Saturday, May 29, 2010
“God in Three Persons; Blessed Trinity.” Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – something we all take for granted, and often don’t quite understand – the mystery of God as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in one God. The Trinity is one of the most intellectually challenging mysteries of the faith. The difficulty is very basic – how can three things be one? St. Patrick famously tried to explain this using the image of the shamrock – three leaves, yet one shamrock. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about the Trinity, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself…The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way…which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to people.” Does that clear things up for you? Probably not. And yet, I think we can come to a better understanding of the Trinity in our lives – spiritually and practically; if not intellectually.
We all remember what we did at the beginning of Mass today. It is the same thing we do at the beginning of every Mass. We did this. You can do it with me now. [make the sign of the cross] Now, from my perspective, I can tell you, you didn’t all do it as exacting or as symmetrically as I just did. Some of you gave a little squiggle; a finger might have touched your forehead, maybe brushed touched your chest and completely missed the shoulders. It is a gesture that we do often more as a reflex that a conscious movement. But whether you made the sign of the cross with precision or just instinctively waived your hand in the air about the head and chest, it was a gesture that pointed to the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. When we are conscious of what we are doing in that act, it is a simple act of faith in the complexity of God who is revealed to us in the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
I say “revealed to us” because we wouldn’t have a clue about the Trinity if Jesus didn’t tell us about it. Jesus talked about His Father in Heaven, about Himself as the Son of God, about going back to Heaven and sending to us the Holy Spirit. This is what the Catechism means when it says, “The whole history of salvation is identical with…the way…God…reveals Himself to people.” The Trinity is a mystery revealed by God, but that doesn’t mean it is mystifying. It is a mystery of God that God wants us to be drawn deeply into.
So, let’s think about the sign of the cross and how it can draw us deeply into this mystery. First we touch our forehead and say, “In the Name of the Father…” When I hear those words, I think of so many things – the beauty of the trees, and flowers and plant life coming into bloom this time of year; I recall beautiful red sunsets at the beach as the setting sun shimmers on the water; the grandeur of the great Berkshires or the White Mountains; the feel of a warm breeze in Spring; I think of all the young children who received their First Holy Communion just a few weeks go; or the giggling and crying babies baptized this Easter season and the pride and happiness on the faces of their parents. I think of all these things because God the Father is the Creator of a beautiful world – something we should always be aware of and should always cause us to marvel at His nature! I leave my finger on my forehead because I, too, am part of that incredible creation. And, I’m reminded not only of a Creator but of Someone so totally in love with us that He sent His only Son to draw us back into His embrace. This same Father we speak of as “Our Father who art in Heaven.”
Next we move to our chest, to the place where the heart resides and say, “and of the Son.” Here I think of the love the Son of God showed us when He multiplied the loaves for the hungry, when He reached across social and racial barriers to the Samaritans, when He made room at His table for outcasts and sinners, when He chased the scavengers away from woman caught in adultery hungry for her blood, when He gave the ultimate and agonizing proof of His love for us on the Cross. “No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.”
And then we move to our shoulders and say, “and of the Holy Spirit.” We recall the Holy Spirit who gives so widely of Himself that it takes the full span of our shoulders to remind us of that – left and right, from one side of the world to the other. And I think of God’s desire to be intimate with all of us; to have the freedom of the wind; to be your friend and my friend, to be in your heart and my heart; to be in Boston or Providence, in Los Angeles or Baghdad, in Jerusalem, Rome, Tokyo and every corner of this world – all at the same time. I think of the Holy Spirit as a power in my life – the power in my life – as a great force for good and holiness, as one to turn to when decisions are to be made, as one who consoles me when I make my mistakes. To console is to be with a person who is alone. With the Holy Spirit around, no one is ever alone. God in His Holy Spirit is always with us. What we span in blessing, the Holy Spirit strengthens in life so that we may better shoulder our burdens and responsibilities.
And, so we come to the end of the blessing – the joining of hands and the concluding, “Amen.” And we remind ourselves that the word “amen” is an expression of agreement, in itself an act of faith in all that has gone before; a “so be it,” an “I believe.” And so I renew my faith. I believe in you Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
My brothers and sisters, on this Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity; this celebration of God in Three Persons; may all the signs of the cross we ever make be nothing less than a grateful acceptance of God’s love and a willingness on our part to share it with others. May the hands we join in faith be generous in giving and free to help others. May the shared life of the Trinity and the wide sweep of the blessing be reflected in our lives too. This is the lived, real meaning of the Most Holy Trinity in our lives.
And may God bless us all in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
By Kenneth L. Woodward
The New York Times isn’t fair. In its all-hands-on-deck drive to implicate the pope in diocesan cover-ups of abusive priests, the Times has relied on a steady stream of documents unearthed or supplied by Jeff Anderson, the nation’s most aggressive litigator on behalf of clergy-abuse victims. Fairness dictates that the Times give Anderson at least a co-byline.
After all, it was really Anderson who “broke” the story on March 25 about Fr. Lawrence Murphy and his abuse of two hundred deaf children a half-century ago in Wisconsin. Reporter Laurie Goodstein says her article emerged from her own “inquiries,” but the piece was based on Anderson documents. Indeed, in its ongoing exercise in J’accuse journalism, the Times has adopted as its own Anderson’s construal of what took place. Anderson is a persuasive fellow: back in 2002 he claimed that he had already won more than $60 million in settlements from the church. But the really big money is in Rome, which is why Anderson is trying to haul the Vatican into U.S. federal court. The Times did not mention this in its story, of course, but if the paper can show malfeasance on the part of the pope, Anderson may get his biggest payday yet.
It’s hard for a newspaper to climb in bed with a man like Anderson without making his cause its own. Does this mean that the Times is anti-Catholic? New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan thinks it is—he said so last October in response to an earlier series of stories on clergy abuse. Whatever one thinks of Dolan’s accusation, clearly the Times considers sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests more newsworthy than abuse committed by other groups. An April 13 verdict against the Boy Scouts of America, which has struggled with the child-sexual-abuse issue for a century, did not merit page-1, above-the-fold treatment but rather a single paragraph deep inside the paper. A longer April 15 story about a Brown University student credibly accused of raping another student, an incident the university did not report to the police and arguably “covered up” at the request of powerful figures in the Brown community, appeared on page 18.
No question, the Times’s worldview is secularist and secularizing, and as such it rivals the Catholic worldview. But that is not unusual with newspapers. What makes the Times unique—and what any Catholic bishop ought to understand—is that it is not just the nation’s self-appointed newspaper of record. It is, to paraphrase Chesterton, an institution with the soul of a church. And the church it most resembles in size, organization, internal culture, and international reach is the Roman Catholic Church.
Like the Church of Rome, the Times is a global organization. Even in these reduced economic times, the newspaper’s international network of news bureaus rivals the Vatican’s diplomatic corps. The difference is that Times bureau chiefs are better paid and, in most capitals, more influential. A report from a papal nuncio ends up in a Vatican dossier, but a report from a Times correspondent is published around the world, often with immediate repercussions. With the advent of the Internet, stories from the Times can become other outlets’ news in an ever-ramifying process of global cycling and recycling. That, of course, is exactly what happened with the Times piece on Fr. Murphy, the deceased Wisconsin child molester. The pope speaks twice a year urbi et orbi (to the city and to the world), but the Times does that every day.
Again like the Church of Rome, the Times exercises a powerful magisterium or teaching authority through its editorial board. There is no issue, local or global, on which these (usually anonymous) writers do not pronounce with a papal-like editorial “we.” Like the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the editorial board is there to defend received truth as well as advance the paper’s political, social, and cultural agendas. One can no more imagine a Times editorial opposing any form of abortion—to take just one of that magisterium’s articles of faith—than imagine a papal encyclical in favor.
