Bishops’ Corner

By Bishop James D. Conley

In the late 1940s, Archbishop Joseph Rummel began the process of ending segregation in the parishes, seminary, and schools of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. He faced real opposition, from families, from teachers, from civil officials, and even some of the priests and religious of his diocese.

Political leaders threatened to end all state financial support for integrated Catholic schools. Catholics wrote to Pope Pius XII asking him to remove Archbishop Rummel from his post. At times, the opposition became violent – A cross was burned on Archbishop Rummel’s lawn; his home was picketed nightly.

In 1959, eight years after segregated Church seating was banned, two black men were beaten by a mob because they sat in the front pews of a New Orleans area parish. Some diocesan officials pleaded with Archbishop Rummel to end his mission. But the archbishop was undeterred.

In 1956, he wrote that racism “is morally wrong and sinful because it is a denial of the unity… of the Redemption. The Eternal Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord, came into the world to redeem and save all men, to die for all men on the cross, to make the life of grace available through the Church and the Sacraments for all men.” Racism, he wrote, and especially segregation “would draw the color line across the inspiring plan of the Redemption and thus sin against the divine providence, the love and the mercy that conceived and carried out the wonderful Mystery.”

No matter the cost, Archbishop Rummel was committed to ending racial stereotypes and prejudices, which are, he said, “grievous violations of Christian justice and charity.”

Archbishop Rummel died in 1964. By then, the Archdiocese of New Orleans had done away with racial segregation in its institutions. But the evil of racism – which sins against Providence, justice, and charity – remains a powerful force in our country.

Last weekend, white supremacists and neo-Nazis demonstrated in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was the largest such gathering in the United States in decades. They marched across the campus of the University of Virginia, carrying burning torches. They carried vile signs and chanted Nazi slogans. They engaged in violent fights with counter-protestors – in some cases punching or beating black onlookers. And one participant in the protest drove a speeding car through a crowd of people, injuring dozens, and killing one young woman. Please join me in praying for the repose of the soul of that young woman – Heather Heyer – and for all of those who were injured.

Racism, white supremacy, and anti-Semitism are absolutely opposed to the truth of the Gospel. Racism is a dangerous evil: a lie sown by Satan, which seduces, and confuses, and ensnares. The Evil One seeks to divide us from one another and from the Lord, by sowing and exploiting prejudice, stereotypes, and fear.

Regrettably, the white supremacists were not the only ones sowing violence in Charlottesville. A small number of the counter-protestors, but not most of them, were violent, anarchist members of the “antifa” movement, who opposed their racist counterparts with violence. 

We should all be disgusted by the racism of white supremacists. But hatred, expressed in anarchic violence, is the wrong response to injustice. Hatred begets hatred. Violence begets violence. Christians know that evil cannot overcome evil. Only grace can conquer evil.

This weekend, Archbishop Chaput wrote that “Charlottesville matters. It’s a snapshot of our public unraveling into real hatreds brutally expressed; a collapse of restraint and mutual respect now taking place across the country... If we want a different kind of country in the future, we need to start today with a conversion in our own hearts, and an insistence on the same in others. That may sound simple. But the history of our nation and its tortured attitudes toward race proves exactly the opposite.”

Today, our call is to oppose the evil of racism, and the violence begotten by hatred, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ – with the love of the One who came to redeem every human heart. Jesus Christ can free the captives of racism, and Jesus Christ can heal racism’s victims. Our job is to proclaim the truth, mercy, and freedom of life in Jesus Christ. We should not be naïve about how difficult that job really is.

It should be absolutely clear to us that without a massive spiritual renewal in our country, violence, hatred, and chaos will continue unabated. In fact, each one of us must guard our hearts, to ensure that Satan does not sow within us the lie of racism, or use our disgust for racism to make us hateful, vengeful, or violent. 

The only Christian response to the evil that unfolded in Charlottesville is to redouble our prayers for our nation, and to redouble our efforts to build a civilization of love.

More than 60 years ago, Archbishop Rummel worked to combat the evil of racism, because he knew that “Jesus Christ had come to die for all men.” It wasn’t easy, but it was his mission. Today, we are called to do the same. May the Lord give us the grace to build a nation alive in Jesus Christ, which respects the dignity, rights, and beauty of every person, created in the image of God.

