When I first entered high school seminary in 1962, seminary life was still very conservative, strict and disciplined. The Seminary Rule was second in importance only to the Bible itself. “The Rule is the disciplinary means the seminary uses to mold all the individual characteristics and personal talents of seminarians into the likeness of Christ . . . The importance of strict observance of the Seminary Rule cannot be over-emphasized,” the Rule boasted. The Rule was enforced by a well-defined demerit system which “is similar to that used at West Point.”
Each hour of the day was programmed for us and was clearly announced by the omnipresent bell. And so for example, on weekdays, the rising bell rang at 5:50; at 6:05 the chapel bell sounded, and at 6:10 morning prayers and Holy Mass began. If a student wasn’t in his assigned place in the chapel at that moment, a demerit was issued. And so it went all day, until the bell sounded night prayer at 9:00 and “lights out” at 9:45.
Along with the daily routine, just about every other aspect of seminary life was tightly controlled: our vacation time, visiting days, free days, and where we could go and what we could do; our attire – cassocks and surplices in chapel, coats and ties in public areas of the building, and standard-issue gym shorts and shirts for recreation; our telephone calls were severely limited and our mail, both outgoing and incoming, was subject to inspection.
Some students chafed under the strict discipline of the seminary and hated the experience. Personally, it didn’t bother me. In fact, I enjoyed seminary life and thrived under its discipline and expectations.
But then the Second Vatican Council came along, the windows of the Church were thrown open, and by the time I arrived at the North American College in Rome, seminary life had changed dramatically. Most minor seminaries had disappeared and major seminaries were completely different.
In the major seminary of the 1970s and 80s, there were very few rules and expectations. The emphasis was on personal freedom and accountability. You were expected to attend Mass and class, but that was about it. Other hours of prayer – morning prayer and evening prayer for example, were said privately, if at all. Devotions were deemed old-fashioned, and the Rosary was relegated to little old ladies.
A seminarian could move about as he wished with few questions asked; he could go out every night, party till midnight, and travel at will. Because the house was comprised of adults, alcohol was free-flowing and certain rooms became party rooms. In some major seminaries, students were permitted to have part-time secular jobs, and there were few limitations on social relationships. Boundaries between faculty and students disappeared as everyone wanted to be part of the action. Spiritual direction was encouraged, but not supervised, and personal formation programs were just beginning.
Most of the baby-boomer priests, now in their fifties and sixties attended seminaries like this and, for the most part, believe that the more open experience was beneficial to their growth and maturity. And, in fact, lots of fine priests came through this liberal system.
But the story doesn’t end there, because now, in the last twenty years or so, the pendulum has swung again and seminaries have become more structured and conservative.
In a typical seminary today there are more rules and expectations; there’s a lot of structure and discipline. Masses and classes are mandatory and the public recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours is expected. Devotions have returned in force, the Rosary is part of the daily routine, and the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is a litmus test for orthodoxy.
Seminarians are far more “conservative” than their immediate predecessors. They embrace ritual, love the Pope, willingly accept the teachings and disciplines of the Church, display the Roman Collar and even – gasp! – wear the traditional cassock. Seminarians today are expected to participate in a robust program of spiritual direction and human formation. Even getting into the seminary these days requires serious psychological testing – a requirement I’m not sure I would have passed in my day, or even now!
Some older priests are wary of the new breed of seminarians and young priests. The veterans think the young guys are regressing to a pre-conciliar Church. One senior priest told me recently that he’s not sure the young priests will be able to relate to the laity because they’re “too clerical.” Other priests encourage me to assign our seminarians to more “liberal seminaries.” Of course there are no “liberal seminaries” anymore, as seminaries today are either conservative or ultra-conservative.
From my personal perspective, however, I’m proud of and thrilled with our crop of seminarians and young priests. I find them to be intelligent, talented, balanced and personable. They’re in love with the Lord, generous with their gifts, and anxious to serve the Church. They’re not perfect, of course, and are sometimes a little eccentric. (Now there’s a new phenomenon in the Church – eccentric priests!) But, I’m really excited about where the Spirit is leading the Church and I just hope I’m around long enough to see these young guys in action.
