Bishops’ Corner

By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

 When Constantine legalized the Christian faith with the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D., the Church emerged from Rome’s subterranean cemeteries and moved into the city’s basilicas. In these buildings, courts of justice were held as well as other public functions. In the basilicas of imperial Rome, the apse, located at the farthest point opposite the main entrance, was the seat of authority. Here the magistrates would sit in judgment. Here the emperor would be enthroned. Because of the importance of this space, the early Christians transformed the apse into the sacred space for the liturgy. Here the bishop, surrounded by his priests, would sit on a slightly elevated chair.

Christians began to decorate their new liturgical space with elaborate artistic themes borrowed from imperial Rome. In this period of transition from a persecuted Church to a legal religion, the simple representation of Jesus as a young shepherd gave way to a more stylized image of Jesus as teacher and ruler of the world. This can be seen in the fourth century basilica of Santa Pudenziana, one of the oldest places of Christian worship in Rome. 

In the beautiful mosaic adorning the apse of Santa Pudenziana, Christ wears the purple-trimmed gold toga of the Roman emperor. The shepherd has become the ruler of the world. He holds a book in his left hand. He extends his right hand, expounding his lesson in the fashion of a classical Roman teacher. On either side of him are the apostles to whom he is entrusting his teaching and authority for future generations.
Early Christians worshipping in this basilica would see in the mosaic above Christ seated on a jewel-encrusted throne with his apostles surrounding him. Directly below him, they would see their bishop seated with priests beside him and his faithful before him. Instinctively, they understood. In the life of the Church, the bishop continues Christ’s mission. His seat or cathedra is the place of Christ’s own authority.

Thus, in Christian tradition, the cathedra symbolizes the bishop’s role as the teacher to whom Christ entrusts a particular church to sanctify and govern. In every diocese, there is one church designated as the cathedral. In a prominent place in the apse or sanctuary of this church stands the bishop’s seat or cathedra. This is what makes a particular church building a cathedral and the bishop’s church. Because of its theological significance, the cathedral is usually the most beautiful and historic of all the churches in a diocese.  In fact, the presence of the bishop’s cathedra makes the cathedral itself a symbol of the theological role of the bishop for the local Church and a reminder to the faithful of the very nature of the Church herself.  

Bishops are successors of the Apostles. The inspired author of the Book of Revelation describes that apostolic mission. He says that the New Jerusalem is built on twelve foundations “and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles” (Rev 21:14). As the foundation supports a building and keeps the entire structure together, the bishops have the divine mandate to keep the church united in the faith that comes to us from the apostles. “The individual bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches…it is in these and formed out of them that the one and unique Catholic Church exists” (Lumen Gentium, 23).

As the Second Vatican Council teaches, the Church, in its deepest reality, is a communio. It is a sharing through grace in the life of the Father given us through Christ and in the Holy Spirit. And, the most visible, most important manifestation of the Church as communio is “the full, active participation of all God’s holy people in the same liturgical celebrations, especially in the same Eucharist, in one prayer, at one altar, at which the bishop presides, surrounded by his presbyterate and by his ministers" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 41). And so each time the bishop, who is the high priest of his diocese, celebrates the Liturgy in his cathedral with the priests and the faithful of the diocese, the very mystery of the Church is made visible.

Because of this theological richness of the cathedral, people over the centuries have consecrated their native soil with so many magnificent cathedrals. With much labor and many sacrifices, believers have built, maintained and renovated Notre Dame in Paris, Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Hohe Domkirche St. Petrus in Cologne, Stephansdom in Vienna and St. Patrick’s in New York, to name a few. They understood, as we do today, that the cathedral is more than a beautiful church. It is the sacred place where God makes visible his Church as a hierarchical communio, as the Body of Christ, as the sign and sacrament of salvation for the world.

Posted: June 24, 2017, 6:00 am
By Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

A bishop attends a lot of worthy public events and fundraisers. It’s part of the job. And supporting good people doing good things is always a source of satisfaction and hope. But once in a while, an event comes along with an unexpected pleasure. 

The June 17 luncheon on behalf of our Philadelphia Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary was just that kind of event. It drew an enthusiastic crowd – honoring Bishop John McIntyre’s 25th anniversary as a priest was part of the focus – and among the many attendees were two long-time friends: Martha and Bill Beckman.

The Beckmans have three children. A daughter will marry this fall, and twin sons are both studying for the priesthood. As members of the Neo-Catechumenal Way, they’ve devoted much of their lives to Church service. That’s included direct missionary work as a couple and as a family. Bill served on my staff during my ministry as archbishop in Denver. He helped me with a number of key projects, including a pastoral letter I released in 1998 on the 30th anniversary of the encyclical Humanae Vitae (“On Human Life.”).

Which brings me to the point of this column. Next month, July, marks another anniversary of Humanae Vitae. Few recent Catholic documents have been as reviled, but also as perceptive, important and accurate in its warnings, as Paul VI’s great encyclical. John Paul II and Benedict XVI both firmly reiterated Humanae Vitae in their teaching. 

