CNA Guest Columnist

By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer

Father Paul Scalia has compiled a series of his essays in a book, That Nothing May be Lost, that help Catholics answer the question: “What does it mean to think like a Catholic?”

The answer he offers is not a series of doctrinal points to memorize, but reflections on the Church’s teachings – that “‘saving doctrine’ that brings health and peace to the soul.”

Included as an appendix to the book is Father Scalia’s homily at the funeral Mass of his father, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. Father Scalia’s homily perfectly encompasses the “worldview” of Catholics, particularly on our own certain finality. 

His remarks began: “We are gathered here because of one man. A man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to even more; a man loved by many, scorned by others; a man known for great controversy, and for great compassion. That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.”

Facing the death of his dad, Father Scalia focused attention where it always should be – on God.

Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput, in a beautiful forward to That Nothing May be Lost, writes: “[t]he story of salvation is the story of a family of vocation lay, priestly, and religious – each needing and supporting the other on the pilgrim way to heaven. The wonderful book of essays and thoughts you now have in your hands is part diary and part guide on the road we all share.”

That Nothing May be Lost is not a “beach read” to be quickly finished over the weekend. Instead, like all good spiritual reading, it should be on the nightstand or in the briefcase, backpack or purse and opened up in those stolen moments of silence during a noisy and hectic day when just 10 to 15 minutes or so of reading and reflection can direct thoughts and actions toward heaven.  

The book’s title refers to Christ’s instruction to His disciples after the crowds had their fill at the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fish: “Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost.” Taking to heart the Church’s call to her priests to care for both the Catholic faith and the souls of her children, Father Scalia contributes to the Church’s tradition of handing down the faith “whole and entire for the salvation of souls.” In so doing, the hope is that nothing and no one may be lost. 
 
Father Scalia asked other Catholics to introduce each of the chapters of his book. Those chosen include a veritable “all-star team” of contemporary Catholic authors and leaders. Their introductions are brief, sincere and reflect humility as well as a deep love of God and His Church. 
   
Each of the book’s nine chapters include the introductory essay and several short essays written by Father Scalia that address the following elements of faith: “The Lord: knowing and loving Jesus of Nazareth”; “The Church: knowing and loving the body of Christ”; “Paradoxes of faith: the tension and balance of Catholic teaching”; “The sacraments: Christ’s life placed within us”; “The Virgin Mary: the beauty and the power of the Mother of God”; “The saints: the mortal masterpieces of God’s grace”; “Prayer: in conversation with God”; “The life of grace: Christ within us”; and, “Feasts: the pattern and rhythm of the Christian life.” Some of the essays comment on specific liturgical feasts, the sacraments, and the Catholic devotion to Mary, while others tackle the centrality of paradox in Catholic thought, the purpose and importance of prayer, and the role of grace in our lives – the trust in God that transforms.

Father Scalia remarked of his dad during the funeral Mass homily the following: “He was a practicing Catholic – practicing in the sense that he hadn’t perfected it yet. Or, rather, that Christ was not yet perfected in him. And only those in whom Christ is brought to perfection can enter heaven.” As the saying goes, “practice makes perfect.” That Nothing May be Lost is a great resource for people of faith – both Catholic and non-Catholic – in the great struggle towards perfection.

Posted: June 13, 2017, 6:00 am
By Jeanne Marie Hathway

Every generation, feminists gather to recapitulate the state of women’s progress. At a Human Life Review sponsored event in New York last week, Feminists for Life’s president Serrin Foster made “The Feminist Case against Abortion,” examining the plight of modern women, proposing solutions, and proving that revolutions aren’t always brand new. This revolution – pro-life feminism – is well past the throes of teen rebellion. A century since pro-life feminist foremothers Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton secured the female vote, it now sports the wiser woman’s gray-streaked hair and calm expression of “honey, I’ve seen it all.”

The report card is in: 100 years later, abortion remains an inadequate, violent response to inequality in the workplace and educational sphere. But the mission and message of pro-life feminists remains unchanged, too: women deserve better. Feminists for Life has achieved immense success in their commitment to actualizing this belief. A decade after the organization began implementing their pregnancy resources on campuses, universities witnessed a 30 percent drop in abortions, in no small part due to Foster’s realistic approach: “The most important thing young, pro-life women can be doing on campuses today is reaching out to pro-choice girls with love and kindness. They need to be creating choices and resources for pregnant and parenting students.”

She’s right: women need love and resources now more than ever. Far from the wide scale liberation the pro-choice movement promised, abortion has exacerbated the oppressive structures the first feminists sought to destroy. Workplace discrimination, inadequate support for pregnant and parenting students, and the cultural stigma that isolates pregnancy as “her problem” continue to determine the top two reasons women procure abortions: inability to afford a baby and interference with work or school. In her speech, Foster also pointed out the trouble with calling abortion an “empowered” choice when 75 percent of the women who make it are living in poverty.  

It is the most conspicuously privileged woman who says, “I would never get an abortion” but advocates its preservation nonetheless, relegating an option she deems undesirable to the poor and marginalized. Nobody wants an abortion; Frederica Mathewes-Green best describes the desperation that forces a woman to “[want] an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg.” Fully cognizant of this, pro-life feminists don’t attempt to bedazzle the violent reality of abortion and refuse to accept that, well, this is just the way things are for some women. 

The pro-life feminist retains the great feminist hope, that indissoluble vision of a future world worth building. One where abortion isn’t just illegal, but unthinkable due to the elimination of the structural oppression and inequality that drove women to abortion in the first place. After all, recognizing a wrong is only the first step; woe to women everywhere if after witnessing countless instances of domestic violence, Susan B. Anthony had said, “I would never want that for myself. But this is just the way things are, so we might as well make it as safe and legal as possible.” Like their dear mother Anthony, pro-life feminists refuse to submit to a world that disenfranchises women.

