Bishops’ Corner

By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

Two years ago, Rachel Dolezal enjoyed a good reputation as a civil rights activist and a well-respected professor at Eastern Washington University. She was the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter in Spokane. Today, she has a hard time finding a job.

Her tragic change of fortune came suddenly when an interviewer on a local TV station asked her the seemingly innocuous question: “Are you African American?” After all, she looked like she was; and, her work for the NAACP made the very question rather strange. But stranger yet was the truth soon uncovered. 

Dolezal was born white. Both her parents were white. At one time, she even filed a lawsuit as a Howard University graduate student. She claimed that the historically black university had discriminated against her because she was a white woman. But, now she identifies herself as black and insists that others must accept this. She claims that race “is not a biological reality. It’s a hierarchical system that was created to leverage power and privilege between different groups of people.” For Dolezal, race is merely a social construct.

In many quarters today, the question of identity has become extremely fluid. Anyone can identify themselves as whatever they wish: white, black, male, female or other. Taking quite literally the theory that one determines one’s own identity, the City of New York allows its residents to choose from 31 different categories to define themselves. In the last two years, 731 New Yorkers have changed the gender on their birth certificate. Of these, forty-one were minors who had their parents’ consent. Today, all that is required to make the change is simply the approval of a licensed medical or mental-health provider.

But not everyone is buying this social engineering of redefining one’s identity. On March 4, 2017, a million and a half Peruvians went on the streets to protest their government’s attempt to force-feed young children the new gender ideology on their children. They firmly believe that the introduction to this type of brainwashing in the schools violates the rights of parents to educate their children. 

Ever since the 1970s, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland have been in the forefront of gender identity. They provided funding for the NIKK Nordic Gender Institute, the flagship of the “Gender Theory.” However, in 2012, these countries closed down the institute. They found no solid scientific evidence to back the continued work of this institute.

In the United States, in May of 2016, President Obama issued a directive that schools must allow students to use bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice. The schools could provide separate facilities on the basis of gender identity. However, at the cost of losing federal funding, public schools could not prohibit transgender students’ access to the facilities of their chosen gender identity. 

This ruling forced schools to accept whatever gender identity that the parent or legal guardian wanted for a child. It did not require a medical diagnosis to support the stated gender identity. Ostensibly issued out of concern for a few students who are coping with gender dysphoria, President Obama’s directive effectively swept aside the privacy rights of thousands of other students. 

On February 22, 2017, President Trump rescinded the directive. The new ruling rejects the position that not allowing students to use facilities based on their chosen gender identity is discrimination. The new ruling is a return to sanity and common sense. It is a hopeful sign that society can encourage policies and norms that are based on a true anthropology of the human person. When identity merely becomes whatever anyone wants it to be, children are robbed of their chance to mature without confusion.

To be honest, it must be said that the issue of gender identity has gone beyond the limited scope of protecting a vulnerable minority among us. It is, in fact, an aggressive ideology that aims at changing the very notion of human sexuality. In his meeting with the bishops of Poland during World Youth Day, on July 27, 2016, Pope Francis strongly criticized the gender theory. “Today, in schools, they are teaching this to children — to children! — that everyone can choose their gender,” the Holy Father said.  “God created man and woman. God created the world this way…and we are doing the opposite.”

Should we be surprised that those who have no place for God have no place for his purpose in creation? Ultimately, a society based on the theory that anyone can determine his racial or gender identity is a modern Tower of Babel. A place of confusion and collapse! At the end of his remarks on gender ideology, Pope Francis courageously labelled an age that promotes these theories with its rightful name. He told the bishops of Poland that “we must think about what Pope Benedict said — ‘It’s the epoch of sin against God the Creator.’”

Posted: March 23, 2017, 6:00 am
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

In 1605, Johann Carolus printed the first weekly newspaper in Antwerp. However, his was not the first effort to keep the public informed. In 1556, the government of Venice was already publishing monthly news reports. These reports sold for one gazetta, one of the smallest Venetian coins of the day. Other countries in Europe soon began publishing their own newspapers, calling them “gazettes.”

As early as the first century before Christ, the Romans had organized a system for reporting the news. Each day, they would circulate handwritten news sheets called acta. They contained the news about politics, wars, executions and scandals. In every age and culture, people are naturally curious about the world in which they live. For this reason, communicating information is an essential task in any society. 

Journalists who report the events, people, facts and ideas of the day do more than simply pass on information. They educate, entertain, influence, convince and comfort their audience. According to Pope Francis, there are few professions that have “so much influence on society like that of journalism.” Journalists give us what Pope Francis has called “the first draft of history.”

People everywhere depend on journalists to keep them updated on what is happening in our world. Before television, there were many daily newspapers in the United States. Major cities had both morning newspapers and evening newspapers. Today, many people hear or read the news on the internet, even as it happens. With the technological advances in our day, journalists have a wider and more immediate impact on us than in the past. Consequently, journalists need to report the news, not create the news.
 
