Tue, 17 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0600
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

In 1859, Darwin published On the Origin of Species. His book brought into the open a conflict between science and religion that had been simmering below the surface since the days of the Enlightenment. It is a blood feud that many still fight in the attempt to prove that science is the only avenue to truth with certitude. According to the mindset of those who see fact and faith as irreconcilable, only what can be proven by science is true. 

In reality, doubt is a constant in every scientific enquiry. The 18th century physicist James Clerk Maxwell actually called science a “thoroughly conscious ignorance.” For science to make any advance, its practitioners must doubt their own conclusions. Everything is questioned. Everything is uncertain.

As in science, so too in faith, doubting has a role to play. As we try to make sense out of life, so often incomprehensible and filled with suffering, we find ourselves doubting truths that we have already accepted. How can an all-good God allow tragedies to cut down whole groups of people? Is God really in control? If he is so loving, why does he allow cancer to strike a little child or anyone for that matter? 

Sooner or later, the brutal facts of life make us question and even doubt. We reach out for certitude and find ourselves groping in the dark. And, we are no different than those who knew Jesus during his public ministry and were even witnesses to his Resurrection. In all the gospel accounts of the appearances of the Risen Lord, there is always an element of doubt. 

When Jesus appears to Magdalene near the empty tomb, Jesus has to reassure her that she is truly seeing him risen from the dead (Jn 20:16). Likewise, he needs to confirm the angel’s announcement of his Resurrection to the other women (Mt 28:8-10). Jesus also has to dispel the doubts clouding the minds of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Only after he explains the Scriptures to them and breaks bread with them do they believe in the Resurrection (Lk 24:13-35). 

On Easter evening, when the Risen Lord appears to the apostles in the Upper Room, he asks them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?” (Lk 24:38). A week later, he appears to them again in the Upper Room. This time, he offers proof of his Resurrection to doubting Thomas, who had been absent the week before (Jn 20:27).

In his only account of the appearance of the Risen Lord to the disciples, Matthew includes a very embarrassing detail. He tells us that, when the Risen Lord appears to the disciples and is standing right before them, they still doubted (Mt 28:17). As Jews, the disciples looked forward to the resurrection as an event of the end time. For them, all the dead would be raised on the last day. It never entered their minds that one individual would be raised from the dead before the world ended. And, now in front of them is Jesus, risen from the dead. It was almost too good to believe. 

The doubts of the disciples in all the Resurrection appearances and their slowness to believe is an indirect proof of the Resurrection. It took them time to come to understand that Jesus, their rabbi who had suffered and died, not only had been raised from the dead, but was truly God. Their questioning, their hesitation, was the means that the Holy Spirit used to lead them into a deeper understanding of the mystery of faith. We should, therefore, never be worried or surprised that we ourselves have doubts. The same Holy Spirit wills us to come to an always greater possession of the faith we profess.

In this life, everyone lives by faith in one form or another. The believer who trusts in God. The scientist who works on experiments. The student who accepts what the professor teaches as truth. Even the atheist will have misgivings that there is something more than this material world. Since we all live by faith, we all have doubts. 

As the famous British novelist C. S. Lewis once said, “Believe in God, and you will have to face hours when it seems obvious that this material world is the only reality; disbelieve in him, and you must face hours when this material world seems to shout at you that it is not all. No conviction religious or irreligious will, of itself, end once and for all this fifth-columnist in the soul. Only the practice of faith resulting in the habit of faith will gradually do that.” In other words, only living our faith to the fullest and handing ourselves entirely over to the Risen Lord will free us from the certainty of doubt.

Fri, 06 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0600
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

Almost every school of ancient philosophy claimed Socrates as their patron saint. In Greece and Rome, the Skeptics, the Stoics and the Cynics all looked to Socrates for inspiration. Living in 5th century Athens, he did not conform to the pressures of contemporary society. By his method of questioning, he tried to move others away from living in the futile search for fame and power. He challenged his fellow citizens to seek higher moral standards.

In 406 B.C., when the city government of Athens was advocating an illegal proposal to convict a group of Athens’ top generals, he stood apart as the lone opponent. He held firm to his principles and spoke out courageously. Socrates refused to act out of human respect.

Simply defined, human respect is placing the opinions of others over truth in order to be accepted and even honored by others. It is one of the most pernicious attitudes. Like a toxic gas, it subtly surrounds us, ready to rob us of our virtue. It undermines personal integrity. It damages society.

Respecting others even when they disagree with us is the virtue of tolerance. But letting our desire for their esteem make us affirm what is against God’s law is immoral. This is the sin of human respect which inverts the moral order, placing the approval of others before the approval by God.

Being accepted and recognized as a person and not being marginalized is one of the goods that every person desires. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, every person naturally desires to be recognized as having worth (Summa theologiae, 2a2ae, 129.1). No one wishes to be marginalized or dismissed either by others or by society at large. For this reason, all of us face, at times, the temptation to give in to human respect.

At the same time when 78 percent of Americans have shed the cloak of organized religion, those Christians who hold on to their faith often find themselves unwelcome in public life. In such an environment, acquiescence to the prevailing cultural trends is fast becoming more attractive than resistance. Believers face the temptation to go along with things that they neither condone nor believe in order to be accepted.