Also like their early mother feminists who played an active role in the abolition of slavery, pro-life feminists today are well-versed in intersectionality – the way factors like income, education, race, and location disproportionately affect certain demographics and predispose them to abortion. Rosemary Geraghty, public relations director for consistent-life group Rehumanize International, says: “We recognize systemic barriers; no one here is ignoring that. We see the same major problems in society – poverty, racism, sexism, transphobia – that pro-choice people do. But we don’t believe that the solution is more violence. We’re looking for real solutions.” Likewise, in her speech Serrin Foster demanded “nonviolence, nondiscrimination, and justice for all.”

But the greatest remaining similarity between pro-life feminism then and now is how it unfolds. Despite a technology boon that vastly differentiates our world from that of the founding mothers, the path to female empowerment is still paved through real life, woman-to-woman encounters. The pro-life feminist movement, more than anything, is a community: one comprised of accepting, supportive individuals who have dedicated their lives to building a society that protects and empowers women. A diverse community of trim clerical collars and violet-haired atheists, Goldwater conservatives and Bernie babes, college kids and grandmas. A community that’s been sustained by love and hope for over a century – with the grey streaks and unflinching arms of support to prove it. 

Posted: June 8, 2017, 6:00 am
By Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie

Woven into the fabric of American society, present in every milieu, and taking some part in all the complicated ways we relate to each other in public and private settings are over 70 million American Catholics. We mirror the demographic changes of the general population, and are the largest religious denomination in the country. And yet, there are many of us who feel exactly like the title of Archbishop Chaput’s new book: Strangers in a Strange Land.

We are clearly living in a culture that is very different from that of the past, and one becoming quickly more different. Archbishop Chaput does a masterful job in the first part of the book explaining how the culture shifted. As he writes in his introduction: “People who hold a classic understanding of sexuality, marriage, and family have gone in just twenty years from pillars of mainstream conviction to the media equivalent of racists and bigots.” He goes on, in his lucid and measured prose, to explain just how we found ourselves here – in this strange land – and what we are supposed to do now.

The classic Western view of marriage as between one man and one woman, faithful, permanent and exclusive, was, up until only recently, the general and normative view. It is based on the Christian belief that men and women have equal personal dignity and they each deserve a love that is unique and exclusive.

Now we are seeing even polygamy being presented to us as yet another co-equal and dignified arrangement between consenting adults. For example, a recent episode of Say Yes to the Dress showcased a polygamous union, as a throuple got married: two women in white walking down the aisle to the groom. This scenario was presented as based on generosity and kindness, as the old wife no longer wants physical intimacy with her husband but doesn’t want him to be “lonely.” They all seemed very pleased with their arrangement, open minded, and sympathetic. How long before it’s considered bigotry to call these unions wrong? And how long after that will those of us who can’t participate – in good conscience – through our small business health plans, adoption agencies, parish ministries, and wedding-cake baking efforts – be wholly excluded from the public square?

It is in the last few chapters, however, that Strangers in a Strange Land uplifts and points out our path. There is a way forward for us Catholics and other disoriented Christians. And the way forward is not to wall ourselves away out of despair, or to fearfully go along with the post-Christian philosophies that are only sowing sadness and dysfunction all around us. Although we find ourselves resident aliens in a radically changing world, our job is to attest to the glory and purpose of the human person. “We’re here to live a witness of Christian love, in all our public actions, including every one of our social, economic, and political choices; but beginning with the conversion of our own hearts.”

Grounding ourselves and our concerns in God will protect us from despair and bitterness, and give us the hope and joy that American Catholics need to be not just a significant demographic, but credible witnesses to the word of God. At the close of this fabulous book, the Archbishop writes: “So we are strangers in a strange land, yes. But what we do here makes all the difference.” 

Posted: May 21, 2017, 6:00 am
By Brad Hahn

Despite all the back-slapping going on in Washington, the Republicans’ alleged repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act with the American Health Care Act, which passed the House of Representatives May 4, misses the mark on protecting religious liberties.

The debate swirls around the rising costs of medical care and pre-existing conditions, both of which should be of great concern to everyone. The AHCA, however, has still failed to address a fundamental violation of the Constitution as it relates to the Affordable Care Act and health care insurance: the violation of Americans’ religious liberty by forcing individuals to pay for health care that violates millions of citizens’ consciences. Federal government-regulated insurance still dictates that all health insurance plans provide “preventative health services” that include all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods for women. Here’s the problem: These methods include contraception, surgical sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs like Plan B (the morning-after pill) and Ella (so-called “emergency contraception”).

Science is clear that human life begins at conception, and these “preventative services” violate natural and moral law because they can block a fertilized human egg (a human person) from implanting in his mother’s womb. To be fair, the AHCA does allow states to apply for a waiver to redefine “essential health benefits.” However, it’s unlikely that many will do so.

Let me be clear: I’m not arguing that the government deny women access to these “preventative health services.” They are freely available in the marketplace. However, the federal government should not force individuals to pay for services they find unconscionable and violate their freedom of religion.

Freedom of religion, the first liberty outlined in the Bill of Rights, protects U.S. citizens’ right to practice their faith freely. Freedom of religion is not merely “freedom of worship,” where exercising one’s faith is confined to private prayer or a place of worship. Freedom of religion guarantees freedom of conscience. The Founders intended that Americans’ well-formed consciences would be free to guide them in every aspect of life – including public life.

Health and Human Services’ Friday the 13th Rules – issued on Sept. 13, 2013 – are another example of federal government overreach and its violation of religious liberty. Section 1557 of the ACA, which is still in force, expands the federal definition of discrimination to include gender identity, gender expression and transgender status. There is no religious exemption in the final rule. That means health insurance companies and health-care providers must allow health insurance benefits for individuals transitioning to another sex. For example, if hormone therapy is provided to a woman in menopause, hormone therapy must be provided to a transitioning transgender person.

These not-so-subtle assaults on religious freedom by the federal government are certain to grow if the nation’s Christian cultural identity continues to decline. Americans of faith must vigorously oppose these government mandates by pressuring elected officials to uphold religious freedoms and by continued legal action. 

