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Posted on 09/1/2020 08:00 AM (CNA Columns: Guest Columnist)
If American Catholics feel singled out in this strange year they are not being paranoid, they are simply paying attention. From church burnings to the verbal and physical abuse heaped on beloved saints and their statues, the incidents have piled up. And, on top of all this, local jurisdictions have too often piled on by categorizing the mass – the source and summit of Catholic life – as “non-essential.”
In the city of San Francisco, social indoor gatherings have been indefinitely prohibited since a June spike in COVID-19 cases. Movie theaters, nightclubs, indoor entertainment complexes are all shuttered. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 12 people, and participants must wear masks, keep six feet apart and not share food or implements. This effectively rules out team sports and other pleasant activities the city deems non-essential. But it also rules out indoor masses and outdoor masses with more than ten mass-goers, because local officials put religious observances in the same class as baseball games.
Some Church prelates, notably Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco, are reacting not with anger but with gentle persistence and ingenuity. The Church in San Francisco has pleaded with local officials to be allowed to hold indoor masses while employing strict safety measures, as is being done in many parts of the country and, indeed, other parts of California. Dioceses are using highly detailed guidelines that the Thomistic Institute developed for bishops. These guidelines are based on the advice of scientists, doctors, infectious disease experts, and theologians who have applied current Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization standards to worship.
As a result, Catholic churches across the United States are meticulously doing the right thing: cordoning-off pews, spacing family groups, enforcing mask-wearing, refraining from singing and handshaking. The whole mass experience has changed dramatically, thanks to the seriousness, respect, and mutual care of American Catholics. Going to mass these days may well be among the safest outings a family makes all week. In fact, a recent study of over one million public masses celebrated under strict guidelines in the U.S., shows no outbreaks linked to church attendance or evidence of viral transmission.
And yet indoor mass under these science-based guidelines is prohibited in San Francisco—and limiting outdoor masses to 12 participants makes it impossible for any but a tiny portion of the Catholic population to go to mass. Archbishop Cordileone has made a moving video plea explaining the importance of gathering together for worship. More than that, he has demonstrated the essential nature of the sacraments by organizing a long day of multiple small masses in the Cathedral plaza on the feast day of the Assumption. Spaced out in groups of 12, the San Francisco faithful knelt and stood and prayed - apart but mercifully together.
These are the kinds of signals that local governments need to heed when contemplating or enforcing shutdowns that fail to recognize the essential nature of worship.
Lockdowns have caused an explosion of existential loneliness as adults and children are isolated from extended family, friends, co-workers. They’re cut off from even simple daily contacts with pleasant strangers or acquaintances. Rising suicide and overdose rates are a heartrending testament to this cold social fact. For millions of Americans, the church “family” is one of their main connections to others, through daily or weekly mass. For those same Americans, being unable to receive the sacraments, the physical expression of communion with God, is a spiritual tragedy. Perhaps worse still, the inability to hold a funeral mass for a cherished husband or child is grief piled upon aching grief on the bowed shoulders of the bereaved.
And where’s the fairness in all this when a dizzying array of other kinds of gatherings are being classed as “essential” or excused? In San Francisco, the list of exceptions to shutdown is long. Retail storefronts can remain open as long as staff and shoppers stay six feet apart and do not exceed half normal occupancy. Factories, warehouses and logistics businesses can operate if everyone inside can remain six feet apart. Grocery stores, banks, airlines, childcare centers and summer camps – all are open. Political demonstrators are allowed to throng city streets by the packed thousands. It is safe and fair to classify religious observance as essential – because it is.
Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco won’t be the last prelate to gently and insistently work around the current restrictions that unfairly target religious Americans.
Posted on 05/12/2020 08:00 AM (CNA Columns: Guest Columnist)
It is a question that we regularly hear and read. Some see in it the direct hand of God, of the punishing God who wants to say to people that they have strayed too far from His commandments. We hear these voices especially in America and Africa. Others see in it a sign that God gives indirectly and wants to point out to us the ecological mistakes we have made by not respecting His creation. The latter have a point, of course, because even today I read a scientific article saying that we can expect even more epidemics that are difficult to contain, because there has been a large-scale destruction of ecological systems causing a profound disturbance of the natural balances. Many people in Western countries see no connection at all between the coronavirus pandemic and God, because they have completely removed God from their mindset so that He no longer has anything to do with what is happening in the world. Some are calling God to account and wonder why God is allowing this to happen and why He is not intervening. Still others find solace and strength in praying to God at this time. Now that there could not be any Easter celebrations in the churches, the number of viewers on the internet and on TV watching the Easter celebrations turned out to be very high. When people are in distress, a lot of people apparently find their way back to the church, to prayer, and to God. Once again, He becomes the certainty at a time when all other supposed certainties fail.