Do I hear an “Amen”!
Some light fare for Friday–
New York Magazine featured a great article on Archbishop Dolan of NYC entitled Archbishop of Charm. The writer captures Dolan well: “He is a glad-hander and a backslapper, a tall, energetic, portly Irish-Catholic lug who likes smoking cigars and sipping Jameson’s. He makes a point of saying he’d be far happier talking to me at a parish fish fry than here, jamming himself sideways into an ornate, narrow chair.”
Here are some memorable quotes from the article:
On the Church
He once heard [Pope] Benedict say, “The church is all about yes, yes, not no, no.” “And I thought, Bingo! You know, the church is the one who dreams, the church is the one who constantly has the vision, the church is the one that’s constantly saying ‘Yes!’ to everything that life and love and sexuality and marriage and belief and freedom and human dignity—everything that that stands for, the church is giving one big resounding ‘Yes!’ The church founded the universities, the church was the patron of the arts, the scientists were all committed Catholics. And that’s what we have to recapture: the kind of exhilarating, freeing aspect. I mean, it wasn’t Ronald Reagan who brought down the Berlin Wall. It was Karol Wojtyła. I didn’t make that up: Mikhail Gorbachev said that.”
“I guess one of the things that frustrates me pastorally,” he adds, “is that there’s this caricature of the church—of being this oppressive, patriarchal, medieval, out-of-touch naysayer—where the opposite is true.”
On Gay Marriage
“If you have been gay your whole life and feel that that’s the way God made you, God bless you,” Dolan says. “But I would still say that that doesn’t mean you should act on that. I would happen to say, for instance, that God made me with a pretty short temper. Now, I still think God loves me, but I can’t act on that. I would think that God made me with a particular soft spot in my heart for a martini. Now, I’d better be careful about that.”
So, I ask, is being gay a character flaw?
“Yeah, it would be,” Dolan says—his smile broadening. “And we are all born with certain character flaws, aren’t we?”
But this leaves gay men and lesbians no choice but to form sexual partnerships that will always be seen as sinful. Isn’t that unfair?
Dolan takes a moment to think this over. “There’s no option,” he agrees, still smiling. “But I don’t know if that’s unfairness.”
Sex, he goes on to say, is not a human right, even if modern culture has made it appear that way. But this, he adds, is actually good news. His eyes light up. He seems excited—both by what he’s saying and by the fresh way he’s found to say it.
“The church—this hopeless romantic that she is—holds that sexual love is so exalted that it is the very mirror of the passion and the intimate excitement that God has for us and our relationship. We actually believe that when a man and a woman say ‘I do’ forever, that our love will be faithful, forever freeing, liberating, life-giving. We believe they mean it and they can do it! That’s exciting, that’s enriching, that’s ennobling. That’s a big, fat yes—yes!”
Life News reports that a Pro-Life watch group has researched the new Swine Flu vaccine and found it was not created using cells from aborted fetuses–a method used in creating many vaccines available today. Yes, that is correct, many vaccines are manufactured using cell lines harvested from aborted babies. Here is a chart of vaccines manufactured using such fetal cells. Doctors would ask the parent if their child had an allergy to eggs before administering measles and chicken pox vaccines. Why? Because the vaccines were created using a chicken egg cell derivative. How did the pharmaceutical companies address this? They used cells from aborted fetuses. Problem solved.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a statement on this very subject in response to a letter seeking clarification on the morality of immunizing children with such vaccines where no alternative exists. This horror came to my attention several months as I was researching vaccines that my children were required to receive. I became aware of an entire industry based on the sale of baby parts. Read here. Who would have thought that something as ‘routine’ or elemental as a vaccinating your child would be a moral issue?
