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Posted on 02/8/2019 09:00 AM (CNA Columns: Bishops' Corner)
“Let not your heart be troubled!” (John 14:1)
In the face of growing confusion about the doctrine of the Faith, many bishops, priests, religious and lay people of the Catholic Church have requested that I make a public testimony about the truth of revelation. It is the shepherds' very own task to guide those entrusted to them on the path of salvation. This can only succeed if they know this way and follow it themselves. The words of the Apostle here apply: “For above all I have delivered unto you what I have received” (1 Cor. 15:3). Today, many Christians are no longer even aware of the basic teachings of the Faith, so there is a growing danger of missing the path to eternal life. However, it remains the very purpose of the Church to lead humanity to Jesus Christ, the light of the nations (see LG 1). In this situation, the question of orientation arises. According to John Paul II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a “safe standard for the doctrine of the faith” (Fidei Depositum IV). It was written with the aim of strengthening the Faith of the brothers and sisters whose belief has been massively questioned by the “dictatorship of relativism.”
1. The one and triune God revealed in Jesus Christ
The epitome of the Faith of all Christians is found in the confession of the Most Holy Trinity. We have become disciples of Jesus, children and friends of God by being baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The distinction of the three persons in the divine unity (CCC 254) marks a fundamental difference in the belief in God and the image of man from that of other religions. Religions disagree precisely over this belief in Jesus the Christ. He is true God and true Man, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. The Word made flesh, the Son of God, is the only Savior of the world (CCC 679) and the only Mediator between God and men (CCC 846). Therefore, the first letter of John refers to one who denies His divinity as an antichrist (1 John 2:22), since Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is from eternity one in being with God, His Father (CCC 663). We are to resist the relapse into ancient heresies with clear resolve, which saw in Jesus Christ only a good person, brother and friend, prophet and moralist. He is first and foremost the Word that was with God and is God, the Son of the Father, Who assumed our human nature to redeem us and Who will come to judge the living and the dead. Him alone, we worship in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit as the Only and True God (CCC 691).
2. The Church
Jesus Christ founded the Church as a visible sign and instrument of salvation realized in the Catholic Church (816). He gave His Church, which “emerged from the side of the Christ who died on the Cross” (766), a sacramental constitution that will remain until the Kingdom is fully achieved (CCC 765). Christ, the Head, and the faithful as members of the body, are a mystical person (CCC 795), which is why the Church is sacred, for the one Mediator has designed and sustained its visible structure (CCC 771). Through it the redemptive work of Christ becomes present in time and space via the celebration of the Holy Sacraments, especially in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Holy Mass (CCC 1330). The Church conveys with the authority of Christ the divine revelation, which extends to all the elements of doctrine, “including the moral teaching, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, explained, and observed” (CCC 2035).
3. Sacramental Order
The Church is the universal sacrament of salvation in Jesus Christ (CCC 776). She does not reflect herself, but the light of Christ, which shines on her face. But this happens only when the truth revealed in Jesus Christ becomes the point of reference, rather than the views of a majority or the spirit of the times; for Christ Himself has entrusted the fullness of grace and truth to the Catholic Church (CCC 819), and He Himself is present in the sacraments of the Church.
The Church is not a man-made association whose structure its members voted into being at their will. It is of divine origin. "Christ himself is the author of ministry in the Church. He set her up, gave her authority and mission, orientation and goal (CCC 874). The admonition of the Apostle is still valid today, that cursed is anyone who proclaims another gospel, “even if we ourselves were to give it or an angel from heaven” (Gal 1:8). The mediation of faith is inextricably bound up with the human credibility of its messengers, who in some cases have abandoned the people entrusted to them, unsettling them and severely damaging their faith. Here the Word of Scripture describes those who do not listen to the truth and who follow their own wishes, who flatter their ears because they cannot endure sound doctrine (cf. 2 Tim 4:3-4).
The task of the Magisterium of the Church is to “preserve God’s people from deviations and defections” in order to “guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error” (890). This is especially true with regard to all seven sacraments. The Holy Eucharist is “source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). The Eucharistic Sacrifice, in which Christ includes us in His Sacrifice of the Cross, is aimed at the most intimate union with Him (CCC 1382). Therefore, the Holy Scripture admonishes with regard to the reception of the Holy Communion: “Whoever eats unworthily of the bread and drinks from the Lord's cup makes himself guilty of profaning the body and of the blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27). “Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion” (CCC 1385). From the internal logic of the sacrament, it is understood that divorced and civilly remarried persons, whose sacramental marriage exists before God, as well as those Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Faith and the Church, just as all those who are not disposed to receive the Holy Eucharist fruitfully (CCC 1457), because it does not bring them to salvation. To point this out corresponds to the spiritual works of mercy.
