Browsing News Entries
Posted on 12/5/2019 09:00 AM (CNA Columns: Guest Columnist)
When Archbishop Jose Gomez was elected to head the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) earlier this month, he tweeted that it was an honor - and not only for him, but for “every Latino Catholic in the country.” He’s right about that. We Latino Catholics feel it a great honor and a point of pride that a fellow Hispanic should take the lead. Not just because he is Latino, but because he’s a man with a sterling character and gentle manner, a man well known both for his sympathetic attitude toward the plight of immigrants and his traditional approach to social issues. This is a powerful and attractive combination to our growing Hispanic Catholic Church.
Gomez, a native of Monterrey, Mexico and a naturalized U.S. citizen, presides over the Los Angeles diocese, the largest and one of the most diverse dioceses in the country. Its parishes encompass more than thirty ethnicities, celebrating masses in languages from Igbo to Hungarian to Tagalog. The catholicity, that is, the universality--of the Catholic Church is a palpable thing in L.A., not simply a doctrinal concept. It’s the result of a constant and varied immigration.
As leader of the USCCB, Archbishop Gomez will head an American Catholic Church that is about 58% non-Hispanic white and 34% Latino - a church in which most members under 30 are Hispanic. A significant number of the 2.7 million Hispanics that attend mass in Spanish are undocumented, and an even greater number probably know or love someone whose presence here is precarious. Gomez brings a history of heartfelt public support for the undocumented workers that America relies on to farm our crops, tidy our lawns, man our factories, and look after our children. He has been an especially vocal advocate of “dreamers.” “In a special way, I pray for #Dreamers, the day before #Scotus hears oral arguments on the legality of DACA,” he tweeted just after his election.
Archbishop Gomez is the author of the excellent “Immigration and the Next America.” The 2013 book neatly lays out his assessment of our current situation and his vision for a better future. He chronicles the historical background of a nation founded by Puritans searching for freedom but also (and even earlier) colonized by Spanish missionary migrants in a successful quest to evangelize the native population. He assesses a present-day America that lacks moral consensus and is crazed with consumerism, a nation confused about everything from the meaning of sexuality to the value (if any) of human life. He sees a country in which the ties of traditional American values and civic virtues that once bound us to one another are frayed, a country whose uneasy citizenry worries about what the “Next America” will look like.
Gomez does not downplay the importance of legal norms and the very real toll that the chaos and lawlessness of illegal immigration takes, especially along our southern border. He argues, however, that fear and uncertainty may tempt us to “abandon our commitment to liberty and justice for all, in favor of an insular, racial definition of who can be a true American.” American Catholics, members of an immigrant Church in a country with a long history of anti-Catholic bias have a special responsibility in today’s debates over immigration reform. We bring to the table not only the memory of our ancestor’s experience of discrimination and the Church’s energetic response to the material and spiritual needs of successive waves of migrants, but also its rich tradition of teaching on human dignity and social justice. Catholics are especially suited to envision the face of the “Next America” in a way faithful to the Christian obligation of benevolence to strangers.
U.S. Hispanics have a lot to be happy about in Archbishop Gomez’s election. He is a man with a tender heart for the vulnerable people in our midst who can also articulate a way forward on immigration that is attractive and optimistic - one based on the highest ideals that are our shared inheritance in this diverse country. He is also a man who bridges the liberal/conservative divide by quietly affirming the traditional mores and values that Hispanics are bent on preserving. But then, I venture to say that his election gives all American Catholics reason to be happy too.
Posted on 10/11/2019 08:00 AM (CNA Columns: Guest Columnist)
Our parish’s fall festival was coming to an end. As I rounded up my little ones, I spotted an acquaintance. Antoinette is almost 95 years old and now wheelchair bound, but her incandescent smile inevitably draws people towards her. “Have you had a nice evening?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” she replied, “I spoke for a long time with Father.”
“You know,” I said in a hushed tone, “I think he is a mystic.”
“Yes,” Antoinette said, taking a deep breath, “he saw right to my soul.”
A mystic is not some sort of Catholic tarot card reader. A mystic is, in the eyes of traditional Christianity, someone God has given certain gifts and graces to accomplish a specific purpose for the salvation of souls. Some of the Church’s notable mystics include great saints like St. Padre Pio, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena. Their extraordinary ability to sense God transformed their hearts. Theirs were hearts moved to quiet and solitude when necessary, but also to action and service to souls and the Church. They were obedient to God and Church, and – not unrelatedly – they were profoundly humble.
