Loving my neighbor

Loving my neighbor

Can you teach me the whole Bible in one sentence?  That’s the question put before Jesus.  “Which commandment of the law is the greatest?” (Mk. 12:28)

In Jesus’ day, this was a typical question.  The Jews tell a story about a man who came to the famous Rabbi Hillel and said, “I will become your disciple if you can teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.”  Hillel replied, “What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor.  The rest is commentary.”

The greatest commandment is the heart of the commandments.  If you live that commandment, you’ll live all the commandments.  Jesus combined two commandments into one inseparable command: “Love God with all your heart . . . . and love your neighbor.”  The greatest challenge of this commandment is to know who my neighbor is.  What gets in your way of seeing someone as your neighbor?

One obstacle to seeing another person as my neighbor is tribalism.  Let me give you an example using sports.  I have a good friend from Wisconsin named John McHugh.  Now John is an avid fan of the Green Bay Packers.  He is one of those guys you might see jumping up and down and screaming at the TV as he watches his team.

John’s behavior seemed odd because my family did not watch much football.  At first, I thought that maybe cheese-heads were a little crazy in how they reacted to a football game.  However, I have come to realize that lots of people manifest a kind of tribalism for their favorite team.  If the referee makes a call against their team, they are skewed in their assessment of the penalty call.  It’s almost always the other team’s fault.  The players on their team can do nothing wrong.

Recently a writer said that “Tribalism describes the human instinct to want to belong to a group of people who are like you. …… in the sense of very strong group identification. The kind of group identification where your identity is so bound up with it that you will basically defend the group and cling to the group no matter what and you start to see everything through that group’s lens. . . . once you connect with a tribe in a certain way, then you actually start to interpret facts and studies and statistics to fit your tribe’s world view.”  (Political Tribes by Amy Chua)  Everything else is “fake news.”

On the one hand, a certain level of tribalism is good.  People need to identify strongly with a group.  That group or tribe defends us through thick and thin; they will be there no matter what.  However, tribalism can blind me to my neighbor.  Tribalism run wild will prevent me from seeing the good in the other group.

For example, years ago Catholics and Protestants had an unhealthy tribalism that prevented us from seeing each other as neighbors.  It prevented us from seeing the good at work in the other person.  When tribalism runs rampant, then it fuels incidents like the killing of eleven people in a Jewish synagogue.  It incites Muslim extremism, and conversely, tribalism causes others to say that all Muslims are extremists.

Democrats and Republicans have become much too tribal.  Neither party is able to acknowledge that anything good is done by the other side.  They are blind to the other as a neighbor.  When tribalism runs rampant, then you have a Democratic party that is so strident in its support of abortion that some party members want to cleanse their party of anyone who defends the unborn.  Meanwhile, members of the Republican party allow its leaders to spread false information about immigrants so that they are maligned and seen not as real people in dire circumstances, but as the worst criminals. As a result, neither party respects human beings as our neighbors.  Neither can claim to be pro-life. In both parties, tribalism has taken control.  They defend their party and cling to it no matter what, and they see everything through their own party’s lens.

One of the saddest manifestations of tribalism has been in the Catholic church where bishops protected priests who abused minors.  They showed favoritism to clergy – to their tribal leaders, but shunned survivors of sexual abuse.  They abandoned the little ones.

I could go on and on with examples of tribalism.  Virtually all of us are prone to it.  It blinds us to our neighbor. It is a major obstacle in keeping the commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  So what is the way beyond tribalism?

First, to remember how the commandment was broadened in the Bible.  It first appears in the book of Leviticus, where God says to the Hebrews, “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18)   Here one’s neighbor is a fellow Hebrew, but a five verses later that changes.  God says, “If you have aliens [‘resident foreigners’] in your country, you will not molest them.  You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; You shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Lev. 19:33-34)

An ‘alien’ (Hebrew = ger) is a man who, either alone or with his family, leaves his village and tribe, because of war, famine or pestilence, and seeks shelter elsewhere, where he does not enjoy the rights of a citizen.  An ‘alien’ was an immigrant without rights.

Thus, my neighbor is not merely the members of my tribe.  God commanded the Hebrews to treat non-citizen foreigners as neighbors.  Basically God said to them, “Remember that you were aliens and that I rescued you when you were in dire straits.  Now, you must treat others in the same way…. according to my mercy toward you.”

Already in the Old Testament, the command to “love your neighbor” was extended to foreigners living among them.  However Jesus broadened the commandment.  He extended it to enemies, as he said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”  (Matt. 5:43-45)

Jesus put that into practice when he washed the feet of his disciples.  Immediately, after washing their feet he said that Judas would betray him.  Then he said to them, “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn. 13:34)   Next, he announced that Peter would deny him three times.  So his command to “Love one another as I have loved you” was sandwiched between Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s denial.

Just before he died Jesus commanded his disciples to love backstabbers and unfaithful friends with the love of the cross.  “Love your neighbor” means to defend immigrants, the protect the unborn and forgive your enemies.  It means to love beyond tribalism.

