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Bishops’ Conference President, Chairman of USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Catholic Charities USA CEO Welcome Passage of the FIRST STEP Act Through Congress
Posted on 12/21/2018 16:36 PM (USCCB News Releases)
WASHINGTON—Following the passage of the FIRST STEP Act in Congress, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Frank J. Dewane, Bishop of Venice , FL, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and Sr. Donna Markham, O.P, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, praised Congress for passing the FIRST STEP Act.
The full statement is as follows:
The First Step Act is a true first step towards long-term criminal justice system reform. The Act provides meaningful reform to our nation’s mandatory minimum sentences and “three-strike” policies. This reform provides a more just and equitable criminal justice system. In addition, the Act provides valuable incentives for prisoners to participate in vocational and rehabilitative programs helping to prepare them for reintegration into society. The reauthorization of the Second Chance Act provides access to meaningful local and faith-based programs that help returning citizens contribute to their communities and families.
In response to the passage Cardinal DiNardo, President of USCCB, stated:
“We are grateful to the members and staff of the Senate and the House for the truly historic bipartisan collaboration that was necessary to pass this bill before Christmas. We also thank the President and his staff for their support. The First Step Act advances the causes of justice and mercy in our criminal justice system. We stand with victims of crime, and we refuse to give up on those who have committed crimes.”
Bishop Dewane, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development also stated:
“More reform is needed in the future, but now is a time to celebrate that our sentencing laws will promote greater fairness and justice, and our prisons will be better at rehabilitating prisoners, which benefits the whole community.”
Sister Donna Markham, CCUSA President and CEO, said:
“This is a true Christmas gift to families who have been impacted by unjust sentencing policies. Catholic Charities agencies continue to minister to our brothers and sisters returning to their families, and today’s bill will make meaningful progress towards improving those efforts. Reauthorizing the Second Chance Act allows us to continue providing effective reentry programming to reduce recidivism and address intergenerational poverty.”
Keywords: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Bishop Frank J. Dewane, Sister Donna Markham, Catholic Charities USA, President Donald Trump, FIRST STEP Act, criminal justice system, reform, Second Chance Act, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives
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U.S. Bishops Will Gather for Seven Days of Prayer and Reflection at Invitation of Pope Francis; Papal Preacher to Direct Retreat Taking Place January 2-8
Posted on 12/21/2018 07:46 AM (USCCB News Releases)
WASHINGTON— Catholic bishops from across the United States will begin the new year taking part in a spiritual retreat for seven days at Mundelein Seminary January 2 to 8, 2019. Preacher to the Papal Household, Capuchin Friar Father Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap., will direct the retreat under the theme of “He appointed Twelve, to be with Him and to Send Out to Preach” based on Mark 3:14. The retreat is taking place at the invitation of Pope Francis who has asked all bishops in the United States to pause in prayer as the Church seeks to respond to the signs of the times.
The structure of the retreat will emphasize quiet reflection, including silent meal times, and will offer daily Mass, time for personal and communal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, vespers, and an opportunity for confession. The next business meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is scheduled for June 2019. No ordinary business will be conducted at the January retreat.
Cardinal DiNardo expresses his gratitude to Pope Francis for offering the services of his personal preacher for the retreat and offers special thanks to Cardinal Blase Cupich for hosting the retreat in the Archdiocese of Chicago. The Cardinal is also asking the faithful to join in prayer for the U.S. bishops throughout the duration of the retreat.
“I am grateful to the Holy Father for calling the bishops and me to step back and enter into this focused time of listening to God as we respond to the intense matters before us in the weeks and months ahead. I also humbly ask the laity, our priests and religious for your prayers for my brother bishops and me as we join in solidarity to seek wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit. Pray also for the survivors of sexual abuse that their suffering may serve to strengthen us all for the hard task of rooting out a terrible evil from our Church and our society so that such suffering is never multiplied.”