It remains a powerful counter-witness to the widespread sexual dysfunction of our age. As other Christian communities, and even many Catholics, have collapsed in their defense of sexual integrity, Humanae Vitae has remained a testimony to the truth.

Bill recently sent me his thoughts on Humanae Vitae as a husband, father and man of faith. First published last year in the Archdiocese of Omaha’s The Catholic Voice, they warrant sharing (slightly adjusted for 2017) here. He writes:

July 25, 2017, will mark forty-nine years since the publication of the encyclical Humanae Vitae (HV), subtitled “On the Regulation of Birth.” The eighth and last encyclical letter of Blessed Pope Paul VI was easily the most controversial Church document since the Reformation and its core teaching the most rejected. It remains so today.

Pope Paul reiterated what had always been the teaching of the Church, namely, that married couples must be open to life in every act of marital intercourse and that any act or omission intended to prevent conception is morally wrong. This is because the marital act bears within it by nature the capacity for the couple’s intimate union and the procreation of new human life. These twin aspects ought never to be willfully separated if the gift of marital love is to be respected and lived responsibly.

The pope presented this teaching in a tone which was at once compassionate and realistic toward couples facing difficulties, and pessimistic about the long-term consequences of deliberately separating the unitive and procreative truths of marriage. His predictions that moral standards would decline, infidelity and illegitimacy would increase, women would be reduced to objects for pleasure and that governments would grow more coercive in the goals of population control all have proven true. Other damaging consequences can be shown as well.

But it mattered little. HV was countered by a perfect storm. The Anglican Church had permitted contraception more than thirty years earlier, and the decade of the 1960s was marked by selfish individualism crowned by the invention of the birth control pill, the “free love” movement and liberalized divorce laws. Maybe most damaging was the fact that the papal commission studying the issue had voted to permit birth control. The commission report was leaked and became a rallying point for those opposed to the pope’s clear teaching.

Those opponents included not a small number of influential clergy and academics who publicly dissented by signing protest ads in major newspapers, and the dissenters soon included a substantial majority of ordinary Catholics. The Church was divided and seriously wounded over a matter of utmost importance – the truth and meaning of marriage and the sanctity of life.

Today the rift and wounds remain, and only the Holy Spirit can bring healing and wholeness. In the face of almost 50 years of selfishness and disobedience, I pray that the Church will zealously teach the truth and beauty of this encyclical, urge repentance for the manifest sins against the sanctity of marriage and life, and call the faithful to complete openness to the innumerable blessings which flow from the Lord and Giver of Life.

The best response I can make, or anyone can make, is:  Amen.

Posted: June 21, 2017, 6:00 am
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

In the early 1890s, patriotism in America was very low. The fires of the Civil War had been extinguished and there was a general cooling of any national sentiment. A Baptist minister named Francis Bellamy was thoroughly convinced that the nation needed a new awakening of national ardor and so he composed the “Pledge of Allegiance” to that end. 

Bellamy believed that the best way to instill a love of country was to begin with America’s youth. And so he worked with the National Education Association. Together they campaigned to have President Harrison make the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in every public school the centerpiece of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World. That day, October 12, 1892, gave birth to the hallowed ritual of saluting the flag with the Pledge of Allegiance, thus reinforcing the biblical principles of liberty, equality and charity upon which America is founded.

On Flag Day, June 14, 1954, President Eisenhower officially added the two very significant words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. The previous February, he had gone to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. He sat in the very same pew in which President Lincoln sat when he attended services. Eisenhower heard a powerful sermon delivered by the pastor, George MacPherson Docherty. And, he was inspired to add those two words.

In speaking about the Pledge of Allegiance in his sermon, Docherty said, “There was something missing in this pledge, and that which was missing was the characteristic and definitive factor in the American way of life. Indeed…this could be a pledge of any republic…” And so the pastor added the very phrase that President Lincoln had added to his Gettysburg address. In delivering that address, Lincoln inserted the phrase “under God” when he said “that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom.” Those two profoundly significant words, now in our Pledge of Allegiance, express the fundamental conviction of our Founding Fathers that God’s just providence rules over all people and guarantees their rights. 

Today, the unity of our country is sorely tested. Political speech is reaching a new low of disrespect for others. There are constant protests against authority. Students feel free to walk out on speakers with whom they disagree. There is no tolerance for the views of others. Comedians with politically-fired quips keep stoking hatred and anger. And, the result is the tragic loss of basic civility and respect. 

Furthermore, on very fundamental issues, we are a nation divided. Many do not hold to the sacredness of life, the freedom of religion, the Creator’s design for marriage, and charity toward the needy and the stranger among us. Is it not fair to question whether or not our unity as a nation has been shattered by those who attempt to refashion our society on human ideas without any reference to God’s providence? For America to truly become “one nation, under God, indivisible, with justice for all,” we need a reawakening of faith in the public forum.

