An epiphany is a moment of startling clarity; a moment when the truth is suddenly and blindingly clear to us. An epiphany is the moment when we suddenly see the meaning of something that had been hidden, mysterious, or unclear to us just moments before. This Sunday, we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, remembering magi – spiritual seekers – who had come to Bethlehem seeking the meaning of a mystery. They had seen a star rising in the east, a star which they believed portended the birth of a great king. They had travelled to Jerusalem, seeking “the newborn king of the Jews,” whom they believed would be a great leader to his people, and to the world. They must have been surprised when they were sent from Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, to the small village of Bethlehem. They must have been even more surprised when they saw the bright star they had been following in front of them, and then shining brightly above the humble place where the Holy Family was staying. But they must have had an extraordinary epiphany – a moment of startling clarity. They had been looking for a king, brought to a humble home in a humble city, and yet, they were overjoyed. These three men – rich, powerful, and wise – entered the humble house, prostrated themselves on the ground, gave honor and homage to Jesus, the son of a carpenter, and offered him the great gifts they had been carrying. They must have known that his Kingdom was something more than a kingdom of power in this world, that he represented something greater and more profound than worldly princes and rulers. They were led by a light in the sky. And when they arrived, they had a moment of divine illumination, in which the Lord revealed to them that Christ was far more than what they had expected. Sacred Scripture does not tell us what became of the magi. But their lives must have been profoundly changed by the startling epiphany they had in Bethlehem. Perhaps they continued to follow Christ’s life from afar, perhaps they heard that he was the Messiah, perhaps they believed that in his resurrection, he conquered sin and death. They had an epiphany because they were open to the surprising revelation of the Lord. They found the King they sought in humility, in a poor child in a small town, instead of in the palace where they expected he would be. But they were open, in their own way, to the voice of the Lord, and when he was revealed to them, they knelt down, and honored him. The star the magi followed is a sign of hope for all of us. A sign that the Lord speaks to us, to reveal himself, at all times – as long as we are listening. A sign that all creation – even the stars in the heavens – point to the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord. A sign that God is calling each one of us to hear his voice, to discover him more deeply, and to do him homage. We’re all pilgrims, seeking the Lord, as the magi were when they travelled to Jerusalem. And the Lord is calling us all to more intimate unity and knowledge of him. The Lord is drawing us to himself, calling us to know him, and steadfastly waiting for our arrival. The magi saw the Lord’s sign because they were seeking a sign of the truth. And we, too, should always be seeking him. We should cultivate a heart open to the Lord’s voice, and eyes open to his signs. We cultivate open hearts and eyes best in the mystery of silence, of wonder, of contemplation. The magi contemplated the stars, looking for signs of the Lord’s presence, and, in a surprising epiphany, they found him. We have the grace of the Lord’s presence in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. How much more will we discover, how much more will we be surprised, if we contemplate the very presence of the Lord’s Eucharistic heart? Jesus Christ is the light who illuminates a path for us, who guides our feet, who invites us to follow him, as the magi followed a star from the east. On the Feast of the Epiphany, I pray that you will follow the light of the Lord, and I pray that God might surprise you with an epiphany of his love, his mercy, and his steadfast presence.
In the late 1940s, Archbishop Joseph Rummel began the process of ending segregation in the parishes, seminary, and schools of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. He faced real opposition, from families, from teachers, from civil officials, and even some of the priests and religious of his diocese. Political leaders threatened to end all state financial support for integrated Catholic schools. Catholics wrote to Pope Pius XII asking him to remove Archbishop Rummel from his post. At times, the opposition became violent – A cross was burned on Archbishop Rummel’s lawn; his home was picketed nightly. In 1959, eight years after segregated Church seating was banned, two black men were beaten by a mob because they sat in the front pews of a New Orleans area parish. Some diocesan officials pleaded with Archbishop Rummel to end his mission. But the archbishop was undeterred. In 1956, he wrote that racism “is morally wrong and sinful because it is a denial of the unity… of the Redemption. The Eternal Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord, came into the world to redeem and save all men, to die for all men on the cross, to make the life of grace available through the Church and the Sacraments for all men.” Racism, he wrote, and especially segregation “would draw the color line across the inspiring plan of the Redemption and thus sin against the divine providence, the love and the mercy that conceived and carried out the wonderful Mystery.” No matter the cost, Archbishop Rummel was committed to ending racial stereotypes and prejudices, which are, he said, “grievous violations of Christian justice and charity.” Archbishop Rummel died in 1964. By then, the Archdiocese of New Orleans had done away with racial segregation in its institutions. But the evil of racism – which sins against Providence, justice, and charity – remains a powerful force in our country. Last weekend, white supremacists and neo-Nazis demonstrated in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was the largest such gathering in the United States in decades. They marched across the campus of the University of Virginia, carrying burning torches. They carried vile signs and chanted Nazi slogans. They engaged in violent fights with counter-protestors – in some cases punching or beating black onlookers. And one participant in the protest drove a speeding car through a crowd of people, injuring dozens, and killing one young woman. Please join me in praying for the repose of the soul of that young woman – Heather Heyer – and for all of those who were injured. Racism, white supremacy, and anti-Semitism are absolutely opposed to the truth of the Gospel. Racism is a dangerous evil: a lie sown by Satan, which seduces, and confuses, and ensnares. The Evil One seeks to divide us from one another and from the Lord, by sowing and exploiting prejudice, stereotypes, and fear. Regrettably, the white supremacists were not the only ones sowing violence in Charlottesville. A small number of the counter-protestors, but not most of them, were violent, anarchist members of the “antifa” movement, who opposed their racist counterparts with violence. We should all be disgusted by the racism of white supremacists. But hatred, expressed in anarchic violence, is the wrong response to injustice. Hatred begets hatred. Violence begets violence. Christians know that evil cannot overcome evil. Only grace can conquer evil. This weekend, Archbishop Chaput wrote that “Charlottesville matters. It’s a snapshot of our public unraveling into real hatreds brutally expressed; a collapse of restraint and mutual respect now taking place across the country... If we want a different kind of country in the future, we need to start today with a conversion in our own hearts, and an insistence on the same in others. That may sound simple. But the history of our nation and its tortured attitudes toward race proves exactly the opposite.” Today, our call is to oppose the evil of racism, and the violence begotten by hatred, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ – with the love of the One who came to redeem every human heart. Jesus Christ can free the captives of racism, and Jesus Christ can heal racism’s victims. Our job is to proclaim the truth, mercy, and freedom of life in Jesus Christ. We should not be naïve about how difficult that job really is. It should be absolutely clear to us that without a massive spiritual renewal in our country, violence, hatred, and chaos will continue unabated. In fact, each one of us must guard our hearts, to ensure that Satan does not sow within us the lie of racism, or use our disgust for racism to make us hateful, vengeful, or violent. The only Christian response to the evil that unfolded in Charlottesville is to redouble our prayers for our nation, and to redouble our efforts to build a civilization of love. More than 60 years ago, Archbishop Rummel worked to combat the evil of racism, because he knew that “Jesus Christ had come to die for all men.” It wasn’t easy, but it was his mission. Today, we are called to do the same. May the Lord give us the grace to build a nation alive in Jesus Christ, which respects the dignity, rights, and beauty of every person, created in the image of God.