On February 21-24, 2019, Cardinal DiNardo will join presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences for a Vatican summit on the clerical sex abuse crisis and child protection. The pope had announced in September that he was calling all the presidents of bishop’s conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic churches and representatives of the leadership groups of men and women religious orders to the Vatican to address the crisis.
Father Cantalamessa was appointed the Preacher to the Papal Household by Pope John Paul II in 1980. He has remained in this position through the pontificates of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis and is the only person allowed to preach to the Pope.
Mundelein Seminary, located on the campus of the University of St. Mary of the Lake, is the principal seminary and school of theology for the formation of priests in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. It is the largest Catholic seminary in the United States and home to 200 seminarians from 34 dioceses across the country and around the world.
Keywords: Pope Francis, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap., Cardinal Blase Cupich, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Mundelein Seminary, silent retreat, University of Saint Mary of the Lake, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, clergy sex abuse crisis
Bishops’ Conference Praises Senate for Passage of the FIRST STEP Act and Encourages Passage in the House
Posted on 12/20/2018 10:49 AM (USCCB News Releases)
WASHINGTON—Following the passage of the FIRST STEP Act in the U.S. Senate this week, Frank J. Dewane, Bishop of Venice, FL, and Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, praised the Senate for passing the bill and encouraged the House to do likewise.
The full statement is as follows:
“I am grateful to the members and staff in the U.S. Senate, especially Chairman Chuck Grassley and Senators Mike Lee, Dick Durbin, and Cory Booker, for years of hard work and bipartisan collaboration that culminated in the resounding passage of the FIRST STEP Act last night. I am also grateful to President Trump and his staff for their strong support and advocacy for this legislation.
The FIRST STEP Act contains several much-needed reforms for the federal prison system, including sentencing reform, strongly limiting the practice of shackling pregnant women in prison, establishing a maximum geographical distance between prisoners and their families, enhancing compassionate release for terminally ill and elderly prisoners, assisting returning citizens with obtaining government identification documents, and fixing the time credit system. The bill also reauthorizes the Second Chance Act which will provide important resources for reentering citizens after release from incarceration. I am very grateful to Senator Lankford for resolving a religious liberty concern that arose in a late version of the bill, correcting the issue prior to final passage. The bill contains many more fine provisions which will help foster a more just and merciful criminal justice system.
Today, the House of Representatives has an opportunity to pass this improved version of the bill and send it to the President for his signature. Our nation’s criminal justice system is in need of reform, and this legislation is a worthy 'first step' in the right direction and a model of bipartisan collaboration and good policy making. As we approach the Nativity of our Lord, we are reminded of the need to promote justice and mercy in our society. In this spirit, I call on the House to take up this legislation and pass the FIRST STEP Act."
Keywords: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Bishop Frank J. Dewane, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, First Step Act, President Trump, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, federal prison system, Second Chance Act, religious liberty, criminal justice system, justice, mercy
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Posted on 12/20/2018 09:00 AM (CNA Columns: Guest Columnist)
A Chinese scientist, Jiankui He, last month announced the birth of twin babies whose genes he claims to have modified while they were embryos. On that day, the world woke up to the realization that the age of GMO humans is upon us, with all its troubling ethical implications and complications. The truth is, the science is complicated but the ethics are simple.
While committed to pressing ahead on this kind of research, the scientific community has denounced Dr. He and declared itself horrified by his recklessness in crossing what has been, up to now, a bioethical bright line. Laypeople are also concerned, and wondering how human dignity and human rights are to be kept at the center of mankind’s new ability to permanently alter the human genome in the laboratory. Guidelines must be formulated and laid down in law, and all of us need to be prepared to voice our opinion and demand adherence to the highest principles as this unfolds.
