The Renewal of the Clergy



August 14, 2022





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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



Post-Roe America!



August 7, 2022





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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



Choose Your Flag Wisely



July 31, 2022





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Responding to Mass Killings



July 24, 2022





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Communion and the Salvation of Souls



July 17, 2022





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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



foul language and the gospel



July 10, 2022





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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



Religious Liberty



July 3, 2022





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Triumph of the Victor-Victim



June 26, 2022





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Theophany of Jesus in the Eucharist



June 19, 2022





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

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

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

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

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


Have you met fr. Stu?



June 12, 2022





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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



a holy surprise



June 5, 2022





We live in the midst of chaotic times as we witness the meltdown of financial markets and the escalating effects of global conflicts. As crises continue to build, we may find ourselves confused or fearful. We may want to gather in the upper room of our lives with our closest friends and close the door on a troubled world. Yet chaos always calls for creative response, it always beckons us to open ourselves to a holy surprise.

Today is the Feast of Pentecost, that glorious final day of the season of resurrection. The apostles were together experiencing bewilderment over how to move forward when the Holy Spirit flowed among them and breathed courage into their hearts. It says that those who witnessed this event were "amazed and perplexed." Some were confused, others cynical. Peter reminds the crowds of the words the prophet Joel declared, that all will be called to dreams and visions, all will need to be attentive to signs and wonders. The story of Pentecost asks us this question: How do I let my expectations and cynicism close my heart to the new voice rising like a fierce wind?

The start of Lent probably feels like long ago. We began that journey marked with ashes, reminded of our earthiness and our limitations. Hopefully, we laid aside some of what weighs us down so that as we moved from the cross into resurrection, we could be more spacious and open to possibility. Pentecost immerses us in the brilliance of fire and the power of wind, calling us to trust in something bigger than ourselves, to remember that our imagining is always smaller than the divine reality.

In the Benedictine tradition, conversion is a central spiritual practice. Conversion for me essentially means making a commitment to always be surprised by God. Conversion is the recognition that we are all on a journey and always changing. God is always offering us something new within us. Conversion is a commitment to total inner transformation and a free response to the ways God is calling us. Eugene Peterson describes it this way: "What we must never be encouraged to do, although all of us are guilty of it over and over, is to force Scripture to fit our experience. Our experience is too small it's like trying to put the ocean into a thimble. What we want is to fit into the world revealed by Scripture, to swim in its vast ocean."

Pentecost demands that we listen with a willing heart and that we open ourselves to ongoing radical transformation. Soul work is always challenging and calls us beyond our comfort zone. Prayer isn't about embarking upon the status quo but entering into dynamic relationship with the God who always makes things new. Scripture challenges our ingrained patterns of belief, our habitual attitudes, and behavior. St. Benedict speaks to this in his Rule when he says, "Always begin again."

To be fully human and alive is to know the tension of our dustiness, our mortality, to be called to a profoundly healthy humility where we acknowledge that we can know very little of the magnificence of the divine Source of all. Once we have journeyed through the desert and stripped away the vestiges of our hubris, we can dance into the new life awaiting us.

The Spirit descends on those gathered together in a small room and breaks the doors wide open. Pentecost is a story of the courage that comes from breaking established boundaries. We may limit our vision through cynicism, but equally through certainty or cleverness. Sometimes we fear doubt so much that we allow it to make our thoughts rigid, we choose certainties and then never make space for the Spirit to break those open or apart. The things we feel sure that God does not care about may be precisely the source of healing for a broken world. Life isn't about knowing with more and more certainty.

Life is about moving more deeply into the mystery of God. I find that the older I get, the less sure I am about anything and the richer my life becomes as I make space for unknowing, expansiveness, and possibilities far beyond my capacity for imagining. On this Feast of Pentecost, if you do not find yourself perplexed or amazed, consider releasing the tight grip of your certain thoughts and make space for a holy surprise!


ascension of the lord 2022



May 29, 2022





In many dioceses of the United States, the Solemnity of the Ascension is no longer celebrated on Thursday of the 6th week of Easter but has been moved to the 7th Sunday of Easter, the Sunday that precedes Pentecost. The move has been made so that American Catholics have an opportunity to celebrate this important feast. Isn’t it remarkable that Catholics fill the Churches every year on Ash Wednesday, but seem to be too busy to celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord on a Thursday? Maybe the problem lies not in the day of the week. Maybe it’s the message that creates a problem for us? The message of Ash Wednesday is “Repent!” which in the final analysis means: “Do something!” … “Change something!” whereas the message of the Feast of the Ascension is simply: “Wait!” I wonder: Is repentance for some reason easier to grasp than waiting?


When I was reflecting on this question, I remembered the movie Star Wars. In the fifth episode young Luke Skywalker journeys to the planet Dagobah to train with Jedi Master Yoda, who has lived in hiding since the fall of the Republic. Luke starts his training with Yoda to learn the secrets of the Jedi. But before he can conclude it, Darth Vader lures Skywalker into a trap in the Cloud City of Bespin. Before leaving Dagobah, Yoda begs Luke to stay and finish his training. “You have to wait. You are not ready,” he urges him. But Luke knows that he has a mission to accomplish and leaves his teacher to rescue his friends, knowing that he was on his own and couldn’t rely on the help of the other Jedi.


I was reminded of this scene when I read the Gospel passage for the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord. After His resurrection, Jesus explains to His disciples the meaning of His death and resurrection and teaches them what to do. He gives them a mission: To witness His death and resurrection and preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all the nations. Jesus’ disciples must have felt like Luke Skywalker. They were eager to get started, to live out their mission, and to save the world. But Jesus reacts like Yoda and asks for patience: “… But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” What would we do? Would we reject the appeal of our teacher and follow our own agenda, as Luke did? Or are we better advised to step back and wait until we are “ready” and filled with the power from on high? I can understand Luke and the disciples, and I understand how hard it is to wait and accept somebody’s help if I am committed to a certain task and feel that I could do it on my own. Why should I wait? I want to do something and now!


In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul explains to the believers why it is important to have the Holy Spirit: The Spirit gives us knowledge of God and makes us understand “the hope that belongs to his call,” the “riches of glory” and the “greatness of his power.” It sounds like a lot of great things, doesn’t it?


As the disciples of Jesus, we too are sent to all the nations to give witness to these things. And “these things” are the mysteries of our faith, namely that the Messiah needed to suffer and rise to bring repentance and forgiveness. We truly need the Holy Spirit to fully understand this mystery that surpasses our human reasoning. There are too many people out there who preach their own agenda and make up their own “good news.” To be authentic witnesses of our faith, we need to understand the greater picture. And what exactly is the “greater picture” of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to the Father? What exactly is our “mission?”


In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul makes clear that our mission is not about what we do, but who we are: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor 13:103) As faithful disciples of the Lord, all our activities have to be grounded in love – love of God and love of neighbor. This is the gift of the Holy Spirit that has been poured out into our hearts. This is the core of our faith and the good news that we are called to announce to all the nations.


But we cannot do what God has called us to do without God’s help. That’s why we need to stop once in a while and reflect on whether we have waited sufficiently for the power of the Spirit, or if we are simply working impetuously in our own efforts. If we try to bring ahead the Church without the loving presence of the Holy Spirit in us, we run the risk of expending a lot of energy and activity without really carrying out our mission.


Whether we are celebrating the Feast of the Ascension on a Thursday or a Sunday, let us step back from our activities and our “to-do-list” and ask ourselves if our actions and plans are truly inspired by the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Love, or if we are following our own agenda. Let us pause and wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit, given to us on this first Pentecost some 2000 years ago. And let us pray that “our heart (may) be enlightened, that (we) may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe” (Eph 1:17-19).



Celebrating like it's 1622



May 22, 2022





In March, the Church marked the 400th anniversary of the joint canonization of four of the most influential figures not just in the counter-reformation but in all of Church history — Saints Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, and Philip Neri — together with the one who, at the time, King Philip IV tried to make the “headliner,” St. Isidore the Farmer.

St. Isidore was already devotionally the patron of the new Spanish capital of Madrid, and the Spanish monarch sponsored a theater structure within what is now St. Peter’s Square with scenes and miracles from St. Isidore’s life. Of course, it did not work because even with four Spaniards, they could not collectively match the popularity of the Italian St. Philip, only 27 years after his death. The Romans dubbed the canonization, quattro Spagnoli e un santo!, “Four Spaniards and a Saint!,” a quip that has similarly stood the test of time!

The quatercentenary is something I have looked forward to from the first time I had heard — during my college years — that all of these saints, to whom I had devotion, were canonized together. Perhaps the only liturgical dates I have looked forward to with greater anticipation are April 6-9 in 30 AD, which, if scholars are right, will be the two thousandth anniversary of the Last Supper, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. Even though the actual bimillennium of the Resurrection will take place on Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent in 2030, I am planning — if God permits me still to be around — to break the fast and celebrate with the joy befitting such an anniversary. I would encourage you to circle your calendar and, if God permits you, likewise, to be around, to join me!

For this 400th anniversary, I want to focus on how these five saints illustrate for us the call to conversion and holiness. With regard to holiness, St. Teresa showed us an extraordinary hunger for it as a seven-year-old resolving to journey immediately with her younger brother Rodrigo to Morocco to be martyred so that they could become a saint the quickest way possible. Their plan was foiled by a chance meeting with their uncle Francisco coming back from the hunt otherwise, we would have seen how they would have traversed the Mediterranean!

A similar desire for holiness ultimately characterized all five, but it did not come easily. It required conversion. After 19 years of religious life, Teresa needed to convert from laxity, lukewarmness, and a life of deliberate venial sin. Isidore needed to convert from fear in the face of criticism by co-workers. Philip Neri needed to convert from his Florentine desire to become rich. Francis Xavier needed to convert from a desire for ecclesiastical ambition to become, first, a famous priest professor, and, later, Bishop of Pamplona. And most famously of all, Ignatius needed to convert from a desire for worldly fame on the battlefield. After his right leg, however, was shattered and his left calf torn off by a cannonball, as he was biding his time reading lives of the saints during many months of convalescence, he was touched in conscience and asked why he could not respond to grace the way Francis of Assisi and Dominic of Guzman had before him. He eventually did. The Christian vocation is a call to holiness and all five show us how: turning away from sin and being truly faithful to the Gospel.

Each of them, likewise, was a person and a master-teacher of prayer. Through his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius is the most famous teacher of Christian meditation in the history of the Church. St. Teresa, together with her spiritual co-conspirator St. John of the Cross, is the greatest teacher of contemplation and cartographer of the prayerful journey of the soul. St. Isidore taught us how to pray our work. St. Philip showed us how to pray with the saints and to incorporate the beauty inspired by faith into our conversation with God. Finally, St. Francis Xavier taught us how to teach others to pray, as he creatively catechized so many converts in Goa and the Pearl Fishery Coast of India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Japan.

They also all gave witness to the greatest form of almsgiving, which is to share the most important gift of all, which is the gift of God. Each was incandescent with a desire to share the gift of faith. The most famous example is that of St. Francis Xavier, the greatest missionary in Church history after St. Paul. His 1544 letter from the trenches has stirred readers ever since. After describing how hard he was working to baptize the multitudes, he commented, “Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again, I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: ‘What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!’ I wish they would work as hard at this as they do at their books, and so settle their account with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them.”

He got that desire from the one to whom he sent the letter, St. Ignatius, whose whole life was a commentary on Jesus’ words, “I have come to set the earth on fire and how I wish it were already blazing!,” (Lk 12:49). St. Ignatius ignited a spiritual bonfire that lit the flame of generations of Jesuit missionaries who risked and, in many cases, gave their lives to bring the Gospel to the New World. A similar zeal characterized their brothers who founded educational institutions to carry out a deep penetration of the Gospel among those in Europe and areas already evangelized.

St. Teresa founded convents all over Spain on the principle that the first and most important aspect of the Church’s mission is to pray to the Harvest Master. On our own, she knew, we cannot make new disciples because faith is always a gift. We must beg them of God and that is what St. Teresa taught her Carmelites — and the whole Church — to do. St. Isidore sought to evangelize the farmers who worked alongside of him, and, together with his wife, St. Maria de la Cabeza, to spread the joy of faith to other couples, families, and their neighbors.

After having read St. Francis Xavier’s letters, St. Philip approached his spiritual director saying that he believed God was asking him to follow his Jesuit contemporary to India. The wise Cistercian told him, “No. Rome will be your Indies!” And he spent the rest of his life re-evangelizing Rome, cooperating with the gift of the Holy Spirit, through contagious joy, friendship, caring for the poor and sick, fun pilgrimages to different sanctuaries, opportunities for adult education and prayer, the sacrament of penance, and helping them appreciate what was really going on in the miracle of the Mass. Over the course of his time in Rome, the eternal city went from a traumatized moral cesspool to a converted city in which holiness was not only tolerated but seen to be what it really is, the path to the only happiness that endures. His example shows us that to be a Missionary, we do not have to go to far away places, but just as he made Rome his Indies, we are each called to make our neighbor, city, or town.

