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Posted on 05/14/2019 08:00 AM (CNA Columns: Bishops' Corner)
On January 18, 2019, a video of Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann went viral. He was at the Lincoln Memorial standing face to face with a Native American man during the March to Life in Washington, D.C. On the basis of that picture, a frenzy of condemnations from reporters, commentators and politicians were heaped upon this student, accusing him of prejudice and hatred. Misinformation and lies spread like wild fire. Finally, when the facts were uncovered, the high school student was exonerated of any wrong-doing, even though much wrong had been done to him and his family. It was a rush to judgment.
On January 29, 2019, American actor and singer Jussie Smollett reported that two masked men attacked him at 2 AM near his apartment in Chicago. He claimed that the attack was racist and homophobic. After Smollett’s initial report, friends and fans, celebrities and politicians expressed outrage at this hate crime. Twitter and Instagram fueled the frenzy of self-righteous indignation. However, in just three weeks, it was discovered that the whole event had been orchestrated by Smollett. Yet, before the facts were fully known, there was the rush to judgment and much chatter.
Gifted with reason, we are wired to make judgments. Discerning the good from the bad, the beautiful from the ugly, the right from the wrong, and virtue from vice: this is an essential part of our being human. However, every judgment must be founded on truth, not rumor; on fact, not fiction; on substance, not appearance. And every judgment must always be tempered with compassion. Albeit from opposite directions, the Sandmann and Smollett incidents show how quick we are to believe or disbelieve, to accuse or defend and how easily we pick a side and draw a line in the sand. And, all the while, truth grows ever more fragile.
Today’s rush to judgment gathers speed along the newly constructed digital highway. We get information instantaneously and, because we want solutions just as fast, we are quick to judge. As a result of this incessant communication about other people’s lives, we live on the edge between truth and falsehood. What years ago was whispered between a few people now goes viral and can never be retrieved. As a result, in this environment, deliberately passing on stories that destroy other people’s good names is nothing less than cyber bullying.
There is no area of modern society that is exempt from someone passing on false information, half-truths or blatant, deliberate lies. In a society of fast-paced information sharing, gossip has become so commonplace that people justify it as a way to right wrongs, correct others and unseat those whom they deem unfit for their chosen work. However, unlike the surgeon’s scalpel that removes the cancer, gossip is the arrow that destroys the other.
As a statement sometimes attributed to Mark Twain says, “a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots.” In a similar vein, Jonathan Swift once wrote, “if a lie be believ’d only for an hour, it has done its work, and there is no further occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it; so that, when men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late…the tale has had its effect” (Jonathan Swift, The Examiner, Number 15, November, 1710). For this reason, people of good faith should be slow to judge others. And never should they gossip. People who constantly judge or criticize others truly lack compassion.
Sadly, making negative judgments on others on the basis of appearances and then spreading those judgments to others is found among those who consider themselves Church-going people. It is especially found among those who set themselves as crusaders for a just cause and, then by their lack of charity, become unjust themselves. The fondness to judge and criticize others may well be a way of not facing one’s own sins. "It is often easier or more convenient to see and condemn the faults and sins of others than it is to see our own” (Pope Francis, Angelus, March 3, 2019).
In speech after speech, Pope Francis has been courageously warning us of the evil of gossip. “Gossip is a weapon and it threatens the human community every day; it sows envy, jealousy and power struggles… We might welcome someone and speak well of him the first day but little by little that worm eats away at our minds until our gossip banishes him from good opinion. That person in a community who gossips against his or her neighbor is, in a sense, killing him.” (Pope Francis, Homily, Domus Sanctae Marthae, September 2, 2013).
Few things can match the harmful effects of gossip, whether it be slander or detraction. Defamation inflicts grave harm on the individual and destroys the community. It is against charity and, since God is love, it is against God himself. Charles Spurgeon, one of the most popular Baptist preachers of the 19th century, summed up the evil of talking about other people by saying, “the tale-bearer carries the devil in his tongue, and the tale-hearer carries the devil in his ear.” Gossip makes the devil laugh!
Posted on 05/11/2019 08:00 AM (CNA Columns: Bishops' Corner)
A few years ago, Paul Croituru and his young son went out treasure hunting near their native village in Romania. To their surprise, they discovered ancient Greek currency dating back 2,350 years to the time of King Philip II. The 300 silver coins turned out to be counterfeit. The father and son now hold the distinction of having discovered the oldest counterfeit money known thus far.
