Saturday, September 29, 2012

Are you tired of this election?

Are you tired of this election?  Me too.  We are flooded with Ads on TV, radio, internet.  I don't even want to listen to Pandora anymore because of all the Obama ads (don't know what Pandora is, ask a teenager).   One candidate bashing the other, misleading ads sponsored by the Romney Campaign and Obama Campaign.

Though I know you are probably just as tired of it as I am, it is important that amidst all the political manipulation we do hear the voice of the Truth and what the Church has to say about all of this.   

A few years ago I was blessed to visit Rwanda with Catholic Relief Services (CRS).  I learned about the genocide that happened there in 1994.  In a matter of 90 days over a million people were murdered.  This happened in a country that was 99% Catholic.  It happened because people were so manipulated by their government that they came to believe that the Tutsis were not people but cockroaches, and they needed to be exterminated.  I couldn’t believe anyone would let this happen... let alone Catholics.  As I left that country I made a promise to God that if I ever experienced anything like that I would pray for the courage to speak out.  It was shortly after I returned to America that I realized we, whether we realize it or not, are in the midst of a holocaust.  We are giving up our religious freedom and we are allowing the innocent to be murdered.  Every year 1.6 million babies are murdered in their mother’s womb, in America.  

As we prepare for this upcoming election, one of the documents we are all supposed to read is “Faithful Citizenship”.  Though I think we have tried to make it accessible, I realize that most Catholics have not read it.  When I asked at mass how many had read the document, out of the 500 in attendance, 4 people raised their hand.  So I kind of get the impression you probably haven’t read it... and I understand Church documents can seem pretty hard to read, but If you have not read it I encourage you to do so.  

In the Gospel today is this very strong warning from Jesus:


We have a millstone at the yard of our Amherst, City Hall... my pastor pointed out that that is what will be tied around my neck if I teach the wrong thing.  So here you have the teaching of the Catholic Church on the gravity of voting with our Faith.  

In particular, our Conference is focused on several current and fundamental problems, some involving opposition to intrinsic evils and others raising serious moral questions:

[Note that there are six highlighted issues in descending order, the church always lists the most important items first]

• Continuing destruction of unborn children through abortion and other threats to the lives and dignity of others who are vulnerable, sick, or unwanted;

• Renewed efforts to force Catholic ministries—in health care, education, and social services—to violate their consciences or stop serving those in need;

• Intensifying efforts to redefine marriage and enact measures which undermine marriage as the permanent, faithful, and fruitful union of one man and one woman and a fundamental moral and social institution essential to the common good;

• An economic crisis which has devastated lives and livelihoods, increasing national and global unemployment, poverty, and hunger; increasing deficits and debt and the duty to respond in ways which protect those who are poor and vulnerable as well as future generations;

• The failure to repair a broken immigration system with comprehensive measures that promote true respect for law, protect the human rights and dignity of immigrants and refugees, recognize their contributions to our nation, keep families together, and advance the common good;

•  Wars, terror, and violence which raise serious moral questions on the use of force and its human and moral costs in a dangerous world, particularly the absence of justice, security, and peace in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East.

So we all want the same thing right?  We all want a country where we can be free and prosper, and God wants this too.  We will generally get our country there by doing good and avoiding evil.  It’s that simple.  However, in order to get there we need to have “well-formed” consciences, deformed consciences will only lead us to do evil and avoid good.  The truth is we all need the formation because we are all sinners.  

Aided by the virtue of prudence in the exercise of well-formed consciences, Catholics are called to make practical judgments regarding good and evil choices in the political arena.

There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called “intrinsically evil” actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia. In our nation, “abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others” (Living the Gospel of Life.)

It is a mistake with grave moral consequences to treat the destruction of innocent human life merely as a matter of individual choice. A legal system that violates the basic right to life on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed.

This is an important and bold point - our legal system is fundamentally flawed with regard to abortion.  The document goes on to point out the complexity of all of the issues mentioned above.  However, one issue, at this time, far outweighs the rest.  Remember we are talking about 1.6 million abortions EVERY year!  This is a devastating number.  For every 100 babies that are conceived 33 of have been aborted.  That means one out of three babies are aborted.  Half of the women in our country have aborted the child in their womb.   While voting is a complex issue, the gravity of this situation makes it somewhat black and white.  

Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods. A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter's intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate's opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.

There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate's unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental  moral evil.

Are you getting the seriousness here?  A Catholic cannot in good conscience vote for someone who advocates an intrinsic evil such as abortion, unless there is a truly grave moral reason to do so.  Our current president has radically and forcefully advanced abortion in our country (especially with the Abortifacients included in contraception being provided as health care), he has also taken great advances to deny our religious freedom.  Therefore, it is very evident that he has not only spoken but acted consistently against life and freedom of religion.  The idea is... is that if you still intend to vote for him you better have truly grave moral reasons to do so.  

As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate's position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter's support.   Yet a candidate's position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.

The idea here is that we should not be single-issue voter for example voting for one of our presidents because we like an issue that they support, however we can legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support if they are for an intrinsically evil act, especially if that act is clarified by our bishops as being of grave, widespread, current and fundamental .  Our current president has given us all the evidence that we need to disqualify him from receiving our support.  

Human life is sacred. The dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. Direct attacks on innocent persons are never morally acceptable, at any stage or in any condition. In our society, human life is especially under direct attack from abortion.

Our Church, instituted by Christ, is warning us that human life is especially under direct attack from abortion.  Now you can try and argue any way that you want to avoid this... what about Death penalty?  The most death penaltys per year we have ever had in our country is 98 in 1998 .  Is that important?  Should it be stopped?  Yes!  but does 98 even compare to 1.6 million?  What about war?  Time magazine just reported that we now lose more soldiers to suicide than we do to casualty.  The average is about 1 per day.  Is this a horrible tragedy?  Yes!  But can you compare 343 to 1.6 million?  How much have the other presidents done to reverse this?  It may not have been reversed entirely but progress has been made  to delay women from having abortions, waiting a certain time period before making the decision, excluding late term abortions, whereas our current president has pushed the line of late term abortions, reversed a great deal of progress, and now wants to provide abortion inducing drugs as health care.  What about poverty?  This too is important, however there are more in poverty after four years of presidency and an additional 15 million on food stamps since Barack Obama took over.  All of these issues are important, however none of this compares to 1.6 million infants murdered in the womb every year!  We will all have to answer to God for allowing this in our country for far too long.  If you vote for a candidate that endorses abortion you better have very good evidence and reasoning that what they will do is going to be worth allowing abortion to continue to increase and our freedom of religion to be taken away!  These are the threats we face, they are real, they are happening and we have been far too silent!

Human Life 64. Our 1998 statement Living the Gospel of Life declares, “Abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human life and dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental good and the condition for all others” (no. 5). Abortion, the deliberate killing of a human being before birth, is never morally acceptable and must always be opposed.

We also promote a culture of life by supporting laws and programs that encourage childbirth and adoption over abortion and by addressing poverty, providing health care, and offering other assistance to pregnant women, children, and families.

Keep our nation from turning to violence to address fundamental problems—a million abortions each year to deal with unwanted pregnancies, euthanasia and assisted suicide to deal with the burdens of illness and disability, the destruction of human embryos in the name of research, the use of the death penalty to combat crime, and imprudent resort to war to address international disputes.

The second concern that the document mentions and the last I will focus on is the attack against religious freedom in this country.  Our current president has stopped all dialogue with our United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and is pushing forward on the advance of the Health Care Campaign without regard to our religious freedom.  This has been a serious concern in our country, and again something that we have been far too silent on for too long.  

We hear in the first reading from the book of numbers:

            Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!
Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!"

We have been blessed with a prophetic leader in Cardinal Dolan, who has consistently tried to dialogue and work with our President in order to protect our religious freedom.  The conversation has broken down.  Would that all of our priests and bishops spoke out has he has!

I’m going to mention him in a moment, but first here is an article that portrays the reality of how absurd our country has become in restricting our freedom of religion.  