The confession of sins in Holy Confession at least once a year is one of the Church’s commandments (CCC 2042). When the believers no longer confess their sins and no longer experience the absolution of their sins, salvation becomes impossible; after all, Jesus Christ became Man to redeem us from our sins. The power of forgiveness that the Risen Lord has given to the Apostles and their successors in the ministry of bishops and priests applies also for mortal and venial sins which we commit after Baptism. The current popular practice of confession makes it clear that the conscience of the faithful is not sufficiently formed. God's mercy is given to us, that we might fulfil His Commandments to become one with His Holy Will, and not so as to avoid the call to repentance (CCC 1458).
“The priest continues the work of redemption on earth” (CCC 1589). The ordination of the priest “gives him a sacred power” (CCC 1592), which is irreplaceable, because through it Jesus becomes sacramentally present in His saving action. Therefore, priests voluntarily opt for celibacy as "a sign of new life" (CCC 1579). It is about the self-giving in the service of Christ and His coming kingdom.
4. Moral Law
Faith and life are inseparable, for Faith apart from works is dead (CCC 1815). The moral law is the work of divine wisdom and leads man to the promised blessedness (CCC 1950). Consequently, the "knowledge of the divine and natural law is necessary" to do good and reach this goal (CCC 1955). Accepting this truth is essential for all people of good will. For he who dies in mortal sin without repentance will be forever separated from God (CCC 1033). This leads to practical consequences in the lives of Christians, which are often ignored today (cf 2270-2283; 2350-2381). The moral law is not a burden, but part of that liberating truth (cf Jn 8:32) through which the Christian walks on the path of salvation and which may not be relativized.
5. Eternal Life
Many wonder today what purpose the Church still has in its existence, when even bishops prefer to be politicians rather than to proclaim the Gospel as teachers of the Faith. The role of the Church must not be watered down by trivialities, but its proper place must be addressed. Every human being has an immortal soul, which in death is separated from the body, hoping for the resurrection of the dead (CCC 366). Death makes man's decision for or against God definite. Everyone has to face the particular judgement immediately after death (CCC 1021). Either a purification is necessary, or man goes directly into heavenly bliss and is allowed to see God face to face. There is also the dreadful possibility that a person will remain opposed to God to the very end, and by definitely refusing His Love, "condemns himself immediately and forever" (CCC 1022). “God created us without us, but He did not want to save us without us” (CCC 1847). The eternity of the punishment of hell is a terrible reality, which - according to the testimony of Holy Scripture - attracts all who “die in the state of mortal sin” (CCC 1035). The Christian goes through the narrow gate, for “the gate is wide, and the way that leads to ruin is wide, and many are upon it” (Mt 7:13).
To keep silent about these and the other truths of the Faith and to teach people accordingly is the greatest deception against which the Catechism vigorously warns. It represents the last trial of the Church and leads man to a religious delusion, “the price of their apostasy” (CCC 675); it is the fraud of Antichrist. “He will deceive those who are lost by all means of injustice; for they have closed themselves to the love of the truth by which they should be saved” (2 Thess 2:10).
As workers in the vineyard of the Lord, we all have a responsibility to recall these fundamental truths by clinging to what we ourselves have received. We want to give courage to go the way of Jesus Christ with determination, in order to obtain eternal life by following His commandments (CCC 2075).
Let us ask the Lord to let us know how great the gift of the Catholic Faith is, through which opens the door to eternal life. “For he that shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation: The Son of Man also will be ashamed of him, when He shall come in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38). Therefore, we are committed to strengthening the Faith by confessing the truth which is Jesus Christ Himself.
We too, and especially we bishops and priests, are addressed when Paul, the Apostle of Jesus Christ, gives this admonition to his companion and successor, Timothy: “I charge thee, before God and Jesus Christ, Who shall judge the living and the dead, by His coming, and His kingdom: Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine. For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables. But be thou vigilant, labour in all things, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil thy ministry. Be sober.” (2 Tim 4:1-5).
May Mary, the Mother of God, implore for us the grace to remain faithful without wavering to the confession of the truth about Jesus Christ.