There are so many other angles we can focus on in their very rich lives. The main point is, however, that if we heed their lessons of conversion and holiness, of prayer and a love of neighbor so deep as to share with them the pearl of great price, the odds are we will be able, at the 500th anniversary, to celebrate with them in person — in that place where Christ, by what he did April 6-9, 30 AD made possible!


A Heart Stronger than weapons



May 15, 2022





On March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, marking the Incarnation of the Son of God in response to the Blessed Virgin Mary’s fiat, Pope Francis, in communion with bishops, priests, religious, and faithful throughout the world, solemnly prayed in front of the image of Our Lady of Fatima brought to St. Peter’s Basilica: “Mother of God and our Mother, to your Immaculate Heart we solemnly entrust and consecrate ourselves, the Church and all humanity, especially Russia and Ukraine. … Grant that war may end and peace spread throughout the world. The ‘Fiat’ that arose from your heart opened the doors of history to the Prince of Peace. We trust that, through your heart, peace will dawn once more. To you we consecrate the future of the whole human family, the needs and expectations of every people, the anxieties and hopes of the world.”

The consecration was done not only in response to the petition of many faithful but ultimately to a request of Mary herself during her private revelations to the three shepherd children in Fatima in 1917. After showing them an image of the souls of what sinners would experience in hell, she stated, “To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate heart. … I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart and the Communion of reparation on first Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted and there will be peace if not she will spread her errors through the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church, … [and] various nations will be annihilated.”

It is not necessary for Catholics to believe private revelations, but it is hard not to trust the credibility of the Fatima message, considering the incontestable miracle of the sun that occurred on October 13, 1917, as a foretold confirmation of the veracity of the apparitions, not to mention the clear fulfillment of Mary’s predictions to the shepherd children that “the Holy Father will have much to suffer” and a “bishop dressed in white” would be shot, something that happened on, of all days, May 13, 1981, the anniversary of the first of the Fatima apparitions. It is clear that the Popes have believed in and acted on Mary’s message in Fatima, consecrating the world repeatedly to her in 1942, 1964, 1982, and 1984.

Pope Francis was clear that he was recapitulating the consecration of his predecessors, saying in a homily moments before the act of consecration, “In union with the Bishops and faithful of the world, … I wish to renew to her the consecration of the Church and the whole of humanity, and to consecrate to her in a particular way the Ukrainian people and the Russian people who, with filial affection, venerate her as a Mother.”

The word “renew” was an unambiguous clarification for those who have never accepted that the consecration had been done properly before, that Pope Francis believes it had been done appropriately — as Sr. Lucia dos Santos, the surviving visionary, had affirmed, when she attested that St. John Paul II’s 1984 consecration was “done just as our Lady asked.”

Against other critics, who deem acts of devotion like a consecration to Mary’s Immaculate Heart as superstitious, Pope Francis responded plainly in his homily: “This is no magic formula but a spiritual act. It is an act of complete trust on the part of children who, amid the tribulation of this cruel and senseless war that threatens our world, turn to their Mother, … reposing all our fears and pain in her heart and abandoning ourselves to her.” He framed it within the context of what Mary herself did in Cana, where she “interceded with Jesus and he worked the first of his signs.” Pope Francis was asking Mary to intercede with that same Son for the gift of peace.

The ultimate meaning of this act of consecration to Mary’s heart was explained by the future Pope Benedict XVI in a commentary accompanying the June 26, 2000, publication the third part of the Message of Fatima. He noted that the remedy proposed by Mary to the shepherd children — devotion to her Immaculate Heart and consecration of Russia to it — might initially seem surprising. But he said that since the heart indicates the center of human life and since Jesus says that the pure of heart see God (Mt 5:8), “to be devoted to the Immaculate Heart of Mary means therefore to embrace this attitude of heart that makes the fiat— ‘your will be done’ — the defining center of one’s whole life.”

When Mary says, “My Immaculate Heart will triumph,” the future Pope Benedict XVI commented, she means to communicate that “the heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God, is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind.” The fiat emanating from her pure heart, he continued, “has changed the history of the world, … because thanks to her ‘Yes,’ God could become man in our world and remains so for all time.”

Mary’s heart will triumph because a heart pure like hers is ultimately stronger than all the hearts full of hatred and violence, and ultimately more powerful than bullets, tanks, hypersonic missiles, and even threatened nuclear bombs.

But what Pope Francis led the universal Church to do on March 25, the anniversary of Mary’s initial fiat, must not remain just a one-time extrinsic rite. The consecration he asked all the members of the Church to pray with him is meant to be lived and renewed by believers. Together with the Holy Father, we were asking Mary not only to pray for an end to war and restore peace but to grant each of us a heart like hers. That is an ongoing process, because what Pope Francis did was not a “magic formula but a spiritual act,” one that is meant to lead to a true spirituality of life.

Pope Francis pointed to this as he finished the act of consecration. He prayed: “Our Lady of the ‘Fiat,’ on whom the Holy Spirit descended, restore among us the harmony that comes from God. … In your womb Jesus took flesh help us to foster the growth of communion. You once trod the streets of our world lead us now on the paths of peace.”

The path of peace involves a fiat to God’s will not the will to power. It involves a heart like Mary’s that ponders, treasures, and enfleshes God’s Word. It involves an entrustment to Mary’s motherhood, prayers, and powerful intercession. Let us renew the consecration of ourselves to her heart full of love each day until the war is ended — and beyond.


A Time for Continuing Renewal and Reparations



May 8, 2022





This year, as we mark the twentieth anniversary of the beginning of the toxic avalanche of revelations about decades of clergy sexual abuse of minors in Boston and beyond, the two headlines are clear. The first is the unfathomable scope of what had happened and remained hidden prior to that apocalypse: tens of thousands of victims, thousands of clerical molesters, hundreds of bishops, and senior chancery officials who had covered up the abuse and transferred the abusers, and the entrenched culture of corruption that enabled all of it.


Prior to 2002, Catholics in the US were familiar with the notorious cases of Fr. Gilbert Gauthe who admitted to molesting 37 boys in the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, and Fr. James Porter who pleaded guilty to abusing 28 children in the Diocese of Fall River, but these were, most thought, isolated priestly psychopaths. They were, instead, just the tip of the satanic iceberg.


I will never forget on Sunday, January 6, 2002, reading the Boston Globe Spotlight Team’s first report of its investigations of clergy sexual abuse in the Boston Archdiocese. I could barely breathe. The numbers. The names and faces of accused priests. The questions. The volcano of emotions. The prayers for guidance as I headed to Church as a seminarian and would receive honest questions for which I knew I would have no satisfactory answers.


As a young seminarian, I was not unused to hearing about evil things that people, mainly out of weakness, occasionally commit. Learning about the torture some victims had endured, and the malice and mendacity with which they had been met by some Church officials, was like a second seminary experience, preparing me for a priesthood that I knew would be far different than I had imagined, and filling me with a righteous indignation against what they suffered that has never waned.


There is a temptation, especially with things that cause us shame, to try to put them behind us, to turn the page, to change the channel. That temptation is Himalayan with regard to the clergy sex abuse scandals. But just like the Germans have to wrestle with the difficult, indeed sickening, history of the rise of Hitler, the dehumanization of the Jews, and their industrialized annihilation by one of the world’s most advanced and educated societies, so the Church must confront and never forget that while we were experiencing before our eyes the fulfillment of Christ’s parable of the mustard seed — with the foundation and building up of so many Catholics parishes, schools, universities, chanceries, and other institutions, and even the election of the first Catholic president — something truly sinister was taking place in those same institutions, in the seed-beds (seminaries) and among the sowers.


That is the first headline of the twentieth anniversary, as it should be at the fiftieth, hundredth, and every anniversary. The second is far more hopeful. It is that the evils exposed in 2002 have proven to be reserved, for the most part, to well prior to 2002. The seminary reforms of St. John Paul II in the early 1990s, the rigorous measures taken by the US Bishops in Dallas in 2002, the sanitizing spotlight of the media, the civil lawsuits that have cost the Church billions in assets and more in reputation, the “special attention” given by district attorneys and attorney generals, the clamoring for accountability from lay groups, faithful, and reform-minded clergy, the prayers of the saints on earth and in heaven, and the scourging and merciful grace of God have all played a role.


It is safe to say that since 2002, the cancer of the sexual abuse of minors in the Church in the U.S. has been in remission. New cases have been extremely rare. While it is hyperbole to say that Church institutions are now the “safest places in the world for kids,” it is demonstrably true to say that in Catholic parishes, schools, and programs — because of all of the standard background checks, anti-abuse training, recognition of grooming techniques, mandatory reporting mechanisms and more — are indeed safe places for children and teens, as they must remain. That is the second headline. While the twentieth anniversary is certainly not a cause for celebration, it is an occasion for gratitude and redoubled commitment: protecting kids, caring for victims, and reforming the Church in the virtues opposed to the sinful and criminal vices that brought the Church to one of the lowest points in its history.


Twenty years into the rebuilding process, it is also time to address its by now obvious imperfections. When the U.S. Bishops convened in Dallas in 2002 to draft their Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its accompanying Norms, they did so under panic and pressure from the press, lawsuits, and furious faithful. They got most of the big stuff right in terms of holding offenders accountable, responding quickly to allegations, cooperating with civil authorities, committing to the healing and reconciliation of victims, and ensuring that the priesthood — and parish staffs and volunteer teams more broadly — was no place for those who would harm the young.


But it has become evident that in the atmosphere of hasty duress, some things were left out of balance. It is time for the Church to rectify these shortcomings. One was the bishops’ failure to hold themselves accountable to the Charter and Norms, something that has thankfully been remedied by Pope Francis’ 2019 apostolic letter Vos Estis, precipitated by the scandalous disclosures about abuse committed by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.


The biggest problem regards justice toward accused priests, to ensure they do not become scapegoated victims of false accusations. The original understanding of the undefined term “credible” allegations was absurdly low: it meant that the charge was not patently “impossible,” that the priest was not already dead when the abuse took place and that the allegation involved a who, what, when, and where. If the priest had a rock-solid alibi and sterling character with youth, if the accuser had a reputation for chronic dishonesty, if the details were incoherent and contradictory, it really did not matter. The priest was removed for the length of an inexcusably glacial investigation, a press release published, the presumption of innocence given lip service, and his reputation effectively ruined.


Bishops have been reluctant to veer from what they committed to in Dallas, lest they seem soft on child sexual abuse, but as every child in first grade catechesis knows, two wrongs do not make a right. Some bishops and review boards have tried to invent an undefined term “substantiated” to get beyond the concerns with the word “credible,” but after too many false accusations, now is the time to ensure that the procedures are fair toward both accuser and accused and rightly foster a swift and just outcome. The classic principle of the Golden Rule would seem to apply: Bishops would do well to treat their priests, Church employees, and volunteers by the same principles by which not only they would want to be treated but actually, sanely and equitably, are.


It is also time to courageously address the real causes of the crisis, the most prominent of which was a widespread culture of episcopal tolerance toward priestly sexual sins with adults within even a wider tolerance among the faithful toward the vices of the sexual revolution. If the clergy are not held accountable to keeping the ten commandments, then no one should be surprised if the forces of Hell lead them to transgress further boundaries and commit sins that cry out to heaven. This twentieth anniversary is a time for reparation and continued conversion in which the Church builds on what we have gotten right and corrects what still needs to be rectified.



Pledge to pray 5,000 Rosaries for DMP and SEAS



May 1, 2022





Dear Parishioners and Friends of Divine Mercy Parish,


In 2017, Matthew Kelly, noted Catholic author, speaker, and founder of the “Dynamic Catholic” movement, began a campaign called “5,000,000 Rosaries for America.” Looking back to the dreams of America’s Founding Fathers for freedom, equality, and lives full of happiness and opportunity, Matthew wrote:
“Amidst the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, we have lost sight of this dream.


Today in America, we have bigger houses, but smaller families better technology, but worse connection fully loaded cars, but empty churches more education, but less common sense. We strive for peace, but violence is rampant. We have more kinds of food, but a greater spiritual hunger. We are quick to judge, but slow to love. We have multiplied our possessions but reduced our values. Something is wrong, isn't it? Something needs changing. One of the most effective ways we can change things is through prayer.”


Matthew Kelly asked people all over the country to join together in praying 5 million rosaries for America! He said “The rosary is an incredibly powerful prayer. It has the power to bring peace the power to heal the power to transform your life, the lives of your loved ones, your community, and our nation.” People then pledged to pray the rosary. Whether pledging to pray one rosary or 100, together, all these prayers make a difference!


