15 February 2017

Back to school

After navigating a Roman bureaucratic paper trail with the good assistance of a friend still studying in Rome, my diploma from the Pontifical Gregorian University finally arrived on Monday, proving that I have, in fact, completed my studies for the License in Canon Law:

It is a curiosity of the Roman system that, in addition to not giving you a diploma at the completion of your studies, no one mentions how you can obtain your diploma. As with many things in Rome, you have to ask just the right question of the right person (and sometimes at the right time of day), or happen to notice just the right form in a subsection of the web site. Since I leave for vacation later this morning, I will have it framed when I return.

Many thought this degree would be the completion of my academic studies, but I have known for some time now this would not likely be the case, something His Excellency the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield in Illinois, unexpectedly -at least to me (I knew it would be announced sometime soon, but not when) - confirmed yesterday afternoon during a regular video conference with the priests of the Diocese. I am to return to the Liturgical Institute this summer to begin studies for a Master of Arts in Liturgy (M.A.L.).

If you are unfamiliar with the work of the Liturgical Institute, here is a great little video describing its purpose:

This will be the first of five six-week summer sessions towards this degree and it will be good to return to the beautiful campus of Mundelein Seminary. I will continue in my present assignments while undertaking these studies and humbly ask for your prayers again.

13 February 2017

Bringing the Holy Face to Honolulu

During my last pilgrimage to Manoppello after concluding my studies in Rome and before returning to the United States of America, Paul Badde and Father Carmine Cucinelli,  O.F.M. Cap, rector of the Shrine of the Holy Face, both referred to me as "an apostle of the Holy Face" because of my collaboration with them in researching the history of the Volto Santo and my desire to make the Face of Jesus more well known. I do not think I am worthy of such a title, but I am happy to do my part in spreading this beautiful devotion.

With Ellen and Paul Badde and Antonio Bini

With Father Carmine
Since my return to Illinois, I have had the opportunity to talk about the Holy Face with the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George and soon I will have the pleasure of talking about the Volto Santo with the Fisher's of Men in Honolulu at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, February 25 at the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace.

If you are on one of the Hawaiian islands, I hope you'll be able to join us for the breakfast and talk and humbly ask that you help spread the word. Mahalo e aloha!

12 February 2017

Life in Illinois: Where the Election Code apparently also concerns the funding of abortion

His Excellency the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield in Illinois, has written a letter to the faithful of his diocese to alert them a particularly troubling piece of legislation soon to come before the Illinois General Assembly, HB 40, which is supposed to amend the Election Code.

The text of Bishop Paprocki's letter follows, with my emphases:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, 
I am writing to alert you about a bill that is pending before the Illinois legislature that, if passed, would use your tax dollars to pay for the taking of innocent human lives through abortion.  The bill is HB 40, and I am told that it may pass if there is not a strong outcry against it. 
Since the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Roe vs. Wade, our country has endured the termination of more than 57 million lives.  We are working hard to build a culture of life by advocating for laws that make it easier to bring a child into this world.  And we are succeeding – the national abortion rate is at its lowest since Roe v. Wade was handed down.  Unfortunately, the enactment of House Bill 40 would set back those efforts by coercing all who pay taxes to indirectly support the taking of innocent human life.  It is worth noting that abortion is an elective procedure and using state tax dollars to pay for it is not only immoral, but also an injustice.  A far better use of tax money would be to fund prenatal services for the poor and child care for working mothers, as well as expand health care options for those in need 
House Bill 40 not only mandates state support of abortion, but it would also include abortion coverage in state employees’ health care plans and the Medicaid program.  Additionally, the bill allows taxpayer money to fund grants to organizations such as Planned Parenthood that refer, counsel for, and perform abortions.  
The Catholic Conference of Illinois, which serves as the public policy arm of the Catholic bishops, has long joined with Catholic Charities and Catholic health care organizations to advocate that essential services be funded. However, as we have seen over the past few years and in the current budget stalemate, their efforts have largely been ignored by state lawmakers and officials.  We have to ask why our elected representatives would turn their backs on paying for programs that help the disabled, the elderly, children in need and students, yet find the will to publicly fund the terrible tragedy of abortion.  Please contact your state representative to vote against this bill. 
If you need assistance in determining the name of your lawmaker, or in sending a message to him or her, go to www.ilcatholic.org or call the Catholic Conference at its Chicago office at 312-368-1066 or its Springfield office at 217-528-9200.
One might well ask what the Election Code has to do with the funding of abortions, but such is the quality of the General Assembly these days.