We should also consider abandoning health insurance all together. By taking health insurance off the table, people of faith would not be forced to violate their consciences. Thankfully, there is an opportunity that allows Christians to retain their religious freedom – health care sharing ministries. These plans are not insurance, but they allow members to share one another’s medical expenses. Members have a common set of ethical and religious beliefs, and they share medical expenses based on those beliefs. This is one glimmer of hope that Christians can hold onto while Congress works to repeal and replace a law that has backed the faithful into a corner.

Posted: May 17, 2017, 6:00 am
By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer

Rather than taking on complex political or moral issues of the day as he is so skillfully able to do, Austen Ruse, President of the Center for Family and Human Rights, in his new book Littlest Suffering Souls recounts the lives of three saintly children of our times who held a profound love for God, suffered greatly, and brought immense joy to those around them. All three children were, as Cardinal Burke states in his Foreword to the book, "examples of holiness and instruments of God's grace for those who knew them."

Brendan Kelly from Great Falls, Virginia, had Down syndrome yet his "religious precocity" was apparent at an early age. He was also diagnosed with leukemia at the tender age of two.  But Ruse observes that "along with the suffering came many graces." For example, although intentions for Brendan's health had previously been brought to Pope Saint John Paul II, Brendan was able to personally meet the Holy Father when he was just a young boy. That these two would meet was clearly divine providence, as Ruse recognizes, "[t]here are no coincidences in the often-charming world of God." The stunning picture of "two Christian gentlemen bidding each farewell" at the end of this meeting is included among the collection of beautiful pictures of Brendan and his family included in Littlest Suffering Souls. In the last hours of Brendan's life, he was confirmed as a very courageous and faithful soldier of Christ.

Like Brendan, Audrey from an early age showed a "supernatural attraction" to the faith. When she was only three years old, she threw herself into the loving arms of Mother Teresa during the saint's visit to Paris in 1986. Pictures in Littlest Suffering Souls show Audrey to have been a beautiful little blonde girl with an angelic smile. Like Brendan, Audrey was also stricken with leukemia. Even prior to her diagnosis, however, Audrey understood the value of sacrifice, suffering, and self-denial and lived it. Successfully lobbying for the dispensation to receive Communion at the early age of five, Audrey received Our Lord at Lourdes on the Feast of the Assumption. Never complaining during her grueling treatment, Audrey "united her suffering with Christ on the Cross, and she did so for the conversion of sinners, for vocations, to make reparation for offenses against the Immaculate Heart of Mary." With only a few weeks to live, Audrey too met Pope Saint John Paul II. After meeting both Saints Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II, Audrey's response to her father's question of "What more could you want?" was faith-filled:  "For Jesus to hold me in His arms."  She too was confirmed shortly before receiving God's call to His loving arms. 
   
Finally, Littlest Suffering Souls includes the story of dear Margaret Leo of Mclean, Virginia. I was fortunate to know Margaret and call upon her to intercede for my family. Margaret was confined to a wheelchair her entire life, the result of the most severe form of spina bifida.  But Margaret was in no way limited in the entrance she made into the hearts of those who met her. Margaret always paid attention to the details of a person's life. She asked when our birthdays were. She prayed for us and for our needs. Although afflicted with physical suffering beyond imagination, she offered that wide smile and loving hug that helped all of us grow deeper in our love for God, the sacraments, and one another. Margaret's faith was profound yet simple. But as Ruse so clearly notes, "The truest things are also the simplest." Margaret's presence daily at Mass was "a daily sight of devotion." Hers and her family’s commitment to the Mass inspired everyone witnessing their attendance to make more of an effort. Much like Brendan and Audrey, Margaret's confirmation was the product of her tenacious and single-minded dedication to the sacraments. 
   
Ruse notes that since Margaret's passing on July 5, 2007, continuous reminders of Christ's Mercy have comforted her family – particularly reminders of Margaret's connection and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Private devotions to Margaret and confidence in her intercession abound. Ruse mentions three cases in particular – the miraculous recovery of the father of one of her family's closest friends, the prompt diagnosis of a life-threatening kidney problem in Margaret's brother Anthony, and the full and vibrant life of another brother, Francis, who was born with the same malady that struck Margaret.
         
Austen Ruse's Littlest Suffering Souls offers much in the way of spiritual reading. The little children whose lives are highlighted are "witnesses to the proposition that all human life has meaning and dignity, even and especially those lives we may not fully understand." The stories of their joy in the midst of suffering are a great reminder that when facing whatever kind of contradiction here on earth, we need simply place our trust in Christ. Brendan of Great Falls, Audrey of La Celle Saint Cloud, and Margaret of Mclean, pray for us.

Posted: May 8, 2017, 6:00 am
By Pat McCarthy

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians, who once made up one of the largest Christian communities in the Middle East, are facing double discrimination as displaced persons in their own country or as refugees abroad, according to agencies working in the field.

Agency sources say Christian refugees who have fled their homes in Iraq have been ill-treated in refugee camps and frequently ignored in the selection process for resettlement in other countries or in reconstruction plans within Iraq.

Christians in Iraq – mostly Catholics of the Chaldean rite – numbered over 1.4 million, or 6% of the population, in 1987. After the Iraq War, around 400,000 remained by 2013.

At the end of 2015, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that more than 4.4 million Iraqis were internally displaced, and an additional 264,100 were refugees abroad.

In January this year an alliance of 16 United Kingdom-based agencies working with refugees issued a major report declaring that Christians are not being supported by the international donor institutions and the UNHCR, and are having to rely on churches that are trying to run their own aid programs with limited funds. 

“All the NGOs involved in this report state that the vast majority of Christians and other [non-Muslim] ‘minorities’ avoid UNHCR camps and facilities because of continuing discrimination and persecution,” the report said, adding: “It is utterly unacceptable that a place of sanctuary should be a place of fear that repels those it is designed to save and protect.”

However, the report said those who remain outside UNHCR camps “have fared … unequally in the allocation of international aid, funding, political support, media attention, and asylum placements.”

The 88-page report, published by World Watch Monitor (an agency which “reports the story of Christians around the world under pressure for their faith”) said all the NGOs involved in the report stated that the vast majority of Christians and other “minorities” avoid UNHCR camps and facilities because of continuing discrimination and persecution, so they do not qualify to receive aid.