In the month of May, pledge to get involved by praying the rosary for Divine Mercy Parish and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School. The Rosary is an incredibly beautiful prayer, with the power to bring peace, to heal, and to transform lives. We are sponsoring a parish-wide campaign during the month of May, a month dedicated to our Blessed Mother, challenging every parishioner and school family to join us and make a positive difference by praying the rosary for the mission and ministry of Divine Mercy Parish and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School. As the family of God here at Divine Mercy Parish and SEAS, we need to always grow in our understanding and appreciation of the parish as a gracious gift from God, as a unique instrument of grace in our lives.


Where the Church’s mission must be most visible and most alive is in the church parish. The parish is the privileged place where people are “gathered in the name of the Lord” and where they receive the challenge to go to the world as active participants in God’s plan and as living witnesses to the one Lord. It is at the parish that inter-personal relationships are born and lived out as in a family. There the members of the parish interact, mutually support, and sacrifice their time and resources for one another. Above all, it is in the parish where we gather to hear God’s Word that sharpens our Gospel vision where we eat the Body and drink the Blood that revitalizes our strength to continue our journey together as pilgrims in a land that is not our permanent home.


As Mary and the Apostles were gathered at Pentecost awaiting the empowerment of the Spirit to spread the Good News, we too stand on the threshold as we continue to hold fast to the mission entrusted to us at Divine Mercy Parish and SEAS. Our Rosary Campaign is the first step in providing people a Church parish and a home for their faith that is marked by more faithful discipleship, a loving community, and an inspired source for witness. Let us see ourselves gathered, gifted, and sent to make our presence as Church a source of blessing to the world.


How will our Rosary Campaign work? Simply follow the THREE Ps!


Pick: Think of how many rosaries you (and your family) wish to pray as you lift up Divine Mercy Parish and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in prayer during that time. (ex: If a family of 4 prays 1 Rosary per week together for the month of May, that family will pray 16 Rosaries total for the month of May and thus should pledge 16 Rosaries.)


Pledge: Head to the narthex of the Church and find the large glass vase on the center table. Grab as many blue glass beads as rosaries you (and your family) will pray together from the small containers and place the beads in the tall vase to show our Parish and School's Progress. Want to pledge from afar? Perhaps you are a friend of Divine Mercy Parish or an out-of-town grandparent of a SEAS student. We’ve got you covered! Simply submit an online pledge form: www.divinemercyparish.org/5k-rosaries. We'll be sure to count your pledges in the large vase for you.


Pray: Spend the month of May in prayer, remembering to honor your pledge. Feel free to pray in our Church before or after Mass, visit our Adoration Chapel when you're stressed, pray using the AMEN App, or even ask some friends or family members to join you (and add their beads into the jar the next time you come to Mass).


Take time to watch the blue beads in the large glass jar grow as the number of pledges continue to pour in so all can see what we can accomplish together. Let us do something bold in our parish! Whether pledging to pray one rosary or 40, all these prayers make a difference because …. PRAYER CAN CHANGE EVERYTHING!

Fr. Robert T. Cooper, Pastor

Divine Mercy Parish and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School



Grace for sinners alone



April 24, 2022





The night Pope Francis was elected, I downloaded a copy of his 2010 book-length interview, El Jesuita (eventually translated into English as Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio) and started speed-reading. About three in the morning, I got to a passage that made me slam on the contemplative breaks.

“For me,” he said, “feeling oneself a sinner is one of the most beautiful things that can happen, if it leads to its ultimate consequences. … When a person becomes conscious that he is a sinner and is saved by Jesus, he proclaims this truth to himself and discovers the pearl of great price, the treasure buried in the field. He discovers the greatest thing in life: that there is someone who loves him profoundly, who gave his life for him.”

That was the experience he himself had as a 16-year-old boy during confession, when he experienced God calling him to be a priest. It is what caused him to choose as his episcopal and papal motto Miserando atque Eligendo, pointing to how God, who came to sinners, calls us often straight from our sins. It is what prompted him to accept the papacy with the words, “I am a sinner, but having entrusted myself to the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ and in a spirit of penance, I accept.” It is what inspired him to say in his first Angelus greeting, “God never tires of forgiving us, but it’s we who tire of asking for forgiveness” and to pray that we would never tire of asking what God never tires to give. It is what roused him to declare a Jubilee of Mercy and establish the Missionaries of Mercy. It is what triggered him, based on the Parables of the Lost Sons, Lost Sheep, and Lost Coin to proclaim that “God’s greatest joy is forgiving,” to urge frequent reception of the Sacrament of Confession and to ask us to help others to come to receive that same sacramental gift.

Despite the joy that comes both to God and us through feeling oneself a sinner infinitely loved and forgiven by God, the future Pope continued, many Catholics have sadly never had this fundamental Christian experience. “There are people who believe the right things, who have received catechesis and accepted the Christian faith in some way, but who do not have the experience of having been saved,” Cardinal Bergoglio lamented. When we were like a child drowning in a river, Christ jumped into the water to save us, and died so that we might live, he said. But there are people who refuse this analogy, “who always have escape hatches from the situation of drowning and who therefore lack the experience of who they are.”

He concluded, “I believe that only we great sinners have this grace.” Only sinners need a Savior. Only the sick, as Jesus said to the Pharisees, need a physician (Mk 2:17). The only way we will experience “the greatest thing in life” is to recognize that we are “great sinners.” The only way each of us will appreciate the depth of the Lord’s love is to grasp, as we confess at the beginning of each Mass, that “I have greatly sinned … through my most grievous fault.”

The knowledge we gain of God through receiving His mercy makes us, as St. Ambrose taught in the fourth century, even better off than we would have been had we never sinned and needed God’s mercy. “We who have sinned more have gained more,” Ambrose prayed to the Lord in a commentary on the Psalms, “because your grace [of mercy] makes us more blessed than our absence of fault does.” In one of the Ambrosian liturgical prefaces he inspired, the Church praises God because “You bent down over our wounds and healed us, giving us a medicine stronger than our afflictions, a mercy greater than our fault. In this way even sin, by virtue of your invincible love, served to elevate us to the divine life.”

The problem is that many refuse to recognize sin or to admit that they are sinners. There is an eclipse of conscience and a loss of the sense of sin that Pope Pius XI once said was the greatest sin of the twentieth century. Pope St. John Paul II commented that secularism — living as if God does not exist — eventually leads us to seek to eliminate all vestiges of God from our daily life. We reduce sin from what offends God to what offends man. We deny or relativize moral norms we do not like. Rather than take responsibility for our free actions, we blame our failings on our upbringing, or on society or on others.

Many are tempted, John Paul II wrote, “to replace exaggerated attitudes of the past with other exaggerations: From seeing sin everywhere they pass to not recognizing it anywhere from too much emphasis on the fear of eternal punishment they pass to preaching a love of God that excludes any punishment deserved by sin from severity in trying to correct erroneous consciences they pass to a kind of respect for conscience that excludes the duty of telling the truth.”

The world wants sin to be canonized not confessed and absolved. The Lamb of God came into the world to take away sin, not to hallow it. On this point, Pope Francis throughout his papacy has repeatedly distinguished between “sinners” and the “corrupt.” The corrupt, he says, are “sinners like us” but have become “solidified in sin such that they don’t feel the need for God.” A sinner does not want to sin, he states, “but is weak … and so he goes to the Lord and asks to be forgiven.” Someone who is corrupt denies he is a sinner in need of mercy. Jesus, Pope Francis says, “does not call [the corrupt] simply sinners. He calls them hypocrites.” Full of self-deceit, they become like “whitewashed tombs” or “varnished putrefaction.” Though Jesus never tires of forgiving, the minimal prerequisite is openness to receiving that clemency, and the corrupt refuse to acknowledge such a need. “This is also a danger for us,” Pope Francis reminds us, lest we be tempted to pick up stones or point fingers.

The fitting remedy to this hardening of the heart is ardent devotion to Divine Mercy, revealed by Jesus to Saint Faustina Kowalska, and lived in a particular way in the novena between Good Friday and Divine Mercy Sunday. This helps us not only to grow in trust of God’s mercy and in our recognition that we are great sinners deeply loved by God but moves us to come to receive that gift and share it.

Divine Mercy is the path that will lead us to what the Pope calls the greatest thing in life.


Easter Message 2022



April 17, 2022





Easter Sunday – “the day the Lord has made” – the day that defines who we are as believers in Jesus Christ!


From the very early days of the Church, belief in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead was what set His followers apart from others and what changed their lives dramatically. This belief, however, was not based simply on experiences that only a few people had on the first Easter day. Rather, belief in the Risen Jesus was – and is – based on the continual, transforming experience of the power of God present and at work in communities of faith, communities that were given life through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit poured forth into creation through the resurrection of the Lord.


On Holy Saturday night during the great Vigil of Easter, catechumens from our parish were baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and candidates presented themselves for full communion in the Catholic Church. These catechumens and candidates – our relatives, neighbors, and friends – joined with tens of thousands of catechumens and candidates from around the world to publicly profess their faith in Jesus Christ and to assume their place in His body, the Church. Their very presence in our midst affirms the reality of the Risen Christ continually working in and through His daughters and sons, who proclaim His Word, experience His life in the sacraments, and live His Gospel in humble service.


Admittedly, there is often a tension present in our world regarding what we believe lies at the heart of the Easter event and all that it calls us to do and to be. To the cynic who doesn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus, there is little that anyone can say to prove the fact that Jesus lives in our midst and that we will rise to new life with Him. But to people of faith who live with this hope, there is nothing that anyone can say to disprove His life, death, and resurrection!


Every one of us lives with a desire to fill the emptiness of our lives with meaning and purpose. We Christians profess the belief that in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, we discover the means to a life of deep fulfillment. We celebrate the fact that through the power of God, Jesus’ death on the cross was not the end of the story of His life. Rather, His death leads to a transformed, new life won through His triumph over sin, death, and the power of evil in our world – a life rooted in the mercy and love of God – and a life that we are privileged to make our own through faith.


The mystery and gift of Easter affirms that as we listen to and reflect upon the Word of God, as we receive the very life of Jesus in the Eucharist, and as we live our lives in loving service of our sisters and brothers as Jesus taught us, we continually encounter the Risen One. At the same time, this encounter imparts to us the mission of evangelization, the proclamation of the Risen Christ through our embrace of His life, His forgiveness, and His selfless love.


Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, captured the heart of the Easter message and the mission of evangelization in simple words that he shared in his inaugural Mass. “Let us never forget that authentic power is service. … To protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called.”


My dear sisters and brothers, thank you for your dedicated service to the Gospel and for all that you do to build up our parish family here at Divine Mercy Parish and to share the glory of the Risen Christ. Despite the crosses and wounds that so many of you bear, your unquestionable faith and selfless ways, along with your kindness and support of one another, are daily reminders to me and so many others of the living presence of Jesus in our midst. Through lives of faithful service that flow from your encounter with the person of Jesus, our world is richly blest.


Easter Sunday is indeed the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad!



The Choice we face



April 10, 2022





From the time I was a child, participating in the reading of the Passion account on Palm Sunday and Good Friday has always been jarring. The most discomfiting, even interiorly violent, part is the dialogue between Pontius Pilate and the crowd assembled in the praetorium. After parading a scourged Jesus in royal purple with a crown of thorns before them, the procurator asks, as part of the paschal pardon, whom the crowd wants to be released to them, Jesus or Barabbas. I still remember as a young child looking around scandalized as packed Churches full of adults, having been asked whether they preferred the Lord or a notorious prisoner (Mt 27:16), revolutionary (Jn 18:40), and murderer (Mk 15:7), shouted out “Barabbas!” When Pilate asked what they wanted to be done to Jesus and everyone — including my parents — clamored repeatedly, “Crucify him!” I became sick to my stomach. Later, in college, I attended a Good Friday Commemoration of the Passion sung in beautiful polyphony except for that dialogue with Pilate, which was fittingly sung in the most discordant and diabolically shrill ways possible. Since ordination, even though I now say the part of Jesus, it still staggers me, with the visceral disquiet of my childhood, to hear Christians bellow for Barabbas and clamor for Christ’s crucifixion.

How could anyone have shockingly barked for Barabbas and hollered for Jesus’ death? Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in his powerful meditations on the Way of the Cross, helps us all to see how in every moral decision we are faced with a similarly momentous choice. “How would I have answered [Pilate’s] question had I been in the courtyard that Good Friday morning?” Sheen asked. “I cannot escape answering by saying that the question belongs only to the past, for it is as actual now as ever. My conscience is the tribunal of Pilate. Daily, hourly, and every minute of the day, Christ comes before that tribunal, as virtue, honesty, and purity Barabbas comes as vice, dishonesty, and uncleanness. As often as I choose to speak the uncharitable word, do the dishonest action, or consent to the evil thought, I say in so many words, ‘Release unto me Barabbas,’ and to choose Barabbas means to crucify Christ.”