Now, we shouldn’t think that the exceptional relationship that mystics had with God is just for an elite, holy few. No, not at all. Mystics walk among us in our everyday lives – Antoinette’s and my parish priest, for example – and a mystical relationship with God is open to us all. In fact, God longs to connect with each one of our hearts and transform them for His glory. To that end, National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez has just compiled a beautiful daily devotional, A Year with the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living, that can help open our hearts to such prayerful, mystical encounters with God. Lopez’ message is simple: “You too can be a mystic.”
“I don’t pretend to either be a mystic or an expert on mysticism,” she writes. “But I do pray enough to know that so very few us of us have plumbed the depths of what God wants to reveal to us and do in us through prayer.”
A Year with the Mystics features brief, daily meditations grounded in the writings and prayers of the Catholic Church’s well-known mystics – Padre Pio, Teresa of Avila, and John of the Cross, for example. Lopez also includes the words of “active saints in the world,” figures not conventionally thought of as mystics such as Mother Teresa and Mother Angelica.
The book is not a formulaic, chapter-by-chapter guide to the interior life. Rather, each day’s reflection invites the reader into a particular contemplation. “Entering into the light,” “Divine friendship,” “Looking in the mirror, seeing light and virtue,” “Pray without ceasing? A how-to” are some of my most favorite daily invitations. Lopez follows up with a brief introduction to an inspired writing, the excerpt itself, a consideration and then a final prayer. The reading and daily meditation takes a brief 15 minutes, but it can inspire an entire holy hour or direct your entire day. It’s worth pointing out that the book is beautifully bound and sturdy enough to survive transport in a purse, briefcase, or the door pocket of the car so that not one day of contemplation is missed.
I have turned to this little volume often in my prayers since receiving my review copy. And I have found great consolation – the kind of consolation I saw on Antoinette’s smiling face after she spoke with Father John at the parish festival.
For most of us, the mystical union with God will be found as contemplatives in an often loud and busy world. Inviting the mystics to accompany us along our journey of contemplation presents an opportunity for incredible growth in our prayerful encounter with God. In A Year with the Mystics, Kathryn Jean Lopez has mapped a lovely and useful path to facilitate this encounter. “Be not afraid as you’ve heard and will read,” she writes “Let him bring you to a peace that surpasses all understanding, even as he brings you into a deeper understanding in the heart of the Trinity.”
Posted on 07/8/2019 08:00 AM (CNA Columns: Guest Columnist)
Last weekend, like most weekends this summer, I stood in front of teens at a Steubenville Youth Conference talking about heaven and hell. Also last weekend, like most weekends, fewer teens came than I’d hoped to see.
Don’t worry; I’m not taking it personally. At the conferences, the workshop is offered at the same time as a workshop about dating. Ninety-five percent of the teens opt for the dating talk. The other five percent opt for mine. Which makes sense. Discussions about relationships naturally capture young people’s attention more than discussions about eternity. Nevertheless, last weekend, out of curiosity, I began my talk by asking my five percent why they came to my workshop and not the dating one. One young lady raised her hand. “I want to make sure I go to heaven,” she said.
Jokingly, I responded, “So, you think everyone at the dating talk wants to go to hell?”
The teens laughed, and I moved on with the talk. But I’ve been thinking about her response ever since. It’s unusual. Not because she wants to go to heaven; I think everyone at the conference wants the same. Rather, it’s unusual that she’s thinking about heaven at all.
Last year, a study by the Barna Group found that the percentage of Gen Z (those born between 1999 and 2015) that identifies as “atheist” is twice that of the U.S. adult population. The same study found that teens who do believe in God tend to disagree with their faiths’ teachings about sexuality. And even among those who practice faithfully, religion often takes a back seat to other priorities: school, sports, and, yes, relationships.
I’ve worked with young Catholics for over 20 years, and what I’m seeing now bears that out. Too many teens live in a world without consequences or self-reflection. Many treat God like an extracurricular activity, and religion like a shirt they put on just for Sundays.
Moreover, many teens I encounter—maybe even most—have been formed by the culture, not the Church. Twenty years ago, things that kids coming to our conferences would have thought were crazy, are now normative. I regularly meet young people who are engaged in their parish, attend youth group, attend eucharistic adoration, but who also have no issue with pre-marital sex, gay marriage, or transgenderism. They’ve become so inculcated by the culture that it doesn’t occur to them to question these behaviors.
This presents a huge problem, not just for the Church, but also for young people. They were made for heaven. But you don’t get to heaven by treating the spiritual life as just one of many competing demands on your time. You also don’t get to heaven by living a life contrary to the Gospel.
Franciscan University, the school I serve as president, is doing everything we can to change this youth culture. This includes sponsoring 23 Steubenville Youth Conferences, in 18 cities across North America, this summer. Over 60,000 teens will attend.
