Centenary of JPII’s Birth

st john paul ii

On Monday, we marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Pope St. John Paul II. Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the late pope’s tomb. The Holy Father said:

John Paul went to find the people. Throughout the whole world, he went to visit his people, searching for his people, making himself close… A priest who is not close to his people is not a pastor. He’s a hierarch, an administrator, maybe even a good one, but he’s not a pastor.

Saint John Paul II gave us an example of this closeness, to the great and the small, to the close and the far away. He always drew them near.

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Yes, that’s me on the left, on my way down to kiss the fisherman’s ring, March 9, 2000.

Twenty years ago, meeting John Paul II gave this particular seminarian great hope. I had read every word he ever wrote. I regarded him as the wisest man on earth. I wanted to become a priest like him.

But some other people could not see him this way. And for good reason.

On the occasion of the beatification of Pope John Paul II, Mr. Peter Isely wrote an essay. He got to the heart of a problem that has since come to preoccupy me a great deal.

We victims of priest abuse didn’t need a papal saint. We needed a Citizen-Saint, who embodied catholic citizenship as much as catholic sanctity, and who was as adept and insistent at forming such citizens among his seminarians, priests, and especially his bishops.

It is as a fellow citizen, humbly assuming this most ordinary role, where John Paul’s sanctity really fails. This failure is all the more dramatic with the late pope because he advocated so passionately as a “citizen of the world” for human rights around the world.

That advocacy clearly and decisively ended at the front door of the church.

Fellow citizens report child molesting clerics to the police. Fellow citizens eject sex offenders from professional employment with children and families.

The pope, who had the power to do both of these urgent citizen acts, never did the first, and made the second virtually impossible.

Citizenship, like holiness, requires sacrifice, defending if necessary, and dismantling if required, practices and traditions that attack the equality of rights regardless of one’s status (such as the basic human rights, say, of children inside the church). Concerning criminal priests, John Paul was never prepared, or saw no need for, the kind of sacrifice citizenship requires.

jp ii habemus papamIsely did not muse idly here. He wrote from personal experience:

In 1991, a group of some 30 survivors of childhood sexual molestation by priests and I wrote to Pope John Paul II in painstaking and excruciating detail of our harrowing experiences of being raped and sexually assaulted as youngsters while attending a boarding school for boys operated by the Capuchin Franciscan religious order in rural Wisconsin.

We delivered our letter, along with newspaper clippings, supporting legal documents, and videotaped depositions to the papal nuncio in Washington.

What we were hoping for from Pope John Paul II was justice.

What we received instead was a certified letter from the nuncio curtly informing us that our letters and documents had been acknowledged. We never heard anything more.

Hans Hermann Card. Groer
Hans Cardinal Groër

You may remember, dear reader, how we considered the Hans Card. Groër case. Between 1995 and 1998, evidence piled up against the Cardinal Archbishop.

The Vatican at first refused to act, then tried to lower Groër’s profile. Pope John Paul II visited Austria, apparently intending to smooth everything over by ignoring the problem. The visit just made the problem worse. The results of a Vatican “investigation” never saw the light of day.

Finally, the bishops of the country–over Vatican objections–publicly declared themselves “morally certain” that Groër had, in fact, sexually abused minors. Which was the closest to a guilty verdict that Groër ever came.

You also may remember, dear reader, how we considered Jason Berry and Gerald Renner’s book Vows of Silence, when we reviewed James’ Grein’s accusation against the late Joseph Card. Bernardin.

maciel

In the 1990’s, nine victims of the founder of the Legion of Christ found the clarity and courage to speak about the crimes they had suffered at the hands of the man they had trusted with their young lives.

On multiple occasions, different Church authorities in Mexico and the U.S. reviewed and endorsed the testimony, and sent it to the Vatican. Nothing happened.

Berry and Renner wrote, in 2004:

The Vatican is under no obligation to assist investigative journalists. In the seven years since we first contacted the office of the papal spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, for comment on accusations by nine ex-Legion members that Maciel had abused them, the Vatican refused comment.

No Vatican official ever told us Maciel was innocent. There was simply no answer to the accusations in media reports.

The charges that Vaca and others filed against Maciel in a Vatican court of canon law in 1998 were shelved: no decision. Instead, Pope John Paul in 2001 praised Maciel at a sixtieth anniversary celebration of the Legion’s founding.

That symbolic acquittal from a pope who championed human rights under dictatorships is a numbing message on the state of justice in the church.

Pope John Paul II died on April 2, 2005. I remember it like yesterday. I felt I had lost a father.

