Migration, “Legal” and “Illegal”

Genesis Illegal Alien cd

Most people never migrate from their native land. It takes more courage, and more resourcefulness, than most people have. It involves risks. Most people avoid risks.

Some rationale moves every migrant. A rationale found on a wide spectrum, stretching from “I must leave this country, or I will perish in the war going on around me,” to “Let me get out of this lawless, desperate land, and seek a home where the streets are safe,” to “I’m bored here. I heard they have nicer weather there.”

Granted, there can be an evil rationale for migrating: “I’m on the run from the righteous law in my own land, so let me get out of here!” Such an evil rationale deserves an evil welcome, so to speak. Extradition. But that rationale accounts for very little of the migration in the world.

So some reason moves every migrant. Many of us can say that our forebears migrated here to the US because their native lands had stultified social structures, poorly organized economies, a hopelessly meager way of life.

flag-mapThey sought the means to travel to the US. They likely did not pause to consider “illegal” vs. “legal” immigration. They simply came here, however they could.

What greeted them? A relatively well-organized and expeditious means of entry, with few technicalities and fewer expenses. Also: a fair promise. Live an honest, hard-working life, and you will be an American.

The USA offered such a welcome to our forebears because she could, and because it served her interests to do so.

We still could; we have plenty of room left. And it still would serve our interests to do so.

In Franklin and Henry counties, Virginia, employers desperately seek able-bodied workers. To the point of calling the priest to help them find people. Many employers in the USA desperately seek workers.

But we do not offer the same welcome that we did in the old days.

The migrants of the past forty years have come for the same general set of reasons as the migrants of the preceding three centuries. They have come with the same hopes, and willing to live the same hard-working, honest lives.

But the USA has not greeted most of the recent migrants with the same well-organized and expeditious means of entry. And instead of making good on the basic American-immigrant compact (work hard, obey the law, and become a citizen) the America of our generation has welcomed a chosen few, while leaving millions to languish in a second-class, non-citizen status.

Not an alien mass, estranged from our social life. To the contrary: the parents and grandparents of many of the friends and spouses of our children and grandchildren.

Migrants migrate, for the reasons that move them to do so. If they migrate imprudently, incorrectly measuring the prospects in the land to which they choose to travel, then they have to live with the consequences of such a mistake.

But if someone migrates for a good reason–somewhere on the wide spectrum mentioned above–to a place where there are good prospects (like the USA, right now), then… Well, only a foolish, self-destructive people would try to shut the door.

As wise teachers like our Lord Jesus Christ, St. Paul, Socrates, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., have taken pains to point out: A higher law determines whether human laws are just or unjust.

The tens of millions of undocumented, law-abiding immigrants, dedicated to honest work, currently living in the US–we cannot in any just sense call them “illegal.”

They took the risk of migrating here for solid reasons, just like the American immigrants of old. And they have blessed and enriched our land, just like the immigrants of old.

They did not receive the welcome that our forebears received, which is our fault, not theirs.

They deserve exactly what we deserve. Equality under law. Basic human rights. The benefit of the doubt. Respect and courtesy.

[I offer this, dear reader, by way of an answer to some questions and comments that I got about my homily at Mass today.]

The Cover-Up of the Cover-Up of the Cover-Up + James Under Oath

Vatican synod hall empty

Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, recently published an article about sexual abuse of minors in the magazine La Civiltà Cattolica.

Father Lombardi enjoys close familiarity with Pope Francis, and the Holy See publishes the magazine. So we can assume that it expresses the Vatican’s thoughts at this point in time. About the upcoming Big Meeting in Rome.

In his article, Father Lombardi misrepresents the history of the McCarrick case. In reviewing the events of 2018, which gave rise to the February 2019 meeting, Lombardi writes:

The former Archbishop of Washington was accused of sexually abusing a minor, an allegation that was found “credible and substantiated” by the review board of the Archdiocese of New York, and of molesting seminarians, and the pope removed him from the College of Cardinals.

First of all, McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals, and the pope accepted his resignation. Second of all, McCarrick’s resignation came not after the finding of the Archdiocese of NY review board, but after the publication in the NY Times of James Grein’s allegations.

Most Orwellian of all: Father Lombardi indicating that accusations regarding McCarrick’s “molesting seminarians” reached the ears of authorities this past summer. In point of fact, we have documentary evidence that a former seminarian accused McCarrick of abuse in 1994. A quarter century ago.

One thing we need to wake up and realize: The US bishops claim that, in 2002, they straightened their sex-abuse problem out. What they really did in 2002 was: Cover it up.

In 2002, they did not resolve all the outstanding cases lingering in their files. They did not admit that they themselves had failed to enforce the basic norms of human decency that upright people know without being taught. They had heard accusations of criminal abuses, and they had not investigated. They had not applied the Church’s own laws.