Catholics, thankfully, can turn to the Church for a deeply reasoned approach to the bioethics of human genetic manipulation, one whose “fundamental principle expresses a great “yes” to human life.” Around the time that the CRISPR gene-editing technique used by Dr. He appeared on the scientific horizon, the Vatican released Dignitas personae in 2008. This document evaluates, in detail, the ethics of genetic modification, and explains how a technique developed in hopes of relieving human suffering can be used morally. And also how it needs to be prevented from turning into a tool for scientists with a eugenic perspective.
It’s important to understand that genetic engineering is aimed at curing genetically-based diseases, and that there are two types of engineering: somatic and germ line. Somatic cell gene therapy seeks to eliminate a genetic defect on cells that are not reproductive, for instance the cells of the pancreas in a person with diabetes. The change would only affect the person treated, not their offspring. Germ line therapy involves changing the DNA of reproductive cells, meaning the changes will be passed down from generation to generation. Somatic therapy is morally licit, but germ line therapy (used by Dr. He to create twin girls) is not.
First, the effect of gene modification in embryos--both on the subject themselves and their descendants--are completely unknown at this time. For instance, one dream of scientists is to find a way to edit out the gene that causes sickle cell from embryos. But this a gene that is thought to have evolved as a protection against malaria. Removing it may leave the subject, and his or her descendants, more susceptible to infections or blood disorders. There is simply no way of knowing. This coupled with the fact that all embryo modifications are done without the subjects’ consent (and the consent of future generations) make germ cell editing a grave abuse of human rights. From Dignitas personae: “..in the present state of research, it is not morally permissible to act in a way that may cause possible harm to the resulting progeny.”
Second, although genetic engineering is touted as a way to eliminate disease, it is also proposed for enhancement purposes. Dr. He, for instance, does not claim to have cured the girls of a disease, but believes he made them resistant to HIV--an enhancement. This application clears the way for a market-based form of eugenics aimed at improving the gene pool. Our modern culture is already too comfortable with eugenics as it is practiced through ultrasound prenatal diagnosis. Today, fetuses found to be “defective” are routinely aborted. Using genetic modification, wealthy parents would have the ability to “enhance” their children with favorable traits. Again from Dignitas personae: “..such manipulation would…lead to indirect social stigma with regard to people who lack certain qualities.” The vision of a world divided into biologically superior and biologically average humans is a chilling one. But it’s no more chilling than a world in which man claims all-encompassing dominion over human life, choosing and deleting, enhancing and rejecting on the way to “perfection”. This is a mad kind of hubris. It refuses to accept human life in its finite nature and rejects an attitude of respect for all people.
Thirdly, genetic modification of germ lines can be done only by creating multiple embryos in a laboratory and discarding most of them. The idea of creating multiple human beings in order to genetically edit them, hoping for one or two successes and subsequently destroying the failures is amazing in its cruelty. Even those who may be used to the idea of in vitro fertilization as a therapy for infertility are shocked by the process whereby a couple would request the creation of embryo sons and daughters in order to give life to the “best” edited version. Whether done for infertility or genetic enhancement, this is a grave assault on human dignity.
Sounds complicated, and it is. But it’s the science that’s complicated, not the ethics. And although it’s a new and brave world we find ourselves in, we do have, thanks to the Church, a principled way forward on gene therapy. We also have the right, and duty, to demand from lawmakers and scientists that something as significant and morally delicate as the manipulation of the human genome be done using standards that have human dignity and human rights at their very core.
Posted on 12/19/2018 00:51 AM (USCCB News Releases)
WASHINGTON—Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Alexander Salazar from the office of Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
The resignation was publicized in Washington, December 19, 2018, by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles said in a statement that the announcement comes after Archbishop José H. Gomez requested a full review of all allegations of sexual misconduct involving minors to bring up to date the 2004 Report to the People of God lists of accused priests. More information will be available from the Archdiocese at www.AngelusNews.com
Bishop Alexander Salazar was born on November 28, 1949 in San Jose, Costa Rica and later moved with his family to the United States.
