Posts Tagged ‘USCCB’
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!
As most of you are aware, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) held its annual June General Meeting in Atlanta this past week. Here are some thoughts regarding out time together.
The General Meeting of the full conference ran Wednesday thru Thursday. However, many other Committees and sub-committees gather the weekend prior for the purposes of conducting their business. Even though the June meeting is typically not as ‘full’ as the November meeting, this June held some serious, and fruitful discussions.
Despite the very full days and many meetings, there is also the overall benefit of simply enjoying the fraternity and support of one’s brother bishops. Our evenings are generally free and provide opportunity for gathering for dinner and socializing. One real ‘plus’ are the daily celebrations of the Eucharist.
The agenda for our public sessions covered a number of salient and urgent issues, such as a report from our National Review Board, who continue to give the Bishops sage advice as we continue to make every effort to provide a safe environment for our children and properly respond to any allegations of sexual misconduct by clergy or church employees or volunteers. One very encouraging factor that is still to be properly understood by many is that this sad history of clergy sex abuse peaked in the 1980′s.
Our efforts to educate our youth as well as all church employees, parents, and volunteers is having a positive impact. The policies put in place ten years ago through the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and our commitment to respond appropriately to victims and report incidents of abuse to appropriate authorities in a timely fashion are working. The challenge now is to not let down our guard and act as if the problem is solved. This will require continued diligence, sensitivity and effort.
We also heard from the President of Catholic Relief Services, Dr. Carolyn Woo. It is clear that this vast Catholic arm of emergency disaster response is in good hands! One of the things I learned is that CRS not only is a leader in emergency response, but it also devotes a great deal of resources to stabilizing situations once the emergency has passes, and continues on the scene for sometimes many years helping to reform local systems for the long-term good of local communities and individuals.
The Bishops also approved a proposal from the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development to draft a special message entitled Catholic Reflections on Work, Poverty, and a Broken Economy. We wish as a Conference to acknowledge that many people today are suffering because of poverty, and the strains this places on the human person, family and communities. This will give us a forum in which to review some of our basic Catholic Social Teaching and Sacred Scripture in application to this urgent need in our society today.
The Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, chaired by my predecessor, Bishop David Ricken, has been hard at work in the last seven months since November! Keep your eyes on the USCCB website for the many good materials being developed for this important work of the New Evangelization and our on-going efforts to inculcate the Catholic Faith.
The entire afternoon on Wednesday was devoted to the discussion on Religious Freedom, both Domestic and International. There were excellent presentations from Archbishop William Lori, the Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, along with the President of Catholic University of America, Mr. John Garvey. I found Mr. Garvey’s comments particularly thought-stimulating. I will share more of his thoughts in talks later this month while we participate in the Fortnight for Freedom.
Two other note-worthy presenters were Bishop Shlemon Warduni, from Iraq. It is heart-wrenching to hear the effects of the Iraq war on the Christian community in Iraq. His most passionate appeal came towards the end of his address:
We beg you to do something for us. We want only peace, security, freedom. You can tell everybody: Iraq was very rick, but now is very poor, because of the war and much discrimination. We want to cry out to you: we want peace, justice, stability, freedom of religion. No more war, no more death, no more explosions, no more injustice.
Another fine presentation on the status of international religious freedom came from Mr. Thomas F. Farr. Mr. Farr is the current Director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown’s Berkley Center.
As this entry is getting well beyond my usual length, I will conclude quickly. Before going into our Executive, ‘closed door’ session, we also heard from our sub-committee on the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, the Task Force on Communications (which was quite interesting and exciting), a brief report on our Priorities and Plans for the next three years, and finally, a report an a new effort (which will take quite some time) to produce and publish a New American Bible for common use in personal, and liturgical prayer.
As promised, I wish to keep you informed of developments in the U. S. Bishops’ Conference’s efforts to respond to this challenge to our Religious Liberty. Earlier this week, Cardinal Dolan, President of the USCCB issued the following letter to all Bishops. The letter is co-signed by Bishop Lori, the Chairman of the Committee on Religious Liberty.
Dear Brother Bishops,
Since we last wrote to you concerning the critical efforts we are undertaking together to protect religious freedom in our beloved country, many of you have requested that we write once more to update you on the situation and to again request the assistance of all the faithful in this important work. We are happy to do so now.
First, we wish to express our heartfelt appreciation to you, and to all our sisters and brothers in Christ, for the remarkable witness of our unity in faith and strength of conviction during this past month. We have made our voices heard, and we will not cease from doing so until religious freedom is restored.
As we know, on January 20, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a decision to issue final regulations that would force practically all employers, including many religious institutions, to pay for abortion inducing drugs, sterilizations, and contraception. The regulations would provide no protections for our great institutions—such as Catholic charities, hospitals, and universities—or for the individual faithful in the marketplace. The regulations struck at the heart of our fundamental right to religious liberty, which affects our ability to serve those outside our faith community.
Since January 20, the reaction was immediate and sustained. We came together, joined by people of every creed and political persuasion, to make one thing resoundingly clear: we stand united against any attempt to deny or weaken the right to religious liberty upon which our country was founded.