God our Father, you lovingly knit us in our mothers’ womb. Grant that each human embryo will be respected as a human being, and not dismissed as a product to be manipulated or destroyed. Grant us the courage and conviction to be your voice for our sisters and brothers at the very earliest stages of their development, and for all defenseless unborn children.
Jesus, Divine Healer, foster in those conducting medical research a commitment to finding cures in ways that respect these little ones and all your vulnerable children.
Holy Spirit, grant us the wisdom to develop morally sound treatments for conditions now thought to be incurable. Help us persevere in defending human life while alleviating suffering.
Show mercy to all who have cooperated in killing our tiniest brothers and sisters. Bring them and all who support destructive embryo research to true conversion. Grant them the ability to see the immeasurable dignity of all human beings even in the first days of life.
Father, we ask this in Jesus’ name, through the Holy Spirit. Amen.
From the Vatican News Service today comes highlights of Pope Benedict’s address to the Bishops of Brazil, who just completed their “ad limina” visit. Commenting on the various roles in the Church, the Pope explained how “the particular identity of priests and laity must be seen in the light of the essential difference between priestly ministry and the ‘common priesthood’. Hence it is important to avoid the secularization of clergy and the ‘clericalization’ of the laity”.
“In this perspective the lay faithful must undertake to give expression in real life – also through political commitment – to the Christian view of anthropology and the social doctrine of the Church. While priests must distance themselves from politics in order to favour the unity and communion of all the faithful, thus becoming a point of reference for everyone”.
“The lack of priests does not justify a more active and abundant participation of the laity. The truth is that the greater the faithful’s awareness of their own responsibilities within the Church, the clearer becomes the specific identity and inimitable role of the priest as pastor of the entire community, witness to the authenticity of the faith, and dispenser of the mysteries of salvation in the name of Christ the Head”.
“The function of the clergy is essential and irreplaceable in announcing the Word and celebrating the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. … For this reason it is vital to ask the Lord to send workers for His harvest; and it is necessary that priests express joy in their faithfulness to their identity”.
“The shortage of priests must not come to be considered as a normal or typical state of affairs for the future”. In this context he encouraged the prelates “to combine efforts to encourage new priestly vocations and find the pastors your dioceses need, helping one another so that all of you have better-trained and more numerous priests to support the life of faith and the apostolic mission”.
Pope Benedict once again focused on St. John Vianney as a model for priests. In this Year For Priests, remember to keep your parish pastors and priests in your daily prayers. Thank them for their commitment and offer them encouragement to continually renew their awareness of their identity, dignity, responsibility, and irreplaceable role.
The fruit of Prayer is Faith.
The fruit of Faith is Love.
The fruit of Love is Service.
The fruit of Service is Peace.
Developed by St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621)
- Catholicity . The Church’s Name, Catholic, Universal, and world wide, and not confined to any particular nation or people.
- Antiquity. In tracing her ancestry directly to Jesus Christ.
- Constant Duration . In lasting substantially unchanged for so many centuries.
- Extensiveness. In the number of her loyal members.
- Episcopal Succession . Of her Bishops from the first Apostles at the Last Supper to the present hierarchy.
- Doctrinal Agreement. Of her doctrine with the teaching of the ancient Church.
- Unity . Of her members among themselves, and with their visible head, the Roman Pontiff.
- Holiness. Of doctrine in reflecting the holiness of God.
- Efficacy of Doctrine . In its power to sanctify believers, and inspire them to great moral achievement.
- Holiness of Life . Of the Church’s representative writers and defenders.
- Miracles . Worked in the Church and under the Church’s auspices.
- The gift of Prophecy . Found among the Church’s saints and spokesmen.
- Opposition. Aroused On the Same Ground As Christ Was Opposed
- The Unhappy End. Of the Church’s Enemies
- The Temporal Peace and Earthly Happiness. Of those who live by the Church’s teaching and defend her interests.
|St Augustine’s sermon On Pastors|
When the Lord had explained what these bad shepherds seek, he also said what they neglect. The defects of the sheep are widespread. There are a very few healthy, fat sheep – that is, those that are made strong by feeding on the truth, by God’s gift making good use of the pastures – but they are not safe from the bad shepherds. Those shepherds not only do not look after the sick, the weak, the wandering and the lost, but they do as much harm as they can to the strong and sleek among the flock. Those sheep survive – by the mercy of God they survive – but the bad shepherds do what they can to kill them.