Posted: August 17, 2017, 6:00 am
By Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

History is full of great quotations that people never said. One of the best lines comes from Vladimir Lenin. He described Russian progressives, social democrats, and other fellow travelers as “useful idiots” – naïve allies in revolution whom the Bolsheviks promptly crushed when they took power.

Or so the legend goes. In fact, there’s no evidence Lenin actually spoke those words, at least in public. But no one seems to care. It’s a compelling line, and in its own way, entirely true. The naïve and imprudent can very easily end up as useful tools in a larger conflict; or to frame it more generously, as useful innocents. The result is usually the same. They’re discarded.

History is also full of unfortunate comments that really were said – as found, for example, in a recent Rome-based journal article that many have already rightly criticized. The article in question, La Civiltà Cattolica’s “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A Surprising Ecumenism,” is an exercise in dumbing down and inadequately presenting the nature of Catholic/evangelical cooperation on religious freedom and other key issues.

Catholics and other Christians who see themselves as progressive tend to be wary of the religious liberty debate. Some distrust it as a smokescreen for conservative politics. Some see it as a distraction from other urgent issues. Some are made uneasy by the cooperation of many Catholics and evangelicals, as well as Mormons and many Orthodox, to push back against abortion on demand, to defend marriage and the family, and to resist LGBT efforts to weaken religious freedom protections through coercive SOGI (sexual orientation/gender identity) “anti-discrimination” laws.

But working for religious freedom has never precluded service to the poor. The opposite is true. In America, the liberty of religious communities has always been a seedbed of social action and ministry to those in need.

The divide between Catholic and other faith communities has often run deep. Only real and present danger could draw them together. The cooperation of Catholics and evangelicals was quite rare when I was a young priest. Their current mutual aid, the ecumenism that seems to so worry La Civilta Cattolica, is a function of shared concerns and principles, not ambition for political power.

As an evangelical friend once said, the whole idea of Baptist faith cuts against the integration of Church and state. Foreign observers who want to criticize the United States and its religious landscape – and yes, there’s always plenty to criticize – should note that fact. It’s rather basic.

Dismissing today’s attacks on religious liberty as a “narrative of fear” – as the La Civiltà Cattolica author curiously describes it – might have made some sense 25 years ago. Now it sounds willfully ignorant. It also ignores the fact that America’s culture wars weren’t wanted, and weren’t started, by people faithful to constant Christian belief.

So it’s an especially odd kind of surprise when believers are attacked by their co-religionists merely for fighting for what their Churches have always held to be true.

Earlier this month, one of the main architects and financiers of today’s LGBT activism said publicly what should have been obvious all along: The goal of at least some gay activism is not simply to assure equality for the same-sex attracted, but to “punish the wicked” – in other words, to punish those who oppose the LGBT cultural agenda.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out whom that might include. Today’s conflicts over sexual freedom and identity involve an almost perfect inversion of what we once meant by right and wrong.

Catholics are called to treat all persons with charity and justice. That includes those who hate what we believe. It demands a conversion of heart. It demands patience, courage and humility. We need to shed any self-righteousness. But charity and justice can’t be severed from truth. For Christians, Scripture is the Word of God, the revelation of God’s truth – and there’s no way to soften or detour around the substance of Romans 1:18-32, or any of the other biblical calls to sexual integrity and virtuous conduct.

Trying to do so demeans what Christians have always claimed to believe. It reduces us to useful tools of those who would smother the faith that so many other Christians have suffered, and are now suffering, to fully witness.

This is why groups that fight for religious liberty in our courts, legislatures, and in the public square – distinguished groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom and Becket (formerly the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty) – are heroes, not “haters.”

And if their efforts draw Catholics, evangelicals and other people of good will together in common cause, we should thank God for the unity it brings.

Posted: July 19, 2017, 6:00 am
By Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

Christians are always, in a sense, outsiders. We have the joy and privilege to be a leaven for good in society. That’s an exhilarating vocation. It means working for as much justice and virtue in human affairs as we can. We have a special obligation to serve the weak and the poor, and to treat even those who hate us with love. But while we’re in the world and for the world, we’re never finally of the world. And we need to understand what that means.

Writing in the mid-First Century to “all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints” – and despite the dangers and frustrations he himself faced – St. Paul said “I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, for in it the righteousness of God is revealed . . .” (Rom 1:7, 16-17).  

