Monday, April 30, 2012

Does Suffering have value?

c.s. Lewis once said that "pain is God's megaphone to the world." It sure does get our attention. One of the legacies of Pope John Paul II is that he taught us the redemptive meaning of suffering. He taught us that if born with Jesus Christ, our crosses can be a means of helping to save the souls of sinners. How? Robert Schroeder develops this theme in his book John Paul II and the meaning of human suffering. St. Therese once stated that she wanted "to eat at the table of sinners." What she means is that in her great love she wanted to identify with the abandonment/depression/grief/sadness of those who deliberately and continualy offend God with a life of sin. This identification is in imitation of Our Lord. Here are the words of Schroeder: "With suffering, there are no escape clauses. Its sharp tendrils reach all of us and cut deeply. But what if we could turn the tables on suffering-not by eliminating our pain altogether but by doing something to give it purpose and meaning? What if we could do good through our suffering? According to John Paul, that is precisely what our relationship with Jesus Christ empowers us to do. We discover theis profound truth in what the Pope calls the Gospel or 'good news' of suffering. The Pope explains that Jesus is the author of this Gospel, which the Church has handed down from its earliest days: 'The witnesses of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ have handed on to the Church and to mankind a specific Gospel of suffering. The Redeemer himself wrote this Gospel, above all by his own suffering accepted in love, so that man 'should not perish but have eternal life.' This suffering, together with the living word of his teaching, became a rich source for all those who shared in Jesus' sufferings among the first generation of his disciples and confessors and among those who have come after them down the centuries.'" Schroeder makes two key distinctions: suffering for Jesus, and suffering with Jesus. We need to rekindle the traditional understanding of redemptive suffering. If not, the Gospel of Life will not make sense and we will compromise human life at its end with things like "death with dignity" or "euthanasia." I recently learned of someone who received a diagnosis of terminal cancer. With heroic trust this man saw it as God's will and allowed all his sufferings to be united to Jesus for the conversion of his family and for the intentions of the Lord. Here is some more wisdom from Schroeder: "While the Gospel of suffering allows us to transform our suffering into something good by enduring trials for the sake of Jesus, it also reveals a second way-suffering in union with Jesus. According to John Paul, Jesus invites us to partake in His suffering: 'Follow me! Come! Take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through my suffering! Through my Cross!' This powerful message points to the great mystery of faith that we can join our suffering to Jesus' saving passion and death. According to the Pope, this sharing of suffering is possible only becaue Jesus engrafts us into His Body-a reality that becomes actualized in a special way through our regeneration in Baptism and our reception of Jesus in the Eucharist. John Paul writes:...'in the act of Baptism, which brings about a configuration with Christ, and then through his Sacrifice-sacramentally through the Eucharist-the Church is continually being built up spiritually as the Body of Christ. In this Body, Christ wishes to be united with every individual, and in a special way is united with those who suffer.' Here, the pope explains that because Jesus truly lives in us, we can share in His Suffering-a truth about which St. Paul expressed his conviction: 'I have been crucified with Christ, is is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me: and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.'....To suffer with Jesus as members of His Body is not merely possible for us as Christians, but it is our vocation within God's plan of salvation. In the words of John Paul: 'The Redeemer suffered in place of man for man. Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each one is also called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished.'....John Paul bases his teaching on the wisdom of Catholic tradition, rooted in a careful reading of St. Paul, who says that our suffering-when joined to the redemptive suffering of Jesus-can become productive and useful. The apostle writes:'Now I rejoice in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church. (Col 1:24)'" There was nothing lacking in Christ's suffering but this is the exceptional thing about Catholicism. Aside from seeing the event of Jesus as a one time event, we see it as still very much alive throughout history. Hence, every age has had what the church understands to be "victim souls". These are heroic individuals, psychologically healthy, who through a tremendous love of Jesus, begin to take on some of his sufferings-sometimes even literally. Padre Pio, St. Gemma Galgani, Mary "little rose" Ferron, St Francis of Assisi, St Faustina, Marthe Robin are just some who have been known to carry the wounds of Jesus in their body. Not only did they bear the hand and feet wounds, they were also known to experience the crowning of thorns and even the wound marks from the scourging. Scientists have authenticated these phenomena and they stand as a "sign of contradiction" to a world that rejects the Gospel of suffering, and the cross. Prayerfully listen to the following words from Our Lord to a mystic, a privileged soul named Sr. Mary of the Holy Trinity, a Poor Clare nun who lived in Jerusalem from 1901-1942: " I desire an army of apostolic souls consecrated to me by the vow of victim, not to expiate the sins of others by extraordinary trials; no, that is not my desire. I desire a great army of victim souls who will join me in the Apostolate of My Eucharistic Life, who bind themselves by the Vow of Victim to choose the methods which I chose: silence-immolation-radiating the triumph of the Spirit, so that My Spirit may spread and so that they may reveal something of My Kingdom,, where every soul is called and awaited. I desire an army of victim souls who will confine their efforts to imitating my apostolate: I am the Master: I have been the servant of all. The Vow of Victim will give them the strength of a greater fidelity to be the servants of all-so that My Spirit may spread and the world may believe my words. I desire these victims to be everywhere: in the world and in the cloisters; in every occupation, in every station of life, in the fields and in factories, in schools and in stores, in families and in convents, in business and in the arts, that their fidelity may bear witness to My words. Souls who offer themselves as victims are much more closely united to Me-the more I love a soul, the more I desire to associate her with my apostolate-look at My Saints and look at My Mother....Then I can ask of them-and I can give to them....I ask four things of the souls who bind themselves more closely to me by the vow of victim: 1) to listen to Me more than to speak to Me; 2) to strive to reproduce My actions-My way of acting rather than My words; 3) to be before men as they are before God in a state of poverty that begs-not in a state of spiritual wealth that gives alms of its superfluity..4) to confine their efforts to spreading My Spirit, My gentleness, and My kindness which does not dwell on evil, but overcomes evil by good." If you wish to read more, TAN publishers has the book The Life and Message of Sister Mary of the Holy Trinity. In summary, suffering is a lack of good; however, for Christians, if united with the cross of Christ it can become a powerful force for overcoming evil everywhere in the world. Jesus wills that all be saved. Are you willing to offer yourself to Him so that He may use you for His purposes? He waits....