Maciel died in 2008, never having faced a trial. In 2010, the Vatican finally acknowledged:

The very grave and objectively immoral actions of Father Maciel, confirmed by incontrovertible testimonies, in some cases constitute real crimes and manifest a life devoid of scruples and authentic religious meaning.

This life was unknown to the great majority of the Legionaries, above all because of the system of relationships constructed by Father Maciel, who was able skillfully to create alibis for himself, to obtain trust, confidence and silence from those around him, and to reinforce his personal role as a charismatic founder.

Not infrequently a deplorable discrediting and distancing of those who entertained doubts as to the probity of his conduct, as well as a misguided concern to avoid damaging the good that the Legion was accomplishing, created around him a defense mechanism that for a long time rendered him unassailable, making it very difficult, as a result, to know the truth about his life.

The sincere zeal of the majority of Legionaries led many people to believe that the increasingly insistent and widespread accusations could not be other than calumnies.

Therefore the discovery and the knowledge of the truth concerning the founder gave rise among the members of the Legion to surprise, dismay, and profound grief.

Do those of us who loved and admired Pope St. John Paul II have to undergo some form of the same grief?

Not that JPII himself abused anyone. But that, as a pastor, he had a willful blind spot? A blind spot the size of Texas, when it came to sexual abuse by the clergy?

Peter Isely put it like this:

It is likely John Paul, during his long tenure as pope, received hundreds, if not thousands of letters denouncing abusers in the clergy. Not one survivor, in writing or in person, was ever known to have received a direct reply from him.

The legacy of John Paul II has been, literally, sanctified by Popes Benedict and Francis as official church history. Part of that legacy, whose vast dimensions are still being uncovered, includes thousands of unprosecuted child molesting clerics.

Forty Years Ago Today

Pope John Paul II: His Remarkable Journey

Pope St. John Paul II began his ministry as the pope. Over the course of the ensuing quarter century, many of us came to revere John Paul II as a hero and a spiritual father.

During the 1980’s, when I was in high-school, some of us held on to the pope for dear life. It seemed like he alone, on the whole face of the earth, offered a brave witness to sexual sanity, to chastity–while everyone else was awash in condoms and broken marriages.

Many of us spent the 90’s reading John Paul II’s writings. He consumed himself with teaching the faith inherited from the Apostles. He traveled the world and used the power of his reverberating voice and magnetic charm to evangelize.

Technocrats and feminists hated his intransigence on artificial contraception, abortion, divorce, and the men-only ministerial priesthood. Political and aesthetic conservatives hated his rejection of the capitalist profit motive and his embrace of Vatican II.

But in the middle, we vast multitudes of spiritual children listened eagerly to the man we loved as a trustworthy father. A lot of us wept more bitterly on the day that he died than we had since we were babies. Mainly because we knew we wouldn’t hear the sound of his voice on earth again.

Looking back now with 20/20 hindsight, we can wish that JP II had applied himself more to the reform of the Roman Curia. We can wish that he had understood the sex-abuse crisis better–understood it more as a practical matter, rather than as a purely spiritual one.

st john paul ii

And we can recognize: The way Popes Paul VI and John Paul II defined the Roman papacy after Vatican II left a huge gap in authority. That gap has now brought the Church to the point of paralysis.

Bishops need a disciplinarian, too—just like priests, seminarians, doctors, nurses, accountants, lawyers, bricklayers, school children–everybody needs a disciplinarian. But the world’s Catholic bishops don’t have one. The whole post-Vatican II system of Church governance assumes that bishops will do right. But, as we now know all too well, often they do not.

So St. John Paul II had human faults, blind spots—which we did not want to see, as we listened to him heroically urge us on to holiness.

But let’s go back to October 22, 1978, to what he said in his homily that day. His words resonate today with even more force than they had then.

Our time calls us, urges us, obliges us, to gaze on the Lord and to immerse ourselves in humble and devout meditation on the mystery of the supreme power of Christ himself…

The absolute, and yet sweet and gentle, power of the Lord responds to the whole depths of the human person, to his loftiest aspirations of intellect, will and heart. It does not speak the language of force, but expresses itself in charity and truth.

The new Successor of Peter in the See of Rome today makes a fervent, humble and trusting prayer: Christ, make me become and remain the servant of your unique power, the servant of your sweet power, the servant of your power that knows no dusk….

Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide the doors for Christ… Christ knows ‘that which is in man.’ He alone knows it.

…Man does not know that which is in him, in the depths of his mind and heart… He is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you, therefore, we beg you with humility and with trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of life eternal.

937,603 + Kolbe, JPII, and Our Lady

937,603 visits here so far. Ten years. Happy anniversary, dear Reader!