You may ask how they do this. By living badly, by setting a bad example. There was a reason why the servants of God, eminent among shepherds, were told In everything you do make yourself an example to them of working for good, and Be a model for the faithful. Often even a strong sheep, seeing its leader living a wicked life, will turn from contemplation of the laws of the Lord to the behaviour of the man and say to itself, “if my leader lives thus, who am I that I should do things differently?” In that way the shepherd is killing the strong sheep: and if the strong, then what of the rest? Even if their strength did not come from his care – even if they were strong and healthy before he saw them – still he is killing him by his evil life.
I say this to your loving kindness, I say it again: even if the sheep are living strong in the word of the Lord, even if they follow what their Lord has told them: Do what they say; but what they do, do not do yourselves, whoever lives wickedly in the sight of the people is a murderer in so far as he is able. Let him not flatter himself that his victim is not dead. The victim is not dead but the man is still a murderer. When a man lusts after a woman then even if she remains chaste he is still an adulterer. The Lord’s judgement is clear and true: If a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. He has not come to her in his bedroom but in the interior bedroom of his heart he is already in the throes of passion with her.
And so it is that anyone who lives wickedly in the sight of those over whom he has authority is killing them, even the strong ones, as far as he is able. Whoever imitates him dies and whoever does not imitate him lives, but as far as he himself is concerned he is killing them all. As the Lord says, You are killing the fattest sheep but you do not feed my flock.
In an interview published yesterday by The Washington Post, readers got a glimpse into how pro-abortion Catholic politician, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, justifies her position on this most fundamental issue concerning the sanctity of human life.
Recall that Sebelius publicly professes to be a faithful Catholic yet is one of the most strident abortion rights advocates in government. In May of 2008, due to the public scandal her abortion advocacy created, she was asked to refrain from receiving Communion by her local bishop, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas.
Following is an excerpt from the interview:
MS. ROMANO: You are pro-choice.
SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Yes.
MS. ROMANO: Do you think that the federal government should do some federal funding of abortions, personally?
SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Well, the President has made it pretty clear that Congress and the new health insurance plan will not provide federal funds for abortions.
MS. ROMANO: Well, I know that. I was asking you what you thought.
SECRETARY SEBELIUS: I am the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and I will support the President’s proposal moving forward.
MS. ROMANO: You are also a pro-choice Catholic, and I was reading some stories out of your home state recently where one of the bishops took an action. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Well, the Archbishop in the Kansas City area did not approve of my conduct as a public official and asked that I not present myself for communion.
MS. ROMANO: What did you think about that?
SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Well, it was one of the most painful things I have ever experienced in my life, and I am a firm believer in the separation of church and state, and I feel that my actions as a parishioner are different than my actions as a public official and that the people who elected me in Kansas had a right to expect me to uphold their rights and their beliefs even if they did not have the same religious beliefs that I had. And that’s what I did: I took an oath of office and I have taken an oath of office in this job and will uphold the law.
MS. ROMANO: Do you continue to take communion?
SECRETARY SEBELIUS: I really would prefer not to discuss with you. That’s really a personal—thank you.
We’ve seen this argument before and I’d like to parse it more thoroughly in the future. But for now, notice how her claim to uphold the rights and beliefs of her constituents fails to include the rights and beliefs of those opposed to abortion and the unborn themselves. Equally disturbing is the understanding of the right to life as a religious belief, where she feels in good conscience she cannot impose her religious belief on non-believers. But we are not talking about legislating the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we are talking about the most fundamental of human rights–the human right of life itself.
