Monday, April 30, 2012

Speaking the People's Language

Revised and reposted. Will appear on Catholic News Agency website on May 4th, 2012.
The voice of the Church, that oracle of Christ, has been an effective communicator when she has tapped into the deeply held questions and concerns of the people. The Church has done this well throughout history but not so well in previous decades. The last fifty to a hundred years or so are instructive to this end.

The Catholic Church is a divine institution with Christ as her founder. But she, as with individuals, has the blood of Adam running through her veins. The human dimension of the Church sometimes lags behind the Holy Spirit’s promptings and initiatives. To be sure, her members are, by no means, exempt from bad habits.

For instance, in 1965, the Second Vatican Council, inspired by the Holy Spirit, prophetically spoke to this need; the need of putting the Gospel at the service of common concerns and commonly asked questions about this life and the next.

In anticipating the Sexual Revolution and the cultural shift to secularism, the Holy Spirit, in 1965, inspired the Second Vatican Council to state the following on evangelization:

“The Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics.” (Vatican II: Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Article 4)

In this passage, the Council provides a preamble of how the New Evangelization should proceed. There are three points to remember:

1. In addition to teaching the contents of the Gospel and about the stories therein, the Church bids us to use the Gospel to interpret "signs of the times," that is, what the events of the day mean in light of the Gospel.

2. We are also encouraged to use language that is intelligible. Speaking the language of the people has taken on even greater importance in recent years.

3. Respond to those questions they have about "this life and the life to come."
I am confident that in using these principles, the Church will make up for what she has lost in these last fifty years. These are the ways in which the she has inspired the multitudes in the past. But first we have to know what our weaknesses are.

As to point #3, it is all too natural to respond to our own questions, and not the questions of the people. Indeed, it is not too uncommon for members of the clergy, theologians and teachers to write for their colleagues or peers rather than the people they are meant to serve. Having been involved in a number of ministries and apostolates, I can tell you that the rank-and-file Catholic has a hard time making heads or tails out of the average ecclesiastical document or even papal encyclical.

Many of us have forgotten that by the twentieth century Western Civilization had become biblically and theologically illiterate. After the 1960's, meeting people where they were at became more of a necessity! Stomaching abstract theological truths and topics unrelated to the circumstance of the day would become increasingly more difficult for the average person; especially in our entertainment culture of sound bites. Nevertheless, the Church continued to use a theological language, many times elevated, in communicating the Gospel to world just as she did before.

I love reading papal encyclicals and ecclesiastical documents! But I do know that the average Catholic has a hard time reading through their thick volumes. Indeed, it requires the perseverance of a dedicated theology student just to read one papal encyclical or Church document. For instance, the most recent papal encyclical, Caritas In Veritate, was over 27,000 words long. However, St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans is a little over 9,000 words. Even as the inspired Word of God, this New Testament document is rarely read from the first to the last chapter by Catholics.

If we were to be honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that these documents reach a limited audience because of such length and elevated language. They may appeal to the clergy, professors and theology enthusiasts such as myself, but I am afraid they do not accommodate the average person trying to get through a busy day. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons why we are losing people to the world; they just don’t understand what we are saying nor do they have time to read what we have to say.

With that said, the Word of God can serve as our guide. For instance, the first two papal encyclicals, that is, the First and Second Letter of Peter in the New Testament, are simple and short. Most people find it inspiring and palatable. One does not have to be a theologian in order to appreciate its message. The Gospels too are presented in the format of a simple story; something that even children can relate to.

When Catholics are long in speech or writing or when they are unintelligible in their language, the secular world will to continue to enjoy a monopoly on getting their message out. However, we are at a critical time in history when people need to hear and understand the words of the Church. If it means using simpler language and fewer words, let’s do it!

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Monastery: A Lighthouse for Civilization and the Church

Oh! Many may think this is a boring topic; one that may interest historians and theologians only. But before you dismiss that which concerns academia only, the history of monasticism has everything to do with Christian society and the vitality of the Catholic Church.

You see, throughout the two-thousand years of the Church’s history, great missions and great achievements came from monasteries. That’s right. From the quiet of spiritual solitude, the contemplation of God’s Word, the practice of self denial and the quest to glorify God, emerged a great spiritual and cultural creativity and productivity. The result was a public recognition of human dignity and a better understanding of the universe.

When holy men and women set out to lose their lives in the depth of Christ’s mysteries, they ended up finding it in a much better condition than when they first lost it. The fruit of monasticism does not only benefit the monsastics themselves but for society at large. Contrary to what Marx and Lenin propagated throughout the modern world, to be heavenly minded is to maximize the fruits of this earth. Indeed, the fruits of this quest were expressed in educating the illiterate, developing new agricultural methods which yielded more crops, the making of representative government whereby individual liberty and the common good were balanced. Moreover, free enterprise, charities and humanitarian enterprises emerged to serve the needy. Finally, we cannot forget the scientific progress which was sparked during the monastic period.

Pope Leo XIII put it this way: "The Catholic Church, that imperishable handiwork of our all-merciful God, has for her immediate and natural purpose the saving of souls and securing our happiness in heaven. Yet, in regard to things temporal, she is the source of benefits as manifold and great as if the chief end of her existence were to ensure the prospering of our earthly life."

Something to consider: Under ancient paganism, God’s creation was unfortunately an object of pagan worship. As St. Paul said, they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes.” Therefore, to study and scrutinize those things that were worshipped constituted a sacrilege. As a result, science for thousands of years had stagnated; it was not even deemed possible. Parallel to this ancient phenomenon is modern day environmentalism and socialism. I’m afraid if Western civilization is not Christianized with a sense of urgency- if the soul is not saved -we will continue to witness cultural stagnation and even regression. After all, it was Christianity that invented the very idea of “progress” under the auspices of monasticism.

Time and time again the Catholic Church herself had benefited from monastics such as St. John the Baptist, St. Anthony the Great, St. Benedict, St. Patrick, Pope St. Gregory the Great, Pope St. Gregory VII, St. Boniface, St. Francis, St. Clare, Pope St. Pius V, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Theresa of Avila and St. Therese the Little Flower. From the mountain of spiritual solitude came forth rivers of life, renewal and innovation. The monastery, convent and friary were lighthouses of society and spiritual vigor for the Church. When Christians were spiritually lethargic, when the pastoral practices of bishops and priests needed reform, and when the Mystical Body of Christ was not showing forth the fullness of her splendor, saintly men and women from monastic backgrounds- those who knew the discipline of prayer –stepped up and pointed everyone in the right direction; that is, towards Christ and towards heaven.

With that said, when their chants of continual praise to the Lord are quieted as they have been during the twentieth and the early part of the twenty-first century, then the noise of the world takes precedence. God’s voice does not echo as vibrantly throughout the land.

For instance, St. Francis of Assisi recounted a story to his brother friars one day. He said while walking through town he saw a demon here and a demon there. But when he visited a monastery, he saw a multitude of demons gathering around these monks; concentrating all their efforts on the very thing that breaks up their company and sends them back to hell. And what is that, precisely? Their ongoing prayers, adoration, meditations, asceticism, the practice of virtues, study, fellowship and the Sacrifice of the Altar. This monastic quest for Christ is the biggest nemesis of hell and the culture of death. Indeed, in times past, monasteries can be likened to the infusion of new life in the Church and they further served as tabernacles for society at large. To be sure, it obstructed the Evil One's designs every bit as much as it glorified God.

Let’s pray for its resurgence and hold the religious life in high esteem by promoting it to youth so that our civilization will belong more fully to Christ. And remember, what the tabernacle is to the sanctuary of a church, monasteries are to society. They really are that important!!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Giving social values their due (repost)

Reposting for new Sky View readers:

Recently Bill O’Reilly, host of O’Reilly Factor, interviewed Britt Hume and Karl Rove on the Republican primary race and the issues that each of the Republican candidates represent. To Hume’s and Rove’s chagrin, to Senator Rick Santorum has brought public attention to issues like contraception, religious freedom, amniocentesis testing and pro-life causes. As you might know, both Hume and Rove are not only Fox News analysts but some would argue that they represent the Republican establishment. And as with any “establishment-types,” they subscribe to their own brand of conventional wisdom, a narrow range of thought, which holds up the economy as the most important issue. On a number of occasions they have suggested that the emphasis on social issues is unbecoming for a presidential candidate.