Every choice between good and evil, Sheen stressed, is between Christ and Barabbas-in-disguise. If Christ was crucified to take away the sins of the world, every sin, to some degree, is a choice for Him to die. We obviously do not like to think about sin this way. We would prefer to think about our sins, at most, as peccadillos, as a failure in spiritual manners, rather than a betrayal like that to which Judas, Peter, and the other apostles succumbed on Holy Thursday, or like that to which the crowds, five days after hailing Jesus with palm branches, yielded on Good Friday. We may be urged on by popular opinions — like those in the courtyard were swept up by the instigation of those, including religious leaders, who wanted Jesus executed in the most sadistic manner possible — but we cannot evade personal responsibility for the connection between our sins and Jesus’ suffering and death.

There are many illustrations of this difficult-to-accept reality of sin, but one of the clearest, and most actual, is concerning sexual morality. Since the sexual revolution in the 1960s, the sexual ethics lived and proclaimed by Christ and the Church He founded has been subject to ridicule by various parties who have rightly grasped that the Gospel of human love in the divine plan stands as the biggest obstacle to their transvaluation of human sexuality, love, marriage, parenthood, family, children, and life. When given a choice between Christ and Hugh Hefner, Harvey Milk, or Ru Paul, many in recent decades have said, “Give me Barabbas.” When presented with a decision between adoring the chaste Christ and staring at pornography, many have opted for the fallen passions that precipitated Christ’s Passion. When comparing the Christian idea of marriage and the family with the modern conception of husbandless or wifeless unions, fatherless or motherless procreation, and an approach to sexual activity whenever, wherever, however, with whomever one wants, many choose the way of lust rather than love. Even when confronted with the undeniable casualties of the sexual revolution, like the victims of Robert Aaron Long, Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, and the others shamed by the #MeToo movement, the women enslaved and commodified through human trafficking, and all those whose lives have been upended because of the epidemic of broken families, marriages, and hearts, there’s been the denunciation of the effects but a failure courageously to look at and eradicate the cause. No connection is made between these rancid fruits and the poisonous tree that produces them. No connection is made, either, between such evils and the reason why Christ entered the world and was crucified. A wanton Barabbas continues to be defended at all costs, chosen and even celebrated.

On Good Friday, Pilate asks, “Whom do you want me to release to you?” Christ and Barabbas stand before us. To choose Christ means to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Him, metaphorically chopping off our hands and feet and plucking out of eyes if they lead us to sin and embracing His call to virtue and holiness. To choose Christ means to reject sin. This goes for everyone, no matter our state of life. And those who truly love Christ will similarly seek to have others choose Christ, embrace His call, and avail themselves of the graces given to live in accordance with the blessing of the truth.


Blessed are the peacemakers



April 3, 2022





As we witness the appalling images of death and destruction from Ukraine and many — including some national leaders — behave as if they’re impotent before the atrocities being committed, such a helpless attitude can never be the response of a Christian who lives the faith. Christians have received from Jesus the vocation to be peacemakers, not peace-wishers or peace-dreamers. By our baptism we have become children of God, and — as Jesus made clear in His declaration, “Blessed are the peacemakers” — true children of God are those who restore and build peace (Mt 5:9).

To be a disciple of the Prince of Peace (Is 9:5) means to be a peacemaker. During the Last Supper, Jesus gave us and left us His peace (Jn 14:27) and backed up that gift by His first words to the apostles after His resurrection “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19). He sent His disciples town-to-town and even house-to-house to offer that gift of peace (Mt 10:12) and spoke regularly about the conditions — like fraternity, humility, and forgiveness — that are necessary for lasting peace.

To be a faithful Christian is to be on the front line in the battle for peace. It means to live according to the terms of Christ’s definitive peace plan and to commit oneself to the arduous communal effort to guide peoples into the path of peace (Lk 1:79). It does not mean to adopt utopian fantasies that fail to consider the consequence of the existence of evil, chosen by leaders who attack and bomb rather than love their neighbors. It also does not mean to forget the essential responsibilities leaders have to protect their peoples from unjust attacks and to remedy the evil being suffered, including, when necessary, trying with just and proportionate means to defeat the aggressor and restore justice.

But since peace is both a divine gift and the fruit of human effort, peacemaking involves two interconnected activities: imploring God for the gift of peace and collaborating in the long and demanding battle to defeat evil by good. It involves, first, prayer. Sacred Scripture is full of believers’ praying for peace and as well as God’s response to those prayers. We see the miracles worked for the Israelites in Egypt, the Jews in Babylon, Samson before the Philistines, Esther before Ahasuerus, the prophets before corrupt rulers, the Maccabees before the Greeks, and so many other examples where people prayed as if their lives depended on it, because, in fact, they did. The Psalms are similarly replete with prayers that the Lord will bless us with peace, that we will seek and pursuit it, that peace and justice will wed (Ps 29:11 34:15 85:11).

In the face of war, prayer is not an escape. It is not a placebo taken in substitution for real medicine that might address the cancer of conflict. It is a recognition that only an intervention from on high can help untie seemingly unbreakable knots. It is also a way by which our gaze can go beneath the surface of history and entrenched animosities to a source of peace even deeper than the legacy of sin. To bring peace to the world, as St. John Paul II wrote in his 1992 Message for the World Day of Peace, before human resources, there must be, “intense, humble, confident and persevering prayer.” That is because “prayer is par excellence the power needed to implore that peace and obtain it. It gives courage and support to all who love this good and desire to promote it.” He added that because prayer is the authentic expression of a right relationship with God and others, it is already a positive contribution to peace and a hopeful testimony, even in the seemingly direst of circumstances, that “nothing is impossible with God” (Lk 1:37).

In terms of prayers Catholic peacemakers can offer, the foremost will always remain the Mass, by which we enter into Christ’s prayer from the Upper Room and Calvary in which He signed with blood the definitive peace treaty for the human race. In the Mass we turn to Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the world’s sins and beg, “Grant us peace.” We implore Him, “Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your apostles, ‘Peace I leave you, my peace I give you look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will.” We extend to each other the peace of the Lord and, with God’s blessing, are dismissed in peace to announce the Gospel of the Lord and to glorify Him with our life.

Catholic tradition has similarly prized the Rosary as a prayer for peace, especially since the miraculous victory of the Christian fleet in the 1571 Battle of Lepanto seemingly because of the prayers of the Rosary in Rome led by Pope St. Pius V. This privileged prayer to the Queen of Peace has been efficaciously invoked in time of conflict and regularly proposed by the popes as a prayer for peace. In his 2002 Exhortation on the Rosary, St. John Paul II said, “One cannot recite the Rosary without feeling caught up in a clear commitment to advancing peace.” Through it we learn the “secret of peace,” grow in “hope that, even today, the difficult ‘battle’ for peace can be won,” and are inspired to make peace our “life’s project.” In a word, he says, “by focusing our eyes on Christ, the Rosary makes us peacemakers in the world.”

The second thing peacemaking involves is action, which flows from prayer. Rather than “offering an escape from the problems of the world,” John Paul II insists that prayer “obliges us to see them with responsible and generous eyes.” Prayer reminds us that God is with us always. It emboldens us to tackle even the most intractable problems with patience, realism, perseverance, and hope. It impels us to beg God to make us “instruments” of His peace and to bear witness, in every way at our disposal, to the “Gospel of peace” (Eph 6:15), cooperating with other believers and all people of good will in the immense work to bring it about.

So, in response to the situation in the Ukraine and the other conflicts plaguing our world, we are not powerless spectators. Rather, through prayer and the charity that flows from it, we are influential participants as peacemakers living up to our identity as children of God. And so we pray and act with confidence, as disciples of the Risen Prince of Peace, who has conquered crucifixion, snatched victory out of the claws of death, and brought the greatest good from the greatest evil.


Beyond giving up chocolate



March 27, 2022





From the time we were children, our first question for Lent was often, “What are you giving up for Lent?” Giving something up for these 40 days is a custom that, when we were younger, helped us enter into the season with a sense of purpose and a greater awareness. As adults, we might want to consider looking at Lent in a deeper way. We are probably much more settled into our behaviors and patterns of life and sometimes giving up something is where we begin -- and end -- our reflections on Lent. It can be tempting to say “I am giving up chocolate” or beer or even all sweets and all alcohol. But without more reflection, it can simply become a way I show God how strong I am. It is more about me than any conversation with God.


Lent isn’t simply about us “giving up” something. The real grace is when we recognize that Lent is a season in which God wants to give us something. God wants to help us transform our lives and make us freer as a people -- not just freer with God, but in the way we live our lives and love our families. It is much easier for us to simply choose something to give up -- then we can dismiss Lent! “I am giving up TV for Lent.” “I am giving up movies ... snacks ... soft drinks.” We give it up and exercise our willpower for 40 days to prove to ourselves and to God that we can do it. And at the end of Lent, we can return to what we gave up.


But this year we might reflect and ask the deeper question: What is God inviting me to change this Lent? How do I know what God might be stirring in me? I begin by listening to the movements in my heart. Where am I feeling uncomfortable with the choices I am making? With the things I have done? With the habitual ways I respond? The Lord will be speaking to me in those small nagging moments of discomfort in my heart.


It might be that we know deep down that we drink too much and that giving up alcohol would make us less irritable each night. Then giving up alcohol would be the right thing. Asking what we would like to change about ourselves this Lent requires a little reflection. What pattern of behavior in my life needs changing? What do I need more of in my life? Patience? Unselfishness? More loving behavior toward my spouse or children? But each of us can think of something that gets in the way of our being loving and self-sacrificing. Too often the ordinary conflicts, divisions, and difficulties in our family life result from simple selfishness on our part. We choose to fight. We choose to defend our opinion. We choose to use things we know about our spouse, our children, our parents against them. We choose to hurt them.


We can ask: And what would it cost me to not change this behavior? What would it mean if I didn’t walk around my family acting crabby all the time? What if I decided to be much more loving and patient with my spouse this Lent? What if I did decide to “give up” something really destructive in my life, like alcohol, pornography, or online friendships? As I reflect, I might realize that changing a particular way I live is coming to me as a call from God, and I don't have to do it alone. God is moving my heart to reflect on these changes and God will remain faithful and help me to stay open to the grace being offered to me for change.


Where do we need a breakthrough? What is the barrier that keeps us from asking for healing? In our own lives, we need to break through our denials, defensiveness, and our unwillingness to look at ourselves. Discovering what the barrier is in my life is critical. If we don’t know what the barrier is, these weeks of Lent are a great time to reflect upon it. When we identify the barrier, we have made the breakthrough. That's when Jesus can heal us of this burden or affliction.


Why is this a good Lenten penance? Because it gets my attention where I live every day. It allows God’s grace into my soul and into the place where my real life exists. That's where Jesus stands with me every day, waiting for me to be lowered from the roof so he can touch me and heal me.



Equipped to Proclaim a Prolife Message



March 20, 2022





Because of the upcoming Supreme Court decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, it is likely that most of us will soon be in a lot more conversations about abortion. After the oral arguments on the case on December 1, experts on both sides of the abortion debate, analyzing the questions made by the Justices, are predicting that the Court, will either uphold a 2018 Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy (and permit other states to do so) or go further and overturn Roe v. Wade outright, making it possible for states to ban abortion altogether. Either way, if they are right, the principal forum of abortion debate and law will soon shift, after 49 years, from the Supreme Court to statehouses, and from nine unelected justices to regularly-up-for-election state representatives, senators, and governors.

That shift means that there will be a lot more consequential discussions happening about abortion policy, not just in state capitals, but in the debates for state offices, and among those who vote. For the past half-century, abortion has played a major role in electoral politics at various levels since a candidate’s position on abortion is a bellwether of that candidate’s hierarchy of values. For many officeholders, however, their position on abortion often has been not much more than political virtue signaling to their base or party, since, for the most part, the major decisions had been seized by the courts. Now state legislative debates and decisions are primed to become much more — literally — about life and death.

Similarly for citizens, abortion discussions will go from exchanges of “opinions” that seldom matter little to ultimate decision-making, to conversations with far greater responsibility. Over dinner tables, in classrooms, around water coolers, in supermarkets, gyms, and community centers, on social media, podcasts, websites and blogs, newspapers, television and radio talk shows, those opinions will be shared, formed, and perhaps changed, with ever greater intensity and potential impact on minds, hearts, elections, public policy and, eventually, wombs.

There will, of course, still be intractable shouting matches on cable news programs involving trained spokesmen sloganeering past each other — a heat rather than a light-producing caricature of what should be taking place for a subject of such sensitivity and importance for women, men, and children. But abortion arguments will now increasingly take place among friends and family members, not professional debaters. Some will have strong principles and ideas others will have mixed and even confusing thoughts and feelings, as they seek to get out from under catchphrases and propaganda to understand, evaluate, weigh, and prioritize the truths and values involved. This reopened, public, cross-society discussion on abortion that the Dobbs decision augurs — with vast ramifications at the realm of law and policy, not to mention in individual human lives — is something that faithful Catholics should be ready for.

