04 November 2012

Why Am I a Catholic?

The Chapel at Princeton University

On Sunday 4 November 2012, I preached the following homily at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenville, South Carolina.

Thirty years ago tomorrow, on 5 November 1982, to the astonishment of my friends, to the bewilderment of my family, and to my everlasting wonderment, I was received into full communion with the Catholic Church. As unexpected as that turn in my life was, even stranger was the day fourteen months earlier when I woke up in the morning an atheist and a scientific materialist and went to sleep that night a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. That day of my conversion to Christ was unexpected on two counts: First, from the age of thirteen I had been a sincerely convinced atheist, and second, I chose Princeton University for my undergraduate work, in part, because it was far from the Christ-haunted South of my childhood. I went to Princeton precisely to escape the ignorance and superstition I saw dripping from everything in this part of the world and in the hope of living with others of similar convictions in what I then regarded as the light of pure reason, and to arm myself for battle I enrolled during my first semester in a course called “Christianity and its Critics.” So, to find myself a few months later introduced to the Lord Jesus by students and teachers at Princeton was a life-changing surprise.

The final moments of my conversion to Christ in October 1981 constitute for me an indelible experience of fire: purifying, transforming, illuminating fire. When the fire passed and I came back to myself, I turned to my friend and classmate who was the indispensable instrument of grace that night and asked where I could go to be baptized, and immediately I was confronted with the scandal of division among Christians. Why aren’t Lutherans Presbyterians? Why aren’t Anglicans Baptists? And why is it that the only thing to which they all agree is that they aren’t Catholics?

In my search for an answer to those questions, I turned to the only clergyman on campus whom I knew: an Episcopal priest. He sketched a brief account of the very messy history of heresy and schism among Christians and suggested that I could approach my search in one of two ways: start from our time and work backwards or start from the beginning of Christianity and work forwards to find the causes of the disagreements and separations that afflict the Church. And then he added that since there is only one Lord, one Faith, and one Baptism, I did not have to wait until I sorted through this mess to be baptized. So in January 1982 I was born again by water and the Holy Spirit in an Anglican font, even as I continued to read about the life and faith of the first Christians and the shape of the Church in which they lived together.

For six months I worshipped as an Anglican while I spent every available hour reading the New Testament, the Church Fathers, and the decrees of the early ecumenical Councils. Friends, both Catholic and Protestant, suggested books which I inhaled, and evening after evening the main course at dinner was theological disputation. Then came a day in high summer when, after finishing John Henry Newman’s spiritual autobiography, I thought to myself: I do not protest anything taught by the Catholic Church, so I can no longer be a Protestant. To that point I had never met a Catholic priest, so I asked a friend to introduce me to one, and at our first meeting in his office, I said “Father, I have to become a Catholic.” He sent me home with several books to read and questions to think about, and when I returned the following week he asked if I was still certain about my convictions. I answered “Yes, I have to become a Catholic, and I think I am called to be a priest.”

My teacher was Father Peter Stravinskas, and he spent the next few months explaining what I needed to know to make a profession of faith with a clear and certain conscience, often while we strolled through the peerless campus of Princeton University or that of the nearby Institute for Advanced Study. At length, on the evening of 5 November 1982, I stood before the altar in the chapel of the Poor Clare Monastery in Bordentown, New Jersey, and professed the faith of the Church in the ancient Creed of Nicaea and Constantinople and then added “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.” With those words, I was a Catholic, and in the next few minutes I received the sacraments of Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist to complete my sacramental initiation into the Lord Jesus and his holy Church. 

And here I am today, thirty years later, still in wonderment that I should be a Christian and a Catholic Christian at that, especially because the secular and rationalist existence I so eagerly sought as a boy is now available everywhere. Indeed, it is not only available, it is pressed upon us from every side with great urgency by the chattering classes who have come to believe that all religions, particularly Christianity, and Catholicism most especially, are the enemy of human freedom and flourishing. And we must acknowledge that those who regard the Christian faith as superstition and the Catholic Church as a bulwark of darkness and ignorance are presently having their way with us. One in ten Americans today is an ex-Catholic, and more than half of those who still identify themselves as Catholics do not live the Catholic faith or practice our religion in any observable way. This great falling away is happening throughout the West, and that is among the many reasons why the just concluded meeting of the Synod of Bishops in Rome spent three weeks discussing the Church’s need for a New Evangelization to transmit the Gospel in our time.

