Guest Commentary – June 29, 2020

– Effie CaldarolaCatholic News Service

After protests, work for racial justice

I grew up in farm country where community was maintained by certain customs.

If a farmer was taken seriously ill or died near harvest time, a cadre of neighboring farmers would appear to take in his harvest and deliver it to the mill. No questions asked.

Likewise, if there was a death in your family, food in copious amounts would arrive at your door. Sometimes people are tongue-tied expressing condolences or reticent about hugs. So, handing someone a ham, a cake or those ubiquitous casseroles was a neighbor’s way of saying, “I’m sorry for your trouble.”

Many of us are looking at the current moment in our nation’s history and wondering, what can I do? The response for many — for millions — has been to show support by showing up at memorials, protests, peaceful demonstrations.

It has been inspiring to see the crowds, the banners, the Black Lives Matter painted on the boulevard near the White House. It’s as if a sleeping giant has been aroused, an America we’ve been yearning to see.

But in the “what can I do” category, a protest is sort of a national way of delivering a casserole. It’s heartfelt, it’s well-meaning, it’s important and it needs to be done. But it’s a gesture that must be followed by more.

Maybe now we need to bring in the harvest.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Lightning makes no sound until it strikes.” Boom. We’ve seen the strike, we’ve heard the thunder.

Now we have work to do.

We’re called to examine our entire criminal justice system, the housing discrimination that was systemic and state-sanctioned even as black American soldiers came home from World War II.

We still have much de facto segregation in housing and schools. And in our Church. Remember the old adage that the most segregated hour in America begins at 11 a.m. on Sunday? Still true.

We feel frustration and anger. We can’t do everything. But maybe we can do something.

The heroes of every movement toward freedom did not spend time in anger. Righteous anger, yes, but not the soul-eroding kind that ties you up in knots. Not the social media, personal insults kind of anger.

We begin with prayer. That’s a given. Does my day include silence and reflection? If not, why not? Starting first with an encounter with that rebel Jesus helps me to ask for guidance and listen.

Showing up at the ballot box is another given. Am I educated about the candidates, especially the down ticket ones that I may not know much about? Much change begins locally.

Educate myself. Someone said, “Information is power, but you decide what to do with it.” I have my senators and congressperson in my phone contacts, and they hear from me often.

Let’s be in touch with our pastors and our bishop. Encourage homilies and prayers of the faithful that support life issues of concern to our Church, including abolishing the death penalty, climate concerns and racial justice.

Jesus said, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few” (Lk 10:2). The country is ripe for change. Let’s do our part.

Guest Commentary – June 1, 2020

—  Greg Erlandson,  Catholic News Service

To mask or not to mask

I’ve been a bit puzzled about all the debate and outrage over wearing masks. I know some of it is weirdly ideological, but some of it seems to be a misunderstanding of why we have been asked to wear masks in the first place.

The objection is often phrased as a personal right: “If I choose not to wear a mask, it’s my own darn business whether I want to take that risk.” 

It reminds me of the debate about motorcycle helmet laws: “If I want to go roaring down the freeway on two wheels and have the wind blowing in my hair, it’s my own darn business.”

When it comes to wearing helmets, there is a kind of logic to such a position, if one does not think of the first responders who have to clean up the mess. 

I remember my motorcycle accident when the nurse in the emergency room asked me if I knew what they call motorcycle accident victims? “Donors,” she answered her own question, with nary a smirk.

But asking someone to wear a mask to prevent the spread of a virus is more akin to asking someone not to leave a loaded gun on the coffee table. The idea is not that you might get hurt, but that someone else might because of your carelessness.

We wear masks to protect others because the vast majority of us don’t know from day to day if we might be the contagious ones. It reflects our concern for the common good and our fellow men and women, and our hope that they have a similar concern for us.

This small sacrifice of wearing a mask in public settings is also a sign that we are all in this together, not just the first responders and the ER doctors, the nurses and the morticians. That little strip of cloth is a flag of solidarity.

At times, it doesn’t feel like we are all in this crisis together. We are approaching 2 million sick and 100,000 people dead who were alive three months ago, yet the stats are often treated like a box score. After 9/11, there was a rush of sympathy for New York. This time, there was a rush of discussion about how fast to open up, and other hot spots are getting far less national attention.

We really aren’t asked to sacrifice much these days for greater goods. We have historically long wars, but it never really touches us unless we have family serving. We run up mountains of debt, but don’t feel it should fall on us to pay it back.

The pandemic has exposed lots of social weaknesses, like the inequalities of our health care system and our educational system and even our access to the internet. Those who are weakest are the most vulnerable once again: Unable to afford not to go to work when the pandemic is in full flower. Unable to afford to stay home when they are called back to work while the risk is still great.

In thinking about the common good, we place ourselves firmly within the moral and social teachings of the Church, which in turn goes back to what Jesus taught: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets” (Mt 7:12).

I don’t know what the lasting effects of this pandemic will be: Whether we will rush backward to our old normal as quickly as possible, or whether we will learn new lessons from these few months of sacrifice. I for one am hoping that in our isolation, we’ve learned something about fellowship.

Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at ger landson@catholicnews.com.

Guest Commentary – May 18, 2020

— Jeff Caruso, Executive Director, Virginia Catholic Conference

General Assembly session yields sweeping changes

The 2019 elections swung the Senate and House from majority Republican to majority Democrat. With the switch in power came a seismic shift in leadership priorities and a rush by the new majority to enact sweeping changes that Gov. Ralph Northam was eager to sign. In just two months, nearly 1,300 bills passed, some drastically altering or even erasing decades of state policy. 

For the Virginia Catholic Conference, this session was far different than any other in its 15-year history. The sheer number and striking severity of threats, especially to life and religious liberty, created a triage-like environment for VCC advocacy this year.

What passed 

• Abortion expansion legislation that dismantles decades of pro-life protections. It eliminates health and safety regulations for abortion facilities, allows non-doctors to perform first-trimester abortions and removes nearly all requirements of informed consent before an abortion. Northam announced his signature in a press release issued on Good Friday.

• Reversal of the Hyde Amendment restrictions against abortion funding that VCC advocacy had helped secure one year ago.

• Ratification of the ERA, even though its language has already been used to challenge and overturn pro-life laws in other states.

• Legislation adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected categories in many areas of state law. VCC efforts to amend the legislation to ensure religious liberty protections for religious employers, churches, schools and other ministries to practice their beliefs — including the beliefs that God created each person male or female and established marriage as the union of a man and a woman— were thwarted at every turn. 

VCC involvement was, however, instrumental in ensuring these new provisions do not change existing law on state contracts and thus do not impact partnerships between Catholic Charities and the Commonwealth to provide refugee resettlement and other services.

• Legislation requiring health benefit plans to cover gender transition treatments and surgery. VCC efforts to add an exemption for religious employers whose beliefs do not permit this coverage were defeated.

• Legislation requiring background checks for firearm purchases.

• Legislation ensuring that crime victims and witnesses are not asked their immigration status when they report crimes.

• Legislation protecting borrowers from predatory lending practices.

What did not pass

• Bills to legalize assisted suicide, to repeal the law that protects the religious liberty of faith-based adoption and foster-care agencies, and to repeal the Education Improvements Scholarships Tax Credits program. 

Proactive advocacy by the VCC and partnering organizations was key in keeping each of these three bills from receiving committee votes this year. In each case, however, the legislation is likely to resurface, requiring vigilance and intensified efforts by the VCC and its advocacy partners.

• Legislation to exempt from the death penalty those who had a severe mental illness at the time of the crime. The bill passed the Senate in a strong bipartisan vote but then stalled in a House subcommittee. Bills to abolish the death penalty also failed to advance, but there were positive indications that movement could occur next year.

• Legislation that would have required parental consent for a child to participate in a public school FLE program.

Editor’s note: View the full VCC vote report at www.vacatholic.org (see “2020 General Assembly,” “Read the Vote Report”).   

Guest Commentary – May 4, 2020

— Brett Robinson, Catholic News Service

Technology is spiritual benefit in time of crisis

“Gather ‘round the TV, kids, it’s time to pray.” 

Those are words I never thought I would utter as a Catholic media studies professor who has spent the past 20 years studying the effects of media on children and families.

Yet, during the coronavirus quarantine, I have found myself saying those words every day at noon as we gather to “attend” Mass at a church in England that offers a daily livestream. The experience has forced me to reevaluate our relationship with media technology as a Catholic family in a time of crisis.

As a kid, I can remember watching Mass on television during a particularly bad snowstorm in Pittsburgh, where I grew up. It was a little unsettling, but it also sent a powerful message.

To this day, I still tell my parents that watching Mass on TV in that snowstorm left more of an impression on me than anything I learned in catechism class. It showed that my parents put such a high value on witnessing the holy sacrifice of the Mass on Sundays that we weren’t going to miss it, even if it meant watching it on TV.

Shouldn’t the opposite be true? Didn’t watching Mass on TV cheapen the experience by hollowing out its embodied and sacramental character? Under normal circumstances, perhaps.

If we could travel to Mass safely, there was no reason to watch on TV. But then there’s the story of St. Clare of Assisi who, when she was too ill to attend Mass, was granted a vision of the liturgy that was projected onto the wall of her room. It’s why St. Clare is now the patron saint of television.

All of this came into particular focus on Friday, March 27, when Pope Francis delivered an “urbi et orbi” extraordinary blessing to an empty St. Peter’s Square. Unable to attend because of the pandemic, the faithful were invited by the Holy Father “to participate spiritually through the means of communication.”  

We watched as a family as Pope Francis ascended the stairs of St. Peter’s alone in the rain as evening descended on the empty streets of Rome. The images were stark and arresting. There was a sad beauty in the emptiness.

The thought of praying with the pope and the rest of the world while adoring the Blessed Sacrament was a consoling reminder that God’s love and mercy is not confined to any particular place. The televised experience provided a fitting analogy for God’s ability to transcend the temporal and physical constraints of this world to unite the Church through spiritual communion.

There is a very good case to be made about the corrosive effects of television that have accumulated over the past half century. But our recent need to see and hear the prayer of the Church while being separated from it has attenuated those effects for the moment.

For now, as our television culture gives way to a digital culture that has yet to reveal its own lasting effects, the TV is providing a spiritual lifeline to the Church that has been physically separated but remains spiritually intact.

Robinson is director of communications and Catholic media studies at the University of Notre Dame McGrath Institute for Church Life.

Guest Commentary – April 6, 2020

— Father Pat Apuzzo

Clericalism shuts down reliance on God’s grace

When I decided to write about clericalism, it was to help expose its human face. I did not want to mask or dilute how clericalism can infect us and damage our faith. On the contrary, the more familiar we are with clericalism, the more we can diminish its strength and prevalence among us. 

To remedy the problem, we must go behind the label “clerical” to meet these people for who they are and for what they are experiencing. They are sisters and brothers who are living with a spiritual disorder. It is a struggle for them to trust the reliability of God’s grace.

When I started composing these reflections, the coronavirus epidemic had not yet become a pandemic. In observing the actions and reactions of one another – as well as my own – we have a window into seeing more clearly just what clericalism is. 

Yet, as a flood of human tragedy rises, there are the blessings of a stream of words, perspectives and actions that demonstrate everything that clericalism is not.

How we react – or how we are instructed to respond – in human moments when God seems to be absent will distinguish whether or not clericalism is stirring. 

To help with that distinction: even though its root is the word “cleric,” clericalism does not pertain only to the ordained. Some laypersons practice clericalism. There are a lot of deacons, priests and bishops who do not. 

A universal symptom of clericalism is separation. The practitioners perceive themselves as being apart from the common crowd, superior in any number of ways from the ordinary believer. Worst of all, clericalism devises a self-image of someone indispensable for others to have faith, yet they envision themselves practicing faith without others.

When fellow believers, with their faith strangled by feelings of being abandoned or rejected, cry out, “Where is Jesus now?”, what do we do?  We invoke trust in Jesus of the Gospels. There, in the Gospels, Jesus walks through walls to calm the fears of his disciples. Jesus growls at death at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. Jesus, as he suffers on the cross, trustingly places himself into the dependable hands of God.

Those suffering with the spiritual disease at the core of clericalism will often mock such an approach. 

As if we should take as fairy tales Jesus’ insistent testimonies to God’s relentless mercy, “clericalists” will often ridicule invocations of those portrayals as “loosey-goosey” or scorn them as “cheap grace”  — a misapplication of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s phrase from “The Cost of Discipleship” in which he defines “cheap grace” as “grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate [my emphasis].”

Since mercy is not weakness, and it doesn’t exclude confrontation, those afflicted with the disease of clericalism need our love and our honesty.

When Jesus encounters Thomas after the Resurrection, his words to the apostle are sharp and direct, yet his actions are intimate and emboldening. Jesus demands that Thomas put an end to his unbelief and directs him to start believing. Then, Jesus invites Thomas to come close and to touch, and to be touched by the wounds that Jesus carries to all of us from the cross. (Jn 20:27).

In what we are experiencing these days – with a pandemic disease striking fear, grief and despair into so many hearts, it is a special moment for us to be a Church of people – for each other and for so many others – who dare to invite others to keep our hopes open to trust that God is with us. 

Even though we are unable to gather in our churches, wherever we gather Christ promises he is with us. Nothing can separate us from Christ. We can remind each other not to panic since Jesus is in this boat with us, cheering us to hold tight to faith in God. We have a graced time to assert and insist that there is no one human life that is more demanding of dignity and protection than any other.

And, let us use this special opportunity to reunite as a Church. To put each one of us back on common ground with each other. To allow none to stand above or below the other. To re-introduce ourselves as needing each other — all of us ready and able to serve the rest. 

Father Pat has been a priest of the Diocese of Richmond for 43 years. Before retiring, he served as a pastor for 24 years and as “priest-for” at several parishes who were without a local pastor. He also served as Priest Secretary for the late Bishop Walter Sullivan and in several other positions on the diocesan staff.

Guest Commentary – February 10, 2020

— Seth Bauer

March was sharing in ‘spirit of youthful hope’

On Friday, Jan. 24, people from all walks of life gathered in Washington for the 47th annual March for Life. As a first-time participant, I was inspired by the enthusiasm, prayer and peacefulness which seemed to surround both the marchers and the march itself.

Many have called this year’s March for Life historic because for the first time in history the sitting president of the United States personally attended the event. The excitement produced by President Trump’s presence was apparent in the faces of the marchers, and it seemed to reinforce the significance of our own public witness.

Throughout the day, I was struck by the overwhelming number of high school students, homeschoolers, college students and young adults who appeared to make up the majority of the crowd. Being a young person myself, I felt right at home.

As I observed the many young faces flow past me toward Constitution Avenue, it dawned on me that this generation — my generation — is the energy behind the pro-life movement. I then recalled the words spoken earlier by the president: “Young people are the heart of the March for Life. And it’s your generation that is making America the pro-family, pro-life nation.”

Prior to reaching Capitol Hill, I was unable to get an appreciation for how large the march was. However, when I finally reached the summit, I looked back in amazement. The crowds stretched farther than I could see in both directions and were packed so close together it appeared as one continuous mass of people.

The sheer magnitude of those assembled from across the country, people the president said numbered “in the tens of thousands” but perhaps more accurately numbering in the hundreds of thousands, is proof that abortion is the key moral issue of our time. This appeared to be a profound testimony to the immeasurable value of the human person from the moment of conception until natural death.

The president eloquently captured the purpose of the prolife movement when he said, “We are here for a very simple reason: to defend the right of every child, born and unborn, to fulfill their God-given potential.”

While the march marks a somber remembrance of the legalization of abortion, those present were visibly joyful. Standing in the cold and walking together in such tight groups would in most cases kindle feelings of impatience or frustration. Yet when the mass of people pushed me forward unexpectedly, the person I bumped often turned to apologize before I could even say a word.

There was no sign of malice or animosity. Instead, an atmosphere of sincerity and goodwill filled the crowds. Whenever I looked at those around me, I was received with a smile.

I observed no lawlessness that day. There were no angry protests. Instead, we marched peacefully to the Supreme Court with what might be called patient anticipation. We shared a spirit of youthful hope.

Seth Bauer, a member of St. Benedict, Chesapeake, is a homeschooled senior dual enrolled at Regent University in Virginia Beach.

Guest Commentary – January 27, 2020

— Richard Doerflinger, Catholic News Service

Why Catholic judges are under the microscope

Catholics wanting to serve our country in the legal system are coming under intense scrutiny.

In 2017, University of Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett was grilled by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about her Catholic faith. Sen. Dianne Feinstein told Barrett that “the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s a concern.”

This sparked a public backlash, and a cottage industry in selling “The Dogma Lives Loudly Within Me” T-shirts to proud Catholics. Barrett was confirmed as a federal judge, supported by 52 Republicans and three Democrats.

In 2018, Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Mazie Hirono objected to confirming Brian Buescher as a federal district judge because he belongs to the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization.

Their problem: The Knights defend Catholic teaching on abortion and marriage. Sen. Hirono asked Buescher if he would leave the Knights if confirmed, “to avoid any appearance of bias.” Buescher was confirmed, with every Democrat present voting no.

In recent weeks, there was an unsuccessful effort to block confirmation of Sarah Pitlyk as a federal judge. She was opposed by all Democrats and one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins.

Some said she lacked trial and litigation experience. But Sen. Tammy Duckworth launched a different attack: Pitlyk had expressed “extreme” views against in vitro fertilization and “surrogate motherhood,” views consistent with Catholic teaching.

Sen. Duckworth said she was offended by Pitlyk’s stand because her own children were conceived by in vitro fertilization. She harshly attacked the attorney for what she called a “cavalier willingness to substitute her own ideological opinions in place of facts.” But Sen. Duckworth herself ignored some facts.

Pitlyk’s chief offense was that when she worked for the Thomas More Society, a nonprofit public interest law firm, she submitted a brief to the Supreme Court on behalf of Catholic and secular organizations with expertise in medicine and medical ethics. (Full disclosure: I am affiliated with two of those organizations — the National Catholic Bioethics Center and Charlotte Lozier Institute.)

The brief urged the Supreme Court to hear the case of “M.C. v. C.M.” A woman, Melissa Cook, had agreed to be a “surrogate mother,” gestating a child conceived by in vitro fertilization using the sperm of Chester Moore Jr. and eggs donated by a young woman. When Cook became pregnant with triplets, Moore demanded under the surrogacy contract that she abort one child.

Cook refused on moral grounds, and later filed suit to ensure that Moore would be assessed for fitness as a father and would not get custody of the “extra” child he had wanted killed.

Pitlyk’s brief cited numerous medical journal articles and other secular sources to argue that a law demanding enforcement of such contracts against a birth mother was harmful to the health and well-being of women and children.

According to Sen. Duckworth, Pitlyk’s brief “cruelly implied” that children conceived by in vitro fertilization are “inferior.” She had said exactly the opposite, that these children have the same rights as other children and should have those rights respected.

Is Pitlyk’s view extreme? Surrogacy contracts have been criticized by secular feminists, who understand that a coerced abortion is not “pro-choice” and that commercial exploitation of women’s bodies demeans their dignity. In vitro fertilization, which treats human procreation as a manufacturing process, has long been criticized by Leon Kass and other non-Catholic ethicists.

But the brief was written by a Catholic and was consistent with Catholic teaching, so Pitlyk was attacked for holding extreme “personal beliefs.”

Some senators, especially Democrats, should recall that under our Constitution “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Doerflinger worked for 36 years in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He writes from Washington state.

Guest Commentary – January 13, 2020

— Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference

Life issues, religious liberty top VCC concerns

The 2020 session (Jan. 8-March 7) of the Virginia General Assembly will feature numerous hotly contested issues, many in which the Virginia Catholic Conference (VCC) will be deeply involved. On our agenda, defending pro-life policies, religious liberty and parental choice in education are areas of high focus. So, too, are continuing to build momentum against the death penalty, enacting just policies for immigrants and advancing measures to reduce gun violence and poverty.

The pivotal November 2019 elections significantly altered the General Assembly’s composition and power structure. Before the elections, Republicans held thin majorities in the 40-member Senate and the 100-member House of Delegates. Now, Democrats control both chambers.

In some fundamental areas where we had previously made gains, this shift signals stiff challenges. Measures already filed seek to remove parental consent and ultrasound informed consent requirements before an abortion is performed, eliminate health and safety standards for abortion facilities, and even establish a “right to personal reproductive autonomy” in Virginia’s constitution.

Resolutions have been introduced to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, the language of which has already been used to challenge and overturn pro-life laws in other states. Legislation has also been filed seeking to deny religious employers and service providers the ability to operate consistently with their beliefs on human sexuality and marriage — creating lawsuits against faith-based providers. A bill to legalize assisted suicide, first introduced in 2019, is expected to resurface in 2020.

A bill to repeal the Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits program will also be considered. This program enables thousands of low-income students to attend Catholic and other nonpublic schools. The VCC will take strong stands against each of these measures and others that threaten to roll back longstanding, hard-fought policies that protect life and liberty and enhance the lives of families and communities.

Conversely, in areas of our advocacy that have not succeeded, prospects for passage have improved. Early filed legislation seeks to help immigrants get to work, go to school, access healthcare and attend church by creating a state-issued permit granting driving privileges to those who cannot obtain driver’s licenses because of their immigration status.

Bills have been introduced to limit and even abolish the death penalty. Several bills have been filed to expand the instances in which background checks are required for gun purchases and transfers.

We will be a key supporter of those initiatives and a number of others likely to be proposed in those areas.

Many more bills continue to be filed in key areas of VCC advocacy such as education, poverty reduction and access to healthcare. We continue to monitor the introduction of bills closely to address emerging challenges and opportunities.

People often ask, “How can I make a difference?” Join the VCC network at www.vacatholic.org, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Each of these platforms will provide action alerts throughout the session and provide you with easy and effective ways for you to contact your legislators before they vote on key bills.

Also plan to be a part of the second annual Virginia March for Life on Thursday, Feb. 13, and Virginia Vespers: Evening Prayer for the Commonwealth on Thursday, March 5. Details about both will be posted to www.vacatholic.org.

Caruso is executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference.

Guest Commentary – December 30, 2019

— George P. Matysek Jr.

The more, the merrier

Zipping down the path toward marriage after a few months of dating, my future wife pulled me aside one sunny afternoon and asked how many children I thought would be ideal for our family.

“Three,” I said.

A playful smile engulfed her face.

“That’s a good start,” she replied.

As always, Treasa knew what she was talking about.

Counting our firstborn, Georgie, who was stillborn six weeks before his due date, this year’s June arrival of our youngest daughter brought the number of children in our family to six — twice what I had projected.

Here with us in this world are three girls, ages 5, 3 and 6 months, and 2-year-old twin boys.

The thought of caring for five young children, three of whom are still in diapers, undoubtedly sends chills down the spines of many. I see it in the polite but bemused faces we encounter on outings with our brood.

“You have your hands full” is the ubiquitous commentary on our lives.

In many ways, it is a challenge.

Our small townhouse seems forever cluttered with toys, books and stuffed animals. We have financial pressures that go with having a big family and inevitable tantrums to deal with. And if someone decides to make an Olympic sport of wrestling squirmy children into car seats, we’re medal contenders.

Despite all that, our little ones have brought immeasurable joy. I have no greater pleasure than getting tackled by giggling toddlers or watching them gleefully race around our home on hand-me-down tricycles.

Balancing multiple children on my lap for bedtime stories or whirling around the kitchen during early-morning dance sessions are equally fun.

This December, we had the thrill of hanging another Christmas stocking on our crowded fireplace mantel and again experiencing the excitement of the season through the eyes of our children.

There’s something enchanting (and daunting) about taking a pack of children to pick a Christmas tree. There’s also a sense of gratitude that comes with the privilege of adding “baby’s first Christmas” ornaments on just the right branches.

We know we’re in the minority when it comes to family size, even among Catholics.

The Pew Research Center found in a 2015 study that just 14% of mothers who had reached the end of their childbearing years had four or more children — down dramatically from 40% in 1976. Then, 11% had only one child. Today, that figure is 22%.

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found in a 2015 study that just 1% of Catholic parents ages 25 to 45 have five children. Less than 1% have six, and less than 1% have seven or more.

There are many legitimate factors that influence how many children a family is able to raise, if any at all. There’s certainly no such thing as a “perfect family size,” and there’s great value in respecting the diversity of family sizes in our community.

As we make those decisions, however, it helps to be open to the gift of life and, as St. John Paul II reminded us, to be unafraid. What better time than the Christmas season to reflect on the Polish pontiff’s description of a child as a “gift” to his or her brothers, sisters, parents and entire family?

One of the classic syndicated comic strips, “The Family Circus,” shows a mother carrying groceries while her four children tag along. A woman asks how she divides her love among four children.

“I don’t divide it,” Mommy says, “I multiply it.”

Matysek is digital editor for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. His commentary was provided by Catholic News Service.

Guest Commentary – December 16, 2019

— Carolyn Woo, Catholic News Service

Have we become distracted receivers?

As we prepare for Christmas, I am sure many readers have had the experience of thoughtfully selecting a gift for a child and laboriously tracking down the item. The present, upon being opened, brings moments of squealing, then disappears into a pile of shredded colorful wrap, forgotten within the hour.

For the first Christmas after David and I got married, my mother sent from Hong Kong a one-of-a-kind embroidered, lace and crochet tablecloth. I was awed by its delicate touch and totally intimidated by its care.

I could also never see myself using such a fancy cloth for my homey fares. I probably had an attitude that my mom did not recognize the modern professional woman I had become: one no longer confined by the expectations for elegance, perfection and showmanship to be exhibited by a refined Chinese hostess.

After appropriate thanks, the tablecloth was carefully packed into a box that was lodged in basements and garages through decades of moving and relocation.

Not too long ago, I had the chance to forage among stacks of forgotten boxes. With anticipation, I reached into the one labeled “Lace tablecloth from mom.” Out came the treasure, but in fragments of loose fabric and broken threads. A mouse had made a feast of the cloth!

As I tried to see what I could salvage, I found nothing. No segment was big enough as the mouse had created a hole through all the folded layers. After castigating this creature, I broke into a good cry and sank into a much-deserved guilt fest.

It was not the physical loss that hit me the hardest, but a sense of my thoughtlessness: how little I tried to take seriously my mother’s efforts, financial sacrifice and intentions behind this present.

Her gift was an invitation for me to maintain some aspect of my Chinese culture and to grow into a hostess who could honor my guests through aesthetics by “pulling out all the stops.” I regret not putting stains on the tablecloth from use and showing off not the tablecloth, but my mother’s love for her immigrant daughter.

Christmas is not just a time to give gifts, but also a time to receive. The ultimate gift, of course, is Christ. Many of us nod to this, warm our hearts to the beautiful Advent readings and visit the Nativity with nostalgia and a moment of prayer.

Then we busy ourselves with shopping, cooking, visiting, office parties and Christmas cards to ring in the spirit of Christmas until we are too exhausted to attend to the Christ in Christmas.

Another Christmas passes. Like children, we too are distracted receivers — getting lost amid the bounty of things, failing to engage the giver, appreciate what the gift is about, what it does to us, how to use it and share it.

When the Christmas message becomes flat for me, I recall these words from American writer and theologian Frederick Buechner:

“The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light.

“Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space/time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: ‘God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God … who for us and for our salvation,’ as the Nicene Creed puts it, ‘came down from heaven.’”

Woo is distinguished president’s fellow for global development at Purdue University and served as the CEO and president of Catholic Relief Services from 2012 to 2016.

Guest Commentary – October 7, 2019

— Effie Caldarola

Lesson in humility from visit to small hometown

I grew up near a small town that had a big Labor Day weekend celebration. For a farm kid, it rivaled Christmas for excitement. There were carnival rides, barkers hawking games, a big parade, an alumni dance at the local ballroom, contests of all kinds.

The streets were closed to traffic, and people spilled out of the pubs that overflowed with revelers. No Knight of Columbus missed his chance to flip a pancake.

Eventually, I moved far away, but every Labor Day would bring memories.

So, since I live in Nebraska now, I decided to head out to the Labor Day parade in the old hometown.

You know that Thomas Wolfe novel, “You Can’t Go Home Again”? There’s a reason that title has worked its way into the American lexicon. Labor Day sure wasn’t what it was when I was 12.

However, I did experience one of those little God moments that St. Ignatius speaks of — the idea of finding God in all things, sometimes unexpectedly. That Sunday’s readings had focused on humility, a hard virtue to define.

Jesus said not to hide your lamp under a basket, and we know a lack of self-esteem is not true humility. Yet, we live in an uncomfortably self-promotional age.

Publish something? Receive an award? Broadcast it on Twitter and Facebook. Move up in the company? Announce it on LinkedIn. Traveling? Be sure that Instagram shot is flattering. Tout your accomplishments.

Where does humility fit in?

At the parade, we found a shady spot and an old friend joined us. He unexpectedly provoked some thoughts about humility.

Our family farms had been close, and as kids we all spent much time together. Unlike me, after college he returned to our small hometown, married, had a large family and worked in a local bank until he became the president. After many years, he recently retired and was enjoying 15 grandchildren, including an adorable baby he brought over to meet me.

I told him I was a little disappointed in the celebration and that I’d be really disappointed if I found no old friends, or even anyone who recognized me.

Then he told me a story. After retiring, he went back to the bank one day to open a new account — probably for the adorable grandchild on his lap.

A young woman who was a new hire assisted him, and before the bank manager could come out to greet him, the clerk asked, “And have you ever had a prior relationship with us?” She had no clue he was until recently the bank president.

He found it funny; she was ultimately quite embarrassed.

Then, he reminded me of some men who were very prominent when we were kids — the grain elevator owner, the oil company guy, the big shots who became mayor or held court at the golf course.

“You know,” he said, “if you walked down the street right now and mentioned them, these people wouldn’t know who you were talking about.”

On the drive home to the city, I looked at the corn waving in the breeze, awaiting the harvest. I thought of how small each of us is in the universe and how briefly, like the grass of the field, we live. The important things have nothing to do with recognition or honors or fame.

Maybe this knowledge is at the heart of humility. In this mystery of faith, we’re loved by God in this moment, this transient and beautiful gift. To be humble is to accept that and to be present to each fleeting moment, to each ordinary grace-filled, God-filled moment.

Guest Commentary – September 23, 2019

— Father Pat Apuzzo

Believe it or not, Jesus really is with us at Mass

The findings that are circulating from a recent survey of U.S. Catholics by the Pew Research Center regarding belief in the Real Presence are definitely an eye-opener.

The results suggest that only 30% of us believe that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist. Most of that group is over 60 years old. The survey then suggests that 70% of us, mostly young and middle-aged, disbelieve that Jesus is really there in the Blessed Sacrament.

This data depicts conditions that clearly call for change. I write my comments with lively hope that we can improve and actually transform this situation.

Hope, here, requires washing away panic with a deep gulp of God’s grace. Hope can inspire a cease-fire on personal preferences and agendas.

Hope promises to revive the conviction that the best desires and plans for us are in the heart of Jesus. Hope provides us the will to rally together and discover — hidden in these scary polling results — what can be some delightful surprises from God for our Church.

We can start with two facts that the Pew statistics do not report. First, in 1992, the Gallup polling firm had its own “Real Presence Survey.” Next, and remarkably, the 2019 Pew findings are practically identical to the 1992 Gallup findings: 30% believed in the Real Presence, 70% disbelieved.

Over the last 27 years, U.S. Catholics have experienced extensive modifications to significant aspects of the Mass. Oddly enough, after heightened efforts at change, the 2019 survey results have not budged a bit and remain as frightening as the 1992 results.

Part of living through that period of failed liturgical changes involved coping with the effects of a cynical and divisive two-part indictment. Count one: the Church had abandoned belief in the Real Presence. Count two: the Second Vatican Council liturgy reforms were to blame.

Around 2002, the indictment gave birth to a “reform of the reform” movement. Ultimately, in 2016, the Vatican labeled the term “reform of the reform” unsuitable for serious discussion.

Our response to the survey results should include reintroducing Jesus of the Gospels, what scholars call “the substance of the Eucharist.” Then, we can revisit complaints like the one that claims Communion in the hand destroys belief in the Real Presence.

The insinuation is that Jesus objects to us getting too close to him. Yet, countless Gospel accounts have Jesus calling those who need him to come closer to him.

We should also introduce our sisters and brothers at worship to the actual breadth of the Liturgical Movement that Vatican II carries forward. Let’s bring them to “Mediator Dei,” the 1947 encyclical of Pope Pius XII.

Let them see how and why, so long ago, a pope praised, supported and guided the Liturgical Movement. Let them hear this pope point that movement to the substance of the Eucharist, which he calls “the Whole Christ…” the same Christ as always. Let’s help each other trace that movement to a 1903 call from Pope Pius X for “active and individual participation” at Mass.

For me, the truth about authentic worship lives in childhood memories. One Monday every month, we came together for a novena with Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament. After we belted out the Latin words of the hymn “Tantum Ergo,” the priest solemnly intoned a happy announcement: “Panem de caelo praestitisti eis!” (“You have given them bread from heaven!”).

Yes, we can discover delightful surprises in our grim survey results because of what we children chanted back to our priest on those Monday evenings: “Omne delectamentum in se habentem!” (“A bread that contains in itself every human delight!”). “Delectamentum,” with its reference to mother’s milk (delecta — de lacto), captures the peaceful delight a child enjoys in feeding from her mother’s own milk!

So, the big surprise can be just this: being underwhelmed and confused by the physical realities at liturgy is not a lack of faith in Real Presence. It is, instead, a reason to get back in touch with the real Jesus who is always alive with us and present for us at worship.

Jesus makes himself bread and wine and servant for us. That self-donation turns us toward feeding and serving one another. Sent from there by Jesus, we go to others as food in service to them and to all.

Father Apuzzo has been a priest of the diocese for 42 years. Before retiring, he served as a pastor for 24 years and as “priest for” at several parishes who were without a local pastor. As director of worship, he helped implement liturgical reform in the diocese.

Guest Commentary – August 26, 2019

— Greg Erlandson

Survey reveals great need for adult faith formation

When Pope Francis recently said that every time we receive Communion, it should be like our first time, it reminded me of a friend’s story.

He had left his then-youngest son in the pew while the rest of the family went up to receive Communion. Upon his return, his son was missing. Looking around to see where he went, he suddenly saw his little boy racing down the aisle shouting, “I got one! I got one!”

I’m not sure how many of us can equal that excitement, but what do we feel when we receive Communion? What are we thinking when the priest says the words of consecration?

A longtime editor in the Catholic press, himself a convert, once confessed that the hair on the back of his neck stood up every time the priest uttered those words, so powerful was his sense that God really and truly became present in a unique and tangible way.

For 2,000 years, this has been the teaching of the Church. But what do most Catholics believe these days about the real presence of Christ under the forms of bread and wine?

A recent survey by Pew Research Center suggested that a majority of Catholics do not believe that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. In fact, Pew said 69% thought the host and wine were only “symbols” of Christ’s body and blood. (See related story, Page 9).

The polling results stirred a great deal of breast-beating, and accusations flew about who was to blame for this sorry state of affairs.

But one must always approach such surveys with caution, as Mark Gray from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, known as CARA, subsequently pointed out in his blog named 1964.