When you vote this week, try to identify candidates who have the wisdom to see beyond tribalism and the courage to stand against it.  Look for people who will not be blinded by a party lens.  Seek leaders who have the inner freedom to support the good in the other party.

Above all, vote for people who have shown by their words and actions that our neighbor is much more than those who belong to my tribe, or who are native-born.  As we approach the Eucharist today, let’s remember how Jesus washed the feet of his betrayer, then said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Becoming servants and saints

Becoming servants and saints

This weekend, I celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation with 84 students in Cheyenne at St. Mary’s Cathedral (Friday), Holy Trinity Parish (Saturday) and St. Joseph’s Parish (Sunday).  Below is the homily from Sunday.

The best way to understand Confirmation is to see how the Holy Spirit shines out in others.    In the letters you wrote for confirmation, you describe how you see the Holy Spirit in the saints.  One of you wrote:  “My confirmation name is Maximillian Kolbe. . . . He sacrificed his life for someone he didn’t even know.  He did it because he wanted the guy to not lose his family.” 

St. Maximillian Kolbe was at the concentration camp at Auschwitz.  When the Nazis sentenced ten men to die in a starvation bunker, one of the men cried out saying that he had a wife and children.  He begged not to be chosen.  Fr. Kolbe heard him cry out and offered himself instead.  He said: “I am a Catholic priest; I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children.”

The man whose place Kolbe had taken later said, “I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it: I, the condemned, am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me—a stranger.” 

St. Maximillian sacrificed his life for someone he didn’t even know.  He was a great example of what Jesus says in the gospel today.  He was totally selfless, totally focused on helping other people.  Saints teach us how to be servant-disciples.  The grace of Confirmation empowers you to be servants and to sacrifice your life for others.

Yet, that takes time.  We need to realize that God works with us, even when we are selfish.  You can see that in today’s gospel.  James and John are selfish.  They are seeking a privileged place with Jesus.  They asked him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.”  (Mark 10:37)  Then the other disciples became angry.  Maybe they were jealous.  So Jesus patiently reminded them what it means to be a true disciple.

He told them,  “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.  For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

To be a disciple is to serve others.  Saints are servants.  But it took time for the disciples to get it.  Like us, they were selfish.  As I read your letters, I saw that you have the desire to serve, even though you are aware of your weakness.  For a disciple, success means to never give up.  You cannot fail if you never give up.  God will give you the grace to be a good servant, if you just keep asking him for grace.

It is easy to get discouraged because we sin and fail.  But one of the best reasons to have hope is to realize that God knows our weakness and helps us in our weakness.  In the letter to the Hebrews is says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.  So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”  (Heb. 4:15-16)

When you are weak, remember that Jesus knows your weakness and helps you.  He will forgive you and help you to start again.  Keep reading stories of the saints.  They will inspire you to be selfless servants.  Above all, take time every day to read a gospel passage because seeing how Jesus served is the best inspiration.

Responding to Archbishop Viganò,

Responding to Archbishop Viganò,

Several people have asked me about my position regarding the letters of Archbishop Viganò.  I have been waiting for those in Rome to respond, since they have access to the pertinent information needed to address the questions raised in his letters.  Two statements were issued this weekend.  On Saturday, October 6, the Vatican issued a first or interim response, which can be found at   http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2018/10/06/181006f.html.  In due time, a fuller response will be forthcoming.  Also, on Sunday, October 7 Cardinal Marc Ouellet issued an open letter to Archbishop Viganò.  I fully support both statements and re-affirm my wholehearted support and fidelity to Pope Francis.
In these days of turbulence, please pray for the unity of our Church and healing for all affected by sexual abuse.  As we seek to address the scandalous behavior of some clergy members, we must not lose the focus on bringing healing to the victims.  A translation of Cardinal Ouellet’s letter was posted on the Vatican News website.  The full text is below.

Dear fellow brother, Carlo Maria Viganò,

In your last message to the media in which you denounce Pope Francis and the Roman Curia, you urged me to tell the truth about the facts which you interpret as endemic corruption that has invaded the Church’s hierarchy even up to the highest levels. With due pontifical permission, I offer here my personal testimony, as the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, regarding the events concerning the Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, DC, Theodore McCarrick, and his presumed links with Pope Francis, which constitute the subject of your sensational public denunciation, as well as your demand that the Holy Father resign. I write this testimony based on my personal contacts and on archival documents of the aforementioned Congregation, which are currently the subject of a study in order to shed light on this sad case.

First of all, allow me to say to you with complete sincerity, by virtue of the good collaborative relationship that existed between us when you were the Nuncio in Washington, that your current position appears incomprehensible and extremely deplorable to me, not only because of the confusion that it sows in the People of God, but also because your public accusations seriously damage the reputation of the Successors of the Apostles. I remember the time in which I once enjoyed your esteem and confidence, but I realize that I stand to lose the dignity you recognized in me for the sole fact of having remained faithful to the guidelines of the Holy Father in the service that he entrusted to me in the Church.

