Bishop Arthur Serratelli

Bishop Arthur Serratelli

Bishop Serratelli is the bishop of Paterson, New Jersey.

Articles by Bishop Arthur Serratelli

First Beatification in U.S.: New Jersey’s first Blessed

Sep 18, 2014 / 00:00 am

October 4, 2014 marks an historic moment in the life of the Catholic Church in the United States.  For the first time ever, the Rite of Beatification will take place on American soil.  In this ceremony, the Church officially recognizes the heroic sanctity of someone who has died and allows the faithful to honor this person with devotion on a local level and to pray to this person for their needs.In 1945, the Holy See authorized Bishop McLaughlin, the first Bishop of Paterson, to begin the process of investigation into the life and sanctity of Sr. Miriam Teresa Demjanovich of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth of Convent Station.  Her life was short, a mere 26 years.  But, her holiness was profound. Born in Bayonne, New Jersey on March 26, 1901, she grew up, in full view of New Jersey’s oil refineries, as the youngest of seven children.  By rite, she was a Ruthenian Catholic.  In the eyes of the world, she lived a normal life.  She graduated from the local public high school.  She enjoyed music, poetry, theatre and dance appropriate to young women of her age.  But, beneath the ordinary experiences of home, parish, school and friends, she was nurturing an extraordinary relationship with God.  During her brief teaching career at the Academy of Saint Aloysius in Jersey City, others could not help notice her deep humility and faith.On February 11, 1925, Miriam Teresa, encouraged by her priest brother, entered the Sisters of Charity.  As a postulant and novice, she began teaching at the Academy of Saint Elizabeth, Convent Station.  When she became gravely ill two years later and was at the point of death, she made her religious profession on April 2, 1927.  Shortly thereafter, on May 8, 1927, she died.Her simplicity, devotion, humility and prayer made a deep and lasting impression on those who knew her.  Her spiritual director immediately recognized her unique holiness and asked her to write conferences for him to deliver to the other novices.  Her profound insights are applicable to all, not just religious.  Her writings are saturated with Sacred Scripture.  Long before the renewal of Sacred Scripture, promoted by the Second Vatican Council, Sr. Miriam Teresa had discovered the Word of God as the wellspring of wisdom and holiness.  Published after her death in the book Greater Perfection, her writings continue to lead others to God.The investigation in Sr. Miriam Teresa’s life gave more than ample proof of her holiness.  God had granted her mystical experiences and visions.  But, it was her constant striving to please God, even in the smallest matters, that the Church recognizes as the example for all to follow on the road of holiness.  Her constant message that everyone is called to holiness anticipated the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on the universal call to holiness.In 1964, a young boy, legally blind because of macular degeneration, was healed through her intercession.  With Pope Francis’ approval of this healing as an authentic miracle on December 17, 2013, Sr. Miriam Teresa was on the way to be the first American whose Rite of Beatification took place in America.For the first millennium, local bishops or synods of bishops would declare individuals saints.  By the 11th century, it became the practice of the Popes to declare individuals saints so that they could be venerated by the whole Church.  Then, in the 14th century, the Holy See began to allow individuals whose process for canonization was in progress to receive veneration on a local level.  This is the origin of the Rite of Beatification.On September 29, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI reformed the Rite of Beatification.  He returned to the more ancient custom of recognizing a person’s holiness on a local level.  Now the Rite of Beatification, presided over by the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, normally takes place in the diocese that has promoted the cause of the new Blessed.  Because Paterson’s cathedral is under renovation, the Beatification of Sr. Miriam Teresa will take place in the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in our neighboring archdiocese at 9:30 a.m. on October 4, 2014. What an historic day for the United States, for New Jersey and most especially for the Diocese of Paterson and the Sisters of Charity.  Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich.  What a great gift to the Church!  God is raising up from among us a reminder of our own call to holiness and an example that, by God’s grace, we can be holy by striving to do God’s will in our daily lives. Holiness is not a relic of the past.  Holiness is the only way to find joy in the present and to be truly blessed.

Atrocities in the Middle East: the killing of Christians

Sep 4, 2014 / 00:00 am

The jihadists’ video of the savage beheading of American freelance journalist James Foley on Aug. 19 has lifted the heavy pall of silence surrounding the brutalities of our day. With increasing horror, there is now being brought to light the systematic elimination of Christians taking place from North Africa to Syria and Iraq. In parts of the world where Christianity predates the rise of the Muslim faith by centuries, at least one million Christians have either been killed or have fled because of persecution.The barbaric acts of beheading, crucifixion, rape, and infanticide are not always reported. Syria was once a place where Christians and Muslims lived as neighbors. Today, it has become an arena for horrible atrocities. The media have been reporting the bloodbath of vendettas carried out by Islamic jihadists against fellow Muslims. However, for whatever reason, the same media had been passing over in silence the jihadists’ killing of Christians for refusing to embrace Islam. At least, until now.Sister Raghida, once the head of a Christian school in Damascus went public on radio in April of this year. She shocked listeners when she described the actions of jihadists who entered Maaloula in Syria. In this ancient Christian village where the inhabitants still speak Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke, the jihadists went on a killing spree, taking the lives of men, women, and children.They crucified two youths for refusing to proclaim Islam's credo. They made the father of one of the young men watch in horror and, then, killed him. They went as far as to rip babies from the wombs of their pregnant mothers and hang them from a tree by their umbilical cords. In Deir Hafer, in the province of Aleppo, they took prisoners, crucified them and left their bodies in the main square for three days.When ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) took over Mosul in Iraq, they painted the letter “N” for Nazarene on the houses of all the surviving Christians in the city. They offered Christians three choices. Convert to Islam. Pay the ‘jizya’ tax, making them second-class citizens. Or die by the sword. When Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003, there were more than 60,000 Christians living in Mosul. Today, there are, at most, 200 Christians who are too poor or too weak to flee.On Aug. 9, in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Archbishop Amel Nona, the Chaldean Catholic Archeparch of Mosul, now living in exile, made the tragic announcement, “I lost my diocese. The physical setting of my apostolate has been occupied by Islamic radicals who want us converted or dead.” He made a dire prediction about our future, when he stated, “Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you … will also suffer in the near future…Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here.”On Aug. 5, Iraq’s Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako sent a letter to Pope Francis, to bishops in the Middle East and to the presidents of Catholic bishops’ conferences around the world. He spoke of the world’s silence about the plight of Christians in his country. For the past several years, the Patriarch has been appealing to those outside Iraq to take notice of what is occurring there. He is convinced that, without immediate international intervention, we will witness the extermination of the ancient Christian community of Iraq.In a statement issued Aug. 24th, Patriarch Sako said that “Iraqi Christians, along with other minorities, have received a fatal blow at the core of their lives and their existence.” He called on the international community, especially the United States and the European Union, to become more involved. He issued an appeal to the Muslim community to be more involved as well. Sadly, he noted that the Muslim responses “about the barbaric acts in the name of their religion practiced against the life, dignity and freedom of Christians were not according to our expectation, knowing that Christians have contributed and fought for this country, living in partnership with their Muslim brothers alongside the Islamic civilization.”In a similar fashion, the Vatican has appealed to Muslim leaders to "unambiguously denounce and condemn" the barbaric practices of the Islamic State. It even suggested that their credibility may be damaged if they do not do so. On Aug. 12, The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogues, the Vatican department which works with the Muslims, said that the massacre of Christians along with other religious and ethnic minorities cannot be justified by any religion and “brings shame on humanity.”Speaking during a press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, on Aug. 21, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel sounded the alarm. He said that Islamic State militants “are an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it's in Iraq or anywhere else.” He noted that they are far more powerful and dangerous than anything else we have seen. They have a highly sophisticated military prowess to execute their ideology. Their goal is to establish a Caliphate, i.e. an Islamic state led by a caliph (successor), who takes the place of Muhammad as the supreme religious and political leader. The last caliphate was abolished on Oct. 29, 1923 by Kamal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey.Good people of every faith, and even those of no faith, cannot stand by idly as horrible crimes and atrocities are daily committed against others. In the face of such evil, we look to our leaders to put aside their fears and political correctness and to realistically address the threat of radicals bent on imposing their beliefs and laws on the world through violence, terrorism and fear. The daily report of beheadings, rapes, castrations and massacres, along with the destruction, burning and looting of churches, homes and businesses, cannot inure us to our responsibility to be our brother’s keeper. The blood of Abel cries out to heaven.As individuals who are horrified at atrocities committed against those of our own faith and others as well, we cannot remain silent. Our first word must be a prayer to God who alone can change the human heart. Therefore, I am asking all the faithful of our diocese to join with me, when at Mass or at home, to earnestly implore God to stay the scourge of persecution sweeping the Middle East. Let us pray to our most loving God to banish the evil that lurks within the human heart, to place within those who hate the light to see others as their brothers and sisters and to swiftly end the persecution of all good people.PRAYERO God, Father of all and lover of peace, through the intercession of St. Michael, the archangel, be our protection against all evil.Send your holy angels to protect and guide all those who suffer persecution. Strengthen their faith and enliven their hope. Deliver them speedily from all danger. Remove indifference from our hearts and, with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, inspire all world leaders to work effectively for peace in our day. With your divine assistance, may we overcome violence with compassion, war with peace, and thus establish your law of love and justice on this earth.Through Christ our Lord.Amen.

