On January 18, 2019, a video of Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann went viral. He was at the Lincoln Memorial standing face to face with a Native American man during the March to Life in Washington, D.C. On the basis of that picture, a frenzy of condemnations from reporters, commentators and politicians were heaped upon this student, accusing him of prejudice and hatred. Misinformation and lies spread like wild fire. Finally, when the facts were uncovered, the high school student was exonerated of any wrong-doing, even though much wrong had been done to him and his family. It was a rush to judgment. On January 29, 2019, American actor and singer Jussie Smollett reported that two masked men attacked him at 2 AM near his apartment in Chicago. He claimed that the attack was racist and homophobic. After Smollett’s initial report, friends and fans, celebrities and politicians expressed outrage at this hate crime. Twitter and Instagram fueled the frenzy of self-righteous indignation. However, in just three weeks, it was discovered that the whole event had been orchestrated by Smollett. Yet, before the facts were fully known, there was the rush to judgment and much chatter. Gifted with reason, we are wired to make judgments. Discerning the good from the bad, the beautiful from the ugly, the right from the wrong, and virtue from vice: this is an essential part of our being human. However, every judgment must be founded on truth, not rumor; on fact, not fiction; on substance, not appearance. And every judgment must always be tempered with compassion. Albeit from opposite directions, the Sandmann and Smollett incidents show how quick we are to believe or disbelieve, to accuse or defend and how easily we pick a side and draw a line in the sand. And, all the while, truth grows ever more fragile. Today’s rush to judgment gathers speed along the newly constructed digital highway. We get information instantaneously and, because we want solutions just as fast, we are quick to judge. As a result of this incessant communication about other people’s lives, we live on the edge between truth and falsehood. What years ago was whispered between a few people now goes viral and can never be retrieved. As a result, in this environment, deliberately passing on stories that destroy other people’s good names is nothing less than cyber bullying. There is no area of modern society that is exempt from someone passing on false information, half-truths or blatant, deliberate lies. In a society of fast-paced information sharing, gossip has become so commonplace that people justify it as a way to right wrongs, correct others and unseat those whom they deem unfit for their chosen work. However, unlike the surgeon’s scalpel that removes the cancer, gossip is the arrow that destroys the other. As a statement sometimes attributed to Mark Twain says, “a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots.” In a similar vein, Jonathan Swift once wrote, “if a lie be believ’d only for an hour, it has done its work, and there is no further occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it; so that, when men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late…the tale has had its effect” (Jonathan Swift, The Examiner, Number 15, November, 1710). For this reason, people of good faith should be slow to judge others. And never should they gossip. People who constantly judge or criticize others truly lack compassion. Sadly, making negative judgments on others on the basis of appearances and then spreading those judgments to others is found among those who consider themselves Church-going people. It is especially found among those who set themselves as crusaders for a just cause and, then by their lack of charity, become unjust themselves. The fondness to judge and criticize others may well be a way of not facing one’s own sins. "It is often easier or more convenient to see and condemn the faults and sins of others than it is to see our own” (Pope Francis, Angelus, March 3, 2019). In speech after speech, Pope Francis has been courageously warning us of the evil of gossip. “Gossip is a weapon and it threatens the human community every day; it sows envy, jealousy and power struggles… We might welcome someone and speak well of him the first day but little by little that worm eats away at our minds until our gossip banishes him from good opinion. That person in a community who gossips against his or her neighbor is, in a sense, killing him.” (Pope Francis, Homily, Domus Sanctae Marthae, September 2, 2013). Few things can match the harmful effects of gossip, whether it be slander or detraction. Defamation inflicts grave harm on the individual and destroys the community. It is against charity and, since God is love, it is against God himself. Charles Spurgeon, one of the most popular Baptist preachers of the 19th century, summed up the evil of talking about other people by saying, “the tale-bearer carries the devil in his tongue, and the tale-hearer carries the devil in his ear.” Gossip makes the devil laugh!
A few years ago, Paul Croituru and his young son went out treasure hunting near their native village in Romania. To their surprise, they discovered ancient Greek currency dating back 2,350 years to the time of King Philip II. The 300 silver coins turned out to be counterfeit. The father and son now hold the distinction of having discovered the oldest counterfeit money known thus far. Counterfeit money has been around as long as money has been around. In fact, some have named the production of counterfeit money “the world's second oldest profession.” During war time, nations often resort to counterfeit money to inflict harm on their enemies. During the Revolutionary War, Great Britain attempted to devalue the continental dollar by flooding the market with shovers (fake dollars). During World War II, the Nazis made prisoners in their camps forge British pounds and American dollars to destabilize their enemies’ economies and destroy them. Satan constantly attempts to entice individuals into counterfeit religion where the forged currency is believing in God while denying sin. The devil would have everyone forget that sin is a reality. In this way, he can render ineffective in us the work of Christ who came to take away our sins. Failure. Weakness. Mistakes. Psychological pressures. Social customs. All these labels the devil uses to disguise sin. But, sin itself remains a fact. Science always prides itself on beginning every research project with a fact. True religion, likewise, begins with the fact of sin in the world, original sin and personal sin. “The ancient masters of religion…began with the fact of sin. Whether or not man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders…have begun…to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved” (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy). And so can the personal sins of hatred, envy, lust, pride, gluttony and greed likewise be proven. Even a casual glance at Sacred Scriptures shows that sin taints even God’s greatest heroes and heroines. Adam and Eve lead the procession of sinners. Drunken Noah, untruthful Abraham, adulterous David and Bathsheba, disloyal Peter, and murderous Paul follow. Sin really is not that original. It is the monotonous repetition of the tragedy of Eden: choosing self over God. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8). In the Sacrament of Penance, the Church offers us the gift of a personal encounter with our merciful Lord who forgives our sins. However, many people, and sometimes even faithful Catholics, say that they do not need to go to a priest for confession to have their sins forgiven. Why confess to a priest who is a sinner himself? God will forgive sins without the ministry of priests. Certainly, God can forgive sins when we turn to him and repent. But, he has chosen to offer us his forgiveness through the ministry of the Church. And, for a reason. Sin is not just between the individual and God. Every sin that we commit offends God and affects others. Every sin harms Christ’s Body, the Church. The act of confession before a priest recognizes the true nature of sin as an offense against God and others. And so, it is through the Church’s priests that God chooses not simply to forgive our sins but to reconcile us to the Church. (cf. Pope Francis, General Audience, November 20, 2013). So important is confession that some of the holiest priests of the Church have spent hours in the confessional as missionaries of God’s mercy. St. Philip Neri, a busy parish priest in Rome, spent every morning hearing confessions before continuing his work with youth in the afternoon. So famous was St. Jean Vianney in hearing confessions that a new train station had to be built in his town of Ars so that people from all of France could go there to confess to this holy priest. Most recently, St. Padre Pio heard confessions for not less than 18 hours a day. There were always long lines awaiting him. During his public ministry, Jesus forgave sins (cf. Mk 2:5; Lk 7:48; Jn 8:1-11). And, then after the Resurrection, he entrusted this ministry of forgiveness to his priests. On Easter Sunday night, “Jesus said to them ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained’” (Jn 20:21-23). In confession, the priest, weak and sinful himself, acts in the name of Jesus and with his authority. In going to confession, we approach the priest, one by one, not as group, not as family. We humbly place before him all our own sins. To receive absolution and be forgiven, it is necessary not simply to confess all mortal sins, but also to have a firm purpose of amendment of sinning no more. As difficult as this might be at times, how great the grace! For, when the priest absolves us, we have, as Jesus promised, the certainty that our sins are forgiven.
In February 1915, only six months after the beginning of World War I, Lancet, a British medical journal, used for the first time the expression “shell shock.” This newly coined expression was used to describe the feeling of helplessness that soldiers felt after exposure to constant bombardment. The term was new, but not the reality. After every war, soldiers return from combat, suffering “shell shock.” Watching their comrades mowed down by enemy fire or left maimed and strewn on the battlefield, combatants become immune to feelings of connectedness and concern. Today, this phenomenon is becoming an epidemic. We are constantly being bombarded by bad news. The catastrophic and inhumane events that interrupt our everyday life are causing many people to escape from the brutality by becoming shell shocked. Terrorist attacks in Belgium, Syria, Africa, and in England; daily violence on the streets of Chicago, New York, Paterson; the massacre of our children in their schools and of believers in their churches, synagogues and mosques; the interminable disputes and rancor over immigration; allegations of racism and sexism; the incessant reporting of scandals, present and past! Moment by moment these evils confront us. So fast does news travel that one story stumbles over the other with images of the dead, the wounded, the homeless imprinted on our minds. These problems do not admit of simple solutions. And, since we are more aware of them today than in the past and yet less able to find solutions, many, left numb and disillusioned, drift into apathy. In addition, newspapers, blogs and TV commentaries flash before us cause after cause, such as global poverty and climate change. “Every cause seems urgent, but nobody has the time, the energy, or the information necessary to make an impact. Knowing all the ways in which the world is flawed in a very real, raw, up-close kind of way without the ability to make any sort of important change is perhaps the most unwelcome symptom of the digital age” (Jamie Varon, “Generation apathy: How internet outrage is making us all numb and hopeless,” August 20, 2015). Some Christians have drunk the hemlock of apathy. They are becoming more and more indifferent to evil in the world and, sadly, more and more detached from religion. Unconnected. Not invested. Religion may be good; but, when it comes to God, they have hung up a “Do Not Disturb Sign.” For them, weddings, funerals, First Communions, Confirmations, if even celebrated, are mostly social occasions. Apathy within the Church is far more devastating than outside the Church. The Church is the sign and sacrament of salvation for the world. It is an instrument in God’s hands. But if the instrument is dull and listless, it hinders God’s activity. When people become apathetic, something more is needed than telling them to be kind and compassionate. Such preaching falls on deaf ears and hardened hearts. What is needed today is the bold proclamation of the kerygma, that is, the love of God given us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. God is not apathetic. He is intensely passionate about his relationship with us and his world. He is the lover who pursues his beloved. He never gives up on us, despite our sins. He woos us back to himself (cf. Hosea 2:11). He did not turn his back on the evil of our world, but sent his Son to be our Redeemer. “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son” (Jn 3:16). In the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s love is a fact. In Jesus, God has begun the work of forgiving sins and recreating the world. And, he gifts us with the Holy Spirit so that, together with him, we make all things new. We are not helpless. We are not alone. Apathy makes people murmur a half-silent “No” to the world in which we live. But, faith in Jesus Crucified and Risen makes us shout a resounding “Yes” to God’s work of the New Creation. Faith is the antidote to apathy.