But where is God really in this coronavirus pandemic? Is He there or is He not? And if He is there, what connection can we see between God and corona?
We cannot give a conclusive answer to this question. Nonetheless, as Christians, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on this fascinating question.
In earlier centuries, illnesses or anything that could not be explained were directly attributed to the intervention of God. When the plague broke out in the Middle Ages, society considered it a punishment for the sins that people had committed, both personally and as a community. However, science was able to identify the causes of the plague, and there are scientific explanations for the coronavirus as well, although they are not unanimous at this time. They are still guessing at the true origin and the way in which the virus has been able to infect humans. In any case, the coronavirus can be scientifically explained. Is it completely absurd, then, to speak of God in the context of a pandemic?
In the Bible, illness, suffering, and death have to do with the disharmony that exists in man. The story of creation, which describes man’s true nature, sublimely captures the bond between God and man, and also explores the cause of this disharmony.
The story of creation is more than a purely mythical story, but contains a number of fundamental theological, philosophical, and anthropological reflections on man and the world. Man was created by God in his image and likeness, and originally lived in total harmony with his Creator, with himself, with his neighbour, and with his environment. Man was elevated above the transience that was and is present in all of nature.
The story of creation also mentions the reality of evil - called the devil - as the cause of the rupture of the harmony. With the rupture of this harmony, the immortality of man came to an end and he became subject to transience. This explains illness, suffering, decay, and death for Christians. God is not the cause of it, nor is it a punishment from God, but it is the consequence of the broken harmony between man and God.
Suffering in general is therefore inextricably linked to the evil with which man is constantly confronted. Pathogenic and deadly viruses are part of this evil and can affect humans and animals like any other illness.
But is that the whole story and do suffering and death have the final word?
Of course not.
After all, as Christians, we confess that through the coming of Christ, through his suffering and death, and through his resurrection, man was redeemed and saved from the hopelessness of death. The disharmony caused by death in earthly life is finally restored to harmony in eternal life. This is the mystery that we celebrate time and again at Easter and at every Eucharist.
As Christians, however, we are also encouraged not to undergo suffering passively, but to learn from it. Was this pandemic inevitable? Was it the result of scientific experiments, of the irresponsible treatment of animals, of the disturbance of the balance of ecological systems? Pope Francis does not fail to remind humanity of its responsibility in all these areas. He invites us to reflect on the way in which we have lost an important dimension in our lives, which we must take up again, the care of Mother Earth. There are many passages in the Bible about how God uses nature to call people to repent. Just think of the plagues of Egypt and the descriptions about the end times, which would be preceded by all kinds of plagues.
If man does not care about the disastrous consequences of the destruction of ecological systems, if he leads a life that is contrary to his human dignity, even to his human nature, one might wonder whether man is not bringing about the end times himself?
The coronavirus pandemic must therefore become a time for reflection, not only on our ecological misdeeds, but also on our loss of human dignity and the sins against our human nature.
Here, we come close to Paul’s theology, which explicitly indicates how everything has meaning, but it is up to us to discover that there is meaning in both the good and the evil that befall us, and that suffering, in particular, can lead us to purification. Looking up at the cross, where we witness the seemingly most senseless suffering, we believe that it was through this suffering that we as human beings were saved from the hopelessness of our lives. This pandemic, which is now putting us in quarantine, can encourage us to become true ‘freed people’ and to fulfil the freedom granted to us by God time and again according to the example of Christ. Freedom is the highest good we have received as human beings, and it makes us different from everything else that was created.
In this time of corona, the question of the meaningfulness of prayer is sometimes raised. Why would we pray, if God allows all this to happen?
Can we pray that He would protect us from the virus, that He would give us strength to endure the suffering that a possible infection would cause, that He would especially give us the strength to keep it going?
As Christians, we can trust in God for everything that concerns us. We can also pray for others, both the living and the dead. In fact, this is a work of mercy. God is deeply involved in our lives and in everything that happens. He is with us and He suffers with us. However, God is not a ‘deus ex machina’, as if He would magically intervene and completely control everything that is happening. In doing so, He would not respect our human freedom, for He left it intact from the moment of our creation, even when there was a rift between Him and man.
God created man out of love, and precisely because of that love, He gave man the freedom to develop his life and to respond in total freedom to His invitation whether or not to enter into His love, to enter into a relationship with Him, to believe in Him or not. Prayer is the perfect moment to be with God and to grow our relationship with Him.
If God touched our freedom, he would touch the most essential part of our humanity. With this freedom, we can do a lot of good, but unfortunately a lot of evil, as well. Could it be that man - by increasingly behaving as lord and master of creation by controlling everything - has come to consider himself immune, even to such deadly viruses?
Was it not a form of pride to live under the assumption that pandemics and deadly viruses were part of history? According to the already mentioned Bible story, pride is the cause of all sins and the greatest sin we can commit: it is man who wants to be his own god.
