Friday, December 21, 2012

This is a request that came to me indirectly, which I feel might be a call to action.  It is from the sister of one of the priests at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Newtown, Connecticut:

"My friends,

All of you, I am sure, have heard so much about the tragedy in Newtown, CT. Many of you have received emails from me about my younger brother, Father Luke Suarez, who is a priest at St. Rose of Lima parish, a Catholic church just down the road from Sandy Hook Elementary. He, and his pastor, Monsignor Weiss, arrived at the school within moments of the shooting, and have been caring for the community ever since. The picture I have included was taken at the school.

Father Luke has an impossible task before him. His diocese is without a bishop right now, and there is very little leadership and assistance from above. Monsignor is older, went through a serious surgery recently, and is personally devastated by the losses. The parish is very large, and parishioners tend to be wealthy and somewhat ill-catechized. The rectory has received serious threats, and as my brother gave the homily Sunday at the noon mass, the church had to be evacuated by SWAT teams. After experiencing identity theft and online hacking incidents, he had to erase all of his internet accounts. After a weekend of endless media requests, notifications and vigils with heartbroken families, and little sleep, he now has two wakes and two funerals every day, until the fourth Sunday of Advent. Father Luke has not even been ordained two years.

My large family has been trying to send Father Luke our love and support from afar, and one of my brothers was able to visit with him briefly a couple times. All he asks for is prayer.

I have been wracking my brain, trying to think of a way that our beautiful, loving community could tangibly reach out to Father Luke, Monsignor Weiss, and the St. Rose parish, to support them in this most awful of times. I have sent many prayer requests, and I am asking for more prayers again. But I also want to ask everyone to search their hearts, and if the Holy Spirit moves you, please consider sending one of your family's Christmas cards to the rectory, with a few words of love and encouragement. Here is his address:

Father Luke Suarez
46 Church Hill Road
Newtown, CT 06470

My brother has said over and over again that without the prayer support he is receiving, he could not keep going. And this week is only the beginning. Everyone there is still in shock. Their peaceful home has been desecrated by violence. They will need to live with this sorrow forever.

But in our weakness is His strength. Grace abounds. Can you help me carry him through this time of trial?

On a hopeful note, Father Luke did say that no media coverage has even touched the deep, beautiful awakening of faith that has occurred there. Their tiny church, where my children have received sacraments and where Luke was ordained, has been full of people in prayer without ceasing since this tragedy happened. Love is stronger than death.

Please feel free to share the address with your family, friends, and community. An outpouring of love will sustain these good priests through their impossible ministry--impossible on their own, but possible with God.

I am so grateful to live in this community. We are all so blessed with one another. Every day, I see you all loving one another as Christ loved. Thank you for letting me reach out to you now.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

I do not know why evil exists, but I do know that it does. On December 14, 2012, a crazed man in Newtown, Connecticut shot and killed 20 children between the ages of five and ten.  This week we celebrate the birth of Jesus and then, December 28, commemorate the children killed by a jealous and fearful king.

Do not tell me that guns don’t kill, people do.  Do not share with me any of the glib sayings that defend a position that has nothing to do with freedom or democracy.  Do not tell me that if the shoppers at Clackamas Town Center in Oregon or the children and teachers in Newtown Connecticut all had guns themselves, lives would have been saved.  Do not tell me any of this.  I will not believe you.

And don’t you dare tell me that the killings are punishment from God because people are living a life-style of which you do not approve.  No such God exists.  Don’t tell me it is simply the price of an individual’s mental health problems.  This is about evil, individual and systemic.   It is past time that we get honest and confront it.

There is not a simple explanation for every aberration in the human condition.  Evil is not simple.  If we think we can overcome it through reason alone, we are deluding ourselves.  Did reason overcome Hitler?  Gacy? Dahlmer?  Lanza?  Evil exists! It destroys, maims, hurts, lies and seduces.  It bullies and kills.  It has a life of its own. e Give evil a high-speed gun, or a bomb or some other powerful means of destruction and children will be killed. It happens.  Right here.  It also happens, in our name, on foreign soil.

Why are we still so completely surprised when evil erupts? When America was called a sick society in the ‘60s, because of the Kennedy and King assassinations and the inhumanity manifest during the struggle for civil rights for all citizens and the deaths related to a war no one could support, no one wanted to hear it. But it was true then, and is true now.  We are a sick society precisely because we deny evil’s presence among us.  We have no problem acknowledging the possibility of evil among strangers and those we see as different, but we refuse to acknowledge its presence in ourselves.  If others destroy and kill, it is wrong.  If we do it in the name of what we call a higher principle, it is morally justified. We have to acknowledge the truth: evil is not a stranger; evil is always evil.

