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Roman Catholic Identity

Christus Mansionem Benedicat 20 + C + M + B + 12

Adoration of the Magi – Fra Angelico (ca. 1455)

May Christ Bless This House!
For most of the world , today is the Solemnity of the Epiphany, the 12th Day of Christmas, or “little Christmas”.  For dioceses of the United States we celebrate the Solemnity this Sunday.  The three magi, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, followed the star to Bethlehem to adore the new born King.  They brought gifts of gold because the Child was a King, frankincense because the Child was God, and myrrh because the Child was destined to be a sacrifice.  Since before the middle ages, Catholics would bless their houses by inscribing with blessed chalk the initials of the three kings above their doorways.

This tradition symbolizes the family’s commitment to welcome Christ into their homes throughout the year.  We don’t have to look back very far (40 years ago but some ethnic parishes continue this today) when priests would wander through the parish neighborhoods-holy water and chalk in hand-blessing homes and marking the portals.  In our home we continue this tradition and celebrate the Epiphany with food, gifts, chalk and a little holy water.  Santa gifts get top billing on Christmas day but on the Epiphany we each exchange a small present with one another.  The highlight of our celebration is the house blessing.  The children process holding candles to each of their rooms and take turns sprinkling them with holy water.  Fights usually ensue so we have to plan in advance who gets to do what (the boys share a room).  Dad inscribes the initials and each child can mark the crosses.  Mom (the reader) stands by with holy water/fire extinguisher.  We do all the doorways of the house but some customs only do the main entrance.  “More is better” is my motto.  Though we don’t bake a 3 kings cake (even Dora the Explorer has an episode on this) we have a festive meal.

It is traditions like these which build our Roman Catholic Identity.  When we know who we are we can more effectively share the gift with others.

Here is one form of an Epiphany House Blessing:

V.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
A.  Amen

V.  Peace be to this house and: to all who dwell here, in the name of the Lord.
A Blessed be God forever.

VA reading from the holy gospel according to St. John
AGlory to You, o Lord.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be….. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3.14)

After the prayers of the blessing are recited, each room of the home is sprinkled with holy water. The year and initials of the Magi are inscribed above the doors with the blessed chalk (Casper, Melchior and Balthasar with the first two numerals of the year preceding the C and the last two numerals of the year placed after the B).

20 + C + M + B + 12

As you inscribe the initials say:  “Christus Mansionem Benedicat” which means “May Christ bless this house”.)

V.  Lord God of heaven and earth, you revealed your only begotten Son to every nation by the guidance of a star. Bless this house and all who inhabit it. May we be blessed with health, goodness of heart, gentleness and the keeping of your law. Fill us with the light of Christ, that our love for each other may go out to all. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
A.  Amen.

Blessing the Chalk
If you cannot obtain blessed chalk, it is permissible for the head of the household to bless chalk to be used.  Here is a simple formula:

V. Our help is the name of the Lord.
R. Who made heaven and earth.

Let us pray.

Bless, O Lord God, this creature chalk
to render it helpful to your people.
Grant that they who use it in faith
and with it inscribe upon the doors of their homes
the names of your saints, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar,
may through their merits and intercession
enjoy health of body and protection of soul.
Through Christ our Lord.

And the chalk is sprinkled with Holy Water.


We are all going to die – that’s why we are Catholic

Fr. Z of WDTPRS fame knocks one out of the park in this article in today’s UK Catholic Herald.  This is a terrific summation of the very reasons why a solid Roman Catholic Identity is necessary.  If we lose sight of who we are as human beings, why we are alive, and to what end we are created, we simply “twist in the wind”.  Kudos to Fr. Z!

