youth Day in Argentina, Spain, Poland, the United States, the Philippines, France, and Canada–directly touching the lives of millions of young Catholics. As he grew older, he came to occupy a new role in the lives of these youth. As one young person said to me, “He is my grandfather.” Like a grandfather, Pope St. John Paul II was a reliable and tender mentor who continues to be an example and inspiration for the “John Paul II generation” who grew up with him.

Then there are those who never met Pope St. John Paul II but who knew him and continue to know him–through his many writings. The late Holy Father was a gifted philosopher and teacher who made an extraordinary contribution to the Magisterium of the Church. He taught on a vast range of topics relating to faith and morals: on the relationship between faith and reason, on the significance of human labor, on the contribution of women and families to the life of the Church, and on the splendor of Divine Truth (to name just a few). He demonstrated that the Christian faith is vital and relevant to the wellbeing of human society. After the confusion of the “sexual revolution,” John Paul II’s teaching in The Theology of the Body gave a new generation of Catholics a clear understanding, direction, and grace for living their lives as men and women in relation to one another.

Others will know and remember Pope St. John Paul II as a man of prayer who had an exemplary devotion to Our Lady. In his Apostolic Exhortation on the Rosary, he enriched this ancient devotion with the addition of the Mysteries of Light. In his own life, he was also a personal example of prayerfulness. The picture of Pope St. John Paul II kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament or an icon of Our Lady or praying the Rosary is the picture that continues to live in our hearts as we consider him now as our intercessor in heaven.

Finally, we were deeply touched by Pope St. John Paul II’s struggle with suffering and the aging of his body. His ongoing commitment to his calling left us a great testimony to the meaning of life. A year before his death, he told a gathering of youth: “Like you, I also was once 20 years old. I loved sports, skiing, and reciting poetry. I studied and worked. I had hopes and worries. In those now distant years, at a time when the land of my birth was wounded by war and then by a totalitarian regime, I searched for meaning in my life. I found it in the following of the Lord Jesus.” He then went on to say: “It’s wonderful to be able to offer oneself until the end for the cause of the Kingdom of God.”

Dear friends, Pope St. John Paul II touched us all in so many different ways. He was a great gift of God–and God is continuing to extend his gift to us. In his preaching and teaching and especially in his holiness of life, Pope St. John Paul II challenged us all to see life in terms of eternity and to answer the universal call to sainthood. Now, he himself is one of the saints in the presence of God, and he continues to pray for us and with us that we can live out the challenge of holiness.

respect life sunday 2021

October 3, 2021

The American Catholic bishops instituted Respect Life Sunday in 1972, the year before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the United States. Since that time, Catholics across the country observe the month of October with devotions and pro-life activities in order to advance the culture of life. This October, our efforts have more significance than ever. Never have we seen such blatant attacks against human life and human dignity.

We live in a time and in a society when threats against the well-being of the human person are nearly always present – from a consumerist culture that informs us that our personal worth is dependent on what we own, to the rampant greed that has left our country and our world in such economic difficulty, to wars and famines and oppressive political regimes that terrorize so many. Truly, we live in a world that now, more than ever desperately needs the healing power of Jesus Christ’s redeeming love.

But in a world full of abuses and injustices, it is my belief that none stand so in need of our attention and prayerful opposition as the grave evil of abortion, that is, the taking of innocent human life in the womb. As believers, we know that human life begins at the moment of conception. And with this miraculous beginning comes the inviolable rights with which all human persons, made in the image and likeness of God Himself, have been endowed. The first of these rights, upon which all others depend, is the right to life. But contrary to the sound bites and slogans of those who would diminish the gravity of abortion, the belief in the sacredness of every human life is inviolable.

The issue of abortion is not simply one among many. It is the single greatest threat to the dignity of human life that we currently face as a nation and as a world. And how could this not be? If the innocent child in the womb is not safe, then who is? If we as a culture and as a society are willing to put to death a defenseless baby, who will we not sacrifice on the altar of comfort and ease? The elderly, the weak, the poor – these are all expendable if the most innocent among us are vulnerable to willful destruction.

My dear friends, how important it is that we develop as a people a “culture of life.” It is not enough to work for the passing of legislation that puts an end to the barbarism of abortion. We must also change hearts so that all life is welcomed and accepted as a gift from our God, even when this choice makes very real, and at times very uncomfortable, demands upon us. We must be willing to be a Pro-life people twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and not just when we are about the important business of marching or protesting or lobbying. The creation of this culture of life is the mission of all of us who follow in the footsteps of Jesus. All of us have an indispensable part to play. None of us are unimportant in this struggle to overcome and finally eliminate the disgraceful and horrific human rights violation that is abortion.

To many, this struggle is unwinnable. Since the tragedy of Roe v. Wade, a judicial and ethical disaster, men and women in nearly every pertinent field have struggled to protect the legal rights of the unborn. Many would say that even after decades of struggle in the courtroom, on the street, and in the media, the final results are dubious at best. Abortion is still widespread and legally protected. But what we need is a radical revolution in understanding, a revolution that requires our constant effort and our constant attention. We are called to dream of a country in which the option of abortion is simply not seen as an option.

How are we to do this? How are we to work for that systemic change that is so desperately needed? First of all, we are called to be a people of prayer. Scripture is very clear – there are certain demons that can only be cast out with prayer and fasting. It is no exaggeration to call abortion a demon, a diabolical reality that destroys everyone and everything it touches. Its elimination requires perseverance in prayer and penance that is rooted in trust in God’s triumph over evil. We must pray for the conversion of hearts. But we must also pray fervently that young mothers and fathers would find the support and love they need to welcome their unexpected little ones into the world. We must also be willing to speak boldly and honestly about the humanness of embryonic life. There are those who will tell us that the issue is complicated, that we ultimately don’t know when life begins, and that we should commit our limited resources and time to overcoming less controversial evils. In response to these often-repeated arguments, we must be willing to say, oftentimes in the midst of great scorn and persecution, that this issue is only complicated because we have refused to love as a society and as individuals we have refused to be bothered by the needs and rights of the voiceless unborn. A culture of life is a culture of love, and love will always involve sacrifice. Love places demands upon us, not the least of which is the willingness to acknowledge the other as one made in the image and likeness of God, with just as much right to the good, true, and beautiful as we have.

My dear parishioners, I solemnly challenge you to be a people of radical love, the seed from which a new people can be born. I want to assure all of you of my own prayerful support for your many good works on behalf of life. There can be legitimate disagreement on many issues facing our nation, issues about which people of goodwill can disagree. But on this issue, there can be no compromise. Innocent life must always be protected, as a gift given by the Giver of all good things. I have hope that one day, a day perhaps sooner than many may imagine, our nation’s laws will change and unborn life will be protected and recognized as our brothers and sisters – our silent, voiceless brothers and sisters who have been endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, the first of which is: the Right to Life!

fostering communion

September 26, 2021

“Every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others,” the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the liturgy proclaims. “No other action of the Church can equal its efficacy” (7). Sacrosanctum Conciliumcontinues, “The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. … From the liturgy, therefore, and especially from the Eucharist, as from a font, grace is poured forth upon us and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God, to which all other activities of the Church are directed as toward their end, is achieved in the most efficacious possible way” (10). These truths, which faithful Catholics across the centuries have affirmed, are key to understanding why the questions involved in Pope Francis’ July 16th motu proprio on the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass, Traditionis Custodes as well as in Pope Benedict’s 2007 motu proprio on the same subject, Summorum Pontificum, are so important.

The liturgy, especially the Mass, brings about in the most powerful way God’s glory and man’s holiness. Its importance in Christian life cannot be overstated. It is the starting point and end of everything the Church does. It is meant to express and bring about communion with God and with each other. Since the Eucharist makes the Church, since lex orandi lex credendi (“the law of prayer is the law of faith”), and since Catholics live as they pray, popes, bishops, theologians, saints, and faithful have all necessarily taken liturgical questions seriously. Because the liturgy is so central, liturgical confusions, abuses, deformations, and divisions can be enormously harmful and dangerous to the life of the Church and believers.

Traditionis Custodes and Summorum Pontificum are, therefore, far more than disciplinary decrees. The way Catholics understand, approach, and celebrate the Mass matters. Since the liturgy is a font, erroneous ideas about the Mass can poison the well of the Catholic life since it is a summit, gravely defective notions can direct believers toward a wrong destination. Therefore, the points raised, and actions taken, by Popes Francis and Benedict — and before them by John Paul II, Paul VI and the fathers of the Second Vatican Council — must be understood and evaluated in this larger context, beyond the particular preferences and emphases of clergy and faithful. Let us look at a few of the larger themes found in the two papal decrees.

The first is genuine appreciation for, and love of, the Mass. Pope Francis is justly concerned about those Catholics who regard the 1970 Mass of Paul VI as invalid, who obsessively pillory its supposed deficiencies and who undermine gratitude for this means by which Jesus Christ becomes sacramentally present on the altar. Even among those who acknowledge its validity, some reject it at a practical level, like priestly institutes that refuse to celebrate it and faithful who do not and will not attend it, even when there are no other options. Catholics who love the Lord should have nothing but appreciation and wonder for every valid means — whether Roman, Mozarabic, Ambrosian, Bragan, Dominican, Carmelite, Carthusian, Anglican-use, Maronite, Melkite, Coptic, Syro-Malankara, Syro-Malabar, Armenian, Chaldean, Ruthenian, Ukrainian, and others — by which the Son of God made man humbly becomes present.

This attitude of gratitude must similarly extend toward the 1570 Mass of Pius V, the traditional Latin Mass (TLM) celebrated with the 1962 Missal of John XXIII, which nourished the Church for centuries and produced countless saints. Pope Benedict justly addressed issues whereby some clergy and faithful have treated the traditional Latin Mass as if it is evil and dangerous. “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful,” he wrote to the bishops of the world. While no one regards the TLM as invalid, many treat it with practical disdain, wanting to see it extirpated, regardless of how many are nourished by it still. With regard to those who oppose either expression of the Roman rite, the Popes have respectively drawn attention to the central question: If we recognize the Mass for what it is, isn’t the reality of what occurs infinitely more important than the valid form of the Mass by which the Son of God becomes present, and how could anyone genuinely moved by the Holy Spirit oppose the means by which Jesus Christ is made sacramentally present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity?

The second major theme is Church unity. The Church is, as Sacrosanctum Concilium emphasized, the “sacrament of unity.” During the first Mass, Jesus Himself repeatedly begged God the Father for the gift of Christian unity, that believers may be as united as the persons of the Blessed Trinity so that the world might believe in Him and in the Father’s love (Jn 17:20-26). By liberalizing permission to celebrate Mass according to the 1962 Missal, Pope Benedict not only wanted to foster the conditions by which to reconcile the clergy and faithful of the Society of St. Pius X but also to correct those bishops who were not preserving Catholic unity by denying priests and faithful in their diocese access to the traditional Latin Mass celebrated in ecclesial communion. He gave priests permission to celebrate the Mass publicly whenever a group of the faithful requested it.

Pope Francis sought to address another tendency, wanting to correct those priests, who, taking full advantage of the permission given by Pope Benedict, were creating division in their parishes through introducing or substituting Masses celebrated according to the 1962 Missal when parishioners were not asking for it. He required them to do so, once again, with the permission and guidance of their bishops. The mind of the Church, seen through these actions, seems clear: bishops should ensure that Catholics in communion with the Church have access to the Mass in what Pope Benedict called the “extraordinary form” but that priests should not be zealously promoting the form and increasing the desire for it, but rather offering it when, together with their bishop, they determine there is genuine demand.

The third theme is the attitude toward the Second Vatican Council. Pope Francis insisted that bishops were to ensure that those who celebrated according to the 1962 Missal accepted the Second Vatican Council and the liturgical reforms that flowed from it. Even though the vast majority of TLM celebrants and attendees do, some influential prelates and lay people, like some members of the Society of St. Pius X, have sought to promote the TLM by trying to undermine not just the liturgical reforms after the Second Vatican Council but the Council itself. Such broadsides against an ecumenical council are simply not doctrinally or morally acceptable and undermine the faith of believers.

At the same time, there are some who erroneously treat any support for the TLM as an ipso facto rejection of the Council and the liturgical reforms it advocated. Sacrosanctum Concilium called for devout and active participation, a greater use of Sacred Scripture, homilies rather than sermons, removal of liturgical duplications, the prayers of the faithful, and, under certain circumstances, openness to concelebration and communion under both species. It also said, “The use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites” and that the faithful should be able to say or sing the Latin Mass parts.

What Vatican II did not call for was the iconoclastic “wreckovation” of Churches, jackhammering of altar rails, ripping out of high altars, whitewashing of Churches, the substitution of sacred music with saccharine and occasionally heretical hymns, hideous banners, clown Masses, liturgical free-for-alls and so forth. Many of those — especially among the young — who are attracted to the TLM are drawn not because they prefer the 1962 Missal per se, but because they love the reliable sacrality of its celebration, Mass celebrated ad orientem, Gregorian chant and exquisite polyphony, a spirit of silence, communion kneeling on the tongue, beautiful vestments, and several other things that were never called for by the liturgical reforms of Vatican II — and all of which are still legitimate options in Mass celebrated according to the 1970 Missal.

To reject the post-conciliar liturgical iconoclasm and liturgical abuses is not to reject the Council or its liturgical reforms. Popes Benedict and Francis both spoke out about liturgical abuses and eccentricities, which scandalize the faithful, wound the unity of the Church, are unfit for the reverence that true worship of God demands and have contributed to so many giving up the regular practice of the faith. The liturgical abuses widely tolerated, not to mention the worldly and excessively horizontal way Masses can sometimes be celebrated in the ordinary form, need to be addressed if Mass is to Pope Francis’ desire to have the Church “return to a unitary form of celebration” will be realized, not to mention “the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God” advanced.