Posted: June 1, 2017, 6:00 am
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

According to a report issued by the Center for Studies on New Religions, there were 90,000 Christians killed for their faith in 2016. As Robert Nicholson of the Philos Project has said, “There are many places on earth where being a Christian is the most dangerous thing you can be.” Open Doors, a non-denominational organization which supports persecuted Christians in more than 60 countries, has reported that there are 215 million Christians today who face intimidation, physical harm, loss of property and even death simply because they were Christians.

The media will give some reports of the ongoing attempts by ISIS radicals to wipe out Christianity in Syria and Iraq. But, Christians are being persecuted in many other places, such as Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Even in North and South America where Christianity is accepted, Christians are under attack for their beliefs.

From her very birth, the Church has faced persecution. After healing the lame beggar at the gate of the Temple in Jerusalem, Peter preaches the gospel. He is immediately arrested along with John and brought to trial. Before being released, they are warned to cease their preaching. But, they do not. Because they refused to be silent, they are once again dragged before the Sanhedrin. Peter boldly responds to their adversaries, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Jesus had prepared his disciples for persecution. In the Sermon on the Mount, he told them, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5:11-12). At the Last Supper, Jesus again reminded them of the hardships yet ahead. He said, “A slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (Jn 15:20).

At the Ascension, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit who would empower the Church for mission. He said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). For about one year and a half after the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost, the Apostles stayed in Jerusalem, building up the infant Church. But, when the first Christian was martyred, the swaddling bands were stripped away and the Church moved into the world.

On the very day on which the deacon Stephen became the first Christian martyr, “there broke out a severe persecution of the Church in Jerusalem, and all were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria…” (Act 1:8). What the enemies of the faith had done to destroy the Church only served to quicken her missionary Spirit. “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch…” (Acts 11:19).

We see persecution from this side of heaven. God’s view far exceeds our limited vision. His wisdom is wider than our understanding. He turns every persecution into a moment of growth for the Church. What appears to be a hindrance becomes a help. God used the very first persecution to move the Church to begin fulfilling the Great Commission, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt: 28:19). With the martyrdom of Stephen, the missionary spirit of the Church burst into activity. And, so it continues today.

In 1979, the Pahlavi dynasty under the Shah of Iran was overthrown by a hardline Islamic regime under Ayatollah Khomeini. Christian missionaries were expelled. Persian bibles banned. Conversions outlawed. Muslims who became Christians faced opposition and even the death penalty.

Christianity had a birthright going back to Pentecost itself when, among the first converts were Persians, Parthians and Medes (cf. Acts 2:9). Despite sporadic persecutions over the centuries, there had always been a continuous Christian presence in Iran. But, with ever increasing pressure, the new Islamic regime was intent on extinguishing the last glowing embers of the Christian faith.

However, Iranian Christians facing persecution have been responding like Peter and John before the Sanhedrin. They boldly speak about Christ, obeying not man, but God. “As a result, more Iranians have become Christians in the last 20 years than in the previous 13 centuries put together since Islam came to Iran” (Mark Howard, “The Story of Iran’s Church in Two Sentences,” April 17, 2017).

God’s ways are not man’s ways. As we face persecution for our Christian faith, as our secularized society labels us bigots and intolerant for holding to Jesus’ teaching on God’s design for marriage and on the sacred gift of life itself, we should not be discouraged. The Holy Spirit has been given us to make Christ known as Lord and Savior and to make his Church truly be his presence in the world. This is a moment to boldly speak our faith and boldly live our faith.

Posted: May 25, 2017, 6:00 am
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

In June 2013, the European Union adopted “Guidelines on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Religion or Belief.” At the time, church leaders welcomed the directives. However, most recently, the secretary-general of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences reported that there has been little movement defending religious liberty on the basis of these guidelines. 

Three years after enacting the guidelines, in November of 2016, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that Christianity is “the most persecuted religion in the world.” Even a quick glance around the world shows that Christianity is under attack. And yet there remains a reticence to even mention the persecution of Christians taking place in the Middle East.

Historically, Christianity has been in the Middle East centuries before Islam was born. It is hardly an import from the West. Yet, in the past century, two thirds of the Christians have been forced from their homes, tortured or killed. Some of the persecution comes from radicals. In some cases, the government endorses the persecution. In other cases, it simply closes its eyes.

In the United States, however, people are free to choose any faith or even to be an atheist. They have the liberty to convert from one religious community to another. Every year almost 150,000 Americans convert to Catholicism and 20,000 convert to Islam. But, in other countries, such freedom of religion simply does not exist. 

In Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Yemen, those who convert from Islam can lose their citizenship and their property rights. They can even have their marriages declared null. In Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Iran, death is a real possibility for those who leave Islam. “Apostates are subject to gross and wide-ranging human rights abuses including extra-judicial killings by state-related agents or mobs; honor killings by family members; detention, imprisonment, torture, physical and psychological intimidation by security forces…and day-to-day discrimination and ostracism in education, finance and social activities” (Christian Solidarity Worldwide, “No place to call home,” April 29, 2008).