Prayer can help us become humble again and come down from the divine throne we were claiming for ourselves. The powerlessness and fear that many are now experiencing can be an invitation for us to repent and look up to God again instead of looking down on Him out of human pride. Perhaps prayer is currently arising for many as a cry for help because we genuinely feel that our existence is threatened - hoping in vain that God would intervene as a ‘deus ex machina’. But this can also be a moment in which we turn to God and find Him (again) as the God who is there for us, who does not abandon us, not even in this corona crisis, as a God who is called Love. It can be the moment when we find God again as a forgotten childhood friend whom we thought was long gone, and allow Him back into our lives as God.
Where is God in this time of corona? He is there, as He is there in everything and everyone, but not always as we like to phrase it or claim it with a certain degree of determination. Nevertheless, let us pray to Him with trust and hope that all those who are somehow confronted with this coronavirus pandemic will once again experience Him as the Lord of life, the Lord of the living and the dead, including those who were unexpectedly welcomed into His presence.
Posted on 05/5/2020 08:00 AM (CNA Columns: Guest Columnist)
Coronavirus is only the latest iteration of an age-old human affliction. Even now, with the benefit of advanced medical science, our reaction – our confusion, our fear – is not so different from how our ancestors experienced recurrent and terrifying onslaughts of plague, cholera, and yellow fever across the ages. We can learn from the courage and ingenuity of those who travelled this road before us.
Consider the work of Dr. Carlos Finlay in Cuba. In 1880 he hypothesized, and then worked to prove his hypothesis, that yellow fever, a disease that regularly decimated coastal populations up and down the Americas, was spread by infected mosquitos. Those mosquitos came to our shores in the 17th century on African slave ships and attacked portal communities in the tropics as well as cities like New Orleans and Philadelphia. The resulting epidemics occurred with oppressive regularity in the summer months, to the people’s great dread, with mortality rates as high as 50 percent. The impact was tremendous – not only in the milllions of lives lost and the wretchedness this caused, but in economic gains and opportunities wiped out or delayed (the Panama Canal).
Connecting the transmission of the deadly virus to its source or vector was a decisive step forward in the long struggle against yellow fever. It preceded the development of a vaccine by more than 60 years. Here's how it happened: A young doctor, Carlos Finlay, returned to his home in Havana one night, exhausted, after caring for a Carmelite priest dying of yellow fever. Realizing he had forgotten to say his daily rosary, he sat in his armchair, sweating in the oppressive heat, fingering his beads and swatting at a bothersome mosquito. Suddenly, inspiration pierced his depression and weariness: Could the mosquito, like the one annoying him that moment, be transmitting the infection from person to person? If so, this was marvelous. One could not fight the brutal steamy summer air – the miasma – but one could fight mosquitos.
Inspiration, however, was not enough to proceed. Courage and even heroism would be needed to prove Finlay’s hypothesis. These were at hand, thanks to 57 young Jesuit priests and brothers who volunteered as experimental subjects. As each arrived from Spain to staff the Colegio de Belen, newly founded by Queen Isabel II of Spain, he was met by Finlay, carrying a test tube filled with mosquitos that had just fed on a patient sick with yellow fever. Taking their lives in their hands, these Jesuits allowed themselves to be bitten for the sake of their fellow human beings. Three died of the bite, but all 57 were willing to do the same.
Subsequent experiments supported Finlay’s hypothesis. Although a vaccine to definitively eradicate the disease would not come for decades, Finlay’s insight helped man to co-exist safely with yellow fever until that time. The incidence of yellow fever in Cuba dropped precipitously through mosquito control. Standing water, a breeding ground for the noxious pests, was eliminated where possible or treated aggressively with insecticides where not. Panama, where tens of thousands of workers had already died of the disease while building the canal followed Cuba’s lead. The last Panama Canal worker to die of yellow fever came in 1906.
There are important lessons for us here -- first and foremost, lessons in resourcefulness and valor.
Already, thousands of human minds are, today, tenaciously working to find a solution to Covid-19. They’re persisting without respite, persisting through depression and fatigue, to find a way forward. Just as Dr. Finlay did.
And, you can depend on it, inspiration is sure to strike again.
You can also see today the same kind of valor that animated the Jesuit volunteers who let the infected mosquitos bite them. You see it in the countless men and women who keep showing up for work at nursing homes or crowded food production lines. Their examples help us all to keep up and increase our courage so we can join them as we ease back into our normal daily lives.
As we face the moment when we too realize that we have no choice but to go back out into the world of work and personal interactions, we can take hope from contemplating our predecessors’ success in confronting yellow fever. Like us, they dreamed of a vaccine. But they didn’t lock themselves away until it was developed. They found a way to steel themselves and then to steal the deadly efficiency away from the virus that plagued them. A century later, we can do the same.