Because we are Catholic, sacred liturgical worship should be at the center of our lives. Jesus Christ is present among us in the Church’s sacred worship. In the mystery of Holy Mass, we are present to the Paschal mystery, the sacrifice of Christ’s death on Calvary. Our liturgical worship is a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy, and expresses our love for God. We are made, literally, to worship God. Jesus, drawing from the words of the Old Testament, taught that his disciples should “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and that each one of us should “love your neighbor as yourself.” In the worship of the Church we work in communion with one another, to love God entirely. And in sacred liturgy, God, who loves us, strengthens us to love him more perfectly and to love our neighbors selflessly and generously. In worship, we are sanctified – made holy – by the grace of union with Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. In sacred worship, we are configured to Christ; we offer our lives in union with his great act of selfless love on the cross, and thus we are formed to love the world as he does. For this reason, the Second Vatican Council taught that sacred worship of God is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.” In heaven, we will join the saints and angels in an eternal and perfect act of worship. This is the destiny for which God made us. In heaven, we will proclaim the words of the prophets and the psalmist, hear the voice of God and, through worship, share a loving communion with Christ himself – the incarnate Word of God. Worship is an expression of our love and fidelity to God, and a mystical union with his Word, who, as St. John the Evangelist says, “is God, and is with God.” Worship matters. And because worship is a communion with the Word of God, the words we use in sacred worship matter too. This week, the Church celebrates the 16th anniversary of Liturgiam authenticam, an instruction of the Church issued to guide the translation of liturgical texts toward the “full, conscious, and active participation” of all Catholics in sacred worship, by calling for renewed attention to the importance of every word we speak and hear when we worship God. Liturgiam authenticam reminded the Church that when we pray together, in liturgical acts of worship, we draw our prayers from the words of Sacred Scripture, revealed by God, and from the tradition of the saints and martyrs who have come before us, and witnessed in their lives and in their wisdom the importance of our common liturgical prayer. The instruction taught that the words and expressions of our liturgy must be “endowed with those qualities by which the sacred mysteries of salvation and the indefectible faith of the Church are efficaciously transmitted by means of human language to prayer, and worthy worship is offered to God the Most High.” Liturgical worship does much more than simply deliver information about God. It forms our hearts and our minds and our imaginations, to give us a keen sense of the supernatural in our midst. Liturgical worship, in a very real way, transcends time and space; it takes us from this world, and puts us in contact with the divine. There is an ancient maxim in the Church’s life – lex orandi, lex credenda – the norms of our prayers are the norms of our beliefs. Sacred liturgy teaches the faith, because its words take root in our hearts. Liturgiam authenticam reminded the Church that because we believe as we pray, our prayers must be absolutely faithful to the deposit of faith which we have been given. We are formed for holiness by the words of the liturgy when they faithfully transmit the revelation of the living Word of God, Jesus Christ. The fruit of Liturgiam authenticam was a new English translation of the Roman Missal, the official prayer book of the Mass, which the Church began praying five years ago. This new translation of the Mass strove to express the words of sacred liturgy clearly, directly, and faithfully – not introducing interpretations or innovations, but drawing directly from Scripture and the Church’s ancient tradition, so that our worship might clearly reveal and teach the faith, and so that we might express our love of God in union with the saints who have come before us. As the Church celebrates the gift of Liturgiam authenticam, we have an occasion to give thanks to God for the “truths that transcend the limits of time and space,” which are proclaimed by the Church in sacred worship. We have occasion to give thanks to God that through sacred worship, “the Holy Spirit leads the Christian faithful into all truth and causes the word of Christ to dwell abundantly within them.” Together, we have occasion to give thanks that God has given us a foretaste of eternity, which frees us, and transforms us, and sanctifies us, so that we can love the Lord, now and forever, with all our hearts, souls, and minds, in the gift of sacred worship. This article was first published March 31, 2017 on the Southern Nebraska Register
More than 70 years ago, the English satirist Aldous Huxley wrote that modernity is the “age of noise.” He was writing about the radio, whose noise, he said “penetrates the mind, filling it with a babel of distractions — news items, mutually irrelevant bits of information, blasts of corybantic or sentimental music, continually repeated doses of drama that bring no catharsis.” If Huxley had lived into the 21st century, he would have seen the age of noise redoubled and amplified beyond the radio, first to our televisions, and then to our tablets and mobile devices, machines which bring distraction and “doses of drama” with us wherever we go. We are, today, awash in information, assaulted, often, with tweets and pundits analyzing the latest crisis in Washington, or difficulty in the Church, or serious social, political, or environmental issue. It can become, for many people, overwhelming. To be sure, we have a responsibility as faithful Catholics to be aware of the world and its challenges, and to be engaged in the cultural and political affairs of our communities. We cannot shirk or opt out from that responsibility. But we are living at a moment of constant urgencies and crises, the “tyranny of the immediate,” where reactions to the latest news unfold at a breakneck pace, often before much thought, reflection or consideration. We are living at a moment where argument precedes analysis, and outrage, or feigned outrage, has become an ordinary kind of virtue signaling — a way of conveying the “right” responses to social issues in order to boost our social standing. The 2016 presidential election was a two-year slog of platitudinous and superficial argument, and now that the election is over, that argument seems interminable. No person can sustain the kind of noise —polemical, shrill, and reactive — which has become a substitute for conversation in contemporary culture. Nor should any person try. The “age of noise” diminishes virtue, and charity, and imagination, replacing them with anxiety, and worry, and exhaustion. The Lord didn’t make us for this kind of noise. He made us for conversation, for exchange and communion. And our political community depends upon real deliberation: serious debate and activism over serious subjects. But the Lord also made us for silence. For contemplation. For quietude. And without these things anchoring our lives, and our hearts, the age of noise transforms us, fostering in our hearts reactive and uncharitable intemperance that characterizes the media and social media spaces which shape our culture. The age of noise is grinding away at our souls. In the second century, just 100 years after Christ’s Ascension, an anonymous Christian disciple wrote a letter to a man named Diognetus, telling him something about the lives and practices of early Christians. “There is something extraordinary about their lives,” he wrote. “They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through….They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven.” When our friends and neighbors look to us, as disciples of Jesus, they should see that there is something extraordinary about our lives: that although we live fully in our nation, we are, first, citizens of heaven. This means that we must live differently, in the age of noise. We must speak, and act, and think differently. In the words of St. Paul, we must “not be conformed to this world,” to the age of noise, “but be transformed by the renewal of our minds.” We must be, in the best sense of the word, “counter-cultural.” To be citizens of heaven, we must be detached from the noise of this world. We must participate fully in cultural, and political, and public life, but we must entrust the outcomes of our participation to the Lord. We must detach ourselves from the news cycles, and social media arguments, and television pundits, which inflame our anger, or provoke our anxiety, or which shift our focus from the eternal to the fleeting and temporal. My good friend Chris Stefanick, a wise speaker and author, wrote last week that we should “read less news,” and “read more Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.” He’s right. We won’t be happier, or wiser, or more peaceful because we consume more of the “age of noise” than we need. Of course, we should be engaged in current affairs. But we’ll be truly happy, through Jesus Christ, when we spend far more time reading Scripture, and spending time before the Lord in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We’ll be free from the anxiety and worry of the “age of noise” when times of prayer and silence, are regular facets of our day. We’ll be detached from false crises and urgencies of the culture of outrage when we do our small part, and then entrust the affairs of this world to the Lord. We’ll also be, when we quiet the “age of noise” in our hearts, the leaders of wisdom and virtue which our culture desperately needs, right now. Saint Teresa of Avila, the great Carmelite mystic, wrote a small poem which should guide us in the “age of noise” — Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices. The noise of our culture is designed to disturb and frighten us, and to distract from the unchanging and ever-loving God. But in silent prayer and contemplation before the Blessed Sacrament, we can turn down the noise, and the Lord himself can calm our hearts and renew our minds. To live extraordinary lives, as citizens of heaven before all else, it’s time that we turn down the “age of noise.”
Last weekend, hundreds of thousands of women gathered for marches and demonstrations across the country, organized to proclaim that “women’s rights are human rights.” No Catholic can dispute that claim. Women are created in the image of God, with dignity and beauty, and are deserving of the respect, honor, and appreciation afforded to every human person. And women suffer great injustices and indignities in places around the world, none of which should be tolerable for Christians. The Church should be the first to call for just, honorable, and loving treatment for every woman, at every stage of her life. But the women’s marches organized last week, however well-intentioned, had a troubling approach to their advocacy. The marches tended towards an approach which plagues many movements in contemporary political and social life—they fostered a narrative of opposition, in which men and women are cast as adversaries, each grasping for the reins of power, instead of seeking unity, complementarity, mutual support, respect, and charity. Moreover, the marches seemed to embrace a kind of crudity which robs women of their true identity. There seemed to be a focus on crass slogans and symbols, replacing the beauty of femininity with an unbecoming, hard-edged vulgarity. This vulgarity was, in some cases, a response to intolerable and unacceptable crudities cast at women, most notably by our new president—but it should be clear that both his words and many responses were simply beneath our human dignity. Finally, the women’s marches last week embraced the lie that legal protection for abortion promotes women’s dignity. In fact, abortion undermines the rights of women to life, to respect, and to freedom. The early American feminists—women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Alice Paul—began a movement rooted in Christian morality, and pro-life convictions. Alice Paul, who wrote the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923, taught that “abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women,” through which men escape responsibility for their own choices, and use economic and social power to impose harmful choices on women. Sadly, the organizers of last weekend’s marches seem to have embraced the lie of abortion, without ever recognizing its danger. While watching media coverage of the women’s marches, I saw a sign I greatly appreciated. A young girl held a poster with a picture of a mother and a daughter, next to the words “without a woman, you wouldn’t be here.” That sign reflects a true feminism, which recognizes that women, through whom every single person comes into the world, are deserving of the highest respect. The Church, in our veneration of the Blessed Mother, has always recognized that women are critical to the salvation of the world, and to every single human family. Women and men, created complementary to one another, reflect the image of God. Motherhood is an extraordinary part of the role of women in the life of the world. But, in a 2004 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Church teaches that “this does not mean that women should be considered from the sole perspective of physical procreation.” Instead, our faith teaches that the genius of women is a “capacity for the other,” a “deep intuition of the goodness in their lives of those actions which elicit life, and contribute to the growth and protection of the other.” Women, the Church teaches, have “a sense and a respect for what is concrete,” and “a singular capacity to persevere in adversity, to keep life going even in extreme situations, to hold tenaciously to the future, and finally to remember with tears the value of every human life.” We all depend on the feminine genius. The Church teaches that “femininity is more than simply an attribute of the female sex,” it is “the fundamental human capacity to live for the other and because of the other.” Men and women, who are created different, bring unique perspectives and approaches to family life, to culture and politics, and to the workplace. Both women and men are essential to the welfare of our families, our Church, and our communities. The Church teaches that, for this reason, “women should be present in the world of work and in the organization of society, and that women should have access to positions of responsibility which allow them to inspire the policies of nations and to promote innovative solutions to economic and social problems.” To achieve a just society, we must work to make it possible for women to be welcomed in leadership and collaboration in all areas of life, and all communities. This requires policies which respect the role of women in the workplace and in the family, which ensure that women who devote the totality of their time to their families are not stigmatized or financially penalized, and which ensure that women in the workplace are not penalized or excluded because of their obligations to their families and children. Women’s rights are, indeed, human rights. This essentially includes the right of all women to life, and the right for women to live without the coercion or exploitation of abortion. It includes the right of women to participate in social and economic leadership, and their right to do so without unjust personal or family costs. God did not create men and women to vie for power, to be at odds with one another, to be mistrustful or defensive. He created men and women, in His image, for unity, respect, support, and love. May each of us work for that unity, in our hearts, in our families, and in our world. This column first appeared in the Southern Nebraska Register.
