21 December 2010

What Makes a Hospital or College Catholic?

It is relatively easy when speaking of a human person to say who is Catholic and who is not. Only a validly baptized person who is in communion with the local Catholic bishop and through the local bishop with the Bishop of Rome and the whole College of Bishops is a Catholic. But how does one know whether an institution is Catholic or not?

For example, lots of Catholics own businesses, but that doesn't make their businesses Catholic. So, what does it mean to speak of a hospital or a college as Catholic? Is it a matter of ownership? Of the religious identity of the patients, students, or customers? Or is it something deeper.

For the better part of a millenium, the Church has understood that associations of Catholic persons can be so closely bound to the Church's mission to the nations that by extension the institution sponsored by an association of Catholics can itself be called Catholic. And the two classic examples of this are in education and health care, because of their obvious connection to the ministry of the Lord Jesus and the law of love which binds his disciples.

But what happens when the identity of an association and its institutions begins to change? How is one to know when a once-Catholic hospital or college is no longer truly Catholic? This is a bit easier with an individual person: If Uncle Joe becomes an Episcopalian or an  atheist, he is no longer Catholic. But who is to say when a hospital has so far departed from the mission of the Church that it no longer is and therefore no longer can be called Catholic? The question of identity may be a complex one, but the question of who decides is actually quite simple: the local bishop.

The Bishop of Phoenix declared today that a once Catholic hospital in his diocese is now no longer in truth a Catholic institution and therefore may no longer be called Catholic. This will bring howls of outrage from professional dissidents who long ago ceased to believe what the Catholic Church believes about the usual controverted questions of the day, but faithful Catholics everywhere should be encouraged by the bold leadership of Bishop Olmsted. A hospital in which babies are murdered cannot be a Catholic hospital. A hospital in which men and women are sterilized is not a Catholic hospital. A hospital in which the irreformable teaching of the Catholic Church about the intrinsic dignity of human life is not respected is not a Catholic hospital, no matter how many nuns may be on the board of trustees. This is a massive problem in the United States, and examples of this sort of infidelity can be found in most of our dioceses. Let us hope that Bishop Olmsted's example will lead to other instances of bold leadership from our shepherds. The time for excuses and equivocations is past. It is time to take a stand.

17 December 2010

What the Pope Did and Did Not Say About Condoms

Over at First Things, George Weigel explains what Benedict XVI did -- and more to the point -- did not say about condoms in his new book, Light of the World. As ever, the world press (once the Fourth Estate, now primarily the Fifth Column) misrepresented the pope's remarks in so tendentious a manner that it beggars belief for their reporting not to be deliberate deception. And whether or not the AP reporters and those who followed their lead knowingly lied about the pope's remarks, it remains true that their headlines and stories effectively turned Benedict XVI's entire point on its head. So, have a look at The Pope, the Church, and the Condom: Clarifying the State of the Question.

16 December 2010

A Courageous Bishop

Thomas Olmsted is the Bishop of Phoenix, and since learning several months ago that an abortion was performed in a "Catholic" hospital in his diocese, he has been engaged in an effort to be certain that such a thing will never happen again. The hospital is owned by a congregation of women religious who evidently do not want the local bishop looking into the ways in which ethical decisions are made at the hospital. After a prolonged effort to reach an understanding, Bishop Olmsted has now informed them that if they do not accept the instructions he has already given, he will declare -- as it is his canonical power to do -- that the hospital in question is no longer a Catholic institution. You can read about the bishop's effort to call this hospital to account in USA Today.

BIshop Olmsted is a courageous reformer of the Church and is a model of how the office of overseer should be exercised. Pray for this good shepherd of Christ's flock.

UPDATE: A few more details from the backstory of this disgrace.

30 September 2010

Doesn't Play Well With Others

Though most lay Catholics are unaware of it, the discipline of secular psychology has been a powerful force in almost every seminary and religious community in the Western Church since the early 1970's. During the naive enthusiasm of the years just after the Second Vatican Council, secular psychology was imported, usually uncritically, into the life the Church in her seminaries and religious communities, and we are still tallying the cost in vocations lost or destroyed and communities cut loose from their foundations.

I think of that today because the Church keeps the feast of St. Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church, who -- among the many accomplishments of his long life -- rendered the Holy Scriptures from Hebrew and Greek into Latin. He was also famously (or, depending upon your point of view, infamously) cantankerous, and I suspect that in most seminaries today, such a man would be sent away because he doesn't play well with others.

I am not suggesting that we should make a point of ordaining men who have grave psychological illnesses, but the sort of direct and honest toughness which makes a man an outstanding soldier or corporate executive is badly needed in the priesthood today. The problem is that even now, men with such qualities are subjected in our seminaries to constant criticism and ceaseless efforts at re-education. Being "nice" is too often prized above being honest and taking initiative, and a man who will not submit to this sort of "sensitivity training" will quickly be shown to the door of the seminary. And then we wonder why so few priests will stand in the breach against the toxic waste dump of our degenerate culture.

St. Jerome, pray for us!

28 September 2010

Time to Put Up or Shut Up

With whom are you in ecclesial communion?

Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC has been appointed by the Holy See to direct the implementation in the United States of Anglicanorum Coetibus. Any Anglican parish, association, religious community or other group which desires to be restored to full, visible communion with the Catholic Church should write to him immediately:

The Most Reverend Donald W. Wuerl
Archbishop of Washington
Post Office BOx 29260
Washington, DC 20017

It has been eleven months since Benedict XVI responded to the request from groups of Anglicans around the world for a way to come into full communion with the Catholic Church while at the same time preserving all of their Anglican patrimony that is in harmony with the Catholic Faith. So, you've had a year to think and pray and talk and argue and pray some more. Enough. The time for excuses, evasions, rationalizations, dithering, and delaying is over. It's time to become Catholic or decide once and for all that you are really Protestants with cassocks and surplices. You simply can't have it both ways. The choice is yours. With whom will you stand?

13 September 2010

Lead, Kindly Light

Here's a splendid introduction to the life and work of John Henry Newman, who will be beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday 19 September during the pope's pastoral visit to Britain. My own journey to the Catholic Church almost thirty years ago was guided by this man's writing.

21 July 2010

Baptist Bishops?

According to a report in the Boston Globe, increasing numbers of Baptist pastors -- particularly Black Baptists -- are retrieving the signs of the episcopate from the long-locked treasure chest of Church history and beginning to talk about the importance of the apostolic succession. So, just as Anglicans around the world are trashing the episcopate after 450 years of trying to preserve it, Baptists are dusting it off again. Curiouser and curiouser.

