Archived Posts from this Category
Archived Posts from this Category
Promoting a culture of life. In order to do so, it is imperative that we Christians be aware of what we are up against. To that end, I gently direct your attention to two articles.
First, as doctors and researchers continue to push the envelope with regard to reproductive technologies, there is the question: what if the surrogate mother does not want to have an abortion? Click here (and here for the more extended text).
Second, can interpretive intentions (if I had known “x”, then I would have done “y”) really be used to re-conceptualize the notion of infanticide? Click here.
In his Catholic New York column, our archbishop, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, wrote a wonderful piece directly addressing teens and young adults, whom he refers to as the “Ultrasound Generation.” In light of the may pro-life activities that occurred in the archdiocese and around the country this past week, I would recommend taking a look at the Cardinal’s hope-filled message.
Imagine being at Cana. The wedding reception runs out of wine, and then Blessed Mary springs into action. She tells the servers to do whatever Jesus says. What follows is Jesus’ first miracle in the Gospel of John, the miracle of turning water into wine. In fact, this miracle will result in quite a bit of wine – 6 stone jars, each holding about 30 gallons.
If you and I were at Cana where the water was turned into wine, I think it is safe to say that you and I don’t really participate in the miracle – other than maybe imbibing at bit. However, at the Last Supper and at Mass the change that takes place in the chalice, the Continue Reading »
After the Magi presented their gifts to the baby Jesus, after the Magi fell prostate in a posture of adoration, what did they do? To put it succinctly, they went off in an entirely new direction. They did not go back the same way they came. It is precisely because of their encounter with the infant Jesus that the lives of the Magi gained a new purpose, a new direction.
The recently released film Les Miserables, an adaptation of the long running stage production, offers insights into the best and worst that humanity has to offer. This is not a movie review, but rather a reflection on one particular aspect of the film in connection with the idea of encountering Christ and going off in a new direction. <<Spoiler alert!>> If you are unfamiliar with the storyline of Les Miserables and do not want this posting to “ruin the movie” for you, I would recommend that you stop reading now.
Recently, politicians in Australia took to discussing the seal of confession. One went so far to assert that the seal of confession is a “medieval law that needs to change in the 21st century.” In this posting, I am not proposing a response to the civic officials from down under, but rather I am using their remarks as a catalyst for offering a brief catechesis on the seal of confession (in question and answer format):
1) Who is bound by the seal of confession?
The priest who hears the confession. (Although different, there is such a thing as the confessional secret which applies to interpreters and others who gain knowledge of what someone said in the confessional, such as could occur if someone (accidentally) overhears a confession.)
2) When is the seal of confession in effect?
When the Sacrament of Reconciliation begins, the priest is bound by the seal of confession with regard to information learned during the course of the sacrament’s celebration. Information learned after the sacrament concludes is not bound by the seal of confession.
Even radically skeptical scripture scholars — i.e., those wont to say much of the Gospels do not bear Jesus’ actual sayings — recognize the veracity of his teachings on marriage. Of the few legal necessities that the Apostles maintained in granting concessions to the Gentiles, unlawful marriage remained forbidden. And for the early centuries of the Church (much as now), Christians were known for their very particular commitment to marriage and sexual virtue.
The Christian cannot understate the significance of marriage-either in understanding society’s proper ordering, or in appreciating God’s salvific design. In our day, we are witnessing a full-scale attack on marriage: No doubt about it. Many things have been said about the nature of marriage; many more things need be said.
One question we might ask is, “Does marriage really cease in Heaven?” It’s perhaps a bit odd, given the central significance of marriage in the history of Christian doctrine and practice; and it’s odd given the romantic intuition that love “lasts forever.”
Truly, the Church teaches, following our Lord’s own statement in today’s Gospel (Mark 12:18-27), that there is neither giving nor taking in marriage in heaven. Indeed, one common formula of matrimonial consent establishes the bond “until death do us part.” Hence, whatever the other issues, it is certainly allowable for a widow(er) to marry again.
Here are some things to think about:
Whatever people are thinking when they enter into marriage, they desire to give themselves to their spouses absolutely and uniquely. Traditionally, the giving of one to another, if it to be absolute, can only be to “another” who is truly, body and spirit, an other. Until the last several decades in civilized history, marriage has been recognized as contractable between members of opposite (i.e., complementary) sex only.
Two things follow from this complementary and absolute exchange (whether established through family arrangement or thrown individual romance). (1) In order for a person to give himself absolutely, he must give himself wholly, body and spirit. And the absolute gift of one’s body to another means the gift of one’s body until it is no more: until its death. (2) The kind of love that both manifests and supports the kind of absolute gift of oneself to another is naturally capacitated to engender life. (Hence, quite naturally, forms of love that are given to partners that are less than wholly other–not only in spirit but also in body–these forms of love are, in principle, incapable of furthering life: after all, they take away something less than 100% of one’s life since it has been given to someone who is less than 100% an-other, therefore nature need not prepare for its replacement.)
Given these two natural consequences of marital establishment–marriage’s natural and necessary indissolubility and procreativity–all forms of government (traditional-familial, civil, religious) have always maintained the right to regulate the institution–what constitutes it, how it may be established and whether it may be broken, and so on. Because the personal commitment of individuals is generally not sufficient to secure the bond that has been established, because of that bond’s ripple-effects upon the ordering of society, government imposes upon the bond a legal expectation that the agreement will continue.
Not only does the married couple receive certain benefits from the government; the government expects the couple to remain married for the good of society. Not only does the couple expect to remain together; furthermore, government seeks to help ensure they remain together. The principal reason for this legal strengthening is for the sake of the children. But because the individuals of the couple have created a dependency upon each other, the severing of the bond and the potential that one of the pair would consequently lack the means of livelihood is a proper concern of society’s authoritative ordering.
Thus, government imposes a legal constraint upon the free commitment of the couple that, all things being equal, expects them to remain married (even if such governments allow for divorce. Then again, note that the proper government regulates divorce as well).
The Church also expects such things of its couples. Due to moral weakness, the Church levels a legal expectation upon the couple that seeks to strengthen what is otherwise simply their moral commitment. More importantly, the Church teaches that the married couple is strengthened by the grace of the Sacrament of Matrimony to preserve their bond. But these two aspects–the Church’s concerns for both law and grace–are ineluctably coordinated.
At any rate, here is one item we can recognize as not necessary in heaven. Just as the beatified soul, face to face with God, is incapable of leaving God; similarly, in heaven, our bonds of love are incapable of being broken. As a consequence, there is no need for the legal contract to ensure the preservation of the bond! There is no marriage in heaven.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ANGELS?
