Bishop Arthur Serratelli

Bishop Arthur Serratelli

Bishop Serratelli is the bishop of Paterson, New Jersey.

Articles by Bishop Arthur Serratelli

Obamacare: An End to Religious Freedom in Health Care?

Oct 20, 2011 / 00:00 am

Last year, amidst the contentious debates surrounding Obamacare, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops spoke strongly in favor of a reform of our health care system. The bishops stressed that the measure of any health care reform should be twofold. First, true health care must protect human life and safeguard the dignity of the human person. Second, a good reform should make health care accessible to all, including the poor and the immigrant. When individuals have proper and affordable healthcare, society itself benefits.The bishops are aware of today’s challenges to provide adequate health care. One out of every six patients in the United States receives health care from a Catholic hospital. Even the uninsured are served in Catholic hospitals. In New Jersey, Catholic hospitals in one year alone provided nearly 20 percent of the State’s documented charity care. The cost for this amounted to more than $241,921,000. The government reimburses just about half that amount and, in some cases, nothing at all. Catholic hospitals do a great service for society in providing charity for those who fall through the cracks of the inadequate health care system now in place.Over the last 40 years, in matters of health care, there has been a very strong bipartisan consensus in America to respect the rights of conscience. The Federal Employees Health Benefits Program protects the right of conscience for health professionals. It specifically exempts religiously affiliated health plans from providing contraception, if this violates the right of conscience. Furthermore, under federal law, even those organizations that have a religious or moral objection to certain forms of AIDS prevention are allowed to participate in federal programs that combat the disease in other nations.Until recently, our government has a good history in respecting conscience rights in health care. However, that history is about to end. In July, 2011, the influential Institute of Medicine — an organization chartered by the National Academy of Science in 1970 to improve health care of the American people and peoples of the world — recommended to the Obama administration that insurance companies should be forced to pay for birth control and drugs that can cause abortions. A month later, the Obama administration approved the recommendation.In August, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued guidelines to implement Obamacare. These regulations mandate all private health insurance plans to cover sterilization and birth control. Included in the mandated coverage are the IUD, the ‘morning-after’ pill and abortion-inducing drugs. This means that private health plans must provide contraceptive drugs to prevent pregnancy and abortifacients to terminate a pregnancy.Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, said that the decision to issue these regulations is a part of the Affordable Care Act. As of next August, religious organizations must comply. If not, they can no longer provide health care coverage.To argue that contraception and abortion are part of a woman’s right to preventative health care actually treats conception and pregnancy as if they were a disease. Breast cancer is a disease. Uterine cancer is a disease. A human life is not!When President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on March 23, 2010, his health care reform included a religious exemption. To read the exemption is enough to realize it hardly qualifies as a serious attempt to respect the conscience rights of those who morally object to abortion, artificial contraception and sterilization. According to the law, the only exemption on religious grounds would be for those who serve only members of their faith community, exclude those of other faiths from their employment, and focus on teaching their religious beliefs. In reality, this narrowly defined religious exemption clause would apply only to a Catholic institution hiring only Catholics and providing health care services only to Catholics. Thus, no Catholic hospital would ever qualify for this exemption! As Richard Doerflinger has astutely noted, “Jesus himself, who helped and healed people of various faiths, would not be ‘religious enough’ to qualify for this bizarrely narrow exception” (Richard Doerflinger, Sept. 16, 2011).To put it quite bluntly, the regulations under Obamacare pose an unprecedented threat to the religious freedom. These regulations leave no room for exemption for Catholics or any other groups or individuals who, on moral grounds, oppose contraception and abortion. In effect, these new regulations exclude the practice of religion from health care.In his Sept. 7, 2011 letter to Congress, Cardinal Di Nardo told our elective lawmakers that “this effort to corral religion exclusively into the sanctuaries of houses of worship betrays a complete ignorance of the role of religion in American life, and of Congress’s long tradition of far more helpful laws on religious freedom.”Do we really want Catholic institutions and other religious institutions to be compelled to act against their moral teaching? Is this really a benefit to society? Is tolerance not emptied of its meaning? If the government refuses to change the law, Catholic hospitals, charitable institutions, and universities and colleges would be compelled to stop providing all health care coverage for workers. Do we really want this to happen?Is not the government overstepping its legitimate role and dictating its own secular morality when it mandates contraception and abortion for all health plans? What will the government mandate next?Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

The Government’s Campaign against Marriage: No Time for Silence

Oct 6, 2011 / 00:00 am

On September 21, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Large majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate supported the law. This federal law upholds the definition of marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. The law stipulates that no state can be required to recognize as a marriage a same-sex relationship recognized as marriage by another state. However, the federal government has now taken a much different approach to the understanding of marriage and with serious and far-reaching practical consequences. The executive branch of the federal government is required to uphold the nation’s laws. Yet, early this year, the Department of Justice announced that it will no longer defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act. If that were not enough, the same Department of Justice is taking an active role in attacking the law.On July 1, 2011, the Department of Justice, under President Obama, filed a brief in the case Golinski v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The government is against the Defense of Marriage Act on the grounds that promoting marriage as a union of one man and one woman is a form of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Framing the question of same-sex marriage in this way not only clouds the issue, but distorts the truth.Discrimination springs from prejudice. It denies to some the rights that others enjoy. Our country suffered through the injustice of not allowing blacks the right to vote, while others could. Those who do not accept same-sex marriage cannot be labeled prejudiced. They do not advocate that only heterosexuals have the right to vote, to hold political office, to live, to work and to dine where they choose. The real question is not who has the right to marry. The underlying question is what marriage really is. To label as prejudiced and discriminating anyone who holds that marriage is between a man and a woman is to move the issue into an emotional arena where it does not belong. This past June, all federal agencies were introduced to a sexual orientation “sensitivity training” program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture designed the program for its employees. The training materials label the support for the understanding of marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman as “heterosexism.” The program aims at eliminating “heterosexism,” in the same way as racism and sexism are to be eliminated. Clearly the issue of the definition of marriage is not an idle question.In a stern letter to President Obama, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops strongly stated:“it is particularly upsetting, Mr. President, when your Administration, through the various court documents, pronouncements and policies…attributes to those who support DOMA a motivation rooted in prejudice and bias.  It is especially wrong and unfair to equate opposition to redefining marriage with either intentional or willfully ignorant racial discrimination, as your Administration insists on doing.” (Letter of the Most Reverend Timothy M. Dolan, September 20, 2011)Most Americans support the authentic definition of marriage.  They also desire that our laws reflect this. In all three branches of the federal government, the sustained campaign to mandate all of us to live by a definition of marriage that contradicts the natural law and that goes against our entire Judaeo-Christian heritage is causing a serious rift in the nation’s moral landscape. It is dividing us. It is casting us as the enemy. Our support for marriage as union of a man and a woman is being turned into a constitutional violation. As same-sex unions are redefined as marriage and gay marriage becomes a civil right, civil rights laws will be applied to the Church. The consequences will be disastrous on a practical level. The Church will face lawsuit after lawsuit for “discrimination” in her extensive charitable works of education, adoption, housing and even employment.To simply ignore what is happening is to acquiesce in a radical change in our society for the worse. It is to forfeit our freedom of conscience and religion. This is not time for silence! This is time for action!Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

9/11 and A Nation Facing Disasters

Sep 8, 2011 / 00:00 am

The August 23 earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale shook citizens all along the East Coast from Virginia to New Hampshire. Within less than a week, Hurricane Irene swept across the Eastern seaboard, leaving death and destruction in its wake. In recent years, such natural calamities have followed one upon another all too close, leaving us unsettled.In 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast from central Florida to Texas. It took the lives of 1,836 people. It breached almost every levee in metro New Orleans and flooded 80 percent of the city. It was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. In April, 2011, 162 tornadoes spread havoc over Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri, Louisiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.When it comes to these natural disasters, we turn to nature for an explanation. The tectonic plates constantly shifting beneath our feet cause earthquakes. Moist warm air and rising water temperatures conspire together to form tropical storms and hurricanes. Warm and cold air masses colliding give birth to tornadoes. We may wonder why God allows these disasters to happen. But, at least, we can understand their genesis in a world that God created with certain physical laws. It is otherwise with the man-made catastrophes that inflict death and pain on so many innocent people.Man-made disasters are not new. People have used violence to destroy and kill in wars fought for honor, for the defense of country and for the spread of religion. But, in war, soldiers fight soldiers. Not so in terrorism. Terrorists target civilians or non-combatants. They use the death of the innocent to make their point. They deliberately create fear and distress in order to achieve a political or ideological end. The 1988 aircraft bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland and the 2000 terrorist attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen deeply saddened us with the senseless taking of so many innocent lives. The 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City and the 1995 bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City brought terrorism to our soil. Osama bin Laden’s devastating 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., along with the United Airlines Flight 93 downed over Shanksville, Pennsylvania as passengers bravely struggled to retake the airliner; these assaults left us horrified and shocked. The unthinkable had happened. Our immunity to domestic terrorism was lost forever. Our lives are no longer the same. Ten years later, the images of 9/11 are hard to forget. The Twin Towers ablaze, smoldering in smoke and then collapsing. Innocent people jumping out of windows to certain death. Civilians fleeing the towering infernos. Rescue workers rushing to the scene. The ratio of the dead to the injured was 5:1, an almost exact reversal of the ratio of the dead to the injured in war.Time closes the gaping wounds of piercing grief. Yet, time cannot dull our memory of those who were lost. The passing years can never fill the painful void left by those snatched so cruelly from our midst. Their suffering and untimely death rightly moves us to honor them by consecrating ourselves to the pursuit of peace and reconciliation.Within the human spirit, there is the tendency to forget such horrifying events. When the trauma passes and we get back to a normal routine, we prefer not to be held captive to the tragedy of the past. But to forget the past is to stifle the heart. We need to remember the hurt and the vulnerability, the loss and the untold suffering of so many so that our hearts are opened to each other. In the end, acts of terrorism are man-made disasters. They have their origin not in any law of nature, but in the perversion of the universal law of love for one’s neighbor. It is only love that rises from a heart open to every neighbor that can conquer the evil of hatred, enkindle shattered hope and usher in a more civilized world.Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