Journalists have the sober duty of fostering dialogue and debate in a civil manner so that the ideas can be vetted and sound decisions be made for the common good. When reporting, they are to act objectively, not surreptitiously presenting their own personal opinions or those of their employers. Cato the Elder’s wise description of an orator equally applies to the journalist. Every journalist needs to be vir bonus dicendi peritus (an honest person skilled in communicating). By its very nature, communicating with others needs grounding in truth.

Although modern technology has gifted journalists with diverse means to report the news and provide commentaries on events and positions on policies, their moral obligation to follow ethical norms in their work does not change. The art of communication is, by its nature, linked to truth. The vitriol of political rhetoric and strident partisan disagreement should never guide the journalist’s pen.

In his 2008 Message for the 42nd World Communications Day, Pope Benedict XVI issued a needed call for a new discipline of “info-ethics.” Those in health care professions have medical ethics. Those in scientific research dealing with life have bio-ethics. So also those engaging in journalism should have information ethics as a solid foundation for their work. There will be times when criticism is warranted. There will be times when evil must be denounced. Nonetheless, those who legitimately criticize others or the government or publicly denounce an evil must always act responsibly, truthfully and with a serious concern for the privacy of individual persons.

When journalists, unimpeded by external influences, share information with a firm commitment to truth, they help individuals of diverse cultures and ideologies understand each other. They enable others to make sound judgments and responsible choices and, thereby, promote the common good. Reporting the news truthfully, in the words of Pope Francis, is “a cornerstone, a fundamental element for the vitality of a free and pluralistic society.”

Posted: March 20, 2017, 6:00 am
By Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

For immigrants and refugees now in the United States, or who hope to come here in the near future, recent weeks have been a steady diet of anxiety and confusion. The legal struggle over travel bans on immigrants from various nations has disrupted the plans of thousands who seek to come here for all sorts of reasons, including escape from persecution and reunion with family members already here.

Stepped up detention and deportation efforts against undocumented persons have the potential of tearing families apart and traumatizing children caught in the middle. Parents have resorted to diversionary measures, taking different routes to work or school each day, avoiding any stores where police are often present, even changing their appearance or swapping cars to avoid being easily noticed.

We’ve seen both mass demonstrations of support for those adversely affected, and strengthened resolve by those who want tighter immigration restrictions. Good people—a lot of them—exist on both sides, and we need to resist the temptation to demonize the motives of those with whom we disagree. The ensuing polarization among the general populace has uncovered deep divisions among Catholics who find themselves at odds with family, friends, colleagues and fellow parishioners.

Immigration policy is complex. It involves many competing values, among them the duty of government to ensure the security of U.S. citizens and legal residents. That responsibility must be balanced with our country’s long history of welcoming newcomers, especially those fleeing persecution. The U.S. bishops have repeatedly called for deep immigration reform aimed at meeting both goals. We need to pray that our leaders exercise the good judgment needed to come to a reasonable solution to the current impasse, and soon.

But this week I want to speak about the ongoing commitment of our local Church to offering pastoral, legal and social service aid to immigrants and refugees in the Greater Philadelphia community. Our Office for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees coordinates a network of priest chaplains, religious sisters and lay leaders who provide for the spiritual and material needs of persons from places like Indonesia, Haiti, West Africa, Vietnam and Brazil.

Our ministry to Hispanic Catholics likewise provides support for Catholic immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America. These are faith communities that enrich the devotional life of our whole Archdiocese. We do and always will welcome all Catholics to worship and fellowship with us, regardless of their legal status. They’re our family in Jesus Christ, first and foremost, and being undocumented diminishes neither their dignity nor personhood.

Catholic Social Services (CSS) has for many years offered low-cost legal services to help immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers with document preparation and help with visas, permanent residency, work authorization, and citizenship. Their work has reunified thousands of families over the past four decades. Additionally, CSS had successfully administered a Refugee Resettlement Program in the past, and at the invitation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) recently restarted an effort to help to refugee families with housing, job opportunities, educational placement for children, and medical services. Under a contract with the U.S. State Department through the USCCB, four new staffers were hired to begin receiving referrals from places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, and even Syria.

Actions of the Trump administration have frozen those efforts for now. But CSS has retained their new staffers by redeploying them to work more closely with immigrants and refugees already here who can benefit from the services they offer.

The USCCB has also provided a grant under its Parishes Organized to Welcome Refugees (POWR) initiative. It’s being used to build an informal coalition of archdiocesan resources, parish-based groups and independent Catholic organizations engaged in helping immigrants and refugees with supportive services. Collaborative efforts have grown across the region. These offer training to both documented and undocumented immigrants about their rights under the law.

This St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, is a good time to remember that Catholics originally came to this country as poor, often non-English-speaking immigrants seeking a better future. Philadelphia became the adopted home of a German immigrant priest who became our city’s bishop and later saint, John Neumann. As immigrants, Catholics were the target of a bigoted Nativist movement whose adherents torched Catholic churches in urban areas all along the East Coast. For exactly this reason, our cathedral, built during that turbulent time, has its only stained glass windows placed unusually high—above the reach of potential fire bombs.

As a Church that herself bore the cross of hatred toward immigrants, our Catholic past is a compelling reason to welcome the immigrants and refugees among us today. These persons and families need our help. They are not strangers but friends. And how we treat them will prove or disprove whether we take our Christian discipleship seriously.