By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, SEPT. 28, 2012 ( - Two recent reports on religious liberty have amply documented the challenges believers face in practicing their faith.
The Texas-based Liberty Institute recently published “The Survey of Religious Hostility in America.” The introduction affirms that the Founding Fathers considered religious liberty as the “first freedom.”
“They understood that one’s right to worship God and follow his conscience according to the principles of his religious faith was foundational to civic tranquility,” the introduction stated.
The report went on to detail threats to religious liberty in such areas as the public display of nativity scenes, memorials to soldiers, and prayers at legislative assemblies. It noted that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has mandated that funerals for veterans at national cemeteries be completely secularized, even when the veteran or his family expressed a desire for a religious funeral.
The opposition to any form of religious expression goes to such extreme lengths as the case of Jonathan Morgan, a third-grader in Plano, Texas, who was told by school officials that he could not include a religious message in the goodie bags that he was bringing to the “Winter Party” to share with his classmates.
Then, there was the case of a Houston-area school district that banned any religious content in the Christmas and Valentine’s Day cards. The report said that: “When one student was asked what Easter meant to her, she was told that she could not say, “Jesus.”
Another case was that of an eleven-year-old student in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, who was penalized for mentioning Jesus in a Christmas poetry assignment. His teacher asked him to submit a rewrite of the poem.
Work-related cases were also numerous. A Mount Sinai Hospital nurse was forced to participate in a late-term abortion against her conscience and religious convictions. She was threatened with termination and loss of license. The nurse lost in both the district court and the Second Circuit, the report noted.
The report contains brief summaries of hundreds of cases over the last two decades of attempts to silence any religious expression in the public square of religion.
Regions of the world

No less than 75% of the world’s population “lives in countries where governments, social groups or individuals restrict people’s ability to freely practice their faith,” the report stated.

Can’t we see that our freedom is being taken from us?  The church is aware that there is a direct attack by our current President and his administration on our freedom to practice religion.  

Here’s from an interview with Cardinal Dolan about President Obama:


A People of Hope: Archbishop Timothy Dolan in Conversation with John L. Allen Jr.

It's time for us to be united.   The current president is aggressively pushing forward restrictions to religion as well as aggressively advancing abortion in this country.   He has not only stated it but he has acted on it.  This is a grave and serious matter.  

I want to end by saying that if you have had an abortion, know that you are still loved by God and the Church.  There is healing available.  If you have assisted with an abortion or have committed one yourself know that confession is available.  There is no unforgivable sin.  And you will find in the Sacrament an unconditionally loving God who can forgive any sin.  You will hear the words of Christ’s absolution spoken through the lips of the priest and you can relieve yourself of such a great burden.  For more help and healing visit my blog or if you want to review how to go to confession click here.  

May we take these words from the book of Numbers to heart:  
Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!
Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!"

Saturday, September 22, 2012

iPhone Envy (Homily)

The New iPhone is out after all the months of waiting... turns out the iPhone 5 isn’t much better than the iPhone 4s, which wasn’t much better than the iPhone 4, but for some reason they are sold out and people can’t wait to get their hands on them.  

Jimmy Kimmel did a bit recently where he hit the streets with an iPhone 5 to get peoples reactions.  “It is kind of funny how some people react when the new iPhone comes out.  Some people actually get mad:  “Why would they make another product I desperately want to buy...” it’s almost as if the new iPhone ruins the old iPhone, but it doesn’t.”

When Jimmy went to the streets he didn’t really have an iPhone 5.  He had an iPhone 4s (he joked that the iPhone 5 wasn’t even out yet).  The comedy was that they all said:  “Wow, it’s faster, the screen is definitely brighter, it is clear HD, it feels lighter and looks thinner, I’ve got to have it.  One of them even had an iPhone 4s and didn’t realize he was holding the same model in both hands.  

There is a sense of “what I have is no longer good enough and I want what you have.”  Even if it is not any better!  

Saint Paul warns us in today’s second reading:  

Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,
there is disorder and every foul practice...
You covet but do not possess.
You kill and envy but you cannot obtain;

The truth is, if we are always looking for the new iPhone, we are never going to be happy with what we have.  