Proper Church Etiquette: A Public Witness of Faith

Jul 28, 2011 / 00:00 am

England’s Queen Elizabeth II has reigned for fifty-nine years. During her lifetime, she has seen eleven U.S. presidents come and go. Queen Elizabeth got along especially well with President Reagan. Once, they even went horse-back riding together at Windsor Castle. However, such familiarity did not push aside royal protocol. In 1982, when the president and the queen were walking together, President Reagan wanted his wife, Nancy, to walk in front of them.  But, according to royal protocol, the president’s wife was expected to walk behind the queen and next to the queen’s husband. Sensing the awkwardness of the situation, the queen had them all walk together in one line. Civil people still observe proper etiquette when in the presence of the queen. When the queen enters a room, the guests stand. In greeting her, a man bows and a woman curtsies. When they first address the queen, they say, “Your Majesty,” thereafter, “Ma'am.” No one speaks unless first addressed by the queen. We should not be surprised that there is a protocol in the presence of royalty. After all, the queen embodies in her person the British Commonwealth. She is the constitutional monarch of sixteen independent sovereign states. The respect shown her is the respect shown to all the people under her scepter. It is a way of acknowledging that her power and authority are at the service of the good of both her people and all.The 15th century Council of Basel drew the comparison between the way we are expected to behave in the presence of our civil rulers and the way we should behave in the presence of God. The Council stated, “A person who is about to make a request to a secular prince takes pains to compose himself and his words by decent dress, becoming gesture, regulated speech and close attention of mind. How much more careful ought he to be in all these things when he is about to pray to almighty God in a sacred place!” Coming into the presence of God requires a proper etiquette on our part. Yet, we seem to be less and less aware of this in our day. Today, a very casual attitude pervades all our social interactions. Proper church etiquette, like all civil behavior, suffers greatly in our day. The way that we dress for church is casual. Sometimes more suited for the sports field or beach! Our observance of silence is casual as well. Not infrequently people chew gum in church, keep their cell phones on and talk during the liturgy. The way that we behave in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament has changed much in the last two generations. Genuflecting when coming before the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle is rarely done. At funerals and weddings, as some come to receive Holy Communion, they stop and chat with others instead of approaching the Lord in prayerful recollection. In some places, reverence to the Eucharist is withheld when the mandated rituals of purification of the sacred vessels after Communion are laid aside for a more casual disposal of the fragments of the Eucharist and the remains of the Precious Blood. To begin, when we come to church, we are not coming to just an ordinary building. We are entering a sacred place. Yes, the church is, first of all, the People of God “made one as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one and … the temple of God built with living stones, in which the Father is worshiped in spirit and in truth” (Order of the Dedication of a Church, ch. II, 1).  Nonetheless, the church building is made holy not simply by the worshiping community, but by the very Presence of God. “Nothing so becomes a church as silence and good order. Noise belongs to theatres…and market-places: but [in church]…there should be stillness, and quiet and calm reflection, and a haven of much repose” (St. John Chrysostom). We are not attending a performance. We are participating in liturgy, the very worship of God. In church, we are most visibly before God. Even our dress should acknowledge this. As St. Cyprian once said, “The dress of the body should not discredit the good of the soul.” Perhaps we have lost sight of the basic fact that God is Lord and we are his humble servants. He made us. He is the Creator, not us. With all our advances in science, with our technological ability to begin human life and to end human life, to manipulate and control life, we may be tempted to push God aside and place ourselves at the center of the universe. This may explain something of our rather casual attitudes and behaviors when we come into his presence. While his power and authority may seem to have been diminished in the view of some, it is not so in reality. He has placed all his goodness at the service of our redemption. God, the Lord of all creation, has stooped to rescue us from our sins. He has sent his only-begotten Son to be our Savior. As Paul reminds us, “Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself…coming in human likeness; …he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth…”(Phil  2: 6-9). When we come to church, we come to the Eucharist where this mystery of Christ’s dying and rising for us is made present. When we enter church, we are before Christ present to us in the Blessed Sacrament. Therefore, our reverence is not one of trembling or dread, cowering before a monarch whose power we fear. No! It is the hushed awe in the presence of a love too great for words. A love that inspires and lifts up. A love that draws us out of ourselves into the very life of God. The more we realize what it means to come to church, the more easily will our dress, our actions, our speech and our silence publicly witness to our faith in God who gathers us together so that “from the rising of the sun to its setting, a pure sacrifice may be offered to [his] name” (Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer III, third edition).Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

Sacred Art: Recapturing a treasure

Jul 7, 2011 / 00:00 am

The cathedrals of Chartres, Paris, Cologne, Florence, Siena and Toledo open their doors each day to thousands of pilgrims and tourists alike. They come to look, to gaze and to stand in wonder at these majestic marvels of architecture. Pugin, the famous British architect of the nineteenth century, once remarked that the Gothic style of these magnificent cathedrals was the only architectural and artistic style which Christianity created for itself.At its birth, the Christian church simply worshipped in the houses of believers, most often those of its wealthier members. The very first followers of Jesus in Galilee assembled as church in St. Peter’s house in Capernaum along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The Christians at Corinth met in the home of the wealthy business couple Aquila and Priscilla (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:19). When the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the 4th century, Christians began to build churches. They simply adopted existing architecture. They turned away from the temples of their pagan neighbors to their basilicas. The temples did not have the space necessary for congregations to gather and worship.  But the basilicas did. The basilicas were used as courts of law and as meeting places. Rome’s St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran come from this earliest period of church architecture.Over the centuries, Church architecture changed both in the East and the West.  Gradually, the Orthodox Church introduced strict norms regarding sacred art.  This process reached its high point in a 16th century council held in Moscow called “the Council of the Hundred Canons.” Even our Islamic neighbors have rather strict norms that make a mosque immediately recognizable anywhere in the world.  Not so the Catholic Church.Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Modern and Post-Modern: there is no one style that the Church has canonized. In fact, in its document on the liturgy, the Second Vatican Council noted, “The Church has not adopted any particular style of art as her very own; she has admitted styles from every period according to the natural talents and circumstances of peoples, and the needs of the various rites. Thus, in the course of the centuries, she has brought into being a treasury of art which must be very carefully preserved” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 123). Different theological points of view, coupled with the technology of each new age, have produced churches whose spires stretch upward to heaven to churches in the round whose simple form encircles the congregation gathered within. In the course of time, there have risen magnificent cathedrals and modest country churches. While not canonizing any particular style, nonetheless, the Church clearly embraces sacred art as a legitimate and needed expression of faith.However, some more recently built churches and some churches renovated in the last forty years raise a serious question. Does it not appear that “a considerable part of the Church’s cultural and artistic patrimony has been squandered in the name of honesty and simplicity”? (Uwe Michael Lang, The Crisis of Sacred Art and the sources for its renewal in the thought of Pope Benedict XVI, “Benedict XVI and the Sacred Liturgy,” p.105).Vatican II instructed bishops to “carefully remove from the house of God and from other sacred places those works of artists which are repugnant to faith, morals, and Christian piety, and which offend true religious sense either by depraved forms or by lack of artistic worth, mediocrity and pretense” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 124).  Such an admonition almost seems useless in face of the iconoclasm that has stripped so many churches of sacred images and beauty.  The desire for simplicity and practicality has led to churches empty of much religious symbolism. With the Industrial Revolution came steel, plate glass, and mass-produced components. Bold, new imaginative structures arose. Emphasis on form made decoration something of a crime and led to the disappearance of much artistic imaging within our church buildings. Abstract images and splashes of color have replaced the biblical scenes and figures of the Gothic cathedrals that remind the worshippers of their place in the history of salvation and the communion of saints. Since the Second Vatican Council, the theological emphasis on the people of God gathered for liturgy led to some very healthy changes. Churches have been built to allow for the greater participation of the laity in the liturgy. But there have also been some rather questionable results. Some churches have the altar situated in the middle of the congregation. At times, this violates the architectural line of the building itself and loses a sense of coherence. As a result, there is structurally no longer the vertical direction of the ancient cathedrals that gently draws the worshipper into the liturgy and upward to heaven. With a rightful emphasis on the place of music in the liturgy has come the positioning of choirs and musicians in full view of the congregation. At times, this boldly detracts from the worshippers’ attention on the altar and can make worship seem like a performance. With a greater emphasis on music, organ pipes have assumed more than a functional position in church buildings!Unfortunately, the theological emphasis on the liturgy as action has often led to the removal of the Eucharist from a central position in the Church. Tragically, we have churches with the tabernacle off to the side of the church. Others less felicitously with the tabernacle placed behind the congregation. Peoples’ backs to the Lord!  How uncivil! In either case, the position of the tabernacle no longer leads the faithful to adoration and worship. Removing the tabernacle from the central position in the Church can lead to an anthropocentric view of liturgy. Liturgy easily becomes about us and not about the divine presence into which we are being drawn. When a church positions the tabernacle in a prominent and central place, the worshipper is caught up in the action at the altar and visually led to the Real Presence in the tabernacle.Sacred art is faith translated into vision. It is both an apologetic of the faith and a catechesis in faith. Both the architecture of the church building and its interior decorations are always at the service of the liturgy. Sacred art is “oriented toward the infinite beauty of God… redounding to God's praise and glory in proportion as [it is] directed the more exclusively to the single aim of turning men's minds devoutly toward God” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 122). As the Church continues to renew the way in which we celebrate divine worship, ennobling our language of prayer and focusing us on God, there stirs the hope of recapturing the treasure of sacred art within our churches.Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

Self-Discipline: A needed virtue

Jun 9, 2011 / 00:00 am

From April 6 until May 29, 1453, the Ottomans, under the command of Sultan Mehmed II, laid siege to Constantinople. The city fell. The great Byzantine Empire collapsed. So ended the last vestige of the Roman Empire.