Living together as husband and wife without being married, same-sex partnerships, abortions, in-vitro fertilization, euthanasia, transgenderism and physician-assisted suicide: all of these have gained acceptance in our society. Our post-Christian culture has rejected the natural law as a way to judge the morality of these choices. Instead, it has made the individual the sole arbiter of his or her own morality. Thus, those who hold to the natural law and the divine commandments find themselves in a particularly difficult situation.

In our fragmented and changing society, those who stridently oppose Christian morality as well as those who do not practice the faith are all too eager to dismiss anything that contradicts their own conduct or opinions. In such circumstances, not clearly standing for truth and goodness for fear of hurting someone’s feelings, losing popularity or being rejected is the sin of human respect. It is always wrong to support, condone or promote a moral evil either by word or by silence.

Herod Antipas is a classic example of someone who acted out of human respect. At a feast celebrating his birthday, he had been so pleased by the seductive dancing of Salome that he swore to give her anything that she desired, even up to half his kingdom. When she demanded the head of John the Baptist on a platter, his conscience stood in right judgment and condemned such an act. But, out of fear that his court and guests would think less of him as a man of power and authority, he gave in to her evil request. Human respect dictated the sentence. John the Baptist was beheaded. Herod sinned gravely.

Whether the individual be a parent, relative, teacher, friend or even a priest, anyone who refuses to do the right thing or to speak the truth for fear of what others may think, that individual sadly repeats the sin of Herod. In an attempt to avoid the derision or rejection of others, such a person forfeits the approval of God. However, when anyone of us resists the temptation of human respect, we are freed from the shackles of narcissism and pride. And, the moral clarity of our speech and actions dispels confusion, helping others to embrace virtue that alone leads to true happiness. 

Thu, 05 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0600
By Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

Sometimes people are sort of surprised that bishops, when not in the public spotlight, lead relatively normal lives. We eat and drink, rest and recreate, have cats and dogs, struggle with friendships, deal with family crises, watch TV, play golf, and swear at slot machines in casinos. And sometimes, we even go shopping. I experienced that kind of surprise recently in a chance meeting with one of our faithful parishioners.

A few weeks ago I was in my local CVS picking-up a few things I needed, toothpaste and shampoo, I think. I was dressed casually, in secular attire, as is my habit when at home on weekends. While wandering aimlessly through the aisles of the store a very nice lady stopped me, put up her hand and asked, “Who are you?” 

“It depends,” I said, “are you friend or foe?” 

“No, really,” she persisted, “Who are you?” 

“I’m Bishop Tobin,” I admitted. 

“Oh, thank goodness . . . I thought I was losing my mind . . . You look like Bishop Tobin, but I never thought I’d find him here shopping for himself,” she said.

“I shop for things all the time,” I tried to explain.

Nonetheless, my friendly encounter with a fellow shopper, and the question she asked, has helped me prepare for the observance of Passiontide and Holy Week. 

The Gospels during these late Lenten days are filled with accounts of the increasing conflict and hostility Jesus experienced in the time leading up to his passion and death. His disciples struggled to stay faithful to him during these tense times; Judas betrayed him and Peter denied him. His enemies, especially the Jewish leaders, angered at his arrogance and stinging rebukes, looked for ways to entrap and indict him. And even casual bystanders argued about where he came from, who he was and whether he was the Messiah or a fraud.

“Jesus, who are you?” they were asking.

It’s a leading, loaded question, and one we should be asking too as we follow Jesus during Holy Week.

As we see Jesus in his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the large crowd of people welcoming him as a conquering hero, spreading cloaks and palm branches before him, we can ask, “Jesus, who are you?”

As we see Jesus gathered with his disciples at the Last Supper, mysteriously handing over his body and blood, and kneeling down to wash their dirty feet, we can ask, “Jesus, who are you?”

As we see Jesus in the garden, praying, agonizing over his impending fate, sweating drops of blood, comforted by the visit of the angel, we can ask, “Jesus, who are you?”

As we see Jesus suffer the rejection and ridicule of his passion, the unimaginable pain and humiliation of the cross, and finally the total emptying of self in death, we can ask, “Jesus, who are you?”

And on Easter morn, when the Risen Christ surprises us as he did Mary Magdalene, appearing now in a glorified body that confounded even his closest disciples, we can ask, “Jesus, who are you?” 

The presence of Christ in the Church is perennial, but so is the mystery that surrounds him. Every generation of believer looks at Christ anew and asks, “Jesus, who are you?”

I see that NBC is presenting a television special, Jesus Christ Superstar, live and in concert, on Easter Sunday evening. It promises to be an engaging production, and kudos to NBC for offering some very appropriate Christian, family-friendly programming on Easter. 

One of the most beautiful songs of Superstar, sung by Mary Magdalene, is the haunting and powerful, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” In the song, Mary is clearly conflicted by her relationship with Jesus – she loves him, perhaps even romantically, as a man, but is distanced by the power of his divine mission. She sings, plaintively: “I don’t know how to love him, what to do, how to move him. I’ve been changed, yes really changed, in these past few days, when I’ve seen myself, I seem like someone else . . . He’s a man. He’s just a man. . . What’s it all about?”