Counterfeit money has been around as long as money has been around. In fact, some have named the production of counterfeit money “the world's second oldest profession.” During war time, nations often resort to counterfeit money to inflict harm on their enemies. During the Revolutionary War, Great Britain attempted to devalue the continental dollar by flooding the market with shovers (fake dollars). During World War II, the Nazis made prisoners in their camps forge British pounds and American dollars to destabilize their enemies’ economies and destroy them.
Satan constantly attempts to entice individuals into counterfeit religion where the forged currency is believing in God while denying sin. The devil would have everyone forget that sin is a reality. In this way, he can render ineffective in us the work of Christ who came to take away our sins. Failure. Weakness. Mistakes. Psychological pressures. Social customs. All these labels the devil uses to disguise sin. But, sin itself remains a fact.
Science always prides itself on beginning every research project with a fact. True religion, likewise, begins with the fact of sin in the world, original sin and personal sin. “The ancient masters of religion…began with the fact of sin. Whether or not man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders…have begun…to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved” (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy). And so can the personal sins of hatred, envy, lust, pride, gluttony and greed likewise be proven.
Even a casual glance at Sacred Scriptures shows that sin taints even God’s greatest heroes and heroines. Adam and Eve lead the procession of sinners. Drunken Noah, untruthful Abraham, adulterous David and Bathsheba, disloyal Peter, and murderous Paul follow. Sin really is not that original. It is the monotonous repetition of the tragedy of Eden: choosing self over God. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8).
In the Sacrament of Penance, the Church offers us the gift of a personal encounter with our merciful Lord who forgives our sins. However, many people, and sometimes even faithful Catholics, say that they do not need to go to a priest for confession to have their sins forgiven. Why confess to a priest who is a sinner himself? God will forgive sins without the ministry of priests. Certainly, God can forgive sins when we turn to him and repent. But, he has chosen to offer us his forgiveness through the ministry of the Church. And, for a reason.
Sin is not just between the individual and God. Every sin that we commit offends God and affects others. Every sin harms Christ’s Body, the Church. The act of confession before a priest recognizes the true nature of sin as an offense against God and others. And so, it is through the Church’s priests that God chooses not simply to forgive our sins but to reconcile us to the Church. (cf. Pope Francis, General Audience, November 20, 2013).
So important is confession that some of the holiest priests of the Church have spent hours in the confessional as missionaries of God’s mercy. St. Philip Neri, a busy parish priest in Rome, spent every morning hearing confessions before continuing his work with youth in the afternoon. So famous was St. Jean Vianney in hearing confessions that a new train station had to be built in his town of Ars so that people from all of France could go there to confess to this holy priest. Most recently, St. Padre Pio heard confessions for not less than 18 hours a day. There were always long lines awaiting him.
During his public ministry, Jesus forgave sins (cf. Mk 2:5; Lk 7:48; Jn 8:1-11). And, then after the Resurrection, he entrusted this ministry of forgiveness to his priests. On Easter Sunday night, “Jesus said to them ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained’” (Jn 20:21-23). In confession, the priest, weak and sinful himself, acts in the name of Jesus and with his authority.
In going to confession, we approach the priest, one by one, not as group, not as family. We humbly place before him all our own sins. To receive absolution and be forgiven, it is necessary not simply to confess all mortal sins, but also to have a firm purpose of amendment of sinning no more. As difficult as this might be at times, how great the grace! For, when the priest absolves us, we have, as Jesus promised, the certainty that our sins are forgiven.
Posted on 04/17/2019 08:00 AM (CNA Columns: Bishops' Corner)
In February 1915, only six months after the beginning of World War I, Lancet, a British medical journal, used for the first time the expression “shell shock.” This newly coined expression was used to describe the feeling of helplessness that soldiers felt after exposure to constant bombardment. The term was new, but not the reality. After every war, soldiers return from combat, suffering “shell shock.”
Watching their comrades mowed down by enemy fire or left maimed and strewn on the battlefield, combatants become immune to feelings of connectedness and concern. Today, this phenomenon is becoming an epidemic. We are constantly being bombarded by bad news. The catastrophic and inhumane events that interrupt our everyday life are causing many people to escape from the brutality by becoming shell shocked.
Terrorist attacks in Belgium, Syria, Africa, and in England; daily violence on the streets of Chicago, New York, Paterson; the massacre of our children in their schools and of believers in their churches, synagogues and mosques; the interminable disputes and rancor over immigration; allegations of racism and sexism; the incessant reporting of scandals, present and past! Moment by moment these evils confront us. So fast does news travel that one story stumbles over the other with images of the dead, the wounded, the homeless imprinted on our minds. These problems do not admit of simple solutions. And, since we are more aware of them today than in the past and yet less able to find solutions, many, left numb and disillusioned, drift into apathy.