Friday, April 27, 2012

veritatis splendor

Well, the ends justify the means....therefore it is a moral act. This line of thinking has invaded the church on many levels.Last evening there was a story on NBC's Nightly News that brought this line of thinking to the fore. A young woman is suing the diocese of Ft Wayne, IN because she was fired for receiving fertility treatments that involved IVF. This is something the Catholic church opposes. She is citing "mental duress" because the Msgr and bishop (my seminary rector) called IVF a "gravely evil act." Without going into all the particulars of the case it may be helpful to people to know why the Church uses such language. Veritatis Splendor was a seminal work of Pope John Paul II. Here is a passage that may shed some light on the various issues involved: " Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature incapable of being ordered to God' because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church's moral tradition, have been termed 'intrinsically evil': they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ultrerior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that 'there exist acts which are per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object." The Second Vatican Council itself, in discussing the respect due to the human person, gives a number of examples of such acts: ' Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat laborers as mere instruments of profit, and nor as free responsible persons: all theseand the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect the human race they contaminate those who inflict them more than those eho suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator.'" With regard to intrinsically evil acts, and in reference to contraceptive practices whereby the conjugal act is intentionally rendered infertile, Pope Paul VI teaches: 'Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater e il or in order to promote a greater good, it is never lawful, even for the gravest readons, to do evil that good nay come of it- in other words to intend directly something which of its very nature of ontradi ts the moral order, and which must terefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family, and of society in general.'" This is the context in which Bishop Rhodes and the Msgr. were speaking. The church views certain actions as "intrinsically evil." Although IVF does end in the good of children, there are a number of intrinsically evil acts that have to first take place. One, how is the sperm to be obtained? Two, the dignity of the conjugal act and human relations is rendered negative when what should take place in the intimacy of the marriage bed now takes place in a laboratory. Three, and this is the most serious evil, many already fertilized eggs must also be discarded. Once discarded, these living beings could be put on ice (frozen embryos) or genetically manipulated or worse, part of a genetically selective process where you can now truly get your "designer baby." Is the pain of infertility hearwrenching? absolutely. I have had to walk the infertile walk to Calvary with many couples. I also know many children who have been born through IVF and they are truly "gifts of God." When the Church speaks about intrinsic evil it is speaking about although the other embryos that were created in the process and are now "selectively aborted." For NBC news to make this one of the lead stories on their headline news is just one more attack on the Catholic Church. The supreme court just ruled that religious organizations have the ability to fire/hire employees based on religious beliefs. NBC news knows this. They disagree with the Church teaching and it is one more attempt to further isolate the Catholic Church from discussion of public policy. The problem is: the Catholic Church will not go away. She communicates eternal truth: the wisdom of Jesus Christ and she is the bearer of Jesus' promise to Peter: " Peter, you are Rock, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." In every age Peter's boat seems to be sinking, but Jesus also walks to her on the water and says: "It is I, do not be afraid."

