This weekend I will ordain nine fine men to the priesthood. For these past eight years, God has been blessing the family of God here in Los Angeles with growing numbers of men who are answering the call of Jesus to follow and serve him as his priests. Thanks be to God! Our St. John’s Seminary is full with good men and so is our Queen of Angels Center for Priestly Formation. Every day we are meeting even more who are searching for their path, praying and trying to discern God’s calling in their lives. In this society, where so much of life is “programmed” and where there are so many mindsets and messages that promise happiness but cannot deliver it, it is beautiful to see people, especially our young people, looking for a life that is true and real. All around I see signs of a new openness to God and to the values that make for human transcendence. There is a new resistance to the “false ceiling” imposed by a society that seeks to close itself off from God. People seem no longer willing to settle for the substitutes and idols, “the more of the same” being offered by a consumer way of life. The priests of this new millennium are a part of this new movement toward God and an authentic humanity. As we see with the priests we have been ordaining here in Los Angeles, these new priests are called from many different cultures and backgrounds. They have “backstories” that are really interesting, they are fun to talk to and spend time with. You want to be their friends and most important, you want to know what makes them “tick,” what fills them with such enthusiasm and joy. There is something going on here. Beneath all the statistics and reports that we read about millennials and young adults, the Spirit is moving – and we need to keep praying and asking what he is trying to say to us. I have been thinking that for all their diversity, all of our new priests share a basic understanding that our life in this world is a journey – a journey that for them, and for each one of us, begins with the call of God. Every life is a vocation, a response to the voice of God who calls each one of us into being. I know I say this all the time. But we need to hear this message again and again – like water dripping on the stones of our hearts, until finally a way breaks through and the simple and beautiful truth of our existence begins to take root and grow in us. In the beginning of creation, we hear God’s voice calling, “Let there be!” God speaks into being in succession – first light, and then heaven and earth; then the sun, the moon and the stars; and then all the living creatures in the waters and in the sky and on land. Finally, God says, “Let us make human beings in our own image, after our likeness.” This is the story of your creation. You are here, you exist and have being, because God wants you here. When you were conceived in your mother’s womb it was because God said, “Let there be you.” He knew your name, even before your parents were born. This is the amazing reality that we need to appreciate. It is even more urgent now in this time where God is being made to disappear and the human being is on the verge of being forgotten, too – where more and more people are treated as objects that can be replaced or tools to be used to further the ambitions of others. Our new priests know they are being ordained to evangelize in these troubled times. Our new priests are men who know that God is alive, our maker and our redeemer, and that he has sent his Son Jesus Christ to make us right with God, to reconcile us and show us the truth of our lives and to gather us into one family to serve and live as a new humanity. And they have a deep desire and passion to get started and to proclaim this good news to the people of our time. Pray for me this week and I will be praying for you. And let us pray for our new priests. May they always seek to grow in their relationship with Jesus and their desire to call others to that encounter with him. And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to intercede for us and help us to be a family of God that continues to bring more men and women to hear the calling of God to the priesthood and the consecrated life.
Once again, we begin a new year with uncertainty and fear over immigration, and this year our leaders in Congress face a hard deadline. On March 5, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will expire, meaning that some 690,000 young people will lose their permission to work in this country and will face deportation. Here in Los Angeles, this would lead to a humanitarian crisis. More than one-fourth of the nation’s DACA youths live in California, and by most estimates there are about 125,000 living within the borders of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles – more than anywhere else in the country. The story of these young people, called “Dreamers,” is well-known. Brought to this country as children by undocumented parents or family members, they are not “illegal” through any fault of their own. The “Dreamers” have lived their whole lives in this country – many are now in their 30s. And during their lifetime, leaders in Washington have not been able to reach an agreement to fix the broken immigration system that allowed them to enter in the first place. Today, the “Dreamers” are the “poster children” for how broken our system is and how unhealthy and unproductive our political discourse has become. By any measure, these are the kind of young people that our country should be encouraging. Nearly everyone – 97 percent – is either in school or in the workforce. About 5 percent have already started their own business; 15 percent have bought their first homes. These are good kids and we should want to help them to develop their God-given potentials, to keep their families together and to make their own contribution to the American dream. In addition, according to business leaders, they are vital to our economic future. In a letter to congressional leaders in September, more than 800 executives representing every sector of the economy agreed that DACA youths contribute more than $460 billion to our economy and another $24 billion in taxes. Fixing DACA, then, should be easy. Everybody seems to realize that it would be cruel to punish them for the wrongs of their parents, deporting them to countries of origin that they have never seen, where they may not even know the language. And yet here we are. It is eight weeks until the deadline and these young people find themselves stuck in the middle of a much broader debate about border walls, national security and the inner workings of our visa system. This debate is passionate and partisan, as it should be. Systematic reform of our immigration policy is absolutely vital to our nation’s future. And we need to have this conversation. But Congress needs to separate the conversation about DACA from these larger issues. Our system has been broken for too long and there is too much that is wrong. Congress should take the time to debate the issues properly and to truly fashion an immigration system that reflects the global realities of the 21st-century economy. We do need a serious debate about border security. No one disagrees that we need to secure our borders and protect ourselves from those who would do harm to us. Some say building a wall along the country’s southwest border is the solution. Others say we can use electronic surveillance technologies to create a “virtual” wall that would be far more effective and less costly. The point is we should study the issue and not try to force a “solution” just to score short-term political points. We also need to study how our country grants visas – our priorities and the criteria we use. Again, we need to study the issues and examine our assumptions. For instance, there is a lot of passionate talk about how immigrants take jobs from Americans and drive down wages. Is this really the case? In agricultural centers like California’s Central Valley, farmers this year again could not find enough workers to harvest their crops. Even as minimum wages and benefits have risen across the country, employers say there are not enough American-born workers who want to do the low-skilled and low-wage work needed in our fields and construction sites, hotels and other areas. This suggests that Congress and the states need to find new ways to offer guest-worker programs that would enable foreign workers to enter and leave the country as needed by businesses. It also suggests we need to think more clearly about our labor needs in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. The point is that we need a total reform of our immigration system, and it should not be tied to the current debate over DACA and the “Dreamers.” As a nation, we have a moral and humanitarian obligation to the “Dreamers.” These young people have done nothing wrong. And their futures hang in the balance of these debates. So, I hope you will join me in urging our leaders in Congress to help them in a spirit of generosity and justice. And we need to tell our leaders that fixing DACA should be the first step in the systematic immigration reform that has long been overdue in our country. Pray for me this week, and I will be praying for you. And may our Blessed Mother Mary intercede for us and guide us.
Our long, difficult summer in this country seems to continue without end. Even as the violence of Charlottesville and its aftermath still weigh heavy on our hearts and minds, this past weekend we saw the outbreak of new violence and racial tensions in St. Louis. We have come a long way in America – but we still have a long way to go. We are still a nation divided by race in many ways. There are too many young black and Latino men dying in the streets or spending their best years behind bars. Too many of our neighborhoods in too many cities remain “lonely islands of poverty,” where people are perishing – just as they were a generation ago when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke those words. Racial healing and reconciliation do not happen when we pass a law. Laws are important. Laws can correct injustices and signal moral intentions. But laws alone cannot change people’s hearts and minds. Every day, we see evidence that racist thinking and racist practices continue to haunt American attitudes and policies. It is sad to say, but, too often, the “color of our skin” still matters more than the “content of our character,” to quote Rev. King again. The other day, I received a letter from a good friend. He is a black Pentecostal minister. For more than 30 years, along with his courageous wife and children, he has been ministering and working with young people in gangs in inner-city Boston. My friend was writing to remind me that next April will mark the 50th anniversary of Rev. King’s assassination. Hard to believe that 50 years has passed and we are still struggling for the same things he struggled for. My friend’s letter was an appeal. He wants religious leaders to sign a statement affirming our continued commitment to Rev. King’s principles of nonviolence. I signed the statement right away – joining some of the leading Catholic bishops in the United States. Racial justice and reconciliation is an ongoing, urgent priority for the Church, and the bishops have a special task force devoted to promoting peace in our communities, and recently established a new ad hoc committee on racism. We understand that forming committees is not a “solution,” but a means to begin a conversation that will lead to solutions. We face the same choice faced by Rev. King and the civil rights movement. The question is: How will we struggle against the injustices we see in our society, what means will we use? I am worried about the easy resort to violence that we are seeing once again this summer, in cities all over the country. Even the rhetoric we are hearing sometimes in some corners inside the Church – there is an anger, an almost personal bitterness against those who oppose us or disagree with us. I am worried that the “logic” of aggressive resistance leaves us with no alternatives to physical confrontation and violence. We need to return once more and draw from the wisdom of Rev. King and others like him – Dorothy Day and Cesar Chavez – the spirit of peacemaking and the search for nonviolent solutions. No one is born hating another group of people. Hate is something that is learned. And so it must be “unlearned.” That means we need to become teachers of love. Love is the heart of Rev. King’s vision of nonviolence. We love – not because those who oppose us are “lovable” or even likable. We love those who oppose us – because God loves them. And by our love, we seek their understanding and conversion, not their humiliation and defeat. Love does not mean forgetting or excusing injustice. Peace does not come by ignoring what divides us or pretending everything is OK. We are called to “make” peace – it is an action. This is our Christian duty in these times when our society is so divided. To be healers and peacemakers, reconciling people to one another and to God. We are called to confront hatred – not with more violence and retaliation, but with love. We are called to overcome evil and lies not by more of the same – but with works of truth and goodness, with acts of sacrifice and love. And only through love can we help our society to recognize that beyond the color of our skin or the condition of our lives, we are all children of God, created in God’s image and likeness. Pray for me this week, and I am praying for you. And let us pray for a new spirit of love in our country. Let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary, the Queen of Peace, to help us to keep believing in the power of love.