Remember, those we elect to public office are supposed to represent us and our interests. If we do not contact them to tell them what we think about certain pieces of legislation, they cannot represent us. Please, pick up your telephones and your pens and urge your representative to vote against HB 40.

11 February 2017

Homily - 12 February 2017 - On hearts chilled by sin and the warmth of spring

The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

The return of warmer temperatures this weekend after the recent snowfall has stoked my hopes that the season of spring may soon be upon us. The ancient Anglo-Saxons would not have disagreed with this hope. In fact, they would argue that spring has already come, for they held the season we associate with sunlight and joy actually began five nights after Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation, meaning that spring really began on February 7th.

Now, we might rightly contest that it is still cold outside – or normally is, at least – and that spring will not really come for another month or so, arriving on or about March 21st (may God forbid it to wait so long!). To this argument, the Anglo-Saxons would respond with this maxim:

Fate is most powerful, winter is coldest,
spring is frostiest, it is the longest cold.[1]

Which of us is right, we moderns, or the ancients? I generally side with the ancients, and I hope you will soon see why.

The coming of spring as held by the Anglo-Saxons seems questionable to us because we like to divide the seasons evenly throughout the year (or at least pretend we can do so), but Aelfric of Eynsham, known as the Grammarian, provides this explanation as to why spring is the longest cold: “the lengthening day is cold because the earth is permeated with the winter chill, and it takes a long time before it is warmed again.”[2] As it is with the earth, is it not also the same with our hearts? Once our hearts are permeated with the chill of the sins of anger, of lust, of falsehood, and of any failure to love both God and neighbor, does it not take a long time for them to be warmed again by the fire of the Lord’s love? Do we not grow comfortable in our cold-heartedness and resist anything that would warm them and require of us a change?

The word Aelfric used for spring is somewhat familiar to us. He spoke of the season of lencten and, after dropping a few letters over the course of time, lencten became lent, the season we are soon to enter, the season of spring, both of the natural world and of our hearts. We know the season of Lent will soon be upon us because, as I drove by a fast food hamburger restaurant a few days ago in Quincy, I saw another sign that Lent will soon be here: the marquee in the restaurant’s parking lot proclaimed, “Beer battered fish is back.”

If we return for a moment to the natural season of spring, we know that, as the Anglo-Saxons knew before us,

Frost must freeze, fire burn up wood,
the earth grow cold; ice form bridges,
water wear a covering, wondrously locking up
shoots in the earth. One alone shall unbind
the frost’s fetters: God most mighty.
Winter shall turn, good weather come again,
summer bright and hot. The never-resting sea,
the deep way of the dead, will be the longest hidden.[3]

In the same way that none of us can awaken the spring or unbind the fetters of the frost, neither can we – without the aid of divine grace – unbind the fetters of sin that freeze our hearts. Only God most mighty can do so. Only he can warm our hearts to make them bright and hot so that when we enter the deep way of the dead we might not be lost and cast out of his presence because our failures to keep his commandments of love.

It may seem strange for me to be talking about Lent so early, with the actual season still some two weeks away, but we spend a lot of time preparing for Super Bowl parties, birthday celebrations, Valentine’s Day dinners, and even events of lesser importance. Should we not also prepare ourselves to enter into the season of Lent when we will ask the Lord to thaw our hearts? We cannot ask him to bring about the powers of his spring within us unless we know what needs to be thawed, what needs to be warmed, and what needs to be unbound.

Today the Lord Jesus warns us rather sternly of what needs to be thawed, warmed, and unbound within our hearts if we are to enter into his Kingdom: anger, lust, and falsehood (cf. Matthew 5:22, 28, and 37). He acknowledges the goodness of the law given through Moses and, seeing how the people were not conforming their hearts to the full righteousness desired by the law, he expands it and fulfills it in his own person “by showing the kind of life to which the law ultimately pointed.”[4] It is to this life that you and I are called and so we must ask ourselves if our hearts are conformed to the heart of Christ.