Gray noted that Pew gave Catholics the following choice: The bread and wine (a) actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, or (b) are symbols of the body and blood of Christ.

The results are significantly different from a 2011 survey in which 63% believe in the Real Presence (46% of whom knew what the Church teaches.)

The earlier survey asked the question this way: “Which of the following statements best describes the Catholic teaching” on the Eucharist: (a) The bread and wine really become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, or (b) the bread and wine are only symbols of the body and blood.

The difference is the use of the phrase “really become” versus “actually become.” “Actually,” Gray suggests, may make it sound like something that could be analyzed under a microscope or empirically observed.

Instead, the Church describes the Real Presence as “an inexhaustible mystery,” and that the “substance” of the bread and wine are changed at consecration, but “the ‘accidents’ or appearances of bread and wine remain.”

Past CARA surveys, Gray said, used the wording “Jesus Christ is really present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist,” or the “bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present.”

Gray hopes to test this hypothesis further, but I suspect he is on to something. As one theologian told me when a similar survey came out years ago, Catholics may not be able to articulately define the “Real Presence,” and the phrase “transubstantiation” may be obscure to them, but in their reverence and demeanor, they demonstrate their belief that this is not just a symbol.

What all of these surveys underscore, however, is the Church’s great need for adult faith formation. A few years of religious education classes as children is not sufficient, and we are paying the price for this neglect now.

Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at ger landson@catholicnews.com.

Guest Commentary – July 29, 2019

— Wayne Winder

What it’s like to be Catholic inside the razor wire

This is my account of what it is like to be Catholic inside the razor wire.

We have a beautiful faith, but it is greatly misunderstood and misrepresented. We have ourselves to thank for that. There is little to no presence of the Church in prison. This allows our Protestant brethren to fill peoples’ minds and to spread lies.

I have been down more than five years now, doing time in three different prisons. Only one of these had a Catholic service before I got there. I have been told Catholics are not Christian, that we worship the pope and Mary and that we pray to priests.

We on the “inside,” do not pray or study as we should. This lack of practice leads too many to start to believe in the lies that are told. We need to do better.

Too many priests, deacons, monks, nuns and lay eucharistic ministers refuse to come into prisons. I know there are those who do and those who are willing to come. I thank you and pray for you. The rest who do not come help feed into the feeling that the Church doesn’t care about us. So many feel abandoned.

Not all is bad, however. There are many private ministries willing to send Bibles and books and newsletters full of testimonies. May God bless those faithful men and women who do that work.

We had been spoiled by having a great man — Deacon John Sadowski from St. Catherine of Siena, Clarksville — lead us. He would come every week and always bring the Eucharist so that we could receive the Body of Christ and be strengthened by that. This last Christmas, however, he had to retire due to health reasons.

Deacon John, we miss you, we love you, and we believe you to be a saint. I look forward to worshiping with you as a free man.

We have at least one man going through the RCIA program and a couple others who are thinking of joining the Church. So we still need a priest so these men can receive the sacraments when ready. We also need a priest so we can receive the sacrament of reconciliation and celebrate the Mass.

The Church needs a bigger presence in the prisons. There is fertile ground here. It does start with us, yes, because we are here, but we need your help and your prayers! We need the Church, the Body of Christ, to step up in a big way to minister to us, the imprisoned.

Nowhere I have been has there been a shortage of Protestant volunteers, but there is always a shortage of Catholic volunteers. I do understand there is a shortage in clergy, but clergy are not the only people who can volunteer.

The Protestant groups have so many that there is a waiting list. Why is it that we do not have the same problem? The Protestant group hosts revivals at least twice a year. Maybe we could offer prayer retreats such as the Cursillo? Any volunteers? We need you!

Wayne Winder is an inmate at Lunenburg Correctional Center.

Guest Commentary – June 17, 2019

— Richard Doerflinger

Let your conscience be your guide

Our political life has become such a war of words that many may not notice that the Trump administration has done something very good and long overdue — and is being condemned for it.

The very good thing is a regulation to implement numerous federal laws on conscience rights in health care, chiefly on conscientious objection to abortion.

One law, called the Church amendment (after sponsor Sen. Frank Church of Idaho), has been in effect since 1973. Another, the Weldon amendment (after sponsor Rep. Dave Weldon of Florida), has been signed into law as part of the appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services by every president of both parties since 2004.

Yet no regulation has been in place to clarify key terms in the laws or ensure effective enforcement.

President George W. Bush had proposed such a regulation. But that was reversed by President Obama, who left all matters of interpretation and enforcement to the HHS Office for Civil Rights. That office then proceeded to distort the laws’ meaning so they would seldom do much good.

For example, the Weldon amendment clearly forbids state governments receiving federal funds to force private health plans to provide abortion coverage. But when California issued just such a coercive mandate, the Obama administration found no violation, saying that no insurance company had claimed a moral or religious objection to such coverage.

In fact, the complaint had been brought by Catholic and other religious organizations being forced to sponsor and purchase such coverage for their employees. And the protections of the Weldon amendment are not limited to insurance companies or to cases where the objection is moral or religious in nature.

But the message went out that nobody needs to worry much about these federal laws being enforced. And more states, including my home state of Washington, were emboldened to enact similar abortion mandates.

What this administration has finally done is to take the long-standing conscience laws seriously, defining key terms and establishing an effective complaint and enforcement process. This is what our government’s “executive” branch is supposed to do: Faithfully execute the laws passed by Congress.

Yet at least 20 states have filed suit against the regulation. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra says the rule “smacks of a century-old, bigoted mindset”; Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser says it “threatens to cause incredible mischief”; and New York Attorney General Letitia James calls it “a gross misinterpretation of religious freedom” — forgetting that federal law protects objections to abortion that are not religious.

Ironies abound here. California once sued — unsuccessfully — against the Weldon amendment, saying it would do horrible things. Now it says the new regulation will do those things because it goes beyond Weldon. One is tempted to ask: Are you lying now, or were you lying then?

Pro-abortion groups had sued against Weldon saying it was unconstitutionally vague; now the problem seems to be that the regulation makes the law too clear.

Opponents also say the regulation allows invidious discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans and conflicts with state laws on measles vaccination, contraception, treatment of ectopic pregnancy and removal of feeding tubes. But like the long-standing laws it enforces, it does none of these things.

The real central issue is this: To abortion supporters, is the killing of unborn children a matter of “free choice” as they once claimed? Or is it now an essential public good that all must be coerced into providing, under threat of being driven out of the health care Commentary Continued from Page 6 system by their government?

We now know the disturbing answer that some government officials give to this question.

Doerflinger worked for 36 years in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He writes from Washington state.

Guest Commentary – June 3, 2019

— Greg Erlandson

What if every life were precious?

When Alabama’s governor, Kay Ivey, signed the nation’s most restrictive abortion bill into law, she gave this simple explanation.

“Every life is precious,” she said.

The law has been criticized by some abortion opponents like televangelist Pat Robertson who feel its restrictions are too extreme to win support from the Supreme Court, and it is engendering a strong reaction from abortion supporters.

But in a straightforward and uncomplicated way, Gov. Ivey offered the perfect rationale for ending abortion. “Every life is precious.”

What makes this statement so powerful is that it comes without exceptions.

One does not say that every life is precious, except if the person has handicaps or is an immigrant or whose father was a rapist.

Every life is precious. No exceptions.

All recent popes have made the same point. The defense of unborn life, said Pope Francis, “involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development.”

This is a powerful rationale for opposing abortion, putting the emphasis on the unique human life at stake, genetically distinct from the mother from the moment of conception.

Yet the simplicity of this proposition inevitably demands that this explanation be one that is consistently followed.

Are we behaving as if every life is precious in all of our decisions?

Do we have this same concern for all life at stages other than birth?

In our inner cities and rural areas, and at our borders too?

If we do not, then we risk making a mockery of our explanation. Our opponents highlight the contradiction, and those who we hope to influence, especially today’s young people, are allergic to hypocrisy.

Many, many committed pro-lifers provide all sorts of help to women. One example: The Women’s Care Center was founded in 1984 in South Bend, Indiana. It now has 29 locations, helping women, children and families.

Yet there is an abundance of evidence that when it comes to both policy and programs, we as a nation do not act as if every life is precious.

The number of homeless in our country is astounding. In Los Angeles, an estimated 50,000 men, women and children are homeless, a city within a city.

The United States has the largest prison population in the world, and women are the fastest growing segment of that population. The warehousing of prisoners, often in terribly crowded conditions, leads to all sorts of other abuses, including suicides. The United States also has the highest maternal mortality rate of 50 developed countries. The number of deaths from drug overdoses now outranks deaths by guns or by cars.

Are our government leaders acting as if every life is precious? Are we as citizens?

Charles Camosy, a moral theologian who has written often on the abortion issue and has a new book titled “Resisting Throwaway Culture: How a Consistent Life Ethic Can Unite a Fractured People,” wrote a column for The Washington Post that plays off of condemnations of the Alabama law as extreme. He calls for a pro-life strategy that is as extreme in its support of women as it is in defense of the unborn child.

Camosy calls for a series of legislative reforms that would make it easier for women to keep and raise children.

“One dramatic way to lessen the burden of abortion restrictions on women is to dramatically increase social support for pregnant women and other mothers,” he writes.

It is a good place to start: The mother is precious to us also. And to help her is to help the child.

Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at gerlandson@catholicnews.com.

Commentary – May 6, 2019

Editor’s note: This commentary appeared as an unsigned editorial titled: “Assault on Christianity” in the April 24 issue of The Tablet, newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York. It was provided by Catholic News Service.

Will leaders defend Christians who are under attack?

A blood-stained statue of Christ is seen after a bombing at St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, April 21, 2019. At least 200 people were killed and hundreds more injured on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka when attackers unleashed an apparently coordinated series of bombings that simultaneously targeted Christian churches and luxury hotels. (CNS photo/Reuters)

There is a stirring image that has been circulating around the internet after the horrific attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday by Islamic militants against Christians and Western interests. It is a picture of a statue of the Risen Christ, taken in a Catholic Church that was a site of an attack. The statue of the Resurrected Lord Jesus is covered in blood, the blood of Christians killed in a terrorist attack.

We cannot forget that these attacks by terrorists are not against specific people for attitudes or actions against them. They are simply against these innocent victims because they are part of the Christian minority. These people were killed because of hatred of the faith. These people were killed because of hatred of Christ. They were, in the purest sense of the word, martyrs, dying only because they were in church on Easter Sunday, the holiest day of the year.

We also cannot forget that for those who orchestrated these attacks, Christianity and the Western world are intertwined. Would that it really be the case in the minds and the hearts of the Western world, not only in the crazed minds of a terrorist organization!

In an age when The Associated Press can release an article on April 17 titled “Tourist Mecca Notre Dame Also Revered As Place Of Worship” (https://bit.ly/2V8yq8v) and actually be surprised that this “tourist mecca” was a place where devout people came to celebrate holy Mass and not just an artistic masterpiece is pathetic. If this is the best that the journalism of the Western world can produce, then we are in big trouble.

Secularism is rampant in the Western world, not only in Europe, but it is growing in the United States. How many politicians, who justly condemn these villains, will see these attacks in Sri Lanka not only as a generic terrorist attack, but as a genuine assault on Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular?

Will they say that Christianity is under attack and will they do anything to defend these people of faith?

Pope Francis, in his Easter Sunday “urbi et orbi” address stated: “I want to express my loving closeness to the Christian community, targeted while they were gathered in prayer, and all the victims of such cruel violence,” he said. “I entrust to the Lord all those who were tragically killed and pray for the injured and all those who are suffering as a result of this dramatic event.”

The question is simple: will the world leaders come together to defend Christians who are clearly under attack?

Commentary – April 22, 2019

— Brian T. Olszewski

Like it or not, “Unplanned” will affect you

Over the last several decades, I have seen an average of one movie a year. With few exceptions, one of these criteria is required if I am going to see a film in a theater: it’s an opportunity to spend time with my grandsons, Bill Murray is in it or it’s about someone or something that interests me.

Movies within the first two categories are usually filled with humor. Films in the third category have the potential to change me, to help me understand the people and events better than I did prior to watching those films.

Until a few weeks ago, only one film — “The Passion of the Christ” — had provided me with a better understanding of that event and the person who was central to that event.

It powerfully conveyed what Jesus experienced during his final hours on earth. It changed the way I hear the Passion when it is proclaimed on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. It continues to have an impact upon me.

Fifteen years later, “Unplanned” has provided me with a better understanding of abortion and its victims. I expect that film will have a long-lasting impact upon me — maybe in ways I have yet to realize.

It certainly will when I hear the rants of those who do not value the life of the child in the womb, when I hear politicians who are “personally opposed, but” in rationalizing their support of abortion, and when I hear people who disparage and dismiss those who are the voices for the unborn, who march, advocate and pray for these innocent lives.

Some observations:

• “Unplanned” is graphic. It has to be. There is no non-violent way of showing a child being sucked out of its mother’s womb. Nor can one show the physical effects of abortion on the mother without showing her screaming, bleeding and writhing on the floor when the “procedure” goes awry.

• All states should require ultrasounds be performed prior to an abortion, that the screen be positioned where the mother can view it and that a description of the child is given to the mother. According to National Right to Life, only five states require all three elements: Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin.

• It is evident that the witness of those who pray at abortion clinics, i.e., 40 Days for Life and others, can touch hearts and change minds.

• The R rating is wonderful. If mature teens want to see the film, it requires their parents and them to see it together — which they should. Their post-film discussion would be invaluable to both parties.

• There are those who dismiss the veracity of “Unplanned” because it is “one of those ‘Christian films.’” It’s a true story, told well; it deserves to be — needs to be — in theaters.

• Although provided with it, neither of the two Richmond-area theaters I visited displayed in one of their “now showing” windows the “Unplanned” poster with which it had been provided. I got the impression they were willing to show the movie, but they were unwilling to promote it.

• Given that protection of the unborn is antithetical to the entertainment industry, don’t expect the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to give “Unplanned” any award consideration. For what it’s worth, the performance of Robia Scott as Cheryl, Planned Parenthood clinic director and regional executive, is convincing.

When I wrote about “The Passion of the Christ” in 2004, I recommended people see it; I made no guarantees as to whether or not they would like it, but I did say it would affect them. In the same way I recommend “Unplanned”; no guarantees you’ll like it, but it will affect you.

Brian T. Olszewski is editor of The Catholic Virginian

Guest Commentary – April 8, 2019

— Effie Caldarola

Lenten questions we must ask, answer

By now almost everyone has heard of Marie Kondo. She is the attractive Japanese woman who has parlayed her penchant for decluttering into a personal brand that includes a Netflix series and several books.

Her method helps you sort through household and personal detritus, throwing out, giving away, reorganizing and always asking, as you look at that dress you haven’t worn in five years, “Does this bring me joy?” It doesn’t? Then out it goes.

At the library, I noticed an entire display dedicated to books about decluttering. Apparently Kondo’s success has given birth to a genre. Something about getting rid of “stuff” has touched a chord in our affluent society.

Kondo and her ilk are onto something valuable, but they only touch a small part of the problem. It’s spring housecleaning season, and they’ve got that. But we are also in the spiritual season of Lent, which touches on a deeper, more fundamental part of this issue.

The questions we should ask, along with “Does this cracked mug I’m keeping in the cupboard spark joy?” are: “Why do I buy so much stuff? What need, what emptiness, what insecurity am I trying to fill?”

Americans have joked about “retail therapy,” as if buying more can boost our mood and increase our happiness. But this is no joke. We’re inundated by plastics that wash up on formerly pristine shores and seriously threaten the health of our seafood supply. Our landfills overflow. There’s not a market for all the clothes we donate. Recycling worldwide can’t keep up with us. Our “stuff” threatens the planet.

Climate change and overconsumption disproportionately impact the poor and oppressed who beg for crumbs from our overladen tables.

Our consumption is a moral issue, a Lenten question.

Chapter 16 of the Book of Exodus, read at a recent novena I attended, portrays the Israelites escaping from Egypt, traveling through the desert. They begin to doubt the whole enterprise, as well as their faith in Moses and God. Grumbling ensues. God provides quail in the evening, manna in the morning.

But Moses cautions: Harvest the manna and consume it all — there’ll be more. But, folks have their doubts. Better tuck away some for tomorrow. Just in case. The result is stinking, maggot- filled leftover manna. What a metaphor for our burgeoning storage spaces and overflowing closets.

The Israelites’ insecurity made them question that God provides.

Is there some of that in our constant yearning for more?

I thought of that the other day as I hauled items to a thrift store. It had taken me a while to deliver those bags of clothes. Part of it was distance, but part of it was my reluctance to part with “stuff.”

I look at my large closet and see abundance. And I’m trying not to buy more. Yet, all the more excuse to hesitate at giving away that black sweater that’s already in the bag. What if I want that later? What if I need it?

Need? How often do I buy from need? More likely, it’s impulse, momentary pleasure, insecurity. Does this spark joy? What about all those who do not have the means I have? Could my money be better spent on them? That’s a fundamental Lenten question.

The same preacher who read Chapter 16 to us offered this quote from Jesuit Father Ignacio Ellacurio, who was martyred in El Salvador in 1989: “Always remember that there is no conversion to God if there is no conversion to the oppressed.”

Lent is all about conversion. How does my consumption affect my conversion?

Effie Caldarola is a columnist for Catholic News Service.

Guest Commentary – March 25, 2019

— Katherine Warwick

Assurance for those discerning vocations

There was joy in the room — quite a lot of it! There was something else — peace.

On Monday, March 4, Richmond Theology on Tap hosted a vocations panel for young adults at Kitchen 64 in Richmond. God blessed us with the presence of Father Brian Capuano, a pastor and associate vocations director for the diocese; Phillip Decker, a seminarian; Kevin and Emily Wavering Corcoran; Benedictine Father John Mary Lugemwa; Benedictine Brothers Vincent and Ignatius; and Bernadette Snyder, a consecrated virgin.

Each of us leaned in with nervous yet excited thirst for the joy and peace with which the panel seemed to be overflowing; the questions from the audience were personal: How did you know that you may have been discerning the wrong vocation? What has been your vocation’s biggest obstacle? What was your family’s reaction your vocation? The panelists answered with grace, humor and humility.

Their answers struck me personally. Most important is that each person was completely devoted to their vocation — to the point that they are willing to shout at protesting family to be silent so they can continue to hear God’s call whatever it may be.

The second was that most had attacks from the devil in the form of accusations from family members when they announced their decision, whether it was a father calling his son a homosexual or others telling a couple they were recklessly rushing into marriage.

The third was that each knew their vocation by the peace and joy they felt. Kevin Corcoran explained that his year in the seminary was anything but peaceful and he had the opposite experience when he met Emily. Bernadette traced the fingers on her hand as she explained that God will bring us joy regardless of which vocation we choose; then she stopped at her ring finger upon which rested her wedding ring to Christ.

“The path that God has planned for us will bring us the most joy of all,” Bernadette said.

The final thing that stuck with me was something that Father John Mary said: “Do not worry what other people think.” Like most single (vocation-less) Catholics, I have heard this before and have either ignored it or thrown up my hands to God in exasperation. Now in my thirties, I wonder if Catholics with vocations are judging me for my struggle to hear God’s call as I discern in and out of one vocation to another. However, Father John Mary’s message was said with something else: assurance. He is, after all, the vocations director at Benedictine Abbey and he counsels discerning monks who choose to leave religious life. As Father John Mary well knows, discerning God’s plan is not easy, but we should not let our fears keep us from even trying to listen to his call.

The beauty of the evening was reflected in just how many people stayed after the panel session to speak with the panelists individually; it was as if my peers of searching Catholics had been friends with the monks, Bernadette, Phillip, the Corcorans, and Father John Mary and Father Capuano all their lives.

Single Catholics are not alone. We never have been.

Katherine Warwick is a member of Church of the Epiphany Parish, Midlothian. Richmond Theology on Tap invites Catholic speakers to present to young adults on a variety of topics related to faith, society and recent events. See our Facebook page “Richmond Theology on Tap” for more details.

Guest Commentary – January 28, 2019

— Frank Coyle

Senators owe nominee, Knights apology for bigotry

“…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” U.S. Constitution, Article VI

The founders inserted that clause to ensure no American would be compelled to swear religious allegiance prior to assuming office. They had good reason to distrust monarchs who reigned over church and state. Yet last month, during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for a United States District judge position, two senators did just that.

Brian C. Buescher is a practicing Catholic and an attorney from Nebraska. In 2014, he took a prolife stand during an unsuccessful campaign for state attorney general. This past November, President Trump nominated him to be a federal judge for the District of Nebraska.

During his hearing, Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, reminded the nominee of his membership in the Knights of Columbus and stated the group has “taken a number of extreme positions” such as contributing to California’s Proposition 8 — a same-sex marriage ban. Incredibly, she asked the nominee if he would end his membership in the Knights to avoid an appearance of “bias.”

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., then said, “Since 1993, you have been a member of the Knights of Columbus, an allmale society comprised primarily of Catholic men.” She continued to characterize the Knights as a fringe group, her intimation being that Catholics and the Knights take extreme positions that the nominee should disavow.

The Knights of Columbus, founded in 1882 by Father Michael McGivney, cared for orphans and widows of men who were unable, or prohibited, from joining labor unions and mutual aid societies during a period of virulent anti-Catholic prejudice. Today, its 1.6 million members benefit from insurance programs and charitable works. And yes, it follows the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Senators Hirono and Harris may defend their questioning as attempts to ascertain the nominee’s judicial temperament. However, they crossed a line by impugning Catholicism and besmirching the Knight’s 136-year history. At best, the senators are ignoramuses of the Constitution’s religious test clause and at worst they are bigots with a prejudice toward Catholics.

For women who preach diversity and acceptance, both exhibited their own religious intolerance. Have they forgotten that President John F. Kennedy, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Marco Rubio are Catholics? Or that five sitting Supreme Court justices are Catholic?

Sen. Harris affiliates with the Baptists and Sen. Hirono is a Buddhist, faiths that also oppose abortion and gay marriage. Yet neither senator has cut ties to her religion. Why is a Catholic asked to do otherwise?

As the former leader of a Knight’s council, I can attest the Knights are not extremists. Our core principles — charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism — are evident in our volunteer work at food banks, assistance with Special Olympics, organizing an annual winter coat drive, and helping homeless veterans. We serve those in need.

The senators owe the nominee and the Knights of Columbus an apology. They also need to read and study Article VI of the Constitution.

Frank Coyle is a retired Navy officer and a former Grand Knight of Knights of Columbus Council #10804 in Virginia Beach.

Guest Commentary – January 14, 2019

— Amy McInerny

Oppose dangers, deceptions of the ERA

As 2019 begins, we find proponents of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) seeking to “take Virginia back to 1972 in an effort to change the course of the future of our Commonwealth and nation. The ERA is short and seems simply to be a neutral measure advocating for the equality of sexes. However, the ambiguity of the language disguises significant negative conse- quences which must not be ignored.

Falsehoods and confusion are spreading throughout our Commonwealth regarding the reality of this amendment. Proponents of the ERA are urging the Virginia General Assembly to “make history” by becoming the 38th and final state to ratify the ERA so that the amendment may become part of the U.S. Constitution.

This is misleading at best. Congress passed the ERA in 1972 with a ratification deadline of 1979. Ratification failed but an extension was granted to 1982. That deadline also passed without the required 38 states.

Moreover, five states also rescinded their ratifications once serious concerns began to arise over the ERA’s unintended consequences that are detrimental to women. In 1994, Virginia’s attorney general called the ERA a nullity. It is disingenuous to suggest that this moot amendment can be ratified.

Despite the ERA’s mootness, Virginia is being targeted. One likely reason is that enactment has abortion implications. Although claims are made that it has nothing to do with abortion, in states such as new Mexico where the ERA is part of its state Constitution, it has been interpreted by the state Supreme Court to force tax-payer funded abortions and is used by pro-abortion groups to further their agenda.

The ERA could also potentially eliminate Hyde Amendment protections and secure abortion as a Constitutional right. Any common-sense restrictions on abortion, such as third-trimester or partial-birth abortion bans, parental consent, informed consent or conscience-related exemptions could also vanish.

Also alarming is that the ERA has many potential consequences which will harm women and families. Because it defines equality as sameness, different treatment based on sex would be unlawful.

This means women’s shelters which help abused women could become illegal. Benefits which only women receive, such as employer accommodations for pregnant or breast-feeding mothers, could be in peril.

The ERA could generate privacy concerns if sex integration is required for prisons, school locker rooms, showers or athletic competition. It could permit males and females to compete for inclusion on the same sports teams. Is that the future we want for Virginia?

As drafted, the ERA is antiwomen and anti-children — especially the most vulnerable waiting to be born. Let’s proclaim the truth to our legislators. Call, email or write to urge them to oppose the dangers and deceptions of the ERA. Go to vacatholic.org and click on “Take Action” for an easy way to contact your representative. Let’s educate others and raise our voices in defense of women and children.

Amy McInerny is the Respect Life director in the Office of Marriage, Family and Respect Life for the Diocese of Arlington.

Guest Commentary – December 31, 2019

— Father Eugene Hemrick, Catholic News Service

For a peaceful 2019, double up on your civility

No matter where we look, peace is a rare commodity. How then can the new year be more peaceful?

Start the year with avoiding certain behaviors and doubling up on civility.

St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians often deals with adversity in his communities. Stop your strife and avoid jealousy, he counseled.

Jealousy is worrying about someone taking something from me, spawning over possessiveness. This is difficult to curb, given that we live in a culture that prompts us to get it now; don’t deny yourself; be more protective and hold on to what you have.

Ironically, the more possessions we have, the greater fear we have of losing them. Fear and worry are often about losing possessions and status.

St. John Paul II often quoted Christ: “Be not afraid.” And as President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Both knew the stranglehold fear can have on us.

At times, fear can be useful in creating a scare in a person who needs a scare to change. But today, we live in such a fear-driven society that it is detrimental to humanity. It causes people to be overly protective; to think of me and not thou, creating coldheartedness.

2019 is a time to check our fear level and seek its causes and influences on us so that we can know what to avoid.  St. Paul points us toward what to do in 2019 in his concept of a unified community: Increase civility so that it makes another feel at home with us. Civility goes beyond friendly words. It is a respectful disposition toward another.

Focusing on “thou” denotes respect and a desire for hearts coming together. It makes us seek the uniqueness of a person and to want to be one with him or her.

No doubt that in 2019 fear will be used to manipulate society into being more protective, and respect and considering the God-given uniqueness of the persons in our life will be considered a secondary necessity. Reversing this is exactly what will make 2019 a success.

Guest Commentary – December 17, 2018

— Effie Caldarola, Catholic News Service 

This Christmas, tell them, ‘You can count on me’

My husband and I raised three kids in Alaska. It was a great place to live, but it was a long way from our families in the Midwest and on the East Coast. So when Christmas rolled around, we started out attempting the“I’ll be home for Christmas” thing.

The airports were — and still are— at their most frenzied then. Santa had to find us as we spanned the United States. One child inevitably came down with a Christmas illness. We had to juggle Christmas pro- grams, the greater cost of seasonal travel, the potential for blizzards thwarting us in at least one of the airports we had to negotiate.

It didn’t take long to decide that we needed to establish our own Christmas traditions in our own house and save those long journeys to relatives for the summer months. This was practical and made sense. Butemotionally, itwastougher. My neighborhood grocery must have seen me coming, and at my entrance would inevitably play, at high volume, Bing Crosby singing “I’ll be home for Christmas. You can count on me.”

It had to be Bing Crosby — a favorite of my mother’s — and on cue, at those words, “you can count on me,” I would puddle up and cry from the produce aisle to the deli to the bakery. I would try to compose myself in case I saw friends, but my coat sleeve would be soaked by the time I made it through the checkout.

Is there such a thing as“Catholic guilt?” Or is a feeling of family nostalgia built into this crazy season? I could not be counted on. Bing knew. Christmas is a wonderful time, but it’s definitely stressful. We want to carve out time for reflection while the culture pulls us the other direction entirely. Parties, gift exchanges, cookies, checkbook shock, fatigue, to-do lists — it can be overwhelming.

And then there are the memories. My mom is gone now, and I look back and am proud that we made great effort and financial commitment to seeing our families. Friends would be heading to Hawaii or Mexico — favorite Alaskan destinations — while we’d be saving to visit family. We spent our vacation time seeing East Coast sights or sitting with Mom at her small-town
pool while the kids splashed.

But sometimes at Christmas I hear those words, “you can count on me,” and I get a little pang. It is, afte all, Christmas. And I wish I had one more with Mom.

Occasionally, I’ll hear from a friend or relative that they are “estranged” from a family member. I hate to be too inquisitive, so I don’t ask why. But we all know families where somebody’s angry at some- body. Or maybe someone’s just drifted away.

If you are one of those families — if there is a sibling, a cousin, a parent, a child, a former best friend — with whom you no longer communicate, make an effort this year, if it seems prudent or possible. Take some of that promised quiet time, be completely silent before God and let him love you for a while with no other thoughts rattling around in your head.

Then, ask God if maybe it’s time to reach out. The older you get, the more you know that life is incredibly short, our time on this earth so limited. Maybe just a card, maybe a quick call. Just the basics, an “I love you” with no strings and no conditions and no accusations or expectations.

Just a very short, “You can count on me.”


Guest Commentary – November 19, 2018

— Father Oscar Paraiso

14 years later, medical establishment catches up to Church

These last few weeks have been very trying and stressful to the Catholic Church, the clergy and the laity, especially in the U.S.

Every morning when I celebrate Mass, I pray for a deeper appreciation of the greatest gift the Lord Jesus has bestowed upon me — the gift of priesthood. I fall on my knees and pray: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

When I entered the seminary, I was quite aware that this would be and still is the greatest challenge of my life. The call to the ordained priesthood is a vocation; it is a privilege bestowed to a few. As such it is much stronger than any other inclinations/ambitions in my life.  

With the outbreak of the sexual abuse scandals perpetrated by Catholic priests, bishops and a cardinal, especially in the U.S., I began to ask myself: “Is it worth it to continue my life as an ordained priest?” Can I still look people straight in the eye and  declare to them: “I am a priest and I am proud of it?”

I have been dealing with these situations with a heavy heart. I am confused and angry by the Pennsylvania grand jury report regarding the prevalence of evil in the hearts of many clergy, bishops and a cardinal. 

And I continually pray for the victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by the clergy who are supposed to protect them. I just cannot imagine the shame, the guilt and the torment these victims have experienced and continue to experience.

Is it worth it to continue with my priesthood? When people identify me as a Catholic priest, will they also ask: “Is he one of them?” 

As I go around meeting people, visiting the sick and the vulnerable, and enjoying the laughter and innocence of the children in the parish, there is now an element of trepidation in me.

As I penned this reflection, I was tempted to not share it with you, my parishioners. But I have to. I, too, am hurting. I am as much hurt as you are by the scandals and hypocrisy that happened in the Church. I am as betrayed as you are.

But my priesthood is not about myself. It is about Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest. It is about all of us on our journey to the kingdom. I am not worthy of the priesthood, sinner that I am. But in my unworthiness, the Lord called and chose me to be a “priest forever in the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 5:6).

When I took the vows of my ordination to the priesthood, I made a promise to bring Christ to others and vice versa, come high and low moments in my life. It was not just a promise; it was a COVENANT inked between Jesus and me.

Without the ordained priesthood, there is no Eucharist. Without the Eucharist, there is no Bread of Life. Remove the ordained priesthood and the faithful are denied receiving the Bread of Life.

In my life as a priest, I have had my share of failures. I failed people many times. And at this point I would like to apologize to any of you for the pain I might have caused, the many times I failed to live as a good, holy, faith-filled priest. 

I apologize for those who were traumatized and deeply hurt by the scandals in the Church hierarchy. I apologize for the many times the Church, which is supposed to protect, has failed in a most horrific way. May there be a real cleansing in the Church from the top to the bottom. And may there be no “sacred cows” spared in the process of that cleansing.

I do not know what the future will bring, but I know that I have to continue as a priest of the Lord. My ministry must continue, even though it might be harder now than ever. I know I have to continue because there are still people Jesus Christ is seeking to bring into his kingdom. My priesthood is not about myself; it is about Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest.

Please know you are always in my prayers. In your good heart, please continue to pray for me and the Church.

May God bless you all.

Father Paraiso is pastor of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, West Point. This commentary served as his homily Sept. 1 and 2.

Commentary – November 5, 2018

— Richard Doerflinger, Catholic News Service

14 years later, medical establishment catches up to Church

Of all the dilemmas classified under end-of-life issues, the most divisive even for Catholics has been the treatment of people diagnosed as being in a “vegetative state.”

The phrase has been used to describe patients who are not comatose (because they have sleep-wake cycles) but seem unaware of their environment, most often due to a head injury. They may live a long time in this state if provided nursing care and nourishment; but the reigning assumption has been that after a few weeks or months in this state, they will not get better either.

In 1983, ethicist Daniel Callahan said many of his colleagues were interested in withdrawing food and fluids from these helpless but medically stable patients because “a denial of nutrition may in the long run become the only effective way to make certain that a large number of biologically tenacious patients actually die.”

Those colleagues generally prevailed in secular medical ethics and the law. Court cases involving patients like Nancy Cruzan, Nancy Ellen Jobes and Terri Schiavo have established a broad right to discontinue feeding and let patients in a vegetative state die of dehydration.

Now enters the American Academy of Neurology with new guidelines on treatment of these patients, developed along with other experts and the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research. This group’s findings and recommendations are game-changing:

n A more descriptive term for “vegetative state” is “unresponsive wakefulness syndrome.” (This will be welcomed by families who don’t appreciate their ailing loved ones being compared to broccoli.)

n There is a significant chance for rehabilitation (sometimes allowing patients to return home and resume employment) even in patients who have been in this state for a year or more, so “continued use of the term ‘permanent vegetative state’ is not justified.” The term “chronic” should be used, as it does not imply irreversibility. Protocols are recommended for enhancing the prospects for recovery.

n Studies show that the likelihood of misdiagnosing the condition is about 40 percent. This includes cases where patients diagnosed as “vegetative” actually had locked-in syndrome, where they cannot respond but are fully aware (so presumably they can hear their doctors calling them vegetables).

n One study found that 32 percent of patients with severe traumatic brain injury died in the hospital — but 70 percent of the deaths were due to withdrawal of life support, and such withdrawal had more to do with the facility where care was provided than with the severity of the symptoms.

In short, our medical system has been giving up on far too many of these patients, prematurely ensuring their deaths based on faulty diagnoses and self-fulfilling hopeless predictions.

I have seen these conclusions before. In 2004, I attended a conference on the “vegetative state” co-sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life. There medical experts presented findings very similar to what the American Academy of Neurology now says (including the 40 percent misdiagnosis rate) — but at that time they were on the cutting edge of medicine, ignored or dismissed by many as being too optimistic.

At that conference, St. John Paul II gave an address affirming our moral obligation to provide basic care, generally including assisted feeding, to patients in this condition. He cited some of the experts’ findings, though he based his moral statement chiefly on the dignity of our fellow human beings that endures regardless of their condition.