Megiddo: A New Archaeological Find and True Christian Identity

Jun 26, 2014 / 00:00 am

One of the ancient world’s most important cities was Megiddo, dating from at least the 5th century B.C. Its location on a hill overlooking the Valley of Jezreel in modern day Israel gave it strategic importance in history. In former days, it controlled the passage between two military and trade routes. One connected Egypt to the lands of modern day Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. The other connected Jerusalem to modern day Lebanon that opened the way by sea, in ancient times, to Italy and Spain. Throughout history, battles were fought and blood shed for control of Megiddo. In fact, the New Testament speaks of Megiddo as the place of the final battle at the end of the world (Rev 16:16). The name “Armageddon” simply means Har Megiddo or the hill of Megiddo. Today, ancient Megiddo is a peaceful archaeological site.However, a recent discovery is now disturbing the dust that has settled on this site. Nearby there is a prison. In 2005, Israeli authorities wanted to replace a tent encampment for prisoners with detention cells. Since the area is so important for archaeological finds, the Antiquities Authority required that a salvage dig be carried out before any new building took place. In the course of that dig, two prisoners came across an amazing find. They unearthed the remnants of a 3rd century A.D. church. This church easily ranks as one of the oldest in Christendom.In the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D., there was a large camp of Roman soldiers near Megiddo. In those days, Roman soldiers came in contact with religions from all parts of the world. The Roman army was a fertile field for new converts. Undoubtedly, in this period before Christianity had become a legal religion, the army, located at Megiddo, numbered some newly converted Christian soldiers among its ranks. The recently discovered church was actually part of a larger building complex that included living quarters for Roman officers, ritual baths, and a bakery.A most significant find in this dig is a 580-square-foot mosaic with the image of a fish, one of the earliest Christian symbols. The mosaic bears the Greek inscription that reads “The god-loving Akeptous has offered the table to God Jesus Christ as a memorial.” This mosaic is important for two reasons. First, not only is its inscription the earliest anywhere mentioning Jesus Christ but, more amazingly it refers to Jesus as God. In The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown had made the claim that Jesus was merely a moral teacher. He asserted that only later, at the famous 4th century Council of Nicaea, did Jesus’ followers, at the instigation of the Roman emperor Constantine, elevate Jesus to the status of divinity. Clearly, this inscription shows that Christians were already confessing Jesus as divine a century before that council. The divinity of Jesus is the very foundation of the Christian faith. Second, the inscription mentions a table donated for the gathering of Christians in this church. When Constantine legalized Christianity in the 4th century A.D., public church buildings were constructed and the Eucharist was celebrated at an altar. The altar made clear that the Eucharist was a true sacrifice. But, before this, the first Christians gathered at table to celebrate what Jesus had done at the Last Supper. In fact, 1 Cor 11:23-34, which actually predates the writing of the gospels, gives witness to this gathering of Christians at table to celebrate the Eucharist. Now, for the first time, we have objective archaeological evidence of this at Megiddo.Thus, both the literary evidence of the New Testament and modern archaeology confirm that Christians have come together for the Eucharist from the very beginning of the Church. This is profoundly significant. Being a Christian has always meant more than just one’s own personal belief and devotion. To be Christian means to be part of the Church gathered together for the Eucharist. Pope Francis has clearly enunciated this basic truth of faith. At a time when many deem religion to be a private matter and do not see Sunday Mass as important, the Holy Father has recalled us back to the basics. Being a Christian and gathering with other Christians for the Eucharist cannot be separated. “A Christian is not a monad, off somewhere alone. No, he belongs to a people, to the Church…A Christian without the Church is … not a reality… A Christian without the Church is incomprehensible: It is a thing of the laboratory, an artificial thing, a thing that cannot give life…The Christian is always a woman, a man of the Eucharist” (Pope Francis, May 15, 2014 homily at Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae).

Individual confession and Pope Francis

Mar 20, 2014 / 00:00 am

During the pontificate of the warrior Pope Julius II, in 1510, Martin Luther visited Rome. On entering the city, he dropped to his knees, exclaiming “Salve, Sancta Roma!” He was in awe of this great city. Here Peter and Paul had walked. Here both apostles preached the Gospel. Here the Prince of the Apostles and the Apostle to the Gentiles both died for the faith. Luther went to Rome with pious thoughts of martyrs and saints. He left the city disappointed. The young monk from Erfurt had found a city steeped in sin and corruption.Luther’s stay in Rome left him with little good to praise about the Eternal City. He is reported to have said, “If there be a hell, Rome is built over it.” Nothing escaped his stinging criticism. Only one place was spared: the Hospital of the Holy Spirit. Both pilgrims and Romans held this hospital and its adjacent Church of the Holy Spirit in high esteem.Today, the Church of the Holy Spirit stands across the street from the world headquarters of the Jesuit order. It is one block south of the Via della Conciliazione and one block east of St. Peter’s Square. As early as the 8th century, a church had stood on this site. It bore the name Santa Maria in Sassia, because many pilgrims going there came from Saxony (Sassia). These pilgrims from Northern Europe were welcomed and given both spiritual and material assistance. In the 12th century, Pope Innocent III ordered the very first hospital in Europe dedicated to the Holy Spirit to be built on this site. Thus, today’s Church of the Holy Spirit stands on a spot made sacred by a long history of bringing mercy to those in bodily or spiritual need.Pope Francis has taken a cue from the history and location of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia. On Dec. 15, 2013, when he announced his program for pastoral reform, he made a surprising request of the senior members of the Roman Curia. He asked them to take turns hearing confessions in this church located just a few blocks away from their offices.The media and the masses have instinctively taken to the way that our Holy Father expresses in visible actions the heart of the Gospel. Images of the pope’s reaching out to the marginalized, the poor and the disabled have warmed the hearts of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. While the media delights in headlining his request of the curia members to hear confessions, the same media gives no attention to the Holy Father’s words about the inherent value of individual confession.When it comes to the mercy of God available to us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Pope Francis speaks with great clarity. The Holy Father’s enthusiastic advocacy for individual confession comes from his own personal understanding of it, both as penitent and as priest. Again and again, (that is, on April 30, 2013; June 14, 2013; Sept. 30, 2013; Oct. 25, 2013; Nov. 20, 2013; Dec. 15, 2013; and Feb. 19, 2014), the pope has returned to the theme of individual confession.In the first few months of his pontificate, I dare say, he has spoken about confession more frequently than any other pope in the same time span. Beneath the catching headlines of his daily reflections and talks, Pope Francis has dished up a healthy portion of sound teaching about the need for confession. As we enter Lent, I wish to offer a brief overview of the solid and needed encouragement that he has given to all of us.In his famous interview with the Italian Jesuit magazine Civilta Cattolica, Pope Francis, in characteristically pointed style, said, “I see the Church as a field hospital after a battle.” A hospital for the wounded. This is the key to understanding the pope’s teaching on confession. It is precisely in the Sacrament of Reconciliation that Christ “heals wounds and warms the hearts of the faithful.” All of us are sinners. We are wounded and we need to bring our wounds to Christ for healing. The pope has said that we may “think that going to confession is like going to the dry cleaners to get out a stain, but it isn’t. It’s an encounter with Jesus who waits for us to forgive us and offer salvation.”Today, in our age of individualism and subjectivism, many people, even faithful Catholics, think that confession is not necessary. At his weekly general audience on Nov. 20, 2013, Pope Francis confronted this misconception head on. He said, “Certainly, God forgives every repentant sinner, but the Christian is bound to Christ and Christ is united to his Church. God, in his sovereign mercy, forgives everyone, but he wants those who belong to Christ and his Church to receive forgiveness through the community's ministers. Through the presence and words of a priest, penitents have the certainty of forgiveness in the name of the Church.”The forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of Penance is the fruit of the Paschal Mystery. On Easter Sunday night, the Risen Lord appeared to the disciples. They were locked in the Upper Room. He said to them “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then, 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). Thus, Jesus ordained that sins were to be forgiven through the ministry of the Church.When we sin, we sin against God and one another. Every sin is not just a “me-and-God” affair. Our sins hurt one another. They soil the holiness of the Church, the Bride of Christ. In Confession, the priest represents the whole Church and all those against whom we have sinned. This is why it is necessary to confess our sins before him.Very beautifully, the Holy Father reminds us that “forgiveness of our sins is not something we can give ourselves. I cannot say: I forgive my sins. Forgiveness is asked for, is asked of another, and in Confession we ask for forgiveness from Jesus. Forgiveness is not the fruit of our own efforts but rather a gift; it is a gift of the Holy Spirit who fills us with the wellspring of mercy and of grace that flows unceasingly from the open heart of the Crucified and Risen Christ.”To place ourselves humbly and honestly before a priest, to lay bare our soul, is not easy. Many people feel embarrassed at the idea of confessing their sins. Once again, with frank and direct speech, Pope Francis acknowledges this. “Even embarrassment is good,” he says. “It's healthy to have a bit of shame... it does us good, because it makes us more humble… The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a sacrament of healing…To go to Confession…is to encounter the love of Jesus with sincerity of heart and with the transparency of children, not refusing, but even welcoming the ‘grace of shame’ that makes us perceive God’s forgiveness.”The pope urges us, “Don't be afraid of confession.” What better time than Lent to make a good confession! A general confession of our sinfulness in a communal setting may make us feel good. But, it is naming specific sins that we have committed, asking for forgiveness and receiving the absolution from the priest that leads to true repentance and conversion. So important is the confessing of sins to the priest, that Pope John Paul II taught that “Individual and integral confession and absolution are the sole ordinary means by which the faithful, conscious of grave sin, are reconciled with God and the Church” (Misercordia Dei, April 7, 2002).In light of the pope’s teaching, it is good to recall what makes for a good individual confession and what does not. The penitent confesses all mortal sins in so far as they can be recalled, not just one or two. If there are no mortal sins to confess, it is not enough simply to express one’s sinfulness in a general way. The penitent must confess specific sins.The penitent approaches the priest in private and alone. Never is it permitted for a family or group of individuals to approach a priest and together make a general statement of sinfulness. This does not constitute the sacrament. In fact, it robs the individual of the gift that the Church is so eager to offer: the gift of personal encounter with our merciful Lord and the grace of true repentance and conversion.“Concreteness and honesty and a sincere ability to be ashamed of one’s mistakes,” Pope Francis reminds us, are essential for making a good confession. “There are no shadowy lanes that can serve as an alternative to the open road that leads to God’s forgiveness, to the awareness, in the depths of the heart, of His forgiveness and His love.”Pope Francis wisely offers us the Church’s rich understanding of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He reminds us, “Confession of sins, done with humility, is something the Church requires of all of us.” The Holy Father does not want us to be the elder son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, standing on the doorstep of the Father’s house, unable to participate fully in his banquet of love. He wants each of us to know the warm embrace of our all-loving God.Posted with permission from The Beacon, official publication of the Diocese of Paterson, N.J.