Then why are widow(er)s allowed to remarry? Jesus teaches that in heaven, we shall be like the angels. And yet, we know that we are not angels, but as body-soul composites we await the resurrection of our bodies. Moreover, our Lord gives recourse to mentioning the patriarchs, not only for the sake of mentioning life after death, but also for affirming the good of human bonds of affinity, ordinarily established through the family.
So, in heaven, like the angels, we will not suffer from the constraints of bodily distinction; our love will no longer be exclusive. And yet, because our God is God of the living, we shall maintain our bonds of love established here on earth insofar as they have been established in Christ–the order of charity will not cease.
The exclusivity of marriage will no longer exist, but the degrees of Christian love will, whether or not it was (legitimately) established with one or more persons during one’s earthly pilgrimage.
DIVORCEES AND THE SACRAMENTS
One thing to think about is how there is no need for sacraments in heaven. In heaven, we shall simply be in perfect communion with God. There will be no need for visible signs to communicate invisible grace; we shall simply be beholding God’s glory through His glory!
But sacraments are necessary here; just as (though for different reasons) the legal expectations of marriage are necessary here.
Individuals who are divorced and remarried may not receive Holy Communion: The basic bond that the Church expects of them has not only been broken (through divorce) but furthermore transgressed (through re-marriage); hence, the principal sign of one’s own bond with the Church (Holy Communion) is not fittingly received.
Of course, more could be said here about the state of grace and sin. But we are focusing upon the significance of marriage as a structural institution. And Christ has wedded himself to the Church, His Bridegroom, in such a way that is indissoluble, fruitful, and exclusive of those who reject the partnership. Since his coming, people are able to live in absolute self-gift for him (through consecrated life and priesthood) in a way that fulfills their human desires while living with an express view toward our heavenly state. And yet, the married state is not superceded or rendered obsolete. In fact, it is the one pre-lapsarian blessing that is not lost after the Fall, and which remains the seedbed of the Church!
So what are divorced Catholics (who have not remarried) to think about themselves? One thing to think about is their call to love. They need not feel like second-class citizens. They established a matrimonial contract that, for whatever number of reasons, was subsequently broken by civil government. But, lacking the declaration of nullity or the death of one’s partner, the Church does not recognize that marriage as having been dissolved: it basically still exists. Nevertheless, the divorced Catholic is not expected to return to one’s spouse in order to receive Holy Communion. Rather, he is to think of his life of grace and love, and seek everything that will foster it. In his present situation, that the divorced Catholic finds himself no longer “with” his spouse, it is because of the Catholic’s overarching and preeminent desire to love as Christ loves and to remain in his grace.
So what are divorced and remarried Catholics to do? Indeed, as an ordinary rule, they may not receive Holy Communion. But just as love is stronger than its legal bond, so too does God offer grace beyond the sacrament. The couple must be in a state of grace (i.e., minimally living as “brother and sister”), they must recognize they are not in a position to receive the principle visible sign of Communion with the Church, and they must remain obedient to the Church’s other precepts–among which, fulfillment of the Sunday obligation. And just as those couples deep down feel as if they are finally with a good person and ultimately trust in that love regardless of the marriage they previously contracted, similarly, they can trust that, if otherwise living according to God’s plan, they can be receiving grace even if unable to do so sacramentally, i.e., through the participation in the Church’s signs of grace, such as receiving Holy Communion.
THE RIGHT MIND
Let us then not be like the Sadducees, who assaulted Jesus with questions whose truth they were not truly seeking. Rather, let us trust in the marriage between Christ and His Church; let us recognize the super-significance of marriage, such that the Bible begins and ends with it.
Let us know the Scriptures and the power of God (Mark 12:24), and we shall know the truth and mercy of Our Savior.
A number of months ago, former president of the Catholic University of America and present bishop of Trenton, NJ David O’Connell commissioned a survey and study of the diocese to find why people have left the Church. The idea was to have professionals conduct “exit interviews” to gain perspective.
A summary of the report, published in America magazine, is definitely worth reading. The entire report may be found here.
What follows are my reflections. (The comment option can certainly receive your own.)
1. There is a basic desire for people to be recognized, heard, and treated warmly. If the Gospel is Good News, it cannot but be humane. Its reception suffers when its ministers are cold and self-absorbed. The Gospel is nothing if it is not an encounter with the person of Christ through his humanity… which is met through that of his incorporated members.
2. The experience of many does not accord with my own. Before becoming a priest (and not hearing too many homilies other than my own now) I don’t think I ever heard a homily about divorce or homosexuality, to cite two issues people surveyed felt excluded by. I wonder how much of this is a holdover from previous generations.
2.1 Consider this anecdote: One time a bunch of us friars were talking over dinner about our experience of confession. All the guys with white hair had multiple stories of having been yelled at in the confessional. Those of us who were younger had not had any such experiences. (Quite the contrary, many younger folk complain to me that they are told too often that their confessional matter is “not sinful.”) Perhaps the healing synthesis of these two trends was well summed up by the advice a popular Dominican Confessor of happy memory would give to young priests in the house, “Be nice in the confessional… Or I’ll punch you!”
3. The moralism and legalism with which the Gospel has traditionally been preached in our country (for historical and cultural reasons that cannot be discussed here, nor are addressed by the survey) has proven itself worse than ineffective. Certainly, the contrary attitude (it’s all good, don’t judge, it’s all up to one’s own “conscience”, etc.) is equally bad. Nevertheless, people want to hear the reasons why the Gospel matters, and why the only way to effectively live the Gospel is through the Church’s sacramental, doctrinal, and hierarchical ministry. We all need to be treated as if our experiences and feelings matter, and that Christianity doesn’t reduce to the following of rules, even while rules are necessary.
4. Generally, people who left their parish left the Church, the study found. There’s an integral connection between local organization of faith life and the universal Church.
4.1 One problem here is that, since the survey essentially follows the model of sociological analysis, there is no consideration of “the faith” as a category to evaluate, or of the parish as something more than a social organization of members with complementary and potentially conflictual expectations.
4.2 For many, the relative lack of opportunity to be involved with parish life led them away. Here, there obviously needs to be creative development. But there also needs to be a greater recognition of what the life of faith is all about: it’s essentially the clinging to Christ in all of one’s activities, for which one is sacramentally and inspirationally energized by parish ministry, to be sure, but which is still about living one’s everyday duties virtuously. Moreover, in a society where neighborhoods are breaking down, where people are more transient and one is less likely to remain in one’s parish for very long, the prospect of seeing the parish as a kind of community center of organized activities will continue, I believe, to grow dimmer. Personally, I think the category here should be in terms of a search for “fellowship and support” rather than “being involved.”
4.3 There was no way of assessing precisely “what” the people surveyed think the Church is.
5. Further, while the survey’s responses suggest the answer, there was no instrument for assessing how respondents measure personal significance and meaning. That is, if I find my priest’s homilies empty, I should be able to articulate what I find otherwise meaningful in the other organizations I have not left.