I cannot pretend that I am immune to evil’s cunning presence. Can I say with absolute certainty that if I am attacked, I will always respond proportionately? No, I cannot.  Nor can our nation. It is only with God’s grace that we can keep evil at bay.  Of course, we need to remember that even the One Who was all-good was crucified by evil.  He lost. But then, He rose beyond death and put evil in its place:  present, but devoid of ultimate power.  Evil might kill the body, but it cannot destroy eternal life.  The cross, our only hope, marks evil’s defeat.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

How Catholics Must Vote

How Catholics Must Vote

Do you wonder if there is a Catholic way to vote?  Some bishops have made it very clear that they believe there is.  Bishop Poprocki of Springfield Illinois has told his diocese that their immortal souls and salvation are in serious jeopardy if they vote a particular way, while stating that he is not telling them how to vote.  Archbishop Myers of Newark told Catholics in his Archdiocese that if one does not share the hierarchy’s view on same sex marriage, that one is subject to excommunication.  These bishops, while claiming they are not telling people how to vote, are saying that there is a particular Catholic way.  I agree with them.  But I would go them one further, and actually tell you how you are to vote if you wish to claim Catholicism as your religion.

I am not breaking new ground in doing so.  I am really only reiterating what the American bishops as a whole stated in their document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship…” prior to the 2008 elections and have re-released this year for the upcoming elections.  I am agreeing with the letter sent by then-Cardinal Ratzinger to the US bishops’ task force on Catholic politicians.  There is only one Catholic way to vote.  And if Catholics do not vote in that particular way, they are jeopardizing their immortal souls and salvation.  They are separating themselves from communion.

Let’s ease into this by reflecting on part of Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter: “When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, this can be permitted n the presence of proportionate reasons.”  He’s the Pope now.  Bishop Sample is not the Pope.  He has told the Catholics of Marquette Michigan not to vote for candidates who espouse same-sex marriages.  “This is absolutely non-negotiable when it comes to weighing the issues before us in any election cycle,” he wrote.

We must study the issues.  We must fully acquaint ourselves with the teaching Church’s position on these issues.  We must know what our bishops are saying is important in the election cycle. We must seriously consider the four major areas the bishops identify as those to which Catholics should give serious deliberation when preparing to vote:  war and other pro-life concerns; family matters; social justice; international aid and development.

None of the major candidates for president and vice-president are in 100% agreement with Catholic teaching on these issues—not even the two faithful Catholic candidates for Vice-President.  That doesn’t matter.  There is still only one way to vote.  Or, maybe two: Do not vote at all, or follow your conscience.  Its authority is even greater than the Pope’s.  That has always been a constant in Catholic teaching.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Man Who Would Be Pope

I had heard about Cardinal Carlo Martini for many years, although I had forgotten him lately.  A Jesuit priest and scholar of both scripture and science, he was named the Archbishop of Milan in 1980.  There was great hope he might succeed John Paul II, and he received the most votes during the first round of election (we are not supposed to know that, but even Cardinal’s can’t keep a secret, I guess!).  He revealed that he had Parkinson’s disease, however, and withdrew from consideration.

Cardinal Martini died the last day of August.  Two weeks before his death, he gave an interview in which he said that the Catholic Church is “200 years out off date.  Our culture has changed, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous.  The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops.  The pedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation.”

He added that the Church should open up to new kinds of families:  “A woman is abandoned by her husband and finds a new companion to look after her and her children. A second love succeeds. If this family is discriminated against, not just the mother will be cut off but also her children."  His final message to the pope was to tell him to begin a shake up of the Church without delay.

I am sharing this with you because I know that many among us have very strong feelings of either agreement or disagreement with these sentiments.  We often hear and read of those among the hierarchy who would be completely opposed to everything Cardinal Martini held true.  So quoting this man who might have been pope shows that the true Universality of the Catholic Church is not only geographical, but also ideological.

Some other of his views that differ from the Church norm:  contraception; women’s ordination; when life begins; right to die; church governance and collegiality; human sexuality; same sex civil unions; use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS; power as being passé in Church governance; education.

Those who might consider such a man to be the Anti-Christ might be grateful he was not elected pope.  Those who might see his views as very Christ like might feel a sense of loss and disappointment at his death.  But he was 85 years old and suffered from his illness.  He probably could not have done more on earth.

But we believe in the Communion of Saints, so if he is in that number, this 50th year after the start of Vatican II, you can bet that he will do all he can to effect change as one among the saints of heaven.

