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Bishop Tobin

Providence’s Bishop Tobin on the Passage of Civil Unions in Rhode Island

Late in the legislative session and on the coattails of New York’s redefining marriage, the Rhode Island Senate passed civil union legislation this past Wednesday.  Governor Chafee, who made “same-sex marriage” a priority in his inauguration speech, has promised to quickly sign the bill into law.  Bishop Thomas Tobin has not been silent on the fight against “same-sex marriage” and was instrumental in rallying Rhode Island Catholics against its passage.  Here is his statement issued after the passage of civil unions:

I am deeply disappointed that Rhode Island will establish civil unions in our state. The concept of civil unions is a social experiment that promotes an immoral lifestyle, is a mockery of the institution of marriage as designed by God, undermines the well-being of our families, and poses a threat to religious liberty.

In this context it is my obligation to remind Catholics of the teachings of the Church on this matter. First, the Church continues to have respect and love for persons with same-sex attraction; they are indeed children of God and our brothers and sisters in the human family. We pray for their well-being and offer them spiritual guidance and pastoral care. We also extend our love and support to families of homosexual persons who sometimes struggle with this difficult emotional issue.

At the same time, the Church reminds its members that homosexual activity is contrary to the natural law and the will of God and, therefore, is objectively sinful. Persons with same-sex attraction are required to live the Christian virtues of chastity and modesty, as all persons are. The importance of these virtues is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures and in the constant tradition of the Church.

Because civil unions promote an unacceptable lifestyle, undermine the faith of the Church on holy matrimony, and cause scandal and confusion, Catholics may not participate in civil unions. To do so is a very grave violation of the moral law and, thus, seriously sinful. A civil union can never be accepted as a legitimate alternative to matrimony.

Can there be any doubt that Almighty God will, in His own time and way, pass judgment upon our state, its leaders and citizens, for abandoning His commands and embracing public immorality? I encourage Catholics to pray for God’s patience, mercy and forgiveness in these distressing times.

Rediscovering Courage and Conviction

Originally published in The Catholic World Report
An American bishop with a penchant for plain speech explains how—and why—he has become involved in public controversies.
Interview by Jim Graves
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, was born and reared in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is the youngest of four children from an observant Catholic home, and his father was a manager at Sears, Roebuck & Co.
Tobin was attracted to the priesthood from a young age, and remembers pretending to celebrate Mass at home as a small child. “God was interested in having me be a priest,” he recalled. “And it was nourished by the Catholic faith in our household.”
Tobin has fond memories of the priests and Benedictine nuns who were his teachers at the Catholic schools in which he was enrolled as a child. He attended seminaries both in Pennsylvania and Rome, and was ordained a priest in 1973. In 1992 he was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and went on to serve as bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio from 1996 to 2005, when he became the eighth bishop of Providence.
Bishop Tobin has been an outspoken defender of Catholic teaching, and has tangled with prominent political figures over such hot-button issues as abortion and same-sex marriage. He regularly pens a column, “Without a Doubt,” for his diocesan newspaper, and has written two books on faith, Without a Doubt: Bringing Faith to Life and Effective Faith: Faith that Makes a Difference. He recently spoke with CWR.
CWR: You have been a leader against the effort to legalize same-sex marriage in your state of Rhode Island. Who is behind this effort, and what arguments do you make in opposition to them?
Bishop Thomas Tobin: Rhode Island is a very liberal state politically. The vast majority of our General Assembly in both houses are Democrats. The question of gay marriage has been on the horizon for many years. Fortunately, in recent years, we had a governor, Governor Donald Carcieri, who promised to veto it.  Governor Carcieri is a practicing Catholic. Also, both our previous Speaker of the House and the president of the Senate kept the lid on same-sex marriage in the General Assembly.
That scenario has changed.

Our newly elected governor, Lincoln Chafee, is an Independent. He made promotion of same-sex marriage one of his priorities, even mentioning it in his inaugural address. And the new Speaker of the House, Gordon Fox, is an openly gay man who has also made it one of his priorities.