6. Clearly, sexuality draws the most significant attention, whether its the abuse scandals or Church teaching.
6.1 Also involved is the experience and perception of inequality of rights.
6.2. Related, there clearly needs to be teaching about the nature of priestly ministry, what is changeable and not. Here, I think the experience of priests themselves could be factored in to the conversation.
7. There is the desire to see in people’s ministers evidence of integrity and commitment. I think that the sign of this commitment must be proportionate with the felt aberration of the Church’s expectations. In other words, priests must live lives that manifest a degree of personal commitment and sacrifice that is proportionate with the radicality of what the laity experience in terms of the Church’s challenges. Personally, but also in a way that flows from my own mendicant tradition, I think priests need to live simpler lives, less focused on upper-middle class styles of dress and recreation, which are not appropriate to men who do not draw income and need to support others in the same way as the laity. People need to “see” that the Gospel is truly worth giving up everything, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense. And the vision of this sacrifice ought not to be reduced simply to how hard priests work (although idle priests are dangerous). The best priests, in my estimation, are those who pray and love greatly.
8. The celebration of the liturgy didn’t seem to register too much significance. Here, it not only means that relatively few were distressed by lame music and hymnody; conversely, there wasn’t any mention of liturgical rigidity or the use of Latin as being sufficiently offensive to drive people away from Church.
9. The heart of parish life must be Eucharistic. There needs to be evangelical catechesis on transubstantiation and the nature of liturgical worship to be sure. But moreover, the parish must be invited to see how it is the Eucharist builds the Church even as the Church makes the Eucharist.
Well, that’s just some of a young priest’s response. One doesn’t have to agree with it at all. I imagine my own thoughts will continue to change and mature. At the end of the day, I think the target is the personal experience one has with people in Church (and this is not only with priests!). I think of my own standard when working especially with couples: They’ll get what the Church teaches, however hard it may be to hear (and for me to say!); but they’ll get it with a smile, and from someone who believes that their own thoughts and feelings are worth listening to. The Gospel must always affirm the good that is present, if there is any hope to root out what is bad. And here, our Lord’s own question to the disciples is the rule, “What do you seek?”
The article can serve as an intelligent and relevant springboard for conversation. (Here is some other relevant statistical information.) Perhaps you might forward it to some friends and get together to talk about it!
The always thoughtful and accessible Fr. Barron on the Vatican’s assessment of the state of the US’s Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
It may be something many of us do not want to admit, but the ostensibly enlightened advance of secularism is so twisting our society’s self-understanding, that the most significant “organized religion” left — the faith of the Catholic Church — is being attacked. If She is eviscerated of her strength, the dogma of “anything goes” can then be peddled by anyone with enough power to promote his own vision of just what precisely should go.
To be sure, the Church’s own have done enough to disembowel Her of moral authority and authenticity. (But thanks be to God that our Church, necessarily hierarchical, is more fundamentally Christological–with Jesus Christ as head, who remains with us who remain in Him until the end of the ages.)
And now, the Church–in a country with puritannical roots–is furthermore (… or appositely…?) being directly attacked where her faithful’s commitment is manifestly the weakest: sexual and family morality.
While audacious, the world and its powers are yet shrewd enough to reduce the Church’s religious and mystical claims to challenges of moral evidence: “How many Catholics actually use birth control?” (One can hear the dark one in the background questioning, “Did God actually say…?”) And of course, if Church teaching is but another ideology or political party and platform supported by an alternative power structure, the worldly power will win–for its very terms are those of seductive rhetoric and coercive power.
Much could be conjectured (as well as reasonably argued to conclusion) about how all this has been allowed to happen, particularly in our country. But for now, the important thing is to see reality as it is confronting us; and for believers, this means two things, rooted in the first testimony of the first Christian community: “They devoted themselves to  the teaching of the apostles and the communal life,  to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2.42). We too must be properly informed by the Church’s (2) priestly and (1) prophetic ministries, which She extends through time by virtue of Her Lord’s personal commission–i.e., by virtue of Him whose kingly sovereignty is as Priest and Prophet. Toward the former, the sacramental life must be paramount. The Catholic is nothing if he is not one who finds everything in his concrete sacramental discipline. Toward the latter, the doctrinal life must be paramount. The Catholic is nothing if he is not one who finds the true source of wisdom in the concrete apostolic preaching. To that end, with particular reference to our country’s situation, please consider this statement on religious liberty by our bishops, Our First and Most cherished Liberty.
There’s been much regarding the HHS mandate, and ways that the responsible citizen can oppose its political ideology and legislative potential. Here are two notes of interest: (1) A petition from the voices of marginalized women. (NB: The largest single constituency behind our current President is single women — i.e., both the professional and the poor…); (2) News about nationwide rallies.
Over the last six months or so, the Catholic Church in the United States has found itself in some tension with the executive branch of the federal government over a very grave issue: religious freedom. Can a government bureau, in this case the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), define for us or any faith community what is ministry and how it can be exercised? Can government also coerce the church to violate its conscience?
I wanted to let you, the great people of the archdiocese, know how we’re doing in this fight. Thank you for your extraordinary unity, support, and encouragement. Throughout all the archdiocese, our people – both as patriotic citizens and committed Catholics — have been very effective in letting government know that we are not at peace at all with this attempt to curtail the freedom of religion and sanctity of conviction we cherish as both Catholics and Americans.
This has not been a fight of our choosing. We’d rather not be in it. We’d prefer to concentrate on the noble tasks of healing the sick, teaching our youth, and helping the poor, all now in jeopardy due to this bureaucratic intrusion into the internal life of the church. And we were doing all of those noble works rather well, I dare say, without these radical new mandates from the government. The Catholic Church in America has a long tradition of partnership with government and the wider community in the service of the sick, our children, our elders, and the poor at home and abroad. We’d sure rather be partnering than punching.
Nor is this a “Catholic” fight alone. As a nurse from Harrison emailed me, “Cardinal, I’m not so much mad about all this as a Catholic, but as an American.” It was a Baptist minister, Governor Mike Huckabee, who observed, “In this matter, we’re all Catholics.”
And it is not just about sterilization, abortifacients, and chemical contraception. Pure and simple, it’s about religious freedom, the sacred right, protected by our constitution, of any Church to define its own teaching and ministry.
When the President announced on January 20th that the choking mandates from HHS would remain — a shock to me, since he had personally assured me that he would do nothing to impede the good work of the Church in health care, education, and charity, and that he considered the protection of conscience a sacred duty — not only you, but men and women of every faith, or none at all, rallied in protest. The worry that we bishops had expressed — that such government control was contrary to our deepest political values — was eloquently articulated by constitutional scholars and leaders of every creed. Even newspaper editorials supported us!