Can’t we relate to Mary’s dilemma? Do we know how to love Jesus? We say all the time that we believe in him, and I guess we do our best. But so often the seismic faults of our human nature hold us back, keep us from loving Jesus, following him, embracing him as we ought.

Or think about this: Where would we fit into the Passion Narrative if it were unfolding in our midst today? Would we be one of his disciples struggling to stay loyal to our Lord when we saw him threatened by religious and public officials? Would we be the Judas or Peter who turned their backs on Jesus at his time of greatest need, or his Blessed Mother Mary and beloved disciple John who stayed with him at the foot of the cross, until the very end.

Think about it. Who is Jesus for you? What does he mean for you? How has he changed your life? 

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, in these holy days of Holy Week, “three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly.” May we willingly embrace thy passion and death so that we may also merit thy resurrection. Amen.

The Rhode Island Catholic first published this article on March 22, 2018

Wed, 04 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0600
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

Before Gutenberg invented the printing press, society depended mostly on the spoken word. When it came to communicating the news, teaching the faith, spreading propaganda or offering practical solutions to difficult dilemmas, people would often frame their message with the use of rhyme in songs and poems. Not infrequently these little songs held hidden messages about someone embroiled in scandal or a ruler out of favor. Thus, Mary, Mary Quite Contrary was a satirical commentary on the rule and personal life of “Bloody Mary,” Queen of Scots.

Today, nursery rhymes are handed on from parents and grandparents to children and from teachers to students, even after their original purpose no longer exists. Little children enjoy the ever popular Ring Around the Rosy. They thrill to recite this nursery rhyme in their playground games, totally unaware of its grim origin as a coded message about the Black Plague.

In the art of language, rhyme has advantages over prose. “Rhyme delights the brain. It seems to spring to life and dance in the empty spaces between the words… Rhyme seems to wire the brain with an internal beat that lives on inside of us, sometimes for many years” (Pat Skene, “Reading, Rhyming and Reciting,” Sept. 27, 2011). But, there can be a downside to rhyme. Because of the brain’s internal beat or propensity to rhyme, certain words are paired and their meanings distorted, such as “accept” and “except” or “amoral” and “immoral.”

In modern times, pairing words by rhyme has dealt a death blow to the very laudatory word “meek.” This is a perfectly good word and one with biblical meaning. But, because “meek” so glibly rhymes with “weak,” many people simply see the two words as synonyms for the same personal attribute. As a result, what is spoken for someone’s fame is now understood to their shame.

In a culture that identifies strong people with those who are assertive, meekness is not seen as an asset. In times past, mighty kings and rulers would have considered it high praise if they were seen as meek by their subjects. While “meekness” conveys to us moderns the pejorative idea of being too gentle, too non-confrontational or too timid, this is not its root meaning.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle defined meekness as a virtue because it is a balance between two extremes. It stands between becoming angry at the wrong things and not becoming angry at anything. It is the mean between being reckless and being cowardly. When adversity or hardship strikes, instead of yielding to anger, the meek person remains calm and self-possessed and, thus, is able to deal rationally with the unavoidable sufferings of human existence.

The Greek word “meek” (πρ?ος) is highly instructive. It is the word used for a wild animal that has been tamed. An ox is a powerful beast. But, yoked and guided, it plows the field and accomplishes much good. Its power is directed to a higher purpose. A stallion is aggressive, unruly and filled with wild energy. But once disciplined, its strength is harnessed to a higher purpose.

Far from being weakness, meekness is strength. It is the ability to take what causes anger, frustration, disappointment and suffering and subject it to reason. It turns any assault of misfortune into an opportunity to grow in virtue and holiness. Meekness is the stronghold against evil entering our soul and destroying our peace with God.

Only two people in the entire Bible are called meek. Both were strong and passionate. Neither was timid. The first person is Moses. After Moses married a Cushite woman, Miriam and Aaron used this as an excuse to rebel against his authority. Moses remained calm. Such a quiet spirit, unwilling to quarrel, seems out of place at that time in history. Instead of resisting, Moses went to God in prayer. And so, Scripture praises him, saying, “Now Moses was meek, more than any man on the face of the earth” (Num 12:3).

The only other person besides Moses whom the Scriptures call meek is Jesus (cf. Matthew 11:29; 21:5). Jesus was strong enough to cast out the merchants and money changers who were defiling the Temple in Jerusalem. He had power enough to call down legions of angels to defend himself when he was unjustly arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. But, he did not. Confronted with the bitter hatred and false accusations of his enemies, he remained calm. Like Moses, he turned to the Father in prayer. He did not yield to the temptation to retaliate. Instead, he submitted himself to the Father’s will.

Like Moses, but on an even greater scale, Jesus shows us that meekness is not a passive attribute. It does not consist in the reluctant resignation to things which we cannot change. Rather, it is the willful, positive choice to discern the hand of God in all that happens and to deliberately accept his wise disposition of our lives, including the good with the bad.