But while I am delighted that the bishops are taking notice of these things, the truth is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not transmitted by new offices in the Roman Curia or more documents from the Roman Pontiff; the Gospel is transmitted by disciples of Jesus Christ who have come to “believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.” What is necessary for those of us still trying to transmit the Gospel in this way is to acknowledge that the Church is now perceived by many people as a stumbling block rather than an instrument of communion with God. 

We see the Church that saved Europe from the Dark Ages, that built schools, invented hospitals and founded universities. We see the Church that designed and raised up the most glorious buildings our civilization has ever produced and then filled them with art and music of unsurpassed beauty. We see the Church that brought the light of the Gospel to every part of the world even as it was first encountered by Europeans. We see the Church that provided the intellectual and cultural foundations for the rule of law in a limited State and for the scientific revolution to which so many people today look for their salvation. In short, we who already believe what the Church believes see her as a light-filled instrument for the transmission of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful and as a perpetual witness to the Father’s eternal Plan of Salvation for the entire human race in Jesus Christ. 

But many of those who do not share our faith look at the same Church and see a loathsome agent of oppression and bastion of ignorance, an unwanted survival from the Middle Ages which arrays itself against human progress and happiness by resisting the sexual revolution and teaching that there is an objective moral law which we do not make and to which we are all accountable, and not a few of those who see the Church in this way are baptized Catholics. Some of them are ordained. That too is among the many reasons we need a New Evangelization.

But before we can be instruments of the New Evangelization, we need to know why we are disciples of the Lord Jesus and members of his Catholic Church. Thirty years ago I came at these questions from outside the Church, as a young man seeking to understand the world and his place in it, but most Catholics are born into Catholic families and take these things for granted. These people are often called cradle Catholics to distinguish them from those like myself who are usually called converts, but the term cradle Catholic implies that one can be born a Catholic and that is simply false. No one is born a Catholic; one can only be born again a Catholic, and even the Baptism of infants is a sacrament of faith - the faith of the Church, the faith of the child’s parents, the faith of the child’s godparents. This is the faith in which the child should be instructed and formed until the day when he can renew with his own heart and mind and voice the promises of his Baptism and take his place among the disciples of the Lord Jesus who believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God. In other words, all Catholics must be converts of one sort or the other or else they do not know what Catholicism is.

At this point, though, we must acknowledge a perennial problem in the life of the Church: Catholics do not always live according to the faith we profess. In fact, many of us fail to do so in ways that are scandalous and even horrifying, and when an errant believer is also a bishop or priest, then the damage done to the Church’s credibility is even greater. As a consequence, those who do not share our faith, including some souls who might feel drawn to the Church as a fellowship of Christ’s disciples, can point to the notorious sins of Catholics with dismay and then try to justify rejecting her claims because of the cognitive dissonance that always follows a conspicuous contradiction between the faith we profess and the lives we lead.

Two answers to such objections are readily available. First, that all men have sinned and are deprived of God’s glory is an essential truth of the Gospel, and no one should ever be surprised when Christians sin. Disappointed perhaps, but never surprised. The sacraments do not deprive us of our freedom, and fallen men and women - which all Christians remain - struggle every day not to misuse their freedom. When Christians sin, even scandalously, even when they are ordained, they are in a strange way confirming the faith they profess: we are all sinners in need of redemption, and we cannot save ourselves. That’s the first answer to the charge that the sins of Christians put the lie to the claim of the Church’s holiness, and the second answer is a bit more abstract. Just as the divine and human natures of the Lord Jesus co-exist in one person so that the Son of Mary is both God and man, so too in the Church the human and divine co-exist so that she is both a fellowship of sinners and the spotless bride of Christ. The holiness of the Church comes not from the moral character of Christians; it comes rather from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who is the soul of the Body of Christ, giving life and holiness to the Church so that she may fulfill her Great Commission to teach the Gospel to all nations. There is and can be no separation between the Lord Jesus Christ and his Church, and it is only in and with the Church that we can come to know, love, and serve the Lord Jesus as he fully reveals himself to us in Word and Sacrament.

When I became convinced of this truth thirty years ago, I went to a priest and said “Father, I have to become a Catholic,” and three decades later I remain grateful every day for the grace of God that drew me to full communion with his one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church - the Church of Jesus Christ fully and rightly ordered through history, the Church governed by Simon Peter and his successors, the Bishops of Rome, in union with all the bishops of the world who stand in apostolic succession as authentic teachers of the Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.