Last week was hard. It is sad to see it come to this — that the president of the United States must define, by an executive order, the precise meaning of the word “wall.” “‘Wall’ shall mean a contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous and impassable physical barrier,” according to one of the three executive orders issued last week on immigrants and refugees. The first thing to say is that these executive orders seem like they were put together too fast. Not enough thought seems to have been given to their legality or to explaining their rationale or to considering the practical consequences for millions of people here and across the globe. It is true that the refugee orders are not a “Muslim ban,” as some protesters and media are claiming. In fact, the vast majority of Muslim-majority countries are not affected by the orders, including some that have real problems with terrorism, such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. That does not make these orders less troubling. Halting admissions of refugees for 90 or 120 days may not seem like a long time. But for a family fleeing a war-torn nation, or the violence of drug cartels, or warlords who force even children into armies — this could mean the difference between life and death. And it is a simple fact that not all refugees are terrorists, and refugees are not even the main source of terrorist threats to our country. The terror attack here in San Bernardino was “home grown,” carried out by a man born in Chicago. I am pleased that one of the orders will mean that our country will finally begin giving priority to helping Christians and other persecuted minorities. But does God intend our compassion for people to stop at the borders of Syria? Are we now going to decide that some people are not worthy of our love because they have different skin color, a different religion or were born in the “wrong” country? As a pastor, what troubles me is that all the anger, confusion and fear that resulted from last week’s orders was entirely predictable. Yet that does not seem to have mattered to the people in charge. I worry that in the name of showing toughness and determination, we are communicating to the world a harsh indifference. Right now, no nation accepts more refugees than the United States. So what kind of message are we sending to the world? Those moments in our history that we are the least proud of — from the Holocaust to the ethnic cleansings of the 1990s — are moments when we closed our borders and our hearts to the sufferings of innocent people. We all agree that our nation has the obligation to secure its borders and establish criteria for who is permitted to enter and how long they are permitted to stay. In a post-9/11 world, we all agree there are people both inside and outside our borders who want to hurt us. We share a common concern for our nation’s security and the safety of our loved ones. But our approach to all these issues must be consistent with our ideals. America has always been different — some would say exceptional. Welcoming immigrants and sheltering refugees has always been something special and essential about who we are — as a nation and as a people. It is true that these new orders on immigration mostly call for just returning to the practice of enforcing existing laws. The problem is that our laws have not been enforced for so long that we now have millions of undocumented people living, working, worshipping and going to school in our country. That includes millions of children who are citizens living in homes with undocumented parents. These children have the right — as citizens and as sons and daughters of God — to grow up with some assurance that their parents will not be deported. These new orders do not change the fact that our nation needs true and lasting reform of our immigration system. Do we really want to hand over the fate of millions of fathers, mothers and children to overworked caseworkers in an underfunded immigration court system? A policy of enforcement only — without reform of the underlying system — will only lead to a human rights nightmare. As a Church, our priorities remain with our people. We will continue to follow the call of Christ through our parishes, charities and relief organizations. And I repeat, as I have said before: the most constructive and compassionate thing our government can do right now is to stop the deportations and the threat of deportations for those who are not violent criminals. Our Christian mission is clear — we are called to hear the cry of the poor and we are called to open our doors to the stranger who knocks and to seek the face of Christ who comes to us in the immigrant and the refugee. Please pray for me this week and I will be praying for you. And may our Blessed Mother Mary help all of us — and especially our leaders — to meet the challenges that we face as one nation of immigrants under God.
We begin this new year as we do every year, with hopes for a brighter tomorrow. And as we always do, Catholics in the United States begin this new year with the recognition of National Migration Week. For most of the past 25 years, we have celebrated this week in the hopes that this year, finally, there will be reform of our immigration system and a compassionate solution for those who are undocumented and forced to live in the shadows of our society. Year after year, unfortunately, our dream of immigration reform has been deferred. This year, of course, our frustration is mixed with a lot of fear, uncertainty, and anger because we have elected a president who campaigned on harsh rhetoric about foreigners and promises to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. I find encouragement in reading the history of Caesar Chávez and the farmworkers’ movement, and the history of the black civil rights movement led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose national holiday we celebrate next week. The spiritual heart of the civil rights movement, as we know, was rooted in the witness of Jesus and his teachings of love, and especially love for our enemies. And I have been thinking about a New Testament verse that became a kind of inspiration for the movement: “Keep your eyes on the prize.” I think this is wisdom for this moment in our own struggle for the rights and dignity of our brothers and sisters who are undocumented. We need to keep our eyes on the prize. We cannot allow our judgments to be clouded by our frustrations and fears. We cannot allow our commitments to be co-opted because of our anger. We cannot allow the Church or our Christian witness to be reduced to just one more partisan voice on this issue. It is sad, but we have to keep reminding ourselves that both of our political parties are exploiting the immigration issue for their own purposes. We saw this in the election, and we have seen this pattern continue since. As Christians, as the Church, we cannot allow ourselves to be caught up in this, taking sides, compromising the clarity of our witness. Our struggle is beyond the ambitions of individual politicians or one political party or another. Our cause is the noble cause of human dignity. We are struggling for a goal that is beyond politics — the realization that all men and women are children of God, that their lives are sacred — no matter what the color of their skin or their country of origin or how they came to this country. A person is a still a person even though he is “without papers.” This is the prize — dignity, justice and integration for those who have come to this country to share their gifts, to make a new life for their families, and to build this country. We have been through periods like this before in American history. We are a nation of immigrants, it is true. But immigration to this country has never been easy, and new nationalities and ethnic groups have seldom been welcomed with open arms. The truth is that with each new wave of immigration has come suspicion, resentment and backlash. Think about the Irish, the Italians, the Japanese. It is no different with today’s immigrants. Now is the time for the Church to lead. Our Lord calls us to be peacemakers. We should take that task seriously. As Christians we need to be bridge-builders, “uniters” not “dividers.” Our politics today seem to reflect that we are living in our own separate worlds: unable to relate to those who are not like us and unable to talk to those who see the world differently. In our public discourse, we seem to be talking past each other, not respecting each other enough to even listen to what the “other side” has to say. All of this has got to stop. We are tearing this great country apart by pride and partisanship, by our inability to get beyond our perceived self-interests. We need to extend goodwill even to those who disagree with us. We all need to do less talking and more listening. I share the deep concerns about the incoming administration and congress. But we need to find a way to begin a dialogue. We need to keep our eyes on the prize. The Rev. King reminds us that Jesus calls us to love our enemies. And he adds: “And I’m happy that he didn’t say, ‘Like your enemies,’ because there are some people that I find it pretty difficult to like.” His point is that it is hard to like people when they call you names and threaten injustice against you. But Jesus calls us to love them anyway and to find creative ways to overcome their prejudices and fears. So as we pray again at the start of this New Year, let us pray again that this year immigration reform will not be a dream deferred. Please pray for me and know that I am praying for you. And may our Blessed Mother watch over our country and help make us one nation under God.
