Archive for the ‘Saints’ Category

Welcome to the Arena

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

[I had the honor of being invited to address the graduates of The Montfort Academy. This high school is a gem — a truly, entusiastically and unapologetically Catholic school that focuses on classical learning and guiding the personal and spiritual growth of their students. May God bless those grads and the faculty and staff of Montfort. This 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.

We all know that high school graduation is a significant milestone in our lives. No matter how old we are, we probably remember our own graduation very clearly. We tend to look at it as the dawn of adulthood and our entry into the world at large. I hope and trust that your school and family have been safe and nurturing environments, in which you were respected and valued. Unfortunately, I have to tell something that you probably know already — you are stepping into a world that is not like that at all.

Welcome to the arena. I use the word “arena” very deliberately. It has particular significance to us Christians, calling to mind the early martyrs and confessors, heroes in the face of the hostility of the world. They were people of great courage and virtue. I also use the word “virtue” deliberately, because I know that your classical education has been deeply immersed in the development of virtue. So you have an excellent foundation for the challenges that lie ahead.

That’s good, because the arena is a tough place. Our modern world is very hostile to the message of the Gospel and to those who bring it. We see it every day in the news. Threats to religious liberties by our government; open hatred and contempt towards our faith and our Church in the media, and probably in most of the universities that you will be attending; threats to human life at the beginning, end and every point in between; attacks on the very meaning of what it is to be a man and a woman; and when we look beyond our borders, bloody persecutions in other lands. Powerful forces in our culture want people of faith to sit down, shut up, and leave their faith at home in private. And they are using the force of law and social pressure to make sure that we either conform to their views or we pay the price.

We have to be clear, though, that our battle is not just with the forces of the world — governments, media, entertainment, etc. It is a spiritual struggle as well. In fact, this is the most serious and difficult part of being in the arena. As St. Paul said, “our struggle is not with flesh and blood but… with the evil spirits in the heavens.” (Ephesians 6:12) We cannot opt out of this spiritual battle. And we are called to choose whose banner we will follow – God’s or His Enemy’s.

Make no mistake, once you step into the arena, you’ll will feel it in your heart and soul – because that’s where the real battle is taking place. I recall once being in the State Capitol, going to a meeting with a high-ranking and hostile legislator about an abortion bill. I could feel the sense of opposition as I went to the meeting, as if I was walking into a strong headwind or swimming upstream. Just the other day, a colleague and I were at a conference run by assisted suicide advocates, and we could feel the evil in the room. In times like these we really need to listen to St. Paul’s advice, and draw our strength from the Lord and from his mighty power, and put on the armor of God so that we can stand firm against the Evil One (see Ephesians 6:10-11).

In the face of all these challenges, the worst mistake we could make would be to huddle together in small communities with only people who think like ourselves, and hope that someday somhow things will get better in the outside world. No. That’s a response of despair and defeat. Too much is at stake to do that.

We are called to build the kind of society that God wants us to live in. And so we need to arm ourselves with certain virtues that I’d like to talk about.

To illustrate this, I’ll call on the example of two of my favorite people from history – George Washington and Joan of Arc. Two soldiers who fought for great causes against overwhelming odds in a hostile world. They have a lot to teach us about how to fight our fight.

First and foremost, they had the virtue of trust in God.

I think of George Washington on Christmas Eve 1776. His army had suffered a series of defeats by the most powerful army in the world. He faced the likelihood of his army melting away. It would have been easy to think that defeat was inevitable. But Washington had absolute confidence that God supported what he called “the Glorious Cause”. As he put it once in a letter, “as far as the strength of our reason and religion can carry us, a cheerful acquiescence to the Divine Will, is what we are to aim at”. With that attitude, he trusted in Providence and went on the attack, turning the tide of the war at the Battle of Trenton, and saving the cause of independence.

Think also of Joan of Arc in 1429. Her homeland was torn and devastated by civil war and foreign invasion. She had been receiving private revelations for years from St. Michael, St. Catherine and St. Margaret. They had assured her that God had a special plan for her, and she believed them. But it was an astounding plan – God wanted this illiterate peasant girl, perhaps 17 years old, with no military experience at all, to lead the French Army to victory and make sure that the king was crowned and anointed with sacred oil. If ever there was something to scoff at, that was it. Imagine if one of you ladies went to the Pentagon and said that God had sent you to win our wars. But Joan never doubted, she trusted God. She pursued her mission with passion and tenacity, overcoming all skeptics and opponents and obstacles. She achieved a remarkable series of victories in battle, and she stood beside the king as he was crowned and anointed, just as God had promised.