The specter of Euthanasia

This past week the Knights of Columbus at St. Patrick Church, East Hampton, sponsored an estate planning evening. At the end of the night I gave a brief overview of some of the guiding principles in end of life issues. This is a very sensitive topic because it involves questions of removing a respirator from a loved one or the administration of drugs that could in essence, kill the body before its natural death. For all people in the United States this should be an area of concern. The largest segment of the population, the baby boomers, will soon be entering, in some instances, long term care. This involves financial questions and moral/ethical questions. You can understand why some in the pro-life movement are very concerned about the wrong people making life changing decisions because they may have a view of life contrary to that of the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the dignity of the human person-whether it be a fertilized egg, an unborn child, a born child with disabilities, an illegal immigrant, the poor, the sick,the elderly, those with alzheimers/dementia, a criminal on death row-all deserve to be treated with the same dignity. This is the heart of Catholic teaching. What is interesting is that the same logic that informs the conscience for Catholics on opposition to birth control is the same logic that should impel one to care for their loved ones. Here are some words from Pope John Paul's Letter to the family: "A civilization inspired by a consumerist, anti-birth mentality is not and cannot ever be a civilization of love......We thus come to the very heart of Gospel truth about freedom. The person who realizes himself by the exercise of freedom in truth. Freedom cannot be understood as a license to do absolutely anything: it means a gift of self. Even more: it means an interior discipline of the gift. The idea of gift contains not only the free initiative of the subject, but also the aspect of duty. All this is made real in the 'communion of persons.' We find ourselves again at the very heart of each family. Continuing this line of thought, we also come upon the antithesis between individualism and personalism. Love, the civilization of love, is bound up with personalism. Why with personalism? And why does individualism threaten the civilization of love? We find a key to answering this in the Council's expression, a 'sincere gift.' Individualism thus remains egocentric and selfish. The real antithesis between individualism and personalism emerges not only on the level of theory, but even more on that of 'ethos.' The ethos of personalism is altruistic: it moves a person to become a gift for others and to discover joy in giving himself. This is the joy about which Christ speaks." Simply put, decisions made on a financial basis not to have children can become in its most selfish sense, materialistic. The church does, however, allow for couple to make prudent choices on regulation of births through the use of Natural Family Planning. No one is forced to have twelve kids, they just have to live a life where the gift of a child is welcomed. At the other end of the spectrum you can see the inherent dangers. If someone is hooked to a respirator or perhaps in a long term Alzheimer's situation, an unethical, unscrupulous person may choose to play God either for financial reasons (because the inheritance is running out) or any other of different factors (mom would not want to be a burden, etc.) Any more than a disable child-perhaps one with Downs syndrome is not a burden on society (in fact they are a gift), so, too, our elderly who are sick and suffering can be a tremendous gift. Our society with all of its quick fixes has lost the value of redemptive suffering. An elderly person praying the rosary in a nursing home is living a life close to Christ. They have that same dignity as the unborn child and should be treated with the same reverence. They are Christ. Here are Pope John Paul II's words in the Gospel of Life. They need to be shouted from rooftops today because they voices for euthanasia or death with dignity are becoming louder and louder: " At the other end of life's spectrum, men and women find themselves facing the mystery of death. Today, as a result of advances in medicine and in a cultural context frequently closed to the transcendent, the experience of dying is marked by new features. When the prevailing tendency is to value life only to the extent that it brings pleasure and well-being, suffering seems like an unbearable setback, something from which one must be freed at all costs. Death is considered 'senseless' if it suddenly interrupts a life still open to a future of new and interesting experiences. But it becomes a 'rightful liberation' once life is held to be no longer meaningful because it is filled with pain and inexorably doomed to even greater suffering. Furthermore, when he denies or neglects his fundamental relationship to God, man thinks he is his own rule and measure, with the right to demand that society should guarantee him the ways and means of deciding what to do with his life in full and complete autonomy. It is especially people in the developed countries who act in this way: they feel encouraged to do so also by the constant progress of medicine and its ever more advanced techniques. By using highly sophisticated systems and equipment, science and medical practice today are able not only to attend to cases formerly considered untreatable and to reduce or eliminate pain, but also to sustain and prolong life in situations of extreme frailty, to resuscitate artificially patients whose basic biological functions have undergone sudden collapse, and to use special procedures to make organs available for transplanting. In this context the temptation grows to have recourse to euthanasia, that is, to take control of death and bring it about before its time, 'gently' ending one's life or the life of others. In reality what might seem logical and humane, when looked at more closely is seen to be senseless and inhumane Here we are faced with one of the more alarming symptoms of the 'culture of death' which is advancing above all in prosperous societies, marked by an attitude of excessive preoccupation with efficiency and which see the growing number of elderly and disabled people as intolerable and too burdensome. These people are very often isolated by their families and society, which are organized almost exclusively on the basis of criteria of productive efficiency, according to which a hopelessly impaired life no longer has any value. For a correct moral judgement on euthanasia, in the first place a clear definition is required. Euthanasia in the strict sense is understood to be an action or ommission which of itself and by intention causes death, with the purpose of eliminating all suffering. 'Euthanasia's terms of reference, therefore, are to be found in the intention of the will and in the methods used.'" The Pope goes on to make the distinction that "to forego extraordinary or disproportionate means is not the equivalent of suicide or euthanasia; it rather expresses acceptance of the human condition in the face of death." He also notes: "Taking into account these distinctions, in harmony with the Magisterium of my Predecessors, and in communion with the bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written word of God, is transmitted by the Church's tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magesterium. Depending on the circumstances, this practice involves the malice proper to suicide or murder." The tender care and love of Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her sisters has always impressed me. They created the home for the dying in Calcutta and put into practice the principles we are discussing. Every human person has a dignity because they are created in the image and likeness of God. "It is I who bring death and life" (Dt 32:39) Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us! St. Jeanne Jugan, pray for us!