Growing in faith

September 19, 2021

At the beginning of the year, there was the uplifting news that a new podcast Bible In A Year (with Fr. Mike Schmitz) topped the Apple Podcast chart not just for religious or for Christian offerings but for every type of offering. It was noteworthy for a few reasons.

The first is because the Bible, and a Catholic priest, had debuted at the top of the Apple Podcast charts, beating out formidable competition from the New York Times’ the Daily, Dateline NBC, Crime Junkie, and many other popular, well-established offerings. At a time when Christians in general are feeling marginalized and the world is trying to pronounce the Church irrelevant, it was a helpful reminder of the influence Catholics still can and do have. The second is because Catholics are listening to the Bible by the millions. For years I have been recommending, asking, encouraging, exhorting, and calling Catholic faithful, young and old, as well as seminarians, religious, brother priests to take up the Bible and read it, reminding them that reading the Bible in a year only takes about 15 minutes a day. For Christmas, I purchased several copies of the Augustine Institute’s Bible in a Year: Your Daily Encounter with God and distributed them as gifts, but lighting these spiritual matches unfortunately never ignited a bonfire. This podcast has, as dozens of Catholics I know who previously had never read the whole Bible, including family members, have been faithfully listening to Fr. Schmitz’s daily editions.

That brings us to the third and I think most notable aspect. The success of Fr. Schmitz’s Bible in a Year shows the power of a podcast to foster growth in faith. I have often said that for Catholics who want to grow in their knowledge of the faith, there has never been a greater time to be alive. There are now several 24-hour Catholic television stations and hundreds of Catholic radio stations that are no longer restricted to particular geographical areas but can be streamed anywhere in the world. We have immediate access, in multiple formats, to the Bible in every spoken language as well as to so many great commentaries and websites that help us to understand and live it. There is free digital access in most modern languages to the works of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church and almost every spiritual classic.

There are also so many great Catholic publishing houses printing inspiring works from authors old and new. There are Catholic newspapers and magazines that through the web have increased their scope to form and inform from an authentically Catholic perspective. There are the extraordinary apostolates of Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire, the Augustine Institute’s Formed, Matthew Kelly’s Dynamic Catholic, and Ascension Press’ array of scriptural and theological courses, which help people better understand the faith, live it, and teach it to others. There are, finally, millions of authentically Catholic websites and blogs, showing the beauty of the faith, carrying out the crucial work of apologetics, presenting Catholic commentary on every topic under the sun, and providing a digital narthex for millions.

But whenever I have mentioned those litanies in articles and homilies, I have never included podcasts — because, until recently, I had no exposure to them. That changed last fall, when the podcast Crisis: Clergy Abuse in the Catholic Church by the Catholic Project at the Catholic University of America came out. I could find no way to listen to the series online. I had to subscribe to the podcast. So, I did, and began to listen to its ten episodes, conveniently at 2x speed, walking in the neighborhood or driving to my next engagement. It did not take me long to recognize what I had been missing, both in terms of medium and message. Since then, I have been trying, methodically and joyously, to make up for lost time.

I began with a couple of podcasts. One is Conversations with Consequences, produced by the Catholic Association and run on EWTN radio. It is hosted by Grazie Christie, MD, who interviews two to three guests each week discussing the most consequential issues of the day from a Catholic lens. After reading one of Arthur Brooks’ columns on “How to Build a Life” in The Atlantic, I saw in the bio-line that he was also the host of a podcast called The Art of Happiness. I decided to give it a try. It quickly became my favorite, as with the help of psychology, philosophy, theology, art, science, literature, humor, common sense, a variety of intriguing guests, and Brooks’ extraordinary ability to interview and synthesize, he makes practical how to live a better and happier life, something that helps me as a human being as well as work as a priest. I also began to listen to The American Story podcast by Chris Flannery of the Claremont Institute. These six- or seven-minute podcasts focus on what has made America beautiful and worthy of love, featuring stories of figures and episodes from American history told with extraordinary eloquence by a raspy Flannery. They are a healthy, relentlessly uplifting antidote to the barrage of unpatriotic America bashing that has become popular, while at the same time not ignoring the problems that summon us collectively to improve.

One of my most moving listens each week is to Bishop Robert Barron’s Sermons podcast. These 15-minute gems, listened to at 2x in half the time, are a great preparation for my hearing the Word of God on Sunday and for preaching on it. That’s only one of several impressive offerings by Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire apostolate. Insofar as faith comes from hearing (Rom 10:17), I do know that podcasts are a particularly powerful medium to grow in faith and pass it on — one of which believers, the Church, and her pastors should make increasing use.

the confessor

September 12, 2021

In his beautiful 1984 Apostolic Exhortation on the Sacrament of Penance entitled “Reconciliation and Penance,” Pope St. John Paul II names four “extraordinary apostles of the confessional.” I have had a lot of fun in seminars, lectures, and retreats over the years challenging groups to name these four “extraordinary apostles.” Most are able to get the first, St. John Vianney (1786-1859), whom Pope Benedict declared to be the patron saint of all priests. Few get the second, St. John Nepomuc (1345-1393), who was killed by order of King Wenceslaus after he refused to break the seal of confession and divulge what the queen had said to him. Only one person has ever gotten the third, St. Joseph Cafasso (1811-1860), who, in addition to being St. John Bosco’s mentor and a great seminary professor, distinguished himself by the heroic extents to which he would place himself in danger in order to confess the hardest of criminals. No one has ever guessed the fourth, whom I think is the most endearing of them all: Bogdan Mandic (1866-1942), known now, but unfortunately not too well, through his religious name, St. Leopold of Castelnuovo.

I must confess that I had never heard of St. Leopold either until I saw his name listed by St. John Paul II during my first perusal of his apostolic exhortation. So, I tracked down books that brought me into contact with this obscure but great saint, whom, ever since my ordination, I have invoked as a beloved intercessor. St. Leopold was a Croatian, born in what is now called Hercegovina. When he was young, his father, a fisherman, lost everything and the family was reduced to destitution. St. Leopold never forgot what it felt like to be in need of everything and always showed a great compassion for those in need.

When he was sixteen, he left his parents to enter a Capuchin friary in Italy. He dreamed of becoming a missionary in Eastern orthodox lands, to try to heal the Great Schism of the Church, but because of multiple health problems, he was deemed unfit. He was only 4’5” tall, could not walk well, and suffered from terrible stomach ailments, bad eyesight, and arthritis. The Capuchins were known as great preachers of parish missions, but Leopold could not share in that work, either, because he had a stuttering problem that made it impossible for listeners to hear the message.

His superiors could imagine only one ministry for him, the ministry of the confessional, and to that he was assigned. Looking at his confessional, he began to call it “My Orient” and said “I will be a missionary here.” And before long he became a modern St. Francis Xavier of the Confessional. Looking back later he realized how the Lord had prepared him for this crucial missionary work. When he was eight, he recalled, he had gone to Church to confess a venial sin against his sister. The priest gave him as a penance to kneel in the middle of the Church in the sight of all. It was the birth of his vocation.

“I stayed there deeply saddened, and wondering within myself: Why treat so severely a child for such a slight fault? When I get big,” he vowed to himself and to God, “I want to be a religious, a confessor, and treat the souls of sinners with much goodness and mercy.” That is precisely what he did. For most of the 52 years of his priestly life, the vast majority of them spent in Padua, he heard confessions 12-18 hours a day. His confessional was besieged by penitents won over by that “goodness and mercy.”

Many of the friars thought he was too easy on penitents. He routinely responded to the criticism with a smile but with seriousness, saying, “If the Lord wants to accuse me of showing too much leniency toward sinners, I'll tell him that it was he who gave me this example, and I haven't even died for the salvation of souls as he did.” He would tell penitents who were afraid of returning to the sacrament because of the penances other priests were known to give, "Be at peace place everything on my shoulders. I will take care of it.” And he did take care of it. He would give the penitents light penances but, in reparation for the evil they had done, would do the rest of their penance himself, staying up most of the night in prayer as penitential satisfaction for their sins.

Some charged that he was simply killing himself in the confessional. “A priest must die from apostolic hard work,” he would reply. “There is no other death worthy of a priest.” He would even eat in the confessional, saying to those who thought he was extreme, “How can I desert so many poor sinners on the excuse of seeking food for my body?” When he had to leave, there was a bell for penitents to ring, and no matter what time of day they rang it or what inconvenience it caused, he would come running saying, “Here I am, sir, here I am!,” lest they become discouraged and leave.

One experience shows the great extent to which he had gone to make his penitents comfortable. One absolved sinner recalled, “I had not been to confession for several years. I finally decided to go and went to see Fr. Leopold. I was troubled and anxious. I had just come in when he got up from his chair and greeted me joyfully like a long-expected friend: ‘Please, come in,’ he said. Troubled as I was, I went to sit in his armchair [rather than kneel down]. Without a word, he knelt down on the floor and heard my confession. When it was finished, only then did I realize my blunder. I wanted to excuse myself but he said with a smile: ‘It's nothing, it's nothing. Go in peace.' This show of goodness remained engraved in my memory. By it, he had entirely won me over.”

When people would thank him for his love for them in the confessional, he would always deflect their attention to the Lord. He would point to the crucifix with tears in his eyes and say, gently and warmly, “It’s he who forgives! It’s he who absolves!” St. John Paul II said at his 1983 canonization that it was this “heroic fidelity to Christ,” the Good Shepherd who lays down his life to save every lost sheep, that constituted his holiness. He understood and lived by the principle that heaven rejoices more for one repentant sinner than for 99 who never needed to repent.

“If you wanted to define him with just one word,” John Paul II stated, “then he is ‘The Confessor.’ His only expertise was how to ‘confess.’ But this is where his greatness is found.” He disappeared so as to make room for Christ, the “true Pastor of souls.” He desired to be nothing other than a nearly-hidden “shadow” of Christ’s saving love from the Cross.

Shortly before his death of esophageal cancer in 1942, he predicted that during the World War, then ongoing, “The Church and the friary will be hit by bombs, but not this little confessional-cell. Here God exercised so much mercy for people and it must remain as a monument to God’s goodness.” That is precisely what happened in 1945, when the Church and friary were almost completed destroyed, but his confessional left unscathed. It, and he, remain as testimonies to the goodness of God in extending His mercy and the goodness of priests, like Leopold, in dispensing it so lavishly at such a cost.

May St. Leopold intercede for all the priests of our archdiocese as they exercise that same ministry.

Labor day message 2021

September 5, 2021

During the last years of his service to the Church and the world, St. John Paul II addressed leaders of the “Catholic Action” movement in Italy on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. He referred to what he called the “gospel of work.” In the address, our Holy Father of happy memory was proclaiming another effect of grace, that in and through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ all human work has now been transformed.

One of John Paul II’s favorite passages from the Second Vatican Council contains these words: “The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown. He who is "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15) is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam, He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice, and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin” (GS 22).

In proclaiming the “gospel of work,” St. John Paul II developed a theme rooted in the Sacred Scriptures and desperately needed in this age, the dignity and meaning of human labor. In 1981, he authored an Encyclical entitled “On Human Work” which presents the Christian vision of human work. We live in an age that has lost sight of this Christian vision. This is one more bad fruit of the rupture which was wrought by sin. In the industrial age, men and women were often reduced to mere instruments in a society that emphasized “productivity” over the dignity of the human person, the worker. The technological age promised something different but has failed to deliver. Too often, men and women are still viewed as instruments and objects rather than persons and gifts. To grasp the truth that the dignity of all human labor derives from the dignity of the human person who engages in it requires what St. Paul rightly called a “renewal of the mind” (cf. Romans 12:2).

St. John Paul II told those assembled that because work "has been profaned by sin and contaminated by egoism," it is an activity that "needs to be redeemed." He reminded them that "Jesus was a man of work and that work enabled him to develop his humanity.” He emphasized that "the work of Nazareth constituted for Jesus a way to dedicate himself to the 'affairs of the Father,'" witnessing that "the work of the Creator is prolonged" through work and that therefore “… according to God's providential plan, man, by working, realizes his own humanity and that of others: In fact, work forms man and, in a certain sense, creates him.”

He emphasized the need for work to be rescued "from the logic of profit, from the lack of solidarity, from the fever of earning evermore, from the desire to accumulate and consume." When the focus of work becomes subjected to what he called "inhuman wealth,” he said, it becomes a "seductive and merciless idol." That rescue occurs when we "return to the austere words of the Divine Master: 'For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?'" Finally, the “servant of the servants of God” proclaimed that Jesus, the "divine Worker of Nazareth" also "reminds us that 'life is more than food' and that work is for man, not man for work. What makes a life great is not the entity of gain, nor the type of profession, or the level of the career. Man is worth infinitely more than the goods he produces or possesses.”

What a profound message for our time and for this Labor Day! This “gospel of work” needs to be proclaimed anew as we celebrate Labor Day. Our Catechism instructs us: “Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another. Hence work is a duty: "If anyone will not work, let him not eat." Work honors the Creator's gifts and the talents received from Him. It can also be redemptive. By enduring the hardship of work in union with Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth and the one crucified on Calvary, man collaborates in a certain ... fashion with the Son of God in his redemptive work. He shows himself to be a disciple of Christ by carrying the cross, daily, in the work he is called to accomplish. Work can be a means of sanctification and a way of animating earthly realities with the Spirit of Christ. In work, the person exercises and fulfills in part the potential inscribed in his nature. The primordial value of labor stems from man himself, its author and its beneficiary. Work is for man, not man for work. Everyone should be able to draw from work the means of providing for his life and that of his family, and of serving the human community. The primordial value of labor stems from man himself, its author and beneficiary. By means of his labor man participates in the work of creation. Work united to Christ can be redemptive."