Is not communion with the Successor of Peter the expression of our obedience to Christ who chose him and who supports him by His grace? My interpretation of Amoris Laetitia, which you criticize, is written out of this fidelity to the living tradition, of which Francis has given us an example through the recent modification of the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the question of the death penalty.

Let us get down to the facts. You say that you informed Pope Francis on 23 June 2013 on the McCarrick case during the audience he granted to you, along with the many other pontifical representatives whom he then met for the first time on that day. I imagine the enormous quantity of verbal and written information that he would have gathered on that occasion about many persons and situations. I strongly doubt that McCarrick was of interest to him to the point that you believed him to be, since at the moment he was an 82-year-old Archbishop Emeritus who had been without an appointment for seven years. In addition, the written brief prepared for you by the Congregation for Bishops at the beginning of your service in 2011, said nothing about McCarrick other than what I told you in person about his situation as an emeritus Bishop who was supposed to obey certain conditions and restrictions due to the rumors surrounding his past behavior.

Since I became Prefect of this Congregation on 30 June 2010, I never brought up the McCarrick case in an audience with Pope Benedict XVI or Pope Francis until these last days, after his removal from the College of Cardinals. The former Cardinal, who had retired in May 2006, had been strongly advised not to travel and not to appear in public, so as not to provoke additional rumors in his regard. It is false to present the measures taken in his regard as “sanctions” decreed by Pope Benedict XVI and revoked by Pope Francis. After re-examining the archives, I can ascertain that there are no corresponding documents signed by either Pope, neither is there a note of an audience with my predecessor, Cardinal Giovanni-Battista Re, giving Archbishop Emeritus McCarrick an obligatory mandate of silence and to retire to a private life, carrying canonical penalties. The reason being that at that time, unlike today, there was not sufficient proof of his alleged guilt. Hence, the position of the Congregation was inspired by prudence, and my predecessor’s letters, as well as mine, reiterated through the Apostolic Nuncio Pietro Sambi, and then also through you, urging a discreet style of life, of prayer and penance for his own good and that of the Church. His case would have been the object of new disciplinary measures had the Nunciature in Washington, or whatever other source, provided us with recent and decisive information regarding his behavior. I hope like many others, out of respect for the victims and the need for justice, that the investigation underway in the United States and in the Roman Curia will finally offer us a critical, comprehensive view on the procedures and the circumstances of this painful case, so that such events are not repeated in the future.

How is it that this man of the Church, whose inconsistency is recognized today, was promoted on several occasions, even to the point of being invested with the highest function of Archbishop of Washington and Cardinal? I myself am extremely surprised by this and recognize the defects in the selection process undertaken in his case. Without entering here into the details, it needs to be understood that the decisions taken by the Supreme Pontiff are based on information available at a precise moment, which constitute the object of a careful judgement which is not infallible. It seems unjust to me to conclude that the persons in charge of the prior discernment are corrupt even though, in this concrete case, some suspicions provided by witnesses should have been further examined. The prelate in question knew how to defend himself very skillfully regarding the doubts that were raised about him. On the other hand, the fact that there may be persons in the Vatican who practice and support behavior contrary to Gospel values regarding sexuality, does not authorize us to generalize and declare this or that person as unworthy and as accomplices, even including the Holy Father himself. Should not the ministers of truth be the first to avoid calumny and defamation themselves?

Dear Pontifical Representative Emeritus, I tell you frankly that I believe it is incredible and unlikely from many points of view to accuse Pope Francis of having covered up after having full knowledge of the facts of this presumed sexual predator, and therefore of being an accomplice in the corruption rampant in the Church, to the point of considering him unfit to continue his reforms as the first Shepherd of the Church. I cannot understand how you could have allowed yourself to be convinced of this monstrous accusation which has no standing. Francis had nothing to do with the promotion of McCarrick to New York, Metuchen, Newark or Washington. He divested him from the dignity of Cardinal when a credible accusation of the abuse of a minor became evident. I have never heard Pope Francis allude to this self-styled advisor during his pontificate regarding nominations in America, though he does not hide the trust that he has in some of the Bishops. I presume that they are not preferred by you or by those friends who support your interpretation of the facts. I therefore consider it to be aberrant that you should profit by the horrible scandal of the sexual abuse of minors in the United States to inflict such an unprecedented and unmerited blow on the moral authority of your Superior, the Supreme Pontiff.

I have the privilege of meeting at length each week with Pope Francis, in order to deal with the nominations of Bishops and the problems that affect their office. I know very well how he handles persons and problems: very charitably, mercifully, attentively and seriously, as you yourself have experienced. Reading how you concluded your last message, apparently very spiritual, mocking and casting doubt on his faith, seemed to me to be really too sarcastic, even blasphemous! Such a thing cannot come from God’s Spirit.

