Thu, 29 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0700
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher who lived four centuries before Christ, proposed the scientific theory of horror vacui. Based on his observations, he concluded that nature fills every empty space with something, even if it is only air. In his works Gargantua and Pantagruel, the Renaissance priest, doctor and scientist Rabelais popularized this idea with the phrase Natura abhorret vacuum (“nature abhors a vacuum”). Where there is a void, either mass or energy rushes in to occupy the empty space. In truth, this theory applies not merely to physics, but to life.

For the last thirty years, the secularization of culture and the banishing of God from the public forum have created a great religious void. More and more Americans have been abandoning the practice of religion. Since 1990, the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has tripled from eight percent to twenty-two percent. 

Today there are about five million fewer mainline Protestants and three million fewer Catholics than there were ten years ago. For every new convert to Catholicism, six others leave the Church. Young people between the ages of 18 and 30 are much less interested in religion than their parents. As Alan Cooperman, the director of religion research for the Pew Research Center, has observed, “the country is becoming less religious as a whole, and it’s happening across the board.”

Nonetheless, the human person is innately religious. More than just being a material creature on the same level as irrational animals, the human person has reason and is always in search of meaning. “Nature abhors a vacuum.” And, so into the void created by abandoning religion as a source of meaning, other forms of discovering meaning have rushed in. 

In an attempt to respond to the spiritual dimension of human life, some people are turning to New Age beliefs. New Age adherents, now nearly one-fourth of the population, have replaced the personal God of revelation with a spiritual energy that animates the cosmos. They are making use of crystals, tarot cards, astrology, psychics, and even yoga as a spiritual exercise to tap into this impersonal energy in order to manage their lives and find self-fulfillment. 

For New Age adherents, there is no absolute truth. All beliefs are of equal value. And, since they deny the existence of sin, they do not accept the need for a Redeemer. At best, New Age adherents trade the transcendental for the immanent, the spiritual for the physical. At worse, they reject God and unwittingly fall into the hands of the Adversary. 

And, then there are others who reject God and consciously choose to turn to one form or another of the occult. It is astounding to realize that there are almost 1.5 million people who are involved in Wicca, a pagan form of witchcraft. Ever since the Garden of Eden and our first parents’ sin of attempting to be like God, people have been looking for ways to have the same knowledge and power as God himself. Today there are more witches than Presbyterians, more people involved in the occult than there are Muslims in the United States. 

The more individuals extol themselves as self-sufficient and exalt reason over faith, they turn from God and enthrone Satan. Attempting to control their lives through the use of the occult, they hand themselves over to Satan who uses them to destroy the peace and harmony God plans for us. Satan is the great deceiver. He makes people believe that they have absolute control of their lives. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “[Satan’s] logic is simple: if there is no heaven there is no hell; if there is no hell, then there is no sin; if there is no sin, then there is no judge, and if there is no judgment, then evil is good and good is evil.”

It would be foolish to close our eyes to the unmistakable increase of the devil’s activity in our society. Lack of civility. Hate speech. The tearing down of people’s good name. The blood shed on our streets. The breakdown of family life. The widespread extolling of vices contrary to the gospel. The delight in exposing the sins of others. Abuse in all its forms. Abortion. The persecution of the Church. All these are born of anger, hatred, envy, pride, greed and lust. They cause division and are the fingerprints of the Evil One.

On the day after his election to the papacy, Pope Francis shocked the cardinals who had placed him on the Chair of Peter. He said, “Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil. When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil.” The Pope courageously acknowledged the reality of Satan that day and many other times thereafter. And the Pope provided the only way to banish the devil from our midst: professing faith in Jesus. Professing our faith means quite simply staying close to Jesus within the Church, attending Mass at least each Sunday and Holy Day, receiving the sacraments and practicing charity. In other words, the only permanent antidote to evil in the world is the presence of God who leaves in us no room for evil.

Fri, 16 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0700
By Bishop W. Shawn McKnight

The November General Assembly of Bishops in Baltimore was a difficult but perhaps unavoidable experience for us to move forward as a Church. I was very disappointed to learn that the Holy See found it necessary to insist that the USCCB not take action at this time on the proposals presented by our conference leadership. My frustration, shared with many other people, is this: We have known about the scandal of Archbishop McCarrick since the end of June, and our Church must take immediate, decisive and substantive action in light of the deep wound the scandal has caused.