The death of bin Laden: A grave moment

May 12, 2011 / 00:00 am

Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader responsible for the attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, is dead. The planes that crashed into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field left nearly 3,000 people dead. Now, 10 years later, the mastermind of that murderous plot is himself dead. When President Obama announced the success of the targeted operation against bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, he remarked, “On nights like this one, we can say to families who lost loved ones to al Qaeda's terror: justice has been done.”Immediately, at the news of bin Laden’s death, there were spontaneous shouts of relief and joy. Crowds gathered in Boston, New York and Washington to celebrate. Years of tedious and unrelenting work finally achieved their goal: the ending of one man’s authority over a network of terrorism bent on destroying the freedom of the West.All realize that, by the taking out of bin Laden, terrorism has not been vanquished. Only one terrorist has been stopped. Yet, his demise has been a long-awaited milestone in the road to freedom from tyranny, a road that passes through every age.During the early Renaissance, Donatello’s famous bronze sculpture “Judith and Holofernes” (1460) stood proudly in front of Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio. This work of art gave witness to another milestone along that road to freedom. Donatello took the inspiration for his sculpture from the deuterocanonical book of Judith (c.150 B.C.). He used a biblical image to make a bold, artistic statement to the citizens of Florence about the response to oppression in their day. The book of Judith is a didactic narrative set in the seventh century before Christ. Nebuchadnezzar and the Assyrians were oppressing and terrorizing God’s people. To put an end to the suffering of her people, the beautiful widow Judith used her charms to lure the Assyrian general Holofernes into her tent. There she first plied him with drink and then decapitated him. With the death of this one man, there was renewed hope for the people.Judith, although speaking about the seventh century oppression of the Jews by the Assyrians, actually addresses the oppression of the Jews by the Syrians under Antiochus IV in the second century before Christ. Judith, whose name means “Jewess,” represents the best of her nation. She embodies the heroism of the solitary Israelite struggling against tyranny. The story of Judith and Holofernes is the feminine counterpart of David and Goliath. Both biblical stories affirm the place of faith in God, fidelity to his will and human courage in God’s plan for his people.Donatello’s statue turned the biblical narrative of Judith and Holofernes into a sculptural allegory of what was happening in his own day. In the early Renaissance in Florence, the artist was praising the courage of the commune against tyranny. His statue captures the biblical message of virtue over vice, liberty over tyranny and freedom over fear. That message still speaks to us today; and, in the context of the death of bin Laden, it provokes serious soul-searching. When an enemy, an oppressor, a dealer of death, meets his end, what is the proper response?Undoubtedly, there are many different responses to the death of bin Laden. Some take their cue from Proverbs 11:10 that states “when the wicked perish, there is jubilation.” Others, from Proverbs 24:17.18 that says “Rejoice not when your enemy falls…let not your heart exult, lest the Lord see it and be displeased with you…”There certainly is a legitimate sense of relief. A man whose murderous plots have harmed and killed so many is no longer able to realize his evil intentions. There is even a sense of justice. Had he been captured alive and brought to justice, would not the outcome have been the same? But should we not go even deeper in our reflection?Terrorists want full authority to impose on others their views of a monolithic society. The West, however, is committed to the freedom of the individual. The war waged by terrorists rises from a conflict of contrary political ideologies that does not end with the death of a single individual.When the Church began to preach the gospel of eternal life, the gospel that gives us true freedom, she had to face strong opposition from the political power of the day. Herod Agrippa I (10 B.C.-44 A.D.), grandson of Herod the Great, saw the Christians as a threat to the Pax Romana. He was ruthless in suppressing them. He beheaded the apostle James, the brother of John. He imprisoned Peter. He was intent on the systematic destruction of an ideology that was not his.Luke tells us that “the angel of the Lord struck him down…and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last” (Acts 12: 23). The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus confirms this (“Jewish Antiquities” 19.343-44). Yet, interesting enough, in Acts, there is no mention of great rejoicing at his death.Perhaps, Sacred Scripture is opening up for us two ways of viewing the death of bin Laden, the founder of al Qaeda. In as much as his ability to inflict harm and death on innocent people is ended, we can find some comfort and relief. In as much as a man, albeit one grossly mistaken about basic values is dead, we mute our rejoicing. As Vatican spokesperson Rev. Federico Lombardi said, “Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of each and every one of us before God and before man, and hopes and commits himself so that no event be an opportunity for further growth of hatred, but for peace.”In a word, the death of bin Laden is a moment of grave reflection for us as a nation and as individuals. It is a moment of truth. We will only have freedom and peace when we eradicate the evil of hatred, prejudice and violence from the human heart. Death brings death. Only the death of Jesus brings life. Jesus’ suffering and death is redemptive for all. The Cross of Jesus is the power to transform the human heart. In his death, we rejoice, for we have true freedom to love and to forgive.Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

Hell: A choice to be avoided

Apr 28, 2011 / 00:00 am

From Bartolomeo and Botticelli in the 15th century to Dore, Delacroix and Chenavard in more recent times, artists have delighted to portray on canvas Dante’s "Inferno."  Dante vividly describes his travels with the Roman poet Virgil into the underworld.  As he descends down a spiraling path, he passes through nine separate circular layers.  Each circle's sinners are punished in a fashion fitting their sin for all of eternity.At first, Dante moves downward through limbo where the unbaptized and virtuous pagans are and then to the places of punishment for the lustful, the gluttonous, the misers and spendthrifts, the wrathful and sullen, the heretics, the violent, the dishonest.  Finally, he reaches the lowest place in hell reserved for traitors who betray their families and their communities.  Contrary to the popular image of hell as a fiery torment, Dante places traitors in a lake of ice.  In the lowest place, he meets Judas who betrayed Jesus.  Dante has given many artists the material to create paintings, to sketch maps and to chart the hierarchy of hell.For many today, hell simply belongs to the trappings of medieval art or the musings of poetry.  Some churches have been scrubbed clean of religious symbols of hell and heaven as well.  Our art has become more horizontal, more community-centered.  Some argue that a more enlightened theology leaves little room for such negative images as punishment and hell.While contemporary theologians, preachers and catechists may not teach about hell, Jesus did.  During his public ministry, Jesus spoke often about hell. In fact, he spoke about it more than anyone in all of Sacred Scripture.  Certainly, Jesus did not want to turn religion into a response of fear.  But he did want to remind us of our own responsibility for our actions.  He wanted us to make the right choices that avoid damnation.Contrary to the poetic imagery of Dante’s "Inferno" and to the plain sense of Jesus’ teaching, many hold today that everyone goes to heaven.  No need for hell.  In one sense, this is a very consoling thought.  But the truth is much wider than this.The idea that everyone goes to heaven is not a new idea.  Origen, one of the most famous Christian writers of the third century, taught that “…the goodness of God, through the mediation of Christ, will bring all creatures to one and the same end” ("De Principiis" I.6.1-3).  In other words, at some point after the final coming of Christ, those in hell will have a chance to repent and go to heaven.  Whether Origen taught that everyone would actually repent and go to heaven is disputed.  Nonetheless, the teaching that there is the possibility of conversion after judgment was condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (553).God has a plan for his creation.  He has given us the freedom to accept or reject his all-wise plan for our good.  He loves us and he longs for us to love him in return.  But love, to be true love, can never be forced.  It must be free.  Those who do not take hell seriously do not take human freedom seriously.  “God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us” (St. Augustine, "Sermo" 169, 11, 13).Ultimately, the question of hell implies the reality of sin.  Both Augustine and Thomas defined sin as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law” (St. Augustine, "Contra Faustum" 22; St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I-II, 71, 6).  God has established an order or law within creation.  His order is for our good.  Sin is an act of disobedience against this order.  More than a mere infraction of an external law, sin is an offense against God who loves us and wants the best for us.  Sin fractures the relationship of trust and love that is due God who is all-good and cares for us.It is precisely because there is sin in the world that God has taken the initiative to repair the damage that sin causes.  He has acted to heal the fractured relationship between himself and us.  He has sent Jesus as our redeemer.  God loves us that much.“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 Jn 4:9).  His Son so loved us that he gave his life for us sinners.  The birth of Christ is one mystery with our redemption from sin.  God “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.  For, there is one God.  There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all” ( 1 Tim 2: 4-6).The Cross is God’s answer to sin.  God gave His Son for us and his Son died for us on the cross.  To deny sin and thus to exclude the possibility of hell is, therefore, to demean the great price of our redemption that opens for us the way to avoid hell and to choose heaven.