We are all going to die – that’s why we are Catholic

Liturgy must draw us towards the world beyond, says Fr John Zuhlsdorf. That’s how we can wake up our faith
By FR JOHN ZUHLSDORF on Thursday, 6 January 2011
There is a great deal of confusion in the Church today. We have in large part forgotten who we are as Catholics and why we belong to the Church.
We don’t belong to the Catholic Church first and foremost for earthly motives. Bettering the world, improving the lot of others … these flow from our love for God and our desire to be with Him in heaven.
Try as I might, with the possible exception of the fact that Jesus founded her, I cannot think of a more important reason to be a member of Holy Catholic Church than the certainty that one day I will die. I will die and I will be judged. You will too.
Why are we Catholic? Why bother with Mass? With the Church’s teachings about moral issues? Why stand against the wind in the public square and twist in it, just to lose friends, status, and comfort?
Why? Our Saviour established the Catholic Church as our way to salvation. No matter how bad some fellow members of the Church may be, or how alluring the world surely is, or how tough we think we have had it, we are going to die one day, some of us pretty soon. That’s why we are Catholic. Trump that.
I hope by grace and elbow grease to do His will and to serve and worship Him fittingly in His Church. I try to love God. I want to please God. I believe He will help me, a sinner, in my weakness and forgive me when I fail. I strive to make changes when I am doing something that isn’t working. Why? Because I’m going to die, that’s why. I want to go to heaven.
If we love God, we will try to help other people get to heaven too.
We have some problems with that part right now, my friends, because Catholic identity is weary and weak where once it was strong and everything.
We are all men and women of our age. To one degree or other we are subject to prevailing trends and world-views. Also, we are wounded from sin and death is scary. Death yawns before us as that door we must go through to come before the great mystery which is both fearsome and alluring. We are, to our peril, quite willing to avert our eyes from this fearful prospect, death, through innumerable distractions which fog our inner compass. We easily forget the one transcendent source of our being, our origin and goal.
We have problems in Holy Church as well. Many people working in the Church today have an immanentist mentality. Immanence, from the Latin “to remain within”, refers to a notion that divinity permeates the material universe. A radical immanentist would be something like a pantheist. Such a one would say that God is not transcendent, but is rather in everything that is.
As Christians we affirm that God alone is holy, almighty, omnipresent and transcendent. God entirely transcends the natural order. We also affirm God’s immanence, especially in the Second Person of the Trinity, God incarnate, Christ Jesus. Church immanentists don’t deny the transcendence of God, at least as a proposition. But it just isn’t that important. They will even affirm God’s transcendence if it occurs to them or when they are pushed. Call their position “Immanentism Lite”.
Immanentism corrodes our view of who God is and who we are. We glide into neglect of the supernatural. We become less and less concerned with guilt for sin, even with the idea of sin as anything beyond transgressions of what we ourselves determine is right for ourselves at this time (read: passing trends). We lose sight of our absolute dependence on God for help through grace, our need for a Saviour, and our impending judgment. We forsake clarity in doctrine and the obligations which come from the profession of the Christian Faith, including submission to the Church’s authority given her by Christ. The suggestion that something we might do could offend God and endanger our salvation sounds increasingly foreign. We get the idea that we are self-sufficient. We forget the real reason why Jesus died for us and why we are Catholic.
I propose that, to get at the root of our problems, we need encounters with the transcendent, with mystery. The regular way for this is through participation in true worship, Holy Church’s sacred liturgical worship.
This is not without its own set of problems. Much of what passes as liturgy today is unworthy of the name, our forebears, and us. Fr Aidan Nichols, in his Looking at the Liturgy, warns of the danger of “cultic immanentism”, “the danger, namely, of a congregation’s covert self-reference in a horizontal, humanistic world”. In many places we find self-centred liturgies with little or no thought given to the God who is wholly other, mysterious, transcendent. Such worship is really idolatry.
Joseph Ratzinger noted in The Spirit of the Liturgy that as the Hebrews danced around their golden calf they knew the calf was not God: they simply wanted a god less remote and less challenging.
Can we at long last admit it? Under the incessant erosion from a modernist, immanentist mentality, especially in our worship, many of our brothers and sisters in the Church no longer even notice the calf, much less realise they made it in their own image. Self-reference is no longer “covert”, it’s in your face. Quite often, it’s all there is.
Already in 1995 Ratzinger observed in A New Song For The Lord that young people were reacting to the loss of mystery, rejecting the “banality and the childish rationalism of the pathetic homemade liturgies with their artificial theatrics”. Young people don’t want frauds. They want what Ratzinger calls the “true presence of redemption”. This search might lead the more secularly inclined to the euphoria of rock concerts, alcohol and drugs, faux neo-gnostic “spirituality”, anything out of the ordinary, anything to distract. Sound familiar? Look around.
Ratzinger counters, “new places for faith emerge again where liturgy is lit up by mystery”. For Ratzinger, mystery has “authority”.
Participation in worthy liturgical worship leads us beyond the didactic, the interesting, the entertaining, even the individualist experience into an encounter with mystery. This encounter draws us back to recognition of the gift of life, the fact of our coming death, back towards fearful, loving awe for God. True worship is the remedy for the self-centred, self-enclosed, self-sufficient self-obsession of modern times.
Our worship must focus on the one who is Other.
Is this what your regular experience of Mass offers you? If it doesn’t, it has quite simply failed.
Dear Fathers, Most Reverend Bishops, if any alarm has sounded in your hearts and minds of late as you survey the portion entrusted to you, rethink your approach to liturgy. Is what we have been doing for the last few decades really working?
For the love of God and neighbour, and with an eye on your judgment, rethink your approach to Holy Church’s proper public worship. Do everything in your power to foster liturgical worship of God which conforms not to worldly goals but rather to the real point of religion and of being Catholic: getting ready to die.
If you do this, you will be challenged and blocked and attacked. Forewarned is forearmed. We must do this.
On 20 December, Pope Benedict met with members of the Roman Curia to exchange Christmas greetings. His Holiness used this annual event in 2005 to deliver one of the most important messages of his pontificate, the speech about the “hermeneutic of continuity”. This year, Benedict delivered a grim “state of the Church” address. At one point he actually said: “The very future of the world is at stake.”
Benedict had the Church throughout the world in mind for his speech, but a large portion of it was about his state visit to Scotland and England, probably the most important trip of his pontificate, and on the beatification of John Henry Newman. The Vicar of Christ reminded the whole Church, but in my opinion, the people of Great Britain in particular,
“When [Christ’s] powerful word had calmed the storm, he rebuked the disciples for their little faith (cf. Mt 8:26 et par). He wanted to say: it was your faith that was sleeping. He will say the same thing to us. Our faith too is often asleep. Let us ask him, then, to wake us from the sleep of a faith grown tired, and to restore to that faith the power to move mountains – that is, to order justly the affairs of the world.”
To wake up our faith and even to save our world we must save our liturgy. Pope Benedict XVI has explicitly called for a new liturgical movement.
Shall we embark on a “New Evangelisation” where Catholic identity has become weary and weak? Let us renew Holy Church’s liturgy. Worthy, vertical, transcendentally-oriented liturgy slaps us awake, tears us out of the ephemeral and worldly, and gives us space to pause in awe and in longing for what we cannot understand and yet know to be true and necessary. The older, Extraordinary Form of Mass of the Roman Rite explicitly asks for surrender to the supernatural, and strips us of our power to control. The newer, Ordinary Form – especially where Pope Benedict’s influence is being felt – also can achieve this when offered in continuity with the Church’s Tradition.
Some will object that elements of Extraordinary Form worship are too hard for us now. The difficult elements of worthy worship, especially in the traditional form of Holy Mass, create in the soul the tensions which are essential for an encounter with mystery, our way out of the trap of being self-absorbed.
We cannot easily argue ourselves or others away from this prevailing, modernist mentality or out of incessant distraction, though we must certainly try. The more people encounter mystery through liturgy, the more hollow will clang the world’s passing distractions and the proposals of those who have strayed from the good path.
A reform of our liturgical worship along the lines Pope Benedict proposes is our most charitable and effective plan of action. Summorum Pontificum is a valuable tool. The new English translation, though not perfect, will be of great help. This time of transition is a precious opportunity.
Fr Zuhlsdorf is a columnist for the American weekly newspaper The Wanderer and blogs at wdtprs.com.