However, the proposal that economics is more important than social values is like saying the effects are more important than the cause. I would go so far as to say that there is emerging a kind of conservatism that is becoming every bit as materialistic as their liberal counterparts. What many establishment-types fail to reflect on is that the economic crisis of 2008 was man-made. It resulted from a deficit of virtue. The government was eager to promise too much for political reasons and consumers were eager to buy more than what they could afford. Sometimes we forget that the economy is more organic than it is mechanical. Indeed, it is a network of relationships which presupposes a good number of virtues.

For the most part, we assume in our daily transactions that people are good on their word- that they are honest –and that they are guided by the norms of justice. In the absence of these virtues, trust begins to breakdown as it has. And when we no longer trust our neighbor in the free market, consumers naturally turn to the State to redress injustices. In fact, people begin to distrust even themselves.

Pardon the digression, but why is Social Security deemed to be a compassionate service of the government? Why does it give senior citizens (and others) a sense of economic security? Is it not the case that the U.S. government takes a certain portion of “our money” (without us having any say about it) so we can receive it back several years down the road when we retire? We earn no interest on that money. But if we were permitted to invest it, we could earn quite a bit of interest on it. Still, for some reason we believe it to be in our best interest to give a lot of money to the State so that it can give it back at a later time. Unfortunately, it is very probable that my generation will not even see Social Security benefits. Due to the demographic imbalances (the ratio between the elderly and younger tax payers) that are soon to be felt, it simply will not be solvent by the time I retire in 20 years. Have we ever stopped to wonder why it is necessary that the government be the custodian of my retirement funds?

Fewer people are appreciating that today's economic prosperity is feeding off of the social and moral capital from previous generations. But that capital is being spent. With each younger generation, work ethics, valued sacrifice and self-discipline have weakened. Many, if not most, employers see this trend. If we can but understand that the economy is the effect of strong families, a good education and a strong Church, then both political and economic prosperity can be had for the long-term. No doubt, it is the family where self-governance, frugality, stewardship and the virtue of sacrificing immediate wants for long-term interests are fostered.

For those of us who are critical of secular-liberalism it is important to remember the following: Christianity, not conservatism, gave birth to Western civilization or what was once known as Christian civilization. It was from medieval Catholic Europe, that is, from the monastic communities of monks and Renaissance Italy where the free market got its start. It was the Catholic worldview that held that political and economic liberty leads to prosperity.

You probably have heard of Intelligent Design. This is a belief that a Creator, an Intelligence, if you will, had fashioned the order and beauty of the universe. Just the same, Catholics in the first millennium also inferred that there is an "Intelligent Design" of the commonwealth. That is to say, God so apportioned every human being with certain desires, talents and aspirations that if left to their own counsel they would contribute to the greater good of the community. As such, central planning courtesy of a big government was unnecessary. Indeed, when citizens, workers and consumers were free to actualize their God-given potential, everyone benefited from it. Progess was born.

The very idea of progress is Christian. If you take the whole of world history you will find that freedom was the exception, not the rule. Liberty is a stern discipline. When it is exaggerated into license (liberty without limits), then it will be compensated with tyranny. To be sure, this balance of individual freedom with civic order not only produced economic and scientific ingenuity, it was inspired by the Gospel. It was the Gospel of Jesus Christ that instilled the following principles:

• The belief that every person, needy or powerful, was equal before the altar and therefore equal in the public square.

• That we are not to envy and hate political rulers, but rather we are to pray for them.

• That we are to do unto others that we would have them do unto us.

• That we are to do the right thing even when no human being is looking. As believers we know God is always looking.

• That as Christ taught his Apostles, those in authority are not to lord over their subjects.

• That we are to welcome and care for the lowly, that is, children, the infirmed and the poor. And we are to even love those who wrong us.

• That we are to take the plank out of our own eye before we seek to remove the speck out of our neighbor’s eye.

• That we are to be vigilant of using idle words (Jesus says we will pay back every penny), especially as it pertains to the good name of our neighbor.

• And that, if necessary, we are to lay down our life for our brother.

Every single one of these virtues and commands for our Lord makes for a better economic and political environment. These are the principles which made the most prosperous civilization possible. People like Britt Hume and Karl Rove need to know this. After all, if we base our hopes on improving the effects without fixing the cause, if we suffer from the illusion that the economy and the ballot box is where America's restoration lies, then I am afraid we are repeating the same mistakes as the Roman empire and so many other civilizations which died from within.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Power of Movies & Old Pastoral Priorities

Vigilanti Cura
Encyclical of Pope Pius XI promulgated on June 29, 1936.

 The Essential Purpose of Art:
 Agreement, Then Broken:
 Legion and Pledge:
 Prediction by Critics:
 National Power:
 Cultural Influence of Cinema
 Mental and Spiritual Influence of Cinema
 Potential- Bad motion pictures:
 Potential- Good motion pictures:
 Actors and Actresses:
 Bishops Duties:
 Holding Industry to Account:

The Essential Purpose of Art:

• To assist in the perfection of the moral personality

• It is, in fact, urgently necessary to make provision that in this field also the progress of the arts, of the sciences, and of human technique and industry, since they are all true gifts of God, may be ordained to His glory and to the salvation of souls and may be made to serve in a practical way to promote the extension of the Kingdom of God upon earth. Thus, as the Church bids us pray, we may all profit by them but in such a manner as not to lose the goods eternal

• Now then, it is a certainty which can readily be verified that the more marvelous the progress of the motion picture art and industry, the more pernicious and deadly has it shown itself to morality and to religion and even to the very decencies of human society.

Agreement, Then Broken:

• The directors of the industry in the United States recognized this fact themselves when they confessed that the responsibility before the people and the world was their very own. In an agreement entered into by common accord in March, 1930, and solemnly sealed, signed, and published in the Press, they formally pledged themselves to safeguard for the future the moral welfare of the patrons of the cinema.

• It is promised in this agreement that no film which lowers the moral standard of the spectators, which casts discredit upon natural or human law or arouses sympathy for their violation, will be produced.

• Nevertheless, in spite of this wise and spontaneously taken decision, those responsible showed themselves incapable of carrying it into effect.

Legion and Pledge:

• In this crisis, you, Venerable Brethren, were among the first to study the means of safeguarding the souls entrusted to your care, and you launched the "Legion of Decency" as a crusade for public morality designed to revitalize the ideals of natural and Christian rectitude.

• Millions of American Catholics signed the pledge of the "Legion of Decency" binding themselves not to attend any motion picture which was offensive to Catholic moral principles or proper standards of living.

• Crime and vice are portrayed less frequently; sin is no longer so openly approved and acclaimed; false ideals of life are no longer presented in so flagrant a manner to the impressionable minds of youth.

Prediction by Critics:

• Although in certain quarters it was predicted that the artistic values of the motion picture would be seriously impaired by the reform insisted upon by the "Legion of Decency," it appears that quite the…it was said that your efforts would be of short duration and that the effects would not be lasting because, as the vigilance of Bishops and faithful gradually diminished, the producers would be free to return again to their former methods.

National Power:

• A people who, in time of repose, give themselves to diversions which violate decency, honor, or morality, to recreations which, especially to the young, constitute occasions of sin, are in grave danger of losing their greatness and even their national power.

Cultural Influence of Cinema:

• It admits of no discussion that the motion picture has achieved these last years a position of universal importance among modern means of diversion.

• At the same time, there does not exist today a means of influencing the masses more potent than the cinema. The reason for this is to be sought for in the very nature of the pictures projected upon the screen, in the popularity of motion picture plays, and in the circumstances which accompany them.

Mental and Spiritual Influence of Cinema:

• That it speaks by means of vivid and concrete imagery which the mind takes in with enjoyment and without fatigue.

• Even the crudest and most primitive minds which have neither the capacity nor the desire to make the efforts necessary for abstraction or deductive reasoning are captivated by the cinema.

• In place of the effort which reading or listening demands, there is the continued pleasure of a succession of concrete and, so to speak, living pictures.

• [And] the motion picture is viewed by people who are seated in a dark theatre and whose faculties, mental, physical, and often spiritual, are relaxed.

• One does not need to go far in search of these theatres: they are close to the home, to the church, and to the school and they thus bring the cinema into the very centre of popular life.

• This power is still greater in the talking picture for the reason that interpretation becomes even easier and the charm of music is added to the action of the drama.