United in faith and prayer,
Gerhard Cardinal Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith 2012-2017
Editor's note: After this text was published, the cardinal's office submitted to CNA three amendments to the text originally submitted to CNA. Two were minor syntactical corrections. The third change replaced the word "to" with "cannot" in the following phrase: "just as all who are not properly disposed, to cannot receive the Holy Eucharist fruitfully (CCC 1457) because it does not bring them to salvation."
Posted on 02/5/2019 09:00 AM (CNA Columns: Bishops' Corner)
In The Innocents Abroad, published in1869, Mark Twain humorously narrates his travels thorough Europe and the Holy Land. He goes out of his way to praise the great hospitality that Catholic priests offered to any pilgrim traveling through 19th century Palestine. They readily welcomed all, whether they came “in rags or clad in purple.” Twain was pleasantly surprised by this, because, as he readily confesses, he had been “educated to enmity toward everything that is Catholic.” Enmity toward everything Catholic! Not a thing of the past.
Most recently, the hatred was aimed at one of the most charitable and benevolent group of individuals in this country, the Knights of Columbus. During the Senate Judiciary Committee’s review of Omaha-based lawyer Brian C. Buescher for the position of judge on the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska, Senators Mazie Hirono, a democrat from Hawaii, and Kamala Harris, a democrat from California, grilled Buescher on his membership in the Knights of Columbus. In their questions, they boldly gave voice to an anti-Catholic prejudice in our society.
Hirono accused the Knights of having “taken a number of extreme positions.” And, what are those extreme positions to which she is so vehemently opposed? The Catholic teaching on marriage as a union established by God. The sanctity of human life. The rights of a child in the womb to take his or her place at the banquet of life. For many, when it comes to birthing a child, only a woman has rights. And, when it comes to marriage, only what an individual wants matters. In their eyes, God’s design for his creation cannot limit the freedom of anyone to choose as they wish.
Holding to what the Catholic Church has always taught, according to their line of questioning, now disqualifies someone from public office. In effect, both senators were applying a religious test as a qualification for public office. Responding to this blatant attack on a man’s religion, on January 17, 2018, the United States Senate unanimously passed the resolution that disqualifying a member of the Knights of Columbus for a federal office actually violates the Constitution of the United States. Article VI of the Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
Sadly, this recent attack on Catholicism is not an isolated incident. Last September, Senator Dianne Feinstein expressed serious concern about the qualifications of Amy Barrett for a judgeship on the 7th Circuit. Feinstein is an unflinching supporter of abortion. It was no surprise that she zeroed in on Barrett’s position on Roe v. Wade. Because Barrett is a practicing Catholic who faithfully holds to Catholic teaching on this and other hot button issues, Feinstein remarked “in your case, professor…the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.” Clearly, the Senator sees no place for what the Catholic Church teaches on major moral and societal issues.
It is becoming more and more obvious that the Catholic Church is being targeted as the public enemy of our society. Talk shows and news media attack the Catholic position on the right to life as misogyny and the Catholic teaching on marriage as intolerance and hatred. One can only wonder why those States that are investigating the Catholic Church on its record of protecting children are not looking into other public institutions. Why is there not a comparable investigation into their own school systems or other religious groups? Is the terrible crime of child abuse limited only to Catholics? Today’s media would even have people believe that abuse of minors is becoming more frequent within the Church. Patently false. But, too often facts do not matter when a villain is needed.
Those who advocate for the radical autonomy of the individual find in the Church an indomitable opponent. The Catholic Church stands firm in her teaching on contraception, abortion, stem cell research, in-vitro fertilization, marriage and divorce. The Church teaches that every choice that touches on the gift of life and the beauty of marriage is judged by a law higher than the autonomy of the individual. And, for this reason, today’s secularists judge Catholics as public enemies to the good of the society they wish to construct. A society without God. A society without a future.
Almost every day, a politician or teacher or public speaker is lambasted for a statement that is judged to be homophobic, misogynistic, racist or anti-Semitic. In some cases, not even an apology can save their careers. Yet, a free pass is given by society to any anti-Catholic view or statement. Someone can make an insulting or slanderous remark about Catholics, Catholic teachings or the Church herself and emerge unscathed. In his essay on The Significance of Jacksonian Democracy, historian and Harvard professor Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., himself not a Catholic, made the often cited assertion that anti-Catholic prejudice is “the deepest bias in the history of the American people.” According to Baylor University professor Philip Jenkins, anti-Catholic prejudice is “the last acceptable prejudice.”
