Archive for the ‘Discipleship’ Category

Thanks to My Patron Saints

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

(Yesterday was my birthday, so I thought I would re-post a blog that I wrote several years ago, for the same occasion)

If you’re like me, you have lots of favorite saints, and lots of saints who you think are looking out for you and helping you.  That’s one of the best things about being Catholic — a regular, daily awareness of the communion of saints. And also, if you’re like me, you had the good fortune to be born on a day on which the Church honors the memory of particular saints.

I’m old enough to have been born when the old Roman Calendar was still in effect.  As a result, I was born on the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas.  I have received many graces through his intercession, including a keen interest in theology and my middle name.  Thomas led a fascinating life, and he wrote so beautifully and deeply on all aspects of the faith that he has been a great gift to my faith.  I am particularly mindful of one of his final thoughts, after having some kind of mystical experience.  He ceased work on a project, and upon being asked by his secretary why he didn’t finish the work, replied “all that I have written seems like straw to me.”  That’s a good reminder that nothing that we could do in this life could ever stand comparison to the glory of God.  As St. Paul said, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil 3:7-8)

When they reformed the Roman Calendar in the Sixties, they decided to move Thomas’ feast to January 28.  Oddly enough, they chose the day that they “translated his relics” — that is, the day they dug up his body and moved it from one resting place to another.

Although I still have some hard feelings about them taking Thomas from me, I have to say that I lucked out again when the Church restored the ancient feast day of Saints Perpetua and Felicity to their proper day.

If you aren’t familiar with Saints Perpetua and Felicity, you should immediately drop all that you are doing and correct this.  Perpetua, a Roman noblewoman, and her slave Felicity, were martyred in 203 A.D., in Carthage.  Perpetua was nursing her baby when arrested, and Felicity was pregnant. Perpetua’s child was taken from her by her family, but Felicity gave birth while imprisoned and the child was adopted by a Christian family.  Perpetua wrote an account of their ordeals in prison with other Christians — one of the earliest written records by a Christian woman.  The story of their witness to Christ is vivid and moving, and should be required reading for all Christians who want a glimpse into the heroism of our ancestors in faith.

The night before their martyrdom, after having celebrated a “love feast” (the ancient name for the Mass) with her fellow prisoners, Perpetua had a dream about being led to the arena by one of the men who had already been martyred, who beckoned her to come and join them.  In the arena, she was beset by a mighty enemy, but she vanquished him and was called to enter the Gate of Life.  Realizing the significance of this dream, she wrote, “I understood that I should fight, not with beasts but against the devil; but I knew that mine was the victory”.

The next day, March 7, Perpetua, Felicity and their companions were taken to the arena, whipped, attacked by wild beasts and slain by gladiators.  They have been honored ever since.  As Tertullian said, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians”.

I certainly do not consider myself to be in the intellectual ballpark of Thomas, or anywhere near as courageous as Perpetua and Felicity.  But I feel very close to them, as if they were my friends, but just separated from me for a short time.  Perhaps one day, if their prayers for me are heard, I will meet them, and I can thank them for their help and friendship.

Resistance to the Dictatorship of Relativism

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Pope Benedict famously warned about the impending dangers of a “dictatorship of relativism” — a state where truth is denied, morality is defined by subjective desires, authentic tolerance is extinguished, and political power is used to force compliance with the whims of the day.

Well, we certainly have enough relativism in our culture, and the slide to dictatorship seems to be accelerating.

Just in the past few weeks we’ve seen more and more Black-Robed Platonic Guardian Rulers on the Courts, er, I mean federal judges, overruling the democratic decisions of legislatures and the people, and redefining marriage.  We’ve seen elected officials foreswearing their oaths of office to uphold the laws, and refusing to defend the authentic definition of marriage.  We’ve seen hysterical and mendacious accounts of proposed religious liberty legislation, even to the point where defenders of the free exercise of religion are compared to Jim Crow racists.  Intolerance from the forces of “tolerance” is becoming the language of the day.