20 July 2010

Weirder and Weirder, But It Makes Sense in a Twisted Anglican Way

From Damian Thompson in the Daily Telegraph

I thought this was a spoof at first, but it seems not: a General Synod working party is exploring whether the Church of England’s male bishops can join religious orders previously reserved for women. In other words, become Anglican nuns.
As usual, the Synod’s topsy-turvy ecclesiology is a mystery to me, but I gather that the idea is that bishops would be entitled to take vows in orders of nuns so that they can provide special episcopal oversight to the sisters. It’s a typically ingenious Anglican response to the forthcoming ordination of women bishops. “There will be jokes about bishops in wimples, but having bishop-nuns would introduce a degree of mutual cooperation that could make the introduction of women bishops much smoother,” says my Synod source.
And just when I thought things couldn’t get any weirder, I learn the identity of the bishop who is rumoured to have volunteered to take nun’s vows: the Rt Rev Nick Baines, Bishop of Croydon, often spoken of as a successor to Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury. Says my informant: “Nick is a big fan of Sister Act, and we knew he was keen to ‘get ahead,’ as it were, so he was the obvious person to ask. And apparently he was delighted, because he’s all about challenging gender stereotypes.”

08 May 2010

Thinking About Immigration

The debate over the reform of immigration laws has come to South Carolina with great urgency, and most of the Republican candidates for governor support an approach similar to that taken in Arizona. In the service of suggesting a way to hold in creative tension the various principles that are in competition with each other in this debate, I offered a column to the Greenville News which they published on 8 May 2010. Here is the text of that column:

What should we do about the millions of people who live and work in the United States illegally? This is a vexing question with political and moral dimensions, but to sort through these questions, we first need to think clearly about the principles at stake in our ongoing debate. In the service of thinking clearly about immigration reform, I suggest these principles.

First, every sovereign nation has the right and duty to secure its borders and regulate entry of those who are not its citizens. This is a fundamental principle of natural law, and the government of the United States has failed in this responsibility along our border with Mexico. At the present moment, the federal government does not have effective control of our southern border, and into the breach created by this failure others are now leaping, starting with the state of Arizona. For the sake of our national security and the rule of law, this must change as quickly as possible, and voters should hold the president and Congress accountable for this fundamental function of the national government.

Second, every human person has the natural right and duty to provide for himself and his family the means to live a life in keeping with human dignity. From this right and duty proceeds a corollary principle: every human person has a natural right to move to a place where he can provide a decent living for his family in safety and security. Most of the millions of immigrants from Central and South America who have come to the United States are here for this reason, and they are working with great energy and diligence to make a better life for themselves and their children. We cannot blame them for doing what anyone of us would do, namely -- to find every possible way of improving the lives of those we love. If there are true criminals among them, then let’s find them and punish them according to law--including with deportation, but we should not treat as criminals those who are only trying to provide a decent life for themselves and their families and who are now here because of our own failure to secure our borders.

Third, the forced repatriation of immigrants by the millions is the sort of injustice against which Americans naturally rise up in righteous indignation when it happens in the Middle East or on the steppes of Eastern Europe or Asia. Despite the fact that several million people now living in the United States entered our nation illegally, there is no possible way for us to consider forcing them to leave now that they are here. A sensible, practical way must be found to allow these people to become legal residents and continue to live productive lives in the United States without fear of deportation and separation from their families. This does not mean that present illegal aliens should become American citizens, and perhaps a practical compromise would be to stipulate that no one who entered the country illegally could ever become a citizen. But they are here, and we must acknowledge the fact of their presence and their natural human right to choose where to live and work by making possible a transition to legal residence.

Finally, nothing in this discussion should be influenced by the fact that most of those who are now here illegally speak Spanish and have dark brown skin. The ugly specter of racism is a barely concealed part of too much rhetoric in our public debates, and that is unworthy of the free people of the United States. If you doubt that racism is at work in how we think about this matter, consider how the present immigration debate would be different if it involved 15 million English-speaking, blond-haired, blue-eyed Canadians streaming over our northern border. Everyone now living in North and South America who is not descended from the many indigenous tribes of Native Americans is here because their ancestors immigrated from somewhere else. Let us keep that fact ever in mind along with the principles of natural law and equity as we decide how to secure our borders and regulate the presence among us of those who were born somewhere else but who want to make their home and provide for their children in the Land of the Free.

05 May 2010

Whither the Legion of Christ?

One of the strangest and saddest stories in the Catholic Church in the past century is the rise and fall of the Legion of Christ, a community of priests, and its associated lay movement, Regnum Christi, both founded in Mexico by a charismatic con man named Marcial Maciel. For many years there were scattered stories of Maciel's degenerate life: drug abuse, sexual abuse of his own seminarians, misuse of funds given to the communities he founded, etc. As it turns out, the truth is far worse than anyone imagined, and it is now clear that this man was an evil sociopath who for decades deceived nearly everyone he ever met, including Pope John Paul II. Maciel died in 2008 (apparently without repentance or remorse for his vicious crimes), but the communities he founded endure. And now the question arises, Whither the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi? Over at First Things, George Weigel (a longtime friend of many fine priests in the Legion) takes on that question: Next Acts in the Legionary Drama.

02 May 2010

Why The World Hates the Catholic Church

Jody Bottum, peerless essayist and editor of the indispensable First Things, has a brilliant exploration of anti-Catholicism in the Weekly Standard. It is a long piece of work but well worth reading every word: Anti-Catholicism, Again

17 April 2010

Disobedient Priests

At Mass this morning, the first lesson is taken from Chapter 6 of the Acts of the Apostles; it tells of the apostolic origins of the diaconate and the selection of the first seven deacons. The passage ends with these words:

"The word of God continued to spread, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly; even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith." (Acts 6:7)

The priests being referred to here are, of course, the descendants of Aaron -- priests of the Old Covenant who offered sacrifice in the Jerusalem Temple. But one cannot help but think also of priests of the New Covenant who, despite their Baptism and Ordination, are disobedient to the faith, and when I heard those words at Mass this morning, I thought immediately of Father Michael Pfleger.

Pfleger, for those of you fortunate enough not to know anything about him, is an egregious fool in the Archdiocese of Chicago who has spent decades playing the bad boy. I imagine that he thinks of himself as being filled with a prophetic spirit, when in fact it seems he is filled merely with himself. Pfleger is a longtime pal of Jeremiah Wright, the Bolshevik preacher who was for many years the pastor of Barack Obama, and much like Wright, Pfleger's "rebel with a cause" pose has made him the darling of the secular media and of the Catholic lunatic left.

Only last week, Pfleger received a lifetime achievement award for "promoting racial justice," but while presenting the award to Pfleger, Francis Cardinal George also tacitly acknowledged that Pfleger is a massive pain in the tuckus. Then, just days after receiving this award, Pfleger made the news again by saying in a homily that he thought women should become priests, bishops, and cardinals.

Not to put too fine a point on it: This man is a disgrace to the Catholic Church and to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, and it is well past the time for the Archbishop of Chicago to take action against this false teacher.

The doctrine of the Catholic Church on the impossibility of women being ordained to the priesthood is clear, constant, and irreformable, and this teaching must be held definitively by all Catholics. Moreover, because Pfleger has taken the Profession of Faith and the Oath of Fidelity (these were first required of him to be ordained and then again to hold the office of parish pastor), he is bound by a public oath to accept the truth of this doctrine. For Pfleger now, and in a public act of sacred teaching, to repudiate this doctrine is an ipso facto disqualification for his office as parish pastor, and it is up to his bishop to help Father Pfleger face and accept the consequences of his public position by removing him from office.