I am not so concerned about the time it is taking to punish the perpetrator. Pope Francis immediately required the Archbishop to resign from the College of Cardinals when Cardinal Dolan announced the New York review board found a credible and substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against him. I’m okay with the fact that further penalties (which could include McCarrick’s return to the lay state) will take more time for a complete canonical process. McCarrick isn’t going anywhere and he is already living a life of imposed prayer and penance.

But much more is needed than simply meting out a just punishment. How could his rise to such an influential position in the Church have happened? I am concerned how the national conference of bishops and the Holy See answer that question. An internal investigation of the McCarrick scandal without the use of competent and qualified lay investigators will hardly be considered transparent and credible. We need and must utilize the best and brightest people to do a top-notch investigation and study of the problem. Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta is the most qualified Catholic clergy to lead such an investigation, but without knowing that his collaborators include competent laity, the public may not perceive his eventual report as independent and complete enough to be believed.

At the time of this writing, there has not been one bishop, archbishop or cardinal in either the Holy See or the United States who has come forward on his own to repent publicly of his sins of omission or commission with regard to Archbishop McCarrick’s series of promotions over decades. Please, be men, not cowards, and come clean on your own! There doesn’t have to be a formal and long, drawn out investigation for a bishop to exercise a little compunction and concern for the well-being of the whole Church. An independent and transparent investigation is all the more necessary when culpable hierarchs exhibit an incapacity to do the right thing on their own.

The laity are the only ones who can keep the hierarchy accountable and get us out of the mess we bishops got ourselves into. My singular focus throughout the Baltimore meeting was to advocate and push for greater public involvement of the laity at all levels of the Church. Why can’t we have well qualified, nationally known and trusted lay experts named to the special task force announced by the president of the USCCB? We are too insular and closed in as a hierarchy, and so are some of our processes at the USCCB. The Second Vatican Council gave us not only the freedom but the obligation to utilize and engage the gifts and talents of the laity in the life and mission of the Church.

Beyond the McCarrick scandal, we have more work cut out for us with regard to putting into place protocols and institutional structures to build credibility in the hierarchy’s handling of sexual abuse cases going forward. History proves that we bishops are not capable of policing ourselves adequately on the issue of clergy sexual abuse. Why not include the laity to assist us with this problem? The document the Missouri Province of Bishops presented to the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People on Oct. 6 was intended to offer a set of principles for the USCCB to consider as it was developing proposals for the full body of bishops, including the involvement of the laity. We Missouri bishops wanted something valuable to come from our November meeting.

And so, I was disappointed that even the mild proposals up for consideration at the Baltimore meeting had to be pulled from a vote. It was a rather harsh reminder to me of what many lay people have been saying throughout our Diocese: We bishops are ineffectual in our attempts to address the problem of abuse of power by the hierarchy. The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People has had a marked impact on lowering the number of incidents of abuse by clergy since 2003. But with the aggravation of the McCarrick scandal, the laity and clergy are now rightfully asking that we get it all out, once and for all, and respond with an urgency that this crisis deserves. We literally have people dying because of the harm caused by predator clergy, and survivors of abuse are further victimized when we fail to take swift action. Seeing certain retired bishops who were notoriously responsible for covering up clergy sexual abuse at this year’s General Assembly in Baltimore as welcome guests was a slap in the face to all who have been wounded by the clergy. This example of episcopal arrogance and clericalism evidences the fact that we still don’t get the problem.

The whole Church is needed to solve our problem which the whole world knows about. What more do we have to hide? If we are going to move forward, we need to have authentic communion and a genuine synodal process. And this requires transparency and better communication between the clergy and the laity, between the USCCB and its own members, and between the USCCB and the Holy See. We need to become the Church Christ founded us to be.

Some of the most poignant comments I heard during the listening sessions in our Diocese were in response to the question asking for people’s dreams for their children and grandchildren. People spoke of a Church where their children and grandchildren would find the love, mercy and hope of Jesus Christ, a community filled by God’s graces and led by holy priests. Despite our current lethargy, I believe we are witnessing the rebirth and renewal of our Church in our day. And I feel very blessed to be part of that renewal with each of you. We are better together.

 

 

Bishop McKnight's column was first published at Making Connections, his column on the website of the Diocese of Jefferson City.