• The cinema speaks not to individuals but to multitudes,

• For good or for evil, teaches the majority of men more effectively than abstract reasoning

• It must be elevated to conformity with the aims of a Christian conscience and saved from depraving and demoralizing effects.

Potential- Bad motion pictures:

• They are occasions of sin

• They seduce young people along the ways of evil by glorifying the passions

• They show life under a false light; they cloud ideals

• They destroy pure love, respect for marriage, affection for the family

• They are capable also of creating prejudices among individuals and misunderstandings among nations, among social classes, among entire races

• It is unfortunate that, in the present state of affairs, this influence is frequently exerted for evil. So much so that when one thinks of the havoc wrought in the souls of youth and of childhood, of the loss of innocence so often suffered in the motion picture theatres, there comes to mind the terrible condemnation pronounced by Our Lord upon the corrupters of little ones: "whosoever shall scandalize one of these little ones who believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone be hanged about his neck and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea".

Potential- Good motion pictures:

• Exercising a profoundly moral influence upon those who see them.

• In addition to affording recreation, they are able to arouse noble ideals of life,

• To communicate valuable conceptions, to impart a better knowledge of the history and the beauties of the Fatherland and of other countries,

• To present truth and virtue under attractive forms,

• To create, or at least to favor understanding among nations, social classes, and races

• To champion the cause of justice, to give new life to the claims of virtue

• To contribute positively to the genesis of a just social order in the world.

• Thus at the very age when the moral sense is being formed and when the notions and sentiments of justice and rectitude, of duty and obligation and of ideals of life are being developed, the motion picture with its direct propaganda assumes a position of commanding influence.

Actors and Actresses:

• Moreover, stories and actions are presented, through the cinema, by men and women whose natural gifts are increased by training and embellished by every known art, in a manner which may possibly become an additional source of corruption, especially to the young.

Duty of Bishops:

• Watch and to labor to the end that the motion picture be no longer a school of corruption but that it be transformed into an effectual instrument for the education and the elevation of mankind.

• Venerable Brethren, should have exercised a special watchfulness over the motion picture

• It is equally the duty of the Bishops of the entire Catholic world to unite in vigilance over this universal and potent form of entertainment and instruction, to the end that they may be able to place a ban on bad motion pictures because they are an offence to the moral and religious sentiments and because they are in opposition to the Christian spirit and to its ethical principles. There must be no weariness in combating whatever contributes to the lessening of the people's sense of decency and of honor.

• This is an obligation which binds not only the Bishops but also the faithful

• Pastors of souls must exercise their vigilance over films wherever they may be produced and offered to Christian peoples.

Holding Industry to Account:

• An unceasing and universal vigilance must, on the contrary, convince the producers that the "Legion of Decency" has not been started as a crusade of short duration, soon to be neglected and forgotten, but that the Bishops of the United States are determined, at all times and at all costs, to safeguard the recreation of the people whatever form that recreation may take.

• Venerable Brethren, to address an appeal to those Catholics who hold important positions in this industry. Let them take serious thought of their duties and of the responsibility which they have as children of the Church

• Bishops will do well to recall to the motion picture industry that, amid the.

• The motion picture should not be simply a means of diversion, a light relaxation to occupy an idle hour; with its magnificent power, it can and must be a bearer of light and a positive guide to what is good.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

St. Alphonsus: Rising Above Adversity

Have you ever heard of a person starting an organization only to be kicked out of it? Well, this is what happened to St. Alphonsus Liguori; whose memory is celebrated by the Catholic Church on August 1st. One of the testaments to his outstanding character is that adversity could not hold this man down!

In 1839 he was canonized a Saint and in 1871 was declared to be a Doctor of the Church. Yet, he was a man who experienced many defeats in his life. One such defeat came in 1723 when, as a lawyer, he suffered a humiliating loss in the courtroom. It was said that he did not eat for three days. But that setback would prove to be quite useful in God’s plan.

That same year, as he was visiting the sick in the hospital, he experienced the presence of God in such a way that would change his life forever. According to Benjamin Mann, “he saw a mysterious light, felt the building shake, and heard the voice of God asking him to ‘leave the world’ and place himself totally in his service.” (EWTN News/CNA) This transforming experience inspired his vocation to the priesthood. Later, in 1762, he would be ordained a bishop of Naples, Italy.

As indicated, St. Alphonsus founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (The Redemptorists). From its beginning in 1732 the Redemptorist order struggled with division from within. It even was met with hostility from the State. Indeed, the Prime Minister of Naples, Bernardo Tanucci, tried to strip the religious order of its privileges. And towards the end of his life, “at the hands of the Pope who would later declare him venerable, Alphonsus was cast out of the order he founded.”

Nevertheless, whatever confronted him- good or bad –St. Alphonsus took it in stride.
Oh! How many Saints encountered what seemed to be hopeless situations?! Failures in the eyes of the world, they were men and women whose life was used by God to bring about great accomplishments. It just so happens that sometimes the Lord needs what appears to be a misfortune to work some greater and lasting good.

This great man learned to accept the peace of God through the various trials of life; not to mention the many infirmities he had to endure. He believed that whatever situation or condition God allowed to transpire in his life- good or evil; health or sickness; honor or disgrace –was part of an intelligent design no less wonderful than the creation of the universe.

As Pope Pius XI wrote in his letter against Atheistic Communism, “Man has a spiritual and immortal soul. He is a person, marvelously endowed by his Creator with gifts of body and mind. He is a true ‘microcosm,’ as the ancients said, a world in miniature, with a value far surpassing that of the vast inanimate cosmos. God alone is his last end, in this life and the next.” Even in concentration and labor camps during the twentieth century, many heroic Christians found meaning in what seemed to others as senseless suffering. Even from the horrors of concentration camps the Almighty, from the vantage point of eternity, can compensate for such unimaginable pain.

Returning to St. Alphonsus: Although his prolific writing career did not begin until he was fifty years old, he would write one hundred and eleven books. According to R. J. Miller, “St. Alphonsus had published 7,000 more editions of his works than Shakespeare by 1961 even though Shakespeare had over a century and a half head start.”

Arguably one of his greatest writings was Uniformity with God’s Will. In it he wrote, “Those who love God are always happy, because their whole happiness is to fulfill, even in adversity, the will of God. Afflictions do not mar their serenity, because by accepting misfortune, they know they give pleasure to their beloved Lord.”

This is an important part of knowing God’s peace and his joy. God Almighty either positively wills something to happen; such as loving him above everything else and serving the poor. But he also allows evil to take place so that some greater good may come of it. Such is his passive will. Therefore, the belief of St. Alphonsus- as well with every canonized Saint –is that whatever happens is either willed or permitted by God. As such, whatever circumstances unfold in our lives is part of a great design whose author is none other than the Lord himself.

But as for those whose happiness depends on favorable circumstances, he writes the following:

“Because his peace of mind depends on the prosperity or the adversity he meets; he changes with the changes in the things that happen to him.”

“The just man,” on the other hand, “is like the sun, constant in his serenity, no matter what betides him. His calmness of soul is founded on his union with the will of God; hence he enjoys unruffled peace.”

This is the key to St. Alphonsus "unruffled peace." And it is the secret to the happiness the Saints enjoyed while they were on earth.

Friday, April 13, 2012

USCCB: Our First, Most Cherished Liberty

A Statement on Religious Liberty:

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty

We are Catholics. We are Americans. We are proud to be both, grateful for the gift of faith which is ours as Christian disciples, and grateful for the gift of liberty which is ours as American citizens. To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other. Our allegiances are distinct, but they need not be contradictory, and should instead be complementary. That is the teaching of our Catholic faith, which obliges us to work together with fellow citizens for the common good of all who live in this land. That is the vision of our founding and our Constitution, which guarantees citizens of all religious faiths the right to contribute to our common life together.

Freedom is not only for Americans, but we think of it as something of our special inheritance, fought for at a great price, and a heritage to be guarded now. We are stewards of this gift, not only for ourselves but for all nations and peoples who yearn to be free. Catholics in America have discharged this duty of guarding freedom admirably for many generations.