The arguments we’ve been making against same-sex marriage are well known. While the Catholic Church has respect, love, pastoral care, and compassion for people with homosexual orientation, we believe that homosexual marriage is wrong because it gives state approval of an immoral lifestyle involving immoral sexual activity.
Also, it is an attempt to redefine the institution of marriage as it has been understood since the beginning of time. Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman and is meant to foster life and love. Homosexual marriage can never do that. It is an ill-advised attempt to redefine something God has given us and what is one of the building blocks of human society.
Additionally, the passage of homosexual marriage presents a challenge to religious freedom and conscience protection, as has been the case in other places in the country. Our neighbors in the Archdiocese of Boston in Massachusetts, for example, had to get out of the adoption business because they were being forced to place children in situations where there were two gay people living in a home in an alleged marriage. The Archdiocese of Washington had to stop giving family medical benefits because they were being forced to provide them to gay couples who tried to get married in civil marriages.
And there are situations where ancillary Catholic facilities such as reception halls must be made available to gay couples as they attempt to marry. All these things are on the radar screen if you go down this road of approving homosexual marriage.
CWR: How has the Catholic community in Rhode Island responded to efforts to legalize same-sex marriage?
Bishop Tobin: Historically there has been some apathy about it among the citizenry of Rhode Island, including among the Catholic population. But recently, because our political landscape has changed, we’ve done a better job in getting our pastors involved, rallying the Catholic faithful against it. I’m proud of what our pastors and people have done, both in reaching out to our legislators and making their voices heard in the media, saying this is not something that is acceptable to us.
We need our people to understand that this is a serious issue. Our greatest danger as a Catholic community is apathy. If we’re not aware of the situation, don’t care about it or make it a priority, gay marriage will pass in Rhode Island. But if we’re galvanized and make our voices heard, we’ll keep it out of our state.
It is important to emphasize that this is not just an exercise in partisan politics. This is an expression of our faith. We have to be involved in this issue as disciples of Christ and members of his Church.
Recently, the Providence Phoenix, a liberal-leaning, gay-friendly newspaper here in Providence, ran a lead story by David Scharfenberg, “Will the Catholic Church kill gay marriage?” They gave us a left-handed compliment by saying that we’ve been rather effective in our opposition. We have a long road ahead of us, and a tough fight. I don’t know what the outcome will be. But we’re doing our best.
CWR: What have people said to you about your leadership on this issue?
Bishop Tobin: I get both support and criticism. From practicing Catholics, as well as members of other religious communities, I’ve been getting a lot of support. They say, “Thank you for leading the charge,” “Thank you for speaking out,” or “This is what we expect the bishops to do.”
There are also those on the other side of the issue who are upset and angry that the Church is so visible and vocal about this issue. They talk about separation of church and state and say we shouldn’t be involved in it, or that we’re “homophobic,” bigoted, and interfering in other people’s lives. These are all the predictable reactions that you hear surrounding this issue, and they’re leveled time and again against me and the Church. I’m sure such complaints will continue.
CWR: You also spoke out against the Obama administration’s decision in February not to defend traditional marriage.
Bishop Tobin: The Obama administration directed the Justice Department to not defend the Defense of Marriage Act. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement, and I did as well in response to a media inquiry, saying that the president overstepped his authority and abdicated his role and sworn duty to uphold the laws of our nation. It was just another attempt to impose a liberal, politically-correct agenda on our nation. It was disappointing.
CWR: In 2009, you had a dispute with Democratic former Congressman Patrick Kennedy over abortion. Can you tell me your side of the story?
Bishop Tobin: It began when Congressman Kennedy publicly criticized the American bishops about our opposition to Obama’s health care plan. We said we would not support anything that funds abortion or does not offer conscience and religious freedom protections. Congressman Kennedy strongly criticized us, and questioned our commitment to human life and social justice.  That prompted my response to him.
What followed was a series of statements from him, and letters from me, that went back and forth. Finally, he revealed the fact that three years before I had written to him privately and confidentially asking him not to present himself for Holy Communion because of his position on abortion. It was meant to be a personal, pastoral approach. But in his flurry of public comments, he revealed the letter. It was disappointing, but it gave me the opportunity to reiterate the Church’s teaching on abortion.
CWR: You’ve also challenged Republican politicians, including Rudy Giuliani, over the issue of abortion.
Bishop Tobin: I’ve sparred with Rudy Giuliani and a number of other politicians, and it’s been thoroughly non-partisan. I challenged Rhode Island’s previous Republican governor, Governor Carcieri, on the immigration issue. I challenged Congressman Kennedy, a Democrat, and Governor Chafee, an Independent. Their political party meansnothing to me.
I’m trying to take the Gospel of Christ and the teachings of the Church and apply them in the public arena. I think it’s the role of the Church and the bishop to express a prophetic voice. It is an important part of our tradition.