Thu, 01 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0600
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

On the Mediterranean coast, half way between modern Tel Aviv to the north and Haifa to the south, stand the ruins of Caesarea Maritima, the magnificent city that Herod the Great built between 22 and 10 B.C. Herod’s palace, built on a promontory jutting out into the sea, was an engineering marvel. The city’s 40-acre harbor could accommodate 300 ships. The city boasted a hippodrome as well as a theater with a seating capacity of 3,500.

Caesarea Maritima was one of the most important cities in the world. It was the Roman capital from which Pontius Pilate ruled the province of Judea at the time of Jesus. Paul was imprisoned here. Deacon Philip lived here. And, for the first 300 years of Christianity, Caesarea became a center of faith and study that rivaled Alexandria and Antioch. Among its most famous Christians is Origen.

Origen (184 – 253 A.D.) was a teacher, scholar, preacher, apologist, and theologian. He has rightly been called “the greatest genius of the early Church.” Like St. Paul himself whose writings influenced all subsequent theology, Origen has had an unmistakable effect on the Church’s great thinkers for centuries. Among others, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Meister Eckhart all studied his writing. Origen’s allegorical interpretation of Scripture became the preferred method of explaining the Scriptures during the Middle Ages.

As a first-class philosopher and student of Sacred Scripture, he has earned himself the distinction of being the Church’s first biblical scholar. But, he did not limit his study to Sacred Scripture. He wrote on many different topics, including textual criticism, hermeneutics, theology, asceticism and homiletics. Origen’s principal work, De Principiis, was the first systematic exposition of Christian theology ever written. With the help of seven full-time secretaries, he produced more than two thousand works. So extensive were his writings that St. Jerome remarked, “Has anyone read everything that Origen wrote?”

The catechetical school that Origen established at Caesarea Maritima boasted the largest theological library of the day. It attracted such renowned scholars as St. Gregory Nazianzus, St. Basil the Great and St. Jerome. One of Origen’s students, Eusebius of Caesarea, earned the distinction of being “The Father of Church History.” Eusebius himself provides us into a glimpse of Origen’s personal life.

According to Eusebius, Origen not only worked assiduously defending the faith, but also he lived the faith in great simplicity. He owned only one coat. He wore no shoes. He ate sparingly. He slept on the floor. He spent the night studying and praying the Scriptures. In the words of Eusebius, “he taught as he lived and he lived as he taught.”

In the days of Origen, the Church herself had to face persecution, hostility and attacks from pagan philosophers. Even within the Church, there were the interminable battles on such important doctrines as the Trinity, the Divinity of Jesus and Redemption. While, in some instances, Origen may have not understood or explained the faith correctly, he nevertheless said, “I want to be a man of the Church … to be called … of Christ.”

What a great inspiration Origen is for anyone who may find it difficult when the Church faces challenges, questions, hostility, persecution and human failure. In his commentary on the Gospel of John, he writes: 

“The Church is being built out of living stones; it is in process of becoming a spiritual dwelling for a holy priesthood, raised on the foundations of apostles and prophets, with Christ as its chief cornerstone. Hence, it bears the name ‘temple.’…It is written: You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it. Thus even if the harmonious alignment of the stones should seem to be destroyed and fragmented and, as described in the twenty-first psalm, all the bones which go to make up Christ’s body should seem to be scattered by insidious attacks in persecutions or times of trouble, or by those who in days of persecution undermine the unity of the temple, nevertheless the temple will be rebuilt and the body will rise again on the third day, after the day of evil which threatens it…” From a commentary on John by Origen, priest (Tomus 10, 20: PG 14, 370-371).

With these words, Origen offers hope to those who become discouraged when they see the Church suffering, besieged and wounded by sin. Origen presents the Church as a building being constructed, a work in progress. And, he enlarges our understanding of the Church so that we see ourselves as her members, imperfect in ourselves, yet being perfected by the grace of God. As we look forward to “the third day,” the day of the final resurrection, we pray for the Church and try to advance her holiness by striving after holiness in our own imperfect lives.
 

Tue, 30 Oct 2018 00:00:00 -0600
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

One of the most famous figures of all English literature is the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Three times he appears in Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. He demands that his son settle accounts with his uncle who murdered the dead king. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Julius Caesar and Richard III, ghosts also appear. From the 3rd century B.C. Epic of Gilgamesh through Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Shakespeare and Dickens, ghosts populated the pages of literature. They have appeared in films and even starred in their own TV show, Ghost Hunters.