At these conferences, in every talk—even the dating talk—we help teens go deeper, to think outside their circumstances, outside their worldview, and start thinking with the Church. We want them to know that each one of them has an eternal soul, and the fate of that soul hangs in the balance.
As I tell them, the Evil One is real, and he wants nothing more than to pull them away from the life for which they were made—eternal life with God. That’s why they have to learn to be more reflective, not just about themselves and Church teaching, but about the music they listen to, the shows they watch, and how they spend their time. It’s all feeding their soul, and they will only make it to heaven if they feed themselves right.
We do the same for our students at Franciscan. As a Catholic university, we have a responsibility to form not just students’ minds, but also their souls. Our deepest desire for our students is to see them become saints.
That’s why, at Franciscan University, we teach our students what it means to be made in the image of God. We teach them the dignity and beauty of being made as a man or a woman. We root them in the unchanging teachings of the Church and call them to a relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We also feed them with the sacraments and nurture devotion to the Blessed Mother and the saints. This is the food their souls need, and it is our sacred duty to give it to them.
We can’t do this alone. Parents are the primary educators of their children, and if teens today are going to shift their focus away from the world and toward God, we need parents’ help. We need parents to stand firm against the culture that puts sports before God. We need parents to teach their children that actions have consequences, both in this life and the next; that doing one activity or job well, with integrity, matters more than doing many different activities; and that honoring commitments is more important than chasing after the next best thing. Most of all, we need parents to walk with their children on the journey that is the spiritual life, praying with them, sacrificing with them, and serving with them.
It’s not too late to reverse course. Not for young people. Not for any of us. But if we’re not thinking about where we’re going, we’re going to end up in a very different place from where we want to be.
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 04/16/2019 08:00 AM (CNA Columns: Guest Columnist)
How many Catholics will fill the pews on Easter Sunday 2019? Will this year see a noticeable decline in parishioners dressed in their Easter finest? Will the past year’s “Summer of Shame” – the publication of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, the (now-defrocked) Cardinal Theodore McCarrick scandal, the Vatican’s tepid, tone-deaf response to abuse here and elsewhere in the world – take its toll on the Catholic Church in America this Easter?
Some Catholics have already left the Church. Quite publicly. Others have not yet taken that step; they’re simply shaken and disaffected. This is not one of those stories. I remain convinced that the Catholic Church is where I should be.
Of course, I was angry when the findings of the Pennsylvania grand jury on clerical sexual abuse of children became public last August. How could men entrusted with the care of souls egregiously harm innocent children? News of Theodore McCarrick’s most unholy life also disgusted me, especially the news that more than a few people knew that this high-ranking American prelate had preyed on people and said nothing. All in all, I felt betrayed and humiliated.
I have found some consolation since those first months of shock, confusion and revulsion. Peter Steinfels’ excellent analysis of the grand jury report in Commonweal Magazine helped. He showed that almost all the abuse cited took place decades before the U.S. Catholic bishops’ 2002 steps to protect minors. These reforms have made Catholic churches and schools among the safest places for children in the United States. Then, this past February, Pope Francis finally defrocked McCarrick and hosted a world summit on clergy abuse.
There is still much more to do to restore the priesthood and episcopate. Some members of the hierarchy here and in the Vatican appear genuinely concerned and are working to rid the rot that has seeped into the Church. Is it only window-dressing? Only time will tell.
What are average Catholics to do in the meantime?
This Lent, I found my answer in Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God!”
It is easy to walk away when things get difficult. Pointing to the failings of others on your way out may even offer a gratifying sense of self-righteousness. Instead of leaving the Church, however, I am choosing to be still. The Catholic Church is where I belong, despite the failings of many of her faithful, including yours truly.
Living as a faithful Catholic is not convenient or comfortable or popular today. It never has been. Ask the first pope, Saint Peter, who was crucified upside down. Or other martyrs to the faith of our past or present. Say the 21 Coptic Christians kidnapped and beheaded in Libya in 2015.
Yes, U.S. Catholics today face a crisis – our summer and winter and spring of shame, the failure of some priests and prelates, not to mention the Church and Her faithful’s place in an increasingly hostile secular culture. While today’s crisis pales in comparison to crises other Christians have faced over the millennia, it has led many to bouts of despondency. I am surely no exception.
But when I am “still” – when I trust that God has put the Church in charge of my spiritual well-being and try to follow Her teachings – I can handle whatever contradictions and confusions that the all-too-human leaders of the Church send my way. Or the challenges everyday life bring. Loss, suffering, humiliations or just plain exhaustion can’t keep me down for long. Instead of letting the scandal of sexual infidelity by a handful of priests and bishops dissolve this trust, I have resolved to be still and live more faithfully.