Doctors and health care professionals - their noble vocation

Feb 10, 2011 / 00:00 am

[On January 17, 2011, the first meeting of Catholic doctors took place at St. Paul Inside the Walls. Thus began the initiative to invite physicians to the Evangelization Center on a regular basis in order to respond to their needs as Catholic doctors in our secular culture. The article below contains the substance of Bishop Serratelli’s words of welcome to them.]“I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgment this oath… and never do harm to anyone.”So begins the Hippocratic Oath. It is one of the oldest binding documents in history. From the time of Hippocrates, doctors have uttered this solemn oath that bears his name. While praying to Asclepius and the other gods remains in the oath as a poetic reminder of more primitive times, the values of life, privacy and confidentiality that the oath promotes are as normative today as in ancient Greece.Hippocrates (460 BC-370 BC) was a Greek physician known today as the “Father of Medicine.” He revolutionized the practice of medicine. Hippocrates taught that diseases had a physical and a rational explanation. He refused to attribute illness to superstition. Rather, he based his medical practice on empirical observations and on the study of the human body. The Corpus Hippocraticum contains a wealth of information on biomedical methodology. These writings also offer one of the first reflective codes of professional ethics.Pope Pius XII once commented on the enduring significance of Hippocrates. The Pope said, “The works of Hippocrates are without doubt the noblest expression of a professional conscience which above all else calls for respect for life and self-sacrifice in relation to sick people and also pays attention to personal factors: self-control, dignity, reserve. He knew how to present moral norms and to integrate them into a broad and harmonious program of study, and he thus gave a present to civilization which was even more magnificent than that made by those who built empires” (Pope Pius XII, Discorso ai Medici, September 19, 1954).However, times have changed since Pope Pius XII spoke those words. With the legalization of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, the completion of the human genome project and, in some places, doctor-assisted suicide, there is no universal acceptance of the same moral norms governing the practice of medicine. In fact, since the late 1800s, many medical schools in America have abandoned taking the Hippocratic Oath as a part of their graduation ceremonies. Others have substituted a more modern version of the oath.Today, without an awareness of the ethical dimension of their work, professionals in medicine risk limiting themselves to the scientific and technological aspects of their work. Once this happens, “health care professionals can be strongly tempted…to become manipulators of life, or even agents of death. In the face of this temptation their responsibility today is greatly increased. Its deepest inspiration and strongest support lie in the intrinsic and undeniable ethical dimension of the medical profession” (Evangelium Vitae, 89).The Church has much to offer all those in the health care profession. Her teachings on medical issues are grounded in the natural law. They are discoverable and understandable by reason and enlightened by divine revelation that purifies and elevates our use of reason. The Church’s teachings, therefore, can give to all in the health care profession the guiding moral values that respect the dignity of the human person and the sacredness of life itself. With her teachings, the Church can offer a wider understanding that lifts medicine beyond a mere science to a healing art that promotes and safeguards God’s gift of life.Most assuredly, physicians bear a high responsibility for life itself. Doctors provide an invaluable service for life — all aspects of life —  physical, emotional and spiritual. Every day, those in the medical profession face the basic realities of life: birth, growth, sickness, suffering and death. Good doctors care not just for the body, but for the whole person. The more Catholic doctors come to understand the Church’s teachings on medical issues, the more they can benefit the common good.Ultimately, being a doctor or healthcare worker is more than being engaged in a respected profession. It is responding, day and night, to a most special vocation given by God. It is “from God, the doctor has his wisdom” (Sir 38:2). The health care profession is a call to share in the very work of the Lord himself.All four gospels give us the portrait of Jesus actively engaged in healing. He spent his public ministry bringing to those who accepted his word wholeness of the mind, body and soul. He continues his work of healing by gifting certain individuals with the talents, abilities and desires to work in medicine. Theirs is a most noble profession, for the human face of medicine is always a reflection of the compassionate face of Christ, the Good Samaritan, who has come that we “might have life and have life in abundance” (Jn 10:10).Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

A time for truth: the bold voice of religion in public

Jan 13, 2011 / 00:00 am

This past November, the American Atheists organization provoked a debate. But not without merit. As soon as the Christians began their Advent services in church and their Christmas shopping in the malls, some atheists attacked the very fact that Jesus was born. They put up a billboard on the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel that boldly declared, “You know it's a myth. This season, celebrate reason.” Nearly 80% of Americans are professedly Christian.  How neighborly is it to demean their faith at one of the most festive Christian holy days? Whatever happened to tolerance?  Does it no longer apply to Christians? And what about civility?  No surprise that the atheists’ challenge to faith was met with an immediate response. And on both sides of the Lincoln Tunnel! The Catholic League answered with its own billboard on the New York side of the tunnel. Its billboard assured readers by saying, “You Know It's Real: This Season Celebrate Jesus.” The Manhattan-based Times Square Church put up their message on the very same billboard that the atheists had used on the New Jersey side of the tunnel. It simply said, “God is.”At the same time that Lincoln Tunnel commuters between New York and New Jersey were caught up in the debate over God and Christmas, so were people of Texas. The Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason posted an ad on four buses that read, “Millions of Americans are good without God.” Yes, there are many agnostics and atheists who are good. The very statement hardly denies the existence of God. In fact, the contrary is true.  To what does one appeal to say what is good and what is evil, what is right and what is wrong? How does one judge what is good, if there is no objective standard?The philosopher Kant did not try to show the reasonableness of belief in God from a cosmological or teleological argument. Rather, he turned to the experience of goodness and the sense of right that is common to all decent individuals. For example, if an elderly woman is being victimized in the parking lot of the local supermarket, most people who see this would feel the duty to help. This universal sense of justice does not prove the existence of God. Rather, it implies it. It leads one to accept as reasonable a God who is good and instills in us a sense of goodness.Kant once said, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe...the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” Therefore, when atheists advertise that “Millions of Americans are good without God,” they are paradoxically admitting that there is a God who determines what is good and what is not. True rational ethical judgment leads us to do good and avoid evil. It is a gift given us by the Creator who is himself all-good.In a pluralistic society, a healthy secularism can provide a climate of tolerance and respect. Church and State are not the same. Religion and politics have their own special competency. Religion should never be forced on any one. But moral values that the great religions teach are discernible by reason and imperative on all. A society that marginalizes religion and turns God into a private hypothesis is ultimately removing the very foundation for the common good.In our present day society, the media does give religion much attention. Often it is negative. The reporting of scandals and sins, past and present - repeated, rehearsed and headlined - serve only to muffle the voice of religion. Some even wonder whether this is deliberate. Is there an agenda to influence the average person’s view of faith and religion? When religion becomes a negative, lawmakers can comfortably pass laws that single out church and religious institutions and harm them in an adverse way without applying the same standard to all. Ostensibly, proponents of such laws may act for good reasons, but ultimately their actions cripple religion’s voice to speak on moral issues.The dignity of the human person. The just distribution of this world’s goods. Care for the environment. The respect due immigrants. The sanctity of life from conception to natural death. The need for sound, universal health care. The family. In the coming new year, we must face these and other serious issues. Our stance will determine whether we continue as a great civilization or are confined to the dustpan of history. Religion teaches that there is more to this world than matter. Religion upholds the spiritual values of self-sacrifice, charity, justice, tolerance and non-violence. But ridicule faith, demean religion and, in the end, morality vanishes.In years past, America has always welcomed religion in the public forum. On the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to our country, President Bush remarked, “Here in America you’ll find a nation that welcomes the role of faith in the public square.  When our founders declared our nation’s independence, they rested their case on an appeal to the ‘laws of nature, and of nature’s God.’ We believe in religious liberty. We also believe that a love for freedom and a common moral law are written into every human heart and that these constitute the firm foundation on which any successful free society must be built” (April 16, 2008).The atheists are right in this: reason makes us celebrate. With the knowledge given us through science and technology, with the sense of right and wrong impressed on us by the Creator and with the mystery of Christ among us, we can make our country great. We can make our world a true home for all, if we dare to be courageous in our faith and public in our beliefs. Now is the time for truth. The whole truth. The truth that religion can offer.Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