In 1887, when the archbishop of Baltimore, James Gibbons, was made the second American cardinal, he defended the American heritage of religious liberty during his visit to Rome to receive the red hat. Speaking of the great progress the Catholic Church had made in the United States, he attributed it to the "civil liberty we enjoy in our enlightened republic." Indeed, he made a bolder claim, namely that "in the genial atmosphere of liberty [the Church] blossoms like a rose."1

From well before Cardinal Gibbons, Catholics in America have been advocates for religious liberty, and the landmark teaching of the Second Vatican Council on religious liberty was influenced by the American experience. It is among the proudest boasts of the Church on these shores. We have been staunch defenders of religious liberty in the past. We have a solemn duty to discharge that duty today.

We need, therefore, to speak frankly with each other when our freedoms are threatened. Now is such a time. As Catholic bishops and American citizens, we address an urgent summons to our fellow Catholics and fellow Americans to be on guard, for religious liberty is under attack, both at home and abroad.

This has been noticed both near and far. Pope Benedict XVI recently spoke about his worry that religious liberty in the United States is being weakened. He called it the "most cherished of American freedoms"—and indeed it is. All the more reason to heed the warning of the Holy Father, a friend of America and an ally in the defense of freedom, in his recent address to American bishops:

Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.

Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church's participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.2

Religious Liberty Under Attack—Concrete Examples

Is our most cherished freedom truly under threat? Sadly, it is. This is not a theological or legal dispute without real world consequences. Consider the following:

■ HHS mandate for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. The mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services has received wide attention and has been met with our vigorous and united opposition. In an unprecedented way, the federal government will both force religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching and purport to define which religious institutions are "religious enough" to merit protection of their religious liberty. These features of the "preventive services" mandate amount to an unjust law. As Archbishop-designate William Lori of Baltimore, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, testified to Congress: "This is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited by the government. This is not even a matter of whether contraception may be supported by the government. Instead, it is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, even if that violates their religious beliefs."3

■ State immigration laws. Several states have recently passed laws that forbid what the government deems "harboring" of undocumented immigrants—and what the Church deems Christian charity and pastoral care to those immigrants. Perhaps the most egregious of these is in Alabama, where the Catholic bishops, in cooperation with the Episcopal and Methodist bishops of Alabama, filed suit against the law:

It is with sadness that we brought this legal action but with a deep sense that we, as people of faith, have no choice but to defend the right to the free exercise of religion granted to us as citizens of Alabama. . . . The law makes illegal the exercise of our Christian religion which we, as citizens of Alabama, have a right to follow. The law prohibits almost everything which would assist an undocumented immigrant or encourage an undocumented immigrant to live in Alabama. This new Alabama law makes it illegal for a Catholic priest to baptize, hear the confession of, celebrate the anointing of the sick with, or preach the word of God to, an undocumented immigrant. Nor can we encourage them to attend Mass or give them a ride to Mass. It is illegal to allow them to attend adult scripture study groups, or attend CCD or Sunday school classes. It is illegal for the clergy to counsel them in times of difficulty or in preparation for marriage. It is illegal for them to come to Alcoholic Anonymous meetings or other recovery groups at our churches.

■ Altering Church structure and governance. In 2009, the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut Legislature proposed a bill that would have forced Catholic parishes to be restructured according to a congregational model, recalling the trusteeism controversy of the early nineteenth century, and prefiguring the federal government's attempts to redefine for the Church "religious minister" and "religious employer" in the years since.

■ Christian students on campus.In its over-100-year history, the University of California Hastings College of Law has denied student organization status to only one group, the Christian Legal Society, because it required its leaders to be Christian and to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage.

■ Catholic foster care and adoption services. Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and the state of Illinois have driven local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services—by revoking their licenses, by ending their government contracts, or both—because those Charities refused to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit.

■ Discrimination against small church congregations. New York City enacted a rule that barred the Bronx Household of Faith and sixty other churches from renting public schools on weekends for worship services even though non-religious groups could rent the same schools for scores of other uses. While this would not frequently affect Catholic parishes, which generally own their own buildings, it would be devastating to many smaller congregations. It is a simple case of discrimination against religious believers.

■ Discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services. Notwithstanding years of excellent performance by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services in administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, the federal government changed its contract specifications to require us to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion services in violation of Catholic teaching. Religious institutions should not be disqualified from a government contract based on religious belief, and they do not somehow lose their religious identity or liberty upon entering such contracts. And yet a federal court in Massachusetts, turning religious liberty on its head, has since declared that such a disqualification is required by the First Amendment—that the government somehow violates religious liberty by allowing Catholic organizations to participate in contracts in a manner consistent with their beliefs on contraception and abortion.

Religious Liberty Is More Than Freedom of Worship

Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans. Can we do the good works our faith calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith? Without religious liberty properly understood, all Americans suffer, deprived of the essential contribution in education, health care, feeding the hungry, civil rights, and social services that religious Americans make every day, both here at home and overseas.

What is at stake is whether America will continue to have a free, creative, and robust civil society—or whether the state alone will determine who gets to contribute to the common good, and how they get to do it. Religious believers are part of American civil society, which includes neighbors helping each other, community associations, fraternal service clubs, sports leagues, and youth groups. All these Americans make their contribution to our common life, and they do not need the permission of the government to do so. Restrictions on religious liberty are an attack on civil society and the American genius for voluntary associations.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America issued a statement about the administration's contraception and sterilization mandate that captured exactly the danger that we face:

Most troubling, is the Administration's underlying rationale for its decision, which appears to be a view that if a religious entity is not insular, but engaged with broader society, it loses its "religious" character and liberties. Many faiths firmly believe in being open to and engaged with broader society and fellow citizens of other faiths. The Administration's ruling makes the price of such an outward approach the violation of an organization's religious principles. This is deeply disappointing.5

This is not a Catholic issue. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue. It is an American issue.

The Most Cherished of American Freedoms

In 1634, a mix of Catholic and Protestant settlers arrived at St. Clement's Island in Southern Maryland from England aboard the Ark and the Dove. They had come at the invitation of the Catholic Lord Baltimore, who had been granted Maryland by the Protestant King Charles I of England. While Catholics and Protestants were killing each other in Europe, Lord Baltimore imagined Maryland as a society where people of different faiths could live together peacefully. This vision was soon codified in Maryland's 1649 Act Concerning Religion (also called the "Toleration Act"), which was the first law in our nation's history to protect an individual's right to freedom of conscience.

Maryland's early history teaches us that, like any freedom, religious liberty requires constant vigilance and protection, or it will disappear. Maryland's experiment in religious toleration ended within a few decades. The colony was placed under royal control, and the Church of England became the established religion. Discriminatory laws, including the loss of political rights, were enacted against those who refused to conform. Catholic chapels were closed, and Catholics were restricted to practicing their faith in their homes. The Catholic community lived under these conditions until the American Revolution.

By the end of the 18th century, our nation's founders embraced freedom of religion as an essential condition of a free and democratic society. James Madison, often called the Father of the Constitution, described conscience as "the most sacred of all property."6 He wrote that "the Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate."7 George Washington wrote that "the establishment of Civil and Religious Liberty was the Motive that induced me to the field of battle."8 Thomas Jefferson assured the Ursuline Sisters—who had been serving a mostly non-Catholic population by running a hospital, an orphanage, and schools in Louisiana since 1727—that the principles of the Constitution were a "sure guarantee" that their ministry would be free "to govern itself according to its own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority."9

It is therefore fitting that when the Bill of Rights was ratified, religious freedom had the distinction of being the First Amendment. Religious liberty is indeed the first liberty. The First Amendment guarantees that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Recently, in a unanimous Supreme Court judgment affirming the importance of that first freedom, the Chief Justice of the United States explained that religious liberty is not just the first freedom for Americans; rather it is the first in the history of democratic freedom, tracing its origins back the first clauses of the Magna Carta of 1215 and beyond. In a telling example, Chief Justice Roberts illustrated our history of religious liberty in light of a Catholic issue decided upon by James Madison, who guided the Bill of Rights through Congress and is known as the architect of the First Amendment:

[In 1806] John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in the United States, solicited the Executive's opinion on who should be appointed to direct the affairs of the Catholic Church in the territory newly acquired by the Louisiana Purchase. After consulting with President Jefferson, then-Secretary of State James Madison responded that the selection of church "functionaries" was an "entirely ecclesiastical" matter left to the Church's own judgment. The "scrupulous policy of the Constitution in guarding against a political interference with religious affairs," Madison explained, prevented the Government from rendering an opinion on the "selection of ecclesiastical individuals."10

That is our American heritage, our most cherished freedom. It is the first freedom because if we are not free in our conscience and our practice of religion, all other freedoms are fragile. If citizens are not free in their own consciences, how can they be free in relation to others, or to the state? If our obligations and duties to God are impeded, or even worse, contradicted by the government, then we can no longer claim to be a land of the free, and a beacon of hope for the world.