Some say there is a divide between the Church and science, including medical science. There was on this issue. The divide was about 14 years, with the medical establishment finally catching up with what the pope already knew.

Doerflinger worked for 36 years in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He writes from Washington state.

Commentary – October 22, 2018

— Effie Caldarola, Catholic News Service

Now is not the time to flee or be silent

The crisis in the U.S. Catholic Church lumbers along. 

We were still reeling from the Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sexual misconduct and hierarchical cover-up when a disgruntled archbishop released a scathing letter calling for Pope Francis to resign. Now, many states are launching probes into diocesan files, a good thing.

Here’s the view from my pew:

A scandal within a scandal is that some people are continuing to exploit it to foster their own conservative or liberal agendas. Among our latest three popes, there are no heroes on the sex abuse issue. Let’s bring this into the light.

I’m sick of patriarchy. Jesus sent Mary of Magdala out as the “apostle to the apostles” to spread news of his resurrection. Not long after, a group of guys said, “Let’s put the little women in charge of the funeral luncheons.” It’s been downhill from there. Women need to be in decision-making positions, now.

I’m tired of clericalism. The boys’ club, Father knows best, the priest-on-a-pedestal. Let’s throw open windows at seminaries. How are these guys taught about women, sexuality, the priesthood of the faithful? 

I spoke recently with a man who teaches at a college seminary. He said hopefully that in the last year or two the men he encounters are less “rigid” than in the recent past. How many of the “rigid” ones were ordained? Again, not a liberal/conservative issue.  

Considering leaving? Don’t. I understand why people are angry or emotional right now. OK, maybe you need to regroup. But then come back to Church. You are the Church. Are the homilies stultifying, the liturgies and music discouraging? Speak up. 

In my old parish in Anchorage, Alaska, an older gentleman would put his critique of that day’s homily in the collection basket every Sunday. I used to think the old man was eccentric. Now, I think he was a genius.  

If you are going to vote with your feet to find a new parish, explain to the parish and your bishop why you’re moving. A relative of mine left his parish in a presidential election a few years back because homilies were all but endorsing one candidate. But he never explained why he left. Don’t miss that opportunity.

Speak up, respectfully, lovingly, civilly and constantly.

Simply dropping out can be lazy. It’s easy to slide into a Sunday morning sleep-in, followed by buying your own doughnuts. This Church is worth fighting for. When the first clergy sex abuse crisis hit in the early 2000s, a friend asked me mournfully, “What happened to our Church of the monks and the mystics?” 

It’s still there, but we have to search for it.

Thinking of withholding donations in protest? Granted, money talks. But there are many great parishes and many great pastors. Don’t take your anger out on the good ones. All our gifts come from God, so do not use this crisis as an excuse to put a death grip on your wallet. 

How much should you give? A deacon friend used to answer, “Give more.” Catholics do amazing work with the poor. Continue to donate to a good parish, and then find a Catholic institution working on the margins — Catholic Relief Services, Jesuit Refugee Service, your own diocese’s Catholic Charities, a Catholic school serving an impoverished clientele, a home for unwed moms — and give more.

We are the Body of Christ, quite literally, as St. Teresa of Avila points out. Right now, that body is bruised, broken and being taken down from a cross.  

Is that the time to flee or be silent? I don’t think so.

Guest Commentary – September 10, 2018

— Father James O’Reilly

Healing power of sacraments sustains us

Editor’s note: The following is taken from the homily given by Father James O’Reilly, parochial vicar at Our Lady of Nazareth Church, Roanoke, for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. The complete text can be found at www.catholicvirginian.org. To hear the homily, go to http://www.oln-parish.com/homily-recordings/.

St. Paul gives us a beautiful image of the sacrament of marriage and how it relates to the love between Christ and his Church. The self-giving love between husband and wife is the same kind of love that Christ gives to the Church. His total gift of self on the cross is given to us (the Church) so we can have eternal life.

St. Paul’s image of the Church being married to Christ is not an abstract idea but goes back to the covenantal love language we hear in the Old Testament. The Hebrew scriptures talk about Israel (a.k.a. the people of God) going through periods of faithfulness and infidelity to God’s covenant. Even to this day, there has been an ebb and flow of faithfulness and disobedience to God’s covenants and commandments.

Unfortunately, in light of the recent events such as the Cardinal McCarrick incident and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report we see a very shocking example of some of our Church leaders that were not faithful because of their involvements with acts of abuse or the covering up that activity.

St. Paul’s message to the Ephesians about the Church being subordinate (reverent) to Christ provides a real challenge for us right now. Recent reports have shown protesters in the Pennsylvania area and people on social media saying they have left their Catholic faith. Paul’s message of the Church being subordinate to Christ is difficult when some people do not want to identify with the Church at all. It leaves us asking what should we do? Where do we go from here?

If we continue on in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we read that Jesus: “handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,that she might be holy and without blemish.”

The idea of the Church being holy and without blemish seems contradictory in regards to recent events. We have to remember that the we believe in the four marks of the Church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. When we say that Church is holy, we are referring to the Church being set apart from any other organization. We are set apart to proclaim the Good News and continue the administration of the sacraments, most notably the Eucharist.

Within the Church we see saints and sinners which is made seen in the Church’s history. We have some very beautiful moments of Church history such as the establishments of hospitals, school systems, and not to mention western civilization. Unfortunately, there have been very difficult moments in Church history such as certain clerics selling of indulgences and most recently the resurfacing of hidden reports of abuse. We must remember that the Church or the people of God were sanctified (or made holy) and cleansed by our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross and continues to be sanctified and cleansed each day by the sacramental life of the Church.

As members of the Church (the Body of Christ) we can help with this cleansing by following what our Holy Father Pope Francis has called for: prayer and penance. There is a deep sorrow in our hearts for what has happened and the only way to move forward is by praying that the victims receive the help and healing they need. We need to pray for the ability to forgive those involved with abuse and also perform acts of penance to begin our painful but necessary cleansing process.

We need (clergy and laity) to perform acts of penance because of how deadly the effects of sin are. A sin is not just a personal rupture between an individual and God but a rupture between an individual and neighbor and a rupture between society and God. Our Catholic faith calls this public sin.

Whenever I teach RCIA or faith formation, somebody usually says that it’s not fair that we have to suffer from the sin of Adam and Eve. My response is that sin is deadly and sin is not fair. That is why making acts of penance is a group effort. By penance, I am referring to a move away from sin. Praying and performing these penances will not be easy or a quick solution but it is my hope that we can display how vital the sacramental life of the Church is.

Paul reminds us of the marriage imagery between Christ and the Church. In other words, there is an indissoluble bond between Christ and the Church. It is from the sacraments (tangible and efficacious signs) that we experience God’s grace. Most importantly, from the Blessed Sacrament which is the Body and Blood of our Lord that we have been hearing about in John’s Gospel.

At this point in John’s Bread of Life Discourse many of the disciples walked away. They had witnessed Jesus’ teachings and miracles but the hard saying of the necessity of consuming Jesus’ Body and Blood was a reality they could not accept.

We have have seen some of our friends and family walk away from the faith in light of recent events. In these moments we have to ask ourselves why we have stayed and not left? The answer to that question is the Eucharist. We can buy a bible on Amazon, we can join a prayer service down the street, but the Catholic mass is the one place on the planet that we can receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith and has been the glue that has kept the Church married to her bridegroom: Jesus Christ. Praying to our Eucharistic Lord at mass and Eucharistic Adoration allows us to foster the healing that Pope Francis has asked for. Our frequent reception of the Eucharist gives us the strength to perform acts of penance for this healing as well.

Celebrating the Eucharist is the reason I laid down my life to become a Catholic priest. Despite all of the tragedy and sorrow in the news, nothing has and nothing will take my joy away of being a priest. Parishioners call the parish to be anointed because they hunger for the sacraments and that hunger is why we are here to celebrate the Eucharist.

The reality is that we are left with a hunger to be nourished by the sacramental life of the Church but the sins of abuse and their coverup have caused great sorrow felt throughout the entire Body of the Christ. Feelings of bitterness, resentment, and confusion are present, and our faith is tested but now is not the time for the Church to walk away from the bridegroom. Rather, we need to rely on His healing power that comes from the sacraments, most especially the Eucharist which will continue to nourish, unify, and heal us until we dine with Christ at the eternal banquet.

Guest Commentary – August 27, 2018

— Little Sister of the Poor Constance Veit

Little Sisters provide humble service, merciful love

On Aug. 30, the feast of our foundress, St. Jeanne Jugan, the Little Sisters of the Poor will launch a jubilee year celebrating the 150th anniversary of our congregation’s arrival in the United States. (The Little Sisters arrived in the Diocese of Richmond in 1874). 

The pioneering sisters arrived in America during a painful period in our nation’s history. The Nativist movement of the 1850s, the Civil War and the failures of Reconstruction left an enormous human toll, vast economic devastation and a profound racial divide in their wake.

Like a healing balm, the Little Sisters brought a much-needed infusion of humble service and merciful love to America.

They personified the Church’s preferential option for the poor. In the early decades of our nation, elders depended on their children or personal wealth to assure a comfortable old age. Poorhouses, modeled on England’s “Poor Laws,” sheltered the indigent elderly, but they were characterized by primitive, often subhuman conditions.

By the 1850s, benevolent societies and fraternal organizations began to organize old age homes and other forms of assistance for those able to pay monthly dues while they were young so they could receive help in their old age. What was novel about the Little Sisters’ mission was that they came to America specifically to care for those who could not pay their own way. 

The second mark of originality in the Little Sisters’ charism of hospitality was its universal embrace. In a century characterized by anti-immigrant propaganda and blatant racial discrimination, the Little Sisters opened their doors to needy elderly regardless of race, religion or nationality.

Third, through their compassionate care for the infirm and the dying the Little Sisters offered a powerful witness of the sacredness of every human life until the very end, regardless of personal status, ability or wealth. 

The Industrial Revolution had encouraged a utilitarian mindset that treated human workers as machines and erroneously associated self-worth with status and wealth. Those perceived as unproductive were cast aside.

The Little Sisters’ loving care of the poor and their accompaniment of the dying offered a counterbalance to the dehumanizing forces at work in 19th century America.

Finally, they brought a powerful testimony to absolute faith in God’s Providence. They arrived with almost nothing and set up shop in empty buildings, depending on the generosity of the local community to provide all that was needed for the care of the poor. 

On seeing all that the sisters received in their first collecting rounds, the Mother Superior wept in one home as she exclaimed, “O Providence! O Providence!” The sisters in another home expressed their sense of wonder, “Divine Providence provided according to our needs … We were quite overcome with gratitude toward the good God; who disposed so well people’s hearts in our favor.”

These four characteristics of the congregation’s charism were personified by pioneering Little Sisters:

• preferential option for the poor and most abandoned;

• universal charity, without regard for race, creed or nationality;

• profound reverence for the dignity of every human life; 

• absolute trust in Divine Providence.

These values are no less relevant today than they were in the post-Civil War era, for they respond to the wounds in 21st century culture and the longing in contemporary hearts for God’s love.

These values might be even more urgently needed today, as Pope Francis suggests: “The thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the Church as a field hospital after battle . . . Heal the wounds, heal the wounds . . . You have to start from the ground up.”

Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Commentary – August 13, 2018

— Richard Doerflinger, Catholic News Service

In McCarrick aftermath, it can’t be ‘business as usual’

Catholics are rightly horrified by the reported sexual exploitation of boys and men by Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, now resigned from the College of Cardinals. Other Church leaders knew of his misdeeds but remained silent and kept advancing him to leadership posts. We even hear of Churchmen involved in grave offenses who protect and advance each other in a conspiracy of shame. 

In coping with this news, we struggle for a sense of perspective. We have always been a Church of sinners, not excluding our highest offices (do an internet search on “Borgia popes”). Somehow the Holy Spirit has kept the bark of Peter afloat so the Gospel of peace, love and reconciliation continues to be offered to the world. 

G.K. Chesterton once said the Church must be divine or it could not have survived such insane mismanagement. But the reform and renewal now urgently needed will be painful nonetheless.

One temptation is to see this as “us vs. them,” the virtuous laity against corrupt bishops. But that’s misguided for two reasons.

The first reason is that we already see good leadership among the bishops. Pope Francis’ immediate acceptance of Archbishop McCarrick’s resignation as cardinal was a pleasant surprise. And at least two U.S. bishops (with more to come, I trust) have said this cannot be seen as “business as usual.”

Bishop Michael F. Olson of Forth Worth, Texas, wrote to the faithful of his diocese on July 28, expressing his horror at these “scandalous crimes and sins.” He said Archbishop McCarrick’s laicization should be considered, and Churchmen who knew of his misdeeds and did nothing should be “held accountable” for allowing others to be hurt. 

Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany, New York, went a step further in his July 27 letter to priests, saying that improved policies are not enough. At the root of this “profoundly spiritual crisis,” he said, is “a retreat from holiness, specifically the holiness of an integral, truly human sexuality.” The Church’s teachers should recommit themselves to preach what the Church teaches on sexuality and to practice what they preach.

Which brings me to the other reason this is not laity vs. bishops. We laypeople are not without sin. The “sexual revolution” of the 1960s, fueled by more effective contraception, was hailed by Americans (including Catholics) as freeing us from fear of pregnancy so we could focus on love. As Blessed Pope Paul VI warned in his 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” it would free us from commitment so we could use each other for pleasure. 

Theologians retooling Catholic morality to suit the spirit of the age found that if sex need not be open to the possibility of new life, it is harder to say it need be between a man and a woman. And a reliance on the conscience of “two consenting adults” (soon expanded to include “mature” teens) forgot how consent can be manipulated, especially when the parties have unequal power (a film producer vs. an aspiring actress, a bishop vs. a seminarian).

 By 1977, a committee of the Catholic Theological Society of America published the text “Human Sexuality, New Directions in American Catholic Thought” imbued with the new spirit. Over the protests of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine it was used in many seminaries and applauded by forward-thinking clergy and laity. A seminarian resisting sexual advances, based on the Church’s traditional teaching, might not be doing his homework.

Ideas have consequences, and for decades some very bad ideas have given aid and comfort to predators inside and outside the Church. We sinners have a lot of work to do.

Doerflinger worked for 36 years in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He writes from Washington state. 

Guest Commentary – July 30, 2018

— Karen Robinson

Jesus demonstrates healing, reconciliation

Last year’s Aug. 12 rally in Charlottesville has been repeatedly commented upon in the national news. Many of us have been reflecting upon our Christian responsibility to truly live faith-filled values, perhaps examining our own strongly held opinions, and probably having some troubling conversations and difficult encounters.  

The Gospel writers recount several troubling, difficult encounters which Jesus navigated with grace and dignity. What model does Jesus provide for us of how to behave during difficult conversations — how to overcome divisions and be reconciled? Mark’s Gospel passage recounting Jesus’ conversation with the Syrophoenicean woman (Mk 7:24-30) offers much wisdom for our time.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus performs a miracle of healing. This is a story about a miracle for our time — a story about two strangers who likely began their encounter very much aware of the categorical divisions of gender, religion, “nation,” and social standing which separated them — and who reached across those divisions toward healing. Yes, a miracle indeed!      

Mark tells us Jesus entered pagan territory, and although he has tried to escape notice, Jesus’ reputation as a healer has preceded him. A bold woman enters the house where Jesus is. This Gentile has a problem. The daughter she loves has an unclean spirit.  

She has heard that Jesus has the power to heal. Heated conversation ensues: “(Jesus) said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.’ She replied and said to him, ‘Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps’” (Mk 7:27-28). Jesus responds by healing her daughter and asks nothing of this woman but faith.  

How did these two people bridge the divide of their differences? During their encounter, Jesus and the Gentile woman have a rather harsh-sounding dialogue. Jesus expresses his point of view — clearly and firmly. But Jesus, the Galilean Jew, is willing to engage in dialogue with the Gentile, Syrophoenician woman.

 Jesus, who has all the answers, is willing to listen. By listening with empathy and insight, he hears her need, sees her humility, and responds with mercy. In this Gospel passage, Jesus reaches across the divide of culture, race and gender. Indeed, Jesus shows us how to have difficult conversations that overcome divisions and lead to healing.  

How did Jesus do it?

n   Jesus and the Gentile woman acknowledge their differences.

n They listen to each other’s point of view and are willing to be convinced.

n They reach across the divide of their differences to find common ground and healing results.

After her encounter with Jesus, whom do you think the Syrophoenician woman said Jesus was?  

The writings of the Patristic Fathers tell us this woman’s name was Justa and her daughter’s name was Berenice. Since Justa and Jesus were likely alone in the house, this story may have come to us by way of Justa. If so, this story is Justa’s personal testimony of God’s healing and reconciling actions in her life.  

Through our own words and actions during difficult encounters, we, too, can give testimony to Christ’s actions in our life.

Karen Robinson, a member of Church of the Incarnation, Charlottesville, has a master’s degree in theology from St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, Texas. This commentary is an excerpt from a retreat she presented in 2017.

Commentary – July 16, 2018

— Richard Doerflinger, Catholic News Service

Supreme Court as battleground

In its June 26 decision on freedom of speech, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a California law that forced pro-life pregnancy aid centers to tell pregnant women how to get an abortion.

This “forced speech” policy, making Americans facilitate what they recognize as the unjust taking of human life, was too extreme for the court’s perennial swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy.

“Governments must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions,” he wrote.

The scary thing is that four of the nine justices, led by Justice Stephen Breyer, embraced what Kennedy called a form of authoritarianism. They argued that since the law can require abortionists to tell women about the availability of prenatal care and adoption, “evenhandedness” demands that pro-life doctors can be forced to tell them how to have their children destroyed.

On the one hand, a caring professional who addresses the health needs of mother and child, morally committed to protecting both from harm. On the other hand, an abortionist who wants to make sure abortion is the only thing about which a pregnant woman ever hears. According to the four dissenters, the court’s abortion jurisprudence requires us to treat these as identical cases.

In the court’s latest decision on abortion itself, in 2016, five justices led by Breyer invalidated a Texas law establishing safety regulations for abortion clinics. The law had required abortionists to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, in case their clients had complications, and to comply with safety regulations that already apply to other ambulatory surgical clinics.

In that case, the majority, including Kennedy, said these eminently sensible regulations were invalid because they would reduce easy access to abortion. Abortion was treated not only as something the law cannot prohibit, but as a positive good whose availability government must take care to ensure — even at potential risk to women’s lives.

With the often-unpredictable Kennedy having retired, the prospect that, if confirmed, Judge Brett Kavanaugh might be less protective of the abortion industry has unleashed some wild charges.

On the TV program “The View,” Whoopi Goldberg and others decried the government’s interest in their, let us say, female body parts. In Time magazine, feminist author Jill Filipovic warned against a future of  “unsafe” abortions (although unsafe abortions are what the court is protecting now) and extreme bans on birth control.

But what would happen if the Supreme Court gets a fifth justice who more consistently disagrees with the Roe v. Wade abortion decision?

In the unlikely event that Roe were reversed completely and all at once, the people and their elected representatives would again be allowed — not required, but allowed — to pass laws showing greater respect for the lives of unborn children. In the ensuing debate, everyone would have a voice — including Whoopi and her friends, who have bigger megaphones than most of us.

More likely, especially under the cautious tutelage of Chief Justice John Roberts, is a reasoned and gradual path away from Roe, beginning with its greatest excesses.

The first steps might include: upholding clinic regulations that protect women’s lives, even if they inconvenience the abortion industry; allowing laws supported by the great majority of Americans to forbid elective abortions after the fifth month of pregnancy, like laws already approved by several states and the U.S. House of Representatives; allowing broader leeway for public programs that support and encourage live birth over abortion.

This sounds like a good idea. Those who see it as a nightmare scenario should calm down and explain why they think so.

Doerflinger worked for 36 years in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He writes from Washington state.

Commentary – July 2, 2018

— Bishop Barry C. Knestout

‘Civic disruption’ requires moral, pastoral response

One of my roles as your bishop is teacher. This role is critical to the life of our faith community as we continue to learn what our Church teaches, to grow in the understanding of those teachings and the beliefs expressed in them, and to practice them — that is, to give witness to the Gospel — in our daily lives.

In this time of what can best be described as one of “civic disruption,” it is important for Catholics to know and apply the principles of Catholic social teaching which have been formed by the writing of popes, councils and the U.S. bishops. (The list of those principles can be found at http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catholic-social-teaching/seven-themes-of-catholic-social-teaching.cfm).

It is important to note that these principles, also referred to as themes, are not political statements. Some individuals and groups might misuse them in order to advocate a particular position or promote a particular cause, but for us, as Catholics, these principles are an extension of the Gospel Jesus instructed us to live — especially Mt 25:31-46, which instructs us how to treat the most vulnerable.

The foundation of the principles of Catholic social teaching is this: all human life is sacred, and the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. Every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency. Those are not negotiable; there is no “Yes, but…” attached to them.

Catholic social teaching speaks of solidarity, of our being one human family even when there are racial, ethnic, national, economic and ideological differences among us. Put another way: Love our neighbor.

One of the beauties of Catholic social teaching is what popes over the last 127 years have contributed to this treasure. Recently, Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation “Rejoice and Be Glad,” in which he writes about holiness, and notes concerns about “ideologies striking at the heart of the Gospel.”

He takes issue with those who “suspect the social engagement of others,” as well as those who focus upon one particular ethical issue or cause at the exclusion of other issues and causes. The pope writes:

“Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development.

“Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.

“We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty.”

When it comes to migrants, Pope Francis says for Christians “the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children. Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in welcoming the stranger we welcome him (cf. Mt 25:35)?”

By drawing upon Scripture and the wealth of Catholic social teaching, Pope Francis, when we take those paragraphs as a whole, provides the Catholic response to immigration. It is not a political response; it is the moral, pastoral response that all Catholics are to embrace.

In this time of “civic disruption,” it must be our only response.

Commentaries – June 18, 2018

— Richard Doerflinger, Catholic News Service

Of wedding cakes and our tenuous freedoms

On June 4, in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a limited victory for religious freedom.

Jack Phillips, a devoutly Christian baker, declined to use his artistry to create a custom wedding cake for two men, because his faith holds that marriage is only between one man and one woman. The men sued, and he was found guilty of violating Colorado’s law against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The Supreme Court decided 7-2 that Colorado’s civil rights commission violated Phillips’ First Amendment right to free exercise of religion.

Seven justices agreed that one or both of the following facts, which may or may not apply in future cases, were decisive. First, the commission exhibited hostility toward Phillips’ faith, with some members suggesting that religion is often an excuse for injustice.

Second, the same commission had rejected claims against bakers who refused (apparently on secular grounds) to bake cakes with messages against gay marriage. So the commission went after Phillips because he is a man of faith, and/or because his particular religious beliefs offend them.

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion found that his religious objection “was not considered with the neutrality that the free exercise clause requires.”

Here the consensus ends.

Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer discounted the second prong of the court’s argument. They said the bakers who refused to decorate cakes with anti-gay messages objected to the message itself, whereas Phillips refused to produce the same kind of cake for same-sex couples that he would have made for any opposite-sex couple. So these cases are different.

In rebuttal, Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch observed that whatever else a wedding cake may say, it communicates the basic fact that “this is a wedding.” And that is exactly the claim that Phillips’ faith could not endorse.

Justices Samuel Alito, Gorsuch and Thomas favored a more ringing defense of Phillips’ religious freedom — and the last two would decide in his favor on free speech grounds as well, as he was being compelled to redefine marriage in a way contradictory to his faith.

(As the late Justice Antonin Scalia said in dissenting from the court’s landmark 2015 decision on same-sex marriage, Phillips’ view of marriage was, “until 15 years ago, the unanimous judgment of all generations and all societies.”)

Ironies abound in the justices’ opinions.

Kennedy’s opinion is ironic because the prejudice against religious views of marriage that he criticizes in Colorado officials can be found in his own 2015 opinion on same-sex marriage. While he gave lip service to the idea that “reasonable and sincere people” may disagree with the court, he also suggested that such people are guilty of bigotry and ignorance. So Kennedy’s rhetoric helped create the problem in Colorado. Either he has mellowed since or he is not very self-aware.

There is also irony, perhaps deliberate, in conservative justices’ argument for Phillips’ freedom of speech. To those who say decorating a custom wedding cake is not speech, they cite past decisions sacred to the most liberal judges: It is at least as much “speech” as nude dancing, cross burning by white supremacists and flag burning.

And in answer to those who say Phillips’ views are too offensive to protect, they cite a past court decision declaring that other people’s finding

a view offensive “is a reason for according it

constitutional protection.” The court said that in defense of the free speech of Hustler magazine.

So, for now, Christians who accept the millennia-old definition of marriage have as much constitutional protection as racists and pornographers. And some justices disagree even with that.

Doerflinger worked for 36 years in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He writes from Washington state.

Commentaries – June 4, 2018

— John Garvey, Catholic News Service

What’s so funny? Laughter is infectious

Our youngest daughter is living at home while her husband finishes his medical residency. One of the many blessings of this old-fashioned arrangement — several generations under one roof — is that we have two babies to pass around. The youngest is just 5 months old. She doesn’t have much to say yet, but she has quite a good sense of humor. If you smile at her, she will smile back, and she means it.

I am reminded of her aunt, our third child. When she was 10 months old, she had a great belly laugh. I would tickle her just to get her going, and then call my parents on the phone so they could join in the mirth.

There’s something interesting going on here. When we hear this sort of laughter, we aren’t just pleased that our babies have taken a developmental step, as we might be if one rolled over or ate her beans. When we get the 5-month-old to smile, when the 10-month-old makes us laugh, we are doing something together. Laughter is a social practice that even infants incapable of speech can share with us, and they really seem to enjoy doing it.

It’s not just that, either. Laughter is infectious. When your 10-month-old is stacking blocks, you might or might not care to participate. When she laughs uncontrollably, you can’t help joining.

Why is that? A neurophysiologist might say it’s because social laughter causes the release of endogenous opioids in specific brain regions, and these endorphins are what make us laugh. An internist might say laughing reduces the level of certain stress hormones and stimulates your cardiovascular system, so it’s a good way for the body to take care of itself. An anthropologist might say we laugh when others do because it helps us form bonds that link us in a social network.

But these observations, even if true, leave us wanting some further explanation. Why does hearing a baby laugh trigger the release of endorphins? What is the evolutionary advantage to me in forming a social network with a 10-month-old?

Perhaps, if we dig all the way, we will find a deeper but simpler truth. Think about the most fundamental human urges — hunger, thirst, sex, the drive to succeed. They all have three things in common.

First, they arise in us unbidden. Second, we take great pleasure from satisfying them. And third, they are connected to the very stuff of life. If we don’t satisfy them, we (and the human race) will waste away. At bottom, we are strings that vibrate in harmony with being.

Maybe laughter is like these things. The impulse is certainly hard to resist. In fact, there is evidence that you might have problems if you don’t find it contagious. And there is no greater joy in life than uncontrolled laughter. Perhaps the joy that laughter celebrates, like the other things we naturally yearn for, is intrinsic to the nature of things.

After all, God has a sense of humor. He inspired the writers of the Bible to include a few famous jokes, from the mouths, for example, of the prophet Elijah and the man born blind in the ninth chapter of John.

God made us in his image and likeness, and humor subsequently became an important part of every human culture on earth. Our laughing granddaughter is only the most immediate reminder of the joy for which we are meant.

Garvey is president of The Catholic University of America in Washington.

— Richard Doerflinger, Catholic News Service

Separate hype, reality on family planning

President Trump has announced he will restore a Reagan-era regulation forbidding clinics in the federal Title X family planning program to perform or refer for abortions.

Planned Parenthood, pro-mising a lawsuit, describes this policy as “preventing patients from visiting Planned Parenthood health centers,” and commentators on both sides of the issue call it an effort to “defund Planned Parenthood.”

The reality is somewhat different, and a little perspective is needed.

According to a 2016 fact sheet by the Guttmacher Institute, a former Planned Parenthood affiliate, the federal government spends well over $2 billion a year on family planning, mostly through Medicaid (not affected by the regulation). Title X makes up less than 15 percent of the total.

Planned Parenthood receives over half a billion dollars in taxpayer funds annually —about $80 million of it from Title X.  The organization performs over one-third of all abortions in our country, and abortion is what it provides to 96 percent of its pregnant clients.

So what did a Democratic-controlled Congress say about abortion when it created the Title X program in 1970?

It overwhelmingly approved an amendment, already unanimously approved in committee, requiring that no Title X funds “shall be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning.”

The amendment remains in place today. It is not merely a ban on direct use of federal funds to perform abortions, though many news outlets misrepresent it that way. Its sponsor, Democratic Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, said its intent is that “abortion is not to be encouraged or promoted in any way through this legislation.”

Rep. Dingell gave three reasons for this policy. First, there is a basic ethical difference between preventing a pregnancy and taking the life of an unborn child.

Second, the purpose of a family planning program should be to “reduce the incidence of abortion,” not increase it.

Third, evidence indicated that “the prevalence of abortion as a substitute or a backup for contraceptive methods can reduce the effectiveness of family planning programs.”

Today, there is substantial evidence that family planning programs often do not reduce abortions. But even politicians supporting “abortion rights” have said abortion should be “rare.” Obviously, facilitating abortion does the opposite of reducing abortions.

So the regulation defunds no one. But if an organization receives Title X grants at some sites, it must locate its abortion business elsewhere. Planned Parenthood will have to adjust its business model. Since 2013, it has required every affiliate to have at least one site perform abortions. The idea was that the affiliate’s other sites can receive Title X funding, and still send 96 percent of their pregnant clients to the affiliated abortion clinic.

Planned Parenthood says the regulation to close this loophole is “a vicious, new and unprecedented attack on reproductive health care.” It is not new or unprecedented. It seems more modest than the Reagan regulations, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991, which barred Title X clinics from counseling on abortion as well as from performing or referring for it. The new rule is said not to restrict counseling.

As for “vicious attack,” Planned Parenthood tends to see any lack of enthusiasm for abortion that way.

A word of caution to pro-life groups tempted to exaggerate what the regulation does. Wild exaggeration is Planned Parenthood’s specialty, to whip up outrage among supporters. Its alert on the regulation urges them to “add fuel to the fire.”

In today’s polarized climate, more fire is not what we need. The regulation will better implement what Congress always intended in this program. Once upon a time, everyone knew that’s what federal regulations are for.

Doerflinger worked for 36 years in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He writes from Washington state.

Commentaries – May 21, 2018

— Father Eugene Hemrick, Catholic News Service

The power of courtesy

“Be known for your courtesy: It alone can make you worthy of praise. Courtesy is the best part of culture, a kind of enchantment and it wins the goodwill of all, just as rudeness wins only scorn and universal annoyance.

“When rudeness comes from pride, it is detestable; when from bad breeding, it is contemptible. Better too much courtesy than too little. … Treat your enemies with courtesy and you’ll see how valuable it really is. It costs little but pays a nice dividend: Those who honor are honored.”

The quote by Spanish Jesuit Baltasar Gracian was written over 300 years ago. Although it is centuries old, it speaks especially to our times.

Courtesy is the will to give others room — and space. It avoids oppressive closeness, embarrassment and the sting of painful circumstances.

During my ministry, most divorces I witnessed resulted in one spouse restricting the space of the other. No longer was there breathing room to live together peacefully. Restrictions had choked the life out of their marriage. An open atmosphere that encourages mutual sharing and uplifts the human spirit was nonexistent.

Theologian Father Romano Guardini further points out, “Courtesy requires time. In order to exercise it, we must stop and wait; we must make a detour; and we must be considerate and defer our own affairs.” Patience and courtesy go hand in hand.

Little, if any, time is allowed in our “deadline media age” to have decent conversations. In some talk shows, it is common to see a person interrupted in mid-speech and to hear ideas flying here and there and never land. Some consider this good old-fashioned bantering. A closer look often reflects rudeness for the sake of rudeness and dialogue with no true discourse.

Courtesy’s ultimate purpose is making life beautiful. Why say this? It is because dignity is at its heart. When we act dignified, graciousness is at its best.

St. Paul lists another essential dimension of courtesy in encouraging us: “Anticipate one another in showing honor” (Rom 12:10). In other words, continuously be on the alert to promote the goodness and talents in those you meet.

There is the saying: “You can attract more bees with honey than vinegar.” Would that those who influence our society use courtesy’s power to sweeten our life more. How wise the Psalms are in using the image of honey to symbolize a community in harmony.

Father Hemrick, a priest of the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois, is a research associate with the Life Cycle Institute at The Catholic University of America.


How to be inclusive, yet nonjudgmental

— Richard Doerflinger Catholic News Service

In a recent homily, Bishop Robert E. Barron, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, rightly identified two paramount values in our secular culture: being “inclusive” and being “nonjudgmental.”

The two seem closely related. If you want to embrace everyone in society, you avoid making moral judgments that banish some people to the margins. So all are welcome, along with their own moral views — unless they commit the sin of being judgmental.

Big problems emerge when a society tries to act on this idea.

Take the federal law forbidding sex discrimination, commonly called Title IX. Congress enacted it to end exclusivism at schools and colleges, where women could not take part in athletic events or win institutional support for their sports teams. The law has worked well.

But in the name of inclusion, the Obama administration reinterpreted it to protect those who identify themselves as belonging to a gender with which they were not born.

The result? Men who identified as women could win all women’s tournaments that rely on upper body strength. In theory, a college could legally have two wrestling teams — one made up of men, and one made up of men who identify as women. And the law’s purpose, equal inclusion of women in sports, is destroyed. Federal courts ended up rejecting the Obama proposal as contrary to Congress’ intent.

Inclusion also quickly becomes its opposite when it enforces its ban on “judgmentalism.” In their zeal to include same-sex relationships under the banner of marriage, for example, some have launched legal attacks against Christian bakers, florists and others trying to live by their Christian beliefs on marriage. Driving people from their livelihood based on their religion is an obvious example of exclusion.

Or take the public campaign against the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A because it is opening outlets in New York City. The chain’s owners believe in the historic Christian view of marriage. Gay rights advocates oppose this “infiltration” of New York, in line with the sentiment Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed last year: “As a New Yorker, I am a Muslim. I am a Jew. I am black. I am gay. I am a woman seeking to control her body. We are one New York.”

But pro-life citizens, faithful Catholics and other traditional Christians — not to mention people who enjoy delicious chicken sandwiches — may not be welcome in this New York.

These campaigns have been launched against people seeking simply to live their own lives by their beliefs. The Christian baker whose case is now before the Supreme Court, as well as the owners of Chick-fil-A, serve all customers equally. They believe in the equal dignity of all people, but not the equal moral status of all actions and relationships. So the baker cannot in conscience make a wedding cake for something his faith says is not a wedding.

If secular Americans want to include everyone, they will need to welcome even people with Christian convictions. That doesn’t mean endorsing those convictions. Perhaps, like Christians, they could learn to “hate the sin but love (or at least not exclude) the sinner.”

We Christians are called to something more demanding. We hate the sin because we love the sinner, because sin hurts those who practice it. We are called to embrace every human being made in the image and likeness of God, and pray for all people to attain their full God-given potential. That means humbly making judgments about behavior that can block this from happening.