Paul’s Letter to the Romans became a key text of the New Testament. The Church has always revered it as part of the inspired Word of God and incorporated it into her thought and practice. The books of Scripture, even when they’re morally demanding, are not shackles. They’re part of God’s story of love for humanity. They’re guide rails that lead us to real dignity and salvation.  

That’s a good thing. Much of human history – far too much – is a record of our species’ capacity for self-harm. The Word of God is an expression of his mercy. It helps us to become the people of integrity God created us to be. As Paul reminds us, we’re “called to be saints.” Sometimes Scripture’s lessons toward that end can be hard. But God cannot lie. His Word always speaks the truth. And the truth, as Jesus tells us in the Gospel, makes us free. This is why Christians must never be ashamed of God’s Word – even when it’s inconvenient.  

Which brings us to the heart of my comments this week.

In Romans 1:21-27, speaking of the men and women of his time “who by their wickedness suppress the truth,” Paul wrote:

. . . for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools . . . 

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

If reading that passage makes us uneasy, it should. Many of Paul’s Roman listeners had the same response. Jesus didn’t come to affirm us in our sins and destructive behaviors – whatever they might be – but to redeem us. Paul’s message was as resented in some quarters then as it is now. 

In an age of sexual confusion and disorder, calls to chastity are not just unwelcome. They’re despised. But that doesn’t diminish the truth of the words Paul wrote, or their urgency for our own time.

What we do with our bodies matters. Sex is linked intimately to human identity and purpose. If our lives have no higher meaning than what we invent for ourselves, then sex is just another kind of modeling clay. We can shape it any way we please. But if our lives do have a higher purpose – and as Christians, we find that purpose in the Word of God – then so does our sexuality. Acting in ways that violate that purpose becomes a form of self-abuse; and not just self-abuse, but a source of confusion and suffering for the wider culture. The fact that an individual’s body might incline him or her to one sort of damaging sexual behavior, or to another very different sort, doesn’t change this.

This can be a difficult teaching. It’s easy to see why so many people try to finesse or soften or ignore Paul’s words. In a culture of conflict, accommodation is always the least painful path. But it leads nowhere. It inspires no one. “Fitting in” to a society of deeply dysfunctional sexuality results in the ruin that we see in so many other dying Christian communities.

In his recent book Building a Bridge (HarperOne), Father James Martin, S.J., calls the Church to a spirit of respect, compassion and sensitivity in dealing with persons with same-sex attraction. This is good advice. It makes obvious sense. He asks the same spirit from persons in the LGBT community when dealing with the Church. Father Martin is a man whose work I often admire. Building a Bridge, though brief, is written with skill and good will.  

But what the text regrettably lacks is an engagement with the substance of what divides faithful Christians from those who see no sin in active same-sex relationships. The Church is not simply about unity – as valuable as that is – but about unity in God’s love rooted in truth. If the Letter to the Romans is true, then persons in unchaste relationships (whether homosexual or heterosexual) need conversion, not merely affirmation. If the Letter to the Romans is false, then Christian teaching is not only wrong but a wicked lie. Dealing with this frankly is the only way an honest discussion can be had.  

And that honesty is what makes another recent book – Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay by Daniel Mattson (Ignatius) – so extraordinarily moving and powerful. As Cardinal Robert Sarah writes in the Foreword, Mattson’s candor about his own homosexuality, his struggles and failures, and his gradual transformation in Jesus Christ “bears witness to the mercy and goodness of God, to the efficacy of his grace, and to the veracity of the teachings of his Church.”

In the words of Daniel Mattson himself:

We cannot remain reluctant to speak about the beauty of the Church’s teaching on sexuality and sexual identity for fear that it will appear “unloving,” “irrational,” or “unreal.” We need to love the world enough to speak about the Christian vision of sexual reality, confident that God’s creation of man as male and female is truly part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ we are called to proclaim to a lost and confused world. We need to be a light for the world and speak passionately about the richness of the Church’s understanding of human sexuality. We can’t place the Good News of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality under a bushel any longer, for the world desperately needs the truth we have (p. 123).

Spoken from experience. Spoken from the heart. No one could name the truth more clearly.

Posted: July 6, 2017, 6:00 am
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
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