On Friday, February 10, the Administration issued the final rules. By their very terms, the rules were reaffirmed “without change.” The mandate to provide the illicit services remains.
The exceedingly narrow exemption for churches remains. Despite the outcry, all the threats to religious liberty posed by the initial rules remain. Religious freedom is a fundamental right of all. This right does not depend on any government’s decision to grant it: it is God-given, and just societies recognize and respect its free exercise. The free exercise of religion extends well beyond the freedom of worship. It also forbids government from forcing people or groups to violate their most deeply held religious convictions, and from interfering in the internal affairs of religious organizations.
Recent actions by the Administration have attempted to reduce this free exercise to a “privilege” arbitrarily granted by the government as a mere exemption from an allencompassing, extreme form of secularism. The exemption is too narrowly defined, because it does not exempt most non-profit religious employers, the religiously affiliated insurer, the selfinsured employer, the for-profit religious employer, or other private businesses owned and operated by people who rightly object to paying for abortion inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. And because it is instituted only by executive whim, even this unduly narrow exemption can be taken away easily.
In the United States, religious liberty does not depend on the benevolence of who is regulating us. It is our “first freedom” and respect for it must be broad and inclusive—not narrow and exclusive. Catholics and other people of faith and good will are not second class citizens. And it is not for the government to decide which of our ministries is “religious enough” to warrant religious freedom protection.
This is not just about contraception, abortion-causing drugs, and sterilization—although all should recognize the injustices involved in making them part of a universal mandated health care program. It is not about Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals. It is about people of faith. This is first and foremost a matter of religious liberty for all. If the government can, for example, tell Catholics that they cannot be in the insurance business today without violating their religious convictions, where does it end? This violates the constitutional limits on our government, and the basic rights upon which our country was founded.
Much remains to be done. We cannot rest when faced with so grave a threat to the religious liberty for which our parents and grandparents fought. In this moment in history we must work diligently to preserve religious liberty and to remove all threats to the practice of our faith in the public square. This is our heritage as Americans. President Obama should rescind the mandate, or at the very least, provide full and effective measures to protect religious liberty and conscience.
Above all, dear brothers, we rely on the help of the Lord in this important struggle. We all need to act now by contacting our legislators in support of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which can be done through our action alert on www.usccb.org/conscience. We invite you to share the contents of this letter with the faithful of your diocese in whatever form, or by whatever means, you consider most suitable. Let us continue to pray for a quick and complete resolution to this and all threats to religious liberty and the exercise of our faith in our great country.
Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Most Reverend William E. Lori, Bishop of Bridgeport, Chairman, Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty
Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ:
As you are most undoubtedly aware, on January 20, 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services announced its decision not to expand the unacceptably narrow “religious employer” exemption to its mandate that virtually all health insurance plans must include, as so-called “preventive services” sterilizations, abortifacients, and contraception. Since that time, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and I began immediately preparing to meet this challenge.
The Bishops’ Conference committee on Religious Liberty is actively engaged in planning a nation-wide response on a number of levels. I simply want you to know that the bishops are fully engaged in this process, and a significant, sustainable, and long-term strategy is our goal.
You are invited to visit the USCCB website for continually updated information regarding our efforts to defend freedoms of conscience and religious liberty, and to better inform yourself as to what you can do as individuals. There is already information on this website to assist you in writing your representatives to express your deep concern for the protections of freedom of conscience and religious liberty.
I want to be very clear. We as church, and all believers, share a deep concern for women’s health. However, we take serious issue with any effort to portray pregnancy as a disease. Regardless of the present contraceptive practices of women and couples, the Church will always teach the integrity of the whole moral law of marriage and of human sexuality, for to do so is to support the true growth of human civilization. (See Humanae Vitae 18) God in His Providence has provided for the natural means of conceiving children, and the natural and nurturing place for their development is in the mother’s womb. This “sacred sanctuary” is and should be the first priority of healthcare, if healthcare is truly about nurturing and sustaining human life.
Regarding the Obama administration’s intention to mandate free healthcare coverage of contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization procedures, let us be very clear. This mandate seeks not only to reflect some women’s reproductive behaviors, but to change all women’s behaviors. Should this mandate stand, we can easily see into the future how this or any future administration will then feel quite emboldened to take the next step of mandatory coverage for abortions, infanticide, and so called ‘assisted suicide’. Indeed, this mandate will already cover the cost of certain FDA approved medications that are known to cause the early destruction of a human embryo, thus leading to the loss of life in the womb.
As serious as the above issue of life is, this mandate raises another grave concern, with far-reaching consequences, and that is Religious Liberty. Even though most churches and houses of worship are exempt from this mandate, other religious institutions, through which Catholics and other Christians carry out our Gospel Mission, are not. Faith-based institutions such as schools, hospitals, universities and charitable institutions will be required to follow this new mandate, or pay stiff financial penalties. In addition, individual employers who wish to act on their faith and provide their employees health insurance but do not want to provide services contrary to their religious beliefs are forced to either not provide health insurance and face a fine or act contrary to their faith. In short, the government is requiring that people of faith purchase something that violates their moral beliefs.