In my estimation, disobedient and faithless priests constitute the principal obstacle to the work of the New Evangelization throughout the world. They cannot preach the Gospel with conviction because they no longer believe the Gospel is true. It is time for Michael Pfleger to admit to himself, his bishop, his congregation, and everyone who follows his misadventures in the media what has evidently been true for a very long time: He is not a Catholic Christian, and he should not hold an office in the Catholic Church.

The word of God continued to spread, and the number of the disciples in Chicago increased greatly; even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith. Would that it were so.

12 April 2010

Another Long Lent

I intended to write this morning about several dimensions of the present maelstrom swirling around Benedict XVI, but I find that the always perceptive George Weigel has already said what needs to be said over at First Things in: Another Long Lent. Go have a look at this brilliant analysis of our present situation and future possibilities.

09 April 2010

Pray for Benedict XVI

The estimable Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, has organized a nationwide campaign of prayer to support Pope Benedict XVI in the days leading up to the 5th anniversary of his election to the Chair of St. Peter, Monday 19 April.

Lord, source of eternal life and truth, give to your shepherd, Benedict, a spirit of courage and right judgment, a spirit of knowledge and love. By governing with fidelity those entrusted to his care, may he, as successor to the Apostle Peter and Vicar of Christ, build your Church into a sacrament of unity, love, and peace for all the world. Amen.

V. Let us pray for Benedict, the pope.
R. May the Lord preserve him, give him a long life, make blessed on the earth, and not hand him over to his enemies.

V. May your hand be upon your holy servant, O Lord.
R. And upon your son, whom you have anointed.

One Our Father, one Hail Mary, one Glory Be.

06 April 2010

The Pope and the New York Times

Three days before Palm Sunday, ironically enough on the Solemnity of the Annunciation -- March 25th --the New York Times unleashed a barrage of Catholic bashing and baiting that has not yet subsided. The primary point made in the first article is that Pope Benedict XVI is not only not the reformer who can lead the Church out of the crisis caused by failing to deal honestly and responsibly with priests who sexually abuse children but that he is actually by his own personal failings a central part of the problem. The second point of the story was to lay the foundation for the general argument taking shape in all the other stories published since March 25th -- namely, that the Catholic Church is an international criminal conspiracy for protecting child molesters.

Well, the Wall Street Journal has been looking carefully at the very first story in this fusillade, and it turns out that the Times didn't publish all the news that's fit to print after all. Have a look at William McGurn's analysis of The Pope and the New York Times

05 April 2010

Take Up the Sword

My friend and colleague Father Dwight Longenecker has a splendid post on the media firestorm raging around the Catholic Church these days. It's over at his blog, Standing on My Head, which is always worth a visit. His take on the present battle is here:

Take Up the Sword

04 April 2010

Easter Sunday

At the beginning of the great Vigil of Easter, the Paschal Candle is prepared with words that confess our faith in the Lamb once slain and remind us that even the Risen Christ bears the signs of His Passion:

Christ yesterday and today,
the beginning and the end,
Alpha and Omega.
All time belongs to Him and all the ages.
To Him be glory and power
through every age forever. Amen.

By His holy and glorious wounds,
may Christ our Lord guard us and keep us. Amen.

And as the Paschal Candle is lit from the new fire, the priest says:

May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and mind.

Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!

Christ is risen! Truly He is Risen!

Alleluia! Alleluia!

03 April 2010

Holy Saturday

Much attention has been given recently in the secular press to the moral failures of bishops and priests in Ireland and Germany, and the outrage in normal people at the grotesque sin of sexual abuse by priests, compounded by the malfeasance of cowardly bishops, is completely appropriate. What is not appropriate, however, is for this outrage to cause a Catholic to question his faith in Jesus Christ or his confidence that Christ’s Church is the universal sacrament of salvation for all mankind.

The Lord Jesus chose twelve men from among his thousands of disciples to be his apostles, the men who would be his witnesses and emissaries to the world. For three years they traveled with him, listened to his teaching and preaching, and witnessed his miracles --  the signs of his divine glory. And in the night on which Christ gave us the Holy Eucharist and the sacramental priesthood, what did these chosen Twelve do? When the hour for which the Word became flesh finally arrived, Judas betrayed Him, Peter, James, and John went to sleep, the lot of them ran away in terror, and Peter lied through his teeth to save his skin. In other words, infidelity, sloth, cowardice, and mendacity were part of the apostolic office from the very beginning. Should we be surprised, therefore, to find these qualities among bishops and priests of every time and place?

To paraphrase Winston Churchill: governance of the Church by bishops is the worst possible means of organizing Christian faith and life except for all the others. The sacred authority entrusted by the Lord Jesus to his apostles and to those who succeed them is a gift of grace given through the sacrament of Holy Orders, meaning that the authority of bishops and priests to teach, sanctify, and govern the Church comes not from their personal holiness, intelligence, or learning; it comes, rather, from their ordination. In other words, the authority of bishops and priests to teach the Gospel and celebrate the sacred mysteries of our redemption comes from a sacramental gift of grace given to them by Christ the Lord, not from any human quality or accomplishment of their own.

We are right to hope for pastors who are holy, courageous, learned, and wise, and while we should always be disappointed when our bishops and priests do not have those qualities, we should never be surprised. I am not suggesting that we should ever be content with injustice or incompetence in the Church; we should not. But when the human frailties and failures of our pastors are exposed to public view, we must recall that our faith is placed not in the apostles or their successors, but in Jesus Christ and him crucified and risen.

02 April 2010

Good Friday

How did it come to this? The conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit was announced by an angel to his virgin mother, the woman full of grace. His growth in the womb brought confessions of faith from his unborn kinsmen John and John’s mother Elizabeth. His birth was greeted with joyful song by the choir of angels and with puzzled wonder by simple shepherds and philosopher kings. His hidden years, living in obedience to his virgin mother and his foster father, were filled with growth as he was filled with wisdom. At length he came forth from Galilee, preaching a Gospel of love, forgiveness, and peace. He healed the sick, made the blind to see and the dumb to speak; he restored palsied limbs and raised the dead to life. How did it come to this?

The birth of Jesus, while greeted with joy by some, was also greeted with fear by others. Innocent children in Bethlehem were slaughtered just so he might not live. His parents had to flee with him through the desert to safety in Egypt and live there in hiding until the murderous pagan king died. Once Jesus began his public ministry, he called all people to conversion from their sins and condemned false religion as an offense to God Most High. How did it come to this?

It was foretold by Simeon, the righteous and devout man who greeted the Holy Family in the Temple at Jerusalem: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted.” How did it come to this? It came to this because he came for this: to suffer and to die and to rise again that our age-old captivity to sin and death might be destroyed forever.

