Bishops’ Corner

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
By Bishop James D. Conley

Because we are Catholic, sacred liturgical worship should be at the center of our lives. 

Jesus Christ is present among us in the Church’s sacred worship. In the mystery of Holy Mass, we are present to the Paschal mystery, the sacrifice of Christ’s death on Calvary. Our liturgical worship is a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy, and expresses our love for God. We are made, literally, to worship God.

Jesus, drawing from the words of the Old Testament, taught that his disciples should “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and that each one of us should “love your neighbor as yourself.” In the worship of the Church we work in communion with one another, to love God entirely. And in sacred liturgy, God, who loves us, strengthens us to love him more perfectly and to love our neighbors selflessly and generously.

In worship, we are sanctified – made holy – by the grace of union with Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. In sacred worship, we are configured to Christ; we offer our lives in union with his great act of selfless love on the cross, and thus we are formed to love the world as he does. For this reason, the Second Vatican Council taught that sacred worship of God is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.”

In heaven, we will join the saints and angels in an eternal and perfect act of worship. This is the destiny for which God made us. In heaven, we will proclaim the words of the prophets and the psalmist, hear the voice of God and, through worship, share a loving communion with Christ himself – the incarnate Word of God.

Worship is an expression of our love and fidelity to God, and a mystical union with his Word, who, as St. John the Evangelist says, “is God, and is with God.”

Worship matters. And because worship is a communion with the Word of God, the words we use in sacred worship matter too. 

This week, the Church celebrates the 16th anniversary of Liturgiam authenticam, an instruction of the Church issued to guide the translation of liturgical texts toward the “full, conscious, and active participation” of all Catholics in sacred worship, by calling for renewed attention to the importance of every word we speak and hear when we worship God. 

Liturgiam authenticam reminded the Church that when we pray together, in liturgical acts of worship, we draw our prayers from the words of Sacred Scripture, revealed by God, and from the tradition of the saints and martyrs who have come before us, and witnessed in their lives and in their wisdom the importance of our common liturgical prayer. The instruction taught that the words and expressions of our liturgy must be “endowed with those qualities by which the sacred mysteries of salvation and the indefectible faith of the Church are efficaciously transmitted by means of human language to prayer, and worthy worship is offered to God the Most High.”

Liturgical worship does much more than simply deliver information about God. It forms our hearts and our minds and our imaginations, to give us a keen sense of the supernatural in our midst. Liturgical worship, in a very real way, transcends time and space; it takes us from this world, and puts us in contact with the divine.

There is an ancient maxim in the Church’s life – lex orandi, lex credenda – the norms of our prayers are the norms of our beliefs. Sacred liturgy teaches the faith, because its words take root in our hearts. Liturgiam authenticam reminded the Church that because we believe as we pray, our prayers must be absolutely faithful to the deposit of faith which we have been given. We are formed for holiness by the words of the liturgy when they faithfully transmit the revelation of the living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  

The fruit of Liturgiam authenticam was a new English translation of the Roman Missal, the official prayer book of the Mass, which the Church began praying five years ago. This new translation of the Mass strove to express the words of sacred liturgy clearly, directly, and faithfully – not introducing interpretations or innovations, but drawing directly from Scripture and the Church’s ancient tradition, so that our worship might clearly reveal and teach the faith, and so that we might express our love of God in union with the saints who have come before us. 

As the Church celebrates the gift of Liturgiam authenticam, we have an occasion to give thanks to God for the “truths that transcend the limits of time and space,” which are proclaimed by the Church in sacred worship. We have occasion to give thanks to God that through sacred worship, “the Holy Spirit leads the Christian faithful into all truth and causes the word of Christ to dwell abundantly within them.” Together, we have occasion to give thanks that God has given us a foretaste of eternity, which frees us, and transforms us, and sanctifies us, so that we can love the Lord, now and forever, with all our hearts, souls, and minds, in the gift of sacred worship.

This article was first published March 31, 2017 on the Southern Nebraska Register

Posted: April 1, 2017, 6:00 am
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
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