Saturday, January 31, 2009

He taught them as one having authority

FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 1, 2009:

“The people were astonished …for He taught them as one having authority.”

So, let’s start with an informal poll about the Superbowl. How many of you are rooting for the Cardinals? And the Steelers? I’m hoping for the Steelers myself. I could have also asked about the World Series, but given it is still 13 days until Spring Training, it would be just a guess. Whether World Series or Superbowl, we can hope, but we just don’t know. You see, not knowing is a part of the human condition. It is our lot to live, sometimes uneasily, with uncertainty. There are many occasions in life where it would be great to have a chance to “ask the audience” or “phone a friend,” but instead we’re often stuck with the reality of not knowing.

But, what comes across in our Scriptures today is not the uncertainty and unknowing that we’re used to living with. Instead, what comes across about Our Lord today is authority. We hear that word repeatedly. The authority that Moses speaks of in the first reading would fit Jesus to perfection, “A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you; to him you shall listen.” Jesus does command that type of authority in our Gospel reading today. Jesus was an invited speaker at the Jewish synagogue in Capernaum and there they were, very pious and attentive, wondering what He was going to say, and how He was going to say it. As it turned out, His manner of speaking was very different from either a rabbi, or a scribe or a prophet.

It was the practice of Jewish rabbis at the time to build on the teachings of their predecessors. In discussing issues put to them, they would refer to explanations given by rabbis of the past. Over time, those rabbis who gained renown for their wisdom and teaching would have their explanations added to the body of teachings from which the rabbis of the future would draw their authority. But, the people in our Gospel passage today are astounded at Jesus words because He does not speak on the authority of someone else. Instead, Jesus speaks with His own authority, which comes solely from Him as Son of God, and man, is it effective. When Jesus tells the unclean spirit to come out, it comes out of the man. Jesus’ very word is active and creative and effective and does not rely on any other power or authority – it has its own authority.

Jesus, the very Word of God in human form, the “Word made flesh,” speaks differently than everyone else. If He were simply a rabbi or scribe, He’d have explained the Law of Moses to them. No more, no less. If He were only another prophet, He would simply have handed on the Word of God to them. He would have said, “Thus says the Lord…” But, Jesus speaks for Himself. His word is God’s word; God’s voice; God’s authority. Small wonder that His teaching impressed them. After all it was weighted with eternity. Worded like no other teaching before or after.

What is even more incredible, is that this authority still exists in our Church today. Jesus shared this authority to teach, preach, forgive and heal with His Apostles and with us today. This authority to make known how Christ’s teaching is applicable in our world today rests in the teaching office of the Church, which we usually refer to as the Magesterium. Magesterium is a word that we don’t hear a lot of today. One of the greatest challenges we face in the Church today is the phenomenon of the a la carte Christian, who picks and chooses what part of the teaching of the Church they want to believe in, as though portions of our faith were optional. It is a vanity that we all suffer from, thinking that we can, of our own accord, accept some things and reject others, as though they were the teachings of mere humans. We act as though we can say, “I’ll keep the last 5 commandment, but I’m going to opt out of the first 5.” I hear all the time that people have decided, for example, that you don’t have to go to Mass every week anymore. They’ve decided it. I can’t count the times when someone says, “I’ve decided this or that is not a sin.” We’ve certainly all been guilty of this to one degree or another at some point in our lives. The reason, I think, is that often the teachings of the Church are difficult. It is challenging in our world today to live the way that God wants us to live, and so we look for the loophole. But, remembering where this Magisterium comes from, Who’s authority it actually is – the commanding authority of Jesus Christ – can help us in being more faithful followers of God and His Church.

This teaching authority of the Church helps us to understand the Scriptures and how they apply in today’s world. This is one of the reasons that the Magisterium is so important. It helps us to understand how Jesus would address the issues of our own day that were not even contemplated in Jesus’ time. It is the Magesterium of the Church, for example, that helps us to make sense of complex and complicated issues of things like cloning, and embryonic stem cell research, the death penalty, abortion and assisted suicide – issues that could not even be imagined in the time of Jesus.

This teaching authority is not a “because-I-said-so” reality, rather it is based on a body of beliefs that is rooted first and foremost in Scripture, that has developed and grown over the centuries, has been influenced by over 200 popes, and thousands of bishops, priests, theologians and lay Christians. Working together, always under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can be certain of an authentic handing down of the faith, and an authentic application of the teaching of Our Lord Jesus that helps us understand the realities and situations we encounter in our modern life.
We’re not called to a blind following of the Church and her teaching, but rather to at the very least be open to the possibility of her truth. Whenever I struggle with a teaching of the Church, I always begin from the presumption that the Church is right and my task is to learn and inquire and study to find out why she is right. If we are a little skeptical about the Church, inclined to hold back from it a bit, let’s remember that the Church itself is a consequence of Jesus time on Earth; it is the result of His authority. It is not self-appointed or created, but a community established by Jesus Himself. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations,” He told us.

The Church is commissioned to be an extension of Christ in its devotion to truth and in its exercise of charity and compassion. She is meant to use her authority, not as tyranny, but in service. The Church is a teacher and a guide to her members on the road to salvation. She is there to comfort us as well as make us feel loved. Whatever her human faults, the Church does her best to provide the pastoral care that her members need. You don’t have to look further than the fact that the Church is the largest non-governmental provider of outreach services, medical service, family services and educational services in our nation; and the Vatican is the largest charitable organization in the world. The Church is here to serve. Authority comes to the Church from Christ always paired with service. That’s the way it is meant to be. It is significant that, having just asserted His authority in today’s Gospel, Jesus goes on to immediately perform a miracle. Words weren’t left hanging in the air – action followed! The Church must continually follow up her teaching today with action as well.

We pray that we may always have open hearts to receive the teaching that the Church, in its two millennia of wisdom, hands on to each of us. A number of years ago, Pope John Paul II said, “If you love Jesus, love the Church.” May we experience the care, concern and love of the Church – and love for the Church – in our own lives and may we be a part of it ourselves. May it be a personal goal for each of us to make the people we come in contact with feel loved, welcomed, cared for and comforted, as the Church has done for us. And let us pray for the Church, that she may be strengthened in her mission.

“The people were astonished …for He taught them as one having authority.”

May God give you peace.

Another aspect of Life to consider

I was reading today in the January 26 issue of Newsweek a story about the Boomer generation and some of the related aspects that President Obama will have to deal with during the next four years.

One of these items struck me. We all know that our population is graying. What do I mean by that? Well, in statistics that Newsweek sites, in 1960, only 1 in 11 Americans was 65 or older. Today that number is 1 in 7, and by 2030 it will be 1 in 5.

This growing top-heaviness to our population is what puts the Social Security System in peril. There are increasingly fewer people in the workforce to pay for the also increasing number of people in need of Social Security dollars. Another statistic: in 1950 there were 16.5 workers for every person seeking benefits. By 2050 there will only be 2 workers for every person seeking retirement benefits.

So, what does this have to do with the Cause of Life? With being Pro-Life? We so often focus our pro-life energies on the issue of abortion, as we should. But, too often we completely forget or ignore the many other issues that are part of being pro-life. Issues like poverty, health care, the death penalty, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, domestic violence, women's issues, etc. But, these all have an impact, maybe even have a larger impact than abortion, but they are much less visible.

Let's take this issue of the growing number of elderly; shrinking number of young workers. Notice the timeline. The last time there were an abundance of workers per elderly was in the 1960s. This is just about the time that the Sexual Revolution took place. This was just about the time that Catholics en masse began to reject the church's teaching against the use of birth control.

The result has been an ever shrinking family for the last 40 years. As of the 2000 census, the average family size in America is 3 - two parents, one child. In 1960, the average Catholic family had 6 members - two parents, four children.

Today, virtually every Catholic family has embraced the use of contraception to limit their family size. It is very rare to see today what used to be the typical large Catholic family. In my own parish, with over 2,000 families, I can think of fewer than six families who have an above average family size.