When Jesus first announced this strange and awful truth to the Twelve, they could not bear it. No sooner had Simon Peter confessed his faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God than Jesus began to teach the Twelve that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” This was too much for Peter: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” On hearing Peter’s protest, the Lord Jesus, who had just named Simon the Rock on which his Church would be built, exclaimed: “Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me, for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

To set our minds on the things of God requires that we accept several disruptive and startling truths: that we are sinners in need of redemption, that our redemption was accomplished by the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that our acceptance of that redemption demands that we join Jesus in the thing Peter feared most: the Way of the Cross.

How did it come to this? It had to come to this if we are to live not as slaves to our own sins but as children of our heavenly Father, children adopted by grace and restored to the evangelical freedom for which we were created. And here we learn the deepest truth of how it came to this: not by the hatred of those who rejected Jesus and who sought to murder him; instead, it came to this by the love of Jesus who gave himself for us freely, so that we could share his glory forever, the glory of the only Son of the Father. That is how it came to this: Jesus came to us to suffer, to die, and to rise and so to restore us to life.

We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.

01 April 2010

Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper

Why is this night unlike any other night? This is the Passover the Lord. 

From before the foundation of the world, the Ancient of Days knew this Hour and by types and figures prepared the world to understand its meaning. In the garden our first parents fell, and we were promised a woman whose seed would crush the serpent. The fruit of their disobedience was not freedom, but murder, and the blood of Abel cried out for justice. Abram was called out of Ur of the Chaldees to become Abraham, our father in faith, and Melchisedech, the king of righteousness, offered a sacrifice of bread and wine on Mt. Zion. Through Isaac human sacrifice was ended, even as our loving Father prepared us for the sacrificial death of his only Son. Jacob was given twelve sons whose twelve tribes would fill the land of promise. By the blood of a lamb, the children of Israel were freed from slavery in Egypt, and by the flesh of that lamb they were nourished for their journey. This is the Passover of the Lord.

By a pillar of fire they were led through the waters to the holy mountain, and there Moses was given the Law of God to keep the people from returning to slavery – the slavery of sin. In the desert they were fed with the bread of angels, and their thirst was quenched by living water from a rock. In the meeting tent, the tabernacle, the glory of the Lord dwelt in an ark, and the sons of Aaron offered sacrifice for the sins of the people. Elijah and the prophets proclaimed the saving word of the Lord, and revealed the Holy One of Israel as the one, only, living, and true God. David was anointed the shepherd king of God’s people, and Solomon the wise built the Temple in Jerusalem to be the dwelling place on earth of God Most High. Finally, in the fullness of time, John the Baptist, greatest man born of woman, announced the divine glory of the Son of Mary while both men were still babes in the womb and then proclaimed him on Jordan’s bank to be the true Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This is the Passover of the Lord.

During the three years of his public ministry, the Lord Jesus by signs and wonders revealed himself to be the fulfillment and perfection of all the types and figures which came before him. And when the Hour arrived for which he had come into the world, he gathered with the Twelve in the upper room to celebrate the Passover of the Lord. Now instead of shadows, we have the truth; now in place of images, we have the reality. This is the Passover of the Lord. 

In that upper room, the eternal Word gave us his flesh and blood as the medicine of immortality and an everlasting covenant, and to the Twelve he entrusted the sacred power to “do this in memory of me … so that sins may be forgiven.” And along with the Holy Eucharist and the ministerial priesthood, he gave us a new commandment: Love one another, as I have loved you. This is the Passover of the Lord. 

These three holy gifts, the Eucharist, the Priesthood, and the Law of Love, are what we celebrate this night, the night he was betrayed, the night for which he came into the world. This is the Passover of the Lord.

Imagine that night. See the upper room. Look into the faces of the Twelve. Behold the nearly unendurable mixture of love and fear, of faith and doubt, of awe and confusion. What were they thinking? How did they feel? Did they comprehend the mysteries being unveiled before them? We are so like them. This is the Passover of the Lord.

Now look at Jesus; see him reclining at table and stooping to wash Peter’s feet. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and Last, the One who is, who was, and who is to come. He is the Son of Mary, and the Son of God. He is the Ancient of Days who called Abraham, and he is the one who gave his Name to Moses: I AM. He is the Word made flesh and the true Lamb of God. This is the Passover of the Lord.

On that night, in that Hour, even as his Passion was at hand, what instructions did he give us through the Twelve? “Love one another, as I have loved you … I have given you an example, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” This is the Law of Love, and through it the Lord Jesus is restoring in us what was obscured by sin; he is making us a new creation and giving us the means of grace: the Word of God and the sacraments of the new and everlasting covenant. He is lifting us up from the degradation of slavery -- slavery to sin -- to the freedom and dignity of the children of God. This is the Passover of the Lord.

Tomorrow we will walk with Jesus in the Way of the Cross and weep for our sins, the sins for which he laid down his life. Tonight, though, we should glory in the cross, for Jesus is our salvation, our life, and our resurrection; through him we are saved and set free.  

Why is this night unlike any other night? This is the Passover of the Lord, and Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the feast.

31 March 2010

Spy Wednesday

The Gospel at Mass on the Wednesday of Holy Week tells of an event that yields the curious alternate name for this day: Spy Wednesday.

All three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 26:14-16, Mark 14:10-12, Luke 22:3-6) give an account of the same event. On the day before the Lord Jesus celebrated His last supper in the upper room, Judas Iscariot went in secret to the chief priests to find out what they would give him if he handed Jesus over to them. They promised him thirty pieces of silver, and the deal was done.

What led Judas, one of the Twelve Apostles, to betray Jesus? We know that he was a thief and that he stole from the common purse which Jesus had entrusted to his care. Perhaps one of the others found him out and was prepared to expose him. 

Perhaps Judas expected Jesus to raise an army, throw off the yoke of Roman occupation, and rule a newly unified Israel from the Throne of David in Jerusalem. When it became clear that nothing like this would happen, perhaps Judas grew angry at having wasted three years of his life with this itinerant rabbi and decided to get even.

Perhaps he was jealous of not being in the inner circle of the Twelve, all of whom argued with each other over their importance and precedence. Peter, James, and John were singled out by Jesus for special instruction and responsibility; perhaps in a rage of envy Judas decided to show them who had power.

Though we do not know the motivation of Judas because Holy Scripture does not tell us, all of the above are plausible, if partial, explanations. But there is one thing further revealed about the matter in Scripture, and this we must always bear in mind: Luke and John both assert that Satan entered into Judas, and so his interior freedom would have been either deeply compromised or even destroyed. Luke (22:3) places the demonic oppression or possession on Spy Wednesday, while John (13:27) describes it happening at the Last Supper. In either case, both Evangelists attribute some part of Judas's betrayal to the direct action of the Enemy.

Judas Iscariot. Even 2,000 years after he betrayed the Lord Jesus, his very name is a curse. But whatever moved him to turn traitor, we must also acknowledge that Judas was not the only apostle who betrayed the Lord that night; they all did. Peter, who boldly exclaimed that he would go to prison and die rather than betray Jesus, found himself within hours of that boast lying to a scullery maid about even knowing Jesus, so afraid was he of sharing the same fate as his Master. Prince of the Apostles, indeed. And all of the apostles ran away from the garden in fear-- the first act of apostolic collegiality.

