Posts Tagged ‘USCCB’
This week, President Obama raised the need for this nation to address gun violence. The manner in which this Administration and Congress have confronted this issue in the past has proven to be ineffective. What is needed is a constructive dialogue about the violence that is taking so many innocent lives and crippling our society.
It is past time for this nation and this Congress to come to grips with the violence that is growing in our nation. With regard to gun control, we must as a nation find the right balance between the common good and individual rights. This balance is also needed in resolving many other cultural issues today. It is time for Congress to take up this important dialogue.
I strongly support the Second Amendment which guarantees the right for individuals to “keep and bear arms.” At the same time, the common good of society, namely the safety of all people to conduct day-to-day lives in peaceful tranquility must also be equally protected. Putting the emphasis on the safety of our citizenry in no way diminishes the right of individuals to possess firearms. We all grieve at the news and loss of life experienced at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the mass shooting in San Bernardino, and the regular street violence in Chicago and other major cities. We all wish to see an appropriate solution to ending all forms of violence, especially gun violence.
Respect for the dignity of every human person and the sanctity of human life is at the heart of this challenge. I recall the recent challenge of Pope Francis in his encyclical, Laudato Si, challenging us to put the human person at the center of the economy, rather than financial gain. If Congress can do that, we will find the solutions we need to reduce gun violence in this country.
I fully endorse yesterday’s statement issued by Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:
Violence in our society is a complex issue with many facets, taking many forms. While no measure can eliminate all acts of violence which involve firearms, we welcome reasonable efforts aimed at saving lives and making communities safer. We hope Congress will take up this issue in a more robust way, considering all of the varied aspects involved. In addition to reasonable regulation, conversations must include strengthening social services for persons with mental illness, while being mindful that the vast majority of those suffering with mental illness are not likely to commit violent criminal acts.
I am presently in Baltimore for our annual November Bishops’ Meeting. This working session of the entire body of US Bishops takes place every year in Baltimore. Our meetings are basically broken up into three parts; regional meetings, public session for the whole body (Monday – Tuesday), and executive session, (Wednesday) which is closed to the public cameras and observers. Thursday morning will allow some time for the bishops to pray together. This year a retired bishop will offer a reflection. There will be time for Eucharistic Adoration, and a good group of confessors will also be on hand to offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation. (Yes, even bishops ‘go to confession!)
Monday began with regional meetings. The country is divided into fourteen regions, Wyoming being in Region XIII. There is also a fifteenth region made up of the Eastern Right Eparchies. Our topic of discussion focused on the Protection of Children and Young People. We had a good discussion of the annual audit process, which reviews how effectively each diocese follows the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
We also had some good discussions regarding the use of Review Boards, whose purpose is to offer counsel to the bishop regarding the credibility of accusations of abuse. Our region felt strongly that review boards should meet at least annually, not only for the review of any present allegations of sexual misconduct, but also to review the Safe Environment Programs and other ways to remain vigilant in maintaining our responsibilities to protect our youth and vulnerable adults. We also discussed the importance of review boards reviewing all allegations of sexual abuse of minors.
There was also time during the regional meetings for the election of regional representatives to various USCCB committees.
Our Wednesday morning regional meeting devoted much time for discussion of a national convention, scheduled for Orlando, Florida in July 2017. The goal of this gathering would be to allow dioceses to put together teams of people to attend a high energy convention to better equip and train them for the work of evangelization. The title of this convention is proposed to be “The Joy of the Gospel in America.”
I think most of the bishops would prefer we do more work in regional meetings, as it allows for a higher level of participation than the general session.
Once convened for the general session, we heard an address from our Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Vigano. More than likely this will be his last address to the body of bishops, as he turns 75 in January. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis has indicated his intention to accept the retirement of bishops upon turning 75. Archbishop Vigano made a strong appeal that Catholic Schools, particularly of Higher Education take their Catholic identity seriously. We also heard from our President, Archbishop Kurtz in his annual address to the body of bishops. He developed an instruction from Pope Francis during his September Pastoral Visit to the United States that bishops are to remain close to their people.
The General Session offers various Bishops who chair committees to update the bishops on recent work, or seek approval to advance new initiatives. There are various other speakers who have particular needs to present to the bishops. Over the course of this year’s meeting, the bishops approved the next set of priorities and plans for the Conference. We approved a statement, more like an instruction on the threats to society from pornography. I would encourage you to keep your eyes open on the website of the USCCB for information on this document; Create in Me a Clean Heart.
Perhaps the most intense discussions of this session centered around the bishops’ desire to revise a present document many of you would be familiar with. Forming Consciences For Faithful Citizenship. First published in 2007 prior to the 2008 election year, the document was in need of updating, to better reflect the issues that have changed in society, as well as capture some of the papal teaching that has occurred since then. In the end, the revised draft was approved.