This November, American Catholics have the opportunity to shape the direction of our nation, our states, and our local communities in the voting booth. Good citizenship is a moral obligation for all Catholics, and voting is an important part of that obligation. In the United States, the responsibility for our government’s direction lies with us, as citizens, and we can’t take that responsibility lightly. We cannot, because of apathy, or discouragement, or perfectionism, abandon our obligation to vote. In the past few months, many Catholics have asked me how to make good choices in the voting booth. Many Catholics have especially expressed to me being uncertain about how to make choices when faced with two presidential candidates they find intolerable or unacceptable. While a bishop should never tell Catholics who they should vote for, I would like to offer four points of guidance, drawn from wisdom of the Church, as we discern our choices as voters. The first is that government has an important purpose, and our votes help to achieve that purpose. The Catholic Church teaches that the purpose and obligation of our government is to support the common good. The Second Vatican Council said that the common good is “the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment.” Our common good has three elements: respect for the dignity, rights, obligations, and freedom of the human person; respect for the well-being, development, and flourishing of the entire community; and peace, in the stability and security of a well-ordered community, governed by the rule of law. When we vote, we do so in order to promote the common good, to express it, advance it, and protect it. There are some issues in which the common good is clear and some issues which require careful discernment and prudent judgment. This discernment can, therefore, lead to different conclusions and ideas among people of good will. In fact, often the best solutions to difficult political issues can come from robust discussion among people with the same goals in mind, and different ideas about the best ways to achieve those goals. My second point is that on some issues the moral obligations of Catholics, and the demands of the common good, are abundantly clear. For example, no Catholic can vote in good conscience to expand legal protection for abortion, or to support the killing of unborn children. Mother Teresa of Kolkata, who was canonized a saint earlier this month, said it best in a 1994 letter she wrote to the United States Supreme Court. She said that “Roe v. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has shown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father’s role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts – a child – as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience.... Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign.” Abortion is a grave, unconscionable, and intolerable evil, and we cannot support it in the voting booth. My third point is that when we vote, we need to carefully consider the specifics of each race. Blind partisanship can be dangerous, and we have to look past political rhetoric and media alarmism to make prudent discernments. In each race, we need to discern whether there is a candidate who can advance human dignity, the right to life, and the common good. When there is, we should feel free to vote for that candidate – whether they are a member of a major party or not. In extraordinary circumstances, some Catholics may decide, in good conscience, there is not a suitable candidate for some particular office and abstain from voting in that particular race. We also need to remember that we are not responsible for the votes of other people. Choosing not to vote for “Candidate A” is not the same as actively voting for “Candidate B.” No Catholic should feel obliged to vote for one candidate just to prevent the election of another. In good conscience, some Catholics might choose to vote for a candidate who, with some degree of probability, would be most likely to do some good, and the least amount of harm, on the foundational issues: life, family, conscience rights and religious liberty. Or, in good conscience, some might choose the candidate who best represents a Christian vision of society, regardless of the probability of winning. Or, in good conscience, some might choose not to vote for any candidate at all in a particular office. As a matter of conscience, faithful Catholics have to weigh all those pertinent issues, and make the choice that seems most in accord with the common good of our nation: with respect for human dignity, social well-being, and peace. Catholics will make different judgments about those questions, and come to different conclusions – this reflects the fact the Lord has given us free intellects and free wills. My final point is that we need to remember that being good citizens – building a culture of life and a civilization of love – is a much broader obligation, and opportunity, than the voting booth. Americans today, are, in many ways, disengaged, discouraged, and divided. Much of our political rhetoric is unhelpful. And family, community, and public life are in decline. We need a broader vision of public life, which values and proclaims the dignity of every human life, and which aims for the flourishing of individuals, families, and communities. This broader vision won’t come through an election. It will come through life in Jesus Christ. The most important part of being good citizens is living as faithful and active missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. In fact, Christ is the broader reason we are called to hope. God calls us to be faithfully engaged in working to build up and proclaim the Kingdom. That includes our vocation to the public square. But our hope is in the eternal mercy of God – the salvation won in the Incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This month at Notre Dame, Archbishop Charles Chaput said that “Christians are not of the world, but we’re most definitely in it. Augustine would say that our home is the City of God, but we get there by passing through the City of Man.” Our hope is in the Lord. We are his faithful disciples when we work to help others to know the Lord. But the success is according to his plan. We are called to be faithful to his call, as we make thoughtful, prudent, and prayerful choices as citizens. And we are called to trust in the Providence of his plan for the world. Christ is the only real source of our nation’s hope. This column first appeared in the Southern Nebraska Register Sept. 30, and is reprinted here with permission.
It was an extraordinary experience to kneel before the Blessed Sacrament at Copacabana Beach in Brazil, at World Youth Day in 2013. Catholic musician Matt Maher led us in worship—more than 3 million people, and Pope Francis, sang “Lord, I need you, Oh, I need you,” as Matt Maher softly played the guitar. At the Mercy Center in Krakow this summer, nearly twenty thousand young people knelt before the Eucharist, praising the Lord as Matt Maher and musician Audrey Assad led songs of praise and thanksgiving. I watched as tears streamed down faces, and young people touched by the moment lined up for the sacrament of confession. Music can be a powerful part of our relationships with Almighty God. And every culture and generation sings songs and hymns of praise and thanksgiving that speak the love of their hearts. As a child in the Protestant church, I learned the canon of hymns most treasured in America— “How Great Thou Art,” “Amazing Grace,” “Nearer my God to Thee.” As a young man, I learned the inspiring folk songs of Ireland, England, and France. Those songs helped me to grow in devotion to God. They helped me to keep the Lord in the forefront of my mind. They gave language to my praise and gratitude to the Lord. They became a part of my devotional life. And, because I shared them with others, they became a part—an important part—of the Catholic culture I continue to share with my family and friends. We need singing, and music, and songs in our family life, the life of our community, and the life of our prayer. Scripture calls us to “make a joyful song unto the Lord,” and St. Augustine tells us that “he who sings, prays twice.” It is almost impossible to imagine a robust Christian civilization, or a robust spiritual life, without music. The Second Vatican Council taught that music is “a treasure of inestimable value,” that “adds delight to prayer” and “fosters unity of minds.” The Church has long known that we especially need music during our most important, and most sacred moments of worship: during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In fact, the Second Vatican Council said that music “forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy” of the Mass. But music at Mass has a different purpose than the devotional music of our families, communities, and personal prayer lives. The Church says that sacred music, sung during our liturgies, is for the glory of God, and for our sanctification. At Mass, we offer our lives to God through worship, unified with the Eucharistic sacrifice. And we receive the graces that make us saints, and draw us into relationship with God. The Church says that certain kinds of music, developed over centuries, help us to actively participate in the Mass, and to more fruitfully receive the graces of the Eucharist. The Second Vatican Council taught these kinds of music should be preferred during Mass. In the first place, when it is possible, the prayers and responses of the Mass itself should be sung, including short introductory reflections, and short musical meditations, called antiphons. And the Second Vatican Council taught that the ancient custom of Gregorian chant should “be given pride of place” when it is possible. Other kinds of music, like beautiful sacred polyphony, also should have a special place in Mass. Sacred music in Mass is different from the devotional and folk music that impacts so many of our lives. Sacred music amplifies the sacred words of the Mass, pointing us more deeply into the mystery of the Eucharist, and uses tones and rhythms that aid us in contemplation. Through careful reflection over thousands of years, the Church has developed a sense of the music that best fits the mystery of the Mass, and when sung with reverence and humility, gives glory and honor to Christ’s sacrifice. The Church does not teach that we should only use old music during Mass. In fact, Pope John Paul II encouraged composers and musicians to write new music, that speaks to modern man, but that is rooted in continuity with the genius and richness of the Church’s tradition. Today, many composers write beautiful sacred music, building upon the richness of all that has come before, and faithful to the wisdom and teachings of the Church. This week, more than 200 musicians from across the Diocese of Lincoln gathered at our first annual “Sacred Music Clinic,” to learn and practice the principles and traditions of the Church’s liturgical music. Many of them will introduce the beautiful customs they learned in their parishes, in small ways. Many of our priests have begun learning to chant the prayers of the Mass, and many lay Catholics are learning to do the same. All of these efforts help us to glorify God in the Mass, and to contemplate the mystery of the Eucharist. Father Daniel Rayer, chair of the Diocesan Liturgical Commission, the planning committee chaired by Father Rayer, Amy Flamminio and Jessica Ligon, and all the members of the liturgical commission worked very hard and so well to plan and organize our sacred music clinic this year. I’m grateful for their work. It is clear to me that in the Diocese of Lincoln, the Holy Spirit is at work. The Lord is helping us to grow in deeper understanding of the meaning of music in the sacred Mass. In that way, we can grow closer to the Lord. And at Mass, or in our families, or in our cars on the way to work, or on a beach with three million people, when we praise the Lord with song, we lift our hearts to him, and he touches our hearts in love.