Are ghosts merely fictional? Do they really exist?  First Lady Grace Coolidge said that she saw Abraham Lincoln’s ghost looking out the window of the Oval Office. Many others have, likewise, reported sightings of the ghost of our 16th President at the White House. Among those claiming to have seen a spectral Lincoln are Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and President Reagan’s daughter Maureen.

Within the Old Testament, there is the famous incident of the ghost of the prophet Samuel. In 1 Samuel 28, King Saul is facing a fierce battle with the Philistines. He wants to know the outcome; and, so he consults the witch of Endor. The spirit of the dead prophet Samuel appears and predicts Saul’s imminent defeat and death. Some commentators say that Samuel came because God allowed him to come and speak on God’s behalf (cf. Sir 46:20). Other commentators consider this incident a demonic apparition. In either case, they accept the apparition.

The New Testament gives evidence that the disciples of Jesus believed in the reality of ghosts. After the miracle of the loaves and fish, “when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea, they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost,’ they said, and they cried out in fear” (Mt 14:26). When the Risen Lord appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, “they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then [Jesus] said to them, ‘Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have’ ” (Lk 24:37-39). 

The word “ghost” simply means “spirit.” It refers to the spirit of a deceased person who has made himself or herself present to the living. According to polls taken in the last ten years, almost forty-two percent of Americans believe in ghosts. According to a recent poll, almost thirty percent of Americans say they have been in touch with someone who has died.

Stories about contact with the dead continue to fascinate us. They provoke the imagination. They manifest our awareness that there is more to reality than the physical world which we empirically experience. These reports of the spirits of those who have died clearly suggest personal survival after death. 

In her wisdom, the Church rightly condemns consulting mediums to be in touch with the dead. In fact, “all forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2116).

As Catholics, we hold that, at death, we face an immediate judgment of our lives. If we are in the state of perfect charity, we go to heaven. If we die in the state of mortal sin (God forbid!), we suffer eternal estrangement from God in hell. And, those of us who die in the state of grace, but not in perfect charity, undergo a purification of love in purgatory before we come into the presence of God. In a word, death is not the end of our personal existence. Nor does the Grim Reaper sever our relationships with each other. All tales of ominous specters appearing from beyond the grave pale before the brilliant truth of the Risen Christ who leaves the tomb empty and joins the living and the dead in one holy Communion of Saints where we assist each other with our prayers!
 

Sun, 15 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0600
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

Researchers claim that an average person needs less than 30 seconds to appraise someone at a first encounter. Even before the individual speaks, there is non-verbal communication. Body language such as crossed arms, dilated pupils, and forced smiles send a message. So does one’s clothing.

In a day that places a high premium on communication and where even one’s appearance is crafted to evoke a certain response, clothes have become extremely meaningful. Gone are the days when the wealthy dressed to flaunt their riches and the less fortunate wore their work clothes as a badge of honest labor.

The choices of clothing tell others something about ourselves. Clothes can communicate our occupation. In a hospital, their uniforms set the nurses apart from the cleaning staff; on a city street, blue uniforms identify our police force. Some today use clothing to signify their choice of gender.

The very colors we choose for our clothing also have meaning. Black signifies formality and elegance as well as authority. Red communicates energy, passion, speed and strength. Green, youth and vigor; white, innocence and cleanliness. Yellow and orange shout out joy, optimism and hope.

Clothes also mark the occasions. Picnic-goers dress down. Prom-goers dress up. A bride usually wears a white dress; a groom, a tuxedo. Beach-goers wear shorts and T-shirts. Graduates, cap and gown. Pallbearers at funerals dress in somber tones; and, clowns in circuses dress in bright colors. T-shirts, jeans and shorts all have their place and proper setting. And, our choice of them on a particular day or occasion tells people something about us.

Generally speaking, since the 1960s, we Americans have become more and more casual in our dress code. While the pilot and co-pilot along with the flight attendants still appear in neat and clean uniforms, no one else dresses up anymore to board an airplane. College students dress casually for class. And, business people heartily embrace casual Fridays. We are at a time where comfort and practicality matter in dress as well as the ability to express one’s own individuality.

Informal, casual attire has almost become de rigeur for the average American. Even church-goers no longer feel the need to put on their Sunday best. All except one group of church-goers. Many African Americans who go to church on Sunday distinguish themselves by dressing up for the occasion. Their long tradition of honoring the Lord with the way in which they appear before him to worship has not collapsed in the face of tidal waves of casual dress. Perhaps, there is a needed lesson in their example!