So, why am I a Catholic? Because I believe it’s all true. Because I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God. And because I want everyone I know, everyone I meet to find in the Catholic Church what I found: the goodness of grace, the truth of the Gospel, and the beauty of holiness. Here, in the Catholic Church, is where we find the freedom of the children of God; here in the Catholic Church is where we are born again to everlasting life; here in the Catholic Church is where we are nourished with the Body and Blood of the Savior; here in the Catholic Church is where we let go of sin and all of our false selves and discover our true dignity and destiny - a glory that surpasses anything we can imagine. 

But those of us who believe these things must take note. In the service of leading others to find these truths in the Catholic Church, we can no longer begin our witness by saying “the Church teaches,” because as we have seen, the Church herself is a stumbling block for so many. Instead, we must now begin with the simple witness of our own lives and then lead others to know, love, and serve the Lord Jesus Christ by helping them to receive him with saving faith as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. To do this in full measure, we must of course eventually come to “the Church teaches,” but to avoid the difficulties aroused in our time by the Church herself, we should begin the journey of evangelization by talking about what “the Gospel reveals” not with what “the Church teaches.” And to do that, we must know and believe the Gospel ourselves, something which is directly dependent on our own knowledge of Holy Scripture, our own life of regular prayer, and our own love for others in action. 

Now, for those of you who were hoping (or fearing) that I would preach today about Tuesday’s election, please understand that I just did. You see, every serious political dispute is, at root, first a theological dispute, and when one believes everything that God has revealed for our salvation, then many political arguments are already resolved. For example, one who believes everything the Catholic Church teaches to be revealed by God does not support abortion, does not support the redefinition of marriage, does not support the reduction of the natural human right to freedom of religion to the laughably inadequate substitute of freedom to worship, and does not support massive government interference in free markets of honest exchange. Moreover, those who believe everything the Catholic Church teaches to be revealed by God not only do not support these things; they also do not vote for politicians who do. And in this way the Church is involved in the political process, not as a partisan actor but as an evangelical witness. The Gospel of Jesus Christ not only changes individual lives, it also forms cultures and shapes entire civilizations, only a small part of which involves politics. And right now, our civilization is dying and is in need of a new proclamation of the timeless truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever, but proclaimed now with new ardor, new methods, and new conviction.

So, if we want to contribute to the New Evangelization by being Evangelical Catholics, let us renew our commitment to study and pray with the Bible, to live the promises of our Baptism, to serve those in need, and to receive the sacraments of the New and Eternal Covenant regularly and worthily, and by so doing, to be prepared to draw others to Jesus Christ and his Church through radical conversion, deep fidelity, joyful discipleship, and courageous evangelism. That is how I was led to the Catholic Church thirty years ago, and that is how we will help others arrive at the day when they can say with a clear and certain conscience “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.”

Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!

07 August 2012

Obama at the Smith Dinner? Yes.

Alfred Emanuel Smith (1873 - 1944) was the 42nd Governor of New York, and in 1928 he became the first Catholic to run for President of the United States. In 1945, one year after Smith's death, Francis Cardinal Spellman, the Archbishop of New York, inaugurated the Alfred E. Smith Dinner to honor the public service of Smith and Catholics in political life and to raise funds for Catholic Charities. For 67 years, the Smith Dinner has been one of the fixtures of New York's social, political and philanthropic life, and the famed Dinner is an intersection of leading figures in politics, culture, and the Church. Because Smith was the first Catholic to run for President, the dinner has also traditionally included the presidential candidates when it is held in an election year. In 2008, for example, John McCain and Barack Obama (pictured above) were invited by Edward Cardinal Egan, and both accepted. Following this well-established precedent, Timothy Cardinal Dolan has invited Mitt Romney and Barack Obama to attend this year's Smith Dinner, and now Cardinal Dolan is coming under attack from elements of the pro-life movement in the United States because he invited President Obama to the Smith Dinner. I believe that the critics are wrong and should stop their protests of the Cardinal's decision.

Although we must oppose President Obama's pro-death policies with every fiber of our being, it is nonetheless true that he is one of the two candidates for the presidency, and the Church must have open channels of communication with both major parties and their leaders -- including (perhaps especially) the ones with whom we disagree about fundamental matters of justice.