On Friday, May 13, the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice issued a joint instruction, which they called “significant guidance,” to public school districts across the country. The guidance stated that in order to receive federal funds for education, every public school district must provide services, restrooms, and “equal access” to all students according to their stated gender identity. The federal government has ordered that when any student and his parents tell the school that his “gender identity” has changed—if he was born a boy, for example, but considers himself a girl—the school must treat him, in every possible way, like an actual girl. The government declared that the boy who says he is a girl must be permitted to change in locker rooms with girls, to stay in girls’ rooms on overnight trips, and, very often, to participate on girls’ sports teams. This “guidance” is deeply disturbing. In fact, the administration’s action is simply wrong. It is wrong to deny the fundamental difference between men and women; and to teach children that our identity, at its very core, is arbitrary and self-determined. God created us male and female, and policies like this deny the basic beauty of God’s creation. Boethius, the 6th century Roman senator and Christian philosopher, was a thoughtful critic of disturbing trends he saw in Roman society. In his classic work, the Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius criticized those evil spirits “who slay the rich and fruitful harvest of Reason with the barren thorns of Passion. They habituate men to their sickness of mind instead of curing them.” We are living in a time when ordinary human reason is quickly being replaced by “the barren thorns of passion.” Our entire culture has been caught up in a kind of sentimentalized and relativized tyranny of tolerance: we vilify and condemn, ever more quickly, any sense of reasonable and ordered social policy. We have a vague sense that endorsing certain fashionable kinds of social and emotional disorders—including transgenderism—is a mandate of justice, or a victory for civil rights. But the real victims of our culture of relativism are those who suffer from serious problems, and who need compassionate help. Pathological confusion about one’s own identity is a kind of illness. It brings tremendous personal and emotional difficulties. Transgenderism cries out for compassionate assistance. Pope Francis says that “acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital,” and “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary” for authentic human freedom. But, as Boethius wrote, we “habituate men to their sickness, instead of curing them.” Children and parents in very difficult situations deserve compassion, sensitivity, and respect. The Church will continue to make every effort to assist those suffering gender dysphoria; in fact, we can improve our efforts in this regard in many ways. But the Church will not deny that God created us male and female. We will not confuse respect and compassion with capitulation to a tragic delusion. Our Catholic schools will continue to teach and live the truth, because of our care for every student. We can only help students grow in holiness when we help them to live in accord with the truth. We will continue to do that, no matter the cost. The Obama administration’s directive is a sign of the brokenness of our culture; of our lost sense of the common good, of individual goodness, of true freedom, real rights, and authentic happiness. Nebraska’s Governor Pete Ricketts pointed out earlier this week that this directive is basically a kind of coercive opinion, which does not enjoy the authority of law. It is a form of bullying and, ultimately, it is a sad sign of how much we have lost our way; how little of the Gospel’s good news forms and shapes our culture. This directive is a sign of a great tragedy. We are living in an atheocracy: a society determined to stamp out every vestige of God’s plan for mercy, and justice, and goodness. We are living in a society ensnared by the evil of relativism, to which human flourishing, in this life and the next, poses a threat. The Gospel is a threat to the forces of this world. And in such a circumstance, there is a great temptation, for all of us, to withdraw into our families, into our Catholic community, into those places which we believe are safe, places in which we think we might be spared from the evil of this world. But facing an evil world, Boethius wrote that “it is time for healing, not lamenting.” Boethius was right. Our culture is in need of healing. The victims of relativism’s dictatorship—those who are harmed by false compassion and tolerance for evil—need our help. Only we can be the leaders who stand up in the face of the storms. The Lord calls us to leadership, and so do the victims of the culture of death. We are called to stand up—right now, we must be committed to carrying the healing mercy of Jesus Christ to this world. And the fight is not easy. We will not likely fight on a battlefield, in a glamorous blaze of glory. Instead we fight by claiming our nation for Christ, by forming Catholic culture that welcomes others to real freedom, by speaking—heart to heart—with those who are in need of Christ’s healing. We fight evil by praying, and hoping, to win every heart, every soul, every life, for Jesus Christ; as missionaries and disciples of mercy. We also fight evil on our knees. We fight evil through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We fight evil by invoking St. Michael the Archangel. We fight evil by consecrating our nation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the fount of true mercy, and true peace. All of us can read the signs of the times. We are living through a great trial and a great tragedy. Real people, about whom we care very much, are gravely harmed by the infiltration of evil in our world. We know that Christ will be victorious in the end. But we also know how urgently Christ is needed in this world. Only we can entrust this nation to Jesus Christ—especially his Sacred Heart—in our prayers. And only we can choose, in response to the urgency of the moment, to be active, joyful, faithful missionaries of Jesus Christ—declaring the Gospel, and inviting the world to mercy. We live in a grave and serious time in history. But now is time for healing, not for lamenting. Posted with permission from Southern Nebraska Register, official publication of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska. Image credit: Cross by Aaron Burden via Unsplash.com
This week, representatives from high schools across Nebraska will vote on policies to define the scope of participation in high school athletics and other extra-curricular activities. They will consider whether students should participate in sports and other activities according to the sex into which they were born, or according to a gender of their own choosing. By the time many of you read this column, the votes will have been cast: if three Nebraska regions support the truth that the sex we’re born with matters, the issue will be considered by a statewide assembly of school districts in April. But if three or more districts decide that students can choose or define their genders at will, Nebraska schools will soon be required to permit students who identify as transgendered to compete on the playing field according to their chosen gender. For the past several months, the Nebraska Catholic Conference has worked tirelessly to promote the idea that our God-given gender matters. That the sexes are different, and that ignoring the sex into which we are born—the “gender identity” God gives us—has real consequences. Parents across the state of Nebraska have contacted their school districts to encourage them to make the right choice. Our governor, lieutenant governor, state treasurer, and secretary of state have unequivocally stated that gender matters. And many people have taken this issue to prayer. Still, if you read this column after January 13th, the votes will have been cast, and Nebraska may be continuing down a path that defies reason, justice, charity, and God’s revealed truth. [If you are reading this before January 13th,click here to make your voice heard.] To many people, this issue seems unimportant. They ask why “transgendered” students should not be supported in the identities they choose for themselves. They ask if the Church is unfairly persecuting students with gender dysphoria. They ask if Catholics have compassion for those who see and experience the world in a different way than the Church does. But the truth is that our sex is a fundamental part of who we are. God made us to be male and female, and he created men and women to complement each other—to be partners in love, parenting, and family life. Not one of us can define our own gender—we are male and female because the Lord created us each, exactly as we are, for a purpose. There are people who, sadly, experience confusion about their sex, or sexual orientation, or personal identity. For psychological, emotional, and even physiological reasons, there are men and women who are convinced that their bodies do not reflect the reality of who they are. This is especially common among young people—many of whom grow out of this confusion as they mature. We are called to support men and women who experience this kind of confusion. We are called to welcome them into the life of the Church, and to welcome them into our communities and into our friendships. But true compassion does not validate their confusion, or encourage them to deny the reality of God’s plan for their lives. This is especially true of children, who depend on adults to help them understand how to grow and mature into adulthood. If Nebraska high schools endorse the idea that our “gender identity” is something we choose, they will send students down deeper paths of confusion and darkness. If adults validate every confused feeling children experience, we will deny them the opportunity to grow in wisdom and maturity. If we care about children—especially those who experience gender dysphoria—we will be present to them, we will be patient with them, and we will teach them the truth about who God made them to be. Our culture has an ethos that endorses every preference or feeling that people experience—especially in the area of sex and gender. Our culture tends to believe that we should “live and let live,” and that we should encourage children to trust and pursue every curiosity, desire, or attraction they experience. But adults have the wisdom to know that many of our feelings and preferences have unhealthy consequences, especially during the turbulence of adolescence. The Church is called to speak on behalf of all children across Nebraska. We are called to advocate for truth. We are called to share the wisdom of the Gospel, especially the basic idea that if we defy who God made us to be—as revealed in our own bodies—or if we believe that we can define the parameters and meaning of our own existence, we will only experience greater turmoil, greater unhappiness, and greater confusion. The path of truth—although often difficult—is the path of joy, peace, and freedom. The Church has a great love for those who experience gender dysphoria. And we have an obligation to proclaim and witness to the truth. As our culture becomes ever more relativistic, the voice of truth seems to be heard more faintly, and by fewer people. The Church needs your voice—to proclaim God’s love, to witness to truth, and to express the profound goodness of God’s plan for us. Advocates of libertine social ethics will not stop with “transgendered” high school sports policies. They will continue to attack the basic realities of humanity, of family life, of God’s great gift of sexuality. And with each victory for relativism, more people will be led into darkness, confusion, and grave harm. But the mercy of God, which brings light, clarity, and healing, is available to all. And each one of us must be a missionary of God’s mercy to a world in ever-greater need of his love. Posted with permission from Southern Nebraska Register.
(Today), most of us will celebrate Thanksgiving around family tables, gathered with those we love, to give thanks to God for the blessings of our lives. We will share a festive meal together, celebrate the gift of family life, and enjoy the comforts of friendship. But as we give thanks for the blessings of our own lives, we should also remember those who suffer tragedy around the world. As we give thanks this year, we might remember those who were victims of the horrible terrorist attack in Paris. We might also think of the Christians who are persecuted now in the Middle East—Christians who have lost their homes, their jobs, their families—and who face the cross of martyrdom today. As we give thanks to the Lord, we should remember the homeless, the mentally ill, the elderly and disabled, and the unborn—those who suffer on the margins of our own communities, and even within our own families. As we honor God for the blessings in our own lives, it seems to me that we might remember two things this Thanksgiving. The first is that God’s greatest blessings are grace, salvation, mercy, and holiness—not material comfort or prosperity. We should be careful to remember this Thanksgiving that the measure of a blessed life is not what we have, but who we have become, in and through Jesus Christ. We should remember that if we want to experience the blessings of the Lord in an abundant way, we should seek only to live according to the Gospel, with no fear, no limitations, and no reservations. The surest path to experiencing a blessed life in Jesus Christ is to “cast into the deep”—seeking to follow the Lord to a life of radical and blessed missionary discipleship. We should also remember that we are to bless others through the witness of our own family life. Our families are called to discipleship. The mission to bring grace, peace, mercy, and freedom to others depends on us. We are called to “make disciples of all nations,” and that the abundant grace of God is revealed through our witness. This past week, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz reminded the Church that “all families are called to be ministers of the Gospel.” During this Thanksgiving, I urge every family in the Diocese of Lincoln to reflect prayerfully on their own family life. I ask families to ask themselves how they are missionaries of the Gospel, what their apostolic call is, and how they can proclaim and witness to the Gospel in order to bring the Lord’s love to others. I encourage every family to ask themselves, and ask the Lord, what they can do this year so that by next Thanksgiving others will have experienced God’s blessings through their efforts. I am truly blessed by the priests, consecrated religious and lay faithful of the Diocese of Lincoln and I give thanks for your witness. I am blessed by your prayers, your friendship, your generosity—especially in the Joy of the Gospel campaign—and by your work as “missionary disciples” for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us give thanks to the Lord together this Thanksgiving. And let us commit ourselves to giving our lives to the mission of Jesus Christ and his Church, so that others might give thanks to God because of the mission, the work, and the charity in our lives. This column originally posted on Southern Nebraska Register and is reposted with permission. Certain phrases have been updated for timeliness.