Posted: March 18, 2017, 6:00 am
By Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

A “Shoe” cartoon I saw the other day said this: “A recent study has shown that six of the seven dwarfs . . . aren’t happy.”

The reference to Disney’s “Seven Dwarfs,” reminded me of a recent article in the “National Catholic Reporter” by Nicole Sotelo that discusses why young adult Catholics have left the church. Apparently a lot of them aren’t “happy” either. The article lists several reasons for the defections.

For starters, a high number dropped out because they are unhappy with the church’s teaching on sexuality – abortion, homosexuality and birth control. Another large group says they’ve left because of the way the church treats women. On the other hand, only a few have stopped participating because they feel that the church has abandoned traditional practices such as the Latin Mass. 
    
Along with the findings of a number of professional studies, several other reasons are often cited for the youthful departures: The sexual abuse scandal; the hypocrisy of the members; the irrelevance of organized religion; the church isn’t very welcoming; too much emphasis on money; the Mass is boring; too busy to attend, etc., etc.
 
I heard of one young man, raised thoroughly Catholic, who stopped going to church because he’s “angry with God.” The reasons for his anger aren’t clear.

Ms. Sotelo summarizes her findings by saying that if we analyze the statistics we’ll find that when young people leave the Church “it has less to do with a lack of belief and more to do with the fact that young people want a church they can believe in.” 

I’m not so sure. I think that the erosion of church participation is in fact a manifestation of a “lack of belief,” or at least the consequence of a very thin and fragile faith. And all of these reasons that are so often cited for dropping out – are they reasons or just convenient excuses? 

Three observations are in order.

First, I think that many of the excuses young people use for quitting the church apply to older adults as well.

Second, I’m not convinced that disagreement about sexuality morality is a primary cause of departures. If that were the case, the mainline Protestant churches would be booming, but they’re not. Most of them jettisoned traditional Christian teaching on these matters a long time ago and still they languish.

And third, one of the most obvious indicators of commitment to the faith is regular participation in Sunday Mass.

Now, without a doubt, members of the church, including some priests and bishops, have given plenty of reasons for fellow members to become disillusioned and then quit. Nonetheless, if your faith is strong and resilient you overcome these hurdles and attend Sunday Mass, despite your personal experiences, disappointments and doubts.

And so, for example, if your faith is strong you go to church because you know it fulfills a divine command; it’s the primary Christian, Catholic way of observing the Lord’s Day. There’s a tendency nowadays to overlook the concept of “obligation,” in things both religious and secular. An entitled generation thinks that when they attend Mass they’re doing God a favor, when, in fact they have a sacred obligation to do so, and that it’s offensive to God if they deliberately choose to ignore him!

If your faith is strong, you attend Mass because an unparalleled sacred action is unfolding in your presence – the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, the oblation of Christ that reconciled God and man and redeemed the world.

If your faith is strong you attend Mass because you will hear the Word of God proclaimed, in the reading of the Scriptures and the preaching of the homily. “The homilies are terrible,” you say. Might be true, but remember, throughout salvation history God has managed to use flawed preachers to deliver his word effectively to his people.

If your faith is strong, you attend Mass because there, and only there, are you able to receive the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ. You can stay home and pray all you want, but the Eucharist is the heart and soul of our faith. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you,” Jesus said. (Jn 6: 53)

If your faith is strong, you go to church because you realize it’s important to belong to the Christian community, a community of faith and love that will accompany you through life in good times and in bad. And despite a few colorful characters and occasionally eccentric behavior (sounds like most families, doesn’t it?) the church is a divine institution, established by Jesus and guided by the Holy Spirit.

When, at the beginning of her article Ms. Sotelo suggests that “young people want a church they can believe in,” she misses the point. That church already exists; it’s the Catholic Church, the one founded by Jesus.  

Near the end of her article, however, she offers some rather encouraging words about remaining in the Church. “The reasons we stay are many,” she says, “including our love for the faith, our gratitude for the tradition, and the knowledge that if we work together, we can build a better church.” Would that more young people shared her perseverance, commitment and faith!

Jesus asked: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8) The question remains relevant.

The article first appeared at The Rhode Island Catholic on March 16, 2017

Posted: March 16, 2017, 6:00 am
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

The Kabba of Mecca is Islam’s most holy shrine. It is said to have been built by Abraham and his son Ishmael. It is considered “the House of Allah.” Mosques throughout the world are built with a wall niche, known as mihrab, pointing toward this shrine to indicate the direction that Muslims should face when at prayer. By adopting a common direction for their prayers, devout Muslims express their unity as followers of Mohammed as worshippers of the one God.

Jews throughout the world also face a common direction when at prayer. According to the Talmud, Jews outside of Israel pray in the direction of Israel. Jews in Israel pray in the direction of Jerusalem. Jews in Jerusalem turn toward the Temple Mount. And, if they are on the Temple Mount, then they are to pray in the direction of where the Holy of Holies once stood.