We need to be clear about what is at the heart of this situation, and what our response must be.  There are several fundamental truths that are being denied by our current culture:

  • Being male and female is an inherent aspect of the human person, they are not arbitrary and irrational concepts.
  • Marriage is ordained by God and by nature to unite a man and woman in a life-long bond that benefits them as persons, and that is the proper context for sexual relations and the procreation and raising of children.
  • A homosexual inclination is contrary to the true meaning and purpose of human sexuality as created by God and enshrined in human nature.
  • Homosexual conduct is always contrary to the will of God and the nature of the human person.
  • Persons with a  homosexual inclination must be treated with full human dignity and cannot be treated with unjust discrimination;  however, their unions cannot be recognized as equivalent to marriage, and their sexual activity cannot be approved.
  • Every human person has the right and obligation to follow their conscience, even when it disagrees with human laws.
  • The budding “dictatorship of relativism” is becoming more and more intolerant of these truths, and will gradually subject those who hold them to criticism, ostracism, and legal penalties.

    In the face of this, we must be ready to resist.

    The starting place for resistance is to recall several key points, most eloquently explained in Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, and Vaclav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless:

  • Resistance is a duty of all citizens when faced by injustice.  It is not an “extra-credit” activity.
  • It must be always be grounded in the truth.  It makes no compromise with lies, and always seeks to expose them.
  • It must always be pursued with love and respect.  It is not an excuse for violence and lawlessness.
  • The goal is conversion of heart on the part of those who support injustice, not overbearing their will with power.  It’s message always is “come, join us”, and never “we will force you to agree”.
  • The most important tactic is our willingness to testify to the truth by our words and our actions, and our refusal to cooperate with injustice and lies.
  • Underlying this duty of resistance is an important understanding of the freedom of conscience, and my duty of obedience to the truth rather than to mere human laws.  The government may attempt to coerce my external cooperation with injustice by imposing penalties, fines, and so on.  But no government, and no law, can force me to accept a lie as the truth.

    We cannot have any illusions.  Many, if not most of our family and friends will conform, and will consider us to be strange.  We may be estranged from loved ones.  It will be painful.

    Yes, we will be persecuted — indeed, it has already begun.  It will be a soft persecution, nothing like the hardship  suffered by our brethren in countries like Syria.  Nonetheless,  we will feel the steel fist under the velvet glove.

    Resist.  The power of truth and love cannot be extinguished.

    Unity and Joy in Defense of Life

    Thursday, February 13th, 2014

    There are many graces and joys that come to those who are involved in the pro-life, pro-family cause.  One of these is the opportunity to meet and work with friends and allies in other Christian communities.

    The March for Life is a great experience every year, with thousands of people of all faiths gathering with joy and dedication. The New Yorkers for Life coalition with our evangelical friends has been very effective. I’ve been blessed by my collaboration with Alliance Defending Freedom and Focus on the Family. It is truly enriching to stand together with our Christian brethren in unity and strength.

    The other night, I had another one of these wonderful experiences. I was invited by my friend Chaplain Viviana Hernandez, to attend an event conducted by “Life Team”. This is an organization of interfaith clergy and laypeople, established by Chaplain Hernandez and Fr. Peter Pilsner in response to the abortion crisis in New York City, and the hostile policies of the City government. They have done great work building a body of committed Christians in the black and Latino communities, who are dedicated to rolling back the Culture of Death in our City.

    The event took place at the Bethel Gospel Tabernacle in Jamaica, Queens. This is a serious Christian community, very dynamic and active, with an impressive leader in Bishop Roderick Caesar. The room was filled with members of their church and others who joined them. There was a great deal of praise and worship, and I found it very moving.

    The talks were powerful. A pastor from Connecticut offered suggestions on how to speak to women who are heading into abortion clinics.  A young lady shared her incredible personal post-abortion witness, and outlined her commitment to the pro-life cause — including her participation in 2012 in a walk from Houston to Dallas as public witness to the cause of life. Pastor Beverly Caesar (Bishop Roderick’s wife) gave a powerful personal testimony and was very uplifting and encouraging. A young man sang a beautiful and touching song he specially composed to honor his own mother’s decision to choose life. Members of the community spoke of their commitment to oppose the abortion mentality that has afflicted the black community.  Plans for a new pregnancy resource center in the neighborhood were also discussed.

