Thursday, April 30, 2009
"It corrodes the character of a country," the president said, adding that the path the country must take to uphold its high ideals might sometimes be harder than the path of least resistance. "Part of what makes us, I think, still a beacon to the world is that we are willing to hold true to our ideals, even when it's hard, not just when it's easy."
How true that is. Pro-lifers have been trying to explain that reality to the people of this country, to the world, for more than three decades. We have hammered home the notion that once any person has less dignity than another, we all have less dignity. Once we lose respect for one group of people and their God-given rights, it becomes easier to deny rights to other groups of people. When our nation decided that unborn children do not have the same right to life as the rest of us, we turned our back on our ideals and so began the corrosion of our collective character.
We have seen the tragic results of what happens when one life is considered less important than another. It's unfortunate that the president can recognize that fact when it comes to terror suspects and prisoners of war but not when it comes to his own countrymen still in the womb. President Obama said in his press conference last night that he believes that the abortion decision is best left in the hands of women, who he believes struggle with what they choose to do. Well, we would hope that women struggle with the decision to end a child's life, but the reality is that with each passing year people seem to become more and more desensitized to the plight of the unborn. Why? For the exact reasons the president stated: Over time, bad but easy choices corrode what's best in a people.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
You may have seen our recent post in which we interviewed the president of the University of San Francisco's Faculty Association, which is fighting the university's mid-contract efforts to remove abortion coverage from an employee health plan.
Among other things, Elliot Neaman, the association head, said the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion is irrelevant to the question because USF is not legally a Catholic university. "A long time ago, to get federal funding, the Jesuits divested themselves of the university so it is basically run by the board of trustees. They cannot apply for an exemption as a Catholic university because they could lose federal funding because of that," he said.
Tonight, the university told us that while Neaman is technically correct, his characterization doesn't tell the whole story.
From Gary McDonald, in charge of USF communications and public affairs:
Under U.S. law, there is no definition of a Catholic university. Therefore, no university in American is legally defined as Catholic. Instead, universities are defined by their organizational form. USF, for example, is defined legally as a California nonprofit public benefit corporation.
Catholic universities are Catholic not because the law defines and recognizes them as such, but because they self-identify as Catholic, based on their values and affiliation with the Catholic Church. Also, in the case of the University of San Francisco, the Board of Trustees has explicitly ratified the Catholic character of the University. Catholic institutions such as USF are also listed in the Official Catholic Directory, which is updated annually.
Olivia told me that one of her friends, another child in her third-grade Catholic school class, whom we will call X, told her and some other children that X's family does not believe that Communion is the body and blood of Jesus Christ. I could feel myself tensing up as I tried to respond in a charitable yet clear way. Then my daughter said that this isn't the first time her friend has tried to pound home this alternative view on Catholic teaching. I told Olivia that the next time this happens she needs to tell X that if you don't believe in the Eucharist, you aren't a Catholic. Harsh? Perhaps. True? Absolutely. I tried to explain to Olivia that people can disagree with the Church on some things, but that you cannot disagree with the Church on Eucharist and still call yourself a Catholic.
A new Pew Forum study on Religion & Public Life shows that roughly two-thirds of Americans who claim "no affiliation" with a church were raised Catholic or Protestant and have changed faiths twice. The study also found that Mass attendance was a "powerful predictor" of whether a child would remain Catholic as an adult. Among the lifelong Catholics surveyed, 69 percent of those who regularly attended Mass as a teen remained Catholic, while only 44 percent of those who are now "unaffiliated" attended Mass regularly.
The big news, however, is that Catholic education, which included not only Catholic school education but religious education and youth ministry programs, had a "negligible impact" on whether a Catholic child would remain Catholic as an adult. How could that be? Well, let's go back to my daughter's classmate, whose Catholic family thinks it's important enough to send their children to Catholic school but not important enough to understand or believe the teachings of the faith.
Our Catholic formation programs -- in schools and in parishes -- continue to be ineffective in producing knowledgeable Catholics who understand what it truly means to be a Catholic. And, if you don't know what it means to be a Catholic, you don't have any reason to be loyal to your faith or your Church. Our schools, our religious education programs, our pastors, our bishops must find a way to transmit the truth of our teachings in an unequivocal way.
If our Catholic schools are not clearly teaching the meaning of Eucharist, we have failed. If our teachers or parish leaders are telling Catholic children and adults that there is room to disagree on issues like abortion, we have failed. If our Catholic high schools do not ensure that children get to Sunday Mass when they are away on a school trip, we have failed. If our pastors do not speak clearly about our teachings from the pulpit on Sundays, we have failed. The reality is that many of the Catholics who leave the Church never really understood their beliefs in the first place. They don't even know what they are leaving behind because if they did, they would never leave.
My daughter told me that she explained to her friend that Communion is Jesus, not a symbol for Jesus. As I drove toward the soccer field, I told her how proud I was that she was willing to stand up for what she believes in even when it wasn't easy or popular. She didn't get that from a religion class, she got that from home and from Mass. If we want to keep Catholics Catholic for the long haul, we need to get families back into the pews and faith back into the home.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Senator Marchi (pronounced MAR-key), who opposed both abortion and the death penalty, was the only layman ever to receive the John Cardinal O'Connor Award for Extraordinary Service.