If others see that as judgmental, and therefore a sin, they might ask themselves how they can be judgmental against those who believe in the reality of sin and grace.

Doerflinger worked for 36 years in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He writes from Washington state.

Commentary – May 7, 2018

— Brett Robinson, Catholic News Service

In the digital world, act like Mr. Rogers’ neighbor

Fred Rogers used to say the space between the television screen and the viewer is holy ground. Imagine if all media producers felt that way.

As the news spreads about the psychological tactics used by Facebook and other social media companies to hook users and mine their personal data, it may be time to rethink what media technology is and what it’s for.

(CNS photo/Reuters)

Just beneath Mr. Rogers’ simple humility and gentleness was a profound philosophy of media that is worth paying attention to.

It has been 50 years since “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” debuted. His approach was remarkable for its unremarkability. There were no animations, quick cuts, spastic characters or laugh tracks.

Mr. Rogers walked into his living room, and by extension ours, and said hello. Because that’s what you do when walk into someone’s living room.

He valued presence.

Despite the screen separating them, Mr. Rogers was more present to some children in the 1970s and ‘80s than their own parents. Divorce rates were skyrocketing and more households sent both mom and dad off to work. Mr. Rogers wasn’t there to babysit kids for half an hour; he was there to remind children that they were loved and capable of loving.

Mr. Rogers had small rituals that young viewers came to cherish. Every episode, he would take off his blazer and put on a cardigan while singing, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” He would sit down and change his shoes, letting the camera focus on the very simple act of tying his blue sneakers.

There weren’t goofy stunts or sight gags to get the kids’ adrenaline flowing. The show was a celebration of slowness and “everydayness,” elevated by the power of television. Each little ritual and repetition provided a moment of recognition for children, and that kind of recognition is calming. Mr. Rogers ties his shoes just like me.

Each episode was an opportunity to learn something new, or better, to see something old in a new way. Mr. Rogers would bring in a simple object like a shoebox and ask the children what they might do with it. How would they use their imagination to see more than a shoebox?

His relationship to creation was imbued with a deep sacramentality.

Mr. Rogers showed children that the average and the everyday can be signs of something much more. What better catechism for a child who will one day be shown that this very small piece of bread becomes God in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

It’s hard to have a relationship through a screen. Or over the phone or by email for that matter. Something always gets lost in the translation from human presence to electronic reproduction. Fred Rogers knew TV was not the same as the real thing, but his genius was letting his young viewers in on that fact from the very beginning.

There was no manipulation with Mr. Rogers. He was on TV and he let you know he was on TV.

When the trolley went to the land of make-believe, it was his way of teaching children that the real world and the TV world are two different places. While the puppets in King Friday’s castle can teach us something about friendship, there is no substitute for turning off the TV and being a real friend to someone.

As a media professor at a Catholic university, I am often asked if I think Christ would have appeared on television if he had been on earth today. I always say, “No, that’s why he didn’t come today.”

Our Lord didn’t need the television. He sent an emissary who understood the value of real presence, ritual, sacramentality and friendship. Every morning, before he entered his office, Mr. Rogers would pray, “Dear God, let some word that is heard be yours.”

Maybe it’s naive to think that the internet will produce a Fred Rogers figure for the digital age, but maybe that’s OK. In the digital world, we’re all neighbors now. So let’s act like it. For Fred.

Teachers and media producers who care about early childhood education should check out the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where Fred’s philosophy of media is being applied in new and creative ways so that his legacy of caring and wisdom can be carried forward.

Commentary – April 9, 2018

— Brian T. Olszewski ­

Christian witness during March Madness

Up until March 15, the only people who might have known about Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, were Loyola University students and fans of the Ramblers’ men’s basketball team. But as her team played its way into the Final Four and became the talk of the sports world, she became the talk of the country.

For two weeks, the 98-year-old chaplain of a winning college basketball team was newsworthy.

In the midst of talk about seedings, match-ups, strategies, etc., there was Sister Jean giving witness to her Catholic faith.

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, 98, longtime chaplain of the Loyola University Chicago men’s basketball team and campus icon, gives a thumbs up after the team defeated the Nevada Wolf Pack in the semifinals of the South regional of the 2018 NCAA Tournament March 24 in Atlanta. (CNS photo/Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

While we had to endure announcers trying to out-cute each other with comments about “throwing up a prayer” to describe the team’s last second, game winning shots, or “the prayer of the faithful” as a the reason for Loyola’s on-court success, we were fortunate to hear about her presence with the team and as a campus minister at Loyola.

She didn’t preach. She was genuine and engaging as she talked about things specific to most teams, i.e., sportsmanship and teamwork, and something about which few teams, even other Catholic ones, speak — prayer. (It’s quite likely that until Sister Jean came along, few tournament viewers even knew Loyola is a Catholic school.)

As she told a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, “I love being with people, spreading God’s word. And you do that not by talking all the time, but just by your presence.”

There’s no way to quantify how effective Sister Jean was in “spreading God’s word” to those who heard her, but the parable about the sower and seed is apropos when we consider what she may have accomplished. What she sowed could certainly have fallen upon fertile ground.

While this year’s tournament will be considered among the most unusual and exciting in college basketball annals, it will also be remembered as the year a nun who talked knowledgeably about basketball, teamwork, sportsmanship and prayer became a household name.

We are grateful for the Catholic witness she gave to that final four.

Commentary – March 12, 2018

— Richard Doerflinger, Catholic News Service

One way to end a culture of violence

The horrific mass shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 people dead has placed school violence and gun control at the forefront of public debate.

Proposals include stricter regulations on semiautomatic and automatic weapons, a ban on “bump stocks” that make the former more deadly, better background checks, a higher legal age for gun ownership, making it easier to get restraining orders against gun possession by disturbed people, and increased investment in mental health programs.

These should be considered in light of the best evidence on what will save lives without violating our constitutional freedoms. In this area, I am no expert.

One proposal I dislike involves arming teachers, which risks changing the culture of our schools for the worse. I think of the nuns who taught me in middle school, and the Marist brothers and devout laymen who gave me a fine high school education, and I struggle in vain to imagine them packing heat. Nor do I want crazed gunmen to avoid heavily armed public schools to target those run by churches.

And gun violence is a larger problem. It takes over 30,000 lives a year. Mass shootings are a tiny percentage of this alarming total. Suicides, a scourge among our young people, make up more than half of it. Days after the Florida shooting, there were reports of a 13-year-old boy who shot himself in a middle school restroom in Ohio and died.

Millions of guns have been in Americans’ hands for a long time. Why these senseless acts of violence by boys and young men now?

Psychologist Warren Farrell, author of “The Boy Crisis,” says the males perpetrating recent mass shootings share one characteristic: “minimal or no father involvement” in their lives. The Florida shooter’s adoptive father died when he was young, and his adoptive mother died from a respiratory illness in November; he was living with foster parents with whom he felt no connection.

Farrell says the presence of a strong male role model shows adolescent boys how to channel their aggressive impulses in positive directions, how to be a man. “Dad-deprived” boys are more likely to turn those impulses into aggression against others and themselves.

Obviously, most boys raised in our growing number of single-parent families do not become violent. Most single mothers do a great job raising their children, and some kinds of male role model are worse than none at all.

But it is important for society to help fill the gap. Teachers, coaches, Big Brothers, scoutmasters, youth ministers and others have traditionally done so. But as Robert Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone” documented 18 years ago, Americans have become more isolated, and the bonds within local communities are stretched thin.

Churches in particular have offered a moral code against taking human life — a countercultural message, in a nation where abortion and assisted suicide are praised — and a caring community that spans generations. But churches are losing young members, too.

So what do we do, since we must do something? The policy debate continues, and I hope it includes discussion of the loneliness and alienation of boys in our society.

In the meantime, blogger Rob Myers says each of us personally — including students — could do something: “Notice those around you who seem isolated, and engage them.” One friendly hand, an expression of interest or concern, may help a teen or young man come out of his shell a bit and change direction.

Myers admits most people probably won’t take this leap. I wonder what our excuse will be as Christians for not doing so?

Doerflinger worked for 36 years in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He writes from Washington state.

Commentary – February 12, 2018

— Brian T. Olszewski ­

Welcome, Cristo Rey

Given that 1,715 of Catholic schools in the United States have closed or merged since 2010, according to the National Catholic Education Association, it is welcome news when a Catholic high school is going to open — especially when it will open in one’s own diocese.

There are several reasons to be excited about Cristo Rey Richmond High School. A Cristo Rey school doesn’t just land in a city. Its arrival is preceded by an intense and detailed fact-finding process — more than 18 months in Richmond — to determine whether or not a community has the resources and support a Cristo Rey school needs in order to exist and flourish. The Cristo Rey Network board saw the results and believes Richmond has those resources and support.

Credit the board of Cristo Rey Richmond for making this happen, particular its ability to secure commitments from 26 corporate sponsors who are  — and will be — key to the high school’s success. As Peter J. McCourt, president of Cristo Rey Richmond, told those gathered for the announcement of the school, “These companies are willing to sign a letter of intent with us and we don’t have a student yet.”

Additional credit goes to the late Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo and Bishop Barry C. Knestout for encouraging the establishment of Cristo Rey in Richmond, and to the Sisters of Bon Secours for not only being a corporate sponsor, but for accepting the responsibility of being the school’s religious community sponsor, which every Cristo Rey school is required to have.

The benefits of having Cristo Rey in Richmond are threefold: The Cristo Rey model has proven students will be academically successful; they boast a college acceptance rate of 100 percent, 90 percent of whom enroll. In the course of their education, students receive hands-on, professional work experience.

Secondly, corporations are getting students who are committed to working; they don’t have to wonder whether or not they’ll show up for work. What’s more, the business community, as a whole, will have a pool of potential, qualified candidates from which to fill positions in years to come.

Finally, the Church benefits by having young adults being formed in the faith — faith that can serve them well among peers, in their families and communities and in the vocation to which they are eventually called.

This part of Cristo Rey Richmond’s mission statement makes it clear why this school is important: “…educates young people of limited economic means to become men and women of faith, purpose and service.”

They’re a welcome addition to the community.

Commentary – January 29, 2018

— Brian T. Olszewski ­

A welcome ‘wow’

One hears the word “wow” used at various times, often proclaimed with multiple exclamation points, e.g., at sporting events. Then there are the quiet wows, the ones spoken while watching sunrises and sunsets or holding one’s child or grandchild for the first time.

While we did not expect it to be the opening word of Bishop Barry C. Knestout’s homily during his Mass of Installation, his quiet “wow” was certainly welcome, as evidenced by the response from the congregation.

For those in the Catholic community who might be wondering, “What’s the new guy like?” — which is natural during a time of transition and uncertainty — the bishop’s “wow” provides a good indication.

In the short time Bishop Knestout has been in the diocese, it is evident he brings genuine enthusiasm for the Gospel and energy to proclaim it. Genuine. That translates into “wow.”

To the best of our knowledge, there isn’t a theology of “wow,” nor has it ever been the subject of a papal document or a bishop’s pastoral letter, but no one should have an issue with the Church — parish, diocesan, national and international — being infused with a dose of “wow.”

Consider the early years in St. Pope John Paul’s pontificate and the pontificate of Pope Francis. Each brought “wow” not only to the Church, but to the entire world. In the case of the latter, it is still being felt.

A “wow” person might have a tendency to be everywhere, trying to do everything. Bishop Knestout said as much in his homily:

“There is a part of me, somewhat like a newly ordained priest — with an abundance of spirit and energy — that wants to give you everything, to proclaim to you everything I have received from God and want to share. But my experience as a priest of almost 30 years tells me — and I know — that I can’t possibly give you everything.”

He’s right; he can’t. But combine his gifts as a pastor and administrator with his exemplary love for Christ, the Church and its people, and the result is a “wow effect” — and effect that can reach all parts of the diocese.

The “wow” need not be loud and flashy. In fact, in a culture engulfed in loud and flashy, the “wow” will be more effective and last longer when it is quiet, consistent and, we would add, pastoral. From what we have seen and from what we have been told by those who know him well, that appears to be Bishop Knestout’s way.

At the conclusion of Evening Prayer on Jan. 11, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori told those gathered in the cathedral that Pope Francis had sent the Diocese of Richmond a bishop with a “beautiful, loving, pastoral heart.”

We’d call that a “wow.”

Commentary – January 1, 2018

— Brian T. Olszewski ­

‘Clear understanding’ requires us to act

We have not read the 479-page Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Like most taxpayers, we probably won’t know until we do our 2018 taxes in 2019 whether we benefit from it or not.

However, in the weeks and months ahead, we expect to continue reading and hearing more analysis, and more “Here’s what you need to know” stories about the legislation. While we’ll try to digest them, we’ll probably fail, and resign ourselves to waiting for the act’s impact.

However, one voice to whom we will be listening is Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. Throughout the debate about the act he warned Congress not to act hastily, noting on Nov. 3, “A clear understanding and careful consideration of the impacts of these tax proposals is essential for the sake of all people, but particularly the poor.”

When the legislation passed Dec. 20, the bishop noted that low-income families will pay more in taxes, while the wealthy will pay less.

“This is clearly problematic, especially for the poor. The repeal of the personal exemption will cause larger families, including many in the middle class, to be financially worse off,” he said.

U.S. bishops’ concern for the poor is not a new Catholic development. Bishop Dwane’s and other bishops’ focus on the poor is consistent with the Gospel, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and with volumes of Catholic Social Teaching developed over decades. What they are saying today reflects what their episcopal predecessors said more than 31 years ago when writing “Economic Justice for All”: “The tax system should be continually evaluated in terms of its impact on the poor.”

We should expect them to, and want them to, continue speaking on behalf of the poor to us in our churches, through the media, at Congressional hearings, and in the public square. We should expect them to help us attain that “clear understanding and careful consideration” of the legislation’s impact on the poor.

The bishops should have an expectation of us, too. As they continue to root us in the Gospel and all Church teaching about the poor, they should expect we will respond to that teaching.

Whether or not the flaws in the tax act about which the bishops have spoken are remedied legislatively will be determined by those in whom we have entrusted that duty. That could take years, even decades.

The poor don’t have that kind of time. Legislation or not, one clear understanding we as Catholics must always have is to continue advocating for and serving the poor. They should expect no less of us; we should expect no less of ourselves.

Commentary – December 18, 2017

— Brian T. Olszewski ­

Welcome our good shepherd

How fitting that during the season in which we hear much about shepherds and the good news they were the first to hear, Pope Francis announced good news for us in naming Bishop-designate Barry C. Knestout as the shepherd for the Diocese of Richmond.

In the day and a half Bishop Knestout was in the diocese, we witnessed how quickly — and genuinely — he connected with members of his flock. In the span of one afternoon, we saw him act upon a recommendation Pope Francis made to the U.S. bishops in 2015: “Be pastors close to people, pastors who are neighbors and servants.”

With the students and staff of Our Lady of Lourdes School, among Catholic Campus Ministry students at VCU, and in meeting the residents and staff at Little Sisters of the Poor, Bishop Knestout was close to his people, attentive to them, taking time with them, listening to them, engaging them.

That bodes well not only for our shepherd, but for us, his flock. Pope Francis has spoken often about bishops “smelling like sheep,” not in an odoriferous way, but like true shepherds, being among those they serve and lead. Bishop Knestout’s words and actions make it clear he will be that shepherd. He has already spoken about balancing office work with being among the faithful.

Most importantly, we have been blessed with a prayerful man who celebrates Mass daily, prays the rosary during his commute to work, and has a devotion to the Holy Spirit. He speaks of experiencing joy and being immersed in God’s presence when he prays the Liturgy of the Hours.

Bishop Knestout’s motto, chosen more than 20 years after Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo chose the same motto, is “Christ Our Hope” — a hope about which he spoke on the day of his appointment when he said his “hope is to bring prayerfulness, familial love, charitable service, missionary zeal, and dedicated priestly oversight to my new role as your shepherd.”

Over the next several days, as we read and/or listen to stories involving shepherds, sing our carols, and place the shepherds in our Nativity scenes, let us pray for Bishop Knestout, a good shepherd who has been called to lead us in the ways of the Good Shepherd.

Commentary – December 4, 2017

— Brian T. Olszewski ­

Gospel witness grows from ‘that’s all he’s good for’

The beatification of Blessed Solanus Casey two weeks    before the start of Advent is fitting, as this is a season in which we hear about lowly people and humble people — Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, John the Baptist, and shepherds.

One of the things we know about Blessed Solanus is that he was humble. Dismissed from an archdiocesan seminary because he was not considered academically smart enough to be a diocesan priest, Solanus was welcomed by the Capuchins, who recognized his faith, provided his academic and spiritual formation, and ordained him.

While he was allowed to say Mass, his Franciscan superiors, due to his scholarly limitations, prohibited him from preaching sermons. Nor was he allowed to hear confessions. They assigned him to what could well have been the lowliest job in the Franciscan community — answering the door.

When he wasn’t doing that, he was responsible for other menial duties, e.g., cleaning toilets. We wonder if any of his superiors, well aware of the priest’s academic shortcomings, relegated Father Solanus to those duties with an exasperated and disparaging, “That’s all he’s good for.”

We do not criticize his superiors for having such a human response. Had they not made him the community porter, he might have never ministered to thousands of people in the manner he did, and we might never have known this stellar example of Christian witness.

Answering a door didn’t require a God-given academic prowess that Father Solanus lacked; it required something much greater, something that flowed from his heart — compassion. If that was all Father Solanus was good for, so be it. Imagine if that’s all more of us were good for.

The people Father Solanus served — the poor, the hungry, the lonely, the hurting, the sick, the ignored, the forgotten — did not need a scholar to clothe them, feed them, listen to them, comfort them, and pray for and with them. They needed a priest who was present to them, cared for them, and loved them as Christ loves them. Father Solanus was that priest.

Years later, Father Solanus wrote: “We should ever be grateful for and love the vocation to which God has called us. This  applies to every vocation because, after all, what a privilege it is to serve God, even in the least capacity!”

As we do from those lowly and humble people who are an integral part of our Advent and Christmas story, we have much to learn from Blessed Solanus. His humility and willingness to accept the lowest position, and then use it as a way to give witness to the Gospel is exemplary.

If serving God with humility, compassion and love is all we’re good for, we can, as Blessed Solanus demonstrated, do no better.

Commentary – November 20, 2017

— Brian T. Olszewski ­

Confront ‘a serious offense against God’

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl’s pastoral letter, “The Challenge of Racism Today,” provides another opportunity to examine our consciences, to seek forgiveness, and to work at eradicating this sin — in our personal lives, in our families, and in our institutions, including the Church.

Sin? Oh, yes. If one doesn’t draw that conclusion from Scripture, then consider the words of the U.S. bishops in 1979, the words of our last three popes on numerous occasions, and the words of individual bishops who have all taught that racism is a sin.

St. Pope John Paul II said it bluntly in 2001: “Racism is a sin that constitutes a serious offense against God.”

Eradicating the sin of racism begins with prayer — the prayer we say during one form of the Penitential Rite at Mass: “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault…”

If we believe what we are praying, we will recognize that racism is the result of something we have done and/or failed to do, and that it is our fault. That admission is not easy; admitting one’s sins rarely is. Avoiding repetition of those sins is even more difficult. But it is work that needs to be done if reconciliation is to be genuine.

Prayer is the beginning and the constant in meeting the challenge of racism, but it doesn’t stop there. As Pam Harris, director of the Office of Black Catholics for the     Diocese of Richmond, said, “The Catholic Church has a unique opportunity, which it always has, being that we’re universal, to really address issues — and not only address them but start being proactive as opposed to reactive in what we need to do in combating racism.”

What must come from the words of prayers, pastoral letters and dialogue is action. Not an action, but ongoing action so that the Catholic commitment to eliminating the infection of racism is never past tense. Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory stated it at last week’s U.S. bishops’ meeting: “Racism isn’t going to be conquered by speech but by actions.”

The Catholic Church —its members, leadership, parishes, schools, dioceses, organizations, institutions, and programs — is called to determine a course of action and execute it. As Catholics, we must do nothing less when challenged by “a serious offense against God.”

Commentary – November 6, 2017

— Brian T. Olszewski ­

Keep Christ in Christmas, but start now

Credit the Knights of Columbus for reminding us year after year to keep Christ in Christmas. The reminders come early, but our response is often too late. While retailers’ preparations for what they deem the Christmas season are well under way by Labor Day, Catholics are likely to wait until Advent eve — or later — to find the wreath and candles.

While we might bemoan retail’s version of Christmas starting earlier every year, we reluctantly accept it. Yet, when it comes to promoting and embracing the true meaning of Christmas, we delay or, worse, fail to do it.

The annual admonishment to keep Christ in Christmas is not futile, but it is going to take more than a slogan or a sign to change hearts. Ironic, isn’t it, that we need to talk about converting hearts,            including Catholic hearts, when it comes to Christ and Christmas?

That conversion begins with a personal commitment to focus on the peace and joy of Bethlehem versus the discount peace and tissue paper joy of the retail world. People of faith know the peace and joy of Bethlehem is living, it’s real; can the same be said of Kohl’s cash?

That commitment to keep Christ in Christmas continues in the home, where one is guided by the   Advent calendar instead of the “shopping days left” calendar, by Gaudete Sunday rather than Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The manger is the focal point, and buying items for those whose names are on the parish “angel tree” is more important than buying for those who need nothing.

It involves discussions among friends and family, including children, highlighting and embracing how our faith is rooted in this season. Warning: Expect some to see you more as Scrooge than as St. Nicholas when you put the spiritual above the secular.

We have a choice: Be ensnared by the commercialization of Christmas or reclaim the season — our season — seeing it and using it as an opportunity for evangelization. Better than telling people to keep Christ in Christmas, we can show them how to keep Christ in Christmas.

It starts with making “Keep Christ in Christmas” the foundation for all we say and do now, during      Advent, on Christmas and throughout the season.  Remember, unlike retail Christmas, our season doesn’t end until Jan. 8, when we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord.

If we’re going to reclaim Christmas, if we’re going to put Christ in Christmas and keep him there, we had better start now because our culture’s version of the Christmas season is already here, and Christ is nowhere to be found in it.

 Commentary – October 23, 2017

— Brian T. Olszewski ­

Get it out of the drawer

As my wife and I packed for our move from Milwaukee to the Diocese of Richmond, we found eight rosaries, including the one from her first Communion, those that belonged to our parents,  one each from Lourdes and Medjugorje, and another from a friend who has made more than 100,000 of them out of cord.

Having a rosary is one thing; praying it is another, as the latter does not automatically follow the former. In our case, all but one of the rosaries were buried in drawers, most untouched in years. This was not due to spiritual deficiency or theological indifference but rather we had opted for other forms of prayer.

Nonetheless, as we pulled them from the drawers and had the “keep or donate” discussion, we understood the obvious: They’re not doing any good there.

One can see the beauty and the power of the rosary when one looks at the various images in this week’s paper — images in which people are praying for the unborn and those who kill them, for Americans to be open to the Word of God, for world peace, and for other concerns.

The witness of those who are part of these rosary rallies can inspire us to reacquaint ourselves with this form of prayer and to delve into the mysteries it highlights. Those photos can prod us to try praying it in a focused, meaningful way that provides the spiritual nourishment we need.

When the rosary was a regular part of my prayer life, I carried one in my pocket where it would get entangled with cash. When I’d pull out the money at the grocery store, inevitably the beads came along. I wasn’t embarrassed, as in, “Oh, I didn’t mean for you to see that.”  Rather, even though it was unintentional, I saw it as a simple profession of faith.

As I would slowly separate the two and re-pocket the rosary, the expressions of the cashier and other customers varied from discomfort to indifference to curiosity. None said a word, though I wish they had; it would have been an opportunity for catechesis.

For the rosary, as a sacramental and as a prayer, to be an integral part of our prayer life — individually or communally — it has to be in our hands. Maybe we’ll just hold it as we sit in silence. Or maybe we’ll just finger the beads or walk and pray in the next rally. There are multiple ways to benefit from it.

It starts with getting it out of the drawer and into our lives.

Commentary – October 9, 2017

— Brian T. Olszewski ­

Our time of need

Catholic members of the “Greatest Generation” — those who grew up during the Great Depression and World War II — would note how churches were open all the time and people were in them, praying that the war would end and their loved ones would return safely.

In subsequent decades, when manmade disasters would occur or during times of tumult, some would lament, “What we need is another war.” They didn’t want the international bloodshed their generation had experienced, but they wanted to see people become focused on and dependent upon God again.

We were reminded of that mindset Oct. 2 when the Las Vegas massacre became part of our history. With millions of others, we joined in prayer for the victims and their families. But was that enough? Was it enough to pray for the dead, and to ask God to bring healing to their loved ones?

No. Those prayers were and are essential, and, as people of faith, we know God hears them as we are taught to call upon God in our time of need. But our time of need should not be limited to disasters — manmade or natural. Rather, we should — we must — be in regular contact with God. He must be in us, reflected in our words and actions. Always.

We suspect that if, God forbid, we were to experience what the Greatest Generation lived, churches would be open, but they might be echo chambers. As Sunday Mass attendance continues to decline across the United States and elsewhere, there is no reason to believe people would be coming to church daily and at all hours in order to reconnect with God. If they don’t recognize him, why would they attempt to make him part of their lives?

We do not need another war or tragedy of any kind. What we need, individually and as a faith community, is to commit or recommit to knowing God, to abandoning ourselves to his will, as taught by his Son and inspired by his Spirit. We must make that relationship evident in all phases of our lives, to the point that we are visible and audible witnesses of his love and mercy.

Expect those who do not recognize God as the source of everlasting life to be derisive of our witness, to blame God for tragedies and disasters. With admirable intentions, they will seek solutions to preventing tragedies, yet they will fall short should they fail to make dependence upon God the key element of those solutions.

Every day is our time of need. Addressing those needs, be they as life-changing as hurricanes and mass killings or as personal as the day-to-day challenges we encounter, requires us to embrace the One who can fulfill them.

Commentary – September 25, 2017

— Brian T. Olszewski ­

It just won’t go away, but it must – soon

Anti-Catholicism is much like a cramp in the leg: Just when you think you won’t get another one — bam! — it hits.

So it was Sept. 6 when U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein made the Catholicism of Amy Coney Barrett, nominee for a judgeship in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, an issue during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings.

Our concern is twofold. One is that Feinstein attacked Barrett because the nominee is Catholic. Can one imagine had the nominee been questioned about her religious beliefs if she were of another faith tradition? There would have been an uproar, widespread calls for apologies, and demands for the questioner to resign. That is the litany whenever a “sacred” identifier is used to question how one thinks. Catholicism, it appears, isn’t on the list of sacred identifiers, so it is questioned.

In our culture of political correctness, where reference to something considered part of a person’s profile is subject to backlash, one wonders how Feinstein was immune from accountability for her attack on Barrett?

The Catholic leaders one would expect to voice outrage, e.g., Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, and William Donahue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, did, but there were few others.

Apparently, attacks on Catholics and Catholicism are still considered OK among a vast group of Americans, probably including, sadly, some who identify as Catholics. For reasons researchers have not been able to quantify, there is little, if any, uproar from people in the pews.

Our sense is that, as a whole, Catholics don’t have the “When one of ours is attacked, all of us are attacked” mindset other groups have. There was a time when we did, but no longer. We would do well to reclaim it — soon.

Our second concern is the lack of outrage by Catholic members of the senate who did not call their colleague to task. There are 24 senators – 15 Democrats and 9 Republicans – who identify themselves as Catholic. Nary a word from them about Feinstein’s attacks on Barrett! They were in a position to defend a fellow Catholic and our faith, and they did nothing. It would be interesting to know how they reconcile that inaction with Church teaching.

Of all the “isms” infecting us, e.g., racism, sexism, ageism, anti-Catholicism garners little refutation. Instead, comedians mock us, TV shows jab at our beliefs, and U.S. senators are allowed to attack one of our own, and almost no one holds them accountable.

The outrage from Catholics should be automatic whenever anyone attacks Catholics and Catholicism. If this behavior from a U.S. senator doesn’t rankle us, what will?

Like the cramp in the leg, anti-Catholicism just won’t go away. However, unlike the cramp, if anti-Catholicism isn’t addressed, it will cripple us.

Commentary – September 11, 2017

by Michael McGee, is Chief Financial Officer of the Diocese of Richmond

In all things, Bishop DiLorenzo exemplified stewardship

In remembering our beloved Bishop, much has been written about his pastoral leadership, his depth of knowledge in moral theology, and his compassion for the poor and vulnerable.  Notable evidence of his pastoral leadership are the increases in the number of men discerning their vocation, averaging 30 men in recent years, and the strong relationship with bishops around the world resulting in 47 international priests currently assigned to our parishes, securing a bright future for the lay faithful.

The same can be said of his ability in finance and administration.  Consider the following financial highlights:

• As of June 30, 2011, the Diocese’s Plant Fund had a $9.5 million deficit in unrestricted net assets.  As of June 30, 2017, including funds to be received from Living Our Mission, the Plant Fund has a $635,000 surplus.

• The funded status of the Priests Pension Plan improved since January 1, 2011 from 37 percent to 83.6 percent and the funded status of the Lay Employee Pension Plan improved since January 1, 2011 from 82.1 percent to 92.1 percent.

• As of June 30, 2011, the liability for health insurance for priests in retirement stood at $10.9 million, with no assets yet set aside to fund this benefit.  Strategies to fund retired priests’ health insurance and long-term care began with including these underfunded obligations in the Living Our Mission campaign and stand to receive $3.5 million from this effort.

• The Catholic Community Foundation was formed in 2015 by depositing $95 million in assets from the various entities administered by the Bishop of Richmond.  As of the end of the 2017 fiscal year, investments had grown to $129 million.

Bishop DiLorenzo was praised by many for his support for Catholic schools.  In October 2013, the University of Notre Dame recognized his efforts when they awarded him the Sorin Award for service to Catholic education. He believed Catholic schools could break the cycle of poverty in certain communities and needed to be affordable to all.

Under his leadership, these principles were calls to action and several initiatives were developed to increase the affordability of Catholic schools.

• The McMahon-Parater Scholarship Foun- dation (MPSF) was founded in 2008. Today there is $11 million in endowments for tuition assistance.  This number will grow to over $15 million once all the proceeds from the Living Our Mission campaign are collected.

• In collaboration with now Bishop Emeritus Paul S. Loverde, Bishop DiLorenzo founded the Virginia Catholic Conference. Among the VCC’s many accomplishments was assisting in the effort to pass legislation that created the Educational Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits.  Since its inception in 2013, EISTC has raised $11 million, $4.3 million in 2016-17 alone.

• A comprehensive plan for parishes to support Catholic schools was instituted in 2012-13, increasing parish support from less than $3 million per year to over $4.4 million in the most recent year.

These efforts resulted in over $5.5 million in tuition assistance being awarded to 2,474 students, approximately one-third of the 2016-17 enrollment.  Only when one understands that diocesan tuition assistance averaged $200,000 per year prior to these initiatives can one appreciate the magnitude of these efforts.  But there is still work to be done as the total need has grown to $9.9 million.

The work of the shepherd of a diocese is never done, but Bishop DiLorenzo gave his successor a very firm foundation on which to build.

Commentary – August 28, 2017

from the homily, delivered Aug. 17, 2017, by Msgr. Mark Richard Lane who served as Vicar General during the tenure of Bishop Francis DiLorenzo

Bishop DiLorenzo: a booming voice, a heart of gold and a foundation rooted in Christ

In light of the passing of Bishop DiLorenzo it is appropriate that we stop and do justice to his life and death.

First and foremost, his life was grounded in the Gospel and the call to make the Kingdom of God present to the Diocese. And how did he make the Kingdom of God present? There were so many ways.

His love of Catholic schools and his wish to make Catholic education affordable to all was one of the hallmarks of his leadership. His desire to see a well-educated laity placed in positions of Church leadership was another. He reached out to dioceses around the world and asked them to send their priests to assist in the pastoral care of the Diocese of Richmond – and the many international priests who have served under his leadership ensured that parishes need not be closed.

He loved to be around youth, collegians and young adults – and his affection for them was reciprocated. He wholeheartedly supported the Office of Evangelization which serves young people and parishes so well. He had a steadfast love and affection for our seminarians as well as deep concern for our priests and permanent deacons with whom he met annually.

He supported the Capital Campaign and the Annual Appeal and was overwhelmed by the generosity of the lay faithful who responded to his call for support. He hoped that the Home Mission Grant program would benefit smaller parishes with limited financial resources – and, indeed, it has. My hope is that these ministries and others he initiated will not be lost but will continue to benefit the Church and the Diocese. I pray – as he would – that word, worship, community and service continue to thrive.

We always knew when Bishop DiLorenzo was around. He liked to come into the office singing show tunes – even when he didn’t know the lyrics. We tolerated his singing because he kept us entertained. He loved and was genuinely interested in everyone he met.

Bishop DiLorenzo struggled with health issues for many years, but he was always hopeful and optimistic about his future. He was also very grateful. And in that last week he told us so. He thanked each of us who worked for him, and all the people in the Pastoral Center and parishes.

In his last few days he felt the reality of the Cross in his own pain and suffering and in the end he was courageous enough to move from the Cross, to trust in God, and through that trust to the fullness of the Resurrection. This is an act all of us can emulate daily.

Let us pray that nothing of his life be lost but that it continue to benefit our Church and our Diocese.

 Commentary – August 14, 2017

— By Richard Doerflinger, Catholic News Service

A population implosion?

Remember when everybody worried about a “population explosion” filling the world with too many people? In the 1970s, this fear drove campaigns to legalize abortion and pour billions of dollars into birth control programs.

Now experts warn about the opposite. While birth rates remain relatively high in developing nations, they are lower than predicted. And industrialized nations face a “population implosion” as birth rates fall well below replacement level.

For a while, the United States did better than Europe, partly due to immigration. But even immigrants are having fewer children as they absorb American values, and we now have the lowest U.S. birth rate ever.

Combined with our longer life span, this trend has dire consequences. Says Elon Musk, the billionaire genius who co-founded the Tesla corporation, we are producing an “inverted demographic pyramid” in which fewer workers must support more and more seniors.

Ultimately, he says, “the social safety net will not hold.” Social Security and our health care system are at risk.

Has the Planned Parenthood agenda succeeded beyond its wildest dreams? Actually it’s more complicated. Abortions have been declining as well. And numerous studies show that birth control programs often fail to reduce pregnancies, births or abortions.

This may change as Planned Parenthood persuades more women to use “long-acting reversible contraceptives” – implantable and injectable hormones and intrauterine devices that last for years, and can’t be discontinued without medical assistance.

The deeper problem is not technology but a lack of will. People in our society are losing interest in having a family, especially a large family.

This varies by religion, according to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center. As reported by The Washington Post, it found that “the average Mormon can expect to make 3.4 babies in his or her lifetime. Jews, Catholics and most flavors of Protestantism have fertility rates ranging from 2 to 2.5. At the low end of the baby-making spectrum, you’ve got atheists, with 1.6 kids, and agnostics, who average only 1.3.”

So secularization is a major factor. Within Christianity, evangelicals are having more children than “mainline” Protestants, and other studies indicate the same divide between churchgoing Catholics and the less observant.