It is not enough that we not murder someone; rather, we must not even allow murderous thoughts – which come from anger - to enter our minds. It is not enough that we not commit adultery; rather, we must not even allow lustful desires to form in our hearts. It is not enough that we not tell falsehoods; rather, we must say what we mean. In all of this, Jesus demands of his disciples a “wholehearted trust and obedience toward the heavenly Father that radiates God’s love to the world.”[5] Do we trust that what he commands is for our own good? Do others recognize the love of God radiating out of our lives?

We know that love is always seen in the details. Grand gestures of love are sometimes important and necessary, but, in the end, our love – or lack thereof – is shown more clearly in the ordinary occurrences of life. If we tell ourselves, “It is just a little white lie,” that does not change the fact that it is still a lie. If we do not place our shopping carts within the corrals in the parking lot, but instead leave them scattered about, we demonstrate a lack of love for others. If a spouse looks at someone with lustful thoughts, he or she is not honoring the marriage covenant between husband and wife. We cannot forget that God “understands man’s every deed” (Sirach 15:19).

The Lord says to us today, “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand” (Sirach 15:15-16). The keeping of the commandments, then, requires that we trust in God; if we do not trust in him, we cannot keep his commandments. This is the wisdom of God, hidden from and mysterious to those who see Jesus only as a good teacher and do not recognize him as God most mighty (cf. I Corinthians 2:7).

If we who know his divinity, if we who have seen his power, open our hearts to him and ask him to bring about a new springtime within us, if we cooperate with his grace and strive to root out sin from our lives, if we reach out towards the fire of his love, then the waters of death, the deep way of the dead, will not forever hide us. If we allow the fire of his love to permeate our hearts and melt away the chill of sin, then we will be conformed to him and, on the last day, be ushered into his kingdom of joy and peace.

The Holy Father Pope Francis reminds us that “Lent is the favourable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbour.”[6] Let each of us, then, take serious stock of our lives in these coming days. Let us make a thorough and honest examination of our consciences, asking the Lord to shine the clarity of his light upon our many sins, upon our many failures to love both God and neighbor, so that when we enter the season of Lent our hearts might not be bound up forever in the chill of winter but might be set free by the springtime of God’s love. Amen.

[1] “Maxims II.” In Eleanor Parker, “‘Unwinding the Winter’s Chains’: Spring, Thaw, and Some Anglo-Saxon Poems," A Clerk of Oxford, 7 February 2015.
[2] Aelfric, De Temporibus Anni. In ibid.
[3] Maxims I. In ibid.
[4] Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2010), 94.
[5] Ibid., 95.
[6] Pope Francis, Message for Lent 2017, 3.

04 February 2017

Homily - 5 February 2017 - Migrants are persons, with their own names, stories and families

The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

By the arranging of Divine Providence, the first reading assigned for this Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah seems particularly chosen for the challenges of the present moment. The Lord God says to us through his prophet: “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own” (Isaiah 58:7). Looking out upon the world today, how can we fail to see the hungry, the homeless, and the naked? How can we fail to see those made exiles and refugees by the scourge of war without our hearts being pierced with compassion for them?

If we read carefully, we see that the Lord’s command first concerns those who are strangers and foreigners, those who are others and outside the community, which is why the last clause comes as something of an afterthought: “and do not turn your back on your own.” Yet, the Lord Jesus does not allow such a mentality, of “us” and “them,” as we see demonstrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan or in the parable of the judgment of the nations in which Jesus says, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me” (cf. Luke 10:25-37; Matthew 25:41-43).

When those so condemned by their failures to love ask how this could be so, Jesus answers them most solemnly: “Amen, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me” (Matthew 25:45). Do we, as individuals and as a nation, wish to be so cast out from the presence of the Lord? We cannot forget that we are our brothers’ keeper and that “anyone who needs me, and whom I can help, is my neighbor” (cf. Genesis 4:9).[1] It really is that simple.

The Lord God has given us his command to feed the hungry, to shelter the oppressed, and to clothe the naked for a very specific reason. It is only when we so open our hearts in love to those in dire need that, as the Lord himself says, “your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard” (Isaiah 58:8). If we do not enact these corporal works of mercy, we – as a society and a nation – will not grow in virtue and will not achieve the reconciliation we so greatly desire and need.