Noting that it is UNHCR policy not to record refugees’ religious affiliation, the agencies urged the UNHCR to scrap its “need not creed” approach and acknowledge the particular experiences of minorities such as Christians or Yazidis.

They also urged the UNHCR to employ more non-Muslim registration and security staff, and translators, to reduce discrimination against non-Muslims.

The report contained accounts of Christian refugees approaching UNHCR and being referred to local churches rather than being processed in the same way as other applicants. In addition, it said some NGOs which are assisting Christians to leave the region have encountered opposition from the UNHCR either through unnecessary delays or blocked applications.

The report also warned that Christians are being excluded from the National Settlement plan being put together by Iraq and other regional powers and presented to the United Nations, further eroding the likelihood of their return once Islamic State has been militarily defeated there.

What the UK agencies reported about UNHCR camps was reiterated in an article by Samuel Tadros on the ABC [Australia] Religion and Ethics website on January 31, 2017. 

“The prioritization of religious minority application is not only justified, but would also correct a current wrong,” he wrote. “Out of 14,460 Syrian refugees admitted into the United States since 2011, only 182 have belonged to religious minorities – namely, 124 Christians, 25 Yazidis, 6 Zoroastrians, 3 atheists, 2 Baha'is, 14 ‘other’ and 8 with no religion. The reason for such a negligible number of religious minorities is that the United States government depends on the United Nations for choosing applicants from the refugee camps, and religious minorities fear living in those camps as they are subjected to persecution, preferring instead to go to church-run camps.”

An earlier article by Tadros, a senior fellow at the [US] Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, appeared on the same website on December 12, 2016. 

Referring to Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria, he wrote: “Unfortunately there is no longer any Christian presence in a specific geographic location that would allow the creation of a safe haven or a country of their own. There is simply no place for them, no mountain for them, that would protect them.”

The director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, Nina Shea, reported on December 8, 2016, that persecuted Iraqi Christians had been unable to find shelter in UNHCR refugee camps anywhere in the region. 

She wrote: “Monsignor John Kozar of the pontifical Catholic Near East Welfare Association, run by the NY Archdiocese, told a New York conference on Dec. 5 that Christians don’t dare enter UNHCR camps for they would be targeted by Islamic gangs within them. John Pontifex, a director of the papal agency Aid to the Church in Need, emailed me that he visited a UNHCR registered camp in Lebanon, from where, he discovered, all the Christian refugees had fled in fear, opting instead for the cramped but safer quarters of a nearby Christian home.”

In a Wall Street Journal article on October 7, 2016, Shea wrote that the UNHCR had marginalized Christians and others targeted by ISIS for eradication in two critical programs: refugee housing in the region and refugee-resettlement abroad. 

Shea added: “Citing reports from many displaced Christians, a January report on Christian refugees in Lebanon by the Catholic News Service stated: ‘Exit options seem hopeless as refugees complain that the staff members of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees are not following up on their cases after an initial interview.’ This failure could be another example of why the U.N. Internal Audit Division’s April 2016/034 report reprimanded the UNHCR for ‘unsatisfactory’ management…

 “As for why so few Christians and Yazidis are finding shelter in the UNHCR’s regional refugee camps, members of these groups typically say they aren’t safe. Stephen Rasche, the resettlement official for the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese in Erbil, Iraq, told Congress last month that in Erbil ‘there are no Christians who will enter the UN camps for fear of violence against them’…

“Persecuted groups also found no help from the UN-established Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria in its only report on ISIS genocide. Issued in June, the report focused solely on persecuted members of the Yazidi faith. The commission – an influential adviser to the UNHCR – dismissed in a short paragraph the notion that Christians also have been targeted for genocide.”

In an earlier article (July 21, 2016) Shea had written: “Today there is a complete absence anywhere in ISIS-controlled territory of functioning churches, active clergy, and intact Christian communities.

“[I]n the three major areas – Nineveh, Raqqa and Qaryatayn – where ISIS claims to have ‘offered a jizya [per capita tax] option,’ the offer has always, within a short time, been followed by the rape, murder, kidnapping, enslavement, and dispossession of Christians – all acts evidencing the crime of genocide.” 

A Jewish voice in support of Christians facing extinction in the Middle East was heard at an interfaith panel in New York on December 5, 2016.

“Today we are witnessing the world’s indifference to the slaughter of Christians in the Middle East and Africa,” said Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress and former US ambassador to Austria. Referencing the Holocaust, he said, “Since 1945, genocide has occurred again and again. ‘Never Again!’ has become hollow. You can’t just declare genocide and say the job is done. You have to back it up with action.

"Jews know what happens when the world is silent to mass slaughter. We learned it the hard way," Lauder added.

The UK-based Barnabas Fund, an international, interdenominational agency supporting persecuted Christians, has frequently raised concerns about discrimination against Christian refugees fleeing genocide.

In a January 12, 2017, statement, it said: “Christians who have fled Iraq and Syria to nearby countries are largely ignored by the UN, with 97-99% of those refugees selected for resettlement in the UK and USA being Muslims. Meanwhile those Christians who make it on their own to European countries such as Greece, Germany and Sweden are placed in refugee shelters where many are targeted by Islamists and are subjected to death threats and physical violence. At the moment there is little sign that Western countries will significantly alter their policies in either respect.” 

In an earlier statement (December 22, 2016), the Barnabas Fund accused the UNHCR of “institutional discrimination” in how it operates on the ground.

It said this was shown by the fact that the proportion of Christians among Syrian refugees being resettled had fallen to less than 1% in both the UK and the US, despite that fact that prior to the civil war Christians made up around 10% of Syria’s population.

“The fact that they are so grossly underrepresented when they have been specifically targeted for at least the last four and a half years implies that both the US and UK governments would rather outsource their refugee programs to an international body that blatantly discriminates against those facing genocide, than go to the trouble of selecting refugees themselves in a fairer and less discriminatory way. By doing so, they risk seriously tarnishing the previously high reputations of both counties for compassion, fairness and justice.”