The economics of this typically is that people cannot afford their lavish lifestyles if they have too many children. Just look at home sizes. As our families have shrunk, our houses have bulged. In 1970, the average U.S. home size was 1,400 square feet. In 2004, that had greatly expanded to an average home size of 2,330 square feet.

And yet, look at the economic mess writ large that we create by caring primarily about our economic super-abundance at home.

So, what are some of the societal consequences of artificially limiting our family sizes? Well, this issue of caring for our elders (in other words, you and me in just a few decades) is seriously in peril. There simply isn't the young vibrant workforce to support our graying population.

What are some of the consequences to the church? Just think of a lot of hotbed issues facing the Church today. Most dioceses are in the clutches of closing church buildings on a massive scale. The Albany Diocese two weeks ago for example just announced the closure of more than 30 places. Do you think this is all due to fewer people going to church? No way. That is certainly part of it, but the other reality is that when you couple that with our smaller families those empty spaces between you in the pews should have been your three other children.

How about the so-called vocation crisis? Again, when a family had four or more children it wasn't unsual for one or more of them to pursue a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated religious life. Today, when there is only one person to carry on the family name; only one person to give the parents eventual grandchildren; families just no longer support or encourage their own children to pursue a vocation - the consequence is too great.

But, it is exactly this issue of small family size that has forced us into a false choice. We shouldn't have to choose between being a priest or letting the family name die; being a nun or producing grandchildren. These are the unnoticed consequences of what seems like a small and unimportant action.

We quite simply, on the whole, have stopped trusting God in our lives. God will give you what you should have an what you can handle. The question is whether it is more important to follow God's way and will or have the 2,300 square foot home, the three or four cars (yes, I know countless families who have more cars than people in their homes), go on the exotic vacations, etc.

My conclusions are simple:

1. God's way is always the right way for us and our lives.
2. Large families are a sign of the prosperity that God wants each of us to have ("Be fruitful and multiply")
3. There are consequences that go far beyond the immediacy of our "nuclear" family when we choose our own path and own gratification over the plan that God has laid out for us.

That's my thought for the day. What are your thoughts? (Please post them as a comment below.)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Life: Imagine the Potential

This powerful pro-life ad was rejected by NBC for play during the Superbowl. They said they don't allow "political activism." I hope you are as moved as I am.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A laugh for today

From the email files:

Great Truths that Little Children Have Learned

1) No matter how hard you try, you can't baptize cats.
2) When your mom is mad at your dad, don't let her brush your hair.
3) If your sister hits you, don't hit her back. They always catch the second person
4) Never ask your 3-year old brother to hold a tomato.
5) You can't trust dogs to watch your food.
6) Don't sneeze when someone is cutting your hair.
7) Never hold a dust-buster and a cat at the same time.
8) You can't hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.
9) Don't wear polka-dot underwear under white shorts.
10) The best place to be when you're sad is Grandpa's lap.

Great Truths Adults Have Learned

1) Raising teenagers is like nailing jelly to a tree.
2) Wrinkles don't hurt.
3) Families are like fudge...mostly sweet, with a few nuts
4) Today's mighty oak is just yesterday's nut that held its ground.
5) Laughing is good exercise. It's like jogging on the inside.
6) Middle age is when you choose your cereal for the fibre, not the toy.

Great Truths about Growing Old

1) Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.
2) Forget the health food. I need all the preservatives I can get.
3) When you fall down, you wonder what else you can do while you're down there.
4) You're getting old when you get the same sensation from a rocking chair that you once got from a roller coaster.
5) It's frustrating when you know all the answers but nobody bothers to ask you the questions.
6) Time may be a great healer, but it's a lousy beautician.
7) Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.

The Four Stages of Life

1) You believe in Santa Claus.
2) You don't believe in Santa Claus.
3) You are Santa Claus.
4) You look like Santa Claus.

Success

At age 4 success is . . . not peeing in your pants.
At age 12 success is . . . having friends.
At age 17 success is . . . having a driver's license.
At age 35 success is . . . having money.
At age 50 success is . . . having money.
At age 70 success is . . . having a driver's license.
At age 75 success is . . . having friends.
At age 80 success is . . . not peeing in your pants.

Try to forget the troubles that pass your way; BUT NEVER forget the blessings that come each day.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Hail the Mighty American Turkey

On this day in 1784, in a letter to his daughter, Benjamin Franklin expressed unhappiness over the choice of the eagle as the symbol of America, and stated his own preference: the turkey. Here is an excerpt from the letter for your enjoyment:

"For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

"With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country . . .

"I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sweet, amazing, grace

SOLEMNITY OF THE CONVERSION OF SAINT PAUL, January 25, 2009:

Join me in singing a song that I’m sure you all know:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now, I see.

Now we all know this beautiful hymn, but perhaps not as many of us know its origin. Most hymnals will say “words by John Newton, melody by unknown”. The story of John Newton is one of the great conversion stories ever told. John Newton was an Anglican priest and a well known evangelical preacher in England, but long before he became either of those things, he was the captain of a slave ship.

During a journey back to England in 1748, Newton found his ship in the midst of a horrible storm. The ship nearly sank as it began to fill with water. Moments after he left the deck, the crewman who had taken his place was swept overboard. In his fear and desperation, John called out to God for help. Although he manned the vessel for the remainder of the storm, he later commented that, throughout the tumult, he realized his helplessness and concluded that only the grace of God – that amazing grace – could save him. It was this moment that he would later mark as the beginning of his conversion to Christianity. The storm calmed and as the ship sailed home, Newton began to read the Bible. By the time he reached England, he had accepted Christianity in his heart and changed his life – eventually going from slave trader to abolitionist, from non-believer to priest.

As captain of a slave vessel, the unknown melody that would later become Amazing Grace would have been familiar to him as it is very close to a West African sorrow chant that he probably heard many times echoing from the voices of imprisoned slaves in the bowels of his ship. It was this melody that he naturally set his great hymn of conversion to – “how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”

Today, the Church does something extraordinary as we suspend the ordinary Sunday readings in order to present to us another great conversion story – that of St. Paul. We find ourselves in the midst of the Year of St. Paul decreed by our Holy Father Pope Benedict to commemorate the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of St. Paul. His conversion was a momentous event in the earliest history of the Church, but is also an event that can move us to reflect on our own faith-journeys toward God.

Much like John Newton, the conversion of Paul was dramatic – from one who not only did not believe in Christ, but even persecuted those who believed, to becoming the greatest promoter of the Christian faith, spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Both of these stories – though dramatic in their externals – is essentially the same. God comes into our lives, wherever we may be – no matter how far away from Him and asks that we in turn follow Him. Our God has taken the initiative to come to us and meet us.

Today’s feast calls us to reflect on more than just John or Paul’s conversion; it calls us to reflect on our own. Each one of us has also been called by God. Each one of us has a vocation; God has something in mind for us; He has a purpose for you and me; we each fit somewhere in His plan. God offers, we respond, and our response tells us something about our own personal state of conversion. We are all constantly invited into a deeper response, a deeper conversion, a deeper turning of our lives towards God.

Many of us have heard of remarkable conversion experiences like that of John Newton and Paul, but for most of us conversion to God’s ways is made up of a series of small steps. Few of us have had a big event in which we experienced God’s presence in a special way and thereupon changed our lives. Changing our ways comes to most of us in the form of many small victories over what is wrong in our lives.

One of the best ways to keep moving forward in that way of conversion is to share our stories, our moments of conversion, with each other. One of the great joys of being a priest are the incredible stories of God’s action in the lives of His people that we hear each day. Although the dramatic might not be the norm, God’s action in simple, small, every day ways is happening constantly. Sharing these stories can really build up our faith.

The most important conversion story today is not that of St. Paul or of John Newton – it’s the conversion story of each of us here today. Jesus reveals Himself to us today in Word and in Sacrament. Once again He offers and once again we respond. What will be our response today? How is God asking us to change today in the way we relate to others? In the way we relate to God? How is He calling us to be more faithful to Him?

