Archive for the ‘Discipleship’ Category

The Disgrace of Georgetown

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

There’s a very fine Jesuit priest who is a professor at Georgetown University, Fr. James Schall. In a recent column, he said this: “Tell me who you honor and I will tell you what you are.”

The reason for the question is the appalling decision by Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute to have HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as the speaker at their commencement. The president of Georgetown has stated that this platform is being given to the Secretary because of her “long and distinguished record of public service”.

Yes, you read that right.  An allegedly Catholic university, giving a platform of honor to the current Administration’s point person to advance its anti-life agenda.

Let’s review some of the highlights of Secretary Sebelius’ “long and distinguished record”, for those at Georgetown who don’t have access to the Internet:

  • She has spearheaded the recent attacks on human life and religious liberty by promulgating the infamous HHS contraceptive and abortion mandates.
  • She notoriously declared at a pro-abortion rally that “we are in a war” to defend the right to kill children in the womb.
  • She has associated with, and embraced the support of, the infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller — she even hosted an event at her governor’s mansion in honor of him and posed smiling for pictures with him.
  • As Governor of Kansas, she consistently opposed pro-life legislation, and has repeatedly vetoed bills like a ban on partial birth abortion.
  • Her record was so bad in Kansas that her own bishop, after trying privately to convert her, had to publicly admonish her not to present herself for Communion until she publicly repudiates her pro-abortion positions.
  • Georgetown loves to boast about how it is a university “in the Jesuit tradition”. At the heart of the Jesuit charism is the Spiritual Exercises of their founder, St. Ignatius Loyola. During the second week of the Exercises, those who are on the retreat receive a meditation on the Two Standards. This is a powerful expression of the very meaning of Christian discipleship.

    The meditation asks bluntly — whose standard or flag will we follow, Christ’s or Satan’s?

    Satan’s standard, of course, is the one that the world finds most attractive, because it superficially appeals to our fallen human nature. It offers us the desire for worldly possessions, power, honor, and a false view of freedom that is a disguise for immorality. In the end, though, it leads only to destruction.

    Christ’s standard, on the other hand, is the one that the world finds unattractive, because it appeals to values that are exemplified by Our Lord himself, whom the world rejected. It offers us humility, poverty, sacrifice, and authentic freedom that involves willing adherence to God’s will. And in the end it leads to glory.

    So here’s the question for the Georgetown administration — which standard have you chosen? As Fr. Schall said, “Tell me who you honor and I will tell you what you are.”

    The Power of the Powerless

    Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

    In my last post, I outlined the need for resistance against unjust laws that threaten the freedoms of religious and pro-life people.  In this post, I’m going to present a “menu of resistance” — essentially a list of things that people can do to give actual life to their conscientious objections to injustices like the contraception and abortion mandates, attempts to force the recognition of same-sex “marriages”, restrictions on free speech, and the like.

    Before presenting these suggestions, I would like to stress several important points.

    First, this is not an official statement or position of the Archdiocese of New York — it is my opinion, and mine alone. Take these ideas for what they’re worth, but they are not attributable to the Archdiocese in any way.

    Second, I don’t want anyone to be under any illusion here — some of these suggestions may lead people into legal difficulties with the authorities.  Governments generally are very intolerant of dissent and civil disobedience.  So people should assess their level of risk, and prepare themselves to accept the consequences of their actions.

    Third, and most important, the watchword of resistance to injustice is always that we speak the truth with love.  That is non-negotiable.  Our aim is the conversion of hearts, not the exertion of power.