The Times, of course, does not claim to speak infallibly in its judgments on current events. (Neither does the pope.) But to the truly orthodox believers in the Times, its editorials carry the burden of liberal holy writ. As the paper’s first and most acute public editor, Daniel Okrent, once put it, the editorial page is “so thoroughly saturated in liberal theology that when it occasionally strays from that point of view the shocked yelps from the left overwhelm even the ceaseless rumble of disapproval from the right.” Okrent’s now famous column was published in 2004 under the headline “Is the New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?” and I will cite Okrent more than once because he, too, reached repeatedly for religious metaphors to describe the ambient culture of the paper.
The Times also has its evangelists. They appear daily as the paper’s columnists. Like the church, the Times historically has promoted its evangelists from within the same institutional culture. This assures a uniformity of assumptions only the Vatican and Fox News can trump. Even when the editors reach outside the corporate fold, as they must for columnists of even mildly conservative persuasion, they do not look for adamantine conservatives like George Will to match the heavy-breathing liberalism of Frank Rich and Paul Krugman. Culturally, conservatives David Brooks and once-a-week columnist Ross Douthat inhabit the same world as their liberal colleagues, though it must be said that Brooks and Douthat are the only Times columnists I can recall who welcome an expansive role for religion in public life.
At the Times, the public editor’s job is to examine the paper’s news stories for evidence of biased reporting and unwarranted narrative assumptions. (Would that Rome had ombudsmen—and ombudswomen—to represent voices not heard at the Vatican.) On this point, Okrent’s essay was forthright: it is one thing to provide a “congenial home” for like-minded readers, he observed, “and quite another to tell only the side of the story your co-religionists wish to hear.” On social issues like “gay rights, gun control, abortion, and environmental regulation, among others,” Okrent wrote, “...if you think the Times plays it down the middle on any of them, you’ve been reading the paper with your eyes closed.” And there was this: “If you are among the groups the Times treats as strange objects to be examined on a laboratory slide (devout Catholics, gun owners, Orthodox Jews, Texans); if your value system wouldn’t wear well on a composite New York Times journalist, then a walk through this paper can make you feel you’re traveling in a strange and forbidding world.”
Indeed, even read with eyes wide open, the Times is remarkable for what it systematically leaves out. In its annual Christmas list of the year’s most notable books, there is no category for religion, much less theology. A reader of the paper’s regular education coverage, not to mention its quarterly “Education Life” supplement, would never know that the New York Archdiocese runs one of the largest parochial school systems in the world. Or that the Lutherans, the Seventh-day Adventists, and Orthodox Jews also educate thousands of kids throughout the metropolitan area. In the secularist and secularizing world of the Times, only public schools and New York’s elite prep and nursery schools are worthy of the reader’s attention.
Every institution creates its own sheltering culture. The Holy See is larger, more complex, and much older than the Times, and the Roman curia is inherently more diverse than the newsroom of the Times, despite the latter’s periodic bouts of mandated diversity training. But as anyone who has covered the Vatican can tell you, its institutional culture is also inherently traditional, conservative, and self-protective. It is, after all, the last functioning Renaissance court.
As U.S. newspapers go, the Times is also a venerable institution and its hierarchy of editors, deputy and assistant editors, and copyeditors is a match for the Roman curia. The paper has been controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family since 1896. To those who devote their lives to it, the Times has become “a place that will shelter you the rest of your life,” as Arthur Gelb wrote in his detailed memoir, City Room. I know what he means: Newsweek in the nearly four decades I worked there was also a sheltering institution. Moreover, with reporting flowing in from our worldwide news bureaus, we in New York felt as if we were operating at the throbbing center of the known and knowable universe. Given its exponentially larger work force, not to mention hourly input from the Internet, this illusion is all the more powerful at the Times. A journalist could spend a lifetime in its newsroom without encountering a dissenter from the institutional ideology.
Every journalistic operation generates its own newsroom culture. By that I mean an implicit set of assumptions about what cultural norms and attitudes the newspaper, magazine, etc. should reflect in its collective editorial outlook. As in the church, these norms are passed down from the top, becoming part of the air the composite Timesman breathes. For example, religion was well and routinely covered by Time magazine, because co-founder Henry Luce, the son of Presbyterian missionaries, considered the subject of major cultural importance. Religion was important at Newsweek because the magazine imitated Time’s template. Why is it then, that the devout of any religion should find the newsroom culture of the Times (Okrent again) “a strange and forbidding world”?
For that we have to look at the family dynasty that made the Times the nation’s establishment newspaper. After seven years of researching the Ochs-Sulzberger clan, biographers Susan E. Tifft and her husband Alex S. Jones concluded that “it has become increasingly apparent that the family’s self-image as Jews has profoundly shaped the paper.” The story that Tifft and Jones tell in their extraordinary family biography The Trust is a narrative of social assimilation by the paper’s publishing clan, a determination not to espouse Jewish causes in its newspaper, and the family’s progressive ambivalence toward religion of any kind.
Much of this attitude was an understandable reaction to the pervasive and unapologetic anti-Semitism that characterized American culture at least until after World War II. And even today, of course, there is much criticism of the Times that smacks of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, especially when it comes to the newspaper’s coverage of the Middle East. Still, the paper’s institutional suspicion of traditional religions, especially when they assert themselves in public affairs, makes Orthodox Jews as well as conservative Evangelicals and Catholics feel like barbarians at the gates. The most telling comment Tifft and Jones elicited in this regard was from the current publisher, Arthur Ochs “Pinch” Sulzberger Jr. He described his personal faith this way: “I have the Times. That’s my religion. That’s what I believe in, and it’s a hell of a thing to hold on to.”
I have to think a lot of people who write for the Times do too. Perhaps this is why some Catholic editorial columnists (names on request) cite the paper’s questionable reporting on the church as if it were revealed truth. It’s a nice example of how belief in the Times makes any other form of religious identification merely private and provisional when measured by the one true faith. Writing as a columnist, the affable Bill Keller once described himself as a “collapsed” Catholic. The adjective is new to me and I gather it describes how the weight of the Times as church collapsed his faith in the church of his earlier commitment.
As executive editor, Keller is now responsible for front-paging journalistically questionable stories that attempt but never quite manage to make the pope personally complicit in the clergy-abuse scandal. He apparently thinks that Jeff Anderson has handed over the ecclesiastical equivalent of the Pentagon Papers.
No, I am not suggesting that the scandal is merely media-driven, as some at the Vatican have argued. There would be no stories if there had been no history of abuses and cover-ups in the first place. But I am saying that the Times has created its own version of the scandal as if they had discovered something new. They haven’t. Until they do, I remain a dissenter in the pews of the Church of the New York Times.
This originally appeared in Commonweal Magazine
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Rome, Italy, May 24, 2010 / 02:55 pm (CNA).- In his address to Pope Benedict XVI during the 24th full assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the dicastery, said, “The Church does not identify herself with any one political party or system,” but “she appreciates the work of those who dedicate themselves to the service of the common good and assume the weight of these responsibilities.”
Cardinal Rylko said the Church sees the lay faithful's involvement in politics as “a noble vocation” that is “a great expression of charity.”
“Lay Christians involved in the public life should receive the necessary formation to be able to bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ with courageous coherence because it is by being faithful to themselves, to their own baptismal identity, that the can truly bring about a renewal in political life,” Cardinal Rylko said.
In commenting on the call of the Holy Father to reach out to the new generation of Catholic politicians, the cardinal said, “Today it is truly urgent that politics regain its own soul, thus recovering the meaning of service to the common good, rebuilding a moral sensitivity and a solid foundation of shared values, promoting above all the concept of a truly open secularism that is not hostile to God or fearful of allowing him to enter public life.”