Friday, April 20, 2012

A response to the convetional wisdom that more contraception leads to fewer pregnancies

The editorial page of the New York Times yesterday boldly proclaimed: New study shows dramatic drop in teenage pregnancies. I do not know the particulars of the study but I do disagree with the conclusions of the New York Times. Conventional wisdom states that if Comprehesive sex education programs involving access to contraception are made available to teenagers than we can reduce the number of unitended pregnancies and hence reduce abortions. This is a false premise. Let me explain. Remember the prophecy of Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae where he stated that "contraception would lead to an increase in marital infidelity, a lowering of morality among young people, and a loss of respect for women by men, who would be free to treat women as mere objects of pleasure?" I cited the following statistics in one of my first blogposts but they need to be repeated again: "In what was called the demoralization of American society, a number of statistical indicators came together. in the 30 years 1960-1990, while the US population rose by 41%, there was a 560% increase in violent crime, 200% in teenage suicide, 200% rise in divorce, voer 400% rise in illegitimate births, 300% rise in children living in single-parent homes-producing in toto the significant fact that children formed the fastest growing segment of the criminal population. Up to 1920, the proportion of children born to single women in the United States was less than 3 percent, roughly where it had been throughout the history of the country...By the end of 1994 it (the illegitimacy rate) was 33% for the nation as a whole, 25% for whites, and 70% for blacks. In parts of Washington, capital of the richest nation in the world, it was as high as 90%." The above figures come from a Washington Weekly Standard article Aug 5, 1996. Consider the following paragraph from Fr Walter Schu, LC's book:"The Splendor of Love": "It has long been a standard argument by many people who oppose Paul VI's vision that two things were needed to reduce teenage pregnancy: sexual education and ready access to contraception. Just make contraceptives available to teens and teach them how to use them, and teen pregnance would be greatly reduced. As a result, abortions among teens would also decline. New research indicates that the opposity is ture. More sexual education and contraception have actually made the problem worse. A study published in the August 18, 200 British Journal of Medicine reveals that teens who consult with medical professionals about contraception actually have a higher rate of pregnancy than those who don't. 'The study found that 71% of 223 teen-age girls who became pregnant had discussed contraception with a health expert in the year before they became pregnant.' As to contraception's reducing the number of abortions, 'Studies show that over 80% of young women who have had abortions are contraceptively experienced.' That more abortions follow from contraception is not at all surprising. Dr Janet Smith, author of Why Humanae Vitae was right, states:'Most abortions are the result of unwanted pregnancies, most unwanted pregnancies are the result of sexual relationships outside of marriage, and most sexual relationships outside of marriage are facilitated by the availability of contraception. To turn this 'progression' around: contraception leads to more extra-marital sexual intercourse; more extra-maarital intercourse leads to more unwanted pregnancies; more unwanted pregnancies leads to more abortions.'" St Augustine is reported to have said, "Lord, give me chastity, but not yet!" He also said "Love, and do what you will.." after having fathered a child and gone through multiple mistresses. Is chastity education still possible? Yes. In the poorest counties of the world Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her sisters were able to teach the poor Natural Family Planning. For them another child could be a matter of life or death. The poor responded very generously. What about us? Do you want to be part of the Culture of Death that views young people as animals who can do nothing but have sexual relations? Or do you see young people as being given a God given dignity that enables them to live a moral life? Isn't it better to challenge them to be more than they can be or to just say "here, kid, we know you will make the wrong choices." Which view of the human person is more affirming, more loving, more challenging. The Catholic Church offers young people unchanging truth and they are responding very generously. My only hope is that adults formed into the image and likeness of the vision of Planned Parenthood instead of God, will have their hearts touched by the Gospel of Life, the only Gospel that offers healing and hope.

Is death the end?