Cardinal Dolan did the proper thing by inviting Barack Obama to this October's Smith Dinner, and those in the pro-life movement who are protesting this decision are doing their movement and the Church no favor. Let it be, friends.

28 July 2012

The Dictatorship of Relativism

On 19 April 2005, the College of Cardinals elected Joseph Ratzinger to follow Blessed Pope John Paul II on the Chair of St. Peter, and on that day he became Pope Benedict XVI. The day before his election to the papacy, Joseph Ratzinger, in his capacity as Dean of the College of Cardinals, celebrated a Mass “Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice” (For Electing the Roman Pontiff) which was the last public event before the beginning of the Conclave in the Sistine Chapel.
During that Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica with the Cardinals concelebrating, Ratzinger preached about the importance of them all understanding the situation of the Church in our time, and he pointed to the principal danger confronting Christianity in the early 21st Century:
“Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine’, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”
The dictatorship of relativism is the means by which those who hate Christianity will attempt to drive Christians from the public square, and this dictatorship, like all dictatorships, will almost certainly lead to fierce persecutions of those who will not submit to its illegitimate rule.
I thought of that this week as I watched the absurd little storm surrounding a Southern fast food chain named Chick-fil-A. The man who founded the company is a serious Christian, and so is his son who now runs the company. The owners of Chick-fil-A have attempted from the modest beginnings of their enterprise to conduct business as Christian gentlemen; for example, their stores are never open on Sunday. It should come as no surprise, then, that these purveyors of delicious chicken sandwiches think that the word marriage means the lifelong bond of one man and one woman. But the mayors of Boston and Chicago, among others, were shocked (Shocked!) to learn that anyone alive today held such primitive, retrograde, bigoted and hateful notions, let alone that they had the temerity to admit such things in public. And that’s when the dictatorship of relativism bared its teeth. Thomas Menino and Rahm Emanuel both declared in public that they would oppose the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain expanding in their cities because the CEO had engaged in hate speech by suggesting that God’s eternal plan for marriage had something to do with the propagation of our species and that no legislature or judge could rearrange the natural order of things by declaring falsehood to be truth.
For now, both of these ideologues have backed off from their overheated rhetoric, and one or two voices in the land have been raised in defense of the First Amendment. But the honest ferocity of the first response of Menino, Emanuel and their fellow travellers should not be forgotten: they wanted to put a Christian businessman out of business because he has “a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church” which they regard as fundamentalism. That is the dictatorship of relativism, and this is how it starts.

21 July 2012

Our Lady of Medjugorje?

Medjugorje is a village located (since the crack-up of Yugoslavia) in Bosnia and Herzegovina but populated almost totally by Croats. Since June 1981, a small group of villagers have claimed that the Blessed Virgin Mary regularly appears to them with messages from heaven, and despite the constant warnings of the local bishop that there is no basis to believe these claims, Medjugorje has become the third most visited pilgrimage site in Europe. Many Catholics of undoubted orthodoxy have been to Medjugorje and reported that they saw there only abundant signs of grace at work in the thousands of pilgrims who come there to pray. And yet ... and yet there are very serious counter-signs also at work in Medjugorje. 

The most serious of these counter-signs is the man who was once the spiritual director of the self-proclaimed visionaries and a champion of the alleged apparitions. His name is Tomislav Vlašić, and he was once a Franciscan priest. He is now a disgraced ex-Catholic and laicized former priest who has taken to shilling New Age nonsense to pay the bills. It turns out that one of the main promoters of belief in the alleged apparitions at Medjugorje is a heretic, a degenerate and probably a sociopath. In 1976, for example, he impregnated a Franciscan sister, whom he convinced to flee to Germany to hide the child. And this was the man who assisted the alleged seers in telling the world that they were receiving messages from the Mother of God.