El Greco Virgin Mary

The Christ came to us, God made man. He was conceived and grew in the womb of His immaculate mother. He spent most His life on earth in her household. When He went to the cross for us, she accompanied Him. Then she saw Him again on Easter Sunday morning. After He ascended into heaven, He poured out His Holy Spirit upon His Apostles–when they gathered to pray with His Mother.

The flesh-and-blood intimacy between the Christ and His mother–we cannot even begin to fathom its depths. When she came to the end of her earthly life, the intimacy between them reached its fulfillment: Our Lady entered heaven, body and soul, flesh and blood.

Seventy-seven years ago, a Polish priest came to the end of his life on the Vigil of Assumption Day. He offered himself for execution in a Nazi concentration camp, to take the place of another prisoner who had a wife and family.

Father Maximilian Kolbe had dedicated his life to spreading devotion to the Blessed Mother. He built a small publishing empire to combat the forces of atheism and irreligion.

Father Kolbe had a German father. When the Nazis took over Poland, the priest had an opportunity to sign up for the “German-blood” list. It would have protected him from arrest. But, like many other half-German Poles, Father Kolbe would not do anything to co-operate with the Nazis.

He loved our Lady. He knew that our Lady’s heart beats in heaven. With love for the whole human race. And he knew that the blood flowing through her heart, and though our Lady’s entire glorified body…not German, not Polish. Not English, French, Italian, or Scandinavian, either.

holocaust-nazi--badge-star-of-davidJewish.

The Nazis killed flesh-and-blood human beings on a massive scale. Because they had fallen in love with the pagan dream of racial purity. But God has no interest in such a fantasy. He’s interested in particular individual human beings. Each of which He makes utterly and unrepeatably unique.

On the day when the Nazis killed Father Kolbe in a concentration camp, Pope St. John Paul II was also in Poland. He was working at hard labor, because the Nazis had closed the university. He was 21 years old.

Anyway, as we know, the 21-year-old fellow Pole grew up to be the pope. The pope who would canonize Father Kolbe and declare him a martyr for the faith. John Paul II understood from the inside that Nazism counted as a persecution of the Christian religion. Father Kolbe had said what the Church believes–when his brother Franciscans asked him about helping to save Jews: “We are all brothers!”

During the 1930’s and World War II, the Church had a kind of meltdown. The rise of Nazism posed a huge challenge, and not every Catholic met that challenge. Many bishops, even whole national conferences of bishops, lost sight of this crucial aspect of the Christian mystery: God loves every individual human being enough to die on the cross for him or her. Plenty of Catholics, including plenty of bishops, forgot that God loves the Jews as much as He loves anybody. And they forgot that the Son of God, and the Mother of God, are both…Jewish.

Christ would have died just so His mother could go to heaven. Even if she were the only one, He would gladly have done it. We think: well, of course, He would have died to save His mother. But the same goes for everyone else. Christ would have died for any single individual human being–any single one–to go to heaven.

The many Christian martyrs during the time of Nazism kept that fact in perfect focus in their minds. Their witness inspired Pope St. John Paul II to formulate his doctrine about the Gospel of Life. We, the Church, stand for the dignity of every human being. Or rather, we stand with every human being–especially the weak, the victims of injustice, the suffering.

From heaven our Lady sees everything and identifies with those who need love. May she help us always do the same.

Back to the Future, Cluster Edition

DeLorean

Anyone ever see “Back to the Future?” Seems to me like I have presided at Sunday Mass as the brand-new pastor of the Rocky Mount-Martinsville cluster before. I guess I must have gotten into a DeLorean… [click HERE por espanish.]

But let’s listen to our Lord. Whoever loves his life will lose it. Whoever loves his life in Roanoke will lose it. Or his life in Beverly Hills, or gay Paris, or anywhere else on earth, for that matter; whoever loves a settled, complacent existence–he will lose it.

How about “Groundhog Day?” That movie resonated pretty deeply with real life, because things can get rather repetitive. Bill Murray got stuck on February 2. Seems like I have gotten stuck on July first: July 1, 2017, seems disturbingly like July 1, 2011.

But didn’t Jesus demand precisely this? As we know from St. Luke’s gospel, the Lord didn’t just say: “take up your cross.” He said: “Take up your cross daily.” Today, take it up. Tomorrow: repeat. Our day-to-day life, repetitive as it may appear, is exactly where we meet our opportunities to follow Christ.

john paul ii loggia be not afraidAt first Bill Murray found it cruelly, intolerably boring to be stuck on the same day. But, after a while, he learned how to live that one day well, He saw the same people, in the exact same situation as he had seen them before, over and over again. By repeating the process, he eventually learned that each encounter with another human being presented him an opportunity–an opportunity to be kind.