This afternoon I said a prayer over a woman dying in a hospice situation. She has deteriorated rapidly since my last conversation with her. It was moving to see a hospice nurse massaging the side of her face while a family member sat nearby. As a priest my life is no stranger to death. I see it all....from the tragic deaths of young people to the peaceful surrender of true saints. I have even been present at the exact moment of death on three separate occassions. I think it might be helpful to revisit what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say on the topic: # 1010-" Because of Christ, Christian death has a positive meaning: 'For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.' 'The saying is sure: if we have died with him, we will also live with him.; What is essentially new about Christian death is this: through baptism, the Christian has already 'died with Christ' sacramentally, in order to live a new life; and if we die in Christ's grace, physical death completes this 'dying with Christ' and so completes our incorporation into him in his redeeming act. St. Ignatius of Antioch said: 'It is better for me to die in Christ Jesus than to reign over the ends of the earth. Him it is I seek-who died for us. Him it is I desire-who rose for us. I am on the point of giving birth...Let me receive pure light; when I shall have arrived there, then shall I be a man.'" What St. Ignatius is saying is that only when he is in the kingdom of God with Jesus will he be complete. Many people forget this. Dr. Peter Kreeft in a talk titled "the culture war" emphasizes how modern philosophies forget that the kingdom of God was never intended for here. This is the training ground. Now geneticists are trying to bypass Adam and Eve and bypass death. Even the disciples were slow to respond to this teaching. They kept expecting Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom. "You have died, and your life is hidden now in Christ" Those words of St. Paul are words for us to ponder. They form the basis for men and women who leave the active life of the world and choose to live in monastaries where they seek the Lord "day and night." Theirs is truly a death to the world. Priests and religious who take vows of celibacy also point to the reality of a Kingdom to Come. Marriage and family are tremendous goods but priests and religious sisters freely renounce the good of marriage in choosing to live a life of chaste love in imitation of Jesus. This too, is a death, and, I might add, is something still greatly misunderstood by the modern world. Priests and religious sister point to the kingdom that will never end. Hopice workers and volunteer provide a tremendous resource to families coping with the death of a loved one. The constant vigilance, care, support is a source of great strength at a time of need. They are quite adept at predicting the approaching death of a loved one and may suggest that families have conversations on important topics like forgiveness,etc. For me personally, the two experiences that have touched me most deeply in ministry are death-bed experiences. The first was the death of a 23 yr old young man who was dying of Leukemia. He was in some agony and discomfort when suddenly his face became radiant and peaceful, he sat up in bed, opened his eyes, and fall back into the pillow and into the hands of God. The second experience was at St. Joseph Living Center in Willimantic, CT. I must confess, I did not go lovingly or willingly at first....Having been called out the night before and getting weary of being the one to always get called I was having what you might call an "attitude problem." That's ok-I went anyway-and that has made all the difference in my life. I entered a room with a family gathered around their dying mother. Rosaries were being said, and family members were crying. I said the prayers for the sacrament of the sick and began to leave when something inside me said, No...don't go....I stayed.....I began to say the prayers for the commendation of the dying. This involves scripture passages and the litany of the saints. At the end there is a prayer which reads: "And may you meet the living Lord Jesus, your redeemer, face to face....." Just as I finished the word face the woman, named Alma, let out one last breath. I turned to sister and said, "Sister she just died!" She point a finger over her lips and said "Wait!" I said "Sister, I know it, she just died!" Indeed she had. Apparently she was waiting for that final blessing from a priest. I went into the chapel at the Living Center and wept. I couldn't believe that all the angels, saints, and holy people we had just invoked were in that room. I will never downplay the power of a priest's blessing because I now know it is the blessing of Jesus Christ, and I will always be grateful for the sacrament of the priesthood. This Easter, remember, death is not the end. We await a glorious inheritance at the wedding feast of the lamb with Jesus, Mary, all the saints, and all our departed loved ones. In the meantime we are to heed Jesus' words who said "I have come that you may have life and have it in abundance." The abundant life is death to the world and a big Amen, Yes to the Lord of Life who has come to give us eternal life "where every tear will be wiped away."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

John Paul II on Democracy

In the Gospel of Life Pope John Paul lays out some important principles regarding the culture of life. He touches upon the limits of democracy. Here is what he has to say: "Ethical relativism characeterizes much of present-day culture. There are those who consider such relativism an essential condition of democracy, inasmuch as it alone is held to guarantee tolerance, mutual respect between people and acceptance of the decisions of the majority, whereas moral norms considered to be objective and binding are held to lead to authoritarianism and intolerance. But it is precisely the issue of repect for life which shows what misunderstandings and contradictions, accompanieed by terrible practical consequences, are concealed in this position. It is true that history has known cases where crimes have been committed in the name of 'truth." But equally grave crimes and radical denials of freedom have also been committed and are being committed in the name of 'ethical relativism.' When a parliamentary or social majority decrees that it is legal, at least under certain conditions, to kill unborn human life, is it not really making a 'tyrranical' decision with regard to the weakest and most defenseless of human beings? Everyone's conscience rightly rejects those crimes against humanity of which our century has had such sad experience. But would these crimes cease to be crimes ir, instead of being committed by unscrupulous tyrants they were legitimated by popular consensus? Democracy cannot be idolized to the point of making it a substitute for morality or a panacea for immorality. Fundamentally, democracy is a 'system' and as such is a means and not an end. Its 'moral' value is not automatic, but depends on conformity to the moral law to which it, like every other form of human behavior, must be subject: in other words, its morality depends on the morality of the ends which it pursues and of the means which it employs. If today we see an almost universal consensus with regard to the value of democracy, thies is to be considered a positive 'sign of the times,' as the Church's Magesterium has frequently noted. But the value of democracy stands or falls with the values which it embodies and promotes. Of course, values such as the dignity of every human person, respect for inviolable and inalienable human rights, and the adoption of the 'common good' as the end and criterion regulating political life are certainly fundamental and not to be ignored. The basis of these values cannot be provisional and changeable 'majority' opinions, but only the acknowledgement of an objective moral law which, as the 'natural law' written in the human heart, is the obligatory point of reference for civil law itself. If, as a result of a tragic obscuring of the collective conscience, an attitude of skepticism were to succeed in bringing into question even the fundamental principles of the moral law, the democratic system itself would be shaken in its foundations, and would be reduced to a mere mechanism for regulating different and opposing interests on a purely empirical basis." What is the Pope saying here? Democracy is good but it is not an end in itself, and if its should lose its moral compass, it cannot survive. The Roman empire was once the largest and most feared empire of all time. It extended through Europe, Africa, and Asia. It did not succumb to another empire. It was overrun by Barbarians from the North. When Rome lost its moral compass it collapsed from within. Some have accused Catholics of imposing their own morality on government in recent HHS mandate debates and other life issues. This is not a matter of religious belief. It is a matter of truth that can be known by the natural law. This is the argument of the Pontiff. When you lose that perspective of the natural law and truth than anything becomes possible-ethical relativism. This is where we are today. America has lost its moral compass. We need to wake up and realize that we cannot terminate the lives of 1.5 million unborn children in the name of "women's health" each year, and expect to survive as a country. We need to reclaim the moral values that forged this country in faith