Let us all turn to our God more deeply so that we may say in the depths of our hearts, “I once was blind, but now, I see. Oh sweet, amazing grace.”

May God give you peace.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Homily challenge

Just had to share this today. Talk about a preaching challenge. Here was the Gospel passage from today's Mass:

Mk 3:20-21

Jesus came with his disciples into the house. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

Now, I was not up to the challenge, I preached on the life of St. Francis de Sales, who we celebrated today. So, here is my homily challenge to all of you - what would you preach about this Gospel?

Is this change?

John Stewart doing what he does best.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Thursday, January 22, 2009

March for LIFE (DC)

The 30th observance of the national Vigil for Life crammed a beyond-capacity crowd of well over 16,000 into the capital's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the nation's largest church.For the last time, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia was celebrant and homilist of the annual Roe-Eve Mega-Mass, its procession alone longer than most liturgies, all told.

Next year, the gathering will be led by the already chosen leader-in-waiting of the US bishops' pro-life efforts, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who memorably got in some practice for the Main Event early on the morning of last year's March for Life.

The largest concelebrated Mass of every year on these shores, five cardinals, well over 100 bishops and a seemingly eternal stream of priests, deacons and seminarians packed the sanctuary for the two-hour Eucharist. Held each 22 January to recall the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, tomorrow's afternoon March is Washington's largest annual protest.

During his "State of the Movement" homily -- interrupted by nearly a score of applause breaks -- Rigali announced that the crowd converging on the capital for the observances was already so massive that hordes of pilgrims had to be turned away from the Shrine, whose normal capacity of 6,000 was well more than doubled as almost every inch of the Byzantine temple, balconies and aisles included, teemed with pilgrims.

To accommodate the overflow, Masses at other venues were celebrated by Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas and Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport. With thousands encamped in the "Shrine Hotel" to spend this night either in adoration or simply to catch some sleep, tomorrow's activities begin with the traditional 7.30am Mass, celebrated this year by Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington.

The Vatican and the Obama Administration

From Rome, CNS uber-scribe John Thavis examines the Vatican's mind on the new administration:

In interviews over recent weeks, Vatican officials said their expectations were highest on international questions of war and peace -- most specifically, the Israeli-Palestinian war, which a Vatican official once termed "the mother of all conflicts."

What is expected of the Obama administration, they said, is a decisive initiative to restart the peace process and move it toward a definitive solution, not a one-shot attempt but a "consistent commitment" to lead Israelis and Palestinians to the realization that a settlement is in their own best interests.

Vatican diplomats were disappointed at the Bush administration's peace-promoting efforts in the Holy Land. They said those efforts came late and that the most promising initiative -- the peace conference in Annapolis, Md., in late 2007 -- was not followed up with diplomatic pressure.

While no one expects Obama to alter the United States' fundamental support for Israel, Vatican officials said the new president begins his term with a certain amount of trust and sympathy among Arabs. That could be important, they said, because Arabs need to feel they have a world leader who takes their situation to heart....

The Vatican always was uncomfortable with the Bush administration's self-proclaimed "war on terrorism," even though officials gave qualified support to U.S. military action against terrorist enclaves in Afghanistan in 2001. Vatican sources said the hope is that the anti-terrorism effort under Obama will be carried out with two principles in mind: first, respect for legal rights, i.e., a rejection of torture; and, second, attention to the underlying causes of terrorism, including injustice and political frustration.

On economic issues, Vatican officials cited potential areas of agreement with Obama, including his concern for those on the margins of society. The hope, they said, is that the president's stated concern for the poor in the United States will translate into a serious U.S. commitment to help alleviate global poverty. This was an important area of cooperation with the Bush administration, and the Vatican wants it to continue under Obama.

Asked about pro-life issues, on which Obama and the Catholic Church have clear differences, Vatican officials took a wait-and-see attitude. They said they shared the immediate concern of U.S. church leaders that Obama may restore federal funding for nongovernmental family planning programs that offer abortion outside the United States and lift the Bush administration's limit on the funding of embryonic stem-cell research.

But on Inauguration Day, there was a strong hope at the Vatican that Obama, who is seen as an intelligent politician, would not pick unnecessary fights with the church. As a sign of just how closely the Vatican was watching the president's words and deeds and how willing it was to accentuate the positive, one official who follows pro-life questions said he was encouraged that in his inauguration address Obama didn't mention anything about these hot-button issues.

"He did mention parents who nurture their child. Now that's a very pro-life statement," he said....

[T]he Vatican is closely watching for Obama's choice of a new U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. An early appointment would be viewed at the Vatican as a sign of the president's interest and attention to the Holy See.

The choice of ambassador is, of course, up to the president. One informed Vatican official dismissed an earlier report that the Vatican, in a nod toward conservative Catholics, might veto the appointment of a high-profile Catholic supporter of Obama [i.e. Doug Kmiec]. Rejecting an ambassador for those kinds of political motives is not in the tradition of Vatican diplomacy and would, in fact, be very dangerous, the official said.

Many at the Vatican are already looking ahead to an expected meeting between Obama and Pope Benedict later this year. Although the Vatican understands that the young president has a lot on his plate as he comes into office, they are eager to see him in Rome. Asked when he hoped it would happen, one Vatican official said, "As soon as possible."

====


Meanwhile, today's executive order banning "harsh interrogations" of terror suspects has already been praised by the US bishops' top foreign-policy hand:

An executive order banning torture signed by President Barack Obama was welcomed by Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

“Based upon the teachings of the Catholic Church, our Conference of Bishops welcomes the executive order,” Bishop Hubbard said. “Together with other religious leaders, we had pressed for this step to protect human dignity and help restore the moral and legal standing of the United States in the world.”

He added: “A ban on torture says much about us – who we are, what we believe about human life and dignity, and how we act as a nation.”

In their November 2007 document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. bishops declared that “direct assaults on innocent human life and violations of human dignity, such as genocide, torture, racism, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified” (No. 23). The bishops asserted: “The use of torture must be rejected as fundamentally incompatible with the dignity of the human person and ultimately counterproductive in the effort to combat terrorism” (No. 81).

In September 2007 Pope Benedict XVI, echoing the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, said “[T]he prohibition against torture ‘cannot be contravened under any circumstance.’”

From Whispers In The Loggia

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural Prayer

Here is the text of the Inaugural Prayer offered by Pastor Rick Warren today:

Almighty God, our Father: Everything we see, and everything we can’t see, exists because of you alone. It all comes from you, it all belongs to you, it all exists for your glory. History is your story. The Scripture tells us, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is one.” And you are the compassionate and merciful one. And you are loving to everyone you have made.

Now today we rejoice not only in America’s peaceful transfer of power for the 44th time, we celebrate a hinge point of history with the inauguration of our first African American President of the United States. We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility, where the son of an African immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership. And we know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven.

Give to our new president, Barack Obama, the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity. Bless and protect him, his family, Vice President Biden, the Cabinet, and every one of our freely elected leaders. Help us, O God, to remember that we are Americans—united not by race or religion or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all.

When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you—forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone—forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve—forgive us.

And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitude—even when we differ. Help us to share, to serve, and to seek the common good of all. May all people of good will today join together to work for a more just, a more healthy, and a more prosperous nation and a peaceful planet. And may we never forget that one day, all nations—and all people—will stand accountable before you.

We now commit our new president and his wife, Michelle, and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, into your loving care. I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life—Yeshua, ‘Isa, Jesús, Jesus—who taught us to pray:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,

For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

Amen.



Why can't we rejoice?

I have been mulling over this post since the election more than two months ago, and I'm sure I'll regret having written it once the uber-right send me their never-kind comments.