On February 10th, the President announced that the insurance providers would have to pay the bill, not the Church’s schools, hospitals, clinics, or vast network of charitable outreach. He considered this “concession” adequate.
Did this help? We bishops wondered if it would, and announced at first that, while withholding final judgment, we would certainly give it close scrutiny.
Well, we have — and we’re still as worried as ever. For one, there was not even a nod to the deeper concerns about trespassing upon religious freedom, or of modifying the HHS’ attempt to define the how and who of our ministry through the suffocating mandates.
Two, since a big part of our ministries are “self-insured,” how is this going to help us? We’ll still have to pay! And what about individual believers being coerced to pay?
Three, there was still no resolution about the handcuffs placed upon renowned Catholic charitable agencies, both national and international, and their exclusion from contracts just because they will not refer victims of human trafficking, immigrants and refugees, and the hungry of the world, for abortions, sterilization, or contraception.
So, we have given it careful study. Our conclusion: we’re still very worried. There seem far more questions than answers, more confusion than clarity.
Now what to do?
Well, for one, we’ll keep up advocacy and education on the issue. We continue to tap into your concern as citizens and count on your support. Regrettably, the unity of the Catholic community has been tempered a bit by those who think the President has listened to us and now we can quit worrying. You’re sure free to take their advice. But I hope you’ll listen to your pastors who are still very concerned.
Two, we’ll continue to seek a rescinding of the suffocating mandates that require us to violate our moral convictions — or at least a wider latitude to the exemptions so that churches can be free — and of the rigidly narrow definition of church, minister, and ministry that would prevent us from helping those in need, educating children, and healing the sick who are not Catholic.
The President invited us to “work out the wrinkles,” and we have been taking him seriously. Unfortunately, this seems to be going nowhere: the White House Press Secretary, for instance, informed the nation that the mandates are a fait accompli (and, embarrassingly for him, commented that we bishops have always opposed Health Care anyway, a charge that is simply scurrilous and insulting). The White House already notified Congress that the dreaded mandates are now published in the Federal Registry “without change.” The Secretary of HHS is widely quoted as saying, “Religious insurance companies don’t really design the plans they sell based on their own religious tenets,” which doesn’t bode well for a truly acceptable “accommodation.” And a recent meeting between staff of the bishops’ conference and the White House staff ended with the President’s people informing us that the broader concerns of religious freedom — that is, revisiting the straight-jacketing mandates, or broadening the maligned exemption—are all off the table. Instead, they advised the bishops’ conference that we should listen to the “enlightened” voices of accommodation, such as the recent hardly-surprising but terribly unfortunate editorial in America. The White House seems to think we bishops are hopelessly out of touch with our people, and with those whom the White House now has nominated as official Catholic teachers.
So, I don’t know if we’ll get anywhere with the executive branch.
Congress offers more hope, with thoughtful elected officials proposing promising legislation to protect what should be so obvious: religious freedom. As is clear from the current debate in the senate, our opponents are marketing this as a “woman’s health issue.” Of course, it cannot be reduced to that. It’s about religious freedom. (By the way, the Church hardly needs to be lectured about health care for women. Thanks mostly to our Sisters, the Church is the largest private provider of health care for women and their babies in the country. Here in New York State, Fidelis, the Medicare/Medicaid insurance provider, owned by the Church, consistently receives top ratings for its quality of service to women and children.)
And the courts offer the most light. In the recent Hosanna-Tabor ruling, the Supreme Court unanimously and enthusiastically defended the right of a Church to define its own ministry and services, a dramatic rebuff to the administration, but one apparently unheeded by the White House. Thus, our bishops’ conference and many individual religious entities are working with some top-notch law firms who have told us they feel so strongly about this that they will represent us pro-bono.
So, we have to be realistic and prepare for tough times. Some, like America magazine, want us to cave-in and stop fighting, saying this is simply a policy issue; some want us to close everything down rather than comply (In an excellent article, Cardinal Francis George wrote that the administration apparently wants us to “give up for Lent” our schools, hospitals, and charitable ministries); some want us to engage in civil disobedience and be fined; some worry that we’ll have to face a decision between two ethically repugnant choices: subsidizing immoral services or no longer offering insurance coverage, a road none of us wants to travel.
Sorry to go on at such length. You can see how passionately I feel about this. But, from what I sense, you do too. You all have been such an inspiration, and I owe it to you to keep you posted. We need you more than ever! We can’t give up hoping, praying, trying, and working hard.
Perhaps you watched the Oscar awards, where Mother Dolores Hart’s short documentary, “God is Bigger than Elvis” was a nominee. After having co-starred in a couple of films with the king of rock and roll, she entered a monastery almost fifty years ago to live completely for the King of heaven and earth.
The most recent letter issued by Cardinal Dolan as the President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Also, for a very clearly rendered analogy to the whole HHS kerfuffle, read this by Bishop Lori.
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. Continue Reading »
Our Sunday’s first lesson reminds us of man’s inexorable (and fallen) tendency to cast certain people outside of a society’s normal privileges. The Book of Leviticus states that lepers were to be deemed “unclean”–a fact they were themselves bound to declare–and that they were to “dwell apart,” “outside the camp.”
But this levitical instruction is not to be accounted in the mere terms of social history or cultural anthropology. That God became man is the principle by which we recognize God enters human history and culture in order to transform it. Therefore, we ought never interpret the laws and histories of God’s People merely in social or anthropological terms. Divine Revelation demands a theological account that looks for God’s providential design, not merely man’s typical tendencies.
Thus it appear that the lepers have been given a divine role. That they are to be held “unclean” is not to say that they are to be held as sinners, or morally depraved. “Clean” and “unclean” are religious categories that mark up reality in such a way as to orient people toward the overarching sense that reality is radically dependent upon divine wisdom. The role of the lepers, who are themselves taboo, is to manifest the hidden, mysterious, and even terrible presence of the all-transcendent God. They become sacrosanct, in both senses of the word. Thus, they are visible reminders of the way in which reality is utterly beholden to the divine actions of God. As they cry out “unclean,” they are reminders of God’s mysterious claim upon man’s reality.
God alone is able to unify man; God alone is able to heal man in his utter depths, such that the Original Sin by which we tend to cast people out of our social privileges becomes forgiven… even as we still struggle with the proclivity to do so. But God wants to lead us out of this divisive, inimical spirit. This exodus, which Jesus Christ perfectly accomplishes, is anticipated in Moses’ liberation of the Israelites from Egypt. Interestingly, when Moses needed encouragement that he would be an effective emissary, God manifested His aegis in the following way:
The LORD said to Moses, “Put your hand in your bosom.” He put it in his bosom, and when he withdrew it, to his surprise his hand was leprous like snow. The LORD then said, “Now put your hand back in your bosom.” Moses put his hand back in his bosom and when he withdrew it, to his surprise it was again like the rest of his body.” (Ex 4.6-7)
In other words, the proof of Moses’ divine delegation lies in his ability to stretch out his hand in such a way that it bridges the categories of clean and unclean.