Another challenge that has become very clear to me in my six years as a bishop is that with the USCCB being such a large organization, it is difficult to both have long term priorities and plans in place, while also having the flexibility to address new realities as they surface. I am encouraged that the bishops desire to exercise such flexibility in better incorporating the priorities of Pope Francis into our priorities.
One other piece of business was the approval of the publication of a liturgical book, entitled: Excerpts from the Roman Missal: Book for Use at the Chair: Approved. The discussion reflected desire for a smaller book, that is easier to handle for the presidential prayers. It also however raised the question of whether the time had come to revisit the language of the new revisions, and how well they are being received. (That request from the floor received no traction.)
As with any other organization, the USCCB also must contend with budgets and finances. We approved the next year’s budget, but the vote to increase diocesan assesments failed to reach 2/3 approval, so the conference will mail a ballot in order to reach the required number of votes for approval. One humorous and laborious moment this year was the failure of our electronic voting system. Our poor staff members had a lot of ballots to count!
One of the more interesting moments of the meeting was an opportunity to hear from the delegates who represented us at the Synod of Bishops on the Family held in Rome this past October. There were 270 bishops present, approximately 80 % were elected by their episcopal conferences, others were appointed by Pope Francis, and there were also lay people and married couples who spoke. There were difference of opinions, but not battles; there was a great deal of fraternity expressed and experienced during the three weeks.
One delegate mentioned the different style of this synod, which began with the 2014 synod. The Pope’s desire clearly was an opportunity for the whole church to be more active and engaged. The 2014 synod talked about challenges faced by families. Bishops’ Conferences were then asked to use this material for reflection in preparation for the 2015 synod. Out of this came the working paper for the 2015 synod. This reflects effort to listen and hear what the church is saying universally about family and the gift of family life.
This structure was a great improvement over what has happened in previous years.
The final document of the 2015 Synod comprises 94 paragraphs, all but two received at least 94% approval, and the other two received 2/3 approval. The final document looks a lot like what our Church and families are dealing with today. Our delegates saw encouragement by the presence of Pope Francis. Pope Francis has indicated he will issue a post-synodal exhortation.
Early in the process, Pope Francis encouraged the synod fathers to speak boldly and listen with humility and invoke the Holy Spirit. During the synod, there was genuine conversion that took place, because of listening to one another. A synodal church walks together. This is a model for us as a conference, to speak boldly and listen humbly and invoke the Holy Spirit.
One delegate saw a clear understanding of the importance of the family as the basis of society and as domestic church was the primary concern of the synod. Now, how do we strengthen the family? Africa and India still have strong family units, and expressed concern about being exposed to growing consumerism and ‘screens.’ We should listen to people who are struggling to live out what the church teaches. (Pope Francis) this is more important and urgent than changing church teaching.
With the end of our General Secretary’s term approaching at the end of this November meeting, the bishops elected his successor, Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He will serve in this capacity for a five year term. The bishops also elected new chairmen for the following positions:
Conference Treasurer, Archbishop Schnurr from Cincinnati; Chair of Committee on Catholic Education, Bishop George Murry; Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, Archbishop Joseph Tobin; Committee on Divine Worship, Archbishop Wilton Gregory; Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, Bishop Frank Dewane, Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, Archbishop Charles Chaput; and Committee on Migration, Archbishop Gomez.
The bishops also elected new board members for Catholic Relief Services.
Many of you may also be glad to know that the bishops enthusiastically supported the request to have a national collection to complete the mosaic works in the upper basilica of our National Shrine. The 100th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone for the Shrine will be in 2020. The proposed mosaic work will bring the work of building this shrine to a beautiful completion. The anticipated cost of this work will be $20,000,000.00.
Without much further elaboration on my part, the meeting included presentations from Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, the approaching Year of Mercy, World Youth Day in Krakow, 2016, and the 50th anniversary of the collection for support of the Church in Latin America. For good measure, presentations were made seeking the approval of the body of bishops to begin advancing the cause for sainthood of three causes around the United States, Fr. Aloysius EllaCuria, CMF, Antonia Cuipa And 81 Companions, and Fr. William E. Atkinson, O.S.A.
On top of all these meetings, there are numerous other events held during breakfast, lunch, and evening gatherings. For instance, I attended events for Catholic Extension Society, The Amazing Parish, Notre Dame University, and
St. Meinrad School of Theology. Of course, there are also committee meetings held during lunch or evenings, or the weekend preceeding the general session. To say the least, I’m glad it is Thursday morning! I depart Baltimore today for Indianapolis for a great celebration of this year’s National Catholic Youth Conference. I am looking forward to seeing our Wyoming contingent of youth!