Dear fellow brother, I truly want to help you retrieve communion with him who is the visible guarantor of the Catholic Church’s communion. I understand that bitterness and delusions have been a part of your journey in service to the Holy See, but you cannot conclude your priestly life in this way, in open and scandalous rebellion, which is inflicting a very painful wound on the Bride of Christ, whom you claim to serve better, thus aggravating the division and confusion in the People of God! In what other way can I respond to your request other than to say: come out of hiding, repent from this revolt and retrieve better feelings toward the Holy Father, instead of exacerbating hostility against him. How can you celebrate the Holy Eucharist and pronounce his name in the Canon of the Mass? How can you pray the Holy Rosary, the Prayer to St Michael the Archangel, and to the Mother of God, condemning him whom She protects and accompanies every single day in his heavy and courageous ministry?

If the Pope were not a man of prayer, if he were attached to money, if he were one who favors the rich to the detriment of the poor, if he did not demonstrate an untiring energy in welcoming all who are poor, giving them the generous comfort of his word and his actions, were he not multiplying all the means possible to proclaim and communicate the joy of the Gospel to everyone in the Church and even beyond its visible frontiers, if he were not extending a hand to families, to the elderly who are abandoned, to the sick in spirit and in body and above all to the young in search of happiness, then someone else could perhaps be preferable, according to you, with different diplomatic and political attitudes, but I, who have been able to know him well, cannot put into question his personal integrity, his consecration to mission, and above all the charisma and peace that dwell in him by God’s grace and the power of the Risen One.

Responding to your unjust and unjustified attack, dear Viganò, I therefore conclude that the accusation is a political maneuver without any real foundation to be able to incriminate the Pope, and I repeat that it is deeply wounding the Church’s communion. It would please God that this injustice be quickly repaired and that Pope Francis might continue to be recognized for who he is: an eminent pastor, a compassionate and firm father, a prophetic charism for the Church and for the world. May he continue his missionary reform joyfully and in full confidence, comforted by the prayer of the People of God and by the renewed solidarity of the entire Church together with Mary, Queen of the Holy Rosary.

The Cry of the Little Ones

The Cry of the Little Ones

Today’s readings for Mass cut right into our hearts.  They remind us that “The word of God is sharper than any double-edged sword; it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit . . . .”  (Heb. 4:12)   Jesus’ words cut into our hearts. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”  (Mark 9:42)

The danger when we hear these words is to think only how others have sinned and to be filled with anger toward them.  But then the Bible is being used as a sword of judgment of others, rather than a Word that pierces my soul.  The Scriptures can do us more harm than good, if we only apply them to others.  Listen to the Word today as a communal examination of conscience.

  • What patterns of sin in our church or nation are laid bare as we hear the Lord Jesus speak these words?
  • What sins in my heart are revealed?

The main challenge of the Gospel regards scandal.  “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin. . .”   A more literal translation is “Whoever scandalizes one of these little ones who believe in me.”  Scandalize might mean “cause to sin.”  It also means to “pervert or mislead someone,” in such a way that we cause others to lose their faith and fall away from God.

 The “little ones who believe” are catechumens, recent converts, or people of low esteem.  Little ones might be people who have no voice in society.  They might be the poor or less educated.

“Whoever scandalizes one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”  (Mark 9:42)

With that verse in mind, I will address three major causes of scandal in society.  The first has dominated in the news – the scandal of church leaders who failed to protect children from abuse.  A central aspect of the scandal is the break in trust with bishops.  It is not only that children were abused, but that bishops betrayed our trust.  The scandal is a break in trust.   People are asking:

  • How do we know they will do the right thing?
  • Will they protect the little ones?
  • Will they use their authority to serve?

Last week, Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” (Mk. 9:35)  Bishops are being reminded of our mission to serve the least, to use our authority to be a servant of all, especially to protect the least.

‘Protection’ is a main theme in the Scriptures when the little ones are mentioned.  In the Old Testament, God asserts unequivocally that he protects orphans, widows and immigrant foreigners who have no one else to protect them.  God hears them when they cry out to heaven for help.

In his recent letter Pope Francis stated that God hears the cries of the victims of abuse.  He wrote:  “The heart-wrenching pains of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced.  But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it . . . The Lord heard that cry and once again showed us on which side he stands.” 

The opposite of scandalizing the little ones is to hear their cry for help, and protect the least.  We betrayed that mission.  The Word of God is calling us to task.

There are two other scandals that have been with us for a long time, so it is easy to become desensitized to them.  The scandal for both of them is rooted in our failure to recognize the dignity of the people involved.

First, the child in the womb cries out to us and says, “I am beautiful and precious in God’s eyes.  He hears my cry.  Will you hear my cry?  Listen to my voice, as you also listen to the voice of my mother who also suffers alone and receives little help from society.  We are both God’s little ones.  Remember, Jesus said, “Whatever you did to the least brothers (or sisters) of mine, you did to me.” (Matt. 25:40)

Just as we mourn the children wounded by abuse, we need to keep in mind the children in the womb who are often ignored.  Their cries are heard in heaven.

Finally, our treatment of poor refugees and immigrants is a source of scandal.  This is a touchy topic, and people are easily offended when it is mentioned.  A few basic questions as we consider immigrants and refugees as God’s little ones:  Do we see their dignity as human beings created in the image and likeness of God?  Do we see them as people like us?  Would I want to be treated like that?  Do we hear their cries?