In 70 A. D., the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, not leaving one stone upon another. Yet, pious Jews continue to face the direction of Jerusalem and the Holy of Holies when at prayer. This sacred direction reminds them that they are lifting up their voice in prayer to God, the all-Holy One, who had given them the Promised Land as an inheritance and had chosen to dwell in the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Now that the Temple is no more, the synagogue has become the place of common prayer for all Jews. However, the design of some synagogues does not position the congregation to face eastward toward Jerusalem. In these instances, the faithful pray in the synagogue facing the Ark that contains the Torah. By facing the Torah, that is, God’s self-revelation in Sacred Scripture, the congregants are at least spiritually turned to God. By maintaining a common spiritual direction to their prayer, Jews around the world express not only the unity of their faith, but also their longing for all the scattered of God’s people to return to Jerusalem and to a rebuilt Temple in the anxious anticipation for the coming of the Messiah.

From the earliest days of Church, Christians also faced east when at prayer. In fact, Tertullian (160-220 AD) actually had to defend Christians against the pagans who accused them of facing east to worship the sun. Many Church Fathers, such as St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Basil and St. Augustine, also speak of the practice of facing east. In the 3rd century, the Didascalia, a treatise on church order from northern Syria, set down the rule of facing east during the Eucharist. It said, “Let the place of the priests be separated in a part of the house that faces east. In the midst of them is placed the bishop’s chair, and with him let the priests be seated. Likewise, and in another section let the laity be seated facing east” (Didascalia, Chapter 12).

Before Christianity was legal in the Roman Empire, Christians worshipped in their homes. One of the oldest known house churches has been discovered on the far eastern edge of the Roman Empire, in present day Syria, at Dura-Europos. This house church dates from 233 A.D. Archaeologists have uncovered an assembly room in the house where as many as 60 people would gather for prayer. The room was designed with an altar against the east wall. In this way, the priest and all the faithful would together be facing east when celebrating the Eucharist.

Writing in the 7th century, St. John of Damascus gives three explanations for the eastward stance of Christians at prayer. First, Christ is “the Sun of Righteousness” (Mal 4:2) and “the Dayspring from on high” (Lk 1:78). Facing the light dawning from the east, Christians affirm their faith in Christ as the Light of the world. Second, God planted the Garden of Eden in the east (cf. Gn 2:8). But, when our first parents sinned, they were exiled from the garden and moved westward. Facing east, therefore, reminds Christians of their need to long for and strive for the paradise that God intended for them. And, third, when speaking of his Second Coming at the end of history, Jesus said, “For just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Mt. 24:27). Thus, facing the east at prayer visibly expresses the hope for the coming of Jesus (cf. St. John Damascene, An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book IV, Chapter 12).

Holding fast to this ancient tradition of facing eastward at prayer, the 12th century builders of the first St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna oriented this church to be in line with sunrise on the feast of St. Stephen. However, even from the early centuries, not all churches adhered to this tradition. In fact, the Basilicas of St. John Lateran and St. Lorenzo in Rome and St. Peter’s in the Vatican were built facing westward. So also the important Basilica of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. Thus, when a bishop or priest celebrates the Eucharist in these churches, the people and priest face each other. Nonetheless, the celebrant himself still remains facing the east. By his position, the celebrant stands before the faithful as a reminder to focus, not on him, but on Christ, whose coming they await.

In celebration of the ancient Coptic Rite of Egypt, a deacon exhorts the faithful with the words “Look towards the East!” His age-old exhortation, found also in Greek and Ethiopian liturgies, stands as a strong reminder of the spiritual direction of our prayer. As Christians, we join all our prayers to those of Christ. We turn our eyes and our hearts ad orientem, to Christ, the Dayspring who comes from the east to meet us in the Eucharist and will come at the end of our earthly pilgrimage to gather us together into the home of our Father, the New and Eternal Jerusalem.

Today, our churches do not conform to one standard architectural design. Some are shaped like Rome’s ancient basilicas. Some resemble a Latin cross; others, a Greek cross. And, many of the more recently constructed churches favor the form of an amphitheater. A quick overview of how the Eucharist has been celebrated from the birth of Christianity shows us that, over and above the physical design of any church, the spiritual orientation of the faithful at prayer is most important.

In his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote, “The common turning toward the east was not ‘a celebration toward the wall’ it did not mean that the priest ‘had his back to the people’. For just as the congregation in the synagogue looked together toward Jerusalem, so in the Christian liturgy the congregation looked together ‘toward the Lord.’ They did not close themselves into a circle; they did not gaze at one another; but as the pilgrim People of God they set off for the Oriens, for the Christ who comes to meet us” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 151).

Today, the Eucharist is almost universally celebrated by a priest facing the people. This manner of celebration was introduced in order to respond to the Second Vatican Council’s call for “full, conscious and active participation of the laity” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 12). To achieve this, as Benedict XVI insightfully reminds, “every age must discover and express the essence of the liturgy anew. The point is to discover this essence amid all the changing appearances” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 81). This means that, in every liturgy, we need to be aware of what is taking place. We need to be fully conscious that we are being made partakers in the Paschal Mystery, sharing in the very Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

Whether celebrated with priest and people facing each other or with priest and people together facing the same direction, every Eucharist is Christ coming to meet us, gracing us with a share in his own divine life. Every Eucharist is a proleptic sharing in the feast of heaven. Therefore, in every celebration of the Eucharist, both priest and faithful should focus their attention not on each other, but on the Lord.