A Catholic vision of work views it in light of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ: God became a human person! The early Church Father, Gregory of Nazianzus, reflecting on the Incarnation, proclaimed: "Whatever was not assumed was not healed!" The entirety of our human experience was assumed by Jesus, including our labor, our human work, no matter what form it takes. All work was transformed by Christ the worker! The Son of God worked. Even as a child He learned from St. Joseph, the carpenter, and worked with wood, with His Holy hands. Certainly, He sweated, got dirty, and even experienced tedium at times, but because He was in communion with His Heavenly Father all of His work was joined to the Father’s work. That is the same relationship we now have with the Father through Baptism. For the Christian, work can be a participation in the continuing redemptive mission of Jesus. Jesus viewed His entire life and mission as work. He was always doing the "work" of the One who sent Him (John 9:3-4). We are invited by grace to live in the same way.

The early Christians knew the dignity of all human work. Even their early worship became known as "liturgy" which literally means the "work" of the Church. For them, the real world was not a place to be avoided – it was their workshop! They were there to bring all of its inhabitants to Baptism and inclusion in Christ and then prepare the real world for His Real return, through their prayer, their witness, their worship, and their work. The Incarnation, Saving Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the “Paschal Mystery,” began a process of transformation — not only in His followers, but also in the cosmos created through Him and for Him and now being re-created in Him. The work of Jesus’ redemption continues through the Church – which is placed in that creation as a seed of its transfiguration. This is part of what St. Paul calls the "plan" and a "mystery" of God, to bring all things together under heaven and on earth in Christ (cf. Eph 1: 9-10). All things were created in Christ (cf. Col 1:15-20) and are now being re-created as His work continues through His Body, the Church, of which we are members.

For the Christian, "work" is an invitation to participate in that extraordinary plan, if it is joined to Jesus Christ. No matter what we are doing, we are, as the Apostle wrote, to "do it as unto the Lord" (cf. Col 3). Our work then changes “the world,” both within us and around us. This means all work has redemptive value. All human work sanctifies and changes the world which God still loves. St. Paul captured the hope of all creation when, in the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans, he reminded us that all of creation "groans" for the full revelation of the sons and daughters of God. We can have a new relationship with the entire created order – beginning now – because we live in the Son, through whom and for whom it was all created and is being re-created.

That is why this insight from St. John Paul II is important for us to consider on Labor Day. There truly is a “gospel of work.” Let us renew our minds and live this “gospel of work” in the way in which we engage in labor. In His Ascension, Jesus did not leave us orphans. Rather, He lives in us and we now live in Him, through the Holy Spirit. He has capacitated us to live differently, NOW, through the Grace poured out through the Holy Spirit and mediated to us in the Sacraments. We can live this “gospel of work” in an age which desperately needs a new living witness of its dignity, meaning, and true value. Happy Labor Day!

Martyrdom of
St. John the Baptist

August 29, 2021

It haunted him – that grizzly sight of John’s head on the platter. He had never meant it to come to that. Even after he had had John arrested and thrown into jail, he still would listen to him sometimes. He was drawn by John’s words – they had a way of reaching deep into his soul. He knew in a way that he could not deny that John spoke the truth. And yet John’s words also scared him. He did not want them to be true. He did not want to think of a coming judgment. He did not want to think of a God who knew the secrets of his heart and remembered everything he had ever said, done, thought, felt – who would expose his entire life before His throne and render a verdict upon him. But he listened because he could not help himself. And yet, he still wanted to do what he wanted to do. He was not about to give up his new wife, though now that he had her, he was not quite satisfied with her either. Why else had he been so captivated by her daughter and that suggestive dance? What a fool he had been that night, to make such a stupid promise! What a fool not to guess how Herodius would have her revenge on the prophet she hated! He was not thinking straight. Too much partying. He thought he would do better someday. But the someday never came. He never seemed to think straight anymore.

And suddenly all these rumors spreading around the countryside. Unheard of miracles worked by some prophet from Nazareth! Some folks said the long awaited King of the Jews was at hand. But his own guilty conscience gave him another answer: “You can’t escape. It’s John. John came back from the dead – came to confront you with your evil, your weakness, your sin, your cowardice, and failing.” Just thinking about it, he started to tremble. As though that head on the platter with the open eyes, looked straight at him: it was the look of pity from a free man gazing at a poor slave.

For Herod was a slave, make no doubt about it. He may have lived in a fine house. He may have feasted royally day after day. He may have stumbled from party to party and he took whatever he wanted. And that is how he showed his slavery. He was a slave to his own appetites, his own desires. He did not conquer them they ruled his life. And when he heard John preach, shackled and bound as he was, he knew he was in the presence of a free man.

John was no slave. From the time he was a little six month old fetus in his mother’s womb, he was free. Already there the Holy Spirit had filled him and he had confessed by his leaping in the presence of his Lord. At his circumcision, his father Zachariah had said of him: “You, my child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare His way to give His people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. Through the tender mercy of our God when the Day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” John was a free man. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he did not bother about what folks thought of him. Good thing, too. He was a little strange. Clothed in camel’s hair, chomping on grasshoppers, and dipping his fingers in wild honey, he lived out in the wilderness. A free man!

He knew he had a task to do and he did it with zeal. He called Israel to repentance – no two ways about it. The Lord was near at hand, the kingdom was about to break in, and so lives had to change. His message hit hard. Folks came to him from all over. “What shall we do?” they cried. His message was one of mercy. They all went into the water and came up new people. Those who were wealthy, who had two tunics, were to share with those who had none. Tax collectors were welcomed too – and they were told to stop thieving and take no more than their due. Soldiers came, their swords red with blood, and they were welcomed as well. Their sins washed away and he told them: “Do not extort money from anyone by false accusation” and “be content with your wages.” He welcomed everyone but the self-righteous. Them he challenged: “Bear fruits befitting repentance. It’s not a show. It’s not a game. You need to turn from these sins that enslave you and let God set you free. If you don’t, you will meet Him in a way you don’t want to. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he’ll clear his threshing floor and gather the wheat into his barn. But the chaff? You know what he’ll do to the chaff? Fire. Unquenchable fire. Repent while you can!”

But John wasn’t all law. His call to repentance was to prepare the people to greet with joy another One. His finger pointed to that One as He walked along. “Look!” he cried. “Look, one and all. THAT’S the Lamb of God. THAT’S the One who takes away the sin of the world. He’s the reason I’ve come – to point Him out to you all. He’s yours. Your Lamb!”

John was so utterly free because he knew that he was unworthy, as he confessed when the Lord came to him for Baptism: “I need to be baptized by you.” He knew that he was a sinner in need of mercy and forgiveness. But he knew also that the Lamb of God had come into the flesh to forgive his sin and that of the whole world, and to take on death and destroy it. There is no man so free as the man who knows his sin is forgiven, his death is destroyed, and that he is a beloved child of the heavenly Father. Such a man is free to face the executioner’s sword – he lives by faith alone and so he lives still, even though he dies.

John wanted everyone to know that kind of freedom. Even Herod! But Herod declined the gift. He chose to stay in the prison house of his sinful desires and refused the freedom that he was offered. And all he had at the end were his regrets, his fears, his terrors.

And you? Which will it be for you? Will you like Herod stay a prisoner of your own passions, enslaved and bound to your own desires? Or will you receive from the same Holy Spirit who set John free, the gift of freedom? Will you rejoice that Jesus is your Lamb, that His death on the cross is your righteousness, that His resurrected life is your very own, and that nothing absolutely nothing – not even peril or sword - will ever be able to separate you from His love?

God is calling you today to freedom – to the freedom that John enjoyed, freedom from the long shadows of the sins that haunt you, freedom that the Spirit gives, that the Son won for you, that your heavenly Father summons you to enter. Bid farewell to the ways of Herod. There is forgiveness bigger than all sin. Come, behold the Lamb of God, let Him put His undying body and blood into you as the promise that your sins are forgiven and that they have no power to hold you a slave anymore. Come, feast with John the Baptist and all who live in Him, whom death has no power to destroy. To Him, our Lamb, be the glory forever with the Father and the Holy Spirit unto the ages of ages! Amen.

an ignatian year

August 22, 2021

The most memorable Christmas present I have received was not from Santa during my infancy or sneakers, sports equipment, or gadgets from my folks during my adolescence. It was the four-volume Butler’s Lives of the Saints my parents got me for Christmas when I was a college freshman that I read nightly for about five years and still have with me at my bedside. Reading the inspiring stories of the great heroes and heroines of the faith each night helped me to discover more clearly my vocation not just to the priesthood but to Christian holiness, to purify and recalibrate my ambitions, and to commit to the means to achieve them. When people approach me asking for recommendations for good spiritual reading, I often suggest titles to help them grow in prayer and in the integration of their relationship with God into daily life. I always encourage them, however, “every other book,” to read the life of a saint, because hagiography is easier to read — and irresistibly attracts and inspires us toward greater contemplation, unity of life, and generosity.

The most famous example of the impact reading the lives of the saints can have occurred 500 years ago this year. A 30-year-old Basque soldier had his right leg shattered and left calf torn off by a cannonball during the May 20, 1521, Battle of Pamplona. Spiritually, however, the projectile was shot straight from Damascus. Iñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola’s stoutheartedness on the battlefield was magnified when his leg needed to be reset multiple times and a large protruding bone spur needed to be sawed off, to which he consented without anesthesia or complaint. To pass the time in what would turn out to be a nine-month convalescence at his family’s castle, the only option for him — centuries before modern media — was reading. He tried without avail to get his hands on the epic tales of chivalry and romance common to the epoch. The only volumes to be found were a life of Christ and a book on the lives of the saints. In desperation he began to read them — and not only were his heart and the direction of his life changed, but also the history of the Church and the world.

López 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. In contrast to his vain pursuit of earthly honors, their seeking and seizing the most lasting and valuable treasure captivated him. After reading about Francis of Assisi and Dominic of Guzman, two 13th-century mendicants who extravagantly gave up so much of what the world treasured in order to obtain a much more valuable fortune, and who formed religious families to help the whole world rediscover true riches, 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, the one we now know as Saint Ignatius of Loyola made the commitment to serve the true King and to sacrifice everything to extend His kingdom. His transformation was arduous. Once he had recovered enough to journey, he traveled to Montserrat, where he laid down his sword before the famous statue of Our Lady, exchanged his expensive clothes for sackcloth, spent 11 months praying in a cave in Manresa, and journeyed to the Holy Land where he intended to defend the holy places and the true faith, before the Franciscan superior sent him home lest because of his zealous provocations he be killed.

To be of use to God, he discerned he needed an education. With extraordinary humility he went literally to grammar school in order to learn Latin with young boys, before heading to the Universities of Alcala, Salamanca, and Paris. There his roommates were the future Saints Francis Xavier and Peter Favre and God through him set in motion the plan for the founding of the Jesuits. As we mark the quinquecentenary of his conversion, seeing and celebrating what God accomplished in his life, it is important for us to raise the same question God inspired him to ask after reading the lives of the founders of the Orders of Friars Minor and of Preachers. Ignatius, after all, is of the same frame as we, with virtues, vices, and 46 chromosomes. Without the help of cannonballs and orthopedic surgeons, why can’t we do, why shouldn’t we do, what he has done? This summons to saintly imitation obviously does not mean that God is calling us to be Jesuits or found worldwide religious orders, any more than the light God gave Ignatius did not mean He was asking him to replicate all Saints Francis’ and Dominic’s choices and deeds. But God is indeed calling us to respond to the grace of conversion and holiness just like the intrepid Basque did a half millennium ago.

Pope Francis recently reiterated that summons in his 2018 apostolic exhortation on the call to holiness in today’s world, Gaudete et Exsultate. “A Christian,” he wrote, “cannot think of his or her [life] on earth without seeing it as a path of holiness, for ‘this is the will of God, your sanctification’ (1 Thess 4:3). Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel” (19). The Holy Father cautions us against the temptation “to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs” (14) or, as St. John Paul II once said, “as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few ‘uncommon heroes’ of holiness” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 31). Rather, Pope Francis urges us to look toward the “holiness found in our next-door neighbors, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence” and constitute, so to speak, “the middle class of holiness” (7). Holiness, he underlines, is found not just among the formally canonized saints and martyrs, but often in fellow parishioners, hardworking moms and dads, godparents and grandparents, permanent deacons and their wives, and so many others who live the little things of each day with heroic faith and love.

On May 20th, the Jesuits began an “Ignatian Year” dedicated to the 500th Anniversary of his conversion and the 400thanniversary of his canonization on March 12, 2022. It will conclude on his feast day on July 31, 2022. We can take advantage of this extended year of grace to ponder his life and try to imitate in our life what is imitable in his. We can, first, imitate his prioritization of prayer as well as some of its content. His time in the cave of Manresa led to his spiritual classic, The Spiritual Exercises, a guide for meditation, for discernment, and for retreats. His own prayers have formed countless souls. In his renowned Suscipe, for example, we learn how to treasure God more than His gifts: “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will, all I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace. That is enough for me.”

Second, we learn from him how conversion is not so much turning away from sin and vanity but turning toward and with God. Above the place in the Loyola Castle where his metanoia happened through reading the lives of the saints, it says, not “Here, he converted,” but rather, “Here he gave himself to God.” Third, we can emulate his courage and zeal to share the faith, something that contagiously led his spiritual sons to found so many educational institutions and to become missionaries, like the North American Martyrs close to home. Fourth, we can imitate the great warmth of his friendship, one example of which were the more than 7,000 letters he wrote, especially to the Jesuits who even soon after the founding of the Society of Jesus headed toward the ends of the then-known earth.

Finally, we can model our lives on his love for Christ and for Christ’s vicar on earth, which led him and the Jesuits to make a fourth vow — beyond poverty, chastity, and obedience — of special obedience to the Pope in regard to the missions. Ignatius lived through some of the most notorious papacies in Church history, the ugliness of which helped trigger the Protestant Reformation, but he, with special trust in Christ and the Holy Spirit, promised special submission not just to the Successor of Peter but of those popes. That is a model not just for his Jesuit sons but for every Catholic in every age.

In each of these five ways, there is the opportunity to imitate the generosity of Ignatius’ response to God, a holy dedication for which he incessantly himself prayed in words that we can make our own: “Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for reward, save that of knowing that I do your will.”

the Assumption: the goal of our struggle

August 15, 2021

No one likes to be quoted out of context. Our concern is to be understood properly, without distortions of any kind. Many misunderstandings have led to many heartaches, to many a prejudice, and perhaps even to all-out conflict.