On this Labor Day, we give thanks to God for the dignity of human labor. Think of the many families that are supported through the labor of individuals. I remember well the life my family had due to the hard work of my father, and of the loving care of our home and family by my mother. We did not have a lot, and we did not take fancy vacations, but what we had were lots of good memories as a family.
Each of us children had our own chores to perform as well. On Saturday’s, there was no TV until all of the house chores were done. From an early age, we learned to take responsibility for the common good of the family and home, and that eventually led to other initiatives by which we began to earn a little of our own income. By the time I reached high school, I was able to pay for some of my own clothes, as well as an old car and its upkeep.
It felt good to work, to do a good job, no matter what the task, and begin to build a good reputation. These are just a few of the indicators of the dignity that is a part of human labor. Work and family go hand-in-hand, as recently reflected in the annual Labor Day statement by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Our Holy Father Pope Francis also spoke eloquently about the dignity of labor as a part of God’s plan for the human family:
Therefore, work too, like celebration, is part of God’s creative plan. In the Book of Genesis, the theme of the earth like a back yard, entrusted to the care and cultivation of man (2, 8:15), is anticipated by a very moving passage: “In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up — for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground” (2:4-6). It’s not romanticism, it is God’s revelation; and we are responsible for understanding and implementing it. The Encyclical Laudato Si’, which proposes an integral ecology, also contains this message: the beauty of the earth and the dignity of work were made to be united. The two go together: the earth becomes beautiful when it is worked by man. When work is detached from God’s covenant with man and woman, and it is separated from its spiritual qualities, when work is held hostage by the logic of profit alone and human life is disregarded, the degradation of the soul contaminates everything: even the air, water, grass, food … the life of society is corrupted and the habitat breaks down. And the consequences fall most of all on the poor and on poor families. The modern organization of work sometimes shows a dangerous tendency to consider the family a burden, a weight, a liability for the productivity of labour. But let us ask ourselves: what productivity? And for whom? The so-called “smart city” is undoubtedly rich in services and organization; but, for example, it is often hostile to children and the elderly. At times those in charge are interested in managing individuals as a workforce, assembling and utilizing them or throwing them away on the basis of economic benefit. The family is a great workbench. When the organization of work holds it hostage, or even blocks its path, then we can be certain that human society has begun to work against itself! (Pope Francis, General Audience, August 19, 2015)
So, if you have the ability to work and support yourself and your family, give thanks to God. Let us also keep in mind those who are without work; those families who struggle just to find a safe place to live. If we are in a position to assist others who are in need, let us never fail to offer a helping hand, and especially in a manner that helps others maintain their basic human dignity.
Today marks the completion of two weeks on the road. I’m at St. Meinrad Archabbey and Seminary in Southern Indiana this morning.
I’m looking forward to visiting with our three seminarians studying here as well as with the faculty, and celebrating the community Mass today. I remember as a seminarian looking forward to visits by my Archbishop, and now, I enjoy the opportunity to get to know my seminarians and hear how they are growing in discernment and formation.
The first week of November I was in St. Paul for meetings with Catholic Rural Life. We held a board meeting on Monday and Tuesday and then welcomed 70 agriculture and faith leaders from around the country for a three day symposium on faith, food, and agriculture. Catholic Rural Life is collaborating with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to draft a document on the Vocation of the Agriculture Leader. This will be a companion piece for the previously written document, The Vocation of the Business Leader.
A part of the work leading up to the writing of the document is to hold two symposiums, the one held last week in St. Paul, and an international one the end of June in Milan, Italy. We are posing questions on the topics of faith, food and the environment and listening to theologians, farmers and many others involved in various spectrums of the agriculture world and business.
There are many issues around hunger and food, farming, food production and distribution, labor, environment and care for the earth and all of our natural resources. Our efforts seek to better understand all of these complex issues, while at the same time introducing principles based upon gospel-based values and ethics to help leaders develop sound answers that will respect the dignity of the human person and the limited resources of creation. As Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI reminded us in his encyclical Charity in Truth, Blessed Pope Paul VI “proposed Christian charity as the principal force at the service of development.” (Charity in Truth, #13)
From St. Paul I made my way to Baltimore for the November plenary meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I was very encouraged during our meetings this week by the leadership of our President, Archbishop Kurtz of Louisville. I had a chance to speak with him at the airport in Baltimore yesterday evening, and thanked him for his generous and gracious leadership.
I am also pleased to see more time spent during our gatherings for bishops to gather in smaller groups for more in depth discussions on specific questions. I was particularly pleased that one of the questions invited the bishops to reflect upon the direction and teaching of Pope Francis in light of our own future priorities as a Conference. I’m hopeful that this will help us be more responsive to the needs, hopes and desires of the Catholic population, and enable our work to be more capable of making a difference in the day-to-day life of the faithful.