I am not alone in observing that this long campaign season exposed deep divisions in our society and real anxiety about our country’s future direction. I would also say that this is the first election where we can see very clearly that we are living in a “post-Christian” America. We have known for a long time that the elites who govern and shape the direction of our society are deeply secularized and hostile to religious institutions and traditional values and beliefs. In this election, we see that their secular vision now shapes the priorities and concerns of the electorate. We are living in a society that operates as if God does not exist, and one consequence is that we have lost a sense of what human life is all about. There is a widespread crisis of meaning in our society, reflected in popular culture, politics, law and education. We are a society that is now confused and conflicted about basic realities — the meaning of life and what makes for true happiness and human flourishing. These are issues that cannot be addressed only by changing political administrations. Unlike any election in my memory, there was very little talk this time about values — except for one, “civility.” And it is true that the rhetoric and tactics in this election season were often vulgar and uncivilized. But sadly, it seems that too often we define civility as just being more polite. True civility is rooted in our common status as citizens who are responsible for our life together in society. In practice, true civility means demonstrating real respect for other people — even if we are deeply opposed to their “positions” on issues or even their worldview. If it is going to mean anything, civility must reflect our common search for what is true and what is good — for individuals and for society. And in the aftermath of this election, the search for truth and goodness becomes even more precious and more crucial. We are living now in a society that has lost contact with the truth — not only with the truth about God, but also the truth about human nature and what is good for people. What we see in the extremes is a notion that there is no truth, no human nature. Only opinions, only choices that we make in “self-creating” our own truths, in self-defining what is good “for us.” So truth is important, vital. And the Church may be the last institution in our society that believes in the truth. In the wake of this election, we cannot get discouraged or give in to the tendencies toward anger and resentment that we see everywhere in our society. The Gospel is still good news that every person longs to hear — the good news that everyone is born with sacred dignity and a transcendent destiny; the good news that every person matters to God and that we are all made to live in love and friendship with him and with one another. The truth is that God is real and he is still in charge of his creation — still in charge of history and still in charge of our lives. This is our hope. And our hope will not disappoint, because our hope is in Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life. So where do we go from here? We keep our eyes on Jesus Christ and we keep following him. We remember who we are, where we came from and who God calls us to be. That means we live as Catholics first, as Christians first. This is our identity. We are not Republicans or Democrats or liberals or conservatives. Before everything else, we are followers of Christ — children of God, made in his image, called to be saints and to work for his kingdom, which is the family of God on earth. Following Jesus, we need to continue to proclaim the truth and oppose the false paths to human happiness that we see in our society. We need to continue the struggle for dignity and resist everything that threatens to diminish the nobility of the human person as a child of God. We need to do it all with love, as people of compassion and mercy. And in this time of division and confusion, we need to promote solidarity and reconciliation. If we want America to be greater, then we need men and women like you and me who are committed to serving God and living the truths we believe in every aspect of our lives. Pray for me this week and I will pray for you. And may our Blessed Mother Mary watch over our country and help us to come together to meet the great challenges of this moment. Reposted from angelusnews.com
In the face of the mass murders in Orlando, Florida, this weekend, it is difficult to write. It is complicated and frustrating and it feels like we have already been through this before. So many mass shootings, and this is another one that is apparently an act of terror carried out in the name of a radical religious ideology. When I heard the news, I thought about the killings in San Bernardino, just last December. The only response we can make is to turn to God in prayer. Our prayer is not passive or an afterthought. It’s not a substitute for action or an excuse for doing nothing. When we pray, we place ourselves — our lives, our loved ones, our world — in the presence of our Creator’s loving eyes. We recognize that there is a higher meaning in the events of our time and place, that this senseless violence and fear is not “all there is.” We remember that God is always with us, and that he has a plan of love for creation and for everyone’s life. And we ask the Father of creation to be near to his children who weep, to comfort those who mourn, to strengthen all of us to overcome evil with good and hatred with love. So once again we are praying after a mass shooting in our country. We want to pray for the innocent victims in this latest attack, for their families and friends. We want to pray for the people of Orlando and all those in our country who are fearful for our future. Our prayer, too, must be expressed in a renewed commitment to human dignity — to the core conviction that all life is precious. We need to insist that all people are made in God’s image and have God-given dignity and rights — whether or not we agree with their beliefs or what they do with their lives. Once again, we need to insist that violence can never be “sanctified,” that the true and living God is not served by the shedding of innocent blood or forcing others to believe what we believe. We need to build a new culture of solidarity and generosity, a culture of dialogue. We cannot allow ourselves to be divided by fear of others who don’t look like us or pray like us. In this new time of fear and uncertainty, I find that I am also praying harder for our brothers and sisters in Syria, Iraq and everywhere in the world where terror has now become a way of life, where the simple fact of being a Christian means people are persecuted and killed. It is always tempting to take our faith for granted or to live as if Christianity has no enemies. But when we meet those Christians who are suffering and dying for their faith, when we hear their stories, we know that isn’t true. Jesus said we should love our enemies. He never said we wouldn’t have any. As I have said before, I believe we need to become a Church that prays every day for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. The prayers of the early Christians helped turn St. Paul from a persecutor of the Church to a missionary disciple. We need to have that same deep faith today. We need to pray for the conversion of those who persecute the Church. We need to really believe that God can reveal his Son to those who right now are killing and causing suffering in the name of religion. The apostles taught that perfect love could cast out fear. And Jesus showed us the perfection of love on the cross — the love of a God who does not take life but gives his own life so that we can live. In these times, when things seem dark and uncertain, the cross remains in the center of human history — a sign of the encounter that is always possible between human sin and divine mercy. The cross shows us that the true and living God does not call us to sacrifice the lives of others to serve him. True religion is love that we freely give to God and express in self-sacrifice and service for the sake of others. So this week, as we pray for one another, let’s keep our eyes fixed on the cross. And let’s entrust our lives once more to the loving care of our Blessed Mother Mary and let us ask her to bring us the perfect love that casts out every fear. Posted with permission from Angelus: The Tidings Online, official publication of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Image: Vigil in response to the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting Fibonacci Blue via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)?
May is Mary’s Month. It is a new moment in the springtime of the year when we reflect on the love that our Blessed Mother showed to us in bringing Jesus into the world. As I was reflecting on this week’s column, I found myself wondering: Did Our Lady ever pray the Our Father? The Acts of the Apostles tells us that Mary was with the apostles in the first Christian community that gathered in Jerusalem after the Resurrection. We are told that together they “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer.” As we know, when the apostles had asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he taught them the Our Father. So it is possible and fascinating to think that the prayer we pray today might have been prayed by Mary as well as the Apostles. Mary was a woman of prayer, long before the Angel brought her the tidings and promises of Jesus. Only a prayerful person could have said “yes” to God in that moment of the Annunciation. Mary’s “fiat” — her words to the Angel, “May it be done to me according to your word” — is echoed in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done.” And the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls these words a model of true prayer: “Fiat: This is Christian prayer: to be wholly God’s, because God is wholly ours.” Prayer, as Jesus teaches, is about joining our lives to God’s and our will to his will. We see this clearly in the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread.” These are words of trust and surrender to divine Providence. The purpose of prayer is not about telling God what we need. God knows what we need even before we ask. When we pray to God “this day” for our “daily bread,” we are making a confession — that without him we cannot feed ourselves; that he alone can provide us with what we need. Again, we see how the Lord’s Prayer is a challenge to our selfishness and pride, all our illusions of self-sufficiency. No matter who we are or how much we have or how hard we work — what do we really possess that we have not received from the grace of God? Everything we have and everything we achieve depends on his goodness. That is the spirit of the prayer that Jesus teaches. That does not mean we are meant to sit around passively and wait for God to give us things. Jesus wants us to pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on us. Notice that Jesus teaches us to pray for “our” bread. We are praying not just for ourselves but also for others — especially those who do not have enough daily bread to live. Reflecting on this passage, I was reminded of the Gospel scenes of Jesus feeding the crowds of people. In one, he tells his disciples: “Give them some food yourselves.” We are praying to be true children of God and that means we need to imitate Jesus in a radical sharing of our daily bread with our brothers and sisters, in working for justice so that everyone can enjoy what is necessary for a dignified life. In everything, Jesus calls us to trust in God’s Providence, that he will provide. We pray for our daily bread but we cannot allow ourselves to be consumed by material concerns. Jesus said: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” The bread we pray for is not only the ordinary “bread” we need to sustain our bodies. Jesus tells us elsewhere in the Gospel that we live not by bread alone but also by the Word of God. He tells not to seek food that perishes, but food that endures to eternal life. So since the Church’s earliest days, the Church has understood “our daily bread” to refer also to the Eucharist. Jesus testified that he was the “bread of God” that came down from heaven to give life to the world. So in this prayer we are asking for Jesus to come and to give himself to us in his Word and in the Blessed Sacrament of his Body and Blood. We pray like those first disciples who said: “Give us this bread always.” So this week, as we begin the month of Mary, let’s try to pray the Rosary for one another. And as we begin each decade of the Rosary with the Our Father, let’s consider that this prayer has been prayed by the apostles and saints, by Jesus and perhaps even by his mother. And let us ask her, our Blessed Mother Mary, to help us to pray as children, knowing that our Father will care for us in even our smallest needs. Posted with permission from Angelus/The Tidings Online, official publication of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
The story of Christianity is written in the blood of martyrs. It is always striking to me that on the day after the joyous feast of Christmas, the Church’s liturgy remembers the first martyr, the deacon St. Stephen. And nearly every week throughout the year, our liturgy remembers the witness of someone who has shed his blood or her blood for following Jesus. The martyrs are a witness to our conscience. They remind us that Jesus calls us to follow him without compromise, and that we may face intolerance, discrimination and even violence for believing in his name. Sadly, the Christian witness of blood continues without end in the world today. Last week in Yemen, four sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, the community founded by Blessed Mother Teresa, were killed when suspected radical Muslims attacked their home for the poor elderly. These sisters had been warned that an attack was coming, but refused to leave the poor they served. Based on eyewitness accounts, they were singled out for murder. A Salesian priest from India, who had been staying with the sisters since his church was burned down in September, was kidnapped in the attack. Pope Francis on Sunday called the sisters “martyrs of today” who “gave their blood for the Church.” He also said that they were victims — not only of their attackers, but victims also of the world’s “indifference” to the persecution of Christians. The pope has been saying these things for several years now. And he is right. Violence and torture are the daily cost of discipleship for Christians all over the world today — but especially in the Middle East. And the world community — government leaders, international authorities, the media and sadly even local churches — do not seem all that concerned. Recently I added my name to a petition calling on our government to declare the situation facing Christians in Iraq and Syria a “genocide.” I did not do this lightly. It is clear that what the so-called Islamic State is doing to Christians and other minority groups in Iraq and Syria fits the United Nations’ definition — violence and killing with “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” Pope Francis and the U.S. bishops have already labeled the atrocities faced by Christians in the Middle East “a form of genocide.” The Islamic State has driven more than 150,000 Christians out of Iraq alone. The violence against Christians is as systematic as it is barbaric — Church leaders are assassinated, believers are murdered on a mass scale; there is torture, kidnapping for ransom and the systematic rape and sex slavery of Christian women and girls; there are forced conversions to Islam, the destruction of churches, monasteries and cemeteries; and the theft of ordinary families’ homes and businesses. All of this has been documented by Church groups and independent international agencies. We cannot imagine the reality, but it is true — the Christian presence may one day be extinguished in the lands where the light of faith first burned. And it is unimaginable and unconscionable that our government — along with most of the governments of the Western world — has remained silent while this martyrdom goes on. The political designation of “genocide” has implications. First it is telling the truth. What is happening to Christians in the Middle East is a crime against humanity that cries out to God. More than that, a genocide designation gives the international community a moral claim to stop the violence and punish those responsible. It also gives a special status to Christians fleeing the persecution — a right to be treated as refugees, and to reclaim their homes and properties once the violence is ended. I urge you to join me in this petition, which has been spearheaded by the Knights of Columbus. The Knights have been a beautiful witness of compassion and mercy for the persecuted Church. They have provided more than $5 million in direct assistance to Christians in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. In these days of Lent, when we remember the way of the Cross that our Lord walked for our redemption, let us pray for the Christians of the Middle East, who are enduring their own slow crucifixion in the land where our Savior was born. We cannot allow them to be forgotten — in our prayers or in our advocacy. As part of our Lenten sacrifice, let us offer prayers and fasting for the persecuted Church. And let us give alms to help through the Knights of Columbus #ChristiansAtRisk initiative. Together let us urge Congress to do more to stop the genocide of our brothers and sisters in the faith. May our Blessed Mother Mary give hope to those who are suffering and courage for us to stand with them in solidarity and love. Posted with permission from Angelus: The Tidings Online.