To say Our Lady was assumed body and soul into heaven is a statement which, if taken out of context, seems incredible to some, laughable to others. I have even heard people annoyed and envious that this woman should be so exaggeratedly honored. The feeling one gets is that some people are saying to themselves: “What was God thinking of when He assumed Her into heaven if indeed that is actually true!” If the dogma of the Assumption is not understood in context, it is easy to be cynical about it, and even to say it never happened, or that it is irrelevant. In the context of our salvation, however, the Assumption of Mary is far from irrelevant, especially in an era when the human body is either treated with clinical contempt or is exalted to the point of idolatry. It is also far from irrelevant at a time when the destiny of the human person is effectively seen as being nothing other than the grave. It is as if it were being said: “Exploit the body now, in industry and entertainment, for later it has no use at all!”

In such darkness, the light of the Assumption emphasizes that the human person is a unity of body and soul we are neither all body nor all soul rather, we are all body and all soul. The fact that Our Lady was physically assumed into heaven because her soul was without sin shows the importance of the life of grace for the life of the body. The Church teaches that the soul of the individual human person is created at the moment of conception She also teaches that after death’s separation of body and soul – a separation not willed by God – both are destined to be reunited at the moment of resurrection. The Assumption is Mary’s participation in the grace of the resurrection, willed and worked by Her Son because of Her free and total cooperation with grace as with Christ, so with Mary, death had no power to hold Her because it found no sin in Her. The grave is not the destiny of the human person except from the short-sighted perspective of mortal thinking. The Assumption of Mary shoots across the deck of such pessimism as the glorious woman of the Apocalypse, She is above and beyond the Dragon and the stars themselves, that is to say, beyond the reach of sin and the passing nature of creation infected with death. Of course, no-one would think of such a thing as the Assumption! Of course, no-one marked by mortality could believe it of their own accord! Of course, therefore, this dogma of Church doctrine is interpreted as abstruse and fabulous: but in reality, Mary is a sign of hope and comfort for us all on our pilgrim way, and the dogma of the Assumption reveals this to us with the certainty of the Risen Christ Himself.

The Assumption also teaches us that, as human persons, our end is in our beginning. There is no doubt that Mary is an exceptional woman insofar as She was preserved from the stain of original sin we might even feel annoyed that She got such special treatment, an attitude typical of Satan’s envy. But the truth is that Mary had the toughest calling any human being ever had. Because She was preserved from original sin does not mean that She was preserved from temptation to personal sin. If Christ was tempted in every way that we are, so was Mary. In fact, the more filled with grace you are, the more sensitive you are to sin and temptation, and the more likely you are to be the object of Satan’s craftiness. Eve too was at first immaculate. Therefore, the greater the grace, the more you must exercise your freedom, perform the hard work of renunciation, and accept the daily challenge of fidelity and responsibility. Our Lady was far from being cocooned in spiritual protection, naïve or romantically preserved from the human struggle. Grace does not replace freedom: it strengthens it and so makes it more enticing to the Devil. Mary is full of grace, but She had to make Her free choice regarding God’s proposal. Her exceptional situation was and is a privilege in many senses, but not in the sense that it preserved Her from the hard work of freedom and the renunciation of sin. We can “get away” with many things precisely because we are weak, and the Lord will be understanding, patient, and forgiving. But Mary, had she sinned, would have had no excuses.

We need, therefore, to appreciate the true meaning of Her extraordinary person, life, vocation, commitment, and sufferings. If we do then we will better understand that Her Assumption is not the result of a kind of divine nepotism, but of the singularly heroic and complete way in which She surrendered Herself to the will of God. Her Immaculate Conception was Her beginning Her Assumption is Her end but the road in between was the way of the Cross and a heart pierced with a sword. Because of Her humility and obedience to God, She is the most powerful woman who exists She is at the heart of the Church She is the Mother of all humanity She is at the right side of Christ She is the model of all human persons She is the exemplary disciple, woman and mother. It is at least unwise to suggest that because She has not sinned, She cannot completely understand our condition in fact, it is precisely because She has not sinned that She understands our condition better than we do ourselves. Sin is not something to be emulated but to be eradicated, and there is no more powerful advocate to help us, and example to inspire us than Mary Assumed into Heaven.

At a time when the Church is struggling in many quarters to keep its focus on its origins, vocation, mission, and destiny, the Assumption of Our Lady is especially relevant – not to avoid facing reality, but to face it with the most realistic perspective possible, which is not dictated by anything or anyone other than the definitive reality of the Resurrection. Mary is the first and greatest member of the Church. Yet the Church understood as the Catholic fullness of Christ’s presence and action among us is greater than Mary. But we must remember that Christ chose to begin the work of Redemption, the work of His Church, in the soul and body of Mary. She is His first point of contact with humanity She represents humanity at one with God, sharing in the sufferings and in the life of God. Since She walked with Him from the crib to the Cross, She now walks with Him in the garden of God and across the raging seas of the centuries. It is to Her that the Church calls out “Mother” it is to Her faith, hope, and love that the Church in its entirety and in its individual members, must look for inspiration and assistance.

St. Elizabeth cried out: “Why should I be honored with a visit from the Mother of my Lord?” Such should also be our cry: visit me, visit us, visit the Church, visit humanity, dear Lady, and bring to us the glorious love, humility, and life of the Savior! Elizabeth also said: “For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy.” We, too, need to hear Her greet us we need to ask Her to greet us as She visits us, so that the deepest truths of our hearts, buried under God knows what trash and nonsense, can leap again for joy. The world and even the Church today seem to seek pleasure, convenience, popularity, and all manner of things mundane: but where is our joy? Surely, without the hope of heaven, without confidence of our victory over the grave, without the perspective of the Assumption, there can be no joy? The joy and glory of Christmas are empty without the joy and glory of the Resurrection. We look back to the incarnation for one main reason: so as to look forward to the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting! The most beautiful baby will one day face death the joy of birth, great though it may and should be, cannot replace the lasting joy of rebirth. Is not Our Lady assumed into heaven the great and glorious Mother of our rebirth? Did She not say “yes” to God’s taking flesh from Her so that all our flesh might one day be given eternal life in God?

A strange form of intellectual snobbery and diffidence has crept into recent attitudes to Our Lady. In the past, there have surely been excesses in Marian devotion, but the excess does not mean that we now exile Her from our Catholic lives and, thus, from the world. Maybe certain philosophies of freedom, self-sufficient, and the absolute autonomy of science have led to discontent with Our Lady as the model believer and woman. Whatever the complex truth of that may be, another truth is certain: the servant, the friend, the child of Mary will never perish, because there where Mary is, Christ will also be. We can get so wrapped up in our personal concerns, persuasions, outlooks, opinions, and all the rest, that we relegate the thought of our final destiny to a very distant back of our minds.

The Assumption is a day on which to focus ourselves anew on our final goal, our final hope of glory, and to let our other occupations and preoccupations fall into line. We need to see ourselves standing up there with Mary with the moon beneath our feet, clothed with the sun and the stars as the crown on our heads. We need to let the dragon and the desert be kept in their true perspective, and seek, each of us, through grace, and with the help of the Immaculate, to give birth, albeit with wailing pain, to Christ in our lives. Then our own Resurrection, body and soul, will be assured then our own lives will have found their final and truest context then we will realize that the truth proclaimed in the dogma of the Assumption is actually the fulfillment of the deepest desire of our lives.

“What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” What can you possibly lose if the Assumption is your goal?

the importance of a true education

August 8, 2021

St. Thomas More was martyred because of his refusal to swear an oath of loyalty to King Henry VIII. The king defied the authority of the Pope and declared himself the head of the Church of England because he did not wish to accept the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage. Saint Thomas More’s principled resolution in refusing to swear the oath was not only the result of much reflection but also of his keen intellect, which contributed to forming his conscience in order to make wise decisions. His holy example of martyrdom demonstrates the true value of an education: the ability to apply the reality of our faith to concrete life decisions that occur on our path to holiness.

So often, we are preoccupied with statistics, no less so in the field of education. “Did I receive an A- or a B+ on my last test?” or “Is this standardized test score high enough that I will receive a scholarship?” Statistics are often indicators of academic success, and I am certainly proud of our students at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School for their achievement in these areas. Students in various grade levels excel in their standardized test scores and many receive various levels of recognition. Our alumni are leaders in today’s workforce. While all of these achievements are laudable, there is an even richer component to Catholic education.

In a quote popularly attributed to him, Saint Thomas More wrote, “Education is not the piling on of learning, information, data, facts, skills, or abilities—that is training or instruction—but is rather making visible what is hidden as a seed.” It is not that practical subjects are unimportant, but rather that everything a student learns in the classroom should be related to who he or she is as a human person. The very first article of the Catechism teaches us, “He (God) calls man to seek Him, to know Him and to love Him with all his strength” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1).

Without a sound education in the faith, Saint Thomas More would not have known God in the way the Catechism describes. He would not have recognized the importance of loving God with all of his strength to the point of losing his elite status in society and, eventually, his life. In a similar fashion, we too must recognize God’s call to learn about our faith and to teach that faith to others. Primarily, children learn from their parents, through their words, their instructions and, most of all, through their example. What better way to learn about the importance of prayer than by a daughter watching her mother rise early to pray each morning? How much does a son learn from a father who will occasionally give up watching a favorite sports game to spend an hour at Eucharistic Adoration? Parents know that children learn by imitation. The next time you are caught in an ethical quandary—Should I drive excessively over the speed limit? Should I cut corners on my taxes? Should I allow others to take responsibility for my mistakes? — think about the persons you wish your children to become. Yes, adults have a great responsibility in educating children, not only about the truths of the faith, but also in the way in which they live out that faith in their daily lives.

We are blessed here at Divine Mercy Parish to have a Catholic School which is committed to the mission of providing an education rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ where Catholic doctrine and values and academic excellence prepare each student for a life of faith, service, and integrity. We must always remember that the natural goods of a Catholic education are, in the end, worthless without that eternal direction and supernatural context which make Catholic education unique. To make the standards of the world the standards of our school is to build our house upon sand – and one day, the floods of secular values will do away with that house. We are committed to making our school a place of Christian witness, to continue to build our school upon the solid rock of Christ and the peace that only He can offer.

The Gospel records that Christ opened the Scriptures for His Apostles in the upper room He opened their eyes to the significance of His own life, death, and resurrection. In a similar way, a Catholic school should open the student’s eyes to the significance of his or her own life, but more importantly to the connection between the student’s life and the life of Jesus. Jesus must be taught as the principle of interpretation to life, to the world, and to one’s own destiny. To neglect to share the person of Jesus with one’s students is a grave injustice to the souls with whom we are brought into contact. We must pray for the grace and strength to proclaim His name with vigor and joy.

Young people take in much information from the world around them: at school and at the mall, from their smartphones and from their friends. Too often, youth are exposed to the falsehoods that there is no such thing as the sanctity of life, that there is no true religion and that, in the end, each person must only do what makes them happy, instead of what is right. Sadly, relativism has become prevalent in our culture, making it a challenge for young people to receive a true education which will prepare them for the challenges of living a life of holiness. For these reasons, we must vigilantly defend and teach the truth not only in our classrooms, but in our homes and workplaces, ever witnessing to our faith and the gift of life the Lord has given us.

Though we may never be called to martyrdom like Saint Thomas More, each of us is called to use our education every day. The focal point of our education is that “Man is made to live in communion with God in whom he finds happiness” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 45). When young mothers are faced with the “option” of abortion, they must recall that each of us is imbued with dignity by God and that life is precious. When an entrepreneur is offered a job in a morally corrupt corporation, he or she must remember we have a responsibility to defend the truth in the public sphere. When we are tempted to treat another with disdain because of the person’s race or creed, we must remember Christ calls us to love our neighbor.

Yes, at some point in our lives, we are each asked to make difficult decisions. These dilemmas are not easy the alternatives to making ethical decisions can often be very attractive. Hence, we must value our own true education and seek to teach others that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The next time you are confronted with a difficult decision, I challenge you to pray to Saint Thomas More for the fortitude and the wisdom to glorify the Lord with your educated choice.

The Catholic Resistance

August 1, 2021

What ought to be the response of Catholic believers to the rise of militant secularism in the West that is seeking to exile the Christian faith from relevance, cultural history, and the public square? Archbishop Emeritus Charles Chaput of Philadelphia gave a profound answer to that question on August 24, 2010, then the Bishop of Denver, in a speech before Church lawyers in Slovakia.

Against the backdrop of the Slovakian Church’s 50 years of suffering under Nazi and Soviet regimes that brutally repressed and mercilessly massacred many of the country’s faithful, Archbishop Chaput examined what happens when a society tries to order itself as if God did not exist and when those who do believe in God fail adequately to resist this secularizing trend. He called upon Catholics in the West to recognize the signs of the times and not to be caught asleep as a dictatorship of practical atheism seeks to “repudiate the Christian roots and soul of our civilization.” His analysis, sobering at times, needs not just to be read but studied by all those who care about the future of the Church, the future of our country, and the survival of western civilization.

Archbishop Chaput began by reviewing a brief history of what helped to make the United States of America historically great and free in contrast to the bloodshed that bathed many parts of Europe after the Enlightenment: the positive role of faith in American culture. America, he stressed, was established as a non-sectarian state, but one in which faith was expected and fostered as a pre-requisite for a free society. Contrary to the opinions of revisionist, secularist historians today, the founding fathers had “no desire for a radically secularized public life,” Archbishop Chaput stated. “They had no intent to lock religion away from public affairs. On the contrary, they wanted to guarantee citizens the freedom to live their faith publicly and vigorously, and to bring their religious convictions to bear on the building of a just society.”