The digital continent: a theological perspective

Dec 16, 2010 / 00:00 am

The Internet, email, Twitter, Facebook, mobile phones and iPods are creating a major cultural phenomenon in society. And this is happening almost overnight. Black and white television broadcasting began in the United States on July 1, 1941. It took 10 years for 4 million TV sets to be sold and 13 years for television to reach 50 million users. After the iPod was introduced, it took only nine months for 1 billion applications to be downloaded.There are many advantages to the digital continent on which we now live. We can learn the news, seek information and do research at the touch of our fingers. Businesses and universities can conduct their work interactively. And, we can stay in touch with family and friends instantly even at great distances.Yet, there are disadvantages as well. Information is not edited. Anyone can post anything on the internet. Opinions can appear as truth. False information can masquerade as fact.  And, personal identities can be hidden. Furthermore, the Internet can be co-opted for prurient interests. Every second, 28,258 Internet users view pornography. In 47% percent of families, this has become a problem. Nine out of ten children between the ages of eight and sixteen are unwillingly exposed to pornography on the Internet. One in five U.S. teenagers who regularly log on to the Internet encounters unwanted sexual solicitation.  Predators employ the Internet to contact the young, to engage them in sexually explicit conversations and sometimes to set up meetings to abuse them.With all its advantages and misuses, the new means of communication are now radically altering the very way we relate to each other socially. Without face to face conversation, we can distance ourselves from the immediate impact of our words on the other. We can hurt another and be detached at the same time. The other is affected and we remain immune from their feelings. This is a true loss in the quality of interpersonal relationships.The thrill of virtual connectedness with so many individuals at great ease disguises the challenges inherent in forming good relationships. It creates a false sense of connectedness. In fact, an immersion in social networking through digital communication takes away from interacting with those close at hand. Text-messaging someone at a distance removes the individual from actual quality face time with family, classmates or coworkers right before them. The young person using an iPod during dinner may be very well in tune with his or her favorite pop singer and, at the same time, be totally out of touch with the family at the table. If this practice of communicating with those at a distance and ignoring those close at hand becomes a habit, the individual effectively can withdraw from the real world.Nonetheless, it is important to note that the thrill that lifts up so many who experience connectedness on the digital continent is actually rooted in the fundamental structure of the human person. We are made to communicate with each other.  As Pope Benedict XVI has said, “When we find ourselves drawn towards other people, when we want to know more about them and make ourselves known to them, we are responding to God’s call -- a call that is imprinted in our nature as beings created in the image and likeness of God, the God of communication and communion” (Pope Benedict XVI, Message for 2009 World Day of Communication).  We have been created in the image and likeness of God. And, God is communio. God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons, equal, distinct, in eternal relatedness to each other. To make best use of the new technology, our communication itself should mirror God in whose image we have been made.Thus, every communication should be marked by at least three basic qualities. First, there must be a generous giving of self to the other. Just as the Father does not hold back all he is, but gives all that he is to the Son, we should be open and generous to the other, not using the other for our own self-gratification. Second, just as the Son is the Word uttered by the Father and is, therefore, Truth itself, all our words need to be truthful. We should not spread misinformation or disseminate falsehood. Third, just as the Holy Spirit is the bond of unity between the Father and the Son, our communication with the other should draw us closer together. It should never isolate us from others. Rather, it should connect us in mutual care and concern for each other.When our use of the new means of social networking is self-giving, truthful and loving, it then becomes “ a reflection of our participation in the communicative and unifying Love of God, who desires to make of all humanity one family” (Pope Benedict XVI, Message for 2009 World Day of Communication). And, then our migration to the digital continent moves us closer to our true home in heaven.Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

Immigration - Pizza, Pita and Pancit

Aug 5, 2010 / 00:00 am

Ever since the Mayflower landed and one hundred English colonists set foot on the soil of this country, America has faced the issue of foreigners coming to a new land.  For the last two centuries, our country has welcomed and absorbed millions of people from every corner of the earth and we have grown strong.  The history of the United States is the story of immigrants. The flow of immigrants has been constant, only interrupted by the two World Wars and the Great Depression. During the 17th century, immigrants came to colonial America mostly from England. In the 19th century, there was a greater influx of immigrants from northern Europe.  With the beginning of the twentieth-century, immigrants came mainly from Southern and Eastern Europe.  After 1965, greater numbers arrived from Latin America and Asia.  Today’s immigrants come from Mexico, the Philippines, India, Vietnam, China, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Ukraine, Russia and Jamaica.  Some statistics claim that the United States accepts more legal immigrants as permanent residents than all other countries in the world combined.Within the last ten years, there has been a growing concern that the arrival of an increasing number of illegal immigrants has a negative impact on our economic growth, our social system and our national security.  Historically, our government has not been consistent in controlling our borders.  Our federal government has not provided strong leadership in passing and enforcing laws governing immigration in a uniform way.  As a result, state and local authorities have tried to cope with the situation in different ways, sometimes ineffectively, sometimes harshly. When he was a senator from Illinois, President Obama made this statement on the floor of the U.S Senate: “The time to fix our broken immigration system is now... We need stronger enforcement on the border and at the workplace... But for reform to work, we also must respond to what pulls people to America... Where we can reunite families, we should. Where we can bring in more foreign-born workers with the skills our economy needs, we should.”  When we talk about any reform of immigration law, there are two basic principles that need to be respected.  First of all, any sovereign nation has the right and the duty to enforce just immigration laws for the common good of all its citizens.  Public safety should always be safeguarded.  The rule of law needs to be respected by all.  This is a matter of justice. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption.  Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens” (2241).  Secondly, individuals have the right to migrate in order to provide for themselves and their families.  As Pope John Paul II once said, “those who are more influential, because they have a greater share of goods and common services, should feel responsible for the weaker and be ready to share with them all they possess” (Pope John Paul II, Solicitudo Rei Socialis, 39).  Therefore, every nation has the duty to welcome the foreigner insofar as that nation can, all the time respecting the dignity and rights of the human person.  This is a matter of charity.  In terms of the particulars, a comprehensive immigration reform would include good law enforcement. Order is a sine qua non of a stable society. Those who threaten the common good, such as human traffickers, terrorists, drug dealers or thieves, should receive certain and sure attention from law enforcement so as to guarantee the safety of all. Both the border and the interior of the country need to be made secure. But these are only the externals. There should also be provisions to replace illegal migration with legal migration. The many undocumented individuals who are part of our workforce and who make a substantial contribution to our economic well-being should be given a path to earn citizenship. This would balance both charity and justice to these individuals. Furthermore, any reform should not ignore the human situation of the family. The family is the building block of society.  At the present time, it may take years, even through legal means, to reunite families broken by migration.  The consequences are not pleasant. At times, this only serves to foster more illegal immigration.  These three elements, proper law enforcement, a way to earn legal status and consideration for family unity, can be dealt with immediately and with good results. The deeper issues will take more time, but must also be addressed. We need to deal with the reasons why people freely migrate from other countries to ours. Most come for greater economic opportunities.  They come because they want to work and they cannot find jobs in their home country. In an interview during his flight to America on April 15, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI said, “The fundamental solution [to the situation of immigrants in the United States] is that there would no longer exist the need to emigrate because there would be in one's own country sufficient work, a sufficient social fabric, such that no one has to emigrate… This is in the interest of everyone, not just of these countries, but of the world, and also of the United States.”                                                                                                                                 From the beginning, America has opened its doors to immigrants. With silent lips, she has said to other nations in difficult times, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” (Emma Lazarus, 1883).  Our charity to others has made our country great.  Those who have come to America have opened our tastes to such culinary treats as pizza, pita and pancit.  More importantly, they have opened our lives to many cultural and social gains that have kept America young and growing.Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

Arizona's New Law and the Issue of Immigration

Jul 29, 2010 / 00:00 am

On Friday, April 23, 2010, the governor of Arizona signed into law a new immigration bill (SB10700) that has plunged the nation into a heated debate.  The new bill seeks, as its goal, to deport illegal immigrants.  The new bill directs state and local police to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are illegal.  If the person questioned is not carrying his or her immigration documents, the police have the right to detain that individual.  However, this attempt to identify who is legal and who is not legal poses some serious questions about civil rights and ethnic and racial profiling.  Understandably, the new bill has unleashed protests and divided Americans in the highly controversial question of national immigration reform.  President Barack Obama himself has weighed in on the debate.  He has strongly criticized the new bill.  He said that the Arizona law threatened “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.” The present economic crisis makes some Americans very slow to seek ways of integrating the undocumented in our society.  We are now experiencing the highest rate of unemployment in a decade.  Today, there are more than 15.4 million Americans without work.  At the same time, there are at least 8.3 million illegal immigrants part of America’s work force.  The presence of illegal aliens escalates the costs of medical services, education and, at times, the justice system in local communities.  At the same time that we recognize the cost to the taxpayer for illegal immigrants, we cannot forget that illegal immigrants in our workforce make a significant contribution to our society.  They willingly take jobs that Americans do not want to do.  Overall U.S. citizens gain an estimated $37 billion a year from immigrants’ participation in the U.S. economy, according to the President’s Council of Economic Advisors.  Immigrants pay property taxes, sales taxes and gas taxes.  Some experts estimate that their contribution to Social Security comes close to $9 billion per year.  Paycheck withholding collects much of the federal tax from illegal workers, just as it does for legal workers.  The Social Security Administration estimates that 75% of illegal immigrants pay Social Security taxes as well as Medicare taxes.  However, illegal immigrants who pay into the system have little hope of filing for a refund or drawing a Social Security check.The number of illegal immigrants to this country increases daily. Officials estimate that the illegal immigrant population grows by as many as 500,000 every year.  At the present time, there may be anywhere from 10 to 13 million undocumented aliens.  The borders between the U.S. and Mexico and the U.S. and Canada are porous.  Thousands sneak through from many other countries.  They come from Mexico and South America as well as countries more distant such as Yemen, Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan.  Not all of them come to live the American dream. Many immigrants face serious challenges. Their own safety is threatened as they make their way to this country.  Families are broken when one parent comes to seek a better life for the family and the rest of the family is left behind.  Children who do come have the opportunity to experience two different cultures, but they also face the problems of adjustment and the need for special help.  They need to be educated and integrated into our society for the benefit of all.  Not all immigrants come willingly to this country. As many as 17,000 individuals are trafficked across our borders every year.  Men, women and children are forced into labor and exploited at times for sex.  There is a very ugly side to a badly regulated immigration flow into the United States. Very much aware of the situation of immigrants to our country, Pope Benedict XVI, in his April 2008 visit to the U.S., addressed the issue.  He emphasized the importance of treating immigrants with dignity and in a humane manner.  Immediately, CNN anchor Lou Dobbs sharply criticized him for even speaking out about the issue.  U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo (R-Littleton) went so far as to insinuate that the Pope was engaging in faith-based marketing, trying to recruit new members for the Church.  Clearly, the presence of immigrants among us evokes both compassion and anger. Rightly does the majority of Americans favors immigration reform.  Eighty-nine percent of Americans see illegal immigration into the country as a serious problem.  Some even think that the quota for legal immigration is too high.  Our present system is not working.  The issue of immigrants in our country continues to raise the temperature of our political climate.  It is not an issue that will simply go away.  In fact, immigration all too easily can become a shibboleth in a political campaign.  All of us, both those in political office and ordinary citizens, need to be informed on immigration in order to fix in a just and effective way a system that is not working.  But, how can this be done?Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