In 1977, Salazar entered St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, California. He was ordained to the priesthood on June 16, 1984. After ordination he served as associate pastor at St. Gregory the Great, in Whittier; Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Pasadena, and at the Cathedral of St. Vibiana. From 1995-2004, he was pastor of St. Teresa of Avila Church in Silverlake and served as Dean of Deanery 14. He also served as a member the Council of Priests, College of Consultors, and on the Clergy Pension Board. He additionally served on the Archdiocesan Personnel Board. In 2003, he was named Vice-Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Honorary Chaplain of His Holiness.
On September 7, 2004, he was appointed as Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles and Titular Bishop of Nesqually by Pope John Paul II. He was ordained as auxiliary bishop on November 4, 2004 by Roger Cardinal Mahony who appointed him Episcopal Vicar of the San Pedro Region.
Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Pope Francis, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio, Auxiliary Bishops Alexander Salazar , Archdiocese of Los Angeles
Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration and Bishops from Texas Dioceses Issue Statement on the Death of Jakelin Caal Maquin
Posted on 12/18/2018 11:28 AM (USCCB News Releases)
WASHINGTON--On December 8, seven-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin died in the custody of United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP). She and her father had been apprehended the evening of December 6 in a remote stretch of the U.S./Mexico border in Antelope Wells, New Mexico. Most Reverend Joe S. Vásquez, Bishop of Austin, and Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, along with Most Reverend Mark J. Seitz, Bishop of El Paso and Most Reverend Gerald Kicanas, Administrator of the Diocese of Las Cruces, issued the following statement:
“We are extremely distressed at the news of seven-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin’s death shortly after crossing the U.S./Mexico border with her father and turning themselves into CBP in search of asylum in the United States. Our prayers and heart-felt condolences go out to Jakelin’s family. The death of a child is always a moment of great sadness, a jarring disruption of the natural order of life. From this tragedy, we must remember this profound human consequence of our failed immigration policies, including also that restrictions on the flow of asylum seekers at the border can push more families to seek entrance between ports of entry which place them at greater risk. Jakelin’s death is a tragic reminder of the desperate situation that many fleeing violence, persecution, and poverty face - both in their home countries and now at our border.
We welcome the investigation of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. We recognize the work and commitment of CBP officers to ensure our safety, but urge CBP leadership to critically review policies regarding the care of vulnerable populations in their custody. We pledge our assistance to help CBP do so.
As we prepare to celebrate Christmas and the birth of Jesus, himself a child whose parents were told “there is no room,” we continue to recognize and affirm that seeking asylum and protection is legal. As a nation, we have the obligation to receive distraught individuals and families with welcome, compassion, and humane treatment. We must heed the words of Christ that “Whatsoever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Committee on Migration, Bishop Mark J. Seitz, Bishop Gerald Kicanas, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez
U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities Calls NIH’s Dr. Francis Collins Defense of Using Baby Body Parts from Abortions for Research “Deeply Disturbing”
Posted on 12/18/2018 06:02 AM (USCCB News Releases)
WASHINGTON—Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), recently defended current NIH research that uses the body parts of babies destroyed by elective abortions and said that fetal tissue research “will continue to be the mainstay.”
Greg Schleppenbach, Associate Director of the U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, responds with the following statement:
“Dr. Collins’ comments are deeply disturbing. Research using fetal tissue from aborted babies is unethical and should not continue under his leadership. The use of fetal remains procured from abortions can be interpreted as legitimizing abortion by saying it is an important source for research. It also requires close collaboration with the abortion industry. Every abortion stops a beating heart, unjustly denying a defenseless human being of her or his life. There is nothing pro-life about further violating these aborted babies by scavenging, even commodifying, their body parts for use in research. The remains of aborted babies are human remains and should be given the full respect they deserve. Millions of pro-life Americans find such research morally offensive and do not want their tax dollars to be used to pay for it.