We need trust in God in our struggles today. Don’t ever forget that God has a specific design and plan for each one of you. He has a design and plan for our nation. God cares what we do, how we live, what our laws are, how we are governed. Discerning His plan is difficult, but when we understand what it is, we must hold firm to it and place our trust in Him.

The second virtue is a purity of heart. By this, I don’t mean the theological virtue of detachment from sin (which we all need). I mean a kind of selflessness and humility that puts other people and the cause ahead of our own self-interest.

Whenever Washington was asked to assume a new office he spoke of his sense of unworthiness, and his fear of disappointing those who were entrusting him with his duties. At the end of the Revolutionary War, and again at the end of his second presidential term, Washington didn’t seize ultimate power, as many victorious military leaders have done. Instead, he put the nation above himself, and he gladly returned to private life. When hearing that Washington might retire voluntarily, King George said that “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world!”  But so he did, and so he was.

Joan, too, was a great example of this virtue. Having come from poverty, she never asked for riches or titles or honors. Her greatest wish was to complete her mission and then return home to her parents. Surrounded by ambitious and conniving courtiers, she stood out for her simplicity and lack of egotism. Serving God was the entire purpose of her mission and her life, not personal glory. As a sign of this, she wore only one piece of jewelry, a simple gold ring, a gift from her mother, with the plain engraving of the names of Jesus and Mary. That was enough honor for her. At the trial that led to her unjust execution, Joan offered a statement that sums up her purity of heart: “I came from God. There is nothing more for me to do here! Send me back to God, from Whom I came!”

Purity of heart is essential for our leaders and for the success of our cause.
But it is in short supply. Think of the public figures who revel in their celebrity status or constantly resort to bragging or self-advancement. That erodes trust and breeds suspicion and cynicism. It also encourages division in our ranks. We need purity of heart to stay strong and united. As the Bible says, One person standing alone can be overcome, two together can resist, but a cord of three strands is hard to break. (Ecc 4:12)

The final virtue is boldness. This is a form of courage, but it’s more than that. It’s a sense of freedom and honesty, being able to act on one’s deepest beliefs, unrestrained by fear or self-consciousness, certain of the truth and justice and inevitable triumph of one’s cause.

Washington repeatedly showed boldness in battle, both in his personal conduct and in his strategy. Several times he exposed himself to enemy fire in order to rally his soldiers. On that Christmas Eve in 1776 when all hope seemed lost, he led his men on an impossible venture – crossing a frozen river and marching through a blizzard to surprise and defeat the enemy at Trenton. A bold stroke, and a decisive one.

Joan’s boldness was legendary. She took a defeated, disheartened and demoralized French army and galvanized it into action. She rejected counsels of caution and attacked the enemy directly and decisively. She led her troops from the front of every battle, with her standard in her hand. When things were going badly she refused to retreat, but rallied the troops and attacked again. When asked if she was afraid, she said: “I fear nothing for God is with me!” Old hardened soldiers, with years of battle experience, willingly followed this young girl – they followed her up the battlements and they would have followed her anywhere. So would I.

Every generation faces its own battles. Washington and Joan fought for freedom and justice for their nations, against steep odds. The battle we face is similar, and just as daunting. We are in a struggle to define our culture and our nation, to determine what kind of people we are, and how we are going to live together. We defend human life at every stage against what the Holy Father calls a “throwaway culture” that would just get rid of inconvenient lives. We stand for authentic masculinity and femininity, and the truth about human love and sexuality. We stand up and fight for poor, powerless, sick and suffering people in a culture that would rather avert its gaze and ignore them. We speak the truth of God’s will in a culture that rejects the very idea of truth.

Pope Francis once said: “Even today the message of the Church is the message of the path of boldness, the path of Christian courage… [and] the path of Christian courage is a grace given by the Holy Spirit.” So when we step out into the arena, we are not alone. We stand with the Holy Spirit, with Our Blessed Mother, our guardian angels, the heavenly hosts and the communion of saints. With them, we can truly say with the Psalm, “The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts” (Psalm 28:7). We can also hold on to the words of Jesus: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (Jn 16:33)

This is a difficult time. But this is a time for trust in God. This is a time for purity of heart. This is a time for boldness. This is a time for heroes. This is a time for you.