Beachwear, flip-flops, tank-tops (and the list could continue) are simply not proper attire to come into the presence of the Lord. No one would appear before the Queen of England unless attired properly. How much more before the Lord of heaven and earth. Perhaps, here is where the real challenge is. Have we been losing our sense of the transcendence of God? While many no longer believe in God, have some church-goers forgotten who God truly is? Have we become more focused on ourselves, our comfort, than our God and the respect due to him when we enter his presence to worship him?

When coming to church, we should remember that “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Thus, our first concern is always that we come before the Lord “with clean hands and pure heart” (Ps 24:4). And, if we have sinned, then with contrition and the purpose of amendment.

Nonetheless, we cannot forget that our clothes are important. They send out clear messages about us to others and to the other. It is near impossible to dictate proper attire for church. Yet, it can be said with clarity and certainty that the clothes we wear to church should not draw attention to us. Our clothes should always be modest and clean, expressing our respect for the honor and glory of God. God deserves our best!

Fri, 22 Jun 2018 00:00:00 -0600
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

Basic to the American dream is the search for freedom. In the 17th century, Europeans facing persecution for their beliefs fled to America. Since World War II, millions of people have come to the shores of this country. Wars, persecutions, economic distress and political unrest have driven them from their homes to seek a better life. Recent statistics show that there are more than 43.7 million immigrants residing in the United States. They make up 13.5 percent of the total population.

As Americans, we take great pride that we are a nation where our government protects the freedom of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The word “freedom” belongs to our political discourse, our national debates and our everyday language. From our country’s initial War of Independence until the present moment, America has gone into battle to secure and to defend the freedom of the enslaved and oppressed.

However high this country has flown the flag of freedom in the past, not everyone has enjoyed the same freedoms. In the early days of our republic, only white male property owners were free to vote. Women could not vote. In New Jersey, they did not gain the right to vote until 1807. It took the bloodbath of the Civil War to abolish slavery. Then it took the civil rights movement of the 1960s to begin to establish equality for African Americans as a matter of fact. And, the struggle still continues.

In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution. Its purpose was to ensure that freedom in America meant that every citizen enjoy equal protection under the law for life, liberty and property. The Fourteenth Amendment literally changed the battleground in the struggle to ensure equal freedom for all. It “made the Constitution what it had never been before – a vehicle through which aggrieved groups can take their claims that they lack equality and freedom to court” (Eric Foner, “The Contested History of American Freedom,” Historical Society of Pennsylvania).

Perhaps it is time for us to examine how truly free we are and to discern the underlying reason why our freedom as Americans seems to be diminishing. This great nation has always held out the promise that good hard-working individuals were free to move up the social scale. But, recent economic factors are actually limiting this freedom.

Some employers are now choosing to hire individuals only on a part-time basis. This limits their access to health benefits. Employers now claim the right to examine company computers to read the correspondence of their employees, thus limiting their privacy. Is an employee free at work to express his or her religious or political beliefs without facing censure?

In the world of medicine, insurance companies have so many procedures and necessary approvals that it is becoming increasingly difficult to have access at times to needed and timely treatment. Even the move to change Medicare promises to provide less coverage for the elderly. As a result, the life span of the elderly will diminish.

Furthermore, the rising cost of education is limiting the freedom of families to choose private education. Especially in states like New Jersey where there are no school vouchers, low income families are forced to send their children to a state-run school. Is this true freedom for every taxpayer? Since the 1980s, families have been bearing a greater burden in sending their children to our colleges and universities. College tuition and ancillary fees have tripled in the last 30 years. Access to higher education is not equal for all. (Richard Eskow, “Ten ways Americans have lost their freedom,” Alternet, Aug. 31, 2012).

In commenting on Patrick J. Deneen’s book Why Liberalism Failed (Politics and Culture), Jonathan Leeman gets to the heart of the matter of why we are facing a lessening of our freedoms. Paradoxically, once we make individual freedom the basic value of our society, we yield more and more areas of our lives to the state. In order to ensure every individual’s right to choose and act as they please, the state must make more and more rules and, ultimately, those rules diminish the freedom of some.

For example, to ensure the right of all individuals to marry as they deem fit, the rights of those who hold to marriage as a union of one man and one woman are now lessened. Those who propose the definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman are now seeing their freedom of speech curtailed. The state’s guaranteeing the freedom of a woman to abort her child takes away the freedom of the child to live. In either the case of same-sex marriage or that of abortion, the basis for the state’s position is a radical individualism where the freedom of every person must be safeguarded by the government.