Many people are unaware that Saudi Arabia prohibits the public practice of all non-Muslim religions. The government even bans the display of Christian symbols. Everything must be Islamic. There is no freedom of religion. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world without any church buildings. Yet, in Rome, the historic center of the Christian world, there stands the largest mosque in the Western World. It was financed by King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, head of the Saudi royal family. 

In the last five years, restrictions on religious practice have increased in every major region of the world, even within the United States. In our country, even before the Constitution was signed, there has been a solid history of accommodating religious practice. Yet, with the passing of Obamacare, our government issued one of the greatest restrictions on religious liberty. It mandated that religious institutions include as a benefit in their health plans sterilization, prescription contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs. The refusal to comply with such bad legislation brought the Little Sisters of the Poor into our courts to defend their religious liberty.
In 2014, a graduate professor at Marquette University labeled a student’s defense of marriage as homophobic. When political science professor John McAdams defended the right of a graduate student to express his views on marriage, McAdams was fired. On Thursday, May 4, 2017, a Milwaukee county judge upheld the university’s decision to terminate him. Clearly, the court in this case is restricting the freedom of speech and religious belief.

Without a doubt, we have been witnessing across the nation “restrictions on…free exercise of religion and freedom of speech – a crackdown that can be seen in a variety of different contexts ranging from employers or health care professionals being required to provide or facilitate abortions against the dictates of their faith to street evangelists and public school students seeking to share their religious viewpoints with others” (Jay Alan Sekulow, “Religious Liberty and Expression Under Attack: Restoring America’s First Freedoms,” October 1, 2012). But the situation is changing.

On May 4, 2017, on the National Day of Prayer, President Trump signed the executive order “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.” This order sets a path to limiting government interference in the practice of religion. It seeks to remove the anti-conscience mandate of Obamacare that requires religious employers to provide coverage of sterilization, artificial birth control and abortifacients. 

Furthermore, the executive order weakens the Johnson Amendment. For the first two hundred years of our nation’s history, preachers spoke politics from the pulpit. They addressed the controversial issues of the day. Their sermons were a catalyst for social change, including the abolition of slavery and the recognition of women’s rights. They even publically rallied against the candidates such as Thomas Jefferson and William Howard Taft. But, in 1954, the government passed the Johnson Amendment. This provision in the U.S. tax code prohibits churches and nonprofit organizations from engaging in partisan political activity at the risk of losing tax-exempt status. When signing the executive order, the president told the religious leaders that, by lessening the restrictions, he was “giving our churches their voices back.”

The practice of religion is never contained within the walls of a church, a synagogue or mosque. Religious beliefs determine behavior and all behavior is social. The fundamental right to religious freedom goes beyond the political whims of any one political group, majority or government that would dictate social behavior. The new executive order “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty” recognizes this, but makes no change in a legal status quo that has proven to be contrary to religious liberty. Our legislators need to pass laws that provide protection for conscience on the basis of religious beliefs. Only then will we have religious liberty, a hallmark of a truly tolerant society.

Posted: May 18, 2017, 6:00 am
By Bishop David Zubik

Without intending to, I have become a user and a fan of the ride-sharing service Uber. It gets me where I need to go, when I need to be there. And it’s also taught me something about faith.

As many of you know, Uber is an alternative transportation service, using drivers who hire out their personal cars and their time to take riders from one place to another, from one neighborhood to another.

To apply, a prospective rider logs on to the Uber app, fills in his or her name, some other personal information and a credit card number. When approved, the credit card allows the rider to automatically enjoy Uber service without the exchange of money. It’s an easy exchange of service rendered and service received.

It allows me to spend time with kind and caring strangers, and we often speak about God and their faith. They’re usually the ones who bring it up – usually because they’re surprised to be giving the bishop a ride. Some are very excited and tell me about their church or how God has changed their life. Some rather sheepishly tell me they haven’t been to church in years, and we talk about the reasons why.

Either way, it gives me a chance to reciprocate, to do something in return for these ladies and gents who help me. Hopefully, through something I say or just my presence as a shepherd of the faith, I can help them get to their ultimate destination as well.

So I have become an avid Uber fan. But I must confess, it was not by choice but by necessity.

Surrendering to God’s will

The week before Christmas, I lost all feeling in my right foot. Many of you know that I suffer from debilitating issues with my back. The doctors have recommended that I have surgery to correct it. But in the meantime, I have stopped driving. And I love to drive. Like all teenagers who get their license, I enjoyed the freedom that driving offered. But over the years, and especially since becoming bishop, I have relished driving even more. I cherish time alone, and use it to pray, to reflect on homilies and talks, or just to be alone with myself and God.

This problem with my foot forced me to renounce this pleasure that I have treasured since I turned 17. I surrendered it for the safety of others and myself.

Quite often, some members of my staff kindly drive me to my appointments. But with my schedule as busy as it is, they can’t always be available.

So along comes Uber, serving both as an angel of mercy and an angel with a message. The message? Learning how better to surrender.