In celebration of the ancient Coptic Rite of Egypt, a deacon exhorts the faithful with the words “Look towards the East!” His age-old exhortation, found also in Greek and Ethiopian liturgies, stands as a strong reminder of the spiritual direction of our prayer. As Christians, we join all our prayers to those of Christ. We turn our eyes and our hearts ad orientem, to Christ, the Dayspring who comes from the east to meet us in the Eucharist and will come at the end of our earthly pilgrimage to gather us together into the home of our Father, the New and Eternal Jerusalem.

Posted: February 28, 2017, 7:00 am
By Bishop James D. Conley

More than 70 years ago, the English satirist Aldous Huxley wrote that modernity is the “age of noise.” He was writing about the radio, whose noise, he said “penetrates the mind, filling it with a babel of distractions — news items, mutually irrelevant bits of information, blasts of corybantic or sentimental music, continually repeated doses of drama that bring no catharsis.”

If Huxley had lived into the 21st century, he would have seen the age of noise redoubled and amplified beyond the radio, first to our televisions, and then to our tablets and mobile devices, machines which bring distraction and “doses of drama” with us wherever we go. We are, today, awash in information, assaulted, often, with tweets and pundits analyzing the latest crisis in Washington, or difficulty in the Church, or serious social, political, or environmental issue. It can become, for many people, overwhelming.

To be sure, we have a responsibility as faithful Catholics to be aware of the world and its challenges, and to be engaged in the cultural and political affairs of our communities. We cannot shirk or opt out from that responsibility. But we are living at a moment of constant urgencies and crises, the “tyranny of the immediate,” where reactions to the latest news unfold at a breakneck pace, often before much thought, reflection or consideration. We are living at a moment where argument precedes analysis, and outrage, or feigned outrage, has become an ordinary kind of virtue signaling — a way of conveying the “right” responses to social issues in order to boost our social standing.

The 2016 presidential election was a two-year slog of platitudinous and superficial argument, and now that the election is over, that argument seems interminable. No person can sustain the kind of noise —polemical, shrill, and reactive — which has become a substitute for conversation in contemporary culture. Nor should any person try. The “age of noise” diminishes virtue, and charity, and imagination, replacing them with anxiety, and worry, and exhaustion.

The Lord didn’t make us for this kind of noise. He made us for conversation, for exchange and communion. And our political community depends upon real deliberation: serious debate and activism over serious subjects. But the Lord also made us for silence. For contemplation. For quietude. And without these things anchoring our lives, and our hearts, the age of noise transforms us, fostering in our hearts reactive and uncharitable intemperance that characterizes the media and social media spaces which shape our culture.

The age of noise is grinding away at our souls.

In the second century, just 100 years after Christ’s Ascension, an anonymous Christian disciple wrote a letter to a man named Diognetus, telling him something about the lives and practices of early Christians. “There is something extraordinary about their lives,” he wrote. “They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through….They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven.”

When our friends and neighbors look to us, as disciples of Jesus, they should see that there is something extraordinary about our lives: that although we live fully in our nation, we are, first, citizens of heaven. This means that we must live differently, in the age of noise. We must speak, and act, and think differently. In the words of St. Paul, we must “not be conformed to this world,” to the age of noise, “but be transformed by the renewal of our minds.” We must be, in the best sense of the word, “counter-cultural.”

To be citizens of heaven, we must be detached from the noise of this world. We must participate fully in cultural, and political, and public life, but we must entrust the outcomes of our participation to the Lord. We must detach ourselves from the news cycles, and social media arguments, and television pundits, which inflame our anger, or provoke our anxiety, or which shift our focus from the eternal to the fleeting and temporal.

My good friend Chris Stefanick, a wise speaker and author, wrote last week that we should “read less news,” and “read more Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.” He’s right. We won’t be happier, or wiser, or more peaceful because we consume more of the “age of noise” than we need. Of course, we should be engaged in current affairs. But we’ll be truly happy, through Jesus Christ, when we spend far more time reading Scripture, and spending time before the Lord in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

We’ll be free from the anxiety and worry of the “age of noise” when times of prayer and silence, are regular facets of our day. We’ll be detached from false crises and urgencies of the culture of outrage when we do our small part, and then entrust the affairs of this world to the Lord. We’ll also be, when we quiet the “age of noise” in our hearts, the leaders of wisdom and virtue which our culture desperately needs, right now.

Saint Teresa of Avila, the great Carmelite mystic, wrote a small poem which should guide us in the “age of noise” —

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.


The noise of our culture is designed to disturb and frighten us, and to distract from the unchanging and ever-loving God. But in silent prayer and contemplation before the Blessed Sacrament, we can turn down the noise, and the Lord himself can calm our hearts and renew our minds. To live extraordinary lives, as citizens of heaven before all else, it’s time that we turn down the “age of noise.”