The task includes “defending the human person, his dignity, his transcendent vocation and his inalienable rights, rooted in the natural law and thus non-negotiable,” he stated.
At the conclusion of his remarks Cardinal Rylko announced that the Congress of Lay Asian Catholics would take place August 31-September 5.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
There is a story of a woman who took her five-year-old son to see a famous piano player in concert. Her hope was that the experience would encourage her young son in his own musical pursuits. Arriving at the concert hall, she was thrilled to see how close their seats were to the stage. Then, the women ran into an old friend and became so involved in her conversation that she failed to notice that her son has slipped away to do some exploring. As 8 o’clock rolled around, the lights of the concert hall dimmed, the audience hushed to a whisper and the spotlight came on. Only then did the women see her five-year-old on the stage, sitting on the piano bench, innocently plucking out “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
She gasped in total disbelief. But before she could retrieve her son, the famous pianist walked onto the stage to perform. Walking over the piano, he leaned over and whispered to the boy, “Don’t stop. Keep playing.” Then leaning over the boy, he reached out his left hand and began to fill in the bass. A few seconds later, he reached around the other side of the boy, encircling him, and adding a running obbligato. Together, the great maestro and the tiny five-year-old mesmerized the audience with their playing. When they finished, the audience broke into thunderous applause. Years later almost everyone who had witnessed this event forgot all of the other pieces the pianist played. But, no one forgot “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
Think for a moment how wonderfully this image of the great maestro and the young boy speaks of what we gather to celebrate today in this Solemnity of Pentecost. Pentecost means literally “50 days” and it has been 50 days since we celebrated the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Today is often called the birthday of the Church as we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples just as Jesus promised when He said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always… The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”
Our story of the boy and the maestro serves as a contemporary parable. We can see that the boy resembles the disciples. When Jesus departed from their midst, ascending to the Father in Heaven, they were like spiritual children. Their knowledge of God and how to spread God’s kingdom was terribly deficient. It was not unlike the boy’s knowledge of music. And, of course, the maestro resembles the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples, encircling them with love, whispering encouragement in their ears, and transforming their simple human efforts into something greater, something powerful, something beautiful – something that has spanned two millennia and continues into a third.
And, I think this is the lesson for all of us today. We can look at our world and see so many problems that need to be addressed. It seems like the list never ends. We can compare that with our talents and come to the conclusion that we are inadequate to the task; that the problems far outweigh our ability to do anything to make a difference.
For example, we can look at the vast army of poor people in our world, and say, “How can I, with my limited means, put even a dent into this enormous problem?” Or we can look at the immense ocean of hatred and anger in our world, and say, “How can I, with my limited love, change any of this?” Or we can look at the growing apathy of Christians when it comes to following Jesus with all that we are and say, “How can I, one person, help to reverse this situation?”
And this is precisely where we need to recall the simple image of the great maestro and the little boy. Musically, the boy’s skills were minimal. But the maestro built upon them and turned them into something masterful – something that completely mesmerized the sophisticated audience that had gathered that night. In a similar way, the Holy Spirit will take whatever we have – no matter how small – build upon it, and transform it into something powerful and beautiful. We see God do this exact thing in every Eucharist – we place before Him something as meager as simple bread and wine, and He – by sending His Holy Spirit upon it – transforms them into something powerful and beautiful – the very presence of Jesus in our midst.
And, He wants to send that same Holy Spirit upon each of us to the same result; to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary; to transform the regular into the holy; to consecrate the mundane and make it into the spectacular beauty that results from His presence.
This is the good news of our Scriptures today. This is the good news that we celebrate on this Solemnity of Pentecost. It is the good news that Jesus has sent His promised Holy Spirit upon each of us – His Church. We are not alone. The Holy Spirit is leaning over us, encircling us with His love, taking our small contribution and transforming it into something we never dreamed possible.
All we have to do is invite Him in. Let me end with an adaptation of a poem by Amado Nervo:
Alone we are only a spark,
But in the Spirit we become fire.
Alone we are only a string,
But in the Spirit we are a lyre.
Alone we are only an anthill,
But in the Spirit we are a mountain.
Alone we are only a drop,
But in the Spirit we are a fountain.
Alone we are only a feather,
But in the Spirit we become a wing.
Alone we are but a begger,
But in the Spirit we become a king.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, enkindle in us the fire of Your love.
May God give you peace.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
There is a wonderful story in the life of St. Francis that tells of a certain day when the Saint asked one of his brothers to accompany him into a nearby town where they would preach God’s word. The two spent the day walking from one end of town to the other and back. Finally, a bit frustrated, the brother asked, “But, Father Francis, when are we going to preach?” The Saint looked at him and said simply, “My brother, we just did.”
There is a quote frequently attributed to St. Francis that you’ve probably heard that follows the same theme, “Preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary use words.” Both this quote and story make a powerful point that I think we all know is true: people are moved more by sermons they can see than by sermons they can hear.
I couldn’t help but think of this story as I was reflecting upon our Scriptures for today – especially the powerfully dramatic story of the martyrdom of St. Stephen that we heard in our first reading. We heard, “As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them;’ and when he said this, he fell asleep.”
This incredible story of St. Stephen is a very fitting one for us to contemplate today. Chapter 6 of Acts, just before what we heard today, says, “Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people…certain [people] came forward and debated with Stephen, but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.” These people were infuriated with Stephen because he is preaching about Jesus, and so they knock him to the ground and take his life through the violent means of stoning. But, in perhaps the most powerful preaching of his life, with his final breaths, Stephen did not hold the crime against his attackers. Instead, he forgives them. Again, from our reading, Stephen “fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” In this moment we see what we see in the lives of virtually every saint, that St. Stephen lives and dies in the same way that Jesus did. He is a martyr, a living witness, to what it means to be Christian.
In this act of forgiveness, we see in Stephen, in a very real way, how he carried out the command that Jesus gave to His followers just before He ascended to His Father. Jesus said, “Make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” St. Stephen did just that. And, he did it in the most powerful way that anyone can teach another – not through lengthy monologue or intellectual rhetoric – he did it by example. With the very last moments of his life, St. Stephen quite literally preached a sermon that people could see. He preached the good news of Jesus Christ by the example of his life, right down to the very moment of his death.
Where did Stephen get that kind of strength? Stephen found that strength in something that Jesus did just before He ascended into heaven. Jesus prayed for His disciples in the words we heard in today’s Gospel, “Father, I made known to them your name…that the love with which you loved me, may be in them, and I [may be] in them.” Stephen was able to bear witness to Jesus by the example of his life and death because Jesus had prayed for him, and because the Father’s love and the presence of Jesus Himself dwelt within Stephen.
My friends, the same is true for each and every one of us here today. We, too, celebrate the fact that what Jesus promised just before He ascended into heaven has come to pass. The love of the Father and abiding presence of Jesus Himself are within His followers – this divine indwelling, this love of God are within each of us - enabling us to carry the Good News to the very ends of the world, not only by word, but perhaps even more profoundly by example.
And, what Stephen and so many other martyrs and holy men and women who followed did, we too are called to do. We also are called to bring the Good News, if not to the ends of the world, perhaps at least to the ends of our world – to the ends of New England, or Massachusetts, or Boston, or even just to every corner of the North End; and we are called to do this in the same way; by word and more importantly by example.
And to help us carry out this task, Jesus promised that the love of His Father and He Himself would be with us. It is this promise of Jesus that we celebrate in this liturgy. It is this promise of Jesus that makes it possible for us to be like St. Stephen – witnesses of Jesus Christ in our world. If we carry out this task, we too will someday share with Jesus and the Father the joy of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Lord, help us remember always that without You, we can do nothing. But with You, all things are possible. Help us to be Your witnesses. My friends, preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.