The partisans of the Medjugorje devotion invariably rebut all objections to these alleged apparitions with an appeal to the abundant spiritual fruits which come to those who make pilgrimage there. But this is not sufficient. Many Muslims and Mormons lead lives of great goodness, but their religions are false. Many Calvinists and Lutherans shame too many Catholics in their devotion to the Lord Jesus, their knowledge of Holy Scripture, and their holiness of life, but much of their doctrine is heretical and they live in separation from the Church of Christ fully and rightly ordered in history. The apparent fruit of holiness in the lives of pilgrims to Medjugorje is simply not evidence that the claims being made by the alleged seers are true, and until and unless the Holy Father makes a definitive judgment on this matter, the only certain guidance we have are the decrees of the Bishop of Mostar, the diocese in which Medjugorje is located. Two successive local bishops have asked that there be no pilgrimages to Medjugorje, and any Catholic who goes there to give credence to the claim of Marian apparitions is doing so against the legitimate authority of the local diocesan pastor.

In March 2010, Pope Benedict XVI created a special commission to investigate everything about Medjugorje and submit a report to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. No further public statements about this matter have been made, so we must assume that the work of this commission is not yet complete. Until the Bishop of Rome makes a determination about this matter, no Catholic should promote devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the presently illicit and presumptuous title of "Our Lady of Medjugorje". 

And beyond that, let us remember that the Christian faith cannot be based upon or guided by visions, locutions, apparitions, or so-called "private revelations" of any kind. When the Church approves locutions or apparitions and only when the Church approves them, these devotions can be useful to some of the faithful as an optional means of enriching their spiritual life, but our faith is given only to the Word of God -- the Word of God Eternal (God the Father's Only-begotten Son), the Word of God Incarnate (the Lord Jesus Christ), and the Word of God Written (the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments). The age of revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle, and no new word will be spoken to the human race because the final and full revelation of the Father's eternal plan of salvation has already been made in and by the Lord Jesus Christ.

20 July 2012

"The Eagle has landed."

On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin floated high above the lifeless surface of the moon in a boxy, four-legged landing vehicle named the Eagle. The radio hissed, and a voice called across space from Mission Control in Houston, a quarter of a million miles away: "You are go for powered descent." An engine fired, and the fragile craft began its downward journey.

It would not go exactly as planned. Alarm signals flashed inside the tiny cabin, warning that Eagle's computer was overloaded. As the spacecraft hurtled toward the surface, engineers in Houston had seconds to decide whether to abort the mission.

"Eagle, you are go for a landing," they directed. The astronauts continued their descent, but when Armstrong looked out the window to study the moon's surface, he realized that they were not where they should be. The computer was supposed to guide the Eagle to a smooth landing area. It had overshot the mark by four miles and was heading toward a crater of jagged boulders.

Another warning light blinked. They were running out of landing fuel. Armstrong took command from the computer. The Eagle scooted over ridges and craters as he searched for a place to set down. The low-fuel signal flashed. There was no turning back now. A cloud of dust rose toward the Eagle. Silence ... and then Neil Armstrong's voice crackled to Earth across the gulf of space: "The Eagle has landed."

A few hours later, Armstrong and then Aldrin stepped onto the moon's surface. Together they planted a US flag. When they departed, they left behind a plaque bearing this message:

JULY 1969, A.D.

19 July 2012

Called to Communion

Called to Communion is a splendid website run by converts to the Catholic Faith from the various parts of Reformed Christianity -- meaning Calvinists of one stripe or another. If you know Presbyterians with questions about Catholicism, please suggest that they visit www.calledtocommunion.com. The essays and commentary are always thoughtful, articulate, charitable, and directed to an exploration of serious theological matters without rancor.

31 March 2012

Religious Freedom and the US Government

Here is the text of my Holy Week letter to the people of St. Mary's, Greenville:

Dear Friends in Christ,

This year our parish will be 160 years old, and as American institutions go, that is a venerable age. But our Church is 2,000 years old, and Christianity stands in continuity with the 2,000 years between the calling of Abraham and the coming of the Lord Jesus. And in the 4,000 year history of Israel and the Church, we have seen empires rise and fall, tyrants come and go, nations be born and die, whole civilizations wax and wane -- all of which means that we can take the long view of history when confronted with the difficulties of any particular day. But taking the long view does not diminish the suffering of those who are right now being persecuted for their faith or reduce the urgency of our obligation always to bear witness to the truth of the Gospel.