But, the basis of a sound society cannot be radical individualism. Individuals are not autonomous. We are born into a family. We form part of the wider community. “Once a people view themselves as their own highest authority, whatever they most value becomes their god. And that god will rule their nation. Indeed, such a nation will even take good, God-given gifts and turn them into tyrannical idols. Communism did this with equality. Liberalism does this with liberty” (Jonathan Leeman, “How Freedom Became an American Idol,” April 17, 2018).

The ultimate basis for guaranteeing freedom is justice. “By justice a king builds up the land” (Prov 29:4). By justice, a government recognizes itself as subject to a higher rule than itself or its citizens. It seeks to give to each person their rights as determined by God. Once God is removed from the equation and individual freedom replaces justice that promotes the common good, the road is set in the direction of diminishing freedoms. A culture of radical individualism ultimately erodes true freedom.

Tue, 19 Jun 2018 00:00:00 -0600
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

Alfred E. Smith, a devout Catholic, was elected four times as governor of New York. However, the announcement of his candidacy for president immediately unleashed a storm of anti-Catholicism in 1928. A Protestant minister in Oklahoma City warned his large congregation, “If you vote for Al Smith, you’re voting against Christ and you’ll all be damned.” The Daytona Beach, Florida school board predicted that, if Smith were elected, students would not be allowed to have or read a Bible. Around the country, pamphlets appeared attacking the Catholic Smith. More than 100 anti-Catholic newspapers poisoned the well with their propaganda against Smith for his religion. The anti-Catholic hate was so strong that, within just eight weeks, Smith’s campaign for the presidency ended.

Some people today look back on the 1960 election of John F. Kennedy as the end of such anti-Catholicism. But, the facts seem to contradict such an optimistic view. Kennedy understood the opposition that he faced because of his religion. When he spoke in Morgantown, West Virginia, a state that at that time was 95 percent Protestant, he addressed the issue head on. He said, “Nobody asked me if I was a Catholic when I joined the United States Navy… and nobody asked my brother if he was a Catholic or Protestant before he climbed into an American bomber plane to fly his last mission.” His bold words stunned the crowd when he asked if 40 million Americans lose their right to run for presidency on the day they are baptized Catholics.

On Sept.12, 1960, Kennedy addressed the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. Standing before 300 Protestant ministers and 300 spectators, he announced that the real issues in the presidential campaign were being sidelined by the anti- Catholic polemic. He provided his opponents with his political credo by announcing, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute – where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote. . . .” Kennedy lost votes because he was Catholic. He won the election in spite of his Catholicism. To think that his election ended anti-Catholic prejudice in America is not accurate.

Rudy Giuliani campaigned as a candidate in the 2008 presidential campaign. During a town-hall meeting in Iowa, he was questioned on his Catholic faith. Someone asked him if he was a practicing Catholic. Another person asked him how his Catholic faith would influence his political decisions. Giuliani responded by saying, “My religious affiliation, my religious practices and the degree to which I am a good or not so good Catholic, I prefer to leave to the priests.” When Giuliani said, “I don't think there should be a religious test for public office,” the man questioning him was not satisfied. Clearly, the Catholic faith is, in the mind of some, an impediment to public office.

In 2017, in the hearings of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, the ugly specter of anti-Catholicism appeared again. In examining Notre Dame law professor, Amy Coney Barrett for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, senators brought into question her Catholic faith. They again and again demanded assurances that her faith would not influence her legal decisions. California Senator Diane Feinstein was quite concerned that Barrett would allow her pro-life beliefs make her act against abortion. Like an oracle from on high, Feinstein pronounced against Barret the damning judgment, “The dogma lives loudly within you and that’s of concern when you come to big issues…” Barrett was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. But, not with a single Democratic Senator voting for her. Not without an underlying anti-Catholic prejudice coming into play.

Richard John Neuhaus once observed that it is not simply being Catholic that is the problem for someone running for public office. Rather, it is being a Catholic who holds to the truths as taught by the Church. Neuhaus said, “Indeed, one of the most acceptable things is to be a bad Catholic, and in the view of many people, the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic.” As Catholics, we should lament any time the vast wisdom of our faith and tradition is summarily dismissed from the national debate or when we ourselves are marginalized. 