Posted: February 11, 2017, 7:00 am
By Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

At the heart of Catholic social teaching lie two principles: concern for the common good and respect for the individual human being. An example: Catholic prison ministry doesn’t dispute the need for punishment under the law to secure the safety of the public. But it also refuses to abandon the prisoner, affirms his continuing dignity and seeks his rehabilitation. 

Another example: the annual March for Life. Hundreds of thousands of good people have marched on behalf of unborn children every January for more than four decades for two reasons: Permissive abortion poisons society as whole, and it does so by killing one developing child at a time. 

To put it another way, individuals have obligations to the common good, and governments have a particular duty to provide for public security; otherwise they lose their legitimacy. But we can’t serve the common good by exploiting or callously mistreating individuals, especially the weak.  Being “prolife” involves a great deal more than a defense of unborn life, though it should naturally start there. We also have grave responsibilities to the poor, the infirm, the elderly and the immigrant – responsibilities that will shape our encounter with the God of justice when we meet him face to face.
 
There are few embodiments of the weak more needy or compelling than refugees. This is why the Church in the United States has reacted so strongly, so negatively — and so properly – to President Trump’s executive orders of January 28. Writing on January 31, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez (himself an immigrant from Mexico and a naturalized citizen) put it this way:

“It is true that [President Trump’s] refugee orders are not a ‘Muslim ban,’ as some protesters and media are claiming. In fact, the vast majority of Muslim-majority countries are not affected by the orders, including some that have real problems with terrorism, such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“That does not make these orders less troubling. Halting admissions of refugees for 90 or 120 days may not seem like a long time. But for a family fleeing a war-torn nation, or the violence of drug cartels, or warlords who force even children into armies — this could mean the difference between life and death...

“And it is a simple fact that not all refugees are terrorists, and refugees are not even the main source of terrorist threats to our country. The terror attack here in San Bernardino was ‘home grown,’ carried out by a man born in Chicago.

“As a pastor, what troubles me is that all the anger, confusion and fear that resulted from last week’s orders was entirely predictable. Yet that does not seem to have mattered to the people in charge.”

Read Archbishop Gomez’s entire, excellent commentary (“On the Executive Orders”) here: http://www.archbishopgomez.org/article/611.

The Wall Street Journal captured the seemingly slipshod and bumbling nature of the executive orders in its lead January 30 editorial, “Trump’s refugee bonfire.” For the Journal, the “refugee ban is so blunderbuss and broad, and so poorly explained and prepared for, that it has produced confusion and fear at airports, an immediate legal defeat, and political fury at home and abroad.” Worse, the human damage has been painfully bitter: dislocated families, refugees and legal immigrants sent home or turned back, and intense fear in urban immigrant communities like Philadelphia’s. 

None of this is overstatement. A friend of mine tells the story of her Colombian daughter-in-law – a young woman with two master’s degrees, a recently acquired green card, legally employed, with two children by her U.S. citizen husband – who’s now convinced that she might be deported. It doesn’t matter how implausible that sounds or is; what matters is the general atmosphere of uncertainty and fear these poorly thought through, abruptly deployed executive orders have created. This in turn fuels opponents of the new administration who will use any available material to paralyze and undermine the legitimacy of a Trump presidency. Mr. Trump has now provided them with free and invaluable help.

We’re living through an irrational and dangerous time in the life of the nation, and the blame rests on both sides of the political spectrum. But if our differences are intractable, the very last people who should bear the cost of the current civil war are refugees.

Posted: February 1, 2017, 7:00 am
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

Last week was hard. It is sad to see it come to this — that the president of the United States must define, by an executive order, the precise meaning of the word “wall.”

“‘Wall’ shall mean a contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous and impassable physical barrier,” according to one of the three executive orders issued last week on immigrants and refugees.

The first thing to say is that these executive orders seem like they were put together too fast. Not enough thought seems to have been given to their legality or to explaining their rationale or to considering the practical consequences for millions of people here and across the globe.

It is true that the refugee orders are not a “Muslim ban,” as some protesters and media are claiming. In fact, the vast majority of Muslim-majority countries are not affected by the orders, including some that have real problems with terrorism, such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

That does not make these orders less troubling. Halting admissions of refugees for 90 or 120 days may not seem like a long time. But for a family fleeing a war-torn nation, or the violence of drug cartels, or warlords who force even children into armies — this could mean the difference between life and death.

And it is a simple fact that not all refugees are terrorists, and refugees are not even the main source of terrorist threats to our country. The terror attack here in San Bernardino was “home grown,” carried out by a man born in Chicago.

I am pleased that one of the orders will mean that our country will finally begin giving priority to helping Christians and other persecuted minorities.

But does God intend our compassion for people to stop at the borders of Syria? Are we now going to decide that some people are not worthy of our love because they have different skin color, a different religion or were born in the “wrong” country?

As a pastor, what troubles me is that all the anger, confusion and fear that resulted from last week’s orders was entirely predictable. Yet that does not seem to have mattered to the people in charge.

I worry that in the name of showing toughness and determination, we are communicating to the world a harsh indifference.

Right now, no nation accepts more refugees than the United States. So what kind of message are we sending to the world?