The terror shootings in San Bernardino continues to trouble me and make me sad. I am praying for the families and loved ones of those who were killed and praying that those who were wounded and traumatized will find comfort and healing. In the aftermath of the shooting, I was sad to see that this simple act of offering prayers is becoming controversial and complicated in our society. On news shows and in the social media, there were some politicians and journalists and others who were criticizing people for praying, saying that prayer is “useless” and suggesting that praying was an excuse not to deal with the challenges we face in the world. I suppose this is a sign of where our secular society is heading. It is unfortunate, but many people today do not see God’s loving hand at work in the world. A secular society tends to see only material causes and their effects. So when we have problems, we look for technical “fixes” — new laws and processes, new technologies. Prayer seems irrelevant because it doesn’t contribute a “solution” or produce “results.” But the secular critics of prayer have questions that we as Christians need to take seriously. Why should we pray and what can we “expect” when we pray? What good does it do — does prayer actually “work”? Jesus prayed all the time and he taught his followers to pray as children talking to our Father. He said God is always listening and that he cares for us with a good Father’s love. Jesus taught us to ask for specific things — daily bread; the strength to fight against temptation; liberation from evil. He taught us to pray and to expect answers. “Ask and it will be given to you,” he said. So it is natural for those of us who follow Jesus to turn to God for our needs and also to pray for others. These are some of the most moving scenes in the life of Jesus — when people petition him to help a loved one who is in trouble. “My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.” I thought of these words from the Gospel when I was reading about a text message that a young woman sent during the San Bernardino attack: “Dad shooting at work. … Pray for us.” To pray for another person is a beautiful and selfless act of love. It is not “doing nothing.” In fact, it is doing everything that we can because we are asking God’s help — and with God all things are possible, and all things are possible for those who believe. We pray with good reason and always with confidence in our Father. But prayer is a struggle. The Catechism has an article titled, “The Battle of Prayer.” Prayer is a battle because we know that the world can be cruel. Sometimes it is hard to understand why God allows so much hurt, so much suffering, so much senseless violence. So often it seems that the wicked are “winning” and that God is not listening. In the face of the world’s suffering and cruelty, our faith and our prayer teach us two things. First, that we need to trust more in God’s providence and rely more on his mercy. He is the Lord of history and his creation is unfolding according to his plan of love. God hears the cries of those who suffer. But he does not always give us the answers we want to hear. And that is hard. But God does answer every prayer and he brings good out of every evil. We need to trust in his love, although we may not understand his answers until we meet him face-to-face in the world to come. We don’t pray to change God, we pray to change ourselves. That is why the essence of prayer is to pray — not for what we want, but for what he wants. Thy will be done. Not my will. The second thing our faith teaches is that we must overcome evil with good and respond to hatred with love. Prayer for others is the beginning of compassion. Prayer leads us to suffer with those who are suffering, to work for justice, and to be instruments of God’s compassion and mercy. We pray for those who suffer. And we pray that we will be an answer to the prayers of those who suffer. So let’s keep praying for one another and for our brothers and sisters in San Bernardino. Let’s pray in a special way for peace in our world, and for the conversion of every heart that hates. And in this season of Advent and this Year of Mercy — let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to touch the hearts of those who do not yet believe and cannot yet find the reason to pray. Posted with permission from The Tidings, official publication of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
As synod 2015 began its final week of work, Pope Francis canonized a married couple, Louis and Zélie Martin, whose nine children included the Doctor of the Church, St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Louis and Zélie led a humble, hidden life. It was rooted in the rhythms of daily Mass and everyday duties — earning a living, making meals and doing the housework, teaching the children, serving in the community, and simply enjoying time together as a family. The couple knew love and joy and also suffering and sadness — four of their children died as infants. In his homily on Sunday Pope Francis called them “holy spouses.” St. Louis and St. Zélie are not rarities. How many holy spouses are there, hidden saints of the everyday, in every time and every place in the Church? There are holy spouses and holy families in every part of the world today — ordinary men and women trying to live faithfully by the Church’s teachings and the grace of her sacraments. This is what the synod is meant to be all about — helping spouses in their vocations as husbands and wives, helping them to meet the challenges they confront in society, inspiring them to live out God’s beautiful plan for their lives. In the media coverage of the synod, we can be tempted to think that the Church’s doctrines and practices are a kind of political “policy” or a set of “positions” on issues. But the truth is that the Catholic faith is not a program or a set of rules. Catholicism is a vision of creation, a vision of the human person and the human family, a vision that is grand and transcendent. Everything in the Church — all our teachings, practices and disciplines — flows from this vision, which is given to us by God in the Scriptures and the Church’s living tradition. Pope Francis has said that in thinking about the family, we must be “led by the Word of God, on which rests the foundation of the holy edifice of the family, the domestic Church and the family of God.” This is true. And as we enter this final week of the Synod, I think it is important for us to keep this “foundation” in mind, to try to see God’s vision for the family more clearly and to understand how important the family is for the Church’s future and the future of civilization. God’s dream St. Paul called marriage a “great mystery.” This mystery is written into the pages of sacred Scripture from beginning to end — from the marriage of the first man and woman at creation to the cosmic wedding feast of Christ and his bride when the new heavens and earth come and time is no more. Pope Francis speaks of the Creator’s design in terms of wonder and awe. At last year’s extraordinary consistory, he invoked “God’s magnificent plan for the family.” At theWorld Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and again in his homily opening the current synod, he called marriage “God’s dream for his beloved creation.” Jesus Christ revealed this dream by coming into the world in a human family. The Holy Family of Nazareth shows us that every family is meant to be an “icon” of God, an image of the Holy Trinity in the world. I always remember the beautiful words of St. John Paul II at Puebla, Mexico, at the beginning of his pontificate: “Our God in his deepest mystery is not a solitude but a family, since he has in himself fatherhood, sonship and the essence of the family, which is love.” This is God’s plan for the human family. Every family is called to be a “domestic church” reflecting the communion of love in the Trinity. Every married couple is given a vocation — to live their love forever in a mutual and complete gift of self; to renew the face of the earth with children, who are the fruits of their love and the precious love of our Creator. Married love is forever and cannot be dissolved because it is the sign of God’s own covenant with creation. The Church’s mission is to continue God’s “family plan” for creation — to call men and women from every nation and people to form a single family of God, united in his son, Jesus. So that is why the Church will always take these matters of human sexuality, marriage, family and children so seriously. That is why the litany of the Church’s great martyrs includes countless men and women who died defending the Church’s doctrines and practices — Agnes and Cecilia in ancient Rome; Thomas More and Charles Lwanga; the Franciscans martyred in Georgia during the evangelization of the New World. And there were many more. The family crisis Some of my brother bishops have remarked on the sense of urgency — some even call it anxiety — that has been felt during this synod. The somber mood is reflected in theworking document that has formed the basis for our discussions during these past three weeks. Pope Francis has spoken often of the profound cultural crisis facing the family. And there is a sense in this synod that the family “as we know it” is in danger of disappearing — threatened by forces that are economic, cultural and ideological. At the root of the family crisis is a crisis of confidence in God — a loss of the sense that he is our Father and Creator, and that he has a plan, a “dream” for his creation, a plan for our lives. The family today is threatened by the same “anthropocentric” and “technocratic” mentality that Pope Francis warns about in Laudato Si’, his encyclical on creation. This mentality rejects the “realities” of creation and human nature. Everything — nature, the human body and mind, social institutions — everything is seen as so much “raw material” to be “engineered” using technology, medicine, even law and public policy. What the pope calls the “technocratic paradigm” underlies the existential threats that confront human life and the family today — from artificial contraception and embryonic experimentation, to the surgical manipulations of femininity and masculinity required for “transgenderism,” to the redefinition of marriage and the forced sterilization and abortion policies prevalent in some parts of the world. The way forward In confronting this broad cultural crisis of the family, the Church needs to proclaim once more the beautiful truth about the human person and God’s loving plan for creation and the family. “The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place … is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world,” Pope Francis writes in Laudato Si’. At the center of our Father’s plan for the world, we find the married couple and the family. That is why the Church cannot allow marriage and family to be reduced to cultural constructs or arbitrary living arrangements. Because if we lose the family, we lose God’s plan for our lives and for the world. Marriage and family are gifts from the Creator that are “written into” the order of his creation and expressed in the bodily differences of men and women and their vocation to a communion of love that is faithful for life and fruitful in creating new life. Pope Francis affirms this in Laudato Si’ and he emphasized it again during his yearlong catechesis on the family. The human person is God’s “masterpiece,” created body and soul in his image and likeness, the pope said. The natural differences between men and women and their “complementarity” stand at the “summit of divine creation,” and order the couple to “communion and generation, always in the