What does that look like? It means embracing all that the Church teaches, turning to Her sacraments, and doing so joyfully. It means being a light for others. As Saint Augustine said, “The measure of love is to love without measure.”
No, now is not the time to leave. Now is the time to stand confidently in defense of the Church’s eternal teachings. Now, today, this moment is the time to show it is possible to live consistent with Catholic teaching and desire the good of all around me.
So, as Easter season draws near with its promise of immense joy, I will be still, unwavering in my fidelity to a church that calls me to be a faithful, joyous messenger of love and hope. “Be still and know that I am God!”
Posted on 03/28/2019 08:00 AM (CNA Columns: Guest Columnist)
Why are so many women so angry today?
Don’t get me wrong, confronting abuse, harassment, and unfair treatment demands a certain toughness and righteous anger. But more than the injustices of the day seem to be making women really angry. Dr. Carrie Gress’ thought-provoking new book, The Anti-Mary Exposed: Rescuing the Culture from Toxic Femininity, offers a convincing explanation: We live in an age of the Anti-Mary.
It is well-accepted, at least in Catholic circles, that Mary brought a unique spirit into the world as the Mother of God. She is the anti-Eve, the New Eve. Gress builds upon this understanding and argues that “[i]f Christ is the New Adam and Mary the New Eve, it makes sense to consider that an antichrist could have a female complement.” This complement is an anti-Marian spirit that “animates an entire movement and the individuals engaged in it.” That movement is what passes for feminism today.
What does this “anti-Marian spirit” look like?
[A] woman in its grip would not value children. She would be bawdy, vulgar, and angry. She would rage against the idea of anything resembling humble obedience or self-sacrifice for others. She would be petulant, shallow, catty and over sensuous. She would also be self-absorbed, manipulative, gossipy, anxious, and self-servingly ambitious. In short, she would be everything that Mary is not. She would bristle especially at the idea of being a virgin or a mother.
The description is bracing and familiar. I know this spirit. At my best, I struggle against it. At my worst, I am overtaken by aspects of it. We probably all are, women and men, as individuals. Gress, however, is arguing that this unattractive “anti-Marian spirit” has become something of a spirit of the age for far too many women today. The result is a prevailing anger. And a prevailing discontent.
Gress finds the roots of the anti-Marian spirit in the early feminist movement of the 1960s. She recounts the movement's founding and the dramatic influence it has had on how women think about themselves today. Her history lesson is not glamorous. It is not chic. It is downright ugly and reveals how "feminism" from its infancy indulged in the vice of envy.
Today, proponents of unfettered abortion have taken up the baton once carried by early radical feminists. They peddle the idea that a woman's developing child is a threat to her advancement, success, and happiness. Adherents of a toxic feminism do not “embrace the goodness that men have to offer society but view it as an evil that must be eliminated.” This anti-Marian spirit has rebranded and exalted as role models the “woman of folly,” Jezebel, and Lilith – characters referred to in cautionary tales found in Scripture and literature. Women under the spirit’s grip embrace the Marxist idea that divorces motherhood from the reality of being a woman. While rejecting the general idea of “goodness,” slaves of the anti-Marian spirit are encouraged to "find the goddess within."
Fortunately, Gress’ The Anti-Mary Exposed is not mere commentary on our ailing culture. Rather, it is a self-help book for rescuing womanhood. So, what can modern woman do? How can we pull ourselves away from the “anti-Marian spirit” before being completely consumed?
The antidote Dr. Gress prescribes is Mary -- our perfect model of Christian femininity. In Mary, we find a woman, not a goddess. She is sinless and perfect. She is not enslaved by vice. Her power is in her complete surrender to God. Mary’s meekness does not make her a doormat. As Saint Pope John Paul II observed, Mary “participated maternally in the tough fight against the powers of darkness that unfold during the whole of human history.”
In short, she fights like a mom.
The desires of women's hearts, Gress observes, "are to be beautiful, to be fruitful, to have their dignity respected, and most essentially, to be known and loved." Imitating Mary -- the perfect model of one who is "loved by God and who has an authentic relationship with Him" -- will satisfy these desires.
The Anti-Mary Exposed: Rescuing the Culture from Toxic Femininity is a powerful read. Gress cogently explores how radical feminism has unleashed a malicious "anti-Marian spirit," but leaves women and our culture a way out. Our embrace and imitation of Mary can rescue our culture, our womanhood. As Gress makes clear in this gem of a book, "[Mary] offers us the key to unlock the confusion about what it means to be women and what we need to do to find the true happiness that our souls crave."
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.”