As we continue to bask in the glory that is Easter, we recall that the way WE got to Easter is by way of what Jesus himself did to get to Easter. By surrendering – his will, his mother, his apostles, his life – to the will of his Father.

And the Father’s will? That we all might get to heaven.

That’s why surrender is so important and necessary for us as followers of Jesus. Every one of us learns in life that we inevitably have to let go – of childhood, of loved ones, of things, of good health and eventually of life itself. None of this “letting go” is ever easy. But what makes surrender a JOY is to let go in the WAY Jesus did and for the reasons WHY Jesus did. Out of love for others. To help each other get to heaven.

Bummer or blessing

Back in grade school, whenever the sisters taught me to “offer it up,” they knew what they were talking about. They were trying to teach me truly to become more like Jesus. They were helping me to become more an Easter person – someone who surrenders out of love for others, who surrenders to help others get to heaven.

It is our faith as Easter people to learn that lesson. For me, who so much loves to drive, it is a bummer to let go. But as a follower of Jesus, ever eager to become more like him, it is becoming a blessing to let go as Jesus did so and for WHY Jesus did so – out of love for others, out of a desire to help others get into heaven.

So what about you? What is there in your life that you must surrender? And how much is it a bummer? Perhaps your child is graduating and leaving home. Maybe you have lost your job or you are facing a serious health issue. Perhaps you dread a change in your parish as part of On Mission for The Church Alive!

The Easter season can be the time to let God change that bummer into a blessing. To do this, he sometimes sends us the help of an angel, a messenger from God.

As you note, I titled this article “Uber Est!” “Uber” is a Latin word for “fruitful,” and “est” means “is.” My time with Uber is fruitful. So Uber Est is what I’ve named the angel God has sent me to help me surrender.

Where’s your angel? God is sending you one, too, to help you surrender.

This column was first posted on May 05, 2017 at

Posted: May 11, 2017, 6:00 am
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

In 2007, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice established the International Women of Courage Award. It is presented to women who show exceptional courage, even at great risk to their own lives. Each year, U.S. embassies around the world put forward candidates for this award from their country of service. This year, on March 29, First Lady Melania Trump presented the awards. Among the recipients from countries as diverse as Colombia, Papua New Guinea and Botswana was Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh, a member of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. 

Salesian Sister Carolin lives in war-torn Syria. In the midst of the constant bombing, she goes about her work. Increased bombings in Syria have only served to intensify her selfless service, especially for the safety of the traumatized children in her nursery school. In addition to the school, she runs a tailoring workshop to help displaced women acquire needed job skills. She is constantly attending to the needs of refugees. Sister Carolin’s work has been hailed as a beacon of hope both for Christians and Muslims.

Every day, Sister Carolin faces life or death situations. We do not. In terms of our physical well-being, our situation in America is not the same. But, in terms of our spiritual well-being, there is a similarity. Our cultural and political environment is becoming increasingly hostile. Because there are no bombs, no gunfire, no explosions, many are lured into thinking that our values as Christians are not under serious attack. Nonetheless, a war against the Christian faith is taking place.  

The constant drumbeat championing diversity attempts to drown out the Christian voice in the public square. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” But, many today are no longer speaking of the free exercise of religion. Rather they talk about the freedom of religion. This change in language promotes the idea of limiting the practice of religion to only within the walls of a church, synagogue or mosque. It stems from the desire not to respect the freedom of individuals who refuse to participate in activities that contradict their religious beliefs.

It is easy to recognize in other countries anti-religious campaigns that erupt into spilling the blood of those who hold fast to their faith. The lineal descendants of King Herod still wield the sword to destroy belief. But, there is another, a more subtle type of persecution on our own soil. In his April 12, 2016 homily at Domus Sanctae Marthae in the Vatican, Pope Francis astutely warned us of a persecution “disguised as culture, disguised as modernity, disguised as progress.” This type of persecution seeks to impose secularistic, materialistic attitudes on others. It promotes laws against the dignity of the human person as created by God. It allows for no disagreement. An example will help.

Weddings are happy events. Flowers and cakes, music and dance, videos and photos celebrate the union of the newlyweds. A florist, a baker, a musician or a photographer should never discriminate and refuse to serve an individual on the basis of their sexual orientation. But, this does not mean that morally speaking, they are bound to provide their services to celebrate a union between two people of the same sex, if this contradicts their own deeply held religious beliefs (cf. Daniel Philpott, “Polite Persecution,” First Things, March 13, 2017). They are not discriminating against the individuals. They are simply remaining faithful to their conscience by not cooperating in such an event.

Those who hold to the biblical understanding of marriage should not be labeled bigots. Nor should they be forced to act against their conscience by endorsing and participating in same-sex marriages. They truly have the right of conscientious objection. But, in the name of tolerance, our courts are refusing to recognize this right. In our “tolerant” society, everyone must accept anything that the culture approves. And, it does not end there.