Why are those who deeply believe in God and eternal life, regardless of any specific teaching on birth control, more willing to generate new life here and now?

I think the decline in belief has led many people to think this life brings the only pleasure they will know, and personal or professional achievement brings the only self-affirmation. Pursuit of these excludes devoting time and effort to marriage and especially children – at least until later life when fertility declines.

Believers see this life as a testing ground, not a final reward. Christians especially know that opening yourself to others in love is the path to heaven, and to a more lasting joy and deeper satisfaction in this life than pleasure or affluence provide.

So Catholics worried about the rise of atheism can take a short-term and a long-term approach. Right now, we need to educate our children, evangelize and respond to attacks on the faith. As for the long term, Catholic couples, can you guess?

Commentary – July 31, 2017

— Catholic News Service

“Whine” to God, not to neighbor

Pope Francis left a not-so-subtle message outside his office in the Domus Sanctae Marthae residence: anyone who is thinking of making a fuss, leave your whining at the door.

Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli published a photo on Vatican Insider of a sign posted on the pope’s door with the words, “No whining.” The sign warns potential complainers that “offenders are subject to a victim mentality” that decreases one’s sense of humor and ability to solve problems.

“The penalty is doubled if the violation takes place in the presence of children. To get the best out of yourself, concentrate on your potential and not on your limitations. Stop complaining and take steps to improve your life,” the sign reads.

While it may seem like a serious request, the pope found the sign hilarious when it was given to him by Italian life coach and motivational speaker, Dr. Salvo Noe.

The pope has on several occasions warned about the more serious repercussions of complaining which can blind people’s view of Jesus’ presence in tough situations.

At a morning Mass this spring the pope said that “many times when difficult things happen, including when we are visited by the cross, we run the risk of closing ourselves off in complaints.”

Complaining and griping — about others and about things in one’s own life — are harmful, he said, “because it dashes hope. Don’t get into this game of a life of complaints.”

However, the pope has also said that “complaining to God” in moments of doubt and fear — like Abraham did– can be a form of prayer that requires the courage to hope beyond all hope.

“I won’t say that Abraham loses patience, but he complains to the Lord. This is what we learn from our father Abraham: complaining to the Lord is a form of prayer,” the pope said Dec. 28 during his weekly general audience.

“Sometimes I hear confessions where people say, ‘I complained to the Lord.’ But no. (Continue) to complain; he is a father and this is a form of prayer. Complain to the Lord, this is good.”


Commentary – July 17, 2017

— Catholic News Service and Catholic Virginian staff

The joy of the Church listening to each other

For some it was about keeping young people in the church. Others wanted to hear about diocesan ministries in another locale and perhaps bring an idea home. A few more were glad they could be heard by a bishop or two.

Participants from the Diocese of Richmond who gave up their Fourth of July holiday with family and friends to participate in this task for the Church had expectations, too. Some are detailed in this edition of The Catholic Virginian.

Whatever their reason to travel to hot, humid Florida for four days in the middle of summer, the 3,500 delegates to the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” headed home July 4 with renewed energy to set a new course for the U.S. Catholic Church.

The convocation, years in planning, was the first time in a century that the bishops convened church leaders – clergy, religious, seminarians, parish volunteers and professional staff among them – to respond to social and spiritual quandaries that have left millions of people drifting on the margins of society.

Clergy – more than 155 prelates and 300 priests – recognize that the church must respond to those quandaries. While cardinals, archbishops and bishops played leading roles throughout the convocation, they also were on hand to listen. They joined breakout sessions; some did not speak at all. During the final gatherings of diocesan delegations and affiliated groups July 4, bishops could be seen quietly watching and taking notes as the conversations on practical steps to undertake back home unfolded.

Pope Francis fueled the impetus for the gathering. His 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), gave planners at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ another reason for organizing the gathering.

The pope’s document lays out a vision of the church dedicated to evangelization – missionary discipleship – in a positive way, with a focus on society’s poorest and most vulnerable, including the aged, unborn and forgotten.

His call for a more merciful church joyfully working on the peripheries of society to heal the wounded inspired the delegates throughout the convocation.

Commentary – July 3, 2017

— By Steve Neill­

A brilliant mind and a generous heart

Although Father James Kauffmann was a brilliant man who spoke several languages, he had a gift of being able to connect with a diversity of people who benefitted from that relationship.

Over the next several weeks those who knew Father Kauffmann, who died June 19, will likely share stories of how he had touched their lives. It is interesting that Father Kauffmann had a strong connection with Father David Nott who died two months ago, on Easter, April 16. While pastor of St. John’s in Waynesboro back in the 1980s, Father Kauffmann encouraged then Episcopalian David Nott to participate in Catholic liturgy by playing the organ at the Saturday vigil Mass. This interest sparked a priestly vocation.

Father Kauffmann was a strong supporter of Catholic school education, promoting it whenever he could. He himself graduated from the former Norfolk Catholic High School (the forerunner to Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School in Virginia Beach) and attended the College of William and Mary, majoring in economics.

From there he went on to St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore for a year before heading off to Rome to continue theology studies. It was there Father Kauffmann developed a love for Italy that continued for the next 40-plus years. He had just recently returned from Italy when he died suddenly at age 67. His love for learning marked his life. He also loved travel and was scheduled to lead a pilgrimage to Sicily and Southern Italy in November.

While pastor of St. Benedict Parish in Richmond, he worked hard to ensure that students at the parish school received a fine classical education. The students developed an appreciation for different languages as well as art and music.

Father Kauffmann cultivated friendships with people who were also brilliant. He radiated both curiosity and enthusiasm in his conversations which developed into learning experiences for both parties. A good number of people eventually entered the Catholic Church after dialogue with Father Kauffmann. One professor, a Presbyterian, was introduced to Father Kauffmann because of their mutual interest in Latin and Greek. He became Catholic under Father Kauffmann’s tutelage.

Father Kauffmann and the professor spent hours discussing scholarly points which would have limited interest to others. But Father Kauffmann was just as animated and interested in talking with others of far less intellect. The students at St. Benedict School loved him and were excited when he made visits to the classrooms. They recognized the pastor’s hearty laugh which stood out among others.

Father Kauffmann would laugh that hearty laugh if someone were to portray him as an extraordinary priest, but, in fact, he was. Attendance at two separate liturgies – at St. Bede’s in Williamsburg on a Thursday and the final farewell at St. Benedict’s the next day – was testimony to the love and affection people had for him.

Commentary – June 19, 2017

— By Father John Catoir, syndicated columnist with Catholic News Service

Rejoicing always is possible

Having just gone through Lent and Easter, we’ve seen the stark reality of the cross followed by the glorious manifestation of the resurrection.

We are now living in the joyful season of Easter. But I ask you, is it realistic to ask anyone to be joyful in this crazy world of ours?

The answer is a definite YES!

There will always be crosses, and yet we are called to live joyfully through all the drudgery and pain of life.

We all suffer physical and emotional pain of one kind or another: our bodies ache, people disappoint, financial woes engender fear, the possibility of war persists, but despite this, we are still called to live joyfully.

St. Paul, who suffered mightily in his day, urged us to rejoice always because of the knowledge of God’s love.

How do we know that God loves us? We know it on faith.

Jesus Christ told us to call God “Our Father.” Doesn’t every father want his children to be happy?

That’s why St. Paul said, “Rejoice always, and be grateful in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus,” (I Cor. 5: 16).

He took this magnificent idea from Jesus, who at the last supper said, “I have told you all these things that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete,” (John 15:11).

I appeal to Pope John Paul II for confirmation. He wrote, “Christ came to bring joy, joy to children, joy to parents, joy to families and friends, joy to workers and scholars, joy to the sick and elderly, joy to all humanity. In a true sense joy is the keynote message and the recurring motif of the Gospels – Go therefore and become messengers of joy.”

Our response ought to be, “Yes I will Lord. I will be glad, and filled with joy, because of you.” (Psalm 9:2)

Recently Bishop Robert Barron wrote about the strict moral code that the Church proclaims in matters of sexuality.

Many Catholics say the Church should scale back on these rigid standards, but Christ calls us higher. Jesus said, “Be ye perfect.”- Matt. 5:48.

We all know the heartbreak and suffering that comes from unbridled sexuality. Mediocrity and irresponsibility always lead to misery and death.

Of course, we are weak and sinful. Of course, we need Divine mercy just to survive spiritually from day to day, but we also need Christian ideals that call us to nobility and holiness. Mediocrity is not an option.

“Rejoice always,” is a call to perfection. We need to accept spiritual joy as a realistic goal.

Commentary – June 5, 2017

— By Steve Neill

Father Flanagan and Boys Town

Father Edward Flanagan, the Irish-born priest who founded Boys Town in Nebraska, is pictured in an undated photo. The Vatican has taken a key step forward in the priest’s sainthood cause, local officials said May 15. (CNS photo/courtesy Boys Town)

Probably few people under the age of 30 have any sense of the role orphanages played in American society until the 1950s when that system of child protection began to be phased out.

Children were placed in buildings known as orphanages when their parents or other family members were unable to care for them, largely because of financial issues.

For more than half a century the Diocese of Richmond had St. Vincent’s Home for Boys in Roanoke. It was established by St. Andrew’s Parish on March 1, 1893, and staffed by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky.

Many of the boys grew up to be lawyers and business executives and credited St. Vincent’s with the proper guidance to put them on the right path.

Perhaps the one man best known for his charitable work in orphanages is the late Father Edward J. Flanagan.

Father Flanagan was the founder of Boys Town in Omaha. His story and that of Boys Town was made into a movie in 1938 which starred Spencer Tracy as the kind-hearted but no-nonsense priest.

The priest started out with a rented house for five boys who needed a home. It grew to become a national treasure which had a main campus of group homes for both boys and girls, a grade school and high school and a post office.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Omaha took up the cause for Father Flanagan to be declared a saint in 2012. At that time Archbishop George Lucas declared him to be a “Servant of God.”

On May 15 the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes found that Omaha’s three-year investigation into Father Flanagan’s life was thorough and without error, and includes evidence of a reputation for sanctity. The archdiocese had sent its findings to the Vatican in 2015.

“This cause is moving forward toward the next step, which we pray will move Servant of God Flanagan’s status to that of ‘venerable,’” said Steven Wolf, president of the Father Flanagan League, at a news conference.

The Vatican will continue its investigation looking for signs of heroic virtue, which could lead to the title “venerable.”

The steps for sainthood will include a miracle attributed to the intercession of Father Flanagan required for beatification, and a second miracle for sainthood.

Archbishop Lucas said the effort is in God’s hands, and prayers and devotions to Father Flanagan will help further the cause.

We can always use more saints in our world. Looking at their life and what motivated them to achieve what they did for God’s people can spur us on to be saints in our day.

Commentary – May 22, 2017

— By Steve Neill

Memorial Day recalls sacrifices

As Americans prepare to celebrate Memorial Day next week, it should be a time to remember all the valiant soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice — their lives — so the United States of America could live in freedom.

Memorial Day was originally celebrated as a national holiday on May 30, no matter what day of the week it occurred. But since 1971 it has been celebrated on the last Monday of May, allowing most workers and students to have a three-day holiday.

On a visit to France last fall I was in Normandy, on France’s northwest coast. Our group visited the American Cemetery and then got on a bus to head to the coast where American soldiers landed on what became known as D-Day, the sixth of June. It was an emotiuonal visit. We saw the vast rows of granite tombstones which each bore a name of the soldier who died with the name of their home state and date of birth and death.

But what really had an impact on me was learning that many of these fallen soldiers who had come to Europe to fight the enemy had seldom been away from their small towns in Iowa and Nebraska when they were put in harm’s way. For some it was their first time away from home and their letters poignantly told their loved ones how much they missed them.

Many did not make it home and their tombstones are grim reminders of their sacrifice. The Normandy American Cemetery, on land donated by the French government, has 9,387 burials. It is one of 14 permanent Wordl War II military cemeteries on foreign soil.

With so much to see at the American cemetery with the various exhibits, I took time to view a film in which you could see and hear the stories of these soldiers. Their wives, parents or brothers and sisters read letters from their loved one. These letters, all hand written, were shown on the screen along with a photo of the soldier who had written them.

For most of the soldiers, it was a time to write their mother and father of what life was like in the Army. They wanted to be remembered to all the folks back home and they wanted to hear what was happening in the family.

They asked questions which probably were written to keep that connection back home alive despite the hidden dangers in which they found themselves. They were risking their lives as they witnessed the horrors of war.

These soldiers missed the life they had back on the farm or in the family store. They looked forward to the war being over and resuming their life. They would never be the same again.

What made this film so poignant and brought tears to my eyes were that the words heard on the screen were often the last words these men ever wrote. Death on the battlefield or in an Army hospital soon followed.

Let us remember the sacrifices our military veterans made as we celebrate Memorial Day — not only during World War II, but in subsequent wars.

Parents, please tell your children what Memorial Day means.

Commentary – May 8, 2017

— By Steve Neill

Will it be a fun ride?

As the Catholic lay faithful of the Diocese of Richmond rejoice as they await the ordination of three new priests June 3 at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, we have received word that a North Carolina woman claims to be ordained a Catholic priest.

But before anyone jumps up and down perhaps shaking their head in dismay (or probably some in joyful celebration), the ordination ceremony was illicit and Abigail Eltzroth’s “ordination” is not in any way recognized by the Catholic Church.

The illicit ceremony took place April 30 at the Jubilee Community in Asheville, N.C., with Bridget Mary Meehan as “presiding bishop” as part of the rebel group which calls itself the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.

The Jubilee Community in Asheville describes its Sunday services as celebrating “…community…diversity…Creation Spirituality.”

But one wonders why Ms. Eltzroth wants to be a Catholic priest in the first place. The 64-year-old woman, who is divorced and the mother of two adult children, grew up in the Presbyterian Church. She entered the Catholic Church when she was in her 50s.

Presumably, Ms. Eltzworth was aware at that time that the Catholic Church ordains only celibate and single men. While she says that Catholicism is “the tradition that we all look to and everybody looks to what the pope and the Catholic leaders are doing,” she apparently feels no loyalty to Catholic Church tradition.

She should not be surprised that she received no response from Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte after she sent him an invitation to attend the ceremony.

David Hains, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, was asked by the media for comment. “I hope that Catholics in the diocese will understand that it would be sinful to receive a fake sacrament from a woman priest and that includes attending a fake Mass,” he said.

Prior to the April 30 ceremony, Ms. Eltzroth has been all over the map regarding previous job titles. Her résumé lists being a jail chaplain in Saginaw, Mich., pastoral associate on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana, and pastor of two churches in Nebraska.

She seems excited about her new journey.

“One of my many pre-ordination good wishes was ‘Get ready for a fun ride!,’” she says.

It may prove to be a fun ride for Ms. Eltzroth, but she likely will not have many followers. She has no congregation in which to minister. She says she wants to form a Catholic worship community in Asheville.

When reporters asked Pope Francis last year about the Church’s stance on only ordaining men to the priesthood, he replied that the Church’s position would likely last forever.

The Diocese of Richmond is blessed to have 30 men in priestly formation. Three will be ordained transitional deacons on May 20 in addition to the three who will be ordained priests June 3.

This is something to celebrate!

Commentary – April 24, 2017

— By Steve Neill

Farewell, faithful servant

Shortly before Father David Nott entered priestly formation for the Diocese of Richmond, I recalled that I had met him briefly at St. John Parish in Waynesboro when I had accompanied Bishop Walter F. Sullivan for a transitional deacon ordination in the spring of 1986.

At that time then layman David Nott had been working as an organist and had expressed interest in becoming a Catholic priest to Father James Kauffmann, then pastor of the Waynesboro parish. He had come to the rectory before Sunday Mass so he could meet Bishop Sullivan.

Mary Kauffmann, Father Kauffman’s aunt who lived in Richmond and was present in the rectory gathering, was apparently impressed with Mr. Nott and clearly expressed her thoughts with her nephew.

“Jimmy,” his aunt said, “who is that young man?  He has priest written all over him.”

“Mary, he’s not even a Catholic,” Father Kauffmann said.

“Well, we can work that out” was his aunt’s response.

Father Kauffmann told The Catholic Virginian that he first met David Nott when he was assisting at an interfaith wedding at Trinity Episcopal Church in Staunton. The future Father Nott was then organist at the wedding at Trinity while working as an organ builder.

He invited him to Mass at St. John’s in Waynesboro. From that point on the future priest became fully immersed in the Catholic Church.

“I got him involved in the life of the Church as a cantor and organist at the Saturday vigil Mass,” Father Kauffmann said. “The people really liked him.”

Father Nott enrolled in St. John’s RCIA where he was received into the Church the following Easter.

Father Nott was ordained a priest on June 26, 1993 along with Father Michael Renninger, current pastor of St. Mary Parish in Richmond, at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.

Since his ordination now more than 23 years ago, Father Nott has served the Catholic lay faithful with a quiet dignity and reverence which came from his strong belief in Catholic Church teachings. His posture would slightly change when he wanted to give emphasis to a point he was making. He would lower and then raise his head while lifting his right hand when he wanted to emphasize something he felt was particularly important.

He never wavered in his love for Christ and wanted to share that love with others who had the privilege of being present when he celebrated Mass. He played by the rules.

Father Nott was also a teacher. He explained why certain elements were included in the Mass at different times during the Church calendar. While most of us know about what happens during Lent and Advent, Father Nott provided additional insight into why the Church did what it did.

To him, the Pastoral Center chapel was a sacred space—as it should be. He discouraged idle chitchat before Mass. He omitted the kiss of peace during Mass, but never frowned when worshippers responded with a handshake or hug.

God called Father Nott to his heavenly home a few minutes past midnight on Easter Sunday. We can only imagine the joy he felt when he met the Lord face to face.

Commentary – April 10, 2017

— By Steve Neill

Georgetown seeks forgiveness

Georgetown University officials last year officially condemned slavery practiced by their Jesuit priests decades before the Emancipation Proclamation. Now it has kept its promise to rename campus buildings which will honor a slave and a black teacher.

The first building had been originally named after Father Thomas Mulledy, president of Georgetown who authorized the sale of 272 men, women and children in 1838. The second was named after Father William McSherry, an active participant in the 1838 transaction and subsequent other sales of slaves.

It is almost inconceivable that it took close to 200 years before university action was taken to address the issue of slavery — the sale of human beings to provide cheap farm labor. The reason given for the sale was to reduce the university’s debt after construction of the first building. What makes the story even more horrendous is that there is proof that Jesuit priests had baptized some of the slaves it sold.

The upcoming ceremony marking the renaming of the two buildings comes after protests last November when word of the slavery sales were revealed.

The situation became serious when 250 Georgetown students staged a protest outside the building which houses the office of university president John DeGioia. They camped outside on steps bringing their laptops and eating pizza slices which had been brought in by sympathetic alumni and some professors.

There will be a Mass of Reconciliation focusing on remembrance, contrition and hope on Tuesday, April 18 before the dedication of the renamed buildings. It will be celebrated by Jesuit clergy and priests of the Archdiocese of Washington on the day after the District of Columbia normally celebates Emancipation Day. The event recognizes the emancipation of slaves in the nation’s capital in 1862.

Mulledy Hall will be renamed after Isaac Hawkins, the first enslaved person listed in the sale documents. McSherry Hall will be named after Anne Marie Becraft, a teacher and free woman of color who established one of the first schools for black girls in the District of Columbia. She later joined the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore.

“There were two evils that took place,” said Georgetown President DeGioia in September 2016. “The sale of slaves and the breakup of families.”

Slavery was prevalent in the South and in Washington, D.C. long before the Emancipation Proclamation. Some have suggested that Georgetown provide 272 full scholarships to African American students who are descendants of slaves.

Well-meaning Christians must seek forgiveness as well as forgive others as long as they live. The upcoming ceremony at Georgetown right after Easter is a step in that direction.

Commentary – March 27, 2017

— By Steve Neill

Christian unity—at last

St. Patrick is depicted in a stained-glass window at St. Aloysius Church in Great Neck, N.Y. Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Northern Ireland, said that “as Irish people, we cannot think of St. Patrick without acknowledging the enormous humanitarian and pastoral challenges facing growing numbers of people who find themselves displaced and without status in our world.” (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

After centuries of bitter animosity which sometimes erupted into violence, there was a huge symbol of not only tolerance, but harmony between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.

This act of Christian unity happened in Armagh on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day when Archbishop Eamon Martin, leader of the Catholic Church in all of Ireland, and Anglican Archbishop Richard Clarke of Armagh gathered members of their flock at each other’s Cathedral.

Ironically, both the Catholic cathedral and Church of Ireland cathedral are named in honor of St. Patrick.

A peaceful vigil walk between the two cathedrals, both illuminated in green, began at the Church of Ireland (Anglican) cathedral where participants were gathered in prayer. Archbishop Clarke led the procession via a torchlight to the Catholic cathedral where Archbishop Martin welcomed them.

The prayerful procession including Catholics and Protestants together in prayer was symbolic of the mission of St. Patrick who is credited with bringing Christian unity to Ireland.

He came as a slave of human traffickers, a point made by both archbishops.

Catholic Archbishop Martin, president of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, used the occasion to call attention to the plight of migrants, especially the estimated 50,000 Irish people who are living in the United States and considered illegal immigrants.

“As Irish people, we cannot think of Patrick without acknowledging the enormous humanitarian and pastoral challenges facing growing numbers of people who find themselves displaced and without status in our world,” he said.

“I invite you to pray for refugees and for all displaced families at this time and, wherever you are, to encourage the hospitality and welcome for which we Irish are famous the world over,” the archbishop said.

Anglican Archbishop Clarke also spoke of the plight of refugees and their connection to St. Patrick.

He said that he had “become increasingly aware that Patrick was a migrant and, on his first visit to Ireland, an unwilling one.”

The joyful celebration of one’s Christian faith among Catholics and Protestants was much on Archbishop Clarke’s mind.

“A St. Patrick’s Day that is worthy of the name should join us together in thanking God for all those who have given us our individual understanding of the Christian faith,” he said.

“For me, one of the joys of Patrick’s Day — particularly in Armagh — is the sense of the day uniting people.”

Commentary – March 13, 2017

— By Steve Neill

Our Lenten journey

With the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday, Christians are encouraged to begin looking more seriously into their faith journey with Christ.

But often it is easier said than done. Right now many are filled with zeal but that often wanes when we realize how hard it is.

As a help to Catholics during Lent, Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay has compiled a list of “Ten Things to Remember” which is posted on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

We are presenting the 10 points with the hope that those who read this commentary will be able to apply at least some of them to how we live our daily life.

1. “Remember the formula.” For Lent, the Church slogan can be easily seen as prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These are three things we should try to work on.

2. “Time for prayer.” We should see the 40 days of Lent as being on a 40-day journey in which we grow closer to God and “be changed by the encounter with Him.”

3. “Time to fast.” We are asked to do this on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and abstain from meat on the other Fridays of Lent. Fasting should be seen as a form of penance meant to direct us away from sin and toward Christ.

4. “Time to work on discipline.” We should set a time to practice good deeds. Visit a friend who is homebound or lonely. Set aside 15 minutes for spiritual reading. Participate in the Stations of the Cross which many parishes have during Friday nights of Lent.

5. “Dying to Self.” Give up the urge to gossip. Let go of bitter feelings toward someone who hurt us. Bury the hatchet. Again, this is easier said than done.

6. “Don’t do too much.” Even though we might have an initial spark of zeal to do the right things, “it is best to keep it simple and focused… Don’t try to crank it all in one Lent,” Bishop Ricken says.

7. “Remember our weakness.” While we really are sincere about our Lenten goals, many of us will have difficulty keeping them. When we fast, we feel pangs of hunger. It is tempting to grab a cracker or eat some fruit. Bishop Ricken says “recognizing how helpless we are makes us seek God’s help with renewed urgency and sincerity.”

8. “Be patient with yourself.” Don’t start cussing and feel frustrated when you fail at one of your Lenten goals. God wants us to be patient and see ourselves “as He does with unconditional love.”

9. “Reach out in charity.” Almsgiving means outreach to others and “helping them without question as a way of sharing the experience of God’s unconditional love.” 10. “Learn to love like Christ.” See your Lenten journey as being with Christ who died on the cross so we might have eternal life. We will never have to endure anything as painful as the bloody sacrifice He made.

Bishop Ricken says: “Lent is a journey through the desert to the foot of the cross on Good Friday. . . join in his suffering and learn to love like Him.”

Commentary – February 27, 2017

Virginia Catholic Bishops scorn Governor ’s veto

For the second consecutive year, Gov. Terry McAuliffe has demonstrated his unwavering commitment to the nation’s largest abortion provider—at the expense of comprehensive health care for women. On Feb. 21 Gov. McAuliffe vetoed HB 2264, which would have redirected state tax dollars away from Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry, and toward community health centers that provide primary care to women and their families. This legislation had been introduced by Del. Ben Cline, R- Rockbridge.

Surrounded by Planned Parenthood supporters at a veto ceremony outside the Governor’s Mansion that morning, Gov. McAuliffe said his actions protected the rights and dignity of Virginia women—when, in fact, his actions harm the dignity of the women deceived by the multi-billion dollar abortion industry as well as the tiniest females, those still in the womb whose lives are brutally eliminated by abortion.

Despite its deceptive talking points about caring for women’s health, Planned Parenthood performs less than 2% of women’s cancer screenings nationwide, and provides no mammograms1 whatsoever. It offers, instead, the opposite of health care—conducting almost 17 times more abortions than birth-oriented services and aborting 160 children for every 1 child it refers for adoption. Planned Parenthood2 is responsible for nearly 900 abortions every day, a third of all abortions in the U.S. And yet, despite the fact that most Americans don’t want their tax dollars to pay for other people’s abortions, Planned Parenthood received half-a-billion dollars in taxpayer funding in its most recently reported fiscal year. It received this money despite extensive evidence that it illegally profited from the transfer of fetal tissue harvested during abortions.

The Virginia Catholic Conference upholds the timeless truth that every human being, born and unborn, has an equal right to life. The Conference finds Gov. McAuliffe’s pride in protecting an organization that destroys life and harms women and their families deeply offensive. We will continue to fight for the day when Virginia law protects all human life, at every stage of development, from conception until natural death.



(The Virginia Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of Virginia’s Catholic bishops and their two dioceses.)

Commentary – February 13, 2017

— By Steve Neill, Of The Catholic Virginian

Gone But Not Forgotten

While many younger Americans probably never heard of the Dough Boys, the Knights of Columbus of Council 395 in Richmond are preserving a bronze plaque honoring the memory of 452 soldiers who served in World War I.

The names of the 452 soldiers are engraved on the large plaque which is five feet wide and three feet and eight inches tall. All of them were members of the Knights of Columbus Council 395 who were deployed to battlefields in Europe to fight “the war to end all wars.”

The plaque hung for many decades at the old Knights of Columbus meeting place next to historic St. Peter’s Catholic Church a block from the Virginia Capitol. That building, known as the McGill Catholic Union, was later razed and Council 395 built a new building known as the Columbian Center in 1969 on Pump Road in western Henrico County.

Jump forward 40-plus years and the original Columbian Center was torn down so a larger facility could be built. No one seems to know how it happened, but the plaque honoring the Dough Boys vanished.

It was only a few weeks ago that two parishioners from St. Michael’s Parish spotted what looked like an old plaque lying on the ground in a wooded area by an old shed on the Columbian Center grounds. They were taken aback, but knew there must be some significance to what they had uncovered.

“Something’s laying down on the ground near the shed,” Vincent Russo said to Ray Gargiulo.

After making their discovery, they contacted A.L. Grappone & Sons, a Richmond firm, to see if there was a way to clean up the weather-beaten plaque. The plaque was so heavy that a crane was needed to lift it to be taken to the Grappone workshop.

“I thought it was interesting to see the term ‘The World War,’” said Tony Grappone, who is doing the restoration. There was no thought at that time that there would be another world war less than 30 years later.

The Knights are now trying to locate families whose loved ones might be in the alphabetical listing of the soldiers’ names. The plaque will be rededicated in April.

Commentary – February 13, 2017

— By Richard Doerflinger

A Sense of Perspective

An earlier column discussed “being Catholic first” — how our moral vision should judge partisan positions, not vice versa.

Also essential for a Catholic view of politics is a sense of perspective, or “taking the long view.”

Let’s begin with what common sense tells us. Success and failure are equally aspects of human life.

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.”

Political victories and defeats are the most fleeting of all, especially in a democracy where key players are replaced every few years.

And the ultimate consequences of political acts may not be what we expect.

Take President Bill Clinton’s repeated vetoes of a ban on partial-birth abortion. Abortion advocates hailed his actions as a great victory.

But his long impasse with Congress kept this issue alive and kept before Americans the image of a developed child pulled backward from the womb and brutally killed.

Even “pro-choice” lawmakers like Senator Daniel Moynihan saw this as infanticide, and polls showed a clear majority of Americans identifying as “pro-life” for the first time in many years.

The next Congress and president enacted the law, which was upheld by the Supreme Court and remains in place today.

Or take the Supreme Court’s 1984 Grove City decision, narrowly interpreting federal laws against sex discrimination.

The backlash against this decision by liberals and some conservatives led to the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988, applying these protections to all departments of schools receiving federal funds.

The law also corrected a past misuse of sex discrimination laws to force institutions to support abortion.

The Catholic bishops’ conference helped develop the law and override a veto by President Reagan. This law, too, remains valid.

This doesn’t mean we should praise bad policy decisions because they might turn out well.

Rather, each setback led smart and dedicated people to take the long view, to consider how to take the lemons and make lemonade.

They didn’t waste much time announcing the end of the world, or alienating potential allies by their rhetoric, before getting to work.

This is a lesson for those who coined the slogan “Not My President” to exempt themselves from the decisions of a government with which they strongly disagree.

There are more constructive ways to persuade other Americans of one’s views, and those ways may even involve listening.

What does a Catholic perspective add to this?

Ours is the longest of long views. We should see things from the viewpoint of eternity.

Does this mean not taking issues seriously?

On the contrary: We know injustices like abortion, racism and disdain for the poor are not political footballs, but offenses against human beings made in the image and likeness of God.

People promoting these endanger their immortal souls. Such matters are of penultimate importance.

The only thing more important is that God judges us all, loves us all and commands us to love one another.

Some advocates for important issues do not understand this. For them, each victory is a triumph, each defeat an invitation to despair.

They push away friends as well as opponents, rejecting incremental progress as a form of betrayal.

They are prone to bitterness and early burnout. We Catholics deal with the most serious concerns on earth, but each of us plays only a humble role.

As St. Teresa of Kolkata said, “God does not require that we be successful, only that we be faithful.”

The ultimate victory — a victory over death itself — has already been achieved, by One who deserves our full devotion.

Oddly, people with this perspective may also be more effective in improving society.

(Richard Doerflinger worked for 36 years in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He writes from Washington state.)

Commentary – January 30, 2017

— By Dr. Gary S. Smith

Where’s Our Outrage?

After Katie Rich, a “Saturday Night Live” writer, tweeted last week that 10-year-old Barron Trump “will be this country’s first homeschool shooter,” she was widely lambasted on social media. Her inappropriate, insensitive remarks deserve to be widely denounced. No child should be subjected to such a tactless, demeaning attack in public or private.

It is appalling, however, that few Americans express similar outrage about the troubled and sometimes tragic circumstances in which millions of our precious children live. As Nelson Mandela argued, there is “no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” How are we treating our children? Not very well.

In the United States, 22 percent of children live in poverty. It’s much worse for minority children: 33 percent of Hispanic, 37 percent of Native American, and 39 percent of African-American children live in families whose income is below the poverty line. Moreover, 1.7 million households barely survive on a cash income of less than $2 a person a day, which is the kind of desperate poverty experienced by the indigent in developing nations. About 600,000 Americans are homeless, including one in 30 children.

That 14.7 million poor children and 6.5 million extremely poor children live in the United States, the Children’s Defense Fund argues, is a national disgrace. It is “unnecessary, costly and the greatest threat to our future national, economic and military security.” An African-American boy born in 2001 has a one in three chance of being incarcerated during his lifetime and a Latino boy born the same year has a one in six chance. The black infant mortality rate in the United States is higher than that of 65 nations including Ukraine, Malaysia, and Cuba.

Growing up in poverty has a very negative physical, intellectual, and psychological impact on children. Abundant research shows that the disadvantages poor children experience have many harmful life-long consequences. As pastor and educator Beth Lindsay Templeton argues, “poverty is more than a lack of money. It becomes a way of thinking, reacting and making decisions.” Wess Stafford, former CEO of Compassion International, maintains that “in daily life a lack of money” produces “a lack of options, which is perhaps a more accurate definition of poverty.”

Poverty affects how responsive children’s parents are to their needs, how much education they receive at home, the quality of children’s physical environment, the amount and type of food they eat, how frequently they change residences and schools, and their self-image and emotional well-being. The lack of proper nutrition between birth and age three often causes physical and intellectual impairment.

Anxiety, unhappiness, and dependency are common feelings among those who grow up in a destitute household. Poverty frequently leads to a lack of self-discipline and low self-esteem and reduces children’s trust and empathy. Destitute children often have feelings of hatred, anger, depression, and insecurity and view life as hopeless, pointless, and fruitless. This gloomy, pessimistic perspective of life prompts many of them to put forth little effort to get good grades, plan for the future, or improve their lives.

Many Americans do nothing to help indigent children, however, because poverty in the United States is often invisible. Most middle- and upper-class Americans encounter the indigent only when they see someone begging on the streets of a large city. They rarely interact with the poor who typically live in the inner city, mobile home parks on the edge of communities, dilapidated apartments scattered throughout cities and towns, or rural areas.

Despite living in a town of 8,000 in western Pennsylvania for more than three decades, I had little understanding of the nature or scope of my community’s poverty until my wife and I began working with an organization that helps local residents deal with financial emergencies. Five years later, I wonder how I could have been so blind.

In “A Path Appears,” Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn discuss the pathologies and problems that plague Breathitt County, Kentucky, in the heart of Appalachia. Strikingly, every problem they describe—the drug and alcohol abuse, dysfunctional families, school dropouts, difficulty finding jobs that pay livable wages, and hopelessness—is also present in our community. Even though you may have little contact with them, the poor undoubtedly live in your community or area.

Our experiences prompted my wife and I to write “Suffer the Children: What We Can Do to Improve the Lives of the World’s Impoverished Children.” It describes numerous things we can do to help destitute children in the United States and around the world. Let’s express the same indignation toward the deplorable circumstances in which millions of American children live as many have displayed toward Katie Rich’s tasteless tweet. Then, let’s work to make their lives better.

(Dr. Gary Scott Smith chairs the history department at Grove City College and is a fellow for faith and politics with The Center for Vision & Values.)

Commentary – January 30, 2017

— By Steve Neill

The March for Women

It is ironic that in their call for inclusion and celebration of diversity some groups deliberately exclude others they feel would be a hindrance to their cause.

This happened recently in the Women’s March on Washington Jan. 21, the day after the presidential inauguration.

A women’s pro-life group from Texas known as New Wave Feminists marched anyway even though organizers had removed their group as a march sponsor. Their participation in many ways was in sync with the goals of feminists, but their pro-life stance apparently jarred the March organizers who wanted to restrict groups to those who have a pro-choice message.