We know that as soon as Jesus was arrested, Judas regretted his betrayal and tried to return the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests. They wouldn't take the silver back because it was blood money -- tainted by the perfidy of the treasonous apostle. Then in desolation and despair Judas hanged himself and died alone.

Or did he die alone? Even as the good thief turned to the Lord Jesus for mercy at the moment of his death, is it possible that Judas Iscariot in the instant before the rope ended his life might have cried out to Jesus for mercy? Is it possible that even on the Cross the Lord might have heard and answered the cry of Judas?

I believe that we can and must dare to hope that on the Last Day we will find that even Judas Iscariot has been gathered into the Kingdom of God. After all, Spy Wednesday leads to the Friday we call Good, because on that day the Author of Life died for our sins to destroy death. As the temple veil was rent down the middle, and the earth shook, and the sky was darkened, and hell was harrowed, perhaps the Enemy who had entered into Judas was cast out and cast down by the Lamb once slain so that the first of His Twelve to die could be united at last to his Lord and Savior. It is devoutly to be hoped.

29 March 2010

Fight the Real Enemy

On Palm Sunday, Sinead O'Connor (who was allegedly once a singer when not ripping up photos of the pope on television) had an egregious piece of nonsense in the Washington Post, and at the heart of her essay was an oft repeated lie about an arcane bit of canon law from 1962 which the Church's enemies would like the world to believe is evidence of an international criminal conspiracy to protect child molesters.

George Weigel and I take issue with Ms. O'Connor at National Review Online.

Time for Reckoning Rightly

Since the Solemnity of the Annunciation last week, the "prestige" press on both sides of the Atlantic have been in high dudgeon at the Catholic Church for ... well, for being the Catholic Church. But since it is still not possible simply to say that in public (though probably not for much longer), the assault on the Church being led by the New York Times has been an outraged protest against the sexual abuse of minors by priests and the absurd response to that abuse by bishops.

Now comes some clear thinking from George Weigel, biographer of John Paul II and arguably the dean of Catholic thinkers in the United States. Please take time to read slowly and carefully what he has to say about this latest campaign against the Church:

28 March 2010

Palm Sunday

Though he was in the form of God,
Jesus did not deem equality with God
something to be grasped at.

Rather, he emptied himself
and took the form of a slave,
being born in the likeness of men.

He was known to be of human estate,
and it was thus that he humbled himself,
obediently accepting even death,
death on a cross.

Because of this,
God highly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
above every other name,

So that at the name of Jesus
every knee must bend
in the heavens, on the earth,
and under the earth,
and every tongue proclaim
to the glory of God the Father:


(Philippians 2:6-11)

27 March 2010

The Path of Purification

My blog is just a few days old, but given the attention in recent days to the sins of priests and bishops, it seems worth recalling my very first post, entitled "The Church is Always in Need of Being Reformed". In part, I wrote:

"Why is the Church always in need of being reformed? Because I am always in need of being reformed.

"Yes, the Church is holy because she is the spotless Bride of Christ, vivified and sanctified by God the Holy Spirit. But she is also an assembly of human persons, each of whom is a sinner in need of redemption, and for this reason, the Second Vatican Council likened the Church to the Incarnate Word, who is a single Person with two natures: one divine and one human. Because the Church is 'at once holy and always in need of purification, (she) follows constantly the path of penance and renewal.' (Lumen Gentium 8)"

This path of penance and renewal is the Way of the Cross, and we are called by the Lord Jesus to follow Him in that Way each day of our lives. But during Holy Week, our need for constant conversion is brought home to us with great force by the sacred liturgy, the source and summit of the Church's life. To help the people of my parish enter fully into the sacred mysteries we celebrate during these days of Holy Week, I wrote to the people of my parish:

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for He is our salvation, our life and our resurrection; through Him we are saved and made free.

These are the words of the Entrance Antiphon for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper which we will celebrate this week on Holy Thursday, and by these words, taken from Chapter Six of St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, we are reminded of several essential truths of the Christian faith:

✠ only by Jesus Christ are we made free
✠ only by Jesus Christ are we saved from sin and death
✠ only by our share in the Cross of Christ do we find our salvation, our life, and our resurrection

Because our lives are so full of noise and distraction, so full of anxieties and disappointments, so full of struggle and grief, we risk losing sight of these saving truths and the evangelical freedom that they can bring to our hearts. The strain we have all experienced in this Great Recession, the normal struggles of family life, the challenges of raising children and remaining faithful to the promises of our Baptism -- all of these things can impede us from hearing and heeding St. Paul’s exhortation:

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ! But how do we do that? How do we glory in the Cross of Christ?

The first and most important way is that we take up our own crosses each day and follow Christ in the obedience of faith. Living in fidelity to the promises of marriage, ordination, or religious profession, living as faithful witnesses to the Gospel, living by grace the life of the new creation -- these are the practical ways we glory in the Cross of Christ. And given the complexity of these tasks, a quick reference guide to Christian faith and life would be most useful and is included with this letter. On the back of the Holy Week Schedule, you’ll find the Ten Commandments, the Precepts of the Church, and the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, along with a brief Act of Contrition for the times when we do not live according to these precepts. Please read and ponder these simple measures of the authenticity of our lives, and where needed, resolve to take your failures to the Lord in the Sacrament of Penance and to begin again the daily work of following Christ in the Way of the Cross.

The schedule for each day of Holy Week is included, and each of us is called by Christ to accompany Him to His Passover:

✠ On Palm Sunday we go with Jesus to Jerusalem where He will arrive at the Hour for which He came into the world.

✠ On Holy Thursday we gather with Jesus in the Upper Room to receive the New Commandment of love and the inestimable gifts of the Priesthood and the Eucharist.

✠ On Good Friday we stand with Jesus in the Praetorium and walk with Him to Calvary, even as we acknowledge that we also stand in the howling mob that shouts: Crucify him!

✠ On Holy Saturday we keep vigil with the holy women who kept watch at the tomb, and in the night we worship the Lamb once slain who reveals His Resurrection in the New Fire and the Paschal Candle.

✠ Finally, on Easter Sunday we rejoice and exclaim: Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us; therefore, let us keep the feast!

The Passover of the Lord, which only English-speaking Christians call Easter, is usually known by some form of the Hebrew word for the lamb sacrificed at the Jewish remembrance of Passover, pesach. From this term we get our words pasch and paschal, so that the passion, death, and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus is called the Paschal Mystery. This is what we celebrate at every Mass, on each Sunday of the year, and most especially in the sacred days of Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum: Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and He alone is our life, our salvation, and our resurrection.

26 March 2010

Keeping the Record Straight

The National Catholic Reporter is a weekly news and opinion journal of the far Left, and they are no friends of the theological project of Pope Benedict XVI, which makes all the more remarkable the very fine essay today from their Vatican specialist John Allen.