Our discussion of Leviticus is especially important for us today. Our Archbishop, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan delivered a message to all the Catholic faithful of NY–his letter was to be read aloud at all Sunday Masses. It is about the contraception coverage required by the US Dept. of Health and Human services. The pretense of such free coverage for, say, abortion-inducing drugs that would be available free to minors and without parental consent is that it amounts to preventive medical care. That children in the womb, conceived under whatever circumstances, are to be considered as maladies to be prevented in the same way as cancer is abominable. Additionally, that Catholic employers (e.g., schools) would be forced to buy health care plans that would provide this coverage is a direct attack on religious liberty–that is, that very religious liberty that was at the heart of the founding of our nation.
In effect, in the ostensible desire to provide every opportunity for healing, our President’s administration is declaring the Catholic faith “unclean.”
Now, Christ came to heal all divisions, he came to draw all men to himself. And as we hear in the Gospel today, he “does will” that we be made clean, and accomplishes this act of healing restoration. He stretches forth his hand and he both heals and unifies.
But notice the consequences. Christ’s work is such that he is driven outside of the city. Christ himself becomes taboo for the world in order to save it. To use this week’s Pauline language, in giving glory to God through his human existence, Jesus sought “the benefit of the many” on the Cross, as he died outside the city walls. This means that, if we are truly to receive the healing ministry of Christ, we must be willing to follow him… even if it means becoming society’s lepers; for this will be an act of the greatest witness to God’s unavoidable presence.
Today the Obama administration has offered what it has styled as an “accommodation” for religious institutions in the dispute over the HHS mandate for coverage (without cost sharing) of abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. The administration will now require that all insurance plans cover (“cost free”) these same products and services. Once a religiously-affiliated (or believing individual) employer purchases insurance (as it must, by law), the insurance company will then contact the insured employees to advise them that the terms of the policy include coverage for these objectionable things.
This so-called “accommodation” changes nothing of moral substance and fails to remove the assault on religious liberty and the rights of conscience which gave rise to the controversy. It is certainly no compromise. The reason for the original bipartisan uproar was the administration’s insistence that religious employers, be they institutions or individuals, provide insurance that covered services they regard as gravely immoral and unjust. Under the new rule, the government still coerces religious institutions and individuals to purchase insurance policies that include the very same services.
It is no answer to respond that the religious employers are not “paying” for this aspect of the insurance coverage. For one thing, it is unrealistic to suggest that insurance companies will not pass the costs of these additional services on to the purchasers. More importantly, abortion-drugs, sterilizations, and contraceptives are a necessary feature of the policy purchased by the religious institution or believing individual. They will only be made available to those who are insured under such policy, by virtue of the terms of the policy.
It is morally obtuse for the administration to suggest (as it does) that this is a meaningful accommodation of religious liberty because the insurance company will be the one to inform the employee that she is entitled to the embryo-destroying “five day after pill” pursuant to the insurance contract purchased by the religious employer. It does not matter who explains the terms of the policy purchased by the religiously affiliated or observant employer. What matters is what services the policy covers.
The simple fact is that the Obama administration is compelling religious people and institutions who are employers to purchase a health insurance contract that provides abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization. This is a grave violation of religious freedom and cannot stand. It is an insult to the intelligence of Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other people of faith and conscience to imagine that they will accept as assault on their religious liberty if only it is covered up by a cheap accounting trick.
Finally, it bears noting that by sustaining the original narrow exemptions for churches, auxiliaries, and religious orders, the administration has effectively admitted that the new policy (like the old one) amounts to a grave infringement on religious liberty. The administration still fails to understand that institutions that employ and serve others of different or no faith are still engaged in a religious mission and, as such, enjoy the protections of the First Amendment.
President, The Catholic University of America
Mary Ann Glendon
Learned Hand Professor of Law, Harvard University
Robert P. George
McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University
O. Carter Snead
Professor of Law, University of Notre Dame
Hertog Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center
A number of people have been interested to hear more about the mandate excluding a conscience clause for health care provided by religious institutions.
Last week’s Sunday lessons presented Jesus in the synagogue healing a possessed man. To be possessed is to have one’s freedom utterly constricted; it is to be bound by an oppressive force. Despite Our Lord’s miraculous exorcism, the people are astonished more so by the authority with which such a one teaches — no mere scribe, he is the Word of God. He is the one about whom Moses prophesied: God will raise up (read: resurrect) one from amongst our kinsmen, one like Moses, to whom the people would listen. The way in which we hear the authoritative voice of the Good Shepherd — who has been resurrected — is by hearing those to whom he has imparted his authority in a particular way. “Authority” literally (in Greek) means out of one’s being; God alone is the perfect, self-subsistent authority. But by virtue of His Son’s incarnate mission, he is able to impart a particular, ministerial share in his authority to continue audibly and visibly after his resurrection and until he comes again. This he does through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, most particularly according to the rank of bishop. When bishops speak in unison, there is an especially charismatic resonance of the Good Shepherd’s teaching voice — not simply an opinion or commentary, but the Word of Life Himself.
Here is a link to a site where the author, Thomas Peters, collects all the bishops who have formally spoken about the HHS mandate. He has 126 letters. Many of them were required to be read at all Sunday Masses. That is really astounding.
And if you’re unfortunately tempted to think this is just the opinion of a new guard conservative, consider these words by Cardinal Mahoney and think again:
In probably the most expansive decision on the part of the US Federal government ever, the Department of Health and Human Services has issued an “interim final rule” to require virtually all private health plans to include coverage for all FDA-approved prescription contraceptives, female sterilization procedures, and related “patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.”
These are listed among “preventive services for women” that all health plans will have to include without co-pays or other cost sharing–even if the insurer, the employer or other plan sponsor, or the woman herself object to such coverage….
And I cannot imagine a more direct and frontal attack on freedom of conscience than this ruling today. This decision must be fought against with all the energies the Catholic Community can muster….
As Bishops we do not recommend candidates for any elected office. My vote on November 6 will be for the candidate for President of the United States and members of Congress who intend to recognize the full spectrum of rights under the many conscience clauses of morality and public policy. If any candidate refuses to acknowledge and to promote those rights, then that candidate will not receive my vote.
In effect, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously ruled in such wise as to protect religious bodies in the practical exercise of their doctrines regarding official/authoritative representatives. Judge Alito wrote this impressive concurring and further specifying opinion, with Justice Kagan adjoined, and with some highlighting added by me. (To read Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion on SCOTUS’s 9-0 ruling, go here.)