But to their surprise the pro-life group participants were warmly welcomed by other participants.

“We were prepared for confrontation and instead were supported by so many women,” Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa told Catholic News Service.

“I’m a pro-life feminist” was the message of one of their signs they held as they marched on the National Mall.

Some who participated in the rally were likely puzzled by what the sign’s message meant. But it sparked some positive comments.

“They kept coming up and telling us how glad they were that we were there and how, even though they didn’t necessarily agree on the abortion issue, they thought it wrong that we were removed as partners,” Ms. Herndon-De La Rosa said.

It is only right — and a principle of Christianity — that women should have the same respect and dignity of men.

Pro-life issues do not end with abortion. Pro-life issues include the call to abolish the death penalty and assisted suicide. Some say being pro-life means accompanying all who are on the journey from womb to tomb.

While organizers of the March for Women said the event was to “promote women’s equality and defend other marginalized groups,” some pro-life groups that wanted to participate in the march were either removed as official sponsors days before the march — or their application to be a sponsor was ignored.

Again, in emphasizing that the March for Women was to promote equality, respect and dignity for women, it appears that not “all women” were given that same respect.

One can only conclude that women organizers of the March feel that women calling for stricter laws to deter abortion are not wanted.

So much for inclusion and diversity.

Commentary – January 16, 2017

— By Steve Neill

Abortion hurts business?

It is no secret that abortion is legal in the United States even though the end result is the death of an innocent life.

Mothers who choose abortion over giving birth to their baby are likely to have regrets later on. This is demonstrated over and over again when these women—and often men who are the fathers—seek healing through Rachel’s Vineyard retreats.

Their regret is real. It hurts and seldom goes away, even after many years, these retreatants claim.

While all abortion is wrong, late-term abortions are particularly heinous because a baby’s life can be snuffed out even when he or she is a fully formed infant.

If that same baby was born and the mother chose the next day—or even an hour after birth—to kill her child, she would likely be charged with murder.

It is sad that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has stated— even before the Virginia General Assembly begins its 2017 session—that he will veto legislation which would outlaw late-term abortions.


One would also want to know what motivates a mother to wait so long before deciding to abort her baby. A baby in utero at even six months is fully formed and most likely could live outside the womb.

Doesn’t she realize that there are loving parents who would gladly adopt a baby and raise him or her? Abortion is the wrong choice.

Governor McAuliffe says he feels restrictions on abortion could have an effect on drawing new business interests to Virginia.

This does not sit well with Rev. Franklin Graham, a minister who is the son of longtime Christian evangelist Billy Graham.

“When we are worried more about our state image and making money than about protecting the lives of babies in their mother’s wombs, it’s obvious we have a big problem,” Rev. Graham wrote on Facebook Jan. 6 in response to McAuliffe’s statement.

The governor said he feels companies who might do business in Virginia would react negatively to anti-abortion legislation. Is abortion that much of an issue in deciding where to do business?

“I can’t sit back and have that sitting out there at the same time I’m traveling the globe recruiting businesses to Virginia,” McAuliffe said. “If there’s something that would be damaging toward business, and to our image around the country and the globe, I’ll veto it, you bet I will.”

The governor’s statement seems adamant enough. Perhaps he can change his mind.

If anyone questions that the number of late-term abortion is small, here is a cold fact from the Centers of Disease Control. There were at least 5,770 late-term abortions at or after 21 weeks of pregnancy in 2013 in the United States.

Another approximate 8,150 abortions took place between 18 weeks and 20 weeks, the CDC reports.

Virginians need to stand firm in support of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection law.

Commentary – January 2, 2017

Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo poses with seminarians (in white albs) including the three men who were admitted to Candidacy for Holy Orders on December 18 at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. The three men admitted into candidacy are from left to right next to Bishop Di Lorenzo : Nicholas Redmond, John Baab and James O’Reilly. Also pictured in the front row are Father Michael Boehling, Vicar for Vocations and Pastoral Services (far left); Msgr. Mark Richard Lane, Vicar General (second from left); Father Timothy Kuhneman, Vicar for Clergy, (second from right); and Msgr. Patrick Golden, Rector of the Cathedral, right. Bishop DiLorenzo joined the seminarians for lunch afterwards in the parish hall. (Photo by Conrad Ruble)

 — By Steve Neill

Why do we do what we do?

Why do persons do what they do?

Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo posed that question as he prepared to introduce three young men from the diocese who each came forward individually as their name was called.

The occasion was part of the Rite of Admission to Candidacy on their journey toward being ordained a Catholic priest. It took place Dec. 18 at the 11 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond.

The three men — John Richardson Baab, James Patrick O’Reilly and Nicholas Emile Redmond — are already in their fifth year of priestly formation and will be ordained to the transitional diaconate on May 18.

“Why do they bother to come forward?” Bishop DiLorenzo asked.

“Why do they inconvenience themselves?”

The answer to both questions lies in Jesus Christ and the desire of the three men to evangelize and tell others about salvation and eternal life which Christ offers.

Those men who become a Catholic priest today are doing something which is counter-intuitive, Bishop DiLorenzo suggested. One of the reasons is that increasing numbers of their peers choose no religious denomination as they run toward achieving what they consider the American Dream.

“Money, power and success” is what many young Americans choose, the Bishop asserted.

But back to the original question of why do people do what they do, he pointed again to Jesus who “saves us from sin and spiritual death.”

The three seminarians now admitted to candidacy for the priesthood are doing it for the same reasons of Jesus who gives compassionate care and love for all.

They have heard God’s call and answered his invitation. Those in the Cathedral congregation that Sunday were witnesses.

But sometimes the road will not be easy, Bishop DiLorenzo said. He pointed out that Jesus did not have it easy either on the road to Calvary and when he suffered death on the cross.

“Jesus had a painful death, to say the least,” Bishop DiLorenzo said. “Why did he choose the most inconvenient way?”

In a sense Mr. Baab, Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Redmond are doing what other well-known patriotic Americans have done as they “inconvenience” themselves for a greater cause than their own comfort.

Bishop DiLorenzo cited George Washington, “a Virginia planter,” and Andrew Jackson, another American president. Both men, he said, had a love for their country and were true patriots.

In questioning the three candidates for priesthood, Bishop DiLorenzo asked them if “they are determined to complete their preparation necessary for receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders, as well as to prepare themselves in mind and spirit to give faithful service to the Church?”

On the fourth Sunday of Advent they answered yes. The prolonged applause they received from the assembly is a sign of our gratitude.

Commentary – December 19, 2016

 — By Steve Neill

Pro-life Christian Witness

It is certainly heartening to learn that many of our fellow Christians who are black Americans have given public witness to their strong views that abortion is wrong.

This happened on Dec. 3 in front of a Planned Parenthood facility at 1225 4th St., N.E. in Washington when a large number of pro-life proponents signed a pledge card to provide support to mothers and fathers who choose life over abortion.

They did so at a Human Rights Prayer Rally which brought back memories of the commitment card that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked civil rights supporters to sign in 1963.

Dr. Alveda King, his niece, was among those praying at the site from noon to 2 p.m.

The event was planned as a reaction to the 100th anniversary of Planned Parenthood which led to the 100 No More movement denouncing the goals of Planned Parenthood among which is access to abortion. It was particularly aimed at the African American community.

“Blacks make up not quite 13 percent of the U.S. population, but represent over 30 percent of all abortions,” said Dr. King. “Planned Parenthood has built a profitable enterprise largely on aborting black babies.”

“This is even more troubling when you consider that they receive over half a billion dollars a year from the federal government.”

When abortion becomes an issue in a political campaign and candidates adamantly refuse to support any restrictions on abortion, pro-life candidates are missing an opportunity which might be powerfully effective in gaining supporters.

All they would have to do is ask of their opponent “Can you describe just what abortion is and what is its effect?”

The pro-choice candidate would likely have a bewildered look and stare at the questioner like he or she was from outer space. The answer would be “termination of pregnancy” while sneering at the questioner and hope listeners would also show their disdain.

But let’s pursue this a little further. Why does the pregnancy have to “be terminated?” Ask the question.

Anyone has to assume that if anything is ended, a baby is involved and his or her beating heart is stopped by abortion. What else could it mean?

The Knights of Columbus are to be congratulated for deterring abortion through purchasing ultrasound machines which show mothers a visual image of their unborn baby. Close to 90 percent of the women who visit crisis pregancy centers and see that ultrasound image decide to bring their baby to term.

Now that is pro-life!

 Commentary – December 5, 2016

 — By Mary McGinley

(Mary McGinley is a blogger writing “The Malleable Road: Reflections on the bends, turns and dead ends of life by a Catholic millennial” which can be read at malleable road.blogspot.com.) 

Goodbye, Year of Mercy

As the Year of Mercy comes to a close, Catholics across the world have celebrated the feast of Christ the King and are now lighting Advent candles.

This particular moment in the liturgical year – the transition from one cycle to another, from end to beginning – more than ever puts before believers the conviction of reliance on God.

Last Sunday Christians declared Jesus as King of the Universe, “before all things, and in him all things hold together, that in all things he himself might be preeminent.”

Blasting organs and joyful alleluias filled the air and the grandeur of Christianity reigned.

Yet during the Sundays of Advent the same congregations will gather in comparatively quiet churches, with no Gloria sung. We now await Jesus, hope for a savior – a king – to come, rather than rejoicing that we have been “delivered out of darkness and transferred into his kingdom.”

We are suddenly in darkness – lighting candles one by one each week, the light growing stronger in anticipation, preparing for Christ to come, the “great light.”

There is much comfort to be found in the liturgical year, for unlike a calendar year where one heads blindly into the new year hoping for good things – for health, wealth, an end to war, poverty, and starvation – the liturgical year brings, cycle after cycle, the fullness of Christ into the world.

The liturgical year accompanies us through our calendar year to reinforce that regardless of what lies ahead, Christ is there, and He has already conquered death and sin, which is precisely why time is measured AD, The Year of Our Lord.

He always reigns.

The swift shift the end of November brings reminds Christians that while times will come when it seems God is not there, and darkness and cold dominate the earth, they must look to the light and remember that in fact God is there.

Always and everywhere. He has come and He is coming again.

He comes each Sunday (and weekday) in the Eucharist. His spirit dwells on Earth and we are never alone.

Those four little candles progressively lit throughout Advent are a symbol that light does and will overcome the darkness.

The journey through life is not always sunshine and butterflies, and God knew that first hand. In the flesh, He suffered upon the cross.

He knows pain but greater than that, He knows joy. He is joy.

May we all remember this as we head into what may be a tumultuous year ahead, and may we remember through the times of darkness to light our candles, and remember that Christ is King.

Commentary – November 21, 2016

 — Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

(Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of the Archdiocese of Louisville is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. His statement was released the day after the Nov. 8 national election)

Uniting for the common good

The American people have made their decision on the next President of the United States, members of Congress as well as state and local officials.

I congratulate Mr. Trump and everyone elected yesterday (Nov. 8). Now is the moment to move toward the responsibility of governing for the common good of all citizens.

Let us not see each other in the divisive light of Democrat or Republican or any other political party, but rather, let us see the face of Christ in our neighbors, especially the suffering or those with whom we may disagree.

We, as citizens and our elected representatives, would do well to remember the words of Pope Francis when he addressed the United States Congress last year “all political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity.”

Yesterday, millions of Americans who are struggling to find economic opportunity for their families voted to be heard. Our response should be simple: we hear you.

The responsibility to help strengthen families belongs to each of us. The Bishops Conference looks forward to working with President-elect Trump to protect human life from its most vulnerable beginning to its natural end.

We will advocate for policies that offer opportunity to all people, of all faiths, in all walks of life. We are firm in our resolve that our brothers and sisters who are migrants and refugees can be humanely welcomed without sacrificing our security.

We will call attention to the violent persecution threatening our fellow Christians and people of other faiths around the world, especially in the Middle East.

And we will look for the new administration’s commitment to domestic religious liberty, ensuring people of faith remain free to proclaim and shape our lives around the truth about man and woman, and the unique bond of marriage that they can form.

Every election brings a new beginning. Some may wonder whether the country can reconcile, work together and fulfill the promise of a more perfect union. Through the hope Christ offers, I believe God will give us the strength to heal and unite.

Let us pray for leaders in public life that they may rise to the responsibilities entrusted to them with grace and courage.

And may all of us as Catholics help each other be faithful and joyful witnesses to the healing love of Jesus.

Commentary – November 7, 2016

 —Kurt Elward, M. D., Parishioner of the Church of the Incarnation, Charlottesville

Virginia bishops on voting

I write to applaud our Bishops for a strong statement of faith and a call to maintain our Catholic principles in voting and in political action.

Their letter is far from “telling us what to do,” but rather reminding us of the principles—no, the truths—of our faith.

We cannot count on politicians to do this. There has been a history of both parties trying to claim as their turf our allegiance based on our faith, whether it be “family values” or “social teaching.”

When our pope speaks for the poor or the environment, he is lauded by some and trashed by others; only to have those same groups reverse themselves when he speaks God’s truth about abortion.

The bishops are particularly prescient and appropriate in their counsel to us this election year. In the face of two of the most damaged candidates in our history, we have to stand for our faith and the Lord’s teaching.

In their own words, we learn that Ms. Clinton’s chief advisor John Podesta assured his colleagues they could “rest easy” for he, Mr. Podesta, and his friends have already created organizations explicitly designed to infiltrate the Catholic Church with specific ideology. He writes: “We created Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to organize for a moment like this. . . . Likewise Catholics United.”

This should be a frightening awakening for us all. I am in complete solidarity with our strong social justice movement within Catholicism but it pains me to see it manipulated and used for specific purposes to one party’s end.

Throughout history, politicians have tried to co-opt our church, our faith and our dedication to life at all stages and in all conditions.

These recent emails should make us aware that, not only are some people in major party leadership not allies of the Catholic Church, but harbor condescension and disrespect, and are working to be its saboteur. Yet these same people feel completely confident that Catholics can be taken advantage of and they will never pay a price at the polls. Will they?

I would recall to your readers the example of two shining stars of social justice.

Saint Theresa of Calcutta has written: “It is a poverty when someone else must die so I can live as I wish.”

And the great Dorothy Day, a servant of God, who could not be pigeonholed as a liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian, and chose to wear no other label than that of Christian. She was strongly anti-abortion and warned against “Holy Mother State”taking over the job of the body of Christ (with its own secular rules).

The wise counsel and teaching of our bishops may make us all uncomfortable—but Christ did not give people easy choices—only the better ones. He called his disciples—and calls us—to the greater and transcendent, while tasking us to act in the world today.

Commentary – October 24, 2016

 —Stephen Previtera, The Catholic Virginian

Time for Reflection

The Catholic Virginian never has—and does not plan—to endorse any candidate for public office. We do, however, endorse meaningful dialogue, the understanding of where candidates stand on the issues, and the right of all citizens to exercise their voices in the democratic process.

The Catholic Church has made its positions abundantly clear on the dignity of the human person, the concept of traditional marriage as the building block of society, upholding the fundamental right to life, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. These are fundamental values based on the premise of human dignity.

In this election cycle, dignity is hard to come by. The voting public has been run through the wringer, layered with insult, and salted with derision. Issues have taken a back seat to personal attacks, muckraking, fear mongering and physical confrontation. My 10 year-old daughter opened my eyes the other day when she said the candidates should talk more about what the people need and spend less time attacking each other. She’s got my vote.

On November 8, Election Day, the people of this nation will speak, if not as one, then at least all at once. We will reflect upon the noise of this campaign and, ironically, cast our vote in silence.

There is power in silence too. It gives us time for reflection and prayer. Our nation needs both, as we exercise our greatest responsibility as citizens, the act of voting for the values we hold dear.

Volunteer handing out I Voted stickers after filling out a election ballot at a district voting station

Commentary – October 10, 2016

 —Steve Neill, The Catholic Virginian

New shepherd for Arlington

The Catholic Diocese of Richmond will soon have a new neighbor. We learned this on Oct. 4 when Pope Francis appointed Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh as the new Bishop of Arlington.

Bishop Burbidge, 59, is from Philadelphia as is our own Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo. Bishop Burbidge served as Rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, the same post Bishop DiLorenzo had until he was named auxiliary Bishop for the Diocese of Scranton, Pa. In fact, Bishop Burbidge was one of Bishop DiLorenzo’s students when he taught moral theology at the seminary.

Both men were ordained priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Our good and loyal friend, Bishop Paul S. Loverde, will now be Apostolic Administrator of Arlington until Bishop Burbidge’s installation as the fourth Bishop of Arlington on Tuesday, Dec. 6 at St. Thomas More Cathedral.

Bishop DiLorenzo and Bishop Loverde have enjoyed a warm and cordial relationship with both men guiding the work of the Virginia Catholic Conference which was established soon after Bishop DiLorenzo arrived in Richmond.

We got to know Bishop Loverde well with his visits to Richmond for Catholic Advocacy Day during the annual sessions of the Virginia General Assembly. He and Bishop DiLorenzo collaborated on how Virginia Catholics could play a significant role in promoting state legislation which would support the Church’s concern for the unborn and help for the poor and elderly.

One should surmise that Bishop Burbidge, like Bishop DiLorenzo, is a strong supporter of Catholic schools. He attended Catholic grade schools and graduated from Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield, Pa. in 1975. He then entered the seminary and was ordained a priest in 1984. He has a doctorate in Education from Immaculata College.

As a teacher—a major role of any bishop—he was on the faculties, successively, of his alma mater, Cardinal O’Hara, Archbishop Wood High School and St. Charles Borromeo. He was Dean of Students of the latter.

“We have a lot in common,” Bishop DiLorenzo said of Bishop Burbidge.

In the last 10 years (2006-2016) Bishop Burbidge has led the Raleigh Diocese during a period of rapid growth. The number of registered Catholics has increased more than 40 percent to an estimated population of 430,000 Catholics.

Bishop DiLorenzo will now be working alongside one of his former students, each serving as a shepherd of the Catholic lay faithful in their respective diocese.

But getting prepared for the installation of a new Bishop of Arlington is a reminder that our own Bishop DiLorenzo will next year begin preparing to turn over the Diocese’s leadership to the 13th Bishop of Richmond. We do not know when this will happen, but Bishop DiLorenzo will be 75 on April 15, 2017 at which time he will submit a letter of resignation as is required of all bishops at age 75.

In the case of Bishop Loverde, a little more than a year passed before his successor to the Diocese of Arlington was appointed.

Catholics of the Diocese of Richmond will warmly welcome our new neighbor and now wish Bishop Loverde many happy years in his retirement.

Commentary – September 26, 2016

 —Steve Neill, The Catholic Virginian

First responders

Father David Stanfill and his parishioners of Holy Rosary, Richmond, had no hesitation in welcoming Richmond’s finest among police officers, firefighters and first responders at the Blue Mass September 10.

These individuals, he said, “protect our society with vigilance, and then respond with action in times of need.”

Father Stanfill also expressed gratitude to the spouses and children of these individuals who also make sacrifices “for the countless holiday parties that may have been missed, birthday celebrations, even the simple family meals that may have been postponed” because their husband or father had duties that took them “elsewhere in order to respond to the needs of others.”

“The citizens of Richmond, and surrounding areas of Virginia, owe you a great debt of gratitude,” Father Stanfill said.

Holy Rosary’s pastor used the liturgy’s parable on the lost sheep to demonstrate God’s care in his willingness to respond quickly to us when we are lost and in trouble.

“Every sinner who returns to God causes a joyful celebration to break out in the halls of heaven and in the heart of the Father.

“This is what Jesus wants us to have in mind when we find ourselves lost, stuck in our sins, and separated from Him and from one another.

“He wants us to see Him as our Savior, not as our punisher.

“He wants us to feel that welcome back embrace, the joy of reunion with Him.”

We know what sin is. Many believing Christians still worry about whether God will forgive them, especially the sins of which we feel ashamed. We should look upon those fears as snares of the devil.

“God, the very first, first responder, sets an example by going after the lost and endangered among us, saving the one in trouble, and protecting us until we can be brought to safety,” Father Stanfill said.

“You first responders are on the front lines for us all,” the priest reminded them.

“We are able to go about our lives secure that we are not alone, and, if we have trouble, if we are lost, or in danger, or injured, we have confidence that if we call 911—help, you— will be on the way. Thank you for all you do, brothers and sisters, all you do to serve and protect us. We are grateful.”

This message of gratitude was heard by a packed Holy Rosary Church which had the Richmond Chief of Police and five Richmond City Council members among the congregation.

Commentary – September 21, 2016

 —Catholic News Service

The campaign to repeal the Hyde Amendment

The Hyde Amendment is 40 years old this year. It undoubtedly has saved many lives. But the Democratic Party officially wants to repeal it, against the wishes of pro-life Democrats and almost everyone else.

Named for the late Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, who was a strong pro-life congressman, the amendment had wide bipartisan support when it was passed in 1976 because neither party thought that taxpayers should be forced to pay for abortions. How times have changed!

The Hyde Amendment says: “None of the funds appropriated by this title shall be available to pay for an abortion, except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term, or in the case of rape or incest.”

For 40 years, the amendment has been attached to the federal budget and spending bills passed by Congress. The Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, has estimated that one out of four babies born to mothers on Medicaid would have been aborted were it not for the Hyde Amendment.

At this summer’s Democratic National Convention, pro-abortion delegates managed to pass the party’s platform with this language: “We will continue to oppose — and seek to overturn — federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.”

Despite the efforts of pro-life Democrats, this made the Democratic Party more clearly the party of abortion. Its leaders believe that it will win the support of women who, they think, support legalized abortion and would like to have the government pay for them.

That doesn’t seem to be true, though. In an article reporting on the Democrats’ plans to repeal the Hyde Amendment, Our Sunday Visitor included the results of a survey conducted in July by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion for the Knights of Columbus. It showed that 62 percent of all Americans strongly oppose tax-funded abortion.

The survey results showed that tax-funded abortion is opposed by 65 percent of African-Americans, 61 percent of Latinos, 84 percent of Republicans, 61 percent of independents, and 44 percent of Democrats. According to Democrats for Life, by the way, one-third of Democrats, or about 23 million voters, are pro-life.

The Democratic nominees for president and vice president, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, have both declared their support for the party’s push to repeal the Hyde Amendment. Clinton has long supported so-called abortion rights before organizations like Planned Parenthood, and is known for her remark at the World Summit of Women in 2015 that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.” She has changed since she first ran for president in 2008 when she echoed her husband’s campaign of making abortion “safe, legal and rare.”

Kaine, a Catholic, meanwhile, has supported the Hyde Amendment in the past, but changed his position when the Democratic platform was passed and he became Clinton’s running mate.

We admit that we do not expect the Hyde Amendment to be repealed. That would require an act of Congress, and it is highly unlikely that Democrats will win control of the House of Representatives. But just the fact that this got into the Democratic platform demonstrates how far our society has fallen in this post-Christian world.

Abortion proponents have been successful in convincing Americans that abortion is just a normal part of women’s health care, something that women should do if they happen to become pregnant at an inconvenient time. At the Democratic convention, delegates actually cheered when Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, bragged that she had aborted her child for that reason. Women are being encouraged to be proud, not ashamed, of killing their unborn child, as demonstrated by the #ShoutYourAbortion campaign.

All this is being reported shortly after the canonization of St. Teresa of Kolkata. Perhaps we can think about what she said back in 1982 when she gave an address at Harvard University: “It is something unbelievable that today a mother, herself, murders her own child, afraid of having to feed one more child. This is one of the greatest poverties. A nation, people, family that allows that, that accepts that, they are the poorest of the poor.”

The views or positions presented in this or any guest editorial are those of the individual publication and do not necessarily represent the views of Catholic News Service or of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Commentary – September 12, 2016

 —Steve Neill, The Catholic Virginian

Hooray for Catholic schools!

Catholic parents who send their children to Catholic schools do so because they know their young ones will get a quality education which emphasizes strong academics and operates in an environment which promotes Christian values.

Teachers in Catholic schools of the Diocese of Richmond are well qualified and want their students to succeed. They take their job seriously while knowing that their salaries are usually considerably less than what they would be earning in a public school.

They are dedicated to the task at hand — teaching and going the extra mile to help those students who find it more difficult to grasp the subject matter.

As a result, many Catholic schools in our diocese have earned the distinction of being Blue Ribbon Schools. This honor by the U.S. Department of Education is given to public and private schools who consistently achieve high scores on standardized tests. Some of our schools score 90 percent or higher.

With all that going for them, Catholic schools value their Catholic identity and what it means to be Catholic. They expect Catholic parents to do their part in strengthening Catholic identity by making sure that their children attend Mass on Sundays.

Some parents might feel it’s not important for their children to go to Mass on Sunday since they already attend Mass during the week at school. Parents who do not go to Mass themselves on Sunday are not likely to make other arrangements for their children to get to church. They might examine why they send a child to Catholic school yet not find it important to attend Sunday Mass.

This sends a wrong message to children. It’s up to the parents to see that their children learn the significance of discipline, respect and outreach to those who are less fortunate and need help.

Part of any discipline is adhering to the rules. Breaking rules can obviously be done, but it certainly is not something which parents should encourage.

Catholic schools strengthen Catholic identity and Catholic teachings. This is part of their mission.

With such dedicated teachers and principals in Catholic schools, it is disheartening to learn that some parents find fault with what is going on — and of course, it’s always the teacher or school rules that are wrong.

Some are more strident than others, but their constant complaints are a real downer to Catholic educators who work hard. If parents find conditions that consistently irritate them, they should consider removing their child and finding another school more to their liking.

“You spend a lot of money to send your child here and we feel bad taking your money when you’re so unhappy,” one principal told an angry parent. Certainly no school is holding any student hostage.

School-wide service projects are a great aspect of most Catholic schools. Students of St. Patrick School in Norfolk recently had a successful campaign in raising funds equalling one million pennies. Everyone contributed something which went to an orphanage and a neighboring parish in Haiti.

“Having a school-wide service project that touches the lives of the community is a living testament to being followers of Jesus,” Stephen Hammond, principal of St. Patrick’s, told The Catholic Virginian.

More good news is that St. Patrick’s current enrollment is 415, the highest ever in its 12 years.

This year’s enrollment at Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School in Virginia Beach is 460, a big increase from the previous year.

Commentary – August 29, 2016

 —John Garvey is president of The Catholic University of America in Washington. Catholic University’s website is www.cua.edu.

Mother Teresa: Witness of holiness

Blessed Teresa of Kolkata came to The Catholic University of America 45 years ago to receive her first honorary degree.

If I’d been president of our school at the time I would have tried hard to get a picture of her in a Catholic University sweatshirt.

I do have a lovely picture of my predecessor Clarence Walton with Mother Teresa in her sari, with the hood the university confers on Doctors of Humane Letters. The citation for the degree said that the university was privileged to recognize a woman “for whom love is not a slogan but a way of life.”

In 2010 the U.S. Postal Service held a ceremony at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, at the corner of our campus, to dedicate a 44-cent stamp to Mother Teresa.

I did attend that ceremony. So did Mother Teresa’s novice mistress from the Sisters of Loreto (the order she joined before she founded the Missionaries of Charity).

On Sept. 4 of this year, Pope Francis will proclaim Mother Teresa a saint. And so she is, one of the great and holy women of the 20th century.

This might seem a little sudden, as these things go. She died only 19 years ago. Most saints whose feasts we observe in September died a long time ago. And at least since the Reformation, the canonization process itself has taken a long time.

But St. John Paul II changed the process in 1983 in ways that made it faster. It’s now more like an academic inquiry than a trial.

The office of the “devil’s advocate” (a canon lawyer whose job it was to find fault with the cause) was eliminated. The number of required miracles attributed to the candidate’s intercession was reduced from four to two.

In recent years we have seen many more saints, beatified and canonized at a faster clip, than ever before.

I’m a big fan of the new approach. When our children were growing up we used to read the lives of the saints over breakfast. The idea was to set for them examples of holiness, to keep in mind during the day.

Kids find stories about real people more accessible than, say, St. Paul’s letters. From St. Martin they could learn a lesson of generosity; from St. Clare, humility; from St. Lawrence, fortitude.

But when all your examples come from the third or the 13th century, there is a danger that they’ll become like Aesop’s fables. The lessons they teach are poignant and useful. But the characters may seem unreal, like they were drawn with the lesson in mind.

But Mother Teresa was real, and recent. My father used to send Mother Teresa money and got a thank-you note from her.

We know from the testimony of many people still living what good she did for the poor around the world. When I read her own account of Jesus speaking to her in 1946 on a train to Darjeeling, and saying “come be my light” to the poor, I feel a conviction about God’s acting in the world that is as certain as faith can be.

We are all called to be saints. The wonderful thing about our newest saint is that she shows that this means us, and that it is possible.

Commentary – August 15, 2016

 —Stephen Previtera, The Catholic Virginian

Pray, hope and don’t worry.

Recently, while working with the Diocesan Office of Social Ministry, I visited a migrant camp on the Eastern Shore. Although a thin strip of land, vast fields of corn, soybean and tomatoes surround the tiny towns and camps that dot the peninsula. Here, the pace and clamor of the outside world is dampened by what fills the senses; the smell of churned-up fields, pine trees and salt air.

On migrant buses you see unknown faces that become anonymous bent bodies on their way to unfamiliar fields. And nine times out of ten, if you smile as the bus passes, you’ll get a wave or smile returned. These are our brothers and sisters who break their backs in the elements so I can buy cheaper tomatoes.

They come from Haiti, Mexico, and all points south with few means of transportation, fewer possessions and, due to the challenges of language and society, little voice in the affairs of their lives.

What they do possess humbles me. There is laughter and a quick smile. There are mothers who gently kiss their babies and braid their little girl’s hair with fingers gnarled by fieldwork. We find fathers who bend deeply to one knee when receiving the Eucharist. Their faith are the roots of their existence, even to the point of not accepting Communion if they have been unable to find a priest for Confession.

They have a dignity, humility and faith that would shame the influence peddlers and fear mongers, whom rarely if ever give those tomatoes in the salads of their power lunches a second thought.

Those who dominate the headlines and airways threaten that we will lose everything if we don’t heed their vitriolic warnings. They might take a lesson from the invisible people who have no voice at all. Trust in God.

My mother often reminds me of the words of Saint Padre Pio; “Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry.” Never have those words been more appropriate. And never have I received a better lesson of their wisdom than on the Eastern Shore, in a migrant camp, where God’s children smile.

Commentary – August 1, 2016

 —Carrie Gress, National Catholic Register

Can We Stop Kidding Ourselves About “I’m Personally Opposed, But”?

In 1984, after much interior laboring over the thorny issue of abortion, Catholic Governor Mario Cuomo delivered the speech that would free Catholics from being swaddled in Church teaching while liberating them to cuddle up to pro-abortion policy. The New York Governor conceived the hair-splitting notion that amounted to – “I’m personally opposed to abortion, but politically pro-choice.” Born of a desire to appear to be pro-life (and adhering to Catholic teaching), while also appeasing the pro-choice juggernaut that doesn’t allow for choice on the issue, Cuomo seemingly resolved the unresolvable. Catholic politicians and others have hung onto it for dear life ever since.

This argument has been shown to have a real Achilles’ heel. Peter Kreeft, in his ever-insightful style, deftly refutes it based upon the reality that parsing phrases doesn’t hide that abortion is the deliberate taking of innocent human life.

I want to ask one of these politicians, “Why are you personally opposed to abortion? Is it because you believe that abortion is the deliberate killing of an innocent person? If not, why are you personally opposed to abortion? It’s just…it’s yucky? Like you’re personally opposed to yogurt?” If abortion doesn’t kill a human life, I agree with the pro-choicers: it is an intolerable oppression of women’s freedom and women’s bodies to tell them what to do. If that’s their body and not somebody else’s body, you have no right to tell them what to do. But if it’s somebody else’s body, they have no right to kill that other person.

There is an additional problem with the “personally opposed, but” position: it is completely illogical. Perhaps it can be seen more easily if we dilate the argument out to include other hot-button issues.

Imagine if one said:

I’m personally opposed to racism, but I insist we publicly fund people to be racists.

That politician would rightly be branded a racist.

I’m personally opposed to rape, but I will vote for laws that permit it.

This politician would be called a misogynist, at best, if not an outright criminal.

I’m personally opposed to guns, but I will vote every time with the NRA lobby.

And this politician would be called a fraud.

But somehow, if one says, “I’m personally opposed to abortion, but…,” then you’re just known as a Catholic politician.

Kreeft addressed this issue as well. He points out that to say “I’m personally opposed, but I wouldn’t want to make it illegal,” is akin to saying, “I’m personally opposed to slavery, but I’m pro-choice. If you want to have slaves, go ahead.”

In the movie A Man for All Seasons St. Thomas More, explaining to his daughter why he can’t just go along with the king’s wishes, says, “When a man takes an oath, he’s holding his own self in his own hands like water, and if he opens his fingers then, he needn’t hope to find himself again.” The Profession of Faith that Catholics make is just as solemn as any oath, and to pretend that our public actions don’t affect it is just drivel. For these “opposed, but” politicians, their water has broken, and there is little hope that their faith – like the children in the womb they fail to defend — will make it out alive. But we should hope and continue to pray that both will live.

Reprinted with permission from National Catholic Register.  The original article can be found here.

Commentary – August 1, 2016

 —Steve Neill, The Catholic Virginian

The consequences of social media

Those who use social media to air information or express their opinion should be aware that their words might one day come back to haunt them.

This happened to Diane Amoratis, an employee of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital who lost her job after she posted remarks which were clearly racist. She wrote about her fellings of the Black Lives Matter movement on Facebook.

Social media website logos

Her words were not censored and she used what is now known as “the ‘N’ word” in her inflammatory opinion. Many who saw here statements on Facebook were offended. The result was termination of her job. This happened the same day.

In another case, a young and promising high school senior lost a full scholarship to a major university after the school did a check which showed he had made derogatory statements on Facebook.

Social media is not a playground. It can be taken seriously by people who screen job applications and criteria which evaluate scholarship applications. What may be a flip remark with little thought to the consequences may cost a worthy and qualified applicant a job, a promotion or a scholarship.

Social media can be considered a friend if used properly. Now users need to consider what is proper.

Commentary – July 18, 2016

 —Steve Neill, The Catholic Virginian

A disconnect in justice

While some may deny that racial profiling of African American men is a reality, it indeed exists.

Others may find it hard to believe that white and black professionals who have the means to hire a lawyer get preferential treatment in the criminal justice system and avoid being put in jail while someone who is poor and charged with the same offense lands in jail.

Here is what happened to Shelton Jones, a middle-aged black man who heads the parish pastoral council of St. Elizabeth’s in Richmond.

Mr. Jones drives a late-model black Cadillac. He drives his car anywhere he needs to go and this includes travel to and from church for Mass on Sunday and for meetings of the parish’s Men’s Group.

He recently was questioned by a white police officer in Richmond as he pulled into the St. Elizabeth’s parking lot in the city’s Highland Park neighborhood. He was not aware of any violation in his driving so was surprised when the officer asked two questions of him before he stepped out of the car.