His character had lived a selfish, arrogant life. But, by virtue of repeating the same day over and over again, he grew into a soft-hearted, generous gentleman. So maybe there’s hope for me yet.

Have things changed since I last saw you, dear Rocky Mounters and Martinsvillians? This isn’t a movie after all; two years of real history have elapsed. Some of our parish family members have died. And we have new members, too: new arrivals from other places, and new babies sent by God.

God gives growth. When I left, the bushes around St. Francis, outside the front door of the church in Rocky Mount, did not rise so close to his head as they do now. And the pine saplings they planted along the Dick and Willie bike trail in Martinsville, while I was stationed here before: those trees now stand almost twenty feet tall. God gives growth.

Bill Murray caddyBut, for us, spiritual growth requires taking up a cross. Over these past two years, I don’t think it has gotten any easier to follow the Lord faithfully in this world. The world has not grown more hospitable for the Christian life. I don’t think any of us have turned on the tv, or checked our facebook, over the past two years and thought: Oh look! There’s less temptation to pride–and self-indulgence, and despair–there’s less evil in this world than there was before!

Don’t think so. So we need to stick together, now more than ever. We need each other. We, the mystical Body, who have been baptized into Christ’s death, so that we might live His newness of life. And, as St. Paul put it: Christ’s life is “for God.” “He lives for God.”

To live for God is our duty, our business, our common undertaking together. Bishop DiLorenzo has given me the honor of serving as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Joseph. When he first gave me that honor, six years ago, I wrote a little sonnet about it. I managed to dig the poem up.

How do I love the cluster?  Let me count
the ways, like Will Shakespeare of old would do.
The first:  a five-speed, four-wheel steed to mount
and burn the road between the parishes two.

The second?  These two fine towns to explore:
Both Piedmont villes, of character diverse.
In one, lake and farm folk both shop the stores.
The other is the NASCAR hero’s nurse.

Throughout the rolling counties, I descry
fertile fields for the sewing of the seed,
and a band of eager discipulae,
attentive to our Church’s every need.

O Lord, how great You are in every act!
May we, like You, great many souls attract.

…I am honored and humbled to serve. Thank you, dear old friends, for welcoming me back so kindly. As you may remember, we had the privilege of celebrating together both the beatification and the canonization of Pope St. John Paul II–in 2011 and 2014, respectively. I think everyone knows that he is my hero. He was born exactly fifty years and six weeks before me. And he was created a cardinal exactly fifty years ago this week.

In other words, at the same age: he became a cardinal, and I become pastor of Rocky Mount and Martinsville again. I don’t envy him; I think I have the better place.

Ask and You Shall Receive the good Holy Spirit

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on my way down to kiss the ring of the fisherman, 3/9/00

Seventeen years ago today, I assisted at Mass with Pope St. John Paul II. He welcomed seminarians into his little chapel in the papal apartment every morning. Room enough for about 30 people, with half of them standing along the back wall. I’ll never forget how we got ushered in there at 7am, hushed, after passing through a chintzy metal detector and going up an old elevator—and there he was, kneeling in front of the altar, preparing to vest for Mass. Afterwards, we got to meet him in the library outside the chapel, and he encouraged us in our service to Christ.

On that day–March 9, 2000–the sun shone through the crisp Roman air. Spring was springing–just like it is here, in what I like to think of as the second-most-beautiful city in the world, Roanoke, Va.

This weather reminds us of the ancient origins of our English word for the 40 days before Easter. The word comes from “lengthen,” because the days get longer. “Lent” literally means “springtime.”

Which is why, when the Lord tells us, “Ask, and you shall receive,” we immediately blurt out: “Please! No snow this weekend!” He promised that He would lavish “good things” on those who pray. Snow ain’t no good thing.

st john paul iiBut, speaking of those “good things:” again we must briefly contend with a slight discrepancy in what our Lord said on two different occasions.

As we read at today’s Holy Mass, St. Matthew recorded the Lord, during the Sermon on the Mount, promising “good things” to those who pray. But when St. Luke recorded Christ’s teachings on prayer, He quoted Him as promising the Holy Spirit to those who ask.

So is it “good things” or “the Holy Spirit?”

Come on, people. This apparent discrepancy hardly poses the kind of tricky challenge we faced yesterday, when we had to clear up what the “sign of Jonah” was. This one is easy by comparison. After all, what thing could be as good as the Holy Spirit? The original Goodness from which all things flow?

