This Sunday begins the Season of Advent and marks the beginning of the new ecclesiastical year. The name Advent comes from adventus, or “coming”, the Latin translation of the Greek term for “second coming”, parousia. The Church invites us to prepare ourselves not only for the celebration of Christmas, but for the Second Coming of Christ. St. Bernard speaks of the three comings of the Lord: In the first coming He was seen dwelling among men, in our flesh and in our weakness; in the final coming He will be seen in glory and majesty. The third lies between the other two, invisible and coming to us in spirit and power-keeping God’s Word (from Office of Readings, Wednesday I Advent).
It is interesting to review an entire season of readings to ascertain where the Church is leading us. Let’s very briefly look at the Gospels from the season of Advent.
“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.” LK 21:34
John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. LK 3:3
The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” LK 3:10-11
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. LK 1:44
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” MT 1:22-23
What can we get from this? The Church, in her infinite Wisdom, knows that by the end of November we have all grown weary by the anxieties of everyday life. It is almost assured that we are so focused on the minutia of our daily routine that we can easily lose sight of the “big picture”. Jesus warns us, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy by the anxieties of daily life”.
Next week John the Baptist will proclaim to all of us, “Repent!” “Repent” means to turn away from sin and dedicate oneself to amending one’s life. But to turn away from something (the anxieties of daily life) necessarily means to turn towards something (God). The Church reminds us to refocus on God and make Him the center of our lives. Once we have turned from the anxieties of daily life and turned toward God as the center of our lives, what next?
Well on the third Sunday of Advent the crowds asked John the Baptist that very question, “Now what?” Very simply the response is, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” Simple. If you say you love God and He is at the center of your life, prove it! Love of neighbor is the external proof that the internal mystery of love of God is real.
Once we have turned away from the anxieties of daily life, turned toward God as the center of our lives, proved it by charitable acts of loving our neighbor, we will leap for joy in the presence of God. Like John the baptist leaping for joy at the sound of the Blessed Mother’s greeting, like David dancing for joy and leaping with abandon before the Ark of the Covenant (2 SAM 6:14), we will experience the joy of the presence of God in our lives.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”
When He humbled Himself to come among us as a human being,
He fulfilled the plan You formed long ago
and opened for us the way to salvation.
Now we watch for the day,
hoping that the salvation promised us
will be ours when Christ our Lord will come again in His glory.
from the Advent Preface
Now that the dust has seemingly settled over the public debate between Congressman Patrick Kennedy and Bishop Thomas Tobin, several things have become quite clear.
- The cause and nature of the initial debate got lost in a sea of peripheral issues and spin.
- Congressman Kennedy irresponsibly throws bombs, distorts facts and retreats.
- Bishop Tobin is very articulate and goes where most bishops fear to tread.
- US bishops have failed to send a clear, consistent message to the faithful.
- The Church is reaping the fruits of forty years of catechesis devoid of substance.
1. Rep. Kennedy put the ball in motion when he chided the bishops’ “so-called” pro-life position for their insistence on health care reform without public funded abortion or an abortion mandate. The debate evolved when the congressman stated he was no less a Catholic for his pro-choice position or disagreement with the hierarchy. Bishop Tobin was compelled as a faithful pastor to stave off scandal by correcting this erroneous claim. This issue had nothing to do with the separation of Church and State or punishing a politician on his vote on a particular piece of legislation, but everything to do with who defines authentic Catholicism. Roman Catholic Identity.
2. Congressman Kennedy fanned the flames, escalated and perpetuated this controversy. Let’s see…from his incendiary remarks which prompted this public debate, his erroneous claim to authentic Catholicism despite his contradictory convictions, his accusation that Bishop Tobin betrayed confidences, his ‘private’ meeting with the bishop at a busy ‘public’ restaurant at Noon, his interview indicating he would no longer discuss his private faith in a public forum, to his public disclosure of a two and a half year old letter from the bishop requesting him to refrain from presenting himself for reception of Holy Communion–all prompted Bishop Tobin to respond. Where is he now? It is evident that Rep. Kennedy’s handlers failed him on this latest controversy.