Often they work in the poorest jobs and for the least wages.  They work hours that no one else wants to work.  Because they may not have the proper documents, they are not treated with dignity.  St. James speaks about this scandal today, “Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”  (James 5:4)

Immigrants and refugees are some of the little ones who believe in Jesus, but we scandalize them by the way we ignore them or separate their children or fail to pay them just wages.

In the Bible, certain grievous sins cry out to heaven.  As St. James says, injustice to a poor wage earner is a sin that cries out to heaven.  In the Old Testament, oppression of the orphan, widow or foreign immigrant are sins that cry out to heaven.  Thus, killing a child in the womb is surely a sin that cries out to heaven.  Mindful of this teaching, Pope Francis includes the atrocities of sexual abuse as a sin that cries out to heaven.

These sins scandalize the little ones who believe.  They scandalize because those in power do not listen to the little ones.  They ignore their cries, mistreat or even kill them.  But “their cries have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”  Almighty God will give them justice.  We are his agents.  As faithful disciples, we are supposed to imitate God’s care for the least.

The opposite of scandalizing the little ones is to hear their cry for help and protect the least.  Will we hear their cries and protect them?

Challenged to witness

Challenged to witness

“What good is it, brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” (James 2:14)

Today is Catechetical Sunday.  As we celebrate the beginning of a new year of faith formation, St. James challenges us, “Put your money where your mouth is.”  We need to do more than talk about our faith.  Passing on the faith is not just a head trip.  It is more than a love affair of the heart with Jesus, as my Lord and Savior.  It is about acting like Jesus.

“What good is it . . . if someone says he has faith but does not have works?”

St. James reminds us that the Church exists to make disciples who act like Christ.  He challenges us to be faithful witnesses because we make disciples by our good example.  Yet, this summer, our hearts have been lacerated by unfaithful disciples, by the unfaithful witness of bishops.  They were chosen to be especially faithful witnesses to Jesus.  Yet, they failed to serve the least.  They failed to listen to victims who spoke about being abused, and they failed to protect others from abuse.

“What good is it . . . if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  How scandalous it is if a bishop preaches the faith, yet does not act with the charity of Christ toward others!

This week, I ran across a quote from Dorothy Day which will help us to deal with all of this.  She said, “As a convert, I never expected much of bishops. . . . In all of history, popes and bishops and father abbots seem to have been blind and power-loving and greedy.  I never expected leadership from them.  It’s the saints that keep appearing all through history who keep things going.” (https://aleteia.org/2018/08/21/dorothy-day-never-expected-much-of-the-bishops/)

Dorothy Day was inspired to be a disciple by the saints.  Reading stories of the saints is so essential to faithful discipleship. They remind us that we can live like Christ.  They encourage us when others around us are lukewarm or act scandalously.

To be a successful disciple is to be a SAINT, to be like Christ.  Success is not to be a bishop or a cardinal or a pope.  It pains our hearts when our leaders are not saints.  We expect that of them, and rightly so.

I can assure you that priests and bishops are also angry and scandalized by the horrendous behavior of clergy who abused.  We are angry, not only because of how they harmed innocent people, but also because their actions damage us.  Sometimes we are so focused on helping the laity deal with their pain that we fail to get in touch with our own hurt and anger.  But it is there.

As laity and clergy, we need to understand our anger, but also we need to find hope.  For me, the saints have always been an essential source of hope.  As Dorothy Day said, “It’s the saints that keep appearing all through history who keep things going.”

 On October 14, a pope and a bishop will be canonized – Pope Paul VI and Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador.  As we are scandalized by bishops, it is providential that the Lord brings two saintly selfless courageous bishops to our attention.  They help us to regain perspective in these troubling days.  In an encyclical on evangelization, Pope Paul VI wrote, “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41)

What does a witness look like?  Simple …… they are people who act like Christ.  The Christian life can be summed up in one simple goal, to be transformed into Christ.  Jesus gives us a stark description of what that looks like.

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)  We marvel at saints for their selflessness.  To be a disciple is to be a man for others, or a woman for others.  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself.” 

Oscar Romero was a man for others.  He is described as the voice of the voiceless.  He spoke out forcefully for the poor of El Salvador, so forcefully that the military leaders were enraged.  He had already been threatened with death, when he gave his last Sunday homily and spoke these words – his most famous words – to the soldiers at Mass.

“Brothers, you are part of our people, and you kill your very own brothers and sisters. . . . No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God.  No one has to follow an immoral law.  It is time that you come to your senses and obey your consciences rather than sinful commands. 

The Church . . . cannot remain silent in the face of such abominations.  We want the government to take seriously the fact that reforms stained with so much blood are worthless. 

In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people who have suffered so much and whose laments cry out to heaven with greater intensity each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God:  Stop the repression!”

The next day, they shot him while he celebrated Mass.  Romero is a faithful witness because he stood up for the little people and because he followed the voice of Jesus.  He listened to the voice of God in his own heart, and acted on it, no matter what.  “Whoever loses his life my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”  Isn’t it inspiring to look at a saint who went to the cross!  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”

Our hearts have been darkened because some bishops have failed miserably in their call to live selflessly like saints.  So, like Dorothy Day, we need to keep our eyes on the saints.  “It’s the saints that keep appearing all through history who keep things going.”