So, if it be His will that snow fall this weekend, on the very night when we lose an hour’s sleep, then so be it. We can take it. God’s will be done.

By the day seventeen years ago when I had the privilege of kissing the fisherman’s ring on his finger, St. John Paul II had grown old and thoroughly enfeebled. His vigorous youth–when he hiked, and camped out, and said Mass on the back of a kayak for his college students–had vanished.

But he rejoiced in the Lord nonetheless. He rejoiced in the divine will. He rejoiced in the great mystery of Christ crucified, in the springtime–the mystery by which a spring will come that will never fade.

 

True Health

Naaman the leper washed in the Jordan, and his flesh became like the flesh of a little child. Lord Jesus told the ten lepers who begged for His pity to “go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going, they were healed.

Rod of AsclepiusChrist came to heal. He wills our health. He wills our true health, the health that consists in soundness of soul, as well as soundness of body.

I think we need to seek a solid foundation for our idea of “health.” Our technocratic culture, which ostensibly offers so many helps to good health, does not really have a clear idea of what health is. Pope St. John Paul II put it like this: “If we consider life as a mere consumer good, we reach a sort of cult of the body and a hedonistic quest for physical fitness.” (World Day of the Sick, 2/11/2000)

We human beings strive, with all our intelligence and scientific skill, to combat sickness and the suffering that goes with it. Many people dedicate their lives to healthcare. I daresay quite a few of you, dear readers, have given your lives to the work of healthcare. The Church’s mission to the world includes caring for the sick. And you don’t have to be a Christian to perceive that sickness is bad and healing is good.

But Jesus Christ offers the human race the true and deep vision of what health really is. He Himself is the source of life. His Body and Blood are the greatest and most important of all medicines; the Blessed Sacrament of the altar is the medicine of immortality.

jp_iiLet’s study Christ’s health. It begins with His interior communion with the will of the Father. Jesus is the source of all life, yes. But He said that His life comes from the Father. So our health begins with this fundamental fact of our existence: We receive ourselves as a gift from God. Almighty God gives us our life. If we imagine that health = total control of myself, my body, my powers, according to my will, then we have actually begun to understand health in a very unhealthy way.

Now, Lord Jesus lived a wholesome life, exercised temperance and self-control, worked steadily, kept His mind elevated, cultivated good friendships, knew how to relax. He never “went to the gym.” The ancient Greeks invented gyms, so the ancient Jews hated them. But our Lord did the strenuous exercise we associate with a ‘fitness regimen.’ We can reasonably estimate that He walked an average of 20-25 miles per week through the course of His pilgrim life.

So: Jesus ‘stayed fit’—He ate right and had a ‘healthy lifestyle’ for most of His time on earth. But the crucial thing we have to keep in mind is this: the God and source of all life also freely embraced human pain, suffering, and death. In fact, He became man to suffer and die.

When we base our concept of health on Christ, a new horizon opens up for us. We perceive that bodily suffering is not the absolute evil. And bodily suffering is not meaningless, a waste of life. Again, Pope St. John Paul II:

In celebrating the Eucharist, Christians proclaim and share in the sacrifice of Christ, for ‘by His wounds, we have been healed.’ Christians, uniting themselves with Christ, preserve in their own sufferings a very special particle of the infinite treasure of the world’s redemption, and can share that treasure with others. Imitating Jesus has led saints and simple believers to turn their illnesses and pain into a source of purification and salvation.

Modern medical science has benefited the human race enormously. But science cannot by itself give us a true concept of health, because science cannot explain the fundamental reason why sickness exists. Yes, science succeeds in curing illnesses by accurately diagnosing them. But if the question is: Why do we human beings get sick? “Germs” is not the whole answer.

adam eve expelledWe get sick, and we die, because, in the beginning, we fell away from God. That doesn’t mean that any particular illness of any particular person comes as a punishment for particular sins. What it means is: In the beginning, God offered us, the human race, paradise and immortality. But we disobeyed His simple law.

We disobeyed because Satan tempted us to pride, and we gave in. But God knows better than Satan. The sickness and suffering that we experience because of Original Sin can involve agonizing deprivations. But, on the cross, the Lord turned agonizing deprivation into the doorway back to paradise.

“Amen, amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Lord Jesus said those words to the sinner who acknowledged the justice of his punishment, but who begged for Christ’s mercy anyway–even as they both suffered together on their crosses. “You will be with me in paradise.” These are the words the suffering Christ speaks to the suffering sinner.