Nebraska’s Catholic bishops were proud to support LB268, which definitively repealed our state’s death penalty. For months, we worked with senators from across the state to bring an end to the practice of capital punishment. The passage of LB268 strengthens Nebraska’s culture of life.My opposition to Nebraska’s death penalty is rooted in my respect for the fundamental dignity of every human life.Some Nebraskans argued last week that capital criminals surrender their dignity by committing grave crimes. The innocent deserve our protection, they claimed, but the guilty have no right to life. But the truth is that neither rights nor dignity are determined by personal choices or behavior. Our dignity comes from being created by God -- in the very image of divinity. My Catholic faith tells me that life is a gift from God, which should be valued and protected in every community.Thirty of Nebraska’s senators cast votes last week to end the needless violence of the death penalty. Their votes spoke of a common commitment to the fundamental dignity of human life. I was proud to support those courageous senators.I encourage Nebraska’s senators to continue their support for human dignity, and for human rights. In 2011, more than 2,000 unborn children were aborted in Nebraska. Nearly that many unborn children are killed each year in our state. Will those who worked so hard to abolish the death penalty consider whether the unborn also deserve the protection of law, and the protection of their lives?Some Nebraskans contend that the unborn are not really humans -- not yet fully formed, not sentient, not capable of making free choices. It is true that unborn children are only at the beginning of physical and intellectual development. They are not yet capable of making free choices. But from the moment of conception, each unborn child possesses a distinct genetic makeup, and a unique personal identity. Unborn children are just that -- small, developing and vulnerable human beings, not yet born. Compassion requires that communities care for the most vulnerable. And justice requires us to protect them.Others might argue that the unborn are not yet autonomous -- that because they depend on their mothers to sustain their lives, they have no rights. But all children depend on their parents. In fact, all of us depend on one another; not one of us is truly autonomous. We rely on our parents, our families, our neighbors and our friends. So do the unborn. Dependence does not mitigate the dignity of human existence.Some say that the Catholic Church cares about children only until they are born. Some argue that we do not care about women and families; that our pro-life position is misogynistic, or controlling. The Catholic Church is the largest private network of social services in Nebraska, and around the world. We provide housing, and health care, and education. We provide counseling and job-training. Catholic families are foster and adoptive parents; Catholic sisters run schools and homes for disabled children. If there is more the Church can do for the poor, we will do it. We care for the poor, at every stage of life, because Jesus Christ himself was poor.Compassionate and peaceful communities protect all human lives -- especially those of the innocent, the small and the vulnerable. I am proud that Nebraska repealed the death penalty last week. But abortion is the death penalty for the unborn. May we continue promoting human dignity together by ending the injustice of abortion.This article was originally published elsewhere and has been reposted with permission from the Diocese of Lincoln.
We cannot address the unraveling of our culture without addressing the consequences of contraception and abortion. We must rightly understand the relationships between love, truth, freedom, and justice.Last week, a young friend of mine attempted to defend the truth about marriage among a group of peers at a secular university. She presented a meaningful argument about families, social stability, and gender complementarity. None of her classmates refuted her arguments. Instead, they accused her of being a bigot and a homophobe, called her intolerant, and changed the topic to something less intellectually taxing.My friend’s experience is practically a cliché. Americans who offer traditional viewpoints on moral issues in the public square have become accustomed to calumny. They know that reasoned arguments will rarely receive reasoned refutation.In California, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has become the victim of a well-funded smear campaign because he expects that Catholic teachers shouldn’t publicly undermine Catholic beliefs. Last month, a philosophy professor was suspended from a Catholic university for criticizing heterodox instruction. Even non-believers suffer this fate. Fashion house Dolce and Gabbana is being boycotted because its owners believe that children deserve mothers and fathers.In the cultural conversation about moral issues, reasoned arguments seem increasingly drowned out by personal attacks. And twenty years ago today, Pope St. John Paul II predicted this would happen.Today marks the twentieth anniversary of John Paul’s Evangelium Vitae, his encyclical on the mission of the Gospel of Life. Evangelium Vitae is probably the most comprehensive and compelling encyclical on moral issues I have ever read. It addresses the evils of abortion, contraception, and euthanasia. But the encyclical is fundamentally concerned with the relationships between love, truth, freedom, and justice. Twenty years after its promulgation, we must return to Evangelium Vitae. Its message becomes more relevant each year.If we want to reverse our culture’s descent into socially accepted hedonism, we need to understand the connection between relativism, contraception, and abortion. The danger of contraception, Evangelium Vitae said, is that it fosters a “hedonistic mentality,” a “self-centered concept of freedom,” which places personal fulfillment at the center of life’s meaning and purpose. Abortion is the radical choice for personal fulfillment, convenience, or “freedom,” even at the immediate expense of another’s life. Together, contraception and abortion have contributed to a culture that believes that personal happiness is the highest possible human aim, and that it ought to be pursued by all possible means.The consequences of contraception’s denial of the truth about human sexuality, said John Paul, have put “freedom” on the path of self-destruction. John Paul II cautioned:freedom negates and destroys itself, and becomes a factor leading to the destruction of others, when it no longer recognizes and respects its essential link with the truth. When freedom, out of a desire to emancipate itself from all forms of tradition and authority, shuts out even the most obvious evidence of an objective and universal truth, which is the foundation of personal and social life, then the person ends up by no longer taking as the sole and indisputable point of reference for his own choices the truth about good and evil, but only his subjective and changeable opinion or, indeed, his selfish interest and whim.Evangelium Vitae argued that contraception leads inevitably to the rejection of every rational opposition to unfettered sexual license. The line between our contraceptive mentality and our fights over marriage is direct, and obvious. But the social consequences of contraception go beyond even the confines of sexuality.John Paul II said that a self-referential, subjective understanding of freedom builds cultures where “any reference to common values and to a truth absolutely binding on everyone is lost, and social life ventures on to the shifting sands of complete relativism.” Inevitably relativism leads to “the supremacy of the strong over the weak.”We are witnesses to the supremacy of the strong over the weak. The tyranny of evil is shrouded today in trappings of “democratic consensus.” We equate moral goodness with popular consensus. We’re shamed into tolerance of evil.And because truth seems to have little to do with our sense of freedom, we watch the unborn be eradicated for the sake of convenience. We watch the elderly and terminally ill be coerced into suicide. We watch the rights of children be trampled to satisfy the pleasures and preferences of adults. The homes and cities of the West are built on the “shifting sands of relativism,” and we pretend, too often, that popular consensus makes goodness from evil.Last week, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia explained that divorcing freedom from truth puts believers in grave danger. He pointed out that across the globe, the rights and safety of religious people are trampled by hedonism and greed, veiled beneath the language of human rights and civic tolerance. Evangelium Vitae's point was that contraception fosters the attitudes that lead to religious oppression and persecution. And thwarting that persecution requires exposing the lies of the contraceptive mentality.In short, we can’t address the great cultural unraveling we’re experiencing if we do not address the consequences of contraception and abortion. “It is precisely the issue of respect for life” according to John Paul, “which shows what misunderstandings and contradictions, accompanied by terrible practical consequences, are concealed” in positions of positivistic relativism.We have not successfully convinced most Catholics, or anyone else for that matter, that contraception has grave social consequences. Nor have we yet convinced enough Americans that abortion is a real social injustice. Until we do that, we can expect to see the contraceptive mentality continue to foster and encourage libertine social tyranny, religious persecution, and family disintegration.But relativism is not immediately overcome by rational conversation in the public square. Rational conversation is important. But among the effects of relativism is a popular culture increasingly less capable—and less willing—to engage in rational discourse at all.Evangelium Vitae made clear that the dignity of human life is best understood by disciples of Jesus Christ. The Holy Father’s proposal for eradicating the social evils of abortion and contraception—and their profound social consequences—is evangelization.The Gospel of Life is the Christian gospel. John Paul said that we only understand human dignity in this life if we understand the human potential for eternal life.I remember vividly John Paul II’s homily in Denver, at World Youth Day in 1993, less than two years before he wrote Evangelium Vitae. I was a young priest who had traveled there with pilgrims from Wichita, Kansas. John Paul outlined the culture of death’s grave social dangers. And he proposed this solution:Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places, like the first Apostles who preached Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it from the rooftops!Evangelium Vitae proposed the urgency of transforming human hearts—and human culture—through the Gospel of Life. Cultural transformation will take time. It is likely that successive generations will be called upon to re-Christianize the western cultural tradition. But restoring Christian culture must begin by restoring hearts—through transformative, kerygmatic encounters with Jesus Christ. Recognizing that fact was the truest genius of Evangelium Vitae.It is time to preach the Gospel from the rooftops. The culture of death still gains ground, and the weakest among us suffer. Their suffering will be relieved when courageous men and women proclaim Jesus Christ, and witness to the real dignity of human lives made for eternity with Him.This column originally appeared on Public Discourse and has been reposted with permission.