    With that having been said, here are some suggestions about how people can

  • Learn about your rights.  Most states have laws that grant protection to religious belief.  For example, here in New York, our Human Rights Law contains fairly broad protection against discrimination on the basis of religious belief, and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for believers.  Courts in New York have already held that opposition to abortion is protected under these laws.
  • Take advantage of the law.  Many unjust laws provide for exemptions and appeals.  For instance, private employers can file for an exemptions from the HHS abortion/contraception mandate.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if HHS received a letter from every parish, every school, every hospital, every nursing home, every Catholic employer in the United States — thousands of requests for exemptions that they would have to process?  Do you think that might let them understand how significant an intrusion their mandate is?
  • Use the government’s own legal process.  Appeal any denial of a request for an exemption.  File complaints with civil rights offices of government agencies when they try to force you to cooperate with unjust laws.  Explain to them that complying with the law would violate your Constitutional rights.  For example, you can file a complaint with the Civil Rights Office of HHS here.  All states (like New York) and most localities also have human rights commissions — file complaints with them as well.
  • Be persistent.  Protest letters to government agencies are likely to be ignored at first, or summarily denied without any reason.  If that happens, appeal to higher authorities at the agency, and go up the ladder, all the way to the person in charge.
  • Ask your elected officials for help.  Send copies of your complaints and appeals to your representatives in Congress or the State Legislature.  Ask them to intervene with the agency on your behalf.  Insist that they send you a response.  Go to their district office and ask for help in person.
  • Always tell the truth. Never tell a lie to a government official — if it’s a federal official, that’s a crime.  So, for example, if you are called upon to fill out a form, and it asks for an answer that you cannot honestly give, leave it blank and write a cover letter explaining your objection.
  • Don’t pay for injustice.  Refuse to pay fees for insurance coverage for abortion and contraception.  Write to your health insurance company and ask for a rebate for any funds spent on abortion.  When they ignore you, write to the board of directors and the president of the company.  If they insist that you pay, send them the fee in pennies, write a polite protest letter.
  • Write to your elected officials.  Make clear to them that you want them to pass just laws, and repeal unjust laws.  Do it over, and over, and over.  Join email networks like the New York State Catholic Conference Advocacy Network and the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment and send easy emails to your representatives.
  • Write to candidates.  Explain to them that you will never vote for them unless they oppose unjust laws.  If you can’t think of anything else to say, tell them that you agree with Cardinal Egan:  “Anyone who dares to defend that [an unborn child] may be legitimately killed because another human being ‘chooses’ to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name”.
  • Don’t vote for them.  Speaking for myself, 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, I won’t vote for you.  I refuse to choose “the lesser of two evils” — because then, all I’ll ever get is evil.
  • Participate in public witness.  It is vitally important that we be seen by the general public as sane, reasonable, committed people.  Participate in prayerful and peaceful vigils like those run by the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants.  Join positive, well-informed rallies like the ones sponsored by “Stand Up for Religious Freedom”.  Always obey the law.  Remember — numbers don’t matter — witness does.
  • Support lawsuits against unjust laws.  There are many great organizations that are fighting in court to defend religious liberty, like the Alliance Defense Fund and the Becket Fund.  If you have some extra, send them some cash.  Join their lawsuits — wouldn’t it be great if a million Catholics joined a gigantic class action suit against the contraceptive and abortion mandates?
  • Refuse to speak the lie. Always tell the truth — abortion is not health care, contraception is bad for women, men and society, marriage is only a union of one man and one woman, and religious belief is not hatred or bigotry.  Remember, your silence may be taken as agreement or surrender, so make sure that you speak out.
  • Don’t cooperate in the lie.  Don’t do anything that will recognize the lie.  For example, don’t give your employees information about contraception or abortion coverage, erase it from your company’s plan books, refuse to recognize any same-sex marriages.  Remember that human rights laws protect religious liberty.  If you think your rights are in danger, use the magic words — “I’m going to consult with a lawyer”.  Then call a group that defends liberty, like the Alliance Defense Fund.
  • Stick together. One of the things that people find demoralizing is the sense that they’re all alone, and that nobody agrees with them.  But we are not alone — we’re a gigantic movement.  So, write letters to the editor of your newspaper, post comments on friendly blogs (and ignore the flames that come back in response), put the truth up on your Facebook page (even if people will “unfriend” you), pass around supportive emails, join a pro-life organization like the Knights of Columbus or your local pro-life committee.
  • Pray, pray, pray.  For everyone involved — those being oppressed as well as their oppressors.  This is not going to be easy.  But remember what St. Paul said:  “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10)
  • Resistance reminds people of a sense of their power, even when they appear to the whole world to be powerless.  The truth, expressed with love, is an enormously influential force.  Worlds and lives can change, when people have the courage to testify to the truth.  We can lift each other up by our steadfastness.