The “dictatorship of tolerance” is degenerating into a soft tyranny. For refusing to acquiesce to the new orthodoxy about sexual morality, professionals in every field are fired and charities, hospitals and schools are threatened with the loss of their accreditation and funding. Those holding to basic Christian moral values now face what Pope Francis has called a “polite persecution.” Unfortunately, the activities of this “polite persecution” are hardly polite! We need the courage of award-winning Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh to move out of our comfort zone and face this persecution by translating our beliefs into behavior and faith into works.

Posted: April 30, 2017, 6:00 am
By Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila

I was dismayed to learn this past January that the Boy Scouts of America decided to end their practice of more than 100 years that allowed only boys to be members. They did this by permitting transgender boys to join troops, that is, girls who struggle with gender dysphoria and are living as though they are boys.

When he founded the Boy Scouts in 1908, Robert Baden-Powell envisioned it as a way of forming boys into men. He also readily acknowledged that the boys in the troop help form each other under the direction of the leader. “Scouting,” he said, “is a game for boys under the leadership of boys under the direction of a man.”

The Boy Scouts of America also recently decided to allow boys and leaders with same-sex attraction as members. These decisions are social experiments that are rationalized away without accounting for the impact on the clear majority of boys who do not have gender dysphoria or same-sex attraction. Indeed, it is not hard to see that there will be lasting consequences for current and future generations of American boys as they try to understand their own sexuality in their formative years.

These decisions have been part of the Boy Scouts’ slow retreat in the face of the secular culture’s advancement of an LGBTQ agenda. At the same time, the Boy Scouts have insisted that they will allow Church-sponsored troops to only accept boys, to continue to run troops in accord with the faith, and to defend these scout units in any resulting lawsuits.

In response, churches who charter scouting groups have been faced with the difficult decision of whether to continue to be affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America. Some dioceses have decided to disaffiliate completely, while others think that, at least in the case of the Boy Scouts, adequate protections exist for affiliation to continue.

Many have asked what I have decided to do in the Archdiocese of Denver, since these decisions are contrary to the natural law and the Church’s teaching on sexuality. Before I answer that question, there are two points I want to make. First, discussions about sexual attraction, orientation, and lifestyle choices have no place in scouting. These are issues that parents need to address, both through their own example and by teaching their children. Second, the Church is absolutely committed to the dignity of the human person, the understanding of man and woman as made for each other, the virtue of chastity and the protection of children, especially from different forms of abuse, which includes enabling and/or encouraging gender dysphoria.

I have been contemplating the jarring words of Jesus about leading the innocent into sin. The Lord tells us in the Gospel of Luke, “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin” (Lk. 17:1-2). We must be very careful about the example and witness we give to others, especially children. To expose them to immorality and/or material inappropriate for their level of maturity, without the full knowledge and consent of parents, is scandalous to them and wrong for us. Doing so also contradicts two of the principles of the Scout Oath – doing our “duty to God” and remaining “morally straight.”

Despite these recent decisions, I also realize that the core elements of Boy Scouting remain praiseworthy and that hundreds of men and boys in the Archdiocese have been positively impacted by their Boy Scout formation.

While it would simplify matters to ask all scouting groups sponsored by parishes to disaffiliate from their respective national organizations, I decided to consult with those who lead many of the Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops of the Archdiocese. Following that discussion, I decided that such a decision could produce unfortunate consequences and fall short of presenting the courageous witness Christ calls us to give.

For over 100 years the Boy Scouts have provided meaningful formation that, to quote a scout master whom I recently met with, “transforms doofuses into leaders.” This formation is not limited to Catholic boys only. The troops and packs sponsored by our parishes are open to non-Catholic boys and leaders who desire to be part of the scouts and are not opposed to the Catholic character of the group. In effect, these troops and packs are not only forming Catholics, promoting virtue, but they are also sharing the Gospel with others, i.e., evangelizing. Further, I believe that disaffiliation, while it makes a strong statement, would make a winner out of the secular culture and its agenda, and losers out of the Boy Scouts and the Church.

While I fear that the Boy Scouts may make another decision that will necessitate disaffiliation, I am not going to move in that direction at this time. Instead, I am calling for all scouting groups sponsored by our parishes, including the Girl Scouts, to reinforce their commitment to forming boys and girls into virtuous Christian young adults.

Ultimately, the decision for a parish to charter or affiliate with a scouting organization falls under the authority of the pastor, who must weigh the risks this could present to his parish. I ask for all those involved in Catholic scouting to respect the decisions made by their pastors.
For those groups that are supported by pastors and who continue to be affiliated in the Archdiocese of Denver, I am establishing the following requirements:

• To present the best witness to scouts and anyone encountered in scouting activities, all leaders must adhere to the Code of Conduct of the Archdiocese of Denver, specifically:

• Have a positive and supportive attitude toward the Catholic Church, her teachings, and her work.

• Refrain from approving, promoting or engaging in any conduct or lifestyle considered to be in contradiction with Catholic doctrine or morals.