    Confronting the Culture of Death can be very daunting and discouraging at times.  But the message of this evening was very clear.  The cause of human life is God’s cause, and He will lift us up in this struggle.  God’s love and mercy are always at the heart of all that we do, and we must find ways to welcome people into the heart of God, who will heal their wounds.  We are united in the Holy Spirit for this mission.

    The Lord has said very clearly, “those who honor me I will honor” (1 Samuel 2:30).  I had the privilege of spending some time with a wonderful group of people who are honoring God by their commitment to the defense of human life.  I am confident that God will indeed honor them for their fidelity to His great cause.

     

    The Politics of Principle

    Monday, February 3rd, 2014

    (This is a repeat of a post from this same day the last five years.  This post was written in memory of Jack Swan, a great warrior of faith and politics, who entered eternal life on February 2, 1998.  God sent Jack into my life to teach me these lessons about politics, and I’m just a pygmy standing on the shoulders of a giant.  As time goes by, I see more and more a need for us to recapture the politics of principle.  Jack, please pray for me, that I get the lessons right.)

    In the mind of most people, “politics” is the struggle of candidates, political parties, and their supporters to gain power and influence in the government. That is certainly true up to a point, and it makes for interesting entertainment.

    I write a good deal about politics on this blog and elsewhere, and I’m frequently perceived as being “political” in that sense — of being”partisan”. That completely misses the point.

    There is a deeper, more significant nature of politics. It is the way we order our society together, so that we can live according to our vocations and be happy, and ultimately attain eternal life. In this understanding of politics, the partisan theater is an important reality, but it is not the main focus. What really matters is principle.

    Without principles, politics becomes mere pragmatism, where the question is whether something “works”, or, in the less elevated version of the game, what’s in it for me. Now, don’t get me wrong. Pragmatism is important — we want our government to be effective. But again, principle is more important.

    I received much of my tutelage in the real world of politics from a man who devoted his life to being a practitioner of the politics of principle. I learned that it was fine to be keenly interested in the partisan scrum, but only to the extent that it advanced the principles we hold dear — defense of human life, protection of marriage, family and children, and religious liberty. The promotion of those principles is more important than party label, and the idea is to support — or oppose — politicians based on their fidelity to those principles, not based on what party label they happened to be wearing this week.

    That’s how I try to practice politics, in my small and limited way. I have opinions and judgments about many pragmatic issues, and what kinds of national security, economic and other policies would “work” better than others. But none of those pragmatic issues matter at all, compared to the core principles.

    Here’s how it works for me. If a politician doesn’t protect human life, I don’t care what his position is on other issues. If he can’t understand that human life is sacred and must be protected at all stages, I have no reason to trust his judgment about any other issue. And, very frankly, anyone who does not understand that basic principle is not, in my opinion, fit to hold public office.

    The same holds for the other core issues. I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. If you don’t respect human life, don’t see the need to preserve marriage as one man and one woman, and won’t defend religious liberty, they you just have to look elsewhere to get your fifty percent plus one.

    This means that I am perpetually dissatisfied with our political process and our politicians. But that’s fine with me. They are all temporary office holders anyway, here today and gone tomorrow, and their platforms are passing fancies that nobody will remember in a short time. The principles, however, remain perpetually valid.

    Listen, Our Lord made a very simple request of us. He said, “Follow me”. He didn’t say, be a Republican or a Democrat, a Socialist or a Whig. He demands that I be his follower. So I need to look to the Lord for my principles, and in this age that means I have to listen to the Church. That’s what Our Lord wants me to do — after all, he said to his apostles “he who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk 10:16). We happen to have in our midst the successors of those apostles — the Holy Father, our bishops, and my bishop in particular. As a Catholic I must listen to them, and get my political principles from them, not from Fox News, CNN, talking heads of the left or the right, the editorial page of the Times, or either the Democratic or Republican Parties.

    This, to me, is the way to live as a disciple of Christ in this crazy political process. I realize that this will be considered odd by many, and even dangerous by some.

    But we hardly need more party loyalists at this, or any other, time. And we certainly need more practitioners of the politics of principle.

    The Decision We Must Make

    Monday, December 23rd, 2013

    As part of my Advent preparations this year, I chose to re-read Pope Benedict’s magnificent book, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.  This beautiful reflection on the Gospel stories of Our Lord’s birth is a wonderful way to prepare for Christmas.