Those moments in our history that we are the least proud of — from the Holocaust to the ethnic cleansings of the 1990s — are moments when we closed our borders and our hearts to the sufferings of innocent people.  

We all agree that our nation has the obligation to secure its borders and establish criteria for who is permitted to enter and how long they are permitted to stay. In a post-9/11 world, we all agree there are people both inside and outside our borders who want to hurt us. We share a common concern for our nation’s security and the safety of our loved ones.

But our approach to all these issues must be consistent with our ideals. America has always been different — some would say exceptional. Welcoming immigrants and sheltering refugees has always been something special and essential about who we are — as a nation and as a people.
It is true that these new orders on immigration mostly call for just returning to the practice of enforcing existing laws.

The problem is that our laws have not been enforced for so long that we now have millions of undocumented people living, working, worshipping and going to school in our country.
That includes millions of children who are citizens living in homes with undocumented parents. These children have the right — as citizens and as sons and daughters of God — to grow up with some assurance that their parents will not be deported.

These new orders do not change the fact that our nation needs true and lasting reform of our immigration system. Do we really want to hand over the fate of millions of fathers, mothers and children to overworked caseworkers in an underfunded immigration court system?

A policy of enforcement only — without reform of the underlying system — will only lead to a human rights nightmare.

As a Church, our priorities remain with our people. We will continue to follow the call of Christ through our parishes, charities and relief organizations.

And I repeat, as I have said before: the most constructive and compassionate thing our government can do right now is to stop the deportations and the threat of deportations for those who are not violent criminals.

Our Christian mission is clear — we are called to hear the cry of the poor and we are called to open our doors to the stranger who knocks and to seek the face of Christ who comes to us in the immigrant and the refugee.

Please pray for me this week and I will be praying for you.

And may our Blessed Mother Mary help all of us — and especially our leaders — to meet the challenges that we face as one nation of immigrants under God.

Posted: January 31, 2017, 7:00 am
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

Pomp, pageantry and politics go into the mix of the inauguration of any new president of the United States. When Thomas Jefferson was sworn in as our third president, he walked to the Capitol for his swearing-in. He read his speech. Then, he went back to his boarding house. By such simplicity, he sent the message to the young nation that its president should not be seen as a monarch.

When James Madison, another Founding Father of our nation, often called the “Father of the Constitution,” took office, every item which he wore was made in the United States. He wanted to make a statement about our country’s independence. When Abraham Lincoln took office in 1865, he invited African Americans to march for the first time in the inaugural parade. When Barack Obama was sworn in as president, he invited an openly gay marching band to participate for the first time in the parade along with military and school bands. 

The inaugural parade dates from the time of Jefferson. When he took office as president for the second time, Jefferson rode on horseback from the Capitol to the White House. Men from the Washington Navy Yard and musicians accompanied him along the way. This post-inaugural procession gave birth to the modern 1.5-mile inaugural parade that includes civilians and military personnel from the entire country. But, not all parades have been as simple as Jefferson’s. 

Dwight Eisenhower’s inaugural parade took place during the Cold War. It lasted 4 hours and 39 minutes. It was the longest of its kind in history. The parade made a statement about our military prowess. It showcased 22,000 service men and women and 5,000 civilians. There were tanks and artillery, 59 floats, 65 bands, 350 horses, three elephants and an Alaskan dog team. 
 
All the ceremonies and celebrations surrounding a presidential inauguration highlight the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next. The Founding Fathers established our republic in such a way that our federal government would transition without the spilling of blood in the streets. They wanted to insure continuity and change without revolution. But, they could not prevent protests. In a country that guarantees freedom of speech, it is inevitable that some individuals whose strong views differ from the new president do not remain silent.

Prior to the passing of the office of president from Lyndon B. Johnson to Richard Nixon, there were days of protests. On the very day of Nixon’s inauguration, flags were burned and police attacked. As Nixon drove in his motorcade, he was greeted with rocks and other objects. For President Trump’s inauguration, the National Park Service issued 22 permits for First Amendment events to take place over inauguration week. Protesters and supporters all attending the same passing on of power demonstrate, to some degree, the freedom that Americans enjoy.

At the center of all the cheers and jeers, the formal balls, the speeches and dinners stands the one and only requirement that the United States Constitution lays down for the inauguration: the taking of the oath of office. Before an individual begins to exercise the executive powers of president, that person must swear an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” For this oath, it is customary to use a bible, even though this is not specified by the Constitution. John F. Kennedy used a Catholic bible. Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Obama and Trump each took their oath of office, using two bibles. 

However, not every president has taken the oath of office on a bible. John Quincy Adams deliberately did not use a bible. Wanting to show the distinction between church and state, he swore his oath on a book of laws. At his 1963 swearing-in aboard Air Force One, Lyndon B. Johnson placed his hand on a Catholic missal that belonged to his predecessor. 

What is most important in every inauguration ceremony is the new president’s oath, his solemn promise to abide by the laws of the nation. The president is not the lawgiver. He is bound by the constitution. In fact, our constitution is the Founding Fathers’ practical application of the natural law to our nation’s governance. 