CWR: How should a bishop best approach a Catholic politician who publicly opposes Church teaching?
Bishop Tobin: The teaching of the Church should be public and the issues should be discussed publicly. But in regard to someone’s personal sacramental practice, I think a personal, confidential approach is the best way to begin.
CWR: You’ve written two books on faith. Borrowing from the title of one of your books, how does a Catholic have an “effective faith”?
Bishop Tobin: Effective faith is a theme that has emerged from my own teaching, preaching, and writing. If our faith is authentic, it is effective and makes a difference in our daily lives. We can’t compartmentalize our lives, going to church for an hour on Sunday and then acting like pagans for the rest of the week. If our faith is authentic, then it touches every part of our lives: our work, our family lives, our community involvement, and the activities with which we entertain ourselves.
That has been one of the great failures of many of us in the Church—we do not incorporate our faith into our daily lives. Jesus said Christians are the salt of the earth and light of the world [Mt 5:13, 14]. As the Second Vatican Council taught, our faith is supposed to transform us, and then we move out into the secular world and transform it into the Kingdom of God.
It begins when we are transformed ourselves, especially through the power of the Eucharist, into the image and likeness of Christ.
CWR: You’ve made a point of reaching out to inactive Catholics in your diocese and inviting them back to church.
Bishop Tobin: Just before Christmas, I wrote an open letter to inactive Catholics as part of our diocesan-wide Year of Evangelization. The program was an effort to make the Church more present, active, and visible in our world, as well as to encourage inactive Catholics to come back to the Church and sacraments. We also invited those who had no religion to come learn what our faith is about.
CWR: Many people admire you for the leadership you’ve provided to the Church. Who do you admire and who has been an influence in your ministry?
Bishop Tobin: My strongest influence has been our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. For a good part of my priesthood and my life as a bishop, he was our pope, the Vicar of Christ. He is also the one who chose me to be a bishop; I have a photograph of him presenting me with my pectoral cross when I was first appointed.
Not only am I impressed by his life and ministry, but I’ve been greatly influenced by all that he has written. He gave us a blueprint for approaching the world from a perspective of faith. I often, for example, refer to Pope John Paul’sEvangelium Vitae [a 1995 encyclical concerning the value and inviolability of human life] and Pastores Dabo Vobis [a 1992 apostolic exhortation concerning the formation of priests]. And Pope John Paul’s writings have been beautifully complemented by Pope Benedict, who has given us some wonderful reflections about many things, including charity and hope.
As far as saints, the one I refer to often is St. Thomas the Apostle. The title of my column and first book, Without a Doubt, is derived from the fact that we call St. Thomas “doubting Thomas.” I often think about how he worked through his doubts to become a faithful and effective witness of Jesus Christ and his Resurrection. I also like Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who gave us many wonderful writings and modeled a holy Catholic life.
When people ask me why I’m getting involved in public debates with politicians, I think about St. Thomas More, how he professed his faith and challenged the government of King Henry VIII, which had become immoral. I also think of St. John the Baptist standing outside the palace of Herod, challenging Herod on his immoral lifestyle. Both ended up giving up their lives for their witness to the truth.
Saints who challenge an established political order in witness to the truth of the Gospel and a common, decent morality appeal a great deal to me. We need to rediscover this courage and conviction in our own time.
CWR: You criticized retired Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland when he released his autobiography A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church in 2009. What is the appropriate way for Catholics to criticize the leadership of their Church?
Bishop Tobin: That’s a sensitive issue. Catholics have a right to challenge their leadership, including their pastors and bishops, but it always has to be done with understanding. Sometimes when I’m criticized I find people don’t even have the right information. Also, critics need to be charitable. It is never productive to engage in personal judgment, condemnation, or name-calling.
And along with criticism, our pastors and bishops need to be encouraged. If people think we’re doing something right, there’s nothing wrong with sending a word of encouragement. Sometimes people only speak up when they have a problem or see a failure, and give no credit when things are going well. We need to use our gift of speech in an encouraging way to build up the Church, its leaders, and fellow members.
CWR: Shifting to the corporal works of mercy, winters in Providence are cold, and when you arrived you launched a successful program, Keep the Heat On, to provide the needy with heating assistance. How’s it going?
Bishop Tobin: In our first five years we raised more than $1 million and helped more than 3,500 households during some difficult winters. Our response this year has been strong as well, with individuals, parishes, non-Catholic churches, and corporations all chipping in to help us.
I like this program because it is tangible and an effective corporal work of mercy. We raise the money and it goes directly to individuals who are not eligible for other forms of assistance or who have exhausted those. It gives people who are truly needy and desperate a place to turn.
Jim Graves is a Catholic writer in Newport Beach, California.