Friday, June 22, 2012

I find myself conflicted in relationship to the US bishops’ “Fortnight of Freedom” initiative.  You might be thinking that I get conflicted over a lot of issues, and I do.  I would dare to say that is more a strength than a weakness, because it requires me to explore issues more deeply than I might otherwise.  Writing helps me do that, and it also invites your reactions, which are wonderful tools in our mutual journey towards truth.

Fortnight for Freedom is a nationwide two-week campaign challenging the Obama administration's health policies, intended  “to defend freedom and bear witness to the moral values and truths that serve as the foundation for “a society that is just, peaceful and charitable, “ according to Baltimore’s Archbishop Lori” 

My first issue is with the word ‘fortnight’.  I haven’t heard or seen that word since the last time I read a 19th century novel!  But it does make for good alliteration.  The first serious issue, though, is concern over whether the bishops have gone into attack mode before attempting reasonable resolution through dialogue.  Of course, Cardinal Levada’s reference to a dialogue of the deaf, talking about a meeting with the leadership of the LCWR suggests that dialogue has a different meaning within hierarchical circles than it has without:  we speak, you listen.

Secondly, the law, as the bishops see it, is requiring the Church to act against its beliefs, especially in relationship to contraception. This is said to violate freedom of religion, a constitutional provision.  Rightly, of course, they are adamantly in favor of religious freedom.   Some things that are the right of all Americans by law (and, perhaps, only by law) are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. But are the bishops trying to impose Church values on the larger society?  How would this differ from Sharia Law?

Thirdly, I wonder if the bishops are going about this correctly.  Or, are they using a “ready, fire, aim” approach?  Outside of the Church, certainly, their credibility has suffered tremendously, largely due to the abuse and cover-up scandal.   Maybe they need a PR advisor or a life coach. Still, while I feel the bishops have not approached this issue in the best possible way, I can say the same about the White House.  They did not anticipate the bishops’ reaction, and they should have, long before going public.

Fourthly, I wonder what level of support they will get from the membership of the Church, since a majority of the membership does not agree with, nor does it adhere to, Church teaching on contraception.  If this public demonstration shows minimal support, it will only further erode credibility. It’d b e like none of the invitees showing up for a birthday party. Be clear on this:  I do believe in religious freedom.  But I also believe in a prophetic voice.  Have we discounted the value of being true to our consciences in spite of the law, and suffering the consequences?  Think St. Thomas Moore.  Yet one opinion claimed that Catholics will have to violate their consciences.

Is this only a Catholic issue?  Why is using capital punishment on a Catholic, or requiring a Catholic to ‘flip the switch’ not a violation of religious freedom?  What about a restaurant serving only meat dishes on Fridays in Lent?  Forbidding Mormons to marry more than one person?  Incarcerating Christian Scientist and Jehovah’s Witnesses whose children die because they will not take them to a hospital when terminally ill?

As I say, I am conflicted.  And I wonder.  Do you wonder too?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A couple of weeks ago I began some reflections on the work of prominent atheist Richard Dawkins.  I suggested that he seems more of a high school debater than a learned academician, which is what he purports to be.  He defines his terms the way he wants, and then proceeds to ridicule the term as defined.  He defines faith as belief in the absence of evidence, and then proceeds to point out how stupid faith is, then, and how unlike science.

I suppose I would agree that faith is stupid if I agreed that faith means to believe in something for which there is no evidence.  But I don’t.   Rather, I agree with St. Paul’s definition in his letter to the Hebrews:  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Just because something cannot be seen does not mean there is no evidence for its existence.  Can you show me air?  Can you show me a thought?  They and many other things are not seen, but it makes perfect sense to accept their existence, based on evidence from science.  Dawkins does not want science and faith to have anything in common.  In fact, he says they are opposites.  “Where science is filled with doubt, skepticism, willingness to learn, open to correction, faith is just the opposite.”

Have you never found doubt helpful in your faith journey?  Have you not been open to learning more about faith?  We believe (that word again!) that faith and science are very compatible, even opposite sides of the same coin.  Both faith and science depend heavily on ideas that have no empirical evidence.  Did gravity only come into existence once we were able to prove and explain it?

Dawkins says that science has the humility to know there is much we do not understand, and asks why it is that no major religion has looked at science and thought: “this is bigger than we thought.”  He says that a religion able to look at the magnificence revealed by science might be struck by reverence and awe not revealed by religion.  Does understanding a sunset take anything away from its beauty and awesomeness?

He further says that faith has an arrogance that is missing from science.  Faith says: “I know the truth, and nothing will change my mind.”  Pathological faith, maybe.  He says believers say “my priest tells me the truth; I need look no further.”  That’s news to me.