In these times where we suffer from the chronic display of brute power, we need to behold our “King [who] comes… meek, and sitting upon a donkey, and a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Mt 21:5). Imitating him, we will have the strength of the meek to make our world a place of peace. For Jesus promises, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5).

Sat, 17 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0600
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

Two words are frequently found on the lips of Pope Francis in his addresses and homilies. One is the word “neo-Pelagian;” the other, “neo-Gnostic.” Both words have a long and complicated history. The first is much easier to explain.

Pelagianism designates a school of thought made prominent by the British monk Pelagius (360-418 A.D.). Living in Rome, he was a contemporary of St. Augustine. In response to the moral laxity of the day, Pelagius placed great emphasis on the innate goodness of the human person.

According to Pelagianism, Adam’s sin altered his own relationship with God. It did not affect his descendants. Human nature has not been corrupted by original sin. Thus, an individual is able to fulfill the commandments and choose the good without any special gift of grace.

Pope Francis detects traces of this type of thinking in those people today who act as if salvation depends on human strength or on merely human means. The Pope sees this error in those who would reduce the gospel to a social ideology, make spirituality simply a process of self-awareness or reduce the life of faith to a vestige of an outdated past. 

The Pope discerns Pelagianism in the tendency toward restorationism. He rules out any dealing with the Church’s problems by a recourse to “a restoration of outdated manners and forms which, even on the cultural level, are no longer meaningful.” (Pope Francis, “Address to the Leadership of the Episcopal Conferences of Latin America during the General Coordination Meeting,” Rio de Janeiro, July 28, 2013).

In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis warns against “the self-absorbed promethean neo-Pelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past.” He further laments that “a supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying” (Evangelii Gaudium, 94).

Gnosticism is more difficult to define than Pelagianism. It embraces many schools of thought. But, all of them hold in common the one tenet that the created, material world is evil. Only the spiritual is good. Redemption comes from being liberated from matter by elite forms of knowledge (gnosis).

The Pope has spoken of neo-Gnosticism as “a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings” (Evangelii Gaudium, 94). Pope Francis sees neo-Gnosticsim “in elite groups offering a higher spirituality, generally disembodied, which ends up in a preoccupation with certain pastoral "quaestiones disputatae” (“Address to the Leadership of the Episcopal Conferences of Latin America during the General Coordination Meeting”). 

On March 1, 2018, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sent a letter entitled “Placuit Deo” to all the bishops of the Church. The letter is intended to clarify the very nature of salvation in light of our complex cultural context. In light of Pope Francis’ repeated references to the errors of “neo-Pelagianism” and “neo-Gnosticism,” the document positively explains Catholic teaching on salvation. The letter is brief and clear. Its teaching can well serve as a reminder to all Catholics of what our faith truly teaches.

As created by God, we are made for more than this world can offer. Each of us seeks those things that will make us happy. Health. Wealth. Inner peace. Freedom from suffering and, ultimately, death. Yet, when some live as radically autonomous individuals able to obtain their own happiness, they succumb to a new form of Pelagianism. Nonetheless, “the total salvation of the person does not consist of the things that the human person can obtain by himself, such as possessions, material well-being, knowledge or abilities, power or influence on others, good reputation or self-satisfaction” (Placuit Deo, 6 ).

Salvation does not come about from individual efforts but through Christ, who reveals himself in the Church. Christ is not simply an exemplar to follow. He is not merely a wise teacher. No! He is the Savior of all. “According to the Gospel, salvation for all people begins with welcoming Jesus: ‘Today salvation has come to this house’ (Lk 19:9). The good news of salvation has a name and a face: Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior” (Placuit Deo, 8).

Faith widens our horizon. It makes us see our relationship to God and to others. It helps us reject all claims of self-realization. We do not save ourselves. Salvation is a gift given by God in Christ. “Salvation consists in our union with Christ, who, by his Incarnation, Death and Resurrection, has brought about a new kind of relationship with the Father…” (Placuit Deo, 4). “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 1, Dec. 25, 2005).

In neo-Pelagianism, Jesus is only an exemplar who inspires us. But, he is more. He is the Son of God made man and we are made one with him through Baptism. The Placuit Deo insists on the importance of the Sacraments. They allow us to walk with Jesus. Those who do not receive the sacraments truly succumb to a Pelagian attitude. They reject the grace that is needed to heal us in the field hospital that is the Church.

Salvation does not come apart from Christ nor does it come apart from the created world, as all forms of Gnosticism hold. The world is good. God created all that is. Evil entered the world when man turned from God. Salvation in Christ touches our entire being, body and soul.

Gnosticism looks upon the body as a mere instrument of the mind. This leads to seeing the body as an object, something to be manipulated by man. It separates the body from the provident hand of God who orders all creation according to his wise disposition. This attitude of seeing the body as not essential to the person has poisoned our culture. It has led to the acceptance of abortion, euthanasia, free sex and same-sex marriages. In contrast, our faith teaches that spirit and body are unified.