The Media and the Church: What is Truth?

May 20, 2010 / 00:00 am

A few weeks ago on Good Friday, nearly 2,000 people crowded the city streets of Paterson, N.J. With great devotion, they reenacted the Way of the Cross. Their public act of faith could not go unnoticed. A local newspaper reported the event. However, the newspaper numbered the crowd at 200 people. A mere mathematical mistake?Since 1974, one year after the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion, thousands of people, young and old, have descended on our nation’s capitol for the March for Life. They publicly stand for the truth that the child in the womb has the right to life and that abortion is an inherently evil act. Each January the number of people participating in this international event increases. This past Jan. 22, a crowd somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 people marched for two hours from the center of the Mall to the Supreme Court.Even though the March for Life is one of the largest mass movements in America, the media chooses to ignore it. Most mainstream newscasters simply do not report the event. If they do, not only do they focus their attention on the less than five dozen protesters who oppose the march, but they also grossly underestimate the vast number of people. A mistake in basic addition?In 1943, Pope Pius XII ordered convents and monasteries in Italy to give refuge to Jews whose lives were sought by the Nazis. 4,238 Roman Jews found safety in 155 monasteries. 3,000 Jews found refuge in the pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. Almost 40 Jewish babies were born in the pope’s own apartment.Even before his involvement in these clandestine actions to save Jews, Pope Pius XII gave a number of speeches at Christmas in 1941 and 1942. His words were broadcasted by radio. In fact, the day after the pope’s 1941 Christmas address, The New York Times, in its editorial, applauded the pope as a “lonely” voice of public protest against Hitler. His words were clearly understood at the time as a condemnation of the Nazi attacks on Europe’s Jews. Likewise, Oct. 1, 1942, The London Times praised the pope for his condemnation of the Nazis and for his public support for the Jewish victims.On Sept. 21, 1945, Dr. Leon Kubowitzky, the Secretary-General of the World Jewish Congress, thanked the Holy Father for all he did for the Jewish people during the war. In 1955, in gratitude for all the efforts of the Holy Father for the Jewish people, the Jews of Italy declared April 17 a “Day of Thankfulness.” After the death of Pope Pius XII, Golda Meir, the fourth Prime Minister of Israel, praised the Pope for his courage and spoken words.One of the most intriguing proofs about Pope Pius XII’s care for the Jewish people came in February of 1945. Rabbi Israel Zolli, chief rabbi of the synagogue in Rome, converted to Catholicism. When he was baptized, he took as his Christian name Eugenio. He wished to honor Pope Pius XII, who was born Eugenio Pacelli. With this gesture of esteem, Zolli expressed his personal gratitude for the Holy Father’s goodness to the Jewish people.Some in the media, however, have ignored historical facts. They have chosen to recast Pope Pius XII as the silent pope. They hold him responsible for the loss of Jewish lives during the Second World War. Why this rewriting of history?In 1963, Rolf Hochhuth published The Deputy. Hochhuth attacked Pope Pius XII as an anti-Semite and a dupe of the Nazi regime. Even though leaders in the Jewish community had warmly thanked and honored the pope for his efforts during the war, the media simply misreported the facts and upped the polemic against the pope. A mere mistake in judgment? Hardly!This year, as Catholics joined other Christians in celebrating the Holy Week, newspapers published with unrelenting regularity reports that cast a dark shadow over Pope Benedict XVI and his alleged cover-up in cases of clerical abuse. These stories continue. Are these stories an honest attempt to inform the public? Do the media really do the art of journalism justice when they misrepresent facts or headline what certain interest groups say? Or is there something of an aversion to the Catholic Church? After all, to discredit the integrity of the Holy Father is to discredit the Church herself. Could this not be the source of so much of the anti-Catholic news?There are more than 65 million Catholics in the United States. That is almost 20 times more than the number of Jews or Muslims in America. It also is four times more than the number of Southern Baptists. Worldwide, Catholics number more than 1.1 billion members. The Sunni Muslims come in next with about 100 million. Given the number of Catholics, we should not be surprised to find many more articles about Catholics. But always their failings? Always the same reports repeated again and again? Could this be a lack of honest journalism?Journalism is a noble art. It requires the discipline of research to find out the facts and the power of judgment to evaluate them. Good journalism never distorts the facts either by false reporting or by failing to place statements in their proper context. Truthful journalism does not rely on scandalous and misleading headlines to gain readership.The media need to hold sacred the trust that many people place in their words. Bias and prejudice never serve the common good. When the canons of reliable reporting and commentary are not respected in one area by the media, how can we be sure that they are respected elsewhere? We are left wondering with Pilate, “What is truth?”Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

Barnabas: A Model for Believers in A Time of Need

May 13, 2010 / 00:00 am

The ancient Greeks had some profound sayings about human friendship.  Aristotle defined friendship as “one soul dwelling in two bodies.”  Plato spoke of the practical consequences of this ideal.  He said, “Friends have all things in common.” The bond of friendship so valued among the pagans was a lived reality that united the first Christians in love.  In the opening pages of the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke tells us that “the community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). After the account of Pentecost, Acts records the mighty deeds accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The apostles preach the gospel courageously. Many are converted to the faith through their word.  Miracles accompany their ministry.  Joy fills their hearts even in the face of persecution. After these amazing beginnings of the Church, Actssuddenly records the rather mundane account of the first property sale in the primitive community for the good of the needy.  St. Luke, the author of Acts, wants us to see that the lofty side of the Church is not divorced from the practical side of living.  Followers of Jesus who are moved by the Holy Spirit witness to the truth not just by their words but by their deeds of charity. Christianity is about fellowship.  It is about sharing in very concrete ways.  It is the friends of Jesus being friends with each other. St. Luke tells us that “there was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need” (Acts 4:34-35). In this context, we meet Barnabas for the very first time. This man will have a very important role in the spread of the Christian faith.  But the first thing that we learn about him is the fact that he “sold a piece of property that he owned, then brought the money and put it at the feet of the apostles” (Acts 4:37). Barnabas came from a Jewish family on Cyprus.  He was a Levite whose office required him to spend some time in Jerusalem.  He was related to Mark, the author of the first written gospel, whose family lived in Jerusalem.  There is even a tradition that numbers Barnabas among the seventy disciples that Jesus sent out on mission (Clement of Alexandria, (Stromata II.20; Eusebius, Church History II.1).  No doubt he was one of the earliest disciples of the Lord. The fact that Barnabas is mentioned twenty-three times in Acts and five times in the letters of Paul witnesses his importance.  After Paul’s conversion, it was Barnabas who introduced Paul to the apostles (cf. Acts 9:27).  Quite possibly, Barnabas and Paul had known each other when they were fellow students at the feet of the famous rabbi Gamaliel.  Barnabas’ ability to secure Paul’s acceptance by the leaders of the Church shows the esteem that Barnabas himself had in the eyes of the apostles. So much trust did the apostles in Jerusalem place in Barnabas that, when they heard that the Church was spreading among the Gentiles at Antioch, they sent Barnabas to do an apostolic visitation and report his findings back to them.  Antioch, present day Antakya, Turkey, was the third most important city of the Roman Empire.  It was the capital of the province of Syria.  When Barnabas arrived in Antioch, he was so impressed with the entrance of so many Gentiles into the Church that he went to Tarsus to enlist the help of Paul. In his list of the prophets and teachers at Antioch, St. Luke mentions Barnabas first (Acts 13:1).  No doubt he was a very good preacher.  This may well have been the reason why he was chosen to undertake a missionary outreach of the Church to the world.  The Church of Antioch sent Barnabas together with Paul to spread the gospel.  Even though this endeavor later came to be known as Paul’s first missionary journey, Barnabas was really in charge.  With great success, Barnabas, together with Paul, evangelized the regions of Cyprus and Central and Southern Anatolia in present-day Turkey (cf. Acts 13-14). We can discover something of the reason for Barnabas’ great missionary success in what is first recorded of him in Acts.  He sold his property.  True generosity is never found in just one area of our life.  It spontaneously erupts in all our actions. Barnabas gave away what he owned for the good of the Church. Here was a believer ready to give generously for the sake of others.  Just as he shared his material possessions, he willingly shared with others his greatest treasure, his love of Jesus and his love of the Church.  Here is an apostle worthy of imitation, in any age, but most especially in this day where there is much need, both material and, more profoundly, spiritual.Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