From the very first children of Creation, Cain and Abel, envy was at work, and it ended in murder.  

In the course of time Cain brought an offering to the LORD from the fruit of the ground, while Abel, for his part, brought the fatty portion of the firstlings of his flock.  The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering,  but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry and dejected... Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.  (Genesis 4:4)

God gave us a safeguard from this envy in the 10th commandment:  “You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.”  (Catechism #317, Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21)

St. Damascene, Doctor of the Church, described envy as “sorrow for another’s good”.  

Thomas Aquinas, refers to envy and describes it as one of the capital sins... even at times a mortal sin.  He explains that “Charity rejoices in our neighbor's good, while envy grieves over it."

Socrates graphically illustrates envy as “the ulcer of the soul.”  

St. Gregory says “we can envy those only whom we think better in some respect than ourselves."

German Philosopher, Immanuel Kant, defined Envy as a tendency to “view the well-being of others with distress, even though it does not detract from one's own.”  (Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals 6:459)

This is the iPhone Envy that we get... it’s that feeling of distress when we realize that someone else has something better than ours, even if it doesn’t make ours any worse.

One of the most well known stories of Envy is that of Snow White.  

The Evil Queen, who happens to be Snow White’s Stepmother, is an exquisitely beautiful woman, but she is aging.  Insecure of her own beauty she constantly asks the magic mirror on her wall:  “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?”  Each time the mirror replies... “You, my Queen, are fairest of them all.”  

But, when Snow White begins to blossom, the mirror responds differently.  The queen asks:  “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?”  The mirror responds: “Famed is thy beauty, Majesty. But hold, a lovely maid I see. Rags cannot hide her gentle grace. Alas, she is more fair than thee.”  The Queen becomes envious: “Alas for her! Reveal her name!” And the Mirror replies: “Lips red as the rose. Hair black as ebony. Skin white as snow.”  “Snow White!”  The Queen screams with utter disgust.  

From that point forward her Envy takes over and she decides the only way to remain “the fairest of them all” is to kill Snow White.  

Even in the Gospel today Jesus notices envy among his disciples.  

"What were you arguing about on the way?"
But they remained silent.
They had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest.

This is moments after he told them what he would undergo!  The disciples were comparing themselves to one another to see who was the favorite.  They were struggling with Envy.  

We all probably struggle with envy from time to time.  If it’s not iPhone envy, then it’s something else.  

Do you find yourself constantly looking at what others have and resentful that you don’t?  Do you find that you always want more than you have?  Do you look at your friends houses, or cars, or children, or jobs, or money, or spouse, or athletic ability, or grades, or salary, and find yourself coveting what they have?  Do you delight when they fail?  Does it sadden you when they do better than you?  

If we answer yes to any of these questions than we have to admit that we struggle with envy.  

So how do we get out of this vicious cycle?  

The great Poet Dante, in his travel into the Inferno, portrays the envious as, “plodding along under cloaks of lead with their eyes sewn shut because they are blind to all of what they have been given.”

He goes on to say that the only way to overcome envy is to stop looking at what others have been given and to see what we have been given.  If we are to look anywhere it is upward at God who gifts us all... To be grateful for all that WE have received.  

“As always on Dante’s mountain, when you climb to a new terrace you are greeted with examples of the virtue that slays the vice in question. Which virtue, then, does Dante choose as the slayer of envy? It is magnanimity: the virtue, literally, of having an expansive soul. The magnanimous soul embraces the good of his neighbor as if it were his own, and deplores his harm, likewise. It does so, not by some egotistic appropriation of the good, but by a joyful and large-hearted recognition of inequality.”  (What Dante Can Teach Us about Envy.” Anthony Esolen)

Dante ends the section on Envy with the cure.  The only way out of vice is to avoid it and move towards the virtue.  