Welcome to the Arena. Congratulations and God bless.

A Holy Warrior for Our Time

Friday, May 26th, 2017

May 30th is the anniversary of the martyrdom of my favorite saint — she called herself Jeanne the Maid (“Jehanne la Pucelle”), but we know her better as Joan of Arc. She was a beautiful person, simple, humble, devout and strong. She rose from total obscurity in the backwater farm country of France, and accomplished one of the most remarkable feats in human history.  Hers is such an amazing story that it sounds like fiction — an ignorant seventeen-year-old girl, with no military experience whatsoever, leading the army of a defeated and demoralized nation to impossible victories, restoring the true king to the throne, only to end in tragedy.

But her military accomplishments aren’t the most important thing about her, even though they remain astonishing and unmatched in history. Her entire mission was not intended to glorify herself, but was carried out in humble obedience to the will of God, communicated to her through visions of Sts. Michael, Catherine, and Margaret. She never wanted anything more than to return to her home, yet she obeyed God and set aside her own desires, in order to bring peace and justice to her homeland.

The price she paid for this devotion was appalling.  After all her triumphs, she was betrayed by the same king whom she raised to the throne, abandoned by her comrades in arms, persecuted by hard-hearted enemies, tortured and condemned by corrupt Churchmen, and cruelly put to death in one of the most painful ways imaginable.

Jeanne’s beauty of soul and her sterling faith shone through it all, even in battle and even in the darkest days of her cruelly unfair trial.  Here is what she said at the trial, when asked about who carried her standard (i.e., her flag): “It was I who carried the aforementioned sign when I charged the enemy. I did so to avoid killing any one. I have never killed a man.”  She wept over the loss of life in battle, strove to minimize it, insisted on sparing prisoners, and comforted dying enemy soldiers.  At her trial, Joan offered a statement that sums up her character, and could have been her battle cry:  “I came from God. There is nothing more for me to do here! Send me back to God, from Whom I came!”

Jeanne rejected worldly honors, and refused to accept titles for herself.  Serving God was the entire purpose of her mission and her life, not personal glory.   As a sign of this, she wore only one piece of jewelry, a simple gold ring, a gift from her mother, with the plain engraving “+Jhesus+Maria+”. I wear a similar ring every day in her honor. As she was suffering at the stake, she had a cross before her eyes and she died with the name of Jesus on her lips. Those who witnessed her death finally understood that they had condemned a saint.

She is, in my opinion, the most outstanding example of a brave and Christian warrior, whose love of God inspired all that she did, whose nobility of character inspired deep love and devotion among the hardened soldiers who followed her, and whose courage under persecution is a shining beacon of purity and virtue. Her life continues to inspire biographers to this day, and even the cynical Mark Twain, who wrote a beautiful novelization of her life, considered her to be the most remarkable person who ever lived.

Back in 2011, Pope Benedict presented a series of reflections on the great female saints, at his regular Wednesday address.  One of those he spoke about was Jeanne, and he said this: “Her holiness is a beautiful example for lay people engaged in politics, especially in the most difficult situations. Faith is the light that guides every decision”.

She is a saint for the ages, and she is particularly important for this age.  The Church and people of faith need holy warriors now more than ever, people who are willing to stand for the truth, for God’s will, and for the welfare of their homeland.  I pray to Jeanne every day, and in times of trial I feel the strength of Jeanne’s patronage.  If I ever make it to heaven, she will be one of the first saints I seek out and thank for her help.

Thanks to My Patron Saints

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

(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 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.

A Holy Warrior for Our Time

Saturday, May 30th, 2015

Today is the feast day of my favorite saint — she called herself Jeanne the Maid (“Jehanne la Pucelle”), but we know her better as Joan of Arc.  She was a beautiful person, simple, devout and strong.  She rose from utter obscurity to accomplish one of the most remarkable feats in human history.  Just consider it — a seventeen-year-old girl, with no military experience whatsoever, leading the army of a defeated and demoralized nation to impossible victories.  Biographers to this day — even cynics like like Mark Twain — find her to be one of the most remarkable people who has ever lived.

But her military and political accomplishments aren’t the most important thing about her, even though they remain astonishing and unmatched in history.  Her entire mission was not intended to glorify herself, but in humble obedience to the will of God, communicated to her through visions of Sts. Michael, Catherine, and Margaret.  She never wanted anything more than to return to her humble home, yet she obeyed God and set aside her own desires to wage war to bring peace and justice to her homeland.