Researchers have demonstrated the ability to both pursue excellence in research and to avoid violating the rights and dignity of nascent human beings. Dr. Collins can and should lead the NIH in a way that honors both ends, incentivizing research that all Americans can support.”
Keywords: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, Greg Schleppenbach, Dr. Francis Collins, National Institutes of Health (NIH), elective abortions, research, fetal tissue, abortion industry, unethical, commodifying, human remains, tax dollars, pro-life, human life, human dignity, pro-life, human beings
Posted on 12/5/2018 09:00 AM (CNA Columns: Guest Columnist)
In September, we invited world-renowned painter Igor Babailov—the artist behind official paintings of Pope Benedict XVI and several world leaders—to the Busch School of Business to teach our students how to draw.
On the first day of class, Igor ripped a large sheet of paper out of his sketchpad, crumpled it up, and tossed it on a wooden crate under beam of light. “Look at this form,” he said, ”the curves and creases, the way the light shines on it and creates shadows.” He rolled up his sleeves and paced the floor. Then, in a solemn tone (to which his Russian accent gave even more gravity), he added, “This form, this reality, will never happen again. It’s unrepeatable. If we don’t draw it, it’s lost to the world forever.”
Igor wasn’t interested in teaching us merely how to draw. He wanted to teach us how to see—an essential skill for any business student (who must see the human person who is at the heart of business), but a grave responsibility for those who hold life and death in their hands: pregnant mothers, medical professionals, lawmakers, judges, and all of us who march for life because we are the arms and legs of those who cannot yet march for themselves.
The theme for this year’s March for Life, “Unique From Day One”, is represented with a fingerprint (the same symbol on the cover of our new book, Unrepeatable, about the responsibility to cultivate the seeds of life that begin at conception). Everybody knows that each person has a unique set of fingerprints. Yet these are only biological markers. They point to something much more important.
The late Pope John Paul II said that “the body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it.”
In other words, when we see a body, we are seeing more than a body. And when we see a fingerprint, we should see more than just a fingerprint. Our biological lives point to a mystery hidden from eternity in God.
I am pro-life. But I am not just pro-biological life. I am pro-Life (with a capital L) because Life is more than biology.
There are three different forms of life that each person is created for. The Greek of the New Testament uses three different words for “life” to express this reality.
The first word, bios, refers to biological life. It’s where the term “biological” comes from. The scientific evidence is overwhelming that every biological life is unique from day one. It is a scientific fact that a new organism, with its own DNA, exists after fertilization and did not exist before.
The second Greek word used to refer to life is psuche, which refers to the life of the soul: the mind, emotions, heart, and will. This life, too, is unique and unrepeatable. Each of us has a rich interior life and a story that needs to be told.
The tragedy of abortion is that it’s not only the loss of a biological life; it’s also (and always) the loss of a story. It’s the loss of a vocation—the call of a person to live out and manifest to the world a singular aspect of God, whom they image in a way that no one else ever has and no one else ever can.
Lastly, the third Greek word for life in the Gospels is zoe. Zoe refers to the divine life, the uncreated life of God himself, which all of us are called to participate in. This is the word that John uses in the opening lines of his Gospel: “In Him was life (zoe), and the life (zoe) was the light of men.”
Even the way that a person shares in this divine life, this zoe, is unique because everyone has a personal relationship with God.
So when we see a fingerprint, let us remember that it’s only a thin surface, a window into the splendor of Life—biological, spiritual, and divine—that each of us, including the unborn, was created to share in.
Those who defend abortion are not bad people. They need our prayers to have their eyes opened. To see.
For this, the blind beggar Bartimaeus, who prayed, “Lord, grant that I may see,” gives us a model.
On this March for Life 2019, let us pray that all people have the eyes to see life—all three forms of it.