They, the bishops of the US, had scandalized the world by their mismanagement–their non-management–of sex abuse cases. That was the Scandal of 2002.

But they covered that up by pretending that the problem was the abusing priests. The bishops invoked the empty slogan “zero tolerance”–as if any sane person could ever have tolerated the sexual abuse of a minor. As if the divine law somehow used to tolerate the sexual abuse of minors, but now it doesn’t. Please.

What the bishops did in 2002 was: cover over the reality that stared everyone in the face. Bishops have a duty of governance that requires the prosecution of criminal cases under Church law. But they have neither the will, nor the expertise, necessary to do that duty. They didn’t have it in the 80’s and 90’s; they didn’t have it in 2002; they don’t have it now.

In February, the pope intends to try to do the same trick that the US bishops did in 2002. In 2002, the Boston Globe uncovered numerous unresolved cases of sexual abuse–situations involving particular individuals, in which the Church had failed to see justice done, under Her own law. Rather than face this, the bishops made the whole thing about policies.

Not the victims. Not the cases. Not their own egregious failures. Policies.

The Scandal of 2018 involves individual cases that no one has ever resolved. Pre-eminent among them: the McCarrick case. But the pope wants to make the Scandal of 2018 about policies. Not about his own failures. Not about victims. Again: Policies, policies. (And hopelessly vague policies at that.)

…Now, did someone savvy in Vatican City State intentionally schedule James Grein’s sworn testimony in the McCarrick case for a week when most of the world’s journalists are on vacation? Hard not to think so.

If so, perhaps that savvy cover-up artist failed to foresee that Mr. Grein would recount something this stunning: McCarrick abused him during confession.

James Grein speaking in Baltimore

May justice be done. But don’t get your hopes up. Apparently, “the Vatican wants this finalized by the second week of February–the entire case.”

Which could conceivably have happened–if someone started the prosecution last summer. If someone took James’ testimony in August.

But if you’re just now taking preliminary sworn testimony? Then conclude a just criminal process in six weeks? Giving the accused all the rights he enjoys under law? (Which everyone, even Theodore McCarrick, deserves.)

I don’t see how that can happen so quickly. So, either: 1. No just resolution to the case. or 2. A rush to unjust judgment. Either way: Same problem we have had throughout this scandal: incompetence at the episcopal level, including the bishop of Rome.

…Happy New Year to you, dear reader. We all know that everyone should be able to go to confession without worrying that the confessor is a pederast. We all know that when someone accuses a cleric of sexual abuse in 1994, his trial should have long since been concluded, without rushing, by 2019.

But the mafiosi running the Church don’t operate according to the basic standards of decency and justice which we all know. They operate according to some other strange calculus–a desperate narcissism, somehow both sinister and pathetic at the same time.

Pro-Life, Anti-Wall


We can find a familiar word in Sunday’s gospel reading. The news and political debate of the last election made this word very popular on cable news and Twitter. A sizable group of immigrants, traveling north together. [Spanish]

Just like: Jesus’ parents, on the way home from Jerusalem, thought He was in the caravan.

Blessed Mother gave birth to Jesus in the city of… Is that a long way from Jerusalem? Hardly. Six miles. You’d think that would mean just a quick trip between them.

But what lies between Jerusalem and Bethlehem now? It wasn’t there when the Lord Jesus was born. If it had been, the wise men couldn’t have followed the star to the stable.

There’s a wall. A border wall.

Do I look like I’m making this up? The state of Israel built a wall between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. A wall that divides Israeli territory from Palestinian territory.

The Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem wrote about the wall one Christmas a few years ago, as the Israeli government was completing the construction. The Patriarch wrote:

In this Christmas feast, we pray for the towns, cities, and villages of the Holy Land, because they are isolated from each other. With pain and deep sadness, we observe civilians being blockaded by the erection of walls and barriers. These contribute to violence and humiliation, generating grudges and hatred, whereas what we need is mutual trust, friendly co-operation, and a quiet, serene life.

As we gaze at the manger, we realize: the very mysteries of Christmas make demands on us. Demands that turn politics in contemporary America into a seriously painful and difficult business, for a Christian.

Israel border wall

On the one hand: baby Jesus, with His quiet cooing, loudly insists: you must be pro-life. The true hope of the world turns on reverence for life in the womb. Only dark despair could ever even try to justify killing an unborn child in an elective abortion.

Nowhere in any of the true sources of human wisdom can we find anything that establishes a “right” to destroy a child. The idea that a “right” to abortion can exist in an enlightened civilization—that is an absolute lie. As we gaze at the newborn Christ, we know we have a duty to call it a lie, and to stand up for the truth.