"It is because you focus on the prize
of worldly goods, which every sharing lessens
that Envy pumps the bellows for your sighs.
But if, in true love for the Highest Sphere,
your longing were turned upward, then your hearts
would never be consumed by such a fear;
for the more there are there who say 'ours'--not 'mine'--
by that much is each richer and brighter
within that cloister burns the Love Divine."
(Purgatorio Canto XV)

If you find yourself envious of others.  Turn your gaze.  Close your eyes.  Turn to God in prayer.  Stop looking at everything that they have and look at what you have been given.  Be grateful.  Embrace the good others have as well as your own.  Open your eyes and see that God blesses us all differently.  And realize that he has given us everything in the Eucharist.  We are all called to sit together at the table and above all remember his promise that “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.”  In this case, it’s good to be last.  The old iPhone will do just fine.  

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Elephant Man - "I can care for you, but I can't cure you."

The film depicts the Circus traveling through London and the curiosity of the “Elephant Man” spreading far and wide.  He was the best freak show there ever was.  Crowds would come to jeer at him, laugh, scream, and torment him.  That was until he was discovered by Dr. Frederick Treves.  The Doctor initially wanted to make a name for himself, but soon discovered the man, really the child, who people called “The Elephant Man” was not a specimen, but a human being, a child trapped in a grotesque body.    

He takes “The Elephant Man” away from the circus, and the crowds, and his abusive owner and begins to treat him and heal him in the hospital.  It is there, one-on-one, that he first hears “The Elephant Man” speak.  Dr. Treves discovers that not only can he speak, but, he has a name... John Merrick.  The only thing that John carried with him his entire life was a small, framed portrait of his beautiful mother.  He carried her picture in the hope that one day she would be able to love him.  

During the film there is a transformation, not only in John, but in the Doctor.  The two of them actually become genuine friends.  Dr. Treves discovers that John is far from dumb, rather he is quite refined, he can read, he is an artist, he admires the theater and above all loves the Lord.  

There is   a powerful scene where the Doctors are arguing about whether or not John can be helped.  They step out of the room and close the door and get into a heated debate… until they hear John speaking to himself behind the closed door.  They overhear him reciting the 23rd Psalm.

The LORD is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures he makes me lie down;
to still waters he leads me;
he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths
for the sake of his name.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.

It’s then that the Doctors realize that not only is John a human being, but he has obviously been through much suffering, and has turned to the Lord to be his comfort.  

Dr. Frederick’s superior asks: “Can you imagine the kind of life he must have had?”  Dr. Frederick replies: “Yes, I think I can.”  Very somberly and gravely his superior speaks “I don’t think so.  No one could possibly imagine it!  I don’t believe any of us can.”  

These two doctors begin to see this man not as a specimen, but now with great compassion.  By realizing that John had suffered so much in life they were able to see him with compassion.

Now imagine this in the Gospel that we hear today.  There’s a crowd gathered around a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment.  I imagine the crowd acted very similarly screaming, laughing, jeering... and Jesus with great compassion “took him off by himself away from the crowd.”  

What must it have been like for this man?  One moment he is in the midst of the crowed, probably afraid, sad, rejected, humiliated, he meets Jesus who takes him away from all of this, and in the next moment he is alone with the Good Shepherd.  I think, like any of us would do to our child who is hurting, we would first remove him from that circumstance and then one-on-one speak to them, affirm them, love them, and care for them.  

There’s a scene in “The Elephant Man” where this happens.  “The Elephant Man”, John Merrick, says to his Doctor: “There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you for some time now.”  “What’s that?” Dr. Frederick Treves asks.  John, who is visibly choked up and vulnerable, asks in a very childlike way: “Can you cure me?”  His Doctor pauses and responds very solemnly “No...  We can care for you, but we can’t cure you.”  John replies, matter-of-factly, “I thought so.”  

The two become so close that Dr. Treves invites his wife to meet John.  As with most people she is initially repelled by the look of him but she overlooks this and treats him very kindly.  She gently takes his hand and says: “I’m very pleased to meet you, Mr. Merrick.”  John begins to mouth the words “I’m very pleased…” but then he breaks down and cries looking away.  “What is it John?  What’s the matter?”  Asks Dr. Treves.  John looks down and says “It’s just that I… I’m not use to being treated so well by a beautiful woman.”

As the film continues more and more people begin to treat John not as a freak, but as a real person.  He begins to shine.