The past two weeks have been very full, and I pray God bless the work of the labor of many people who seek to serve Him for the good of the Church and the common good of society as a whole. More and more I am convinced that the Gospel is essential for building up the fraternal wellbeing of all of God’s people in society. Please God, may we find our way to presenting the truths of the Gospel in a manner that can improve the lives of all of God’s people.
This colloquium was held at Stanford University on Friday, April 25, 2014. The event was hosted by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, Menlo Park, California, and sponsored by the University of Notre Dame, the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the USCCB, the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs of Georgetown University and Boston College, and the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
The colloquium gathered statesmen, policy makers, ethicists, theologians, students and Bishops with the express goal of defining the present state of the world affairs, and the role of nuclear deterrence, while at the same time raising new ethical and moral issues in order to help define new paths that can lead to a world with less reliance on nuclear deterrence and assurance that nuclear weapons are never used.
Clearly, the Cold War is well behind us, yet nuclear weapons still pose a threat to humanity and civilization as a whole. The world has changed since the Cold War, with terrorist organizations and regional tensions being perhaps the greatest new factor in world affairs that threaten peace and the use of nuclear weapons. After a time of reduced nuclear weapons and states that possess them, we are seeing once again the list of states with nuclear weapons expanding.
As mentioned above, one of the organizers of this symposium is a group known as the Nuclear Security Project. This alliance is made up of four senior U.S. statesmen with strong credentials in national security; former Secretary of State George P. Schultz, former Defense Secretary William J. Perry (both present for this colloquium,) former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, and former Senator Sam Nunn. Their background in national security and their bi-partisan concern gives credence to strengthen the commitment of the international community to renew our efforts to contain the proliferation of nuclear weapons and material and our reliance upon nuclear deterrence.
A statement by Scott Sagan of Stanford University in The National Interest (September/October 2010) summarizes the present challenge:
“The choice we face is not between a nuclear-free world or a return to bipolar Cold War deterrence; it is between creating a nuclear-weapons-free world or living in a world with many more nuclear weapons states. And if there are more nuclear nations, and more atomic weapons in global arsenals, there will be more opportunities for terrorists to steal or buy the bomb.”
If this assessment is correct, it makes sense that efforts to reduce nuclear weapons (and the continued practice of nuclear deterrence) are important in making progress of halting proliferation if not someday a nuclear free world.
From the perspective of Church teaching, every person and nation has a right to self-defense. However, responses to aggression may not exceed the nature of the aggression. (The Challenge of Peace, #103) Responses must be both discriminate and proportionate.
Protecting the lives of innocent persons must always be considered in times of war and all activities of war. The other side of this consideration is that killing innocent people and populations is always morally unacceptable. Proportionality means that any military advantage gained from an action must be weighed against the harm and destruction the same action will cause.
In his 1982 address to a special session of the United Nations, Pope John Paul II said:
“In current conditions ‘deterrence’ based on balance certainly not as an end in itself but as a step on the way toward a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable. Nonetheless in order to ensure peace, it is indispensable not to be satisfied with this minimum which is always susceptible to the real danger of explosion.”
The bishops’ 1983 Pastoral Letter, The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response, also gave conditional moral approval to the practice of the time of deterrence. The conditions of that moral approval now thirty plus years later seem to indicate that we have reached a point in time where steps must be taken to move towards a nuclear free world.
Mr. Gerald Powers of the Kroc Institute of Notre Dame summarized these conditions in a May 17, 2010 article in America Magazine:
“In their 1983 peace pastoral, … the bishops proposed an ‘interim ethic’ whereby nuclear deterrence could be morally acceptable under three conditions: 1) if it is limited to deterring the use of nuclear weapons and not expanded to include nuclear-war fighting strategies or using nuclear weapons to deter against nonnuclear threats … 2) if the goal is to have enough weapons only to deter nuclear use, not to achieve nuclear superiority … ; and 3) if deterrence is used as a step toward progressive disarmament.”
It is fair to say that any progress made in past decades towards disarmament has stalled at best. Is it possible to continue to morally justify today’s continued policy of nuclear deterrence with little effort being made to promote non-proliferation and disarmament? When did the world community get comfortable living with weapons that have the potential to destroy human existence?
After the colloquium, this passage came to mind, particularly in light of the potential that any use of nuclear weapons has to severely alter if not end civilization as we know it. “Thus says the Lord, the creator of the heavens, who is God, the designer and maker of the earth who established it, not as an empty waste did he create it, but designing it to be lived in: I am the Lord, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:18)
Any use of nuclear weapons is a direct threat to the beauty of God’s creation and to the human life it is meant to sustain. The destructive potential of nuclear weapons is so great that the very use of such weapons is morally unthinkable. The Holy See made the following 1976 statement before the United Nations: “the arms race is to be condemned as a danger, an act of aggression against the poor, and a folly which does not provide the security it promises.”