3. On the few occasions I have heard Bishop Tobin speak I have been very impressed and I would even say “inspired”. “Now THAT was a bishop.” The sad fact is that the majority of bishops would have let Congressman Kennedy’s remarks slide without any comment, or perhaps no public comment. Bishop Tobin said he felt an obligation to address the public statements and misinformation for the sake of Kennedy himself, and to prevent others from being led astray. Bishop Tobin’s press releases, public statements, radio interviews, Chris Matthews and Bill O’Reilly appearances all demonstrated his intelligence, poise (even during Matthews’ disrespectful, condescending, lecturing filibuster) and measured approach in articulating the Church’s teachings. There is a small list of the ‘usual suspects’–bishops who respond publicly (Abps. Burke, Dolan, Chaput, Nienstedt) . It was encouraging to see Bishop Tobin join the ranks of bishops not afraid to defend the Faith and use such public scandal as a moment of instruction.
4. Reaction to Bishop Tobin’s response ran the gamut from those who thought he never should have interfered or went too far, to those who shook fists in the air demanding he excommunicate the congressman. There is no episcopal handbook on how to deal with such issues, therefore it is up to the discretion and devices of each individual bishop who has the authority over his diocese. Confusion arises when there are different responses or even public infighting seen among the bishops on how to handle such issues. There are numerous recent public scandals to cite as examples: President Obama at Notre Dame, Nancy Pelosi on Meet the Press, Sen. Ted Kennedy’s funeral, and now Congressman Patrick Kennedy’s scuffle with Bishop Tobin. Is a Catholic politician’s public voting record on abortion cause for public scandal? Remember that scandal is defined as “conduct causing or encouraging a lapse of Faith or religious obedience in another”. Public scandal requires a public correction and a public repentance. The inability of US bishops to reach a consensus on dealing with public scandal is divisive and the inconsistency or lack of response can itself become scandalous.
5. Why do people have the erroneous impression that they can be proponents of abortion and still remain faithful, devout Catholics? Or how is it possible that people don’t see a fundamental flaw in their reasoning when they espouse the “I’m personally against abortion but would not impose my belief on another” argument? Why is the belief so widespread that it is acceptable to compartmentalize one’s religious beliefs from public conduct, or hold Faith as not only personal but also private. And why is that not seen as contrary to the very heart of Catholicism? Why do people mistakenly cite their consciences to justify dissent from central teachings of the Church, and just about everything for that matter? Why wouldn’t faithful Catholics approach personal disagreements with Church teachings from a disposition of humility and a fundamental assumption that “if I find myself at odds with the Church, I must not have a clear understanding of what the Church is teaching”? There is genius and centuries of wisdom in the Church. As Abp. Fulton Sheen once said, “There are only about 100 people that truly hate the Church, but there are millions who hate what they think the Church is”. The answer to all these questions is simple: lack of education (catechesis). Where is the substance in catechetical education for children and young adults? Where is the adult education? Where is the continuing formation for the clergy? Where is the reinforcement from the pulpit?
So, thank you Congressman Kennedy for unwittingly bringing much needed discussions to a national audience. Thank you Bishop Tobin for having the courage and taking this opportunity to instruct the faithful and challenge the unfaithful. Public scandal requires a public response, lest complacent inaction creates scandal itself.
- Unintended pregnancies account for almost half of all pregnancies.
- Four out of ten unintended pregnancies end in abortion.
- Out of the total number of pregnancies (intended and unintended), 24% are terminated by abortion.
- For women ages 15-44, two out of every hundred have an abortion. Of these, 48% have had one or more abortions previously.
- For women choosing abortion, 52% are under 25. Teenagers account for 19%, and women 20-24 account for 33%.
- As compared to white women, black women are almost four times as likely to have an abortion. For Latino women, the number is 2.5 times.
- Women who have never been married account for 2/3 of all abortions.
- The majority of women choosing abortion are already mothers who have had one or more children. They make up over 60% of all abortions.
- Women who have never used any method of birth control account for 8% of all abortions.
- For women having abortions, 43% describe themselves as Protestant and 27% identify as Catholic.
Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States. Guttmacher Institute May 2006
The Left opposes the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion provisions in healthcare reform. So why doesn’t it oppose the YWCA, United Methodist Church, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis for favoring abortion?
Original post by William Donohue
Getting Nancy Pelosi to accept a health care bill that bans federal funds for abortion was the greatest victory scored by U.S. bishops in a generation. It also unleashed an unprecedented attempt to censor them. Their latest enemy is Geoffrey Stone writing in the Huffington Post.
Stone finds it troubling that the bishops are so vocal. He yearns for a time when JFK was president, a time when separation of church and state met his approval. Perhaps the Chicago law professor forgot about Rev. Martin Luther King, the minister who took to the pulpit and lobbied for civil rights in the name of free speech and religious liberty. Should King have been muzzled as well? Or just today’s bishops?
As the following list discloses, Stone is hardly alone in trying to censor the bishops: Rep. Lynn Woolsey, Rep. Diana DeGette, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, Frances Kissling, Planned Parenthood, Feminist Majority, Catholics for Choice, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the National Organization for Women, and many others favor a gag rule. On Nov. 12, Nancy Snyderman of MSNBC spoke for many when she said that “This is going to be a Pollyannaish statement. The Catholic bishops appearing and having a political voice seems to be a most fundamental violation of church and state.” Brilliant.
The following is a partial list of religious groups that want abortion coverage in the health care bill: Rabbinical Assembly, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, Episcopal Church, Society for Humanistic Judaism, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, Union for Reform Judaism, Central Conference of American Rabbis, North American Federation of Temple Youth, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, Unitarian Universalist, Presbyterian Church (USA), Women of Reform Judaism, Society for Humanistic Judaism, Church of the Brethren Women’s Caucus, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, Lutheran Women’s Caucus, Christian Lesbians Out, YWCA.
So why don’t Stone and company want to gag these groups as well? Let’s face it: they don’t have a principled bone in their collective bodies.
Why am I giving the public ‘dialogue’ between Congressman Kennedy and his Bishop, Thomas Tobin, such attention? This topic has everything to do with our Roman Catholic Identity. More than the public rebuke of dissenting Catholic political figures, the dialogue serves to instruct all Catholics and shed some light on common misapprehensions. There are some real gems here, and it is encouraging to hear a bishop speak with clarity and…spine.
Bishop Tobin appeared as a guest on the WPRO Dan Yorke show this past Wednesday and candidly discussed the public ongoing exchange between himself and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, falling short of calling him an outright liar. But Dan Yorke connected the dots by quoting Kennedy himself in a recap.
Says Rep. Kennedy:
Whenever I’d choose to discuss with him I would hope that it would remain between us, that’s what I’ve been most concerned with.
I’d initially agreed on a meeting with him and provided that we not debate this in public in terms of my personal faith or things of that sort and, unfortunately, he hasn’t kept to that agreement. And that’s been very disconcerting to me. I don’t think this is something that is open for public debate
As I said from the point of view of having him discuss things that I think are of a more personal nature, I think that that’s unfortunate. But I’m, as I’ve said, I’m not going to engage that any more because, like I’ve said, I’m not. That’s not something I brought up and I’d prefer to keep that between us.
What? Bishop Tobin reiterated the fact that his hand was forced by the unwarranted attack by Kennedy and his continued public comments and letters. There was no ‘agreement’ of confidentiality, especially whe the Congressman sent the Bishop an open letter and sent a copy to the Press. The meeting between them which was subsequently ‘postponed’ was to be held at a busy Providence restaurant at Noon today–at the Congressman’s request. How private could this have been? The bishop noted that within ten minutes every satellite truck in Rhode Island would have been there. The fact that any confidences were violated “is preposterous”.
Bishop Tobin fielded questions concerning broader issues of identity, the fallacy of pro-choice catholics, and denying Communion.