Our Christian Teaching

During the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Americans shone the light of the Gospel on a dark history of slavery, segregation, and racial bigotry. The civil rights movement was an essentially religious movement, a call to awaken consciences, not only an appeal to the Constitution for America to honor its heritage of liberty.

In his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail" in 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. boldly said, "The goal of America is freedom." As a Christian pastor, he argued that to call America to the full measure of that freedom was the specific contribution Christians are obliged to make. He rooted his legal and constitutional arguments about justice in the long Christian tradition:

I would agree with Saint Augustine that "An unjust law is no law at all." Now what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.11

It is a sobering thing to contemplate our government enacting an unjust law. An unjust law cannot be obeyed. In the face of an unjust law, an accommodation is not to be sought, especially by resorting to equivocal words and deceptive practices. If we face today the prospect of unjust laws, then Catholics in America, in solidarity with our fellow citizens, must have the courage not to obey them. No American desires this. No Catholic welcomes it. But if it should fall upon us, we must discharge it as a duty of citizenship and an obligation of faith.

It is essential to understand the distinction between conscientious objection and an unjust law. Conscientious objection permits some relief to those who object to a just law for reasons of conscience—conscription being the most well-known example. An unjust law is "no law at all." It cannot be obeyed, and therefore one does not seek relief from it, but rather its repeal.

The Christian church does not ask for special treatment, simply the rights of religious freedom for all citizens. Rev. King also explained that the church is neither the master nor the servant of the state, but its conscience, guide, and critic.

As Catholics, we know that our history has shadows too in terms of religious liberty, when we did not extend to others the proper respect for this first freedom. But the teaching of the Church is absolutely clear about religious liberty:

The human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs … whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits. . . . This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed. Thus it is to become a civil right.12

As Catholics, we are obliged to defend the right to religious liberty for ourselves and for others. We are happily joined in this by our fellow Christians and believers of other faiths.

A recent letter to President Obama from some sixty religious leaders, including Christians of many denominations and Jews, argued that "it is emphatically not only Catholics who deeply object to the requirement that health plans they purchase must provide coverage of contraceptives that include some that are abortifacients."13

More comprehensively, a theologically rich and politically prudent declaration from Evangelicals and Catholics Together made a powerful case for greater vigilance in defense of religious freedom, precisely as a united witness animated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.14 Their declaration makes it clear that as Christians of various traditions we object to a "naked public square," stripped of religious arguments and religious believers. We do not seek a "sacred public square" either, which gives special privileges and benefits to religious citizens. Rather, we seek a civil public square, where all citizens can make their contribution to the common good. At our best, we might call this an American public square.

The Lord Jesus came to liberate us from the dominion of sin. Political liberties are one part of that liberation, and religious liberty is the first of those liberties. Together with our fellow Christians, joined by our Jewish brethren, and in partnership with Americans of other religious traditions, we affirm that our faith requires us to defend the religious liberty granted us by God, and protected in our Constitution.

Martyrs Around the World

In this statement, as bishops of the United States, we are addressing ourselves to the situation we find here at home. At the same time, we are sadly aware that religious liberty in many other parts of the world is in much greater peril. Our obligation at home is to defend religious liberty robustly, but we cannot overlook the much graver plight that religious believers, most of them Christian, face around the world. The age of martyrdom has not passed. Assassinations, bombings of churches, torching of orphanages—these are only the most violent attacks Christians have suffered because of their faith in Jesus Christ. More systematic denials of basic human rights are found in the laws of several countries, and also in acts of persecution by adherents of other faiths.

If religious liberty is eroded here at home, American defense of religious liberty abroad is less credible. And one common threat, spanning both the international and domestic arenas, is the tendency to reduce the freedom of religion to the mere freedom of worship. Therefore, it is our task to strengthen religious liberty at home, in this and other respects, so that we might defend it more vigorously abroad. To that end, American foreign policy, as well as the vast international network of Catholic agencies, should make the promotion of religious liberty an ongoing and urgent priority.

"All the Energies the Catholic Community Can Muster"

What we ask is nothing more than that our God-given right to religious liberty be respected. We ask nothing less than that the Constitution and laws of the United States, which recognize that right, be respected.

In insisting that our liberties as Americans be respected, we know as bishops that what our Holy Father said is true. This work belongs to "an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture."

As bishops we seek to bring the light of the Gospel to our public life, but the work of politics is properly that of committed and courageous lay Catholics. We exhort them to be both engaged and articulate in insisting that as Catholics and as Americans we do not have to choose between the two. There is an urgent need for the lay faithful, in cooperation with Christians, Jews, and others, to impress upon our elected representatives the importance of continued protection of religious liberty in a free society.

We address a particular word to those holding public office. It is your noble task to govern for the common good. It does not serve the common good to treat the good works of religious believers as a threat to our common life; to the contrary, they are essential to its proper functioning. It is also your task to protect and defend those fundamental liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. This ought not to be a partisan issue. The Constitution is not for Democrats or Republicans or Independents. It is for all of us, and a great nonpartisan effort should be led by our elected representatives to ensure that it remains so.

We recognize that a special responsibility belongs to those Catholics who are responsible for our impressive array of hospitals, clinics, universities, colleges, schools, adoption agencies, overseas development projects, and social service agencies that provide assistance to the poor, the hungry, immigrants, and those faced with crisis pregnancies. You do the work that the Gospel mandates that we do. It is you who may be forced to choose between the good works we do by faith, and fidelity to that faith itself. We encourage you to hold firm, to stand fast, and to insist upon what belongs to you by right as Catholics and Americans. Our country deserves the best we have to offer, including our resistance to violations of our first freedom.

To our priests, especially those who have responsibility for parishes, university chaplaincies, and high schools, we ask for a catechesis on religious liberty suited to the souls in your care. As bishops we can provide guidance to assist you, but the courage and zeal for this task cannot be obtained from another—it must be rooted in your own concern for your flock and nourished by the graces you received at your ordination.

Catechesis on religious liberty is not the work of priests alone. The Catholic Church in America is blessed with an immense number of writers, producers, artists, publishers, filmmakers, and bloggers employing all the means of communications—both old and new media—to expound and teach the faith. They too have a critical role in this great struggle for religious liberty. We call upon them to use their skills and talents in defense of our first freedom.

Finally to our brother bishops, let us exhort each other with fraternal charity to be bold, clear, and insistent in warning against threats to the rights of our people. Let us attempt to be the "conscience of the state," to use Rev. King's words. In the aftermath of the decision on contraceptive and sterilization mandates, many spoke out forcefully. As one example, the words of one of our most senior brothers, Cardinal Roger Mahony, thirty-five years a bishop and recently retired after twenty-five years as archbishop of Los Angeles, provide a model for us here: "I cannot imagine a more direct and frontal attack on freedom of conscience than this ruling today. This decision must be fought against with all the energies the Catholic community can muster."15

A Fortnight for Freedom

In particular, we recommend to our brother bishops that we focus "all the energies the Catholic community can muster" in a special way this coming summer. As pastors of the flock, our privileged task is to lead the Christian faithful in prayer.

Both our civil year and liturgical year point us on various occasions to our heritage of freedom. This year, we propose a special "fortnight for freedom," in which bishops in their own dioceses might arrange special events to highlight the importance of defending our first freedom. Our Catholic institutions also could be encouraged to do the same, especially in cooperation with other Christians, Jews, people of other faiths, and indeed, all who wish to defend our most cherished freedom.

We suggest that the fourteen days from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day, be dedicated to this "fortnight for freedom"—a great hymn of prayer for our country. Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power—St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome. Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action would emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty. Dioceses and parishes around the country could choose a date in that period for special events that would constitute a great national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty.

In addition to this summer's observance, we also urge that the Solemnity of Christ the King—a feast born out of resistance to totalitarian incursions against religious liberty—be a day specifically employed by bishops and priests to preach about religious liberty, both here and abroad.

To all our fellow Catholics, we urge an intensification of your prayers and fasting for a new birth of freedom in our beloved country. We invite you to join us in an urgent prayer for religious liberty.