The anti-Catholic prejudice that surfaces in our process of selecting people for public office should be a warning and a challenge to all. People of every faith need to question where to draw the line on what qualifies or disqualifies a person from public office. Have we come to a point in our country where certain issues no longer admit discussion or diversity of opinion? Are we moving toward a situation where moral values will be dictated by the state and religion will be seen as an enemy? Would we want to disqualify from public office individuals with principles that prod us to re-examine some of our decisions just because we disagree with them? The end result will be a very bad form of government.
 

Fri, 08 Jun 2018 00:00:00 -0600
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

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. 

Sun, 20 May 2018 00:00:00 -0600
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

Since 2010, world leaders, movie stars, CEOs, artists, and political activists have been meeting annually in New York for the Women in the World Summit. This gathering has become one of America’s most famous forums to foster women’s rights. In 2015, on the eve of launching her presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton gave the keynote address. Her remarks sparked an immediate firestorm of comments and controversy over the endangered right of religious freedom.

Ms. Clinton proclaimed rather apodictically that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.” To be fair, it must be said that she was speaking directly about abortion. Nonetheless, she was introducing into the political discussion her thesis that government decisions trump individual conscience. Whether she intended it or not, Ms. Clinton’s words amounted to an effort to marginalize all those who do not accept the absolute right of government to dictate religious beliefs and to punish those who refuse to accept its decisions.

If the government can mandate abortion and demand that everyone conforms, then why can it not demand other things? It logically follows that the government would be able to dictate euthanasia for the terminally ill and the elderly and then punish those who refuse to commit these acts on the basis of their religious conviction. With the legalization of same-sex marriages, the government has already changed its definition of marriage and those who refuse to conform by changing their beliefs are already being dragged into our courts.

Our country has been able to survive a number of leaders whose personal lives were less than exemplary. We have had at least seven presidents who have had extramarital affairs while in office.

But, they were not strident in changing the moral values of the country. They simply gave in to human weakness. This is quite different from a leader announcing that religion itself must change according to the beliefs of the leader of the nation. No free nation can survive if that becomes the accepted philosophy of governing.

An individual who proposes that people must change their beliefs to be in line with government policies never rises to political prominence unless there are others who support such a view. Obviously, there are many others who either aggressively support or tacitly accept Ms. Clinton’s proposal. She is not alone. And this is even more disturbing.

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States prohibits the establishment of a religion as the official religion of the nation. But, it also protects the free exercise of religion on the part of individuals. In no way did our Founding Fathers intend to push religious beliefs from the public forum. The separation of church and state, so important to the well-functioning of our society, was never intended to secularize the public debate.

Wilfred McClay, a distinguished professor of intellectual history at the University of Oklahoma, makes a valid distinction between political secularism and philosophical secularism. On the one hand, philosophical secularism is antagonistic to religion. It seeks to remove it completely from any political discussion and replace religion with unbelief. On the other hand, political secularism is what the Founding Fathers envisioned for our Republic. It does not favor one religion over another. But, it does accept the role of religion within society.

Religion is never merely a personal matter. One’s beliefs shape one’s behavior and actions that affect others. Certainly, Christians have known this from the very beginning. When the Holy Spirit came down on the first disciples on Pentecost, he came to draw believers into a deeper communion with God through the Risen Lord. He came to unite all believers in the Church which Jesus himself founded. And, he came to impel Christians into the world to change the world.

Faith in Jesus can never be individualized so as to exclude any involvement in the affairs of one’s nation. Perhaps, this is one of the unspoken sins of many believers. They are willing to profess to be Christian while leaving their beliefs out of their political choices.

By not bringing the morality of the gospel into politics, we are allowing philosophical secularism and relativism to sink their roots deep within our soil and choke the consciences of many. No wonder we are now confronted with those who say that religious people should keep their values to themselves. The results are obvious and disastrous. Pornography. Abortion. Euthanasia. Dishonesty at the highest levels of government. The plague of poverty and violence, especially in our cities. In a word, the more religious values are driven from society, the more blatant is the disregard for the dignity of the human person.

In a pluralistic society, the political spirit of any age tries to form alliances among people of divergent opinions and beliefs. It looks to impose a conformity through the strategy of compromise. But neither truth nor morality can be sacrificed on the gibbet of expediency. In a representative democracy, every citizen is responsible for the choice of leaders who are honest, upright and steadfast in promoting policies that are moral. Every believer who professes the Lordship of Jesus, therefore, can never remove himself or herself from the politics of the nation. In fact, it is when committed Christians hand their future over not to the political spirit, but to the Holy Spirit that society changes for the better.