And we need to be humble about our own sinfulness, our own failure to be a faithful witness.  The truth is that every one of us is a lot like Peter. He could not imagine a suffering and crucified Jesus ….. because that means a similar fate for the disciples.  It requires too much suffering.  It demands that I lose my life for God.  Like Peter, we too fail to witness by our selfishness.

Who is your favorite saint?  Remember them today.  Be inspired by their selfless love, and ask him or her to intercede for the Church.  Then ask God to transform you to be like Christ.

He makes all things well

He makes all things well

While learning how to preach, I was given this image.  Hold the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Preaching is a way of letting the Word of God speak to the struggle of our lives.  It is a time to address the issues of the day, not merely with human insight, but with God’s wisdom.

Over the last two months, I have received a ton of mail.  People have written about Bishop Hart or Archbishop McCarrick.  More recently, they wrote about the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the letter of Archbishop Viganò. Instead of newspapers, the letters helped me understand the struggles of people.  Today I hope to use the Scriptures to illumine our darkened hearts.

People identified several burning issues that they want me to address as a bishop.  After reading their letters, I have realized that there are so many issues on people’s minds that we could easily lose focus on what is most important.

We need to be wary of losing our focus on victims of sexual abuse.  I have been appalled at how rarely people mention the victims.  In their anger about these issues, often it is hard to perceive any compassion for those who have been harmed.  The greatest sadness in my heart is how people have been wounded for life.  We need to foster the healing of survivors and protect the little ones from this sinful scourge in the future.  That is the primary issue.

Yes, there are some other critical focal points.  We need to hold bishops accountable for abandoning the little ones, and change the clerical culture that enabled such abuse of power.  People have expressed disgust and anger, with good reason, over bishops and church leaders responsible for the cover up.  One person wrote, “I must pray and work to replace anger with charity if I am going to be useful in rebuilding this broken Church.  While I work on these things, I will await your reply.”

 Therefore, an independent investigation must be conducted by the laity.  Cardinal DiNardo already proposed this, as did the National Review Board who stated, “The episcopacy needs to be held accountable for these past actions, . . . for being complicit, either directly or indirectly, in the sexual abuse of the vulnerable. . . . The only way to ensure the independence of such a review is to entrust this to the laity.”

 The investigation needs to go all the way to the top so that justice is done.  But we need to be patient and prudent.  Some have already reached hasty conclusions without proper investigations.  We need to allow for due process and seek justice with impartial and thorough fact-finding.  Everyone involved needs to be investigated, but we need to be patient.  It is more prudent to wait patiently in silence for the truth to be revealed.

There are other highly important issues that will need attention, but for now I propose that we focus our attention on these areas:

  • Fostering the healing of victims of sexual abuse.
  • Protecting the little ones from this sinful scourge in the future.
  • Holding bishops accountable by way of a thorough investigation.
  • Addressing the clerical culture that enabled such abuse of power.

What do the Scriptures teach us as we face such horrible sins?  Pope Francis says that these are crimes that “cry to heaven.”  What does God say to us in the face of such suffering?

First of all, he speaks to the victims.  He says to them, “I hurt with you.”  In the gospel, “Jesus groaned” when they brought him the deaf man w/a speech impediment (Mark 7:34).  Other times as Jesus heals people, he looks on them with deep compassion – the Greek verb is splanknizomai.  It means that his stomach churned with pity for the broken.  That seems to be the sense of his groan as he prays over the deaf man.    He hurts with him.  He groaned in his desire to heal him.

So one lesson is that victims should know that Jesus groans in prayer for them.  And he wants us to groan in prayer for them.  We need to tell them, “I hurt with you.” 

A few weeks ago, I received a letter from a woman who was abused as a little girl by her dad, then as a teenager by the youth minister at church.  She wrote this, “No matter how many years span between abuse and the justice that follows, the only theme I ever find perpetuating in my mind is that all a victim needs is a defender.  A person who truly sees them, and holds space alongside of them, whether it is through the suffering or through the rising.  Countless times in my life, I’ve wished that I just had a person – anyone – to talk to about what has happened and help me keep my eyes on the good.”

 She said, “All a victim needs is a defender.  A person who truly sees them, and holds space alongside of them.”  Survivors of sexual abuse need people who will stand alongside of them and hurt with them and groan in prayer to God for them.

First of all, bishops need to do this.  Bishops failed to listen to victims and stand alongside of them.  This is an area of conversion.  “We abandoned the little ones,” Pope Francis said.  The whole Church needs to do this, and it will make our Church whole.  Healing is central to our mission.  Some estimate that more than 75% of Jesus ministry was dedicated to healing.

One lady asked that I begin a “comprehensive healing ministry to the sexually abused among us.”  She said that she identified herself as a “survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a family member.”  She wrote, “Please do not pray only, but take action and influence the actions of the Church that can heal, minister to and bind the wounds of the shamed.”