Almighty God, Father of all nations,
For freedom you have set us free in Christ Jesus (Gal 5:1).
We praise and bless you for the gift of religious liberty,
the foundation of human rights, justice, and the common good.
Grant to our leaders the wisdom to protect and promote our liberties;

By your grace may we have the courage to defend them, for ourselves and for all those who live in this blessed land.

We ask this through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, our patroness,
and in the name of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
with whom you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

St. Cyril: Baptism is a symbol of Christ's passion

The Divine Office reading from an early Church Father named St. Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem (early 300's):

From the Jerusalem Catecheses: Baptism is a symbol of Christ's passion

"You were led down to the font of holy baptism just as Christ was taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb which is before your eyes. Each of you was asked, “Do you believe in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?” You made the profession of faith that brings salvation, you were plunged into the water, and three times you rose again. This symbolised the three days Christ spent in the tomb.

As our Saviour spent three days and three nights in the depths of the earth, so your first rising from the water represented the first day and your first immersion represented the first night. At night a man cannot see, but in the day he walks in the light. So when you were immersed in the water it was like night for you and you could not see, but when you rose again it was like coming into broad daylight. In the same instant you died and were born again; the saving water was both your tomb and your mother.

Solomon’s phrase in another context is very apposite here. He spoke of a time to give birth, and a time to die. For you, however, it was the reverse: a time to die, and a time to be born, although in fact both events took place at the same time and your birth was simultaneous with your death.

This is something amazing and unheard of! It was not we who actually died, were buried and rose again. We only did these things symbolically, but we have been saved in actual fact. It is Christ who was crucified, who was buried and who rose again, and all this has been attributed to us. We share in his sufferings symbolically and gain salvation in reality. What boundless love for men! Christ’s undefiled hands were pierced by the nails; he suffered the pain. I experience no pain, no anguish, yet by the share that I have in his sufferings he freely grants me salvation.

Let no one imagine that baptism consists only in the forgiveness of sins and in the grace of adoption. Our baptism is not like the baptism of John, which conferred only the forgiveness of sins. We know perfectly well that baptism, besides washing away our sins and bringing us the gift of the Holy Spirit, is a symbol of the sufferings of Christ. This is why Paul exclaims: Do you not know that when we were baptized into Christ Jesus we were, by that very action, sharing in his death? By baptism we went with him into the tomb."

The Reluctant Prophet: From empty pews to empty streets

"The Reluctant Prophet" is reposted a couple of times a year for new Sky View readers.

“The most important benefit of population size and growth is the increase it brings to the stock of useful knowledge. Minds matter economically as much as, or more than, hands or mouths.”

-Julian Simon, American Economist

Incentives to Survive:

It is becoming more apparent that there is a relationship between empty pews and childless streets. When the Church is reluctant to preach the fullness of the Gospel or when she omits from public discourse those doctrines which find little favor in society, the incentive for people to amend their lives fades. Without specifying sins from the pulpit- especially the sin of contraception and the consequent aversion to having children –people not only miss the opportunity to repent from immoral and harmful behaviors, but they will inevitably lack the motive to attend Mass and have their sins forgiven. Empty pews are the result of fewer people benefiting from grace.

In the absence of grace, that moral power to be good, a civilization which is rooted in love and based on human dignity becomes exceedingly difficult to sustain. As such, both the individual and society falls into self-destructive habits. People begin to live for the moment. The convenience of cohabitation replaces the stabilizing effects of marriage and couples opt to have fewer children in favor of possessing more things. Historically, the unintended consequence of such easy lifestyles is that whole societies fail to reproduce themselves and survive. Such was the case with ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. As Arnold Toynbee said, civilizations do not die from murder but from suicide.

The Reluctant Prophet:

It is to be regretted that Western Civilization will have to relearn the painful lessons of history. But unlike ancient pagan civilization (at least before the birth of Christ), we have a prophet in our midst; and the prophet is the Catholic Church. Our Lord conferred on the Catholic Church the authority to speak in his name . He said to the Apostles, “As Father sends Me, so I send you.” And throughout history- both in and out of season –the Church not only proclaimed the Good News but she also positioned herself as a Sign of Contradiction. As Pope Paul VI said, “To tell the truth, the Church is not surprised to be made, like her divine Founder, a ‘sign of contradiction’, yet she does not because of this cease to proclaim with humble firmness the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical.”

In recent years, however, the Church has been a reluctant prophet to the modern world as Jonah was to the Ninavites. Just as the widespread use of contraception ushered in the Sexual Revolution in 1968, Pope Paul VI- as if compelled by the Holy Spirit –wrote an encyclical with the Latin title Humanae Vitae (On the Regulation of Birth). In this letter he reiterated the moral law concerning the use of contraception and its social repercussions; this, just when Paul Ehrlich, author of Population Bomb, and academia at large were propagating the myth of overpopulation.

Contracepting Ourselves Out of Existence:

For the next forty-plus years the pope's predictions about the effects of artificial reduction of births would come to pass: increased marital infidelity, the objectification of women and the general lowering of morality are but a few. And now, with the threat of a demographic collapse, one would think that the Catholic Church would see herself as being vindicated on this issue. Julian Simon, the American economist and former professor at the University of Maryland, vindicated what the Church has always taught. He said, “The most important benefit of population size and growth is the increase it brings to the stock of useful knowledge. Minds matter economically as much as, or more than, hands or mouths.”
Yet, it is as if the demographic challenges and social problems resulting from the widespread use of contraception has never happened. Indeed, the Church has been relatively silent about contraception and its perilous effect on Western Civilization. Her doctrine has been validated by recent economic and sociological developments and yet there is little confidence to show for it.

Japan, the first Western nation to legalize abortion in 1948, is now an aging culture resembling a top-heavy, inverted pyramid of elderly citizens. Japan's younger generations are increasingly carrying a disproportionate burden of subsidizing its elders. For the last 10 years its once prosperous economy has suffered decline. Japan is a good index of what our future might look like. Indeed, Europe and America are sure to follow Japan’s downward decline if it continues with the same old contraceptive mentality. As a matter of fact, there are 103 nations which are under the 2.1 replacement fertility rate needed to sustain a civilization. Most of these nations are European. Below are just a few nations that facing a demographic crisis:

Current Birth Rate of Nations:

US 2.06
Ireland 2.02
France 1.96
UK 1.91
Australia 1.78
Norway 1.77
Denmark 1.74
Finland 1.73
Sweden 1.67
Belgium 1.65
Canada 1.58
China 1.54
Spain 1.47
Switzerland 1.46
Georgia 1.45
Russia 1.42
Georgia 1.45
Germany 1.41
Austria 1.40
Italy 1.39
Greece 1.38
Poland 1.30
Lithuania 1.25
Japan 1.21

The Vatican's Backyard: Italy

Keep in mind that once the birthrate falls below 1.6 it is nearly impossible to reverse the trend. In any case, the most painful truth of the depopulation of the West is how reluctant the Church has been to raise her prophetic voice about this critical issue. The very backyard of the Vatican, namely, the nation of Italy is contracepting itself out of existence. How few children and pregnant women there are in Europe! As one Englishman remarked, “If an adult is walking with more than three children in public, the average European will assume that he or she is running a daycare.” To be sure, their aging population is palpable because their streets are childless and the Cathedrals are empty. And as I said previously, childless streets result from empty pews. After all, hope comes from faith. And without hope sacrificial love loses its value; children are then seen as a burden.

To Repent, Must Know the Sin:

Catholics, both clergy and laity, would do well to do an examination of conscience; to take the plank out of our eye before we assign blame to a decadent culture. If the Church is not going to bother to call Europeans to repentance by addressing specific sins- such as contraception and cohabitation -why should Europeans (or Americans for that matter) bother with church on Sunday's at all? In order for Jesus Christ to save us from our sins, we must know what those sins are, turn away from them and turn towards him. But if the Church does not cast its light on the sin of contraception and the unwillingness to have as many children as God wills, then Jesus cannot save us from these sins. Consequently, he will not be in a position to save our civilization.

Why the Silence?

For the life of me I cannot imagine why the Catholic Church- both on a universal and local level –does not implore Christians in no uncertain terms to "have more children!" In recent decades there has not been a papal encyclical or any urgent and bold campaign by the Holy See to remedy this cultural suicide. Sure, there has been a mention here and a document there, but so far these expressions have been mere whispers. We could also probably count, on one hand, the number of sermons in our local parishes which addressed the need to be generous with God in having children. As for myself, I have heard it mentioned in passing once or twice at the most.