Posted on 04/8/2020 08:00 AM (CNA Columns: Guest Columnist)
My youngest son Patrick turns four this week. He is a delight to watch at this age, particularly when one of his older brothers carries him around the house. Facing the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve longed for the joy and confidence that Patrick exudes when he’s in their strong arms. The other day, I was reminded of a group that Saint John Paul II once called the “Strong Right Arm” of the Catholic Church – The Knights of Columbus.
The two-million-member Catholic fraternal organization is flexing that “strong right arm” in the response to the COVID-19. The order’s new “Leave No Neighbor Behind” initiative is helping local members address the pandemic’s unique challenges in tangible and intangible ways. “[O]ur duty is to lead our families, protect our parishes, and serve our communities, remembering always that where there’s a need, there’s a Knight.”
In addition to encouraging members to donate to, and volunteer at, local food banks, the Knights of Columbus are also encouraging members to donate blood. The latter is a longstanding tradition of the order. In fact, the Knights of Columbus pioneered nationwide blood drives in the United States in the 1930s. But the “Leave No Neighbor Behind” initiative doesn’t end there, because the Knights understand that the challenges will remain long after the medical crisis abates.
Whether it’s a matter of weeks or months, the stay-at-home orders will eventually be lifted and school, work, social and worship routines will resume. But the economic toll of the public closure of parishes will likely be felt long after parish churches reopen for Sunday mass. Fortunately, the Knights are offering financial support to struggling Catholic dioceses across the United States. The order just announced it has available $100 million in low-interest financing to help dioceses weather the economic impact of COVID-19 crisis. The Knight’s financial assistance program isn’t new; the order has been a key lender to parishes and dioceses for more than a century through its ChurchLoan program. The magnitude of the available assistance is. This financial safety net will allow Catholic parishes to continue to serve bodies and souls during and in the aftermath of this epidemic.
In fact, none of this is new for the Knights of Columbus. They’ve been responding to crises, individual and societal, since their founding in the late 1800s. Started by an Irish-American Catholic priest (Father Michael J. McGivney) and named in honor of the great Italian explorer (Christopher Columbus), the Knights began as an organization to care for widows and orphans from St. Mary’s parish in New Haven, Connecticut. Today the Order is organized into more than 15,000 local councils based in cities and towns across the country and abroad. Dedicated to the principles of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism, the Knights participate in educational, charitable, religious, social welfare, war relief and public relief works.
The Knights have a long history of community outreach through innovative charitable programs. “During times of need from the 19th century to the present, the Knights of Columbus has been there in communities around the country to support one another, the Church and the evolving needs of their communities,” says Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “From world wars, to influenza pandemics more than a century ago, to hurricanes and earthquakes, the Knights of Columbus has helped make the difference for many individuals and communities, and we will do so again during the present situation.”
Today’s Knights of Columbus constitute a vast volunteer network of members ready and willing to ensure that essential needs are met in communities from coast to coast. Members are assisting one another, especially the elderly and those living alone. At a time when many churches are closed, the Knights are reaching out to their fellow parishioners and pastors to identify and meet local needs as they arise.
Finally, the Knights of Columbus as an organization has kept its focus on the importance of placing our trust in God. It is providing spiritual resources to its members and urging them to offer prayers composed by Pope Francis and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops during this time.
Once again, in a time of crisis, the Knights of Columbus has risen to the occasion to serve both neighbor and Church with the strong arms of a loving big brother.
Posted on 03/31/2020 08:00 AM (CNA Columns: Guest Columnist)
On the afternoon of March 6, I walked around the campus of Franciscan University of Steubenville, saying goodbye to students as they headed off for Spring Break. On that cold afternoon, it was unimaginable that those students wouldn’t come back to campus to finish out the school year. It was even more unimaginable that our University, where the Mass has always been at the center of campus life, would cease the public celebration of the Eucharist.
Tragically, at Franciscan University, like everywhere else, the global spread of the coronavirus quickly made the unimaginable our new reality.
I’ve been living with that new reality for over two weeks now, and I don’t like it. So, last week, I decided to do something about it: I hung a white ribbon on the door of our University chapel.
Let me explain.
It breaks my heart to not celebrate the Mass with students, faculty, staff, and their families. I miss the singing and the filled pews, the cries of babies and the responses of the faithful. Most of all, I miss Holy Communion; I miss giving Jesus to those hungry to receive him.
I understand why our bishops and leaders made the decisions they’ve made. I’m not questioning the necessity of those decisions. Extreme social distancing, for now, is a necessary evil.
Just the same, like my brother priests everywhere, I miss my people. I long for the day we can gather again, to worship, to listen to the Word of God, to preach and to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.