The price she paid for this devotion was appalling.  After all her triumphs, she was betrayed by the same king whom she raised to the throne, abandoned by her comrades in arms, persecuted by hard-hearted enemies and corrupt Churchmen, and cruelly put to death in one of the most painful ways imaginable.

Jeanne’s beauty of soul and her sterling faith shone through, even in battle and even in the darkest days of her cruelly unfair trial.  Here is what she said at the trial, when asked about who carried her standard (i.e., her flag): “It was I who carried the aforementioned sign when I charged the enemy. I did so to avoid killing any one. I have never killed a man.”  She wept over the loss of life in battle, strove to minimize it, insisted on sparing prisoners, and comforted dying enemy soldiers.

Jeanne rejected worldly honors, and refused to accept titles for herself.  She never lost sight that serving God was the entire purpose of her mission and her life.   As a sign of this, she wore only one piece of jewelry, a simple gold ring, a gift from her mother, with the plain engraving “+Jhesus+Maria+”. As she was suffering at the stake, she had a cross before her eyes and she died with the name of Jesus on her lips.

She is, in my humble opinion, the most outstanding example of a brave and Christian warrior, whose love of God inspired all that she did, whose nobility of character inspired deep love and devotion among the hardened soldiers who followed her, and whose courage under persecution is a shining beacon of purity and virtue.

Back in 2011, Pope Benedict was presenting reflections on the great female saints at his regular Wednesday address.  One of those he spoke about was Jeanne, and he said this: “Her holiness is a beautiful example for lay people engaged in politics, especially in the most difficult situations. Faith is the light that guides every decision”.

She is a saint for the ages, and she is particularly important for this age.  The Church and people of faith need holy warriors now more than ever.  I feel the strength of Jeanne’s patronage, and if I ever make it to heaven, she will be one of the first saints I seek out.

Jeanne la Pucelle, priez pour nous.

 

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.

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.

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.

A Witness to Hope

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Earlier this week, Dr. Bernard Nathanson passed away and entered into eternal life.  Archbishop Dolan will celebrate his funeral Mass on Monday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

In the earlier part of his life, Dr. Nathanson was a leader of the movement to legalize and normalize abortion in American life.  He crafted public arguments — which he later admitted were rooted in falsehood — to justify the changing of laws and morals on abortion.  And he personally performed thousands of abortions himself.

If that were all we could say about his life, it would be odd indeed to be celebrating a funeral Mass for him at our Cathedral.   But that was not all.

Soon after he had accomplished his aims — the legalization of abortion in America — Dr. Nathanson began a remarkable personal and spiritual journey, which he recounted in his autobiography, The Hand of God.

Confronted by the images he saw on fetal sonograms, he became convinced of the humanity of the unborn child and rejected the practice and ideology of abortion.  He became an outspoken pro-life advocate — a most famous and powerful convert to the cause of human life.  He tirelessly denounced the deceptions at the heart of the abortion business, and deeply regretted his role in advancing it. He himself said, “I am one of those who helped usher in this barbaric age.”  He was deeply oppressed by his complicity in the great evil of abortion, and steered close to despair from the burden of his sins.  Despite this, he continued to resist turning to God for help.

Attending pro-life protests in the late 1980’s, Dr. Nathanson was confronted with something he did not expect.  As he described in his autobiography, he was stunned by the sense of love exhibited by the pro-life protestors.  They sang hymns and offered prayers for the unborn children, the mothers, and the clinic workers, their faces filled with joy.  Their witness of selfless love touched Dr. Nathanson at his core, and he began a new stage of his journey.

He “began to entertain seriously the notion of God — a god who problematically had led me through the proverbial circles of hell, only to show me the way to redemption and mercy through His grace”.  These thoughts about God, “held out a shimmering sliver of Hope to me, in the growing belief that Someone had died for my sins and my evil two millennia ago.”

This was the true turning point of his life — the beginning of his genuine conversion.

Eventually, he was baptized by Cardinal O’Connor in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996 on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, surrounded by pro-life co-workers and friends.  All his sins were washed away in the water of life, and he was re-born anew in the Holy Spirit.  Strengthened by that grace, he continued his ardent pro-life advocacy for the remainder of his life.  He was a leader of the movement, and a mentor and friend to many.  He will be deeply missed.