    Even if we have no idea how our actions will play out, each individual moral act will have a ripple effect, the ends of which we cannot foresee.  Even if we never see the end result, we can always be satisfied that we have been faithful to our beliefs.

    And we can never underestimate the power of the powerless.  Especially when God is with us.


    Revision and Resistance

    Monday, May 14th, 2012

    Most people are not aware of it, but the founding documents of our nation have been fundamentally re-written in recent years.  Here is how the key passage of the Declaration of Independence has now been revised to read:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that some people are created more equal than others, that some of them are endowed by their government with certain alienable rights that can be given or taken away at any time, at the whim of the government.

    And here is part of the First Amendment to the Constitution:

    Congress shall make many laws respecting an establishment of religion, and prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

    We now live in a nation that is systematically revising its intellectual and legal foundation.  We are in grave danger of abandoning its commitment to fundamental human rights, rooted in human nature and natural law.  That foundation is being replaced by a system of positivism and secularism.  I have written on this blog many times about this trend.  For a fuller explanation of what it means, check out Cardinal Dolan’s important address to Fordham Law School.

    In concrete terms, we can see these threats to religious liberty and fundamental rights in many places: the HHS Mandate, the abortion mandate in the health care law, the radical re-definition of marriage, and efforts to suppress the speech of pro-lifers.

    In the face of these threats to our liberties, ordinary citizens frequently feel powerless.  After all, the government is very large and very powerful, and we think we are isolated and alone.  We fear for our livelihoods and our families if we run afoul of the law.

    So what can we do?

    We must resist.

    The starting place for resistance is to understand what it means, and what it does not.  I strongly urge everyone to read two key works that explain the reasons and tactics for resisting unjust laws enacted by civil governments — Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, and Vaclav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless.

    These essays stress a number of essential points:

  • 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.  My conscience is not just reflected in my external decisions, but it involves the very core of who I am as a human person.  It is the inner sanctuary where I encounter God’s law.   It is in my conscience that I hear the voice of God, speaking the truth to me.  It is there that I must be true to myself, and to the will of God.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the document of the Second Vatican Council, On the Dignity of the Human Person (especially paragraph 3), explain this beautifully.  These documents should also be studied with care.

    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.

    That is the heart of resistance — the ultimate freedom of the human heart.


    A Timely Reminder About Christians in the World

    Friday, May 11th, 2012

    One of the wonderful ways in which Providence acts is through the liturgy.  So often, the readings offered to us by the Church for public worship are exactly what we need to hear at a particular moment in our lives.  These are not coincidences — they are a way in which God reveals His truth and his will to us.

    And just so, on Wednesday.  That was the day that the President announced his “evolution” on the redefinition of marriage, a development that bodes ill for the religious liberty of Christians in this nation.  On that day, the Divine Office presented this excerpt from the Letter to Diognetus (a work of Christian apologetics that dates from the second century) as part of the Office of Readings:

    Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

    And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law.

    Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

    To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

    Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.

    Thank you, Lord, for your timely reminder that we are citizens of Your heavenly kingdom, passing through this valley of tears, and that we should comport ourselves accordingly.

    The Politics of Principle

    Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

    (This is a repeat of a post from this same day the last three years.  It 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.  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 Real Threat of Christmas

    Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

    Now that Christmas is upon us, we have seen many more disputes about Christmas symbols on public property.  Many Christians see this as a “War on Christmas”.  They rightly object to the legal and social suppression of religious symbols and speech, and object to a radical secularist view that denies the origins of our nation’s history and institutions in a Christian culture. Secular-minded people, for their part, see instead a threat of the establishment of religion.  It’s a mess.