The Catholic tradition of the Red Mass dates back to the year 1245, when the Bishop of Paris brought together the lawyers and law students working in his city to pray that the Holy Spirit would bless them with wisdom and good counsel. The Church has been praying for holy and virtuous lawyers for eight hundred years. Maybe another eight hundred years will finally do the trick!As attorneys, your call is to serve the Lord in the life of the mind and in the forum of civil government and public life. Each of you has the privilege of formation in the fundamental contours of American public life and law. With that privilege comes the obligation, indeed the vocation, to be leaders in American public life and discourse.The Second Vatican Council, in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, declares that since the lay faithful are “tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer.” Your task is to shed light on the contours of our public life and to bring to bear, both in legal and political structures, the light of Christ the Redeemer.To many people, the idea of public life transformed by Christ the Redeemer is an uncomfortable thought. We have an instinctual discomfort with the intersection of faith and public life because we’re trained according to the mantra of “separation of Church and state.” The common perception of most Americans is that faith is “supposed to be” the private relationship we share with the divine. We’re told this unique relationship is expressed most appropriately in worship and quiet devotion. To be sure, worship and private devotion are certainly components of faith. But faith is also meant to be lived in a public way, not “hidden under a bushel basket.”My friend and mentor Archbishop Chaput often says: “faith is personal, but it is never private.” And as attorneys, you certainly understand the value the Founding Fathers themselves placed on the role of religious life in the public sphere.Religion and Public LifeThe Constitution establishes a prohibition against the erection of a state church or religious institution. It does not establish a prohibition against public religious expression or activity. In fact, while the Constitution establishes a freedom from religious oppression by a state Church, it also establishes a freedom for religious expression in the free exercise clause. The two concepts go hand in hand, because they reflect the experience and the perspective of the Founding Fathers.Many early Americans knew firsthand the consequences of persecution by a state-sanctioned church or established religion. The Puritans who settled New England, the Catholics who settled Maryland, and the Jews from Eastern Europe who settled South Carolina all knew that for a democracy to thrive in America, an established state church should be avoided. But the goal was not aggressive or mandated secularism. None of the Founding Fathers believed that they should relinquish their religious perspectives when they entered Independence Hall. For many of them, it was their own religious perspective that drove them there to begin with! The goal of the First Amendment was precisely to protect active religious believers in public life.This is a unique and often misunderstood facet of the American experiment’s genius: the recognition that religious institutions can be contributors to public morality and civic judgment precisely through the protection of largely unimpeded religious activity.We should work hard to preserve and protect that notion. The Founding Fathers believed that it was essential for maintaining the social contract underlying the US Constitution. This is the reason why John Adams wrote in 1797, “our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”Public religious faith provides the ability to make moral judgments, which are rooted in a sense of the common good, rather than individual good. To borrow from Tocqueville, “where education and freedom are the children of morality and religion. . . democracy. . . makes better choices than everywhere else.” A religiously informed sense of the common good allows us to make better choices for public governance.What Is the Purpose of Law?St. Thomas Aquinas offers some insight into precisely why this is. In his Treatise on Law, St. Thomas outlines a vision for legislation that is rooted in the end, or telos, of law. The idea is that law is established to achieve a social purpose, to recognize and promote a particular virtue, for the sake of the good of the entire community. Law is the fruit of a reasoned attempt to achieve a common good and, as such, it seeks to transform those who are bound by it.Law, for St. Thomas, is transformative. It sets us free to choose the common good by forming us in its service. “For law to be good,” St. Thomas observed, “it makes us good.”The challenge in any democracy, particularly our contemporary US democracy, is identifying and agreeing upon what common good the law should pursue. It is dispiriting to believe that law exists merely to protect ourselves from one another—that the common good we pursue is a basic certitude and guarantee that we won’t kill each other. Our common good is more than just protection from barbarism.In fact, law can free us to pursue more for ourselves. Law can point us in the right direction and help us to achieve it. That direction is the common good: the human flourishing of every member of our society.Religious faith, and Christianity in particular, provides an external standard of justice and truth, as well as a clear sense of authentic human dignity. Promoting human dignity is the common good. Promoting the family is the common good. Protecting truth and preserving justice is why we make law. We need to bring that perspective to bear in the public square.Fighting the Dictatorship of RelativismIn 2005, Pope Benedict XVI warned that we are marching toward a “dictatorship of relativism.” With no sense of truth, with no sense of common purpose or common good, the Holy Father says that we are simply “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine.” The dictatorship of relativism is the prevailing uncertainty, ambiguity, and confusion that we face in our culture today.Here in Nebraska, we are facing a cultural crisis. The current judicial fight over marriage is a symptom of secularist ideology devoid of an understanding of the common good. It is a consequence of a culture with no sense of common justice or civic purpose and no sense of the great gift and importance of family life.If the American experiment is to survive, it needs Christianity—and the influence of all religious believers. And if our legal system is to survive, it needs your influence. Our obligation is to work to restore a sense of the common good and a sense of the transcendent in American public discourse. If law continues to be an agent of self-interest, we will see more instances of religious persecution and family disintegration. On the other hand, if law helps us to identify, proclaim, and seek a common good, then we will have turned the tide and served the vision of the Founding Fathers.Law can be transformative. Law can demonstrate the meaning of words like justice, truth, and freedom. Law can return us to virtue. As a nation, law can help us to choose the good.Let me conclude with a story from American history that continues to fascinate me. Some of you may remember a Steven Spielberg film from a couple of decades ago, “Amistad.” It was a true story about a dozen or so African men on trial for rebelling against slave traders who had abducted them. “Amistad” was the name of the slave boat. They won their case, and it became an important milestone in the abolition movement.The attorney who defended the Africans before the US Supreme Court was John Quincy Adams, our nation’s sixth president and son of John Adams, our second President and one of the nation’s Founding Fathers. He was the only president who served in Congress after his term ended. Accounts of the trial show that Adams repeatedly appealed to a copy of the Declaration of Independence that was hanging on a pillar before the high court justices.At one point, Adams declared: “In the Declaration of Independence, the Laws of Nature are announced and appealed to as identical with the laws of Nature’s God—and as the foundation of all obligatory human laws.” Adams argued that if the rights of these African men were not given to them by God, then they could be taken away at the whim of other men or by the government. To deny the principles expressed in our Declaration, Adams argued, “reduces to brute force all the rights of man. It places all the sacred relations of life at the power of the strongest.”John Quincy Adams was right. The Founding Fathers believed that religion and the laws derived from religious belief had a fundamental role to play in public and political life. Without it, they feared their noble experiment would fail. It isn’t too late for our noble experiment to succeed. But that depends on your courage, your commitment, and your trust in Jesus Christ.It isn’t too late for America’s noble experiment to succeed. But that depends on the courage and commitment of American people of faith. Adapted from a homily delivered on January 15, 2015, at the Red Mass of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska.
In the century before Christ was born, the great Roman poet Horace wrote a wise line: “Tua res agitur paries cum proximus ardet.” The English translation is: “It concerns you when your neighbor’s wall is on fire.”Horace taught that we are connected to one another—that human beings are responsible for each other’s wellbeing, and that the misfortunes of others can endanger each one of us. Horace meant that we need to respond when neighbors face danger—that justice, and love, demand that we care for the needs of those in our communities.St. Paul expressed Horace’s wisdom more clearly. To the Church in Philippi, he wrote, “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”Christ put it even more clearly—“whatever you do for the least of your brothers,” he said, “you do for me.” If we really love Christ, the needs of those around us will become our needs, and the misfortunes of others will become our concern.In November, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the state of Nebraska, alleging that Article I-29 of our Constitution is a violation of federal law. The article states that in our state, marriage shall be understood as a union between a man and woman—and that marriage cannot be contracted or recognized as a relationship between two people of the same sex. Over the past few months, Nebraskans have fought to protect our Constitution. As the lawsuit continues to run through the federal courts, Catholics will continue to proclaim and clarify the real meaning of marriage.Tragically, marriage has been legally redefined in many states across the country. The federal government has accepted alternative definitions of marriage. So-called ‘same-sex marriage’ is increasingly accepted by cultural, religious, and political leaders. To some, universal recognition of same-sex marriage seems inevitable.As the debate goes on, some Catholics have begun to ask why fighting same-sex marriage is so important. A friend asked me recently, “If the Church will not have to violate her teaching, why does same-sex marriage concern me?”Radical redefinition of marriage concerns each one of us. It concerns me, and it concerns you.It should concern all of us when our state’s Constitution is undermined—when the votes of Nebraskans are less important than the force of well-funded and well-organized political interest groups. It concerns us when the government is used to validate and endorse whatever kind of social arrangement citizens might wish to make—no matter the harm.It concerns us when the world forgets that children do best with mothers and fathers, each playing unique roles in formation and education. It concerns us when “fatherhood” and “motherhood” become lost or muddled concepts. It concerns us when the real needs of children are undermined for the sake of “tolerance” and political correctness.It concerns us when the state forces bakers and photographers, teachers and parents to ignore what they believe—to abandon their convictions and their faith—in order to make a living for their families.It concerns us when our state is not free to recognize that men and women, forming stable families and stable communities, have an important role in every human culture. It concerns us when our state is not free to support and promote the sacrifices of those men and women. It concerns us when our state must deny real truths about human families, and human hearts.It concerns us when we begin to lose sight of God’s plan for the world. It concerns us when the world confuses real God-given dignity with moral license and pathways to unhappiness. It concerns us when a confused, unhappy, and over-sexualized culture makes it harder for all people—no matter their attractions or inclinations—to know God’s love.Redefining marriage concerns each of us because its impact is profound. For the sake of our neighbors and friends—for the sake of our whole community—we need to continue to proclaim and clarify the truth about marriage.Proclaiming the truth about marriage, and families, and parents, is an act of love. It is an act of love for our state, which has the right to be organized according to reality. It is an act of love for children, who have the right to know the complementary love of mothers and fathers. And it is an act of love for all those who might be kept from discovering God’s real love—and their real dignity—by the confusing lies of the world.The Church should be a place of welcome for all people. It should be a place where all people come to know God’s love, and to know his incredible plan for their lives. The Church should be a place where knowing the truth is a source of hope, of healing, and of joy. And that means that the Church should be a place where the truth is proclaimed—charitably, respectfully, and openly.The world is very confused about the meaning of marriage, about the importance of families and, ultimately, the world is very confused about happiness, and joy, and peace. The world is a dangerous place for anyone who is seeking real love. Christ’s love—and his plan for each one of us—is the antidote to that danger. That concerns each one of us. Tua res agitur!