• Promote the dignity of the human person and expressions of human sexuality that accord with the natural law, and therefore with Catholic teaching.

• To promote the best possible environment for their formation, all scouts must:

• Have a positive and supportive attitude toward the Catholic Church, her teachings, and her work.

• Refrain from conduct or living a lifestyle considered to be in contradiction with Catholic doctrine or morals.

• Respect their own personal dignity and that of others.

It is my earnest desire that this decision will facilitate the promotion of all that is good and virtuous in scouting. Additionally, all of us need to pray for the strengthening of the moral foundations of our society, especially those institutions that provide formation to youth.
Finally, for those who are seeking acceptable alternatives to the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts that capture the essence of scouting, I would like to suggest some organizations that currently are not problematic. They are: American Heritage Girls, Little Flowers’ Girls Clubs, the Federation of North American Explorers, Columbian Squires, Trail Life USA, and Fraternus. Information on these groups can be obtained from Michelle Peters in the Evangelization and Family Life Ministry office by calling 303-715-3252.

This article was first published on April 20, 2017 at Denver Catholic. 

Posted: April 24, 2017, 6:00 am
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

In 1975, Raymond Moody published the bestseller Life After Life. In it, he coined the term “near-death experience” to label what some individuals said had happened to them after they were clinically dead. Moody’s pioneer work sparked a great interest in the reality of these experiences. Thus, in 1981, the International Association for Near-Death Studies was established. This international organization encourages scientific research on the physical, psychological, and religious nature of these reported experiences. 

In the period from 1975 to 2005, thousands of Americans reported that that they had near death experiences. The overwhelming majority of these experiences were positive. The individuals said that, even after clinical death, they were aware of what was happening to them on earth as they were passing from this life to the next. They were able to describe in detail the people and actions taking place around them on earth, even though they were “dead.” They spoke of a life review and of encountering relatives who had died, all the while being surrounded by unconditional love. Their descriptions of what they saw and sensed seem to have placed them at the very entrance of heaven. But, then, they returned to life in this world.

However, some near death experiences seem to have been a foretaste of what Christians would traditionally describe as hell. No light. Only darkness. Discord and emptiness. An abyss of sinister figures prowling about. The descriptions have varied, but with one factor remaining constant. The experience was terrifying. The number of these reported out of the body journeys to hell is much less than that of those to heaven. As few as 8 percent of near death experiences are of this type. Some speculate that there may be more, but individuals suppress these negative events or are embarrassed to tell others. Hopefully, the number is simply small!

Whatever the scientific explanations or even theological explanations of these out of the body experiences are, the very report of them and the countless books detailing them bring us face to face with the question about our own belief in the afterlife. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study, roughly 72 percent of Americans believe in heaven and fifty-five percent also believe in hell. As Catholics, each time we profess the Apostles’ Creed and say “I believe in life everlasting,” we acknowledge our own belief in life after death.

The Church teaches that “Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ” (Catcheism of the Catholic Church, 1021). At the moment of death, we face a particular judgment. We stand in the light of God’s truth and see our entire life in relation to God’s love given us in Christ. As St. John of the Cross once said, “At the evening of life, we shall be judged on love alone.” At that moment, each of us receives the eternal destiny we have willed by the way we have lived: “either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through purification or immediately – or immediate and everlasting damnation” (ibid., 1022).

Many people today recoil at the very mention of “hell.” How could an all-knowing God subject anyone to an eternity of torment? Some non-Catholic theologians settle the question by holding that, at death, those who have lived good lives go to heaven and those who die estranged from God pass out of existence. They simply are no more. But, such a theory blatantly contradicts the teaching of Jesus and the Church.

We love our relatives and friends. Certainly, we would not like to see them suffer for all eternity. How can God love them any less than we do? Is not the very idea of hell a contradiction to an all-loving God? In fact, the very opposite is true.

The possibility of hell is a direct result of the fact that God loves us. He sent his only Son who suffered and died for us on the Cross. He graces us with his gifts, his friendship and the offer of sharing in his divine life. He longs for our love. But love that is not free, love that is forced, is not love. And so, God leaves us free to love him or to reject him.

The Church teaches that “God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end” (ibid., 1037). God respects our freedom of choice. He does not constrain us to love him, either in this world or the next. Those who pass from this life to the next, in a state of mortal sin, that is, in the condition of having rejected God’s love in a serious way, have chosen to live apart from the God who is love. As C. S. Lewis has said, “the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”

God does not delight in the death of a sinner (cf. Ez 18:33). He “is patient…not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pt 3:9). He is the loving Father who runs down every deviant road we take to bring us prodigals back home. In Christ Crucified, God calls us to repent of our sins and to receive his saving grace.

There are two fundamental dimensions to our repentance. First and foremost, there is the mercy of God. “Whenever someone makes a mistake, the Father’s mercy is all the more present, awakening repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace” (Pope Francis, Homily for Mass for the Jubilee of Prisoners). God’s mercy precedes our contrition and sorrow for sin. In the light of his love, we see the disorder of our lives.