What if in 20 years, people were flocking to the Catholic Church because we were a place of healing for the abused? Pope Francis said that the Church is a “field hospital.”  He said, “This is the mission of the Church:  the Church heals, it cures. . . . there are many wounded!  So many people need their wounds healed!  This is the mission of the Church:  to heal the wounds of the heart.”  How can we use our energy to focus it on healing the survivors of sexual abuse?

Jesus was in pagan territory when he healed the deaf man.  Anyone can come to him for healing.  He does not limit his healing power to the faithful, to those who come to Sunday Mass.  He healed the deaf man is in the decapolis, west of Israel.

That means that it was the non-believers who “begged Jesus to lay his hand on him” (Mark 7:32).  He responds to anyone who calls out.  Do we pray with that kind of confidence in Jesus?  Do we invite anyone to come here for healing?  This week at St. Mary’s Cathedral, we are having Mercy Night, which will be a healing service.  Invite someone here who needs to experience healing.  Anyone is welcome.  They do not need to be regular church goers.

By ourselves, we cannot make things right.  We need to stand before God as beggars who look to him alone for new life.  When Jesus healed the deaf man, the people said, “He has done all things well.  He makes even the deaf hear and the dumb speak.”  Their reaction takes us back to Genesis.  In the creation story, it says, “God looked at everything he had made and he found it very good” (Gen. 1:31), which could be translated as “exceedingly good, beautiful or healthy.”  So Jesus restores creation to its original goodness.

The Scriptures remind us that God can make us whole and beautiful again when we feel totally ruined.  In the Word of the Gospel, we encounter Christ who restores us to Original Goodness.  Jesus is the fulfillment of what the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah,“Say to those whose hearts are frightened:  Be strong, fear not!  Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.”  

If you are thinking that the sky is falling, that we are in an irreparable place in the Church, then you have lost touch with the healing power of Christ.  If you are feeling like we are in a total crisis, then you have lost sight of God’s power to do all things.  Then you are stuck in grief of human sin and in disgust of our atrocious crimes…… but you are not living with faith in the crucified and risen Lord, who used the betrayal of Judas to conquer the darkness of evil.

The Gospel reminds us that the Lord Jesus has power to make all things well.  Today, pray for the Lord to touch your heart with his healing power.  Then, ask the Lord. “How do you want me to be involved in your healing ministry in your Church?” 

Just the Facts

Just the Facts

Many who are older might remember the TV show ‘Dragnet’ with Sgt. Joe Friday who interviewed people by saying, “Just the facts.”  That line has come to my mind as I have read the torrent of commentary on clergy sexual abuse.  So many writers are so poorly informed.  Much of what has been written is far from the facts, and some are positing conclusions which are ridiculous.  Maintaining a sane perspective through accurate analysis is needed more than ever.

On the one hand, the news about Archbishop McCarrick is horrendous; the Pennsylvania grand jury report is disturbing; and the letter by Archbishop Viganò was shocking.  Yet, it is not helpful to have so many people blogging about these affairs, and who are jumping to imprudent conclusions.  We do not benefit from so much drama.

In the recent article of the Wyoming Catholic Register, I offered my perspective on the situation.  See page two of the WCR (http://www.dioceseofcheyenne.org/register.html).

Also, there is an excellent article by Thomas G. Plante, Ph.D., ABPP which is titled “Separating Facts About Clergy Abuse From Fiction” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/do-the-right-thing/201808/separating-facts-about-clergy-abuse-fiction).  He offers a rationale for four facts:

  1. No empirical data exists that suggests that Catholic clerics sexually abuse minors at a level higher than clerics from other religious traditions or from other groups of men who have ready access and power over children (e.g., school teachers, coaches).
  2. Clerical celibacy doesn’t cause pedophilia and sexual crimes against minors.
  3. Homosexual clerics aren’t the cause of pedophilia in the Church.
  4. The Church has used best practices to deal with this issue since 2002.

I encourage you to take the time to read that article.  It offers a sane perspective in the midst of so much turbulence.  Undoubtedly, these are challenging days, but the sky is not falling.  We need to stay the course, and keep a sane perspective.

Be careful how you live

Be careful how you live

“Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise.” (Eph. 5:15)

School is starting.  College students will soon be going off on their own, and they will need to watch carefully how they live, by making good choices.  As the year gets busy with all kinds of sports and extracurricular activities, it is easy for families to get immersed in the activity without keeping priorities.  Soon the family suffers and their spiritual life weakens.

 “Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:15-16).  How can we watch carefully?  St. Paul urges us to “watch carefully . . . because the days are evil.”

First, realize that there is a larger battle in life, between the Evil One and God.

Every day I am dealing with forces larger than my heart and will.  Every day I am dealing with more than the other person who does wrong to me.  The battle to be a good person is not just between me and other people.  It involves larger spiritual forces.  This is essential to remember in little daily decisions, as well as when we face epic spiritual battles, like clergy sexual abuse.  If we forget this dimension of life, then we are susceptible to tragic sin.