To be Catholic — as the Catechism, the Popes, and the US Bishops make unambiguously clear, despite the attempt of some prominent Catholic figures to pretend and behave otherwise — is to be Pro-Life. Jesus says that whatever we do to the least of his brothers and sisters we do to Him to abort anyone, He suggests, is equivalent to aborting Him to receive a little child in Jesus’ name, on the other hand, is equivalent to embracing Him. An essential part of the Church’s mission, indeed one of the most important things to proclaiming and advancing the Kingdom of God, is to create a culture in which Jesus Himself is welcomed, loved, and adored. That cannot happen when a society facilely permits the image of God in the womb to be blithely desecrated and destroyed as a “human right.”

Catholics in particular, therefore, consistent with our vocation to be salt, light, and leaven, must be prepared to engage our family members, friends, neighbors, fellow students, co-workers, teachers, elected representatives, and perhaps even confused co-religionists with effective arguments — as the Dobbs decision likely thrusts the debate on abortion to the central place such a discussion on life and death should have in any society dedicated to justice and the pursuit of life, authentic liberty, and lasting happiness.

The handbook to get us ready for that engagement was published on February 4: Dr. Steven A. Christie’s new book entitled Speaking for the Unborn: 30-Second Pro-Life Rebuttals to Pro-Choice Arguments (Emmaus Road, 168 pages, $11.95). Dr. Christie is a 56-year-old medical doctor and lawyer who with this book will become known as an impressive apologist. For the first 35 years of his life, he was a self-described “Pro-Choice liberal” and so believed many of the arguments he now debunks in this work. That conversion, not to mention his medical and legal training as well as his experience as a married father of five, helps to make Speaking for the Unborn a compelling, clear, compassionate, concise, practical, scientifically accurate, witty, user-friendly, and effective training manual. He takes up 65 of the most common and influential Pro-Choice arguments and, to each, gives one or more convincing rebuttals. Beyond his timely book, Dr. Christie has created a free website (speakingfortheunborn.com) where he gives a four-part video Pro-Life master class that can be used by individuals, families, Catholic schools and catechetical classes, pro-life clubs, and more to learn the science, law and commonsense ethics from a non-religious perspective. The website also contains in utero photos, ultrasound images, animations, and other helpful resources. Dr. Christie aims to help us “reveal the truth to those who desperately do not wish to see it, hear it, or speak it. And to do so with intelligence, diligence, and — perhaps most importantly — compassion.” He’s conscious that up to 25 percent of adult women have suffered an abortion and so frames his arguments with that human reality in mind. He also recognizes that many Pro-Choicers erroneously suppose that opposition to abortion is merely a religious belief and so he avoids all religious arguments, making the case for being Pro-Life from scientific, pro-woman, social justice, anti-violence, and evidence-based starting points.

His approach will help many who are not yet decided about the personal and social ramifications of abortion to learn the strong foundations of Pro-Life convictions. It will also help those who already have firm Pro-Life conclusions to learn sounder and more convincing premises. I would love to give a little taste of what he provides.

In response to the “my body, my choice” slogan, Dr. Christie writes, “I fully support the right of a woman to do whatever she wants with her own body. I just don’t believe she has the right to do whatever she wants to someone else’s body. A pregnancy always involves two bodies, sometimes more.” In response to the argument that Pro-Lifers are just trying to “force their morality” on everyone else, he states, “We all believe in imposing morality, and we do it every day. On critical moral issues—like rape, child abuse, murder, or theft—we never rely on each individual’s moral code to best guide his or her actions. We declare to the world that rape and murder are repugnant, immoral, and illegal—and we’ll throw you in prison if you dare to rape or kill! That’s “imposing morality” and we impose it on every single member of society every single day. So, let’s not pretend that we don’t believe in imposing morality— every single one of us does.” He continues, “Can you imagine someone saying, ‘I’m personally anti-slavery, but who am I to impose my view on others?’

“For those who claim that abortion is basic women’s health care, he asks, “When did lethally injecting a living unborn child, or tearing it limb from limb and suctioning it from its mother’s womb, become ‘health care?’ Treating the diabetic is health care. Setting a broken bone is health care. Performing open-heart surgery is health care. Killing a living unborn child has nothing to do with health care.” Moreover, he continues, “Nearly 95% of all abortions are performed on the healthy babies of healthy mothers. Abortion is not health care.”

Witty throughout, Dr. Christie includes several headlines from the satirical site The Babylon Bee, which expose, as comedy does better than most other means, the incongruity of Pro-Choice positions. Similarly, he illustrates the humanity of those for whom he is speaking up by various photos of young babies, many with facial expressions precociously fitting for the debate. His goal in the work is to equip us not necessarily with arguments and approaches that will lead others immediately to wave a white flag, but to get them to say, “I’ve never really thought about it that way before,” which is an indication, he says, of their opening to the truth, a crucial first step — he knows from personal experience — on the path of conversion.

As we await Dobbs, Dr. Christie’s excellent new book is a way to help us all think differently. It’s also a means to prepare us — and through our generosity, others, especially the young — to engage in upcoming discussions with greater clarity, confidence, and effectiveness.


a Ukrainian lent



March 13, 2022





There is a famous story told by Dr. Erwin Lutzer, former pastor of The Moody Church in Chicago, of a man who told him that when he was a young boy in Germany during the Holocaust, the Church he attended with his family was in front of railroad tracks. Each Sunday, they would hear the train whistling by on the tracks. Eventually, however, they started to hear cries coming from the speeding trains and realized that the train cars had to be carrying Jews on the way to concentration camps. Because they did not want to hear the tormented screams, they changed the program of the Sunday service so that they would be singing hymns when the trains were scheduled to approach. “By the time the train came past our church,” Lutzer recounted the repentant man telling him, “we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more.”

I recount that story, first, because religious people and others regularly face the temptation to “sing more loudly” when confronted head-on with the troubling reality of evil in the world. But I also do so because I fear that if I wrote on any other subject than on what is going on in the Ukraine, I, myself, would come off as engaging in high volume chanting. Other subjects will have to wait. We need to hear the cries and respond with more than sweet-sounding melodies.

That’s what Pope Francis asked the world to do together on Ash Wednesday. At the end of his February 23 General Audience, the Holy Father stated, “My heart aches greatly at the worsening situation in Ukraine …. I would like to appeal to everyone, believers and non-believers alike. Jesus taught us that the diabolical senselessness of violence is answered with God’s weapons, with prayer and fasting. I invite everyone to make March 2, Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting for peace. I encourage believers in a special way to dedicate themselves intensely to prayer and fasting on that day.” Four days later, after praying the Angelus with pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square, he reiterated the appeal. “In recent days we have been shaken by something tragic: war. … Let us pray to God more intensely. … I renew to all the invitation to make March 2, Ash Wednesday, a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Ukraine, a day to be close to the sufferings of the Ukrainian people, to feel that we are all brothers and sisters, and to implore of God the end of the war.”

Initially, I was frustrated with the Holy Father’s choice of date. “Why wait a week for something so urgent?” I thought, deeming that if Russian propaganda and aims were to be believed, Kyiv and most of Ukraine would already be by that point in Putin’s hands. Moreover, I think it is generally imprudent even to give the perception of diminishing the most important spiritual realities to garnish for earthly concerns, as happened last Easter Sunday, when headlines were changed from the Christian celebration of Jesus’ resurrection to the International Day for Mine Awareness, because of a letter the Pope published that morning to the UN Secretary-General. Eventually, however, I began to see that if Catholic priests and faithful focused on Ash Wednesday this year without reference to the Ukraine, we would all be running the deadly risk of just “singing more loudly.” Indeed, if we try to live Lent just adding an intercession for the Ukraine at Mass or an extra Hail Mary at the end of a family Rosary, we would be, I think, missing the point of what Lent is, what Lenten conversion is supposed to accomplish, and how our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are meant to change us.

What’s happening in Ukraine — not to mention in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Mali, Myanmar, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere — is meant to bring us to conversion. The world often behaves like the Rich Man in Jesus’ parable as Lazarus is dying at his gate: feasting sumptuously while others are starving, suffering, and even under attack (Lk 16:19-31). While whole societies are attacked by militarized bandits and left to die in urban ditches, many just change the channel and, like the priest and Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, pass by (Lk 10:29-37).

The conversion that Lent is meant to bring about is not just a minor course correction but a thorough change in the way we look at God, ourselves, others, and reality. It involves beginning to look at the world through Jesus’ lenses, of having our own hearts burst with pity for the crowd, and of drawing near to care for others whenever we find them hungry, thirsty, naked, far from home, sick, imprisoned — or being assailed by missiles, cluster munitions, tanks, grenades, bombs, and bullets.

The USA, in particular, needs a national conversion. To whom more is given, more is to be expected (Lk 12:48). In the not-too-distant past, other nations looked to the United States as a nation of valor, ready to get engaged to defend the innocent against maleficent bullies, even at supreme cost. We formed generations of heroes who, in the image of the Good Shepherd, were willing to lay down their lives for people they didn’t even know. While certainly imperfect, we prized virtue and sought to be — and help others to become — courageous and good.

In the view of many in the developing world today, we have gradually become bullies rather defenders, ideological colonizers mandating adhesion to destructive tenets of the sexual revolution as a precondition to official development assistance, or economic predators exploiting the vulnerability of peoples with one-sided deals. At home, rather than forming new generations with heroic virtue, we have prioritized “safe spaces” and manipulated educational, sports, and military standards as if we were dealing with doll houses that could be rearranged according to the emotivist spirit of the age. Many of our leading citizens are competing for an imaginary Neville Chamberlain Statesmanship Award — and pretending it’s an honor.

We need conversion. We need God. We need to think, speak, and act differently. The three traditional Lenten practices Jesus addresses in the Gospel heard on Ash Wednesday are not only general medicine but particularly relevant remedies to the situation in the Ukraine. Our prayer needs to change. We need to pray as if life depends on it because many lives do. We need to intercede for the people of the Ukraine the way Abraham did for the few righteous, Moses did for the Israelites, and Jesus on the Cross did for us. Jesus promised that faith the size of a mustard seed could move mountain ranges and we should take Him seriously: praying for God to open the eyes of the warmongers or close them permanently imploring for peace, first by removing the planks from our eyes, so that we can be effective peacemakers and builders restoring the tranquility of order without.

Our fasting needs to change. We need to fast like the people of Nineveh for mercy, like Moses on the mountain in reparation for the sins of Israel, like Queen Esther in petition to save her people, like Jesus so that we might live by every word that comes from God’s mouth. Some evils, the Pope reminds us, are expunged only by prayer and the corporeal petition of the body. Our charity needs to change, as we concretely love our neighbor in our worldwide neighborhood. Both those under attack in the Ukraine and those who have fled to other countries need help. Reliable international Catholic organizations like the Knights of Columbus and Aid to the Church in Need have extensive networks to deliver that aid through the Churches. The people under attack from those seeking to kill or subjugate them, however, need more than money — and our country has more than money to give.

In response to the reality in the Ukraine, the conversion and transformed prayer, fasting, and charity that began on Ash Wednesday in response to Pope Francis’ appeal should continue throughout Lent and indeed until the end of the invasion.


Lenten journey



March 6, 2022





Dear Parishioners and Friends of Divine Mercy Parish,


On Ash Wednesday, we began together our Lenten journey. Through prayer, fasting, and works of charity, we will experience God’s power at Easter, which “dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, and brings mourners joy.” As St. Paul said to the Ephesians, “You should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” (Ephesians 4:23-24).


This Lent, my dear friends, I invite you to join me on a journey to Jesus. The question that I pose as we begin this journey is this: What is the difference between a window and a door? Well, you and I can look out of a window and catch a glimpse of what is outside – or if we are outside, we can look in through the window. In either case, though, we stay where we are. A door, on the other hand, lets us become part of the scene, as we move from where we were and then enjoy taking part in what we could only catch a glimpse of through the window. Doors lead somewhere. When we walk through a door, we cross a boundary. Doors can open up new horizons. Doors can also shut us out.


At the time of the Great Jubilee in 2000, our Holy Father of happy memory, St. Pope John Paul II, opening the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica, said, “Throw open the doors to Christ,” repeating what he had said when he was elected Pope in 1978. Doorways on our journey of faith invite us to enter, to “come and see” what God offers us. Equally, when we open our door, we invite God and others into our hearts. When we do this, we recognize that our life is a gift, not to possess for ourselves but to share generously as a good steward.