15 years ago, in 1999, Pope St. John Paul II declared that the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe would be celebrated in the every Church in the Americas, because, he said, she is the Patroness, the Evangelizer, and the Mother of the Americas. John Paul said that through her intercession, the new evangelization in America would “yield a splendid flowering of Christian life." She is, therefore, the Star of the New Evangelization. The Blessed Virgin Mary is an evangelist in all times, in all cultures. She was essential to the evangelization of the Americas from the time of the first Christian missionaries who came to these shores. John Paul II said that “the Most Blessed Virgin ‘is linked in a special way to the birth of the Church in the history ... of the peoples of America; through Mary they came to encounter the Lord.” Today, we are called to the work of a new evangelization—we are called to invite the world into deeper communion with Christ and His Church. We are called to propose Christ, as if for the very first time, to a culture that has largely lost sight of the Christian sensibilities in which it is rooted. We are called to propose to people an encounter with Christ. If we wish to be successful evangelists—successful missionaries to a people who need Christ—we need the Blessed Virgin Mary. And in our culture, in our nation, in our communities, and in our families, we need the Virgin of Guadalupe. As we undertake the work of the new evangelization, we are called to imitate the love of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There are, in particular, three elements of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the heart of her prophetic witness to the modern world: respect for the poor, commitment to the dignity of life, and evangelization through the power of beauty. When the Blessed Mother appeared on Tepeyac, she appeared to St. Juan Diego, the Nahuatl indian who was among the first to be baptized by Franciscan missionaries in Mexico in the early 16th century. She did not appear to the missionaries themselves, or to Bishop Zummarraga, or to the Indian and Spanish nobility in Mexico. Instead, the Blessed Virgin Mary entrusted the responsibility of proclaiming her presence to a simple man with no contacts, connections, or influence. She did so because she saw his dignity, his holiness, and his ability. The Church calls us to “preferential respect for the poor.” Above all else, this means respecting the dignity, the capacity, and the call to holiness of the poor—and inviting those experiencing all kinds of poverty to share in the Church’s mission to the world. When we invite the poor to share in the life and mission of the Church, we witness to the invitation Christ extends to each of us—poor and unworthy ourselves—to share in his mission and in his life. When she appeared to St. Juan Diego, Our Lady of Guadalupe wore a knotted black sash around her waist—a symbol of pregnancy in Nahuatl culture. And her waist bulged—a sign of the unborn Jesus Christ growing within her. Our Lady of Guadalupe is unique among the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary because she appears bearing Jesus Christ in her womb. Our Lady of Guadalupe evangelized the Americas while witnessing to the humanity of an unborn child. If we wish to imitate her, we must be steadfast in doing the same. For more than 40 years, the Church in the United States has been a steadfast witness for life—for truth—manifested by dedicated men and women: children, parents, priests, seminarians, and sisters, in prayer outside of abortion clinics across this country. That witness—unshaken by defeats, undiscouraged by the passage of time, undaunted by isolation, ridicule and persecution—will bear fruit. It will continue to save lives. It will continue to change hearts. In the mystery of God’s Providence, Our Lady of Guadalupe is a witness to the dignity of human life. We must be witnesses also. If you have ever been to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, you know that the image of Our Lady is shockingly beautiful. On the real tilma on which Our Lady imprinted herself, her eyes are alive, her clothing is splendid, each color is striking and vivid. And every single thing on the tilma of Juan Diego is a rich theological symbol. There is no pattern, no line, no color, left to chance. The image is saturated with meaning—so rich, so dense, so bursting with meaning that even today, it is still being ever more clearly understood. Our Lady of Guadalupe is a witness to the power of beauty. We celebrate liturgy beautifully, and build beautiful Churches, and make beautiful music, and art, and poetry, in order to capture the hearts and imaginations of the world, as Our Lady captured the heart and imagination of St. Juan Diego. Pope Francis says“the Church evangelizes, and is evangelized, through beauty.” Our Lady reminds us of that. For almost 500 years, Our Lady of Guadalupe has captured hearts for Jesus Christ. In our commitment to the poor, to the defense of life, and to evangelization through beauty, may we imitate, and may she intercede for us before Christ, her son.
Like most of you, I’ll gather around a table this Thanksgiving with family and friends. I’ll have the privilege of being with my mother, my sister and her husband, and my favorite niece and nephew – I only have two! For several weeks, I’ve been looking forward to this chance to be with my family—to relax, and catch up, and to laugh with one another.My family will begin our time together with the truest moment of Thanksgiving—with an expression of gratitude to Jesus Christ for the gifts that he has given us. And earlier that day, like every day, I’ll celebrate the sacrament of thanksgiving—the Most Holy Eucharist. Few people realize that the word “Eucharist” is a Greek word for “thanksgiving.” The term has been used since the first century to signify the Body and Blood of Christ because when the priest offers the sacrifice of Holy Mass, he gives thanksgiving to God—just as Jesus Christ did at the Last Supper. Our Thanksgiving holiday is linked, by its very name, to the Eucharistic presence of Jesus Christ. And, on Thanksgiving, we should remember that everything we have is a gift from God – we should remember that our very being is a gift from God. And that the highest, most meaningful, and most everlasting gift God can give us is His Son, Jesus Christ, made present the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.A few days after Thanksgiving, we’ll enter into the season of Advent. And, Advent, too, is a reminder that God has given us the great gift of Jesus Christ—who became a child, in the humble circumstances of his birth, in order that all of us might know our dignity, might be redeemed and forgiven our sins, and might be transformed in holiness.I often realize on Thanksgiving how many things I take for granted. It can be easy for us to lose sight of how much we’ve been given—even to lose sight of the great gift of Christ himself. But on Thanksgiving, we reflect, intentionally, on the graces of our lives. This practice is helpful at every time of the year, and every time of our lives. Thanksgiving, and Advent, are good times to begin to pray for the grace of gratitude. And because the Eucharist is the sacrament of thanksgiving, regularly receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ—and spending time in the presence of the Eucharist—will help us to acquire and cultivate grateful hearts. The more we are grateful to God, the better stewards we will become of the graces and gifts God has given us.Around the Thanksgiving table, I’ll remember the graces God has given me. I’ll remember that all I have is a grace from God. I’ll remember to be a good steward of what I’ve been given—so that others might experience God’s grace, his love, and his generosity, through me. And at the altar, on Thanksgiving, and as Advent begins, I’ll remember the people of the Diocese of Lincoln, and pray that each of us may be blessed with an abundance of gratitude and thanksgiving.
At Calvary, Jesus Christ hung upon the cross, suffering for the sin of the world. He hung in agony suffering for our sins, yours and mine. He suffered a death on the cross he had not merited; he innocently suffered torments he did not deserve.Mary, his mother, and John his beloved disciple, and the holy women of Jerusalem stood on Calvary as Christ was put to death. They stood in darkness, and rain, amid callous crowds and rough soldiers. They stood together in a place of cruelty for their love of Jesus Christ.It would be insufficient to call their presence on Calvary a protest. They were not there to picket, or rally, or demonstrate. The presence of the Christians on Calvary had a far deeper meaning.Mary and the disciples stood on Calvary to mourn for Jesus Christ. They stood to witness the injustice of his execution. They stood on Calvary, above all else, to pray. They prayed that a violent place might become holy—and in the death of Jesus Christ, which redeemed death for all mankind, it did become holy. By the blood of Jesus Christ, a place for killing became a place where the world was redeemed.For more than thirty years, I have spent time in prayer at the abortion clinics of our nation. Outside of clinics, I have prayed and sung hymns and interceded on behalf of mothers and their unborn children. I have knelt in snow and rain, with men and women far more dedicated than I.Every day in this country, men and women gather to pray that evil places—places which kill more than 1 million unborn children each year—might be redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.I have seen the fruits of these prayers. I have met doctors and nurses who have been converted—leaving behind the practice of abortion in order to dedicate their careers to saving lives. I have seen abortion clinics shuttered—the prayers of the faithful men and women overcoming the evil of abortion. And I have met children and adults who were abortion bound, whose mothers changed their minds at the last moment—the grace of fervent prayer in the face of evil.“Every child that isn’t born, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of Jesus Christ,” said Pope Francis last year in Rome. When we pray for end to abortion, we join Mary and John and the women of Jerusalem at Calvary. We are at a place, a modern day Calvary, where pure innocence meets pure evil. And there, in the unborn children condemned to be aborted, we see the face of Jesus Christ.October 5th is the Church’s Respect Life Sunday. As the 2014 USCCB Respect Life Program begins this month, let us take a moment to reflect on this year’s theme: “Each of Us is a Masterpiece of God’s Creation.” This truth should effect our understanding of ourselves and others and the way we live; we ought to spend time reflecting on what it means to be “God’s masterpiece.” Pastoral and educational resources for the program can be found at www.usccb.org/respectlife.Next week, on Monday, October 6th, students from Pius X High School in Lincoln and from the Newman Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincon will hold a candlelight vigil at an abortion clinic, praying for an end to abortion They will continue this practice throughout the year—I will join them as often as I’m able.I pray that you will join these young students, praying for an end to abortion. I pray that families will come together to pray with them. I pray that priests, and seminarians, and religious sisters will be there. I pray that physicians will be there—even in their white doctors’ coats–praying for any physician who would perform an abortion.The blood of Christ, poured out on Calvary, can make holy the violent and evil and depraved things of this world. Mary and John prayed for this on Calvary. I pray that we might join them, praying at places of killing for the redemption of all things, made possible in Jesus Christ.Posted with permission from the Southern Nebraska Register, official publication of the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb.