    There is no doubt that our courts have contributed to this.  The Supreme Court has made a complete hash out of the First Amendment.  Justice Thomas, earlier this year, spoke of the Court’s “erratic, selective analysis of the constitutionality of religous imagery on government property”, and said the the Court’s “precedents remain impenetrable, and the lower courts’ decisions… remain incapable of coherent explanation”.

    The Court has left us with a situation where a manger scene may be put up on public property, but only if it is accompanied by secular symbols — like Santa and Frosty — and is displayed for a secular purpose, such as a recognition of history, or an expression of some amorphouse “civic religion”.  This kind of nonsense leads to such things as speaking of the “real meaning of Christmas” in terms of greeting card nostrums, or the absurd “U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree” that has no symbols of Christianity at all, but instead celebrates — believe it or not — the wonders of California.

    But a Christmas that is secular enough — tame enough — for the approval of the government for display on the courthouse steps has no place in a Christianity worth professing.

    Our faith is far too radical to be approved by any earthly government.

    We start from the premise that, as Pope John Paul wrote, “The redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the centre of the universe and of history.”  The small baby in His Mother’s arms makes an extraordinary claim on us — to believe that God has become truly human, and that we are called to surrender our hearts, minds and will to Him and to Him alone.

    Our faith in Christ the King compels us to seek to transform the world — including our laws and governments — in light of His gospel.  While we are bound to obey earthly authorities, we must always remember that God is above them all, and our duty to Him and His Kingdom transcends all nations and laws, which are mere historical contingencies that will pass away in time.

    In many ways, the forces of secularism perceive Christianity more clearly than we do.  We easily take our faith for granted, as part of the backdrop of our lives, as a safe and comfortable thing.

    The secularists are not so complacent.  They rightly see our faith as a threat to their world view.  They see that Jesus is not just a nice fellow and a cute baby — they understand that He is powerful, and a bit frightening, and very demanding.

    Of course, nobody needs to fear violence from Christians over manger scenes.  But make no mistake.  Our faith is authentically threatening.  Recognizing the true Kingship of Christ will supplant the pretenses and pomps of our human laws, will strike down the sinful structures that divide and degrade humanity, and will establish real justice in the world.  Every mountain will be made low, and every valley raised high.  The rich will be sent away empty, and the hungry filled with good things.  There are many forces prowling about the world that would not be happy with that outcome, and will show their teeth to us in response.

    Good.  When we see a manger scene, we shouldn’t see a hodgepodge of religious and commercial images that will pass court approval.  We shouldn’t see a historical artifact.  We shouldn’t even see a heartwarming reminder of our innocent childhood.

    We should see Christmas as a threat to our comfortable way of life, a challenge to make Christ the King of our hearts and our society.  Nothing less.

    Lessons Learned

    Sunday, September 11th, 2011

    God has a remarkable way of speaking to us, even in our darkest times, with messages of grace.

    All of us who were in or around New York City remember September 11, and the days that immediately followed.  The ruins of the Twin Towers burned.  A haze of smoke filled the city, and the smell was everywhere.  The desperate search for survivors, although hope was fading.  The feelings of fear, sadness, powerlessness — and anger.

    Thursday of that week — just two days after the terrorist attacks — happened to be the 23rd week in Ordinary Time according to the liturgical calendar.  The Lectionary for that day presented us with what is perhaps Jesus’ hardest teaching, from Luke 6:27-38:

    “But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit (is) that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as (also) your Father is merciful. “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

    This is indeed a hard saying, but the message was clear.  There can be no doubt that the only way for us ever to emerge from the cycle of sin, violence, revenge, and destruction is to embrace Jesus’ message of love — even for our enemies.  Until that time, we must of course defend ourselves against aggression.  But the only ultimate answer is love and forgiveness.