In The Innocents Abroad, published in1869, Mark Twain humorously narrates his travels thorough Europe and the Holy Land. He goes out of his way to praise the great hospitality that Catholic priests offered to any pilgrim traveling through 19th century Palestine. They readily welcomed all, whether they came “in rags or clad in purple.” Twain was pleasantly surprised by this, because, as he readily confesses, he had been “educated to enmity toward everything that is Catholic.” Enmity toward everything Catholic! Not a thing of the past. Most recently, the hatred was aimed at one of the most charitable and benevolent group of individuals in this country, the Knights of Columbus. During the Senate Judiciary Committee’s review of Omaha-based lawyer Brian C. Buescher for the position of judge on the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska, Senators Mazie Hirono, a democrat from Hawaii, and Kamala Harris, a democrat from California, grilled Buescher on his membership in the Knights of Columbus. In their questions, they boldly gave voice to an anti-Catholic prejudice in our society. Hirono accused the Knights of having “taken a number of extreme positions.” And, what are those extreme positions to which she is so vehemently opposed? The Catholic teaching on marriage as a union established by God. The sanctity of human life. The rights of a child in the womb to take his or her place at the banquet of life. For many, when it comes to birthing a child, only a woman has rights. And, when it comes to marriage, only what an individual wants matters. In their eyes, God’s design for his creation cannot limit the freedom of anyone to choose as they wish. Holding to what the Catholic Church has always taught, according to their line of questioning, now disqualifies someone from public office. In effect, both senators were applying a religious test as a qualification for public office. Responding to this blatant attack on a man’s religion, on January 17, 2018, the United States Senate unanimously passed the resolution that disqualifying a member of the Knights of Columbus for a federal office actually violates the Constitution of the United States. Article VI of the Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Sadly, this recent attack on Catholicism is not an isolated incident. Last September, Senator Dianne Feinstein expressed serious concern about the qualifications of Amy Barrett for a judgeship on the 7th Circuit. Feinstein is an unflinching supporter of abortion. It was no surprise that she zeroed in on Barrett’s position on Roe v. Wade. Because Barrett is a practicing Catholic who faithfully holds to Catholic teaching on this and other hot button issues, Feinstein remarked “in your case, professor…the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.” Clearly, the Senator sees no place for what the Catholic Church teaches on major moral and societal issues. It is becoming more and more obvious that the Catholic Church is being targeted as the public enemy of our society. Talk shows and news media attack the Catholic position on the right to life as misogyny and the Catholic teaching on marriage as intolerance and hatred. One can only wonder why those States that are investigating the Catholic Church on its record of protecting children are not looking into other public institutions. Why is there not a comparable investigation into their own school systems or other religious groups? Is the terrible crime of child abuse limited only to Catholics? Today’s media would even have people believe that abuse of minors is becoming more frequent within the Church. Patently false. But, too often facts do not matter when a villain is needed. Those who advocate for the radical autonomy of the individual find in the Church an indomitable opponent. The Catholic Church stands firm in her teaching on contraception, abortion, stem cell research, in-vitro fertilization, marriage and divorce. The Church teaches that every choice that touches on the gift of life and the beauty of marriage is judged by a law higher than the autonomy of the individual. And, for this reason, today’s secularists judge Catholics as public enemies to the good of the society they wish to construct. A society without God. A society without a future. Almost every day, a politician or teacher or public speaker is lambasted for a statement that is judged to be homophobic, misogynistic, racist or anti-Semitic. In some cases, not even an apology can save their careers. Yet, a free pass is given by society to any anti-Catholic view or statement. Someone can make an insulting or slanderous remark about Catholics, Catholic teachings or the Church herself and emerge unscathed. In his essay on The Significance of Jacksonian Democracy, historian and Harvard professor Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., himself not a Catholic, made the often cited assertion that anti-Catholic prejudice is “the deepest bias in the history of the American people.” According to Baylor University professor Philip Jenkins, anti-Catholic prejudice is “the last acceptable prejudice.”
Beneath the soil of every continent lie buried the ruins of fallen civilizations. The Sumerians, Akkadians, Mayans, Assyrians, Babylonians, Minoans, Romans: all of them, faded memories of past grandeur and glory. History records the collapse of at least thirty-two major civilizations that once thrived and prospered before our time. No great civilization is built in a day. No great civilization disappears in a single instant. Historians try to explain how these civilizations once so great have slowly vanished into the dustbin of history. Weather, economics, population decline, wars, politics are some of the reasons that they offer. But, ultimately, a civilization disappears when it loses its identity, forfeits its unity and jettisons its commitment to the common good. Today’s relentless front-page news reports of scandal and sin (many times, stale news served up as current), the incessant discord of our politicians, the unending string of acrimonious tweets, and the rage of angry voices make one wonder whether or not we are facing the decline of our own civilization. Has our unity as a nation become so fragmented that it cannot be repaired? The TV sitcoms, the talk shows, the din of warring cable news channels do little to promote serious discourse. Rather, they seem at times to make us despair of receiving unbiased reporting. They hardly inspire us to respond to the gospel’s clarion call for truth, justice, compassion and charity. Have we lost our commitment to the common good? Are we in the midst of an unstoppable decline of our nation? Some say this is the age of tolerance. As a result, good and evil, right and wrong, vice and virtue, truth and error are accepted as equally valid. But, this is not the age of tolerance. Those who are pro-life are marginalized. Those who cherish and protect the life of the child waiting-to-be-born, the elderly and the terminally ill are branded as bigots, unwilling to show compassion to those suffering. Those who accept the sanctity of marriage and human sexuality as designed by the Creator are vilified. We live at a time when some are not only intolerant to our basic Christian values, but are actively engaged to silence Christians, target the Church and reduce her to ruins. In an age of relativism, has it become almost impossible to dialogue rationally on the major issues that face us, such as poverty, migration, and the sanctity of life itself ? “Relativism is the order of the day. Good and evil, right and wrong, innocence and guilt – all these binaries are deliberately confused as antipodal extremes are brought into artificial congruence. Moral clarity is muddled and logical cogency diluted. All inherent preference is suspended out of a misguided attempt to achieve balance where there is none” (Brandon Marlon, “The Decline and Fall of Modern Civilization: 8 Simple Steps to Squandering It All,” The Algemeiner, January 22, 2015). From the Church, we receive a rich heritage of truth, morality and charity. We have solid and clear moral principles given to us by Jesus. These are the solid building blocks with which to construct a just and peaceful society. Could it be that we ourselves are slowly abandoning these principles? How is it possible that those trained in the Catholic faith assume leadership roles in government and then jettison their Catholic morals? How is it that any one of us can remain complacent to the slow moral deterioration of our country? Our country will not collapse if we refuse to hand over our future to those who deny the existence of God and live as if this world is all that there is. Our society will not collapse if we are courageous enough to draw on our moral and spiritual heritage to solve the issues that divide us. Our nation will not collapse if we remain true to our identity given to us by our Founding Fathers as a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles. Our courage as moral individuals to stand for justice, truth and compassion is the antidote to the collapse of our country.
Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher who lived four centuries before Christ, proposed the scientific theory of horror vacui. Based on his observations, he concluded that nature fills every empty space with something, even if it is only air. In his works Gargantua and Pantagruel, the Renaissance priest, doctor and scientist Rabelais popularized this idea with the phrase Natura abhorret vacuum (“nature abhors a vacuum”). Where there is a void, either mass or energy rushes in to occupy the empty space. In truth, this theory applies not merely to physics, but to life. For the last thirty years, the secularization of culture and the banishing of God from the public forum have created a great religious void. More and more Americans have been abandoning the practice of religion. Since 1990, the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has tripled from eight percent to twenty-two percent. Today there are about five million fewer mainline Protestants and three million fewer Catholics than there were ten years ago. For every new convert to Catholicism, six others leave the Church. Young people between the ages of 18 and 30 are much less interested in religion than their parents. As Alan Cooperman, the director of religion research for the Pew Research Center, has observed, “the country is becoming less religious as a whole, and it’s happening across the board.” Nonetheless, the human person is innately religious. More than just being a material creature on the same level as irrational animals, the human person has reason and is always in search of meaning. “Nature abhors a vacuum.” And, so into the void created by abandoning religion as a source of meaning, other forms of discovering meaning have rushed in. In an attempt to respond to the spiritual dimension of human life, some people are turning to New Age beliefs. New Age adherents, now nearly one-fourth of the population, have replaced the personal God of revelation with a spiritual energy that animates the cosmos. They are making use of crystals, tarot cards, astrology, psychics, and even yoga as a spiritual exercise to tap into this impersonal energy in order to manage their lives and find self-fulfillment. For New Age adherents, there is no absolute truth. All beliefs are of equal value. And, since they deny the existence of sin, they do not accept the need for a Redeemer. At best, New Age adherents trade the transcendental for the immanent, the spiritual for the physical. At worse, they reject God and unwittingly fall into the hands of the Adversary. And, then there are others who reject God and consciously choose to turn to one form or another of the occult. It is astounding to realize that there are almost 1.5 million people who are involved in Wicca, a pagan form of witchcraft. Ever since the Garden of Eden and our first parents’ sin of attempting to be like God, people have been looking for ways to have the same knowledge and power as God himself. Today there are more witches than Presbyterians, more people involved in the occult than there are Muslims in the United States. The more individuals extol themselves as self-sufficient and exalt reason over faith, they turn from God and enthrone Satan. Attempting to control their lives through the use of the occult, they hand themselves over to Satan who uses them to destroy the peace and harmony God plans for us. Satan is the great deceiver. He makes people believe that they have absolute control of their lives. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “[Satan’s] logic is simple: if there is no heaven there is no hell; if there is no hell, then there is no sin; if there is no sin, then there is no judge, and if there is no judgment, then evil is good and good is evil.” It would be foolish to close our eyes to the unmistakable increase of the devil’s activity in our society. Lack of civility. Hate speech. The tearing down of people’s good name. The blood shed on our streets. The breakdown of family life. The widespread extolling of vices contrary to the gospel. The delight in exposing the sins of others. Abuse in all its forms. Abortion. The persecution of the Church. All these are born of anger, hatred, envy, pride, greed and lust. They cause division and are the fingerprints of the Evil One. On the day after his election to the papacy, Pope Francis shocked the cardinals who had placed him on the Chair of Peter. He said, “Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil. When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil.” The Pope courageously acknowledged the reality of Satan that day and many other times thereafter. And the Pope provided the only way to banish the devil from our midst: professing faith in Jesus. Professing our faith means quite simply staying close to Jesus within the Church, attending Mass at least each Sunday and Holy Day, receiving the sacraments and practicing charity. In other words, the only permanent antidote to evil in the world is the presence of God who leaves in us no room for evil.
On the Mediterranean coast, half way between modern Tel Aviv to the north and Haifa to the south, stand the ruins of Caesarea Maritima, the magnificent city that Herod the Great built between 22 and 10 B.C. Herod’s palace, built on a promontory jutting out into the sea, was an engineering marvel. The city’s 40-acre harbor could accommodate 300 ships. The city boasted a hippodrome as well as a theater with a seating capacity of 3,500. Caesarea Maritima was one of the most important cities in the world. It was the Roman capital from which Pontius Pilate ruled the province of Judea at the time of Jesus. Paul was imprisoned here. Deacon Philip lived here. And, for the first 300 years of Christianity, Caesarea became a center of faith and study that rivaled Alexandria and Antioch. Among its most famous Christians is Origen. Origen (184 – 253 A.D.) was a teacher, scholar, preacher, apologist, and theologian. He has rightly been called “the greatest genius of the early Church.” Like St. Paul himself whose writings influenced all subsequent theology, Origen has had an unmistakable effect on the Church’s great thinkers for centuries. Among others, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Meister Eckhart all studied his writing. Origen’s allegorical interpretation of Scripture became the preferred method of explaining the Scriptures during the Middle Ages. As a first-class philosopher and student of Sacred Scripture, he has earned himself the distinction of being the Church’s first biblical scholar. But, he did not limit his study to Sacred Scripture. He wrote on many different topics, including textual criticism, hermeneutics, theology, asceticism and homiletics. Origen’s principal work, De Principiis, was the first systematic exposition of Christian theology ever written. With the help of seven full-time secretaries, he produced more than two thousand works. So extensive were his writings that St. Jerome remarked, “Has anyone read everything that Origen wrote?” The catechetical school that Origen established at Caesarea Maritima boasted the largest theological library of the day. It attracted such renowned scholars as St. Gregory Nazianzus, St. Basil the Great and St. Jerome. One of Origen’s students, Eusebius of Caesarea, earned the distinction of being “The Father of Church History.” Eusebius himself provides us into a glimpse of Origen’s personal life. According to Eusebius, Origen not only worked assiduously defending the faith, but also he lived the faith in great simplicity. He owned only one coat. He wore no shoes. He ate sparingly. He slept on the floor. He spent the night studying and praying the Scriptures. In the words of Eusebius, “he taught as he lived and he lived as he taught.” In the days of Origen, the Church herself had to face persecution, hostility and attacks from pagan philosophers. Even within the Church, there were the interminable battles on such important doctrines as the Trinity, the Divinity of Jesus and Redemption. While, in some instances, Origen may have not understood or explained the faith correctly, he nevertheless said, “I want to be a man of the Church … to be called … of Christ.” What a great inspiration Origen is for anyone who may find it difficult when the Church faces challenges, questions, hostility, persecution and human failure. In his commentary on the Gospel of John, he writes: “The Church is being built out of living stones; it is in process of becoming a spiritual dwelling for a holy priesthood, raised on the foundations of apostles and prophets, with Christ as its chief cornerstone. Hence, it bears the name ‘temple.’…It is written: You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it. Thus even if the harmonious alignment of the stones should seem to be destroyed and fragmented and, as described in the twenty-first psalm, all the bones which go to make up Christ’s body should seem to be scattered by insidious attacks in persecutions or times of trouble, or by those who in days of persecution undermine the unity of the temple, nevertheless the temple will be rebuilt and the body will rise again on the third day, after the day of evil which threatens it…” From a commentary on John by Origen, priest (Tomus 10, 20: PG 14, 370-371). With these words, Origen offers hope to those who become discouraged when they see the Church suffering, besieged and wounded by sin. Origen presents the Church as a building being constructed, a work in progress. And, he enlarges our understanding of the Church so that we see ourselves as her members, imperfect in ourselves, yet being perfected by the grace of God. As we look forward to “the third day,” the day of the final resurrection, we pray for the Church and try to advance her holiness by striving after holiness in our own imperfect lives.
One of the most famous figures of all English literature is the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Three times he appears in Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. He demands that his son settle accounts with his uncle who murdered the dead king. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Julius Caesar and Richard III, ghosts also appear. From the 3rd century B.C. Epic of Gilgamesh through Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Shakespeare and Dickens, ghosts populated the pages of literature. They have appeared in films and even starred in their own TV show, Ghost Hunters. Are ghosts merely fictional? Do they really exist? First Lady Grace Coolidge said that she saw Abraham Lincoln’s ghost looking out the window of the Oval Office. Many others have, likewise, reported sightings of the ghost of our 16th President at the White House. Among those claiming to have seen a spectral Lincoln are Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and President Reagan’s daughter Maureen. Within the Old Testament, there is the famous incident of the ghost of the prophet Samuel. In 1 Samuel 28, King Saul is facing a fierce battle with the Philistines. He wants to know the outcome; and, so he consults the witch of Endor. The spirit of the dead prophet Samuel appears and predicts Saul’s imminent defeat and death. Some commentators say that Samuel came because God allowed him to come and speak on God’s behalf (cf. Sir 46:20). Other commentators consider this incident a demonic apparition. In either case, they accept the apparition. The New Testament gives evidence that the disciples of Jesus believed in the reality of ghosts. After the miracle of the loaves and fish, “when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea, they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost,’ they said, and they cried out in fear” (Mt 14:26). When the Risen Lord appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, “they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then [Jesus] said to them, ‘Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have’ ” (Lk 24:37-39). The word “ghost” simply means “spirit.” It refers to the spirit of a deceased person who has made himself or herself present to the living. According to polls taken in the last ten years, almost forty-two percent of Americans believe in ghosts. According to a recent poll, almost thirty percent of Americans say they have been in touch with someone who has died. Stories about contact with the dead continue to fascinate us. They provoke the imagination. They manifest our awareness that there is more to reality than the physical world which we empirically experience. These reports of the spirits of those who have died clearly suggest personal survival after death. In her wisdom, the Church rightly condemns consulting mediums to be in touch with the dead. In fact, “all forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2116). As Catholics, we hold that, at death, we face an immediate judgment of our lives. If we are in the state of perfect charity, we go to heaven. If we die in the state of mortal sin (God forbid!), we suffer eternal estrangement from God in hell. And, those of us who die in the state of grace, but not in perfect charity, undergo a purification of love in purgatory before we come into the presence of God. In a word, death is not the end of our personal existence. Nor does the Grim Reaper sever our relationships with each other. All tales of ominous specters appearing from beyond the grave pale before the brilliant truth of the Risen Christ who leaves the tomb empty and joins the living and the dead in one holy Communion of Saints where we assist each other with our prayers!