Unlike any form of neo-Gnosticism, Catholicism firmly teaches that the body is important. Christ’s graces fills our souls and affects our bodies. Our bodies become the very temples of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is not merely an interior reality. By grace, we are incorporated into the Church, a visible community. This certainly goes against all those neo-Gnostics who distance themselves from the visible Church by claiming that they are “spiritual, but not religious.” “In the Church, we touch the flesh of Jesus, especially in our poorest and most suffering brothers and sisters… salvation consists in being incorporated into a communion of persons that participates in the communion of the Trinity” (Placuit Deo, 12).

In a time when confusion surrounds basic tenets of Catholicism, Placuit Deo, an insightful and balanced letter from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, sheds much light on the truths of the Faith. It reminds us that salvation is a gratuitous gift given by God in Christ. It recalls the centrality of Christ. By assuming our humanity and sacrificing himself for our sin, Jesus became the one mediator for all the sons and daughters of Adam. By his grace, he joins us to his Body, the Church, giving us a share in the divine life now and in eternity.

The letter further reaffirms the place of the Church in God’s plan for the salvation of the world. Christ himself established the Church as a communion of life, charity and truth. And, he uses it as the instrument for the redemption of all. These truths of our faith are the antidote to neo-Pelagian and neo-Gnostic tendencies of our day.

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0700
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

Young people fleeing in panic. Shots ringing out. Police swarming the building. Screams. Tears. Anxious parents huddled together. News media surrounding the carnage. This scene has become all too familiar in America. The recent mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., has once again devastated families. This Valentine Day’s massacre has broken the heart of the nation.

In 2012, the nation recoiled in horror when a gunman in Newtown, Conn., killed 20 first graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But the outrage at such a tragedy has done little to prevent further shootings. Since Sandy Hook, there have been 239 school shootings. And, since the first 45 days of this year alone, there have been 18 incidents of school shootings in our country.

We are facing an epidemic of violence. Last year ended with a record of 345 mass shootings, the deadliest chapter in the history of mass shootings in modern times. With gun-like rapidity, the Texas church shooting of Nov. 5, 2017, the deadliest mass shooting in the state’s history, followed the Las Vegas massacre of Oct. 1, 2017. 

These repeated tragedies of shootings in schools, sports events, parking lots, churches, post offices and cafeterias confront us with an unsettling question. Are we a violent people? Can we not put behind us the bloodshed of the civil war when partisan views on slavery plunged the nation into its chaos? Are we still tethered to the attitudes of the 60s when civil unrest led to violence and assassinations? Is violence the tragic legacy we wish to give our children?

Are we getting more violent as a people? Are we regressing into something akin to what we saw in the ’60s, an era marked by assassinations, civil unrest, and political chaos? The Feb. 14th Parkland School shooting immediately unleashed emotional responses of fear, anger and sorrow along with a flood of political views. Some Americans desperately want stricter laws regulating the sale of guns. Others, more security at our schools and other public places. The nation is polarized and needs the common resolve to put aside political agendas in an effort to solve a problem that is literally killing us.

We cannot let this most recent mass shooting simply become a footnote in our history books. Nor can we let these moments of human tragedy destroy one of the greatest resources from which this country can draw strength and wisdom to solve its problems. Pew Research reports that 70 percent of Americans pray regularly. As a nation set up by our Founding Fathers, we are heirs to great Judeo-Christian principles that encourage the practice of faith and tolerate diverse religious communities. Turning our hearts to God in prayer, whatever our religion, is the first and most fundamental step to move us from violence to safety, from fear to security in our homes and public places.

Unfortunately, in the wake of this latest man-made tragedy, some have been publically ridiculing the faith of those who, in these moments of horrendous violence, spontaneously pray to God for help and comfort. They taunt people of faith, questioning how an all-good God can allow such pain, such tragedies, so much human suffering. They fail to see that the very fact that we recognize evil as evil points to a standard of what is right and good and, ultimately, points to God whose laws are meant to guide us to peace and happiness.

The secularistic vitriol against God in the public place cannot drive him from his universe. If we were to understand why God allows us the freedom to do evil, we would be God. Perhaps, there lies the real problem. Too many have dethroned God and placed themselves with their materialistic, agnostic or atheistic mentality as the center of their universe. 

God’s existence is not predicated on our understanding. God does not depend on us to approve him. We need him. We need his grace. And, he is ever ready to accompany us as we strive to put an end to violence in our country. Now is not the time for a requiem for God!

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0700
By Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

The impending collision of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day on the calendar this year might seem like an insurmountable conflict to some, and understandably so, for after all, the themes of one day are totally incompatible with the themes of the other.

For example, Valentine’s Day is all about romantic love, opulent dinners, decadent chocolates, beautiful flowers and mushy poetry. (“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”) Ash Wednesday, on the other hand, insists on penance, prayer, mortification, simplicity and dire warnings. (“Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou will return.”)

For Catholics though, in the convergence of the two days, Ash Wednesday clearly has precedence; it is one of the most solemn days of the year. Ash Wednesday is the doorway of the entire Lenten Season. It is a day of intense faith; a day on which we strive for repentance and renewal; a day of conversion, of turning away from sin and back to God. And who among us doesn’t need to hear and heed that message?