Bishop Tobin on being Catholic, “Darnit, it means something!”:
Nobody is forced to be a Catholic. If you freely choose to be a Catholic it means that you believe certain things, you do certain things, you understand and accept the teachings of the church, you understand the disciplines of the Church, you lead a sacramental life. if you cannot do all that in conscience than you should perhaps feel free to go somewhere else. But thats not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to invite people into the Church but at the same time saying, “if you are a Catholic, darnit, it means something”.
Bishop Tobin on what it means to be a Catholic:
That whole question “what does it mean to be a catholic?” it means something you cannot say you’re Catholic and be pro abortion, it’s false advertising you cannot have it both ways.
Should pro-choice catholics be taking communion, going to Church in good faith? What should they be doing?
They should be really examining their conscience, praying really hard and try to understand why the church so consistently and unanimously says abortion is a terrible evil. There’s a reason we say those things because we think it is.
But not telling them to stay out?
No, we’re inviting them in but inviting them in to a real, strong and purified union with the Church–and same thing with Congressman Kennedy. Patrick, please, we’re not trying to drive you further away. Patrick, come back. The doors are open, our arms are open, think about what you’re doing. Congressman this is about your spiritual well-being, your spiritual growth and I want to do everything I can to help that.
Originally posted on Friar Blog:
Two hundred years ago an extraordinary man was born in Leicestershire, Ambrose Philips de Lisle. He was a scion of the ancient De Lisle family, and the founder of Mount St. Bernard’s Abbey. His descendants still come to Mass at Holy Cross. Ambrose de Lisle was a visionary ahead of his time. A convert to the Catholic faith, he dreamed of Christian unity. He wrote a pamphlet in 1876, voicing the idea of a corporate re-union of the Anglican Communion with the Catholic Church, whilst retaining Anglican juridical structures, liturgy and spirituality. When his friend Cardinal John Henry Newman read it, he wrote to him,
“Nothing will rejoice me more than to find that the Holy See considers it safe and promising to sanction some such plan as the Pamphlet suggests. I give my best prayers, such as they are, that some means of drawing to us so many good people, who are now shivering at our gates, may be discovered.”
The plan was doomed to be thwarted in De Lisle’s lifetime. To console him, Newman said:
“It seems to me there must be some divine purpose in it. It often has happened in sacred and in ecclesiastical history, that a thing is in itself good, but the time has not come for it … And thus I reconcile myself to many, many things, and put them into God’s hands. I can quite believe that the conversion of Anglicans may be more thorough and more extended, if it is delayed – and our Lord knows more than we do.”
In our own time, Pope Benedict XVI has rightly been called the ‘Pope of Christian Unity’. Two years ago, the Pope said that in the critical moments of the Church’s history, when divisions arose, the failure to act on the part of Church leaders has helped to allow divisions to form and harden. He observed, ‘This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew.’
It is with this in mind, no doubt, that Pope Benedict has made this unprecedented and overwhelmingly generous response (N.B. the Pope is responding to a request, not enacting his own initiative) to the many requests submitted to him by Anglicans left in dismay within their own Communion. Already such Anglicans are being castigated as misogynist homophobes – an uncharitable, prejudiced aspersion. Some Anglicans see them as traitors; some Catholics see them as less-than-desirable for our Church.
The real issue is one of unity, genuine unity: that those who seek communion with the Barque of Peter should not be left to founder amidst the waves, but be brought safely aboard where Christ is not asleep, but Master of wind and waves, standing on Peter’s deck. The Pope has shown that real ecumenism is not about courteous disagreement trying to increase each other’s insipidity until one church cannot be distinguished from another in a cosmic-beige mélange. No, the call of the Gospel still holds: one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism. These are our brothers and sisters, shivering at our gates, to be received as brothers and sisters, and not as traitors or second-class Catholics.
The Dominican Order has a small role in all this. On 21 February this year, our brother Fr. Augustine DiNoia, O.P., then Under-secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, asked all Dominicans to pray the Litany of Dominican Saints from February 22 (the Feast of the Chair of St Peter) till March 25 (the Solemnity of the Annunciation) for an at-the-time undisclosed intention – it was for this intention. It is no wonder that in our history people have remarked, ‘Beware the Litanies of the Dominicans!’
Fr. Leon Pereira, O.P.