Researchers claim that an average person needs less than 30 seconds to appraise someone at a first encounter. Even before the individual speaks, there is non-verbal communication. Body language such as crossed arms, dilated pupils, and forced smiles send a message. So does one’s clothing. In a day that places a high premium on communication and where even one’s appearance is crafted to evoke a certain response, clothes have become extremely meaningful. Gone are the days when the wealthy dressed to flaunt their riches and the less fortunate wore their work clothes as a badge of honest labor. The choices of clothing tell others something about ourselves. Clothes can communicate our occupation. In a hospital, their uniforms set the nurses apart from the cleaning staff; on a city street, blue uniforms identify our police force. Some today use clothing to signify their choice of gender. The very colors we choose for our clothing also have meaning. Black signifies formality and elegance as well as authority. Red communicates energy, passion, speed and strength. Green, youth and vigor; white, innocence and cleanliness. Yellow and orange shout out joy, optimism and hope. Clothes also mark the occasions. Picnic-goers dress down. Prom-goers dress up. A bride usually wears a white dress; a groom, a tuxedo. Beach-goers wear shorts and T-shirts. Graduates, cap and gown. Pallbearers at funerals dress in somber tones; and, clowns in circuses dress in bright colors. T-shirts, jeans and shorts all have their place and proper setting. And, our choice of them on a particular day or occasion tells people something about us. Generally speaking, since the 1960s, we Americans have become more and more casual in our dress code. While the pilot and co-pilot along with the flight attendants still appear in neat and clean uniforms, no one else dresses up anymore to board an airplane. College students dress casually for class. And, business people heartily embrace casual Fridays. We are at a time where comfort and practicality matter in dress as well as the ability to express one’s own individuality. Informal, casual attire has almost become de rigeur for the average American. Even church-goers no longer feel the need to put on their Sunday best. All except one group of church-goers. Many African Americans who go to church on Sunday distinguish themselves by dressing up for the occasion. Their long tradition of honoring the Lord with the way in which they appear before him to worship has not collapsed in the face of tidal waves of casual dress. Perhaps, there is a needed lesson in their example! Beachwear, flip-flops, tank-tops (and the list could continue) are simply not proper attire to come into the presence of the Lord. No one would appear before the Queen of England unless attired properly. How much more before the Lord of heaven and earth. Perhaps, here is where the real challenge is. Have we been losing our sense of the transcendence of God? While many no longer believe in God, have some church-goers forgotten who God truly is? Have we become more focused on ourselves, our comfort, than our God and the respect due to him when we enter his presence to worship him? When coming to church, we should remember that “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Thus, our first concern is always that we come before the Lord “with clean hands and pure heart” (Ps 24:4). And, if we have sinned, then with contrition and the purpose of amendment. Nonetheless, we cannot forget that our clothes are important. They send out clear messages about us to others and to the other. It is near impossible to dictate proper attire for church. Yet, it can be said with clarity and certainty that the clothes we wear to church should not draw attention to us. Our clothes should always be modest and clean, expressing our respect for the honor and glory of God. God deserves our best!
Basic to the American dream is the search for freedom. In the 17th century, Europeans facing persecution for their beliefs fled to America. Since World War II, millions of people have come to the shores of this country. Wars, persecutions, economic distress and political unrest have driven them from their homes to seek a better life. Recent statistics show that there are more than 43.7 million immigrants residing in the United States. They make up 13.5 percent of the total population. As Americans, we take great pride that we are a nation where our government protects the freedom of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The word “freedom” belongs to our political discourse, our national debates and our everyday language. From our country’s initial War of Independence until the present moment, America has gone into battle to secure and to defend the freedom of the enslaved and oppressed. However high this country has flown the flag of freedom in the past, not everyone has enjoyed the same freedoms. In the early days of our republic, only white male property owners were free to vote. Women could not vote. In New Jersey, they did not gain the right to vote until 1807. It took the bloodbath of the Civil War to abolish slavery. Then it took the civil rights movement of the 1960s to begin to establish equality for African Americans as a matter of fact. And, the struggle still continues. In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution. Its purpose was to ensure that freedom in America meant that every citizen enjoy equal protection under the law for life, liberty and property. The Fourteenth Amendment literally changed the battleground in the struggle to ensure equal freedom for all. It “made the Constitution what it had never been before – a vehicle through which aggrieved groups can take their claims that they lack equality and freedom to court” (Eric Foner, “The Contested History of American Freedom,” Historical Society of Pennsylvania). Perhaps it is time for us to examine how truly free we are and to discern the underlying reason why our freedom as Americans seems to be diminishing. This great nation has always held out the promise that good hard-working individuals were free to move up the social scale. But, recent economic factors are actually limiting this freedom. Some employers are now choosing to hire individuals only on a part-time basis. This limits their access to health benefits. Employers now claim the right to examine company computers to read the correspondence of their employees, thus limiting their privacy. Is an employee free at work to express his or her religious or political beliefs without facing censure? In the world of medicine, insurance companies have so many procedures and necessary approvals that it is becoming increasingly difficult to have access at times to needed and timely treatment. Even the move to change Medicare promises to provide less coverage for the elderly. As a result, the life span of the elderly will diminish. Furthermore, the rising cost of education is limiting the freedom of families to choose private education. Especially in states like New Jersey where there are no school vouchers, low income families are forced to send their children to a state-run school. Is this true freedom for every taxpayer? Since the 1980s, families have been bearing a greater burden in sending their children to our colleges and universities. College tuition and ancillary fees have tripled in the last 30 years. Access to higher education is not equal for all. (Richard Eskow, “Ten ways Americans have lost their freedom,” Alternet, Aug. 31, 2012). In commenting on Patrick J. Deneen’s book Why Liberalism Failed (Politics and Culture), Jonathan Leeman gets to the heart of the matter of why we are facing a lessening of our freedoms. Paradoxically, once we make individual freedom the basic value of our society, we yield more and more areas of our lives to the state. In order to ensure every individual’s right to choose and act as they please, the state must make more and more rules and, ultimately, those rules diminish the freedom of some. For example, to ensure the right of all individuals to marry as they deem fit, the rights of those who hold to marriage as a union of one man and one woman are now lessened. Those who propose the definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman are now seeing their freedom of speech curtailed. The state’s guaranteeing the freedom of a woman to abort her child takes away the freedom of the child to live. In either the case of same-sex marriage or that of abortion, the basis for the state’s position is a radical individualism where the freedom of every person must be safeguarded by the government. But, the basis of a sound society cannot be radical individualism. Individuals are not autonomous. We are born into a family. We form part of the wider community. “Once a people view themselves as their own highest authority, whatever they most value becomes their god. And that god will rule their nation. Indeed, such a nation will even take good, God-given gifts and turn them into tyrannical idols. Communism did this with equality. Liberalism does this with liberty” (Jonathan Leeman, “How Freedom Became an American Idol,” April 17, 2018). The ultimate basis for guaranteeing freedom is justice. “By justice a king builds up the land” (Prov 29:4). By justice, a government recognizes itself as subject to a higher rule than itself or its citizens. It seeks to give to each person their rights as determined by God. Once God is removed from the equation and individual freedom replaces justice that promotes the common good, the road is set in the direction of diminishing freedoms. A culture of radical individualism ultimately erodes true freedom.
Alfred E. Smith, a devout Catholic, was elected four times as governor of New York. However, the announcement of his candidacy for president immediately unleashed a storm of anti-Catholicism in 1928. A Protestant minister in Oklahoma City warned his large congregation, “If you vote for Al Smith, you’re voting against Christ and you’ll all be damned.” The Daytona Beach, Florida school board predicted that, if Smith were elected, students would not be allowed to have or read a Bible. Around the country, pamphlets appeared attacking the Catholic Smith. More than 100 anti-Catholic newspapers poisoned the well with their propaganda against Smith for his religion. The anti-Catholic hate was so strong that, within just eight weeks, Smith’s campaign for the presidency ended. Some people today look back on the 1960 election of John F. Kennedy as the end of such anti-Catholicism. But, the facts seem to contradict such an optimistic view. Kennedy understood the opposition that he faced because of his religion. When he spoke in Morgantown, West Virginia, a state that at that time was 95 percent Protestant, he addressed the issue head on. He said, “Nobody asked me if I was a Catholic when I joined the United States Navy… and nobody asked my brother if he was a Catholic or Protestant before he climbed into an American bomber plane to fly his last mission.” His bold words stunned the crowd when he asked if 40 million Americans lose their right to run for presidency on the day they are baptized Catholics. On Sept.12, 1960, Kennedy addressed the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. Standing before 300 Protestant ministers and 300 spectators, he announced that the real issues in the presidential campaign were being sidelined by the anti- Catholic polemic. He provided his opponents with his political credo by announcing, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute – where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote. . . .” Kennedy lost votes because he was Catholic. He won the election in spite of his Catholicism. To think that his election ended anti-Catholic prejudice in America is not accurate. Rudy Giuliani campaigned as a candidate in the 2008 presidential campaign. During a town-hall meeting in Iowa, he was questioned on his Catholic faith. Someone asked him if he was a practicing Catholic. Another person asked him how his Catholic faith would influence his political decisions. Giuliani responded by saying, “My religious affiliation, my religious practices and the degree to which I am a good or not so good Catholic, I prefer to leave to the priests.” When Giuliani said, “I don't think there should be a religious test for public office,” the man questioning him was not satisfied. Clearly, the Catholic faith is, in the mind of some, an impediment to public office. In 2017, in the hearings of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, the ugly specter of anti-Catholicism appeared again. In examining Notre Dame law professor, Amy Coney Barrett for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, senators brought into question her Catholic faith. They again and again demanded assurances that her faith would not influence her legal decisions. California Senator Diane Feinstein was quite concerned that Barrett would allow her pro-life beliefs make her act against abortion. Like an oracle from on high, Feinstein pronounced against Barret the damning judgment, “The dogma lives loudly within you and that’s of concern when you come to big issues…” Barrett was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. But, not with a single Democratic Senator voting for her. Not without an underlying anti-Catholic prejudice coming into play. Richard John Neuhaus once observed that it is not simply being Catholic that is the problem for someone running for public office. Rather, it is being a Catholic who holds to the truths as taught by the Church. Neuhaus said, “Indeed, one of the most acceptable things is to be a bad Catholic, and in the view of many people, the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic.” As Catholics, we should lament any time the vast wisdom of our faith and tradition is summarily dismissed from the national debate or when we ourselves are marginalized. The anti-Catholic prejudice that surfaces in our process of selecting people for public office should be a warning and a challenge to all. People of every faith need to question where to draw the line on what qualifies or disqualifies a person from public office. Have we come to a point in our country where certain issues no longer admit discussion or diversity of opinion? Are we moving toward a situation where moral values will be dictated by the state and religion will be seen as an enemy? Would we want to disqualify from public office individuals with principles that prod us to re-examine some of our decisions just because we disagree with them? The end result will be a very bad form of government.