But, as I sit watching the festivities of today's inauguration of our first African-American President, I want to rejoice. And yet, I know from many of the emails and comments that I have heard from Catholics since the election, there is a certain set out there who clearly wants us to be in mourning.
.
But, today, I refuse. I can't tell you how exciting it is to watch this historic moment as someone never-before thought possible in our nation's rough-and-tumble racial history will stand up and before the nation and world take the oath of office.
.
This is a moment that every Catholic, every American should watch with great rejoicing.
.
The great Booker T. Washington, remembered a day in 1865, when he was just a boy of 9 years-old: "As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom.... Some man who seemed to be a stranger (a United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper—the Emancipation Proclamation, I think. After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see."
.
He of course, was speaking of the freedom of an entire people who had been held captive in the chains and the bonds of slavery. That memory is a bit more distant for us, but not too distant today. His words can be ours. "My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks." How many times have we seen and will we continue to see that very image replayed today? And how can we as Catholics allow our hearts to be so hardened that we cannot rejoice in this great moment?
.
How many people can echo those words "that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see."
.
One of the most touching scenes that I have seen over and again since November 4 are the African-American parents who, again with tears streaming from their eyes, say a version of this statement: "For the first time in my life, I can truly tell my children that they can be anything they want to be."
.
There is a great section on http://www.boston.com/ where they asked clergy throughout the Boston area to share their homilies if they were preaching on the inauguration. (You can read them here: http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles_of_faith/inauguration_se/.)
.
One of the sermons said, "On Tuesday of this week, an event will take place of truly historic significance when President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. It is both ironic and prophetic that this event should be taking place one day after we, as a nation, will have paid tribute to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King. Ironic: because the election of a black person to the presidency was probably inconceivable to most people even 10 years ago! Prophetic: because the election of Barack Obama represents the turning of a page in our nation’s history that has needed to be turned for a very long time."
.
And another, "What can we say – and pray – about the inaugural of our new president, Barack Obama, a message that can come from all of us with jubilation, regardless of whom we voted for? The answer is easy—and wonderful: what is happening is a tremendous rollback of our national sin of racial prejudice. How many tears, how much pain, how many lives have been lost to bring about this moment when we affirm what is best in America!"
.
I was thinking about this idea and realized that I don't think I could preach on the inauguration in my parish. A few months ago, I wrote an article in our parish bulletin highlighting the US Bishop's document, Faithful Citizenship, and even that got such a reaction of anger. All a certain set of people wanted to hear was that Obama is the Devil. That, to them, is the Catholic position.
.
But, I can't help but hear the echo of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. who we commemorated yesterday, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
.
My friends, that day has arrived, and we should, indeed we must rejoice.
.
Barack Obama is not the Devil. He is also not the Messiah. He is just a man, but a man making history. As Catholics we can find great agreement with his policies on health care, poverty, immigration, the environment, and more. Let us work together for great progress in these areas.
.
We have severe disagreement on his free and seemingly limitless policy towards access to abortion. For this we must pray unceasingly; we must be active and work for change and pray for life. In fact, in the wonder of the beauty of the freedoms our nation offers, in two days a million people will march in the same place that today they celebrate as the annual March for Life takes place.
.
But, all of that is for tomorrow. Today, please, today, as the world watches, as we do something that has never before been done in the Western world, let us rejoice at the great stride toward the end of racism that our nation and our world celebrates today.
.
In the great words of Martin Luther King, Jr:
.
And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
.
But not only that: Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
.
May God bless America today and every day!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Religious leaders ask President Obama to ban torture

Washington DC, Jan 18, 2009 / 07:03 pm (CNA).- Leaders of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), who met with officials from the Obama transition team on Wednesday, have issued a letter calling for an executive order banning torture.

The Jan. 9 letter to President-elect Barack Obama was signed by a variety of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders, including Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on International Justice and Peace.

“We appreciate and value your focus on uniting people to face the many challenges that lie ahead as your inauguration approaches,” the letter begins. “One of those challenges is to restore our nation’s moral standing in the world by rejecting the practice of torture.”

“While we represent a wide diversity of America’s faith traditions, we all believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all human life,” the letter continued. “Respect for the dignity of every person must serve as the foundation for security, justice and peace. Torture is incompatible with the tenets of our faiths and is contrary to international and U.S. law.”

In December the Senate Armed Services Committee released the executive summary and conclusions of its report on detainee abuse, titled “Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in US Custody.”

“The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own,” the report charges. “The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.”

The report adds that following President George W. Bush’s determination of Feb. 7, 2002, “techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions, used in SERE [Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape] training to simulate tactics used by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions, were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.”
The report also charged that legal opinions issued by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) “distorted the meaning and intent of anti-torture laws, rationalized the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody and influenced Department of Defense determinations as to what interrogation techniques were legal for use during interrogations conducted by U.S. military personnel.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Committee Ranking Member Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) released the report on December 11.

“The Committee’s report details the inexcusable link between abusive interrogation techniques used by our enemies who ignored the Geneva Conventions and interrogation policy for detainees in U.S. custody,” Sen. McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, commented in a press release. “These policies are wrong and must never be repeated.”

Chairman Levin added: “Our investigation is an effort to set the record straight on this chapter in our history that has so damaged both America’s standing and our security. America needs to own up to its mistakes so that we can rebuild some of the good will that we have lost.”

NRCAT’s letter to President-elect Obama included a “Declaration of Principles” for a proposed presidential executive order banning torture, asking that he review them and issue an executive order as soon as possible.

NRCAT’s Declaration of Principles endorses the “golden rule,” which pledges “We will not authorize or use any methods of interrogation that we would not find acceptable if used against Americans, be they civilians or soldiers.” It endorses the U.S. Army Field Manual as the “best expression” of a national standard of interrogation and treatment of prisoners.

The Declaration pledges respect for “the rule of law,” rejecting secret prisons and arguing that prisoners should have the opportunity to prove their innocence.

“The US will not transfer any person to countries that use torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment,” the declaration continues, advocating “clarity and accountability” to provide certainty to U.S. personnel that their policies are legal.

“All US officials who authorize, implement, or fail in their duty to prevent the use of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners will be held accountable, regardless of rank or position,” the Declaration advocates.

Signatories of the Declaration of Principles include former national security and defense officials, retired generals and admirals, and religious leaders.

Catholic clergy signatories include Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, who is archbishop emeritus of Washington, DC, and Cardinal Francis George, the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

John Carr, Executive Director of the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, spoke at a Thursday press conference organized by NRCAT, saying:
“Torture is abhorrent and can neither be condoned nor tolerated. Pope Benedict XVI has said that the prohibition against torture ‘cannot be contravened under any circumstance.’
“Simply put, torture is a classic moral case of ends and means,” Carr continued. “Good ends cannot legitimize immoral means. In the context of torture, we cannot defend our life and dignity by threatening the lives and attacking the dignity of others.”

What are you looking for?

SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 18, 2009:

[Since I am on vacation, this homily is from the archives. I delivered this one in 2006]

"Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, 'What are you looking for?'"

Paddy was driving down the street looking for a parking space in a sweat because he had an important meeting that he was about to be late for. Looking up to Heaven he said, "Lord, take pity on me. If you find me a parking place I will go to Mass every Sunday for the rest of me life and give up me Irish Whiskey." Miraculously, a parking place appeared. Paddy looked up to Heaven again and said, "Never mind, I found one."

"Jesus said to the, 'What are you looking for?'" These are the first words that Jesus speaks in John's Gospel, "What are you looking for?" and they are directed to two prospective disciples sent to him by John the Baptist. At the beginning of any spiritual journey, this is the most critical question we can ask - what it is that we seek and hope to find. There will inevitably be surprises along the way. But without a goal, however vague it may be, there can be no journey and no finding a home.

The initial response of the two prospective disciples' is awkward and even embarrassed. They ask Jesus in turn, "Where are you staying?" We can presume that they were looking for what most of us are looking for from a religious teacher like Jesus: a personal relationship with God, a framework for understanding our existence, a sense of moral purpose and spiritual direction, an experience of community and a reason for hope.