Euthanasia in Belgium: Its true name

Feb 26, 2014 / 00:00 am

In the English language, the word “Spartan” has come to mean austere. The culture of ancient Sparta was so harsh that mothers would send their sons off to war with the warning, “Return with your shield or on it.” Spartan austerity began at birth.  New-born infants were examined and if they were not fit, they were left to die. Infanticide was not unusual in the ancient world. But in Sparta, it was managed by the state with chilling efficiency. What mattered most was not the individual, but the nation. Weak individuals were not allowed to drain the strength of one of the ancient world’s mightiest military empires. The Spartan mentality has not been relegated to ancient history. A look at the modern era demonstrates that the Spartan view of the human person as valued only as a vehicle for utilitarian efficiency has repeated itself with tragic results. In October of 1939 the Nazis, experts in lies, deceit, and cruelty, introduced in Germany a program of euthanasia with the stated purpose of giving a merciful death “to patients considered incurable according to the best available human judgment of their state of health.” With the code name “Aktion T 4,” Hitler personally ordered the widespread "mercy killing" of the mentally disabled, the mentally ill, epileptics, cripples, Down's syndrome children and the senile. The Nazis wanted to rid the state of those deemed “unfit.”  After the Second World War, it was discovered that 70,273 individuals died in six "euthanasia" centers between January 1940 and August 1941. By the end of the war, even young people labeled as juvenile delinquents were being euthanized. Nazi Germany’s ideological justification to relieve the chronically ill of their suffering and to relieve the state of the unfit paved the way for the horror of mass murders and the unspeakable evil of the Shoah.Once again, history is repeating itself; this time, not surprisingly, with the feigned desire to be compassionate. In 2002, Belgium passed a bill in favor of euthanasia, but it was only for adults, but the nearby Netherlands was more liberal. There, with parental consent, children, as young as 12 years old, can be euthanized. On Thursday, February 13, 2014, the Belgian Parliament endorsed euthanasia for terminally ill children without any age limit. Belgium now has the dishonorable distinction of being the first country in the world to sanction mercy-killing without any respect for age. The Belgian law will now allow children who are terminally ill and are in great pain to request their own death as long as their parents give consent. Just think about it. Children deciding to end their own lives. The very thought is abhorrent. Can children actually make such a decision? After all, in this country, children under the age of 18 cannot legally make the choice to buy alcohol. They cannot vote. And, under federal law, they do not have the maturity necessary to give free consent to sexual relations. Yet, now in Belgium, children less than 12 years old can decide to die. Irrespective of the moral law, minors simply do not have the intellectual capacity to make a life-death decision. They have not yet gained the necessary perspective that comes from life-experience. They cannot distinguish the immediate results of their decisions from their long-term results. Young people so often act on impulse, not on reason. Still less is a child suffering under the burden of physical suffering and emotional distress able to make such a decision.Just as unreasonable as handing this decision to children is the total disregard of Belgian law-makers to the present state of medicine. Doctors today can provide valuable, effective palliative care. Such care alleviates suffering as death approaches. It allows patients to pass from this life surrounded by love. With palliative care, parents can be compassionate to their terminally ill children. They can provide relief and support, while respecting their child’s God-given dignity. There is no need “to put them down” to end their suffering.Do we really want to see disabled children and suffering children legally put to death? Is it really good for children to know that, if they develop a chronic illness that is burdensome to their families or if they suffer from terminal cancer, their parents have the legal right to subject them to “mercy-killing?”Are parents and relatives who find it difficult to deal with terminal illness or terrible disabilities really entitled to simply euthanize their children? It is the nightmare of every parent to think of their child as sick or suffering. Shouldn’t the most advanced societies seek to assist parents in caring for a child who is dying rather than trying to accelerate the process of dying under the false rubric of “death with dignity?” Is euthanasia a way to remove the burden of suffering? Or is it a way to remove the burden of care?Samuel Johnson once said, “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” On a wider scale, the true measure of a society is its compassion toward its weakest members. What kind of a society are we creating?Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI warned against the culture of death. Continuing their strong support of life, Pope Francis has denounced today's “throw-away culture” that allows everything and everyone to be discarded. The Holy Father said that it is a “culture that always leaves people out: that leaves children out, that leaves young people out, that leaves the elderly out, that leaves out all those who aren’t necessary, who don’t produce…” During a speech in 2007, Cardinal Bergoglio (later to be elected as Pope Francis) compared abortion to a death sentence. But, if we wish to be honest, we must admit that, once the law allows parents to give the death penalty to their unborn children, what logic prohibits them from giving the death penalty to those who are already born? Where does it end?On August 3, 1941, during the atrocities of the Nazi regime, Bishop Clemens von Galen stepped into his cathedral pulpit and spoke out in clear and uncertain terms about “the enemy within.” He informed the faithful of the many mentally ill patients whom the Nazis deemed useless and therefore put to death. He sounded the alarm for what actually followed: the putting down of the infirm, the disabled and the senile. The Lion of Munster roared from his pulpit:“If you establish and apply the principle that you can kill 'unproductive' fellow human beings, then woe betide us all when we become old and frail! If one is allowed to kill the unproductive people then woe betide the invalids who have used up, sacrificed and lost their health and strength in the productive process. If one is allowed forcibly to remove one's unproductive fellow human beings, then woe betide loyal soldiers who return to the homeland seriously disabled, as cripples, as invalids. If it is once accepted that people have the right to kill 'unproductive' fellow humans - and even if initially it only affects the poor defenseless mentally ill - then, as a matter of principle, murder is permitted for all unproductive people, in other words for the incurably sick, the people who have become invalids through labor and war, for us all when we become old, frail and therefore unproductive.”The Nazis did not take kindly to the bishop’s attack. In retaliation, they beheaded three priests, leaving the bishop alive for fear of making him a martyr. All the while, the Nazis secretly continued their program of euthanasia. Today, the same program in Belgium is being trumpeted publically as compassion. One man in the public gallery of Belgium's parliament bravely shouted out “murderers!” Are there enough people left in our society today to label euthanasia by its true name?

What does 'spiritual, but not religious' really mean?

Jan 30, 2014 / 00:00 am

What does 'spiritual, but not religious' really mean?One of the fastest spreading phrases popping up in serious conversations is the slogan “I am spiritual, but not religious.” Not surprising. Everybody wants to be spiritual, from Hollywood celebrities to sports figures.Fortunately, today, it is very acceptable to be “spiritual.” Not so acceptable to be “religious.” For some, religion has become a synonym for institution, organization, power and corruption. Yet, “spiritual” still captures for many the idea of holy, the transcendent and unimpeded access to God.Anti-religion sentiment has been greatly fomented in our secularized culture. Religious symbols in public are constantly targeted. The tenets of religion that go against popular trends can no longer be freely voiced without being labeled “hate speech.” Some unbelievers and secularists dislike the Church’s teachings and criticize her. Sadly, even some believers join their chorus. The claim to be spiritual, but not religious, makes life less controversial. Once the individual severs a connection with any institutionalized form of religion, it no longer becomes necessary to face society’s criticism of the Church.Over the last 10 years, 22 percent of the population and 30 percent of those between the age of 18 and 29 have baptized themselves “spiritual, but not religious.” This self-branding label not only affirms their desire for the good, the lasting, the divine, but also guiltlessly absolves them from any community form of faith or worship. It frees them to do their own thing.“Not religious” is just another way of saying that faith is something between me and God. No doubt faith is a question of me and God. But is it really only me and God? Here is the heart of the matter. Is the seeking of God merely a private affair?As a religion, Catholicism has a treasure of wisdom and reflection that span centuries and cultures. Deep insights. Practical advice. Moral guidelines. Much can be said for digging deep down into this tradition and coming up the richer. Why, then, is it so easily jettisoned?Catholicism as a religion makes demands. Hard demands. Unpopular demands. Generosity. Love. Compassion. Fidelity. Chastity. Practical deeds. Acceptance of truths taught by the Church. Mass every Sunday and Holy Day. These are not just words. They are the way of life required of a practicing Catholic. They demands require effort. They require sacrifice.It is all too easy to simply dismiss religion as dry dogmas and antiquated rules. Isn’t it more comfortable to make one’s own rules, fashion one’s own truth, live one’s own experience of God? Is “spirituality…without religion … a self-centered complacency divorced from the wisdom of a community”? Is it “plain old laziness”? (James Martin SJ, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, Harper One, 2010, p. 50). Perhaps, in some cases.This ever-increasing popular opposition of “spiritual” to “religious” obscures the inherent coherence of spirituality and religion. Religion, particularly Catholicism, is a way of spirituality. What makes Catholicism unique and distinguishes it from any self-chosen form of spirituality is its origin in divine revelation. It is God’s gift for humanity, not so much a way for us to seek God, but the way to be found by God who is seeking to enter into a relationship with each of us in Christ.As St. Augustine taught, the word religion derives etymologically from the Latin re-ligare, i.e. re (again) + ligare (connect). It means “to reconnect” (cf. City of God X.3). Thus, Catholicism, as a religion, reconnects us to God. But it does so, not according to our will and our preference, but according to God’s will and God’s truth as revealed in Christ and through his Church.The Church is not an afterthought in God’s plan. From all eternity, God wills “to call all people to communion with him, to friendship with him, indeed, to share in his own divine life as his sons and daughters…[The Church] is a work of God, born precisely from this loving design which is gradually brought about in history” (Pope Francis, General Audience, May 29, 2013). The communion that God desires us to share together with him in heaven, He wills to begin here on earth in the Church.Being connected with God means being in God’s family the Church. Is this too much for those who prefer to make their own rules and live by their own truth? Does spiritual vs. religious practically translate as complacent vs. committed? Posted with permission from the Diocese of Paterson, N.J.