image and likeness of God.” These basic truths of creation are the source for everything that the Church believes, teaches and practices regarding marriage and family. The Church is called to proclaim these truths to the world in all their fullness and in all their beauty. We are called to do everything that we can to support those couples and families who are trying to live these truths — to be “holy spouses” and “holy families.” The Church is also called to reach out with tenderness to those who are having trouble understanding and living these truths. But Pope Francis has also urged us in strong words not to sacrifice the truths of creation in a vain effort to “please the people” or to make the Church’s teachings sound less demanding. At the end of the extraordinary synod last year he cautioned against “a destructive tendency … that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots.” This is always a natural temptation when we are faced with human weakness and misunderstanding. But the pope reminds us that kindness and compassion can never be separated from the truth of God’s plan. A person’s conscience is sacred. But our conscience is only reliable if it is formed according to the truth that God has written into our hearts and the loving plan he has for our lives. The words we speak in mercy must always be the truth, or our words are not merciful at all, just sentimental feelings. Telling people what they want to hear will never do them any good, unless what we are saying is the truth they need to know. All of us in the Church, in these difficult times, are called to accompany people, to meet them where they are at and to walk with them in charity and tenderness and compassion. But the journey of the Christian life is always a journey of conversion. Our “destination” is not where we want to go, but where God wants to lead us. A moment for mission So as we enter these final days of the synod, I find myself turning to our newest saints. Not only the holy spouses St. Louis and St. Zélie Martin. But also our newest American saint, St. Junípero Serra, who blazed the trails of holiness in the New World. I believe that all of us in the Church need a new missionary confidence and courage for the times we are living in. In fact, we are living in a time of hope, a new missionary moment — a time when the Church has a great opportunity for the new evangelization of our continents and the world. Every day, as bishops from around the world gather in this Synod Hall, we are witnessing the reality that the Gospel has been enculturated in “every nation under heaven.” This has been striking for me, this experience of the universal Church: to realize that the Church today is able to truly pray, teach and evangelize in one voice — as one family of God, drawn from every nation, people and language, united in our faith in the Gospel and our communion with the Holy Father in Rome. With the unity of our doctrine and practice, and the rich diversity of our local traditions of popular piety — the Church has tremendous resources to resist pressures and worldly powers and to proclaim the Gospel to a new generation. We need to challenge the “orthodoxies” and the “anthropology” of our culture. We need to find creative, positive ways to proclaim God as Creator and to show the beauty of his plan for the human person and the family. Counting on the intercession of the Holy Family of Nazareth, my prayer in this final week is that all of us in the Church will stay united in our apostolic desire to be missionary disciples. And that we will use this new moment to carry the beauty of God’s plan for our lives and his original dream for creation — to the ends of the earth. This column first published on Angelus/The Tidings Online. It is reposted with permission.
Last week, the California legislature voted to allow doctors to help their patients kill themselves. This decision is deeply disturbing — and so is the process that led to this vote. Assembly and Senate leaders chose to push this bill (AB2X-15) through an “extraordinary” legislative session that Governor Brown had called to deal with health care financing for the poor. This is no way for our government to make policy on a life and death issue that will affect millions of individuals and families for years to come. The people of California — especially the poor, the elderly, minorities and the disabled — deserve much better from their leaders. And make no mistake, it will be these most vulnerable populations who are going to suffer from this legislation. We know already that poor families, African Americans, Latinos and immigrants do not have enough access to quality health care. We also know that the millions forced to rely on Medi-Cal have limited treatment options when they face a serious diagnosis or terminal illness. In a health care system that is so cost-conscious and profit-driven, I am afraid that lethal prescriptions to commit suicide will fast become the only acceptable “treatment option” for our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. I am afraid that in our health care environment, suicide will be promoted as the most “efficient” and cost-saving alternative. The sad reality is that millions of Californians do not have the luxury to think about a “death with dignity.” They are too busy struggling with low wages and not enough job opportunities; with housing costs and troubled neighborhoods; with poor health care and discrimination. Our government’s priority should be to help make life more dignified for people, not death. And lawmakers need to be honest in their language so we can understand what we are really doing with this legislation. We are not legalizing “aid in dying.” What the legislature is legalizing is the ability of a doctor to write prescriptions for the express purpose of killing another human being. And we have to ask ourselves: Is this the legacy that we want to leave for future generations of Californians? To say that in the face of human pain and suffering, we as a society responded by making it easier to kill those who are suffering? I believe we are a better people than that. And I believe we can find a truly compassionate way to help all Californians manage pain, treat their illnesses and prepare for death. But there are no “quick fixes.” It will take patience, hard study and deliberate choices. Unfortunately, Assembly and Senate leaders rushed this bill through in three weeks during this “extraordinary” session. They held only two hearings and floor debates, and barely considered some of the deeper issues of end-of-life care. To really address these issues, we need to study complicated questions surrounding treatment costs, especially the costs of cancer medications. We need to study insurance practices that effectively limit access to hospice care and restrict physicians’ options in providing pain relief and palliative care. We need to understand the limited health care options available for the poor, the elderly, minorities and the disabled. We need to consider the training and education we provide doctors in palliative care and geriatrics. And we also need to understand the spiritual and psychological issues affecting those who are dying and the effects on their families and loved ones. Our lawmakers have not even studied how doctor-assisted suicide is functioning in states and countries where it is legal. There are well-substantiated reports of serious abuses and complications in Oregon, Washington, Quebec and Belgium, among other places. Among the allegations are that patients are being coerced by physicians and by family members to “choose” suicide over continued treatment. Elsewhere, physicians are facing legal threats if they do not provide deadly prescriptions. Again, the question: Is this the legacy we want for the future of California? And if we open the door and allow doctors to help terminally ill patients kill themselves, how will we prevent others from demanding the same “rights”? Are we opening the door to state-sanctioned “death on demand” for anyone who wants it? This legislation — and the process by which it was passed — is not worthy of our great state. So this week, let us pray for the great state of California. And I urge you to join me in asking Governor Brown to veto this legislation and to insist that our lawmakers begin an open and thoughtful study of how we live and die in California. And may our Blessed Mother Mary, Seat of Wisdom and Health of the Sick, guide us in this important hour for our state and our nation. Posted with permission from The Tidings, official publication of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to re-define the nation’s marriage laws to include same-sex couples is no surprise. Obergefell v. Hodges is one more sign that we have entered into a “post-Christian,” even perhaps an “anti-Christian” moment in American public life. But on a deeper level, the decision reflects the crisis in our society’s understanding of creation and the human person. This crisis has been years in the making. As far back as 1992, the Court wrote: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of the universe, and of the mystery of life.” Last week’s decision builds on this false idea of freedom. The Court says it has now discovered that liberty includes men and women’s right to “define and express their identity … by marrying somebody of the same sex and having their marriages deemed lawful.” Of course, human freedom and human rights are gifts of our Creator. The law cannot confer dignity to people. Only God can. Without God, human dignity disappears. But the opinion of the five justices in the Court’s majority reflects the passions and priorities of many who lead and shape our society in the areas of law, government, education, science, industry and the media. In fact, Obergefell expresses the same “anthropocentric” and “technocratic” mentality that Pope Francis warns about in his new encyclical, Laudato Si’ (“Praised Be”). At the heart of this mentality is a rejection of the idea of creation and human nature. Everything — the natural world, our social institutions, our physical bodies, even our very “selves” — everything becomes a kind of “raw material” that we can engineer according to our will, using technology, psychology, and even law and social policy. This “technocratic” mindset explains the audacious tone of the Obergefell ruling. The Court expresses noble thoughts about the “transcendent” purposes of marriage and its importance as a “keystone” of our social order. It acknowledges that marriage has existed “for millennia and across civilizations.” But the five justices in the Court’s majority do not accept that human sexuality and marriage are part of the order of creation. For them, these are just “constructs” that we are free to “re-construct” according to our preferences. That is why these justices can assume they have the wisdom to “recreate” this institution that has been the foundation of human civilization. That is why they can presume the power to discard the definition of marriage that has existed since the beginning of history — as the lifelong union of one man and one woman. Obergefell v. Hodges is a work of social engineering written in emotional and often sentimental language. It reduces marriage to a mere mechanism for satisfying personal desires for “expression, intimacy and spirituality.” The new “right” to same-sex marriage responds to “the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there,” the Court says. This is not a vision of the human person that is worthy of America’s founders. The founders built this country on the belief that men and women are created with equal dignity by our Creator. But this is precisely what Obergefell denies — our “created-ness.” In his dissenting opinion, Justice Samuel Alito warns that those who disagree with the Court’s “new orthodoxy,” will be vilified and punished by the government, by employers and by schools. I hope he is wrong. But the Church’s mission remains the same in good times and in bad. Our society needs to hear the beautiful truth about the human person and God’s plan for creation — a plan that is centered in the family, in husbands and wives and children. This is still our duty. And we are called to carry out that duty with love and respect for everyone, with no exceptions and no excuses. We need to present a new “catechesis” from creation, based on how God made us and how God made the world. We need to help our neighbors to see that we did not create ourselves and that each of us was born either male or female. We need to remind them that only the union of man and woman can create new life. It is disturbing that the Supreme Court’s vision has no necessary role for children — they are like “options” or “accessories.” But in the truth of creation, marriage always points to new creation — to new life, to the beauty of children born in the image of their parents and in the image of God. So as we remember our nation’s founding this week, let us pray for our country and pray for one another. Let us keep building a family culture and a marriage culture — remembering that holy lives, good marriages, and strong families can change the world. And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help us strengthen our faith in God’s plan for our lives and our world.