“Sir, is this your car?” was the first question. “Is this your church?” was the second one.

The answer to both questions was yes. The officer followed protocol and asked to see his driver’s license and registration. Mr. Jones was there for a meeting of the parish Men’s Group.

One wonders why Mr. Jones was questioned at all. Was it because the officer thought he was pulling into the nearest parking lot to avoid being followed by the police? Or was it because a black man did not fit the image one would have of someone driving a late-model Cadillac in a low-income urban neighborhood?

The event ended peacefully. The officer thanked Mr. Jones, returned his license and registration and then drove away.

Now for another case scenario. A high-ranking administrator who is white was driving over the speed limit and was stopped by a police officer who charged her with reckless driving. She was given a court date at which she had to appear.

She panicked when she learned that the judge likely to hear the case was reputed to automatically sentence anyone found guilty of reckless driving with three days in jail. On advice of a friend who was an attorney and knew the judge, she hired another lawyer to represent her when she went to court.

As she waited her turn before the judge, she saw that others charged with reckless driving were sentenced to three days in jail. One woman pleaded with the judge saying she had three young children at home and could not leave them to be in jail over the weekend. A man charged with the same offense received no leniency when he said he had just started a new job. The judge would not bend — three days in jail.

With the skillful words of her lawyer, the administrator was spared time in jail and only had to pay a steep fine. She also had the lawyer’s fee to pay.

The reality is that someone who is financially able to afford legal representation normally gets off the hook while others who don’t have money for a lawyer usually get incarcerated. We see it over and over again.

There is a disconnect here. Justice should be applied equally for all.

As Catholic Christians, we must ask God to help us — and our nation — to move forward and make justice for all a reality.

And in fairness and respect for all in light of the recent killings in Dallas, let us pray for the safety of all police officers and emergency responders. We are grateful for their presence and protection.

Commentary – July 9, 2016

 —Russell Shaw, CNA/EWTN News

What the pro-life movement needs to do now

In the dead of winter every year thousands of pro-lifers throng the streets of downtown Washington making a public statement on behalf of life. Converging on the Mall for speeches in the shadow of the Washington Monument and the White House, they march up one of the capital city’s broad avenues to the marble palace that houses the Supreme Court.

It is not recorded that the justices take any notice of their pro-life visitors. None of them has ever stood on the steps and addressed the March for Life. On the evidence, the Supreme Court today remains the bastion of pro-abortion support that it’s been since the day in January 1973 when it abruptly and with no visible precedent legalized permissive abortion throughout the United States.

If there was any doubt about where the court stands, it disappeared on June 27, last day of the court’s recently concluded term. It voted 5-3 to overturn portions of a Texas law setting standards for abortion clinics, including physical conditions comparable to surgical centers and hospital admitting privileges for doctors who do abortions.

Justice Stephen Breyer, speaking for the majority, said the requirements “place a substantial obstacle in the path” of women seeking abortions. Similar provisions in other states also presumably fail to meet the Supreme Court’s “substantial obstacle” test. Pro-life Americans might reasonably say the Supreme Court is a substantial obstacle to regulating the performance of abortion.

In one sense, the solution to that problem is obvious: replace two of the pro-choice justices with pro-life ones. If elected president, Hillary Clinton certainly won’t do that. Donald Trump has said he would, and has issued a list of names from among which he would make his selection. But there are two problems with that: first, Trump needs to get elected, after which he must get two shots at filling Supreme Court vacancies that don’t presently exist and have them confirmed by the Senate. There’s no certainty any of those things will happen.

This points to an unpleasant but necessary conclusion: it would be self-defeating to go on sending abortion-restricting laws to the Supreme Court as long as it’s virtually certain the court will overturn them, reaffirming and strengthening its own prochoice precedents in the process.
Miracles do happen of course, but there’s no sign of one happening here, as the outcome in the Texas case has painfully reminded us.

Is this a counsel of despair? Not at all. The pro-life movement simply needs a strategy built around things like education, motivation, and services to women at risk, along with an expanded pro-life agenda that includes many other issues along with battling abortion. Call it building a Culture of Life.

Getting the Supreme Court to reverse itself on abortion shouldn’t be abandoned as the longterm goal, but pushing test cases to bring that about should be put on hold until the time—not too far in the future, let us hope—when there’s a realistic chance of that happening. As for the courts, defending the religious liberty right to refuse cooperation with abortion should keep pro-life lawyers occupied now and in the foreseeable future.

And when those thousands of pro-lifers march through the streets of Washington again next January on the anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade decision, I hope to see many of them carrying banners, singing, and praying not only in opposition to abortion but in favor of Culture of Life issues from gun control to ending the death penalty. Give it some thought, folks.

Commentary – July 6, 2016

 —Tony Magliano, CNA/EWTN News

‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’

Over 37 years-ago when Annunciation House – a sanctuary and home of hospitality that has served over 100,000 refugees, homeless poor and undocumented workers – was started in El Paso, Texas, founding director Ruben Garcia and a few friends wanted to place themselves among the poor, to see where the poor would lead them. He said, “They took us to the undocumented – the most vulnerable.”

Garcia explained to me that since the undocumented have no legal status in the United States, they are forced to take undesirable, poorly paid jobs, which offer no benefits. Unlike poor U.S. citizens, undocumented workers and their families cannot receive food stamps, Medicaid, or housing assistance. They are at the lowest rung of American life.

So why do they come?

Garcia said, “They come because most often they and their families are extremely poor, and they cannot find jobs in their native countries that pay a living wage. And that the U.S. has many more low-skilled jobs than there are Americans who are willing to take them.”
But why don’t they enter legally?

Because there are not enough low-skilled temporary worker visas available. And yet the demand for such workers is quite high. Plus the expense and burdensome government red tape required of employers tempts many of them to use “contractors” who often unscrupulously recruit undocumented workers.

According to “The Hill” (http://bit.ly/1rm6iF0), certain segments of the U.S. economy like agriculture, are overwhelmingly dependent upon illegal immigrants. “In terms of overall numbers, The Department of Labor reports that of the 2.5 million farm workers in the U.S., over half (53 percent) are illegal immigrants. Growers and labor unions put this figure at 70 percent.”

Kevin Appleby, director of international migration policy for the Catholic-based Center for Migration Studies, told me the situation is filled with hypocrisy. Among many employers and politicians “there is a nod and a wink” to keep the system benefitting numerous employers at the expense of undocumented workers who have virtually no rights.

Therefore, millions of foreign workers are forced to cross deserts and often face drug gangs to fill vacant American jobs in order to support their very poor families.

To learn more visit Farmworker Justice (www.farmworkerjustice.org).

Saint John XXIII, in his encyclical Pacem in Terris (“Peace on Earth”) wrote, “Every human being has the right … when there are just reasons for it … to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there.”

Garcia asked that I raise the following questions on behalf of the undocumented: “Should undocumented immigrants have to live in an underground world? Is it right to use closed borders for the purpose of exploiting cheap labor? Why is it so acceptable to have undocumented workers perform the jobs few Americans are willing to do – pick our fruits and vegetables, wash dishes, and work in meat slaughterhouses?”

Lord Jesus, heal our nation’s indifference, and inspire us to welcome these strangers as valuable members of your one human family, so that on the Day of Judgment we may gladly hear you say, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist.

Commentary – July 5, 2016

 —Anthony Buono, CNA/EWTN News

Why Marriage is the cure to selfishness

I read a recent article that started out by saying that “all marriages start off very selfishly.” He went on to say that people realize into the marriage that they can’t be so selfish and act accordingly. It’s not quite that simple.

Catholic teaching tells us that everyone born is selfish due to original sin that configured humanity to a condition of a self-serving nature. In Christ, through Baptism, original sin is removed, but its effects remain. Thus, we still have that strong tendency to serve ourselves as the priority in our lives. Thanks be to God, Baptism also configures us to Jesus Christ and we share His divine nature, making grace available to us.

Now let’s look at selfishness from a practical level as it applies to dating, love and marriage.

Yes, it’s true that marriages start of very selfishly. However, Christian marriage is a call to a selfless exchange of two people who become one in every way, and subsequently share that love with others.

This is a tall order. More than half of all marriages fall short of this ideal. I would argue there are many that maintain their marriages but suffer tremendous strain due to unwillingness to address the weaknesses where love fails or is diminished, causing an environment that is contrary to the marriage ideal.

It’s easy to accuse one or both persons of being too selfish. Is it selfish for a unhappy wife to want the affection of her husband when there is none? Is it selfish of an unhappy husband to expect the emotional support of his wife but not receive it?

There is a place for selfishness. Some selfishness is better identified as our “needs.” Our needs are important and have an effect on how we love another. If no needs are met as were expected, then love can die. Should it die? Probably not, if we only focus on loving as Jesus loved, which is a giving and self-donation without getting it in return. But only God can live this kind of love.

Human beings fall short of this kind of love. And it will always be this way. Marital love is a tall order because it’s unnatural for human beings to accomplish. It’s impossible because we all have needs, and we all have expectations as to how those needs should be met. It’s not for us to discount these needs. But it’s also not for us to excuse our behavior based on these needs.

The key is to accept that we are selfish people throughout our whole lives, and that success in marriage between two human beings is in embracing each other’s humanness as the probability, while mutually striving to become more like that unnatural divine love that is God. We need to accept that 1) we are selfish and need to work on becoming less selfish, 2) only God can love us perfectly, and 3) any human being is going to fail at times in true love. This kind of acceptance goes a long way in how we approach our own needs as well as the needs of the person we love.

There is still the matter of our valid needs that do have to be met, at least often enough to keep us afloat. No person can sustain providing love to another by meeting all their needs, while having no need of their own met. That’s not marital love. Marital love requires both persons participating in the game. When one is down and lacks the ability at the time to give, the other needs to be the stronger one, and vice versa.

In a word, successful marriage between two very non-perfect people is a sharing of love that embraces the other’s selfishness in their moments of selfish acts. When a selfish act is presented by one, it’s imperative that the other act selflessly in response in order to help rectify the situation and restore peace. If both act selfishly through actions and reactions, the course toward failed marriage is set.

But I have already said that we are all selfish, and it’s unnatural to be selfless. Exactly! Christian marriage is impossible without God. More to the point, two human beings cannot sustain love for a lifetime without divine influence.

In order find a genuine love that can make a marriage work, you have to be committed to working on your selfishness. It’s a ferocious passion not easily tamed. If unchecked, we shouldn’t be surprised when not only can we not meet another person’s needs, we can’t recognize a person capable of meeting our needs.

We work on our selfishness primarily by selfless acts. We have to practice it in order to improve. It’s called “character development.” A person of good character is not someone who is no longer selfish. Rather, it’s a person who recognizes that selfishness is behind the problems, and capable of seeing the good and positive qualities of another above any bad decisions, mistakes, or unattractive qualities.

Marriage is the cure to selfishness because it forces a person to get out of themselves and tend to their spouse and children. However, marriage only works to cure selfishness as both people are permitted to have setbacks because of selfish moments, and grow in selflessness together by being interested in and attentive to each other’s needs as they struggle and grow.

That is love that cannot fail.

Commentary – July 4, 2016

 —Deacon Paul Mahefky

Dignity of body burial

There was a movie a few years back called “The Way.”

Martin Sheen played a father that lost his son to an accident that occurred while the son was on a quest to walk the Camino de Santiago.

The father was on the golf course when he took the call from Spain that his son was dead. He flew to Spain and had his son’s body cremated.

The father decided to continue his son’s goal to complete the Camino. All along the way to Santiago, he scatters his son’s ashes.

As I sat in the movie theater, I wished that I could have stepped into the movie and explained the Catholic order of Christian Funerals.

The Church has traditionally viewed cremation with caution. This caution goes back to the early Church.

It was the pagans who burned their dead, a practice the early Church saw as a denial of the afterlife.

The attitude of the Church regarding burial had not changed in 2,000 years, until December, 1963. Sacrosanctum Concilium, #81, stated that cremation is permitted, but not encouraged.

Even today, although cremation is permitted, full body burial is still the preferred means.

The Church has always given great reverence to the body and to the community that is suffering from the loss of a loved one. The beauty of the full body burial allows the community, in the rite of the Christian Funeral, to move and love the body that we have called our mother, father, sister, brother or relative, to its final resting place.

In Mark 16: 1, when the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome brought spices, in order to come and anoint His body.

Today there is a trend to regard the body as an inconvenience, and not a gift to be reverenced in life and death.

Having a funeral in the Church, with the body present among the community, makes a statement that we remember all the aspects of God’s gift to us that was that person. The church recommends that cremation should take place after the Funeral Liturgy, at which the body is present. Popular wisdom says that cremation just speeds up what is going to happen anyway, and you save money and get to be buried in the church niche.

How can that be all bad? You can speed up a dying person’s death, he is going to die anyway, and you will save a large hospital bill. This begins a steep slope that leads to a direction that the church is teaching against.

We have been given a sacred gift of life in a human body that has been designed in God’s likeness. In this gift of the body, which has contained a soul, should we not prize the body of the departed?

St. Augustine stated, “even more so, because the body isn’t a garment or an ornament, but bound to the very nature of a human being.” St. Augustine got it right. “The Way,” not the movie, is to take bodies seriously and sacredly and allow us to celebrate the gift of the full body burial rite.

Commentary – June 26, 2016

 —Father Eugene Hemrick, Catholic News Service

Happy are they who stand up for truth with their life

An email with the subject line “Philosophy 101” sent by my classmate contained wise sayings with a philosophical twist.

For example, one was, “We should realize that when we have mates, buddies and old friends, brothers and sisters, with whom we can chat, laugh, talk, sing, talk about north-south-east-west or heaven and earth — that is true happiness!”

Another read, “Don’t educate your children to be rich. Educate them to be happy, so when they grow up they will know the value of things, not the price.”

And another said, “The nicest place to be is in someone’s thoughts.”

Looking through each quote, a common denominator becomes apparent: True happiness comes from living wisely.

The day I read them, St. Matthew’s beatitudes were the readings for the Mass. “Ah, a more perfect connection between wise living and living the beatitudes cannot be found,” I thought.

“Beatitude” means “happy,” as in happy are the peacemakers, the meek and those persecuted.

Regarding this last beatitude about those who are persecuted, we might ask, What is happy about being persecuted, or for that matter being meek or a peacemaker in today’s violent world?

In speaking of persecution, Christ is teaching us we are happiest when living the truth, but we also must realize that not everyone wants to hear Christ’s message, and at times Christ’s messenger is killed.

As bloody as the arrival of truth may be, could it be that many of our heart-wrenching anxieties are the result of its absence? Truth helps us live an ordered life by creating trust, confidence and commitment: the principal ingredients of happiness.

When truth is missing, the works of evil are given full reign to raise havoc. Yes, happy are they who stand up for truth with their life!

The same happiness comes from meekness and humility. It is the perfect antithesis to self-centeredness, haughtiness and tyranny: negative ingredients that create unhappiness and disgust.

To be a peacemaker is to desire a world of civility and making people feel at home with one another. How true is the happiness of having friends with whom you can laugh, chat and sing.

Throughout the psalms, the prosperity of Israel is pictured as the Israelites at home with God and one another, which presents us with a beautiful model for countering today’s divisiveness.

When moments of unhappiness occur, try meditating on the beatitudes. Taken to heart and looked at philosophically, they contain the perfect ingredients for true happiness.

Commentary – June 23, 2016

 —Erick Rommel, Catholic News Service

Remaining in touch when you never let go

One of the great things about social media is that you get to keep in touch with people who otherwise may have exited your life.

One of those people for me is Jessica. We both attended John Carroll School in Bel Air, Maryland. She graduated two years after me. Not too long ago, we would have gone in different directions after high school and would have never seen or heard from each other again.

Thanks to social media, we’ve never lost touch. Over the internet, we’ve been casual acquaintances through cross-country moves, marriages, children and much more. I wouldn’t say we’re close-close, but we’re internet-close. In 2016, that means a lot.

Recently, she posted a question to her Facebook page, “What are a few things that were very traumatic/dramatic to you as a high schooler that might not seem so earth shattering to you today?”

The answers were revealing. One person mentioned feeling like a best friend is deserting you when they start to date. Another said she had been bothered when people talked about her. A third discussed the insecurity that comes from feeling like those around you are more athletic or better-looking.

Outside of the post, Jessica and I spoke more about the question. She currently works with at-risk teens in the Southwest. Her post stemmed out of a conversation she had with her students.

Initially, I questioned how the experiences of teens from a suburban, private Catholic school could relate to at-risk kids in an urban area. She quickly put me in my place. Regardless of upbringing, we’re all people facing similar issues. Concerns about bad grades are universal. Concerns about breaking up are universal. Concerns that people are talking about you are universal.

In all of the comments to Jessica’s post, one summed up the entire conversation best, “It’s amazing to me to read all these posts and realize how many people were struggling with things that I never realized. I thought I was the only insecure one!”

Those teen feelings never truly go away, but over time, we learn to see humor in situations that once caused angst. One day, you’ll see someone who needs to build themselves up by tearing you down and you’ll laugh. You’ll understand their insecurity can’t affect your happiness.

Reading the comments on Jessica’s post was also important for another reason. Reading each one became a minireunion. In those comments I saw names of friends I follow online but haven’t seen in years, but I also saw names of people who I am no longer in contact with, including the date to my senior prom.

Just as important, I saw names of people I’ve never met and never will. Despite their anonymity, their comments rang true because what they felt, what I felt and what you feel are emotions that unite us and bring us closer together — when we let them.

Keep this in mind as you look over your friend lists on all the various platforms that exist on your phones and computers. Remember those people from your past as the next social media innovation takes the world by storm. Don’t cut them loose. Bring them along for the ride.

One day, someone you haven’t seen for years in person and only see occasionally on social media is going to re-enter your life and touch it in a way you can’t imagine.

That’s the true power of communication in the 21st century.

Commentary – June 21, 2016

 —America Magazine, via Catholic News Service

Via Dolorosa

This well-trod path — how maddening, how wrenching to follow along it once again. Forty-nine young lives cut down in Orlando, Florida, in a collection of minutes. How even to fathom that; how to fix it?

To our sorrow, there is nothing we can do to alter this most recent tally sheet of victims, just as there is nothing any of us can do to bring back the children and teachers and administrators killed at the Sandy Hook school and so many others before them. They have been killed, and we have been complicit, in what we have collectively done or failed to do, in their killing.

That admission, of course, does not excuse the men who pulled the triggers or the poisonous ideologies or mindless wrath that propelled them. But the overarching obligation of each member of society to the common good also cannot be denied. Despite years of such mass shootings, despite the daily toll of gun violence in our nation’s communities, we have not secured this most basic right to life and safety.

It is a Christian duty, but abiding in hope can seem foolish at times. How many of us on June 12, hearing the reports from Orlando and checking in throughout the day as the death toll rose, were tempted simply to check out, to surrender to a numbing hopelessness before a problem that has come to seem intractable?

Some have urged not more prayer but action in response to the massacre in Orlando, and surely prayer devoid of acts would be regrettable. But prayer helps bring us to that still place where we can prepare for action; it is through prayer that we restore hope. The Resurrection reminds us nothing is impossible with God.

Yes, there are petitions to be circulated and political works to be organized if we wish to end the national plague of gun violence. But we can also look across our own communities and reach out to someone suffering because of these events or begin a dialogue with neighbors and friends who believe freedom is guaranteed by the gun, not imperiled by it. We can propose an examination of conscience within the church and our society that demands that we consider the source of such homicidal rage against our LGBT brothers and sisters.

And we can keep faith with the one who will wipe away every tear and bring life out of death, who assures us that though afflicted in every way, we are not crushed; though perplexed, we are not enthralled to despair.

(The views or positions presented in this or any guest editorial are those of the individual publication and do not necessarily represent the views of Catholic News Service or of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.)

Commentary – June 20, 2016

 —Carol Zimmermann, Catholic News Service

Take the high road

In today’s age of cyberbullying and online vitriol, be sure to take the high road and build people up rather than tear them down.

So said Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, when he spoke to Catholic communicators at the recent Catholic Media Conference in St. Louis.

“What can I say to make things better? What are the words that may impart grace to those who hear?” the bishop, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Communications, asked the group to consider.

He said he knew the journalists in the room were “acutely aware of the significant decline in the tenor of public discourse” during the last few years, a fact that is readily apparent in publications’ comment boxes and social media.

In such an environment, the bishop urged communicators to lift up good examples of humanity, charity and grace and if possible, “engage in some form of active ministry to others: feeding, housing, counseling, visiting or praying.”

“We have to be even more careful to be reflective rather than reactive,” he added saying there is already enough anger and coarseness out there. “Let’s just not add to it.”

Bishop Coyne also noted that the church is not immune from negative discourse, saying: “one of the most destructive activities in the church today is the internecine fighting among people and groups who claim to be Catholic.”

Echoing this message, he quoted Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, who was keynote speaker at the Brooklyn Diocese’s observance of World Communications Day: “The character assassination on the internet by those claiming to be Catholic and Christian has turned it into a graveyard of corpses strewn all around.”

Father Rosica, CEO of Canada’s Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, also described Catholic online conversations as sometimes “more a culture of death than a culture of life,” the bishop said.

Instead of responding in kind, Bishop Coyne urged the journalists and communication leaders to follow the example of St. Therese of Lisieux who saw every task as a chance to make the love of God more concrete.

With this in mind, he said every news story, video, blog post, tweet, email or response to an online comment can “become an opportunity to manifest God’s love.”

He also reminded the group that the world they are writing in is constantly changing and is shifting to one that is largely non-religious and secular.

“We are now missionaries,” he said, which should influence writing, podcasts, videos and blog posts because these forms of communication might be bringing people the Gospel message for the first time.

“And here is something more to consider,” he said. “One cannot give what one does not have.”

In order to help others know Jesus, he said, “We must first know him ourselves.”

Commentary – June 16, 2016

 —Effie Caldarola, Catholic News Service

A good Christian is a Christian with compassion

Years ago, in the mid-1980s, my younger brother Bill and I sat alone in the tiny kitchen of my mom’s house. It was very late.

We were a family that didn’t confront issues head-on. We walked around the elephant in the room, and if that meant sometimes we had to take turns cleaning up after the big fellow, we did so silently and in a way that wouldn’t offend anyone.

So it was with fear and faltering tones that my brother confided to me that he was gay. I had long suspected — no, I assumed — as much. His “roommate” was practically a member of the family whom everyone loved, even while we tiptoed around the nature of their relationship. We feared my mother learning the truth, although later we all realized she’d always known it.

Nevertheless, we’d continued our private version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

So, the revelation was not startling. The stinging memory of that evening came in another way. My brother told me he had confided in a few other family members but had feared telling me because I was such a “good” Catholic.

I have spent the past 30 years trying to recast the image of a “good” Catholic. I want to be the Catholic who offers compassion and a listening ear. I do not want to be the judgmental, self-righteous Christian. I want to be the Catholic to whom another brings his story to share in safety and love. I want to be part of a church that welcomes and comforts the marginalized.

I want to be part of the church that knows God’s name is mercy.

The other night, I watched a 2013 documentary called, “God Loves Uganda.” This film, broadcast on public television’s “Independent Lens” program, produced an almost physical revulsion in me. In it, Uganda debates and passes a bill to criminalize homosexuality and even considers the death penalty for repeated gay behavior.

Throughout the film, we see American evangelical Christians preaching in Uganda a strident anti-gay message, helping to stir up the crowds. We see the inevitable violence against gay people go without condemnation by the “good” Christians.

There are American Christians who do wonderful work in African nations. Many build hospitals and schools and preach and live a loving example of Jesus Christ.

But those who allowed themselves to be filmed in “God Loves Uganda” were hateful and dangerous, even while their young fresh-faced youth workers sang sweet Jesus songs. It occurred to me that evening that homophobes aren’t getting very far in the U.S., so they ply their hate in far-off lands.

Then I awoke two days later to the slaughter at the gay bar in Orlando, Florida. Although the issues were complex, including anti-American extremism and our crazy romance with assault rifles, it was also, clearly, an anti-LGBT assault.

Catholic leaders spoke out with sympathy for victims. But not everyone addressed the elephant in the room: who these victims were. Those who did acknowledge the LGBT community deserve our applause.

For example, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, wrote on his blog the Monday after the attack, “Sadly it is religion, including our own, that targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.”

And Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich wrote to an archdiocesan gay and lesbian outreach immediately after the massacre, “Know this: The Archdiocese of Chicago stands with you. I stand with you.”

Thank you to these leaders.

Commentary – June 9, 2016

 —By Father Eugene Hemrick, Catholic News Service

Try to find humor in contradiction

Agitated over all the bizarre happenings in today’s life? How about reducing them to satire and enjoying the ironies they produce.

Consider that even though we have time-saving air travel and superfast automobiles, we find ourselves frequently in endless lines and in stop-and-go traffic with cranky horns. Ironically, our so-called speedy life more often than not is filled by idling and a hurry-and-wait existence.

Yellow arrow turning back , This is a computer generated and 3d rendered picture.

Smartphones should be called superphones because they help save lives, keep us in contact with dear friends, and in many cases save money. Ironically, they also often turn loved ones into strangers even though they may be nearby.

Even if people walk side by side, they might as well be miles apart because people are glued to the phones instead of being glued to the person next to them.

Smartphones are the latest addiction with which compulsive chatterers need to fill their day. Their melodious rings may be music to the ear of some, but they don’t sound so sweet to those who have to endure the ill-timed annoying sounds coming from them.

A while ago, what some called home “entertainment centers” were truly an enjoyable form of entertainment. The bad side of them was that they produced an army of couch potatoes. Generations grew up sedentary, only knowing how to glare at screens.

Also consider that some feel we’ve reached the heights of freedom of speech because anyone is able to post on the internet whatever comes to mind. But not everything that is posted has worth and in many cases, it may not be true. It also may be used for evil purposes.

Music is intelligence in that it mimics speech and its ultimate purpose is raising the nobility of the human spirit. Yet much of today’s speech, unfortunately, is cacophony. It is an affront to intelligence and especially to dignity.

Championing human rights, multiculturalism and solidarity offer amazing promise for the future. Ironically, we still face their age-old opponents of self-righteousness, racism, intolerance, bigotry and narrow-mindedness. These are death blows to progress.

These are enjoyable ways to understand the absurd and it reminds us that, as the Book of Ecclesiastes says, there is a time to laugh.

Commentary – June 7, 2016

 —Sister Constance Veit, l.s.p

Heroes of Religious Liberty

Each year since 2012, Catholics in the United States have observed the Fortnight for Freedom in preparation for Independence Day on July 4th. The theme set by the U.S. Bishops’ Conference for this year’s Fortnight is “Witnesses to Freedom.”

Fourteen men and women who bear witness to freedom in Christ – one for each day – have been proposed for our reflection during these two weeks. Thirteen of these figures have already passed from this world into heaven and the majority of them are martyrs. The lone “person” who is still alive? The Little Sisters of the Poor!

We Little Sisters were shocked to find ourselves on a list of freedom fighters. I began to realize the significance of this when I read a reflection on the Fortnight by Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. “Reflecting on the lives of these great men and women can show us how we might serve as witnesses to freedom today,” he wrote. “They love their country, yet this love does not surpass their love for and devotion to Christ and his Church … By pondering the lives of these exemplary Christian witnesses, we can learn much of what it means to follow Jesus Christ in today’s challenging world. We pray that over these two weeks, the grace of God will help us to grow in wisdom, courage, and love, that we too might be faithful witnesses to freedom.”

We realize that in light of our Supreme Court case we Little Sisters of the Poor have become a symbol of courage to many people. As the bishops’ list of witnesses for freedom demonstrates, countless Christians down through the centuries, and in our own time, have shed their blood and given their lives for the faith.

I am both humbled and embarrassed to find us listed in their company, because I truly believe that our courage is quite relative. Our suffering is of the type that Pope Francis recently called “polite persecution.” After all, we Little Sisters have not been imprisoned or had to resist to the point of shedding blood!

I have always found the parable of the useless or unprofitable servants in Luke’s Gospel rather unpalatable, but in light of our current notoriety I have come to appreciate it. This is the parable where Jesus tells his apostles, “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do’” (Luke 17:10). Like the useless servants in the Gospel, we Little Sisters have done only what we should have done in standing up for life and religious liberty.

We profess to be daughters of the Church – how could we not uphold her teachings, especially when they touch on something as basic as the right to life? Surely, we never thought our cause would go all the way to the Supreme Court, but we believe that all happened according to God’s plan.

As I reflect back on the experiences of the last three years, I thank God for the vast cloud of witnesses who have supported us every step of this journey, beginning with our legal team at the Becket Fund, whose constant good cheer and professional expertise were heaven-sent.  They are the real heroes. We also owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the people around the world who offered their prayers and sacrifices for our case.

Finally, we are indebted to our foundress, Saint Jeanne Jugan, and to the generations of Little Sisters who have gone before us, many of whom persevered through much more trying circumstances than anything we have had to face, including religious persecution. If we are a beacon for our contemporaries in this struggle for religious liberty, it is only because we stand on the shoulders of giants.

Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Commentary – June 6, 2016

 —Carolyn Woo, Catholic News Service

A different kind of ABCs

I recently had the privilege to deliver commencement speeches at a few Catholic universities and colleges. Humbled by the fact that few people remember what their commencement speakers intoned at these ceremonies, I tried to keep the message simple and, hopefully, partially memorable.

This year, I focused on the unforgettable starting points for all of our learning journeys: our ABCs. Do you remember how your mom told you when you started school to pay attention to your teachers? Let me revisit this concept.

To start, the A in the ABCs stands for attentiveness, particularly attentiveness to people. Lost in an environment with a lot of stimuli and tethered to devices that constantly beep for our response, how well do we pay attention to people?

Working on the assumption that we can multitask well, which science has debunked, we sandwich the conversation with a grandparent between snaps, tweets, texts, alerts.

We may be hearing her update on the cancer treatment, but with eyes scanning incoming messages and thoughts wandering about whom we want to hang out with.

We may miss the frailty, loneliness and spirit of the person who just said “everything is fine.”

Interactions are the birthplaces of understanding, love, loyalty and intimacy. They call for and deserve what is within each of us to give: undivided attention. And if we cannot pay proper attention to people, how do we pay attention to God? How do we place ourselves in the presence of God?

When we were young, to step into that new school, we had to be brave. So let the B stand for bravery, which we evoke for new scary endeavors. Will I succeed? Will I belong? Will I matter? What if I make a compete fool of myself?

We can only find and shape these answers by doing, trying, learning and getting up. It takes courage to admit that we are not always right, that we can hurt others’ feelings, that we can let people down.

It takes honesty to recognize the burden we place on others and grace to apologize. Be ready to pay for doing the right thing, honoring our integrity and protecting our soul. The good news is that we do not rely on ourselves alone.

It is God’s power that we draw from, God’s bounty that we rely on and the Holy Spirit who helps us become what God intends for each of us.

In the daily echoes of the playground monitor’s urging to play nice, I find the seeds of my C-word: compassion. Playing nice is the drill in our practice to make room for others, to have a sense of others, to know how to be with others.

It is indispensable training for our journey of success. Authentic leadership requires us to advance others to a better place, and we can seldom do that without empathy. People are not machines.

Jesus taught us that the sum of our efforts will be judged by how we treat others, particularly those who cross our paths and lack the essentials of a dignified existence.

Success is therefore not what we accumulate, but what we give away; not how high we climb, but how low we bend to heal those broken down by life; not what we do for our good, but what we do for the common good.

As the ABCs of our childhood have unlocked the world of knowledge for us, may these reframed ABCs give us new capacities for knowing: knowing the other, knowing life and knowing God.

Woo is president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services.

Commentary – June 6, 2016

 —Steve Neill, The Catholic Virginian

Creation as God’s gift

While much is being written and said about the rights of transgender students regarding their use of public restrooms and school locker rooms, there has been little or no mention of a point Pope Francis made which speaks directly to the issue by saying that men and women need to acknowledge their bodies as “God’s gift.”

In his encyclical Laudato Si, issued last year on care of the environment, Pope Francis says “The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home.”

In the recent exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), our Holy Father writes that gender ideology “denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual difference… Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator.”

He continues: “Whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.”

The vast majority of married couples who await the birth of a new baby choose to learn the gender of their unborn child as soon as possible. In most cases, they are joyful about the expectant birth of “him or her.” If there are other children in the family, they, too, are eager to welcome a new brother or sister.

People might ask them “Are you going to have a girl or a boy?” It’s a normal question.

After the baby’s birth, Catholics normally seek baptism of their young child and are asked the baby’s name by the priest or deacon during the rite. Most baptismal names clearly identify the biological sex of the baby.

In Illinois a transgender student who was born a girl but now identifies as a boy wanted to use school facilities for boys and filed a complaint when Williamsvillle High School provided a private bathroom for her.

The student said “It made me feel like I was being treated differently and ostracized.” The Illinois Department of Human Rights sided with the student and now anyone can have access to the restroom or locker room of the gender they identify with emotionally, not the gender they were born with.

As a response to what he feels is “common sense turned on its head in our culture,” Bishop Thomas Paprocki, of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, has written a letter to his “brothers and sisters in Christ,” asking Catholics in his diocese to respect teachings of the Catholic Church “in their use of facilities in our churches and schools.”

Bishop Paprocki also asks them to show compassion, especially to children and adolescents, who may be confused as to who they are.

In the Diocese of Richmond, the issue of restroom and locker room facilities for transgender students has not become an issue. There are separate facilities for girls and boys. No student has yet identified himself or herself as being transgender. Since Catholic schools receive no federal funding, any government direction would have no bearing on rulings which do affect public schools.

Commentary – May 27, 2016

–Bill Dodds, Catholic News Service

Marriage advice that lasts

In 2003, my wife and I had been married for 29 years when we wrote a column on marriage that offered tips for newlyweds.

Remember, we wrote, that the sacrament is called “marriage,” not “wedding.” Also, continue to transform your wedding day promises into everyday compromises. Be fiscally prudent. Avoid being a “shopaholic” or a miser. When the hard times arrive, be on the same team. Make it “us against them.”

Bride and groom walking while holding hands

Keep in mind that thoughtfulness and generosity remain the keys to happy romance. Don’t hesitate to get professional help (for your car, your health or your marriage).

Also important is praying for each and praying with each other. Stay friends, we said, and laugh whenever possible but never at the expense of another, especially your spouse. Celebrate your anniversary! One year is a big deal. And, finally, don’t eat the top tier of the wedding cake that has been in the freezer for a year. Ick.

Then later in 2009, a couple of months after our 35th anniversary, we wrote: We’re not saying you don’t already know these things, but, when you’re tired, when you’re frustrated, when you’re angry — and all those things happen to every husband and wife — it can help to return to some of the basics.

Remember that you’re not competitors. If one person “wins,” both lose. Part of your role is graciously to help your spouse become a better person, and part is to accept your spouse’s help graciously, to grow toward becoming the person God created each of you to be: his beautiful son or daughter.

Nagging is not gracious, and exactly who you think your spouse should be may not be who God created him or her to be.

Like a fire or a garden, marriage is a “living” thing. It needs to be tended regularly and that takes deliberate effort. Left alone or ignored, it can turn into nothing but ashes or weeds, accompanied by the deep regret of what might have been.