Bishop Tobin on Pres. Obama’s "Shameful Record on Abortion"

Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence hits the nail on the head with his latest Without a Doubt column in the diocesan newspaper, the Rhode Island Catholic. Bishop Tobin comments on President Obama’s speech in Tucson and though it was a good speech, “President Obama’s shameful record on abortion leaves his touching tribute and appeal to goodness in Tucson – and other expressions of compassion – sterile and meaningless. As he stood on the stage in Tucson, he was a prophet without credentials; his speech, a song without a soul.”

The President’s Speech; Why I Wasn’t Impressed


Since that deadly day nearly two weeks ago, the story has dominated the news; we’ve learned many details about the deranged shooter and his innocent victims; we’ve debated the causes and consequences of the event; and we’ve prayed for all those who have suffered so much from the violence.

President Obama traveled to Tucson and did his level best to offer his sympathy and support, to encourage a city and a nation, and to invite us all to a better future marked especially by more civility in public discourse. In asking us to learn from and move beyond the terrible moment, the president appealed to Holy Scripture and to the better instincts of the human family. Noble sentiments all. As some have said, and I agree, it was his best moment as president.

As I watched Mr. Obama, though, and later reflected on his speech, I sensed there was something missing; there was something that left me cold, unimpressed and unmoved.

And suddenly it became clear. The problem, at least for me, is that President Obama’s persistent and willful promotion of abortion renders his compassionate gestures and soaring rhetoric completely disingenuous. “O come on, Bishop Tobin,” I hear you say. “Abortion’s not the only moral issue in the world.” Correct, I respond. Abortion’s not the only moral issue in the world but it is the most important. And, I confess, abortion policy is the prism through which I view everything this president says and does.

Is there any longer any doubt that Barack Obama is the most pro-abortion president we’ve ever had?

President Obama has enthusiastically supported the Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade that has allowed virtually unrestricted access to abortion in our nation and has resulted in approximately 50 million deaths since 1973.

President Obama has consistently surrounded himself with pro-abortion advisors, and has appointed pro-abortion politicians to key positions in the federal government, including his two nominees for the Supreme Court.

President Obama has promulgated policies, including the overturn of the Mexico City Policy (within the first few hours of his presidency) that requires taxpayer monies to provide abortions around the world. Similarly he signed an executive order that forces taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cell research; he signed a bill that overturned the 13-year-long ban of abortion funding in the nation’s capital; and he directed the passage of health care legislation that opens the door to federal funding of abortions and could eventually limit the freedom of religion for individuals and institutions who find abortion morally repugnant.

President Obama has made abortion a key foreign policy issue, pressuring nations to accept abortion policies; he’s supported several pro-abortion initiatives of the United Nations; and he’s appointed Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State. Secretary Clinton has had a consistent pro-abortion record and in her international travels has promoted abortion as a human right.

The full accounting of President Obama’s track record on abortion goes on for eight typed pages, a very sad and discouraging litany. The net effect, though, is that President Obama’s shameful record on abortion leaves his touching tribute and appeal to goodness in Tucson – and other expressions of compassion – sterile and meaningless. As he stood on the stage in Tucson, he was a prophet without credentials; his speech, a song without a soul.