Pope Francis - The Reformer

Oct 3, 2013 / 00:00 am

This past August, two men sat and quietly discussed major issues facing the world and the Church. Rev. Antonio Spadaro and Pope Francis. The one, the editor of La Civilta Cattolica, a Jesuit journal based in Rome; the other, the head of the Catholic Church, the world’s largest Christian Church. On Sept. 19, their thought-provoking and engaging conversation ignited a media explosion. The New York Times headlined its story: “Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control.’ ” The Guardian tagged its story “Pope Francis sets out vision for more gay people and women in ‘new’ church.” CNN blog happily announced “Pope Francis: Church can’t ‘interfere’ with gays.” It is very clear from the pope’s remarks in this latest interview, as well as in his July 29th interview on the plane trip back to Rome from Brazil, that the Holy Father is urging all, Catholics and non-Catholics, not to condemn gay people, divorcees and women who have had an abortion. Nonetheless, the media response’s to such an evangelical approach is astonishing. The embrace of our Holy Father of all people, saints and sinners, is the message of Catholicism. Why, then, is the media predicting that Pope Francis is launching a major reformation of Catholic teaching on these issues? In his most recent interview, the pope himself gives us the key to understand his remarks. He said, “When we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context.” Following his advice, we need to look carefully at the context in which these issues are being discussed. First, the context of the Church in society. There is a general perception of Catholicism that is engendered by the media’s issue-focused reporting. Most often, the media spotlights the Church’s teaching on right to life, human sexuality and gender equality as out of touch with a society that tolerates and, in some circles, vigorously promotes abortion, sex relationships outside the marital union of a man and a woman and radical feminism. By highlighting how the Church is out of step with the new laws on these important areas of human life, the image of the Church as a rule-based institution becomes the context in which the issues are presented. Pope Francis has happily reminded all of us that this should not be the context for discussing these issues. We are dealing with people, not just issues. God loves every person whom he calls into being. As the Holy Father so beautifully says, “God is in every person’s life… Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else — God is in this person’s life.” God does not abandon us. He loves each of us enough to have sent his Son as Savior. In the world, the Church is Christ. Her message is his message. It is mercy and forgiveness. Therefore, the mission of the Church is to bring healing to the wounded, to uplift those brought down by sin and to set them free to love as Jesus teaches. Second, the context of the present papacy. The historical moment is important. Pope Francis steps into the shoes of the fisherman, following in the footsteps of two of the greatest popes that have ever led the Church. Our present Holy Father is not, in any way, sweeping aside the great body of truth so clearly enunciated by these holy and scholarly popes. He is working from the foundation of the truth that the Church has always taught. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, there followed a general confusion on basic issues among many Catholics. The flood of new insights and exciting pastoral initiatives left many unmoored and reaching out for some solid truth to steady their faith. Blessed Pope John Paul II published the Catechism of the Catholic Church providing us with an easy access to the teachings of the faith. Pope Benedict XVI, who himself had closely collaborated with Pope John Paul in the development of the Catechism, taught the faith with theological insight and pastoral clarity. His Wednesday audiences, his books on Jesus and his talks gifted the Church with a catechesis that will provide food for meditation for years to come. His work on restoring the reverence and beauty of the Liturgy is already bearing fruit in the lives of the faithful. Enter Pope Francis. He says, “The teaching of the Church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the Church.” Here there is no wavering on Church doctrine. When he remarks that “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” he obviously sees these as matters on which the Church has something to offer. Not insisting only on these issues, nonetheless, means teaching on these issues! He wants to widen the view from the issue of abortion to the person who makes the decision for an abortion, from the issue of gay marriage to the person with a homosexual orientation, from contraception to married couples and their struggles. Pope Francis is beginning his Petrine ministry where his venerable predecessors left off. He is taking the dogma and morality of the Church and applying it pastorally. He sees “the Church as a field hospital after battle.”What a great image! Society’s whole scale departure from the truth about the human person has wounded many. The Church is about healing individuals. The Church is not custodian of a “rule book.” But, she is the voice of Christ calling the world to justice, peace and charity. The doctrine, that is, the teaching of the Church on faith and morality, guides us along the way and lights the path to goodness. We need to step back from breathless reporting of the media hyped to hear the pope enunciate a vision for “a new church.” On our own, we need to listen to what the Successor of Peter is telling us. He is calling us to the central message of the Gospel. God loves us in Christ. He heals the wounds of sin and division. He calls us to the fullness of life within his Church. By speaking in the common sense pastoral language that bishops and priests use every day, the pope, as Supreme Pastor of the universal Church, is disarming those who stand against the Church. It is that gift of candor that makes Pope Francis a reformer. He is reforming the way the world sees Catholicism.

Catholicism - a gift to the common good

Jul 18, 2013 / 00:00 am

The Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who authored The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, won the 1970 Nobel Prize in literature. Through his writings, he had made the world aware of the dehumanizing and repressive measures of the former Soviet Union. He himself had spent eight years in prisons and forced labor camps under the Communist state. In 1974, the Soviet Union deported him. After a brief residence in Germany and then in Switzerland, he eventually settled in the United States.In America, Solzhenitsyn was greatly admired for his outspoken criticism of the oppression of the Soviet regime. On June 8, 1978, four years after he had been expelled from the Soviet Union, he was invited to deliver the Commencement Address at Harvard University. Everyone was excited. This was to be his first public statement since his arrival in the United States. Expectations were high.As Solzhenitsyn rose to the podium for his address, students and professors, visitors and the media, anxiously anticipated his rebuke of Communism for its lack of freedom, its disregard of individual rights and its exaltation of the state over the individual. As his opening words in Russian were being translated into English, his listeners began to applaud. But, then his audience fell silent. His listeners realized that, instead of denouncing Communism, he was rebuking the West for its loss of values.Solzhenitsyn acknowledged that our country, unlike the Soviet Union, had been founded to guarantee liberty and the pursuit of happiness. However, he shocked his audience when he went on, not to extol, but to excoriate our society. He spoke of the great technological and social progress of recent decades. He saw this progress as creating the possibility for every citizen to accumulate material goods, money and leisure and to enjoy these possessions with an almost unlimited amount of freedom.But Solzhenitsyn was quick to recognize that there has been a downside to such prosperity. The more individuals have to enjoy, the less likely they are inclined to renounce their pleasure and their enjoyment for the common good. Furthermore, Solzhenitsyn was disappointed with our legal system that has chosen to canonize liberty at any cost, individual rights over the common good. He saw this as dangerous and he was right!This unrestrained insistence on individual rights over obligation to the common good has only worsened since his stinging rebuke of 1978. In 1992, three justices of the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey made a dramatic statement upholding the right of a woman to abort her child. The justices said that "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning of the universe, of the mystery of life."This is the most asocial, amoral and atheistic definition ever issued by the high court. There is no room for others. It is only what I want, what I understand, what I say is right. There is no room, not only for others, but no room for the Other. In such a view of liberty, God has no place. His law is of no concern for the individual. Individual rights trump God's law.But laws that guarantee unlimited liberty are not the way to create a good and just society. Solzhenitsyn summarized this by saying:"I have spent all my life under a communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man either."At the conclusion of his remarks, Solzhenitsyn announced that the world had reached a "major watershed in history." Indeed, we have! Our society's wholesale surrender to liberal secularism and its renunciation of Christian values is paving the way for our demise.In the Catholic worldview, all the technical and scientific knowledge that we gain is seen within a wider context. And what is that context? It is this: the world is wider than us. The unrestrained pursuit of our own comfort and pleasure is not the goal of life. We are not to be so wrapped up in the exercise of our legal rights that we no longer uphold our moral obligations to one another. We are not to be so interested in what life has to offer us that we forget the other.God does exist. He cares intensely for each of us. In Christ, he calls us to be his children and to love one another, as he loves us. The singular mandate to love others as God loves us is the way to true freedom and to a just and peaceful society. It is, most especially, the way to God himself. Herein, is the great gift of Catholicism to the common good.  Reprinted with permission from The Beacon, official newspaper for the Diocese of Paterson, N.J.

Assaults on Christianity – the challenge to be bold

Apr 11, 2013 / 00:00 am

Not many news reports carried the story. But somehow it was able to leak. A professor at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton was teaching the course called “Intercultural Communications.” In one exercise to demonstrate the deep-seated emotions that surround issues, the professor asked the students to write Jesus’ name in big letters on a paper, place the paper on the ground and then stomp on the name of Jesus. Ryan Rotela, a junior, refused.Ryan was polite and sincere. He calmly disagreed with the professor’s request and refused to do the exercise. He paid the consequences for his refusal. Suspension. A university supervisor told him not to return to that class.After the incident, Florida Atlantic University declined to recognize the inappropriateness of what had taken place. The university made the rather innocuous statement that “While at times the topics discussed may be sensitive, a university environment is a venue for such dialogue and debate.” No apology. No explanation.  No sensitivity to religious belief. In fact, the contrary. A few days later, under pressure, the university did apologize.Would that such incidents were rare. Not so! In 1999, some students at Temple University were upset when they discovered that the university was a venue for the play “Corpus Christi.” The play portrays Jesus and his disciples as being gay. To counter such an attack on faith, they organized an alternative play called “Final Destiny.” The university allowed “Corpus Christi,” but not “Final Destiny.”In a joint report, Texas-based Liberty Institute and Washington-based Family Research Council have catalogued the growing number of anti-religion incidents in our educational system. One federal judge ordered a high school valedictorian to remove any reference to Jesus in her graduation speech. If not, she faced incarceration. On another occasion, a public school official reprimanded an elementary school student for praying over his lunch.Why this fear of religion? In an address to the 1973 Childhood International Education Seminar, Dr. Chester M. Pierce, Harvard University Professor of Educational Psychiatry, said that “Every child in America entering school at the age of five is insane because he comes to school with certain allegiances to our founding fathers…, toward his parents, toward a belief in a supernatural being… It’s up to … teachers to make all these sick children well…” He sounds much like Freud who labeled religion “a universal obsessional neurosis.”Today, diversity and tolerance are the shibboleths of our educational system, especially in so many of our universities. But tolerance does not always embrace Christianity. We are witnessing a significant rise in attempts to silence Christians and push Christian values from the public forum. Why? Perhaps something of an answer lies in very nature of Christianity. Christianity claims a unique and, to be frank, an exclusive place among religions. The founders of every other faith have a grave. Jesus does not! His tomb is empty. Only Christians claim that the founder of their faith rose from the dead and is Lord of all. The resurrection of Jesus makes Christians bold in proclaiming Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Our modern world, however, wants nothing to do with such absolutes. Our modern world holds that any opinion, any belief, is as true as any other. In such a context, Christians should expect opposition and persecution.One wonders what the reaction would have been if the Florida Atlantic University professor had asked the students to put a name other than “Jesus” on the slip of paper and then stomp on it. Had he asked them to write “Obama,” undoubtedly he would have provoked a backlash of political criticism. Had he dared suggested “Mohammed,” the media would have widely reported the incident and the reaction would have been strong and, maybe, even violent. The fact that he did suggest the name “Jesus” shows the rising confidence among secularists to assault Christianity.Martin Luther King once said, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people” (“Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963). Ryan Rotela was not silent. He took his stand for respecting the name of Jesus and the Christian faith. Surprising enough, he is a Mormon! Imagine what would happen if Catholics were as bold. Reprinted with permission from The Beacon, official newspaper for the diocese of Paterson, N.J.