    On passage struck me this year, particularly in light of everything that the Church has been going through, and where I am in my own faith journey.  The Pope wrote about Mary and Joseph’s arrival in Bethlehem, where there was no room for them in the inn, so the Lord of Lords would have to be born in the most humble accommodations imaginable.  Our Holy Father said:

    This should cause us to reflect — it points toward the reversal of values found in the figure of Jesus Christ and his message.  From the moment of his birth, be belongs outside the realm of what is important and powerful in worldly terms. yet it is the unimportant and powerless child that proves to be the truly powerful one, the one on whom ultimately everything depends.  So one aspect of becoming a Christian is having to leave behind what everyone else thinks and wants, the prevailing standards, in order to enter the light of the truth of our being, and aided by that light to find the right path.

    As the commemoration of the Lord’s birth approaches, this is a powerful reminder of the fundamental choice that we all must make — for the ways of the world, or for the ways of God.

    The choice is becoming more and more difficult.  Around the world, Christians are being persecuted violently, for the mere fact that they believe in Jesus and wish to worship Him openly.  Here in America, we are governed by an Administration that seeks to arrogate to itself the power to define true religion, and seeks to marginalize those who believe otherwise.  Social stigma is increasingly being placed on Christians, in an effort to pressure us to conform to contemporary hedonism, consumerism and utilitarianism.  Those who dare to speak out publicly for the immemorial beliefs of our faith are blacklisted, excluded, or punished.  We are grieved because in our own lives, so many of our siblings, friends, and children are making wrong choices.

    Yet the right decision is always there for us to make.  Our Lord continually beckons from his humble manger, calling us to leave the “important” things of the world behind, to choose the right path, and to walk by his light.  The challenge is to emulate Mary and Joseph, who lowered themselves to enter the stable, trusting that the will of God would prevail against the ways of the world.  To follow the shepherds, who believed the angel and went down to see their Savior on his unlikely throne.  To walk with the Wise Men, across boundaries and through the courts of the powerful, seeking the mystery of a God who emptied himself to take on human estate.

    The King of Glory approaches, in the most unexpected way.  What decision will I make?

    What Shall We Do to Build a Culture of Life?

    Sunday, October 20th, 2013

    (I was invited this weekend to speak at all the Masses at St. Augustine’s Church in Ossining, one of our beautiful parishes, for Respect Life Month.  Here is the text of my talk.)

    When St. John the Baptist moved among the people, he preached to them about the approach of the Messiah.  The people kept asking him the same question — “what shall we do?”  And now, all of us who are concerned about respect for life ask that same question.  “What shall we do?”

    In 1985, in his encyclical letter, The Gospel of Life, Blessed Pope John Paul II addressed the threats that are so serious and widespread that they have created a virtual “culture of death”. We see this in violent crime, war, terrorism, torture, human trafficking, the drug trade, the arms trade, and abject poverty.  But at this time, abortion and euthanasia must be the focus of our attention here in the United States. They involve unjust attacks on people when they are most vulnerable and defenseless, and they are tolerated and even approved by our society as “rights”.

    But it’s important to remember that we don’t just say “no” to things, we say “yes” to becoming a people of life and for life, and to building a new culture of life.

    To make this more concrete, I would like to offer a number of practical ideas.

    Our first task is speaking the truth about the sacredness of every human life – about how God loves every single human person, and that every human life has dignity from the moment of conception.  This is not just a principle of our faith — we rely on the basic scientific fact, available to everyone who has seen a sonogram or a video of “life in the womb”.  Human life – the life of each one of us, the life of Jesus himself in his human nature – began at conception, and carries on until our natural death, and then on into eternal life.  Every one of us, regardless of our age, disability or diminished “quality of life”, is always and forever a human person and must be treated with reverence.  Our first task is to speak this truth about the gift of human life – always with love.

    The second task is prayer.  We must pray constantly, with determination, patience and trust.  We thank God for the gift of life, and we ask Him to protect all vulnerable lives.  We do this as individuals, and we also pray as a community.  For example, praying the Rosary as a group, participating in the National Night of Prayer Vigil every December, or holding a Holy Hour on the Feast of the Incarnation of Christ (the Annunciation), or inviting people to spiritually adopt unborn children and pray for them during their nine months in the womb (kids especially love this).  We also celebrate life when we have special Masses and blessings of engaged couples, expectant parents, or new families, or communal anointing of the elderly and ill.  Life is a great gift!  And we should celebrate that in our prayer.