Raising Her Prophetic Voice:

What is needed is for the Church- a reluctant prophet up to now –to raise her voice as she has done so many times in centuries past. In a direct and unequivocal manner, there is a need to repeat the message that children are a blessing to the world, not a liability. And the more there are, the better we become. The Gospel of Life demands this and our future depends on it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Admiration for Dictators and Ozzie Guillen's Lesson

By and large, the illusion that secular-liberalism is a viable worldview and a belief system upon which we can base our lives can only be sustained when times are prosperous and comfortable. However, when suffering and pain are inescapable and death looms as a distinct possibility, the illusion of our self-sufficiency without God tend to dissipate. It can also be said that an idea or theory can be held to as long as the brutal facts of reality does not contradict it or undermine its credibility. Like intellectuals in academia who are surrounded by mere ideas, many people embrace secular-liberalism as long as the consequences of its principles have yet to make themselves felt. The same applies to communism, socialism and dictatorships. It all may look nice on paper, but the outcomes of what these political systems leave behind are too often marked with pain and poverty.

Ozzie Guillen, head coach of the Florida Marlins major league baseball team, is paying a price other Hollywood celebrities didn’t have to pay. Guillen, in an interview with Time magazine, did what a lot of celebrities and intellectuals do: praise dictators and dictatorships. Indeed, he said something he wish he could take back. He said, "I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that mother (expletive) is still there." However, what the new Marlins head coach did not yet realize was that Castro’s ability to stay in power for several decades was not half as meaningful as his crimes against humanity. It just so happens that the new Marlins stadium is located in Little Havana. Little Havana is in the Miami area where many Cuban refugees live; refugees who knew firsthand that the Cuban dictator was no friend of human rights and religious liberty. For these Cuban Americans, secular-liberalism and the all-powerful State it usually initiates, is not an academic or theoretical matter. In fact, Guillen’s comments stirred up a lot of bad memories among the Cuban community. As such, he is having to endure the public retribution of Castro’s political victims.

Guillen is getting what he deserves. As one commentator said, he is the Charles Barkley of major league baseball. Up to the Time magazine interview, he has spoken his mind with impunity. With that said, it’s too bad that the same standard and social pressures did not apply to other politicians and celebrities when they sang their praises of Fidel Castor. For instance, Steven Spielberg, once spoke in glowing terms of the Communist leader of Cuba: “Meeting Fidel Castro was the eight most important hours of my life." And Jesse Jackson took his admiration for the Cuban dictator a step further: “Viva Fidel! Viva Che! Castro is the most honest and courageous politician I've ever met." Actors Danny Glover and Sean Penn have also expressed their admiration for the Cuban dictator. And President Obama’s Houston campaign manager had a poster of Che Guevara, Castro’s right hand man during the Communist revolution in Cuba.

Ozzie Guillen had to do what these other celebrities and politicians did not have to do; and that is to apologize. "The things I said I didn't mean to say," he said. And as for the Cuban dictator, he said, "He not just hurt Cuban people, he hurt a lot of people, counting Venezuelans.” Perhaps, Guillen had to finally look into the eyes of those who were tragically affected by communism and by Castor himself. He could no longer compartmentalize his romantic ideas of dictator and dictatorships from the real life effects it imposes on real human beings. He was made to see the pain and anger of those who were devasted by a Godless and warped political ideology.

Again, it’s too bad Spielberg, Glover, Penn and Jackson were not made to spend quality time with the victims of the dictator they lavishly praised. Perhaps, they too would apoligze for their unwarranted praise for dictators and dictatorships.

Click on title for more on "Admiration for Dictators."

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Pope Reproves Head of State

A Pope Reproves Head of State:
-One example of how the Church used to be a check and balance against the State

Historically, the Catholic Church was a kind of divine check and balance against the overreaching arm of the State. In ancient paganism, the rulers of nations were virtually omnipotent, enjoying unlimited power. The cult of the State was manifested by the common mandate to worship Pharaohs, Emperors and Kings in their respective eras. Today, few know that under civil authority in ancient times, pagan religion and pagan politics were indiscriminately mixed together. The Egyptian Pharaoh, for instance, served as a kind of high priest and a ruler. Indeed, he was the arbiter over life, death religion and politics. The totality of life was under his jurisdiction.

However, with the advent of Christianity, the immortality of the soul was revealed and eventually recognized by the State. No longer could rulers or tyrants treat citizens as cattle. In light of the Gospel, the human person was believed to be created by God, created for God and created in the likeness of God. As such, each person belonged first and foremost to the Creator and not to the State. Popes throughout the ages have reminded political leaders about this very truth. With this, the Church was that “check and balance” against the misuse of political power.

Whenever the hierarchy of the Church was armed with men who possessed a world-renouncing faith in Christ, quite often, rulers of nations were publicly challenged to govern with justice. But when the leaders of the Church were worldly and timid, kings and princes became unfettered in their quest for power.

Below is a fine example of when popes and bishops were not only shepherds but watchmen. Here,we have an excerpt of a letter from Pope Symmachus (498-514 A.D.) addressed to the Emperor Anastasius:

“I declare that the insults you leveled against me will not deter my speaking and you must judge before God whether your insults were motivated by real piety…Let us compare the position of an emperor with that of a bishop. There is a great difference, since the former is concerned with human affairs, the latter with divine.

Though you are an emperor, you are baptized by a bishop, you received sacraments from him, you ask his prayers, you hope for his blessing, and you ask him for absolution. You govern human affairs; he confers divine favors on you. Consequently, he is, I will not say, your superior but your equal.

Do not think that this world’s pomp and circumstance make your superior, for 'God’s weakness is more powerful than men' (I Cor 1:25). Consider what is appropriate for you. Nevertheless, when you set yourself up as an accuser, you place yourself on the same level with me before divine and human law; if you prove my guilt I am dishonored; if you do not, you are equally dishonored.

There is a judgment in this world before God and his angels; we are 'a spectacle to the universe' (I Cor 4:9) to which good example is given by a bishop of irreproachable life or an emperor of humble faith.

The human race is governed by these two offices, and no one should assume them who offends God, especially since each office seems eternal, and both should guide the human race. I beg you, Emperor, and I say this for your good, remember that you are only human and your authority is given to you by God.”

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Road to Emmaus: Meeting men where they are at!

Human beings have a strong tendency towards social conformity, that is, they are inclined to do what others are doing. This tendency is even stronger than our instinct to help others in need. An overwhelming temptation is to associate truth with what the greater number of people believe.

After centuries of oppression by empires and foreign nations, political liberation (i.e. getting rid of this oppression) became increasingly important for the Jewish people. With that, the common hope for a political Messiah emerged; one who had the political and military power to ward off Israel's enemies. It just so happen that this hope colored the interpretation of Scripture by the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Scribes. As more and more Jewish leaders bought into this politicized version of the Messiah, it naturally followed that the average Jew of the first century believed as they did. Therefore, during our Lord's public ministry, even with miraculous signs and wonders being performed, the Jewish people had a hard time accepting Jesus Christ as their Messiah.

Nevertheless, the preaching of the Gospel was to usher in, not an earthly kingdom as was expected, but a spiritual kingdom. This spiritual kingdom- a new people of God -was the real source of liberation. Sin and Satan had to be taken down and done away with before Caesar could be dealt with. As Christ himself said, “How can anyone enter a strong man's house and steal his property, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.” Christ would first have to tie up Satan and cast him out. After all, it was Satan who was the "ruler of the world," the one who patrolled the earth according to the prophet Job. Indeed, it was he who proved to be more of a nemesis to mankind than Caesar himself.

Enter Cleopas and "the other disciple." Cleopas was one of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus who decided to call it quits and head home. Unfortunately for him, he was no exception to the conventional wisdom of his day. Feeling let down, he had come to the conclusion that the crucifixion of Christ marked the end of a good thing. The biblical idea that the Messiah would be the sacrificial Lamb of God "who takes away the sins of the world" could not be further away from Cleopas’ mind. Good Friday for Cleopas was the end, not the beginning of the work of Christ. Nevertheless, what he considered to be a failure on Calvary, God would use to save and bless mankind.

This pattern of the unexpected repeats itself over and over in God’s plan for his people. This is why we can never be sure that setbacks and detours are failures in the eyes of God. In fact, it could be just what Divine Providence required for his purpose.