Like the Jerusalem Patriarch put is: “Mutual trust. Friendly co-operation. Serenity of life.” This does not include abortion. As long as abortions, occur, we do not have peace on earth.

But what else? The Holy Family migrated. As a Latino congressman pointed out in a congressional hearing ten days ago: If Egypt had built a wall at their border with Herod’s kingdom, baby Jesus would have died in the slaughter of the newborns.

Jesus never obtained citizenship papers in the Roman Empire. If He had, our Redemption would not have occurred. Christianity as we know it would not exist. The Romans did not crucify their citizens; they only crucified non-citizens. Our Savior died on the cross as an undocumented non-citizen.

A barrier wall at our border, to keep people out? Have we not read our Bibles? The prophets celebrate one ultimate reality: All people, all nations, streaming toward Jerusalem, from the four corners of the earth. Throw open the gates! They come from Ethiopia and Cush, from Phoenicia and Tarshish, from Chaldea and Persia!

Some people say: Father, you have fallen prey to the typically naïve false compassion of the liberal clergyman. The Scriptures are about spiritual things. But we need secure borders.

How about this? It is naïve, totally naïve, to imagine that a nation turned in on itself, paranoid of enemies and fearful of immigrants, can prosper. Nations do not prosper when whole classes of people live in the shadows, because the reigning authority denies them the rights of citizenship.

Let’s start 2019 by acknowledging that this supposedly Christian nation has fallen far away from the truly Christian path. We have for the most part stood silently by, while one-fifth of the people who should have been our friends and neighbors got killed in the womb.

And we have stood silently by, while a path to citizenship for our law-abiding, undocumented-immigrant neighbors got taken off the political negotiating table. Then the path to citizenship for immigrants who came as children got taken off the political negotiating table. Now federal government workers have at least one paycheck in jeopardy—all because of someone’s fantasy of an impractical and pointless border wall.

Everyone says, “Yes, it’s a mess, our government is a mess”–without admitting: We made this mess, we who have the right to vote. We live in a representative democracy. If our government is dysfunctional, it’s because we dysfunctionally elected the people who make it up.

May the caravan Lady, Mary of Nazareth, and the divine fruit of her womb, help us find a way to clean up this unholy mess.

Simple Light

El Greco Nativity

God became one of us, so that we might become His children.

We know that a mysterious light will illuminates the night tonight and will shine tomorrow morning. A light emanates from the baby in the manger, from the stable, from the city of Bethlehem.

Not the kind of light you get from a light bulb. Baby Jesus is not a human flashlight. The mysterious inner light of the newborn Christ illuminates not just one place, but every place. Not just one night or one day, but every night and every day.

The light of communion with God, of true religion, of divine adoption. Christ shines the inner light that unites us with our Creator, with the One Who governs all things for the sake of eternal love.

The other day I was watching a debate between an atheist and a Christian. The atheist said something interesting.

The question is: How did it all begin? And the atheist argued: A reasonable person seeks the simplest possible explanation for everything, including the beginning of the universe. Saying that an “intelligent God” created everything adds complexity. It brings something complicated into an explanation that we ought to try to keep as simple as possible.

Now, there’s something to this. If he thinks that “faith” or “religion” automatically means something impossibly complicated, some kind of lumpy, super-heavy backpack that you have to put on and carry around everywhere, with no hope of ever opening it to see what all the heavy stuff inside is. If “God” is really a complicated web of human ideas.

After all, this little baby grew up to say things like, “Woe to you, Pharisees, you frauds! You abandon the law of God and hold onto human traditions.”

Sermon on the Mount by Fra Angelico

So we sympathize with the atheist’s idea about keeping things simple. Then we point out to him that he missed the mark, in his attack on our faith in the Creator.

We say: Man, we do not propose to explain How It All Began by some complicated theory of God. Totally the opposite. The light that shines from baby Jesus shows us, by its enchanting simplicity, just how impossibly complicated we are, by comparison. We’re the complicated ones.

God became one of us, so that we could become like Him.

Is Catholicism complicated? I’ll speak for myself and say: This past year, it became a whole lot more complicated than it ever was before! We Catholics have to live in the trackless no-man’s land where we owe our first allegiance to an institution that is compromised to the core. But our faith has not been compromised at all. Rather, the solid truth of the Catholic faith—the light of Christ working in the souls of sex-abuse victims, giving them courage and clarity–has exposed the hidden weakness and dishonesty of the Catholic hierarchy.

Catholicism at the end of 2018:True faith; compromised high priests of the faith. Not an easy place for us to live, at least not for me. But let’s leave the complexities of Catholicism to the side for one moment. After all, Planet Earth is complicated. Human nature: complicated. You’re complicated; I’m complicated.