In addition, newspapers, blogs and TV commentaries flash before us cause after cause, such as global poverty and climate change. “Every cause seems urgent, but nobody has the time, the energy, or the information necessary to make an impact. Knowing all the ways in which the world is flawed in a very real, raw, up-close kind of way without the ability to make any sort of important change is perhaps the most unwelcome symptom of the digital age” (Jamie Varon, “Generation apathy: How internet outrage is making us all numb and hopeless,” August 20, 2015).
Some Christians have drunk the hemlock of apathy. They are becoming more and more indifferent to evil in the world and, sadly, more and more detached from religion. Unconnected. Not invested. Religion may be good; but, when it comes to God, they have hung up a “Do Not Disturb Sign.” For them, weddings, funerals, First Communions, Confirmations, if even celebrated, are mostly social occasions.
Apathy within the Church is far more devastating than outside the Church. The Church is the sign and sacrament of salvation for the world. It is an instrument in God’s hands. But if the instrument is dull and listless, it hinders God’s activity. When people become apathetic, something more is needed than telling them to be kind and compassionate. Such preaching falls on deaf ears and hardened hearts. What is needed today is the bold proclamation of the kerygma, that is, the love of God given us in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
God is not apathetic. He is intensely passionate about his relationship with us and his world. He is the lover who pursues his beloved. He never gives up on us, despite our sins. He woos us back to himself (cf. Hosea 2:11). He did not turn his back on the evil of our world, but sent his Son to be our Redeemer.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son” (Jn 3:16). In the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s love is a fact. In Jesus, God has begun the work of forgiving sins and recreating the world. And, he gifts us with the Holy Spirit so that, together with him, we make all things new. We are not helpless. We are not alone. Apathy makes people murmur a half-silent “No” to the world in which we live. But, faith in Jesus Crucified and Risen makes us shout a resounding “Yes” to God’s work of the New Creation. Faith is the antidote to apathy.
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 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 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 11/16/2018 09:00 AM (CNA Columns: Bishops' Corner)
The November General Assembly of Bishops in Baltimore was a difficult but perhaps unavoidable experience for us to move forward as a Church. I was very disappointed to learn that the Holy See found it necessary to insist that the USCCB not take action at this time on the proposals presented by our conference leadership. My frustration, shared with many other people, is this: We have known about the scandal of Archbishop McCarrick since the end of June, and our Church must take immediate, decisive and substantive action in light of the deep wound the scandal has caused.
I am not so concerned about the time it is taking to punish the perpetrator. Pope Francis immediately required the Archbishop to resign from the College of Cardinals when Cardinal Dolan announced the New York review board found a credible and substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against him. I’m okay with the fact that further penalties (which could include McCarrick’s return to the lay state) will take more time for a complete canonical process. McCarrick isn’t going anywhere and he is already living a life of imposed prayer and penance.
But much more is needed than simply meting out a just punishment. How could his rise to such an influential position in the Church have happened? I am concerned how the national conference of bishops and the Holy See answer that question. An internal investigation of the McCarrick scandal without the use of competent and qualified lay investigators will hardly be considered transparent and credible. We need and must utilize the best and brightest people to do a top-notch investigation and study of the problem. Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta is the most qualified Catholic clergy to lead such an investigation, but without knowing that his collaborators include competent laity, the public may not perceive his eventual report as independent and complete enough to be believed.
At the time of this writing, there has not been one bishop, archbishop or cardinal in either the Holy See or the United States who has come forward on his own to repent publicly of his sins of omission or commission with regard to Archbishop McCarrick’s series of promotions over decades. Please, be men, not cowards, and come clean on your own! There doesn’t have to be a formal and long, drawn out investigation for a bishop to exercise a little compunction and concern for the well-being of the whole Church. An independent and transparent investigation is all the more necessary when culpable hierarchs exhibit an incapacity to do the right thing on their own.
The laity are the only ones who can keep the hierarchy accountable and get us out of the mess we bishops got ourselves into. My singular focus throughout the Baltimore meeting was to advocate and push for greater public involvement of the laity at all levels of the Church. Why can’t we have well qualified, nationally known and trusted lay experts named to the special task force announced by the president of the USCCB? We are too insular and closed in as a hierarchy, and so are some of our processes at the USCCB. The Second Vatican Council gave us not only the freedom but the obligation to utilize and engage the gifts and talents of the laity in the life and mission of the Church.