Until that day comes, however, I want the men and women I serve to know that they are always with me in thought and prayer, that I’m not letting a day go by without interceding for them before God, and that I could never forget them.
Even more important, I want them to know that God could never forget them. God didn’t forget his people when they wandered in the desert for 40 years. He didn’t forget them when they worshipped idols, ignored his commands, and found themselves exiled in Babylon. And he hasn’t forgotten us now.
Make no mistake: Our Lord does not like being separated from his people in this way. Jesus wants to give himself to us. He wants us to encounter him in the liturgy, in the Church, and in the Eucharist.
And this is where the white ribbons come in.
Ribbons have long been a sign of remembrance. They tell the world that we have not forgotten someone: a prisoner, a soldier, or a sick friend. I’ve tied a white ribbon onto the door of Christ the King Chapel, as well as the Portiuncula Chapel, here at Franciscan University, to remind our community that their priests and their God have not forgotten them. I’ve invited my friends who are priests and bishops to do the same. They, in turn, are inviting more priests and bishops to join us.
My hope is that as Catholics walk or drive past their churches, they will see those white ribbons and know their priests are praying for them and waiting for the day we can fling open those doors to welcome them back inside.
I also hope, when they see those ribbons, they know Jesus is waiting for that day, too. He longs for the day when we can gather together once more, and he can be with all of us, again, in the sacraments.
That day is not yet here. Like the Israelites of old, the Catholic faithful have to wander in exile a little longer. Jesus has not left us orphans, though. He is still with us. He is with us in the Scriptures, which are his Word. He is with us in his people—those we live with, work with, or encounter online. He is with us in prayer and in silence and in the beauty of his creation, which is singing his praises as spring finally comes.
Look for Jesus in all those places. Look for Jesus where you are. And when you see white ribbons hanging from a church door, remember God’s promise in Isaiah 49:15: “I will never forget you.”
In the midst of the chaos and the confusion, and the craziness, let those ribbons be a reminder that your priests are still with you. Let them be a reminder that Jesus is still with you. And let them be a reminder that one day soon, this exile will end, the churches will re-open, and your priests will be standing there, ready and waiting to joyfully welcome you home.
Posted on 02/3/2020 09:00 AM (CNA Columns: Guest Columnist)
“This is the time of fulfillment.”
Those are the first words Jesus speaks to us in the Gospel of Mark. For 14 verses, he says nothing. He meets John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit descends upon him, and he faces temptation in the wilderness. But through it all, he doesn’t say a word. Then, finally, Jesus speaks: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
The temptation, for most of us, is to hear those words in the past tense. We hear them as something Jesus said long ago to Jewish people in Roman-occupied Galilee.
But that’s not how the Scriptures work. They’re not simply a record of things that were said 2,000 years ago. They’re not a collection of history books like we find at our local library. They are “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword . . . and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
This means Scripture speaks to us today. Jesus speaks to us today. Right here. Right now. This is the time of fulfillment. This is the time Jesus invites us to know him and follow him and encounter the Kingdom of Heaven. But he doesn’t just invite us. In Mark 1:15, he also tells us how we answer that invitation: “Repent, and believe.”
The Greek word used there for “repent and believe” is metanoia. It implies a turning or a change of mind. So, what Jesus says is, “Turn away from sin, and turn toward me. Change your focus—from sin, from the world, from a culture of distraction—and focus on me instead.” Ultimately, he issues a call to conversion, a call to a new way of thinking and a new way of living. And he issues that call, not just to Peter, James, John, and the rest of the 12, but to you and me.
Which means the question for us is: how do we answer that call? How, here and now, do we repent and believe? How do we experience metanoia?
Last year, the team from 4PM Media and I attempted to answer that question, when we spent 17 days in the Holy Land, filming Metanoia, a new 10-part video series on conversion and discipleship.
But the trip turned out to be much more than that.
Shot on location in some of our faith’s most sacred places, including the Sea of Galilee, the River Jordan, and the desert of temptations, Metanoia invites viewers to an encounter with Christ in both Scripture and history. It also invites each of us to look deep into our hearts, so we can hear how Christ is calling us to conversion.
For many Catholics, it’s tempting to think of conversion as a once and done event. It’s equally tempting to think of it as something other people need: that Jesus is calling other people to repent and believe—“those bishops and priests” or “those people who are in serious sin”—but not us. No, we think, it’s those people who need conversion. Never us. But in reality, it is always us.
Every one of us struggles in some way to live the Gospel. Every one of us has some area of our life that we have not handed over to Jesus. Every one of us, to some extent, bears some responsibility for the problems in the Church and world today.