Perhaps the president’s most moving rhetoric was that about Christina Taylor Green, the precious nine-year-old slain in the barrage of bullets. As a father of two beautiful daughters himself, the president’s words were surely personal and sincere. Of this child he said: “In Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic . . . So deserving of our love.”

But I can’t help but ask, respectfully, “Mr. President, why can’t you see our other children – so curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic, and so deserving of our love – in all of the unborn children who didn’t live because of our nation’s embrace of the abortion option?”

And in one of the most dramatic moments of his speech, Mr. Obama announced that the wounded congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, opened her eyes for the first time just after he’d completed his visit to her. “A miracle” some proclaimed, and certainly a welcome sign of recovery at which we all rejoice.

But I can’t help but wonder how many tiny eyes will never open, will never see the light of day, because of this president’s shortsighted and zealous promotion of abortion.

It’s truly tragic that our president – for whose safety and well-being we pray all the time and who has demonstrated an impressive ability to inspire other people – is unable to see the deadly consequences of his abortion agenda. Perhaps we need another miracle, to open his eyes, that he might see and understand how wrong abortion is, how sinful it is, how violent it is, and how it’s destroying the life of our nation.

Bishop Tobin on "Separation of Church and State"

Has Our State Lost Its Soul?
So, our new Governor, Lincoln Chafee, decided to break with recent history and begin his inauguration day without participating in a public prayer service. This has caused some discussion, even consternation, around the state.
Now personally, I’m neither surprised by nor disappointed by the Governor’s decision. After all, it was his inauguration, and he had every right to design a program with which he was comfortable. Whether to pray publicly with other leaders and citizens of the state on his big day was completely his prerogative.
I’m more concerned by the reason for the no-prayer decision given by his spokesman who said that the Governor’s “point of view is that his inaugural day needs to respect the separation of church and state. Separation of church and state is an important constitutional principle.”
The explanation is disappointing and confusing; it raises some rather significant questions.
First, if it’s imperative to maintain the alleged “separation of church and state” on inauguration day, why were prayers offered at the inauguration ceremony itself? And why did the Governor invite religious leaders to have a prominent presence at the event?
And is the appeal to the “separation of church and state” mentioned in this case an appropriate application of the principle?
By now you should be aware that the exact phrase “separation of church and state” isn’t found anywhere in our nation’s Constitution but rather was a principle that evolved later on. The Constitution simply says that the Congress cannot legislate the establishment of religion nor prohibit the exercise of religion. In other words, the “separation of church and state” is meant to protect religion from the interference of the state. It was never intended to remove every spiritual aspiration, prayerful utterance, or reference to God from public life.
Nor should the so-called “separation of church and state” be used as a weapon to silence the faith community, or restrict its robust participation in the debate of important public issues. I’ve found that whenever I’ve spoken out on public issues – e.g., abortion, gay marriage or immigration – some irritated souls, arguing the “separation of church and state” will insist that I’m out of line. In fact, religious leaders have every right, indeed the duty, to speak out on public issues. If we fail to do so, we’re neglecting our role as teachers, preachers and prophets. And if we don’t bring the spiritual dimension, the moral dimension to the discussion of these issues, who will?
The usefulness of religion and its importance in public life have been affirmed from the beginning. James Madison, recognized as the principal author of the Constitution, wrote, “Religion is the basis and foundation of government.” And George Washington, in his farewell address said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
The point is this: religion has an important, indeed a unique contribution to make to the governance of our society. Can we, once and for all then, put to rest the bogus interpretations of the “separation of church and state” so often cited these days?
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, in his outstanding book, “Render Unto Caesar,” makes this observation: “Americans have always believed in nonsectarian public institutions. But the founders never intended a nation that privatizes religion and excludes it from involvement in public affairs. Nor did they create any such nation. The secularism proposed today for our public life is not religion-neutral. It is antireligious.” (p. 29)
The Archbishop goes on: “A truly secularized United States would be a country without a soul; a nation with a hole in its heart . . . Secularism as a cult – the kind of rigid separationism where the state treats religion as a scary and unstable guest – hollows out the core of what it means to be human.” (p. 30)
A “country without a soul.” A “nation with a hole in its heart.” I wonder – is that the kind of nation we long for? Is that the kind of state we want Rhode Island to become?
Pope John Paul hit the nail on the head when he wrote about the “practical and existential atheism” of our age. He describes the individual who is “all bound up in himself.” For such an individual, “there is no longer the need to fight against God; he feels that he is simply able to do without him.” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, #7)
The Pope’s insight leads me to wonder: Is our nation, and our state, in frequently appealing to “separation of church and state,” promoting an atheistic worldview? Are we creating a secular wasteland, bereft of any spiritual or religious influence? And is that how we want to live?
We have a ton of problems in our state – a depressed economy, a fragile social service network, a distressed public education system, the demise of the family, a wave of urban crime and domestic violence, and what promises to be an intense and divisive debate created by the ill-advised desire to redefine marriage. To deal successfully with these problems our leaders will need wisdom and courage. They will need a great deal of human cooperation, but also a generous measure of God’s grace. They shouldn’t be afraid to fall on their knees and ask for God’s help. A little spiritual humility would go a long way in restoring the confidence and the moral quality of our community.