    The third task is to serve those in need, especially the most vulnerable.  For example, we help the elderly by visiting and offering companionship, or we offer expectant mothers alternatives to abortion.  There are many wonderful groups that do that, like Good Counsel Homes and the Sisters of Life.  We can help them by taking up collections (for example, a “baby bottle” campaign to collect small change), or by running baby showers for the new moms, or by volunteering to help with simple tasks, like driving the moms to doctors’ appointments.  Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has been emphasizing our duty as Christians to reach out personally  to the needy and those who seem lost in our society and without hope, and this is a beautiful way to promote and defend human life.

    A particularly important way we serve others is through public policy advocacy. Last Spring, the New York State Legislature came very close to passing a bill that would have expanded abortion in our state.  We already have 110,000 abortions a year.  We don’t need any more abortion, we need more life!  But this bill would have allowed even more abortion by allowing non-doctors to do abortions, and removing the few remaining regulations on late-term abortions.  This bill was defeated because citizens raised their voices in opposition, by letter, call, email, participation in public witness and prayer rallies in Albany and locally.  The bill was defeated, but it will come back, and we have to be ready.

    I’d like to take a moment to say a special word about how we can serve women and men who have experienced an abortion.  The Gospel of Life is a message of hope and mercy and healing.  Those who have experienced an abortion should never give in to discouragement and despair.  Our loving God is always ready to give forgiveness and peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  The Sisters of Life run regular retreats for those who have experienced abortion, and other groups like Lumina provide support for the healing process.  Pope Francis has spoken movingly about the power of God’s mercy, and how we all can invite others to experience that mercy themselves.  There is always hope and healing available.

    The most important way we build the culture of life is within our own families, where we welcome and nurture new life, and where we support, comfort, and defend our elderly and disabled loved ones.  Our families should be a school of life!  So, married couples should never stop working on our marriages.  Parents can never stop working on your relationship with your children, teach them how to live virtuous, chaste lives and about the value of every life.  In the end, strong families and marriages are the foundation of the culture of life.

    Each and every one of us has a role to play in this mission given to us in the Gospel of Life.  So many people are doing so much already, and God bless you for that and thank you.  But every one of us can do something.  Please speak to members of your local pro-life committee, or check out the website of the Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese.

    At the end of every Mass, we often hear the words, “Go, and announce the Gospel of the Lord”, or “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life”.  These words don’t just mean that Mass is over – they also mean that we are being sent on a mission.  We are called — each one of us — to go back out into our regular lives and proclaim the Gospel of Life.

    By bearing witness to the dignity of every human person.  By helping parents recognize that even though a pregnancy may be difficult or inconvenient, a child is always a blessing.  By ensuring that every young woman understands that there are alternatives to abortion, and that she will be given the help and support she needs.  By making certain that all of our elderly are protected against abandonment, and are always be loved and cared for.

    And ultimately, our mission is to love, defend and serve all our brothers and sisters, from conception until natural death.  By our words and our deeds we can build a new culture of life in our land.  We ask the question, “What shall we do?”  And when, one day, we are asked by Our Lord, “What did you do?”, we will be able to answer, we were a people of life and for life, and Our Lord will be pleased with that answer, He will thank us, He will be proud of us, and He will receive us into eternal life with Him.

    The Manhattan Declaration Challenges and Rallies Us

    Friday, September 27th, 2013

    On Wednesday evening, September 25, an amazing event was held on the campus of Columbia University, “The Manhattan Declaration Returns Home”.

    The Manhattan Declaration is the ecumenical statement of conscience by Christian leaders, dedicating themselves to defending life, marriage, and religious liberty.  It was signed in 2009 by numerous leading figures of every Christian denomination and church.   The Declaration has since been signed by over 550,000 other people, who have committed themselves to its core principles.  It is a vitally important rallying point for people of faith who are engaged in the struggle to defend and restore a true civilization of life and love in our nation.   If you haven’t signed it yet, I strongly encourage you to sign it right away.

