31 August 2014

Investigation into Tolton's life has concluded

As I sorted through the mail that accumulated for me during my recent vacation in Hawaii, I found an invitation that brought much joy to my heart.

His Excellency the Most Reverend Joseph N. Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago and Diocesan Postulator of the Cause for the Beatification and Canonization of the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton, has announced the completion of the formal investigation into the life and virtues of Quincy's first citizen.

In just a few weeks' time the various documents relating to the Cause will be bound and sealed in a special ceremony in the presence of His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., before being sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Because I have been invited to attend and because I will be free the day of the ceremony - as well as the days before and after - I am very tempted to return from Rome to witness the sealing of the documents. Having been present at the first canonical trial for his Cause, it would seem a shame to miss this important event.

30 August 2014

A news round up - 30 August 2014

Here are a few news items you may have missed:

20 couples to enter marriage before Pope Francis

On Sunday September 14th, twenty couples will exchange their consent and be joined in Holy Matrimony with His Holiness Pope Francis witnessing as the Church's minister. The last time the Bishop of Rome presided over such a Liturgy was in 2,000 when Saint Pope John Paul II witnessed the wedding of eight couples.

One the one hand, I suspect a great number of Catholics would like to exchange their consent before the Pope, but on the other hand, I suspect a great many brides would also be concerned about losing control of the ceremony and many of the decisions of the day.

In the United States of America (and perhaps elsewhere), young girls grow up continually - and wrongly - being told that their wedding is "your day." Nothing could be further from the truth, as such a "mass" wedding ceremony indicates (one which the Church's ritual foresees).

When I served in parishes, I made it a point at my first meeting with a couple seeking to be married to especially point this out to them. My words usually went something like this (with the couple looking at me rather speechless):
(Looking first to the bride:) Your wedding day is not about you. (Looking next to the groom:). Your wedding day is also not about you. (Looking to the both of them:). Your wedding day is not even about the both of you; it is about Jesus Christ and the love he has for his Bride, the Church.
A Sacrament is never about an individual person; Sacraments are always about the love of Jesus Christ. Even my ordination day was about me, but about the love that Jesus with us through Confession and the Eucharist.
We very often celebrate the Baptism of several infants within the same liturgy; why do we not also often celebrate the wedding of several couples within the same liturgy? Or, at the very least, why do not celebrate weddings within a usual Sunday Mass?

Secretary Kerry: Extremists are defeated only when responsible nations and their peoples unite to oppose them

Writing yesterday in The New York Times, John Kerry, Secretary of State of the United States of America, said the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (which the U.S.A. still calls the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant) "poses a threat well beyond the region." It would be difficult to dismiss his words, given the threats that ISIS currently poses at the Texas border, in Chicago, and in New York City; there are surely other threats, as well (particularly since we know ISIS is already operating in Juarez, Mexico).

In his assessment, Secretary Kerry seems to echo the words spoken yesterday by David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who called ISIS "a greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before."

The Secretary of State is confident that "the world can confront this scourge, and ultimately defeat it." If his words are to be proved true, the world must act very soon; the longer we wait, the more powerful ISIS will become.

He and Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense of the United States of America, will meet next week with their counterparts from European countries "to enlist the broadest possible assistance" in confronting the Islamic State, but his efforts will not stop there:
Following the meeting, Mr. Hagel and I plan to travel to the Middle East to develop more support for the coalition among the countries that are most directly threatened.

The United States will hold the presidency of the United Nations Security Council in September, and we will use that opportunity to continue to build a broad coalition and highlight the danger posed by foreign terrorist fighters, including those who have joined ISIS. During the General Assembly session, President Obama will lead a summit meeting of the Security Council to put forward a plan to deal with this collective threat.
Secretary Kerry concluded his words, saying, "Extremists are defeated only when responsible nations and their peoples unite to oppose them." This may be the first time I agree with Mr. Kerry.

Let us keep his important efforts in our prayers, that the world will responsibly and swiftly come to the aid of the more than 200,000 men, women, and children suffering unspeakable horrors at the hands of the Islamic State.

Cardinal Wuerl: "Why a silence" about Iraq and Syria?

For many weeks now I have been doing what I can to speak out against the evil of the Islamic State, reminding all who will listen or read that what Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross said is true: "Those who remain silent are responsible."

Yesterday, at the conclusion of the celebration of the Mass of the Holy Spirit t begin the Academic Year at the Catholic University of America, His Eminence Donald William Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington and Chancellor of the Catholic University of America, did the same, though in different words, and asked, "Why a silence?"

A transcription of His Eminence's words is available here.

Have you been silent about the suffering and persecution of more than 200,000 men, women, and children by the members of the army of the Islamic State and its supporters? It is time to speak up!