I join the Court’s opinion, but I write separately to clarify my understanding of the significance of formal ordination and designation as a “minister” in determining whether an “employee”1 of a religious group falls within the so-called “ministerial” exception. The term “minister” is commonly used by many Protestant denominations to refer to members of their clergy, but the term is rarely if ever used in this way by Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists. In addition, the concept of ordination as understood by most Christian churches and by Judaism has no clear counterpart in some Christian denominations and some other religions. Because virtually every religion in the world is represented in the population of the United States, it would be a mistake if the term “minister” or the concept of ordination were viewed as central to the important issue of religious autonomy that is presented in cases like this one. Instead, courts should focus on the function performed by persons who work for religious bodies.
The First Amendment protects the freedom of religious groups to engage in certain key religious activities, including the conducting of worship services and other religious ceremonies and rituals, as well as the critical process of communicating the faith. Accordingly, religious groups must be free to choose the personnel who are essential to the performance of these functions.
The “ministerial” exception should be tailored to this purpose. It should apply to any “employee” who leads a religious organization, conducts worship services or important religious ceremonies or rituals, or serves as a messenger or teacher of its faith. If a religious group believes that the ability of such an employee to perform these key functions has been compromised, then the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom protects the group’s right to remove the employee from his or her position.
Throughout our Nation’s history, religious bodies have been the preeminent example of private associations that have “act[ed] as critical buffers between the individual and the power of the State.” Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U. S. 609, 619 (1984). In a case like the one now before us—where the goal of the civil law in question, the elimination of discrimination against persons with disabilities, is so worthy—it is easy to forget that the autonomy abroad, has often served as a shield against oppressive civil laws. To safeguard this crucial autonomy, we havelong recognized that the Religion Clauses protect a private sphere within which religious bodies are free to governthemselves in accordance with their own beliefs. The Constitution guarantees religious bodies “independence from secular control or manipulation—in short, power to decide for themselves, free from state interference, mat¬ters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.” Kedroff v. Saint Nicholas Cathedral of Russian Orthodox Church in North America, 344 U. S. 94, 116 (1952).
Religious autonomy means that religious authorities must be free to determine who is qualified to serve in positions of substantial religious importance. Different religions will have different views on exactly what qualifies as an important religious position, but it is none the less possible to identify a general category of “employees”whose functions are essential to the independence of practically all religious groups. These include those who serve in positions of leadership, those who perform important functions in worship services and in the performance ofreligious ceremonies and rituals, and those who are entrusted with teaching and conveying the tenets of the faithto the next generation.
Applying the protection of the First Amendment to roles of religious leadership, worship, ritual, and expression focuses on the objective functions that are important forthe autonomy of any religious group, regardless of its beliefs. As we have recognized in a similar context,“[f]orcing a group to accept certain members may impair [its ability] to express those views, and only those views, that it intends to express.” Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 530 U. S. 640, 648 (2000). That principle applies withspecial force with respect to religious groups, whose very andpropagation of shared religious ideals. See Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U. S. 872, 882 (1990) (noting that the constitutional interest in freedom of association may be “reinforced by Free Exercise Clause concerns”). As the Court notes, the First Amend¬ment “gives special solicitude to the rights of religiousorganizations,” ante, at 14, but our expressive-associationcases are nevertheless useful in pointing out what thoseessential rights are. Religious groups are the archetypeof associations formed for expressive purposes, and their fundamental rights surely include the freedom to choose who is qualified to serve as a voice for their faith.
When it comes to the expression and inculcation of religious doctrine, there can be no doubt that the messen¬ger matters. Religious teachings cover the gamut frommoral conduct to metaphysical truth, and both the contentand credibility of a religion’s message depend vitally on the character and conduct of its teachers. A religion can¬not depend on someone to be an effective advocate for its religious vision if that person’s conduct fails to live up tothe religious precepts that he or she espouses. For this reason, a religious body’s right to self-governance must include the ability to select, and to be selective about,those who will serve as the very “embodiment of its message” and “its voice to the faithful.” Petruska v. Gannon Univ., 462 F. 3d 294, 306 (CA3 2006). A religious body’scontrol over such “employees” is an essential component ofits freedom to speak in its own voice, both to its own members and to the outside world.
The connection between church governance and the freedissemination of religious doctrine has deep roots in our legal tradition:
“The right to organize voluntary religious associations to assist in the expression and dissemination of any religious doctrine, and to create tribunals for the deci¬sion of controverted questions of faith within the asso¬ciation, and for the ecclesiastical government of all the individual members, congregations, and officers with¬in the general association, is unquestioned. All who unite themselves to such a body do so with an implied consent to this government, and are bound to submitto it. But it would be a vain consent and would lead to the total subversion of such religious bodies, if anyone aggrieved by one of their decisions could appeal tothe secular courts and have them reversed.” Watson
v. Jones, 13 Wall. 679, 728–729 (1872).
The “ministerial” exception gives concrete protection to the free “expression and dissemination of any religious doctrine.” The Constitution leaves it to the collective conscience of each religious group to determine for itself who is qualified to serve as a teacher or messenger of its faith.
A. The Court’s opinion today holds that the “ministerial” exception applies to Cheryl Perich (hereinafter respond¬ent), who is regarded by the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod as a commissioned minister. But while a ministerial title is undoubtedly relevant in applying the First Amendment rule at issue, such a title is neither necessary nor sufficient. As previously noted, most faiths do not employ the term “minister,” and some eschew the conceptof formal ordination.3 And at the opposite end of the speca very large percentage of their members. Perhaps thisexplains why, although every circuit to consider the issue has recognized the “ministerial” exception, no circuit has made ordination status or formal title determinative of the exception’s applicability.
The Fourth Circuit was the first to use the term “ministerial exception,” but in doing so it took pains to clarify that the label was a mere shorthand. See Rayburn v. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 772 F. 2d 1164, 1168 (1985) (noting that the exception’s applicability “does not depend upon ordination but upon the function of the position”). The Fourth Circuit traced the exception back to McClure v. Salvation Army, 460 F. 2d 553 (CA51972), which invoked the Religion Clauses to bar a TitleVII sex-discrimination suit brought by a woman who was described by the court as a Salvation Army “minister,” id., at 554, although her actual title was “officer.” See McClure v. Salvation Army, 323 F. Supp. 1100, 1101 (ND Ga. 1971). A decade after McClure, the Fifth Circuit made clear that formal ordination was not necessary for the “ministerial” exception to apply. The court held that the members of the faculty at a Baptist seminary were covered by the exception because of their religious function in conveying church doctrine, even though some of them were not ordained ministers. See EEOC v. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 651 F. 2d 277 (1981).