    This event at Columbia was co-sponsored by the Archdiocese, Alliance Defending Freedom (who have been heroic leaders in their defense of the Declaration’s core principles), the New York State Knights of Columbus, and DeSales Media from our neighboring Diocese of Brooklyn (who livestreamed the event over the internet).  The event was a landmark, because it represented not only a return of the Declaration to the borough where it was signed, but because of the power of the presentations and the uplifting spirit that they gave the audience.

    The speakers were a powerhouse lineup of experts and activists: Eric Teetsel (the director of the Manhattan Declaration); Alan Sears (head of the Alliance Defending Freedom); Ryan Anderson (The Heritage Foundation, and co-author of the seminal book, What is Marriage?  Man and Woman: A Defense), Sherif Girgis (Ph.D. Candidate at Princeton University, J.D. Candidate at Yale University, and co-author of What is Marriage?); Marjorie Dannenfelser (Susan B. Anthony List), Eric Metaxas (Bestselling Author and Radio Commentator), and Jennifer Marshall (The Heritage Foundation).  The evening kicked off with an ecumenical prayer service featuring Cardinal Dolan, who got the program started off on just the right note of prayer and dedication to God’s mission among us.

    I served as the emcee of the event, and I made just one small point in my introduction.  In spite of the conditions of our society, and the challenges we face, people of faith remain convinced that it is our duty, our privilege, and our honor to bring God’s light into the public square, into the marketplace of ideas.  We believe that the eternal truths have something important to off our secularized world.  And we are certain that God’s light and truth will enrich the lives of every single human person, and society as a whole.

    “The Manhattan Declaration Returns Home” event was important on several levels.  It offered people an outstanding panel of speakers who are actively working to defend life, marriage, and religious liberty.  Their work and expertise offered a sobering view of where we are in America on these issues, but also hope and encouragement for the struggle ahead.  The event was also significant because of where it took place — Columbia University, which was founded as a religious school but now is completely secularized and largely inhospitable to Christian values.  Having this event, at this location, is a microcosm of the work people of faith are doing in the public square — bringing timeless principles of our faith to a society that has largely lost those values, and challenging them to recapture the truth and beauty that they are still yearning for in their hearts.

    This struggle is difficult, and the challenges are many.  The world is working very heard to discourage us, and to convince us that the battle is over, and lost.  But we know better.  As Ryan Anderson reminded us, and as the Manhattan Declaration proclaims, the battle is never lost as long as we have truth on our side.  Truth always wins in the end, over any alluring lie.

    An Easter Message of Hope

    Saturday, March 30th, 2013

    Easter has come!  He is Risen!

    Easter is the great feast of faith, hope and love — but particularly of hope.  This is a great consolation for people like me, who frequently feel troubled and lost, weighed down by life’s disappointments and struggles.

    In his homily at the Easter Vigil, Pope Francis reminded us beautifully that Easter is the perfect time for us to turn to God and have hope:

    Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives! Are we often weary, disheartened and sad? Do we feel weighed down by our sins? Do we think that we won’t be able to cope? Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him…

    Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.

    I pray for hope, for the courage to take the risk to trust God, and to welcome the Risen Lord into my life.

    Have a blessed Easter!

    A Missionary, Not a Functionary

    Saturday, March 16th, 2013

    I sat with a group of my colleagues in the Family Life Office Conference room, filled with excitement as the white smoke rose from the chimney.  We all awaited our new Holy Father with great anticipation.  And when Pope Francis finally came out on the loggia, we were all filled with joy and we joined with our brethren around the world in welcoming our new Supreme Pontiff.

    Now, having had a few days to learn more about Pope Francis, I am still excited and filled with anticipation.  This has the promise of being an amazing papacy.

    If you read the secular media, you would think that the greatest challenge facing the Church is the reform of the Roman Curia — the bureaucracy of the Holy See.  It’s funny.  I think that 99.99999% of Catholics have no idea what the Curia is and does.  Honestly, after almost twenty years of working in the Archdiocesan chancery (our local version of the Curia), I don’t really have much of an idea of what the Roman Curia does, nor can I identify a single instance in which the Curia has had any impact on anything that I’ve ever done.