This article first appeared on March 20, 2017 at NZ Catholic.

Posted: April 27, 2017, 6:00 am
By Charles Mercier

“As Christ laid down his life for us, so we too ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” The Office of Readings for Wednesday of Holy Week (April 12 this year) has us meditate on 1 John 3.16, as commented on by St. Augustine in his Tractates on John

To this verse Augustine imaginatively applies Proverbs 23.1-2, as he knew it: “If you sit down to eat at the table of a ruler, observe carefully what is set before you; then stretch out your hand, knowing that you must provide the same kind of meal yourself.” If at the Lord’s Eucharistic table we receive as food the body and blood of him who laid down his life for us, we must reciprocate the dinner invitation and lay down our lives in return.

The text of Proverbs that Augustine cites here, however, is different from what we read in our Bibles, including the Vulgate. To work through why that is so teaches us something about how deeply God has implicated himself with the realities of the human condition, not only in his suffering and dying but also in the revealing of his Word. 
     
The story of these verses of Proverbs begins with the Egyptian wisdom writer Amenemope, who sometime in the period 1300-1000 BC wrote a book of Instruction, in which he says:

Do not eat bread before a ruler 
and lunge not with your mouth before a governor. 
If you satisfy yourself with false chewings,
they are a delight only to your spittle. 
Look at the cup that is before you 
and let that alone serve your needs. (chapter 23, translation Pritchard, changed)

The teacher here recommends diplomatic and polite behavior at a banquet: eat cautiously what’s on your plate, not on someone else’s, and be content with what you’re served. But in this he also finds wider moral application: be at peace, untempted by luxuries above your station.

The sacred author of the Biblical book of Proverbs in an inspired way adapted the Instruction of Amenemope for his Jewish audience, particularly in a stretch in chapters 22-24, something we have been able to know and consider only since the first publication of Amenemope in 1923. The Hebrew original of Proverbs 23.1-3, as represented by the translation of the Jewish Publication Society, goes:

1 When you sit down to eat with a ruler,
consider well who is before you.
2 Thrust a knife into your gullet,
if you have a large appetite.
3 Do not crave for his dainties.
for they are counterfeit food.

Proverbs here counsels us stick a knife in our throat before giving in to the gluttony that deceives, the appetites that cause us to overvalue the luxuries that the powerful enjoy. The wise do not envy sinners, but live rather in the fear of the Lord.

Onward from the third century BC the Hebrew Scripture was turned into Greek for dispersed Jewish readers. A close translation of the Greek, Septuagint, version of Proverbs 23.1-3 goes:

1 If ever you sit to dine at the table of rulers,
consider well the things placed before you
2 And cast your hand
knowing that you must prepare such things.
3 And if you are insatiable, do not desire his food
for these are held of a false life.

The Septuagint translation of the Hebrew into Greek often diverges from literal accuracy. This is sometimes due to the translator’s lack of sufficient knowledge of language and style and sometimes the result of the translator’s feeling it responsible and proper to make creative adaptations necessary to convey the Hebrew original intelligibly to those of Greek language and culture. Here, perhaps for both reasons, the translator has not conveyed with perfect accuracy the meaning of the Hebrew original.

Difficulty with verse two is understandable. It begins, “Thrust a sakin belo‘ekha.” Both sakin (‘knife,’ mistranslated as kheira, ‘hand’) and belo‘ekha (‘into your gullet,’ simply omitted) are rare words, occurring only here in the Old Testament, and together make an unusual metaphor: “thrust a knife in your gullet” means “decidedly restrain yourself from gluttony.” “Knowing that you must prepare such things” is an addition to the original. 

In this way does the Septuagint both spare the Greek reader an unpleasantly blunt metaphor and emphasize, appropriately to a Greek culture in which hospitality and reciprocity were important social norms, the dangers of getting in over your head when accepting a dinner invitation too expensive, both monetarily and morally, to reciprocate, even if the food is tasty and the company glamorous.

This is the version that Augustine knew around 400 AD and quoted, in a literal translation of the Greek Septuagint into Latin, verse two of which goes: “et sic pone manum tuam sciens quia talia te oportet praeparare.” (“and so place your hand, knowing that you must prepare such things.”). The regularized Vulgate would have a version closer to the original Hebrew, but that was not the text that Augustine used here.

Augustine then allegorizes the text he received. Allegorical interpretation is, most broadly, to read something in a way other than literally and it was a mode of interpretation characteristic of his time.

The original warning in Greek Proverbs had meant literally something like: “don’t involve yourself in the allurements of the king’s bread and banquet. They are a “counterfeit food,” (“panis mendacii” in the Vulgate), “of a false life,” because you will be ruined, indebted for reciprocity to the falsehoods of wealth and power.” Augustine here takes that out of context, creatively sets it next to the words “we too ought to lay down our lives” from 1 John, and reinterprets it in a positive way: “involve yourself most fully in the bread and banquet of the Holy Eucharist by the fullest reciprocity of the Lord’s gift of his life.”

The rereading is so creative that Augustine has turned the verse into its opposite. Yet Augustine’s non-literal reading of a non-literal translation has paradoxically yielded an interpretation that is true and nourishing: “we in our turn ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”

The chain that links Amenemope to inspired literary adaptation in Proverbs, to non-literal Greek translation in the Septuagint, to the Latin translation read by Augustine that literally translates the non-literalness, to Augustine’s allegorizing, to us who in 2017 are inspired by Augustine’s powerful words in modern English enshrined in the liturgy of Holy Week, is a rich example of the depth of God’s respect and love for humanity and the complexity of his providence in revealing himself.

When he is lifted up Jesus draws all to himself, including Egyptian wisdom sayings. Linguistic contradiction, inevitably a part of translation, is assimilated by the one who has reconciled all things to himself, making peace through the blood of his cross.