Thank You, Congressman Kennedy (and Bishop Tobin, too)

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. 

  1. The cause and nature of the initial debate got lost in a sea of peripheral issues and spin.
  2. Congressman Kennedy irresponsibly throws bombs, distorts facts and retreats.
  3. Bishop Tobin is very articulate and goes where most bishops fear to tread.
  4. US bishops have failed to send a clear, consistent message to the faithful.
  5. 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.


Left’s double-standard on religion and abortion

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.


Bishop Tobin Instructs the Faithful, "If you are a Catholic, darnit, it means something!"

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.


Rep. Kennedy to Bp. Tobin, "I’m not going to engage this anymore"

 The Providence Journal Bulletin carried a story today which quoted Congressman Patrick Kennedy saying he was “not going to dignify with an answer” Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Tobin’s public comments that he could not be a good Catholic and still support abortion rights. Kennedy called those comments “unfortunate,” and said, “I’m not going to engage [in] this anymore.”

For deciding “not to engage anymore” he certainly continued to keep “engaging”.  Rep. Kennedy finds it “very disconcerting” that Bishop Tobin will not agree to keep private the discussion of his faith, and that is why his scheduled meeting with the bishop Thursday has been postponed.  Bishop Tobin’s public letter covered that one, Since our recent correspondence has been rather public, I hope you don’t mind if I share a few reflections about your practice of the faith in this public forum. I usually wouldn’t do that – that is speak about someone’s faith in a public setting – but in our well-documented exchange of letters about health care and abortion, it has emerged as an issue…your description of your relationship with the Church is now a matter of public record, and it needs to be challenged.”

Responding to Bp. Tobin’s question, Do you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish? Do you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly? Do you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially? Kennedy said yesterday that he has a pastor, and “I have my sacraments through that pastor. I have sought the sacraments of reconciliation and Communion and all the rest.” He said he preferred to keep his pastor’s name private.