Laugh with each other, not at each other. Pray with each other and for each other. Talk to each other every day of every week of every month of every year of every decade of every half century and more. At some point in the distant future, smile, shake your heads and offer a little advice when there’s a new bride and groom in your family, your parish, your neighborhood or workplace.

Now, in 2016, the year of our 42nd anniversary, I look at those two lists and I think, “Yes, we got it right. Those are solid, practical suggestions.”
And it comforts me to realize that even though Monica has died, over those many years we learned that a happy marriage is a bit of heaven on earth. We experienced that. And now I know that makes widowhood a bit of purgatory on earth. It’s only temporary and it’s nothing that a loved one in heaven can’t fix.

Commentary – May 25, 2016

–John Garvey, Catholic News Service

Mary in our increasingly secular world

The month of May has been dedicated to the Virgin Mary for centuries — so long, in fact, that the precise origin of this Catholic devotion is lost in the mists of time.

Still, it is a fitting devotion during what is arguably the most beautiful and colorful month of the year in most of the Northern Hemisphere.

Living as we do at The Catholic University of America, with the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at the corner of our campus, our students, faculty and staff have constant reminders of the Marian devotions I grew up with. But I sometimes wonder whether very many of today’s young Catholics learn them as we once did.

When I was a boy at St. Joseph School in my hometown, we had May crownings and prayed the rosary throughout the month. We recited the Angelus at lunchtime.

We sang Marian hymns (“Hail Holy Queen,” “Immaculate Mary,” “O Sanctissima,” “Bring Flowers of the Rarest”) at daily and all-school Masses. Today many parochial schools (like my own) are closed. Those that are open have many fewer students.

That’s not the only cultural change we have seen. Faith is a less visible feature of public life. It is crowded into private spaces, churches and homes. And as we find profane ways of talking about our affairs, the sacred has become a less palpable presence.

We incline more and more to picture God as the kind of abstraction that appealed to Thomas Jefferson — a deity, a watchmaker, a prime mover who sits far above his creation, uninvolved if not disinterested.

I say “we,” but I am guilty of some cultural myopia in saying that. The Catholic Church in the United States is becoming increasingly Hispanic, and devotion to Mary is very real in the fastest-growing sector of American Catholics. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate reports that two-thirds of Hispanic/Latino

Catholics have a statue or picture of Mary at home.

Pope Francis, a native of Argentina, is typical. He began the Year of Mercy on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The bull announcing it said, “Let us address her in the words of the ‘Salve Regina.'” (In case you’ve forgotten, it begins “Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy …”) The Holy Father kicked off the 2013 World Youth

Day with Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida.

I have not been to Aparecida, but not long ago I visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and I was struck by the frank devotion of the thousands of pilgrims. It reminded me of the youthful enthusiasm we had at St. Joseph School, but with this difference: Mary had been there, up on the hill above the church. You could feel her presence, and it made prayer much more of a conversation.

This faith is a great gift to the American church. It is much more Catholic than the ceremonial deism our culture (when it thinks of religion at all) is drifting toward.

Our attachment to Mary reminds us that belief in the Incarnation is what makes us Christians. Jesus was a real person who was born to Mary, lived, died and rose again. Mary was a real mother whose love keeps showing up in the world, to remind us to imitate her love for her son.

Sometimes her appearance takes the form of great miracles, as at Guadalupe, Aparecida, Lourdes and Fatima. Sometimes she reaches us in the family rosary or in a bunch of lilacs gathered in her honor — especially in May.

Garvey is president of The Catholic University of America in Washington.

Commentary – May 23, 2016

 —Steve Neill, The Catholic Virginian

Confirmation: a passage on the faith journey

Hundreds of teens in parishes of the Diocese of Richmond recently received the sacrament of Confirmation which is meant to be an affirmation of their Catholic Christian faith.

Both Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo and Msgr. Mark Richard Lane, Vicar General, were on the Confirmation circuit which in the Diocese of Richmond begins right after Easter and ends with Pentecost or soon thereafter.

The vast majority of the youths who were confirmed realize the importance of their “yes” to the Catholic Church and view the rite of Confirmation as a continuing passage on a faith journey which will never end until the Lord calls them to their heavenly home.

A very small few were likely confirmed only because of parental pressure and may look upon their Confirmation as a means to an end. In the past, others who felt that way more or less said “I don’t have to go to Mass anymore. I just got confirmed.”

It may not be this simplistic, but don’t think it hasn’t been said.

What a shame! It’s disappointing not so much because they are disregarding the real purpose of Confirmation, but because they see no connection with Christ’s message and how adhering to it in daily life helps one with the ups and downs of life. Faith is God’s gift to us, but since God gives us free will, we can either accept or reject it.

Who would want to miss out on what might be likened to a safety net to help us when we are faced with tragedy or sorrow? Friends and family can and want to be consoling, but we need the strength that only comes from God who loves and cares for us. This inner strength has to be developed over time. It should never be dismissed by thoughts like “I’ve got it all. I’ve now been confirmed.”

Most likely any who would think like this would have a misguided understanding of Christ as Savior and Redeemer and any roots in faith would be shallow at best.

In the sacrament of Confirmation, the baptized person is “sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit” by the laying on of hands by a bishop or his representative. The oil of the Sacred Chrism used is the same oil used at Baptism.

No, confirmation is not an ending. The sacrament is meant to foster a desire to continue to grow and develop as Christians.

Prayer is key to it all. But it takes time and effort to develop a prayer life. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it is easy if we make a conscious effort to talk with Jesus.

We learn to walk as children by taking one or two steps at a time, usually guided by a parent who loves us. As we mature our steps become more secure. So it is with prayer. As we move from a few words of praise or seek guidance on what we should do or not do, we become more confident and trusting in our time with the Lord. We receive comfort and strength from this encounter.

Our young people who were recently confirmed are to be congratulated for wanting to grow as Catholic Christians. Let’s give them our support as they continue on the journey.

Commentary – May 9, 2016

 —Steve Neill, The Catholic Virginian

Slavery at Georgetown

Faced with mounting debt to keep Georgetown University open, Father Thomas Mulledy, president of the Jesuit institution, felt he would ease the university’s financial crisis by selling 272 slaves from Jesuit-run plantations in Maryland to two planation owners in Louisiana. The debt, according to records, was $47,654.54.

The bill of sale was dated Nov. 29, 1838. The slaves, who ranged in age from babies to the elderly, were taken from the plantations in Maryland to the port of Alexandria and forced to board boats in crowded conditions to await a new life with “new owners.”

“Know all men by these presents, that I, Thomas F. Mulledy of Georgetown, District of Columbia, have bargained & sold, & by these presents do bargain, sell & deliver unto Henry Johnson, of the Parish of St. James, State of Louisiana, the following negroes,” he wrote in the certificate of sale.

It seems incredible in this day and age that any American, let alone a Catholic priest who promoted higher education, would sanction such a deal. But it happened.

Father Mulledy directed that the slave families not be separated and that all of the money from the sale go toward Jesuit education. But even still, why was the sale even made? And how trustworthy was Mr. Johnson, the new owner, in following out the stipulation of not separating family members?

With this shameful episode as part of its history, Georgetown has sought to disassociate itself from two Jesuit presidents who were involved. The former Mulledy Hall, which was built as a dormitory, has been renamed Freedom Hall. McSherry Hall, named for former president Father William McSherry, who advised the sale, is now called Remembrance Hall.

More obviously needs to be done. Some have suggested that “descendants” of these 272 slaves be given scholarships to Georgetown. Some have suggested that cash payments to these slave descendants be made.

But how would the university be able to determine who are these descendants after more than 175 years since the sale? Just using words like “the sale” remind one of the inhumane way African slaves were treated.

Georgtown University President John De Gioia has established a Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation to make recommendations on how Georgetown might publicly recognize the past wrong and address concerns of how to make reparation.

It may seem like a timid step, but ongoing dialogue about why something is wrong and how we can counteract it is always a start. At least it gets people engaged and focused on a forward approach.

Commentary – April 25, 2016

 —Steve Neill, The Catholic Virginian

It’s never too late

Atonement Letter 2

This hand-written note was recently mailed to St. Rose of Lima and Korean Martyrs Catholic Church in Hampton along with 100 ounces of silver coins possibly worth $1,500.

The man had, who did not identify himself, used a return address of a Catholic church in Tennessee. Jerry Cranfill, chairman of the parish council, phoned the church office in Tennessee and spoke to the pastor who said he knew nothing about the unexpected gift to St. Rose and Korean Martyrs. He suggested that the church follow the expressed wishes of the giver and help those in need.

There are many possible scenarios of what might have happened to urge the giver to make amends and seek forgivesness. But it is likely that the man had attended a penitential service during Lent and confessed the sin of the 1950s theft to a priest who suggested a penance.

In taking the action he did he was finally able to release himself from the burden of guilt which had obviously hung over him for more than half a century. It is good to know that it is never too late to seek forgiveness and receive absolution.

While the Hampton parish is planning to have the silver coins assessed by a professional silver dealer to know their full value, the important thing, Mr. Cranfill feels, is that a sinner has come back to the Church, expressed his sorrow for sin and wanted reconciliation.

The important thing for all of us is that the sacrament of penance is always available to help us better live the Christian life. Besides, we always feel better when we release ourselves from any burden. We know that God loves us and this is one way He expresses that love.

Commentary – April 11, 2016

 —Steve Neill, The Catholic Virginian

Showing  respect

Why would any committed Catholic scold an elderly member of the Little Sisters of the Poor for smiling when she unexpectedly posed for a photo with Virginia’s governor at the religious community’s annual fundraising dinner back in February at the Commonwealth Club in Richmond?

This happened to Sister Agatha as she was returning to St. Joseph’s Home after the dinner. The gist of the criticism was something like “you and the governor looked like life-long friends the way both of you were smiling. How could you?”

Governor Terry McAuliffe had been invited to the dinner and agreed to come to the pre-dinner reception although he declined to stay for dinner. The Little Sisters had engaged a photographer to take candid photos of the approximately 300 guests and also got photos of the governor shaking hands with some of them.

“Sister, come on. Get in the picture with me,” Gov. McAuliffe coaxed Sister Agatha, who entered the Little Sisters 64 years ago in Dublin. She complied, they both smiled for the camera and then the two parted company as Sister entered the dining room to take a seat at her assigned table. But her action offended some people who quickly scolded her.

The Catholic Virginian also was harshly criticized for having a photo of Gov. McAuliffe on its front page with an article on the Virginia Vespers service at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart on Feb. 17. The criticism stemmed from the governor’s well-known pro-choice stance on abortion and funding of Planned Parenthood. Both these views are contrary to the Church’s pro-life position of preserving life from womb to tomb.

Some felt that the photo on the front page of The Catholic Virginian presented him in the light of being a strong Catholic. The fact that he is a Catholic was not mentioned. The photo was published in honor of the dignity of the office of Governor, not the man himself. Virginia’s Catholic bishops invited him and he accepted. An usher escorted Gov. and Mrs. McAuliffe to the front pew where they were clearly visible.

Obviously, Gov. McAuliffe, a Catholic, is aware of the Church’s teachings. But the service was open to people of all faiths who had been invited to pray for “the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia, particularly the poor and the vulnerable, that our state will ensure respect for all human life and uphold human dignity.”

Among the intercessions were “for all those who serve in elected office, that they may lead with courage and wisdom, and reflect the timeless truth that the moral health of a society is judged by how it treats the most vulnerable, the unborn, the elderly, the poor, the outcast, the immigrant and the refugee and the prisoner.”

In our zeal to adhere to Church teachings in enactment of our laws, particularly protection of the unborn, it is important to show respect to those who hold office — even when we don’t always agree. Let’s continue to pray for what God shows us is right and hope that our prayers will be answered.

Commentary – March 28, 2016

 —Stephen Previtera, The Catholic Virginian

Lest We Forget

In her lifetime, the Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta saw more than enough suffering and death. Described as the “Angel of Mercy” Mother Teresa provided us with a shining example to live by. No matter by what standard we measure faith, few would argue that her self-sacrifice for the poor and unwanted went beyond what most of us could ever endure.

She had witnessed the aftermath of the Great Calcutta Killings in August of 1946 that saw widespread slaughter (an estimated 4,000 killed) caused by mob battles in the city between Hindus and Muslims. She understood what religious persecution meant, having witnessed it first hand.

Only a month later, in September 1946, an inner calling brought forth from this seemingly ordinary Albanian nun the beginnings of a personal journey. A great mission of mercy to aid the poor sprang forth, eventually bringing Mother Teresa’s work to the attention of the world, earning her the respect of religious leaders of every faith, the love of the many suffering souls of the Third World, and St. John Paul II’s own observation that her life was “a total gift to the poor.” Mother Teresa saw the need and endured.

One of her crowning achievements was the Missionaries of Charity, established in 1950, and now running many homes for the indigent worldwide.

On March 4, the elder care home run by Missionaries of Charity in Yemen was the target of a murderous assault by extremists, identified as ISIS. According to a report, the terrorists were on a specific mission to find and kill the five nuns and any other Christians working at the facility.

Four sisters were slain in a most brutal fashion, but the fifth, a mother superior, having hidden, escaped. A Salesian priest, residing on the campus of the Mission after his church had been burned last September, was kidnapped and had not been heard from as of this writing.

Afterward, Sister Sally, the surviving fifth and only remaining nun of the elder care home, was forced by the local police to depart Yemen for her own protection, over the desperate protests of the residents.

As Pope Francis announces Mother Teresa will be made a saint in September, we must recognize that her “saintly” efforts were inspired by the call to help the persecuted, no matter what the cost.

Sister Sally will likely not be called to sainthood, but her need to stay with her residents, even at the potential cost of her own life, provides us with the same example as Mother Teresa.

We do not have to be saints, but we must recognize and remember the sacrifices of so many today in the name of our Christian faith. They endure still.

With the attacks last week in Brussels, all faiths are under assault by those bent on using the name of God as a tool of destruction. The vast majority of believers refute that premise, choosing instead to worship a loving, protective and forgiving God. How fitting that at Easter we celebrate the glory of the risen Lord and eternal life. Ideologies of suicidal death – by contrast – are sustained only by more death. And that, in time, is itself unsustainable.

Commentary – March 14, 2016

 — Father Eugene Hemrick, Catholic News Service

Are our values upside down?

Not only were those with whom I spoke on Capitol Hill in Washington dismayed, they were irate about the political wrangling over the appointment of Antonin Scalia’s successor before the Supreme Court justice, who died Feb. 13, was laid to rest.

The outcry raises a critical question about our times: Is the abnormal behavior of our age now considered normal behavior? Have our values been turned upside down?

When a person dies, the first priority is to comfort the deceased person’s family, friends and colleagues, who are touched by the death of a loved one. It’s not only normal but a respectful practice to put aside business concerns and instead bow our heads in silence and pray for the eternal rest of the deceased.

At moments like this, it’s also normal to take our mortality more seriously, to reflect on the ultimate meaning of life and what counts most in it.

Is it any wonder that so many are angered by all the talk about a replacement at a time when the moment calls for putting aside hype and politics until a person is mourned?

Is it any wonder that many are outraged that people sound off publicly about what should or should not happen next, giving the impression that they couldn’t care less about the deceased; when people take advantage of a sacred moment to score selfish political points?

How often have we seen families fight bitter battles over who has a right to the inheritance, thus demeaning the sacredness that death demands? When this pettiness happens, we cannot but feel: This is out of order. It is disgusting and reflects a dysfunctional family and self-centeredness at its worst!

What in particular causes abnormal behavior to become accepted as normal and ethical values to fall by the wayside? It comes down to hardness of heart that puts selfish needs and concerns first.

It’s rigidity leading to self-righteousness and dismissing values and ethical standards of behavior. Hardness of heart refuses to comprehend that sacred moments are not a time for advancing a career.

No doubt many mourners of Antonin Scalia saw in his death a sacred moment requiring respect for the person, his family and friends. With heads bowed in silence and hearts filled with compassion, and with prayers for them, the moment was celebrated with dignity.

Other mourners have undoubtedly gone through many of the same motions. They are motions, however, lacking in warmth, heartfelt sympathy and genuine compassion.

Commentary – February 29, 2016

 —Steve Neill, The Catholic Virginian

A faith-filled journey

Each comes with their own unique story.

We are referring to the 365 catechumens throughout the Diocese of Richmond who took another step forward in their journey of faith at the Rite of Election held the third weekend of February.

The Rite of Election was celebrated at five churches where they had gathered with others who want to be baptized and receive the Church’s other sacraments at Easter. The photo above is at St. Andrew’s in Roanoke. The catechumens have heard the Catholic Christian message and liked what they heard.

Like many who make an initial inquiry about taking a new step forward, often the first hurdle is taking the initial action to ask questions. Some have done this with a friend or family member. Others called the number of a nearby Catholic parish and asked “What do I have to do about becoming a Catholic?”

What motivated their action? Was it because they had seen and heard “the Good News” from Catholic friends, neighbors or colleagues at work who displayed a sense of inner peace and joy when living their faith? Did they attend Sunday Mass out of curiosity and found an environment which made them think they had been missing something in their life and now perhaps had found it?

The catechumens who come forward are a sign to committed Catholics who know that they already have what others want. Even long-time Catholics who are steeped in the Church’s tradition are challenged to renew their commitment to ongoing conversion which never ends. The old term “converts to the faith” should apply to all of us in a way because we need to seek daily conversion until we cross the finish line.

The finish line is reached when the Lord brings us to eternal life at the end of our earthly journey. The catechumens have now heard the call and we need to remind ourselves that we heard it as well and already answered it.

 Commentary – February 15, 2016

 —Steve Neill, The Catholic Virginian

How would you know?

To most of his fellow students who know him at Virginia Tech, David Eisenhauer was a quiet young man who was a diligent student and proud of the fact that he was on the college’s cross country team. His college roommate told The Washington Post that Eisenhauer, an engineering student, “seemed very excited to be at Tech” and that he divided his regular routine between classes with studying and running practices twice a day.

Would this strike any outside observer as unusual? His routine, as described by his roommate, would seem to be that of a conscientious student.

David did not do anything that would cause suspicion that he might be contemplating murder, his roommate said. He did point out that David “was just out late at night,” but that night a 13-year-old girl, Nicole Lovell from Blacksburg, was killed. Mr. Eisenhauer is now charged with murdering her. A fellow student at Tech, Natalie Keepers, has been charged as an accomplice before and after the murder and helping to dispose of the girl’s body.

We have all come across individuals who are private persons and do little to disclose who they are and what makes them tick. This is their choice and others cannot expect to know them when these individuals put up a barrier which in a sense shows they want to be left alone. Unless there are dangerous signs of improper behavior which infringe on the rights of others, they deserve to be left alone.

Nicole, on the other hand, did show signs which were worrisome. At age 13, she was eager to tell friends her age that she “was dating” Eisenhauer who she had met on Facebook. “She always talked of running away with him,” said another 13-year-old girl who was Nicole’s classmate.

But who would know that this contact would lead to murder? Parents of 13-year-old students might quietly shrug if their teenager said a friend was in danger. “Oh, you’re exaggerating. Nothing is going to happen to Nicole,” a mother or father might say.

What has since come to light is that 13-year-old Nicole was the target of bullying at her school in Blacksburg. She had already been hospitalized as a younger child with lymphoma and had a liver transplant. As would be expected, bullying was painful for her and she was depressed. She talked of cutting herself, a serious sign of disorder. This was clearly a call for help. She seemed to have a close circle of friends and her parents dearly loved her, but apparently no one thought her problems were life-threatening. But then her life was taken from her and her parents and friends by two college students. Again, how would you know what was about to happen?

One small lesson from this tragic story is that parents and teachers need to watch out for bullying — even if they think it isn’t dangerous.

“She (Nicole) was looking for someone who would give her attention and give her some compassion,” a classmate said, adding that bullying was painful. “A lot of people talked behind her back. They talked about the scar on her throat.”

Commentary – February 1, 2016

 —Steve Neill, The Catholic Virginian

More men needed as deacons

Fortunately for both the laity and the clergy of the Diocese of Richmond, Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo has called for the continuation of the Permanent Diaconate formation program in the fall of 2017.

Both the laity and clergy benefit from the deacons’ ministry. There are currently 115 men serving as deacons in their respective parishes. As ordained clergy, they can baptize, witness sacramental marriages, bring Holy Communion to Catholics in hospitals, nursing homes or to the homebound.

They also are helpful to their parish priests because they can prepare couples for marriage, parents of infants who seek baptism for their child and conduct funeral services in lieu of Mass of Christian Burial. They can also preach the homily at Sunday Mass. This is a major help to priests who are already super busy in full-time ministry.

All but a very few permanent deacons are volunteers who receive no monetary payment for their ministry.

Many of them have full-time jobs in the general marketplace. Most of them are married and have families to support. College education costs for their children are among the financial burdens they incur just by virtue of being a father.

A deacon’s wife is supportive of her husband’s vital role in parish ministry. The wives have already showed their support which enabled their husbands to begin the four-year formation process. Without that, a man would not be able to participate.

Let’s face it — a deacon, his wife and children make a sacrifice when their husband and father must leave the home for ministry in the parish. Until his ordination, the deacon candidate’s schedule includes one Friday night and all-day Saturday each month for formation classes. Those who live a distance from Richmond have to add travel time to the weekends.

They also have a financial cost of being in formation. Deacon candidates are expected to pay one-third of the tuition costs. The other two-thirds is paid by the Diocese.

Prison ministry has developed in smaller parishes in outlying areas where correctional facilities are located. While permanent deacons do not seek status in their ministry, their role as clergy gives them easier access to inmates by corrections officials. Their presence often fosters a new concern by parishioners who get involved in prison ministry led by the deacon and allow the Catholic Church to be present in prisons.

The Diocese of Richmond will continue to flourish with more deacons. Let’s be supportive by affirming the deacons already in ministry.

Commentary – January 18, 2016

 —Steve Neill, The Catholic Virginian

Patriotic words challenged

“God bless America.”

These three brief but meaningul words are no longer to be said as part of a morning routine by students at Glenview Elementary School in Haddon Heights, N.J. This comes after a challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Although students at the school were never required to utter “God bless America” at the end of the daily Pledge of Allegiance, most did so. The patriotic add-on was begun soon after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Two teachers, who are no longer at the school, wanted to show support to the first responders and victims of 9/11.

Sam Sassano, principal of the school which has 235 students, wrote parents that the daily practice of saying “God bless America” is being challenged by the ACLU which calls it unconstitutional. The principal’s letter says the school’s attorneys were warned by the ACLU that “invoking God’s blessing as a daily ritual is unconstitutional and in violation of the Establishment Clause since it allegedly promotes religious over non-religious beliefs, especially with the young, impressionable children.”

As one would expect, the principal’s letter riled many parents. But Mr. Sassano seemed to soften the blow by saying, that in his opinion, the practice of asking God’s blessing on one’s country is “fundamentally patriotic in nature” and does not promote religion among the students.

Not so, the ACLU claims.

“The greatest care must be taken to avoid the appearance of governmental endorsement in schools, especially elementary schools, given the impressionable age of the children under the school’s care and authority,” the ACLU letter states.

As a result, the principal felt he had no choice but to not permit the words “God bless America” as a class action following the Pledge of Allegiance.

Even the Pledge itself contains the words “under God.” One can be sure that there are some Americans who want to see these two words stricken.

While no students should be required to say “God bless America” as a daily class routine, putting a muzzle on the brief blessing limits one’s freedom of speech.

While the school cannot be seen as initiating the blessing as a class action, individual students are not forbidden from using the phrase if they so choose. Nothing can prevent an individual student from saying “God bless America.” If the teacher or anyone else objects, they can remain silent.

In fact, some students might even see more meaning in the words “God bless America” when that freedom of speech is taken away from them.

One upset mother pointed out that the words “In God we trust” are printed on American currency.

“Isn’t the person who complained out there spending that money?” she asked rhetorically.

Commentary – January 4, 2016

 —Steve Neill, The Catholic Virginian

Advocates must be heard

Unlike previous years when the Virginia General Assembly was in session, there will no longer be the one-day event known as Catholic Advocacy Day.

The spirit and purpose of what was known as Catholic Advocacy Day is still important. In fact, a new approach will hopefully expand grass roots participation among Catholics who seek legislation which helps the poor and upholds Christian values.

Attendance at Catholic Advocacy Day, sponsored by the Virginia Catholic Conference, always hinged on the weather conditions of the day. Rain or snow was often a factor which cut down on the number of people from parishes and Catholic schools who had to travel long distances to get to Virginia’s capital with the purpose of seeing their elected state senators and delegates and urge them to vote for or not support proposed laws.

The Virginia Catholic Conference was most effective in explaining the reasons for the stand it took. Catholic advocates were given a list of talking points meant to help them discuss the issues in an intelligent manner and show why they were asking for a senator’s or delegate’s support to pass or defeat a specific law. The VCC helped set up appointments to see the legislators from their district.

But in reality, often that person was not in his or her office at the appointed time. Advocates then had to address their concerns to a legislative aide and hope that he or she would relay their views to the elected official.

With prayer as a background and impetus for being a Catholic advocate, Catholic legislators and political leaders from other denominations, and both major political parties as well, are invited to join diocesan and parish leaders at a Vespers service on Wednesday, Feb. 17, at 5 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.

The invitation is being extended by Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of Richmond and Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington, both of whom will be present.

Those who attend may wish to mingle after the Vespers service at a reception featuring wine and appetizers. This may be an opportunity to get to know your state senator or delegate in a prayerful and relaxed setting.

An opening might be made to let him or her know that we take our civic responsibility seriously and we want to follow up to gain their support on issues we feel are important.

Catholics may also visit the offices of the Virginia Catholic Conference in Richmond on either Tuesday, Jan. 26, or Thursday, Feb. 4. Here they will meet informally with VCC staff and receive a packet of current issues along with talking points to explain why the VCC feels the way it does.

With a national presidential election this coming November, it is important that Catholics stay involved in the legislative process.

Commentary – December 21, 2015

 —Steve Neill, The Catholic Virginian

Are ‘they’ ‘bad people?’

The Gospel command of “love your neighbor” is not always easy for many people. Some who find this command difficult adamantly pass this off with the excuse that “they,” meaning a designated group of humanity, are “bad people.”

Fortunately, painting an entire group of people with the same brush as bad or evil — at least for Christians, followers of Christ —is not the right response to acts of terrorism. And yet we see it almost every time after individuals or groups of people from a minority commit a violent act.

We now know that two individuals who claimed to be followers of the Muslim faith were responsible for the deaths of 16 people in a planned attack in San Bernardino, Calif. This attack was rightfully denounced by Americans who were outraged at the violence directed at innocent victims and shared the grief the victims’ family members suffered. It was to be expected that some Americans would blame all Muslims for the violence.

These occasions of terrorism are horrible. They are not to be condoned in any way. However, we have to resist blaming all Muslims as the scapegoat and characterize them as evil.

For this reason, Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo was among a small group of clergy and civic leaders of Virginia at a Richmond press conference Dec. 17 initiated by the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities.

While to some people the name may smack of being politically correct, it is part of the same group first known as the National Conference of Christians and Jews. One of its main objectives is to erase religious discrimination.

Think back to a little more than 100 years ago when Catholic immigrants were the target of bigotry. A popular name for this group were “the Know Nothings,” derived from the fact that many Europeans coming to American shores did not speak English. Even the Irish, who spoke English with an “Irish brogue,” were often scorned. Signs like “No Irish need apply” were common in cities like Boston and New York where so many of the Irish immigrants settled.

Research shows that bigoted atttitudes toward Arab and Muslim Americans by their fellow Americans is continuing to increase. As a result, many in this minority group arouse suspicion of being terrorists or supporters of terrorism.

In fact, there have been demonstrations by Muslim Americans denouncing terrorism. They want to let others know that Muslims are peaceful people.

“We stand up and want to affirm our support for them,” Bishop DiLorenzo responded when asked why he attended the press conference. “After all, we’re all one family in God. We need to love our neighbor.”

Merry Christmas.

Commentary – December 7, 2015

 —A Statement from our Bishop, Most Rev. Francis X. DiLorenzo

‘Spotlight’ brings painful reminder to abuse victims and families

In November the film “Spotlight,” about the Boston Globe investigation that uncovered child sexual abuse in the Church, was released to theaters nationwide.

“We acknowledge the important role of the Globe reporters who uncovered this horrible issue for necessary action,” said Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo. “We also understand the release of this film may serve as a painful reminder to survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, as well as their loved ones, all of whom who have been grievously injured by this evil.

We know the whole Church has also suffered because of these crimes against innocent children.

Since 2002, when the abuse was first revealed, the Catholic Church in the United States and The Church in the Diocese of Richmond have worked diligently to implement the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

In addition, the Diocese implemented the Safe Environment Regulations, which provide a procedure and structure to address allegations of sexual abuse of minors. These regulations also include a child protection program to include safe environment training (VIRTUS) and background screening for all diocesan clergy, employees and volunteers working with minors.

In 11 years we have trained and conducted background screenings on more than 40,000 adults and have remained in full compliance with the Charter.

I join my brother bishops and Pope Francis in again extending profound apologies for this abuse, and for the Church’s sometimes shamefully inadequate response at that time.

As your Bishop, I continue to ask and pray for survivors’ forgiveness and for God’s healing touch on all His children and His Church.

Through diligent efforts, prayer and God’s grace, we continue to live our belief that all life is precious and must be protected.

Commentary – November 23, 2015

 —Steve Neill, The Catholic Virginian

Keep Christ in Christmas

As Advent approaches and Christmas draws near, we will see newspaper ads and TV commercials hyping terrific sales for merchandise with bargain prices to attract consumers to buy clothing and other items as Christmas gifts.

This is to be expected because Christmas holiday sales can make up more than half a merchant’s income for the year.

Some department stores and auto dealerships require sales personnel to greet prospective buyers with “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” as a means of spreading holiday cheer. This came to light a few years ago when I responded to “Happy Holidays” from a smiling sales clerk by saying “Merry Christmas.” The woman almost sheepishly replied “Merry Christmas” and then told me that she and others in this major department store must give a generic holiday greeting.

One can only assume that wishing another a Merry Christmas might be offensive to non-Christians who might resent a greeting for a holiday they do not observe. Stores with disgruntled customers might choose to shop elsewhere. The profit margin for the merchant shrinks.

The same rationale motivates many people who send Christmas cards to family and friends. They select cards which again wish others well with “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings.” Sometimes the cards will have illustrations of snow scenes or a jolly Santa Claus but the word Christmas is omitted.

As I write this, many councils of the Knights of Columbus are selling boxes of Christmas cards at parish churches before and after Sunday Mass. The face of the cards feature a Nativity scene or the Blessed Mother holding the Christ child.

As one opens the card in the Christmas Beatitudes series, the words “May the Holy Spirit of the Christ Child born this Christmas Day rest upon you. And may this Good News live within you to share with all you love and meet throughout the bright New Year.” How appropriate.

The cards are part of the Keep Christ in Christmas campaign initiated by the Knights of Columbus. Purchasing the cards supports the good work these Catholic gentlemen do throughout the year and stress the true meaning of Christmas for Christians. Why would we not want to send them to friends and family?

Commentary – November 9, 2015

 —Colin Kearney, Special to the Catholic Virginian

Let’s call abortion what it really is

“Social justice begins in the womb.”

These words from Priests for Life’s media flyers seemed to echo through my head as I arrived at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Waynesboro for Fr. Denis Wilde’s Pro-Life Mass and presentation.

As assistant director for Priests for Life and an accomplished pianist, Father Wilde certainly boasted an impressive resume, yet all of that would be put to the test once more for the crowd of youth that gathered on the evening of October 26 to hear him speak on abortion.

After Mass, the youth first enjoyed pizza. Then Father Wilde shocked many of us when he cited the horrific number of babies killed through abortion. He compared those 1.21 million children who are aborted in the U.S. each year to the vast number of deaths from the Holocaust, and to the 1,354,644 American soldiers killed in all of the wars since The War of Independence.

Father Wilde had three main points. He cited the often heard argument of abortion being “a women’s right to choose.”

In factually establishing the life of a child in the womb, we should also use words like mothers and fathers rather than “women or boyfriends.” This is particularly important, he said, when referring to the mother.

This simple change in a word can make a big difference by forcing pro-abortion supporters to acknowledge the existence of a living child in the womb, perhaps changing the heart and mind of a mother considering an abortion.

Father Wilde next attacked the idea that abortion is “a woman’s right,”contending that all too often mothers are pressured against their will to have an an abortion. They feel they have no other choice.

In speaking of the rights of the father, he asserted that parenthood is a responsibility rather than a right. The true right belongs to that of the unborn baby.

These rights of the unborn babies, killed through abortion, can be related to the American Declaration of Independence and its famous statement concerning “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Each and every one of these innocent children killed has been unjustly robbed of his or her most basic right, that of life.

Father Wilde stated that in a culture focused on being politically correct, we all too often steer away from the word “abortion” by using the term “choice,” especially when that term is associated with a good and beneficial action. Yet abortion is neither of these, and the word “choice”is far too vague to use when we are speaking of the life or death of a human being.

If abortion really were good or beneficial to anyone, then its supporters would not shy away from calling it what it really is rather than trying to hide behind a false name.

(Colin Kearney, a high school student, is a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Staunton.)

 Commentary – October 26, 2015

 —Steve Neill, The Catholic Virginian

Students learn about albinos

In conjunction with World Mission Sunday, observed by Catholics in the United States Oct. 18, seniors at Peninsula Catholic High School in Newport News created a video to raise awareness about the killings and abuse of albino children in Tabora and Tanzania.

This is a topic which does not get much press in our country and little is known about albanism, a genetic disorder caused by a deficiency of melanin. There are certainly albinos in our own country who likely are stared at because they look different. Staring with the sense of disdain or even to pique one’s curiosity is wrong. Doing so might cause a feeling of inferiority by those who are albinos.

Unfortunately the problem for albinos in Tabora and Tanzania goes much deeper than staring. There they risk being killed by their own citizens because their body parts are used for witchcraft. The hunt for albinos increases when there is an upcoming election. Why? Because there is a demand for good luck charms and some running for elective office feel that it will help them win the election. It sounds bizarre and perversive, but this is often the fate of albinos in Tabora and Tanzania. Since 2000 at least 75 albinos have been killed. Many more have been maimed and injured.

“This violation of human rights cannot continue,” the PCHS seniors assert in their video which now can be found on the internet at https://goo.gl/ImwlKL. Peninsula Catholic seniors got on-line and did research.

“The kids really grabbed hold of it and came up with a number of ideas to raise money,” said Sue Wilkinson, theology chair at Peninsula Catholic.

The video, which lasts 2 minutes and 43 seconds, was created by Francesca Reimer. The seniors wrote prayers which were said for the entire student body for morning prayer, for grace at lunch and the afternoon dismissal prayer.

On Oct. 22 the students of the five grades at PCHS (there is the 8th grade in addition to the four high school grades) celebrated Tag Day in which they wore colors of either green, blue, yellow, red and white according to their class. The money raised will be sent to the Diocese as part of the World Mission Sunday collection taken up in most parishes.

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