The media and the sins of Church leaders

Feb 28, 2013 / 00:00 am

David is the only man in the entire Bible called “a man after God’s own heart.” (cf. Acts 13:22; 1 Sam 13:13-14) Anointed by God, he established the Golden Age for the kingdom of Israel. From the time of Samuel the prophet onward, David became the prototype of the Messiah yet to come. Nonetheless, the Scriptures do not fail to tell us that he sinned. Not only did he commit murder and adultery, he also failed in trusting God.No other historical record is more honest about its heroes than the Bible. Time and time again, the Bible shows us the best and the worst of God’s chosen instruments. No concealing. No shame that God chooses the weak to confound the wise. (cf. 1 Cor 1:27)The Bible heaps high praise on Noah as “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time…(Gen 6: 9) Noah believed in God’s word and, as a result, he saved part of humanity from the Great Flood. However, after the Flood, Noah sinned. He drank too much wine and became drunk.Abraham is called the “father of the faithful.” (cf. Rom 4:9-12, Heb 11:8-12, 17-19) Yet, he had his lapse of faith. To save his own skin, he told Abimelech, king of Gerar, that Sarah his wife was really his sister. And, when the king, enthralled by Sarah’s beauty, was ready to take her for his own wife, God had to intervene and, in a dream, warn Abimelech not to touch Abraham’s wife. (cf. Gen 20)Without a doubt, Moses, who led Israel out of slavery and received from God the Ten Commandments, was the greatest leader and prophet of the Old Testament. But, not even Moses, whom God used so powerfully, was without sin. Not only did he kill an Egyptian for mistreating a Hebrew slave (cf. Ex 2), but, in the very events of the Exodus, he doubted God’s word. (cf. Nm 20)Even Jesus’ chosen leaders failed and failed miserably. James and John were ambitious for positions of prestige. Judas betrayed him. Peter, the first disciple to confess Jesus as the Christ, was also the first to deny him after his arrest. And, in Jesus’ hour of suffering, all of the apostles fled and deserted him. (cf. Mk 14:50)Why are the Scriptures so honest about God’s chosen leaders both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament? Why do the Scriptures record not only the deeds of faith and heroism, but the sins and failures? To remind us that God’s work is God’s work. He chooses leaders who share our common humanity. He stays with them and works with them, not approving their sins, but redeeming them with his grace and supporting them with his strength to accomplish his work.Most recently, the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has become the opportunity for many in the media to release one story after another detailing the alleged sins of the clergy, even at the highest level of the Church. Day after day, a new revelation of some hidden sin, some heinous abuse of power, some personal weakness. Ideally, we have every right to expect those in authority to be paradigms of virtue. But, in the real world, we recognize that even those committed to holiness do not always live holy lives. This is not an excuse for sin. Only a realistic understanding of the human condition.At the end of the Nicene Creed, we say, “We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “The Church . . . is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy. This is because Christ, the Son of God…loved the Church as his Bride, giving himself up for her so as to sanctify her; he joined her to himself as his body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God.” (n. 823)Yet, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, “the Church already on this earth is signed with a sanctity which is real although imperfect.” ("Lumen Gentium," 48) This means that, in her members, there is not yet perfect holiness. There is sin. And sin “always has a name and a face: the name and face of those…who freely choose it.” (Pope John Paul II, "Message for World Day of Peace," 2005)As faithful Catholics, we are neither overly romantic in our understanding of the Church founded by Jesus himself nor naively idealistic about our chosen leaders. Rather, we are soberly realistic about the Church we love. She is the gathering of the People of God. She embraces in her bosom flesh-and-blood individuals called to share in the holiness of Christ, but not yet perfected in love.When the media uncover the real sins of Church leaders, we are disheartened. But there is no shock among those who understand the mystery of the Church, a divine institution with human members. No surprise among those who know their biblical history. Is God’s power no longer stronger than the sins of his chosen leaders?However, when the media deliberately floods the news outlets with alleged reports and rumors of the sins of Church leaders at the very moment when we prepare to receive a new successor to Peter, there is disappointment. When some distort facts or use them to pursue their own agendas and stir up prejudice against the Church, this is nothing other than a smear campaign to discredit the authority of the Church and her chief shepherd to speak in the name of Christ on the issues confronting our age.Reprinted with permission from The Beacon, official newspaper for the diocese of Paterson, N.J.

A second term: rhetoric to reality

Jan 24, 2013 / 00:00 am

Three years after he wrote the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. With the assistance of James Madison, the bill became law on January 16, 1786. The law guaranteed that all individuals have the natural right to exercise their religious beliefs.Jefferson considered this law one of his greatest achievements. In fact, in his own full epitaph, he wrote: “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, And Father of the University of Virginia.”Today, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom is one of the most important and influential documents in the history of our nation. Jefferson did not get the law passed easily. In fact, he once said that his fight for this statute was the hardest of all his political battles to win. And, even though we still espouse the principles set forth in this fundamental document, the fight still goes on to interpret what religious freedom means.Each year, on January 16, our nation commemorates the Virginia General Assembly's adoption of Thomas Jefferson's landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. As he begins his second term, President Obama did not fail to mark the occasion. On National Religious Freedom Day, he released a statement to celebrate the day. “Foremost among the rights Americans hold sacred is the freedom to worship as we choose,” Obama began. “Because of the protections guaranteed by our Constitution, each of us has the right to practice our faith openly and as we choose.”The president’s words strike a note dear to the American people. Almost 90 percent of Americans hold that true religious freedom is not merely a question of religious worship. Religious freedom means the freedom to follow one’s conscience and practice the core beliefs and values of one’s religion. Freedom of religion is more than the sacred right to worship. It guarantees the right to live out one's faith both in the home and in the public square.We applaud the president’s statement. Yet, we still wonder what his words actually mean in terms of religious freedom. His administration has strenuously and resolutely pushed forth the Affordable Care Act provision of Obamacare which mandates employers to provide coverage for contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs in their employees' health plans. The continual protests from believers of all faiths and non-believers as well not to force individuals to act against their religious beliefs have done little to change the administration’s position.Recently, Tyndale House Publishers won a court injunction so that they would not have to comply with the healthcare mandate to provide contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees. The White House has decided to challenge the injunction. Where is religious freedom? To whom does this right belong? Does the White House have the right to limit its scope?In the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, President Obama showed exemplary care and respect for human life. On January 16, he spoke before an audience that included children who had written to him after the mass violence in Connecticut. His words strike a responsive chord in the heart of every American. The president said, “Because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there’s even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.”Great rhetoric and indeed a most noble ideal! To protect our children from violence. The president urges our country to do the right thing. Once again we applaud his words. But he does not take them to their logical and most obvious conclusion. We must protect all our children. We must protect the most vulnerable. As long as his administration vehemently pursues its pro-abortion agenda, it is not protecting all our children. It is not guaranteeing all our children their most fundamental right, the right to life itself.For any nation to remain strong and secure, it must do more than espouse the principles of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for all. It must put those principles into practice. It must apply those principles consistently, to even the most vulnerable and the weakest among us.The rhetoric of speech-making is one thing. The reality of governing is another.  Like every president who went before him, President Obama undoubtedly would like to have a prominent place in the presidential pantheon. In his second term, he faces serious issues that divide our nation. He needs our prayers that he be guided by a wisdom that goes beyond partisan politics and the lobbying of special interest groups who deliver votes. He needs the grace to promote fundamental human rights, not partially and on occasion, but clearly, consistently and fully.As the president rolls up his sleeves to deal with the challenges before us, it is no longer about winning votes. History will be his judge. Will he be able to move beyond the rhetoric to the reality of leading a nation united in pursuit of the common good?May God Bless America!Reprinted with permission from The Beacon, official newpaper for the diocese of Paterson, NJ.

Freedom of religion or freedom of worship: what is the choice?

Nov 29, 2012 / 00:00 am

[On the first Sunday of Advent, we pray in the opening prayer of Mass the following oration:Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,the resolve to run forth to meet your Christwith righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever.As we look forward with the eyes of faith to the Second Coming of the Lord, we ask for the grace to live out our faith in righteous deeds of charity to others. These are the very deeds that Jesus speaks about in the parable of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:31-46. The following article is a practical reflection on the significance of this prayer in light of the challenges we now face as Catholics in the United States.]In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the “Emancipation Proclamation” that freed slaves in the southern states. The northern states had already taken action to abolish slavery fifty-nine years earlier. Finally, when the Thirteenth Amendment took effect in December 1865, slavery was abolished forever throughout the entire United States. Or was it?Today, every year there are an estimated 17,000 vulnerable men, women and children trafficked across our borders and forced into slavery. They leave their homes and their families in hope of a better life in our country. Yet, when they come here, they find themselves in worse situations than at home. They are forced to work as prostitutes or to take arduous and demeaning jobs on our farms, in our factories, in our restaurants and even in our homes. They receive little or no pay. They are robbed of their human dignity and, all too often, beaten and abused. They are enslaved to their masters!As Catholics, we can take pride in our work to eradicate this new form of slavery. For the past ten years, The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken the lead on a national level to end this grievous abuse of our brothers, sisters and children. For six years, our bishops’ conference has provided services to rescue victims of human trafficking. More than 2,232 survivors of human trafficking and over 500 of their family members have been assisted. We can take satisfaction in the high praise given to the Catholic Church for this work. The U.S. Justice Department recently praised us by saying that the bishops have been “resoundingly successful in increasing assistance to victims of trafficking.”In 2006, the federal government partnered with the Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops by providing a $19 million grant for its work in assisting those trafficked for sex and labor. But now the Obama administration is not renewing this grant. Instead, Health and Human Services’ Office for Refugee Resettlement is awarding the grant money to groups which did not make the grade when judged by an independent review board. Why the change? Why has the exemplary work of the Church now been cast aside by the Obama administration?On Sept. 29, 2012, Cardinal Dolan, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, informed the bishops that the administration was “requiring that [our Catholic] Migration and Refugee Services provide the ‘full range of reproductive services’ to trafficking victims and unaccompanied minors in its cooperative agreements and government contracts.” Put very simply: unless the Church provides abortions and contraceptives to victims of human trafficking, her help is no longer welcome by the present administration.Factually, contraception and abortion are not a priority for these victims. Morally, the Church will not be forced to act against her principles. Realistically, there is another agenda at work, overriding the urgent need to lift victims from the misery to which human trafficking enslaves them.Should we read anything into the fact that one of three politically appointed counselors has helped Health and Human Services come to their decision to withhold funding from our work? Are we to see any connection between this withdrawal of funds for a good work that the Church does and the mandate issued by the same Health and Human Services requiring Catholic Charities, Catholic universities and hospitals to provide contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization in their health coverage? And if they do not, then face penalties so severe that their good work would effectively be eliminated?The government has narrowly defined the criteria for exemption from this mandate. First, the institution or group must have the inculcation of religious values as its purpose. Second, the institution or group must primarily employ individuals who share its religious tenets. Third, the institution or group must primarily serve persons who share its religious tenets. Fourth and finally, the institution or group must be a church as defined in the Internal Revenue Code. By setting up such stringent criteria, the result is clear. Not even the sisters of Mother Teresa qualify for an exemption.Beneath these new rules that allegedly boast of providing women with “the full range of reproductive services,” there lurks the insidious de facto redefinition of the freedom of religion. Religion now is being defined solely as the right to worship within the walls of a church building. But, this is not religion at all, not even as defined by the Internal Revenue Service.In November of 2009, the President replaced the all-encompassing “freedom of religion” with the narrowly defined “freedom of worship.” Speaking at Georgetown University in December of 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did the same in her speech on human rights. When she sounded one of this administration’s top priorities, advocacy for gays, she talked about the right “to love in the way you choose.” But, when she came to speak about the freedom of religion, she spoke only of freedom of worship.Words are important. The freedom to worship is an exclusive term that relates only to the way people express their relationship with God inside the walls of the church. Freedom of religion carries the wider meaning of religious expression beyond the walls of the church into the public arena.For us Catholics, as for many other devout believers, religion is worship; and, worship of God includes works of charity. The two are inseparable. We love God above all and we love him in all. We cannot allow some of our leaders to take away from us our God-given and constitutionally recognized right of full freedom of religion.In the First Amendment, the Founders of our country wisely guaranteed that government could not prohibit the “free exercise” of religion which goes beyond the freedom of worship. However, this is not the narrative that some of our leaders are speaking. If this administration, or any other government, succeeds in restricting freedom of religion to the inside of the walls of our churches and homes, the works of charity, so essential to our practice of the faith, would suffer. Society would suffer as well.Do we really want our government to restrict our right to practice our faith publicly? Are we ready to separate our good works from faith by letting the government redefine what religion truly is? Do we actually want the government to banish Catholic charity from the public place? Is this the choice America is making today?