Obama: "Things in Middle East "less dangerous now than they were" 20 - 30 years ago. Really, Mr. President?

Assuring supporters at an event held by the Democratic National Committee Party last evening, President Obama said, regarding the present situation throughout the Middle East, "I promise you things are much less dangerous now than they were 20 years ago, 25 years ago or 30 years ago." Really, Mr. President?

This statement comes just after he announced to the world while answering questions from reporters following a televised statement that "we don’t have a strategy yet" when it comes to dealing with the Islamic State. How is this even possible?! He has known about the growth of the Islamic State since at least January 2014 when, in an interview with The New Yorker, he compared ISIS to a junior varsity football team. Seven months later, he still has no idea what to do.

If things are, in fact, much less dangerous now, perhaps the President would consider making a visit to Iraq and Syria to comfort the tens of thousands of Christians suffering as refugees who are also mourning the deaths of relatives and friends by beheading and crucifixion and assure them that things are better now.

Better instead that President Obama start listening to Prime Minister David Cameron who yesterday said in a press conference that "what we are facing in Iraq now with ISIL is a greater threat to our security than we have seen before."

28 August 2014

The news you may have missed:
  • In a move that would increase religious persecution in India's Kerela State, lawmakers are considering a ban on sacramental wine.

Cardinal Vegliò: "We must do something" about the Iraqi Christians

After meeting today with His Holiness Pope Francis, His Eminence Antonio Maria Cardinal Vegliò, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants, granted an interview with Vatican Radio in which he echoed words I preached just a few weeks ago concerning the dire situation of Christians in Iraq suffering under the Islamic State.

Recalling the situation in Germany of many decades ago, His Eminence said:
It would be the same thing as when Hitler killed the Jews, and afterwards many said "no, no, we did not know anything." It is total hypocrisy. We must do something.
In my homily, I quoted Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who was martyred in the gas chambers at Auschwitz:
Right before our eyes another such genocide is occurring at this very moment in Iraq – we have seen the pictures! What is more, we have known this was coming for months, and we did nothing! History will look back upon us and condemn us with the same questions we asked about Hitler’s Germany: “How did they allow this to happen? How did they not see it coming? Why did they say nothing? Why did they do nothing?” Among the many victims in the camp at Auschwitz was a Carmelite nun, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, whose feast day we celebrated yesterday. She was born to Jewish parents and given the name Edith Stein. She abandoned Judaism for atheism in her teenage years and became a renowned philosopher whose thought deeply influenced Saint John Paul II. Before her martyrdom in the gas chambers, she said, “Those who remain silent are responsible.” She directed her words to those of her own day, and they are equally directed at those of our own day. Yes, those who remain silent are responsible!
How long must our persecuted brothers and sisters wait before we finally do something serious to help them?


If you think the analogy between what the Islamic State is doing to Christians (and others) and what Hitler did to the Jews (and others), you should have a conversation with His Beatitude Ignace Joseph III Younan, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East of the Syrians, who recently called the actions of the Islamic State "pure and simple religious cleansing and attempted genocide."

Then there are the words of His Beatitude Louis Raphael I Sako, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, that "silence and passivity will encourage IS fundamentals to commit more tragedies."

27 August 2014

R.I.P. Father Gary Bernhardt, O.F.M.

Father Gary A. Berhardt, O.F.M., a native of my beloved Quincy, died yesterday following a tragic boating accident. The Quincy Herald-Whig reports:
A Quincy, Ill., native died Tuesday after a boat hit a submerged tree and capsized at Lake Taneycomo in southwest Missouri.

The Missouri Highway Patrol said the Rev. Gary A. Bernhardt, 56, was a passenger in a 1994 Shawnee johnboat at about 4:15 p.m. Tuesday. The boat drifted, struck a fallen tree in the water, then capsized a quarter-mile east of the dam, about three miles from Branson.

The operator of the boat, James Pelletier, 71, of O'Fallon, Mo., and another passenger climbed to safety by getting on top of the boat and taking hold of a tree limb. The two men were unhurt, the Highway Patrol said [more]. 
Father Gary, though twenty years older than me, was ordained a priest just a few years before me. We grew up in the same parish and his family was always very kind to me.

Please, in the charity of your prayers, remember Father Gary and his family, together with the Franciscan Friars of the Sacred Heart Province.

I regret that I will be unable to attend his funeral or visitation; tomorrow morning I must return to Rome.

26 August 2014

Paprocki: Excommunication is a highly charged, feared, and misunderstood word

In his current column in the Catholic Times, His Excellency the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield in Illinois, takes a look at "one of the most highly-charged and feared words connected with the Catholic faith," and one often misunderstood: excommunication.