May God give you peace.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Few Catholic bishops anywhere in the world have spent more time coping with the fallout from the sexual abuse crisis – pastoral, political, legal, and spiritual – than Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston. When he became bishop of Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1992, he inherited the infamous James Porter case, and ten years later he took over an archdiocese in virtual meltdown when he succeeded Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston.
O’Malley sat down with NCR on May 13 in Fatima, Portugal, where he’s participating in the visit of Pope Benedict XVI. He discussed the pope’s comments on the crisis en route to Portugal – insisting that the real problem is not attacks from the outside, but the reality of sin within the church – and other matters.
Highlights from the interview include:
- O’Malley said he “definitely” agrees with a recent statement from one of his brother cardinals, effectively rebuking another for insensitivity on the sexual abuse crisis. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria, told reporters in late April that comments comparing criticism of Pope Benedict to “petty gossip” by Cardinal Angelo Sodano – who was John Paul II’s Secretary of State for fifteen years, and still the dean of the College of Cardinals – did “massive harm” to victims. Schönborn also faulted Sodano for his role in blocking an investigation of sex abuse charges against his predecessor in Vienna, Cardinal Hans Hermann Gröer. O’Malley agreed, saying Schönborn has had a deep “pastoral experience” of the crisis.
- O’Malley said the church shouldn’t be threatened by a critical analysis of how the crisis was handled by officials such as Sodano during the John Paul years, conceding that some Vatican officials “didn’t understand the seriousness of the problem or all its implications.” O’Malley insisted, however, that it would be unfair to impugn John Paul himself, since the crisis didn’t erupt until his health was already compromised and there was a tendency to “shelter” him from the worst of it.
- O’Malley said Pope Benedict’s words aboard the papal plane were “very helpful,” but expressed doubt that it will immediately halt a tendency to point fingers at outside forces – saying that trying to get senior officials on the same page is sometimes akin to “herding cats.”
- O’Malley said that going forward, any bishop who knowingly transfers a priest facing credible charges of sexual abuse “should be removed.”
On other subjects, O’Malley, a Capuchin Franciscan who sits on the Congregation for Religious in Rome, struck a reassuring note about the current visitation of women’s religious communities in the United States: “For a lot of the sisters, the big fears have been that we’re going to come in and say, ‘Put the habits back on, and give us all your money,’” he said. “Neither is going to happen!”
O’Malley also explained that he has a longstanding devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, but it’s not focused on the apocalyptic speculation associated with the famous “secrets” of Fatima, but rather the simplicity implied in Mary appearing to three simple shepherd children. As a Capuchin Franciscan, O’Malley said, that preference for ordinary people, as opposed to the high-and-mighty, strikes him as “something beautiful.”
The following are excerpts from the May 13 interview with O’Malley, which took place shortly after an open-air Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict for a crowd estimated at a half-million people.
* * *
What brings you to Fatima?
I come to Fatima regularly, and I have for many years. I’ve always been in ministry to Portuguese-speaking people, for twenty years in Washington and then as bishop in Fall River, where the majority of the Catholics are Portuguese. … I’ve come to Portugal often over the years, and I have a lot of friends here. Actually, I just published a book here. (The Portuguese title is Anel e sandálias, “Ring and Sandals.”)
Do you have a particular devotion to Fatima?
I do, I always have. I’ve always been struck by the simplicity of the message – conversion and prayer. I think too it’s a devotion of the little people, and as a Franciscan, that excites me. This is where the anawim are. I think there’s something beautiful about that.
I’m intrigued at how extensive the devotion is beyond the Portuguese community. It’s enormous. In some ways in the States, I think it’s much bigger than Lourdes. Maybe the secrets were part of it, because a lot of people are fascinated by them. When I was a child, people used to talk about that a lot. Of course, that was in the Cold War days, with a fascination about Russia, the possibility of a nuclear war, and all that loomed very large. After the Cold War died off, I think the focus became different. It became more about Marian devotion and the message of prayer, conversion and penance.
With the Portuguese, I never saw the apocalyptic undertones. With the Irish Catholics in the States, it was a lot closer to the surface.
We were a lot more invested in the Cold War in the States ...
I think that’s it. With the Portuguese, that wasn’t the focus at all. I’ve been coming here for forty years or more, and there was never any emphasis on the secrets. It was always kind of marginal to what Fatima was about. It focused much more on God’s love for the little people, beginning with these three illiterate children.
Is there anything special about this trip of Benedict XVI to Fatima, in comparison to other times you’ve been here?
I think it’s very encouraging that at this time of crisis in the church, that the Holy Father would experience the support he has here. The crowds have been big and enthusiastic.
On the way to Portugal, the pope made some striking comments on the papal plane about the sexual abuse crisis. In effect, he said the problem isn’t so much outside attacks but rather the reality of sin inside the church. What did you think of that?
I think it’s very helpful that the Holy Father wants us to focus on the cause of the crisis, which is not anti-Catholicism. That’s always there, and people will always find things to criticize. Fundamentally, however, this is a problem that is of our own making. In great part, it’s due to our sinfulness, our human frailty, cowardice, many different failings that contributed to the crisis. It was helpful for him to articulate that, particularly because while we were getting beat up constantly in the Times, you did kind of want to strike back. But it begs the question as to why this happened in the first place.
There had been a fair bit of striking back, from some voices in the Vatican especially. Did you find that unhelpful?
It was not helpful. I was happy for some of the push-back that dealt with the facts, because many of the facts were distorted to put us in the very worst light. But our basic message has to be that we are repentant, that we are resolved to do everything to try to redress the wrongs the past, as much as we can, and to make sure that these situations don’t happen in the future. That requires a very definite policy, a strategy, which will need to be for the universal church, not just for the United States. For the longest time, this was kind of dismissed as an American problem. Now we see it’s a human problem, and in the church it’s become universal because the same deficiencies in dealing with the problem existed not just in the United States but in other places.
Is it your hope that in the wake of what the pope said on the plane, the finger-pointing is over?
I’m afraid it’s not. I wouldn’t be so optimistic. I think the Holy Father has shown himself to be aware of the dimensions of this problem and how serious it is for the church, and has been our closest ally in trying to correct it. But trying to bring everybody onto the same page is like trying to herd cats. I’m hoping that he will be able to assemble the kind of advisors he needs to come up with a very clear policy and message that could be put out there.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna recently said that Cardinal Angelo Sodano’s language at the Easter Sunday Mass, referring to “petty gossip,” did “massive harm” to victims of sexual abuse. Were you glad to see that?
Yes, definitely. Of course, he has had a very first-hand experience pastorally of the damage that’s done by pedophilia in the church.
I’ve suggested that part of the reason the Vatican hasn’t told Benedict XVI’s story on the crisis is that to defend him, you have to identify the opposition he faced, which included some senior people such as Sodano – and that could end up tainting John Paul’s record. Do you share that concern?
I think it’s unfair to be projecting onto John Paul II. This crisis really blossomed at the end of his pontificate, when he was in very bad shape. Had he been younger, for example, he would have come to Boston. He wasn’t afraid of a problem. I think he was sheltered from a lot of this, by people who were trying to protect him.
Do you think it’s fair to critically examine the roles that senior aides to the pope such as Sodano and Cardinal Dario Castillon Hoyos played on this issue?
I think it would be helpful to study and find out exactly what happened. These officials often were far removed from what was happening in the States, so they were looking at this through a European prism. They didn’t understand the seriousness of the problem or all its implications. When Cardinal Ratzinger was exposed to all this, it was like an eye-opener. In general, those who became aware of the impact this was having on people’s lives were the ones who responded. I think the problem was often ignorance rather than malice, and I don’t think we should be threatened by an honest look at the record.