But not God. Not the mysterious divine light that shines from the crib.

The mystery of our religion, the religion of Jesus; the mystery of being a child of God: it is neither vague nor complicated.

Because He Himself lived that mystery, before the eyes of witnesses. From the moment of His conception in the Virgin’s womb, to the carpenter’s bench and the synagogue, to the Temple, to the cross, to the garden outside the tomb, to the mount from which He ascended into heaven: He Himself, the Creator, showed us human creatures, by His human life, The Way. The way of the child of God.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, the merciful, the peacemakers, and the pure of heart. Love your enemies, and do good to those who wrong you. When you pray, say: Our Father, Who art in heaven. Do not worry, because your heavenly Father clothes the lilies of the field who neither toil nor spin, and you are worth more than many sparrows. Take up your cross, and follow Me. Eat My flesh and drink My blood. Baptize all nations. Love one another as I have loved you. Store up treasure in heaven.

Planet Earth is a complicated place. But uncomplicated Jesus has changed the earth from a trackless no-man’s land into a pilgrim road to the Father’s house. And the amazingly simple thing is: When we love Jesus in the manger, we’re already there.

Was Jesus Born on December 25?


Three days till Christmas. Now, was Jesus actually born on December 25? Is Christmas His real birthday? [Spanish]

The Israelites did not use the Roman calendar that we use. And the gospels don’t give a birth date anyway, using either the Roman or the Jewish calendar—or the Chinese calendar, for that matter.

But the Scriptures do, in fact, offer us a great deal of pertinent information. We read at Sunday Mass: Mary set out in haste for the hill country of Judah. Right before that—right before Mary set out in haste–an angel had visited her. Which angel? Archangel…  Gabriel! What did the angel say to Mary? You will have a son.

In other words, Lord Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary right before she went to visit her cousin. Mary set out in haste. Why?  Because the angel also told her something else. Gabriel told Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was pregnant. In fact, he was more precise. He said, ‘Your cousin Elizabeth is now in her…  sixth month!”

Upon Mary’s arrival, the infant in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy. Which infant is that, that leaped for joy in the womb? Yes, St. John the Baptist, son of Elizabeth and…  Zechariah.

st-john-baptist-grecoSo far, it’s all here in black and white. Baby Jesus was conceived when Elizabeth was six months pregnant with St. John the Baptist. Question is: Was that approximately March 25? Did the Annunciation–when Mary became pregnant with Jesus–occur on March 25? That’s the day when The Incarnation—God becoming man–occurred, in Mary’s womb. Was it March 25?

Here’s where ancient traditions start to corroborate the idea that we have the correct date for Christmas. For many centuries, people observed March 25th as New Year’s Day.  The first Mass said by an English-speaking priest in what is now the United States: March 25, 1634–New Year’s Day. (January 1 did not become New Year’s Day in the English Colonies until 1751). By the way: Who said that Mass?  That is correct: Fr. White. (Fr. Andrew White.)

Anyway, in ancient times, people believed that the world was created on March 25, that the Israelites marched out of slavery on March 25, and that Jesus was crucified on March 25.

Be all that as it may, though, it doesn’t prove anything. We need to try and figure out, if we can, when Elizabeth became pregnant.

Anyone remember what happened? The archangel Gabriel had visited someone else, besides Mary…  Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband! The angel visited Zechariah at home, while he was sitting and watching t.v., correct? No, the angel came to Zechariah in the Temple, while Zechariah was performing his duty as a member of one of the priestly clans.

Elizabeth became pregnant with John the Baptist right after Zechariah saw the angel in the Temple. Therefore, if we could figure out when it was that Zechariah ministered in the temple in the preceding year, we could add six months, and we would know more or less when the Annunciation took place. Then we add nine months, and we know the real date of or the original Christmas.

Do the Scriptures provide an answer? Yes. In the Old Covenant, the priests ministered in the Temple in Jerusalem according to a yearly cycle, depending on your priestly division. They didn’t use sign-up sheets for Eucharistic Ministers, like we do now. They followed a cycle established by King David, as we read in I Chronicles.

king davidZechariah belonged to the priestly division of…  Anyone? Abijah. The clan of Abijah came eighth in the annual cycle.

Now, yes: By Zechariah’s time, a thousand years had passed since King David established the cycle.  The Temple had been destroyed twice.  So the routine certainly had broken down, somewhere along the line.  But a Jewish writer from the time of Christ documented some facts about the cycle of priestly service, and it turns out: King David’s routine still operated, as he had instituted it a thousand years before. When they rebuilt the Temple, they restored the original yearly cycle of priestly service.