History of Religious Liberty in America

Rod Gragg is the author of a wonderful book titled Forged in Faith: How Faith Shaped the Birth of a Nation. In this book Gragg proposes that the American experience is unique in world history because it acknowledged the importance of Faith in God as one of the foundational principles. In light of current threats to religious liberty (HHS mandate) it is helpful to remember where we have been in order to understand where we are to go. I would like to share several paragraphs from his book below. "At a site up the Potomac River, Governor Calvert and his colonists established a settlement-the colony's capital-which they named St. Mary's City. The Jesuit priests exercised their religious freedom immediately by taking the Gospel to the region's North Americans. Eventually, Maryland's Indian nations, like those throughout America, would be overwhelmed by the advancing European civilization-peacefully or otherwise. Initially, however, some tribes in Maryland apparently welcomed the Catholic missionaries and the Gospel they bore. One Jesuit reported to his superiors that Chitomacon, the 'king' of Maryland's Piscataway tribe, had been converted to Christianity and baptized with his family.'For my part,'the priest wrote,'I would rather, laboring in the conversion of these Indians, expire on the bare ground, deprived of all human succor, and perishing with hunger, than once think of abandoning this holy work of God.' As they built their colony at St. Mary's City and elsewhere in Maryland, Catholics and Protestants worked together to forge a common culture despite the conflicts and suspicions of the day. The cooperative atmosphere was due in large part to the informal policy of religious toleration established by Cecilius Calvert, who followed the model his father had tried to implement at his short-lived NewFoundland colony. Maryland's charter cited 'a laudable and pious Zeal for extending Christian religion' as a motive for colonization, and Calvert established an oath of office for the colony's governors requiring them to support broad religious freedom for the day. Under the oath, the governor voewed that he would not 'directly or indirectly, trouble, molest or discountenance any person whatsoever, professing to believe in Jesus Christ....nor make any difference of persons in conferring offices, rewards or favors for or in respect to their said religion.' The Calverts also offered Maryland's colonists more self government than was afforded to their countrymen back in England. The colony's charter granted ruling authority to the colony's lord proprietor-with the 'Advice, Assent and Approbation' of a legislative assembly. The colony's charter thus set a precedent for American Government by stating that Maryland's colonists would have a legislative voice. They exercised it promptly. When, as Lord proprietor, Cecilius Calvert attempted to enact a series of laws, including capital punishment for idolatry and blasphemy, the Maryland Christians rejected them and asserted their rights to make law through the legilature. After some wrangling, the Lord proprietor agreed and granted the Marylanders an unusually broad degree of self government through their legislative assembly. As the Maryland colony grew, its Protestant population came to outnumber Catholics by three to one. No Catholic world power-not France, Spain, or Portugal-granted freedom of religion to Protestants, or allowed them to hold office. Maryland's Catholic administration did so, however: numerous Protestants were seated in the colony's legislature. Like his brother, Maryland's lord proprietor, Governor Leonard Calvert was Catholic, and thus the colony was administered by Catholics, but Protestants held real power in the legislative assembly. Together, Catholics and Protestants thus governed early Maryland and the colony's opening era was marked by peace. Eventually, however, old sectarian fears and suspicions were aroused in the colony, mainly by outsiders and new colonists. Tensions increased during the English civil wars, as many Catholics sided with King Charles I and the Royalists, while many Protestants, especially dissenters, back the Parliamentary forces. In 1645, Richard Ingle, a sea captain accused of piracy, raided St. Mary's City with two warships, claiming to act in the name of Parliament. Denouncing Maryland's lord protector as a Royalist, he and his crews plundered the town, burned several houses, seized stores of tobacco, and imprisoned Catholic leaders and priests. Governor Leonard Calvert fled to Virginia, and back in England Cecilius Calvert gave up his colony as lost. Leonard Calvert had not given up, however, and two years later the governor returned to Maryland with a small army, drove out the insurgents, and restored order. In 1649, in order to restore stability to the colony, reassure Protestants, and protect Catholics, Cecilius Calvert presented the colony's legislature with an exceptional legislative proposal for the day. If passed, it would turn Maryland's informal toleration of religion into law. It was officially called the Act Concerning Religion-better known as the Toleration Act of 1649-and the legislators did pass it. In a unique exercise for Colonial America, Maryland's Catholic and Protestant leaders jointly enacted a statute providing expanded religious freedom. ' Forasmuch as in a well governed and Christian Commonwealth matters concerning Religion and the honor of God ought in the first place to be taken into serious consideration and endeavored to be settled' it proclaimed,'no person professing to believe in Jesus Christ shall from heneforth be any ways troubled, molested or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion....nor in any way compelled to belief or exercise of any other Religion against his or her consent.' Although it protected religious liberty for Protestants and Catholics alike, it did not extend freedom of religion to everyone-Jews and Quakers were not officially included, for instance. Nor were the rights afforded Catholics to be long standing: within a few decades, politics, sectarian strife, a bourgeoning Protestant population, and government promotion of England's state church penalized all who were not Anglican and erased Maryland's distinction as a Catholic haven. America's Catholics would eventually be afforded full freedom of religion, and the Roman Catholic Church in turn would also accept the co-existence of other faiths. For its day, Maryland's Toleration Act was an exceptional achievement, and laid a keystone precedent for religious liberty in America. As with Roger Williams and William Penn, Cecilius Calvert was not motivated merely by pragmeatic politics: he too was following the biblical principle: 'whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.' That principle would eventually make freedom of faith a hallmark of American democracy." Today, that very freedom of faith is being called into question. The HHS mandate would penaliize Catholic institutions that fail to cover contraceptive coverage and abortificients to participating members of an organization. Please pray that we will once again be the "land of the free."