The Bishop explains:
Excommunication is a type of sanction known as a censure, in contrast to expiatory penalties. Expiatory penalties punish the offender for a prescribed time or an indefinite time and seek to remedy the damage or injustice done to societal values by the offense and to deter others from engaging in similar wrongdoing. In contrast, censures are considered to be "medicinal penalties," which means that they seek to persuade the offender to cease the wrongful behavior and reintegrate the person into the life of the ecclesial community. As such, censures are lifted when the offender ceases from engaging in the wrongful behavior and makes suitable reparation for damages, if necessary.

Properly understood in this way as a medicinal penalty, excommunication certainly does not expel the person from the Catholic Church, but simply forbids the excommunicated person from engaging in certain activities in the life of the church until the offender reforms and ceases from the offense. Once this happens, the person is to be restored to the fullness of participation in the life of the church. Although the remission of the censure pertains to the competent authority to determine whether the person has actually ceased from the offense, in a sense the offender holds in his or her own hand the key to the release from the censure. If the wrongful behavior ceases and any necessary reparation or restitution is made, the excommunication will be lifted; if not, it continues.

Thus, some people may be excommunicated for only a short time. For others, the excommunication may never be lifted if they do not repent and change their ways [more].
"Seen in this way," he goes on to say, "a censure such as excommunication is not at all vindictive, but may be seen as a sort of 'tough love,' just as loving parents discipline their children to teach them the difference between right and wrong."

23 August 2014

Homily - 24 August 2014

The Twenty-first Sunday of the Year (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

To recognize Jesus as the Messiah is to acknowledge the truth of the words announced to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel:

He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end (Luke1:32-33).

Jesus’ kingdom, then, is the Kingdom of David, the Kingdom of Israel. Jesus gives “the keys to the kingdom of heaven” to Peter because Jesus acknowledges his divine Kingship and re-establishes the office, as it were, of the Master of the Palace (Matthew 16:18).

Centuries ago, the Lord said to Shebna, then Master of the Palace under King Hezekiah, “I will throw you down from your office” because he has become a “disgrace to [his] master’s house” (Isaiah 22:19, 18). He was not a worthy Master of the Palace, the highest official in the Kingdom of Israel after the King. Shebna served poorly in the capacity of what might be called a Regent, a Prime Minister, or a Vizier, as Joseph was in the land of Egypt; there was no one above the Master of the Palace but the King himself (cf. Genesis 41:40).

The King entrusted his own authority to his Master of the Palace, which is why “when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open” (Isaiah 22:22). The Master of the Palace acted in the name of the King and possessed the King’s authority; to disobey him was to disobey the King.

The Lord God pulled Shebna down from his office as Master of the Palace because he looked to the Pharaoh of Egypt for deliverance from Sennacherib, King of Assyria (cf. Isaiah 22:19). Shebna trusted in mere men and did not rely on the help of the Lord God; this was his disgrace. Taking from Shebna his robe, his sash, and his authority the Lord God entrusted them to Eliakim, making him the new Master of the Palace. The Lord further placed upon Eliakim “the key of the House of David” (Isaiah 22:22).

But what has this to do with Peter? Jesus himself told Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (John18:36). Yet, he sent the Apostles in his name, telling them to announce, “The kingdom of God is at hand for you” (Luke 10:9). From his many disciples, Jesus “appointed twelve [whom he also named apostles],” a word which is akin to the word ambassador; even the very title he gave to those he chose to “be with him” indicates the establishing of a kingdom; one who is not a king has no need of ambassadors (Mark 3:14). It should be remembered that Jesus himself began his public ministry announcing, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). To be sure, the kingdom of Jesus is not an earthly, temporal kingdom, but an eternal kingdom, one without end, one not bound by time and place; his kingdom, his reign, extends beyond that of Israel to encompass the entire cosmos and all time.

The Lord first made his covenant with Israel to foreshadow the covenant he would make with all of humanity. In the fullness of time, the Son of God sealed “the new and eternal covenant” with the new Israel in his own blood. Through his appointment of the Twelve Apostles, Jesus makes clear that “the definitive time has arrived in which to constitute the new People of God, the people of the twelve tribes, which now becomes a universal people, his Church.”[1]  It is the Church, founded upon the rock of Peter, which is the new Israel.

We see, then, in this passage from Saint Matthew’s Gospel, that Jesus uses three symbols regarding his Church:

Peter will be the rocky foundation on which he will build the edifice of the Church; he will have the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to open or close it to people as he sees fit; lastly, he will be able to bind or to loose, in the sense of establishing or prohibiting whatever he deems necessary for the life of the Church. It is always Christ’s Church, not Peter’s.[2]

Peter did not make the Church; he received it from Christ Jesus.  Peter did not create his faith; he received it from the Father.  Peter is not free to do with the Church whatever he wishes, but only the will of the Lord. Peter is, as it were, not the King but the Master of the Palace; he speaks not in his own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ. 