We cannot base our idea of health on anything other than our hope for that paradise that Jesus promised us at that moment. The paradise of true and complete communion with our Creator, the Lord and Giver of Life. The paradise of an everlasting Eden. Our idea of health must be wide and deep enough to embrace the cross of the Christ Who suffered. Because His Cross is the only way that leads to paradise.

Morality How To’s

I prayed and pleaded, and wisdom came to me. (Wisdom 7:7)

Pope St. John Paul II wrote that Christ invites all of us to follow Him, just as He invited the Rich Young Man: Keep the Commandments. Give what you have to the poor, so that you will have treasure in heaven. And follow me.

Christ invites all of us to follow Him in this way. And by accepting this invitation, we can find what we call morality. We can live moral lives, upright lives.

john_paul_ii_pencil_drawingLet’s focus on this crucial point. We cannot imagine that we are morally good first–and because we are so good, we get to be Jesus’ friends. No.

The Son of God—the Way, the Truth, and the Life—invites us to follow Him, and by following Him, we find out what “being good” actually means. By following Him, by making a purifying pilgrimage in His footsteps, by spending a lifetime studying Christ, so as to know Him, love Him, and imitate Him—in other words, by co-operating with Him, we can find the peace of a clear conscience.

Who doesn’t want to have a peaceful conscience? The kind of conscience that rests, and allows you to delight in simple pleasures, to listen to other people when they talk to you, to sleep well, to enjoy a baseball playoff game. If we really want to come to full-flower as people, we need untroubled consciences.

More than a hamburger, or a Ferrari, or a good-looking boyfriend or girlfriend–what we really want, above all, is the inner peace that comes from honesty and harmony with what is right. The Holy Catholic Church says: We can have this, provided we start by focusing our eyes on Jesus Christ Himself.

Not focusing on the Bible, per se—though of course we can’t focus our eyes on Christ without reading the Scriptures.

Not focusing on ‘moral positions’ in themselves. Though of course the Church takes moral positions, based on the life and teachings of Christ our Lord.

Not even focusing on the Pope or the Church Herself as an institution. After all, what is the first sentence of Pope Francis’ letter about the Joy of the Gospel? It is not, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter me.” No: Pope Francis’ fundamental idea is: The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter…

Pope Francis hears confession during penitential liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica at VaticanJesus.

So, three steps to morality:

1. Faith and prayer. We encounter Christ by faith, since He no longer dwells visibly on earth. We want peaceful consciences? Then let’s regularly do calisthenics of faith.

–Prayer to Christ first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.

–“Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner,” all day long. Let’s make a resolution to say, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner,” more often than we look at our phones.

2. Receiving the sacraments as acts of Divine Mercy. Don’t get me wrong: A lot goes into having a beautiful, prayerful Mass. I certainly appreciate all the hard work that goes into it. I try myself to work hard to prepare. The Lord smiles on selfless Christians who volunteer to help at church.

But we have to remember always: Fundamentally, the Holy Mass is not us. If the Mass were just us, as Flannery O’Connor put it, “then to hell with it.” The Mass is: Jesus giving us Himself.
Which brings me to: Truly to experience the Holy Mass as an act of Divine Mercy means regularly experiencing the sacrament of Confession as an act of Divine Mercy.

“But, Father. I’m a good person. I don’t need to go to Confession!”

Really?
Really?

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been too long since my last Confession. I am one stubborn, proud, ungrateful wretch—who tends to forget how Jesus shed a lot of blood, and endured excruciating agony, and it wasn’t just for all the other people.

3. Which brings us to the final point I would like to try to make. Love. Morality really does fundamentally mean loving—loving God and loving other people. Love really is the law. That particular liberal shibboleth is actually true.

But the love in question, of course, is the love that proceeds from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the love that sees with Christ’s eyes. And we know that Christ hardly looks at sins being committed and says, “That’s fine.”

No. The Lord Jesus knew that the Rich Young Man in the gospel needed to change his life.

Christ saw the sinner, and loved him, and invited him: Come, sinner, follow me. I will teach you how to do good.

40 Days for Life Rally

Pope John Paul II and Cardinals Ratzinger and Bergoglio
Pope John Paul II and Cardinals Ratzinger and Bergoglio

Your unworthy servant had the privilege of speaking at the beginning of a forty-day vigil outside Roanoke Planned Parenthood yesterday evening… [The beginning of the talk will sound familiar to faithful weblog readers.]

Maybe we can begin with a few words, spoken in Washington by the pope, during his early-autumn visit?