Near the end of the film, Dr. Treves has a heart-to-heart with John and he tells him he is so sorry for all of the hurt that he has endured in life.  John says something rather surprising back to him: “I am happy every hour of the day. My life is full because I know I am loved. I have gained myself. I could not have said that if it were not for you.”

So John Merrick was never cured, but he was cared for... he was happy every hour of the day because he was loved.  So in a way he was healed.  

Just as Jesus takes the deaf and dumb man away from the crowd to himself, and as the Doctor took John Merrick away from the freak show he was living, we are too experience this as well.

First of all, we have all probably experienced some rejection or abuse in our life.  Try and think of the moment which is most painful for you.  Recall a time when you felt completely alone, abandoned, helpless, ridiculed, or rejected.  Now, imagine Jesus coming into that moment, taking you aside, away from the pain, blessing you, healing you, and encouraging you.  

This is a type of healing prayer, and He can do this with all of our painful memories.  Allow Jesus to come into the moment, relive it with Him, and then let Him take you away to Himself, affirm you, care for you, and heal you.  When we experience a moment like this we will then be able to

Secondly, realize that this continues to happen today.  I think our schools have come a long way with the anti-bullying programs.  But it still takes one child to be strong, to stand up for the one being picked on.  And unfortunately it doesn’t stop when we become adults.

Last week I had the funeral for a man who had committed suicide.  My heart ached as I listened to his brothers talk about how much he had been bullied when he was younger.  At the age of three he had developed cerebral palsy and was relentlessly picked on as a child.  They said to me, “Father, I don’t think he ever got over that.  He went on to live a fairly normal life, but I don’t think he ever got over all that rejection as a child.”  

If you see someone being bullied or picked on, do something or tell someone until it stops.  You can become like Jesus in these moments because you can literally save this person and take them away from such a helpless situation.  

Imagine a parent watching their child at a soccer game and the kid does something really stupid, like kicking the ball into the wrong goal, and the kids and maybe even other parents are laughing and name-calling.  That parent is hopefully going to go to that child, take them aside, comfort them, encourage them, and protect them.  

You can do this for other people.  Jesus continues to do this ministry of healing for us today.  Let him take you away to himself and heal you and let him heal others through you.  

As John Merrick discovered that though he couldn’t be cured he could be cared for… he was happy every hour of every day because he was loved.  May we too experience this love and share it with those who are rejected.  Though we may not always be able to cure them, we can care for them.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The American Dream: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

For what great nation is there
that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us
whenever we call upon him?
Or what great nation has statutes and decrees
that are as just as this whole law
which I am setting before you today?"

In some ways when I hear this passage I can’t help but think of our America.  For the land of the free... One Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all… in God we trust… We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We are so blessed to have a nation with statutes and decrees that have so often helped us to live this freedom. 

What would it be like if we didn’t? 

On April 24, 1975, Fr. Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Saigon. Six days later, Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese Army, and the Archbishop was targeted for his faith.  He was imprisoned by the communist government of Vietnam for 13 years.  He would spend nine of those years in solitary confinement unable to practice his faith or minister to his people. 

In prison, he smuggled out messages to his people on scraps of paper. These brief reflections, copied by hand and circulated within the Vietnamese community. While in isolation he fashioned a tiny Bible out of scraps of paper from the passages he knew by heart. The Archbishop had won the sympathy of some guards who smuggled in a piece of wood and some wire from which he crafted a small crucifix and hid in a bar of soap.  In order to celebrate mass he needed the essential elements of wine and bread.  He used the excuse of an upset stomach and so he was given a few drops of wine and tiny pieces of bread.  The Archbishop, in prison, would use these to celebrate the Eucharist.  

During these 13 years, Archbishop Thuan wondered why God would elevate him to be a bishop, only to have him spend his time in solitary confinement.  In 1991 he was finally released.  At that time, Pope John Paul II appointed him to Rome, installed him as a Cardinal, and asked him to lead him in his annual retreat. 