That’s why conversion is a process each and every one of us must continually enter into. It’s a lifelong journey of being transformed by Christ and conformed to Christ. It’s never done. At least, not until we see Jesus face to face and hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
And so, over the course of 10 weeks, Metanoia will invite Catholics to become the witness the world needs us to be and the disciples Jesus calls us to be. It does that by asking us to look at different areas of our life and faith—from our understanding of who Christ is and what it means to pray, to how we approach the Church’s more challenging teachings. It then invites us to think and pray about how Jesus calls us to conversion in those areas.
The whole series is really one big invitation to let God into every aspect of our life and transform it all.
Metanoia launches on Monday, February 3. Episodes will be available to watch at wildgoose.tv. I hope you join us. Because this is the time of fulfillment. Jesus is here. He has something for us right now. But we will never experience it if we don’t repent and believe. We will never experience it without metanoia.
Posted on 01/31/2020 09:00 AM (CNA Columns: Guest Columnist)
One can be forgiven for thinking all of Washington, D.C., has been consumed by impeachment frenzy these past weeks. Look closer, though, and you’ll see that while Trump administration lawyers have been tied down by the Senate trial, other administration officials have been engaged in a flurry of policy making. These new policies have gone largely unnoticed, but they are of crucial – and positive – importance to all people of faith.
The last weeks alone have witnessed sweeping developments on prayer in public schools, discrimination against religious organizations, mandatory abortion coverage in health insurance plans, and government funding of programs encouraging childbirth over abortion. Additionally, the president himself attended the March for Life, and Vice President Pence held a significant meeting with Pope Francis.
On school prayer, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued guidance clarifying that students do not compromise their right to pray because they attend a public school or university. The DeVos directive also ensures that religious student groups remain on equal footing with secular student groups. This is a critical response to the recent trend of universities’ disallowing any and all religious expression or association at public institutions of higher education. As DeVos stated, "Too many misinterpret a separation of church and state as an invitation for government to separate people from their faith."
Public colleges and universities won’t be able to get away with this any longer, thanks to the Trump Administration. The DeVos directive reaffirms the First Amendment right of students to express religious beliefs in their schoolwork as well as to gather to pray at appropriate times. This sends a strong message to school bureaucrats inclined to ban students from praying before high school football games or to defund Christian student groups at public universities.
The administration also issued far-reaching rules stating that religious and non-religious charities must be treated equally in the federal grant process. Team Trump has leveled the playing field. Religious charities will now be free to compete for federal grants to serve their fellow Americans. Not only is this a huge win for religious freedom, but it’s also a huge win for the poor and vulnerable. Because, as we know, Catholic and other religious charities are highly regarded as among best in the field of adoption and foster care, caring for victims of human trafficking, providing for the elderly and the poor, and working with refugees and other vulnerable immigrant populations. Nine federal agencies participated in this rule making. The new rule applies across the entire federal government, removing discriminatory regulatory burdens that push religious entities out of the public square – and out of public service. In short, our nation’s social safety net just got stronger.
Another significant announcement is that the administration will vigorously enforce the Weldon Amendment, a longstanding law protecting conscience rights. California has been flagrantly violating this law by forcing all health insurance plans in the state, including Catholic health plans, to cover and pay for elective abortions. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the policy “abhorrent, unjust and illegal… [a] supreme injustice.” The bishops welcomed the Trump administration’s action as “extraordinarily good news for the right to life, conscientious objection, religious freedom, and the rule of law.”
Moreover, the Department of Health and Human Services just came down squarely in support of state healthcare programs that recognize the sanctity of life. Texas had decided years ago that its Medicaid program would support pregnant women and their unborn children, but not abortion-promoting groups like Planned Parenthood. The Obama administration went after Texas but the Trump Administration just granted the necessary waiver supporting Texas’ pro-life policy.
That’s all policy, but it’s worth noting again what President Trump and Vice President Pence have been doing themselves. Trump addressed the March for Life rally in person, something no other president has done. Ever. The vice president also spoke to the pro-life March via video from St. Peter’s square at the Vatican, where Pence also had an hour-long private meeting with Pope Francis. The pope and vice president reportedly had a very warm meeting in which they agreed that the cause of life is the “most pressing moral issue of our time.” They also shared their commitment to persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. Pence talked of how proud he is that the United States has partnered with the Knight of Columbus to help rebuild Christian communities once decimated by ISIS in the Nineveh plain.
So while the media obsesses over Bolton bombshells and the McConnell vs. Schumer showdown, hardworking policy makers across the administration, empowered by the president to act, have made a significant difference in the lives of people of faith – and the children of God they serve.
Posted on 01/21/2020 09:00 AM (CNA Columns: Guest Columnist)
In 1973, after the United States Supreme Court legalized abortion in America, my dad—a doctor—was interviewed by the local paper about the ruling. One of his quotes became the story’s headline: “Just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s right.”