It’s for that reason that the church is not inclined to grant a dispensation from the obligations of Ash Wednesday, the obligation to fast and abstain from meat. You want to celebrate Valentine’s Day? Go for dinner the night before, Mardi Gras, or on some other enchanted evening. But Ash Wednesday belongs to God, and it shouldn’t be taken away from him.

Having said all that, it seems to me that upon reflection, the two days do in fact have a lot in common. In a simple equation, Ash Wednesday is to God, what Valentine’s Day is to lovers.

Think about it. What do human lovers do to express their affection, to keep their passion alive?

Well, first they have to communicate. They need to speak honestly to one another, sharing their hopes and fears, their disappointments and dreams. They need to speak from the heart, without distraction. And they need to develop the art of listening, to be great listeners, so that the conversation isn’t always a one-way street. 

Lovers have to make sacrifices for one another, often giving up their own priorities, preferences and pleasures for the happiness and well-being of the other. And they should do so willingly and joyfully, not begrudgingly. “Yes dear, I’ll be happy to skip the football game to go to the theater with you.” Or, “Sweetheart, we just had meatloaf last week, but if that’s what you want for your birthday dinner, that’s what it’ll be.” And, of course, love sometimes demands far more profound sacrifices than that, doesn’t it?

And lovers also freely offer spontaneous little acts of thoughtfulness and kindness to one another – a few kind words, a thoughtful gesture, a surprise gift. And lovers sometimes need to seek forgiveness from the other, don’t they? And freely grant forgiveness too. As Pope Francis has said so often, the secret to having a good marriage is found in three simple expressions: “please, thank-you, I’m sorry.”

Hmm . . . the keys to a romantic relationship: communication, sacrifice, and love. Sound familiar? Reminds me of the prayer, fasting and good works that are the hallmarks of Lent. 

If we’re going to nurture our romance with God, we need to renew and refresh our passion for him, and in Lent we do it especially with prayer, fasting and good works.

Lent should be a time of more intense prayer, and it is nothing more than communication with God. There are various types of prayer, of course: personal and public, liturgical and devotional. But whenever we speak to God in prayer we share our hopes and fears, our disappointments and dreams. And we listen to God, seeking to know his will more clearly so that we can do his will more faithfully every day. Silence is such an essential element of the spiritual life for it quiets the heart, mind and soul, allowing God to break through the incessant clatter of our culture.

Lent is also a time of sacrifice – of reasonable fasting and abstaining from meat when the Church requires us to do so. And most of us “give up” other little things too – dessert, coffee, alcohol, technology – those simple attachments that keep us tied to earth and prevent us from lifting our hearts and minds to heaven. Our disciplines eliminate vice, increase virtue, purify our souls and strengthen us in our daily struggle against evil.

And Lent is also a time of good works, of almsgiving. Perhaps we give some extra money to charity, or visit someone who is ill, or welcome the stranger, a new family, into our neighborhood. Or maybe we seek reconciliation with a former friend or family member from whom we’ve been alienated for a long time. Our works of charity allow us to share our blessings with others and keep us attuned to the pressing needs of our brothers and sisters, at home and around the world. 

You see, our faith is nothing more than our longing for God, and his for us. But like any romance it too has to be nurtured and nourished if it is to prosper and grow. And it’s what the faithful observance of Lent, with its prayer, fasting and good works, helps us to do.

It seems to me, then, that Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day have a lot in common after all, for the goal of both is to renew our passion for the one we love.

This column first appeared at The Rhode Island Catholic on February 8, 2018

Wed, 24 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0700
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

Written for the musical Hair, the song “Age of Aquarius” became an overnight success worldwide. It glamorized and promoted the counterculture of the 1960s. At that time, America was immersed in a tsunami-like social movement that was sweeping away such values as reverence for the flag, patriotism for one’s country, modesty in public and sexual restraint. 

The spirit of the times was rebellion. Young people were throwing off the moral code inherited from their parents. Many were protesting the Cold War and the Vietnam War and were campaigning for civil rights. Revolution was in the air. In his protest song “For What It's Worth,” Stephen Stills looked for an explanation: There’s something happening here/What it is ain’t clear. 

In their song “Age of Aquarius,” James Rado and Gerome Ragni provided the explanation of what was happening. It was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. The changes were ushering in Harmony and understanding/Sympathy and trust abounding. In a word, free love, no restraints and drugs.  

Contributing to these tumultuous years was the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval of Enovid in 1960. This was the first oral contraceptive. In 1950, Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, had funded the research for a birth control pill. Ten years later, the birth control pill was on the market and society was changed. 

With women and men now having a simple way to control or prevent the conception of a child while engaging in sexuality at will, society adopted wholesale a contraceptive mentality. Sixty-two percent of all women of reproductive age use a contraceptive method. And, 90 percent of those who cohabitate do likewise. Our society flaunts its permissiveness. Any restraint on sexual activity is seen as a diminution of personal freedom.  