If we recognize that in all truth the word of God did not come to us antiseptically but through processes imbued with human limitation, we should not be disturbed, but keep in mind another saying of St. Augustine about the Lord’s passion, read in the church on Wednesday of the fifth week of Lent, that applies also to the way he reveals himself: “When something is said about the Lord Jesus Christ that seems to belong to a condition of lowliness unworthy of God, we must not hesitate to ascribe this condition to one who did not hesitate to unite himself to us.

Posted: April 12, 2017, 6:00 am
By Tina McCormick, PhD

As Catholics, we are not thin-skinned when we encounter and personally experience pain. We are taught about the redemptive qualities of pain and suffering and are taught to embrace it as did Christ. Many saints endured physical suffering to the extreme and identified with Christ in his passion. Various saints chose ascetic practices as part of their vocations. Saint Teresa of Kolkata, not content with ministering to the poor and dying, practiced physical “discipline,” which included self-flagellation and the cilice, to experience the cross more fully and demanded her sisters do the same. To her, pain was no less than a “kiss of Jesus” on the cross.

Yet traditional explanations of the fall of man and our sinfulness may strike us as rather cold, the assurance of redemption through the cross, the sharing of Christ’s cross, as wholly unsatisfactory consolation in the face of life’s struggles and worst horrors. Recently a fire claimed the lives of a mother and four of her five children in the small town of Warwick, Massachusetts. During an unusually cold night in early March, a wood stove in the kitchen caused the infernal blaze. Only the father and one child escaping before the roof collapsed. How, indeed, are we to make sense of such senseless suffering? Most of the time, suffering seems to occur without a valid reason and we fail to see a connection between pain and deserved penance. We might celebrate as a miracle the healing of an eighty-year old following a hundred rosaries but are bewildered when God does nothing to save a four-year old from torture and rape. 

When faced with suffering of such magnitude, redemptive justifications leave us perplexed. It seems reductionist and anti-climactic should God’s mercy, love, and power require any contribution on our part when life’s horrors unfold before our eyes. More satisfying answers must, therefore, be sought outside of the theology of sin and redemption. The key to the mystery of suffering, its causes, its respite, and its role in our salvation, must lie in the fact that God is not only good and omnipotent, but also omnipresent through Christ. Rather than absent from, complaisant in, or even responsible for suffering, God is with us through it. And Christ’s passion on the cross is less a call to share his pain, but, rather, a statement about his closeness to the pain we already endure.

Many of us can become impatient with the apparent glorification of pain, the exaltation of sharing Christ’s passion and focus on heaven, rather than the here and now. Our earthly tasks are far from over and we seek consolation and solutions to real time challenges. We have jobs, homes, and families and children who require our presence of mind in concrete existential matters and their education. As mere mortals, outside of the orderly world of the consecrated, we encounter a world that is arbitrary and unpredictable, cruel, and often frightening. Not only do we endure suffering, but each day brings new and unforeseen challenges that we cannot just face passively in prayer but must overcome in action. When faced with the greatest challenges, the idea of redemption and the promise of heaven provide neither guidance nor respite. When we look at the cross, we seek not theological justification for pain and its exaltation, but consolation. Simply put, we long for a love that helps us endure the pain, not one that demands it.

Not all suffering is the same and neither are its causes. Yet all suffering is an essential part of life and the pre-condition of our freedom. Much suffering results from natural catastrophes, famines, diseases, and accidents. The mercilessness and harshness of the natural world as just as essential to the functioning of nature as are its beauty, grandeur, and abundance. Much, maybe most, suffering is caused by human actions. Conversely, it is human actions that allow for God’s love to become manifest. 

Throughout our lives, we are likely to encounter various types of suffering. First, there is the suffering caused by sin, the willful separation from God, from his graces and the true source of love. Secondly, there is suffering we voluntarily choose in the form of sacrifice in order to direct our attention from the self towards spiritual matters, towards God and the needs of others. Thirdly, as Christians we may experience ridicule, abuse, exclusion, torture, even martyrdom. Fourth, we experience the unavoidable suffering through the various challenges that are essential to life in a natural world of imperfection and potential – disappointments, failures, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, uncertainty, and physical pain. Such a world is the pre-condition of true freedom and only freedom allows us to love God freely.

Finally, there are the great tragedies of life for which we know no words. The loss of a child, chronic and excruciating pain, disfigurement, sudden and senseless death. Such tragedies lead to despair and cynicism, to a breaking point. We might always believe, but life’s struggles may become so overwhelming that even the promise of heaven does not prevent us from “opting out” from God’s plan in anger like Dostoyevsky’s Ivan Karamazov. Mere mortals that we are, we suffer with no end in sight, only believing and hoping for life eternal. And believing is not knowing. Faith is, above all, trust and not certainty.

In Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis acknowledges that “Christians know that suffering cannot be eliminated.” He further points to its possible meaning as “an act of love and entrustment into the hands of God who does not abandon us” and as serving “as a moment of growth and faith” (Encyclical Letter, Lumen Fidei, # 56). But how are we to accomplish this “act of love and entrustment” in the midst of trial and life’s greatest challenges?

We must take heart in the familiarity we have gained with God through Christ. Rather than make himself be seen in spectacular and marvelous ways, God incarnate is now in our midst. Urgent requests for visible signs have become obsolete. According to St. John of the Cross in The Ascent to Mount Carmel, “now that faith in Christ is given and the evangelical law is manifested in this era of grace, there is no need to inquire in this way, nor that He speak or respond as before. For by giving us, as He has done, His Son, His unique Word – there is no other – He has spoken and revealed all things at one time in one Word. There is no need to speak further” (Subida del monte Carmelo, II, 22, Obras completas, ed. L. Ruano de la Iglesia (Madrid, 1989), #3, pp. 200-201).

What are we to make of this paradox of simultaneous closeness and distance? Prayer must no longer be request for miracles, but, rather, an assent to and rejoicing in the consolation already present. In other words, Christ is the answer to all prayers.