The danger today is, he continued, that in both the U.S. and in Europe, “we face an aggressively secular political vision and a consumerist economic model that result—in practice, if not in explicit intent—in a new kind of state-encouraged atheism. To put it another way: The Enlightenment-derived worldview that gave rise to the great murder ideologies of the last century remains very much alive. Its language is softer, its intentions seem kinder, and its face is friendlier. But its underlying impulse has not changed—that is, the dream of building a society apart from God.” He said that their vision “presumes a frankly ‘post-Christian’ world ruled by rationality, technology, and good social engineering. Religion has a place in this worldview, but only as an individual lifestyle accessory. People are free to worship and believe whatever they want, so long as they keep their beliefs to themselves and do not presume to intrude their religious idiosyncrasies on the workings of government, the economy, or culture.”

Despite the “rhetoric of enlightened, secular tolerance,” government agencies in the United States, he explained, “now increasingly seek to dictate how Church ministries should operate and to force them into practices that would destroy their Catholic identity. Efforts have been made to discourage or criminalize the expression of certain Catholic beliefs as ‘hate speech.’ Our courts and legislatures now routinely take actions that undermine marriage and family life and seek to scrub our public life of Christian symbolism and signs of influence. In Europe, we see similar trends, although marked by a more open contempt for Christianity.” He drew stark conclusions from these trends: “These are not the actions of governments that see the Catholic Church as a valued partner in their plans for the 21st century. Quite the opposite: these events suggest an emerging, systematic discrimination against the Church that now seems inevitable.”

How are believers to respond to this attempt to organize western societies without God? Archbishop Chaput suggested that believers must learn from “the Catholicism of resistance” demonstrated by the Slovakian Church in response to a half-century of repression by atheistic totalitarian regimes. That resistance was seen above all in responding to the culture of the lie—the rampant lying in practice that was a staple of communism as well the anthropological mendacity and propaganda at the basis of atheistic “inhuman humanism”—with the truth. Archbishop Chaput said we need to be guided practically by Jesus’ words “the truth will make you free” as well as by Vaclav Havel’s application of those words to “live within the truth.” For Christians, living within the truth, Archbishop Chaput says, means living according to Jesus Christ, “proclaiming the truth of the Christian Gospel, not only by our words but by our example. It means living every day and every moment from the unshakeable conviction that God lives, and that His love is the motive force of human history and the engine of every authentic human life. It means believing that the truths of the Creed are worth suffering and dying for. Living within the truth also means telling the truth and calling things by their right names. And that means exposing the lies by which some men try to force others to live.” Archbishop Chaput got very specific about “two of the biggest lies in the world today” and says that believers must work hard to expose their falsity.

The first big lie is that “Christianity was of relatively minor importance in the development of the West.” The prelate said that the history of the Church and Western Christianity are being pushed down an Orwellian memory hole, sometimes out of an attempt to promote peaceful co-existence in a pluralistic society, but often in order to “marginalize Christians and neutralize the Church’s public witness.” He said that we need to “name and fight this lie,” because our societies in the West “are Christian by birth and their survival depends on the endurance of Christian values,” especially values like the belief in individual rights that precede the state and the balance of powers. “The defense of Western ideals is the only protection that we and our neighbors have,” he warned, “against a descent into new forms of repression, whether it be at the hands of extremist Islam or secularist technocrats.”

That leads to the second big lie that might be identified and opposed: that Western values and institutions “can be sustained without a grounding in Christian moral principles.” Modern secularists are pushing relativism—the idea that there is no unchanging truth—as the “civil religion and public philosophy of the West.” This may seem superficially appealing within the context of a pluralistic society, but in practice, he added, “without a belief in fixed moral principles and transcendent truths, our political institutions and language become instruments in the service of a new barbarism.”

That is seen above all, Archbishop Chaput noted, in the crime of abortion, which he called “the foundational injustice” and “crucial issue” of our age. “The right to life is the foundation of every other human right. If that right is not inviolate, then no right can be guaranteed.” He said that the widespread acceptance of abortion in the West “shows us that without a grounding in God or a higher truth, our democratic institutions can very easily become weapons against our own human dignity, [through] a form of intimate violence that clothes itself in democracy [wherein] the will to power of the strong is given the force of law to kill the weak.” That despotism of might-makes-right is “where we are heading in the West today,” he warned, and needs to be resisted, as the Slovaks resisted the totalitarians of the Nazist and Communist murder regimes.

This resistance, he added, must come not just from “Church professionals” but from “every serious believer.” The whole Church is called to imitate the Slovakian heroes of the faith and become a “believing community of resistance.” Such a community, he said, will call things by their true names, “really believe what we say we believe,” and be willing to prove God is real by the witness of their lives in the midst of a world that is on the verge of forgetting Him. “The renewal of the West depends overwhelmingly,” he concluded, on Christian families, parishes, and dioceses beginning to live out this faithful communal resistance in the truth.

World Day of grandparents and the elderly

July 25, 2021

Many countries have special days to honor grandparents. Some choose fixed days: Poland celebrates on January 21st (grandmothers) and 22nd (grandfathers) The Netherlands, June 4th Brazil, Portugal, and Spain on July 26th Mexico on August 28th Italy on October 2nd and Russia on October 28th. Others choose specific Sundays: The United States, together with Bangladesh, Estonia, and the Philippines, on the second Sunday of September France, the first Sunday of March Taiwan, the last Sunday of August Japan, the third Sunday of September The United Kingdom, the first Sunday of October Hong Kong, Germany and Pakistan, the second Sunday of October Australia, the last Sunday of October South Sudan, the Second Sunday of November and Singapore, the Fourth Sunday of November. But the vast majority of the world’s 197 countries do not have a day to honor our parents’ parents. The United Nations, which has 190 different international days, does not have one for grandparents.

That is why it is highly significant, not just within the Catholic Church, but within the global community, that Pope Francis has established the World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly to be celebrated every year on the fourth Sunday of July. With Catholics present in almost every country, the commemoration should be a leaven making fitting appreciation for grandparents rise across the globe. The first observance will take place this Sunday, July 25, 2021.

In his message in preparation for the day, Pope Francis said he was moved to establish it not just because of the importance of grandparents and the elderly, a theme on which he has often spoken, but particularly because of the neglect and isolation so many grandparents and seniors experienced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, when travel restrictions, nursing home policies, and fear for their safety prevented their being visited and embraced by their loved ones. He hopes that on this day, grandchildren will visit their grandparents, perhaps even sharing with them a copy of his letter and that families will have special observances thanking God for the gift of grandparents, praying for them, and entrusting to the Lord those who have died, particularly during the pandemic. To incentivize the day, he has permitted the granting of a plenary indulgence, under the usual conditions, for all those who participate in liturgical celebrations observing it, those who unite themselves spiritually to those celebrations if they are unable to leave their homes, and those who visit, in person or virtually, their grandparents or elderly brothers and sisters in need. The choice of the fourth Sunday of July is transparently to connect it, as closely as possible, to the July 26th Feast of Saint Joachim and Anne, the parents of Mary and grandparents of Jesus. This link to Jesus’ family tree and salvation history suggests that everyone’s genealogy and personal prehistory is part of the providential plan of God.

Pope Francis, in his message, was summoning grandparents to recognize and be renewed in their sacred calling to be guardians of the connection between their family’s history and salvation history and to pass on to younger generations a clear awareness of their place in the bigger picture. Speaking as an elder himself, he asked grandparents and seniors, “What is our vocation today, at our age?” It is “to preserve our roots, to pass on the faith to the young, and to care for the little ones.” He called grandparents and seniors to be a living memory. “Keeping memory alive and sharing it with others,” he stated, “is a true mission for every elderly person.” Memory, he added, is “the foundation of life” and grandparents have a key role in establishing their grandkids securely not only in firm familial roots and stories but also in the history of the faith. The young normally look toward the present and the future and are prone to neglect the past grandparents are prophets who bring the wisdom and experience of the past to guide the now and the not yet.

The vocation of grandparents, he added, is linked to their vocation as apostles. Just like the Lord “never, ever goes into retirement,” he stated, “there is no retirement age from the work of proclaiming the Gospel and handing down traditions to your grandchildren.” He was surprised, he said, that at 76, he was elected the Successor of St. Peter, and in the last eight years, he has not slowed down in trying to live and teach the faith. Citing the Biblical figures of Abraham, Moses, Tobit, Eleazar, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon, Anna, and Nicodemus, all of whose major contributions to salvation history took place when they were advanced in years, he urged grandparents to see themselves as still very important laborers in the Lord’s vineyard (Mt 20:1-16). Even if physically, they may not be as vigorous, he reminded them that their prayer is a “very precious resource,” something that can protect and help the world, perhaps even more “than the frenetic activity of many others.”

While calling upon grandparents and seniors to recognize how important their mission is in the Church and society and to keep loving, like Christ, until the end, the Pope was also encouraging grandchildren, children, and the young to receive with gratitude the generous giving of their elders. “The future of the world,” he said, “depends on this covenant between young and old.” Normally elders long for that sacred bond, while the young can be focused so much on looking ahead that they can take for granted, often until it is too late, the treasure being offered. The official flower for Grandparents’ Day in the USA is, appropriately, the forget-me-not. The Holy Father is hoping by this new World Day to have grandparents and grandchildren renew that covenant and mutually strengthen each other through that bond.

In my years as a priest, I have witnessed — as almost every priest does — the crucial importance of grandparents in the transmission of the faith and the culture that flows from it. I have also repeatedly seen firsthand the suffering of grandparents when their children and grandchildren do not receive that gift and practice the faith. In my conversations with wayward teens and young adults, often one of the most effective apologetics is not getting them to appreciate the love of God and seek to love Him back, but getting them to appreciate the love of their grandmother or grandfather and to recognize that the greatest way to love them back and make them happy would be to make the mature choice to return with them to Mass. Appreciating their grandparents’ faith as constitutive of what has made them who they are is frequently a means by which more maturely to make it their own.

Surveys have shown that 72 percent of seniors think that being a grandparent is the single most important and satisfying thing in their life, 90 percent enjoy talking about their grandchildren to everyone, and 63 percent confess they do a better job caring for their grandchildren than they cared for their own. With more time on their hands than they ever did as parents, grandparents love spending time with their grandchildren, teaching them, praying with them, playing with them, giving them encouragement and unconditional love, listening to their stories, attending their games, concerts, and academic milestones. They are the ultimate good cops, leading by positive example. And they love watching their kids grow as parents simultaneous with the maturation of the grandchildren.

The world is so much better because of the way grandparents live out their vocation. Together with Pope Francis and the whole Church, we celebrate them, thank them, commit to spending time with them, recommit to the covenant of love with them, and pray for them.

lord i am not worthy

July 18, 2021

This Year of the Eucharist gives us an opportunity to look more closely at the words we use at Mass and at the Scriptural background to those words. I want to look at the words and Scriptural background of the very familiar prayer we say with the priest before we receive Communion. In the old translation this prayer reads, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed.” There are several significant changes in the new translation, which reads, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

Words are important in prayer. There is an old Latin saying that the rule of prayer is the rule of faith (lex credendi lex orandi). The words we use as we pray affect what we believe. This happens whether we are aware of it or not, because words carry ideas with them and by regularly using the words the ideas seep into our minds and hearts.

I want to concentrate for a moment on a word that did not change in the new translation: “worthy.” What does it mean to be “worthy”? The Latin word translated as “worthy” is the basis for our English word “dignity.” “Worth” has something to do with “dignity.” All human beings, by virtue of the fact that they are created by God in His image, have inherent dignity. This is the basis for the Church’s support of human rights. Every human being is worthy of equal respect and honor from conception till natural death simply because they are human. We affirm that each one of us has dignity and worth in the sight of God. This is proved by the fact that the Church teaches that Jesus did not just suffer and die for the whole human race in general: He sacrificed Himself for each of us personally. As the well known verse in St John’s Gospel says: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

So, what does it mean to say in our Prayer before Communion, “Lord, I am not worthy”? Quite obviously God considered that the human race–and every individual human being–was “worth” the sacrifice of the Body and Blood of His Son. The point is that nothing we did or can do merits this act of complete grace on God’s part. Because God is just, we merited only punishment because of our sins. But because God is also rich in mercy, He freely offered Himself in Jesus as the atonement for our sins.

There is a story in the Gospels which beautifully illustrates this great mercy and grace of God.

St. Luke tells us (Luke 7:1–10) of a Roman centurion–a pagan–who came to Jesus to seek healing for his sick servant. This centurion knew that he had no claim on Jesus. He was a “man of authority” but his authority did not extend to ordering Jesus to come and go as he wished. Knowing he had no claim on Jesus’ gift of healing, he nevertheless trusted completely in Jesus’ great mercy–and in His great power. He said: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed.”

Since the Latin behind the prayer “Lord, I am not worthy” is based on the centurion’s words, our new translation accurately reflects this: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.”

Like the centurion coming to Jesus, we do not come to Jesus presuming that we have any merit that would make us “worthy” of receiving the great sacrament of His body and blood. We know that we are able to come to Him and receive Him only because of God’s great mercy.

The centurion sought physical healing for his servant. Bodily healing is important, and the sacrament of the Altar is an aid to physical healing. The Second Vatican Council, quoting St. Ignatius of Antioch, said that: “Every time this mystery [of the Eucharist] is celebrated, “the work of our redemption is carried on” and we “break the one bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live forever in Jesus Christ” (Lumen Gentium §3). The Eucharist has power to heal our bodies precisely because it brings healing at the deepest reality of our being, at the level which traditional Catholic teaching has called “the soul.” For this reason, another change was made to our prayer to more accurately reflect the Latin original: “…but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” The Eucharist brings healing to our souls. Such healing is not limited to spiritual healing, but it certainly begins there.

This reflects another story in the Gospels, the healing of the paralyzed man let down through the roof by his friends into the crowded room where Jesus was teaching (Matthew 2:1–12). Jesus astounds the crowd by saying to the man: “Your sins are forgiven.” Only after this, to demonstrate that He has the power and authority to forgive sins, does Jesus effect the visible miracle of healing the man’s paralysis. Jesus teaches us that spiritual healing is primary for physical healing.