I do not hesitate to proclaim before you and before the world that all human life—from the moment of conception and through all subsequent stages—is sacred, because human life is created in the image and likeness of God. Nothing surpasses the greatness or dignity of a human person. Human life is not just an idea or an abstraction; human life is the concrete reality of a being that lives, that acts, that grows and develops.

Let me repeat what I told the people during my recent pilgrimage to my homeland: If a person’s right to life is violated at the moment in which he is first conceived in his mother’s womb, an indirect blow is struck also at the whole of the moral order, which serves to ensure the inviolable goods of man. Among those goods, life occupies the first place… Human life is precious because it is the gift of a God whose love is infinite; and when God gives life, it is forever…

All human beings ought to value every person for his or her uniqueness as a creature of God, called to be a brother or sister of Christ…

For us, the sacredness of human life is based on these premises. And it is on these same premises that there is based our celebration of life—all human life. This explains our efforts to defend human life against every influence or action that threatens or weakens it…

And so, we will stand up every time that human life is threatened. When the sacredness of life before birth is attacked, we will stand up and proclaim that no one ever has the authority to destroy unborn life. When a child is described as a burden or is looked upon only as a means to satisfy an emotional need, we will stand up and insist that every child is a unique and unrepeatable gift of God.

…Okay, that was Pope John Paul II, back on October 7, 1979.

Let’s talk a little more about Pope Francis in a moment. But first, let’s ask ourselves, in light of St. John Paul II’s words, what does it mean for us to keep a vigil at a Planned Parenthood? Two thoughts by way of an answer…

1. Certainly we do it in order to pray. We believe in God, we believe in His Providence, we believe in His plan. We believe that He can work miracles, give hope, save lives. Our religion impels us to care for others and do what we can to help.

It-Takes-a-Village-book-cover-by-Hillary-ClintonAll that said, our pro-life convictions are not, in themselves, purely religious. In fact, our conviction that the innocent unborn child has a right to life actually proceeds directly from science.

During the dark days of scientific ignorance about pregnancy, people who meant well might have had a leg to stand on, if they tried to make a case for abortion as a real alternative. But now that medical advances and scientific study have revealed so much about the living being in the womb, there’s no room left in which to try to justify abortion.

Does an abortion involve the killing of an innocent human being? 100 years ago, someone might have said, “Well…we don’t really know…” But in 2015, a reasonable person can only answer, “Yes. Abortion involves the killing of an innocent human being.”

The next question automatically follows: Can anyone justify morally the deliberate killing of an innocent human being? 1000 years ago, 100 years ago, today, and 100 or 1,000 years from now, we can have only one answer to that question. No. The conscience of man always prohibits the killing of an innocent human being, no matter who the human being’s mother or father may be.

2. Which brings us to the second reason why we keep a vigil at a Planned Parenthood for forty days: because we love the mothers.

We love the mothers enough to believe that they can make the humane choice. We have enough love and enough guts to recognize that the greatest favor anyone could ever do for a woman getting ready to walk into an abortuary is to talk her out of it, to show her another path to take.

What kind of love would say to a mother on her way to have an abortion, “Go ahead. You know it isn’t right. Every calm and reasonable person around here knows it isn’t right. Your future will forever bear the weight of grief and regret. But go ahead. Walk on, to your baby’s death.”

If that’s love, I would prefer a punch to the kidney.

No. Love means wanting our neighbors to live with a peaceful conscience. We keep vigil because we know this moment need not mark an end; we know that it actually marks a beginning. A beginning of struggle and hard work, to be sure—but also a beginning of love and beauty and wonderful surprises.

If we weren’t committed to helping any mother raise her child, then we shouldn’t keep this vigil. But of course we are ready to help. We do not necessarily count ourselves among Hillary Clinton’s biggest fans. But when it comes to it taking a village to raise a child, we have no problem agreeing with her there.

love-is-our-mission-pope-francis-us-visit-logoIn fact, our vigil declares: we villagers here care. We care, and we will help. We love you enough, fearful mothers, to believe you can do the right thing. We will stand by you as you do it.

Hopefully everyone can see that these are the values which Pope Francis wants to teach us. He has insisted on them over and over again during his visit this week.

I know I was disappointed on Thursday morning when the Holy Father did not specifically mention the innocent and defenseless unborn children during his address to the US Congress. But he did insist on their right to life when he spoke at the UN yesterday. And, listen, we have to accept and celebrate the fact that his message to us about immigrants is a pro-life message that we are bound to lay hold of, with all our zeal.

A certain presidential candidate who I will not name right now can talk all he wants about denying US citizenship to babies born here, based on whether their parents possess certain documents that can be all-but-impossible to obtain.