But, in a larger sense, Dr. Nathanson is an important witness to something that all of us must hold close to our hearts — the virtue of hope.  It would have been easy for an outside observer to give up on him when he was still active in the abortion business, and to despair of any chance of his conversion.  We in the pro-life movement frequently feel this way about others among us — like health professionals who perform or assist in abortions, and public figures who support it.

But we must never give up, because God never gives up on anyone — His grace is indefatigable.  Dr. Bernard Nathanson is a shining example of our hope in the great and inexhaustible mercy of God.

In the famous story of the Prodigal Son, Our Lord told us of the loving, merciful father, who never fails to forgive those who return to him.  When his wastrel son finally came to his senses, rejected his sins, and returned to ask for forgiveness, “his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (Lk 15:20).

Let us all pray in hope that Dr. Bernard Nathanson, having now returned home, will be received with compassion and enfolded in the loving embrace and kiss of his merciful Father.

Glorious Saint Joan

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Yesterday, at his regular Wednesday address, the Holy Father continued his series of talks about great female saints by commenting on St. Joan of Arc.

Jehanne the Maid, as she called herself, is one of my favorite saints, and I love her dearly.  She was a beautiful person, simple, devout and strong.  She rose from utter obscurity to accomplish one of the most remarkable feats in human history.  Just consider it — a seventeen-year-old girl, with no military experience whatsoever, leading the army of a defeated and demoralized nation to impossible victories.  Biographers to this day — even cynics like like Mark Twain — find her to be astonishing.

She did this not to glorify herself, but in humble obedience to the will of God, communicated to her through visions of Sts. Michael, Catherine, and Margaret.  She never wanted anything more than to return to her humble home, yet she obeyed God and set aside her own desires.

The price she paid for this devotion was appalling.  After all her triumphs, she was betrayed by her own king whom she raised to the throne, persecuted by hard-hearted enemies and corrupt Churchmen, and eventually put to death in one of the most painful ways imaginable.  Of course, the world could not really recognize her, much as the world never recognized Our Lord.  As the Holy Father noted, her judges “were fundamentally unable to understand her, to see the beauty of her soul: they did not know they were condemning a Saint”.

Joan’s beauty of soul shone through, even in battle and even in the darkest days of her cruelly unfair trial.  Here is what she said at the trial, when asked about who carried her standard (i.e., her flag): “It was I who carried the aforementioned sign when I charged the enemy. I did so to avoid killing any one. I have never killed a man.”  She also wept over the loss of life in battle, strove to minimize it, insisted on sparing prisoners, and comforted dying enemy soldiers.

She is, in my humble opinion, an outstanding example of a brave and Christian warrior, whose love of God inspired all that she did, whose nobility of character inspired deep love and devotion among the hardened soldiers who followed her, and whose courage under persecution is a shining beacon of purity and virtue.  I feel the strength of her patronage, and if I ever make it to heaven, she will be one of the first saints I seek out.

Joan rejected worldly honors, and refused to accept titles for herself.  She never lost sight that serving God was the entire purpose of her mission and her life.  As a sign of this, she wore only one piece of jewelry, a simple gold ring, a gift from her mother, with the plain engraving “+Jhesus+Maria+”.

At her trial, Joan offered a statement that sums up her character, and could have been her battle cry:  “I came from God. There is nothing more for me to do here! Send me back to God, from Whom I came!”

Another Great Priest Returns Home to God

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

I was deeply affected yesterday upon reading of the death, at age 92, of Fr. John Harvey, OSFS.  He was a great priest, and a hero for Christ.

Fr. Harvey is best known as the founder and leader of Courage, the apostolate to those who are experiencing same-sex attraction.  This important work of the Church has helped lead uncounted numbers to live holy chaste lives.  He is also the author of some of the most influential and insightful books about same-sex attraction, especially his essential work, The Homosexual Person.  A short obituary of Fr. Harvey can be found here.

To say that Fr. Harvey met with opposition and resistance to his work would be an understatement.  But he persevered, confident that he was doing God’s will to help men and women be more fully human in their sexuality and their ability to love.

I had the privilege of meeting Fr. Harvey, and I remember him as a kindly, humble, gentle man, with a sharp mind and an engaging smile.  I also recall thinking how honored I was to be in the presence of a man I consider to be a saint.

The important work of Courage will go on without Fr. Harvey.  But I believe that we can have confidence that it will enjoy the intercessory prayers of this holy priest of Jesus Christ, as he celebrates the heavenly liturgy in the presence of the Lord he loved and served so well.