Bishop Tobin: Never Take the Eucharist for Granted

I had a recent experience where I was sitting with the choir at Mass and I was continually distracted throughout by the members chatting and carrying on as if they were in an orchestra pit.  All very nice people (and talented) but I could not help but think how sad it was that they had become so “familiar” and detached from the sacred actions that were taking place right before them. We’ve all heard the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt”.  In regards to the Mass and our worship due to God, familiarity can breed irreverence.  In his latest article, Bishop Thomas Tobin brings this point home regarding our “familiarity” with the Eucharist:

Never Take the Eucharist for Granted

I suppose it’s typical for human beings to sometimes take our finest gifts for granted – our health, our faith, our family and our friends, for example.

And even as Catholics we have the tendency to take for granted one of God’s most precious gifts – the Holy Eucharist, and all that it means for us. Although we typically pay lip service to the importance of the Eucharist, I wonder if we really appreciate its significance in our lives.

As the heart and soul of our Catholic Faith, the Eucharist a gift and mystery that includes several important dimensions. The Eucharist is a sacrifice – the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, made present again in a sacramental way. The Eucharist is a sacrament – the abiding presence of Christ among His people under the external forms of bread and wine. The Eucharist is a meal – established by Jesus at the Last Supper, and in which the action of eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Christ is essential to its meaning. And the Eucharist is a celebration – an affirmation of our faith in sign and symbol.

Each dimension of the Eucharist tells us something important about its meaning and all of them are included whenever we follow the Lord’s command: “Do this in memory of me.”

From the very beginning, even in the Apostolic era, the Church has recognized that reception of the Holy Eucharist demands a certain spiritual disposition. Here it’s helpful to recall that no one has an absolute right to receive the Eucharist, or any other sacrament for that matter. And while we routinely profess that “I am not worthy to receive you,” in recent years the requirements for receiving Holy Communion have become a hot topic, moving beyond the walls of internal Church discipline and crossing over into the political domain, even becoming the fodder of radio talk show debates.

Pope John Paul explained the criteria for receiving Holy Communion in these words: “The celebration of the Eucharist cannot be the starting-point for communion; it presupposes that communion already exists.” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #35) The Pope goes on to explain that this necessary unity with the Church has both an invisible dimension (the spiritual disposition) and a visible dimension (the structural disposition.) In other, more traditional words, to properly receive Holy Communion, a communicant must be in the state of grace and be a member of the Catholic Church. These requirements apply not only to Catholic politicians – although they have particular obligations because of their role as public officials – but equally to all members of the Church.

There are other important dimensions of the Eucharist we should consider as well. And one is the fact that while the Eucharist effects union with Christ, “body and blood, soul and divinity,” it also has more horizontal, societal implications.