But if we really are pro-life, we will reply, “Sir, this baby is a child of my village, a brother or sister of mine, and if you try to force this child and his or her family to march south through the desert, you will have to get through me first. Yes, this baby is an ‘anchor’ baby. An anchor of our community. An anchor of our common future. An anchor of our American hopes and dreams. Just like the abortionist is going to have to get through me to get to this baby, so is the immigration enforcement officer.”

That must be our consistent pro-life witness. I would humbly submit to you, therefore, that when we listen carefully to our beloved Pope St. John Paul II, and to our beloved Pope Francis, then we know exactly what we are all about here. We are here to stand up for the rights of every child and mother—white, pink, tan, brown, or butternut.

May the good Lord bless you for your loving sacrifices, and may He prosper this effort. Let’s not leave it to Congress to shut down Planned Parenthood. Let’s shut the joint down ourselves by the pure, spiritual power of our loving witness to the truth.

Redskins (and Pope) to NY

Pope Francis pauses in front of a sculpture of Spanish-born Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC

Holy Mass outside the Shrine in Washington yesterday brought me (and the world, I think) many graces.

Papa Francesco declared that Father Junipero deserves veneration at the Church’s altars, all over the world. A mild, peaceful sun shone on an earnest gathering of 25,000-or-so people–an assembly of humanity with pretty much one common bond: faces turned towards Christ.

The intersection of 4th and Michigan, N.E., has never known silence like the moments of recollection during this Mass. Former Abp. of Washington, the late James Cardinal Hickey, loved to talk about how loudly the streetcars squealed at this intersection in 1940. But yesterday, with all the streets closed, and everyone praying in silence, you could hear the breeze rustle a bush 100 yards away.

We priests sang Pescador de Hombres together during the communion meditation, and I prayed for another twenty-two years just like the last twenty-two (which I have spent in the Church ruled by the Pope).

I love our Holy Father very much. He gave a speech inside the Capitol this morning. Some lovely lines, but I cannot defend it as an oratorical work of art.

Pope kisses the crucifix upon entering St. Patrick's Cathedral
Pope kisses the crucifix upon entering St. Patrick’s Cathedral

I heard the speech in the car, driving back to my beloved parish(es). It ended, and I sat in a stunned daze. The sentence that I had awaited never got said.

So I turned off the radio. I do not hesitate, as a two-decade veteran of the Pro-Life Movement, to say that I felt punched in the face. Holy Father had never said the word abortion. Had never referred to the innocent and defenseless unborn child.

So I meditated instead on another papal speech given during an early-autumn visit to Washington…

I do not hesitate to proclaim before you and before the world that all human life—from the moment of conception and through all subsequent stages—is sacred, because human life is created in the image and likeness of God. Nothing surpasses the greatness or dignity of a human person. Human life is not just an idea or an abstraction; human life is the concrete reality of a being that lives, that acts, that grows and develops.

Let me repeat what I told the people during my recent pilgrimage to my homeland: If a person’s right to life is violated at the moment in which he is first conceived in his mother’s womb, an indirect blow is struck also at the whole of the moral order, which serves to ensure the inviolable goods of man. Among those goods, life occupies the first place… Human life is precious because it is the gift of a God whose love is infinite; and when God gives life, it is for ever…

All human beings ought to value every person for his or her uniqueness as a creature of God, called to be a brother or sister of Christ…

For us, the sacredness of human life is based on these premises. And it is on these same premises that there is based our celebration of life—all human life. This explains our efforts to defend human life against every influence or action that threatens or weakens it…

And so, we will stand up every time that human life is threatened. When the sacredness of life before birth is attacked, we will stand up and proclaim that no one ever has the authority to destroy unborn life. When a child is described as a burden or is looked upon only as a means to satisfy an emotional need, we will stand up and insist that every child is a unique and unrepeatable gift of God.

[October 7, 1979, Mass on the Mall, John Paul II]

Torna presto. (Card. Dolan to His Holiness, when the pope was getting ready to leave St. Patrick’s after Vespers this evening.) Most charming line of the papal visit so far. Torna presto, dear reader, for more reflections on Holy Father’s visit.

Somebody Loves Me

st john paul ii

Alas, poor Kirkbecause our Holy Father Francis canonized my beloved spiritual father, Pope John Paul II, on the eighth anniversary of my own dear father’s death. (Which is also my nephew’s birthday!)

RIP, dad.

Ora pro nobis, Holy Father.

April can be the cruelest and the kindest month, all at once. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. Therefore we keep the feast.

Someday, may it please the Lord, I will kiss both of your hands again, fathers of my body and soul. And death will be swallowed up in victory.