Up until the early 1900s, all Christian churches opposed artificial birth control. There were dissenters, but they were few. Then, in 1930, the Anglican bishops held an historic meeting. They gathered for the Lambeth Conference, convened every ten years by the Archbishop of Canterbury. They decided to change the Anglican Church’s position. They ruled that married couples could now use artificial birth control to avoid conception. 

This 1930 ruling of the Anglican bishops looked to the motives for avoiding birth and not the objective morality of the means to do so. It looked to the choices that individuals make and not to the inherent meaning of human sexuality. Their decision was based on situation ethics. 

Soon after, all other Protestant churches followed the lead of the Anglican Church. On Feb. 23, 1961, The National Council of Churches stated that “the general Protestant conviction is that motives, rather than methods, form the primary moral issue provided the methods are limited to the prevention of conception.” Today most Christians accept artificial contraception. Even a majority of Catholics!

Nonetheless, the Catholic Church has remained constant in her teaching on the meaning of human sexuality. Fifty years ago, in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, Blessed Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the Catholic teaching on married love, responsible parenthood and the continued rejection of unnatural forms of birth control. More recently, in his Theology of the Body, Pope St. John Paul II provided an integrated vision of the human person. He spoke of the body not as an object to be used for pleasure or to be manipulated at will. As previous popes, he taught that marital love must be procreative and unitive at the same time in order to be the total self-gift of one spouse to the other. 

The Catholic Church does not bless the use of artificial contraception because it separates the procreative and unitive aspects of the marital act. Artificial contraception is contrary to the good of the transmission of life (procreative aspect of marriage) and to the reciprocal self-giving of the spouses (unitive aspect of matrimony). It harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of life. This teaching continues to cause discomfort for some and anger for others. But, many of the effects of accepting artificial contraception have hardly contributed to the good of the spouses or to the common good. 

Many men and women believe that their bodies are their own to do with as they please. The contraceptive mentality has deceived them into believing that we are not subject to any natural law, that is, God’s design for creation which all can know by the use of human reason. This same mind-set contributes to accepting same sex relationships, the manufacturing of test tube babies, abortion-on-demand, government-paid contraception, gender confusion and euthanasia. 

While many may hasten to trumpet the personal benefits of total freedom over their own bodies, the effects of the wide use of artificial contraception have not been good, as Pope Blessed Paul VI predicted. We are now witnessing an increase in conjugal infidelity, more divorces, more pregnancies out-of-wedlock that contribute to the cycle of poverty, more abortions, more cases of venereal diseases, the objectification of women and the plague of pornography. How many lives and careers, political and professional, are being ruined because individuals who bought into the sexual permissiveness, fostered by a contraceptive mentality, engage in immoral behavior and are now being exposed for their misdeeds.

The Catholic Church continues to hold fast to God’s plan for marriage. It remains countercultural. It refuses to abandon the natural law. For 1900 years, all Christians lived by this law. Is it suddenly to be rejected? Hardly! Modern society is already reaping the sad results of its rejection of the natural law. 

Rejecting the natural law, accepting artificial contraception and promoting total license in sexual matters do not contribute to a society’s future. Historian Arnold Toynbee once said, “No nation has long endured that has failed to discipline itself sexually.” The Church’s consistent teaching on human sexuality needs to be heard and understood more clearly today more than ever. It opens the path to true personal fulfillment of spouses in marriage and stability in society.

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0700
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

Once again, we begin a new year with uncertainty and fear over immigration, and this year our leaders in Congress face a hard deadline.

On March 5, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will expire, meaning that some 690,000 young people will lose their permission to work in this country and will face deportation.

Here in Los Angeles, this would lead to a humanitarian crisis.

More than one-fourth of the nation’s DACA youths live in California, and by most estimates there are about 125,000 living within the borders of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles – more than anywhere else in the country.

The story of these young people, called “Dreamers,” is well-known.

Brought to this country as children by undocumented parents or family members, they are not “illegal” through any fault of their own.

The “Dreamers” have lived their whole lives in this country – many are now in their 30s. And during their lifetime, leaders in Washington have not been able to reach an agreement to fix the broken immigration system that allowed them to enter in the first place.

Today, the “Dreamers” are the “poster children” for how broken our system is and how unhealthy and unproductive our political discourse has become.

By any measure, these are the kind of young people that our country should be encouraging. Nearly everyone – 97 percent – is either in school or in the workforce. About 5 percent have already started their own business; 15 percent have bought their first homes.

These are good kids and we should want to help them to develop their God-given potentials, to keep their families together and to make their own contribution to the American dream.

In addition, according to business leaders, they are vital to our economic future.  

In a letter to congressional leaders in September, more than 800 executives representing every sector of the economy agreed that DACA youths contribute more than $460 billion to our economy and another $24 billion in taxes. 

Fixing DACA, then, should be easy.

Everybody seems to realize that it would be cruel to punish them for the wrongs of their parents, deporting them to countries of origin that they have never seen, where they may not even know the language.  

And yet here we are. It is eight weeks until the deadline and these young people find themselves stuck in the middle of a much broader debate about border walls, national security and the inner workings of our visa system.

This debate is passionate and partisan, as it should be. Systematic reform of our immigration policy is absolutely vital to our nation’s future. And we need to have this conversation.