Regarding the notion of separation of church and state as pertaining to actions as parishioner versus politician, I cite an address by Archbishop Charles Chaput given to ENDOW in Denver, Colorado, OCT. 17, 2008:
The “separation of Church and state” does not mean — and it can never mean — separating our Catholic faith from our public witness, our political choices and our political actions. That kind of separation would require Christians to deny who we are; to repudiate Jesus when he commands us to be “leaven in the world” and to “make disciples of all nations.” That kind of separation steals the moral content of a society. It’s the equivalent of telling a married man that he can’t act married in public. Of course, he can certainly do that, but he won’t stay married for long.
Published: Friday, September 4, 2009
The media’s obsession with salvation-through-latex in the matter of AIDS prevention in Africa so dominated the coverage of Pope Benedict XVI’s March pilgrimage to Cameroon and Angola that one of the most impressive addresses of the pontificate was virtually ignored.
Delivered to the Muslim leaders of Cameroon at the apostolic nunciature in Yaounde on March 19, Benedict’s concise remarks represented perhaps the most refined statement of the point the Pope has been making since his September 2006 Regensburg Lecture sent the world press into another tailspin.
Here are the key passages:
“My friends, I believe a particularly urgent task of religion today is to unveil the vast potential of human reason, which is itself God’s gift and which is elevated by revelation and faith. Belief in the one God, far from stunting our capacity to understand ourselves and the world, broadens it. Far from setting us against the world, it commits us to it.
“We are called to help others see the subtle traces and mysterious presence of God in the world which he has marvelously created and continually sustains with his ineffable and all-embracing love. Although his infinite glory can never be directly grasped by our finite minds in this life, we nonetheless catch glimpses of it in the beauty that surrounds us.
“When men and women allow the magnificent order of the world and the splendor of human dignity to illumine their hearts, they discover that what is ‘reasonable’ extends far beyond what mathematics can calculate, logic can deduce, and scientific experimentation can demonstrate; it includes the goodness and innate attractiveness of upright and ethical living made known to us in the very language of creation.
“This insight prompts us to seek all that is right and just, to step outside the restricted sphere of our own self-interest and act for the good of others. Genuine religion thus widens the horizon of human understanding and stands at the base of any authentically human culture. It rejects all forms of violence and totalitarianism: not only on principles of faith, but also of right reason. Indeed, religion and reason mutually reinforce one another since religion is purified and structured by reason, and reason’s full potential is unleashed by revelation and faith.”
For three years now, the Holy Father has been quietly insisting that the problem of jihadist terrorism and the lethal threat it poses, both to the West and to Muslims of moderate temperament, is rooted in the detachment of faith from reason. Cut that cord theologically, and you end up with a God of sheer willfulness who can command anything, including the murder of innocents. Tighten the cord that binds faith and reason in a mutually supportive synthesis and the religious case for jihadist terrorism collapses of its own irrationality.
No one knows why Islam, which in the early Middle Ages created cultures open to philosophical inquiry and respectful of the canons of reason, underwent what seems to have been a kind of intellectual shut-down, so that by the 14th century the wellsprings of intellectual imagination had largely dried up throughout the Islamic world, leaving only the endless exegesis of Islamic law by Muslim lawyers.
Whatever its causes, however, this desiccation was a crucial factor in creating the irrationalism of contemporary jihadism, embodied in the Taliban slogan, “Throw reason to the dogs — it stinks of corruption.”
It would be helpful if western governments took this history seriously — and took the Pope’s analysis of the problem of faith and reason seriously. It is not government’s task to foster the kind of interreligious dialogue implied by Benedict’s speech in Yaounde: an interreligious dialogue that aims to understand revelation through reason, thus opening up the prospects of a joint exploration of the “splendor of human dignity” and the implications of that dignity for religious freedom and the governance of just societies.
On the other hand, governments that don’t recognize that the detachment of faith from reason defines the fault-line between the jihadists and the rest of us are likely to misread what remains a mortal threat, eight years after 9/11.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
“Those priests who approach the altar without dignity stain the bread, which is the body of Christ. Only those who are spiritually united to Christ can worthily receive His Eucharistic Body; in any other case, eating His flesh and drinking His blood would not be beneficial, but harmful”.