Earlier this week, Pope Francis celebrated and witnessed the marriages of 20 Roman couples. The couples and their families attended Mass with the Holy Father, and he received their vows: their holy commitments to God to live the joy and the sacrifice of married love.Some of the couples were young. Others were older. A few had children, or had lived together in cohabitation, or had received annulments—declarations of nullity—from previous unions. In short, Pope Francis performed the ministry priests perform around the world—he brought couples into a new kind of relationship with one another, and with God, through the holy sacrament of marriage.I was ordained a priest in 1985. In nearly thirty years of ministry, I’ve celebrated countless weddings. I’ve learned that some couples who come for marriage preparation come eager for a sacramental union, and some come with very little formation in the faith. And all of them come with history—with the histories of their families, their relationships, and their lives in Jesus Christ. Many of the couples who come to the Church for marriage preparation have never heard or understood the meaning of Christian marriage—of generous, committed, sacrificial love in union with Jesus Christ.The daunting task of a priest is to ensure that no matter the history or the motivation, those who stand before the altar to profess the vows of marriage are prepared and committed to a vocation of self-sacrificial, holy, and sacramental love—committed to becoming saints together.A good priest helps couples to embrace the sacrificial call of marriage, and to reject the lies of the world about false relationships- the lies of cohabitation, of contraception, of “trial marriage,” or easy divorce. In marriage preparation, a good priest prepares couples for the cross of marriage by revealing to them the beauty of Christ’s redemptive love from the cross. To prepare couples for marriage, a good priest is charged with teaching the real meaning of love.I’ve learned in nearly thirty years of ministry, that no priest can adequately prepare a couple for marriage in the months he spends with them before the wedding. Real preparation for marriage begins in the home—in the witness of loving and married parents who embrace the holy vocation of family life. In Familiaris Consortio, St. John Paul II said that marriage preparation begins “in early childhood, in that wise family training which leads children to discover themselves as being endowed with a rich and complex psychology and with a particular personality with its own strengths and weaknesses. It is the period when esteem for all authentic human values is instilled, both in interpersonal and in social relationships, with all that this signifies for the formation of character, for the control and right use of one's inclinations, for the manner of regarding and meeting people of the opposite sex, and so on. Also necessary, especially for Christians, is solid spiritual and catechetical formation that will show that marriage is a true vocation and mission.”“Believing” said Pope Francis in Lumen Fidei, “means entrusting oneself to a merciful love which always accepts and pardons, which sustains and directs our lives, and which shows its power by its ability to make straight the crooked lines of our history.” Marriage preparation—in fact, preparation for any vocation—begins with being taught to believe in the merciful and trustworthy love of God.I pray that some of the couples married last week before Pope Francis received that kind of marriage preparation. But, in the throes of widespread family erosion, of ubiquitous contraception, pornography, and divorce—in the throes of the culture of death—I suspect that many of them did not. Next month, the Holy Father will begin a synod with bishops from around the world, to discuss the family. Much of the preparatory discussion has centered on ministry to the divorced and remarried. This ministry is important. In the Diocese of Lincoln, we’re preparing for a broad initiative to invite divorced Catholics to spiritual healing, and to assist them in working with the diocesan tribunal to resolve their marital situations. But if we want to prevent divorce to begin with, the Church must seriously address the questions of family life, and of marriage preparation. Divorce is a symptom of the culture of death. Broken families beget more broken families, broken marriages beget more broken marriage. St. John Paul II said that “the future of humanity passes by way of the family.” If we want to overcome the culture of death, we need generations of families rooted in Jesus Christ, and generations of husbands and wives well-prepared to love with the merciful and powerful love of God. In short, if we want to overcome the culture of death, we must do it by attacking the problem at the root—by allowing Jesus Christ to heal families.I pray that the upcoming synod will help families to encounter Jesus Christ, and his love for them. I pray that parents—even unmarried or divorced parents—will witness to the sanctity of marriage, and thus prepare their children for a lifetime of discipleship in the vocation to which they are called. And I pray that the synod will encourage pastors around the world to address the question of family life, and marriage preparation as seriously as the Church prepares young men for priesthood, or young men and women for consecrated life. In many places, and in many families, revolutionary change is needed in preparation for married life. And the Church must find ways to ensure that those who wish to be married can undertake the significance of the vocation they enter—even when this means delaying a wedding. In the midst of broken families, it is the Church who must shoulder much of the responsibility for preparing couples to embrace the cross of married life.In his wedding homily last week, Pope Francis said that families “are the first place in which we are formed as persons and, at the same time, the ‘bricks’ for the building up of society.” I pray that the synod for the family will help all of us to strengthen marriages, to strengthen families, and to overcome the culture of death by rebuilding, one marriage at a time, a civilization of love.
On June 28th, 1776, the first draft of our nation’s Declaration of Independence was introduced to the general session of the Second Continental Congress. The 28th was a Friday, and so the founding fathers tabled the draft until the following Monday, July 1st, when they took it up again for debate. A resolution for independence was approved on July 2nd and, on July 4th, the text of the Declaration of Independence was approved.Sunday, June 30th, 1776, was an important day in our nation’s history. On that day, the Founding Fathers would have been in Philadelphia’s churches, praying for the will of God in the founding of our nation. They might have prayed for us, the beneficiaries of their courage. They might have prayed for the prosperity, the morality, and the liberty of our nation. They might have remembered the Continental Day of Prayer, which Congress had declared on March 16, 1776, on which they prayed that, “this continent be speedily restored to the blessings of peace and liberty.”This year, on June 30th—that day of prayer and contemplation which might have spurred the inception of our liberty—the United States Supreme Court restored some portion of the liberty, particularly religious liberty, on which our nation was founded. The Hobby Lobby decision is an affirmation that believers have a place in the public square — that all of us should be free to conduct our business without compromising our basic moral beliefs. In addition, Wheaton College, a small evangelical college, received last-minute relief from the Supreme Court, protecting the College’s right to carry out its religious mission, free from crippling IRS fines.The victory is not unqualified and the fight for our religious liberty is not complete. Churches, hospitals, and universities are still threatened by the federal HHS contraceptive mandate. And the outcome of that fight is not yet clear. But we have reason to be optimistic. And we should rejoice that the Court affirmed, as Professor Robert George of Princeton University wrote last week, that “our religious lives cannot be restricted to what we do in our homes before meals or on our knees at bedtime, or to our prayers and liturgies in churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples. Religious faith motivates, or can motivate, our convictions and actions in the exercise of our rights and responsibilities as citizens, in our philanthropic and charitable activities, and in the conduct of our businesses and professions.”The backlash against the Hobby Lobby decision has been extraordinary. Planned Parenthood and its allies have falsely painted the decision as an offense to women and the right to self-determination, actualized in access to free contraception. The decision has been painted, laughably, as a move towards imposing a kind of American theocracy, or as a precedent to the total annihilation of the rule of law. The Huffington Post went so far as to suggest that the decision “may now be resurrecting concerns about the compatibility between being a Catholic and being a good citizen, or at least between being a good Catholic and an impartial judge.” In its aftermath, the Hobby Lobby decision has exposed the bald aggression of secularists, whose loyalties lie more closely with unfettered sexual libertinism than with respect for fundamental rights of conscience, of religion, or of personal dignity. In short, the Hobby Lobby decision has exposed the secular tendency towards atheocracy—the systematic hostility and marginalization of religious believers who engage in American public life, a kind of practical atheism established as a norm.Hobby Lobby is a victory for human dignity. But it is also a mandate. What’s clear, in the aftermath of the decision, is how toxic our culture has become to faith in public life. The hostility we face won’t be overcome by the assertion of our rights in courts of law. That fight is important. But litigation can only fight the symptoms of our broader problems. Religious liberty will be threatened in our nation as long as secularism is the prevailing cultural leitmotif. Hobby Lobby is a mandate for evangelization. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis observed that “the immense importance of a culture marked by faith cannot be overlooked; before the onslaught of contemporary secularism an evangelized culture, for all its limits, has many more resources than the mere sum total of believers. An evangelized popular culture contains values of faith and solidarity capable of encouraging the development of a more just and believing society, and possesses a particular wisdom which ought to be gratefully acknowledged.”An evangelized culture, the Holy Father says, will be a just culture. Justice is the fruit of faith.Around the world, religious believers face today particular kinds of injustice. The European Court of Human Rights declared this week that nations have broad authority to restrict religious tradition and expression in favor of social cohesion. In Egypt, a Christian was sentenced to prison this week for proclaiming Christ on the Internet. Today, right now, Christians in Iraq and Syria are being exiled, beaten, and killed. We sorely need evangelized and just cultures.Our religious liberty is not an end in itself. Instead, religious liberty is the freedom for something real—the freedom to “make disciples of all nations”—to spread the Gospel, and its fruits, joyfully. If we want to protect our religious liberty, the very best thing we can do is to use it—to transform culture by transforming hearts for Jesus Christ.Posted with permission from the Southern Nebraska Register, official publication of the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb.
Catholic education played a vital role in the founding of our nation. Among the signers of the Declaration of Independence was Charles Carroll, a Catholic landowner who had been educated in Catholic schools in Maryland and in France—even receiving a Catholic legal education in France. Charles Carroll was one of the earliest advocates for American independence. In the early 1770s, he began writing newspaper columns supporting independence. He funded the early tea-protests against British rule. And while many revolutionaries were content writing pamphlets and columns against the King, Charles Carroll was among the first to call American patriots to armed revolution.Charles Carroll signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. After the war, he became a United States Senator, and he spent the remainder of his political career fighting for the abolition of American slavery.The ideas about freedom and justice Charles Carroll encountered in Catholic schools led him to envision the American quest for democracy, and for liberty. When he saw injustice, and tyranny, and greed, it was his Catholic formation, and his Catholic conscience that impelled him to support fights for freedom—first the fight of the American patriots, and later, that of the American slaves.Charles Carroll’s cousin John — the first Archbishop of Baltimore — was also an ardent supporter of the American Revolution. So were thousands of Catholic Americans who fought valiantly to support the American cause. Some of the Revolution’s most successful generals were Catholics. And Catholics disproportionately volunteered to serve in the Continental Army. In fact, the very first Mass celebrated in the city of Boston was a funeral Mass for a Continental soldier, a French volunteer killed during the Revolutionary War.From the very beginning, Catholics have played a vital role in the success of the American experiment. And our involvement in public and political life is still essential to the well-being of our nation. After the Revolution, Senator Charles Carroll spoke to the importance of religious faith in public life. “Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time;” he observed, “they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion…. are undermining… the best security for the duration of free governments.”Charles Carroll—and all of the founding fathers—built a nation that reflects Christian principles of human dignity and personal freedom. But our nation’s founders understood that unless people of faith participate in public life, our democracy could become a very dangerous tool.Our nation depends, said Charles Carroll, on “the solid foundation of morals.”Faith allows us to discern the common good. To make good choices about the best policies for our communities. To understand the importance of living in accord with who God made us to be—the importance of making law which respects the dignity of every human person, created in the image of God.Without the influence of truth on public life, the rights of the unborn, the poor, and the marginalized can be discarded. Without the participation of religious believers, the principles of justice and freedom are replaced with reckless pursuit of comfort and pleasure. Without active protection of rights, religious liberty—and indeed, all liberty—stands perilously close to being lost entirely.Our democracy can serve the common good. But only when believers, capable of discerning the common good, participate in public life.Next week, the major political parties of Nebraska will hold their primary elections. We’ll consider candidates for state and national offices. And, if we want our state and nation to serve the common good, we have a moral obligation to vote. And when we do vote, we ought to consider the candidates and their position in light of the received teachings of our Church. In light of justice. In light of truth.Catholics helped to form our nation. And over the past two centuries, Catholics have bled and died to protect it. Their legacy is in our hands. To be faithful Catholics, we’re called to be faithful citizens. May each of us work to build a just and free nation. And may we bring the principles of our faith to the public square, and to the voting booth.Printed with permission from Southern Nebraska Register, official publication of the Diocese of Lincoln.