As Jesus began his public ministry, he began with confronting the devil.  The temptations in the desert set the context for the larger battle.  He does not do battle only with the Jewish leaders, or Judas who betrays, or the Romans who crucify him.  His main battle was with the Evil One.

After the temptations in the desert, Luke says,“Having exhausted every way of putting him to the test, the devil left him, until the opportune moment.” (Lk. 4:13)

The larger battle in life is between the Evil One and God. We have to keep that in mind in our daily journey.  We must remember this as a Church.  “Watch carefully how you live . . . because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:15-16).  Or as St. Paul says in Ephesians 6:11, “Put on the full armor of God so as to be able to resist the devil’s tactics.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey.  We are spiritual beings on a human journey.”  Parents, are raising your children as spiritual beings?

Attend to the ‘spiritual.’  People are good at exercising their bodies.  This generation works at physical fitness, but often ignores spiritual fitness.  Do you have a spiritual fitness plan for your life?

Start by realizing that there is a larger battle in life, between the Evil One and God.  Next, remember that we need God’s help for this battle.  So we need to pray daily.  And the center of prayer is to do God’s will.  Paul says, “Do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of God.” (Eph. 5:17).

The best way to know God’s will is to say every day, “What do you want, Lord?”

  • What do you want as I start a new day in high school or college?
  • What do you want for my family, as I seek to be a good parent?
  • What do you want in this relationship?

If I am going to know the Lord’s will, then I have to know the LORD.  Reading the Bible is the best way to know God.  Every day take a few minutes with the Gospel so that you know how Jesus speaks and acts.  When you come to Mass, ask God to give you a word that strikes your heart.

Sometimes sports on the weekends leads a family to missing Sunday Mass.  Then sports become idols.  Then two commandments are broken:  Not keeping God above other gods.  Not keeping the Lord’s Day.

We let that happen … because we do not realize that we are spiritual beings … because we fail to understand that the larger battle is between the Evil One and God … because we do not realize that we need God’s help.

Jesus gives us his own strength as he says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6:56).  Another translation says, “lives in me and I live in him.”  The word translated as remains or lives is literally to dwell, like dwelling in a house.  This is the goal of spiritual beings who are on a human journey.”  We are created to dwell in God.

“Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil. . . . be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph. 5:15-16, 18).

Responding to Sexual Abuse

Responding to Sexual Abuse

People are struggling with the Pennsylvania grand jury report on sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.  Perhaps the most disturbing thing is how Church leaders failed to deal with priests who were abusing.

Cardinal DiNardo described the situation as “morally reprehensible.”  The Vatican issued a public statement, saying that the abuse is best described with two words, “shame and sorrow” and called the abuse “criminally and morally reprehensible.”

What should be ‘next steps’ for the Church?  First, bishops need to focus on the survivors of abuse, not on our reputation.  One thing that contributed to the mishandling of abuse cases in the past was that we were too self-focused on the institution of the Church.  One of greatest moral failures has been our neglect of victims.  We have improved, but we must do better.  This is especially true for the bishops, but it applies to the Church at-large.  Pope Francis responded to the report by telling the victims that he is “on their side.”

Second, we need to acknowledge the wrongs that have been done, and not go on the “defensive,” which, at times, has been our first reaction.  As bishops, we need to listen to the pain of the people in the pew.  Conversion is only possible when we admit our sin.

Yet, a balanced perspective is essential.  Since the Dallas Charter in 2002, much has changed.  This was shown in the Pennsylvania grand jury report, which revealed very few new instances of sexual abuse since 2002.  Our manner of responding to allegations of sexual abuse has changed drastically.  We should not be discouraged and lament that nothing has changed.

Also, the response to allegations has been different in every diocese.  In one of the media reports, it was stated the what happened in Pennsylvania is true for every diocese in every state.  That is false.  It is a gross generalization that the facts will show to be incorrect.  Some bishops were getting this right well before 2002.

Next, the Bishops need to invite qualified lay people to scrutinize the issues with impartiality. Bishop Scharfenberger of Albany has called for a commission of lay people to investigate claims of abuse and misconduct against bishops. Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo has announced that the bishops will take up a comprehensive plan to address these issues in their November meeting.

These are a few places to start.  Also, I am writing about this situation in the September issue of the Wyoming Catholic Register.  In the meantime, remember all the good and faithful priests who are serving so well each day.  Find hope in their sacrifices and fidelity.  Together let us pray for the Church and work hard to address our sins.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

I visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe (above) in Mexico City on Saturday, July 14 and celebrated Mass with Fr. Hiep Nguyen, a priest of the Diocese of Cheyenne. We prayed for our Diocese and other special intentions. In December 1531, the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Juan Diego at this place (Tepeyac hill), and the iconic image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was miraculously imprinted on his tilma. This is the most visited Catholic religious site in the world, with approximately 20 million pilgrims annually.

Fr. Hiep and I are studying Spanish in Cuernavaca, an hour south of Mexico City. The study program includes cultural excursions like this so that students learn the culture and history of the people. I am grateful for the gift of a benefactor, which has made this experience possible.