So, the next question: Was Jerusalem crowded when the angel visited Zechariah in the Temple?  St. Luke reports that the “whole multitude” of Israel awaited him out in the Temple courtyard. So: When would the priestly clan of Abijah have served during a large festival?  On the Day of Atonement, in mid-September, or during the Feast of Tabernacles, which followed two weeks later.

We could do all the math. But we don’t have to. If St. John the Baptist was conceived near the end of September or the beginning of October, then Lord Jesus was conceived in late March or early April of the following year, and born in late December, or early January. And, as we note this, let’s not forget: in Church, the feast of Christmas extends twelve nights, until January 6.

All very exciting, but let’s pause. We really cannot say for sure when Zechariah served in the Temple during the year before St. John was born. An honest historian would say: We do not know Jesus’ exact date of birth just from deductions and inductions from the Scriptures.

But the same honest historian would acknowledge: We have an ancient tradition identifying a particular date. Christians have been celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25 since long before the Romans established a winter holiday around the same time of year. And the information we have in the Scriptures not only does not contradict that traditional date, it confirms it.

December 25. Jesus’ birthday. The date is solid. Merry Christmas.

The Christmas Twilight Zone: Justice Requires a Verdict

[Being Catholic Now, Q2 A1: A Non-Smarmy “Christmas Message” from Fr. Mark]


On the one hand: Our pope’s representative here in the U.S., looking quite tired, offers us a tree-side Christmas video message, filled with platitudes.

(Though, to give the nuncio his due, he at least acknowledges a “storm.*” Our own bishop can’t even manage to do that.)

On the other handEsquire magazine blithely asserts: “The Catholic Church is a worldwide conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Now, with a headline like that, either Esquire has resorted to crass anti-Catholic bigotry–and we should raise a stink about it–or there’s some truth to it.

…Peace on earth requires the rule of law. The rule of law means: when someone accuses someone else of a crime–and the accused denies it–the reigning authority provides a secure forum in which to present the evidence.

Then the judge gives a binding verdict, based on the evidence presented. Then a fitting sentence.

This is Peace on Earth 101. The rule of law.

The alternative: Government by arbitrary warlords.

Arbitrary warlords do not mete out justice in open courts, guided by clear laws, and according to the evidence. They arbitrate criminal cases privately, secretly–according to either their own whims or their calculations of expediency.

A secular prosecutor may or may not eventually prove that the Church is a worldwide conspiracy to obstruct justice. The evidence that Esquire presents does not prove as much as the author of the essay claims. But two of the many confusing and scandalous things that happened in the US Catholic Church this week are:

1. Two days ago, the Attorney General of Illinois issued the preliminary findings of her investigation of the Church. She produced a brief and readable document, with no references to any particular cases. She explicitly notes that the investigation has only just begun.

The dioceses of Illinois all responded–not with one statement, but with six. None of the sitting bishops responded in his own name. Nor did the dioceses manage to articulate a response together. That said, all of the diocesan statements sound basically the same: defensive and off-point. None of them engage the helpful insights that the AG offered.

Ecclesiastical_Province_of_Chicago illinois diocesesLike: The dioceses of Illinois have not adequately explained to the general public how cases of sexual abuse get adjudicated. Terms like “credible or substantiated allegation” remain woefully unclear. The entire process remains shrouded in the mists of poor communication.

(And if you think there’s a state in the U.S. where the above paragraph isn’t true, then I offer to sell you the state of Illinois for a cheap price!)

2. The same day, the Holy Father accepted the resignation of an auxiliary bishop in Los Angeles, Alexander Salazar, who is only 69 years old. (Nowhere near the mandatory retirement age of 75.) The Holy See offered no explanation.

The sitting archbishop of Los Angeles, however, offered one. A tortured, incomprehensible, self-defeating explanation.

Turns out a young woman accused Salazar of sexual abuse sixteen years ago. No one held a trial to determine his guilt or innocence. And no one has any intention of holding one now.

Instead, in the Church ruled by Pope Francis, bishop Salazar shuffles off into some undisclosed limbo, neither guilty nor innocent, the whole matter painfully unresolved. Just like McCarrick. And God knows how many others.

Someday someone will investigate the Salazar case. And make the same suggestions that the AG makes in Illinois. Clarify your terms. Make your processes open and honest. Do justice for the wronged.

No one handled the Salazar case according to the rule of law sixteen years ago. No one handled it according to the rule of law in the meantime. And no one handled it according to the rule of law in 2018, either.

…So, what has Christmas 2018 brought us?

The world now knows what many of us priests have known for twenty, thirty, forty years. We have lived in fear of the authorities above us. They do not govern according to rules. A seminarian or priest can wind up in some superior’s “doghouse” for no good reason. And then there’s no way out.