Our forebears recognized the need to keep this command of the Lord God and so put these words of Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus,” at the base of the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

If we do not honor these words, if we do not keep this explicit command of the Lord our God, then we should remove that plaque and perhaps even that symbol of American life and hope itself. The Lord Jesus calls each of us to be, with him, “the light of the world” (cf. John 8:12; Matthew 5:14). What is more, he commands that our light, which is always to be a reflection of his own merciful love, “must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16).

How can we desire to close our borders to the 350,000 children who are forced to remain in the city of Mosul alone and who currently live under the explicit threat of death from the Islamic State?[2] How can it make sense to force His Excellency the Most Reverend Bashar Warda, Archbishop of Irbil, to cancel his planned visit to discuss the plight of persecuted Christians with His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association?[3] How can we do this and still claim our light shines forth? It is as Pope Francis has said: “It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, [to] toss out someone who is in need of my help. If I say I am Christian, but do these things, I’m a hypocrite.”[4]

Contrary to what many claim in our day of regrettable binary thinking, this does not mean a nation must simply open its borders to everyone. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:

The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.

Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens (2241).

It is under the framework of this teaching that Pope Francis reminds us that

Prudence on the part of public authorities does not mean enacting policies of exclusion vis-à-vis migrants, but it does entail evaluating, with wisdom and foresight, the extent to which their country is in a position, without prejudice to the common good of citizens, to offer a decent life to migrants, especially those truly in need of protection. Above all, the current crisis should not be reduced to a simple matter of numbers. Migrants are persons, with their own names, stories and families. There can never be true peace as long as a single human being is violated in his or her personal identity and reduced to a mere statistic or an object of economic calculation.[5]

Indeed, the Holy Father asks us, “How can we not see the face of the Lord in the face of the millions of exiles, refugees, and displaced persons who are fleeing in desperation from the horror of war, persecution and dictatorship?”[6] He further challenges us to see that in “every one of them, each with a unique face, God reveals himself always as the one who courageously comes to our aid.”[7] And if God comes to our aid, then we must come to their aid, not because of who they are, but because of who we are as members joined to Christ Jesus.

These are not easy words to speak or to hear in our politically charged culture, but these words are not about politics because, as Saint John Bosco says, “a priest has no politics but the Gospel, and he fears no recriminations.” These words instead concern the fundamental principle of Christian charity that must motivate our every action. If these words upset you, I urge you to pick up the Gospels and read them in full to know the heart and mind of Jesus. Make his heart and mind your own “so that your faith might not rest upon human wisdom but on the power of God” (I Corinthians 2:5).

If it is authentic and sincere, Christian charity cannot be extended only to those among my family and friends; it must also be extended to everyone in need. Our own immediate ability to welcome the hungry, homeless, and naked refugee may not be too far-reaching, but we can – and should – include these brothers and sisters in our daily prayers. Moreover, we should support organizations who help them – such as the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Aid to the Church in Need, the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Relief Services, and Catholic Charities – to the extent that we are able. We should also speak up when we hear others attempt to label all refugees as terrorists or extremists or anything else that borders on the ignorant or the ridiculous.

If each of us opens our hearts to the love of Jesus Christ, how can we not extend that same love to our neighbor? We may not be able to do much as individuals to come to the aid of those in dire circumstances, but as a nation we can – and should - do great and good deeds to  bring glory to our Father in heaven.

Let each of us, then, do all that can to receive those who come to us “in weakness and fear and much trembling” so that we might introduce them to Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 2:3). May the Lord so move our hearts and direct our thoughts and actions so that the light may rise for us in the darkness and the gloom become like midday (cf. Isaiah 58:10). Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 15.
[3] Julianne Dos Santos, “Travel Ban Postpones U.S. Visit of Chaldean Archbishop of Irbil,” Catholic New York, 1 February 2017.
[4] Pope Francis, Audience with Catholic and Lutheran Pilgrims from Germany, 13 October 2016.
[7] Ibid.

02 February 2017

Papal Prayer Intention - February 2017

In the charity of your prayers, please remember this intention of His Holiness Pope Francis throughout this month of February:
That all those who are afflicted, especially the poor, refugees, and marginalized, may find welcome and comfort in our communities.

01 February 2017

Islamic State Ongoing Updates - February 2017

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13 February 2017

12 February 2017

11 February 2017
10 February 2017
9 February 2017
8 February 2017
6 February 2017
4 February 2017
2 February 2017
1 February 2017