There are, of course, other sacraments specifically for the healing of our souls (the Sacrament of Reconciliation) and our bodies (the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick). We know that we cannot approach the Lord’s altar to receive His Body and Blood if we have committed an act of mortal sin that we have not confessed. It is in the sacrament of Reconciliation especially that the Lord “says the word” which brings us spiritual healing. Confession prepares us to receive the additional healing we need in the Eucharist.

Also, the instructions in the Missal notes that the prayer “Lord, I am not worthy” is to be prayed by the priest “together with the people.” Only then does the priest receive communion. This prayer is said, then, before anyone, priest or people, receive communion, because none of us is “worthy” that Jesus should come to us in so intimate a way.

The changes made to the translation of the Mass connect us more deeply with the words of the Mass and with the Scripture on which it is based. We do not come trusting in our own merit. We come trusting only in Jesus’ gracious invitation and in His great power to heal us. He accomplishes that healing in the Eucharist, working from the inside out, starting with the healing of our souls.

The Mystery of Faith

July 11, 2021

The Catholic Faith can seem very complicated at times. There are 2,865 paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. No one, it seems, could know all that. How do we cope with all this information when all we have is a “simple” faith? Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his first encyclical, had some good news for us. He wrote: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus Caritas Est §1). The Catholic Faith is indeed a “mystery” but, precisely because it is a “mystery,” it cannot be known by intellectual means alone. The mystery at the very heart of our faith can only be grasped through a personal encounter with Jesus, as with a brother and a friend as well as a Lord and master. This mystery is found most fully in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, the Eucharist.

In continuing reflections on the new translation of the Roman Rite of the Mass, we have come to the heart of the Eucharist, the consecration of the bread and wine by the priest: “This is my body, which will be given up for you ….This is the chalice of my blood, the new and everlasting covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Immediately after he has prayed these words, and has shown the Body and Blood of Christ to the people in the Elevation, the priest declares: “The mystery of faith.”

These words point to the Eucharist upon the altar. This–this Eucharist–is the “mystery of faith.” The phrase is very similar to the words said by the priest or deacon at the end of the Gospel: “The Gospel of the Lord.” It refers to the mystery that has just been placed before us: in the case of the Gospel, to the Word that has just been proclaimed in the case of the Eucharist, to the Body and Blood of the Lord, which are now before us on the altar by virtue of the consecration.

There is certainly much in the Eucharist that could exercise our intellects. There is a story in the life of St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians of the Eucharist, that towards the end of his life he heard Christ speaking to him and saying: “Thomas, you have written well of me. What reward will you have?” The saint replied: “Lord, nothing but yourself!” Indeed, great theology is as nothing compared to the gift of this real and personal encounter with the Lord in the Eucharist. Even young children receiving their First Communion can know that here in this sacrament they encounter Jesus in a very personal–if still very “mysterious”–way.

So, after the priest declares “the mystery of faith,” we respond with words addressed directly to Jesus, who is present before us. Just as the response to the Gospel (“Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ”) is an acclamation addressed to Jesus present in that very Gospel, so the response after the consecration is an acclamation addressed to Jesus present among us in the Eucharistic elements.

In the new translation, there are three (rather than four) acclamations, all addressed personally to Jesus:

We proclaim your Death, O Lord,
and profess your Resurrection
until you come again.


When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup,
we proclaim your Death, O Lord,
until you come again.


Save us, Savior of the world,
for by your Cross and Resurrection
you have set us free.

The “mystery of faith” is a concrete reality and not simply an intellectual exercise. It is a personal encounter with Jesus, and so in each of these acclamations, Jesus is addressed directly: “We proclaim your death, O Lord”…“We profess your resurrection”…“Save us, Savior of the world.”

The new translation does not have the popular response “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again,” because that response does not actually address Christ Himself. It is a fine statement of faith but is not actually an “acclamation” addressed to Jesus, and so does not bring out the fact that here, in this “mystery of faith” in the Eucharist, we encounter our Lord. (It should also be noted that neither this response nor the second acclamation “Dying you destroyed our death” is actually in the Latin original of the rite of the Mass.)

We can see how the first two acclamations in the new translation are personalized by comparing them to the words on which they are based. In St. Paul’s first letter to the Church in ancient Corinth, after he had recorded our Lord’s “words of institution” from the Last Supper, he wrote: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). St. Paul added these words as if to say: this is what the sacrament is all about–it is a proclamation of the whole mystery of Christ, from His suffering and death to His return at the end of time. And this becomes real and present to us when we eat this particular bread and drink this particular cup, precisely because this bread is His Body and this is the chalice of His Blood.

But notice how we have altered these words to become an address to Christ really present in the Eucharist: “we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again.” It is here that we see that at the center of our faith is not “a lofty idea,” but the “encounter with a person,” Jesus Christ our Lord, “which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Here both the events of the past–the death and Resurrection of Jesus–and the events of the future–the coming of our Lord at the end of time–are made present before us. As the priest goes on to pray after the acclamation of the people, this sacrament is “the memorial” of all that Jesus has done for us and will do for us.

This is indeed a very deep and profound mystery. It is not like the “mystery” in detective novels, where once we have read the final page we know “who did it,” and there is no longer any “mystery.” The “mystery of faith” is a mystery that both the very learned and the very simple can grasp. And indeed we do take hold of it, when in Holy Communion we receive this sacrament into our very selves, and it becomes a part of us, shaping our lives. It is a personal mystery, a personal encounter of love with the Lord.

I hope that, like me, you have come to appreciate using the new English translation of the Mass. The changes were perhaps difficult to understand at first, but they were designed to invite us ever deeper into the “mystery of faith” in the Eucharist, which it is our lifelong task to come to know on an ever deeper and more personal level.

Catholics in the Public Square

July 4, 2021

How do we respond effectively as Catholics to the tragically too common circumstance of Catholics in prominent positions blatantly betraying the Catholic faith? On the intentional killing of fellow human beings, the truth about the family, the revelation about the human person made in God’s image male or female, and Christ’s personal identification with the hungry, thirsty, sick, naked, imprisoned, or someone otherwise in need? There is of course no single, concrete, detailed answer applicable in every time and place with every person. As Catholics, truth and love must always be part of our response since without truth we leave others enslaved and without charity we are just a noisy gong. Prudence is always required to know best what to say, when, and how. The other theological and cardinal virtues—faith in God, hope that people can change, courage to say things out of season, justice with regard to the real harms done, and moderation not to go too far too soon—are always similarly helpful. There is also the indispensable guidance and assistance of the Holy Spirit and His gifts.

Since many Catholics, however, are tempted to objectify, treat by different standards, and occasionally even dehumanize Catholics in public office who are unfaithful to Church teaching in scandalously conspicuous ways, it is helpful to examine the ways most Catholics handle circumstances in their own families and apply that practical wisdom to the circumstances of prominent, prodigal sons and daughters of the family of faith. I would like to mention three different stories.

The first has happened often in parish life. Parents or grandparents come to see me crestfallen, frustrated and at their wits’ end, over the situation of their children or grandchildren who have stopped coming to Mass, are cohabitating with a boyfriend or girlfriend, invalidly married, or in some other serious immoral situation. As if that is not a big enough concern already, they then tell me that their children or grandchildren have stopped talking to them. When I ask what happened, the pattern is almost always the same. They recount that they gave witness to the truth, let their loved ones know that they were sinning, appealed to them to convert and go to confession, expressed their fear that they would go to hell if they died, and so on.

“How did she respond?” I gently ask.

“Terribly” is the basic reply. “How often would you say these things to him?” I query. “Almost every time I see him!”

It is certainly understandable that a faithful parent or grandparent would worry, even obsess, about the situation of a loved one in danger. If the person were in an ICU in danger of death, it is natural that the elder would struggle to think about anything else. Hence it makes sense that faithful parents and grandparents would similarly be preoccupied when their loved ones’ souls were in serious danger. But how they handle the situation matters. Especially in circumstances when their loved ones are in denial about the moral qualification of their lifestyle, or when they feel trapped, powerless, or too afraid to change it, bringing it up in every conversation as if it is the only thing that matters is counterproductive. Not only can it stimulate people’s defensiveness to their whole life being summarized by the expression “living in sin,” or their resentment over seeming to be more judged than loved—leading the person to “dig in” and remain in the situation out of a desire not to let the parent or grandparent “win” or incentivize his or her style of attempted persuasion but it can unintentionally deteriorate the relational bridges that the loved one may need to come back to the communion of the faith.

“What’s the right way to do it, Father?” several have desperately asked.

“Your loved ones need to know the truth and where you stand,” I reply. “But you don’t need to remind them every time you see them.”

For the call to conversion to be effective, in most circumstances, it must be enveloped by a thick layer of love, rather than shrouded in shame, embarrassment, fear, and what may seem like judgmentalism. That is why in such situations it is important to focus nine parts on loving as normal, and one part on illustrating that the love likewise extends to appropriate concern for their loved one’s soul, relationship with God, and eternal happiness.

The second story has to do with a question I get every time I give adult education talks on Catholics and politics: “Why don’t the bishops excommunicate pro-abortion Catholic politicians?” It is a fair question that is often phrased with a mix of frustration and discouragement, and occasionally with a sense that they think the prelates are weak cowards, or asleep with their rod and staff, or even secretly pro-abortion. I generally begin by speaking about what canon law says about excommunication. But then I shift to prudence, as to whether they think excommunicating offending politicians will likely lead them to conversion and remove the scandal or get the politicians to dig in and try to use it to their political advantage—and perhaps even cause other unintended stumbling blocks to the faithful.

As part of that dialogue, I ask how we generally handle the situation of pro-abortion family members or those who otherwise take positions contrary to Catholic faith and morals. Do we generally “excommunicate” them from Thanksgiving dinner? In large audiences, there are always a few who say they do. I politely ask what has been the impact of that de facto familial exile? Does it lead the offending parties to conversion? Are the other family members happier as a result or does it weigh like a pall over the gathering? I am grateful for the honesty of the interlocutors who have humbly admitted that it has not brought about conversions and in fact has divided the family with regard to those who “support” the ostracized family member versus those who “oppose.”

For the vast majority who admit they do not excommunicate family members, I ask why them why not. In general, they say that they do not think it will work to bring the individuals to repentance and they fear it will only drive the family further apart. They also admit that, with respect to the bad example that might be given to younger generations, they have a greater duty to teach the faith well and maturely: that loving a wayward uncle is not incompatible with helping them see that not all of his decisions are wise and holy ones. In these discussions, I generally encourage people to remember that bishops are asking themselves similar questions about balancing a clear witness to the truth and a call to conversion with helping people remember that they are beloved members of the family, even when they make sinful decisions. Similar practical wisdom should inform the way Catholic citizens as a whole approach Catholic public figures who oppose, rather than live by and proclaim, the Gospel.

The last story is St. Monica. For 17 years she had to deal with the various moral problems of her pagan husband Patricius and her cantankerous mother-in-law, and then for 15 additional years she had to suffer the flagrant sins of her famous son Augustine. She patiently told the truth, forgave, loved, and prayed. All three eventually converted. And because of 32 years of persevering prayer for their conversions, she, too, became a saint. St. Monica teaches us that in response to the sins of our family members and the disappointment and worry we experience as a result, we are not called to become the wagging fingers of the Mystical Body of Christ but the calloused knees. We are called not to “virtue signal” the truth as take-it-or-leave-it propositions with eternal consequences, but announce the truth in affectionate charity, reminding them by our behavior of the love of the Father of the Prodigal Son. Where such sins of our prominent Catholic family members abound, as they unhappily do, our prayers must abound all the more, and far more than our criticisms, however just. We must never lose a profound sense of family—ecclesial and national—even if made dysfunctional by sin. We must always remember that persevering prayer, like St. Monica’s, does work, as does incessant charity, and through them, God makes saints.

devotion to St. Joseph

June 27, 2021

The Church is continuing her celebration of the Year of Saint Joseph, called by the Vatican to mark the 150th anniversary of Saint Joseph’s being declared patron of the Church. How can Catholics who have not really been taking advantage of this time of grace get started? How can those who have been focused on it pick up speed? There are some very good resources, like Pope Francis’ apostolic letter Patris Corde (“With A Father’s Heart”), Saint John Paul II’s 1989 apostolic exhortation Redemptoris Custos (“Guardian of the Redeemer”), or Father Donald Calloway’s 2019 best seller Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father. However, the book I have profited most from, recommend most heartily, and have been emailing to everyone who has asked how to grow closer to Saint Joseph this year is Father Henri Rondet’s 1956 classic Saint Joseph, a translation of his 1953 French original Saint Joseph: Textes Anciens Avec Une Introduction. It is the most helpful book on Saint Joseph I have ever found.

Father Rondet (1898-1979) was a French Jesuit theologian, professor, and prodigious author of more than 50 books on almost every theological subject one could conceive: the sacraments, confession, marriage, grace, original and personal sin, purgatory, hell, the communion of saints, the apostolate, the Parable of the Pharisee and Publican, the Sacred Heart, Mary, St. Augustine, the development of dogma, Vatican I and Vatican II, the Christian faith and divorce, the theology of work, obedience, and peace. In novitiate and at the Gregorian University in Rome, he assiduously studied Saint Thomas Aquinas. He eventually taught patristics. But his real passion was to pass on to the wider public the treasures of the faith, something that led to his becoming, in 1955, the French national director of the Apostleship of Prayer, founded in 1844 to help lay Catholics take up their role in the Church’s mission through the morning offering, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and praying for the monthly intentions of the pope. Theology was meant to lead us to our knees.

Father Rondet said he wrote this work because “St. Joseph is still not properly known and understood. Devotion to him is widespread and enthusiastic, and there is a very large number of books that seek to minister to this devotion. But too often these writings are lacking in the spirit of critical scholarship or in theological competence, and one result of this is that others among the faithful are put off. The aim of this book is to put St. Joseph’s place in the economy of salvation before both classes of the faithful.”