In response to their question, Jesus offers an invitation and a promise: "Come, and you will see." The spiritual journey with Jesus is not for those with short attention spans. It demands attentiveness, commitment, patience and fidelity. The prospective disciples will have to find out what kind of person Jesus is and what He stands for, and they will have to confront the mystery of the Cross.This first chapter of John's Gospel serves as a preface to the larger story of of Jesus' public activity, and his passion, death and resurrection - often divided by scholars into the Book of Signs and the Book of Glory. It features a series of titles applied to Jesus that range from the Word of God to the Glorious Son of Man.

Today's passage includes three of these titles that can help us answer the question, "What are you looking for?" First, Jesus is the Lamb of God. This is an image that evokes the animals offered as sacrifices in the Jerusalem temple; it reminds us of the Passover lamb; and the Suffering Servant from Isaiah 53, who is led like a lamb to the slaughter. Those who follow Jesus are looking for right relationship with God, and they will find that such a relationship has been made possible only through the mystery of Jesus' life, death and resurrection.

The second title we hear today is that Jesus is the rabbi or teacher. Those who follow Jesus look for wisdom, and they can find it only in Jesus' teachings and example. Rooted in the wisdom traditions of his people, Jesus offers wise teachings about God, the human condition, ethics and practically everything else of lasting importance.

Finally, today we are told that Jesus is the Messiah. This title evokes hope, since it expresses Israel's hope for a perfect leader who might bring them to glory and usher in the fulfillment of God's promises to his people. The prospective disciples began their journey on the basis of the testimony of John the Baptist. Having stayed with Jesus and having come to know him, they go and announce excitedly to Simon Peter, "We have found the Messiah." In their search for right relationship with God, wisdom and hope, they are off to a good start on their spiritual journey and want to share it with others.

As always, Jesus today is asking the same question of each one of us - What are you looking for? What is the goal of your spiritual journey? What path will you take to get there? Are you like Paddy seeking something as mundane as a parking place or are you perhaps more like the disciples today seeking the fulfillment of all their hopes, of all their dreams, of all their desires for holiness, for direction, for morality and for the attainment of the Kingdom of God?

Let us today set out once again on that journey of seeking and finding. Let us set our hearts clearly on the Lord, who is for us the Lamb of God, Rabbi, and Messiah. Let us listen to His words, follow His example and join him in that Kingdom prepared for each of us from before the world was made."

Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them,'What are you looking for?'…[And Jesus] said to them, 'Come, and you will see.'"

My brothers and sisters, what are you looking for? Seek and you will find.

May God give you peace.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Families that eat together, stay together

[You've heard me say for a long time that the two things that would be huge steps towards fixing the family are 1. eating a meal together; and 2. only one television in the house. Here's a great article from the World Meeting of Families that makes point #1:

MEXICO CITY, JAN. 16, 2009 (Zenit.org).- It is no more complicated than sitting down together at the table, but according to an economist from the Catholic University of America, simply sharing family meals is key for children's development.

And, the economist suggested, strong families are good not just for the children given life within them. They are also good for the economy.

These were affirmations made by Maria Sophia Aguirre, a professor in the department of economics at Washington, D.C.'s Catholic University of America, during her address today at the 6th World Meeting of Families, underway in Mexico City.

Her presentation focused on the multiple benefits of stable families based on marriage, for all involved parties. She cited statistics such as marriage increases the likelihood of the father having good relations with children; divorce reduces the likelihood of children graduating from college and high school; and married mothers have lower levels of depression than single or co-habiting mothers.

Even physical health is better for families based on marriage, she said: Infant mortality is sharply reduced in this structure and there are lower probabilities of injury.

On the contrary, Aguirre noted, "the breakdown of the family is a symptom of a sick and weak society."

Problems of all sorts increase in irregular families: Women are more likely to be abused, kids are more likely to use drugs, and women and children of broken families have a higher probability of living in poverty.

More than a meal

And though it cannot be the solution for every problem, Aguirre mentioned that the simple act of eating together as a family has an effect on the development of children.

According to a study done by the National Center on Substance and Addiction at Colombia University, when comparing adolescents who eat dinner 0-2 times a week with their families and those who eat dinner 5-7 times, those who eat with their families more frequently are 40% more like to talk to their parents about a problem. Meanwhile, 171% of the teens who don't eat with their families note more tension at home.

Academic performance went up 38%. Kids were 142% less likely to smoke, 93% less likely to drink, 191% less likely to use marijuana and 169% less likely to have more than half of their friends be drug users.

And predictably, a family composed of both parents is 3.5 times more likely to have dinner as a family than a single-parent household.

More than money

Aguirre then turned her attention to the economic benefits of stable families based on marriage. Giving a review of nations ranging from Canada to Chile, the economist concluded that families are simply better for the economy.

"The breakdown of the family damages the economy and society since human, moral and social capital is reduced and social costs increase," she explained.

The professor contended that family structure is quite relevant for wealth, and that there is evidence to support this from across countries.

"The family is a necessary good for economic development," Aguirre concluded. "It should be promoted and protected if poverty reduction wants to be achieved."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Amazing!

Okay, one more because this is too incredible to believe!

This is great!!

A Tangled Web

This is a compelling article from Commonweal:

The Election & the Blogosphere

By Douglas W. Kmiec

Now the great and historic election is behind us, and America watches, amid an economy in free fall, as the president-elect assembles his team. By the strength of its appointments and the steadiness of its demeanor, the administration-in-waiting has demonstrated its readiness to govern. Such strength and steadiness helped boost Barack Obama’s remarkable victory in November, a victory that included capturing 54 percent of the Catholic vote.

Yet not everyone in America is cheered by this triumph. Indeed, within certain embittered precincts, the penalty for having supported Obama can be stiff. As the author of a book whose title asked Can a Catholic Support Him?-and whose contents answered with an enthusiastic “Yes, we can!”-I have felt the animosity of those with an insatiable desire for political payback.

A longtime Republican who served in the Reagan administration, I nonetheless endorsed Obama last spring. Ever since, I’ve been subjected to unrelenting personal attacks launched from right-wing Catholic keyboards-blogs (and bloggers) so coarse and uncivil they make the insults of talk radio sound like actual journalism. Further, the lack of civility that rules the right-wing Catholic blogosphere has infected mainstream Catholic journalism as well. In a syndicated assessment of the 2008 election, one usually thoughtful conservative columnist employed the following descriptions of Catholic Obama supporters: “decadent,” “tribal,” “immoral,” “certainly stupid,” “mindless,” and in need of basic “adult education.” And those were all in a single paragraph! Such highly concentrated rhetorical venom is not calculated to invite discussion.

Of course, bloggers deny there is anything “personal” in such attacks. My online tormentors like to claim that their beef with me is my alleged abandonment of the prolife cause or willful misstatement of church teaching. Neither charge is true. I remain unabashedly prolife and I have never consciously misstated the doctrine of the church; indeed, I’ve publicly said that were the Holy Father to tell me I had contradicted the magisterium on any given page of my Obama book, I would tear out that page.

No, the real problem with the blogospheric reaction to Obama lay in the responses themselves, which all too often mixed the smallest dollop of substance into a big steaming stew of personal contempt. As the vilification of Catholic Obama supporters progressed over the months, it became something of a bloggers’ sport to conjure up ridiculous explanations for what was wrongly described as my “apostasy.” Bloggers asserted I was angling for a judicial spot (strange, when I had already declined appointment to the appellate bench twice); another imagined me distressed over some apparent snub by George W. Bush or John McCain (not true, unless it be distress that one governed badly and the other promised to “stay the course”). One online source even speculated that I had suffered a stroke.