Posted on 11/29/2018 09:00 AM (CNA Columns: Bishops' Corner)
Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher who lived four centuries before Christ, proposed the scientific theory of horror vacui. Based on his observations, he concluded that nature fills every empty space with something, even if it is only air. In his works Gargantua and Pantagruel, the Renaissance priest, doctor and scientist Rabelais popularized this idea with the phrase Natura abhorret vacuum (“nature abhors a vacuum”). Where there is a void, either mass or energy rushes in to occupy the empty space. In truth, this theory applies not merely to physics, but to life.
For the last thirty years, the secularization of culture and the banishing of God from the public forum have created a great religious void. More and more Americans have been abandoning the practice of religion. Since 1990, the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has tripled from eight percent to twenty-two percent.
Today there are about five million fewer mainline Protestants and three million fewer Catholics than there were ten years ago. For every new convert to Catholicism, six others leave the Church. Young people between the ages of 18 and 30 are much less interested in religion than their parents. As Alan Cooperman, the director of religion research for the Pew Research Center, has observed, “the country is becoming less religious as a whole, and it’s happening across the board.”
Nonetheless, the human person is innately religious. More than just being a material creature on the same level as irrational animals, the human person has reason and is always in search of meaning. “Nature abhors a vacuum.” And, so into the void created by abandoning religion as a source of meaning, other forms of discovering meaning have rushed in.
In an attempt to respond to the spiritual dimension of human life, some people are turning to New Age beliefs. New Age adherents, now nearly one-fourth of the population, have replaced the personal God of revelation with a spiritual energy that animates the cosmos. They are making use of crystals, tarot cards, astrology, psychics, and even yoga as a spiritual exercise to tap into this impersonal energy in order to manage their lives and find self-fulfillment.
For New Age adherents, there is no absolute truth. All beliefs are of equal value. And, since they deny the existence of sin, they do not accept the need for a Redeemer. At best, New Age adherents trade the transcendental for the immanent, the spiritual for the physical. At worse, they reject God and unwittingly fall into the hands of the Adversary.
And, then there are others who reject God and consciously choose to turn to one form or another of the occult. It is astounding to realize that there are almost 1.5 million people who are involved in Wicca, a pagan form of witchcraft. Ever since the Garden of Eden and our first parents’ sin of attempting to be like God, people have been looking for ways to have the same knowledge and power as God himself. Today there are more witches than Presbyterians, more people involved in the occult than there are Muslims in the United States.
The more individuals extol themselves as self-sufficient and exalt reason over faith, they turn from God and enthrone Satan. Attempting to control their lives through the use of the occult, they hand themselves over to Satan who uses them to destroy the peace and harmony God plans for us. Satan is the great deceiver. He makes people believe that they have absolute control of their lives. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “[Satan’s] logic is simple: if there is no heaven there is no hell; if there is no hell, then there is no sin; if there is no sin, then there is no judge, and if there is no judgment, then evil is good and good is evil.”
It would be foolish to close our eyes to the unmistakable increase of the devil’s activity in our society. Lack of civility. Hate speech. The tearing down of people’s good name. The blood shed on our streets. The breakdown of family life. The widespread extolling of vices contrary to the gospel. The delight in exposing the sins of others. Abuse in all its forms. Abortion. The persecution of the Church. All these are born of anger, hatred, envy, pride, greed and lust. They cause division and are the fingerprints of the Evil One.
On the day after his election to the papacy, Pope Francis shocked the cardinals who had placed him on the Chair of Peter. He said, “Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil. When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil.” The Pope courageously acknowledged the reality of Satan that day and many other times thereafter. And the Pope provided the only way to banish the devil from our midst: professing faith in Jesus. Professing our faith means quite simply staying close to Jesus within the Church, attending Mass at least each Sunday and Holy Day, receiving the sacraments and practicing charity. In other words, the only permanent antidote to evil in the world is the presence of God who leaves in us no room for evil.