The nuclear threat is real, as Secretary George Schultz and the other members of the Nuclear Security Project have clearly stated. “The accelerating spread of nuclear weapons, nuclear know-how, and nuclear material has brought us to a tipping point. We face a very real possibility that the deadliest weapons ever invented could fall into dangerous hands.” (January 19, 2010 op-ed; Wall Street Journal)
I would simply propose that we all continue to keep this topic of nuclear disarmament in our prayers. Let us pray for today’s statesmen and women that they are capable of the kind of diplomacy and negotiations required to diffuse the regional conflicts that can lead to the use of nuclear weapons. Let us pray for today’s policy makers to discover a renewed motivation and commitment to work to address the safety and security issues regarding the handling of all present nuclear weapons and materials, and begin once again to reduce the number of nuclear nations. Let us pray for more and more people to dedicate themselves to being peace builders. Let us pray that the world population may once and for all learn the lesson and wisdom that war does not build peace.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
Last Friday I had the opportunity to join a highly qualified group of individuals interested in raising awareness to the serious threat still posed to today’s world by nuclear weapons. I am presently writing up my own reflections from this day-long colloquium which I will share here very soon. For now, I wish to share today’s press release from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Bishops, Policy Specialists, Other Catholic Leaders Convene Renewed Effort on Nuclear Disarmament at Stanford University
WASHINGTON—Nuclear weapons “present an existential threat to mankind,” said former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz to a group of Catholic leaders on April 24. “We need to reduce the numbers of these weapons, identify and take the steps needed to keep them under better control, and ultimately eliminate them.” Secretary Shultz and former Secretary of Defense William Perry hosted a Colloquium on Revitalizing Catholic Engagement on Nuclear Disarmament, April 24-25, at Stanford University.
This off-the-record event brought together 40 bishops, policy specialists, Catholic scholars, and young professionals and students to explore policy and moral challenges involved in moving toward a world without nuclear weapons.
“The bishops have made the moral case for ultimate nuclear disarmament; Shultz, Perry, Kissinger and Nunn have made the case for disarmament as a policy goal, a goal embraced by the U.S. and Russian governments,” said Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on International Justice and Peace. “My hope is that this colloquium will be the beginning of a process to invigorate and refine the voice of the U.S. Catholic community in the debate on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.”
Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame and, with Bishop Pates, a co-convenor of the colloquium, emphasized the distinctive role of Catholic universities, which “should serve as networks of discussion and sources of knowledge – able to explore and address the practical, technical and ethical issues that arise on the way to a global ban.”
Other speakers included Secretary Perry, former Senator Sam Nunn, retired Ambassador James Goodby, Father Bryan Hehir (Harvard), Franciscan Father Kenneth Himes (Boston College), Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, (Georgetown), Scott Sagan and Sidney Drell (Stanford), and Stephen Colecchi (USCCB).
The colloquium was the kick-off of a larger project intended to empower a new generation of Catholic bishops, scholars, professionals and students to address the ethical and policy challenges of reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons. It will convene symposia for ethicists and policy experts, publish articles in scholarly and popular journals and reach out to students and young professionals through a social media site that emphasizes the religious and ethical dimensions of nuclear disarmament.
The Hoover Institution and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University hosted the colloquium. The project is sponsored by the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies in collaboration with the USCCB’s Office of International Justice and Peace; Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs; and Boston College. The project is made possible with the support of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
As our 2013 Plenary meeting of the US Bishops’ Conference draws near to conclusion, a special statement was issued at the close of our executive session today. I share that with this readership now, in the hopes that after I get home, a more complete review may be offered.
The bishops of this country have just concluded their traditional fall meeting in Baltimore and have spent time on issues important to them and their people: help to those suffering from Typhoon Haiyan; an update on the situation in Haiti; matters of worship and teaching; service to the poor; and comprehensive immigration reform. Among those priorities is the protection of religious freedom, especially as threatened by the HHS mandate.
Pope Francis has reminded us that “In the context of society, there is only one thing which the Church quite clearly demands: the freedom to proclaim the Gospel in its entirety, even when it runs counter to the world, even when it goes against the tide.”
We stand together as pastors charged with proclaiming the Gospel in its entirety. That Gospel calls us to feed the poor, heal the sick, and educate the young, and in so doing witness to our faith in its fullness. Our great ministries of service and our clergy, religious sisters and brothers, and lay faithful, especially those involved in Church apostolates, strive to answer this call every day, and the Constitution and the law protect our freedom to do so.