Posted on 02/1/2019 09:00 AM (CNA Columns: Guest Columnist)
Has anyone ever told you in life, “you’re one in a million”? For me, that sentence has a whole new meaning after last week.
Being in utero in New York in 1995, my life was somewhat protected under statutes if my birthmother was killed, as by a weapon or in a vehicular accident. Nearly two decades later, a unborn baby in the state is completely unprotected at any stage. In fact, women and unborn babies are in even more danger. From the moment of conception until one minute before being born, an unborn baby can be wiped from existence in the world due to the passage of the Reproductive Health Act.
I used to be proud to say I was adopted from New York. As of last week, I have nothing but sorrow for my home state.
At the age of 23, I may never know the circumstances that brought my birth mother to a delivery room, but I do know that she chose life under difficult circumstances. She seemed to have been the perfect candidate to procure an abortion: a young, middle-class, well-educated, white woman.
I survived her thought of a deadly procedure to stop my heart from beating, or to halt another brainwave, just after six weeks. I survived her enduring thoughts and pressures from society for a young woman to make her situation easier by erasing my existence, and never telling a soul.
One in a million odds seems rare, right? A miracle if anything.
In 1995, I survived both U.S. and New York state law on abortion. These laws took 1.2 million unborn children that same year, according to the CDC. Abortions have only increased in New York since Roe v. Wade with 239 unborn babies stripped of the dignity of life each day.
A procedure that was once intended to be safe, legal, and rare, has now more dangerous (with respect to late-term abortions) and more frequent.
New York state law isn’t all that shocking to most involved in the pro-life movement. New York has always been the sanctuary abortion state, whether the mothers were minors traveling across state lines or desperate third-trimester seekers. In 2003, partial-birth abortion was condemned by federal law and surrounding progressive states, yet New York maintained a voice for so-called “choice”. Between 1975 and 1995, the number of adoptions dramatically dropped by roughly 60,000 adoptions each year.
The root problem with legislation like New York’s new allowance of late-term abortions de-regulation comes from a larger division in today’s political climate. In 1971, Massachusetts' Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy spoke against legislation such as this: “Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized – the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.”
Today, some Democrats support the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion and fist-bump each other on state and federal Senate floors, blocking the right to life of an unborn baby at the gestational age of 20 weeks — even when scientists have overwhelmingly told us “they feel pain!”
Not only do some support late-term abortion, they also believe that if an infant is breathing after a failed abortion, literally born through natural delivery, they should be left to die on a stainless tray in a back room or closet of a hospital.
No longer is it a universal belief that if a human being survives an abortion procedure, their life is worth saving. Our civilized neighbors in some states stand against hospitalization and adoption or foster-care protocol. Instead, like ancient Romans, they lawfully choose to leave the infant, anywhere above 20 gestational weeks old, to suffer and die on a cold stainless tray like an animal of lesser worth than something wanted in this world.
If you want to offer real “choice”, why leave a human baby on a tray to starve or suffocate to death? After procuring, or attempting to procure, an abortion, nobody is faulting a woman for feeling overwhelmed, scared, lonely, or ashamed. However, someone will be faulted leaving a living baby on a tray to die slowly, painfully, by itself in a dark room.
Do we really want to be the type of people who kill our own kind, at viability, strictly based on whether the baby is “wanted”?
No law will change the emotions overwhelming an unwed woman (or married woman with a handful of kids already) who finds herself holding another positive pregnancy test crying on the bathroom floor, locked, with the shower running to drown out her tears. Some women will continue to have abortions. Some will choose adoption.
But how can we choose to impact our families and communities to choose life?
First and foremost, we must love our neighbor. The shame a woman feels in this position is traumatic. Love her (be she your daughter, sister, mother, aunt, best friend, or a stranger). Support her (offer encouragement, a hand to hold). Help her (financially or spiritually).
Mother Teresa used to say: “May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in.”
Maybe it’s time your heart truly broke for a woman in need, because love requires sacrifice.
After all, you may just save the next child who grows up to realize they were the lucky one in a million.
Posted on 01/28/2019 09:00 AM (CNA Columns: Guest Columnist)
This Tuesday a three-judge panel of Pakistan’s Supreme Court will decide whether to reconsider its acquittal of a Pakistani Christian mother-of-five on charges of blasphemy.
Yes, you read that right. One of our allies in the fight against terror may be having second thoughts on whether a middle-aged mother-of-five deserves to be put to death for defending herself and her faith.