What I love about this brilliant and zealous priest’s work about Saint Joseph is its structure. He begins with a superb and readable 49-page summary of the presentation of Saint Joseph in the Gospels, the apocryphal writings, sacred tradition, popular legends, medieval art, religious authors, and the 15th to 17th Century rebirth of devotion. He describes the development of the Feast of St. Joseph and the decision of Blessed Pius IX to name him patron of the Church. And he finishes with a brief synthesis of the theology of St. Joseph.

In the section, Father Rondet demolishes the idea that Saint Joseph was a super-old man at the time of his betrothal of Mary, which would not only diminish St. Joseph’s chastity and undermine his capacity to work as a carpenter to support the Holy Family but would put him in the weird category of really old men who marry really young women. He argues that St. Joseph was a young virgin marrying a younger virgin and that their marriage, though remaining virginal, was fruitful. He shows that he was a true father in the way he committed himself to the life and growth of Jesus. And against those who try to argue, out of excessive piety, that St. Joseph was essentially the male equivalent of Mary, and therefore sinless, even immaculately conceived, Fr. Rondet shows not only that this is not part of the tradition, but not upheld by the evidence.

In the second section of the work, Father Rondet gives us a 185-page anthology of the most important writings on Saint Joseph from the fourth through the twentieth century. He includes great saints like St. John Chrysostom, St. Bernard, St. Bernardine of Siena, St. Vincent Ferrer, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis de Sales, St. Alphonsus Ligouri, St. John Henry Newman famous writers and orators like Jean Gerson, Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, Father Frederick Faber, Cardinal Herbert Vaughn and Popes Leo XIII, Benedict XV, and Pius XII as well as various of the most influential prayers and hymns throughout the centuries.

To have access in one place to the greatest thoughts expressed, at least until 1953, about Saint Joseph, is like diving into the powerful river of graces pouring out of heaven for many centuries with regard to Saint Joseph. I would like to finish with a taste of the citations you can read in the book.

The first is by St. Teresa of Avila about praying to St. Joseph. She had been cured at the age of 26 of a crippling illness after invoking his intercession. She wrote:

“I do not remember once having asked anything of him that was not granted. … God seems to have given other saints power to help us in particular circumstances, but I know from experience that this glorious St. Joseph helps in each and every need. … Others, who have turned to Joseph on my advice, have had the like experience. … All I ask, for the love of God, is that anyone who does not believe me will put what I say to the test and learn for himself how advantageous it is to commend oneself to this glorious patriarch Joseph and to have a special devotion for him. Prayerful persons, in particular, should love him like a father.”

The second is from Cardinal Herbert Vaughn, Archbishop of Westminster about the role of St. Joseph in the Christian life. He stated:

“Of old it was said to the needy and suffering people in the kingdom of Egypt: ‘Go to Joseph, and do all that he shall say to you’ (Gen. 41:55). The same is now said … to all needy and suffering people in the kingdom of the Church — ‘Go to Joseph.’ If you labor for your bread if you have a family to support if your heart is searched by trials at home if you are assailed by some importune temptation if your faith is sorely tested, and your hope seems lost in darkness and disappointment if you have yet to learn to love and serve Jesus and Mary as you ought, Joseph, the head of the house, the husband of Mary, the nursing father of Jesus — Joseph is your model, your teacher and your father. … Go, then, to Joseph, and do all that he shall say to you. Go to Joseph, and obey him as Jesus and Mary obeyed him. Go to Joseph, and speak to him as they spoke to him. Go to Joseph, and consult him as they consulted him. Go to Joseph, and honor him as they honored him. Go to Joseph, and be grateful to him as they were grateful to him. Go to Joseph, and love him as they loved him, and as they love him still. However much you love Joseph, your love will always fall short of the extraordinary love that Jesus and Mary bore to him. On the other hand, the love of Joseph necessarily leads us to Jesus and Mary. He was the first Christian to whom it was said, ‘Take the Child and His mother.’”

All those who want to go to Joseph, and from him to Jesus and Mary, would be wise to go first to Father Rondet.

a unified sacramental theology

June 20, 2021

Earlier this month, the Church celebrated the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. It is a time for us, as Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote in 1263 for the first celebration of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus, to “dare to do all we can” to express our gratitude at the “res mirabilis,” the mind-blowing reality that poor and humble servants, like us, not only have the opportunity to be in God’s real presence, to praise and adore Him, to take Him on processions, but actually to eat Him and draw our life from Him. This year, however, the celebration risked being diverted from the Eucharistic Lord to Catholic public figures who scandalously and zealously advocate for abortion and other evils, and whether they should be refused Holy Communion.

Several months ago, the U.S. Bishops committed themselves to composing a document on Eucharistic coherence, something they are expected to discuss in their June meeting. On May 1, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco published a pastoral letter on the evil of abortion and how Catholics who reject the Church’s teaching should not receive Holy Communion. Four days later, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego responded with an article in America magazine, arguing that excluding pro-abortion politicians would bring “tremendous destructive consequences” to the understanding of the Eucharist, reducing it a “tool in political warfare.”

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) weighed in with a May 7th letter from Cardinal Luis Ladaria to Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, President of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, urging that before any particular actions be discussed, the Bishops make clear that “those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life” and reiterate the “grave moral responsibility of Catholic public officials to protect human life at all stages.” Cardinal Ladaria also suggested that “any statement of the Conference regarding Catholic political leaders would best be framed within the broad context of worthiness for the reception of Holy Communion on the part of all the faithful, rather than only one category of Catholics,” since attacks against life are not “the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest level of accountability on the part of Catholics.”

He was implying that, while there can be some prudential disagreements about what ought to be done with regard to Catholic public figures who formally cooperate in the sin of abortion through their public support, there should be no disagreement on the evil of abortion and the requirements to receive Holy Communion worthily. His raising those subjects is, first, a recognition that such unity does not exist as it should with regard to abortion or Holy Communion and, second, a challenge to bishops, priests, and faithful who are not with the Church to convert or be recognized for who they are. If Catholics believe what the Church publicly professes about the dignity of every human person made in God’s image and likeness in the womb, if they believe what Jesus taught clearly that whatever we do to the “least” of his brothers and sisters we do to Him and whoever receives a little child in His name receives Him (Mt 25:40 Mk 9:37), then we must recognize that every abortion is like Good Friday, except infinitely more gruesome. If a Catholic were “pro-choice” with regard to the possibility of crucifixion of the innocent, few would fail to see the rank contradiction and hypocrisy.

That Catholic public figures can fancy themselves devout while advocating for abortion, celebrating it as a human right, funding it domestically and internationally, requiring those nominated for judgeships to support it, and ingratiating themselves unabashedly with Planned Parenthood and other unborn slaughterhouses, is one of the great pastoral failures of our age. The Church needs unity to remedy this failure. Knowing what abortion is, how can some bishops, priests, theologians, and faithful pretend as if abortion is not the preeminent civil rights and social justice issue today? What else today is morally commensurate to the savage killing of the innocent on such an industrial scale? Moreover, while the Church is clear in her teaching about life, how many Catholic parishes give zero evidence of being against the killing of the unborn, where proud pro-abortion Catholics can attend for years without ever having their consciences nudged, not to mention convicted? The Church must speak with one voice and with integrity across all its institutions, as Cardinal Ladaria notes, with regard to how Catholics must oppose laws that attack human life and do all they can to protect life at all stages.

The second thing about which the Church must teach and act in unity, he says, is about the conditions necessary to receive Holy Communion well. We live in an age in which many regard Jesus’ Body and Blood as the functional equivalent of cake at a birthday party: everyone should get a slice out of hospitality. People who have not been to Church in years, people who are not even Catholic, those who are involved in lifestyles seriously opposed to Jesus’ and the Church’s explicit teachings, feel entitled to receive just by having shown up.

The U.S. Bishops attempted to remedy this problem in 2006 with a fine pastoral letter, “Happy Are Those Called to This Supper.” It got specific about situations in which Catholics “are seriously obliged to refrain from receiving Holy Communion” until they are reconciled with God and with the Church. But there were two problems with the document. First, there was no real plan to ensure that the Bishops’ teaching got to those in the pews, to Catholic schools and religious education programs, and into practice — and therefore it sadly changed little on the ground. Second, it ducked the question of what should happen when, after a pastor has communicated the teaching clearly, people in the situations specified by the document not only disregard it but approach to receive communion anyway. The Code of Canon Law is plain that those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin” (Canon 915) must be refused, but the pastoral letter did not address the subject, hoping for voluntary compliance. Presuming volitional adherence, however, is naive, especially with regard to those who support abortion, most of whom have been apprised 70 times 7 times that they should be refraining from receiving Holy Communion, but have brazenly been ignoring it, shrewdly anticipating that bishops and priests who are not complicit with their political program will be too conflicted to refuse them.

To refuse someone Holy Communion is considered by some more serious than a sacrilegious communion however, doing so involves love for God and for sinners. Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote in the Lauda Sion Sequence for Corpus Christi, “Both the good and the bad eat of this celestial Food, but with ends how opposite! With this most substantial Bread, unto life or death they’re fed, in a difference infinite!” The Bread of Life becomes the bread of death for those who, as St. Paul says, “eats the bread or drinks the cup unworthily, … for anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor 11:27-29).

How can pastors, or faithful, or anyone who claims to love God and neighbor ignore this truth? It is not surprising that those who would allow the image of God to be desecrated in the womb would not grasp the horror of a sacrilegious communion, but how can those who profess to believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, or in the eternal consequences of sinful choices, treat it as no big deal?

Lack of unity on each of these pastoral crises compounds the other. If the de facto message of the Church is that everyone receives Holy Communion no matter what, then it seems cruel, judgmental, and sinful to suggest that those who support the savage destruction of our littlest brothers and sisters must be refused. Similarly, if prominent Catholics who infamously support abortion receive Holy Communion, how can anyone else not feel that he or she is similarly entitled, no matter what unabsolved sins they may have committed? To move forward on the question of refusing Holy Communion for pro-abortion politicians without addressing effectively, at the level of parishes, schools and homes, the Catholic teaching about life and worthy reception of the Eucharist, would run the serious risk of it being interpreted as the scapegoating of a few in a sacramental vendetta, something that could appear to many as reducing the Church’s teachings on life and communion to political positions. As important and urgent as it is to address the scandal of the sacrilegious holy communion of unrepentant pro-abortion Catholic politicians, the bishops, priests, and faithful in the U.S. need to work on each other to remedy first the practical confusion about the fifth commandment and about basic sacramental theology.

The ethics of covid-19 vaccines

June 13, 2021

In recent weeks, I have encountered scores of people who are confused about Church teaching with regard to the morality of taking COVID-19 vaccines. This confusion comes not really because they have not heard that Pope Francis, two Vatican organs, and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops have all said that it is morally permissible to receive them. It is mainly because several prominent figures have undermined that teaching by publicly asserting that getting vaccinated is immoral. In so doing, they have essentially said that the Church’s well-established principles on cooperation in evil are not valid in the case of vaccines tainted in any way by the use of cell lines derived from abortions and that St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis have all been in error with regard to their moral analysis of such vaccines. Such a claim, especially from figures with a reputation for doctrinal orthodoxy, is scandalous. Beyond obfuscating the Church’s position with regard to COVID vaccines, it renders papal judgments and formal Vatican declarations nothing more than erroneous opinions, something that cannot but undermine the teaching authority of the Church.

What are the principles of the Church with regard to receiving vaccines that in their development (J&J), production (J&J), or testing (J&J, Pfizer and Moderna) have involved cell lines derived from aborted fetuses? Since the Church emphatically condemns abortion, is it possible to benefit in any way from products derived from such an abortion, in these cases, one committed about fifty years ago?

This is the classic situation of cooperation in evil. The Church teaches that is always sinful to approve of a sin committed by another, which is called formal cooperation. More complicated is “material cooperation,” when one cooperates only in the bad action of the other without approving of the evil. Such cooperation can be morally permissible when the action is good or indifferent in itself and when there is a reason for doing it that is both morally good and proportioned to the seriousness of the other’s sin and to the closeness of the assistance provided to carrying out the sin.

Applied to the situation of taking vaccines that involve aborted cell lines, the action of taking a vaccine is in general good or at least neutral. There is a just reason: to protect one’s own or others’ health from a disease that has taken 3.3 million lives across the world. The assistance given to the original abortion by someone vaccinated today is nonexistent, since there is no evidence that doing so will promote other illicit cell lines. And the only thing that seems to be proportionate to the evil of abortion would be seeking to save innocent lives.

That is why the Church has concluded and taught that it is permissible to take the vaccines. At the same time the Church stresses that it is of course wrong to create abortion-derived cell lines and for pharmaceutical companies to use them that using vaccines benefitting from abortion-derived cell lines should be avoided when comparable alternatives with no connection to abortion, or less connection to abortion, are available and Catholics and all those concerned for the sanctity of life should protest the use of tainted cell lines and advocate for the development of vaccines with no connection to abortion.

So, the Vatican and the US Bishops have been clear that, under present circumstances, because of the seriousness of COVID-19, it is morally permissible to receive Pfizer, Moderna and the J&J vaccines, with preference given to the first two where possible, and that this does not constitute formal or material proximate cooperation in the abortions from which the cell lines involved in their development, production, or testing were derived. The Church also insists, however, on the duty to push for ethically untainted vaccines, and some are presently being developed.

What are the challenges?

Some think that the protest against tainted vaccines must be absolute. One well-respected bishop said that he could not in good conscience receive a vaccine even minimally derived from an aborted child and urged others to reject such vaccines. Our culture, he says rightly, has become habituated to the exploitation of aborted children. For that reason, he urged others with him to wait for ethically untainted vaccines in order to testify to the truth that abortion must be rejected in all its forms. Others think that abortion is so evil that the theological principle of material cooperation no longer applies, because to permit any abortion-derived vaccine would contradict the Church’s recognition of abortion as a grave moral evil. Abortion is so evil, one well-regarded bishop wrote, that any connection to an abortion, however remote, is an immoral cooperation with one of today’s greatest crimes and cannot be accepted by a Catholic with a well-formed conscience.