About the ‘postponed meeting’,  the Congressman said “I had initially agreed to a meeting with him [Thursday], provided we would not debate this in public in terms of my personal faith, but unfortunately, he hasn’t kept to that agreement, and that’s very disconcerting to me.” But he also said he expects to meet with the bishop, if matters of faith will be kept “between us.”

Michael Guilfoyle, spokesman for the diocese, said the meeting was postponed “by mutual agreement,” but noted, “The bishop’s schedule is still free on Thursday if the congressman would like to have that personal and pastoral meeting. The contents between any personal conversation between the bishop and the congressman could certainly remain private. However, the congressman has made this a very public debate, and the bishop is responding to his public comments.”


Bishop Tobin calls Rep. Kennedy to Repentance

File this in the “I can’t believe my eyes” category. It is encouraging to see a bishop lead and not mince words.  From the Rhode Island Catholic:

Dear Congressman Kennedy
BY BISHOP THOMAS J. TOBIN
11/12/09

Dear Congressman Kennedy:
“The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” (Congressman Patrick Kennedy)
Since our recent correspondence has been rather public, I hope you don’t mind if I share a few reflections about your practice of the faith in this public forum. I usually wouldn’t do that – that is speak about someone’s faith in a public setting – but in our well-documented exchange of letters about health care and abortion, it has emerged as an issue. I also share these words publicly with the thought that they might be instructive to other Catholics, including those in prominent positions of leadership.

For the moment I’d like to set aside the discussion of health care reform, as important and relevant as it is, and focus on one statement contained in your letter of October 29, 2009, in which you write, “The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” That sentence certainly caught my attention and deserves a public response, lest it go unchallenged and lead others to believe it’s true. And it raises an important question: What does it mean to be a Catholic?

“The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” Well, in fact, Congressman, in a way it does. Although I wouldn’t choose those particular words, when someone rejects the teachings of the Church, especially on a grave matter, a life-and-death issue like abortion, it certainly does diminish their ecclesial communion, their unity with the Church. This principle is based on the Sacred Scripture and Tradition of the Church and is made more explicit in recent documents.

For example, the “Code of Canon Law” says, “Lay persons are bound by an obligation and possess the right to acquire a knowledge of Christian doctrine adapted to their capacity and condition so that they can live in accord with that doctrine.” (Canon 229, #1)

The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” says this: “Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles, ‘He who hears you, hears me,’ the faithful receive with docility the teaching and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.” (#87)

Or consider this statement of the Church: “It would be a mistake to confuse the proper autonomy exercised by Catholics in political life with the claim of a principle that prescinds from the moral and social teaching of the Church.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 2002)

There’s lots of canonical and theological verbiage there, Congressman, but what it means is that if you don’t accept the teachings of the Church your communion with the Church is flawed, or in your own words, makes you “less of a Catholic.”

But let’s get down to a more practical question; let’s approach it this way: What does it mean, really, to be a Catholic? After all, being a Catholic has to mean something, right?

Well, in simple terms – and here I refer only to those more visible, structural elements of Church membership – being a Catholic means that you’re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. It means that you believe and accept the teachings of the Church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals; that you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish; that you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly; that you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially.

Congressman, I’m not sure whether or not you fulfill the basic requirements of being a Catholic, so let me ask: Do you accept the teachings of the Church on essential matters of faith and morals, including our stance on abortion? Do you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish? Do you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly? Do you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially?

In your letter you say that you “embrace your faith.” Terrific. But if you don’t fulfill the basic requirements of membership, what is it exactly that makes you a Catholic? Your baptism as an infant? Your family ties? Your cultural heritage?

Your letter also says that your faith “acknowledges the existence of an imperfect humanity.” Absolutely true. But in confronting your rejection of the Church’s teaching, we’re not dealing just with “an imperfect humanity” – as we do when we wrestle with sins such as anger, pride, greed, impurity or dishonesty. We all struggle with those things, and often fail.

Your rejection of the Church’s teaching on abortion falls into a different category – it’s a deliberate and obstinate act of the will; a conscious decision that you’ve re-affirmed on many occasions. Sorry, you can’t chalk it up to an “imperfect humanity.” Your position is unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members. It absolutely diminishes your communion with the Church.

Congressman Kennedy, I write these words not to embarrass you or to judge the state of your conscience or soul. That’s ultimately between you and God. But your description of your relationship with the Church is now a matter of public record, and it needs to be challenged. I invite you, as your bishop and brother in Christ, to enter into a sincere process of discernment, conversion and repentance. It’s not too late for you to repair your relationship with the Church, redeem your public image, and emerge as an authentic “profile in courage,” especially by defending the sanctity of human life for all people, including unborn children. And if I can ever be of assistance as you travel the road of faith, I would be honored and happy to do so.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas J. Tobin

Bishop of Providence