Benedict XVI had his fourth meeting with victims in Malta. Some in the Vatican worry about creating an expectation that he’ll do it on virtually every trip. What do you think?
If it’s going to be helpful to the local church, why not do it? I was so happy that the Holy Father consented back in 2008. First he was supposed to come to Boston, and that got nixed. I’m sure it was by people who were trying to distance him from the crisis. Then we contacted him, and we were very glad it happened. In many ways, it worked out better than if had come to Boston, because it wasn’t just a Boston event. Also, we were able to bring them in discreetly without having a media circus beforehand.
American bishops have to be feeling some vindication these days. Eight years ago when you first proposed your norms, there was resistance in Rome. Now you come off as the great pioneers. Do you have a sense that experience has proved you right?
Oh, I think so. Hopefully, we’ll be able to make a contribution to the universal church in this area.
You mean making the American norms universal?
In some form, yes. Also, we can give local churches a sense of how to deal with the crisis. When you’re in the throes of the first explosion, it’s very disconcerting and things move very fast. We made a very quick response. Of course, some people would say we were too quick, too draconian, but I think in retrospect what we did was very important. The fact that we were able to do it with such speed was a blessing.
Eight years later, are you still convinced that ‘one strike and you’re out’ was the right way to go?
I am. As I tell my priests, if you’re in a parish or a ministry, that’s the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Every Catholic can say, ‘This priest serving for us has never had a credible accusation against him.’ I think that’s comforting to our people, and also to the priests.
I’m really convinced that we have made the safety of children the priority in the United States. Our church agencies, schools, and programs are the safest place in the world for kids, because of the training and the screening that nobody else does as extensively as we do. Hopefully other churches and organizations will follow suit. I’m always disappointed that people aren’t more willing to contexualize the problem, seeing that the Catholic church really has dealt with it and tried to create programs to protect children. Why not extrapolate and do that in other areas where the abuse of children is far more prevalent?
What about accountability for bishops? Some would say that we now have strong accountability for priests who abused, but what about bishops who covered it up?
That’s something only the Holy See can determine. The Holy Father has begun to accept resignations. In Boston, the cardinal did resign. In Massachusetts, we now have laws that if I transfer a pedophile priest, they’d put me in jail. You can’t get much more accountable than that.
Did the crisis reveal a problem with episcopal accountability?
Yes and no. The bishops who acted the way they did probably did so thinking that was what they were supposed to do, and of course it wasn’t. There was a lot of ignorance in that. Part of the problem too is that when most of these bad decisions were being made, the focus was exclusively on the perpetrator and not on the child. There wasn’t an awareness of the damage that was done to the youngster. If people had even suspected the extent of the damage, they would have taken steps to make sure that these people didn’t have access to children, but it just wasn’t on the radar screen. Even the psychologists and the psychiatrists were telling bishops that people like Porter were ready to go back to work.
Let’s talk about accountability looking forward. Right now you have to have approval from a finance council before you sell off property above a certain dollar amount. What about getting approval from a pastoral council or review board before making certain personnel decisions?
Look, if a bishop has a cavalier attitude about ordaining someone who has a questionable background or reassigning someone, that bishop should be removed. Going forward, there shouldn’t be any doubt about what should be done.
You mean removed by the Holy See?
By the Holy See, exactly. They wouldn’t have the credibility to be able to govern if they had such bad judgment. I think that will happen. If a bishop now were irresponsible in dealing with this, I think the nuncio and the bishops in that conference would demand it.
You’re saying that even without new structural accountability, we have a new culture of accountability?
What about cooperation with civil authorities?
I think we should always have been dealing with the civil authorities. This is a crime, and it should have been reported as any other serious crime.
What about releasing documents to reveal what the church knew and when it knew it?
If it’s needed for the investigation, we should do it. I’m talking about giving documents to the Attorney General, not to the press. Sometimes the courts have forced the church to turn over all of their records, and then opened them up to the press. I think that’s not necessarily the right way to do things. Basically, however, I think there needs to be transparency and cooperation with the civil authorities, giving them all the help they need to do a serious investigation.
Our problem is that we didn’t report these cases, and so much time has elapsed that now everyone looks to the church to be the investigator, judge, jury and executioner for things that happened decades ago. We don’t have the resources to do that. We can’t issue subpoenas, we don’t have investigators or courts in the civil sense. We’ve had to do the best we could. The review boards have been a great blessing for us, and the people who have served on them have been extraordinary. They’ve faced some very difficult cases, and I think they’ve handled them with a great sense of responsibility to the victims, to society, and to the church. But it’s not the way these things should be done, because we’re playing catch-up and trying to invent a judicial system to make up for the fact that these men never had to defend themselves in a court of law.
You sit on the Congregation for Religious, and you have an obvious interest in religious life. What are your hopes for the visitation of women religious in the United States?
I’m very concerned that it’s being received so negatively. My hope had been that it would be like the seminary visitation: It gave people an opportunity to look at themselves in preparation for the visitation, what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong, and how they could do things better. I got together with all the major superiors in Boston and tried to encourage them. I wrote them a letter and listened to their questions and fears.
The end result is not going to be devastating for women religious in America?
I’ve been saying that over and over. For a lot of the sisters, the big fears have been that we’re going to come in and say, ‘Put the habits back on, and give us all your money.’ Neither is going to happen! If that’s what you’re worried about, relax.
Hopefully, it will help us to understand what’s happened to religious life in the last thirty to forty years, and where religious life needs to be headed in the future. All of the studies that have been done about young people coming into religious life today tell us they’re looking for more traditional, stronger communities, with corporate ministries, shared prayer, and external signs of identity such as a habit.
After the Second Vatican Council, a lot of our religious communities, I think, evolved into something like secular institutes. People might have a lay job, living in an apartment. They live the vows, they live good lives, but it’s something different from traditional religious life with its stress on community and a common spiritual life. The secular institutes have never had many vocations. It’s always been a very small cohort in the church. I think that some of our religious communities went that way, and they lost the ability to recruit a lot of young women who are really looking for community. You see it in the movements – the Focolare, the Memores Domini in Communion and Liberation, the numeraries in Opus Dei. It wasn’t just the habit, it was community, shared spirituality, and so on. I hope when all of the dust settles, people will use this as a moment of grace to ask where we’ve come from and where we’re going.
The trick is to make the best of it. It’s like the new translation of the Missal. I tell the priests, you can be up there hand-wringing and apologizing for it, or you can use it as an opportunity to reintroduce people to liturgical spirituality and the centrality of the Sunday Eucharist. Which is it going to be?
Does some of the suspicion out there reflect the fact that bishops and women’s religious have grown apart over the last forty years?
That may be, though on the side of the bishops part of the reason for that has been to respect the autonomy of the communities. I hear all of these horror stories about my predecessor, Cardinal O’Connell, who used to choose the names for the nuns and tell them how long their veil could be, all this kind of nonsense. I think we’ve gone to the other extreme, where the sisters are estranged from the hierarchy. In the past there was too much interference in the internal life of the communities, and we reacted against that by emphasizing their autonomy. In practice, that probably means that sometimes we don’t know one another as well as we should.
It’s easier for suspicion to grow up in that kind of environment.
Exactly, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.
Could one of the fruits of the visitation be to create opportunities for those relationships to develop?
I hope so, because that’s what we desperately need.
Did some of the momentum for the visitation come out of the symposium on religious life in which you were involved at Stonehill College in 2009?