So Professor Dawkins is not, in my estimation, a worthy representative of atheism.  In fact, quite the opposite.  He is saying what he accuses religion of:  “I know the truth, and nothing will change my mind.”  Pretty darn arrogant, if you ask me.  What do you think?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Well, Mr. Dawkins is going to have to wait again (a few weeks ago I wrote the first part of a reaction to noted atheist Richard Dawkins’ comments on how there is no room for faith in science and how faith is always unreasonable).  Last week, I had an experience I chose to share rather than dealing with Mr. Dawkins.  This week, a few things have happened in the institutional church that I know from your messages have disturbed some of you (me too!) to a point that to avoid addressing them would be a disservice to you, as well as dishonest.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll get a free trip to Rome after these comments, but maybe not a return trip.

First, the current Vatican office of our former Archbishop here in Portland, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, put a collar around the neck of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, saying that their point of view is too feminine and they need to be controlled by a man in order to assure their orthodoxy.  Second, a classmate of mine, who is the bishop of the Diocese of Peoria (Illinois), gave a homily in which, according to the secular press, he accused President Obama of taking the United States down a path similar to that of Hitler and Stalin in Germany and Russia, respectively.  Other than that, it has been a quiet week.

Even though I am away from the parish, I have received a few messages reacting to both of these events.  The writers express their pain and confusion about the disconnect between what they experience as Church in our parish community and what seems to be represented by the leaders of the institutional Church.  What are they to make of it all, they ask.

What am I to make of it all?  I cringe when I read such things, and try to read between the lines.  But in both these cases, what appears between the lines strikes me as even more problematic than what is on the lines themselves.  I wish they hadn’t done that.  I wish he hadn’t said that.  And I reflect on the timing—so close to the celebration of the hope and promises of Easter.

I can say for sure that my faith is not based on, nor is it contingent upon temporal actions or statements.  They shall pass.  Eternal truths are not contained in temporal measures.  Passing assumptions do not shape eternal life.  So I move on, with a much heavier heart, certainly, but also with a more radical energy as well.  We will welcome more guests.  We will feed more hungry, visit more sick, cloth more naked and house more homeless.  We will move deeper into the Body of Christ, where eternal life is found, and not get caught up in the pettiness of everyday life.

We will also weep for those who use the Body of Christ to assert their own understanding of truth, as if that really mattered.  We weep because of whom they hurt and because of what they are missing.  Which is more fulfilling: to be on the right side of an argument or to go beyond oneself for the good of others?  In choosing the second, perhaps we can bypass the first.  Perhaps.  What do you think?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

I am postponing  writing the second part of my reaction to noted atheist Richard Dawkins in order to relive and share an experience I just had.  I am away from the parish for  series of meetings of all the pastors of parishes staffed by the Congregation of Holy Cross.  Prior to the week-long meetings, I was present at the priesthood ordination of one of our members.  It was great to greet this young man into the presbyterate (when did they start ordaining them so young?)!
Between the ordination ceremony and the reception and dinner which followed, a close friend and I went to grab some coffee and talk a bit.  We started our own ordination journeys together, as freshmen in high school, but have rarely been assigned anywhere near each other, so catching up was appealing to us both.
We never made it to either the reception or the dinner.  The first time either of us looked at a clock, we’d been talking and listening for about six hours!  We had as authentic a conversation as I’ve ever had.  In fact, the closest to it I immediately remembered was the way we and a few other friends would talk as a group in high school!
The least significant part of our conversation was the ‘what have you been up to’ part.  Rather, the ‘who have you become and what’s it been like for you’ was the real focus and gift.  Heart was speaking to heart.
I know this is how my parents communicated during their 66 year marriage. I would think and hope this is the way many people in long term partnership and marriage would spend a lot of their time communicating.  But for me it was a rare insight of what it is to be faithful to the Holy Cross constitution that warns against speaking least of what concerns us most.
I’m not sure this sort of experience can be planned.  But, clearly, one (two, really, or more) has to be predisposed for it to occur.  We started by reflecting on a few friends and family members who have died and the impacts they had on us.  Soon we were talking of our own illnesses and issues of mortality (there was  nothing morbid about it at all, and we laughed often).  Then conversation entered the zone, and time stopped mattering.  It strikes me that the deeper our communication, the less we are aware of time.  Sort of a taste of eternal life and the ultimate, divine communication we are promised.  Perhaps that’s a key way to make the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.  What do you think?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Here's what they said about Easter.  What do you say?