It is time for our country to put an end to the death penalty. There is a case pending right now in the U.S. Supreme Court that is looking at the practical problems with the way capital punishment is administered through lethal injections. The justices will hear arguments on the issue next month.The Supreme Court’s review comes at a time when many people are rethinking the issue of capital punishment. Eighteen states have now banned the death penalty and the numbers of executions and death penalty convictions are decreasing every year. In 2014, there were 35 executions nationwide, the lowest number in 20 years. In recent years, there have been highly publicized incidents where executions have been mishandled. In one instance, a convicted murderer spent more than 40 minutes in agony after receiving a lethal injection that was supposed to kill him within minutes. There is also substantial evidence that the death penalty is imposed far more often on racial minorities and the poor. And sadly, in some cases we have seen that, due to judicial error, some of those sent to death row did not actually commit the crimes they were convicted of. The Catholic Church has been calling for the abolition of the death penalty for more than 40 years.Just a few weeks ago, Pope Francis’ representative to the United Nations again voiced the Church’s support for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty. The Church has been thinking about these issues of crime and punishment and the common good for a long time, beginning with the teachings of Jesus and the apostolic writings of the New Testament.Through the centuries, the Church has always recognized that governments have the duty to protect people and to punish those who threaten the safety of citizens and society’s good order. St. Thomas Aquinas said public authorities are justified in taking a person’s life if that person endangers the common good. This is still the Catholic teaching. The Catechism says that governments may impose the death penalty “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” And that is precisely the moral issue we face in our times.Today, through advances in law enforcement and criminal justice, our society has many ways to punish violent offenders and to prevent them from committing further violence. As St. John Paul II said in his great letter, The Gospel of Life, society should only choose “the extreme of executing the offender” in “cases of absolute necessity, in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society.” But he added, in words that are quoted in the Catechism, in our times there is almost never any real justification to execute anyone. Cases where the death penalty might be justified are “very rare, if not practically non-existent,” St. John Paul said. We do not need to kill criminals to defend our society. More than that, the continued acceptance of the death penalty contributes to a culture in which people too often think their problems can be “solved” by violence and killing. The death penalty is not at all like abortion or euthanasia. Abortion is the killing of innocent life in the womb and euthanasia is the killing of the sick and defenseless. We recognize that those on death row are not innocent. They have been convicted of grave evil. Not only have they taken the lives of their victims, they have caused deep and lasting trauma to their victims’ families, loved ones and neighbors. So we can never compare the state’s use of capital punishment with the fundamental evils of abortion and euthanasia.But we do say that even the lives of the worst and most dangerous criminals are sacred and we hold out the hope that even these lives can be changed and rehabilitated — through the mercy of God. As a nation and as a society, our justice must be tempered with mercy or we risk losing something of our own humanity. And as Christians we are called to proclaim the Gospel of life and to work so that our criminal justice system always respects the dignity of every human person. So let’s keep praying for one another this week. Let’s pray for the grace to be more open to the light of Christ and the social teachings of his Church. And may our Blessed Mother Mary help us to follow her Son more closely and to hear his call that we be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful. Posted with permission from Angelus, official online publication of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
America’s next saint will be the man who evangelized California and is associated with the beginnings of Los Angeles.Pope Francis announced last week that he intends to canonize Blessed Junípero Serra, OFM, when he comes to the United States next September. This is great news and I am grateful to our Holy Father for this gift to California and the Americas. I wish the Pope was coming to Los Angeles, which Padre Serra originally called El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Porciuncula (“The Town of Our Lady of the Angels of Porciuncula”).But the Pope told reporters that he will likely celebrate the canonization at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. because this will be a “national event.” Indeed, Padre Serra’s canonization will be a beautiful day in the life of our nation. It will be a day to remember that our state and our country — and all of the nations of the Americas — are born from the Christian mission and built on Christian foundations. It will also be a time to reflect on the close spiritual ties that bind Mexico, the Hispanic people, and the United States. When Padre Serra came from Spain to Mexico in December 1749, he walked nearly 300 miles to consecrate his mission at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe before coming to California. His story reminds us that in God’s plan of salvation, the Gospel was first preached in this country by Spanish missionaries from Mexico, under the sign of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the bright star of America’s first evangelization. But the Pope’s announcement has also revived difficult and bitter memories about the treatment of Native Americans during the colonial and missionary period of California’s history. The Church has acknowledged and asked pardon for the cruelty and abuses of colonial leaders and even some missionaries. The Church has also recognized with deep regret that the colonial project disturbed and in some cases destroyed traditional ways of life. St. John Paul II made these points during his 1987 visit to California and the American Southwest, and again during the examination of conscience that was part of the Church’s commemoration of the millennial year 2000. We cannot judge 18th century attitudes and behavior by 21st century standards. But the demands of Gospel love are the same in every age. And it is sad but true that, as John Paul said, in bringing the Gospel to the Americas “not all the members of the Church lived up to their Christian responsibilities.” Some Christians, in fact, “instead of offering to the world the witness of a life inspired by the values of faith, indulged in ways of thinking and acting which were truly forms of counter-witness and scandal.”But this was not the case with Padre Serra. Even critical historians admit that he and his fellow missionaries were protectors and defenders of the Native peoples against colonial exploitation and violence. Padre Serra knew the writings and experience of the Dominican missionary, Bartolomé de Las Casas, in Central America. Like Las Casas, Padre Serra was bold and articulate in fighting against the civil authorities to defend the humanity and rights of indigenous peoples. In my own study and reflection, I have come to the conclusion that Padre Serra should be remembered alongside Las Casas — as one of the pioneers of human rights and human development in the Americas. His 1773 memorandum (or Representación) to the colonial Viceroy in Mexico City is probably the first “bill of rights” published in North America. In this document, he advanced detailed practical recommendations for improving the spiritual and material well-being of California’s indigenous people. He criticized their cruel mistreatment at the hands of the colonial military commander and he urged that the commander be removed from office. To prevent future abuses, Padre Serra demanded that the missionaries be restored to full authority over “the training, governance, punishment and upbringing of the baptized Indians and those who will be baptized.” Such a policy, he concluded, was “in uniformity with the law of nature.” The historical record confirms what Pope Francis believes: that Blessed Junípero Serra was a man of heroic virtue and holiness who had only one burning ambition — to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the peoples of the New World. Whatever human faults he may have had and whatever mistakes he may have made, there is no questioning that he lived a life of sacrifice and self-denial. And he died here in California, having given his life out of love for the Gospel and the people he came to serve. The canonization of Padre Serra will be an important sign in this new era of globalization and cultural encounter. In our continental mission of the new evangelization, we have much to learn from Padre Serra and the first missionaries to the Americas. The missionaries of that first generation were creative and pioneering students of the indigenous peoples and cultures they served. They learned the local languages, customs, and beliefs. And they sowed the seeds of the Gospel to create a rich Christian civilization — expressed in poems and plays, paintings and statues, songs, prayers, devotions, architecture and even laws and policies. All of this should instruct and inspire us as we go forward to be the next generation of missionaries to California and the Americas. So as we pray for each other this week, let’s thank God for this gift of our new saint, Junípero Serra. And let us ask Our Lady of Guadalupe to help us to continue her work and the work of America’s first missionaries — in offering Jesus Christ to every man and woman and promoting justice and human dignity.