I think you’re right. The dynamic at that meeting was interesting, because at Stonehill the sisters who spoke all came from LCWR communities, and they were somewhat critical of the LCWR’s way of doing things. [Note: The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, or LCWR, is the major umbrella group for women’s communities in the United States. It’s popularly perceived as having a fairly liberal orientation.] Afterwards, some sisters came up to me and said, ‘Why didn’t you have someone from some of the more progressive communities?’ But there wasn’t anyone from the Conference of Major Superiors of Women [another umbrella group, perceived as more conservative.] They were all from LCWR communities. I think that had a big impact on Rodé [Cardinal Franc Rodé, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Religious, who attended the Stonehill symposium]. It seemed to show that within these communities, which can seem so monolithic, there are other voices that aren’t being heard.
I was actually translating for Rodé, and one of the questions he got was about a visitation. At the time, he seemed to dismiss it as being too difficult because of the sheer numbers involved and so forth. Obviously, though, it got him thinking.
Were you consulted prior to the decision to launch the visitation?
Had you been consulted, would you have recommended for or against it?
I don’t know. Being an optimist, I probably would have thought that the visitation would be easier than it’s proving to be. I’m just glad I’m not running it! Mother Clare Millea, by the way, who is running it, is a lovely person. I keep telling the sisters that: ‘You know, they’re not sending Godzilla!’
I do think they kind of rushed it. I think there could have been more build-up and better preparation, better consultation beforehand. This is so complicated, and there’s such a spectrum within religious life.
[John Allen is NCR senior correspondent. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Thursday, May 13, 2010
The Holy Father presided over Mass from the steps of the Church of the Most Holy Trinity in Fatima this morning. May 13, the Solemnity of Blessed Mary Virgin of Fatima and that of the Ascension, marks the 10th anniversary of the beatification of the shepherd-children Jacinta and Francisco.
Speaking to the estimated 500,000 people in attendance for Mass, Pope Benedict said that he, like them, is in Fatima on pilgrimage. He had come, he added, to pray for the human family and, with the same sentiments as the shepherd-children, to “entrust to Our Lady the intimate confession” that the Church, her priests and he himself love Jesus.
The Pope entrusted all nations and peoples to Heaven, embracing “all their sons and daughters” in God, “particularly, the afflicted or outcast, with the desire of bringing them that great hope which burns in my own heart, and which here, in Fatima, can be palpably felt.”
Pope Benedict recalled the lessons of the “Teacher,” Mary, who introduced the children of Fatima “to a deep knowledge of the Love of the Blessed Trinity and led them to savor God himself as the most beautiful reality of human existence.”
Noting that we might look upon the children’s experience with envy or disappointment for not being as fortunate, the Holy Father offered consolation in that “God ... has the power to come to us, particularly through our inner senses, so that the soul can receive the gentle touch of a reality which is beyond the senses and which enables us to reach what is not accessible or visible to the senses.”
In order for this to come about, he explained, “we must cultivate an interior watchfulness of the heart which, for most of the time, we do not possess on account of the powerful pressure exerted by outside realities and the images and concerns which fill our soul.”
The Lord can “show himself to the eyes of our heart” and “has the power to inflame the coldest and saddest of hearts,” Pope Benedict encouraged the crowd.
The faithful can also draw inspiration from the way Jacinta, Francisco and Sister Lucia gave their entire lives to God, he said. “Blessed Jacinta, in particular, proved tireless in sharing with the needy and in making sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. Only with this fraternal and generous love will we succeed in building the civilization of love and peace.”
Turning to the message delivered by Our Lady of Fatima, the Holy Father said, “we would be mistaken to think that the prophetic mission of Fatima is complete.”
In the story of the Marian apparitions, God’s plan from Genesis of looking out for our brother takes on new life, he instructed. “Mankind,” the Pope noted, “has succeeded in unleashing a cycle of death and terror, but failed in bringing it to an end,” and in Scripture, “we often find that God seeks righteous men and women in order to save the city of man."
The Holy Father said that the same call resounds from Fatima when Mary asks, "Do you want to offer yourselves to God, to endure all the sufferings which he will send you, in an act of reparation for the sins by which he is offended and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?"
At a dire time in human history, he recounted, Mary "came from heaven, offering to implant in the hearts of all those who trust in her the Love of God burning in her own heart.
"It started with just the three children, but their example has since spread throughout the world.”
He concluded with the prayer, “May the seven years which separate us from the centenary of the apparitions hasten the fulfillment of the prophecy of the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of May, to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity.”
Published May 6, 2010
From the magazine issue dated May 17, 2010
During the past few months, I often drew strength from a poem taped to my desk in Washington and framed on the wall of my home office in Menominee, Mich. "Bullfight critics ranked in rows," it begins, "Crowd the enormous plaza full/But only one is there who knows/And he's the man who fights the bull."
Written by a Spanish matador, the poem really resonated with me last fall as I wrestled with two longstanding personal convictions—that health care is a national right, and that federal dollars should not be used to pay for abortion—thrown into conflict by a universal-insurance bill that would cover abortion. I tried to warn my House colleagues that I wasn't going to give up one belief for the other. But ultimately they left me no other choice: the Stupak amendment passed last November, upholding the current law that prohibits public funding for abortions—and beginning the most grueling period in my nearly 20 years on the Hill.
The attacks started almost immediately, with activists and editorialists churning out slogans ("Stop Stupak!") and jokes ("Stupak is as Stupak does"). For solace I would go to my corner church, St. Peter's on Second and C streets, and slide into a left-side pew (I am a Democrat, after all) to pray and think. I was disappointed when the Senate did not pass my pro-life language in its version of the health-care bill. And while I questioned my position constantly—am I not seeing the forest for the trees?—I resolved, along with a coalition of other pro-life Democrats, not to back down. I snatched maybe three hours of sleep a night.
That pattern continued, and the attacks intensified, right down to the House reconciliation vote on March 21. By then I had realized that health-care reform would pass, so rather than vote no and lose my power to add pro-life protections, I gathered my coalition to try to reach an agreement with President Obama: an executive order confirming that no federal money would support abortion. On that Sunday, seven or eight of us pro-lifers sat with silver urns of coffee, yellow legal pads, and red pens in a discreet room away from the White House, hammering out the language. We also put in a final call to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which had been among my strongest supporters during the fall.
I was disappointed by what I heard. No, no, no, no, they said. We need statutory law. But an executive order can have the full force of law, I said. Lincoln used one to free the slaves. George W. Bush used one to block stem-cell research using human embryos. And President Obama assures me that this is "ironclad." Besides, I said, it's time to negotiate or lose our chance to shape the bill. Help me with it? No, they said. Won't you at least look at it? No.
That call changed my relationship with the pro-life movement. In the 18 years I've been in Congress, pro-life Democrats like me have delivered, working out compromises that protect human life. Now we had the most important piece of legislation for our movement yet—with pregnancy prevention, prenatal and postnatal care, and care for kids—and we couldn't get support.
In the past few weeks, I've received so many death threats that I was advised to get a security escort around Washington. My wife, Laurie, has had to unplug our home phone to avoid drunken messages from people screaming, swearing, and generally acting profane—usually around the time the bars in their states close. We've had to endure TV, radio, and bus-stop ads. One day I got 1,500 faxes, all hate mail.
Ultimately, what stings the most isn't the hatred. (After all, people hate cops, lawyers, and politicians, and I've been all three.) It's that people tried to use abortion as a tool to stop health-care reform, even after protections were added. That realization has stayed with me in the weeks since, a time that I've spent shuttling between Michigan and Washington, as I have for years. My decision not to seek reelection isn't about anything other than it being time to do something else with my life. The truth is that I've been thinking of a career change for more than six years. I was glad that I stayed to fight the bull. Now I'm glad the fight is over.
Stupak represents Michigan's First Congressional District.
Find this article at: http://www.newsweek.com/id/237525
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
A mother was preparing pancakes for her young sons, David and Billy. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. “If Jesus were sitting here, He would say ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’ David turned to his younger brother and said, “Billy, you be Jesus!”