Beyond the McCarrick scandal, we have more work cut out for us with regard to putting into place protocols and institutional structures to build credibility in the hierarchy’s handling of sexual abuse cases going forward. History proves that we bishops are not capable of policing ourselves adequately on the issue of clergy sexual abuse. Why not include the laity to assist us with this problem? The document the Missouri Province of Bishops presented to the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People on Oct. 6 was intended to offer a set of principles for the USCCB to consider as it was developing proposals for the full body of bishops, including the involvement of the laity. We Missouri bishops wanted something valuable to come from our November meeting.
And so, I was disappointed that even the mild proposals up for consideration at the Baltimore meeting had to be pulled from a vote. It was a rather harsh reminder to me of what many lay people have been saying throughout our Diocese: We bishops are ineffectual in our attempts to address the problem of abuse of power by the hierarchy. The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People has had a marked impact on lowering the number of incidents of abuse by clergy since 2003. But with the aggravation of the McCarrick scandal, the laity and clergy are now rightfully asking that we get it all out, once and for all, and respond with an urgency that this crisis deserves. We literally have people dying because of the harm caused by predator clergy, and survivors of abuse are further victimized when we fail to take swift action. Seeing certain retired bishops who were notoriously responsible for covering up clergy sexual abuse at this year’s General Assembly in Baltimore as welcome guests was a slap in the face to all who have been wounded by the clergy. This example of episcopal arrogance and clericalism evidences the fact that we still don’t get the problem.
The whole Church is needed to solve our problem which the whole world knows about. What more do we have to hide? If we are going to move forward, we need to have authentic communion and a genuine synodal process. And this requires transparency and better communication between the clergy and the laity, between the USCCB and its own members, and between the USCCB and the Holy See. We need to become the Church Christ founded us to be.
Some of the most poignant comments I heard during the listening sessions in our Diocese were in response to the question asking for people’s dreams for their children and grandchildren. People spoke of a Church where their children and grandchildren would find the love, mercy and hope of Jesus Christ, a community filled by God’s graces and led by holy priests. Despite our current lethargy, I believe we are witnessing the rebirth and renewal of our Church in our day. And I feel very blessed to be part of that renewal with each of you. We are better together.
Bishop McKnight's column was first published at Making Connections, his column on the website of the Diocese of Jefferson City.
Posted on 11/1/2018 08:00 AM (CNA Columns: Bishops' Corner)
On the Mediterranean coast, half way between modern Tel Aviv to the north and Haifa to the south, stand the ruins of Caesarea Maritima, the magnificent city that Herod the Great built between 22 and 10 B.C. Herod’s palace, built on a promontory jutting out into the sea, was an engineering marvel. The city’s 40-acre harbor could accommodate 300 ships. The city boasted a hippodrome as well as a theater with a seating capacity of 3,500.
Caesarea Maritima was one of the most important cities in the world. It was the Roman capital from which Pontius Pilate ruled the province of Judea at the time of Jesus. Paul was imprisoned here. Deacon Philip lived here. And, for the first 300 years of Christianity, Caesarea became a center of faith and study that rivaled Alexandria and Antioch. Among its most famous Christians is Origen.
Origen (184 – 253 A.D.) was a teacher, scholar, preacher, apologist, and theologian. He has rightly been called “the greatest genius of the early Church.” Like St. Paul himself whose writings influenced all subsequent theology, Origen has had an unmistakable effect on the Church’s great thinkers for centuries. Among others, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Meister Eckhart all studied his writing. Origen’s allegorical interpretation of Scripture became the preferred method of explaining the Scriptures during the Middle Ages.
As a first-class philosopher and student of Sacred Scripture, he has earned himself the distinction of being the Church’s first biblical scholar. But, he did not limit his study to Sacred Scripture. He wrote on many different topics, including textual criticism, hermeneutics, theology, asceticism and homiletics. Origen’s principal work, De Principiis, was the first systematic exposition of Christian theology ever written. With the help of seven full-time secretaries, he produced more than two thousand works. So extensive were his writings that St. Jerome remarked, “Has anyone read everything that Origen wrote?”
The catechetical school that Origen established at Caesarea Maritima boasted the largest theological library of the day. It attracted such renowned scholars as St. Gregory Nazianzus, St. Basil the Great and St. Jerome. One of Origen’s students, Eusebius of Caesarea, earned the distinction of being “The Father of Church History.” Eusebius himself provides us into a glimpse of Origen’s personal life.
According to Eusebius, Origen not only worked assiduously defending the faith, but also he lived the faith in great simplicity. He owned only one coat. He wore no shoes. He ate sparingly. He slept on the floor. He spent the night studying and praying the Scriptures. In the words of Eusebius, “he taught as he lived and he lived as he taught.”