Since 2010, world leaders, movie stars, CEOs, artists, and political activists have been meeting annually in New York for the Women in the World Summit. This gathering has become one of America’s most famous forums to foster women’s rights. In 2015, on the eve of launching her presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton gave the keynote address. Her remarks sparked an immediate firestorm of comments and controversy over the endangered right of religious freedom. Ms. Clinton proclaimed rather apodictically that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.” To be fair, it must be said that she was speaking directly about abortion. Nonetheless, she was introducing into the political discussion her thesis that government decisions trump individual conscience. Whether she intended it or not, Ms. Clinton’s words amounted to an effort to marginalize all those who do not accept the absolute right of government to dictate religious beliefs and to punish those who refuse to accept its decisions. If the government can mandate abortion and demand that everyone conforms, then why can it not demand other things? It logically follows that the government would be able to dictate euthanasia for the terminally ill and the elderly and then punish those who refuse to commit these acts on the basis of their religious conviction. With the legalization of same-sex marriages, the government has already changed its definition of marriage and those who refuse to conform by changing their beliefs are already being dragged into our courts. Our country has been able to survive a number of leaders whose personal lives were less than exemplary. We have had at least seven presidents who have had extramarital affairs while in office. But, they were not strident in changing the moral values of the country. They simply gave in to human weakness. This is quite different from a leader announcing that religion itself must change according to the beliefs of the leader of the nation. No free nation can survive if that becomes the accepted philosophy of governing. An individual who proposes that people must change their beliefs to be in line with government policies never rises to political prominence unless there are others who support such a view. Obviously, there are many others who either aggressively support or tacitly accept Ms. Clinton’s proposal. She is not alone. And this is even more disturbing. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States prohibits the establishment of a religion as the official religion of the nation. But, it also protects the free exercise of religion on the part of individuals. In no way did our Founding Fathers intend to push religious beliefs from the public forum. The separation of church and state, so important to the well-functioning of our society, was never intended to secularize the public debate. Wilfred McClay, a distinguished professor of intellectual history at the University of Oklahoma, makes a valid distinction between political secularism and philosophical secularism. On the one hand, philosophical secularism is antagonistic to religion. It seeks to remove it completely from any political discussion and replace religion with unbelief. On the other hand, political secularism is what the Founding Fathers envisioned for our Republic. It does not favor one religion over another. But, it does accept the role of religion within society. Religion is never merely a personal matter. One’s beliefs shape one’s behavior and actions that affect others. Certainly, Christians have known this from the very beginning. When the Holy Spirit came down on the first disciples on Pentecost, he came to draw believers into a deeper communion with God through the Risen Lord. He came to unite all believers in the Church which Jesus himself founded. And, he came to impel Christians into the world to change the world. Faith in Jesus can never be individualized so as to exclude any involvement in the affairs of one’s nation. Perhaps, this is one of the unspoken sins of many believers. They are willing to profess to be Christian while leaving their beliefs out of their political choices. By not bringing the morality of the gospel into politics, we are allowing philosophical secularism and relativism to sink their roots deep within our soil and choke the consciences of many. No wonder we are now confronted with those who say that religious people should keep their values to themselves. The results are obvious and disastrous. Pornography. Abortion. Euthanasia. Dishonesty at the highest levels of government. The plague of poverty and violence, especially in our cities. In a word, the more religious values are driven from society, the more blatant is the disregard for the dignity of the human person. In a pluralistic society, the political spirit of any age tries to form alliances among people of divergent opinions and beliefs. It looks to impose a conformity through the strategy of compromise. But neither truth nor morality can be sacrificed on the gibbet of expediency. In a representative democracy, every citizen is responsible for the choice of leaders who are honest, upright and steadfast in promoting policies that are moral. Every believer who professes the Lordship of Jesus, therefore, can never remove himself or herself from the politics of the nation. In fact, it is when committed Christians hand their future over not to the political spirit, but to the Holy Spirit that society changes for the better.
In 2013, Hallmark sparked a controversy by changing a single word in a Christmas song. Ever since 1877, the traditional English lyrics of Decks the Halls, originally written by the Scottish musician Thomas Oliphant, included the words “Don we now our gay apparel.” Many within the LGBT community protested Hallmark’s new version, “Don we now our fun apparel.” Obviously, Hallmark had taken note that the word “gay” that at one time meant festive, joyful, or colorful had now taken on a different meaning. It had become the preferred designation of those who adopt a certain lifestyle. Through common usage or deliberate choice, the meanings of words morph over time. “Awful” once described something that inspired reverence or awe, e.g. the awful majesty of God. Today, it can mean not fashionable or well-groomed or sickly as in the comment “he looks awful.” It can also mean that something is harmful, bad or terrible, as in “she left an awful mess.” It could even mean great, as in “an awful amount of rain.” Still in transition is the word “hook up.” People speak about hooking up something, e.g. an electrical device or cable. Some, however, now speak about hooking up with someone, i.e. meeting them or even having casual sex. Times changed. Contexts changed. Words take on new meanings. One religious word that has changed from a positive to a pejorative meaning, causing confusion among deeply religious people, is the word “proselytism.” Originally, the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament passed the word “proselyte” into modern languages with a neutral meaning. It simply meant a convert, someone who changed his or her opinion or religion. And, proselytism meant the attempt to persuade someone to make such a change. But, today proselytism is almost universally seen as a sinister activity when it comes to religious beliefs. On several occasions, Pope Francis has strongly condemned proselytism. In the question and answer session during his Oct. 13, 2016 meeting with Lutherans, the Holy Father answered a young girl’s question about trying to convert a friend. He said, “It is not licit that you convince them of your faith; proselytism is the strongest poison against the ecumenical path.” Similarly, the Pope has said, “Proselytism among Christians, therefore, in itself, is a grave sin.” And also has said, “The Church is not a soccer team that goes around seeking fans.” On the surface, the Holy Father’s strong condemnation of proselytism may make some committed Catholics begin to question. If it is a sin to try to convert others to the faith, then is Jesus truly the one Savior of all people? If it is a sin to attempt to bring others into the Catholic Church, is the Church no longer the very means of salvation that Christ established? Is one religion as good as another? These are very serious questions that touch on the very foundations of our Catholic faith. Pope Francis’ strong language is directed at the modern meaning of proselytism. This meaning includes using any type of pressure to convert someone, whether it is moral, political or economic. It means caricaturing with unfair criticism the beliefs of others. Proselytism in its present meaning includes inducing people by offering them any kind of assistance, such as food, education, shelter or clothing. In each of these cases, proselytism is wrong because it does not respect the freedom of the other. However, while these methods of making converts is sinful, inviting others to the fullness of truth is not only not wrong but is truly an act of love. Inviting others to the fullness of truth is something that no believer cannot simply cast aside. In the Risen Lord’s last appearance in Matthew’s gospel, he mandated his disciples, saying, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:19-20). The Church is born to evangelize. This is her task. This is the reason for her very existence. “Evangelization is in fact…her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize” (Blessed Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntandi, 14. 8). Thus, inviting others to hear the good news and accept Jesus as Lord is a permanent and vital dimension of the Church’s life. By her very nature, the Church is missionary. The Church is always open to others. She can never remain closed within herself. To all, she brings the good news that Jesus is Lord. Most assuredly, Pope Francis is not against this. He is simply warning others that the necessary work of bringing the truth to others must always be done in love and with respect for the other person. Pope Benedict XVI clearly taught this when he said, “The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by attraction. Just as Christ draws all to himself by the power of his love, culminating in the sacrifice of the cross, so the Church fulfils her mission to the extent that, in union with Christ, she accomplishes every one of her works in spiritual and practical imitation of the love of her Lord” (Address to The Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, 2017). Jesus is the one redeemer of all. His gospel is the word that saves. His word is the truth that sets us free. “No believer, no institution of the Church can avoid the supreme duty to proclaim Christ to all peoples” (Pope St. John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, 3.50). And when this is done in love, listening to the other, respecting the other, and offering the witness of a faith-filled life, this is not proselytism, but true evangelization.