The Preface to today’s Eucharistic Prayer says, “Christ…has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us, but to be our hope. Christ is the beginning, the head of the Church; where he has gone, we hope to follow.”
Today’s feast of the Ascension of Jesus to Heaven, marks something of an ending – it commemorates the end of Jesus time with us on earth as a man. This feast doesn’t try and explain how the Ascension happened – that is a mystery; instead, it sheds light on what it all means, “Christ…has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us, but to be our hope.”
Ascension has two strong qualities of hope and of challenge or commissioning. First the hope: Jesus didn’t ascend to an unknown place. He didn’t disappear into the clouds and no one knows where He is never to be seen or heard from again. No instead, “Where He has gone, we hope to follow.” Jesus attained the goal of all humanity – an eternity in Heaven; an eternity caught up in the loving gaze and grace of God the Father; and eternity of glory and perfection that can only be found in Heaven. And, all of us who have been baptized into life in Christ hope to follow Him to that place.
But, we are also challenged today by the realization that with His ascension, Jesus has left everything else in our hands until the end of time. Another way of phrasing this challenge, is that as He ascends to the Father in Heaven Jesus says to us the same as the punch line of the joke I began with: “Now, you be Jesus.”
As Jesus returns to the Father, He says to us, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses …to the ends of the earth.” He says, I will send the Holy Spirit so that you will have what you need to be My presence in the world until I return. Jesus brought to us the most incredible gifts ever – He brought us the Gospel; He brought us the Sacraments; He brought us the Church. And then, He left them in our hands to be the ones who proclaim those Holy Words; share those Divine Gifts; and welcome the world to take part in this mystery as one great community of believers.
St. Paul reminds us of the same thing in the reading from Ephesians, “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call…for us who believe.” We are the hope of the Gospel; we are the hope of Jesus. We must all pick up the call that He has given us to preach the Good News to the ends of the earth. We’re being called to bear witness to the Gospel and to make disciples of all nations.
Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to be Jesus in a world crying out desperately for Him. Our mission is to be the presence of His kindness, compassion, joy, and love to a world that is too often dominated by vengeance, evil, war, greed, materialism, and meanness. To all of those societal ills, we are commissioned: You be Jesus! To the immorality all around us, we are challenged: You be Jesus. To the impurity we are faced with every day – whether the scourge of the profane on television and movies and in music; the epidemic of people living together outside of wedlock; the destruction of the family; the attacks on the sanctity of marriage – we are called: You be Jesus. To the lack of peace in our world – in marriages, relationships, family, our country and world – we are charged: You be Jesus! Because if not you; if not me; than who will be Jesus in our world?
Jesus reminds us that He will send His Spirit to empower us; that with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can in fact be His presence in our world now. We need only to open ourselves to the grace of His Word, His Sacraments, and His Holy Spirit. If we do these things, my brothers and sisters, He promises us that mountains will be moved by our faith.
“Christ…has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us, but to be our hope. Christ is the beginning, the head of the Church; where he has gone, we hope to follow.”
My brothers and sisters, you be Jesus.
May God give you peace.
These glorious insults are from an era before the English language got boiled down to 4-letter words
The exchange between Churchill & Lady Astor: She said, "If you were my husband I'd give you poison."
He said, "If you were my wife, I'd drink it."
"He had delusions of adequacy." - Walter Kerr
"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." - Winston Churchill
"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure." Clarence Darrow
"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." - William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).
"Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it." - Moses Hadas
"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it." - Mark Twain
"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.." - Oscar Wilde
"I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend.... if you have one." - George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill. "Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second.... if there is one." - Winston Churchill, in response.
"I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here." - Stephen Bishop
"He is a self-made man and worships his creator." - John Bright
"I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial." - Irvin S. Cobb
"He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others." - Samuel Johnson
"He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up." - Paul Keating
"He loves nature in spite of what it did to him." - Forrest Tucker
"Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?" - Mark Twain
"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.." - Oscar Wilde
"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts... for support rather than illumination." - Andrew Lang (1844-1912)
"He has Van Gogh's ear for music." - Billy Wilder
"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it." - Groucho Marx
Saturday, May 8, 2010
As we gather this weekend, we celebrate a very familiar secular holiday – of course, Mother’s Day. I recently came across the history of Mother’s Day and it is very interesting. Mother’s Day originated in America in 1872 by a woman named Julia Ward Howe. She is perhaps better known for a song she wrote, The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Ms. Howe lived through the horrors of the Civil War and saw around her the suffering and grief of mothers who lost their children to the war. Her idea was to create a special Mother’s Peace Day, a day where women would work together for peace. Over the years this original impulse of Mother’s Day has been lost, but certainly there could be no better time given the state of our world for this original intent of the day to be revived.
Today, Mother’s Day has become a day to say “thank you” to our Mom’s for all that they have done and continue to do for us; or to pray in gratitude for the life of mothers who perhaps are no longer with us. For people who are so defined by their self-less giving to others, it is our day to give to them. And we know how much we need to be grateful for our mothers and how much we need to support the very idea of motherhood. In our world today, the traditional understanding of the family is something that is becoming more and more rare. While many Mom’s excel in the workplace, we don’t always have an appreciation for the Mom who wants to embrace that more traditional model of mothering. I came across a little story this week that puts things in an interesting perspective.
Listen to this mother who writes, “I was sick of hearing the phrase, ‘just a mother’ when others would speak of my occupation. ‘Oh, you’re just a mother’ they would say as they told of stories of their career successes. Well, I found myself in the same situation one day when I was at our town hall. The clerk, obviously a career woman, poised, efficient and possessed of a high-sounding title like ‘official interrogater’ or ‘town registrar’ asked, ‘And what is your occupation?’ I don’t know where they came from but all of a sudden the words popped out of my mouth, ‘I am a research associate in the field of child development and human relations.’ The clerk paused, pen frozen in mid-air. I repeated the title slowly, ‘I am a research associate in the field of child development and human relations.’ The clerk wrote my pompous title in bold black ink on the official questionnaire. The clerk said, ‘Might I ask just what you do in your field?’ I replied, ‘I have a continuing program of research, in the laboratory and in the field. Of course, the job is one of the most demanding in the Humanities, and I often work fourteen hours a day for the job is more challenging than most run-of-the-mill careers and the rewards are in satisfaction rather than just money.’ There was an increasing note of respect in the clerk’s voice. She completed the form, stood up, and personally escorted me to the door. As I drove into our driveway, buoyed by my glamorous new career, I was greeted by three of my lab assistants, ages 13, 7, and 3. And upstairs I could hear our next experimental model, six months old, in the child development program, testing out a new vocal pattern.”
Motherhood is by far the most challenging and the most rewarding occupation there is. As we look around at our world and ask what kind of a society we hope for, it seems that what our world needs more of are the values that we associate with women and particularly with mothers. We need a world that values the preciousness of life and of being life-giving, one that is nurturing and compassionate and gentle; rather than a society that defined as a culture of death, destroying life, full of greed, selfishness and a lust for power, position and possessions. There is a lot that our world can learn from mothers.
In so many ways, mothers are the model Christian disciple. In our daily Mass readings since last Sunday, Jesus has been continually defining His disciples, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The characteristic of a Christian is that of love. Well, mothers have certainly gotten that message. Mother’s are an embodiment of love – they love without restriction, without reservation, without counting the cost. I think of the wonderful hymn, Gentle Woman, which says, “Gentle woman, peaceful dove; Teach us wisdom; teach us love.” That is what our spiritual mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, does so well. Mary, like any good mother, knew her son well. As a good mother she did her best to protect Him, lead Him, and guide Him towards the things that are happy and good and holy. As a good Mother, she played a critical role in building up the kingdom of God. Just as our Blessed Mother Mary had a unique role in shaping the life of her Son, so every mother is called to shape the religious life of their own children. All mothers nurture their children in the light of faith so they can truly discover their identity in God’s sight. For most of us, this is what our own mothers have done so well for us.