Noting my continued good health, the editors of Commonweal invited this essay which I submit even as I acknowledge the wisdom of Sr. Pius’s eighth-grade counsel: “Douglas, just offer it up!” That was good advice; and indeed I have at times considered the blog calumnies hurled at me as penance for occasions when I have put on a bit of a false front. We all want to be perceived as intelligent, kindly, and well considered, and we all occasionally speak too glibly for our own good-as I did, for example, representing Obama on the campaign trail while chastising him for his criticism of Justice Clarence Thomas; or suggesting, out loud and even on camera, that his one-time pledge of support for the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) during the primary was “boneheaded.” These are not politic statements, but unlike most blog entries, they represent honest, substantive dissent illustrating how it is possible for a person to be capable of admiring both Barack Obama and Clarence Thomas, and of supporting Obama while rejecting legislation that would in any way limit religious freedom or insult the church. (My message to President Obama on FOCA, by the way, will remain what it was to candidate Obama: FOCA runs contrary to the pursuit of the common good.)

This essay is not about abortion, but at least this much must be said: blog lies to the contrary, there is no real legislative interest in FOCA. The attempt to use FOCA to drive a wedge between the church and the incoming administration is unjustified. The bishops, having stated clearly their opposition to FOCA-and rightly so-should not allow the right wing to obscure what Obama shares with the church: concern for the poor; support for the average family; a commitment to ending an unjust war; and respect for our environment. Unless the sore losers of November 4 manage to poison the well, the Holy See and the Obama administration should be working more closely together in service to others than any administration in modern memory.

Having drawn the blogs’ Machiavellian FOCA gambit into the open, I am certain now to be called, yet again, a “useful idiot” (or worse) in service to the new president. Such a prospect returns me to the subject of blog caricature and its consequences. While I may have felt personally wounded in the free-for-all that followed my endorsement of Obama, I never thought it was mainly about me. The scurrilous remarks of conservative bloggers missed the point, which was that I and millions of others who voted for Obama did so not despite our Catholic faith but because of it. When, in a meeting of faith leaders in Chicago, Obama told me that his community work years before, helping the displaced and the unemployed, left him empty until he knelt before the Cross, I believed him. As a Catholic, I understood that it is our faith that explains us to ourselves. No politics or philosophy or relationship is launched well when faith is missing; and I did not (and do not) doubt the genuineness of Obama’s Christian faith commitment.

The president-elect’s alluring gift of inspiration has been noted by many, and while conservative bloggers demean it as “mere rhetoric” or “drinking the Kool-Aid,” others of us prize it as a talent that has been sorely absent for eight years or more. From Berlin to Denver’s Mile High Stadium to Grant Park, Obama does big campaign rallies exceptionally well. At these vast assemblies, his message of working together on common ground draws deeply on the nobility of other, past leaders who called us to reach beyond ourselves. Lingering beneath his cadences are the charitable and prophetic words of Lincoln. One also hears FDR’s instruction to stand forthright against fear, and John F. Kennedy’s call to service, reminding us that “here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own.” Finally, there is the tearful remorse of RFK following Dr. King’s assassination (and not long before his own), reminding us of the senselessness of violence and hate.

A hate-filled blogosphere, on the other hand, feeds a politics of odium, misleading people of faith and good will, diminishing and at times obliterating our ability to know one another. Our faith urges us to presume the stranger is kind, and to seek out opportunities to manifest love of neighbor. Sadly, neighbor-love is not what has overwhelmed my in-box since my Obama endorsement. Instead, right-wing blogs and their readers have launched missiles of hate, delivering ad hominem invective of an astonishing vehemence and crassness. I am “an embarrassing shill,” “hysterical,” and “pathetic”; also “a fool,” “an Obama shill of such mystifying obtuseness that one suspects a head injury,” “a slimeball,” “an unfaithful, cowardly betrayer”; just “another so-called Christian who flashes a Bible and looks righteous to the pagans,” and so on. “I hear,” wrote one Catholic blogger, cutely summoning the gospel, “that Sen. Obama will be FedExing thirty pieces of silver to Doug Kmiec.”

Beyond mere personal affronts, the politics of odium has more tangible consequences. Last fall I had the privilege of speaking at a beautiful Catholic college, Seton Hill, in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Acting on blog misinformation, the well-meaning local bishop sought to bar my appearance, placing a letter to that effect on his Web site. As it turned out, I didn’t know this until after the event-a wonderful afternoon of community and classroom discussion with well- prepared students eager to discuss how to live their faith in the light of Catholic social teaching. Only hours afterward, seated on an airplane about to take off, did I learn (through a telephone call) of the bishop’s Web post. Immediately I dialed the chancery. The bishop, surprised by the call, listened, and I believe he heard both the sincerity of my faith and the depth of my respect for the magisterium. He gracefully removed his Web posting within the hour.

Of course, by then the letter was already beginning to circulate virally, spread by the venomous right-wing blogs. To be remade by a hateful blogosphere has its price, I’ve learned. I worry that such invitations to speak at Catholic colleges, and the fruitful exchanges these invitations make possible, will be fewer. When I do speak, contingents of demonstrators often appear, carrying preprinted signs, part of an orchestrated pressure to disinvite me. In response, it is my practice to invite the protesters to join us, and they usually do. Yet civil discourse can be difficult with those misinformed by blog propaganda that you are a proponent of evil-or worse, its very embodiment. Such attitudes are not limited to placard- carrying demonstrators. One member of the U.S. hierarchy whom I greatly admire has renounced our past association, writing, “We are not friends, professor,” and answering my invocation of Christian brotherhood with a curt retort: “I do see you as a brother in Christ-a brother who is serving an evil end.” The greatest personal price I have paid is the loss of old-and the preemption of new-friendships.

The vituperation propagated in the Catholic blogging world is remarkable for its reach and speed. When a writer for America recently speculated that the Obama administration might name me as ambassador to the Holy See, I was flattered. And while I would never want my presidential endorsement months earlier to be understood as anything other than what it always was-freely given without expectation of quid pro quo-the writer’s suggestion did prompt me to seek God’s will through prayer. Might this be an invitation to be of greater service to the church? Neither God nor the president-elect had an opportunity to answer before the blogs were recycling their various calumnies, and adding now an anonymous voice allegedly saying “it would never happen.” And why not? Well, according to “anonymous,” now sounding suspiciously partisan, the Vatican would view me as a “traitor,” with my appointment being the equivalent of naming a homosexual-presumably meaning that as an insult, notwithstanding its own insensitivity and disregard of church efforts at inclusion. Facing down such ugliness can be daunting. A writer for the National Catholic Reporter threw up his hands, editorializing that “it might be less complicated to name” a non-Catholic. With all due respect, that would be the ultimate “heckler’s veto,” and it is far from the stand many Catholics took in speaking the truth of the gospel to the power of an American president over the unjustified and tragically costly occupation of Iraq.

All of the world’s overheated overstatement cannot be blamed on the blogs, of course, but the blogosphere’s megaphone quality magnifies unfortunate remarks best left in more limited, and usually more nuanced, contexts. During the election campaign, Archbishop Raymond Burke called the Democratic Party “the party of death,” an expression deeply hurtful to my octogenarian father and millions of other lifelong Democrats who still see the Democratic Party as Leo XIII saw it-the “working man’s” party. The situation worsened when bloggers exported from the student newspaper a classroom remark of Cardinal Francis Stafford at The Catholic University of America describing some of the policies of the president-elect as “aggressive, disruptive, and apocalyptic.” With admirable restraint, the Obama administration has kept its puzzlement and disappointment with these blog-spread commentaries to itself.

Of course, faith calls upon us all to “turn the other cheek” to ridicule and hatred, and like the president-elect, I am resolved to do so as well. In 1920, Benedict XV put the instruction this way in Pacem, Dei munus pulcherrimum: “We are to...forgive all our enemies who knowingly or unknowingly have heaped and are still heaping on our person and our work every sort of vituperation, and we embrace all in our charity and benevolence, and neglect no opportunity to do them all the good in our power.” That, said Benedict XV, “is what makes Christians worthy of the name.” It is also the central precept of international relations, and whoever takes up the diplomatic post, whether me or someone else, is well advised to be guided by it if the world is ever to be at peace.