Yet with its coercive HHS mandate, the government is refusing to uphold its obligation to respect the rights of religious believers. Beginning in March 2012, in United for Religious Freedom, we identified three basic problems with the HHS mandate: it establishes a false architecture of religious liberty that excludes our ministries and so reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship; it compels our ministries to participate in providing employees with abortifacient drugs and devices, sterilization, and contraception, which violates our deeply-held beliefs; and it compels our faithful people in business to act against our teachings, failing to provide them any exemption at all.
Despite our repeated efforts to work and dialogue towards a solution, those problems remain. Not only does the mandate undermine our ministries’ ability to witness to our faith, which is their core mission, but the penalties it imposes also lay a great burden on those ministries, threatening their very ability to survive and to serve the many who rely on their care.
The current impasse is all the more frustrating because the Catholic Church has long been a leading provider of, and advocate for, accessible, life-affirming health care. We would have preferred to spend these recent past years working towards this shared goal instead of resisting this intrusion into our religious liberty.
We have been forced to devote time and resources to a conflict we did not start nor seek. s implementation of the mandate against us approaches, we bishops stand united in our resolve to resist this heavy burden and protect our religious freedom. Even as each bishop struggles to address the mandate, together we are striving to develop alternate avenues of response to this difficult situation. We seek to answer the Gospel call to serve our neighbors, meet our obligation to provide our people with just health insurance, protect our religious freedom, and not be coerced to violate our consciences.
We remain grateful for the unity we share in this endeavor with Americans of all other faiths, and even with those of no faith at all. It is our hope that our ministries and lay faithful will be able to continue providing insurance in a manner consistent with the faith of our Church. We will continue our efforts in Congress and especially with the promising initiatives in the courts to protect the religious freedom that ensures our ability to fulfill the Gospel by serving the common good.
This resolve is particularly providential on this feast of the patroness of immigrants, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. She was a brave woman who brought the full vigor of her deep religious faith to the service of the sick, the poor, children, the elderly, and the immigrant. We count on her intercession, as united we obey the command of Jesus to serve the least of our brothers and sisters.
I field a fairly regular question these days, and it goes something like this: “Bishop, what are the bishops going to do about…the HHS Mandate, or the recent Supreme Court rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act, or religious liberty, or about the growing support for same sex marriage?” Obviously, there is no simple or immediate answer to such questions, but it begs a broader base of responsibility than the bishops alone.
First, it is important to know that the Bishop’s Conference has taken a very strong, public stance on a number of fronts, especially in promoting our right as a church and as individual people of faith to freely exercise our religion, privately and publicly. Second, there is a clear legal strategy making its way through the court system challenging the legality of the HHS mandate. A simple visit to the USCCB website will reveal the host of other ways in which your Catholic Conference of Bishops is leading on these many fronts.
There are a great many cultural issues being discussed, debated, and promoted today that fly in the face of our faith and Catholic teachings. The problem is not that people do not know or understand what the Church teaches. (Therefore, the solutions rest beyond the simple thought that the bishops alone can solve this problem.) I think the primary concern is that so many people want the voice of the Church silenced in these very public discussions. If people can convince themselves (or be left to their illusion) that there is no God, then there is no ultimate truth, no overarching moral law, and then everyone is free to do whatever they choose, as long as it does not hurt someone else.
For example, marriage is one of the longest standing institutions of human history. Why is it at this point in history we now need to broaden the definition of marriage? It is because so many people today reject the Truth. “Their senseless minds have been darkened.” (Romans 1:21) Marriage does not need to be redefined. Marriage simply needs to be respected. All of us are called to recognize God’s creation, the natural law inherent in creation, and the moral law given by God.
We are facing a serious cultural shift in our nation, indeed, in many parts of the world today. More and more people seem to favor the philosophy that allows everyone to do what they wish without any judgment. This is a false understanding of human freedom. Our Catholic, Christian belief tells us that we are created by God and for God, and our true freedom is found in our relationship with God and living in a manner that respects this relationship above all else. Human freedom is the pursuit of the good, the true, the beautiful. The Author and Origin of Life, Goodness, Truth, and Beauty is God.
My primary role as bishop in the midst of these cultural issues is to continue to preach the Gospel and to teach the faith. Our common goal as a people of faith is to live our faith. Granted, it is difficult to live faith in a time that it finds less and less respect. However, Jesus promised that if we follow Him, we will need to take up our cross. As a people of faith, I challenge all of us to spend a little more time on our knees in prayer. I challenge all of us to greater fidelity in regular attendance at Sunday Mass and reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation. I challenge all of us to devote more time to studying and learning our faith.