Whatever may be holding us back from opening the door of our heart to Christ, let this Lent be a time for us to “Throw open the doors to Christ.” Let us ask God for the courage to reach beyond our fears and stereotypes. Let us fast, not only from food and drink, but from judgemental and envious attitudes that deepen divisions. Let us be generous in our almsgiving: in sharing our time, talent, and treasure responsibly and generously with both friend and stranger. Throwing open the doors to Christ is also fundamental in our prayer life. We direct our prayer to the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord in union with the Holy Spirit. Prayer is the lynch-pin of the Christian life, especially during Lent. Without constant and consistent prayer and meditation, it is hardly possible to live the Christian life with a love that burns brightly for God and neighbor. If we have become sluggish in prayer, and most of us do at times, Lent is the time to refresh and renew ourselves in it.


May the 40 days of Lent, plus the 50 days of Easter joy – Ash Wednesday to Pentecost, the Christian Passover – give us all a welcome ‘tune-up’ so we can understand better how to live the new life Jesus won for us.


May the Lord bless each of us during this holy and penitential season of Lent!


Fr. Robert T. Cooper, Pastor



violence in our midst



February 27, 2022





Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord:

Like many of you, I have been watching in shock, disbelief, heartbreak, disappointment, and, yes, anger, at the numerous news reports of extreme violence (armed carjackings, attempted kidnappings, I-10 shootings) that plagues our beloved city. Never in my most disturbing nightmares would I have imagined individuals being carjacked, accosted, and critically injured while pumping gasoline at Costco. Never would I have ever imagined men, women, and children being shot weekly on the interstate system. Never would I have imagined a mom being shot bringing her children to soccer practice. The recent surge in violence is heart wrenching!

Our families are torn by violence. Our city and neighborhoods are destroyed by violence. Our faith is tested by violence. Violence – in our homes, our schools and streets, our nation and world – is destroying the lives, dignity, and hopes of millions of our sisters and brothers. Fear of violence is paralyzing and polarizing our city. The celebration of violence in much of our media, music, and even video games is poisoning our children. Beyond the violence in our streets is the violence in our hearts. Hostility, hatred, despair, and indifference are at the heart of a growing culture of violence. Verbal violence in our families, communications, and talk shows contribute to this culture of violence. Pornography assaults the dignity of women and contributes to violence against them. Our social fabric is being torn apart by a culture of violence that leaves children dead on our streets and families afraid in our homes. Our society seems to be growing numb to human loss and suffering. A nation born in a commitment to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is haunted by death, imprisoned by fear, and caught up in the elusive pursuit of protection rather than happiness.

It doesn't have to be this way. It wasn't always this way. We can turn away from violence we can build communities of greater peace. It begins with a clear conviction: respect for life. Respect for life is not just a slogan or a program it is a fundamental moral principle flowing from our teaching on the dignity of the human person. It is an approach to life that values people over things. Respect for life must guide the choices we make as individuals and as a society: what we do and won't do, what we value and consume, whom we admire and whose example we follow, what we support and what we oppose. Respect for human life is the starting point for confronting a culture of violence. Person by person, family by family, neighborhood by neighborhood, we must take our city back from the evil and fear that come with so much violence. We believe our faith in Jesus Christ gives us the values, vision, and hope that can bring an important measure of peace to our hearts, our homes, and our streets.

We cannot ignore the underlying cultural values that help to create the environment where violence grows: a denial of right and wrong, education that ignores fundamental values, an abandonment of personal responsibility, an excessive and selfish focus on our individual desires, a diminishing sense of obligation to our children and neighbors, a misplaced priority on acquisitions, and media glorification of violence and sexual irresponsibility. In short, we often fail to value life and cherish human beings above possessions, power, and pleasure. Fundamentally, our society needs a moral revolution to replace a culture of violence with a renewed ethic of justice, responsibility, and community. New policies and programs, while necessary, cannot substitute for a recovery of the old values of right and wrong, respect and responsibility, love, and justice. God's wisdom, love, and commandments can show us the way to live, heal, and reconcile. "Thou shalt not kill … Thou shalt not steal" are more than words to be recited they are imperatives for the common good. Our faith challenges each of us to examine how we can contribute to an ethic which cherishes life, puts people before things, and values kindness and compassion over anger and vengeance. A growing sense of fear and failure must be replaced by a new commitment to solidarity and the common good.

Our criminal justice system is failing. Too often, it does not offer security to society, just penalties and rehabilitation to offenders, or respect and restitution to victims. Clearly, those who commit crimes must be swiftly apprehended, justly tried, appropriately punished, and held to proper restitution. However, correctional facilities must do more than confine criminals they must rehabilitate persons and help rebuild lives. The vast majority of those in prison return to society. We must ensure that incarceration does not simply warehouse those who commit crimes, but helps them overcome the behaviors, attitudes, and actions which led to criminal activity. The answer is not simply constructing more and more prisons, but also constructing a society where every person has the opportunity to participate in economic and social life with dignity and responsibility. People must answer for their actions. Those who harm others must pay the price, but all our institutions must also be held accountable for how they promote or undermine greater responsibility and justice.

I close this reflection with a word of support and appreciation for those on the front lines in the war against violence. At a time when heroes seem scarce, these people are real heroes and heroines, committing their lives to the service of others, standing against a tide of violence with values of peace and a commitment to justice. I commend police officers who daily confront violence with fairness and courage, and I support those who minister to them and their families. I also offer a word of encouragement to parents who daily confront the cultural messages that influence their children in a way that is so contradictory to basic values of decency, honesty, respect for life, and justice.

Let us embrace the challenge of Pope St. John Paul II in his message to young people, when he calls them and all of us, to be "communicators of hope and peace." Let us hear and act with new urgency on the words of Jesus: "Blessed are the peacemakers they shall be called children of God."


Waiting



February 20, 2022





Last week, we focused on the “great miracle” of St. John Vianney’s confessional, to which prodigal sons and daughters from all over France flocked to be embraced by the merciful love of God the Father. The Curé of Ars is rightly called a “martyr of the confessional” because with unfathomable stamina for over 30 years he imprisoned himself in the confessional up to 18 hours a day in order to set others free from their sins. Because of his fame as a ceaseless and heroic confessor, it’s hard for some priests today to relate to him, because often their experience has been quite different than their patron’s: rather than having penitents wait up to eight days for the opportunity to spend five minutes going to confession, many priests would say their experience has been more like needing to wait eight days to have five penitents!

That’s why it’s useful to recognize that it took St. John Vianney almost a decade as pastor in Ars before his people began to have regular recourse to him as a confessor. From 1818-1827, no matter how much he preached on God’s mercy, on sin, and on the Sacrament of Penance, no matter how many all-night vigils he spent in his tiny church begging God for the conversion of his parish, few of his people came to confession. The only people who generally came were those who, according to the custom of the time, wanted to receive Holy Communion at Mass on Sunday and for that reason came to confession the previous day. And since the people in Ars, like in most of the Catholic world at the time, sought to approach the altar rail only once or a few time times a year, the martyrdom St. John Vianney experienced in the confessional during his first ten years as pastor of this tiny village of 230 was, like many priests today, a martyrdom of abandoned, expectant waiting.

Adding to his agony as a pastor, while doubtless providing some consolation as a priest, was the fact that in parishes other than his own, people were coming to his confessional in great numbers. In Ecully, the parish he was assigned upon his ordination, the people literally couldn’t wait to go to confession to him. Just as it is one of the great ironies of Catholic history that the future patron saint of priests was dismissed from the Lyons seminary by the priests on the faculty, so too, it is hagiographically incongruous that the future martyr of the confessional was not given the faculties to hear confessions until months after his priestly ordination.

It was common practice in the Church for bishops and dioceses to restrict the faculties of priests to hear confessions until sometime after their ordination, when they would either pass a special test or be considered sufficiently mature and experienced to begin hearing confessions. On some occasions, they would receive no faculties to hear confessions at all except when a penitent was in danger of death some priests, in fact, would spend their whole priesthood as a “simplex priest,” capable of no priestly ministrations except celebrating private Masses or public Masses without a homily. On other occasions, priests would be given the faculties to confess only certain groups of “easy penitents,” like young children. In many places, the last group of penitents that priests would be given the faculties to confess was not hardened felons but religious women.

Regardless, for the first few months of his priesthood, the future “extraordinary apostle of the confessional,” as Pope St. John Paul II would later call him, needed to tell the people of Ecully who asked him to hear their confessions that he had not yet received authorization. That changed when his mentor and first pastor, the saintly and learned Fr. Charles Balley, approached the ecclesiastical authorities in Lyons and persuaded them that his curate was ready. As soon as he returned to give Fr. Vianney the good news, he put him to work. The pastor dropped to his knees at the feet of his parochial vicar and asked Fr. Vianney not only to hear his confession but to become his spiritual director.

Once the people of the village discovered that the 29-year-old priest they had known for a decade was now a confessor, they began to crowd his confessional and the sick also began to call for him preferentially to come to hear their confessions at their homes. It’s routine that young priests get more than their average share of work in the confessional because many penitents anticipate that priestly rookies will be easier on them out of inexperience. This was not, however, what was going on in Ecully. They were asking for Fr. Vianney because they knew that there was something extraordinarily special about him, even in comparison to Fr. Balley, their holy and ascetic pastor.

It must have been quite a shock for Fr. Vianney, therefore, after Fr. Balley’s death, to be transferred from a parish in which he was inundated with penitents to one in which he barely heard any confessions. Even still, Catholics in other places saw, and took advantage of, what his own parishioners failed or refused to see. During his first several years in Ars, St. John Vianney — and all the pastors of the area — would assist the Carthusian monks who would come into the area to preach lengthy missions trying to bring the people back to the practice of the faith. Because so many Carthusians had been killed during the terror of the French Revolution and because the state of the knowledge and practice of the faith had collapsed due to the brainwashing and persecutions of the revolutionaries, the Carthusians needed all the priests of the area to help them in the pulpit and in the confessional. So the priests of surrounding villages would leave their parishes during the week to assist the Carthusians in these missions taking place in the region.

The holy monks recognized that there was something special about the pastor of Ars as a confessor. Their preaching would almost always be effective in getting people to return to the sacraments, but they began to notice on their missions that the lines for Fr. Vianney were always much longer than the lines for other priests. Moreover, long after the other priests had called it a day after hearing confessions for hours to return for a late dinner in the rectory, St. John Vianney would remain in the confessional, sometimes until long after midnight, to reconcile those who were still waiting. On occasion, the local pastor would come to try to “rescue” him about 9 p.m., but doing so would almost always cause a revolt. Pastors admitted that they loved his assistance, because, as one said, “He worked hard and ate nothing.”

Once, on the night before the mission was scheduled to end, the crush of people who had waited to the last second to go to confession, as well as those who were returning to Fr. Vianney after a previous experience with him in the sacrament, surged around his confessional so much that they pushed over both the confessional and the confessor within it. On another occasion, because he was so exhausted after a marathon in the confessional, he collapsed in the snow trying to make his way home. The rumor soon spread around Ars, however, that their pastor, in fact, was dead, having died of exhaustion in the coffin of his missionary confessional.

Despite his hearing confessions almost non-stop in other places, when he returned to Ars, there was still only a trickle. In 1827, he was hearing, at most, 20 confessions a day, with those numbers buttressed by penitents coming from surrounding villages. After ten years of prayer, mortification, preaching and hard work, that would soon change. What had been a mustard seed would soon become a tree in which not only the people of Ars but all the penitents of France would be able to find refuge.


the great hospital of souls



February 13, 2022





“The great miracle of the Curé of Ars,” one of his contemporaries said during the process for beatification “was his confessional, besieged day and night.” The fundamental reason why the Year for Priests had been called by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on the 150th anniversary of the birth of St. John Vianney into eternal life was not that he left us a body of inspiring sermons like Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. It was not principally because of the angelic way he would celebrate Mass, his all night vigils of prayer, his fasting on boiled potatoes, his legendary battles against the devil, or his famous love and care for orphans. What made him famous, what earned him the reputation of being a saint in his lifetime and the title of the patron saint of priests after his death, was what God did through him in his “besieged” confessional.


For much of his 41 years in Ars, a town that had 230 souls when he arrived, he heard confessions of more than its entire population each day. He used to hear 12-14 hours of confessions in the winter and 16-18 hours in the summer. Most of us, in hearing those numbers, would naturally admire his commitment and dedication, much like we would commend anyone who worked 18 hour days in loving service of others. When I was a seminarian, I used to applaud the concrete “priority” he gave to the sacrament of confession, which obviously would have required many other sacrifices. It was only in December of 2007, however—while hearing confessions at my first Advent penance service—that I really understood what St. John Vianney’s commitment really meant. That night, I sat in the confessional and heard confessions for three hours. I likened it to Jesus’ three hours on the cross. Even though I was use to pushing my body to the limit, I had never been so totally exhausted. My back ached. My bottom ached. My whole body ached, but I took solace at least that I could still feel it. My mind, on the other hand, felt totally depleted. A year later, when preaching a parish Lenten Mission, I heard 12 hours of confessions stretched from Monday night through Wednesday night. At the end of the mission, I was comatose.