Macbeth and his mirror

I have served Holy Church under obedience for almost a quarter-century, and it’s been this way the whole time.

None of the superiors I have ever had–the seminary rector, Card. McCarrick, Card. Wuerl, bishop DiLorenzo–none of them governed according to clear rules. None provided an open forum for accusations, with the opportunity to respond. None made decisions based on evidence. All of them conducted their deliberations in secret, did their arbitrary wills, and then covered it over with some thin veil of an implausible rationale.

Warlords always have some cloak of a rationale for their arbitrary decisions. But all you have to do is: Scratch the surface, dig a little, and you discover: Ambiguous terms. Limited documentation. Lack of due process. No rule of law. “The Boss” rules, with no one to challenge him.

Warlords do it that way, and Catholic bishops do it that way. And the pope does it that way.

* Today the pope gave a dramatic speech, including grand promises about not tolerating sexual abuse anymore. But he condemned himself out of his own mouth.

To those who abuse minors I would say this: convert and hand yourself over to human justice.

Your Holiness: Look in the mirror. You are supposed to be “human justice” in these cases. Your duty is to deliver justice, not endless platitudes. You have made it obvious to the world that you don’t know how to deliver justice. And that you don’t want to know.


What Does Christmas Really Mean?

VisitationGuess what? We read the exact same gospel passage at Holy Mass today and on Sunday.

What do we call it, when the Blessed Mother came to her cousin in the Judean hill country? The Visitation. Two women and two… babies, unborn infants.

What time of year was it? Hmm… We keep the Feast of the Visitation on… May 31. So Mary arrived at Elizabeth and Zechariah’s house on May 31?

We can’t say that for sure. The Church chose the date of May 31 just fifty years ago. Not because we know the exact date when it happened, but because May 31 falls between two Solemnities, namely… Annunciation and Nativity of John the Baptist. (Like the account goes in St. Luke’s gospel, right?)

How about this: How long did Our Lady stay with Elizabeth? Correct! Three months.

How pregnant was Elizabeth when Mary arrived? Right again! Six months.

So one thing we can say for sure is: Our Lady stayed until the time of St. John’s birth. She left either right before or right after Elizabeth gave birth.

We don’t have dates, but we have a clear, reliable time frame: Mary conceived baby Jesus six months after Elizabeth conceived St. John. Then Our Lady traveled south to Judah, and stayed three months. Mary gave birth to Jesus how many months later? This math is not hard. Six.

dec25Now, you probably think: Blah blah blah, Father. We didn’t come here to do math! What’s your point?

Ok. Some people think to themselves: Christmas is all about good feelings and tolerance and world peace. The details don’t matter. Maybe Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem; maybe He wasn’t. Maybe He was born on December 25; maybe He was born some other day. Maybe the Bible is true; maybe it’s all just a lovely story. Doesn’t matter. Christmas simply means: feel good and be a good person.


I, for one, care. About whether or not December 25 is Jesus’ correct birthday. I don’t want to sing a whole bunch of Masses next Monday night and Tuesday morning–if Jesus actually got born on a different day. I want to sing the Masses on the correct day.

Feel me? So, listen: We will solve this. We will.

It is going to involve an elaborate Bible quiz. So hard that you couldn’t possibly study hard enough. But study hard anyway.

Our Lady’s Holiness, and Our Lord’s

El Greco Virgin Mary

The Blessed Virgin longed for salvation. She longed for the completion, the fulfillment of God’s loving plan. Her total consecration to God from the moment of her own conception in her mother’s womb did not make her less eager for the redemption of the sin-soaked world; it made her all the more eager for it.

The idea that Jesus and Mary could ever “compete” for our admiration or devotion; the idea that they could have a “holiness contest?” No.

The perfectly holy Blessed Mother longed to conceive the Christ more than any human being ever long for anything. Because she longed like no one else ever has for the salvation of the world.

Once she had conceived Jesus, Mary longed to give birth to Him, to gaze upon Him–more than any mother has ever longed to give birth. Not because Mary experienced extraordinary physical strain during pregnancy, but because her matchless purity as a human being made her long more than anyone else to see God.

Holiness as a human being doesn’t make you long for the holiness of God less. It makes you long for God more.

So maybe we could put it like this: Human holiness during this pilgrim life = emptiness. The spiritual life involves emptying ourselves, as much as we can, of all the folderol that distracts us from the one, true thing—God. We strain throughout our lives to have the emptiness that our Lady had from Day One.

On the other hand, divine holiness is fullness. Divine holiness fulfills the fundamental emptiness of us lowly creatures made of dust and ashes.

Mary is a mother. Not just any mother–she was empty enough to conceive a son by believing in God’s love for His creation.

Jesus is a son.  Not just any son. The Creator.