In a September campaign appearance on Meet the Press, Joe Biden explained that while he believed life begins at conception, he couldn’t impose that belief on others. Biden likely thought himself right with the church (though having been present for Mario Cuomo’s similar pronouncement at Notre Dame in 1984, I could have told him otherwise). Probably thinking he would at least get a holy card for his faith-based answer, he instead got his hand slapped, and was subsequently told by the archbishop of Denver not to bother showing up for Communion when in town for the Democratic convention. I know from experience the pain of being refused the Eucharist, having been denied Communion at a Mass preceding an invited lecture before a group of Catholic business people. The priest had apparently bought the blogosphere’s cynical distortion of my pro-Obama position. Cardinal Roger Mahony would later find the priest’s action to be “shameful and indefensible.”

Cardinals Mahony, Theodore McCarrick, and others have warned against using Communion as a weapon, for good reason. Indeed, even the mere threat of Eucharist denial aimed at Biden unleashed a wave of giddy right-wing blog invective, precisely when-and where-it should have invited discussion. The invective supplies no answer to those of other faiths who do not see themselves as bound by the magisterium, or who are unwilling to accept the move from a biological fact (that the human zygote formed at conception is a unique life) to a broader ethical conclusion (that we should use the force of law to protect it). These points of difference are regularly missed by bloggers who freely hurl the label “baby killer” at anyone who does not readily concede the equivalence of zygote destruction and infanticide.

Putting the ill consequence of blog name-calling aside, in a post-Holocaust world, you have to admire the Catholic faith for insisting on that equivalence, and thereby recognizing the need for absolute truth to exist. Politically, though, there remains one big difficulty: the American Constitution is not linked to a concession of absolute truth. It is the Declaration of Independence that is anchored upon self-evident truth, and the relation between the two documents is virtually unexplored in the Supreme Court. Indeed, only Justice Thomas has really thought about it seriously, hence my admiration.

Does Barack Obama believe in the truth of the human person? Not surprisingly, he values the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence-even as he argues that the deliberative democracy established by our Constitution casts suspicion upon a claim of absolute truth. The founders, Obama observes, uniformly rejected all forms of absolute authority, whether that of the monarch, the high priest, or the majority. And yet, as John Paul II told us, democracy detached from absolute truth can be little more than another form of totalitarianism. Obama has similarly observed that absolutists can be correct-as the blunt wrong of slavery illustrates. “Sometimes,” Obama notes, “absolute truths may well be absolute.”

To reconcile the pragmatism of democracy with claims of truth requires that our minds be nourished by wide perspectives discussed freely and respectfully; it requires a heart full of grace, not anger. Within our own Catholic community, we need to bear in mind one further caution from our new president: that claiming public territory outside the church requires persuasion, not intimidation or force. Translating particularistic faith beliefs into rational argument is the stuff of democracy. “I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons,” Obama said during the campaign, “but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or [invoke] God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.”

Of course, that is the very reason Cardinal Justin Rigali and Bishop William Lori were so quick to remind candidate Biden of the scientific basis for the church’s life perspective. Indeed one might ask, with the church having brought forth its scientific claim in so forthright and objective a manner as it has in modern encyclicals, is it not proper for the burden of evidence now to shift to those who, for religious or nonreligious reasons, believe unfettered abortion ought to be permitted? It is a valid question; and were the right-wing Catholic blogs not so preoccupied with demonizing me and other brothers and sisters in Christ who backed our president-elect, perhaps the question would receive some competent discussion. As it is, however, right-wing Catholic bloggers, acting as a thinly disguised political front for the GOP, remain fixated on the goal of precipitating an unnecessary war between the Holy See and America’s next administration. It is dismaying to see a few American prelates and their “anonymous” Vatican commentators acting as witting or unwitting coconspirators in this divisive action.

It’s hard to know what understanding of the United States filters upward through the Vatican to reach the pope. What’s certain is that the statement of the Holy Father that came across the ocean just after the U.S. bishops met in Baltimore in November was warmly welcomed by those assembling the new Obama administration. Speaking movingly to a conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Assistance to Health Care Workers on the theme of “Pastoral Care of Sick Children,” Benedict XVI noted that every year some 4 million newborns around the world die within four weeks after birth, often because of poverty, poor health-care systems, and armed conflict. He called this a matter of “urgent” concern. “The church does not forget these smallest of her children,” the pope said. And neither does our president-elect, which is also why he believes that aiding expectant mothers in poverty, and not condemning them, will reduce the number of abortions.

The president-elect does not share our faith, and like many modern men, he can be skeptical about aspects of the divine that we, because of the sacraments and the magisterium, are blessed to accept. But the blogs have not closed the mind of the new president and, like Lincoln, he bears “malice toward none” and manifests “charity for all.”

Obama himself has written that the golden rule tells us that we “need to battle cruelty in all its forms, [with] the value of love and charity, humanity and grace.” Even spinning a pervasive web of falsehood, the right-wing Catholic blogosphere is no match for the self-evident truth of that golden rule-nor would its bloggers want to be, were they to indulge a microsecond of charitable thought before hitting the send button.

ABOUT THE WRITER: Douglas W. Kmiec is Caruso Family Chair & Professor of Constitutional Law at Pepperdine University School of Law.

New Congress 9% Jesuit-educated

As someone who is also Jesuit educated - Boston College, Weston Jesuit School of Theology - I couldn't resist sharing this story from today's Boston Globe:

The 111th Congress, sworn in last week, features 50 members (out of 535) who are Jesuit-educated, according to the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. Georgetown has by far the most alumni at the Capitol -- 18 -- but local favorites Boston College and the College of the Holy Cross have their share, with six and four graduates in Congress, respectively.

The BC alumni are all Democrats, including, from Massachusetts, Senator John F. Kerry (JD 1976), Representative Michael Capuano (JD 1977), Representative William D. Delahunt (JD 1967) and Representative Edward J. Markey (BA 1968; JD 1972). The others are Representative Paul W. Hodes of New Hampshire (JD 1978) and Representative Robert C. Scott of Virginia (JD 1973). (UPDATE: An alert reader reminds me that Representative Stephen F. Lynch, also a Massachusetts Democrat, received a law degree from BC (in 1991). I have no idea why he's not on the AJCU list, but that increases BC's number to 7, and the overall number of Jesuit college and university grads in Congress to 51.)

The Holy Cross alumni, also all Democrats, are Senator Robert P. Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania (BA 1982), Representative Timothy H. Bishop of New York (BA 1972), Representative James P. Moran of Virginia (BA 1967) and Representative Peter Welch of Vermont (BA 1969).

In another analysis of the makeup of Congress, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life looked at the religious makeup of the House and Senate. A few highlights from the report:

• "Members of Congress are much more likely than the public overall to say they are affiliated with a particular religion."

• The Congress is mostly Protestant (54.7%), mirroring the nation, but the Protestants are from multiple denominations; Baptists are underrepresented, while Episcopalians, Methodists and Presbyterians are overrepresented when compared to their presence in the national population.

• "Catholics are the single largest religious group in the 111th Congress. Catholics, who account for nearly one-quarter of the U.S. adult population, make up about 30% of Congress."

• "Jews, who account for just 1.7% of the U.S. adult population, make up 8.4% of Congress, including just over 13% of the Senate."

• There are two Muslims and two Buddhists in Congress; both groups are slightly underrepresented, as are Hindus (there are no Hindu members of Congress).

Monday, January 12, 2009

On vacation




I will be on vacation for the next week. I may blog, I may not! We'll see! If not, I'll return to blogging late next week.

Nothing ordinary about it

FRIARS CORNER for January 18, 2009:

As you heard at the beginning of our Mass today, this is the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time. We enter into that season of our Church calendar, an in-between time, that bridges us from Christmas until Lent. Lent will be upon us soon enough as Ash Wednesday comes along on February 25.