What was learned from all of this?  So quickly our freedom can be taken from us. I think we do take our freedom to practice religion for granted.  Right now around the world Catholics are in hiding and being persecuted for their faith.  Right now in our country our current administration is attacking our religious freedom.  It’s happening!
It has happened before.  There have been times, in our country, where we have relinquished these essential freedoms of our constitution and the Declaration of Independence. 

Before I go on, I would like to share an insight from Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York:
“Any pastor will tell you that when he preaches on God’s love or the importance of forgiveness, most people nod approvingly, but if he starts talking about abortion or the death penalty, some of them head for the exits.

Even though I’m not among those who feel we should exclude people from the big tent, I do feel that it’s to our everlasting credit that we’ve been prophetic on abortion. When the history of this era is eventually written, the fact that the American bishops have stood out on that issue will certainly be to our credit.

Historically, I think it’s entirely valid to make a comparison between the pro-life issue and the slavery issue.  Today we look back at the American bishops on slavery and we blush, because we were far from prophetic. With one or two exceptions, there were no American bishops in the nineteenth century who stood up and said, “This is intrinsically evil and we must put an end to it now.” Most bishops believed the issue to be too controversial, so we’re not going to talk about it. We have to save the internal unity and cohesion of the house. At one point, the bishops actually wrote, “We leave this issue up to worldlings.” Like we’re on Mars or something! We look back with embarrassment on that sort of thing, and rightly so, but we won’t on the abortion issue.” (Dolan, “A People of Hope”.)

We have been permitting an injustice like this in our country since the 1973 case where abortions were legalized.  Can you believe this?  In our country it became LEGAL for a mother to kill the child in her womb!  Further so we face a terrifying situation right now where the current administration is demanding that we pay for this.   

Bishop Lennon reflects on this in his latest column in the Universe Bulletin:

Over the past several weeks I have read a number of reports and articles by a number of persons, and items issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the issue about Religious Liberty… The Mandate issued by the Federal Department of Health and Human Services pretty much requires all health insurance policies to include in their policies the coverage of contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. This is to be done with no co-pay paid by the insured. Thus, Catholic institutions such as Catholic Charities programs, Catholic colleges and universities, and hospitals and health care institutions will all have to provide for their employees this type of coverage, and they will have to pay for it!

With such a Mandate these institutions would be expected to provide the “mandated” services which, in fact, go against the individual consciences of Catholic leadership and the collective conscience of the institutions in question.

My brother bishops and I strongly feel that these actions violate both the First Amendment which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a federal law. As one can see, there is much at stake in this situation brought on by a government office issuing a Mandate, a Mandate which reflects an agenda which includes excluding faith-based entities like the Catholic Church from carrying on its good works in accord with its religious beliefs.

This is a very grave and serious concern, but history shows us if we are not vigilant our freedom will be taken, our faith will be oppressed, and lives will be lost. 

How will we look back on this 50 years from now?  Thankfully, from the very beginning our Catholic Church has consistently stood for life and spoken unequivocally against abortion, contraception and sterilization.  This was reaffirmed in Vatican II with the document Humane Vitae, and it is being clearly and consistently proclaimed by our Catholic Bishops in America. 
We here so evidently in today’s first reading that there are laws written in our hearts that cannot be violated:

Moses said to the people:
"Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees
which I am teaching you to observe,
that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land
which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.

Friends, can’t we see that God gives us these statutes and decrees that we might LIVE?  We have been blessed too with a country founded on these same principles of protecting the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
However, our freedom is being taken from us and we need to do everything that we can to preserve the religious freedom in our country.
The Declaration on Religious Liberty from the Second Vatican Council states: “Everyone should be immune from coercion by individuals, social groups, and every human power, so that, within due limits, no men or women are forced to act against their convictions… The right to religious freedom is based on the very dignity of the human person.”  Today our bishops continue to be clear on this matter: “Our faith requires us to defend the religious liberty granted us by God, and protected in our constitution… We encourage you to hold firm, to stand fast, and to insist upon what belongs to you by right as Catholics and Americans.  Our country deserves the best we have to offer, including our resistance to violations of our first freedom.”

The leaders of our Catholic faith have taken a stand and we will not take part in any act that goes against our freedom of religion. 

So the question is:  Where do you stand? 

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