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pope Benedict's Innaugural Homily

In the week where we remember the election of Pope Benedict XVI we should also recall why he chose the name Benedict. The following excerpt comes from a book edited by Peter Seewald titled, Pope Benedict XVI, Servant of the Truth. "The name Benedict comes from the Latin benedictus ('the blessed man'). By choosing this name, Benedict XVI looks back to Saint Benedict of Nursia, the great religious founder and educator. His motto ora et labora ('pray and work') and the Rule he wrote in Montecassion laid the foundations for a new start in Europe. Hundreds of thousands of his monks cultivated the soil of western Europe with agriculture, scholarship, and culture. Benedict is the patron saint of Europe. In Bavaria, the Pope's homeland, terra benedicta ('the blessed land') is a name given to the regions made so fertile by the Benedictines. At the same time, the German Pope looks back to his predecessor Benedict XV (Pope from 1914 to 1922). He is remembered as the 'Pope of Peace' and as a great missionary. It is not surprising that Ratzinger, who has played such a prominent role in social debates for decades, should have chosen a name that recalls another man who got involved in poitics. Christians must get involved. It goes without saying that the Pope is called to plead for peace and reconciliation in a lacerated world. The name of the new Pope can be read as a prophecy of the mission he is to fulfill.'" Notice the key role the Pope is to play in the public square. There are some who would like to silent the role of the church and have its members live with a wall between their professed belief and involvement and engagement with the culture. Is this not happening in the current HHS mandate debate. The Catholics and Bishops in particular should just keep quiet, not make such a fuss about mandates and outdated outmoded morality. Those who make such arguments do not understand how religious liberty is under direct attack. Enclosed verbatim is the Pope's innaugural homily. "How alone we all felt after the passing of John Paul II-the Pope who for over twenty-six years had been our shepherd and guide on our journey through life! He crossed the threshold of the next life entering into the mystery of God. But he did not take this step alone. Those who believe are never alone-neither in life nor in death..... And now, at this moment, weak servant of God that I am , I must assume this enormous task, which truly exceeds all human capacity....Al of you, my dear friends, hae just invoked the entire host of Saints, represented by some of the great names in the history of God's dealings with mankind. In this way, I too can say with renewed conviction: I am not alone. I do not have to carry alone what in truth I could never carry alone. All the Saints of God are there to protect me, sustain me and to carry me. And your prayers, my dear friends, your indulgence, your love, your faith and your hope accmpany me.... Yes, the Church is alive-this is the wonderful experience of these days. During those sad days of the Pope's illness and death, it became wonderfully evident to us that the Church is alive. And the Church is young. She holds within herself the future of the world and therefore shows each of us the way towards the future. The Church is alive, and we are seeing it: we are experiencing the joy that the Risen Lord promised his followers. The Church is alive-she is alive because Christ is alive, because he is truly risen.... Dear Friends! At this moment there is no need for me to present a programme of governance. I was able to give an indication of what I see as my task in my Message of Wednesday, April 20, and there will be other opportunities to do so. My real programme of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by Him, so that he himself will lead the Church at this particular hour of our history. Instead of putting forward a programme, I should simply like to comment on the two liturgical symbols which represent the inauguration of the Petrine Ministry... The first symbol is the Pallium, woven in pure wool, which will be placed upon my shoulders. This ancient sign, which the Bishops of Rome have worn since the fourth century, may be considered an image of the yoke of Christ, which the Bishop of this City, the Servant of the Servants of God, takes upon his shoulders.... The symbollism of the Pallium is even more concrete: the lamb's wool is meant to represent the lost, sick or weak sheep which the shepherd places on his shoulders and carries to the waters of life. For the Fathers of the Church, the parable of the lost sheep, which the shepherd seeks in the desert, was an image of the mystery of Christ and the Church. The human race-every one of us-is the sheep lost in the desert which no longer knows the way. What the Pallium indicates first and foremost is that we are all carried by Christ. But at the same time it invites us to carry one another. Hence the Pallium becomes a symbol of the shepherd's mission, of which the Second reading and the Gospel speak. The pastor must be inspired by Christ's holy zeal: for him, it is not a matter of indifference that so many people are living in the desert. And there are so many different kinds of deserts. There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love. there is the desert of God's darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life. The external deserts of the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast. Therefore the earth's treasures no longer serve to build God's garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction...It is not power, but love that redeems us! This is God's sign: he himself is love. How often we wish that God would show himself stronger, that he would strike decisively, defeating evil and creating a better world. All ideologies of power justify themselves in exactly this way, they justify the destruction of whatever would stand in the way of progress and the liberation of humanity. We suffer on account of God's patience. And yet, we need his patience. God, who became a lamb, tells us that the world is saved by the Crucified One, not by those who crucified Him. The world is redeemed by the patience of God. It is destroyed by the impatience of man.... The second symbol used in today's liturgy to express the inauguration of the Petrine Ministry is the presentation of the fisherman's ring. Peter's call to be a shepherd, which we heard in the Gospel, comes after the account of a miraculous catch of fish: after night in which the disciples had let down their nets without success, they see the risen Lord on the shore. He tells them to let down their nets onece more, and the nets become so full that they can hardly pull them in; 153 large fish...And then came the conferral of his mission: 'Do not be afraid. Henceforth you will be catching men.' Both the image of the Sheperd and that of the fisherman issue an explicit call to unity. 'I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must lead them too, and they will heed my herd (JN 10:16); these are the words of Jesus at the end of his discourse on the Good Sheperd. And the account of the 153 large fish ends with the joyful statement:'Although there were so many, the net was not torn.( Jn 21:11) Alas, beloved Lord, with sorrow we must now acknowledge that it has been torn! But no-we must not be sad! Let us rejoice because of your promise, which does not disappoint, and let us do all we can to pursue the path towards the unity you have promised. Let us remember it in our prayer to the Lord, as we plead with him. Yes, Lord, remember your promise. Grant that we may be one flock and one sheperd! Do not allow your net to be torn, help us to be servants of unity.... And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ-and you will find true life. Amen."