    In case the message wasn’t clear enough, God taught us the lesson with a most dramatic symbol.  On September 13, a remarkable discovery was made in the rubble of the Towers.  It was two steel beams, in the shape of a cross — the now-famous Ground Zero Cross.

    This reminder of the redemptive Cross of Christ, in the heart of destruction, buoyed the faith of many who were working at Ground Zero, and continues to be a symbol of the hope of the resurrection.

    Finally, just in case we needed a further lesson, the next day, Friday, September 14, 2001, was the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross.

    There is no hope for us unless it comes from the Cross.  We will never know true peace or true freedom, until the Cross triumphs over our selfishness, anger, and sinfulness.  The Cross rose from the rubble of Ground Zero.  We need it to rise over our hearts as well.

    Saints and Public Figures

    Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

    On this day in 1535, John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester in England and newly-created Cardinal, was judicially murdered by the government of England.  His offense?  He defended the validity of marriage, and the authority of the Church to determine what marriage means.

    Today we celebrate his feast day, on an ominous day for marriage and the liberty of the Church here in New York.

    John Fisher defended the marriage of Queen Catherine to the tyrant King Henry VIII, who wished to have that union dissolved by the Church.  When the Church refused, Henry persecuted and murdered all those who stood for the validity of the marriage, and for the authority of the Church.  John Fisher stood alone among the English episcopacy — every single other bishop sided with the King and against the Holy See.  Other prominent Englishmen also took the side of the marriage and the Church, and paid the price — most notably, of course, the great St. Thomas More.  St. Thomas, and many other English martyrs for the meaning of marriage and the liberty of the Church, share this feast day, and we humbly pray for their intercession.

    As we recall the memory of these great witnesses for the truth, powerful men are in Albany redefining marriage, and threatening the liberty of the Church.  They sit behind closed doors, making a mockery of democracy with secret political deals, not disclosing to the public the language of the bill they will soon foist upon us.  That bill will certainly threaten the liberty of the Church to fulfill her apostolic mission, even as it redefines the family and the nature of every marriage.

    A few people stand in their way.  A few brave legislators have resisted the inducements, threats and pressures, and are defending the truth.  Ordinary people of all faiths have sacrificed to go to Albany to give witness to their belief in the sanctity of authentic marriage, and to their fears of religious persecution.  They were met with derisory anti-religious chants.

    St. John Fisher and the other English martyrs gave their lives to testify to the divine institution of marriage, and to defend the freedom of the Church established by Christ Himself.

    Perhaps some people in Albany will receive special graces today, thanks to their intercession.

    St. John Fisher, St. Thomas More, all you English Martyrs, please pray for them, and for us.

    Bold Witnesses to the Faith

    Monday, June 13th, 2011

    (On Saturday, June 11, I was honored to be invited to deliver the commencement address at the annual graduation ceremony of the Montfort Academy.  Montfort is a wonderful high school dedicated to classical Catholic education, and to fostering the intellectual and spiritual growth of their students.  I’ve been pleased to visit the school on a number of occasions for debates and other presentations, and I was thrilled to participate in the festivities.  Below is the text of my address.)

    I would like to thank the faculty and staff of the Montfort Academy for inviting me to speak to the graduating class today.  It is an honor to be able to participate in this great enterprise of Catholic education, although in such a small way.

    We all know that high school graduation is a significant milestone in our lives.  We tend to look at it as the dawn of adulthood.  No matter how old we are, we probably remember our own graduation very clearly, and fondly.  I certainly do.

    But it also marks a significant milestone in another respect — in the call to be witnesses to our faith.  No matter where we are heading — to college, to the work world, or wherever — one thing remains true about us throughout our lives.  We are all called upon to testify to Jesus Christ.  While we do this first and foremost in our family and our home, it goes far beyond that, into a world that needs to hear a message of hope and love that only the Gospel can provide.