Faith often starts with the sense of security that a small child might feel when holding the father’s hand. Inevitably comes a time, when the hand lets go and we feel alone in darkness. It is at such times that reflections on sinfulness and redemption offer little solace. Instead, the Christocentric theological vision of Blessed John Duns Scotus can lead us back to the cross as a symbol of love and a guiding light. Scotus held that God’s uniting with himself the whole of creation was not contingent on man’s fall and that, in fact, the Incarnation was the fulfillment of creation, God’s “original idea,” and the ultimate sign of God’s immense love. Pope Benedict XVI, in his biography of the 13th century Franciscan friar, applauds Scotus’ vision in which “Christ is the center of history and of the cosmos; it is he who gives meaning, dignity, and value to our lives!” (Holy Men and Women, p. 89). Christ’s passion, which is integral to the Incarnation and the Resurrection, must in this sense also be understood culmination and completion of God’s work.

A Christocentric vision affirms that God does not want us to suffer. Indeed, Christ suffered so that we may suffer less. Christ’s pain is, indeed, God’s sharing in the pain of the world, like a mother’s longing to absorb the pain of her child in her arms. Christ’s pain on the cross is a symbol of pure love and a concrete manifestation of God’s empathy. (See also:  http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/cw/post.php?id=763) Once we accept his closeness, we are comforted and can become models of his love. According to Pope Francis, God’s response to suffering is “that of an accompanying goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light” (Lumen Fidei, # 57).

It is in this encounter that we not only feel loved but feel emboldened to face and overcome life’s obstacles. No longer feeling chained to the cross, we may come to recognize that our pain is not a “kiss from Jesus.” On the contrary, we may recognize his love in acts of human kindness and goodness in the most unlikely places. With Christ as our companion, we are, ultimately, set free, loved and thus able to love. This is the true victory over despair that comes through the cross.

In the French director Anne Fontaine’s most recent masterpiece, The Innocents, Benedictine nuns in a Polish convent find themselves at a loss with how to deal with the consequences of their brutal rape by Soviet soldiers at the end of World War Two. Only the courage to act creatively and according to the dictates of love rather than those of the convent allow for God’s graces to shine through. As one of the Sisters states, “we cannot know what God wants. The only truth is His love.” As to the mother and her children who perished in the fire, we must believe that God sent angels to lift them up to his embrace.

Posted: April 3, 2017, 6:00 am
By Cassandra Hackstock

Abuse, terminal illness, the death of a child, emotional torment: each an astounding difficulty in its own right. But did you know that the Martin family – the parents and siblings of St. Therese of Lisiuex – experienced all of these things?  

The Martins are an exceptional model for family life today. They include Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, Sister Francoise-Therese (Leonie Martin), and three devout religious sisters – Marie, Pauline, and Celine, who may also one day advance along the path of canonization. 

But while their faith in God was strong, they experienced an incredible amount of pain, struggle, and hardship mentally and physically. In this crucible of suffering, their acceptance of God's will led them to heroic virtue and saintly lives. Their example is an exemplary one to those who suffer, as can be seen from a closer look into their struggles.

Louis and Zelie Martin had nine children, including the five daughters mentioned above, but tragically lost four of their children. Three passed away as infants, and one, named Helene, suddenly, at age five. 

“I didn't expect such a sudden end, nor did my husband. When he came home and saw his poor little daughter dead, he began to sob, crying, 'My little Helene! My little Helene!' Then, together, we offered her to God,” Zelie wrote in a letter, according to the National Catholic Register.  

Christ was the center of their family life, and they doted on their living children, yet suffered horribly from the loss of their other little ones. How many people long to have a child but cannot, or suffer from repeated miscarriages, or even the death of their children? Burying one's heart in the suffering Christ, as the Martin family did, and offering pain to Him who suffered for humanity, can be redemptive, sanctifying one's own life and the lives of others.

Zelie contracted breast cancer, and died of it after a twelve year struggle. Her death broke her husband's and daughters' hearts, and changed the family forever. Zelie bore the physical scourge of cancer, but also suffered greatly knowing full well how much sorrow it would cause her family to lose her. She kept true to her faith in God's will, and died a saint for Him.

Marie and Pauline mothered the younger girls for a time, but then entered the cloistered convent of Carmel in Lisieux. The family experienced more loss, offering their daughters and sisters to God, but losing them from their daily lives.

Leonie Martin, declared a Servant of God in 2015, had intense trials throughout her life. She is described as having a difficult temperament, and not being as naturally talented as the rest of the family. This caused a great deal of grief to her parents and siblings. Leonie was also abused by a servant, both physically and emotionally, without her mother's knowledge. She entered several convents numerous times, but was rejected again and again. Despite her supposed lack of giftedness and the trauma that she suffered, she never gave up. She kept trying until she was accepted among the Visitation nuns, and kept pursuing Jesus until death. For survivors of abuse and trauma, and the lifelong struggle to overcome obstacles, Leonie is an incredible patron – she knows exactly how hard that battle is.

St. Therese knew trauma, too. Her mother could not nurse her, so Therese went to live with a wet nurse. She did get to see her mother from time to time, but became confused by the constant meetings and partings. As she grew, she had very sensitive feelings and was easily hurt. Her mother died when she was four, and this further disrupted her emotional balance. Although she lived a very virtuous life, she was emotionally hurt and traumatized. 

When she was thirteen, she describes in her writings a “conversion” that took place within her soul. According to Joseph F. Schmidt, FSC, this may have been an emotional healing that freed her from co-dependence and the trauma of loss, and freed her to live totally for Christ. He writes in his book Walking the Little Way of Therese of Lisieux, “Only the inner strength of union with God would allow her to bear in peace the distressing, lingering primary feelings of having been abandoned, of separation and loss that were at the core of her excessive neediness and sensitivity.” Christ did heal her and she was able to rely only on Him, instead of on the good opinion and approval of her family. After entering Carmel, she contracted tuberculosis and suffered horribly until her death at age 24. Her “Little Way,” of growing in holiness through offering every pain or sacrifice to God, and remaining as humble as a child, caused her to be named as a Doctor of the Church.