Allen is a thoughtful reporter and an experienced hand at interpreting for English-speaking readers the sometimes arcane language and customs of those who work for the Holy See. Here is his take on the real story behind Joseph Ratzinger's involvement in the Church's effort to respond effectively to the crimes of sexually predatory priests:
Keeping the Record Straight

A Bone in the Throat

Continuing yesterday’s attack on Benedict XVI, the New York Times today alleges that then Joseph Ratzinger, while serving as Archbishop of Munich and Freising did know, contrary to earlier assertions, about the transfer of a priest who had been credibly accused of molesting adolescent boys to a new post for pastoral ministry. The story refers without citing a source to two documents (a memo and the minutes of a meeting) which theoretically establish the point the Times is trying to prove: that Joseph Ratzinger once did as a diocesan bishop the very thing he now condemns other diocesan bishops for doing in Ireland, the United States, and other places.

It will take some time to untangle the facts of this case from the sensationalist charges aimed at the pope by the Times and other newspaper of the cultural Left, but when the sifting is done, I am confident that one thing will be demonstrated beyond all cavil: Joseph Ratzinger is not and never has been a liar or a man who fails to call sin by its name. But even if that be proved beyond any reasonable doubt, the Times and the high salons of the Left will not be satisfied because of the point I made yesterday: They hate the Catholic Church with a perfect hatred and will do anything to discredit the pastors of the Church so that the Gospel they preach will itself seem to be discredited.

The Catholic Church is like a sharp bone caught in the throat of the secular West, and until it is coughed up and spit out, there can be no peace for those who have come to believe that the Bible, the God of the Bible, and the Church which preaches that God and His Scriptures are the chief obstacles to human freedom and flourishing left in the world.

Tragic mistakes were made by Catholic bishops, both the good and the bad ones, during the last four decades in deciding how to respond to priests who violated their promise of celibacy, the norms of human nature, and the eternal law of God by having sex with children and adolescents, but these mistakes were usually made despite and not because of what the Catholic Church teaches about human sexuality and priestly discipline. The Times, however, is trying to convince the world that the Church is little more than an international criminal conspiracy to protect child molesters.

Finally, it is worth noting that the stories of the past two days (and the ones which are no doubt waiting to be published in the coming days) have arrived at the threshold of Holy Week. Much like the annual appearance of the apostate priest John Dominic Crossan who flickers on our TV screens each year sometime around Easter to “expose” yet another myth about the rabbi from Nazareth, the arrival of these stories seems perfectly timed to throw the Church off balance as we prepare to celebrate the Passover of the Lord. 

Every office in Rome is soon to be closed for the observances of Holy Week, and so the response of the Holy See to the charges being made by the Times will seem tepid and slow and therefore unconvincing. This, in turn, will only feed the frenzy of those who want us to believe that Benedict XVI is personally complicit in the evil of clerical sexual crimes he has spent four decades fighting. Accordingly, everyone who believes that the Catholic Church is the universal sacrament of salvation for all mankind needs to calm down and remain focused on the one thing necessary: the Lord Jesus Christ, and Him crucified and risen. The New York Times and CNN may operate on 24 hour news cycles, but our 2,000 year old Church does not. Let’s take the time to get this right, while always remembering that only the truth will make us free.

25 March 2010

All the News That's Fit to Print

In this morning’s New York Times, there is a story about a wretched priest in Milwaukee who allegedly molested over 200 boys committed to his care in a home for the deaf to which he was assigned from 1950 to 1974, but the story is less about this depraved degenerate than about the alleged cover-up perpetrated by none other than Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. The Times makes every effort to place the full responsibility for this monster not being punished on Ratzinger, but as is always the case, there is more to the story than is published by the rag that brags it has “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” In response to this naked effort by the Times to paint Benedict XVI as a man who gave aid and comfort to child molesters, the Holy See issued this statement:

“The tragic case of Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, involved particularly vulnerable victims who suffered terribly from what he did. By sexually abusing children who were hearing-impaired, Father Murphy violated the law and, more importantly, the sacred trust that his victims had placed in him.

“During the mid-1970s, some of Father Murphy's victims reported his abuse to civil authorities, who investigated him at that time; however, according to news reports, that investigation was dropped. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was not informed of the matter until some twenty years later.

“It has been suggested that a relationship exists between the application of Crimen sollicitationis and the non-reporting of child abuse to civil authorities in this case. In fact, there is no such relationship. Indeed, contrary to some statements that have circulated in the press, neither Crimen nor the Code of Canon Law ever prohibited the reporting of child abuse to law enforcement authorities.

“In the late 1990s, after over two decades had passed since the abuse had been reported to diocesan officials and the police, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was presented for the first time with the question of how to treat the Murphy case canonically. The Congregation was informed of the matter because it involved solicitation in the confessional, which is a violation of the Sacrament of Penance. It is important to note that the canonical question presented to the Congregation was unrelated to any potential civil or criminal proceedings against Father Murphy.

“In such cases, the Code of Canon Law does not envision automatic penalties, but recommends that a judgment be made not excluding even the greatest ecclesiastical penalty of dismissal from the clerical state (cf. Canon 1395, no. 2). In light of the facts that Father Murphy was elderly and in very poor health, and that he was living in seclusion and no allegations of abuse had been reported in over 20 years, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith suggested that the Archbishop of Milwaukee give consideration to addressing the situation by, for example, restricting Father Murphy's public ministry and requiring that Father Murphy accept full responsibility for the gravity of his acts. Father Murphy died approximately four months later, without further incident.”

The molestation of boys and young men by a priest is a grotesque crime and a mortal sin that endangers the immortal soul of the molester, and the failure of bishops and other superiors to remove these criminals from priestly ministry is an even worse and more outrageous abdication of responsibility. But the New York Times is not attempting to find justice for the poor boys who were so injured by this one sordid reprobate; instead, the New York Times is today attempting to make Joseph Ratzinger the story because it hates the Catholic Church and everything she stands for. 

Sadly, the priests who molested minors and the bishops who did nothing about their crimes handed to those who hate the Church the club with which we are all now being beaten, but let us not accept the lie that the beating is for the sake of children and teens who were injured. The Catholic Church is the last voice in the world raised loudly and clearly in defense of the traditional understanding of human sexuality and the right to life of unborn children, and this the self-important mandarins of our culture, starting with the inky wretches of the New York Times, cannot abide.

23 March 2010

The Dangers of False Religion

On 30 August 2009, the Twenty-Second Sunday of the Year, I preached about the danger of the false religion which arises from belonging to the tribe rather than believing the Word. Given the complicity of so many nominal Catholics in the various catastrophes now unfolding in the nation's political life, it seems timely to recall what I said following the funeral of Senator Ted Kennedy:

In the first lesson from Deuteronomy, Moses instructs the children of Israel: “In your observance of the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin upon you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.”