I’ve never forgotten those words. Even as a second grader, they left a deep impression on me. I was only 8 years old, but I understood that no law could make what’s wrong right. No law could take away the dignity of the human person or make it okay to kill an unborn child.
Unfortunately, what I didn’t realize at the time is that while laws can’t make a wrong right, they can make people think a wrong is right. The law is teacher, and the law Roe v. Wade established has taught three generations of Americans that human persons are disposable. Along with the rest of what St. John Paul II called “the culture of death,” that ruling has tricked millions into believing that we can get rid of human beings when they inconvenience us or burden us.
This attitude puts countless lives in danger—not just the unborn, but also the elderly, the sick, the disabled, the poor, and the stranger. It also puts our entire culture in danger.
Choosing to love and care for the most vulnerable among us is not about politics. It’s not a prudential decision upon which people of good will can disagree. It is a moral imperative. Every other moral issue is related to recognizing the dignity of all human life. From the understanding that life is sacred and the human person is made in God’s image, every other action we call “good” flows.
Because of that, a culture that rejects the sacredness of life cannot endure. Everything that makes a culture healthy—honesty, trust, friendship, charity, kindness, courage—all of that hinges on the dignity of the human person. Take that away, and the rest will crumble. So will we.
Each of us faces the choice my father articulated back in 1973. Will we stand up for what is right, even when a law says we’re wrong? Or will we allow an unjust law to dictate what we believe and do?
On January 24, I will join hundreds of thousands of other Americans who are choosing to defend what is right, by participating in the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.
Every year, Franciscan University of Steubenville, which is both my alma mater and the school I serve as president, transports hundreds of students to the march. Together, we walk. Not because we expect one lone march to change things. But rather as a reminder to our culture that this isn’t an issue that will just go away.
No law legalizing abortion has settled the question. No law legalizing abortion ever will settle the question. Abortion is wrong, and people who recognize that are going to keep showing up and keep speaking up until the law recognizes that, too. Again, the law is a teacher, and our future as a nation depends upon it teaching what is right and true.
Despite what the media wants us to think, abortion is not a private matter. It wounds the women who believe they don’t have any other option. It wounds the families who lose babies to love. It wounds the health care workers, who buy into the lie of abortion. And it wounds our entire culture, choking the life out of it at its very roots.
The public devastation of abortion demands a public response. Yes, we must pray to end abortion. We must do everything we can to empower women to raise their children or place them in loving homes through adoption. But we also must continue to speak up. We must refuse to allow our faith in the dignity of human life to be pushed aside and kept out of public view. We must continue to march. When we do, we put the conscience of America on display. We remind people of what my dad always knew: Just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s right.
Posted on 12/18/2019 09:00 AM (CNA Columns: Guest Columnist)
Two years ago, I joined a Catholic women’s symposium that discusses the weighty matters affecting our Church and our culture. One member of our group recently told us that her elderly father was in his last days. She asked for prayers and any resources we might have to guide her and her siblings and mother in navigating weighty end-of-life issues she expected they would face. There was a flurry of supportive responses and commitments to pray, but it took a while before anyone could forward along any helpful material. For my part, I knew of nothing to suggest off-hand.
I won’t face this problem again, thanks to Father Jeffrey Kirby’s We are the Lord’s: A Catholic Guide to Difficult End-of-Life Questions. A copy of this excellent, straight-forward end-of-life book arrived in the mail a few weeks ago, though, alas, a few days after my colleague’s father passed away (a “happy death” with family around, she relayed) and the email thread ended. Kirby sets forth basic principles of discernment for answering some of the hardest – and most common – questions surrounding end-of-life medical care and treatment. He also addresses the challenging practical issues that face the dying and their family members at this time.
Father Kirby begins by confronting the great modern misunderstanding of the human condition and dying. “No person is a burden,” he writes. Yes, this may seem obvious to so many us, but it’s no less important a truth, because we live in a culture that is “intoxicated with utilitarianism” – the notion that “any inconvenience for another person, or any service that makes us uncomfortable, is unmerited.” Christian teaching, however, has “always asserted that the only response to a person is love.” Loving the dying – seeking their good, delighting in them – exposes, Kirby argues, the “selfishness that disguises as compassion.” For children of God, Kirby reminds us, “quality of life” is “matured by love and an openness to live with inconvenience, discomfort, imperfection and suffering.”
Kirby outlines three important principles of discernment to guide bioethical and end-of-life decisions. One, we must recognize God as our Creator and accept the existence of an objective order of moral truth that is beyond us. “Our personal will, or desire for autonomy, are not sovereign,” he writes. “These must be placed within our human dignity and the objective order of moral goodness.” Two, we must understand our particular vocation. That is, we have to consider our duties and responsibilities toward others, our talents and capabilities, as well as the state of our souls. Three, we must appreciate the difference between what is morally obligatory (ordinary care, in the medical context) and what is morally optional (extraordinary care).