There are many places in the world today where being a Christian is to be a target of discrimination, oppression, and violence. More men, women and children died in the 20th century because of their Christian faith than in all the nineteen centuries before, and the the first decade of the 21st century has shown that the making of martyrs goes on and on. We should be grateful that we do not live in a land where churches are blown up, where Christians are murdered in the street or sold into slavery and forced to convert to Islam, or where teaching the Holy Scriptures and celebrating the sacraments of the New Covenant is a crime. Such persecution goes on every day, year in and year out, in almost every place where Islamic sharia or Communist dictatorship is the law of the land, and Christians by the thousands suffer unspeakable torments rather than renounce their Lord and Savior. This is an extreme example of what may be called the “Cost of Discipleship”, and it can serve as an effective inspiration for us to ask what we would sacrifice for the sake of our faith.

Put in this context, our present struggle against the overreaching arrogance of the Federal Government seems a small matter, but it is precisely in such small ways that the persecution of Christians has ever begun. Every Catholic bishop in the United States is united in rejecting the decision by the President and the Secretary of Health and Human Services that would classify as non-religious institutions all of our hospitals, clinics, colleges, and universities simply because they serve people without regard for their religious identity. It is this decision by the present Administration to define our institutions as non-religious that allows the disputed HHS regulation to force the Church to pay for procedures and medications that are intrinsically immoral through the health insurance we provide for our employees. And that is the heart of the arrogance of this disastrous decision: the Federal Government, not the Church, will decide what is and what is not a religious institution.

In the two millennia since the Lord Jesus gave us the Great Commission to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth and celebrate the sacraments until he returns in glory, the Church has encountered opposition of some sort in every time and place. And this is no surprise: Christ warned us that it would be so. But in the Church’s long struggle to secure her liberty and fulfill her divine duty, the United States of America has long stood as a rare example of how people of every faith and no faith can live together free of compulsion from the State. That is until now. Our rare example of religious freedom respected by the State is in grave danger of becoming yet another place where princes, potentates, czars, commissars and imams decide for others what is and what is not a part of their religion. And the main weapon being used against the liberty of the Church in this present fight is one about which Pope Benedict XVI has been warning us for years: the dictatorship of relativism.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Can you imagine these stirring words of our Declaration of Independence being written today by anyone in our government who is responsible for the disputed HHS mandate? The very notion of self-evident truths is trod underfoot by the dictatorship of relativism, and the cultural toxins of skepticism, irony and cynicism have all but excluded any appeal to right reason from public life.

My friends, the Church is not a political party, and the Gospel is not an ideology. We are the children of God by adoption, called into communion with God and with each other in the mystical Body of Christ and charged with the sacred duty to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord to all nations. To fulfill that duty, the Church has ever sought the freedom to conduct apostolates of many kinds: schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, clinics, charitable services, nursing homes, etc. We do these things not because the people we serve are Catholics but because we are Catholics, and no matter whom we serve, the institutions sponsored by the Church are truly religious because it is in obedience to the teaching of the Lord Jesus that we do these things. Insisting on the freedom to conduct our own institutions according to our faith is not an illegitimate imposition of the Church on the State; it is an elemental principle of justice. This simple precept, once a self-evident truth, is now under assault by the Federal Government, and it is our duty to resist this campaign against religious freedom with every means at our disposal. For us, right here and right now, this is part of the Cost of Discipleship.

As we enter Holy Week, let us be mindful of the age-old struggle between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world, so that we may have clarity about which Kingdom claims our first allegiance. The Mass of Palm Sunday opens with an acclamation that helps us find that true allegiance: Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel. Hosanna in the highest.

Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and for ever!

01 January 2012

The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter

Father Jeffrey Steenson,
today named the first Ordinary,
celebrating an Anglican Use Mass
at the Newark Cathedral in June 2010.

In accordance with the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has today erected for the United States a Personal Ordinariate for Anglicans who desire to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving their Anglican patrimony. This new pastoral structure is titled after the symbol of the authority of the Bishop of Rome to teach, sanctify and govern as pastor of the universal Church: the Chair of St. Peter.

The first Ordinary is Father Jeffrey Steenson. Until his reception into the Catholic Church in 2007, Father Steenson was a bishop in the Episcopal Church and had previously served as rector of several traditional parishes in the Episcopal Church, including the Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont, PA where Father George Rutler has once served.

This is but another step in the long process of trying to gather together small groups of Anglicans, both clergy and laity, who desire to become Catholics while retaining their corporate identity as parishes in this new Ordinariate -- essentially a non-territorial diocese. Anglicans anywhere in the United States who desire to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church and preserve their corporate identity should now be in touch with Father Steenson.

The new Ordinariate website is at www.usordinariate.org.