The Daughters of Jerusalem - Sin and Punishment

Mar 25, 2010 / 00:00 am

Within forty years of Jesus’ death, Jerusalem lay in ruins.  The Roman army led by the future Emperor Titus, lay siege to the Holy City and utterly destroyed it.  Buildings crumbled to the ground.  Cedar roofs turned to ashes.  Like a volcano gone wild, the heights of Jerusalem spewed deadly fumes.  The all engulfing fire hurled the Temple stones, some weighing 50 and 100 tons, down like pebbles at the mercy of the angry tempest.  The Temple was razed.  Even to the Roman soldiers, the sight of Jerusalem ablaze with flames and fallen was an appalling spectacle. The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, claims that 1,100,000 people were killed during the siege.  97,000 were captured and enslaved. All this took place on the 10th of August, in A.D. 70 (the 9th of Av, in Jewish reckoning).  This was the very day when the King of Babylon had burned the Temple in 586 B.C. Jesus had warned about this impending disaster when he spoke to the Daughters of Jerusalem on his way to the Cross.  He had said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’  At that time people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ for if these things are done when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Lk 23:28-31).  Thus, when Titus torched the city and destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem, Jesus’ words became fact. The same message that Jesus spoke to the women of Jerusalem, he publicly said to all.  When teaching in the Temple on the Tuesday of the last week of his life, Jesus spoken vividly in apocalyptic terms about the coming destruction.  He said, “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, know that its desolation is at hand…for these days are the time of punishment…Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days, for a terrible calamity will come upon the earth and a wrathful judgment upon this people.  They will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken as captives to all the Gentiles; and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles…” (Lk 21:20-24; cf. also Mt 24: 15-21; Mk 13:14-19). In repeating this message to the women of Jerusalem before he is crucified, Jesus quotes a proverb. He says, “If these things are done when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Lk 23:31).  What do these enigmatic words of Jesus mean? In the proverb, the expression “when the wood is green” is placed in opposition to the expression “when it [the wood] is dry.” “When the wood is green” represents a time when things are flourishing and there is freedom to grow.  “When it [the wood] is dry” represents a time when life becomes barren and arid, when life is oppressive and difficult.  In the proverb, the passive voice is used.  This is a polite way to avoid naming the intended subjects.  But, the subjects can easily be supplied.  In the first part of the proverb, the subject is the Jewish people: in the second part, it is the Romans. With this proverb, Jesus is telling his own people that, if they treat him as they do with such cruelty in his passion and death when they are not being forced to do so by the Romans, how much more harshly will the Romans treat them when they deal with their rebellion.  Jesus is delicately predicting the inevitable consequence of turning from the truth that God gives us His warning is not limited to the people of his day. When we turn away from God and sin, we suffer.  Greed, pride, and envy lead to dissension.  When these sins are translated into imperialistic nationalism and aggressive economic competition, at times they tragically escalate into wars.  There comes a point when even reform cannot stay the punishment for sin.  This is never a popular message.  But Jesus is too concerned for our welfare not to speak the truth.Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

The Manhattan Declaration: A Wake-up Call for Christians

Dec 24, 2009 / 00:00 am

In an increasingly secularized society, believers find themselves at times under attack. Not to recognize this would be grossly naïve. Under the guise of political correctness, Christian beliefs and values are ridiculed by professors, politicians, entertainers and news people. The Manhattan Declaration, released on Nov. 20, . squarely faces this reality. It reminds readers that, for 2,000 years, Christians have never shrunk from a bold witness to the truths of their faith. Christians have faced tyranny, oppression, suffering and death without giving up their principles. The controversy over abortion rights and gay rights has effectively created a cultural division within our nation. The Manhattan Declaration addresses this division. The document transcends political ideologies and party affiliations. It affirms those values that are the building blocks of a moral and just society. Activists brazenly promote tolerance of realities that are clearly contrary to Sacred Scripture, the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and the natural law. However, they show little tolerance for those whose views differ from theirs. As the declaration says, “It is ironic that those who today assert a right to kill the unborn, aged and disabled and also a right to engage in immoral sexual practices, and even a right to have relationships integrated around these practices be recognized and blessed by law — such persons claiming these ‘rights’ are very often in the vanguard of those who would trample upon the freedom of others to express their religious and moral commitments to the sanctity of life and to the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife.” The Manhattan Declaration challenges Christians to rouse themselves from the delusion that a value-neutral society can be anything less than anti-Christian. Freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are threatened. There are efforts to eliminate or render ineffective the existing conscience protections for healthcare institutions and professionals. Anti-discrimination statutes could easily become a ready weapon to coerce religious institutions, charities and businesses to engage in activities that they judge immoral. In the end, non-compliance would force them to close.Christian organizations are already losing tax-exempt status when they refuse to accept same-sex unions. Christian agencies which will not provide a child for adoption to gay or lesbian couples are simply going out of the adoption business. In our day, “freedom of choice” has become a one-way street. The Manhattan Declaration warns civil authorities that faithful Christians cannot stand by as their values are destroyed. The declaration states, “We will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriage or the equivalent or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family…We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence.” This bold statement recognizes our present situation for what it is. The co-initiators of The Manhattan Declaration are not only honest in their judgment, but prophetic in their vision. Any society not built on the inherent truth and dignity of the human person will only be a transient monument to human achievement in science and technology. As a City of Man, it will rise and fall and crumble in the dust. At the height of the reign of Queen Victoria, the English poet Kipling composed a poem entitled “Recessional” to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Proud of his country’s accomplishments, he was not blinded by his country’s grandeur. He warned the English that empires rise and fall. He said, “Lo, all our pomp of yesterday / is one with Nineveh and Tyre!” With a sense of the goodness and courage of all Christians, the co-signers of The Manhattan Declaration have issued their statement as a wake-up call. America will be great as long as America is moral. In the words of Kipling, “Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, lest we forget, lest we forget!”[This is the second of two columns on The Manhattan Declaration.]Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

The Manhattan Declaration: Christians Confront Caesar

Dec 17, 2009 / 00:00 am

The history of the world is the tale of cities that rise and fall. Nineveh,Tyre, Babylon, Jerusalem and Ancient Rome all crumbled and fell. When the Germanic Odoacer deposed the last Roman emperor in 476 A.D., Rome fell not simply because of the invading vandals, it fell because it was corrupt from within. Decadence, economic downturn, government incompetence and military troubles helped bring Rome down.Writing at the time of the fall of Rome, St. Augustine offered one of the most lasting interpretations of human history seen with the eye of faith and reason as well. In his monumental work, "The City of God," the great theologian-bishop of Hippo offered a Christian vision of history and its meaning. He spoke of two cities, the City of God and the City of Man. The earthly city builds its foundation on wealth, power and pleasure. The City of God, however, is totally devoted to the glory of God. The two cities demand allegiance. However, it is impossible to be a citizen of the one and still pledge allegiance to the other.By birth, we are citizens of this world. By our rebirth of water and the Spirit, we belong to the City of God. Constantly we must choose between the City of Man and the City of God. Many today find it increasingly more difficult to hold on in public to their Christian identity and be seen as citizens of the City of God. Some even make the schizophrenic choice of professing privately one truth with their faith and then living publicly in a way that denies what they say they believe.Sadly at times, those who make our laws blatantly disregard the values of the vast majority of citizens. Today public sentiment has moved in a pro-life direction. A recent Gallup Poll found 51 percent of Americans pro-life and only 42 percent pro-abortion. This is the first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking the question.Even so, the pro-abortion ideology prevails today in our government.Our leaders and legislators all too readily capitulate to a social agenda that is anti-life and anti-Christian. They make choices that undermine the very Christian principles upon which has been founded not only America, but all of Western civilization. Lawmakers swayed by the secularism of our age enact public policies that force Christians to live in conflict with their consciences. As these lawmakers appropriate tax payers’ money to fund public polices for abortion-on-demand, same-sex unions, and embryonic stem cell research, they draw the line in the sand between allegiance to the City of God and allegiance to the City of Man.Recently Christian leaders from many different Churches — Southern Baptists, Anglicans, Orthodox, Catholic, Presbyterians, Methodists and Pentecostals — rose above the walls of separation that divide us. Together they made an historic statement. On November 20, 2009, at the National Press Club in New York, they issued a 4,700-plus word document entitled The Manhattan Declaration. More than 125 leaders signed the document. They reaffirmed the unanimous Christian tradition that stands firmly for the sanctity of life, the reality of marriage as a union of one man and one woman and religious liberty. These courageous leaders of all faiths have thrown down the gauntlet, saying “We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar's. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God's.”To be continued…Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