There has been much “flap” about the funeral of Senator Kennedy, some justified but most ridiculous. Aside from the ‘strange’ liturgy, recited Mass parts, abominable prayers of petition, what follows represents the most measured analysis of the whole affair, By Cardinal O’Malley of Boston.
From Cardinal Sean’s Blog
Saturday was the 39th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, at St. Augustine’s Church in Pittsburgh by Bishop John B. McDowell, who is still going strong today. In the Church’s calendar, the feast day for August 29 is the Beheading of John the Baptist. People usually take note when I tell them that I was professed to religious life on Bastille Day, July 14, and ordained on the feast of the Beheading. Not that I am superstitious.
On Saturday morning I attended the funeral Mass for Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Father Donald Monan, S.J., former president of Boston College, celebrated the Mass and Father Mark Hession, pastor of Our Lady of Victories in Centerville, preached the homily.
The music was outstanding with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus enriching the liturgy along with mezzo-soprano Susan Graham who later sang an absolutely striking rendition of Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” Cellist Yo-Yo Ma graced us with his beautiful solo performance of Bach and later joined Placido Domingo, who sang the “Panis Angelicus.” Placido has a superb voice. I told him how much I like the Zarzuela, the Spanish classical musical theater productions. His family had a troupe that presented Zarzuelas in Mexico and he promised to arrange a performance.
The venue for the funeral Mass was Mission Church, the magnificent Redemptorist Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Senator Kennedy prayed often in this church when his daughter, Kara, was stricken with cancer. It is a church where countless faithful have gone to pray and ask for healing, grace and forgiveness.
In light of these themes, I wish to address our Catholic faithful who have voiced both support and disappointment at my having presided at the Senator’s funeral Mass.
Needless to say, the Senator’s wake and Catholic funeral were controversial because of the fact that he did not publically support Catholic teaching and advocacy on behalf of the unborn. Given the profound effect of Catholic social teaching on so many of the programs and policies espoused by Senator Kennedy and the millions who benefitted from them, there is a tragic sense of lost opportunity in his lack of support for the unborn. To me and many Catholics it was a great disappointment because, had he placed the issue of life at the centerpiece of the Social Gospel where it belongs, he could have multiplied the immensely valuable work he accomplished.
The thousands of people who lined the roads as the late Senator’s motorcade travelled from Cape Cod to Boston and the throngs that crowded the Kennedy Library for two days during the lying in repose, I believe, were there to pay tribute to these many accomplishments rather than as an endorsement of the Senator’s voting record on abortion.
The crowds also were there to pay tribute to the Kennedy family as a whole. On the national political landscape, if Barack Obama broke the glass ceiling of the presidency for African Americans, Jack Kennedy broke it for American Catholics.
As a young lad, I saw photographs of both Pope John XXIII and President John Kennedy hanging in the thatched cottages of County Mayo and heard the Gaelic greeting, “God and Mary be with you.” Three of the Kennedy brothers died in service of our country in the prime of life. And Eunice Shriver, who died just a few weeks ago, was an outspoken defender of the unborn and an apostle of the Gospel of Life. She taught us all how to love special children and to make room for everyone at the table of life. In 1992, Eunice petitioned her party’s convention to consider “a new understanding” of the issue, “one that does not pit mother against child,” but instead seeks “policies that responsibly protect and advance the interest of mothers and their children, both before and after birth.”
Much of what is noble in the politics and work of the Kennedys had its origins in the bedrock of the faith of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. As a young woman she had a profound experience of God’s love that transformed her life. She strove to communicate that faith to her large clan. Since the time of her funeral Mass I have kept her memorial prayer card, inscribed with Rose Kennedy’s own words:
“If God were to take away all His blessings, health, physical fitness, wealth, intelligence, and leave me but one gift, I would ask for faith – for with faith in Him and His goodness, mercy, love for me, and belief in everlasting life, I believe I could suffer the loss of my other gifts and still be happy – trustful, leaving all to His inscrutable Providence.”