    Being a witness requires that we step out into the public square, into the struggle to define our culture and our laws, to determine what kind of people we are, and how we are to live together.  This public square appears in many places — in college, the workplace, the state legislature, the voting booth, our parishes, and our own homes.  It exists everywhere that we confront the world.

    And there is no doubt that the world is not very welcoming to our testimony.  Threats to religious liberties, open hostility and contempt towards religion in our media and entertainment, bloody persecutions abroad and not-so-bloody persecutions here at home, threats to human life at the beginning and end and every point in between, threats to the sanctity of marriage, and even threats to the very meaning of what it is to be a man and what it means to be a woman.  Anyone who reads the news is well aware of this.  Powerful forces in our culture would much prefer if we would sit down and shut up.  Or at least wear the modern equivalent of a yellow star, to mark our status as social outcasts.

    In the face of such hostility, the worst mistake we could make would be to withdraw into our own little community and write off the world and our culture.  I have a friend who attended a graduation ceremony at an ostensibly Catholic college, and one of the speakers began by apologizing for bringing up religious faith.  No. That’s a response of despair and defeat.  We don’t apologize for our faith.  That’s not who we are as Christians.  This is a time for heroic efforts, great deeds, ambitious enterprises, boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God.

    So, what does this mean for us?  Let me offer a few thoughts.

    First, we should take seriously St. Peter’s admonition that we should “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet 3:15).  As soon as you step out into the public square you will be challenged.  When people find out that you are a Catholic, much less a Christian, you will be the target of questions, comments, attacks.  You’ll be asked questions by your co-workers, clients, and even people on the bus or train.  Be ready for this.  It’s a wonderful time to “speak the truth with love”, and to offer the world the hope that it longs for.

    A pearl of great price has been handed on to us, and we should never be afraid to pass it along to others.  Remember, just like the early Apostles, we have a very radical goal — as the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council said, our task is to “penetrate the world with a Christian spirit” and to “sanctify the world”.  The early Apostles — the early witnesses — understood this very well.  We will never accomplish our ultimate goal unless we stand up as Christians, and testify to the Gospel.  We should never check our faith at the door, before we enter the public square.

    Of course, the most important thing that we can do as witnesses to our faith is to dedicate ourselves to becoming better Christians. Before we can purify the world, we must purify ourselves.  We have to remember that our lives are always part of the argument, and that the personal example of ourselves or our fellow Christians will be used to promote — or discredit — our cause.  I am sure you learned in your logic classes that the “ad hominem” argument is a form of logical fallacy.  That means nothing in our culture, where the ad hominem is used first, foremost, and frequently.  Being reminded of our own shortcomings, and those of our fellow Christians, can be a very humbling experience.  Be ready for this.  Or, even better, be immune to it, by living a life of virtue.

    Although the way we live this out may be very varied, depending on the field we enter, the one common theme is always love — the gift of self to others.  That is the hallmark of Christians.  In the third century, the theologian Tertullian noticed that the world recognized Christians by saying to themselves, “Look at these Christians, see how they love one another”.  We have to be ready to conquer the world with love, even if the world rejects the very concept of authentic love.  We have to be witnesses of love.

    The gift of self has consequences for us.  We grow as persons, we find parts of ourselves that we never knew existed, and we become the person that God intended us to be.  It has life-changing consequences.

    For the last twenty years, Peggy and I, together with our kids, have been going to West Virginia to do apostolic work.  The primary work has been to repair homes, run activity camps and tutoring programs for kids, and visiting the homebound and elderly. The main goal is not just to patch a roof, or fix a floor. The real goal is to be with the people, to sit and share their lives, and to share their suffering. We have a chance to encounter Christ crucified, in our midst, in the suffering of the poor.  It has changed us forever — we will never be the same.  Love has a way of doing that.  You know this from your own experiences already.