God’s ways are not our ways, and his will is not always easy for us to understand.We know that God has a plan of love for every life. But we also know that within his plan, people can find sickness and suffering that seems to have no reason, no justification.These are some of my reflections as the sad drama of a young California woman has been unfolding this week on cable news and in the social media.By now, many of you have heard of Brittany Maynard. She is 29 and suffering from brain cancer that cannot be treated. Doctors say it will claim her life within six months.She and her husband moved to Oregon because it is one of five states in our nation that allow physicians to help patients commit suicide. She has announced that she plans to kill herself with an overdose of pain medication sometime in the next couple of weeks.In her final days, Brittany is working with a national euthanasia group to advocate that the “right” and “choice” of physician-assisted suicide be granted to every American.Her story makes my heart heavy with sadness. And her public confession had led to an outpouring of prayers, commentary and debate.I’ve read beautiful testimonies and appeals from persons who are facing their own terminal illnesses with Christian faith and hope — and urging Brittany to seek beauty and meaning in her sufferings.All of this reminds us — that we are born toward death. Our life is a journey that will come to an end some day. Every one of us knows this.As Christians, we know that our God is a God of the living and he has shared in our sufferings. Jesus wept with human tears, and his heart was moved with compassion for the sick, the diseased and the dying. He has gone before us, entering into our pain and suffering, so that he can lead us through the valley of death into the land of the living. Death is real for us, but death is not the end.But for our secular society, death still remains a closed door. The one horizon we can never see beyond.Our science can discover the inner workings of the tiniest cells in our bodies and probe the depths of outer space. But what lies beyond this life — we will never find out for sure until it happens.We get hints and glimpses along the way. From stories that caregivers tell about the last moments of their loved ones’ lives. From accounts of near-death experiences. From people who have been in comas for years and been awakened. A while back I read a book, Heaven is for Real — they made it into a movie last year.It’s the true story of a 4-year-old boy who almost died while in surgery. When the boy recovered he described how he saw Jesus and Mary in Heaven and how he met family members he never knew about — a great grandfather and an unborn sister who had died in a miscarriage.We don’t really know what to make of all these kinds of stories.But as Christians, we know that Heaven is for real and forever. And the hope for Heaven gives a new horizon to all our tomorrows here on earth. Our challenge as a Church is to share this hope with our neighbors. It is another aspect of the new evangelization of our society, which is losing its sense of God and its sense of Heaven.The sufferings of others in our society must be a summons to us.We need to accompany our brothers and sisters with love and compassion. Through our work to comfort them and ease their pain, we can help them to know — that God draws near to them in their sufferings.Through our kindness and care, we can help those who suffer believe in Heaven. We can show them — that when they breathe their last breath, God will be there, too. To take their hand tenderly and lead them along the last steps of their journey. Through the door, to the love that never ends.So this week, let us pray for that young woman and for all those who are bearing heavy burdens of illness and pain.In their time of trial and suffering, may they find tenderness and beauty in the care of their loved ones. May they know that to God their lives are precious and worth living even in their weakness and vulnerability. And in this month of the rosary, let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help all of us to live with new confidence — that in the hour of our death, all our sorrow will be turned to joy.Archbishop Gomez is author of “A Will to Live: Clear Answers on End of Life Issues.”Posted with permission from The Tidings, official publication of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
This is the time of year when our political leaders give their assessments about where we stand or the “state of things.”Last week, Governor Brown delivered his “state of the state” report for California. And as I write, President Obama is preparing to deliver his State of the Union address. It is clear that we are living in changing times. Our politics, economics and culture — even our morality and our ideas about human nature and the meaning of life — seem to be in a state of transition. As Catholic citizens, we have a duty to be engaged in the ongoing political and cultural conversations about where we’re at and where we’re heading as a nation.The challenge we have, living in this highly secularized and “politicized” society, is to really think and really live as Catholics. We have to struggle against the temptation of seeing things only in political categories of “left” vs. “right” or “liberal” vs. “conservative.” As Catholics, our positions on issues should be rooted in the principles we find in the Gospel and in the Church’s social teachings.This is easier to say than it is to do. But our society urgently needs the Church’s alternative vision.The Church’s social teaching gives us a beautiful vision for human life and human society. In the Catholic vision, society and government exist to serve the human person — who is more than the sum of his or her physical desires and needs; who is a creature of body and soul, made by God and for God, with a transcendent destiny. In the Catholic vision, government has a positive role. So do the free enterprise system and the basic civic institutions of a free society — churches, charities, the family, volunteer organizations.Our Catholic faith calls us to seek a society where people are free to live out their religious beliefs and pursue their aspirations. We are called to work for an economy where the goods of creation are widely shared and everyone has what they need to lead a dignified life. We are called to work for a culture that promotes marriage, the family, and the formation of children; a culture that promotes a vision of life guided by moral virtues, generosity, selfless love and the higher values of beauty and truth. And we should be seeking a government that promotes fairness, opportunity and justice; and policies that welcome the unborn and the immigrant and protect and care for the sick, the aged and the hurting. This is the noble vision that is detailed in the Compendium of the Catholic Social Doctrine of the Church, which I urge everyone to read and study.Of course, our challenge is how to apply these principles to our own realities. Right now in our society, we are increasingly aware of growing numbers of our brothers and sisters who are living in poverty.The poverty of our times has many sad faces. It is women and men who spend hours every day riding the bus to get to jobs that don’t pay enough to feed their families. It is people who are out of work and have had no work for a long time. For too many in our society, the face of poverty is the face of a little boy or a little girl.Our politicians have started talking a lot about “economic inequality.” And it is true that our wealthiest neighbors are getting wealthier while our poorest neighbors are finding it harder to break out of poverty and into the middle class. What’s causing this gap to widen between the rich and the poor is hard to understand. There are no simple answers and no simple solutions. As Catholics, we need to be involved in these conversations about how to grow the middle class and help people out of poverty. And we need to be involved, not as liberals or conservatives, but as Catholics. We need to keep studying these issues and praying about them from the perspective of the Gospel and our social teaching. So this week, let’s pray for one another and let’s pray for our state and our nation. Let’s commit ourselves to getting more involved in our parishes, our neighborhoods and communities. And may our Blessed Mother Mary intercede for us, that we might all have hearts open to the needs of the poor and the vulnerable in our society.Posted with permission from The Tidings, official publication of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Everybody is talking about the Pope this week. All over the world, the interview he gave to some Jesuit journalists has been the constant subject of headlines, talk shows, editorials and conversation. But in our media culture, we have to watch out that we’re not relying too much on secular sources for our news about the Pope and the Church. That’s why the Catholic media is so vital in our day. Unfortunately, most mainstream reporting on Pope Francis has not been really accurate. The reporters – and the people they turn to for “expert” analysis – are good people. But they don’t always seem to be trying to understand the Pope. Instead they seem to be trying to present him in their own image, reflecting their own desires and hopes for the Church. The reporting on the Pope’s latest interview was predictable. The interview takes up almost 20 pages in a magazine. But the media reporting focused only on the four paragraphs where the Holy Father talked about abortion, birth control and homosexuality. That’s too bad. I urge you to read this interview for yourselves. It’s a window into our Holy Father’s soul and his vision for the Church. The world looks different from inside the confessional. And when I read this interview, I hear the attitude of a man who has spent a lot of time in the confessional — on both sides of the box. The Pope starts with a simple confession: “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon. … I always felt my motto, Miserando atque Eligendo [By having mercy and by choosing him], was very true for me.”Pope Francis knows that our faith journey begins in the encounter with God’s mercy – when the Lord looks upon us in mercy and calls us to follow him.It’s striking how much the Pope talks about confession in this interview – and also the priest’s ministry. That’s because this is the great need for the people of our time – a new encounter with God’s mercy. God’s mercy doesn’t replace God’s justice. God’s mercy doesn’t blur the lines between right and wrong or good and evil. The mercy we find in the confessional brings all the darkness, all the shadows in our lives, into the light of God’s saving love. As Pope Francis knows, the priest is above all the minister of God’s mercy. The priest understands, in ways no one else can, that every human life we meet is a mystery. That every human life is complicated. Relationships can become tangled, desires can be disordered. Every case is different and so is the advice for the one who seeks God and his grace. The confessional is not a place of condemnation. It is the mercy seat. “The confessional is … the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better,” the Pope says. Our Holy Father’s vision for the human person is beautiful and open to hope. He says: “I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. … Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else. ... Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”Clearly, our Holy Father is concerned about a tendency toward “rigorism” that would reduce the greatness of the Gospel to a collection of “rules.” The Church, he believes, should be “the home of all … not only a small group of selected people … a nest protecting our mediocrity.”These are the strong words that a confessor might use to get us to examine our conscience. But despite what we hear in the media, the Pope isn’t talking about changing any Church teachings. In fact, he criticizes those who wrongly think that mercy means being “too lax … the loose minister [who] washes his hands by simply saying, ‘This is not a sin.’”Pope Francis knows that the morality and teaching we find in the Catechism is rooted in something deeper, something “prior.” What matters most is Jesus Christ and our personal relationship with him. “The most important thing,” our Holy Father says, “is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.”The Pope knows that when we draw close to Christ, it leads to conversion. We want to change our lives to be more like him. This is the “context” that the Pope is talking about. Once we know God’s saving love in our lives, then we understand the meaning of the Church’s moral teachings. There is so much in this interview that is worth praying over and reflecting on. Our Holy Father wants us all to have greater simplicity and humility — and a greater sense of our responsibility for others. He is calling us all to accompany others with mercy, to heal them and warm their hearts with the light of the Gospel. He is calling us to help our neighbors to find God in their lives. He says we need to find “new roads” to reach those who have left the Church or have given up on God.The mercy of God is the heart of the message of Christ. That’s why the encounter with Christ is so urgent for every person. That’s the mission that Pope Francis sets before the Church — and before each one of us. Let’s keep praying for one another this week. Let’s pray for our Pope! And let’s ask our Blessed Mother Mary to teach us to love like Jesus and to open our hearts to follow him more closely.