In the second lesson from the Letter of St. James, the Apostle urges the disciples of the Lord Jesus: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”

And in the Gospel from Mark, the Lord Jesus excoriates the Pharisees: “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

In each case, Sacred Scripture warns us today against the danger of false religion. Here we must first note a problem for modern man: If all religion is merely a private matter of taste, how can there be true religion and false religion? This is one of the many reasons why neither a Christian nor a Jew before us may ever consent to the assertion that religion is a private matter of personal taste. Now in Christian thought, there are two kinds of false religion: worshipping false gods is the first, and worshipping the true God in a false way is the second. There are many religions in the world, but only three of them claim to be revealed by God: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Jews and Christians believe that Muslims worship the true God but in a way invented by man, and that very possibility reminds Christians of the danger posed to us by the second kind of false religion: replacing divine revelation with human wisdom and calling it faith. In the teaching of Moses and the Lord Jesus, this very simply constitutes false religion.

For the past two months, we have been reviewing the Eight Principles of Evangelical Catholicism to help us understand the challenges posed by false religion in our day, and perhaps the most dangerous false religion we face is what I call cultural Catholicism, which begins by belonging to the tribe rather than by believing the Word. “Of course I’m Catholic,” the cultural Catholic exclaims, “my great-grandmother was from Sicily.” This is false religion. Fill in the blank to account for your own tribe, but if ethnic identity is the only source of one’s religion, then that religion is false. No one is born a Christian; each man is born only a child of Adam  and a child of wrath and must be born again a child of God by water and the Holy Spirit. The sacrament of Baptism, like all the sacraments of the New Covenant, is a sacrament of faith: faith in the Word of God, the Word of God made flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. And it is belief in that Word, not the place on the map in which one’s ancestors were born, that makes one a disciple of the Lord Jesus.

The false religion of cultural Catholicism is crumbling fast before our eyes: today one in ten Americans is an ex-Catholic. This is what happens when membership in the tribe, rather than faith in the Word, is the foundation of one’s religion: once the bonds of tribal loyalty are loosened, religious identity is the first thing to be cast off. But there was once a time when cultural Catholicism, whatever its flaws, was a powerful force in American life, shaping our great cities and raising up vast networks of parishes, hospitals, school, colleges and universities, announcing the arrival on these new shores of the ancient Church. And perhaps no family in American history better embodies this sort of cultural Catholicism than the storied Kennedy clan of Boston.

This was brought to mind yesterday by the funeral of Ted Kennedy, who spent his entire adult life in the United States Senate, being known since the murder of his two brothers as the most visible Catholic in the nation’s public life. Ted Kennedy was, by all accounts, a man of rare charm and numerous gifts; he was loved by his family and friends, respected by his colleagues, and trusted by the voters of Massachusetts who faithfully returned him to the Senate no matter how scandalous or numerous his personal flaws. But whatever his political or legislative accomplishments, we must reckon with this fact: the most visible Catholic in the nation’s public life spent the past four decades defending, promoting, excusing, and seeking to pay for by your taxes the wholesale slaughter of babies in the womb.

The mind reels at this contradiction and seeks for a plausible explanation of the fact that the unrestricted abortion license which has exterminated over fifty million American children was devised and constructed, promulgated and defended very largely by men and women who call themselves Catholic. And I believe that the primary explanation of this abomination is simple: the self-identified Catholics who stoutly defend the murder of unborn children are cultural Catholics only; they belong to the false religion of the tribe, rather than the living faith of the Word, and so like the Pharisees condemned by the Lord Jesus, they do not hesitate to replace the Word of God with human wisdom, in this case replacing worship of the true God with the worship of a false god named “freedom to choose.”

But how did we come to this sorry pass? While legions of cultural Catholic politicians have collaborated in building the culture of death, it is not the work of the laity alone. In 1964, a groups of six priests (including the notorious pro-abortion Jesuit Robert Drinan) met with the Kennedy’s at their home in Hyannisport, and during a long day of debate, the six priests worked out the false theological logic used to justify the support of abortion by Catholic politicians. The details of that meeting were later revealed in a book written by one of the six priests, long after he left the priesthood and the Catholic Church, and this sorry tale is sad confirmation of the terrible fact that the false religion of cultural Catholicism includes among its adherents too many priests and religious, too many theologians and professors.

So, what are we do? In the face of such treachery and collusion with the culture of death, what can we do? Let us heed the Letter of St. James:

“Put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror. He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he looked like. But the one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, such a one shall be blessed in what he does. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is in vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1: 21-27)

My friends, this is evangelical Catholicism, and once we have surrendered our minds, our wills, our bodies, our entire selves to the Word of God in the obedience of faith, then we find the perfect freedom, the evangelical freedom, of the children of God. The remedy for the false religion of cultural Catholicism is the true religion of evangelical Catholicism. We are Catholics not because we belong to the tribe but because we believe the Word, and we have work to do. The eighth Principle of Evangelical Catholicism puts it this way:

All the baptized are sent in the Great Commission to be witnesses of Christ to others and must be equipped by the Church to teach the Gospel in word and deed. An essential dimension of true discipleship is the willingness to invite others to follow the Lord Jesus and the readiness to explain his Gospel.

That is our task: to be doers of the Word and not hearers only, lest we delude ourselves and make our religion in vain. And how do we accomplish this mission?

At our Baptism, the Lord Jesus called each of us by name to follow Him in the Way of the Cross. Let us heed that call by living as Evangelical Catholics who bear witness to the Savior through radical conversion, deep fidelity, joyful discipleship, and courageous evangelism. This is how we welcome the Word that has been planted in us and is able to save our souls. This is religion pure and undefiled. This is true Catholicism. Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!

Jesus Christ yesterday and today,
the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega,
all time belongs to Him and all the ages,
to Him be all glory and power through every age for ever. Amen.

21 March 2010

The Folly of Appeasement

Neville Chamberlain declares: Peace for Our Time!

The Gospel of Life and Health Care Reform

Here is the homily I preached at St. Mary's, Greenville on 21 March 2010, the Fifth Sunday of Lent:

On 25 March 1995, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, Pope John Paul II promulgated the encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae, on the value and inviolability of human life. Today, four days before the fifteenth anniversary of that glorious defense of the Gospel of Life, the Congress of the United States, led to this moment by the President of the United States, is poised to enshrine in American law a savage assault on human life and the freedom of conscience of those pledged to help heal the sick. Make no mistake: This is a dark hour in the history of our Republic, and the tyranny of abortion is about to be enshrined under the guise of health care reform as a public entitlement which will be paid for by public funds collected from every tax payer and from which, in due course, no doctor, nurse, hospital, or clinic will be permitted to withdraw on a conscientious objection. This is a dark hour in the history of our Republic, and we have been led to this hour by self-described Catholics.

It must be said that the general effort to change the ways in which we Americans pay for our health care is a prudential matter about which reasonable people are free to disagree in good conscience. Passionate arguments have been advanced in this debate by partisans of every viewpoint, and in most of these arguments no absolute moral truths have been at stake. But there is one absolute moral truth at stake now, and it is this: Abortion is a crime against God and man which no human law can legitimize. And as John Paul the Great taught us in Evangelium Vitae, not only is there no obligation to obey such laws; there is, instead, a grave and clear obligation to oppose such laws by conscientious objection and, when necessary, civil disobedience.