Posted on 11/27/2018 09:00 AM (CNA Columns: Guest Columnist)
The Catholic Church in the United States has received staggering blows of late. The sinful and criminal behavior of a former leading prelate, the statewide investigations into clergy sex abuse across the country, the Vatican’s confused and vapid response – all have left many of the faithful in despair. Some American Catholics are even questioning their fidelity to Mother Church. It may seem curious, therefore, that comes now a new book recounting the conversion stories of sixteen leading intellectuals. Of course, there are no coincidences in the often-charming world of God. In Mind, Heart, & Soul: Intellectuals and the Path to Rome, Robert George and R.J. Snell offer a refreshing and inspirational reminder from some of today’s greatest minds of the many splendored reasons to be Catholic.
Professors George and Snell preface their work with this simple observation: “Every Catholic is a convert.” As explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission” through baptism – whether as babies or adults. Nevertheless, as George and Snell aptly note, there is something fascinating about adult converts to Catholicism. “For many, although certainly not all, converts entering the Catholic Church as adults, whether from another Christian community, another religion, or no faith at all,” they write, “the Catholic intellectual tradition was experienced as part of the struggle to come home.”
The sixteen interviews in Mind, Heart, & Soul were completed before the Church’s “summer of shame.” Neither former-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s horrific behavior or the Pennsylvania grand jury’s report on clergy sexual abuse had become public. Yet, as George and Snell observe in their preface, these conversion stories are “signs that while we do not place our trust in princes (Ps. 146:3), we continue to trust in a God who does not abandon us and who, in the words of one Eucharistic prayer, will ‘never cease to gather a people to [Himself], so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to [His] name.”
The converts, as well as those who interviewed them, are an impressive lot. They include leading theologians, university professors, scholars, journalists, writers, and a current U.S. bishop. Some are acquaintances. One I consider a friend. Each “conversion story” is as unique as the soul that owns it.
Readers are invited to contemplate the spiritual truths that prompted these intellectuals to find their way to the Church. Dominican Father Thomas Joseph White grew up in southeast Georgia as the only child of a Jewish father and a Presbyterian mother. He has taken up the task of reintroducing Thomistic thought to an ever-growing secular world. He advises pilgrims, old and new, to engage with God “on God’s terms and according to the Church’s teachings.” For all believers searching for the truth, “[t]he real answer is to enter the Catholic Church and live the sacramental life, and not despair in the search for the truth, because God is always very close to us and will give us the means to arrive at the destination if we want him to do so.”
Similarly, Harvard Law Professor Adrian Vermeule matter-of-factly remarks that “the depths of the Church are not disturbed by the storms that pass to and fro on the surface.” Rather, he says , “the Church seems to me an institution whose foundations are as strong as iron. The turmoil will pass away; episodes, scandals and debates will come and go; but the line and witness of Peter’s successors will never fail.” And my dear friend Hadley Arkes, one of the country’s foremost experts on natural law, remarks that “the Church was and is the main refuge for sanity.” Arkes’s odds-on assertion: “[W]hen the Church stands contra mundum, against the currents of moral opinion on any issue, my betting is that the Church has it right.”
It’s important to point out that Mind, Heart, & Soul is no dry recitation of the intellectual integrity of Catholic teaching. Not at all. The volume’s conversion stories also highlight the importance of friendship in bringing people to the Church. Kirsten Powers, nationally-known journalist and political analyst, credits the dynamism of Ann Corkery and the late-Kate O’Beirne for her decision to become Catholic. Nor did Arkes journey alone with his formidable mind on the road to Rome. Friends Robbie George, the late-Dan Robinson, as friend and colleague at Amherst, and now-deceased Opus Dei priest Father Arne Panula walked along with him. For these interviewees, friends here on earth helped them cultivate a friendship with Christ.
Mind, Heart, & Soul offers hope at this most challenging time for the Church. “[I]f converts continue to enter our Church, bruised and shattered as she is," George and Snell write, “it is because of the grace of God.”
No, we must never dismiss God’s grace and His willingness to accompany each one of us in finding our way home.