So, let us all give thanks to God this day for the gift of our mothers in this life and the gift of our spiritual mother Mary. May we learn from them the ways of love that they have learned so well from Jesus.
Let us end with a prayer for our mothers. Please turn towards your mother – or any mother near you – now and extend your hands over them in prayer. “Loving God, as a mother gives life and nourishment to her children, so you watch over your Church. Bless these women, that they may be strengthened as Christian mothers. Let the example of their faith and love shine forth. Grant that we, their sons and daughters, may honor them always with a profound spirit of respect. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Happy Mother’s Day and may God give you peace.
Friday, May 7, 2010
By Lisa Miller
Three Cheers for the Bishops: They're righteous on immigration.
From the magazine issue dated May 10, 2010
Let's hear it for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I'm not even remotely joking. Catholic bishops, both in the U.S. and abroad, have taken a justified beating in the press of late (including in this magazine) over their defensive and self-serving efforts to explain the Vatican hierarchy's role in the sex-abuse crisis that continues to roil Europe. But, as my grandfather used to say, when they're right, they're right. On the question of immigration reform and, in particular, on Arizona's new law S.B. 1070, the bishops aren't just right. They're righteous.
The law, which Gov. Jan Brewer signed last week, essentially allows local police to investigate—and then detain or trigger deportation proceedings against—any person about whom they have a "reasonable suspicion" of residing in Arizona without documentation. (Just how law-enforcement officers will do this without violating the protections guaranteed by the Constitution will be the focus of forthcoming lawsuits.) After the bill passed, Cardinal Roger Mahony, who grew up in Los Angeles—a city where half the residents are of Hispanic or Latino origin—vented on his blog. Careful parsing has characterized bishops' public statements of late; here Mahony lets it rip. S.B. 1070 is "the country's most retrogressive, mean-spirited, and useless anti-immigrant law," he wrote—a product of "totally flawed reasoning: that immigrants come to our country to rob, plunder, and consume public resources." He went on to compare the legislation to incipient Nazism.
Diverse religious groups are condemning the law and calling for federal immigration reform, but Catholic prelates have taken the lead. In March the bishops of Arizona wrote publicly against S.B. 1070, saying it could "be detrimental to public safety and ... divide families." Around that time, Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo met with Texas Sen. John Cornyn, in hopes of persuading the Republican to take up a legislative fight on behalf of immigrants' rights. "We've been very concerned with how we treat human beings," says Bishop John Wester, chair of the Committee on Migration and Refugee Services for the USCCB. "We believe that human beings are suffering and being put in an untenable position because of our broken legal system. With S.B. 1070, those problems are made worse. This is very scary to us." A theology that upholds "the dignity of human life," he explains, respects all life. It doesn't criminalize the desire to feed one's family. It doesn't make certain people second-class citizens
The bishops take a perverse pride in maintaining minority positions on social questions—women's ordination, civil unions, embryonic-stem-cell research—and surely the mishandled sex-abuse fiasco further mutes their moral voice. On immigration, though, their refusal to see morality as a popularity contest serves them well. No issue threatens to divide Americans or awaken slumbering racism more than immigration. Polling is hard to come by, but according to Rasmussen, 60 percent of Americans support the Arizona law. Reminding Christians of their responsibility to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger is just the kind of bridge-building rhetoric both sides need to hear.
Theological arguments aside, the bishops also have a practical stake in fighting the law and supporting federal immigration reform. The number of Hispanics in America has grown from about 6 million in 1960 to about 50 million today. Nearly 70 percent of Hispanics in America are Catholic. With whites abandoning Catholicism in droves, a growing, vital American church depends on Hispanic families. When those families are terrorized by irregular enforcement of federal immigration laws, it's in the bishops' best interests to help them.
They may be bruised from their recent defeat in the health-care wars, but the bishops are arming again—this time with new allies. Bishop Wester says he has met with Sen. Chuck Schumer, the leading Democratic proponent of immigration reform, and together they're shopping for bipartisan support. Has Wester found a Republican Bart Stupak, a centrist who might take the high road on behalf of the tired and poor? "In a word, no," Wester answers. "I have talked to some who would be willing to vote for immigration reform if it was balanced and had a chance, but they won't stake their political careers on it if it has no chance." More evidence, if any were needed, that in an election year, justice takes a back seat to politics.
Lisa Miller is NEWSWEEK's religion editor.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Saturday, May 1, 2010
I want to begin tonight with a bit of a sing-a-long. I think it is a song you know, so I’ll sing and then invite everyone to repeat: “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
There is a story about the renowned artist Paul Gustave Dore who lost his passport while traveling in Europe. When he came to a border crossing, he explained his predicament to one of the guards. Giving his name to the official, Dore hoped he would be recognized and allowed to pass. The guard, however, said that many people attempted to cross the border by claiming to be persons they were not. Dore insisted that he was the man he claimed to be. “All right,” said the official, “we'll give you a test, and if you pass it we'll allow you to go through.” Handing him a pencil and a sheet of paper, he told the artist to sketch several peasants standing nearby. Dore did it so quickly and skillfully that the guard was convinced he was indeed who he claimed to be. His action confirmed his identity.
Jesus said in our Gospel passage today, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Or, as our sing-a-long reminded us, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
Our Scriptures today cause us to ask whether or not people can tell who we, as Christians, are. Think about that for a minute – how does someone know who you are? Often a uniform helps – we can pick out a police man or a fireman quickly. We can pick out a priest in his collar, or a member of a religious Order in their habit - like the distinctive Franciscan habit that we wear here at St. Leonard’s. I’m sure many of you wear a cross, or a saint’s medal, or carry a Rosary. But, a uniform doesn’t make the person, or in the words of Shakespeare in Measure for Measure, “The hood does not make a monk.”
Don’t get me wrong, uniforms, clerical garb or religious habits all have their place. We are, after all, symbolic beings who express ourselves in symbolic forms. And Jesus Himself wrestled with the question of how to distinguish His followers from non-believers around them. But His answer is very different than mere habits and uniforms, crosses and rosaries. For Jesus the essential mark of distinction between Christians and non-Christians is not in the way we dress but in the way we live - and most importantly in the way we love.
We heard today, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Or to phrase it just a bit differently, Love is the Christian identity. Love is the Christian uniform. Love is the Christian habit.
Jesus wants the world to recognize us as Christians. We need to evangelize and witness and preach to the people around us; the people we encounter every day. But effective evangelization and witnessing usually has less to do with how eloquently we speak and more to do with how faithfully and lovingly we live. As St Francis of Assisi told his brothers, “Preach the gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words.”
You’ve heard the statement before, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” The way to be a convicted Christian is by living and loving in such a way that through us people begin to have a glimpse of the unconditional love that God has shown us in Christ. The best habit we can wear is to love everyone the way Christ loves – without restriction, without judgment, without condition. The love of Christ, leads us to passionately proclaim His message, to feed those who are hungry without thought, to give shelter to the homeless, to reach out to the lost and forsaken, to support life from natural conception to natural death and at every stage in between.
Put on the garment of love and show it to all whom you meet. I’ll end with the words of Blessed Mother Teresa which capture well the love of Christ. She wrote, “People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Love them anyway! If you are kind, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway! The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway! Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway! What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway! People really need help but may attack you if you try to help them. Help them anyway! Give the world your best and it will hurt you. Give your best anyway! In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
“This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” My brothers and sisters, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
May God give you peace.
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