If we are going to change our culture, we must begin by changing the present culture of our faith-practice, because fundamentally, the crisis of culture today is a crisis of faith. To a large extent, the liberal philosophy of the day is doing a good job of painting Christ and His Church as irrelevant. Does our faith-practice mirror that depiction?
How are each of us called to deeper conversion of life? Are you active in your parish? Are your children enrolled in a Catholic School or religious education program? Do you go to Mass every weekend as a family? Does your life revolve around faith or something else? Are you doing your best to know and live what the Church teaches? In the words of the Gospel, are we growing rich in what matters to God? (Luke 12:13-21)
St. Catherine of Siena teaches that worldly people fall into wickedness because they have left God. (Dialogue, #100) That seems to be the reality still today. So, changing our present worldly reality, begins with our remaining close to God.
St. Catherine also teaches that we are to leave judgment up to God. She writes of God speaking to her:
When you cannot see clearly and openly whether the sin is deadly, you must not pass judgment in your mind, but be concerned only about my will for that person. And if you do see it, you must respond not with judgment but with holy compassion. For you cast contempt on your neighbors when you pay attention to their ill will toward you rather than my will for them. Such contempt and scandal alienates the soul from me, blocks her perfection, and to some extent deprives her of grace… (Dialogue #100)
Even though we as a people of faith disagree strongly with some of the current cultural trends and shifts of our day, let us first be strong in our own belief and practice of faith. Called to love and respect our neighbor, we are also called to do whatever is in our power to help our culture recover a moral foundation. We can lead only when we ourselves are firmly rooted in Christ.
I will close with the encouraging words of Psalm 37:
Do not fret because of the wicked; do not envy those who do evil: If you trust in the Lord and do good, then you will live in the land and be secure. Be still before the Lord and wait in patience. The patient shall inherit the land. The sword of the wicked is drawn, his bow is bent to slaughter the upright. Their sword shall pierce their own hearts and their bows shall be broken to pieces.
The Lord will support the just.
St. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians teaches: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world…” This is perhaps one of the clearest Scriptural teachings that the Author of life is God, through the Word, Jesus Christ.
St. Catherine of Siena must have been profoundly aware of this text when she teaches about the generative Love of God. In her Dialogue, St. Catherine reveals this prolific love of God in these words: “Why did you so dignify us? With unimaginable love you looked upon your creatures within your very self, and you fell in love with us. So it was love that made you create us and give us being just so that we might taste your supreme eternal good.” (Dialogue #13)
These days leading up to the 40th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision which made abortion legal upon demand in our country, many people will march, attend Mass, offer prayers, visit their state capitols, and probably many other things. Best estimates are that in the last 40 years, in this country alone, some 55 million lives have been legally ended in the womb.
With St. Paul’s teaching, reflected in the teaching of St. Catherine, it is pretty clear that life in the womb is a life generated from ‘the womb of God.’ Each of us is a ‘creature’, whose origin is the loving gaze of God, who looks upon us ‘within His very self’ and draws us forth from this Love. This is the love that is the very being of God; the love of the Father for the Son, the love of the Son for the Father, the Holy Spirit that is love.
This is what being created in the image and likeness of God means: to be drawn forth from love; created for love. Thus, every human life conceived in the womb is conceived with a spark of divinity! No wonder we cherish all life as sacred and worthy of the dignity of the children of God. No wonder we believe that all life conceived in the womb is worth all our effort to protect so that the child may come forth from the Light of God into the light of the world.
As the March for Life in Washington D.C. approaches again this year, please join the many voices crying out to God in prayer for the protection of all life and the protection of all those witnessing to the dignity and sanctity of life. Please keep this great prayer as one of your intentions as you attend Mass this weekend. Try to attend a daily Mass in the coming week for this important national intercession.
You are invited as well to join the Novena which begins today, Saturday, January 19. Our Blessed Mother asks us to join our prayers and sacrifices together under her Maternal care, that she may take them to her Son. Let us join all our prayers and sacrifices to the redemptive mission of Jesus. Let us together with Jesus seek the Divine Will of the Father. Through our faith, hope and love, God can and will do great things!
On this Vigil for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the faithful gathered for our Mass to mark the celebration of the Fortnight For Freedom. Below is the Homily.
Thank you for your presence here today to celebrate this Eucharist. Thank you for your presence with us to pray for one of our most basic human freedoms, the freedom of religion.
As many of you know, our US Bishops have called us in these days to a time of intense prayer for the protection of religious liberty, otherwise known as a the Fortnight For Freedom. During this two week period, the Church celebrates numerous feasts, such as those of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas Moore, who were beheaded in 1535 by King Henry VIII for their opposition to his practice and teaching on marriage. We also just celebrated a feast of St. John the Baptist, who was also beheaded by his king for being outspoken regarding King Herod’s practice of marriage that disregarded God’s law. On July 4th, which will conclude our Fortnight for Freedom, our nation will celebrate the anniversary of our Independence from what our forefathers saw as an overly intrusive government.