When I think now about the Curé of Ars’ hearing confessions for 12-18 hours a day, the closest analogy I would give would be to running 25-40 miles a day … uphill … into gale force winds … with ankle weights … and wrist weights … in full body armor … made of lead. Moreover, he did it almost every day for decades. What St. John Vianney did in the confessional is, to me, the physical equivalent of doing a triathlon for the last 11,000 days of his life. It gives new meaning to the term heroism. This is the first reason why we can say that the great miracle of the Curé of Ars was his confessional because his daily stamina makes everything else look like minor feats in comparison.


The second reason his confessional was miraculous was because of what was occurring on the other side of the screen. People from all over France were making their way to an inaccessible hamlet in the southeastern corner of the country, taking primitive trains, even more primitive horse-drawn carts, and often walking for miles in fog, rain, and mud. Once there, they would in general need to wait up to eight days in a church that was stiflingly warm in summer and ice cold in the winter in order to have their confession heard. Why wouldn’t they have taken the easy way out and just have gone to confession to one of the priests in their cities or town? Why would as many as 4,000 people have shown up one day, and 120,000 in a year, to go to confession to this simple priest in a tiny village?


They were coming, as one of the penitents once said, because they were encountering “God in a man.” In St. John Vianney, they found more than a man ordained to act in the person of Christ to absolve them of their sins. Any validly ordained priest with faculties to hear confessions could do that. They were coming to someone who incarnated the mercy of the Heavenly Father, who shared the Good Shepherd’s zeal to do anything it took to bring back to the fold the one lost sheep, who would rejoice with all the saints in heaven over the repentance of one sinner, and who like Christ would willingly be hammered to the wood of his confessional to save sinners. In him, we encountered not just a confessor who administered God’s power for the forgiveness of sins, but the closest earthly approximation to the holiness of God. That drew them irresistibly and through all types of sacrifices to make the road to Ars the road to Damascus.


His besieged confessional was miraculous even more so considering that in France in the 19th century, the sacrament of penance was not popular. Sometimes Catholics today can look back to the long confessional lines in the 1950’s and think that that was always the way it was until the present crisis of faith and in the practice of confession. When St. John Vianney arrived in Ars, however, most people were not practicing the faith at all, not to mention not having frequent recourse to the sacrament of penance. God used him, however, almost single-handedly, to bring the whole Church of France back to the beauty of His mercy.


Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wanted priests today to be willing to make the same heroic commitment to the confessional as their patron did, recognizing that the same miracle God worked in Ars for the Church in France He can work again. “Priests ought never to be resigned to empty confessionals or the apparent indifference of the faithful to this Sacrament,” the Holy Father wrote in a letter to priests. “In France, at the time of the Cure of Ars, confession was no more easy or frequent than in our own day, since the upheaval caused by the revolution had long inhibited the practice of religion. Yet he sought in every way, by his preaching and his powers of persuasion, to help his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of the Sacrament of Penance, presenting it as an inherent demand of the Eucharistic presence. He thus created a ‘virtuous’ circle. By spending long hours in church before the tabernacle, he inspired the faithful to imitate him by coming to visit Jesus with the knowledge that their parish priest would be there, ready to listen and offer forgiveness. Later, the growing numbers of penitents from all over France would keep him in the confessional for up to sixteen hours a day. It was said that Ars had become ‘a great hospital of souls.’”


In a 1986 letter to priests on the bicentennial of the Curé’s birth, Pope St. John Paul II said that the state of the world requires that all priests should imitate the pastor of Ars in making themselves “very available” for the Sacrament of Penance. He asked them to give it “priority over other activities” so that the faithful will realize the value attached to this “most difficult, the most delicate, the most taxing and the most demanding [priestly ministry] of all—especially when priests are in short supply.” Christ is asking His priests to generously open up again that “great hospital of souls,” so that He can replicate in the cities and towns of the Archdiocese of New Orleans and elsewhere the great miracle He worked through one priest in Ars. He is also calling all the faithful to come to receive this universal spiritual health care.



the Transforming Power of Prayer



February 6, 2022





When I pray the fourth Luminous Mystery, the ‘Transfiguration,’ I always offer it for my enemies - both that they may be changed and that I may be changed. The transformation I pray for is that I, and they, may become more like Christ, the source and goal of all change. Prayer shows us the need for this change and initiates within us a longing for it to take place. This desire, this longing to be transformed is already a huge step in itself. How many of us cannot even see our need for change let alone have a desire for it? Prayer opens our eyes and lets us see others, and ourselves as they, and we, really are. What an enormous grace!

Many years ago, during a directed retreat, the retreat master told me he had this image of me in a large hall talking and laughing with lots of people and Jesus was standing against one of the walls patiently waiting for me to finish. I was having great fun. Finally, He came over, took my elbow, and led me to a small prayer room where I could be with Him in prayer.

It is no accident that people often use the phrase surrender to prayer. When we stay away from prayer, we are shaking our elbow free and telling the Lord - No! Not now! - And He goes back to the wall to wait patiently. Whether we realize it or not, every moment of prayer is a response to His personal invitation. It is always God saying 'Come. I want to spend some time with you.'

Why then are we often so slow to surrender? Is it the cold night air that frightens us, or perhaps the climb up the mountain? Certainly, prayer always requires a readiness to leave behind our favorite preoccupations and comforts and enter into another world, a world of darkness and faith. St Teresa of Avila refers to prayer as a labor. Sometimes we have to actually and painfully tear ourselves away from what we are doing in order to enter that graced time and place called prayer. And occasionally, when we forget what prayer is, we would prefer to be anywhere else rather than at prayer. It is said St Teresa sometimes used to shake her hourglass to make the sand go more quickly.

Prayer is so central, so essential to transformation that it is worth the effort to push ourselves. Indeed, I believe that it is especially at moments when we find prayer impossibly challenging, dry, unsatisfying, and seemingly a waste of time that the greatest transformations are quietly occurring. Peter did not do all too well on the mountain for the Transfiguration - fighting sleep and babbling incoherently - but he went, and he stayed awake, and he saw.

This leads me to consider another aspect of prayer, which is that in prayer we get to see things we would never see otherwise God shows us things - about Himself, about life, about death, about ourselves.

God took Abraham outside into the dark to show him the stars and make him a promise Jesus took His three Apostles up the mountain to show them Himself and the destiny towards which He was journeying. Yet this is in no way a summary of what happened either to Abraham or to the Apostles. Every experience of God, every moment consciously spent in His presence, has reverberations in our life which we will only appreciate in the hereafter. This is because real prayer is never just a God-and-me experience. Another way of saying this is that prayer should always be scriptural.

At first, this may be a rather perplexing statement to come to grips with but look at Jesus going up to the mountain to pray to His Father. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appear! Where have they come from? Why are they here? What is going on?

Moses represents the Law, Elijah the prophets. They appear in Jesus' prayer because they are part of the same history of salvation, part of the same story, part of the same prayer that Jesus is making.

We are all part of that prayer – a story much larger than the story of our own life. Peter, James, and John found themselves suddenly confronted by the representatives of the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament, and, whether they realized it at that moment or not, they were the representatives of the New Testament.

This moment of Jesus' intimate communion with the Father in prayer is revealed as prayer set in a rich, unfolding, universal context that embraces all time, all space, and all creatures. In this way the prayer of Jesus offers a paradigm for all mature prayer it should be scriptural.

Finally, prayer opens us to the future. Abraham had little idea of what lay ahead of him when God spoke His promise. Similarly, Peter, James and John were perplexed and wisely kept silent when the cloud lifted, and they were again alone with the Lord. Nevertheless, their experiences inserted into their hearts a confidence and courage in God which would see them through the many difficulties which lay ahead. Prayer is like that - a meeting with God which prepares us for the next step of our journey.


the role of godparents



January 30, 2022





On October 16, 2021, the New York Times ran an article on how the Archdiocese of Catania, Sicily, had prohibited Godparents or Sponsors for the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation for the next three years. Entitled In the Land of the Godfather Comes a Ban on Them, Jason Horowitz’ article described how Archbishop Salvatore Gristina, after having consulted with his priests and the lay people on the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, had, beginning October 1, suspended the role of Godparents. He did so, he decreed, because the office had largely lost its religious context and had not only become a “sort of formal fulfillment or social custom in which the dimension of the faith is rarely visible,” but also because the “complex and irregular family situation of so many persons proposed to fulfill this duty has made the question more delicate.”


That was a diplomatic way of saying that many of those nominated to serve as Godparents were unqualified, not simply because they were not practicing the Catholic faith, but because the role of Godfather and Godmother were frequently being manipulated by mafiosi to solidify bonds of loyalty. The Archdiocese of Catania, Sicily’s second largest city and the place of the martyrdom of Saint Agatha, is not the only Sicilian diocese to take such action. The Diocese of Mazara del Vallo implemented a similar ban this month. The Diocese of Acireale had made Godparents optional and required that all those nominated for the office swear that they are believers and not members of the Mafia. The Archdiocese of Reggio Calabria, on the Italian mainland opposite Catania, has been lobbying Pope Francis since 2014 to put a ten-year ban on Godparents throughout its ecclesiastical province.


Part of the issue is unique to the mafia-infested culture of southern Italy and Sicily, where the role of Godfather can bear less resemblance to canon law than to Francis Ford Coppola’s depiction of Michael Corleone. But the other part of the issue transcends Sicily and Calabria. Many of those proposed as Godparents in dioceses throughout the world do not come close to meeting the criteria defined in the Catechism that they be “firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized — child or adult — on the road of Christian life” (1255) on in the Church’s Code of Canon Law, that they live “a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on” and thereby help the person baptized or confirmed “to lead a Christian life in keeping with baptism and to fulfill faithfully the obligations inherent in it” (874.3 and 872). The ban was put in place to try to catalyze a conversion of the general culture with regard to Godparents. The Vicar General of Catania said in an interview, “We hope that things will change, and whoever is about to become of a Godfather or a Godmother will really do so because they intend to be a witness to the journey of faith.”


As we continue our Christian journey, it is fitting for us to remember the function and importance of Godparents in raising kids in the fullness of the Catholic faith. Their role is to help their Godchildren become the saints that baptism calls them to be and to lead them faithfully on the pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem. In the early Church, especially during the age of persecutions, Godparents (also called at the time sponsors, presenters, guardians, or faith-swearers) were devout Christians who would vouch for the faith of adults presenting themselves to the bishop for baptism and who would assume the responsibility of accompanying them in their preparation for, and life after, baptism. In the baptism of children, Godparents would reject Satan and make the profession of faith on behalf of their charges, taking responsibility — as “co-parents” — to raise the children in the faith.


Over the course of the centuries, the qualifications were codified. Today one must be Catholic, at least 16, not the child’s mother or father, have received the sacraments of baptism, confession, confirmation, and communion, live by the faith, and not be excommunicated or under other canonical penalties. One Godparent or sponsor is required “insofar as possible” — hence the possibility of suspending them — but there may be two of different sexes for baptism. The responsibility to raise children should tragedy strike both parents has never legally been an official part of the role of Godparents but may be stipulated by parents in wills. Because Godparents do not receive an honorary title but an ecclesiastical office with important responsibilities, priests have the duty to verify that they are qualified. While in most places, the situation will not be nearly as extreme as what happens in Sicily or Calabria, many priests would share the assessment of their Italian counterparts that one of the more frustrating parts of their ministry is having to deal with manifestly unfit and unrepentant candidates for the office.


Often those asked to be Godparents have not practiced the faith in years. Some never attend Mass. Some have not made the sacraments of initiation. Others have married outside the Church, cohabitate, participate in same-sex or transgender lifestyles, work for the abortion industry, in in vitro fertilization clinics, as drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, or other labor incompatible with the faith. When they are nominated and present themselves to priests looking for “sponsor certificates” — attestations that they are Catholics qualified to serve as Godparents — honest priests cannot give them. Most priests will use the occasion to try to lead the person gently to conversion, to regularize their situations, and to develop the habits expected of all good Catholics, so that, as soon as possible, they might be worthy to receive a certificate and fulfill the office.


Many, however, with an air of entitlement, refuse such accompaniment, preferring to define the role and its qualifications on their own terms rather than the Church’s. They become indignant that a priest will not lie and give the equivalent of a letter of recommendation attesting that the person is a practicing, exemplary and fully initiated Catholic. No matter how meek the priest’s invitation to metanoia, they feel judged and deemed wanting. Sometimes they will hunt for priests who have a reputation of giving out such sponsor certificates to anyone who asks, no matter the consequences to the child, the potential scandal to others, or the eschatological risk of the millstone Jesus promises for those who lead the young astray (Mt 18:6). Such pastoral malpractice normally causes only greater confusion and deprives the child — often in situations of greater need — of a valuable tutor in the ways of faith. There are, of course, many happier situations when parents, wanting the best for their kids in the ways of faith, ask fervent Catholics in good standing who are eager to fulfill the responsibilities associated with the office and who often humbly ask for advice about how to discharge their duties well.