The functional consensus has held up over time, withthe D. C. Circuit recognizing that “[t]he ministerial exception has not been limited to members of the clergy.” EEOC v. Catholic Univ., 83 F. 3d 455, 461 (1996). The court in that case rejected a Title VII suit brought by a Catholic nun who claimed that the Catholic University ofAmerica had denied her tenure for a canon-law teaching position because of her gender. The court noted that “members of the Canon Law Faculty perform the vital function of instructing those who will in turn interpret, implement, and teach the law governing the Roman Catholic Church and the administration of its sacraments. Although Sister McDonough is not a priest, she is a member of a religious order who sought a tenured professorship in a field that is of fundamental importance to the spiritual mission of her Church.” Id., at 464. See also Natal v. Christian and Missionary Alliance, 878 F. 2d 1575, 1578 (CA1 1989) (stating that “a religious organization’s fate isinextricably bound up with those whom it entrusts withthe responsibilities of preaching its word and ministering to its adherents,” and noting “the difficulties inherent in separating the message from the messenger”).
The Ninth Circuit too has taken a functional approach, just recently reaffirming that “the ministerial exception encompasses more than a church’s ordained ministers.” Alcazar v. Corp. of Catholic Archbishop of Seattle, 627
F. 3d 1288, 1291 (2010) (en banc); see also Elvig v. Calvin Presbyterian Church, 375 F. 3d 951, 958 (2004). The Court’s opinion today should not be read to upset this consensus.
B. The ministerial exception applies to respondent because,as the Court notes, she played a substantial role in “conveying the Church’s message and carrying out its mis¬sion.” Ante, at 17. She taught religion to her students four days a week and took them to chapel on the fifth day. She led them in daily devotional exercises, and led them in prayer three times a day. She also alternated with the other teachers in planning and leading worship services at the school chapel, choosing liturgies, hymns, and read¬ings, and composing and delivering a message based onScripture.
It makes no difference that respondent also taught secular subjects. While a purely secular teacher would not qualify for the “ministerial” exception, the constitutional protection of religious teachers is not somehow diminished when they take on secular functions in addition to their religious ones. What matters is that respondent played animportant role as an instrument of her church’s religious message and as a leader of its worship activities. Because of these important religious functions, Hosanna-Tabor had the right to decide for itself whether respondent was reli-giously qualified to remain in her office.
Hosanna-Tabor discharged respondent because she threatened to file suit against the church in a civil court.This threat contravened the Lutheran doctrine that dis¬putes among Christians should be resolved internally without resort to the civil court system and all the legalwrangling it entails.5 In Hosanna-Tabor’s view, respondent’s disregard for this doctrine compromised her religious function, disqualifying her from serving effectively as a voice for the church’s faith. Respondent does not disputethat the Lutheran Church subscribes to a doctrine of internal dispute resolution, but she argues that this was a mere pretext for her firing, which was really done for nonreligious reasons.
For civil courts to engage in the pretext inquiry that respondent and the Solicitor General urge us to sanction would dangerously undermine the religious autonomy thatlower court case law has now protected for nearly fourdecades. In order to probe the real reason for respondent’sfiring, a civil court—and perhaps a jury—would be required to make a judgment about church doctrine. The credibility of Hosanna-Tabor’s asserted reason for terminating respondent’s employment could not be assessed without taking into account both the importance that theLutheran Church attaches to the doctrine of internal dispute resolution and the degree to which that tenetcompromised respondent’s religious function. If it could be shown that this belief is an obscure and minor part of Lutheran doctrine, it would be much more plausible forrespondent to argue that this doctrine was not the real reason for her firing. If, on the other hand, the doctrine is a central and universally known tenet of Lutheranism,then the church’s asserted reason for her discharge wouldseem much more likely to be non pretextual. But whatever the truth of the matter might be, the mere adjudication of such questions would pose grave problems for religious autonomy: It would require calling witnesses to testify about the importance and priority of the religious doctrinein question, with a civil factfinder sitting in ultimate judgment of what the accused church really believes, and how important that belief is to the church’s overall mission.
At oral argument, both respondent and the United States acknowledged that a pretext inquiry would sometimes be prohibited by principles of religious autonomy, and both conceded that a Roman Catholic priest who is dismissed for getting married could not sue the church and claim that his dismissal was actually based on a ground forbidden by the federal antidiscrimination laws. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 38–39, 50. But there is no principled basis for proscribing a pretext inquiry in such a case while permitting it in a case like the one now before us. The Roman Catholic Church’s insistence on clerical celibacy may be much better known than the Lutheran Church’s doctrine of internal dispute resolution, but popular familiarity with a religious doctrine cannot be the determinative factor.
What matters in the present case is that Hosanna-Tabor believes that the religious function that respondent performed made it essential that she abide by the doctrine of internal dispute resolution; and the civil courts are in noposition to second-guess that assessment. This conclusion rests not on respondent’s ordination status or her formal title, but rather on her functional status as the type of employee that a church must be free to appoint or dismissin order to exercise the religious liberty that the First Amendment guarantees.
This Festival began last Friday at the Film Forum, and is going on until the 19th. Writing for the WSJ, Kristin Jones says, “How can the invisible be portrayed onscreen? Through a mysterious alchemy of sound and image, the rigorous and elliptical films of the French director Robert Bresson (1901–1999), which often address sin and redemption in a fallen world, manage to do just that.” Some of us may know Bresson only from his Diary of a Country Priest, an amazing film adaptation of Bernanos’s modern masterpiece of trial and faith, hope, and love.
A piece by Marilynne Robinson recently appeared in the New York Times Sunday Book Review. A Calvinist, her books are as gentle as they are somber; (I haven’t read Home, but Gilead and Housekeeping are worth the time it would take to read them). She certainly isn’t the only prominent writer to note the literary significance of the Bible (as if it needed noting) (cf. Robert Alter, Northrop Frye, and George Steiner). But it is agreeable to see it in print. (And it’s something of an enticing advance for next Monday’s lecture on Biblical Poetics). Anyway, here’s a snippet of the full article:
In our strange cultural moment it is necessary to make a distinction between religious propaganda and religious thought, the second of these being an attempt to do some sort of justice to the rich difficulties present in the tradition. The great problem for Christianity is always the humility of the figure in whom God is said to have been incarnate, and the insistence of the tradition that God is present in the persons of the despised and rejected.
Jon D. Levenson teaches at Harvard Divinity School, and is the author of the very widely appreciated book by scholars and laity, by Jews and Christians, Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. He wrote a piece for the WSJ on the significance of the feast and its Christian influence.
The eight-day festival of Hanukkah, which Jews world-wide will [began] celebrating Tuesday night [20 December], is one of the better known of the Jewish holidays but also one of the less important. [Keep Reading...]