Pope Benedict said this: “The Eucharist brings about a fundamental transformation. God no longer simply stands before us as totally other. He enters into us and then seeks to spread outward to others until He fills the world, so that His love can truly become the dominant measure of the world.” (World Youth Day, Cologne, 2005)

The Eucharist, then, is all about “transformation” the Pope says. It begins with the transformation of the elements of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. (Note this is a very special kind of transformation that Catholics call “transubstantiation,” meaning the very substance of the bread and wine is changed into the very substance of the Body and Blood of Christ.) This transformation continues as the person receiving Holy Communion grows spiritually and is transformed into the image and likeness of Christ in their daily lives. And that transformation reaches its conclusion as the faithful enter into the world and, by living the vision and values of Christ, transform it, the secular world, into the Kingdom of God.
Blessed Mother of Teresa of Calcutta put it this way: “If we truly understand the Eucharist; if we make the Eucharist the central focus of our lives; if we feed our lives with the Eucharist, we will not find it difficult to discover Christ, to love Him, and to serve Him in the poor.”

And finally, in reflecting upon the value of the Eucharist, we should also recall the importance of Eucharistic adoration, a wonderful devotion in the history and spiritual tradition of the Church. Pope John Paul wrote that “it is pleasant to spend time with Him, to lie close to His breast like the beloved disciple, and to feel the infinite love present in His heart.” He also points to the example of many saints, specifically St. Alphonsus Liguori who wrote, “Of all devotions, that of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the greatest after the sacraments, the one dearest to God and the one most helpful to us.” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #25)
So, dear reader, as we consider the Holy Eucharist, let’s try to resist our normal tendency to take our gifts for granted. The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ; it is the Bread of Life; it is spiritual food for our journey on earth; and it contains all the power we need to transform the world into the Kingdom of God.

Bishop Tobin’s Pastoral Response to Catholic RI Gubernatorial Candidates

The Bishop of Providence, Thomas Tobin, has not shied away from defending Catholic beliefs in calling out Catholic politicians or weighing in on controversial issues such as immigration and “homosexual marriage”.  His strong response to Congressman Kennedy’s misguided attack on the Church’s moral authority landed him in the national spotlight, making news headlines and television appearances.  He has frequently stated that professing to be Catholic means something and requires something from those who call themselves Catholic.

On March 4th supporters of same-sex marriage held a rally at the Rhode Island statehouse.  Present on the podium were four of the five current candidates for governor, two of whom profess to be Catholic (and pro-choice as well).  First to take the mic was State Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio who said,  “As governor I will sign the marriage-equality bill. I also will work with the legislature to see that it gets through the legislature.”  Next, Patrick Lynch, RI Attorney General, said he “would quickly put pen to paper” and sign a marriage-equality bill, and would veto a bill that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

Bishop Tobin responded in a statement, “It is extremely disappointing to see Catholic politicians abandon their faith for the sake of political expediency.  I would hope that as candidates and office holders, they would be able to support traditional, moral values such as the recognition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. I am hopeful that they will reconsider their position.”

The Rhode Island Catholic has links to copies of the letters Bishop Tobin sent to both Catholic candidates.  The text is below [my emphasis]:

I am writing to express my profound disappointment that you participated in the recent rally at the State House and there publicly pledged to sign a bill allowing “homosexual marriage” in the State of Rhode Island should you be elected Governor.

From a practical point of view, your pledge to sign such legislation -without even knowing any of the details of the eventual legislation -is very puzzling. You’ve now put yourself in a box – pledged to sign legislation, even if the legislation that eventually emerges is seriously flawed or unacceptable for practical reasons. I wonder if you would make a similar pledge for any other piece of hypothetical legislation.

The greater concern for me, of course, is that your willingness to support -even promote- “homosexual marriage” is contrary to the obligations of the Catholic Faith you profess. The teachings of the Church on this matter have been clear and consistent.

While the Church strongly affirms and defends the human dignity and human rights of homosexual persons as beloved children of God and our brothers and sisters, the Church also teaches that homosexual activity is unnatural and immoral, a sin against human dignity and a grave offense to Almighty God. This teaching is based on the natural moral law, the Holy Scriptures and the constant tradition of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit.

The concept of so-called “gay marriage” is offensive because it amounts to public acceptance of and endorsement of immoral homosexual activity and is a blatant attempt to redefine the sacred institution of marriage as a union of one man and one woman. This traditional definition of marriage is not of human origin. It was designed by God and has been unquestioned in every culture and society from the very beginning of the human family.