Second, in repentance, there is our response to God’s mercy. Our response begins with the mind. We acknowledge that we have sinned. “If we say, ‘we are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing” (1 Jn 1:8-9).

True repentance also comes from the heart. Like David who repented of his adultery and Peter who repented of his denial of Jesus, we have sorrow for our sins. We recognize our own infidelity to God who loves us so much. Ultimately, true repentance also involves the will. It is a matter not just of feeling sorry, but of firmly resolving to sin no more.

In confessing our sins sacramentally to a priest, we must resolve to change our behavior. We cannot willfully persist in a sin that objectively contradicts the commandments of God and be forgiven unless we make a firm purpose of amendment. In the words of St. Gregory Palamas, “repentance which is true and truly from the heart persuades the penitent not to sin anymore.”

Posted: April 6, 2017, 6:00 am
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

On Sept. 27, 2016, New Scientist, a weekly international magazine, reported that a team of American scientists had produced the first three-parent baby through genetic engineering and in vitro fertilization. The scientists did their work in Mexico because the revolutionary technology using the DNA of three individuals to produce the baby is not legal in the United States. Some are greeting this latest break-through with great enthusiasm as a way to stop certain diseases. Others are expressing their grave concerns about the morality of such technology.

For almost 40 years, our secular culture has wholeheartedly embraced and promoted in vitro fertilization as an ethical reproductive technology. Good-intentioned individuals desiring to have children have not always taken the time to assess critically this method of manufacturing babies. As for any human act, discernment is required to determine whether it is moral or not. Before acting, the judgment must be made whether in vitro fertilization is in accord with God’s creative design or not.

There are many blessings in marriage. Each family is a sanctuary of life where God entrusts a child to the care of a mother and father. “Children are a gift from the Lord, the fruit of the womb, a reward” (Ps 127:3). As the Second Vatican Council teaches, “Children are the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents” (Gaudium et Spes, 50). 

Sadly, in the United States, one out of every six married couples must deal with infertility. In 30 percent of all cases, male infertility is a factor. In 6 percent of all cases, the woman has difficulty in conceiving a child. The desire of these couples to cooperate with God in bringing a child into the world is noble and praiseworthy. So also is the desire to overcome the obstacles preventing the conception and birth of a child. 

Medical methods used to have a child that respect the dignity of the human person and the very nature of marriage as established by the Creator are moral. Thus, couples may use fertility drugs. They can also have a surgical procedure to eliminate any blockage. These methods help a husband and wife conceive a child in the exchange of their conjugal love. 

However, there are other medical methods that compromise the nature of the marriage and the personal dignity of the child at conception. These methods separate procreation from the intimate expression of love between husband and wife. These same methods produce human life and then discard it at will. Such methods are immoral. Simply put, any medical method that assists the marriage act to achieve pregnancy is moral. Any method that takes the place of the marriage act to produce a child is not.

When in vitro fertilization is used, an embryo is produced in vitro – in a petri dish – in a laboratory. The embryo is manufactured by experts, using the raw material from two or more donors. The embryo is brought into existence outside the mother’s body and not within a conjugal act of love between a husband and wife. This type of reproductive technology separating procreation from sexual love reduces the child to a product.  

Furthermore, in such reproductive technology, multiple embryos are created. Some are selected and implanted in a woman. Others are dismantled for their DNA and then disposed. Still others are simply destroyed. Even after embryos are implanted in a woman, doctors will make a selective reduction, that is, destroy those they judge less promising. In some cases, they will even destroy embryos to reduce the number of children wanted. These procedures demean and diminish the value of human life. Since the embryo is the very beginning of the human person, a coherent respect for the dignity of the person prohibits such procedures.

Sometimes, to produce a child, doctors will use donor eggs from one or two women or donor sperm from one man. As a result, the biological father or mother of the child is someone other than the parents involved in this procedure. The child produced has little chance, if any, of ever knowing his or her biological parent. 

In reproductive technology that produces children in laboratory dishes, the child truly is a product of human manufacturing. These procedures “expose [man] to the temptation to go beyond the limits of a reasonable dominion over nature” (Donum Vitae, 1). The life and death of the child at the most vulnerable stage of human existence becomes subject to the decision of experts. Thus, these experts abrogate to themselves what belongs to God alone as the giver of all life.

Scientific technology can be helpful. However, certain procedures are more than an intervention to assist procreation. They are substitutes for the conjugal union of love between a man and woman that remains open to life as a gift from God. As John M. Haas, the President of The National Catholic Bioethics Center, says, children are “begotten, not made.”

Furthermore, altering embryos to be born free of disease is one step away from “designer babies.” In this case, parents have their future child altered before birth so that the child has the characteristics that the parents themselves want. Each technological advance of this kind brings us closer to Huxley’s Brave New World. As Stuart Newman, New York Medical College Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy, has remarked, “The attempt to improve future people is not medicine… but a new form of eugenics.”

Posted: April 2, 2017, 6:00 am
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