“...if (Jesus) really was both God and human, then when Jesus died, God died too, and when the God Jesus rose humans rose too, because they were one and the same person…”-Dorothy L. Sayers

“The answer of Easter has become possible precisely because the Christ has been
buried. The new life would not really be a new life if it did not come from the end of the old life.”-Paul Tillich

“The resurrection claim should mean to us that Jesus’ victory over death ushered in a new age, an age in which the almighty power of God is already fulfilled but not yet consummated, and age in which death is conquered but not yet abolished. The new age is an interim period in which this divine power in the form of the Holy Spirit is at work among us. The significance of the resurrection claim is that, despite how tragic and hopeless present situations appear to be, there is a God who sits high and looks low, a God who came into this filthy, fallen world in the form of a common peasant in  order to commence a new epoch. Easter focuses our attention on the decisive victory of Jesus Christ and hence the possibility of our victory over our creaturehood, the old creation and this old world, with its history of oppression and exploitation.” –Cornel West

“The decision for or against Easter faith is not taken on the grounds of some miraculous event or other, but on whether one is ready to see reality from God’s viewpoint and to rely totally upon God in living and in dying.”-Walter Kasper

“Faith in the resurrection must come from real glimpses of our ability to make whole our suffering world. For the work of Christian grace and love is now, and not just later.”-Rita Nakashima Brock

“If the last words of Jesus in Matthew are that he will be with us to the end of time, the last words of Jesus in John may be affirming the final fruit of the resurrection: a believing community of Christians will remain until Jesus returns.”-Raymond E. Brown

“The Easter story, rightly understood, enables us to engage evil and suffering,
transmute it for constructive ends, and move forward in hope to God’s future and our own.”-J. Deotis Roberts

“Easter is God’s “class action suit against sin and death.” -James A. Forbes

“The resurrection has its analogues in the human experiences of forgiveness, the
renewal of love, and the rebirth of hope. It means release from fear for the self, and its entrustment to God in life and in death.”-Daniel Day Williams

“If we die in the Lord, we shall live in the Lord.” -Romans 14:8

Monday, February 13, 2012


We have recently experienced a strong confrontation between the Catholic Church and the US Government, initiated by a mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services that all insurance plans must include contraceptive coverage.  The Church sees this mandate as government interference in the practice of religion and, thus a violation the First Amendment. The government sees the Church’s position as a matter of not wanting to be mandated to provide its non-ministerial employees birth control coverage, an benefit that covers what is contrary to Church teaching, but which the government sees as essential for women’s health and  a way  to cut down radically on the number of abortions performed each year.

As of this writing, a compromise has been proposed, with mixed reactions across the board.  The Catholic Bishops insist that removing the requirement that Catholic non-ministerial agencies provide birth control coverage, but that the insurers will have to only hides the cost on the Catholic agency’s books, but the agency is still paying for it.  So the matter of religious freedom is still not addressed., they say.

One question seems to be whether or not the federal government can ever  interfere with a religion’s  practice at all.  There are precedents, in cases with which most Americans would agree:  Christian Scientists have been jailed for not taking children to doctors because of their beliefs; Mormons were forced to drop their practice of polygamy.  In both cases, the government put what it considered the over all good of the nation and its citizens over the rights of religious practice. The position is that or the sake of women’s health and to cut down on the number of abortions used as a form of birth control, prescriptive birth control must be available to any citizen The Bishops counter that the presenting issue is not about birth control; it is about the government restricting religious freedom.

There are no winners in this crisis. Even if they come to understand each others’ position, neither will surrender to  the other,.  As long as they see birth-control as an intrinsic evil, the Bishops will not change their stance.  And the government is in no position to disregard what it sees as a major health—not moral- matter. You are reading this ten days after I have written it, so you have that much more knowledge of the situation than I do now.  I predict it will end up in the courts.

The Church leadership has to come to terms with its own responsibility for this crisis. In short, since 1968, the teaching church has ignored the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful) regarding artificial means of controlling birth.  Although his own commission almost unanimously agreed with the majority report stating that artificial means of birth control is not intrinsically evil,  four members filed a minority report, saying that if the Church ever taught otherwise, it must always teach otherwise. To do otherwise would be to say that morality is relative.

There have been many unintended consequences to the 1968 discard of the Papal Commission’s recommendation, which was based on the minority report.  One might wonder if the Pope had integrated the findings of his own commission into his teaching, the current crisis would exist.  As we have seen from the abuse scandal, when leaders do not follow their own established procedures, much harm can be caused.  I agree with the bishops’ contention that the issue here is not birth control.   But neither is it a matter of religious rights. If they believe that religious freedom is for everybody, inside and outside the Church, maybe the bishops need, at last, to really listen to the sense of the faithful. It is easy to make rules for a group to which one does not belong.  But is it moral? Is it just?