My own parents recently told me that they have “all of their affairs in order.” One such affair is the advanced directive, a summary of a person’s wishes in various medical situations. Father Kirby notes, however, that while such planning is prudent, it does not completely resolve end-of-life questions. As bioethicists often say, “When you have one situation, you have one situation.” Advanced directives, therefore, must always should be understood as guidelines and, most importantly, never can betray moral truths in light of the unique set of circumstances a person faces.
On a most practical level, We are the Lord’s includes a chapter that addresses specific medical questions. It’s a quick reference for readers facing urgent decisions. One common medical concern, for instance, is the continued provision of nutrition and hydration. Kirby is unequivocal in explaining that unless a person’s body cannot assimilate them or it becomes harmful, at no point should a sick person be denied food or water.
The overarching lesson of We are the Lord’s is to abide, and encourage our loved ones to abide, in a spirit of abandonment to the will of God. In living. And dying. The book’s title – coming, as it does, from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans —reminds us how end-of-life decisions for ourselves or others should be faced: “For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”
I’d not only recommend reading We are the Lord’s, I’d also suggest having a copy or two of Father Jeffrey Kirk’s handy guide available for the next time a friend, family member or colleague faces an end-of-life issue.
Posted on 12/10/2019 09:00 AM (CNA Columns: Guest Columnist)
I am not Scrooge. I want to get that out there before I write anything else. I love Christmas. I don’t want to “Bah! Humbug!” twinkle lights. And I plan on giving every employee of Franciscan University of Steubenville a week off to celebrate.
But (you knew the “but” was coming), it’s not yet Christmas.
Despite what the Hallmark Channel says, Christmas doesn’t start in October, or even on Thanksgiving Weekend. Nor is the holiday itself a celebration of perfectly decorated trees, sleigh rides, and snowman-building competitions. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Christmas celebrates his coming, the miraculous entrance of God himself into human history. On Christmas morning, we rejoice in the wonder of the Incarnation, of God becoming a tiny human baby, born in a stable. And we rejoice at the merciful love that would lead that baby to Calvary, where he would open the gates to heaven once more.
Christmas morning, however, isn’t until December 25. Before then, for a period of roughly four weeks, we prepare for that morning. The Church calls this season of preparation “Advent.”
During Advent, we ready our hearts and homes for the coming of the Savior. We reflect. We pray. And we wait.
As the world waited through countless long centuries for God to send the redeemer promised to Adam and Eve, we wait.
As Israel waited for God to honor the covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David, we wait.
As Mary waited nine long months to hold her baby, we wait.
As Jesus waited to go to Jerusalem, where all would be fulfilled, we wait.
And as the Apostles waited in the Upper Room, first after Jesus’ Crucifixion and later after Jesus’ Ascension, we wait.
The story of salvation history, from first to last, is filled with accounts of God’s people waiting – waiting for a home, waiting for a spouse, waiting for a child, waiting for a promise to be fulfilled, and above all, waiting for redemption, waiting for Jesus. Waiting is a constant theme in Sacred Scripture, and that should clue us in to an important truth: learning to wait well matters. It is spiritually important.
Most of us, though, don’t wait well. We stand in front of the microwave and say, “Hurry up.” We wish our InstaPot were just a bit quicker. We skip the drive-through because the line is too long. We get frustrated when we pray and pray, but don’t get the answer we want right away.
As a people, we don’t wait well. And because we don’t wait well, we suffer. We lose hope. We despair. We miss out on the blessings of the moment, becoming so focused on what God isn’t giving us that we fail to see what he is giving us.
Advent, however, invites us to do things differently. It invites us to wait – to hold off, for just a little while, on the celebrating, so we can come to a deeper appreciation of the reason for the celebrating.
When we take Advent up on that invitation, we discover the secret to waiting well.
Waiting well is finding Jesus where we are, not only where we will be or want to be.
Waiting well is inviting God into the moment – this moment, right now, not some future moment.
Waiting well is not only looking at what will be, but also discovering God in what is.
Waiting well is trusting that God is faithful; it’s believing that regardless of whatever present darkness might surround us, light will come.
And waiting well means allowing God to slowly change our hearts in this time so when we once again find our God, lying in the crib, we can realize he was with us all along.
This Advent, don’t be in a hurry. Take it slow. Go ahead and prepare for Christmas – buy the gifts, ready your home, do your baking – but also wait. Wait to open the gifts. Maybe wait to do the final decorating until Christmas gets closer. Or even wait to eat all those cookies until Christmas Eve. Just save something about Christmas for Christmas, and trust that the wait will be worth it. It always is.
For more thoughts on Advent from Father Dave as well as inspirational videos, blogs, music, and other resources, visit Franciscan University’s ’Tis the Season Advent website.