    Your time of training at the Montfort Academy has prepared you well to be witnesses, and you have already shown the kind of character that is needed for this task.  The classical Catholic education you received here, rooted in both faith and reason, provides an excellent foundation for witnessing to the faith.  Your perseverance and loyalty to the school is admirable and, if I may say so, inspiring to me.  There are many others who have been in the arena, fighting the good fight for much longer than I.  We find it very encouraging that there are young people like you who are coming along, and preparing yourselves to take part in this effort.

    I think it is particularly appropriate that we are gathered here today on the feast day of St. Barnabas, on the eve of Pentecost.  He was one of the great early disciples, a man who gave up all that he had to serve God by spreading the Gospel.  He knew what it meant to be a witness, and ultimately he paid the price for it.  But he never hesitated, never faltered.  He was lifted up by the Holy Spirit to a heroic mission.  As the Lord said, he “set out into the deep”.

    You are in now setting out on the same mission.  The world is in crisis.  It is always in crisis.  Now is the time to be bold, and courageous, like the first Apostles, like Barnabas.  Those who are weak and powerless and hopeless need somebody to stand up for them, to work with them, to serve them.  The Holy Spirit is at our side, making us eager, and joyful, to step out of the safety of the upper room, stand before the world, and give witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Now is the time for you to be heroes, now is the time for you to be saints.  Now is the time for you to be witnesses.

    Congratulations and God bless.

    Deeper Causes and Responses

    Thursday, May 19th, 2011

    Previously, I posted about the new John Jay College report on the causes and context of the Church’s clerical sex abuse crisis.  I noted some of the important and valuable lessons from the report, which we here in the Archdiocese have already been acting upon.  On the whole, I believe that this report is a positive step forward for child protection in the Church and beyond.

    However, I have to confess that I’m a bit dissatisfied about what this report — and, in fact, virtually every other report I’ve seen on the crisis — has failed to talk about.  These kinds of studies are conducted by social scientists, and they naturally tend to look at the problem of child sexual abuse as if it’s a pragmatic issue that can be solved by practical measures like more education, safe environment programs, talk about boundaries, etc.  All of those things are crucial, and go a long way to preventing further abuses.

    The report seems to be based on an assumption that prevention is the best deterrent to crime.  That’s certainly true, up to a point, but in the final analysis it isn’t sufficient in this situation.  Prevention efforts and proper responses are necessary — largely because they were inadequate in the past, and that contributed to the problem (and in many cases caused further harm to victims).

    But we’re missing a crucial point if we fail to understand that the fundamental challenge is spiritual — a struggle against the inclination to sin that rests in the human heart.  In the final analysis, it’s not prevention, but conversion that is the best deterrent to sin — the way to avoid sin is to turn to God to be liberated from the sin in our hearts.

    A point of decision is reached in every single case of sexual abuse — a moment at which the abuser chooses to sin, and thereby to do grievous harm to another in order to satisfy their own disordered desires.  We as a Church have a special expertise and an obligation to talk about that decision and what led up to it in spiritual terms — speaking openly of sin, virtue, and spiritual battle, and not just using secular psychological/social science concepts and language.

    Back in 2004, the National Review Board, established by the Bishops to oversee the implementation of the Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, issued a report on the crisis.  In a very insightful part of that report, the Panel stated that “the over-riding paradigm that characterizes the crisis is one of sinfulness”.  They went on to say,

    The only way to combat sinfulness is with holiness. This is not a public relations battle for the approval of the press or the loyalty of the laity. It is, fundamentally, the age-old issue of good and evil. The Church must be holy; her ministers must be holy; her people must be holy. The foundation of holiness is a strong spiritual life, a life of prayer and simplicity. Priests who were truly holy would not have abused young people; nor would they have allowed others to do so.

    No prevention strategy can succeed unless we stress this point.  Our seminary formation program, and all our education programs for laity, must be dedicated to helping people develop the essential virtues — chastity, temperance, fortitude, and prudence.  We must devote our energies tirelessly to fostering holiness.  Ultimately, only in the union of virtue and vigilance can we expect to provide a truly safe environment for the children entrusted to our care.

    That is what we are irrevocably committed to.