In these last days of this national debate, some voices have been raised by those who identity themselves as Catholic to say that the bill which will be voted on today does not provide funds for abortion, but that is simply false. Our Bishop Robert wrote to every priest of the diocese on Friday to say that “It is evident the current health care legislation before the House of Representatives violates the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Church in several areas. As pastors of souls we have an obligation to form our people to understand the end can never justify the means. The lives of the innocent unborn cannot be sacrificed so that health insurance can be extended to some who do not have it.” Then in a companion letter addressed to all the faithful of the Diocese of Charleston, Bishop Guglielmone asks all of us to oppose this legislation “because it will allow for federal funding of abortion and will not provide conscience protection for health care professionals and health care institutions.” The bishop then adds that “Unfortunately, some organizations and individuals have decided that it is better to pass something to help a few. We can never allow evil to be done for own personal gain or for the benefit of some. Abortion should not be a part of health care reform, nor financed with tax dollars.”

Sadly, despite the clear and constant teaching on this point by our bishop and the entire United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, there have been declarations in support of the present legislation by organizations calling themselves Catholic. The Catholic Health Association supported the bill, as did a left wing lobbying group of nuns called Network. And perhaps most disappointing for us locally, so did the Bon Secours Health System which owns and operates St. Francis Hospital here in Greenville.

The approach advocated by these groups, namely, to accept an evil that good may come of it, is the devil’s bargain, and it will inevitably ensnare everyone who accepts that bargain in material cooperation with evil. This means that even those who do not endorse abortion will be bound up with the actual performance of abortions in some way, and now the entire nation will be bound by law to pay for abortions. But my friends, abortion is not health care; it is murder most foul. And for us to look away from this abomination would entail our own cooperation with evil.

At the risk of raising eyebrows or worse, I must pause here to say that no one in this congregation should be surprised by these developments. In November 2008 I wrote to you that the election of Barack Obama ended “a political process that started two years ago and revealed deep and bitter divisions within the United States and also within the Catholic Church in the United States. This division is sometimes called a ‘Culture War,’ by which is meant a heated clash between two radically different and incompatible conceptions of how we should order our common life together, the public life that constitutes civil society. And the chief battleground in this culture war for the past 30 years has been abortion, which one side regards as a murderous abomination that cries out to Heaven for vengeance and the other side regards as a fundamental human right that must be protected in laws enforced by the authority of the state. Between these two visions of the use of lethal violence against the unborn there can be no negotiation or conciliation, and now our nation has chosen for its chief executive the most radical pro-abortion politician ever to serve in the United States Senate or to run for president.”

At the time I wrote that column, my words were regarded by many as extreme, but here we are, a year and half later, poised at the brink of tyranny. Now even those who oppose abortion may say, Tyranny? Really, Father, isn’t that a bit over the top? No; not in the least. When moral relativism is made a legal absolute even by a legal and democratic process, then basic human rights will be violated by the state in the name of tolerance. We have seen this in recent years in Massachusetts where the Catholic Church was forced out of coordinating the adoption of children because we will not place them with homosexual couples and in Washington, DC where Catholic Charities can no longer offer health insurance to spouses of its employees because we would otherwise be forced to do the same for domestic partners living in what we know to be a state of sin. These are examples of what Joseph Ratzinger called the dictatorship of relativism in the homily he preached just before the conclave that elected him to be Benedict XVI, and now this dictatorship has come to the Republic founded on the self-evident truth that the Creator has endowed every man with the natural right to life as the ground of living in liberty and pursuing happiness. Make no mistake: This is a dark hour in the history of our Republic, and we have been led to this hour by Catholics. Or, to put the matter more sharply, by those who call themselves Catholics.

So, what are we to do?

First, we must resist unjust laws and fight the dictatorship of relativism with every means at our disposal. If you have ever considered a politician’s position on abortion to be a minor matter in deciding on how to vote, I hope you now understand the folly of that position. Direct political action, constant vigilance against the growth of the dictatorship of relativism, civil disobedience, and a valiant defense of the Gospel of Life are all required of us now that a grave injustice will be enshrined in law.

Second, we must call things by their true and proper names. For example, where abortion is concerned, there is no such thing as being pro-choice. When the thing being chosen is murder, there is only pro-life and pro-death. I set before you today life and death. Choose life! that you and your children may live. And to take another example, the Bon Secours Health System has now laid bare the terrible truth that St. Francis Hospital is a Catholic institution in name only. You may continue to need their services for medical reasons, but please do not make the mistake of supporting that institution simply because there is a crucifix on the wall. There is no essential difference between a secular hospital and a theoretically Catholic hospital when the latter does what the Bon Secours System has done: namely, accept and endorse material cooperation with evil against the teaching of the Bishops of the Catholic Church.

Third, we must commit ourselves with new energy and fervor to living as evangelical Catholics through radical conversion, deep fidelity, joyful discipleship, and courageous evangelism. This is the only way to expose the false catholicisms which are helping to destroy our nation by building lies into laws. A good way to begin the long campaign which has now been forced upon us is to read John Paul’s masterful encyclical, Evangelium Vitae or the Gospel of Life. You can find the English text in five seconds on the internet, and it is well worth a careful study. John Paul the Great, a man who saw with his own eyes the terrible consequences of a tyranny which denies the essential humanity of an entire class of persons, opens his letter with these words:

“The Gospel of Life is at the heart of the message of Jesus. Lovingly received day after day by the Church, it is to be preached with dauntless fidelity as ‘good news’ to the people of every age and culture. 

“At the dawn of salvation, it is the Birth of a Child which is proclaimed as joyful news: ‘I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:10-11). The source of this ‘great joy’ is the Birth of the Savior; but Christmas also reveals the full meaning of every human birth, and the joy which accompanies the Birth of the Messiah is thus seen to be the foundation and fulfillment of joy at every child born into the world (cf. John 16:21).

“The Church knows that this Gospel of Life, which she has received from her Lord, has a profound and persuasive echo in the heart of every person -- believer and non-believer alike -- because it marvelously fulfills all the heart’s expectations while infinitely surpassing them. Even in the midst of difficulties and uncertainties, every person sincerely open to truth and goodness can, by the light  of reason and the hidden action of grace, come to recognize in the natural law written in the human heart (cf. Romans 2:14-15) the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and can affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree. Upon the recognition of this right, every human community and the political community itself are founded.” (EV 1).

Listen again to that last sentence: Upon the recognition of this right, the right to life, every human and political community is founded. And now the Congress and President of the United States of America are preparing, in the name of extending health care in our nation, to embrace a refutation of the very right to exist of unborn children. My friends, this cannot stand, and while it stands we cannot cooperate in any way with the slaughter of the innocents. Such resistance may cost us dearly, but this is not the first time in the history of the world that following the Lord Jesus has been costly. Hear the Apostle Paul, Teacher of the Nations, in this morning’s Second Lesson:

“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith, that I may know him and the power of resurrection and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8-11)

Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!