And here is the text of his address, and here is a link to accessing other reports/documents. Enjoy!
Following in the footsteps of my blessed predecessor Pope John Paul II, it is a great joy for me to visit for the second time this dear continent of Africa, coming among you, in Benin, to address to you a message of hope and of peace. I would like first of all to express my cordial gratitude to Archbishop Antoine Ganyé Cotonou, for his words of welcome and to greet the Bishops of Benin, as well as the Cardinals and Bishops from various African countries and from other continents. To all of you, dear brothers and sisters, who have come to this Mass celebrated by the Successor of Peter, I offer my warm greetings. I am thinking certainly of the faithful of Benin, but also of those from other French-speaking countries, such as Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger and others. Our Eucharistic celebration on the Solemnity of Christ the King is an occasion to give thank to God for the one hundred and fifty years that have passed since the beginnings of the evangelization of Benin; it is also an occasion to express our gratitude to him for the Second Special Assembly of the Synod of African Bishops which was held in Rome a few months ago.
The Gospel which we have just heard tells us that Jesus, the Son of Man, the ultimate judge of our lives, wished to appear as one who hungers and thirsts, as a stranger, as one of those who are naked, sick or imprisoned, ultimately, of those who suffer or are outcast; how we treat them will be taken as the way we treat Jesus himself. We do not see here a simple literary device, or a simple metaphor. Jesus’s entire existence is an example of it. He, the Son of God, became man, he shared our existence, even down to the smallest details, he became the servant of the least of his brothers and sisters. He who had nowhere to lay his head, was condemned to death on a cross. This is the King we celebrate!
Without a doubt this can appear a little disconcerting to us. Today, like two thousand years ago, accustomed to seeing the signs of royalty in success, power, money and ability, we find it hard to accept such a king, a king who makes himself the servant of the little ones, of the most humble, a king whose throne is a cross. And yet, the Scriptures tell us, in this is the glory of Christ revealed; it is in the humility of his earthly existence that he finds his power to judge the world. For him, to reign is to serve! And what he asks of us is to follow him along the way, to serve, to be attentive to the cry of the poor, the weak, the outcast. The baptized know that the decision to follow Christ can entail great sacrifices, at times even the sacrifice of one’s life. However, as Saint Paul reminds us, Christ has overcome death and he brings us with him in his resurrection. He introduces us to a new world, a world of freedom and joy. Today, so much still binds us to the world of the past, so many fears hold us prisoners and prevent us from living in freedom and happiness. Let us allow Christ to free us from the world of the past! Our faith in him, which frees us from all our fears and miseries, gives us access to a new world, a world where justice and truth are not a byword, a world of interior freedom and of peace with ourselves, with our neighbours and with God. This is the gift God gave us at our baptism!
“Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt 25:34). Let us receive this word of blessing which the Son of Man will, on the Day of Judgement, address to those who have recognized his presence in the lowliest of their brethren, with a heart free and full of the love of the Lord! Brothers and sisters, the words of the Gospel are truly words of hope, because the King of the universe has drawn near to us, the servant of the least and lowliest. Here I would like to greet with affection all those persons who are suffering, those who are sick, those affected by AIDS or by other illnesses, to all those forgotten by society. Have courage! The Pope is close to you in his thoughts and prayers. Have courage! Jesus wanted to identify himself with the poor, with the sick; he wanted to share your suffering and to see you as his brothers and sisters, to free you from every affliction, from all suffering. Every sick person, every poor person deserves our respect and our love because, through them, God shows us the way to heaven.
This morning, I invite you once again to rejoice with me. One hundred and fifty years ago the cross of Christ was raised in your country, and the Gospel was proclaimed for the first time. Today, we give thanks to God for the work accomplished by the missionaries, by the “apostolic workers” who first came from among you or from distant lands, bishops, priests, men and women religious, catechists, all those who, both yesterday and today, enabled the growth of the faith in Jesus Christ on the African continent. I honour here the memory of the venerable Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, an example of faith and of wisdom for Benin and for the entire African continent.
Dear brothers and sisters, everyone who has received this marvellous gift of faith, this gift of an encounter with the risen Lord, feels in turn the need to proclaim it to others. The Church exists to proclaim this Good News! And this duty is always urgent! After 150 years, many are those who have not heard the message of salvation in Christ! Many, too, are those who are hesitant to open their hearts to the word of God! Many are those whose faith is weak, whose way of thinking, habits and lifestyle do not know the reality of the Gospel, and who think that seeking selfish satisfaction, easy gain or power is the ultimate goal of human life. With enthusiasm, be ardent witnesses of the faith which you have received! Make the loving face of the Saviour shine in every place, in particular before the young, who search for reasons to live and hope in a difficult world!
The Church in Benin has received much from her missionaries: she must in turn carry this message of hope to people who do not know or who no longer know the Lord Jesus. Dear brothers and sisters, I ask you to be concerned for evangelization in your country, and among the peoples of your continent and the whole world. The recent Synod of Bishops for Africa stated this in no uncertain terms: the man of hope, the Christian, cannot be uninterested in his brothers and sisters. This would be completely opposed to the example of Jesus. The Christian is a tireless builder of communion, peace and solidarity – gifts which Jesus himself has given us. By being faithful to him, we will cooperate in the realization of God’s plan of salvation for humanity.
Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you, therefore, to strengthen your faith in Jesus Christ, to be authentically converted to him. He alone gives us the true life and can liberate us for all our fears and sluggishness, from all our anguish. Rediscover the roots of your existence in the baptism which you received and which makes you children of God! May Jesus Christ give you strength to live as Christians and to find ways to transmit generously to new generations what you have received from your fathers in faith!
On this feast day, we rejoice together in the reign of Christ the King over the whole world. He is the one who removes all that hinders reconciliation, justice and peace. We are reminded that true royalty does not consist in a show of power, but in the humility of service; not in the oppression of the weak, but in the ability to protect them and to lead them to life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10). Christ reigns from the Cross and, with his arms open wide, he embraces all the peoples of the world and draws them into unity. Through the Cross, he breaks down the walls of division, he reconciles us with each other and with the Father. We pray today for the people of Africa, that all may be able to live in justice, peace and the joy of the Kingdom of God (cf. Rom 14:17). With these sentiments I affectionately greet all the English-speaking faithful who have come from Ghana and Nigeria and neighbouring countries. May God bless all of you!
You definitely want to check this out!
From our local shepherd’s column, regarding Susan Sarandon’s remarks about the pope:
I am grateful to the New York Daily News for their editorial in today’s paper that chastises Susan Sarandon, because she “defamed” our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, with her “grotesque characterization” that he is a Nazi. The Daily News also correctly notes that she did this because, “it is clear, she despises the church’s moral teachings.”