There are those who objected, in some cases vociferously, to the Church’s providing a Catholic funeral for the Senator. In the strongest terms I disagree with that position. At the Senator’s interment on Saturday evening, with his family’s permission, we learned of details of his recent personal correspondence with Pope Benedict XVI. It was very moving to hear the Senator acknowledging his failing to always be a faithful Catholic, and his request for prayers as he faced the end of his life. The Holy Father’s expression of gratitude for the Senator’s pledge of prayer for the Church, his commendation of the Senator and his family to the intercession of the Blessed Mother, and his imparting the Apostolic Blessing, spoke of His Holiness’ role as the Vicar of Christ, the Good Shepherd who leaves none of the flock behind.
As Archbishop of Boston, I considered it appropriate to represent the Church at this liturgy out of respect for the Senator, his family, those who attended the Mass and all those who were praying for the Senator and his family at this difficult time. We are people of faith and we believe in a loving and forgiving God from whom we seek mercy.
Advocating for the dignity of life is central to my role as a priest and a bishop. One of my greatest satisfactions in my ministry thus far was helping to overturn the abortion laws in Honduras. The person who answered my call for help with that effort was Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who had been a prominent leader in NARAL and the abortion rights movement. His own change of heart led Dr. Nathanson from a practice of providing abortions to becoming one of the most eloquent exponents of the pro-life movement.
Helen Alvaré, who is one of the most outstanding pro-life jurists, a former Director of the Bishops´ Pro-life Office and a long standing consultant to the USCCB Committee for Pro-Life Activities, has always said that the pro-life movement is best characterized by what it is for, not against. We are for the precious gift of life, and our task is to build a civilization of love. We must show those who do not share our belief about life that we care about them. We will stop the practice of abortion by changing the law, and we will be successful in changing the law if we change people’s hearts. We will not change hearts by turning away from people in their time of need and when they are experiencing grief and loss.
At times, even in the Church, zeal can lead people to issue harsh judgments and impute the worst motives to one another. These attitudes and practices do irreparable damage to the communion of the Church. If any cause is motivated by judgment, anger or vindictiveness, it will be doomed to marginalization and failure. Jesus’ words to us were that we must love one another as He loves us. Jesus loves us while we are still in sin. He loves each of us first, and He loves us to the end. Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the Church, for our proclamation of the Truth is hindered when we are divided and fighting with each other.
President Obama and three former presidents attended Senator Kennedy’s funeral. I had the opportunity to speak briefly with President Obama, to welcome him to the Basilica and to share with him that the bishops of the Catholic Church are anxious to support a plan for universal health care, but we will not support a plan that will include a provision for abortion or could open the way to abortions in the future. The President was gracious in the short time we spoke, he listened intently to what I was saying.
Democrats and Republicans sat side by side in the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, praying for Senator Kennedy and his family. It is my sincere hope that all people who long to promote the cause of life will pray and work together to change hearts, to bring about an increased respect for life, and to change laws so as to make America a safe place for all, including the unborn.
Good thing we don’t mix religion and politics anymore.
By Mona Charen
Well, thank Heaven George W. Bush is no longer president! Gosh, all of that mixing of religion and politics darn near subverted our Constitution — which, as all good liberals know enshrines the “wall of separation” between church and state.
What? That phrase doesn’t appear in the Constitution? No matter. Democrats know that conservative Republicans, particularly Christians, are dangerous religious fanatics.
When Democrats invoke the Almighty, though, it’s altogether different. Religion in a Democrat is evidence of deep moral commitment, even of greatness. Many of the eulogies to Teddy Kennedy mentioned his “quiet Catholic faith.” His self-identified favorite parts of Scripture, we were told, were “Matthew 25 through 35: ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat, and thirsty and you gave me to drink.’”