Celine was the last sister to enter the convent. She remained at home to take care of her father until his death. She worried for a time about the nature of her vocation, since she felt a call to Carmel, but was proposed to by a good man. She wrote, “My sisters never had to choose formally between the two lives; doubtless, God wanted them for himself, and he does not want me…my anguish kept mounting and mounting.” 

She also suffered terribly from the decline of her father into an illness that may have been cerebral arteriosclerosis, according to the biography of Celine by Stephane-Joseph Piat, O.F.M. Her father was at one time put into a mental hospital. Celine was at his side through it all, and her unceasing faith did lead her to the Carmelite convent after his death. She is a model for those who question their vocations, who don't understand God’s plan for their lives, and also for caregivers who witness intense pain of their loved ones.

Louis, as already mentioned, lost his wife to breast cancer. Then he began to lose his daughters one by one to the cloister of Carmel. While he was thankful for their religious vocations, he had to give his family to God as a sacrifice. He accepted God's will even as it broke his heart to lose his wife and daughters. As his health declined, he suffered many mental and physical difficulties. Yet he persisted in holiness, offered all to God, and was canonized together with his wife on Oct. 18, 2015.

Despite the litany of struggles and losses they endured, the Martins were a joyful and happy family. They accepted the pain as God's will, and this acceptance allowed God to work in their hearts to purify them and make them saintly. Not only will they provide help and intercession from heaven, their story can bring relief and acceptance to those in the world who are hurt, grieving, and traumatized. St. Therese herself said that she would spend her heaven doing good on earth, and let fall a shower of roses from heaven to help those who suffer and yet cling to God. Humanity is blessed by the wondrous writings and example of this saintly family.

Posted: March 22, 2017, 6:00 am
By Andrew Walther

When I visited Erbil, Iraq, in December with a congressional delegation determined to find out why Christians had often been excluded from U.S. aid programs, Archbishop Nicodemus Daoud of Mosul told us that Americans generally care more about endangered frogs than about endangered Christian communities.

He has a point.

Christians have lived in the region for almost 2,000 years. Many still speak the language of Jesus. But although they, and other minority communities, are now seriously endangered, some Americans seem more worried that they might get priority than that they might disappear completely.

The Islamic State terror group, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh – and its antecedents – imposed a strict religious test and then targeted minority religious communities for elimination. At best, these communities fled, but lost everything in the process.

Those who are outraged that we might now prioritize them are forgetting America’s proud tradition of prioritizing genocide survivors, and the dark moments when we ignored them.

After horrifically refusing admission to Jewish refugees on the S.S. St. Louis in 1939, the United States later changed course and numerically prioritized displaced European Jews. They had suffered a uniquely horrible targeting – even if there were more German, French and Italian refugees, who were also displaced and suffering.

During and after World War I as well, the U.S. government worked with Near Eastern Relief to aid Armenian and other Christian communities targeted for genocide by the Ottoman Empire. The American people solidly supported the effort.

It is not un-American to prioritize those who have been targeted for genocide because of their faith. It has been seen as quintessentially American for a century.

And religious persecution has long been a key qualifier for refugee status under our immigration laws.

When the Lautenberg amendment was renewed with bipartisan support in 2015, no one was outraged. It prioritizes for asylum those who are Christian, Jewish and Baha’i, as well as other religious minorities from Iran.

Notably, the Obama administration’s official policy was also to prioritize Christian and other religious minority refugees from Syria. Knox Thames, the Obama administration’s State Department special advisor for religious minorities, wrote in October 2015:

“Due to the unique needs of vulnerable religious minority communities, the State Department has prioritized the resettlement of Syrian Christian refugees and other religious minorities fleeing the conflict.”

The policy failed to deliver. Only about half of one percent of Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. in fiscal year 2016 were Christian – though they make up 10 percent of the Syrian population. Yazidis and Shia Muslims were also profoundly underrepresented. Again, there was no uproar over the stated policy, and little coverage of its failure.

So the outrage is new, but policies claiming to prioritize Christians – and other minorities – are not.

What is deeply troubling is how often U.S. government aid overlooked the needs of these minority groups since 2014.

Last year, our government – for only the second time in history – formally declared an ongoing situation was a genocide. Secretary of State John Kerry explained that this genocide was one of religious persecution, saying: “The fact is that Daesh kills Christians because they are Christians; Yezidis because they are Yezidis; Shia because they are Shia.” Those words should have triggered America’s duty to help these targeted groups.

Instead, Christians – and other small communities targeted by ISIS’ genocidal campaign – have often been last in line, not first, to get U.S. government assistance.

While the U.S. government and the United Nations have spent heavily on humanitarian relief in the wake of ISIS, the largest community of displaced Christians – in Erbil – has received no money from our government or from the UN, according to Archbishop Bashar Warda, who is caring for tens of thousands of those displaced there.

It is the same story for many Yazidis.

In Iraq last spring, I met Yazidi families living next to an open sewer in Ozal City. Except for “two kilograms of lamb” in 2014, they had received nothing from the U.S. government, and nothing from the UN. Only Iraqi Christians – themselves overlooked by these entities – had helped them.

Far from receiving priority, communities most at risk of disappearing have received nothing at all from our government.

The reason U.S. and UN officials gave in Iraq this past May for overlooking these groups was that their aid prioritized only individual needs. If someone was hungry, they got aid, but the fact that a group could disappear entirely was never even considered.

“Helping everyone” typically means aid is sent to major refugee camps, resulting in the de facto exclusion of minority communities, since they have been targeted by extremists within these camps, and thus avoid them. It effectively means many religious minorities receive no help.

That American government aid to these groups is long overdue has – until now – been a subject of bipartisan agreement, not controversy.

The fact is that America’s lack of response to religious minorities has allowed ISIS’ program of eliminating these people from the region to continue.

While ISIS may applaud American inaction toward these communities over the past two years, neither the religious minorities in the Middle East, nor the judgment of history will do the same.

Giving preference does not mean helping only genocide survivors. But not giving them preference likely means they will soon be beyond help.

They could soon be completely eradicated.

Will anyone be outraged then?

This article was first posted February 17, 2017 on Morning Consultant. 

Posted: February 20, 2017, 7:00 am
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