Miraculous Childbearing

Museo Thyssen- Bornemisza
“Annunciation to Manoah’s Wife,” by Jacopo Tintoretto

Both readings at today’s Holy Mass involve the childbearing of women who had long desired to become mothers, but thought they could not.

Anyone catch Samson’s mother’s name? Trick question; the name of the wife of Manoah does not appear in Scripture. But we do know it. According to ancient Jewish tradition, she was called Zlelponi or Zlelponith, and she belonged to the royal tribe of Judah.

Now, speaking of these miraculous mothers and their husbands… Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah: he belonged to the priestly tribe of Aaron. King David had divided that tribe into sixteen divisions. Zechariah belonged to the division of… Abijah.

We need to keep all this in mind. To prepare for an elaborate quiz that I will give on Sunday.

In the meantime, like the holy women, let’s believe that the Lord can and does keep His promises.

The Unbearable Roman Malaise


Absent a comprehensive and communal response to the abuse crisis facing the Church, not only will we fail to bring healing to victim survivors, but the very credibility of the Church to carry out the mission of Christ will be in jeopardy throughout the world.

A committee of four is planning the Roman meeting of Bishops’ Conference presidents, scheduled for the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair, in February.

Three of the committee members gave interviews in English-language publications a few weeks ago…

Blaise Card. Cupich interview

Archbishop Charles Scicluna interview

Father Hans Zollner interview

…All three spoke only in vague platitudes. Archbishop Scicluna specifically ruled out the possibility of the February meeting addressing any canon-law matters, much less any specific cases.

Now, we know well that Vatican meetings have long produced mountains of glittering generalities, which have piled up now over the decades.

But the lack of concrete details in this case is especially disturbing, because the going-around-in-circles aspect glares out at us:

The Holy Father personally wrote to all the presidents of the bishops’ conferences almost four years ago. In his letter of February 2015, Pope Francis urged the presidents to implement a circular letter issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2011.

The CDF had written to assist the bishops’ conferences in formulating the guidelines necessary for synthesizing the demands of canon law and civil law, in cases of a priest accused of sexually abusing a minor, or using child pornography.

In the meantime, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors designed a template for bishops’ conference guidelines.

My point is: Anyone conscientiously following the “paper trail” knows that precise questions of canon law have remained on the table for years now. Also: Who will judge bishops accused of sexual abuse? That question likewise has sat on the table for years.

Vatican synod hall empty

And yet the organizers of the vaunted February meeting have ruled out the consideration of these concrete questions.

The organizing committee released a letter this morning, from which I have taken the ominous quote above.

My first question upon reading the organizers’ letter is: Has the Holy Father himself written to the bishops’ conference presidents, inviting them to Rome for the February meeting?

I ask this innocent question because: Can anyone reasonably assume that every bishops’ conference president reads the daily Vatican Press Office briefing? I don’t think they do. In fact, I would wager that if you or I called every bishops’ conference president on earth, tonight, and asked him (in his native tongue), “Are you going to Rome in February?” quite a few of them would respond (in their native tongues), “Huh?”

Be all that as it may. Today’s letter from the organizers goes on to ask the bishops’ conference presidents to make sure they “reach out and visit with victim survivors of clergy sex abuse in your respective countries” before February.

Now, at first blush this request seems unobjectionable. But if we put ourselves in the shoes of some imaginary bishops’ conference presidents, the request starts to rankle.

Every conference president has, after all, a prior, more fundamental duty. Namely shepherding and governing his own diocese.

Let’s assume one case: The dutiful bishop who has diligently followed the guidelines as they have come from the Holy See over the course of the past seventeen years. (The procedure for clerical sex-abuse cases was altogether revised in 2001).

If the bishop had diligently followed all the rules, then he would already have had interaction with abuse victims–if such cases had occurred in his diocese. He would have interacted with them as he did his duty to see justice done for them. So he could rightly ask, upon receiving today’s letter: ‘Which victims do you want me to reach out to again, o organizers?’

Now let’s assume a different case: The bishop who neither knows nor cares about the rules. Maybe the organizers are backhandedly trying to “guilt” such bishops into paying attention to sex-abuse victims? If so, is that the right way to do things?

Tornielli Giorno Giudizio

Next question: What lies behind all this spinning around in circles, to no purpose? There is an answer.

A lot of English-speaking Catholics still wonder why Pope Francis has never addressed the specific allegations made by Archbishop Viganò in his August testimony. Namely that Pope Francis knew about Theodore McCarrick abusing seminarians, but did nothing, The pope knowingly allowed a sexual predator to continue to represent the holy Catholic Church as a Roman cardinal.