In addition to the obvious stuff about living the faith with integrity, praying for their Godchildren each day, and remaining involved in their life, I suggest a few things. First, I urge them to get a good photo of the baptism, frame it and try to get it in their Godchild’s room, so that the child may more easily and regularly remember the most important day of his or her life. Second, I encourage them, if they are going to get an annual gift for their Godchild, to do so not on Christmas or on the child’s birthday but on the anniversary of the baptism, so that, as the child grows, the child will remember the date and look forward to it. I urge them to celebrate that anniversary in a special way, taking the child out for ice cream or a meal, perhaps spending a few minutes watching a video of the baptism, lighting anew the baptismal candle received and praying, and blessing oneself with holy water saved from the ceremony. Third, I suggest they make a particular commitment to accompany the child up close when the child hits the teenage and college years and may be tempted to rebel against faithful parents or go the way of the crowds in terms of Mass, faith, and morals. At such critical juncture in life, a young person needs such guidance more than 16-year-olds need to be shown how to drive.


Jesus affirms that the greatest in His kingdom are those who live by His commandments and teach others to do the same (Mt 5:19). Faithful Godparents have the opportunity, therefore, to become truly great in this way. It is a time to pray that God reward our Godparents living or deceased, to recommit ourselves to the sanctification of our own Godchildren wherever they are in their journey, and to ask the Lord hastily to renew the understanding and faithful practice of this important office in the Church.



saint and doctor of the church



January 23, 2022





We are fast approaching the 400th anniversary of the most impressive canonization in the history of the Church, which took place March 12, 1622. Pope Gregory XV had the honors. Canonizations in this period of history were relatively rare events. Even though the Council of Trent taught that the example and intercession of the saints was a great help to the faithful, it took 25 years after the close of the Council for anyone to be canonized. In fact, between 1492 and 1587, only three people were canonized, one at a time. Gregory changed that, canonizing at once four great saints of the counter-reformation, who were alive over the span of his own life, who not only symbolized what the Church is about but played major roles in helping her turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.

The four were Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits his former college roommate and, after St. Paul, the greatest missionary of all time, St. Francis Xavier the re-evangelizer of Rome in the 16thcentury and founder of the Oratorians, St. Philip Neri and the great reformer of religious life and foundress of the Discalced Carmelites, and St. Teresa of Avila. Ten days after their canonization, Gregory likewise canonized St. Isidore the Farmer, patron of Madrid. The Italians of the era, proud of their “Pippo Buono” (Neri), famously said that 1622 featured the canonization of “four Spaniards and a saint.”

The significance of what happened on March 12th of that year has only grown in importance not just for Italy and Spain, but the Church universal, as the example of Ignatius, Francis, Philip and Teresa continues to inspire faithful in every walk of life and as the institutions they and their spiritual children have established — the Church in whole countries, universities, convents, and so much more — have become foundational for the Church ever since.

We have so much to learn from each of them. Let’s start with St. Teresa of Avila, who died October 15, 1582 (the very day the Julian calendar changed to the Gregorian) since she was named the first female doctor of the Church. A few years ago, thanks to a few days of pilgrimage in Madrid, I had a chance to take a day trip with a priest friend to Avila, where St. Teresa was born and entered religious life, and then to Alba de Tormes, where she passed into eternity. We were privileged to enter into the cloistered parts of three Carmels, where, up close, we were able to retrace St. Teresa’s sandaled footsteps and pray in the very places she contemplated, confessed, lived, and died. We were able to venerate her relics, including her incorrupt heart that had mystically once been pierced — “transverberated” — by the love of the Lord. We were also able to witness her unfading zeal in conversations with her spiritual daughters, experience their great love and intercession for the needs of the Church.

On Sept. 27, 1970, Pope St. Paul VI named her the first female doctor of the Church. I would like to highlight five lessons she teaches us. The first is a huge hunger for heaven. I was impressed that when I visited in Alba de Tormes, the cell in which she died, I saw painted above her bed a mural of a scene that happened when she was seven years old. She had precociously built a little hermitage in the backyard of her house. One day there, she and her five-year-old brother Rodrigo began to converse about the happiness of the saints in heaven. They were transfixed by the thought of living “forever and ever.” Rodrigo asked how they could get to God in heaven fastest, and Teresa replied through martyrdom. He asked how they could become martyrs and Teresa responded that Muslims were killing Christians in Morocco. And so off they impetuously began to walk south toward Morocco, forgetting the geographical complication of the Mediterranean between Spain and north Africa! They got outside the city walls as far as the ancient Roman Adaja Bridge where their Uncle Francisco, returning from a hunt, saw them and asked where they were going. When they told him they were heading to Africa to be martyred by the Moors, he cleverly volunteered to give them a ride. After they hopped on his horse, he galloped them back to a different type of martyrdom awaiting them at home. The story is one of the most beautiful in hagiography, attesting to the childlike love we ought to have for God, for heaven, and for eternity. That love still radiated from within her as her hopes were finally fulfilled in 1582.

The second lesson is about the importance and art of prayer. She is a doctor of the Church precisely because, with her fellow Carmelite reformer St. John the Cross, she is one of the most important cartographers of the interior life in the history of the Church. She used a vivid writing style the image of an Interior Castle with seven “mansions” (each containing many rooms) to communicate deep truths about prayer and the spiritual life. St. Teresa invited all her sisters — and others — through each of these stages of spiritual progress by opening themselves up more fully to the work of the Holy Spirit.

The third lesson is about continual conversion. She entered the Carmelite monastery when she was 20, but the house was in a spiritual malaise. Some nuns had suites of rooms, with servants and pets. Eventually she succumbed to the worldliness herself, spending vast amounts of time entertaining visitors and friends in the parlor, giving herself over to various compromises with mundane vanity. When she was 39, God reawakened her from her lukewarm life in which she was tolerating venial sins and revivified her desire for holiness, for happiness. It is a reminder to us not only to be on guard about losing our zeal but to be hopeful that, by God’s grace, we can make up for lost time and love.

That experience of conversion leads to the fourth lesson, which is ecclesial conversion. She witnessed and experienced the corruption that can happen to people even in places where people profess total dedication to God. She became aware of how much Church institutions, beginning with Carmelite convents, needed profound reform, and, despite great personal suffering, spent the rest of her life trying to be an instrument to bring her fellow Carmelites, and through them the Church, back to her first love. The Church is always in need of reform and of holy reformers, who are instruments of God to bring us back to what Jesus in Bethany called the “better part” and “one thing necessary.”

Finally, she shows us all how to grow in devotion to St. Joseph. Her love for the man God the Father chose to raise His Son according to his humanity and to protect and provide for the Holy Family began when, at the age of 26, she was cured of a physical illness. “Finding myself so crippled while still so young and earthly doctors having failed to cure me,” she wrote, “I took the glorious St. Joseph for my advocate and protector, and commended myself earnestly to him. … His aid has brought me more good than I could ever hope for from him. I do not remember once having asked anything of him that was not granted.”

She tried contagiously to spread love for St. Joseph. “I wish I could persuade everybody to be devoted to this glorious saint, for long experience has taught me what blessings he can obtain from God for us. Of all the people I have known with a true devotion and particular veneration for St. Joseph, not one has failed to advance in virtue he helps those who turn to him to make real progress. … 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 he will then 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.”

As we prepare for the quatercentenary of her canonization, we ask her to intercede for us that we may share her hunger for heaven, for prayer, for continuous conversion, for the reform of ecclesial institutions and for the universal Church entrusted to St. Joseph.


the priest and his people



January 16, 2022





Toward the end of St. John Vianney's life, as pilgrims flocked to Ars from all over France, they would leave marveling not only about having witnessed "God in a man," as one contemporary described Vianney, but "God in a parish." They were amazed at the warm hospitality, radiant faith, and ardent charity of the people of the village, who would routinely open their homes to the overflow guests, welcome them as if they were Christ, feed them, encourage them in the Christian life, pray with and for them, and in short, love them as a Christian should. Because many of the pilgrims had to wait over a week for five minutes with the Curé of Ars in the confessional, it was this much lengthier contact with the Christians of Ars that would generally prepare these pilgrims for true and deep conversion: they witnessed in the ordinary people of Ars the type of faith to which they recognized that they, too, were called.

The transformation of the people of Ars can be called their Curé's greatest miracle. When he was assigned as parish priest in 1818, Fr. Courbon, the vicar general, laconically informed him, "There is not much love for God there. You must put some." Few were practicing the faith with any type of regularity, not to mention fervor. More people went to the taverns on the Lord's Day than to Church. Blasphemy was rampant. Only a handful of families prayed. The young were substituting lust for love. The state of catechetical formation was abysmal, due not just to the indoctrination of the French Revolution and a paucity of able catechists but also to a general lack of interest among the villagers.

They were a case study in the first three types of soil Jesus mentioned in his Parable of the Sower and the Seed: there were several leading villagers with impenetrable soil who thought they already had all the important answers there were others with rocky soil, who were superficially open to God's message but who lacked the virtue to persevere in allowing the transformative seeds to grow the majority seemed to have thorny soil, where worldly cares and anxieties—from work to the hunger for human respect—constantly choked the growth of God's Word within them. Very few had soil that would bear much fruit at all, not to mention the 30, 60, or 100-fold the Lord described.

It took St. John Vianney decades to till the soil of those in the village. Even though there were only sixty families and 230 people upon his arrival, it took him eight years to get most of the families of the village to return to Mass, 25 years to eradicate the taverns, and 29 years to eliminate the debauched dances called the vogues. Once he had eliminated these rocks and thorns from the village soil, however, he needed still more time to truly form them in Christian virtue so that they could bear fruit in abundance.

Not only is all of this a testament to Fr. Vianney's pastoral perseverance, but it is also a palpable example of the importance of priestly stability in assignments. The transformation of Ars from a place where there was "no love for God" to one that radiated piety and charity literally took decades—and likely occurred only because St. John Vianney was the priest there for 41 years.

Priestly stability is something that the whole Church needs to ponder anew. For priests to be pastorally effective in being the Lord's instrument to sanctify and save His people, it is not enough that they be contagiously holy themselves. They also need time. If a priest as holy as St. John Vianney needed several decades to transform the people of a tiny parish in a simpler era, how much more time will priests who are not as zealous as the Curé of Ars need to transform much larger parishes in a more complicated one?

Pastoral stability has always been viewed by the Church as a positive good, for both priests and parishioners. The Second Vatican Council says that the "good of souls demands" pastoral stability and Church law enshrines it. "It is necessary that a parish priest have the benefit of stability. Therefore, he is to be named for an indefinite period of time," Canon 522 states.

At a functional level, pastoral stability allows the parish priest time to accomplish his essential tasks. To be an effective teacher, sanctifier, and leader of his people, the priest needs to get to know his flock, and this takes time. As priests get fewer and the tasks for which they are responsible become greater, even more time is needed. In a small-to-midsize parish of 500 families, if a priest were to carve out from among parish meetings and marriage, baptismal, and counseling appointments one night a week to make home visits, it would take him ten years to visit every household once. In the past, the priest had the ability to do this, because they remained in their assignments for decades and were generally assisted by several other priests. They got to know families over three or four generations and the people got to know them in return. They had time to inaugurate and bring to maturity schools and other pastoral programs. They were able to get to know well the pastoral lay of the land, to begin initiatives to improve their neighborhoods and care for the needy, to develop friendships and good working relationships with civic leaders, to become known and respected by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, so that they could effectively collaborate with community leaders to address various problems that arose.

Pastoral stability is even more important at a theological and ecclesiological level. The priest is meant to be in his parish a "quasi-sacrament" of Christ's own relationship to His bride the Church: a committed presence who lays down his life for his bride and not just a transient figure. The priest is called "father" because he is supposed to be a true spiritual father to his people, not an ephemeral spiritual guide. Real dads worthy of the name are not a presence just for five or ten years in their families' lives before they leave and mom brings home another "dad." When priests do not have true stability, the familial bond between priest and people the Church envisions never has a chance to develop because parishioners are reluctant to invest the time to form deep bonds with those whom they fear are only around temporarily. The priest, moreover, is supposed to be a sign and agent of unity in a parish family and a priest cannot fulfill this responsibility without stability.

There are, clearly, some advantages to regular transfers: as in any "work," it can provide new challenges, prevent loss of zeal and personal or organizational stagnation, and enable convenient exits from inconvenient situations. But, as mentioned above, there are also clear disadvantages, at a theological and practical level. Not every priest is St. John Vianney and not every priest, if left in place for 41 years, would help to make his people saints. But if priests at a practical level do not enjoy true stability in their office, not even priests as holy and zealous as St. John Vianney will have the time to sanctify their people.