I need to remind you that Catholic political leaders are not exempt from the obligations of their faith, any more than members of any other profession are exempt from their faith. Your Catholic Faith is not a private matter -to be authentic it must inform every aspect of your personal and public life. You cannot profess to be a Catholic on Sunday and then set out to promote immoral activities the rest of the week. To consider your faith a private matter without any impact on your professional life is clearly inconsistent with the teachings of Christ who taught His disciples to be “the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” (Mt. 5: 13-14)

As your bishop I am concerned primarily for your spiritual well-being and for that reason I am obliged to remind you that your public support of “homosexual marriage” creates a grave spiritual danger for you. Someday you will stand face-to-face before the judgment seat of God and have to explain why you publicly promoted immoral sexual activity, scandalized the community and contributed to the erosion of Holy Matrimony and family life.

Lent is a time of spiritual renewal, repentance and reconciliation. In the spirit of this holy season, therefore, I plead with you to reflect upon and reconsider your stance on “homosexual marriage.” As always, I am available to discuss this matter with you personally, and I take this opportunity to extend to you and your family my prayers and blessings.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas J. Tobin
Bishop of Providence

The Death of a Priest…Alone?

In the latest installment of his Without a Doubt column entitled The Death of a Priest,  Bishop Tobin of Providence talks about the recent passing of four priests in his diocese and offers a reflection on the lasting legacy of faithful priests.  It is worth a read.  He aptly points out that “when a priest dies, he doesn’t leave a lot behind, at least not in earthly terms. He leaves no children or grandchildren, often not a lot of material possessions, and not even a large hole in the fabric of the Church. The mission of the Church continues beyond the life of any one individual; other priests went before him, and others will come after him to carry on the work of the Lord.”  In the eyes of the world a priest leaves no lasting legacy on the world.  What the priest of God does leave behind however, “is far more valuable than the passing things of this world. He leaves behind the witness of a good life that was informed and directed by the love of God. He leaves behind an example of generous sacrifice and commitment that made a positive difference for others. And he leaves behind a legacy of faith, hope and love in the people he served, planting in them the very seeds of eternal life.”

This post mortem analysis (pun intended) is well articulated, but it does not mention the penultimate stage of life…the dying.  Perhaps the greatest sacrifice of priestly celibacy is not the mastery of the lower virtues but the privation of children-and in particular the blessing of children and family at one’s bedside while dying.  But just think about it.  What a blessing it is to have family and especially your children at your bedside, sitting with you, praying for you and on your behalf.  Religious priests (by this I mean those priests who are members of a religious order or congregation) have the blessing of community life.  When they approach the end of their journey, they are comforted by their brothers and have their community to pray with them and for them.  But what about the diocesan priest?  He most likely would have served alone as pastor, retired alone, and would have been predeceased by his parents.  I have witnessed this first hand and have a friend who is presently experiencing this with  his uncle, who is a priest.  Each night he visits to pray a rosary and read Compline aloud.  The discomfort and restlessness subsides, only to resume after the Nunc dimittis.  Wouldn’t it be a blessing, a corporal work of mercy, fraternal charity for his brother priests to pray at his bedside for just an hour a day.  In a diocese with some 400 priests, it would require just one hour–once a year–to pray beside a dying brother with the knowledge that this would be reciprocated when it is your time.

Bishop Tobin writes:  “In his sacramental ministry a priest has welcomed individuals into the Church and touched them with the grace of God in the Sacrament of Baptism. He has celebrated Holy Mass a thousand times, offering thanksgiving to the Lord on behalf of God’s People and making God present among them in the Eucharist. He has forgiven the sins of God’s people, freeing them from guilt, and giving them the blessed opportunity to make a new beginning. He has prepared couples for Holy Matrimony, witnessing their vows on behalf of the Church and bestowing God’s blessings as they begin their journey together. He has accompanied frightened, vulnerable people during times of illness, anointing them with oil, assuring them of the presence and compassion of Christ. He has celebrated many funerals, sending holy souls to eternal life with the prayers of the Church and giving comfort and hope to those who mourn the loss of their loved ones.”  They deserve a better send off.

In this Year for Priests:  Pray for all living priests that they renew their commitment to Christ’s Sacred Heart; pray for priests who approach the end of their life that they may know the comfort of fraternal love; and pray for those priests who have died that their lasting legacy may gain them eternal reward.