Today the Church celebrates the Vigil Mass for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles. Sts. Peter and Paul both gave their lives as a confession of faith in Jesus Christ. They shed their blood because they would not denounce Christ nor stop preaching in His name. They certainly would not have renounced Christ in order to profess the pagan beliefs of the Roman Caesars. They shed their blood because they knew that Christ was not only their greatest treasure, but the greatest treasure of all people for all times.
The feast of these two great Apostles reminds me of a quote from St. Bonaventure who said: “If I have everything without Christ, I have nothing. If I have nothing but Christ, I have everything.”
Our readings today remind us of the benefits of faith as portrayed in the power of St. Peter to heal a man crippled from birth. St. Peter’s words and actions are a clear teaching that faith is one of our greatest treasures: “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.” (Acts 3:1-10)
This account from today’s celebration not only instructs us on the role of religion in the life of the human person, but it also shows the connection between belief in God and the good works that follow. Our celebration today shows that religion, faith in God, faith in Jesus Christ is a threat to no one, but rather is a force for good. Society has nothing to fear from religion, and only good to gain. Perhaps this was only one of several reasons our forefathers saw the need to enshrine this fundamental human freedom of religion in the First Amendment of our Constitution.
Jesus Himself in the post-resurrection account offered in today’s Liturgy from John’s Gospel, makes the same connection between love of God and good works. (John 21:15-19) “Simon, son of John, do you love me? … Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.”
Here, we see the foundational importance to first love God. This is the fundamental question before each of us: “Do we love God?” “Do we love Jesus Christ?” In a recent address in Atlanta to the body of U.S. Bishops, Mr. John Garvey, President of The Catholic University of America made the following observation:
Our society won’t care about religious freedom if it doesn’t care about God. That’s where reform is needed. We won’t have – and we probably won’t need – religious exemptions for nurses, doctors, teachers, social workers if no one is practicing their religion. The best way to protect religious freedom might be to remind people that they should love God.
So, my dear friends, we are here this evening to express our love for God, and to pray for the religious freedom to express this love through the many ministries our Catholic Church provides to the poor and needy, regardless of their beliefs. We are here this evening to pray for the religious freedom to carry out our good works without government mandates that we violate our conscience and moral teachings in order to do so.
Sadly, toady we see internationally growing concerns regarding violations against humanity when the basic human freedom of religion in disregarded. This international trend is now finding its ways to our shores, and we see growing concerns in the ways in which the federal, state and local governments are demonstrating a restrictive view of religion and a lack of respect for the role of religion in the broader society. Perhaps the most notorious demonstration of the federal government’s willingness to restrict the free practice of religion is the recent HHS Mandate.
I know some feel that the US Bishops are not truly concerned about religious liberty, but are simply using this issue as a political football to discourage the re-election of a certain political personality. I want to assure you, our concern is far greater than any one election, and is definitely about the very basic principle of religious liberty, and what we see as serious threats to this fundamental freedom. I invite all of you to join us in our prayers for the protection of the freedom to practice our religion.
There is a growing trend in the culture today that wishes to define religious liberty solely as the freedom to worship. This is neither the language nor the intent of the First Amendment of the Constitution. The language in the recent HHS Mandate wishes to define religion in such a narrow manner that very few would qualify as a religious organization. This religious exemption is a clear over-reach of the government, in that it seeks to define membership as well as the ministry of a religious organization.
Namely, to qualify as a religious organization, we would only be allowed to hire people who share our faith, and we would only be allowed to serve people who share our faith. It also says that the primary purpose of the organization should be to teach the faith. In other words, we would have to dismiss the mandate of Jesus Christ to serve the poor, heal the sick, baptize all nations, cloth the naked, visit those imprisoned, comfort those who mourn and enlighten those who are in the dark regarding the Truth of His Gospel.
And these concerns do not even begin to get into the other area of the Mandate which would force us and many other organizations and individuals to violate our conscience and teachings regarding contraception, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs.
So, this threat to religious liberty is very real, and if we do not begin to raise our voice of opposition now, there is no telling where this invasion of government into the internal life of the Church will end.
Let our celebration this evening of the faith and works of these great Apostles, Peter and Paul, renew our faith. May the intercessions of Sts. Peter and Paul make us strong in living our faith in the face of a growing secularism that would seek to diminish the freedom of religion. May the witness of Sts. Peter and Paul renew our hope in this time, and strengthen our confidence and trust that God is still at work in the world today.
Saints Peter and Paul, Pray for us!