But Congress needs to separate the conversation about DACA from these larger issues.

Our system has been broken for too long and there is too much that is wrong. Congress should take the time to debate the issues properly and to truly fashion an immigration system that reflects the global realities of the 21st-century economy.

We do need a serious debate about border security. No one disagrees that we need to secure our borders and protect ourselves from those who would do harm to us.

Some say building a wall along the country’s southwest border is the solution. Others say we can use electronic surveillance technologies to create a “virtual” wall that would be far more effective and less costly.

The point is we should study the issue and not try to force a “solution” just to score short-term political points.

We also need to study how our country grants visas – our priorities and the criteria we use. Again, we need to study the issues and examine our assumptions.

For instance, there is a lot of passionate talk about how immigrants take jobs from Americans and drive down wages. Is this really the case?

In agricultural centers like California’s Central Valley, farmers this year again could not find enough workers to harvest their crops.

Even as minimum wages and benefits have risen across the country, employers say there are not enough American-born workers who want to do the low-skilled and low-wage work needed in our fields and construction sites, hotels and other areas.

This suggests that Congress and the states need to find new ways to offer guest-worker programs that would enable foreign workers to enter and leave the country as needed by businesses. It also suggests we need to think more clearly about our labor needs in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The point is that we need a total reform of our immigration system, and it should not be tied to the current debate over DACA and the “Dreamers.”

As a nation, we have a moral and humanitarian obligation to the “Dreamers.” These young people have done nothing wrong. And their futures hang in the balance of these debates.

So, I hope you will join me in urging our leaders in Congress to help them in a spirit of generosity and justice. And we need to tell our leaders that fixing DACA should be the first step in the systematic immigration reform that has long been overdue in our country.

Pray for me this week, and I will be praying for you. And may our Blessed Mother Mary intercede for us and guide us.  

Sun, 07 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0700
By Bishop James D. Conley

An epiphany is a moment of startling clarity; a moment when the truth is suddenly and blindingly clear to us. An epiphany is the moment when we suddenly see the meaning of something that had been hidden, mysterious, or unclear to us just moments before.

This Sunday, we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, remembering magi – spiritual seekers – who had come to Bethlehem seeking the meaning of a mystery. They had seen a star rising in the east, a star which they believed portended the birth of a great king. They had travelled to Jerusalem, seeking “the newborn king of the Jews,” whom they believed would be a great leader to his people, and to the world.

They must have been surprised when they were sent from Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, to the small village of Bethlehem. They must have been even more surprised when they saw the bright star they had been following in front of them, and then shining brightly above the humble place where the Holy Family was staying.

But they must have had an extraordinary epiphany – a moment of startling clarity. They had been looking for a king, brought to a humble home in a humble city, and yet, they were overjoyed. These three men – rich, powerful, and wise – entered the humble house, prostrated themselves on the ground, gave honor and homage to Jesus, the son of a carpenter, and offered him the great gifts they had been carrying. They must have known that his Kingdom was something more than a kingdom of power in this world, that he represented something greater and more profound than worldly princes and rulers.

They were led by a light in the sky. And when they arrived, they had a moment of divine illumination, in which the Lord revealed to them that Christ was far more than what they had expected.

Sacred Scripture does not tell us what became of the magi. But their lives must have been profoundly changed by the startling epiphany they had in Bethlehem. Perhaps they continued to follow Christ’s life from afar, perhaps they heard that he was the Messiah, perhaps they believed that in his resurrection, he conquered sin and death.

They had an epiphany because they were open to the surprising revelation of the Lord. They found the King they sought in humility, in a poor child in a small town, instead of in the palace where they expected he would be. But they were open, in their own way, to the voice of the Lord, and when he was revealed to them, they knelt down, and honored him.

The star the magi followed is a sign of hope for all of us. A sign that the Lord speaks to us, to reveal himself, at all times – as long as we are listening. A sign that all creation – even the stars in the heavens – point to the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord. A sign that God is calling each one of us to hear his voice, to discover him more deeply, and to do him homage.

We’re all pilgrims, seeking the Lord, as the magi were when they travelled to Jerusalem. And the Lord is calling us all to more intimate unity and knowledge of him. The Lord is drawing us to himself, calling us to know him, and steadfastly waiting for our arrival.

The magi saw the Lord’s sign because they were seeking a sign of the truth. And we, too, should always be seeking him. We should cultivate a heart open to the Lord’s voice, and eyes open to his signs.

We cultivate open hearts and eyes best in the mystery of silence, of wonder, of contemplation. The magi contemplated the stars, looking for signs of the Lord’s presence, and, in a surprising epiphany, they found him. We have the grace of the Lord’s presence in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. How much more will we discover, how much more will we be surprised, if we contemplate the very presence of the Lord’s Eucharistic heart? 

Jesus Christ is the light who illuminates a path for us, who guides our feet, who invites us to follow him, as the magi followed a star from the east. On the Feast of the Epiphany, I pray that you will follow the light of the Lord, and I pray that God might surprise you with an epiphany of his love, his mercy, and his steadfast presence.

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