But, this name – Ordinary Time – can be a bit of a misnomer. It suggests a rather blasé time, a bland season, a boring time. All-in-all, rather ordinary. But, of course, such is not the case. This season takes its name because what it doesn’t have is a particular focus – as do our other seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. But rather, this is the time of our Church year when we explore the ministerial life of Christ. As you know, last Sunday was the Baptism of Christ, which is the beginning of that ministerial life. We will now spend time reflecting upon the ministerial life of Jesus; those three years between His baptism and His death and resurrection.

And that is the point of the name of this season – ordinary. It doesn’t mean ordinary in our sense of plainness, but rather ordinary from the Latin word ordinal which simply means numbered.

The rhythm of the liturgical seasons reflects the rhythm of life — with its celebrations of anniversaries and its seasons of quiet growth and maturing. Ordinary Time is celebrated in two segments: from the Monday following the Baptism of Our Lord up to Ash Wednesday; and from Pentecost Monday to the First Sunday of Advent. This makes it the largest season of the Liturgical Year.

In vestments usually green, the color of hope and growth, the Church counts the thirty-three or thirty-four Sundays of Ordinary Time, inviting us to meditate upon not the ordinary, but the extraordinary, the whole mystery of Christ – His life, miracles and teachings – in the light of His Resurrection.

If we are to mature in the spiritual life and increase in faith, we must descend the great mountain peaks of Easter and Christmas in order to "pasture" in the vast verdant meadows of tempus per annum, or Ordinary Time. Sunday by Sunday, the Pilgrim Church marks her journey through the tempus per annum as she processes through time toward eternity.

One of our older priests, Fr. Bonaventure, would always introduce Mass in this way during this season, “Today is the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, let us make it extraordinary by or worship and our lives.”

And so, this is the challenge I place before us all – let us embrace the hope and life our green vestments encourage and let us find and live the extraordinary in this Ordinary Time of our Church year.

Love, Fr. Tom

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Papal Baptism

As is custom, the Holy Father conducted baptisms today on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Above is a picture of this beautiful tradition taking place in the Sistine Chapel.

Stepping in the place of sinners

SOLEMNITY OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD, January 11, 2009:

As we celebrate this feast of the Baptism of the Lord, I think that it is a feast that naturally begs a question of us: Why would Jesus be baptized?

After all, our theological understanding of the Sacrament of Baptism is that Baptism overcomes the stain of original sin and that it takes us from a place of being born alienated from our God by that same original sin into a state of being again in relationship with Him. Baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ.

Certainly Jesus does not need this. Certainly Jesus wasn't born with the stain of original sin. Certainly Jesus wasn't born in a state of alienation from God. Why would Jesus need the Baptism offered by St. John?

This is a perplexing theological question and there are many decent answers. But, the best response I have ever come across was in the book Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI written in 2007. Let me share a passage with you:

The real novelty is the fact that he - Jesus - wants to be baptized, that he blends into the gray mass of sinners waiting on the banks of the Jordan. We have just heard that the confession of sins is a component of Baptism. Baptism itself was a confession of sins and the attempt to put off an old, failed life and to receive a new one. Is that something Jesus could do? How could he confess sins? How could he separate himself from his previous life in order to start a new one? This is a question that Christians could not avoid asking. The dispute between the Baptist and Jesus that Matthew recounts for us was also an expression of the early Christians' own question to Jesus: "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" (Mt. 3.14) Matthew goes on to report for us that "Jesus answered him, 'Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.' Then he consented." (Mt. 3.15)

The act of descending into the waters of this Baptism implies a confession of guilt and a plea for forgiveness in order to make a new beginning. In a world marked by sin, then, this Yes to the entire will of God also expresses solidarity with men, who have incurred guilt but yearn for righteousness. The significance of this event could not fully emerge until it was seen in the light of the Cross and Resurrection. Descending into the water, the candidates for Baptism confess their sin and seek to be rid of their burden of guilt. What did Jesus do in this same situation? Luke, who throughout his Gospel is keenly attentive to Jesus' prayer, and portrays him again and again at prayer - in conversation with the Father - tells us that Jesus was praying while he received Baptism (cf. Luke 3.21). Looking at the events in light of the Cross and Resurrection, the Christian people realized what happened: Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind's guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners. His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the Cross. He is, as it were, the true Jonah who said to the crew of the ship, "Take me and throw me into the sea." (Jn.1.12) The whole significance of Jesus' Baptism, the fact that he bears "all righteousness," first comes to light on the Cross. The Baptism is an acceptance of death for the sins of humanity, and the voice that calls out "This is my beloved Son" over the baptismal waters is an anticipatory reference to the Resurrection. This also explains why, in his own discourses, Jesus uses the word baptism to refer to his death (cf. Mk. 10.38; Lk. 12.50)

Only from this starting point can we understand Christian Baptism. Jesus' Baptism anticipated his death on the Cross, and the heavenly voice proclaimed an anticipation of the Resurrection. These anticipations have now become reality. John's baptism with water has received its full meaning through the Baptism of Jesus' own life and death. To accept the invitation to be baptized now means to go to the place of Jesus' Baptism. It is to go where he identifies himself with us and to receive there our identification with him. The point where he anticipates death has now become the point where we anticipate rising again with him.

The Baptism that Jesus' disciples have been administering since he spoke those words is an entrance into the Master's own Baptism - into the reality that he anticipated by means of it. That is the way to become a Christian.

May God give you peace.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Christmas's last hurrah

FRIARS CORNER, January 11, 2009:

Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord and it is the official end to our Christmas Season. Before we let the wonder of this time of our liturgical year go; before we head into Ordinary Time and begin to prepare for Lent which will be here before we know it, let’s take a moment to really reflect upon the wonder of what we leave behind with the end of Christmas.

Two days after Christmas this year, I found myself back in my former parish in New Hampshire to preside over the baptism of the baby of a friend there. With the Church all decorated for Christmas, I couldn’t help but reflect on the two babies present in the Church – little Mackenzie ready to be baptized, and the Baby Jesus, who of course, is such a focal point of our season.

I know it isn’t a surprise to anyone that Christmas is about the Baby Jesus, but I think that sometimes in the midst of all of our warm and fuzzy feelings of the season, all of the beautiful and familiar hymns, in the midst of all of the presents and gatherings of family and friends that we lose sight of how incredible the moment is – that God comes among us as one of us in the person of Jesus Christ.

God comes to us as a baby! When we think of the reality of the incarnation, we jump right to the adult Jesus. When we think of Jesus, we think of Him walking on water, multiplying loaves and fishes, healing the sick, raising the dead, preaching profoundly – and of course dying for us on the Cross and rising from the dead. But, let’s not forget how this all began.

God did not come to us as the healer, the preacher, the wonder-worker. He came to us as a little, tiny, helpless baby. The situation of Jesus birth is that the Savior of the World was born homeless. “There was no room for them in the inn.” Just after His birth, He became a refugee and the object of an order for His execution.

He came to us in the most complete state of humility possible. God trusted us – in particular He trusted Mary and Joseph – to give birth to this small, helpless life. He trusted us to raise that child to be good and upright and holy. He trusted us to protect and shelter, to feed and educate His only Son. How incredibly humble. How incredibly loving and trusting.

St. Francis of Assisi wrote, “O sublime humility! Look, brothers, at the humility of God and pour out your hearts before Him! Humble yourselves, as well, that you may be exalted by Him. Therefore, hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves so thatHe Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally.”

God expects us to continue what He began in Christ. When we say of this season, Christ wants to be born again in your hearts, this is what we mean. God wants to come to each of us, but He comes humbly and vulnerably. It is up to us to care for Him, to nurture Him, to protect and to strengthen so that He can be made known to the world once again. Let us humble ourselves so that we may receive Him once again who came to us with such incredible humility.

A child is born to us today. He comes to us again, so preciously in each and every Eucharist. Let us be moved by His humility and proclaim to the world, “Jesus Christ is born again today!”

A final Merry Christmas this year!

Love,
Fr. Tom