In a recent U.S. Catholic survey, eighty percent of those questioned said that music at Mass was very important to them. However, only thirteen percent were totally satisfied with the music that they have and actually sing. The music at Mass is important, very important! It is not simply a performance by a soloist or choir, a background to accompany our prayer, a means to create a mood, or an incentive to shout and clap our hands. Music is integral to our liturgical worship. Pope Francis has clearly defined the purpose of music at Mass. He said that it is “first of all a matter of participating intensely in the mystery of God, in the ‘theophany’ that takes place in every Eucharistic celebration, in which the Lord makes himself present among his people, who are called truly to participate in the salvation realized by the crucified and risen Christ” (Homily at Santa Marta, December 12, 2013). The Second Vatican Council called for full, active and conscious participation of the laity at Mass. Like the introduction of the vernacular in liturgy, music is meant to foster this participation. However, Pope Francis has noted that the very “introduction of vernacular languages into the liturgy has raised many issues: of language, form and musical genre. At times, a certain mediocrity, superficiality and banality have prevailed to the detriment of the beauty and intensity of the liturgical celebrations” (Pope Francis, Address to Participants in the International Conference on Sacred Music, March 4, 2017). Good liturgical music should be both aesthetically pleasing and theologically correct. For example, any song that refers to the Eucharist as bread and wine has no place in Catholic worship. The Eucharist is the body and blood of Jesus and the songs we sing should express this reality. Lifting our hearts to God in liturgy always goes beyond the boundaries of human speech. Thus, liturgy, by its very nature, calls upon the help of music and song to praise to God. Music varies from culture to culture. And so do the musical instruments. In liturgy, it is possible to enculturate the many types of songs and instruments in as much as they enhance the celebration and lead us to focus on God. When it comes to the musical instruments that are played at liturgy, the pipe organ holds a primacy of place in the Latin Church among all other musical instruments. Like no other musical instrument, it can express the full range of human sentiments, from joy to sadness, from praise to sorrow. Invented in the 3rd century BC, by the Greek engineer Ctesibius of Alexandria, the pipe organ was introduced into our churches in the 10thcentury. It has become the desired instrument for sacred music. With its variety of sounds and tones, it reminds us of the immensity of God. The pipe organ has the ability to surround us with the beauty of music that leads us to experience the presence of God who holds us in the embrace of his love, bringing harmony and joy into our lives. Music plays such an important role in our worship of God because we are both body and soul. Prayer rises from the depths of our heart. Words alone do not suffice to express all that we wish to say. But, music has the power to communicate the messages and emotions that words cannot capture. Music is a bridge between the world of matter and the realm of the spirit. It transforms our life path into a conscious spiritual path. Music takes us out of ourselves and opens us up to God. Sound liturgical music, therefore, never centers on the community. Liturgy is not about what we want. Liturgy is, first and foremost, praise and worship of God and our entering into what the Lord himself wants for us. Many great composers, such as Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and Brahms recognized that their musical talent was not enough to produce good music. They needed divine inspiration. God himself loves music! After all, the Book of Psalms is a song book. Music comes from God, and when we participate in it – whether by writing, performing, or even just listening – we are receiving a gift from God. At Mass, there are times when we may choose to simply listen to the music and let our hearts rise in praise of God. But, moments of silently listening to music and song at Mass should be rare. Not joining in the songs of the congregation limits and diminishes our participation in the liturgy. The walls of our churches should reverberate with the sound of our singing at liturgy. In the words of the Letter to the Ephesians, we should “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart…” (Ephesians 5:18-19).
In 1859, Darwin published On the Origin of Species. His book brought into the open a conflict between science and religion that had been simmering below the surface since the days of the Enlightenment. It is a blood feud that many still fight in the attempt to prove that science is the only avenue to truth with certitude. According to the mindset of those who see fact and faith as irreconcilable, only what can be proven by science is true. In reality, doubt is a constant in every scientific enquiry. The 18th century physicist James Clerk Maxwell actually called science a “thoroughly conscious ignorance.” For science to make any advance, its practitioners must doubt their own conclusions. Everything is questioned. Everything is uncertain. As in science, so too in faith, doubting has a role to play. As we try to make sense out of life, so often incomprehensible and filled with suffering, we find ourselves doubting truths that we have already accepted. How can an all-good God allow tragedies to cut down whole groups of people? Is God really in control? If he is so loving, why does he allow cancer to strike a little child or anyone for that matter? Sooner or later, the brutal facts of life make us question and even doubt. We reach out for certitude and find ourselves groping in the dark. And, we are no different than those who knew Jesus during his public ministry and were even witnesses to his Resurrection. In all the gospel accounts of the appearances of the Risen Lord, there is always an element of doubt. When Jesus appears to Magdalene near the empty tomb, Jesus has to reassure her that she is truly seeing him risen from the dead (Jn 20:16). Likewise, he needs to confirm the angel’s announcement of his Resurrection to the other women (Mt 28:8-10). Jesus also has to dispel the doubts clouding the minds of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Only after he explains the Scriptures to them and breaks bread with them do they believe in the Resurrection (Lk 24:13-35). On Easter evening, when the Risen Lord appears to the apostles in the Upper Room, he asks them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?” (Lk 24:38). A week later, he appears to them again in the Upper Room. This time, he offers proof of his Resurrection to doubting Thomas, who had been absent the week before (Jn 20:27). In his only account of the appearance of the Risen Lord to the disciples, Matthew includes a very embarrassing detail. He tells us that, when the Risen Lord appears to the disciples and is standing right before them, they still doubted (Mt 28:17). As Jews, the disciples looked forward to the resurrection as an event of the end time. For them, all the dead would be raised on the last day. It never entered their minds that one individual would be raised from the dead before the world ended. And, now in front of them is Jesus, risen from the dead. It was almost too good to believe. The doubts of the disciples in all the Resurrection appearances and their slowness to believe is an indirect proof of the Resurrection. It took them time to come to understand that Jesus, their rabbi who had suffered and died, not only had been raised from the dead, but was truly God. Their questioning, their hesitation, was the means that the Holy Spirit used to lead them into a deeper understanding of the mystery of faith. We should, therefore, never be worried or surprised that we ourselves have doubts. The same Holy Spirit wills us to come to an always greater possession of the faith we profess. In this life, everyone lives by faith in one form or another. The believer who trusts in God. The scientist who works on experiments. The student who accepts what the professor teaches as truth. Even the atheist will have misgivings that there is something more than this material world. Since we all live by faith, we all have doubts. As the famous British novelist C. S. Lewis once said, “Believe in God, and you will have to face hours when it seems obvious that this material world is the only reality; disbelieve in him, and you must face hours when this material world seems to shout at you that it is not all. No conviction religious or irreligious will, of itself, end once and for all this fifth-columnist in the soul. Only the practice of faith resulting in the habit of faith will gradually do that.” In other words, only living our faith to the fullest and handing ourselves entirely over to the Risen Lord will free us from the certainty of doubt.
Almost every school of ancient philosophy claimed Socrates as their patron saint. In Greece and Rome, the Skeptics, the Stoics and the Cynics all looked to Socrates for inspiration. Living in 5th century Athens, he did not conform to the pressures of contemporary society. By his method of questioning, he tried to move others away from living in the futile search for fame and power. He challenged his fellow citizens to seek higher moral standards. In 406 B.C., when the city government of Athens was advocating an illegal proposal to convict a group of Athens’ top generals, he stood apart as the lone opponent. He held firm to his principles and spoke out courageously. Socrates refused to act out of human respect. Simply defined, human respect is placing the opinions of others over truth in order to be accepted and even honored by others. It is one of the most pernicious attitudes. Like a toxic gas, it subtly surrounds us, ready to rob us of our virtue. It undermines personal integrity. It damages society. Respecting others even when they disagree with us is the virtue of tolerance. But letting our desire for their esteem make us affirm what is against God’s law is immoral. This is the sin of human respect which inverts the moral order, placing the approval of others before the approval by God. Being accepted and recognized as a person and not being marginalized is one of the goods that every person desires. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, every person naturally desires to be recognized as having worth (Summa theologiae, 2a2ae, 129.1). No one wishes to be marginalized or dismissed either by others or by society at large. For this reason, all of us face, at times, the temptation to give in to human respect. At the same time when 78 percent of Americans have shed the cloak of organized religion, those Christians who hold on to their faith often find themselves unwelcome in public life. In such an environment, acquiescence to the prevailing cultural trends is fast becoming more attractive than resistance. Believers face the temptation to go along with things that they neither condone nor believe in order to be accepted. Living together as husband and wife without being married, same-sex partnerships, abortions, in-vitro fertilization, euthanasia, transgenderism and physician-assisted suicide: all of these have gained acceptance in our society. Our post-Christian culture has rejected the natural law as a way to judge the morality of these choices. Instead, it has made the individual the sole arbiter of his or her own morality. Thus, those who hold to the natural law and the divine commandments find themselves in a particularly difficult situation. In our fragmented and changing society, those who stridently oppose Christian morality as well as those who do not practice the faith are all too eager to dismiss anything that contradicts their own conduct or opinions. In such circumstances, not clearly standing for truth and goodness for fear of hurting someone’s feelings, losing popularity or being rejected is the sin of human respect. It is always wrong to support, condone or promote a moral evil either by word or by silence. Herod Antipas is a classic example of someone who acted out of human respect. At a feast celebrating his birthday, he had been so pleased by the seductive dancing of Salome that he swore to give her anything that she desired, even up to half his kingdom. When she demanded the head of John the Baptist on a platter, his conscience stood in right judgment and condemned such an act. But, out of fear that his court and guests would think less of him as a man of power and authority, he gave in to her evil request. Human respect dictated the sentence. John the Baptist was beheaded. Herod sinned gravely. Whether the individual be a parent, relative, teacher, friend or even a priest, anyone who refuses to do the right thing or to speak the truth for fear of what others may think, that individual sadly repeats the sin of Herod. In an attempt to avoid the derision or rejection of others, such a person forfeits the approval of God. However, when anyone of us resists the temptation of human respect, we are freed from the shackles of narcissism and pride. And, the moral clarity of our speech and actions dispels confusion, helping others to embrace virtue that alone leads to true happiness.