Asia Bibi is a Christian, a Roman Catholic to be precise, who lived in Pakistan’s predominantly Muslim province of Punjab. This peasant woman worked in a berry field to help her husband support their children. Asia’s status as a religious minority was not a “protected” one. Far from it. She suffered constant insults from neighbors, even though they, too, shared in the same suffering that comes with extreme poverty.
One day, while working in that berry field, Asia went to the well for some water. She drank from the common cup available to those working the land. In that moment — in that simple human act of relieving one’s thirst—a series of dreadful events unfolded.
A co-worker in the berry field confronted her and said that Asia —a Christian —could not drink from the same cup as the other Muslims. Asia was “unclean.” Asia spoke her mind. She defended her faith. Later that day neighbors beat Asia when she returned home. Her persecutors claimed Asia confessed to having uttered derogatory remarks about the prophet Muhammad when confronted at the well in the berry field. And the next day the local cleric, Qari Muhammad Salaam, filed a complaint against Asia.
Asia was charged and convicted of blasphemy in 2010. In Pakistan, a blasphemy conviction carries a mandatory death sentence. The local authorities sentenced her to death by hanging.
Asia languished in prison for more than eight years. Prison officials gave her food to cook, knowing that she would likely be poisoned if she ate with the general prison population. They also placed her in solitary confinement and limited her contact with anyone outside of her immediate family. The years of imprisonment must surely have taken their toll.
Most Pakistanis accused of blasphemy don’t live long. Mob rule executes the death sentence long before the government has the chance to do so. In last year’s annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Freedom once again recommended Pakistan be identified as “a country of particular concern.” It specifically mentioned Asia as an example of the “continued misuse [of blasphemy laws] against religious minorities and progressive Muslims.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heeded the Commission’s advice and listed Pakistan among those countries guilty of severe religious freedom violations.
Nevertheless, last October a three-judge panel of the Pakistani Supreme Court overturned Asia’s conviction. It said that the prosecution had “categorically failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.” Not only that, but the case was based on flimsy evidence and proper procedures had not been followed. The panel pointed out that Asia’s alleged confession had been made in front of a crowd “threatening to kill her.” Asia Bibi was, it seemed, free at last …
… but her freedom proved fleeting.
Qari Muhammad Salaam, the local cleric who brought the complaint against Asia, demanded she be prevented from leaving Pakistan and led widespread protests of the ruling. He also filed a petition for reconsideration by Pakistan’s Supreme Court. Salaam argued that the Supreme Court panel failed to meet the standards of jurisprudence or Islamic law and the "normal principle of justice with reference to application in blasphemy laws.”
Well aware that some of their countrymen are violently intolerant of Pakistan’s religious minorities, the three judges will decide Tuesday whether to defend their October 2018 acquittal or back away from it. It’s a moment for Pakistan, but for the United States and the rest of the civilized world, too. In one of our allies in the war on terror, the rule of law and religious freedom, to say nothing of a mother-of-five’s life, hang in the balance. Will the story of Asia Bibi end in her freedom or martyrdom?
Posted on 01/16/2019 09:00 AM (CNA Columns: Bishops' Corner)
Beneath the soil of every continent lie buried the ruins of fallen civilizations. The Sumerians, Akkadians, Mayans, Assyrians, Babylonians, Minoans, Romans: all of them, faded memories of past grandeur and glory. History records the collapse of at least thirty-two major civilizations that once thrived and prospered before our time.
No great civilization is built in a day. No great civilization disappears in a single instant. Historians try to explain how these civilizations once so great have slowly vanished into the dustbin of history. Weather, economics, population decline, wars, politics are some of the reasons that they offer. But, ultimately, a civilization disappears when it loses its identity, forfeits its unity and jettisons its commitment to the common good.
Today’s relentless front-page news reports of scandal and sin (many times, stale news served up as current), the incessant discord of our politicians, the unending string of acrimonious tweets, and the rage of angry voices make one wonder whether or not we are facing the decline of our own civilization. Has our unity as a nation become so fragmented that it cannot be repaired?
The TV sitcoms, the talk shows, the din of warring cable news channels do little to promote serious discourse. Rather, they seem at times to make us despair of receiving unbiased reporting. They hardly inspire us to respond to the gospel’s clarion call for truth, justice, compassion and charity. Have we lost our commitment to the common good? Are we in the midst of an unstoppable decline of our nation?