The election: a Catholic perspective

Oct 15, 2012 / 00:00 am

Georgie Anne Geyer is an American journalist and columnist. She has interviewed such figures as Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat and Muammar al-Gaddafi. Her columns have been published in over 120 newspapers around the world. A few years ago, she expressed her deep conviction that a nation could not exist without morality or without faith in God. Without faith in God, everything comes down to “me” and there is no longer a solid basis for moral principles.In 1980, Geyer said, “Moral societies are the only ones that work…” She lamented that “Americans have stopped acting in terms of their own moral, ethical and religious beliefs and principles. They’ve stopped acting on what they know is right – and the ‘me’ has become the measure of everything.” Every election either proves her right or proves her wrong. For every election is not simply political. It is a moral choice for better or for worse.We are in the midst of an economic crisis that has increased unemployment, bringing poverty and hunger to new highs. In her social teachings, the Church offers us a centuries-old wisdom. Her teachings draw their strength from the deposit of faith passed down to us by the Apostles. The Church proposes practical and prudential principles to help us translate our love of neighbor in terms of employment, just wages, economic structures, immigration, poverty and social welfare. As Catholics, we have the duty to face these challenges in such a way that protects the poor, respects immigrants who come to seek a decent living, keeps families united and provides a future for those who come after us.With an estimated 47 million Americans lacking health care coverage, the teaching of Pope John XXIII resonates loud and clear. He taught that, since we have the right to live, we have the right “to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest and, finally, the necessary social services” (“Pacem in terris,” 8). Affordable and accessible health care should safeguard and respect our right to life. As Catholics, we need to promote an adequate health care system in our nation that does not exclude others nor force us to act against our religious convictions.Wars and terrorism confront us with serious moral questions. Accepting St. Augustine’s just war theory for the last 1600 years, the Church always sees the use of military force, even when justified, as a regrettable event with terrible consequences. The Church has always taught the fifth commandment, forbidding the deliberate murder of an innocent person. Furthermore, the Popes have repeatedly labeled terrorism as an act against humanity that drenches the soil in the blood of helpless and innocent people. Every government must do its best to protect its citizens wherever they may be.Holding fast to the fifth commandment, the Church has always taught that abortion is morally wrong (cf “Didache 2,2”). It is intrinsically evil because it directly attacks life itself, the most fundamental good. Just as the Church defends the life of the child about to be born, she vigorously defends the life of the person about to die. Euthanasia is murder. In protecting the life of every person, the Church has been consistent. Her teaching has not changed. It cannot change. As Catholics, whether voter or politician, we have the moral obligation to advance laws that protect human life at all stages.In today’s society, it has become fashionable not to see “The Church's teaching in the moral realm [as] one consistent body of thought…The Church's solicitude for the poor, the marginalized, the unborn, and the elderly is all of a piece…[However,] a Catholic cannot subordinate "justice issues" to "life issues"…because life issues are justice issues” (Rev. Robert A. Sirico, “Religion and Liberty,” Volume 21, Number 2).Today, the Church remains steadfast in safeguarding the dignity of the human person. She has not given in to an age that tosses aside all too quickly the rights of the unborn, the poor, the immigrant and the institution of marriage. She continues to insist on the rights of her faithful to have their freedom of conscience and freedom of religion protected. Unfortunately, the Church’s mission has become very difficult as shrill voices attack her for what she teaches. How often her opponents say that the Church’s teaching is dated. It is. By 2,000 years. Dated, but timeless! It is a teaching that the Church has received from Christ. And, over the centuries, she has witnessed the fall of many an empire, regime and nation which acted contrary to the divine law, and the eternal wisdom that the Church and other people of faith reflect upon and teach in every generation.Those who staunchly oppose the Church’s moral teaching will often accuse Catholics who speak on these issues of being partisan. At times, even priests who try to open a dialogue with the faithful in order to clarify what the Church teaches on important moral issues are accused of pushing the agenda of one or another political party. What those who make such allegations forget is this: the Church’s consistent teaching predates not only any present political party, but even the very existence of our country. Is it not the case that political parties at times will adopt platforms that may or may not be in accord with Church teaching on fundamental moral issues?Media sound bites and the constant drumbeat of the polls should not drown out a meaningful reflection on the wisdom that Catholicism offers. Catholics need to see the issues clearly. They should not let their voices be silenced in the public forum or their precious votes be compromised by any political agenda. There is too much at stake!Reprinted with permission from The Beacon, official newspaper for the diocese of Patterson, New Jersey.

Violence in the Middle East: the witness of Pope Benedict XVI

Sep 20, 2012 / 00:00 am

On Friday, Sept. 14, Pope Benedict XVI began a three-day trip to Lebanon. As he was arriving in Beirut, in 20 countries all around Lebanon, angry extremists were clenching their fists and shouting anti-American protests. Surging mobs were swarming through city streets across North Africa and the Middle East. Enraged demonstrators were breaching the walls of U.S. embassies in capital cities. Many were killed, including the American ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.A video clip denigrating the prophet Muhammad ignited this most recent flare up of violence across the Muslim world. For many Muslims, lampooning, caricaturizing and insulting their prophet or their religion is not protected by free speech. Some judge such abuse of speech as a capital offense. Hence, the outrage. Rocks hurled. Fires set. Buildings destroyed. Many injured. Lives lost. Tragically, these are not isolated incidents.Another chapter has been added to the legacy of hate too often witnessed in our day in the name of religion. British author Salman Rushdie's 1988 novel, "Satanic Verses," outraged many Muslims. The result: deadly riots in Pakistan and India. In 2005, Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The result: violent attacks against Danish missions in Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Lebanon and dozens killed in weeks of protests. In 2011, the congregation of Florida preacher Terry Jones burned the Quran. The result: protests across Afghanistan and the killing of seven foreigners in a U.N. compound in northern Afghanistan.For all religious persons, any insult to their religion is rightly offensive. In our day of instant communication, it only takes seconds for some offensive video or statement to travel around the world. In such a world, it is not only irresponsible but morally repugnant for anyone to deliberately insult the religious sensitivities of others. Extremists delight to polarize political issues along religious lines.Tolerance of others and respect for the religious beliefs of those who differ from us are foundational to a democratic society. Common sense dictates that freedom of speech is not a license to insult or incite another. But killing innocent people is even more morally repugnant than any offensive speech.Some Muslims may see an insult to Islam as an excuse to further their own political agenda with violence. Others may confuse violence with zeal for the truth. But hatred and violence find no home in the heart of the truly religious.Those who are convinced that their religion is the true religion are not thereby granted the right to use violence to force their religious convictions on others. Faith and reason are gifts of the same God. Those who have authentic faith act in a way consistent with the very nature of God. Thus, they are rational and non-violent. “Non-violence is an active force of the highest order. It is the power of God within us” (Gandhi, Harijan, November 12, 1935).History has shown that no religion has been exempt from ridicule, insult and denigration. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has so astutely noted, “The great religions of the world are stronger than any insults. They have withstood offense for centuries…Refraining from violence, then, is not a sign of weakness in one's faith; it is absolutely the opposite, a sign that one's faith is unshakable.”It is with such unshakable faith that Pope Benedict XVI continued his journey to the Middle East even in the midst of the recent violence and protests. The pope’s presence there is a great witness to his message of peace. He urged that everyone must enjoy the freedom to practice their religion “without danger to life.”Speaking in Lebanon, the pope said that “it is not uncommon to see two religions within the same family. If this is possible within the same family, why should it not be possible at the level of the whole of society?” The answer is found within the heart of each of us, whatever our religion.