Before Gutenberg invented the printing press, society depended mostly on the spoken word. When it came to communicating the news, teaching the faith, spreading propaganda or offering practical solutions to difficult dilemmas, people would often frame their message with the use of rhyme in songs and poems. Not infrequently these little songs held hidden messages about someone embroiled in scandal or a ruler out of favor. Thus, Mary, Mary Quite Contrary was a satirical commentary on the rule and personal life of “Bloody Mary,” Queen of Scots. Today, nursery rhymes are handed on from parents and grandparents to children and from teachers to students, even after their original purpose no longer exists. Little children enjoy the ever popular Ring Around the Rosy. They thrill to recite this nursery rhyme in their playground games, totally unaware of its grim origin as a coded message about the Black Plague. In the art of language, rhyme has advantages over prose. “Rhyme delights the brain. It seems to spring to life and dance in the empty spaces between the words… Rhyme seems to wire the brain with an internal beat that lives on inside of us, sometimes for many years” (Pat Skene, “Reading, Rhyming and Reciting,” Sept. 27, 2011). But, there can be a downside to rhyme. Because of the brain’s internal beat or propensity to rhyme, certain words are paired and their meanings distorted, such as “accept” and “except” or “amoral” and “immoral.” In modern times, pairing words by rhyme has dealt a death blow to the very laudatory word “meek.” This is a perfectly good word and one with biblical meaning. But, because “meek” so glibly rhymes with “weak,” many people simply see the two words as synonyms for the same personal attribute. As a result, what is spoken for someone’s fame is now understood to their shame. In a culture that identifies strong people with those who are assertive, meekness is not seen as an asset. In times past, mighty kings and rulers would have considered it high praise if they were seen as meek by their subjects. While “meekness” conveys to us moderns the pejorative idea of being too gentle, too non-confrontational or too timid, this is not its root meaning. The Greek philosopher Aristotle defined meekness as a virtue because it is a balance between two extremes. It stands between becoming angry at the wrong things and not becoming angry at anything. It is the mean between being reckless and being cowardly. When adversity or hardship strikes, instead of yielding to anger, the meek person remains calm and self-possessed and, thus, is able to deal rationally with the unavoidable sufferings of human existence. The Greek word “meek” (πρ?ος) is highly instructive. It is the word used for a wild animal that has been tamed. An ox is a powerful beast. But, yoked and guided, it plows the field and accomplishes much good. Its power is directed to a higher purpose. A stallion is aggressive, unruly and filled with wild energy. But once disciplined, its strength is harnessed to a higher purpose. Far from being weakness, meekness is strength. It is the ability to take what causes anger, frustration, disappointment and suffering and subject it to reason. It turns any assault of misfortune into an opportunity to grow in virtue and holiness. Meekness is the stronghold against evil entering our soul and destroying our peace with God. Only two people in the entire Bible are called meek. Both were strong and passionate. Neither was timid. The first person is Moses. After Moses married a Cushite woman, Miriam and Aaron used this as an excuse to rebel against his authority. Moses remained calm. Such a quiet spirit, unwilling to quarrel, seems out of place at that time in history. Instead of resisting, Moses went to God in prayer. And so, Scripture praises him, saying, “Now Moses was meek, more than any man on the face of the earth” (Num 12:3). The only other person besides Moses whom the Scriptures call meek is Jesus (cf. Matthew 11:29; 21:5). Jesus was strong enough to cast out the merchants and money changers who were defiling the Temple in Jerusalem. He had power enough to call down legions of angels to defend himself when he was unjustly arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. But, he did not. Confronted with the bitter hatred and false accusations of his enemies, he remained calm. Like Moses, he turned to the Father in prayer. He did not yield to the temptation to retaliate. Instead, he submitted himself to the Father’s will. Like Moses, but on an even greater scale, Jesus shows us that meekness is not a passive attribute. It does not consist in the reluctant resignation to things which we cannot change. Rather, it is the willful, positive choice to discern the hand of God in all that happens and to deliberately accept his wise disposition of our lives, including the good with the bad. In these times where we suffer from the chronic display of brute power, we need to behold our “King [who] comes… meek, and sitting upon a donkey, and a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Mt 21:5). Imitating him, we will have the strength of the meek to make our world a place of peace. For Jesus promises, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5).
Two words are frequently found on the lips of Pope Francis in his addresses and homilies. One is the word “neo-Pelagian;” the other, “neo-Gnostic.” Both words have a long and complicated history. The first is much easier to explain. Pelagianism designates a school of thought made prominent by the British monk Pelagius (360-418 A.D.). Living in Rome, he was a contemporary of St. Augustine. In response to the moral laxity of the day, Pelagius placed great emphasis on the innate goodness of the human person. According to Pelagianism, Adam’s sin altered his own relationship with God. It did not affect his descendants. Human nature has not been corrupted by original sin. Thus, an individual is able to fulfill the commandments and choose the good without any special gift of grace. Pope Francis detects traces of this type of thinking in those people today who act as if salvation depends on human strength or on merely human means. The Pope sees this error in those who would reduce the gospel to a social ideology, make spirituality simply a process of self-awareness or reduce the life of faith to a vestige of an outdated past. The Pope discerns Pelagianism in the tendency toward restorationism. He rules out any dealing with the Church’s problems by a recourse to “a restoration of outdated manners and forms which, even on the cultural level, are no longer meaningful.” (Pope Francis, “Address to the Leadership of the Episcopal Conferences of Latin America during the General Coordination Meeting,” Rio de Janeiro, July 28, 2013). In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis warns against “the self-absorbed promethean neo-Pelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past.” He further laments that “a supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying” (Evangelii Gaudium, 94). Gnosticism is more difficult to define than Pelagianism. It embraces many schools of thought. But, all of them hold in common the one tenet that the created, material world is evil. Only the spiritual is good. Redemption comes from being liberated from matter by elite forms of knowledge (gnosis). The Pope has spoken of neo-Gnosticism as “a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings” (Evangelii Gaudium, 94). Pope Francis sees neo-Gnosticsim “in elite groups offering a higher spirituality, generally disembodied, which ends up in a preoccupation with certain pastoral "quaestiones disputatae” (“Address to the Leadership of the Episcopal Conferences of Latin America during the General Coordination Meeting”). On March 1, 2018, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sent a letter entitled “Placuit Deo” to all the bishops of the Church. The letter is intended to clarify the very nature of salvation in light of our complex cultural context. In light of Pope Francis’ repeated references to the errors of “neo-Pelagianism” and “neo-Gnosticism,” the document positively explains Catholic teaching on salvation. The letter is brief and clear. Its teaching can well serve as a reminder to all Catholics of what our faith truly teaches. As created by God, we are made for more than this world can offer. Each of us seeks those things that will make us happy. Health. Wealth. Inner peace. Freedom from suffering and, ultimately, death. Yet, when some live as radically autonomous individuals able to obtain their own happiness, they succumb to a new form of Pelagianism. Nonetheless, “the total salvation of the person does not consist of the things that the human person can obtain by himself, such as possessions, material well-being, knowledge or abilities, power or influence on others, good reputation or self-satisfaction” (Placuit Deo, 6 ). Salvation does not come about from individual efforts but through Christ, who reveals himself in the Church. Christ is not simply an exemplar to follow. He is not merely a wise teacher. No! He is the Savior of all. “According to the Gospel, salvation for all people begins with welcoming Jesus: ‘Today salvation has come to this house’ (Lk 19:9). The good news of salvation has a name and a face: Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior” (Placuit Deo, 8). Faith widens our horizon. It makes us see our relationship to God and to others. It helps us reject all claims of self-realization. We do not save ourselves. Salvation is a gift given by God in Christ. “Salvation consists in our union with Christ, who, by his Incarnation, Death and Resurrection, has brought about a new kind of relationship with the Father…” (Placuit Deo, 4). “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 1, Dec. 25, 2005). In neo-Pelagianism, Jesus is only an exemplar who inspires us. But, he is more. He is the Son of God made man and we are made one with him through Baptism. The Placuit Deo insists on the importance of the Sacraments. They allow us to walk with Jesus. Those who do not receive the sacraments truly succumb to a Pelagian attitude. They reject the grace that is needed to heal us in the field hospital that is the Church. Salvation does not come apart from Christ nor does it come apart from the created world, as all forms of Gnosticism hold. The world is good. God created all that is. Evil entered the world when man turned from God. Salvation in Christ touches our entire being, body and soul. Gnosticism looks upon the body as a mere instrument of the mind. This leads to seeing the body as an object, something to be manipulated by man. It separates the body from the provident hand of God who orders all creation according to his wise disposition. This attitude of seeing the body as not essential to the person has poisoned our culture. It has led to the acceptance of abortion, euthanasia, free sex and same-sex marriages. In contrast, our faith teaches that spirit and body are unified. Unlike any form of neo-Gnosticism, Catholicism firmly teaches that the body is important. Christ’s graces fills our souls and affects our bodies. Our bodies become the very temples of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is not merely an interior reality. By grace, we are incorporated into the Church, a visible community. This certainly goes against all those neo-Gnostics who distance themselves from the visible Church by claiming that they are “spiritual, but not religious.” “In the Church, we touch the flesh of Jesus, especially in our poorest and most suffering brothers and sisters… salvation consists in being incorporated into a communion of persons that participates in the communion of the Trinity” (Placuit Deo, 12). In a time when confusion surrounds basic tenets of Catholicism, Placuit Deo, an insightful and balanced letter from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, sheds much light on the truths of the Faith. It reminds us that salvation is a gratuitous gift given by God in Christ. It recalls the centrality of Christ. By assuming our humanity and sacrificing himself for our sin, Jesus became the one mediator for all the sons and daughters of Adam. By his grace, he joins us to his Body, the Church, giving us a share in the divine life now and in eternity. The letter further reaffirms the place of the Church in God’s plan for the salvation of the world. Christ himself established the Church as a communion of life, charity and truth. And, he uses it as the instrument for the redemption of all. These truths of our faith are the antidote to neo-Pelagian and neo-Gnostic tendencies of our day.