Some say this is the age of tolerance. As a result, good and evil, right and wrong, vice and virtue, truth and error are accepted as equally valid. But, this is not the age of tolerance. Those who are pro-life are marginalized. Those who cherish and protect the life of the child waiting-to-be-born, the elderly and the terminally ill are branded as bigots, unwilling to show compassion to those suffering. Those who accept the sanctity of marriage and human sexuality as designed by the Creator are vilified. We live at a time when some are not only intolerant to our basic Christian values, but are actively engaged to silence Christians, target the Church and reduce her to ruins.
In an age of relativism, has it become almost impossible to dialogue rationally on the major issues that face us, such as poverty, migration, and the sanctity of life itself ? “Relativism is the order of the day. Good and evil, right and wrong, innocence and guilt – all these binaries are deliberately confused as antipodal extremes are brought into artificial congruence. Moral clarity is muddled and logical cogency diluted. All inherent preference is suspended out of a misguided attempt to achieve balance where there is none” (Brandon Marlon, “The Decline and Fall of Modern Civilization: 8 Simple Steps to Squandering It All,” The Algemeiner, January 22, 2015).
From the Church, we receive a rich heritage of truth, morality and charity. We have solid and clear moral principles given to us by Jesus. These are the solid building blocks with which to construct a just and peaceful society. Could it be that we ourselves are slowly abandoning these principles? How is it possible that those trained in the Catholic faith assume leadership roles in government and then jettison their Catholic morals? How is it that any one of us can remain complacent to the slow moral deterioration of our country?
Our country will not collapse if we refuse to hand over our future to those who deny the existence of God and live as if this world is all that there is. Our society will not collapse if we are courageous enough to draw on our moral and spiritual heritage to solve the issues that divide us. Our nation will not collapse if we remain true to our identity given to us by our Founding Fathers as a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles. Our courage as moral individuals to stand for justice, truth and compassion is the antidote to the collapse of our country.
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 12/5/2018 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.
Posted on 11/21/2018 09:00 AM (CNA Columns: Guest Columnist)
It’s a great time to be Catholic. I mean that sincerely… in the sense of Dickens’ opening lines in A Tale of Two Cities. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
The cause for despair is obvious; look no further than last week’s baffling directive from the Vatican to the bishops of the United States to halt their plans to address the scandal surrounding former Cardinal McCarrick and clergy abuse. Perplexing and disheartening.
But can it also be the best of times, a springtime of hope? Can only an irrational optimist think so? Reflecting on this past week while the bishops were meeting in Baltimore, the stark contrast between the dysfunction in the hierarchy, and the church I experience every day on the ground as an ordinary lay Catholic, became apparent to me. And I realized all I have to be grateful for in the Church.
Looking at a snap shot of my week, while the bishops were stuck in seeming paralysis, I had the privilege of visiting our local Missionaries of Charity soup kitchen to drop off proceeds of a food drive, and enjoyed a delightful visit with the indefatigable Sister Nishi who cheerfully carries on Mother Teresa’s legacy in the Anacostia neighborhood of DC.
Later in the week, I was blessed to attend a retreat with the Sisters of Life, who radiate God’s joy and love in a manner that inspires beyond description.
Each day, I was fortunate enough to drop off my children at their respective Catholic schools, where they receive a first rate education not only academically, but in virtue and faith. I cannot imagine raising my children in today’s toxic culture without the blessing of these schools, which are run by the prelature of Opus Dei.
And each day I was able to receive the Eucharist at my parish from our two dear priests, who carry on selflessly bringing light and hope to our community despite the scandal and tone-deafness of some of their bosses.
I am grateful for the many movements within the Church that are vibrant, attractive, beautiful and holy. Just recently, for example, I happened to run into a college friend who is leading a ministry to promulgate the beauty of church teaching on women called ENDOW, and heard from another friend about a new formation program for young women called GIVEN. I could go on and on.
Finally, I’m grateful for the domestic church, my family, and the challenges and adventures of family life. I wake up each morning to the sweet chirping of our 7-year old. She came along in my 40’s (we have two in college as well as two teenagers at home). Without the bold proclamation of Humanae Vitae by Pope Saint John Paul II, I would not likely have been open to receiving the gift of our “Catholic Caboose” as we call her.
So I’m praying about this season of darkness in our Church, but I am choosing to focus on the light. As C.S. Lewis encouraged us, “Gratitude exclaims, very properly, ‘How good of God to give me this.’”