Like Sophocles, Aristotle, Cicero and St. Thomas Aquinas, our Founding Fathers accepted the fact that there is a God who created the universe. They accepted the fact that God implanted in man a law which all human beings can know by reason. This law precedes and is superior to all human laws. They acknowledged the reality that God is Supreme Judge of individuals and nations (cf. Dr. Robert S. Barker, The Review of Metaphysics 66, September 2012).

Thus, amid all the loud accolades and strident protests surrounding the inauguration, we will best continue the great American traditions of freedom and liberty, of peace and opportunity for all by honoring the natural law. We need to once again as a nation listen more attentively to the law that God has implanted within each of us. When God is acknowledged as Creator and Supreme Judge, individuals will differ but will not divide their efforts from working toward the common good. They will respect every individual, born and unborn, as created with equal dignity. Putting aside the rhetoric of rancor, they will abide by the law of common civility so necessary for peace. In a word, the taking of the oath of office by our new president challenges, by its very nature, every American to return to the basics of God’s law, for his law is nothing other than his plan for our happiness.

Posted: January 28, 2017, 7:00 am
By Bishop James D. Conley

Last weekend, hundreds of thousands of women gathered for marches and demonstrations across the country, organized to proclaim that “women’s rights are human rights.”

No Catholic can dispute that claim. Women are created in the image of God, with dignity and beauty, and are deserving of the respect, honor, and appreciation afforded to every human person. And women suffer great injustices and indignities in places around the world, none of which should be tolerable for Christians. The Church should be the first to call for just, honorable, and loving treatment for every woman, at every stage of her life.

But the women’s marches organized last week, however well-intentioned, had a troubling approach to their advocacy. The marches tended towards an approach which plagues many movements in contemporary political and social life—they fostered a narrative of opposition, in which men and women are cast as adversaries, each grasping for the reins of power, instead of seeking unity, complementarity, mutual support, respect, and charity. Moreover, the marches seemed to embrace a kind of crudity which robs women of their true identity. There seemed to be a focus on crass slogans and symbols, replacing the beauty of femininity with an unbecoming, hard-edged vulgarity. This vulgarity was, in some cases, a response to intolerable and unacceptable crudities cast at women, most notably by our new president—but it should be clear that both his words and many responses were simply beneath our human dignity.

Finally, the women’s marches last week embraced the lie that legal protection for abortion promotes women’s dignity. In fact, abortion undermines the rights of women to life, to respect, and to freedom.

The early American feminists—women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Alice Paul—began a movement rooted in Christian morality, and pro-life convictions. Alice Paul, who wrote the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923, taught that “abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women,” through which men escape responsibility for their own choices, and use economic and social power to impose harmful choices on women. Sadly, the organizers of last weekend’s marches seem to have embraced the lie of abortion, without ever recognizing its danger.

While watching media coverage of the women’s marches, I saw a sign I greatly appreciated. A young girl held a poster with a picture of a mother and a daughter, next to the words “without a woman, you wouldn’t be here.” That sign reflects a true feminism, which recognizes that women, through whom every single person comes into the world, are deserving of the highest respect.

The Church, in our veneration of the Blessed Mother, has always recognized that women are critical to the salvation of the world, and to every single human family. Women and men, created complementary to one another, reflect the image of God.

Motherhood is an extraordinary part of the role of women in the life of the world. But, in a 2004 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Church teaches that “this does not mean that women should be considered from the sole perspective of physical procreation.” Instead, our faith teaches that the genius of women is a “capacity for the other,” a “deep intuition of the goodness in their lives of those actions which elicit life, and contribute to the growth and protection of the other.”

Women, the Church teaches, have “a sense and a respect for what is concrete,” and “a singular capacity to persevere in adversity, to keep life going even in extreme situations, to hold tenaciously to the future, and finally to remember with tears the value of every human life.”

We all depend on the feminine genius. The Church teaches that “femininity is more than simply an attribute of the female sex,” it is “the fundamental human capacity to live for the other and because of the other.”

Men and women, who are created different, bring unique perspectives and approaches to family life, to culture and politics, and to the workplace. Both women and men are essential to the welfare of our families, our Church, and our communities. The Church teaches that, for this reason, “women should be present in the world of work and in the organization of society, and that women should have access to positions of responsibility which allow them to inspire the policies of nations and to promote innovative solutions to economic and social problems.”

To achieve a just society, we must work to make it possible for women to be welcomed in leadership and collaboration in all areas of life, and all communities. This requires policies which respect the role of women in the workplace and in the family, which ensure that women who devote the totality of their time to their families are not stigmatized or financially penalized, and which ensure that women in the workplace are not penalized or excluded because of their obligations to their families and children.

Women’s rights are, indeed, human rights. This essentially includes the right of all women to life, and the right for women to live without the coercion or exploitation of abortion. It includes the right of women to participate in social and economic leadership, and their right to do so without unjust personal or family costs. God did not create men and women to vie for power, to be at odds with one another, to be mistrustful or defensive. He created men and women, in His image, for unity, respect, support, and love. May each of us work for that unity, in our hearts, in our families, and in our world.

 

This column first appeared in the Southern Nebraska Register.

Posted: January 24, 2017, 7:00 am
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