Pope Benedict XVI birthday

Today as I write this post Pope Benedict SVI is celebrating his 85th birthday! April 19th is the seventh anniversary of his election as Pope. We give thanks for his fatherly guidance of the church and recall some of the words of wisdom he has shared over the years. On April 18th, the day before his election, he gave a stirring homily that is worth remembering. I included excerpts here: "How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many fashions of thinking...the small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves, thrown form one extreme to the other: for Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth. Every day new sects are created, and what St Paul says about human trickery comes true, with a cunning that tries to draw people into error. Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled as fundamentalism, whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and swept along by every wind of teaching, looks like the only attitude acceptable to today's standards. We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as certain and that has as its ultimate standard one's own ego and one's own desires. However, we have a different standard: the Son of God, true man. He is the measure of true humanism. Being an 'adult' means having a faith that does not follow the waves of today's fashions or the latest novelties. A faith that is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ is adult and mature. It is this friendship that opens su up to all that is good and gives us the knowledge to judge true from false and deceit from truth. We must become mature in this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith-faith alone-that creates unity and is realized in love. On this theme, St. Paul offers us some beautiful words. In contrast to the continual ups and downs of those who are like infants tossed by waves, he says that we must perform the truth in lov.' This is the basic formula for the Christian existence. In Christ, truth and love merge. Love without truth would be blind; truth without love would be like a 'resounding gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Cor 13:1)" What he is saying is that unchanging truth does not chanbe. If something was immoral in one era it is not moral in the next. We see this on many issues of morality in popular culture. We pray for Pope Bendict XVI on his birthday and on the anniversary of his papal succession. We also pray for awareness of, and adherence to, the dynamic truth proclaimed by Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Holy Saturday is a day of great emptiness. Catholic churches are stripped. The Blessed Sacrament has been moved to the sacristy or to another chapel. It is a day of bleakness. For many, however, it is also the Desert Day. In the Catholic tradition this is the day Jesus went down to the dead. The Apostles Creed states that "He descended into Hell on the third day he rose again." What does this mean? The Catechism of the Catholic Church helps us here. I quote directly from #633-635: " Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, hell-Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek-because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into 'Abraham's bosom.' It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham's bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell. Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the dammed, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.The Gospel was preached even to the dead. The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfillment. This is the last phase of Jesus' messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ's redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption. Christ went down into the depths of death so that the dead will hear the vocie of the Son of God and those who hear will live. Jesus, the Author of Life, by dying destroyed him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. Henceforth the risen Christ holds the keys of Death and Hades so that 'at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.'" The Catechism then concludes with an excerpt from an Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday: "Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began...He has gone to search for Adam, our first Father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve...'I am your God, who for your sake have become your Son..I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead." Wow! the Lord of the Universe descends to the depths of hell to free those bound in darkness. He does the same thing for those who are alive but may be walking in darkness. There is the darkness of those who have rejected God and are living in rebellion. There is the darkness of grief or sadness. There is the darkness of addiction. There is the darkness of those who are imprisoned by materialism or the worship of self. There is a lot of darkness out there. The good news is that God has entered this darkness to set us free! St John of the Cross said so beautifully "I went so low, so low, as to go so high, so high." I like to think of the analgy of a rubber band or a sling shot. Think, for a moment...the further back you pull the band or slingshot, the further it will travel. So it is with God, the further we descend in humility, the closer we become to him; Or, to put it in another way, those chosen by Him to resemble Him in His cross here on earth can be assured that they will share in a great glory in heaven. Be still. The God of the universe has just grabbed Adam and the redeemed by the hand. Maybe He is grabbing you, and in a powerful burst of light is bringing you out of the darkness into "his marvelous light." Happy Easter. Be Blessed.