Our Holy Father Pope Francis has asked us to make this Saturday, Sept. 7, a day of prayer and fasting for peace – especially in Syria and the Middle East.These are indeed troubling times in that part of the world. In addition to the daily atrocities in Syria’s civil war, there is turmoil in Egypt and daily bloodshed in Iraq.As I write, our leaders in Washington seem prepared to attack the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons against its people.My brother bishops in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have urged our leaders to work instead for a ceasefire and to promote dialogue and negotiations between the warring factions fighting in Syria.We urged them to follow Pope Francis’ advice: “It is not conflict that offers prospects of hope for solving problems, but rather the capacity for encounter and dialogue.”It’s not clear, as I write, which path our government will follow.What is clear is that our world needs new thinking about war and peace and about the use of force in resisting evil. And I believe that Catholic social teaching can contribute a lot to this new thinking.This is the 50th anniversary of Blessed Pope John XXIII great encyclical, Pacem in Terris (“Peace on Earth”) and I’ve been reading this encyclical.It was written in 1963 – during a very tense time in the world. It was written in the months following the Cuban Missile Crisis and at the start of the Cold War. Yet Blessed Pope John writes with a calm, hopeful spirit.He teaches that peace is far more than the absence of violence. Peace comes from following God’s plan for the order of the world. Peace depends, in the Pope’s words, on “the diligent observance of the divinely established order.”God’s plan for the world is that all men and women live and work together as “one family.” And to realize this plan, it is essential that governments defend the God-given dignity and human rights of every person.Today, we see that our world needs a new commitment to what Blessed Pope John called the “unity of the human family.”The processes of “globalization” have made nations interconnected on the levels of economics, finance and the flow of information.But on the human level, our “globalized” world seems more fragmented than ever today. The human family is divided by religion and power, by money and natural resources, by race and nationality.The problem is that our world can’t seem to agree on what principles should “order” our global economic and political life. And without any sense of our shared humanity, the world risks sliding into a violent chaos of competing “self-interests.”So the Church’s teachings on peace and international order remain vital today. In his great City of God, St. Augustine defined peace as tranquillitas ordinis – “the tranquility of order.”As Catholics, we need to promote the Church’s teachings and we need to work for that divine order that God wants to establish on earth.We are called to build a culture of peace – to promote awareness of God and our common humanity. We need to inspire a new sense of our duties to care for others and to share with those in need.Peace is a gift from God, but achieving peace begins with us.We need to inspire new dedication to promoting freedom and human rights for peoples around the world. We need to seek ways to break down the barriers that divide people and to help them forgive those who have done them wrong.In everything we need to seek what Blessed Pope John called “the universal common good, that is, the common good of the entire human family.”So let us take time this Saturday to pray and reflect on the meaning of peace. Let’s examine our hearts about our own commitment to peace.In the prayers we say in the Mass before receiving Holy Communion, we ask God to “free us from every evil” and to “grant us peace in our days.”This week, let’s make that our prayer. Let’s ask God to give us the strength to be peacemakers – in our homes and in our communities, and in the positions we advocate as faithful citizens.Let’s entrust all our prayers and fasting to the intercession of Mary, who is the Queen of Peace and the Mother of the Prince of Peace.Reprinted with permission from The Tidings, official newspaper for the archdiocese of Los Angeles. The column was originally printed September 6, 2013.
This week many of our young people are heading off on their pilgrimage to Rio de Janiero, Brazil to join Pope Francis at World Youth Day.And last week Pope Francis gave all of us a great gift – his first encyclical letter, “Lumen Fidei.” (“The Light of Faith”)Faith is one of the great issues of our times. How can we believe? And who can we trust? What is there for us to believe in? How can we know for sure that what we believe is true? These questions trouble many of our neighbors. This is what our Holy Father’s new encyclical is about.“Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in the world,” he writes.Many people have stopped thinking about God. Others, if they think about him at all, think God is just “out there” – beyond us, up in the clouds and not concerned about our lives, our relationships or our world.If we think about God that way – as remote and removed – then it really doesn’t make any difference whether we believe in him or not. And that’s what many of our brothers and sisters have decided. That’s why more and more people in our country now say they have “no religion.”Throughout the West, we have forgotten God. So much so that Pope Francis says “we can speak of a massive amnesia in our contemporary world.”That’s why the world needs a new evangelization.Because, until very recently, this world knew God. In fact, for almost 20 centuries faith in the God of Abraham and the God of Jesus Christ was the foundation of our civilization. God was real for people. God was alive in their hearts. Faith in his promises stirred their imaginations and their art. Trust in the order of his creation guided their science and technology. God’s teachings shaped people’s expectations for how they should treat one another and how they should be treated.Yes, throughout these centuries, there was hypocrisy, cruelty and many atrocities. But we measured ourselves against God’s law and the Gospel. His standards of goodness and justice were the standards we strived for in our societies.So what do we have when we don’t have faith in God? We have what Pope Francis calls “idolatry.”As human beings, we can run away from God, try to forget him. But we can’t escape our own humanity. We can’t change the reality that we are created by God. And as men and women we are made to believe.When we stop believing in God, we don’t stop believing. We just start believing in other things. We start believing in ourselves – in our powers, in our possessions, in the things we can create and control. In the language of the Bible, we start to worship the work of our own hands.Today in our culture, we may have “no God” but we do have many little “gods.” Many objects and ideas and belief systems that we put our trust in.That’s because when people don’t have faith in God, they chase their own desires, define their own happiness, follow paths of their own making to destinations of their own choosing. They think they are truly free. But, as Pope Francis says, they are following an illusion, a false path.He writes: “Once man has lost the fundamental orientation which unifies his existence … his life-story disintegrates into a myriad of unconnected instants … an aimless passing from one lord to another … a plethora of paths leading nowhere and forming a vast labyrinth.”The new evangelization means re-introducing the world to God. It means helping our brothers and sisters to meet Jesus Christ – who shows us the face of God and calls us to turn from the darkness of idols to live in the light of God’s love.Pope Francis writes: “Faith, tied as it is to conversion, is the opposite of idolatry; it breaks with idols to turn to the living God in a personal encounter. Believing means entrusting oneself to a merciful love which always accepts and pardons, which sustains and directs our lives, and which shows its power by its ability to make straight the crooked lines of our history.”"Lumen Fidei" is a beautiful work of the new evangelization. I hope you can all find time to read it and reflect on it.Let’s pray this week for all the young people gathering in Rio for World Youth Day! Let’s ask Jesus to increase their faith and to increase our faith.And let’s ask Our Lady, Star of the New Evangelization, to help us all to follow her Son and bring others to meet him. Reprinted with permission from the The Tidings, official newspaper for the diocese of Los Angeles.