Pentecost - The Feast of Hope for Humanity

Jun 4, 2009 / 00:00 am

Fidel Castro promised change for Cuba in 1959.  Pervez Musharraf promised Pakistan a true democracy and then, after his bloodless coup, was seen by many as a dictator.  The Palestinians voted Hamas into power in 2006 because they wanted their situation to change.  With each new government that comes to power whether through election or revolution, there is one word that motivates every poll or putsch, every coup or campaign. It is the word “change” (cf. Joel Hilliker, “Change Is Coming,” September 10, 2008,, not one form of leadership, not one form of economic policy, has brought about the return to Paradise.  Utopia is still a dream.  People under kings and presidents, dictators and tyrants, assemblies and councils have always clamored for change.  Still peace remains an elusive ideal for a world riddled with division.  No rhetoric repeating politics’ perennial promise of change can usher in a true community for any age.However, what we cannot do on our own power, God does for us on Pentecost.  He sends his Holy Spirit who unites God’s children into a community where all are respected and all are loved.  He forms the disciples of Jesus into the Church.  Pentecost is, thus, not only the birthday of the Church, but also the feast of true hope for humanity.Ten days after the Ascension, 120 followers of Jesus were gathered in Jerusalem.  In obedience to the command of the Lord Jesus, they were waiting and praying for the promise of the Spirit.  They may have been very eager for the expected gift, but they were also very fearful. They were meeting behind closed doors.By law, all Jews living within twenty miles of Jerusalem had to attend the Pentecost feast in Jerusalem.  To their number were added the thousands of other Jews from neighboring districts and countries.  About a half-million people would have been in the Holy City for the event of Pentecost that Luke records in Acts of the Apostles.“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.  And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.  Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem.  At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.  They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, ‘Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?  Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language?’ ” (Act 2:1-8).The Holy Spirit comes down on the disciples on the very day when the Jews are celebrating the gift of the Torah (the Law) on Mt. Sinai. With the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, Israel entered into a covenant. With the gift of the Holy Spirit on Mt. Zion, the Church becomes God’s people through the New Covenant.According to rabbinic tradition, on the fiftieth day (pentecostos) following the Exodus from Egypt, God gave the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The Torah was written on the tablets of stone by “the finger of God” (Ex 31:18; Deut 9:10), that is, by the Spirit of God (compare Luke 11:20 with Matthew 12:28). On the fiftieth day after Easter, God gives the Holy Spirit, the perfect law of liberty, not written on stones, but within our hearts (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:17).Pentecost changes the disciples.  No more fear.  No more division.  No more closed doors. They pour into the streets and preach the gospel and they are understood.  Three years earlier, John the Baptist had predicted, "One mightier than I is coming.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." (Mk 3:6.8) The prophecy is now fulfilled.Fire burns away what is useless. Fire refines what is noble. Fire melts the cold and unites the divided. On Pentecost, the fire of the Holy Spirit purifies and refines, unites and inspires the hearts of the disciples. As one Church united in faith, the disciples of Jesus burn with love for the Lord and the desire to share him with all.When Luke speaks to us in Acts about the tongues of fire (cf. Acts 2:3) at Pentecost, he connects what takes place in Jerusalem with what took place on top of Mt. Sinai in the desert in the time of Moses.  The Jewish Hellenistic writer Philo explains that God’s words at Sinai came first as flames which then became words and voices.  These words from God were divided into seventy tongues of flames--i.e. the tongues of the 70 nations.  God’s voice at Sinai separated into tongues of flame that went throughout the earth, so that all nations could hear:“I am the Lord your God … you shall have no other gods before me”(Ex 20:2-3).On Sinai, according to rabbinic tradition, God’s Word was heard by all the nations, but only Israel responded and became his people.  With the gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s word is now heard and understood by all.  What astonished those who witnessed the Pentecost event was not so much that those filled with the Holy Spirit were speaking in so many tongues.  Rather it was the fact that when the disciples spoke, those present heard and understood them in their own language (Act 2:18).Thus what began on Mt. Sinai with the formation of the God’s People comes to completion in the Paschal Mystery on Pentecost.  The Church is born. She transcends the boundaries of nations and the divisions of man.The Holy Spirit, who is the love of God poured out into our hearts (cf. Rm 5:5), opens our hearts and makes them capable of understanding other people.  Human pride always creates divisions. The Holy Spirit draws us together.  Individualism throws up walls of indifference and separation.  The Holy Spirit breaks down barriers and unites.  Selfishness breeds confusion.  The Holy Spirit creates communion.  The Holy Spirit makes us the dwelling-place of God, the holy temple.  He brings about the one change for which the world longs.  He makes us, so diverse, one from the other, members of the Church. And “the Church is that portion of humanity [which]…has peace as its privileged manifestation.  It is the New Jerusalem, still imperfect because it is yet a pilgrim in history, but able to anticipate in some way the heavenly Jerusalem” (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily on the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe Sunday, 25 November 2007).  Pentecost is truly the feast of hope for humanity.Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

President Obama and Lady Justice: The Supreme Court and its Judges

May 14, 2009 / 00:00 am

In the Old City of Berne, Switzerland, there stands the famous “Fountain of Justice” (Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen).  From the 16th century until modern days, Hans Gieng's statue of Lady Justice has graced the fountain.  It is the oldest representation of Lady Justice blindfolded.  This image of Lady Justice traces its origins to Themis, the Greek goddess of divine order and law, and to Justitia, the Roman goddess of justice.  In her left hand, Lady Justice holds a scale.  This signifies duty to measure the strengths of each case, weigh the evidence and then decide the case.  In her right hand, she wields a double-edged sword.  This signifies her obligation to execute her judgment with precision for one party or against another. Coins from the days of ancient Rome depict this image of Lady Justice without the blindfold.  Her eyes are open and she sees all the evidence before her.  But ever since the Renaissance, Lady Justice has appeared with her eyes blindfolded.  In the dispensing of justice, there should be complete objectivity.  Blind justice.  No cowering before the powerful.  No trampling of the weak.  No favoritism to any party.  Complete impartiality.  This symbol of Lady Justice blindfolded is found in our courthouses and halls of justice.  Could this symbol lose its meaning?  Should the very notion of justice in an era of change be redefined? With the retirement of Supreme Court Justice David Souter, our new President will have his chance at appointing his first Supreme Court judge.  Other appointments will surely follow.  The President has made clear his own understanding of the qualifications needed for the post.  The President has reiterated the tried and true requirements of extensive legal training and experience as well as a devotion to the rule of law and a sound ethical record.  But he also has added another prerequisite. In July 2007, at a conference of Planned Parenthood, the President, prior to his election, had said this about future judges: “We need somebody who's got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom.  The empathy to understand what it's like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old.  And that's the criteria by which I'm going to be selecting my judges.” On Friday May 1, 2009 during the White House press briefing, the President said, “I will seek someone who understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook; it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives, whether they can make a living and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation… I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.”  The President once again is remaining true to another promise that he made during his campaign for the presidency. For centuries, Western civilization has tried to achieve equal justice under the law.  Does the requirement of empathy in a judge mean Lady Justice must now take off her blindfold?  Is this a change for the better or not? The President’s insistence on empathy as a quality in a good judge can claim biblical precedent.  When Solomon began his rule, he prayed at Gibeon.  He asked God not for riches and wealth, but for “an understanding heart, to govern [his] people and to distinguish between right and wrong” (1 Kgs 3:9).  God granted him his request for empathy and his judgments became legendary. In 1 Kings 3:16-28, the Scriptures relate an example story of Solomon’s ability to judge because he was empathetic.  One day, two prostitutes came before Solomon.  They both had a son, but one son died.  Each woman claimed that the son that was alive was hers. Solomon was empathetic to the feeling of the true mother.  He knew that she would prefer her son to live.  And, so when he proposed cutting the live child in half and giving each woman half, the heart of the true mother was revealed.  She preferred the other woman to have her son alive rather than each to be given half his dead body.  Solomon as a judge was empathetic.  It was his “understanding heart” that saved the life of the child of a marginalized woman who was a true mother.  “The wisdom of God was in him to do judgment” (1 Kgs 3:28). Is Solomon the appropriate paradigm for the role of judge today?  It is good to remember that the empathy that served Solomon well was not something he acquired on his own through training or experience.  It was a gift that God gave him in answer to his prayer.  Furthermore, Solomon was not limited to one role in governing his people.  He was king and legislator as well as judge and last court of appeal. Centuries have passed.  Today in our democratic society, many people would be very uncomfortable in trusting to one individual, no matter how wise or spiritual, all the power that Solomon wielded in his day.  We are in an imperfect world.  In such a world, we have a system where the legislator is separate from the judge and where rights are guaranteed by law. Courts decide between the guilty and the innocent.  Courts do not make the laws.  They make their decisions on the basis of rights guaranteed in the law.  Therefore, in a court of law, economic condition, sexual orientation, educational background can never be the determining factors.  If a judge is to give special consideration in his decision to his own empathy, the question then arises, to which party in a case should he be empathetic?  Would this be the death knell to impartiality?  Will we suffer the tyranny of the courts where judges refashion our society according to their own opinion or political agenda?  Legislators elected by the people make the laws.  Judges appointed by the government apply them.  The distinction works.  Lady Justice is blindfolded.  But if the blindfold is going to be removed by a President who makes empathy a requirement for Supreme Court judges, will we have judges like Solomon?  Will we finally have judges, as in the case of Solomon, with “an understanding heart,” judges who recognize a true mother always safeguards the life of her child?  Will we have judges who protect the life of children, even those not yet born?  Without empathy to those most vulnerable, there is no justice for all.Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.