The Democrats, perhaps as a political Hail Mary pass in light of the resistance health-care reform has encountered, are now hitting the religion angle pretty hard. At a Tennessee fundraiser over the weekend (at which Bill Clinton arrived early — a modern miracle if you’re looking for one), the reunited team of Clinton and Al Gore pushed health-care reform as a “moral imperative.” Playing off the Kennedy eulogies, Gore invoked the Christian obligation to care for “the least of these” as the force behind H.R. 3200.
President Obama too has donned the preacher’s mantle. Speaking to a coalition of 30 faith-based groups, he thundered that opponents of health-care reform were “frankly, bearing false witness.” He then offered a religious justification for his policy preference that somehow failed to make liberal Democrats uncomfortable about church/state entanglement: “These are all fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation: that is, that we look out for one another; that is, I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper. And in the wealthiest nation in the world right now we are neglecting to live up to that call.”
But the president really hit his stride when he spoke by conference call to about a thousand mostly Reform rabbis, asking for their support of health-care reform when they address their congregations at the upcoming High Holiday services. As Tevi Troy blogged on National Review Online, the Jewish New Year observance features a prayer called U’netana tokef which reads, in part, “On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the Earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die . . . but repentance, prayer, and charity can remove the evil of the decree.”
According to Rabbi Jack Moline of Alexandria, Va., who Twittered the event but later removed his Tweets from the Internet, President Obama referenced this prayer and then told the rabbis that “I am going to need your help” in getting health-care reform passed. “We are God’s partners in matters of life and death,” the president added.
One cannot even fathom the sort of media firestorm that would have erupted if someone like Sarah Palin had said that. But beyond the blazing double standard, does President Obama really want to venture this deep into moralizing? This is treacherous ground for him. For one thing, a man who is already known for his messiah complex ought to choose his words more carefully. Religious people may think of themselves as striving to do God’s will, but declaring yourself God’s partner is a just a tad presumptuous. Besides, there are very good reasons to believe that Obama’s health reform would lead to worse outcomes, not improved care. More particularly, the administration has recently been drawn into controversy (rightly or wrongly) over “death panels” and also over the Veterans Affairs department’s endorsement of a pamphlet that seemed to encourage the elderly and frail to consider whether their lives were really worth extending and/or whether they were “a burden” to their families. In light of that, some may hear a degree of menace in the phrase “God’s partners.”
But above all, President Obama has previously told us that questions about life were “above his pay grade.” He has now pivoted to claim that his health-care reform is a matter of life and death. If he is now going to invoke religious authority, his opponents are entitled to recall not only that Barack Obama has a perfect pro-abortion voting record, but also that just a few years ago he spearheaded opposition to legislation that would have simply required that an infant who accidentally survived an abortion be given medical attention.
Little is known of St. Giles (Aegidus in Latin records) except that he may have been born a wealthy aristocratic Greek. When his parents died, Giles used his fortune to help the poor. He became a worker of miracles, and to avoid followers and adulation, he left Greece c. 683 for France where he lived as a hermit in a cave in the deep forests by River Rhône, the mouth of which was guarded by a thick thorn bush. He lived a lifestyle so impoverished that, legend says, God sent a hind to him to nourish him with her milk.
One day after he had lived there for several years in meditation, a royal hunting party chased the hind into Giles’ cave. One hunter shot an arrow into the thorn bush hoping to hit the deer, but hit Giles in the leg instead, crippling him (Some legends have it that the arrow pierced his hand or his arm as he held onto the deer to protect her). The king sent doctors to care for the Saint’s wound, and though Giles begged to be left alone, the king came often to see him.
From this his fame as sage and miracle worker spread, and would-be followers gathered near the cave. The French king, because of his admiration, built the Monastery of Saint Gilles du Gard at the end of the 11th Century for these followers on the pilgrimage route from Arles to St. James of Compostela in the north of Spain. Giles became its first Abbot, establishing his own discipline there. A small town grew up around the Monastery. When Giles died, his grave became a shrine and place of pilgrimage; the Monastery later became a Benedictine house.