Fri, 11 May 2018 00:00:00 -0600
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

In 2013, Hallmark sparked a controversy by changing a single word in a Christmas song. Ever since 1877, the traditional English lyrics of Decks the Halls, originally written by the Scottish musician Thomas Oliphant, included the words “Don we now our gay apparel.” Many within the LGBT community protested Hallmark’s new version, “Don we now our fun apparel.” Obviously, Hallmark had taken note that the word “gay” that at one time meant festive, joyful, or colorful had now taken on a different meaning. It had become the preferred designation of those who adopt a certain lifestyle. 

Through common usage or deliberate choice, the meanings of words morph over time. “Awful” once described something that inspired reverence or awe, e.g. the awful majesty of God. Today, it can mean not fashionable or well-groomed or sickly as in the comment “he looks awful.” It can also mean that something is harmful, bad or terrible, as in “she left an awful mess.” It could even mean great, as in “an awful amount of rain.”

Still in transition is the word “hook up.” People speak about hooking up something, e.g. an electrical device or cable. Some, however, now speak about hooking up with someone, i.e. meeting them or even having casual sex. Times changed. Contexts changed. Words take on new meanings.

One religious word that has changed from a positive to a pejorative meaning, causing confusion among deeply religious people, is the word “proselytism.” Originally, the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament passed the word “proselyte” into modern languages with a neutral meaning. It simply meant a convert, someone who changed his or her opinion or religion. And, proselytism meant the attempt to persuade someone to make such a change. But, today proselytism is almost universally seen as a sinister activity when it comes to religious beliefs.

On several occasions, Pope Francis has strongly condemned proselytism. In the question and answer session during his Oct. 13, 2016 meeting with Lutherans, the Holy Father answered a young girl’s question about trying to convert a friend. He said, “It is not licit that you convince them of your faith; proselytism is the strongest poison against the ecumenical path.” Similarly, the Pope has said, “Proselytism among Christians, therefore, in itself, is a grave sin.” And also has said, “The Church is not a soccer team that goes around seeking fans.”

On the surface, the Holy Father’s strong condemnation of proselytism may make some committed Catholics begin to question. If it is a sin to try to convert others to the faith, then is Jesus truly the one Savior of all people? If it is a sin to attempt to bring others into the Catholic Church, is the Church no longer the very means of salvation that Christ established? Is one religion as good as another? These are very serious questions that touch on the very foundations of our Catholic faith.

Pope Francis’ strong language is directed at the modern meaning of proselytism. This meaning includes using any type of pressure to convert someone, whether it is moral, political or economic. It means caricaturing with unfair criticism the beliefs of others. Proselytism in its present meaning includes inducing people by offering them any kind of assistance, such as food, education, shelter or clothing. In each of these cases, proselytism is wrong because it does not respect the freedom of the other. However, while these methods of making converts is sinful, inviting others to the fullness of truth is not only not wrong but is truly an act of love.

Inviting others to the fullness of truth is something that no believer cannot simply cast aside. In the Risen Lord’s last appearance in Matthew’s gospel, he mandated his disciples, saying, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:19-20). The Church is born to evangelize. This is her task. This is the reason for her very existence. “Evangelization is in fact…her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize” (Blessed Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntandi, 14. 8). 

Thus, inviting others to hear the good news and accept Jesus as Lord is a permanent and vital dimension of the Church’s life. By her very nature, the Church is missionary. The Church is always open to others. She can never remain closed within herself. To all, she brings the good news that Jesus is Lord.

Most assuredly, Pope Francis is not against this. He is simply warning others that the necessary work of bringing the truth to others must always be done in love and with respect for the other person. Pope Benedict XVI clearly taught this when he said, “The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by attraction. Just as Christ draws all to himself by the power of his love, culminating in the sacrifice of the cross, so the Church fulfils her mission to the extent that, in union with Christ, she accomplishes every one of her works in spiritual and practical imitation of the love of her Lord” (Address to The Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, 2017).

Jesus is the one redeemer of all. His gospel is the word that saves. His word is the truth that sets us free. “No believer, no institution of the Church can avoid the supreme duty to proclaim Christ to all peoples” (Pope St. John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, 3.50). And when this is done in love, listening to the other, respecting the other, and offering the witness of a faith-filled life, this is not proselytism, but true evangelization.

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