One cannot but give God thanks for these bishops’ profound pro-life convictions. At the same time, however, it is necessary to state, emphatically, that theirs is not Church teaching. A pro-life intention does not render every moral judgment that a person makes infallible. It does not allow one to overturn the Church’s principles with regard to cooperation in evil, which were formulated precisely to apply to situations of moral atrocities like abortion. And it does not allow one to presume a position of pro-life superiority to St. John Paul II, or Benedict XVI or Francis.

That said, while receiving a COVID vaccine is permissible, it is not a strict moral obligation. One can in conscience voluntarily refuse. Some may also need to decline vaccines because they are allergic to one of the ingredients or have a severely compromised immune system. At the same time, there is a duty to protect one’s health and to protect others, especially those who are weakest and most vulnerable. That is why the Church says that if one chooses not to be vaccinated, then out of love of neighbor and pursuit of the common good, that person must do his or her utmost to avoid becoming means for the transmission of COVID to others.

Charity is the context with which to understand Pope Francis’ words in a recent interview, “I believe that morally everyone must take the vaccine. It is the moral choice because it is about your life but also the lives of others.” Christians are called to love one another as Christ has loved us. If the Good Shepherd laid down his life to save the lives of his sheep, Pope Francis is implying, we should be willing to take a vaccine if doing so might save the lives of one or more for whom COVID might prove lethal. So, while the decision to be vaccinated should be voluntary, the proper use of freedom should always be tied to love. Therefore, under ordinary circumstances, the case to be vaccinated against COVID-19 seems stronger than the case against.

That does not mean that governments should compel citizens to be vaccinated, since it is possible, like the bishops cited above, to have conscientious objections. But conscientious objection, which must be protected, does not make one immune from consequences of such decisions, like in the case of “local mandates” at schools, or hospitals, or certain business settings: one cannot be forced to receive the vaccine, but neither can such settings be forced to accept someone who is not vaccinated, if they determine that doing so is contrary to the common good.

In the midst of many questions surrounding COVID-19 and vaccines, the Church has worked hard to provide clear — even if sophisticated and highly nuanced — answers. It is important for Catholics who think with the Church to put in the time to listen to the authentic voices and to study Church teaching so that we may radiate true light to others at a time of confusion.

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

June 6, 2021

A poor family was gathered around the dinner table for the birthday of the youngest son. After a short prayer of thanksgiving, the father said: “Son, it’s your birthday. Now make a wish, and then blow the candles.” The boy dutifully closed his eyes and then blew the candles. Then the father asked him, “Son, what was your birthday wish?” The boy said, “I wished that on my birthday next year, there will be a cake on the table so that I won’t be holding the candles.” The family was so poor that there was not even a small birthday cake on the table. But they knew that it was not what is essential in the birthday celebration. Rather, it is the gift of life that they are thankful to God for it is the family gathered together in love and harmony it is the assurance of God’s abiding presence that fills them with hope and joy. These are the things that make a birthday celebration truly meaningful, and not the cake, food, or merriment.

This Sunday we come together again to celebrate the Eucharist. It is always and essentially a thanksgiving, for that is what “Eucharist” means. The spirit of joy and gladness should be in us every time we celebrate the Eucharist. Unfortunately, there are many Catholics who do not see it that way anymore. Many have even left the Catholic Church because they found the celebrations boring and dry. They have come to Mass with lots of expectations and these have not been met, so they say. I am not saying that it is not good to have such expectations, but these are not what we came to Mass for. For instance, some are saying that the Mass does not provide enough entertainment, and so people are bored. A boy was asked why he had to keep quiet in the church. And he quickly replied, “Because there are people sleeping in church.” People want something new and spectacular every time. No wonder the most attended Masses are Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday, and Christmas – there are added attractions: ashes, palms, Easter eggs, and Christmas trees! Many expect the priest to always have jokes and stories in his homily to keep the congregation wide awake. Others demand that the choir members have great voices and sing more “upbeat” music others want well-choreographed movements of the ministers, polished lectors, comfortable seats, the best lighting and sound facilities, and other amenities. Admittedly, these are all valid concerns and expectations.

Worse than these, moreover, some priests have fallen into the same trap. Instead of giving the people what God wants for them, these priests give what the people want to hear and see for fear of offending them. In effect, the Word of God is not preached faithfully and prophetically. The celebration becomes like a concert or stage play, and the real sense of God’s active presence is totally lost. Too much emphasis on the horizontal dimension – the relationship between human persons – has led to the utter neglect of the more important dimension in the liturgy, the vertical dimension – the relationship between God and man.

Unfortunately, many of us have lost sight of what is really essential in the liturgical celebration: Jesus Christ Himself. Pope Emeritus Benedict insists on this: “The Liturgy is God’s action.” The center of the liturgy is not man, but God. Therefore, no Pope, bishop, or priest can mess with the liturgy just to be accommodating and entertaining to people. Just as a cake is not that essential to a birthday celebration, so also the music, the ministers, the church facilities, and even the personality of the priest, cannot be more important than the divine and real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. We have come here to Mass, not because of the ministers, the congregation, the music, or the environment we have come here for Jesus, to encounter Him personally in the Eucharist. Knowing and believing that Jesus is truly present, we then do the best we can to make this celebration truly meaningful and joyful. That is where the other things come in: the good homily, the orderly and solemn rituals, the “heavenly” music, the splendid service of the ministers, and the like. Pope Emeritus Benedict said, “The best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself well celebrated.”

There is the classic saying in Catholic Theology, Lex orandi, lex credendi, the law of prayer is the law of faith. It refers to the relationship between worship and belief. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Church’s faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it. When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles – whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi. The law of prayer is the law of faith: The Church believes as she prays. Liturgy is a constitutive element of the holy and living Tradition” (CCC 1124).

In other words, if we really believe that the Mass is the one and the same sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, that Jesus is truly present in the Holy Eucharist, then we will do the best we can to behave properly during Mass and to worship solemnly and appropriately. If we truly believe that the Eucharist is the sacrament of God’s love for us, then we who partake of it must also be motivated and filled with love. St. Josemaria Escrivá said, “You say the Mass is long and I add, because your love is short!”

On this celebration of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, let us renew our faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Let this renewed faith inspire and move us to always come to Church every Sunday full of joy and eagerness to encounter Jesus, and to make our Eucharistic celebrations meaningful and truly pleasing in God’s eyes. In this way, we will be duty-bound, first, to prepare ourselves properly in our physical and spiritual life second, to actively and meaningfully participate in the celebration and third, to worthily receive Jesus in Holy Communion. Then the Mass ceases to be boring and dry. It becomes for us the source and the summit of our life as Christians. The Eucharist is truly our life! Welcome Home!!

Praying for Hans Küng

May 30, 2021

When I first heard the news on April 6th that the 93 year-old Swiss theologian and author Father Hans Küng had died, I had just finished the prayers for the fifth day of the Novena of Divine Mercy. His death during the novena necessarily frames our Christian reaction. For the novena’s fifth day, Jesus had asked Saint Faustina Kowalska, and through her us, to bring to him “the souls of those who have separated themselves from my Church and immerse them in the ocean of my mercy.” The Polish Sister of Our Lady of Mercy, in turn, begged Jesus to “receive into the abode of your most compassionate heart the souls of those who have separated themselves from your Church” and implored God the Father to “turn your merciful gaze upon the souls of those who have separated themselves from your Son’s Church, who have squandered your blessing and misused your graces by obstinately persisting in their errors. Do not look upon their errors, but upon the love of your own Son and upon his bitter Passion, which he underwent for their sake.”

It was as if, in the midst of the scores of lengthy obituaries and elegies that immediately were being run in Catholic and secular sources, Jesus Himself, who chose the time of Küng’s visitation, wanted His Church to keep two things in mind: the sad reality of Father Küng’s obstinate persistence in separating himself from the teaching of the Church and the heartening reality that Jesus nevertheless was praying for Him, and asking His Church to pray for him, that in the end, he would receive the mercy arduously won on Calvary.

Küng was one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century, rising to prominence as a theological celebrity at the time of the Second Vatican Council, where he was a peritus (expert) of Bishop Carl Joseph Leiprecht of Rottenburg, Germany. Immediately prior to the Council, at the age of 32, Küng wrote The Council, Reform and Reunion, which played a role in Vatican II documents on divine revelation, liturgy, interreligious dialogue, and religious liberty. At a time in which the media of the world was paying close attention to the Council and what it meant for the future of the Catholic Church, Küng became an international newsmaker. He was young, handsome, drove a sports car, dressed in stylish business suits instead of clergy apparel, was fluent in six languages, spoke and wrote with vivacity, intelligence, clarity, and candor, loved the spotlight and was unabashed in slipping to the press what was supposed to be confidential. All of these qualities taken together, however, would never have been enough to gain him stardom had he also not been a savvy doctrinal transgressor of a flavor matching the tastes of those — in the media, academy, Church, and world — hoping for revolution in Church teaching in subjects discordant to the spirit of the age. Küng did not leave those crowds disappointed.

Over the course of time, he undermined and opposed Church teaching on papal infallibility, the magisterial authority of bishops, euthanasia, abortion, contraception, the inadmissibility of ordaining women as priests, the need of a priest for the valid consecration of the Eucharist, the consubstantiality of Christ with God the Father, the meaning of Hell, and various aspects of Church sexual teaching, including the sinfulness of homosexual activity. He also was a persistent critic of the Church’s practice of mandatory priestly celibate chastity and an outspoken detractor of Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, his friend and colleague earlier in life on the theology faculty at the University of Tubingen.

When Küng started to veer off the path of sound doctrine (Titus 2:1), the Church tried hard to work with him, so that he might use his enormous gifts to strengthen rather than subvert the Church. On Dec. 2, 1965, at the end of Vatican II, Saint Paul VI met with him for 45 minutes and, according to Küng, asked him for whom he was writing — if not for God and the Church — and urged him to put his talents at the service of the Church, even offering him a Vatican position. Küng replied that he was “already at the service of the Church,” and that he was writing not for the Pope “who clearly doesn’t want my theology as it is,” but for those “who may need my theology.” After his 1968 book The Church and his 1971 Infallible? An Inquiry, the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) notified him of difficulties they had found and asked him to explain how such views, especially with regard to papal infallibility, were not contradictions of Catholic doctrine.

After unsatisfactory replies from Küng, the Congregation published a declaration stating that in those works, “some views are found that in different degrees oppose the Catholic Church’s doctrine that must be professed by all the faithful” and admonished him “not to continue to teach such views” that “destroy [the Church’s] doctrine and place it in doubt.” The Church hoped, as the CDF wrote later, that he would “bring his opinions into harmony with the authentic magisterium.” But Küng did the opposite in multiple subsequent writings. So, in 1979 the CDF, with the approval of Saint John Paul II, was “constrained” to declare that Küng, “has departed from the integral truth of Catholic faith and therefore he can no longer be considered a Catholic theologian nor function as such in a teaching role.”

Even though Küng remained somehow a priest in good standing of the Diocese of Basel, the Church pronounced him to be teaching heresy. The Declaration was a devastating blow, causing Küng to lose his position in the Tubingen Catholic theology faculty — whereupon he was given a position at the University’s Institute for Ecumenical Research — and led him, by his own admission, close to a nervous breakdown. He obstinately, however, stuck to the path he was on, incapable of receiving with humility and faith, it seems, the fraternal correction of the Church. While Catholics must pursue the truth in conscience and seek to live it, that is not the same thing as intransigently holding on to one’s opinions.

In its Declaration, the CDF stated, “If it should happen, therefore, that a teacher of sacred doctrine chooses and disseminates as the norm of truth his own judgment and not the thought of the Church, and if he continues in his conviction despite the use of all charitable means in his regard, then honesty itself demands that the church should publicly call attention to his conduct and should state that he can no longer teach with the authority of the mission which he received from her.” It commented that the mission of a Catholic theologian “is in fact a testimony to a reciprocal trust: first, trust on the part of the competent authority that the theologian will conduct himself as a Catholic theologian in the work of his research and teaching second, trust on the part of the theologian himself in the Church and in her integral teaching, since it is by her mandate that he carries out his task.” Since Küng had lost his trust in the integral teaching of the Church, the Church had a duty to say that it could no longer trust that he would conduct himself as a Catholic theologian. It is hard not to see the influence of Küng’s example and more than 50 books in the doctrinal confusion presently wounding the Church in Germany and afflicting heterodox theology faculties worldwide.

In the last 42 years of his life, while not recanting or revising any of his previous teachings and, sadly, doubling down on ones like assisted suicide — which he admitted he himself was considering as a result of Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, and macular degeneration that left him largely unable to see and to write — he dedicated himself to ecumenical efforts, to interreligious dialogue and to establishing a global code of ethics based on moral truths common to various major religions, the last an initiative that won the praise of Pope Benedict and many religious leaders. Küng seemed to be more comfortable — and effective — in non-Catholic settings in which he was building bridges somewhat of his own genius rather than faithfully standing with the living rock on whom Christ had built his Church, which Catholics profess is the pillar and foundation of the truth (Mt 16:13 1 Tim 3:15).

Cardinal Walter Kasper, who 60 years ago was Küng’s doctoral assistant, said that although Küng had “invented” his own theology rather than developed one based on the doctrine of the Church, his heart was always Catholic even if his behavior was not. Last summer, Kasper informed Pope Francis that Küng was near death and desired to die at peace with the Church. The Pope told Kasper to give Küng his blessing, something that Kasper interpreted as a “pastoral and human” reconciliation, although not a doctrinal one.

On Calvary, Jesus cried to the Father to forgive us because we do not know what we do. As we continue to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, we ask that that plea for ignorance embrace the clever Father Küng, so that he may be admitted one day to the vision of the One who must always remain the object of sacred theology.