In the days of Origen, the Church herself had to face persecution, hostility and attacks from pagan philosophers. Even within the Church, there were the interminable battles on such important doctrines as the Trinity, the Divinity of Jesus and Redemption. While, in some instances, Origen may have not understood or explained the faith correctly, he nevertheless said, “I want to be a man of the Church … to be called … of Christ.”
What a great inspiration Origen is for anyone who may find it difficult when the Church faces challenges, questions, hostility, persecution and human failure. In his commentary on the Gospel of John, he writes:
“The Church is being built out of living stones; it is in process of becoming a spiritual dwelling for a holy priesthood, raised on the foundations of apostles and prophets, with Christ as its chief cornerstone. Hence, it bears the name ‘temple.’…It is written: You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it. Thus even if the harmonious alignment of the stones should seem to be destroyed and fragmented and, as described in the twenty-first psalm, all the bones which go to make up Christ’s body should seem to be scattered by insidious attacks in persecutions or times of trouble, or by those who in days of persecution undermine the unity of the temple, nevertheless the temple will be rebuilt and the body will rise again on the third day, after the day of evil which threatens it…” From a commentary on John by Origen, priest (Tomus 10, 20: PG 14, 370-371).
With these words, Origen offers hope to those who become discouraged when they see the Church suffering, besieged and wounded by sin. Origen presents the Church as a building being constructed, a work in progress. And, he enlarges our understanding of the Church so that we see ourselves as her members, imperfect in ourselves, yet being perfected by the grace of God. As we look forward to “the third day,” the day of the final resurrection, we pray for the Church and try to advance her holiness by striving after holiness in our own imperfect lives.
Posted on 10/30/2018 08:00 AM (CNA Columns: Bishops' Corner)
One of the most famous figures of all English literature is the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Three times he appears in Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. He demands that his son settle accounts with his uncle who murdered the dead king. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Julius Caesar and Richard III, ghosts also appear. From the 3rd century B.C. Epic of Gilgamesh through Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Shakespeare and Dickens, ghosts populated the pages of literature. They have appeared in films and even starred in their own TV show, Ghost Hunters.
Are ghosts merely fictional? Do they really exist? First Lady Grace Coolidge said that she saw Abraham Lincoln’s ghost looking out the window of the Oval Office. Many others have, likewise, reported sightings of the ghost of our 16th President at the White House. Among those claiming to have seen a spectral Lincoln are Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and President Reagan’s daughter Maureen.
Within the Old Testament, there is the famous incident of the ghost of the prophet Samuel. In 1 Samuel 28, King Saul is facing a fierce battle with the Philistines. He wants to know the outcome; and, so he consults the witch of Endor. The spirit of the dead prophet Samuel appears and predicts Saul’s imminent defeat and death. Some commentators say that Samuel came because God allowed him to come and speak on God’s behalf (cf. Sir 46:20). Other commentators consider this incident a demonic apparition. In either case, they accept the apparition.
The New Testament gives evidence that the disciples of Jesus believed in the reality of ghosts. After the miracle of the loaves and fish, “when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea, they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost,’ they said, and they cried out in fear” (Mt 14:26). When the Risen Lord appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, “they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then [Jesus] said to them, ‘Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have’ ” (Lk 24:37-39).
The word “ghost” simply means “spirit.” It refers to the spirit of a deceased person who has made himself or herself present to the living. According to polls taken in the last ten years, almost forty-two percent of Americans believe in ghosts. According to a recent poll, almost thirty percent of Americans say they have been in touch with someone who has died.
Stories about contact with the dead continue to fascinate us. They provoke the imagination. They manifest our awareness that there is more to reality than the physical world which we empirically experience. These reports of the spirits of those who have died clearly suggest personal survival after death.
In her wisdom, the Church rightly condemns consulting mediums to be in touch with the dead. In fact, “all forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2116).
As Catholics, we hold that, at death, we face an immediate judgment of our lives. If we are in the state of perfect charity, we go to heaven. If we die in the state of mortal sin (God forbid!), we suffer eternal estrangement from God in hell. And, those of us who die in the state of grace, but not in perfect charity, undergo a purification of love in purgatory before we come into the presence of God. In a word, death is not the end of our personal existence. Nor does the Grim Reaper sever our relationships with each other. All tales of ominous specters appearing from beyond the grave pale before the brilliant truth of the Risen Christ who leaves the tomb empty and joins the living and the dead in one holy Communion of Saints where we assist each other with our prayers!