    Most Catholics innately understand that the focus of the Church isn’t inwards, on administrative matters.  We all know, in our hearts, that the Church is always a missionary, going out to the regular people, walking with them in their joys and sorrows, and offering them the hope of a personal loving friendship with Jesus Christ, and life eternal in the loving embrace of the Trinity.

    That’s why we have so quickly fallen for Pope Francis — he is that kind of man.  Humble, ordinary, straightforward, uncompromising on teaching the truth, and unstinting in his care and concern for poor people.

    He also sees very clearly that the mission of the Church is outward, not inwards.  That we must take the Gospel — and the Cross — with us to the ends of the world.  His first homily at his Mass with the Cardinals says this loud and clear:

    We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO [non-government organization], but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord. When we are not walking, we stop moving. When we are not building on the stones, what happens? The same thing that happens to children on the beach when they build sandcastles: everything is swept away, there is no solidity….

    When we journey without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly: we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.

    My wish is that all of us, after these days of grace, will have the courage, yes, the courage, to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Lord’s Cross; to build the Church on the Lord’s blood which was poured out on the Cross; and to profess the one glory: Christ crucified. And in this way, the Church will go forward.

    Our new Holy Father is a missionary, not a functionary.  Thanks be to God.

    Thanks to My Patron Saints

    Thursday, March 7th, 2013

    (Today is my birthday, so I thought I would re-post a blog that I wrote several years ago, for the same occasion)

    If you’re like me, you have lots of favorite saints, and lots of saints who you think are looking out for you and helping you.  That’s one of the best things about being Catholic — a regular, daily awareness of the communion of saints. And also, if you’re like me, you had the good fortune to be born on a day on which the Church honors the memory of particular saints.

    I’m old enough to have been born when the old Roman Calendar was still in effect.  As a result, I was born on the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas.  I have received many graces through his intercession, including a keen interest in theology and my middle name.  Thomas led a fascinating life, and he wrote so beautifully and deeply on all aspects of the faith that he has been a great gift to my faith.  I am particularly mindful of one of his final thoughts, after having some kind of mystical experience.  He ceased work on a project, and upon being asked by his secretary why he didn’t finish the work, replied “all that I have written seems like straw to me.”  That’s a good reminder that nothing that we could do in this life could ever stand comparison to the glory of God.  As St. Paul said, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil 3:7-8)

    When they reformed the Roman Calendar in the Sixties, they decided to move Thomas’ feast to January 28.  Oddly enough, they chose the day that they “translated his relics” — that is, the day they dug up his body and moved it from one resting place to another.

    Although I still have some hard feelings about them taking Thomas from me, I have to say that I lucked out again when the Church restored the ancient feast day of Saints Perpetua and Felicity to their proper day.

    If you aren’t familiar with Saints Perpetua and Felicity, you should immediately drop all that you are doing and correct this.  Perpetua, a Roman noblewoman, and her slave Felicity, were martyred in 203 A.D., in Carthage.  Perpetua was nursing her baby when arrested, and Felicity was pregnant. Perpetua’s child was taken from her by her family, but Felicity gave birth while imprisoned and the child was adopted by a Christian family.  Perpetua wrote an account of their ordeals in prison with other Christians — one of the earliest written records by a Christian woman.  The story of their witness to Christ is vivid and moving, and should be required reading for all Christians who want a glimpse into the heroism of our ancestors in faith.

    The night before their martyrdom, after having celebrated a “love feast” (the ancient name for the Mass) with her fellow prisoners, Perpetua had a dream about being led to the arena by one of the men who had already been martyred, who beckoned her to come and join them.  In the arena, she was beset by a mighty enemy, but vanquished him and was called to enter the Gate of Life.  Realizing the significance of this dream, she wrote, “I understood that I should fight, not with beasts but against the devil; but I knew that mine was the victory”.

    The next day, March 7, Perpetua, Felicity and their companions were taken to the arena, whipped, attacked by wild beasts and slain by gladiators.  They have been honored ever since.  As Tertullian said, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians”.

    I certainly do not consider myself to be in the intellectual ballpark of Thomas, or anywhere near as courageous as Perpetua and Felicity.  But I feel very close to them, as if they were my friends, but just separated from me for a short time.  Perhaps one day, if their prayers for me are heard, I will meet them, and I can thank them for their help and friendship.