The pope apparently gave some homilies at his daily Masses in early September, in which he seemed to equate Viganò with the “Great Accuser” intent on destroying Christ’s Church. But the pope never mentioned Viganò by name.

A fulsome exposition of the pope’s thinking–with names attached–can be found, however, in the last ten chapters of Andrea Tornielli and Gianni Valente’s book. (Click here to read about the first four chapters.) The whole answer to the great question, What is the Pope Thinking? is readily available to anyone who can read Italian.

I say this because: Vaticanisti know Tornielli as an inveterate ‘chameleon,’ perfectly willing to change his own ideas in order to maintain access to the reigning pope. Today Tornielli received a reward for this quality of his.

So we must presume that the apologia offered in Il Giorno del Guidizio is not Tornielli’s apologia for Pope Francis, but is the pope’s apologia for himself. The Holy Father’s thinking, as expressed in Tornielli/Valenti’s book, explains his otherwise inexplicable letter to Cardinal Wuerl. The pope accepted the resignation of, and simultaneously praised to the skies, a prelate he regards as an innocent scapegoat, done-in by a nefarious American internet campaign.

So, allow me to schematize the pope’s thinking about Viganò for you, dear reader:

Viganò’s memo belongs to a co-ordinated media attack, which emanates from wealthy American conservative Catholics. The attack comes at the pope for two reasons:

1. Conservative American Catholics misidentify Christian doctrine with Christianity itself.

2. The pope has criticized the international capitalist economy.

Now, we cannot dismiss these assertions out of hand. The pope rightly laments any tendency on the part of us American Catholics to deputize ourselves as Guardians of Purity and Orthodoxy. We have no right to use phrases such as “real Catholics” versus “fake Catholics.” The very Christian doctrine that we cherish teaches us: all baptized people belong to the Catholic Church. And every last one of us relies on God’s mercy for any hope of salvation.

I think we can all agree: Nine times out of ten, the most evangelical thing any zealous Christian can do at any given moment is: Be kind.

I gladly kiss the pope’s hand for reminding us all of this.

earthAlso: The global environmental crisis does threaten future generations. Pope Francis’ Laudato si’ resounds with wisdom. The Paris Agreement took a baby step in the right direction. The pope righly laments our apparent American indifference to the future fate of Mother Earth.

In other words, the pope has managed successfully to convince himself to blow off Viganò’s testimony precisely because: his rationale for blowing it off has some truth to it.

The pope thinks Viganò and the American right wing attacked him in the style of a hostile corporate takeover. Borrowing from the Wall Street playbook, you try to present an unflattering a picture of the CEO, in order to get the stockholders to demand his resignation.

Pope Francis regards this as a tragic, Judas-like betrayal. The pope insists that no true Catholic could ever suggest that the pope resign. The pope is not the CEO; the pope is The Holy Father.

Now, since this is the logic that I myself applied to justify my weeping and whining when Pope Benedict XVI abdicated, you might wonder how I could credibly take a different position now.

But, let’s remember:

Absent a comprehensive and communal response to the abuse crisis facing the Church, not only will we fail to bring healing to victim survivors, but the very credibility of the Church to carry out the mission of Christ will be in jeopardy throughout the world.

The pope has gotten the whole thing quite wrong. An “American corporate mentality” has not caused the current crisis of confidence in the Church’s hierarchy.

No. We observers–laymen, laywomen, parish priests in the trenches, all of us struggling to live honest Christian lives–we have seen with our own eyes the crushingly disillusioning fact. The current hierarchy of our Church is incompetent.

Neither divisiveness, nor political prejudice, nor fussiness about doctrine, nor malice of any kind leads us to such a conclusion. The conclusion arises from the facts disclosed to the public this year.

What has been revealed? The incumbents of practically all the episcopal thrones that we are familiar with–namely, the American bishops and the pope of Rome–all of them have managed to bring scandal upon our Church by failing to address sex-abuse cases that had languished for years in their own files.

How would an honest Christian react to this revelation, if he sat on one of these thrones? He would say to himself: I clearly do not have the personal intellectual and moral resources necessary to execute the duties of this office. Let me abandon it, so that someone more competent than myself can take over.

But the mafiosi running the Church do not think that way. They think only of protecting their own position, no matter what the cost. Yes, like a father–a father who should go away, for drug rehab or some such thing, but refuses to go.

Like Vincent Card. Nichols of London. Rather than accept the blame for bringing shame and scandal upon his people, he blamed his lawyers for not reminding him that he had a duty to communicate with sex-abuse victims. (Maybe that sounds to you like a Trump tweet about Michael Cohen. But I am not making this stuff up for giggles.)

Or like Pope Francis. Rather than acknowledge that he has failed his people, he blames conservative American priest bloggers.

Like me.