I digress here, but according to St. Jerome, Cleopas was the brother of St. Joseph and one of the seventy disciples; the other disciple was thought be a man by the name of Simeon. Tradition has it that Cleopas was martyred for his Christian faith in a castle located in Emmaus, which was his hometown. What was originally a scandal to him, namely, the crucifixion of his Nephew, foretold the manner in which he would die. Indeed, it was in Emmaus where his death would glorify God.

At any rate, when the two disciples embarked upon the seven mile walk to Emmaus, they were also walking away from something. With a downtrodden spirit, they were walking away from Jerusalem, away from where Christ had risen from the dead and away from the place where the Apostles had begun to fellowship with their Risen Lord. To be sure, they were about to walk away from the most important events that were yet to unfold.

Cleopas and Simeon (if we accept St. Jerome's account) were conversing about their dashed hopes when Jesus entered the picture. Notice that Jesus, who was originally taken as a mysterious foreigner, did not initiate a new discussion with these gentlemen. That is, he did not ask them to talk about what they were not already talking about. Instead, he joined the conversation and took it to another level. From their discouraged stupor, Jesus transformed their misunderstanding of the Messiah into one which accorded with God's intent. Making reference to Scripture, he enlightened their minds and inflamed their hearts as to who and what the Messiah actually was. With that, the two disciples were filled with hope and new strength.

But first it is important to note that this approach- joining the conversation and taking it to a more enlightened level -serves as a good model for the New Evangelization. Catholic evangelists, both clergy and laity, need not take people off of their own turf. We too can enter into their conversations, interests and concerns. From there we can use the Light of Gospel to interpret and give meaning to their daily affairs, demonstrating that whatever good they possess or desire can be perfected and given its rightful context. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, grace does not replace nature, it perfects it!

We make a mistake when we expect unbelievers to join our conversation without making any effort to join theirs; or when we answer- not the questions people are asking –but our own questions. It seems to me that through the Emmaus story the Holy Spirit is biding the twenty-first century Catholic to enter into the talks around the kitchen table at home, the water cooler at work and even in the public square itself. But if this is to bear fruit we cannot leave the discussion where we find it. We, like Christ on the road to Emmaus, have to take the conversation to higher level. We cannot be afraid to introduce the reality of the supernatural or the hope of heaven or even speak the name of Christ. By doing this, we too can turn people around and get them walking back to where the Rise Christ is.

Benedict: Let There Be Light

Easter Vigil Sermon by Pope Benedict XVI:

"Today we can illuminate our cities so brightly that the stars of the sky are no longer visible. Is this not an image of the problems caused by our version of enlightenment? With regard to material things, our knowledge and our technical accomplishments are legion, but what reaches beyond, the things of God and the question of good, we can no longer identify."

-Pope Benedict XVI

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Easter is the feast of the new creation. Jesus is risen and dies no more. He has opened the door to a new life, one that no longer knows illness and death. He has taken mankind up into God himself. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God", as Saint Paul says in the First Letter to the Corinthians (15:50). On the subject of Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection, the Church writer Tertullian in the third century was bold enough to write: "Rest assured, flesh and blood, through Christ you have gained your place in heaven and in the Kingdom of God" (CCL II, 994). A new dimension has opened up for mankind. Creation has become greater and broader. Easter Day ushers in a new creation, but that is precisely why the Church starts the liturgy on this day with the old creation, so that we can learn to understand the new one aright. At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word on Easter night, then, comes the account of the creation of the world. Two things are particularly important here in connection with this liturgy. On the one hand, creation is presented as a whole that includes the phenomenon of time. The seven days are an image of completeness, unfolding in time. They are ordered towards the seventh day, the day of the freedom of all creatures for God and for one another. Creation is therefore directed towards the coming together of God and his creatures; it exists so as to open up a space for the response to God’s great glory, an encounter between love and freedom. On the other hand, what the Church hears on Easter night is above all the first element of the creation account: "God said, ‘let there be light!’" (Gen 1:3). The creation account begins symbolically with the creation of light. The sun and the moon are created only on the fourth day. The creation account calls them lights, set by God in the firmament of heaven. In this way he deliberately takes away the divine character that the great religions had assigned to them. No, they are not gods. They are shining bodies created by the one God. But they are preceded by the light through which God’s glory is reflected in the essence of the created being.

What is the creation account saying here? Light makes life possible. It makes encounter possible. It makes communication possible. It makes knowledge, access to reality and to truth, possible. And insofar as it makes knowledge possible, it makes freedom and progress possible. Evil hides. Light, then, is also an expression of the good that both is and creates brightness. It is daylight, which makes it possible for us to act. To say that God created light means that God created the world as a space for knowledge and truth, as a space for encounter and freedom, as a space for good and for love. Matter is fundamentally good, being itself is good. And evil does not come from God-made being, rather, it comes into existence through denial. It is a "no."

At Easter, on the morning of the first day of the week, God said once again: "Let there be light". The night on the Mount of Olives, the solar eclipse of Jesus’ passion and death, the night of the grave had all passed. Now it is the first day once again – creation is beginning anew. "Let there be light", says God, "and there was light": Jesus rises from the grave. Life is stronger than death. Good is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate. Truth is stronger than lies. The darkness of the previous days is driven away the moment Jesus rises from the grave and himself becomes God’s pure light. But this applies not only to him, not only to the darkness of those days. With the resurrection of Jesus, light itself is created anew. He draws all of us after him into the new light of the resurrection and he conquers all darkness. He is God’s new day, new for all of us.

But how is this to come about? How does all this affect us so that instead of remaining word it becomes a reality that draws us in? Through the sacrament of baptism and the profession of faith, the Lord has built a bridge across to us, through which the new day reaches us. The Lord says to the newly-baptized: Fiat lux – let there be light. God’s new day – the day of indestructible life, comes also to us. Christ takes you by the hand. From now on you are held by him and walk with him into the light, into real life. For this reason the early Church called baptism photismos – illumination.

Why was this? The darkness that poses a real threat to mankind, after all, is the fact that he can see and investigate tangible material things, but cannot see where the world is going or whence it comes, where our own life is going, what is good and what is evil. The darkness enshrouding God and obscuring values is the real threat to our existence and to the world in general. If God and moral values, the difference between good and evil, remain in darkness, then all other "lights", that put such incredible technical feats within our reach, are not only progress but also dangers that put us and the world at risk. Today we can illuminate our cities so brightly that the stars of the sky are no longer visible. Is this not an image of the problems caused by our version of enlightenment? With regard to material things, our knowledge and our technical accomplishments are legion, but what reaches beyond, the things of God and the question of good, we can no longer identify. Faith, then, which reveals God’s light to us, is the true enlightenment, enabling God’s light to break into our world, opening our eyes to the true light.

Dear friends, as I conclude, I would like to add one more thought about light and illumination. On Easter night, the night of the new creation, the Church presents the mystery of light using a unique and very humble symbol: the Paschal candle. This is a light that lives from sacrifice. The candle shines inasmuch as it is burnt up. It gives light, inasmuch as it gives itself. Thus the Church presents most beautifully the paschal mystery of Christ, who gives himself and so bestows the great light. Secondly, we should remember that the light of the candle is a fire. Fire is the power that shapes the world, the force of transformation. And fire gives warmth. Here too the mystery of Christ is made newly visible. Christ, the light, is fire, flame, burning up evil and so reshaping both the world and ourselves. "Whoever is close to me is close to the fire," as Jesus is reported by Origen to have said. And this fire is both heat and light: not a cold light, but one through which God’s warmth and goodness reach down to us.

The great hymn of the Exsultet, which the deacon sings at the beginning of the Easter liturgy, points us quite gently towards a further aspect. It reminds us that this object, the candle, has its origin in the work of bees. So the whole of creation plays its part. In the candle, creation becomes a bearer of light. But in the mind of the Fathers, the candle also in some sense contains a silent reference to the Church,. The cooperation of the living community of believers in the Church in some way resembles the activity of bees. It builds up the community of light. So the candle serves as a summons to us to become involved in the community of the Church, whose raison d’être is to let the light of Christ shine upon the world.

Let us pray to the Lord at this time that he may grant us to experience the joy of his light; let us pray that we ourselves may become bearers of his light, and that through the Church, Christ’s radiant face may enter our world (cf. LG 1). Amen.