If we allow this mandate to go unchallenged, if we allow it to stand, we are surrendering our constitutionally protected right under the First Amendment, to freely exercise our religious faith in American society. This has serious consequences for our dioceses, parishes and other religious institutions and the way we are presently able to freely carry out our faith-based ministries. We believe firmly that our moral presence in the public square and our charitable service to those in need is not only protected under the First Amendment, but is also good for our culture and society. Once a country or government loses its moral foundation, there will be an inevitable destruction to “decent society” and the disintegration of culture and democracy.
This mandate is a “not-so-subtle” revelation of this administration’s misinterpretation of Religious Liberty as a mere “freedom of worship”. In other words, this mandate is telling people of faith: “Keep your faith at home or in your church, synagogue, mosque or temple and out of the market place, or we will enact regulations that will prevent you from practicing your faith in public.” This is a wake-up call to all Catholics and all people of faith in American society. This is one more step in the direction of declaring “no-god” the official religion of the State, and every person who holds dear their faith in God had better stand up and take notice.
I urge you to contact President Obama, Senators Barrasso and Enzi and Representative Lummis and state your objections to this new requirement, and ask for the repeal of this mandate or at least for a religious exemption that would allow people of faith not to have to provide contraceptive, abortifacients and sterilization coverage.
I invite all of you please stay abreast of the developments around this HHS Mandate. I also strongly encourage fasting and prayer as a proper response to this challenge. Last but not least, our response should always be one of faith, hope and respect. Please know how grateful I am for your faith. With assurance of prayers for you and your families and loved ones, I remain,
In The Heart of Christ,
Most Reverend Paul D. Etienne
Bishop of Cheyenne
After “missing a step” on the stairs, and falling down the rest this morning, I’m now “wide awake”! (I’ll be a little sore, but I’m fine.) Such missteps do have consequences. One such “misstep” of present day society is the topic of a newly released Pew survey regarding marriage. According to this latest survey, 4 in 10 say marriage is becoming obsolete.
Clearly, marriage and family life, and their definition, are two of the key and critical elements of fundamental society, and sacramental elements of faith and Church that are under threat today. Our challenge as Church is two-fold. First, we need to be able to understand the many factors that are behind present practice and thought, and second, we need to be clear and consistent regarding our teaching regarding the tremendous good and absolute necessity for marriage, as the union of a man and woman, and family life.
The reality in society today is that there are greater numbers of men and women choosing to cohabitate (live together without the benefit of marriage, civil or sacramental). As a former pastor who worked with numerous such couples, the reasons for this are many. The hopeful sign I experienced is that most of these young couples I spoke with were at least open to learn more about their faith life, and the teaching regarding the sacramental nature of human love, and the tremendous benefits of such sacramental love. The sad reality is there are still many more such couples who do not present themselves for such discussion and formation.
Another reality is a growing “openness” in society towards gays and lesbians, and in more and more states, desires to redefine marriage in a manner that allows for the civil recognition of the union of such couples. This societal issue is one more and more “promoted” through media and public television and movies. All of these representations in today’s TV shows, movies, print material and even national news coverage begins to influence the norms of acceptability among not only the young, but all age groups. These are powerful forces in our culture today, and their effect cannot be underestimated.
As the opening of this blog entry suggests, when we make missteps in society, there are consequences. We as Church are clear about our teaching around the dignity, sanctity, and necessity of marriage. From the opening pages of Sacred Scripture, we learn God has created us in His image, male and female He created us; and He created us to be fruitful and multiply. (Genesis 1:26-28) This human love of man and woman is an essential part of God’s plan for all of humanity. It not only “mirrors” the very nature of God, but is the means by which God chooses to continue the creation of all humankind. It is a primoridal and essential expression in the human experience of the very love of God.
The essential reality and necessity for family is written into the commandments themselves when we are taught to honor our father and mother. (Exodus 20:12) The very first miracle of Jesus occured in the moment of a wedding in Cana. (John 2:1-12) I’m sure this was not conincidental. If from the beginning, God created man and woman in His own image, it seems only natural the first miracle continues this priority of marriage and family life.
I write on this topic because it will be one requiring more and more of our conscious effort, both in terms of practical teaching, and in terms of a continued effort in the public and political forum to come to the aid of the defense of marriage and family life. Our Bishops Conference is making great strides in producing materials to this very end. I encourage you to go to the USCCB website and review the materials presently available on marriage. I know I have asked that family life be one of the priorities for our diocesan strategic plan, and I have every hope and belief that others share this priority!
We cannot ignore this basic plan of God, and this basic teaching of Jesus regarding the dignity and sanctity of marriage and family life. In the coming week, look how many people will gather as family around the Thanksgiving table. There is no other source for each and every human person than Jesus Christ (for in Him were created all things in heaven and on earth (Colossians 1:16) through the love of man and woman. There cannot be any other legitimate source of human life.
May we continue to show our love for each and every human person, those born and unborn, and may we continue to do all we can to stand up for the dignity and sanctity of marriage and family life according to the plan of God.