Freedom in America: An Answer

May 10, 2012 / 00:00 am

A continuation of Bishop Serratelli’s “Freedom in America: the Question,” published on CNA on May 3, 2012. In 1992, the Supreme Court was confronted with the growing restrictions that States were placing upon access to abortion. The State of Pennsylvania required informed consent after a 24-hour period of waiting prior to the abortion. It also required a minor to have the consent of one parent and a married woman to notify her husband of her intention to abort their child.The United States Supreme Court dealt with these restrictions in its Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision. The Court allowed some restrictions as long as they did not place an undue burden on a mother. But, tragically, the Court re-affirmed the abortion license of Roe v. Wade. Bypassing its fundamental duty of acknowledging when human life begins, the Court chose instead to emphasize freedom of choice unimpeded by any troublesome restrictions.In a statement more poetry than prose — something rare for the Supreme Court — Justice Anthony Kennedy said: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Kennedy was actually reiterating an opinion stated by Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter 50 years earlier. Justice Frankfurter had said, “Certainly the affirmative pursuit of one's convictions about the ultimate mystery of the universe and man's relation to it is placed beyond the reach of law” (cf. Clifford R. Goldstein, “Justice Kennedy's Notorious Mystery Passage,” Editorial Liberty, July/August 1997).At first hearing, Kennedy’s renowned “right to liberty clause” in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey strikes a chord dear to Americans. Everyone holds that freedom is a valued right. Our country is founded on freedom. However, Justice Kennedy’s dictum actually undermines the very rule of law itself. It canonizes a subjectivism that opens the door not only for abortion, but for prostitution, assisted suicide, euthanasia and whatever else someone wishes to define as meaningful for his or her life. It is a recipe for chaos.If freedom is the liberty to choose what to treat as real and meaningful, what happens when your choice of what is real and meaningful conflicts with mine? What happens when a citizen’s choice radically differs from what the state chooses? What happens when a mother’s freedom to choose an abortion conflicts with a father’s freedom of choice to bring another child into the family?Today’s secular society exalts human choice above all else. But is there not something more fundamental than choice? Do we not need to choose what is good and not what is evil? Do we not need to choose what helps us reach our full human potential, physical, emotional and moral? Can we simply ignore how our choices will affect others in society?What is the basis for any choice? If it is just our will, then we are deceiving ourselves into thinking that we create reality. Pope Benedict XVI has said, “Taking into account the fact that human freedom is a freedom always shared with others, it is clear that the harmony of freedom can be found in what is common to all: the truth of the human being…”(“Address to Participants in the International Congress on the Natural Law,” Rome, February 12, 2007).Murder, theft, lying and adultery — these are listed as sins in the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai. But, there is nothing peculiarly Christian or even Jewish about these norms. They are universal. That is why the Old Testament prophets Amos and Isaiah could inveigh against the Gentiles who did not have the Ten Commandments written on stone tablets. They had them already inscribed in their hearts. This is what we call the natural law.No contemporary cultural current can convert a moral evil into a moral good. As Blessed John Paul II once wrote, “No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church” (“Evangelium Vitae,” 62).A secular state may choose to ignore truth as the authentic foundation of man’s ethical behavior. But truth still stands as the ground for judging between good and evil. If, instead of making individual choice the basis of our laws, we make truth, the truth of the human person as given in the natural law, the basis of our laws, then we would be guaranteeing true freedom for all (cf. James Kalb, “The Tyranny of Misunderstood Freedom,” Ecclesia et Civitas, February 14, 2012).Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

Freedom in America: The Question

May 3, 2012 / 00:00 am

One of America’s greatest social reformers, writers and statesmen lived when this country was being torn apart by racial prejudice and the horror of slavery. Frederick Douglass was known both in the North and in the South as well as abroad. He published a weekly paper, went on speaking tours of England, Ireland and Scotland and won acclaim for his exceptional oratorical skills. He not only was an advocate for the freedom of slaves, but also a strong proponent for women’s rights. Douglass himself was the son of a Maryland slave and had escaped to freedom. He was self-taught and became a leader in the abolitionist movement. Many Northerners were shocked to discover that such a well-educated man and renowned orator had been a slave. Southerners were not so surprised. Many of them recognized that their slaves were intelligent and moral. They even used them to educate their children. Douglass stood out for his contemporaries as a living counter-argument to the fallacious reasoning of the Supreme Court in its 1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford decision. The court said that, when the people of African descent were brought to this country, they were “a subordinate and inferior class of beings who had been subjugated by the dominant race.” Hardly true! The court looked only at the condition of people of African descent at the time of their enslavement. The court failed to look at their full human potential. Someone’s condition at one or another point in life is not the indicator of the person’s true worth and dignity. An enslaved man, who later is set free and educated, has an inherent dignity at every stage of his human development. Furthermore, the court made a distinction between citizens mentioned in the Constitution and an “inferior class of people” who are not mentioned. Since the latter group is not mentioned explicitly in the Constitution, the court ruled that they did not enjoy the right to freedom given to citizens. But is not the right to freedom something so basic that no document can ignore it or deny it? (cf. Robert Spitzer, “Ten Universal Principles,” p. 59-62)Years later, the Supreme Court repeated the same mistakes in Roe v. Wade in 1973. The judges made the gratuitous and false distinction between a human being (the child in the womb) and a person. They could not prove the distinction. They merely affirmed it. Furthermore, the judges did not look at the full human potential of the human being in utero. They spoke of the child in the womb as inferior to the child at birth. In the Dred Scott v. Sanford decision, the court had distinguished citizens from slaves whom the court judged to be an inferior class of human beings. Then, the court denied the slaves the same freedom enjoyed by citizens. In Roe v. Wade, the court distinguished between persons mentioned in the Constitution and all other human beings. The court then denied the unborn the fundamental right to life, because the court declared that the unborn were not persons in a legal sense. (Ibid., p. 62-65)The struggle to end slavery spilled much blood, divided families and placed the nation on the brink of dissolution. After the Civil War, the horror of slavery finally ended with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865. The battle to regain the legal right to life for the unborn child still continues. As more and more people are beginning to recognize the travesty of justice wrought by Roe v. Wade, there stirs a very haunting question. How could the Supreme Court of this land sanction in two cases actions that are inherently evil? If the court did it once and then repeated the same mistake with even more devastating consequences, what safeguard is there that the rights that we now enjoy will not be denied us in the future? If a government decides that same-sex unions are to be called marriage, can the government remove our freedom of speech to say otherwise? This is no idle question. The defense of marriage as a union between one man and one woman is now labeled discrimination, intolerance and hate-speech against gays and lesbians. Since the government has decided that women’s health care requires free access to abortifacients and contraceptives, can the government now force those who object to comply? After Roe v. Wade, many states enacted conscience clauses to allow physicians to follow their conscience and not participate in legalized abortion. Can the rubric of a woman’s civil right to have access to these services override the right of conscientious objection? Again, this is no idle question.During the Bush Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a rule preventing employment discrimination against medical professionals refusing to perform a medical service against their religious or moral beliefs. When the rule was promulgated, Connecticut, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island filed suit to block the regulation. “One of the Obama administration’s first public acts was to file in the “Federal Register” a notice of its intent to rescind the Bush conscience regulation” (Wesley J. Smith, "Pulling the plug on the conscience clause," First Things, December, 2009). With the recent ruling of the Obama administration on mandated health insurance coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacients, the issue of conscience is at the center of a growing storm.On March 23, 2012, thousands upon thousands of concerned Americans united across the country in 146 protests, deliberately ignored by the mainstream media. This strong grassroots movement is being fueled by the ruling of the Obama administration to force conscientious objectors, most especially religious organizations, churches, universities and schools, to pay for contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacients in their health plans. The issue is not birth control. The fundamental issue is religious freedom and rights of conscience.If religious institutions fail to comply with the health care mandate, can the government penalize them with heavy fines and effectively diminish or end their mission? If a doctor refuses to perform an abortion, can the government then revoke the doctor’s license? If a justice of the peace refuses to perform a same-sex marriage, can the government then remove him from office, even if there are others who are willing to perform the ceremony? In 2004, justices of the peace who refused to perform same-sex unions on the basis of their religious objections were summarily dismissed. Is there no room any more for freedom of religion and the right of conscience? Are all rights contingent upon the decision of a court or legislature or the outcome of an election or the will of the majority? If so, will we not always be threatened by the tyranny of the most powerful or the dominant group within society? Is there anything that can prevent America from being tossed about by the chilling winds of a creeping totalitarianism? How can Americans remain free?To be continued…Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

The Mystery of Faith - The Rich Proclamation of Easter Faith

Apr 12, 2012 / 00:00 am

Since the introduction of the new liturgical texts for Mass this past Advent, we have become accustomed to new words and new expressions in our common prayer. Some of the changes in the Mass are obvious and readily noticed. But not all. There is one change that seems ever so slight and may even go unnoticed. After the consecration, the priest no longer says, “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith.” Instead, he simply announces “The mystery of faith.” Attention to the theological reasons for this change opens us to a richer appreciation of the Eucharist.Ever since the seventh century, the words “The mystery of faith” have been part of the institution narrative (i.e. the words of consecration). Before the Second Vatican Council’s reform of the liturgy, the priest would say these words inaudibly as part of the consecration of the wine. With the liturgical revisions of 1969, the formula was moved to its present position after the consecration of the wine and the priest was instructed to say the formula audibly “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith.”With our new liturgical texts, the priest now simply says “The mystery of faith.” Why the change? What is the meaning of this formula? What is its purpose in the canon of the Mass?The priest’s words were shortened in the new missal text to render the Latin text (mysterium fidei) more faithfully. In fact, this shorter formula conveys more accurately the purpose of these words. These words are not an invitation to proclaim the mystery of faith. However, the response “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” does exactly that: it proclaims or declares what the mystery is. And, for that reason, it is no longer used.Immediately after the consecration, in the anamnesis (memorial) of the Mass, the priest himself proclaims or declares what the mystery is. He recounts the death that Jesus endured for our salvation, his glorious resurrection and ascension into heaven. But before he does that, he says “The mystery of faith.” This is an invitation for the people to make an acclamation, a response to the mystery of faith now present in the Body and Blood of Christ.An acclamation is different than a proclamation. An acclamation is addressed directly to someone. An acclamation is spoken in the second person, whereas a proclamation is in the third person. In the new missal text, the people speak directly to the Lord himself now present in the Eucharist.This distinction between proclamation and acclamation is clearly seen in the responses in the new missal. The people now have the choice of using one of three options. They may say, “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection until you come again.” Or, “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again.” Or, “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your cross and resurrection, you have set us free.” Even when two of these formulas use the word “proclaim,” the whole formula itself is not a proclamation, but an acclamation, because the words in the second person are directed to the Lord.The phrase “The mystery of faith” that invites our response after the consecration is one of the most powerful phrases in the Roman liturgy. The word “mystery” is a densely rich biblical word. It means God’s plan for the creation of the world and for our salvation hidden for all eternity and gradually revealed and accomplished in Christ.The mystery is God bringing us to share in his own divine life through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. It is God reconciling and restoring the world in Christ (Eph 1:9-14). The mystery is Christ in the paschal events made sacramentally present. The letter to the Colossians speaks of the mystery as “Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:2-3). Thus, Christ himself is the mystery. When the priest says immediately after the consecration, “The mystery of faith,” he is drawing our attention to Christ, Crucified, Risen and Ascended, now among us. The words of the priest remind us that Christ is here among us to form us as his body “the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:23). Thus, Jesus now sacramentally, truly and really in our midst, is bringing to completion in us the fullness of our redemption.In sacrament, the Eucharist is the mystery of faith: Jesus accomplishing our salvation through his sacrificial death on the cross and his glorious resurrection. How can our hearts not overflow with wonder and awe! How fervent should be our spontaneous response to this great gift! Ultimately, the Eucharist, now present on our altar after the consecration, demands our response not simply in words of acclamation, but in a life that is a true proclamation of Easter faith.