What is more, the office of the Master of the Palace continued beyond the life of the first Master of the Palace; the doors to the King had to continually be opened and shut. So it is with the office of Peter: the keys must continually be held and so Peter must also have successors, whom we call the Popes.

Throughout the history of the Papacy, beginning with the first Pope, many have given their lives for Him whom they know to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” the keys to whose kingdom they have held (Matthew 16:16). Like their shepherds, many of the Lord’s flock have also given their lives for Jesus and for the Church he founded upon the rock of Saint Peter, including here in these Hawaiian islands where three Catholics shed their blood for the faith and where countless others were persecuted because of their adherence to the Catholic Church.
Even today, on the other side of the world, many Christians have given their lives for Jesus, for the Messiah whose kindness endures forever (cf. Psalm 138:8). Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians - men, women, and children – have fled to the Kurdish region of Iraq from men who seek to kill them. More than a month ago, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) marked their homes and businesses in Mosul with the Arabic letter nun, the equivalent of our ‘n’. The Islamic State destroyed many of their homes and now seek to take their lives simply because they are followers of Jesus the Christ. 

ISIS used this letter to mark them as Nasrani, Christians in Arabic. Arabic names Christians in reference to the Nazarene, to Jesus of Nazareth, to whom they, like us, pledged their lives and obedience in holy Baptism. The Islamic State gave these Christians three choices: convert to Islam; pay a heavy annual tax and live with few rights and liberties, almost like slaves; or die by the sword. They chose instead a fourth option and fled for their lives. That was six weeks ago, when for the first time in more than 1,600 years, there were no Christians in Mosul.

The Iraqi Christians have lost their homes and business; their friends and neighbors have been beheaded, crucified, and hung in the streets; their sisters and daughters have been kidnapped, raped and forced into false marriages; their cemeteries, churches, and monasteries have been desecrated; they live in fear and many are now starving and without shelter as the world looks on, watching and doing little to help. 

Yet, despite this tremendous persecution, they have remained faithful to the Lord Jesus and have refused to renounce their faith. Their clear witness to their faith poses two serious questions to each of us: Do I truly believe Jesus to be the Messiah? If so, What am I willing to give up in order to hold on to him?

Reflecting on the experience of his life, the author of the Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien, once wrote:
I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the Church (which for me would mean leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons: I should leave because I did not believe, and should not believe any more, even if I had never met any one in orders who was not both wise and saintly. I should deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is: call Our Lord a fraud to His face.[3]

This the Iraqi Christians refuse to do. If faced with a similar situation, one of severe or even minimal persecution, what will our response be? Will we abandon Jesus and His Church, or will we abandon everything else to stay faithful to Him?

Jesus entrusted the keys to the kingdom of heaven to Peter and said to him, “…but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Through the intercession of Saint Peter, the Prince of the Apostles and the first Pope, may the Lord grant us – Iraqis and Christians all - the strength to persevere in faith, hope, and love, that at the end of our lives, we may all sing his praise together in the company of the angels (cf. Psalm 138:2). Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Wednesday Audience, 15 March 2006.
[2] Ibid., 7 June 2006.
[3] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 250.

Won't you walk to Mass for the Iraqi Christians?

As the severe persecution against our persecuted brothers and sisters in Iraq continues, a priest in Dublin, Ireland has invited Catholics to walk to Mass next Sunday in solidarity with the Iraqi Christians, saying:

Perhaps a walk to Mass on Sunday August 31 will sow the seeds of concern, action and generosity in the hearts of Irish men and women as they urge their elected representatives to deepen their concern, action and generosity on the world stage.

There is really no reason it could not also been done tomorrow.

Let's be honest: most of us do not have a very great distance to travel to our local church, not more than a few miles which could easily be walked in - typically - less than an hour, or just slightly more; that really is terribly difficult, considering what the Iraqi Christians are currently enduring.

Such a gesture of solidarity may not seem like anything significant, but if we remember the Little Way of Saint Therese of Lisieux, we see otherwise. Her Little Way can be summarized simply: Little things done with great love are immense in the eyes of God.

erhaps a walk to Mass on Sunday August 31 will sow the seeds of concern, action and generosity in the hearts of Irish men and women as they urge their elected representatives to deepen their concern, action and generosity on the world stage - See more at: http://www.irishcatholic.ie/article/walk-mass-iraqi-christians#sthash.2YxoCTcv.dpuf
Perhaps a walk to Mass on Sunday August 31 will sow the seeds of concern, action and generosity in the hearts of Irish men and women as they urge their elected representatives to deepen their concern, action and generosity on the world stage - See more at: http://www.irishcatholic.ie/article/walk-mass-iraqi-christians#sthash.2YxoCTcv.dpuf