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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This weekend I will ordain nine fine men to the priesthood.

For these past eight years, God has been blessing the family of God here in Los Angeles with growing numbers of men who are answering the call of Jesus to follow and serve him as his priests. Thanks be to God!

Our St. John’s Seminary is full with good men and so is our Queen of Angels Center for Priestly Formation. Every day we are meeting even more who are searching for their path, praying and trying to discern God’s calling in their lives. 

In this society, where so much of life is “programmed” and where there are so many mindsets and messages that promise happiness but cannot deliver it, it is beautiful to see people, especially our young people, looking for a life that is true and real. 

All around I see signs of a new openness to God and to the values that make for human transcendence. There is a new resistance to the “false ceiling” imposed by a society that seeks to close itself off from God. People seem no longer willing to settle for the substitutes and idols, “the more of the same” being offered by a consumer way of life. 

The priests of this new millennium are a part of this new movement toward God and an authentic humanity.

As we see with the priests we have been ordaining here in Los Angeles, these new priests are called from many different cultures and backgrounds.

They have “backstories” that are really interesting, they are fun to talk to and spend time with. You want to be their friends and most important, you want to know what makes them “tick,” what fills them with such enthusiasm and joy.

There is something going on here. Beneath all the statistics and reports that we read about millennials and young adults, the Spirit is moving – and we need to keep praying and asking what he is trying to say to us.

I have been thinking that for all their diversity, all of our new priests share a basic understanding that our life in this world is a journey – a journey that for them, and for each one of us, begins with the call of God.

Every life is a vocation, a response to the voice of God who calls each one of us into being. 

I know I say this all the time. But we need to hear this message again and again – like water dripping on the stones of our hearts, until finally a way breaks through and the simple and beautiful truth of our existence begins to take root and grow in us.

In the beginning of creation, we hear God’s voice calling, “Let there be!” God speaks into being in succession – first light, and then heaven and earth; then the sun, the moon and the stars; and then all the living creatures in the waters and in the sky and on land. 

Finally, God says, “Let us make human beings in our own image, after our likeness.” 

This is the story of your creation. You are here, you exist and have being, because God wants you here. When you were conceived in your mother’s womb it was because God said, “Let there be you.” He knew your name, even before your parents were born.

This is the amazing reality that we need to appreciate. It is even more urgent now in this time where God is being made to disappear and the human being is on the verge of being forgotten, too – where more and more people are treated as objects that can be replaced or tools to be used to further the ambitions of others.  

Our new priests know they are being ordained to evangelize in these troubled times.

Our new priests are men who know that God is alive, our maker and our redeemer, and that he has sent his Son Jesus Christ to make us right with God, to reconcile us and show us the truth of our lives and to gather us into one family to serve and live as a new humanity.

And they have a deep desire and passion to get started and to proclaim this good news to the people of our time. 

Pray for me this week and I will be praying for you. And let us pray for our new priests. May they always seek to grow in their relationship with Jesus and their desire to call others to that encounter with him. 

And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to intercede for us and help us to be a family of God that continues to bring more men and women to hear the calling of God to the priesthood and the consecrated life. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wed, 02 May 2018 00:00:00 -0600
By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

In a recent U.S. Catholic survey, eighty percent of those questioned said that music at Mass was very important to them. However, only thirteen percent were totally satisfied with the music that they have and actually sing. The music at Mass is important, very important! It is not simply a performance by a soloist or choir, a background to accompany our prayer, a means to create a mood, or an incentive to shout and clap our hands. Music is integral to our liturgical worship. 

Pope Francis has clearly defined the purpose of music at Mass. He said that it is “first of all a matter of participating intensely in the mystery of God, in the ‘theophany’ that takes place in every Eucharistic celebration, in which the Lord makes himself present among his people, who are called truly to participate in the salvation realized by the crucified and risen Christ” (Homily at Santa Marta, December 12, 2013). The Second Vatican Council called for full, active and conscious participation of the laity at Mass. Like the introduction of the vernacular in liturgy, music is meant to foster this participation. 

However, Pope Francis has noted that the very “introduction of vernacular languages into the liturgy has raised many issues: of language, form and musical genre. At times, a certain mediocrity, superficiality and banality have prevailed to the detriment of the beauty and intensity of the liturgical celebrations” (Pope Francis, Address to Participants in the International Conference on Sacred Music, March 4, 2017). Good liturgical music should be both aesthetically pleasing and theologically correct. For example, any song that refers to the Eucharist as bread and wine has no place in Catholic worship. The Eucharist is the body and blood of Jesus and the songs we sing should express this reality.

Lifting our hearts to God in liturgy always goes beyond the boundaries of human speech. Thus, liturgy, by its very nature, calls upon the help of music and song to praise to God. Music varies from culture to culture. And so do the musical instruments. In liturgy, it is possible to enculturate the many types of songs and instruments in as much as they enhance the celebration and lead us to focus on God. 

When it comes to the musical instruments that are played at liturgy, the pipe organ holds a primacy of place in the Latin Church among all other musical instruments. Like no other musical instrument, it can express the full range of human sentiments, from joy to sadness, from praise to sorrow. Invented in the 3rd century BC, by the Greek engineer Ctesibius of Alexandria, the pipe organ was introduced into our churches in the 10thcentury. It has become the desired instrument for sacred music. With its variety of sounds and tones, it reminds us of the immensity of God. The pipe organ has the ability to surround us with the beauty of music that leads us to experience the presence of God who holds us in the embrace of his love, bringing harmony and joy into our lives.

Music plays such an important role in our worship of God because we are both body and soul. Prayer rises from the depths of our heart. Words alone do not suffice to express all that we wish to say. But, music has the power to communicate the messages and emotions that words cannot capture. Music is a bridge between the world of matter and the realm of the spirit. It transforms our life path into a conscious spiritual path. Music takes us out of ourselves and opens us up to God. Sound liturgical music, therefore, never centers on the community. Liturgy is not about what we want. Liturgy is, first and foremost, praise and worship of God and our entering into what the Lord himself wants for us. 

Many great composers, such as Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and Brahms recognized that their musical talent was not enough to produce good music. They needed divine inspiration. God himself loves music! After all, the Book of Psalms is a song book. Music comes from God, and when we participate in it – whether by writing, performing, or even just listening – we are receiving a gift from God. 

At Mass, there are times when we may choose to simply listen to the music and let our hearts rise in praise of God. But, moments of silently listening to music and song at Mass should be rare. Not joining in the songs of the congregation limits and diminishes our participation in the liturgy. The walls of our churches should reverberate with the sound of our singing at liturgy. In the words of the Letter to the Ephesians, we should “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart…” (Ephesians 5:18-19).

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.

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