Obama Administration: Catholic Conscience Not to be Tolerated

Feb 2, 2012 / 00:00 am

On January 20, 2012, the Obama administration made an unprecedented move to curtail the freedom of religion in the United States. It mandated that all institutions providing health insurance to their employees must also provide for sterilization, artificial contraception and abortifacients (drugs that induce abortion), religious beliefs notwithstanding. Despite many attempts to get the government to respect the conscience of Catholics and others who hold contraception, abortifacients and sterlization as morally evil, Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, confirmed that the present administration will allow no exemptions. Church-affiliated hospitals, universities, dioceses, agencies and charities are now being mandated to pay for services that clearly go against the teaching of the Catholic Church. One concession. Nonprofit employers who do not currently provide such coverage in their insurance plan because of religious beliefs have a grace period of one year before they must comply with President Obama’s healthcare bill, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Really? One year to be free before being forced to violate their conscience. The U.S. bishops are not alone in opposing this new mandate. Other religious leaders who find mandated contraception, abortifacients and sterilization morally wrong are speaking out as well. These procedures are not preventative medicine. Unless, of course, you consider the birth of a child a disease!The final ruling of Department of Health and Human Resources is insidious. Yes, it does touch on what should rightly be considered preventing a disease. But deeper than that, it is the blatant, insensitive and unnecessary undermining of our constitutionally protected freedom of religion. This is the first instance in the history of our country that any administration is forcing some of its citizens to purchase something that violates their conscience.Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, also challenged this latest ruling of Health and Human Resources. He said, “What we are seeing here is precisely what the First Amendment was intended to prohibit: state action targeted against the religious consciences of particular religious communities, and intended to attack their conceptions of justice, equality and the common good. It is tyranny, pure and simple. The stakes go beyond the questions of contraception and abortion to the very meaning of American democracy” (Joan Frawley Desmond, “HHS Secretary Sebelius: Church Groups Must Provide Contraception,” National Catholic Register, January 21, 2012). Just one day before the Obama Administration announced its final decision not to allow any reasonable exemption to Obamacare on the basis of religious belief or conscience, Pope Benedict XVI spoke to some U.S. bishops on their ad limina visit. He warned them precisely about what we are witnessing in this decision.  The Pope said, “it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be appreciated…” What will be the results? Will Catholic institutions, including schools, universities and Catholic Charities, no longer be able in conscience to provide health insurance for their employees? Will we see other rights soon denied by a government that refuses to respect conscience? Will the government mandate other morally objectionable practices in the future? Why not? Once the moral conscience of a substantial group of Americans is simply swept aside by any government, no right remains safe.In this most recent ruling on healthcare, a government that avidly promotes freedom of choice has decided not to allow Catholics the freedom to choose. It need not be this way. But, the line has been drawn in the sand. Can Catholics simply accept the fact that the Catholic conscience is not to be tolerated in America?Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

The Gloria: Beautiful and Biblical

Jan 5, 2012 / 00:00 am

One of the most beautiful prayers in the Mass is the Gloria. Monks chant it. Composers today, like Vivaldi and Bach in the past, set it to music. Christians echo its sentiments when they sing the popular Christmas carols "Angels We Have Heard on High" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."The Gloria is a doxology. It is a prayer of praise that extols the glory of God. It is sometimes called the Greater Doxology to distinguish from the short Glory Be that Catholics learn to recite at childhood.The Gloria recalls the mystery of the Incarnation. In this prayer, we give praise to God by recalling how great He is and how worthy he is to be worshiped. Despite our sinfulness, God loved us enough to send His Son. Hence, our joy in praying the Gloria.In its original form, the Gloria comes from the Gospel of Luke, a gospel overflowing with praise. In fact, Luke speaks of praising God more than any other evangelist. In his infancy narrative, each new revelation of Jesus' coming as the Messiah is met with a hymn of praise.The angel Gabriel announces to aged Zechariah that he and Elizabeth will have a son who will prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah. Zechariah, at the birth of their son John the Baptist, sings the Benedictus. In praising God for fulfilling His promises to His people, his hymn harkens back to the Old Testament (e.g. Gen 12:1-3: 26:3; 2 Sam 7:8-1; Ps 18:17).In the Visitation, Mary goes to visit Elizabeth. Both women are with child. Elizabeth greets Mary as the mother of her Lord. Mary returns her blessing by glorifying God with the Magnificat (Luke 2:46-55). Mary recites in song the revolutionary effects of the birth of Jesus. The lowly will be exalted. The rich will be sent away empty. And, Israel's longing heart will rejoice in the mercy given to Abraham and his descendants. Her hymn of praise is filled with allusions from the Old Testament, especially from the Song of Hannah (1 Sam 2:1-10).When the infant Jesus is presented in the Temple in Jerusalem according to the Law of Moses, Mary and Joseph meet Simeon. Simeon is a just man who had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. At the sight of the Christ child, Simeon recognizes the long-awaited Messiah. He utters his Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29-32).Though a brief canticle, Simeon's song is replete with Scriptural allusions (e.g. Isa 40:1-2; 52:10; 53:6; Ps 97:2). His song eloquently and simply expresses the relationship of Christianity to Judaism. It not only looks back to the past and to Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel's hope, but also to the future and to Jesus as a light to the Gentiles.These three hymns of praise-the Benedictus, the Magnificat, the Nunc Dimittis-spring from the human heart and are found on human lips. But the short Gloria in Luke's gospel is different. It is the song of the angels who surround the throne of God. At the end of the angel's announcement of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds in Bethlehem, "suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: 'Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests' " (Lk 2:13-14).The Gloria that we sing or recite at Mass echoes and amplifies that angelic hymn. As Pope Benedict XVI has said, "The Church, in the Gloria, has extended this song of praise, which the angels sang in response to the event of the holy night, into a hymn of joy at God's glory - 'we praise you for your glory' " (Homily at Midnight Mass, Christmas, 2010). In the Gloria, we voice a joy that cannot be contained at the goodness of God now visible and tangible in the birth of Christ and in his saving work as our Redeemer.

Occupy Wall Street: A Cry for More than Money

Nov 17, 2011 / 00:00 am

Ever since 1999, Americans have witnessed a decline in median incomes. In fact, Americans are watching the gradual disappearance of the middle class. With the recent housing bubble, many working families had been able to purchase a home. Credit was expanded. Loans were more easily obtained. It seemed that middle-class was actually expanding. But it was not.With the credit crisis in 2007, there was an increase in foreclosures. Rampant misrepresentation in loan underwriting made the situation worse. Working-class families and middle-class households that had been living beyond their means lost their homes. Their real economic situation became evident. As a feature editor of the Atlantic Magazine remarked, the “fig leaf has [been] blown away... and the recession has pressed hard on the broad center of American society” (Don Peck, “Can the Middle Class Be Saved?” in Atlantic Magazine, September 2011).The pressure that many are feeling is now erupting in the Occupy Wall Street protests. The protesters are putting the spotlight on the economy. The movement may not be organized. It may include many disparate voices. But the chorus of protests points to the growing disparity in wealth in America.The Occupy Wall Street protests began on Sept. 17 in New York’s financial district. Hundreds of protesters positioned themselves in Zuccotti Park, in Lower Manhattan. They made Wall Street the target of their protests for its undue influence on politicians. At a time when there is growing dissatisfaction with politicians, the protesters have made more public the issue of corporate influence on politics through campaign donations to Democrats and Republicans. The protests are spreading around the country. New York; Washington D.C.; Boston; Mobile, Ala.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and, Portland, Ore.: from north to south, east to west, the movement has gained momentum.These protests are also spreading around the world. On Oct. 15, 5,000 protesters gathered in front of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany. Some 3,000 occupied the square near the London Stock Exchange. From New Zealand to Taiwan, people worldwide staged more than 950 demonstrations in more than 80 countries, responding to protesters in New York calling for support.Different languages, different particular issues and different needs are prompting people to unite in a chorus of protest against greed and the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor. The hundreds of thousands of Americans facing artificially inflated commodity prices, a shrinking job market, corporate greed and the influence of money on government are not alone. The social and economic inequality of millions has now found a voice.When the civil rights movement first began, there was no way to predict its eventual outcome. Peaceful protests do have their place. They help us focus on the issues and energize us to find a solution to the challenges that are causing social unrest. With people in so many countries not finding jobs, with family incomes losing buying power, with many people migrating to find a better future only to face even greater hardships in their new homes, there is a need for a reconstruction of priorities in our economic and financial life as a nation, indeed, as a world community.The problem arises when dividend returns take precedence over ethical and social responsibility. This problem cannot be solved merely by producing more material goods. It cannot be solved by the radical redistribution of wealth by the government. Nor is violence the right solution.Pope Benedict XVI has called for the logic of the market to be applied to the service of the common good. God has placed enough in this world for all his children. Greed and the desire for power are the deepest causes of poverty and social inequality. Material goods are not the problem. Free-market capitalism is not the problem. Evil resides in human hearts that are cut off from others.Governments need to attend to the dignity of the individual, the right of citizens to earn a living and the good of the entire society. But none of this will happen unless individuals themselves who make decisions and those who seek to improve their own well-being see themselves as truly connected with others, especially the poor. The Occupy Wall Street movement now spreading across national borders is a cry for more than money.