Young people fleeing in panic. Shots ringing out. Police swarming the building. Screams. Tears. Anxious parents huddled together. News media surrounding the carnage. This scene has become all too familiar in America. The recent mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., has once again devastated families. This Valentine Day’s massacre has broken the heart of the nation. In 2012, the nation recoiled in horror when a gunman in Newtown, Conn., killed 20 first graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But the outrage at such a tragedy has done little to prevent further shootings. Since Sandy Hook, there have been 239 school shootings. And, since the first 45 days of this year alone, there have been 18 incidents of school shootings in our country. We are facing an epidemic of violence. Last year ended with a record of 345 mass shootings, the deadliest chapter in the history of mass shootings in modern times. With gun-like rapidity, the Texas church shooting of Nov. 5, 2017, the deadliest mass shooting in the state’s history, followed the Las Vegas massacre of Oct. 1, 2017. These repeated tragedies of shootings in schools, sports events, parking lots, churches, post offices and cafeterias confront us with an unsettling question. Are we a violent people? Can we not put behind us the bloodshed of the civil war when partisan views on slavery plunged the nation into its chaos? Are we still tethered to the attitudes of the 60s when civil unrest led to violence and assassinations? Is violence the tragic legacy we wish to give our children? Are we getting more violent as a people? Are we regressing into something akin to what we saw in the ’60s, an era marked by assassinations, civil unrest, and political chaos? The Feb. 14th Parkland School shooting immediately unleashed emotional responses of fear, anger and sorrow along with a flood of political views. Some Americans desperately want stricter laws regulating the sale of guns. Others, more security at our schools and other public places. The nation is polarized and needs the common resolve to put aside political agendas in an effort to solve a problem that is literally killing us. We cannot let this most recent mass shooting simply become a footnote in our history books. Nor can we let these moments of human tragedy destroy one of the greatest resources from which this country can draw strength and wisdom to solve its problems. Pew Research reports that 70 percent of Americans pray regularly. As a nation set up by our Founding Fathers, we are heirs to great Judeo-Christian principles that encourage the practice of faith and tolerate diverse religious communities. Turning our hearts to God in prayer, whatever our religion, is the first and most fundamental step to move us from violence to safety, from fear to security in our homes and public places. Unfortunately, in the wake of this latest man-made tragedy, some have been publically ridiculing the faith of those who, in these moments of horrendous violence, spontaneously pray to God for help and comfort. They taunt people of faith, questioning how an all-good God can allow such pain, such tragedies, so much human suffering. They fail to see that the very fact that we recognize evil as evil points to a standard of what is right and good and, ultimately, points to God whose laws are meant to guide us to peace and happiness. The secularistic vitriol against God in the public place cannot drive him from his universe. If we were to understand why God allows us the freedom to do evil, we would be God. Perhaps, there lies the real problem. Too many have dethroned God and placed themselves with their materialistic, agnostic or atheistic mentality as the center of their universe. God’s existence is not predicated on our understanding. God does not depend on us to approve him. We need him. We need his grace. And, he is ever ready to accompany us as we strive to put an end to violence in our country. Now is not the time for a requiem for God!
Written for the musical Hair, the song “Age of Aquarius” became an overnight success worldwide. It glamorized and promoted the counterculture of the 1960s. At that time, America was immersed in a tsunami-like social movement that was sweeping away such values as reverence for the flag, patriotism for one’s country, modesty in public and sexual restraint. The spirit of the times was rebellion. Young people were throwing off the moral code inherited from their parents. Many were protesting the Cold War and the Vietnam War and were campaigning for civil rights. Revolution was in the air. In his protest song “For What It's Worth,” Stephen Stills looked for an explanation: There’s something happening here/What it is ain’t clear. In their song “Age of Aquarius,” James Rado and Gerome Ragni provided the explanation of what was happening. It was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. The changes were ushering in Harmony and understanding/Sympathy and trust abounding. In a word, free love, no restraints and drugs. Contributing to these tumultuous years was the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval of Enovid in 1960. This was the first oral contraceptive. In 1950, Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, had funded the research for a birth control pill. Ten years later, the birth control pill was on the market and society was changed. With women and men now having a simple way to control or prevent the conception of a child while engaging in sexuality at will, society adopted wholesale a contraceptive mentality. Sixty-two percent of all women of reproductive age use a contraceptive method. And, 90 percent of those who cohabitate do likewise. Our society flaunts its permissiveness. Any restraint on sexual activity is seen as a diminution of personal freedom. Up until the early 1900s, all Christian churches opposed artificial birth control. There were dissenters, but they were few. Then, in 1930, the Anglican bishops held an historic meeting. They gathered for the Lambeth Conference, convened every ten years by the Archbishop of Canterbury. They decided to change the Anglican Church’s position. They ruled that married couples could now use artificial birth control to avoid conception. This 1930 ruling of the Anglican bishops looked to the motives for avoiding birth and not the objective morality of the means to do so. It looked to the choices that individuals make and not to the inherent meaning of human sexuality. Their decision was based on situation ethics. Soon after, all other Protestant churches followed the lead of the Anglican Church. On Feb. 23, 1961, The National Council of Churches stated that “the general Protestant conviction is that motives, rather than methods, form the primary moral issue provided the methods are limited to the prevention of conception.” Today most Christians accept artificial contraception. Even a majority of Catholics! Nonetheless, the Catholic Church has remained constant in her teaching on the meaning of human sexuality. Fifty years ago, in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, Blessed Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the Catholic teaching on married love, responsible parenthood and the continued rejection of unnatural forms of birth control. More recently, in his Theology of the Body, Pope St. John Paul II provided an integrated vision of the human person. He spoke of the body not as an object to be used for pleasure or to be manipulated at will. As previous popes, he taught that marital love must be procreative and unitive at the same time in order to be the total self-gift of one spouse to the other. The Catholic Church does not bless the use of artificial contraception because it separates the procreative and unitive aspects of the marital act. Artificial contraception is contrary to the good of the transmission of life (procreative aspect of marriage) and to the reciprocal self-giving of the spouses (unitive aspect of matrimony). It harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of life. This teaching continues to cause discomfort for some and anger for others. But, many of the effects of accepting artificial contraception have hardly contributed to the good of the spouses or to the common good. Many men and women believe that their bodies are their own to do with as they please. The contraceptive mentality has deceived them into believing that we are not subject to any natural law, that is, God’s design for creation which all can know by the use of human reason. This same mind-set contributes to accepting same sex relationships, the manufacturing of test tube babies, abortion-on-demand, government-paid contraception, gender confusion and euthanasia. While many may hasten to trumpet the personal benefits of total freedom over their own bodies, the effects of the wide use of artificial contraception have not been good, as Pope Blessed Paul VI predicted. We are now witnessing an increase in conjugal infidelity, more divorces, more pregnancies out-of-wedlock that contribute to the cycle of poverty, more abortions, more cases of venereal diseases, the objectification of women and the plague of pornography. How many lives and careers, political and professional, are being ruined because individuals who bought into the sexual permissiveness, fostered by a contraceptive mentality, engage in immoral behavior and are now being exposed for their misdeeds. The Catholic Church continues to hold fast to God’s plan for marriage. It remains countercultural. It refuses to abandon the natural law. For 1900 years, all Christians lived by this law. Is it suddenly to be rejected? Hardly! Modern society is already reaping the sad results of its rejection of the natural law. Rejecting the natural law, accepting artificial contraception and promoting total license in sexual matters do not contribute to a society’s future. Historian Arnold Toynbee once said, “No nation has long endured that has failed to discipline itself sexually.” The Church’s consistent teaching on human sexuality needs to be heard and understood more clearly today more than ever. It opens the path to true personal fulfillment of spouses in marriage and stability in society.