I was at the 2007 Public Policy Day in Albany when Cardinal Edward Egan presented the award to Sen. Marchi, as the senator's wife, Maria Luisa, and family looked on. It was both touching and inspiring to listen to the long record of service of a man who was praised not only for his commitment to his state, country and Church but to his family as well.
"His love of God enabled him to see our Lord’s face in everyone, rich or poor, black or white, man or woman. It enabled him to recognize the dignity of every human person, whether it be the unborn child in her mother’s womb, the child in the failing public school, the homeless man without a place to lay his head at night, or the prisoner on death row. This love of our Lord is, I dare say, the driving force in his stellar record of advocacy on behalf of all of these New Yorkers, and others," Cardinal Egan said at the 2007 event.
"He stood up for life, he stood up for Catholic education, he stood up for the poor and the sick and the elderly. He stood strongly and resolutely, even when he was told there could be a political price to pay. For that, Senator, I say, Thank you."
To read the full New York Times obituary, click HERE.
Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard Law School professor and recent U.S. ambassador to the Vatican who was to receive Notre Dame's Laetare Medal at commencement ceremonies May 17, this morning announced she is declining the medal.
The university had named her the recipient in a March 22 press release. The annual award is the among the oldest and most prestigious honor given to American Catholics.
In an open letter (on the website of the journal First Things) to Notre Dame's president, she writes, after expressing dismay with the university's disregard for U.S. bishops' guidelines:
Then I learned that “talking points” issued by Notre Dame in response to widespread criticism of its decision included two statements implying that my acceptance speech would somehow balance the event:
• “President Obama won’t be doing all the talking. Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, will be speaking as the recipient of the Laetare Medal.”
• “We think having the president come to Notre Dame, see our graduates, meet our leaders, and hear a talk from Mary Ann Glendon is a good thing for the president and for the causes we care about.”
A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision—in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops—to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.
Photo credit: Harvard University Law School
Thursday, April 23, 2009
If you work for the Jesuit University of San Francisco, no matter which USF health insurance you choose, it will pay for an abortion, sterilization, artificial contraception and some infertility treatments. And that is unlikely to change anytime soon, despite a report here earlier this year.
The USF Faculty Association president, Elliot Neaman, said today that if the university tries to remove the abortion benefit, it would file an unfair labor practice complaint.
Whether abortion involves the killing of a child is “not relevant,” Neaman told OSV. “You are mixing up morality and contractual obligations,” he said.
Based on a report from USF, we had reported the good news that the University of San Francisco had notified its faculty that as of March 1 it was removing abortion coverage — both surgical and chemical — from its Blue Cross plan (but was unable to do so from a recently negotiated Kaiser Permanente HMO plan).
But Wednesday, Gary McDonald, a top communications official for the university, told us that "altering an insurance plan once it goes into effect is more complicated than we anticipated."
"We have not yet been able to drop that coverage. A number of unions have voiced objections to any change in their insurance, and we are working with our employee groups, our attorneys and insurance brokers to understand the complicated legal and procedural details," McDonald said.
Communications official Anne-Marie Devine confirmed that the upshot is that all health plans offered by USF include abortion.
“It is my duty to enforce a contact," Neaman said. "The university cannot unilaterally change the contract. They have to go to the bargaining table. All benefits are negotiated. The Faculty Association contract expires in 2011." The issue can be renegotiated, “if they choose to put that on the table. All the ideological religious stuff is completely irrelevant," he said.
Neaman said that fact USF is willing to offer the Kaiser HMO plan which includes a $15 co-pay for an abortion means their stance on the Blue Cross plan “is kind of a hypocritical position.” USF just extended the Kaiser HMO plan in a contract with the adjunct faculty association this month.
Removing the abortion benefit because it is in the Blue Cross PPO agreed to in the labor contract “would be something like abolishing tenure. It is a point of law,” Neaman said. “It would make everything else in the contract vulnerable. ... If you have a contract with someone you can’t break it.” Neaman said the Blue Cross PPO has included abortion and contraception for many years: “It probably goes back 20 years,” and the university just noticed it when it was brought to their attention by journalists, he said.
Neaman said the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion is irrelevant because USF is not legally a Catholic university. "A long time ago, to get federal funding, the Jesuits divested themselves of the university so it is basically run by the board of trustees. They cannot apply for an exemption as a Catholic university because they could lose federal funding because of that," he said.
Asked if he disagreed with Church teaching on abortion, Neaman said, “It is completely irrelevant what my opinion is. I enforce the contract. That is my job.”
We've all heard how sports help kids learn important life lessons, including perseverance, teamwork and all the rest. A Catholic professor proposes -- aware his view may seem horrifying to some Catholic parents -- that computer games can play the same formative role.
And it's not just theory for Professor Eugene Gan, who teaches communications arts at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. He's tested his proposition with his 5-year-old son.
"Could my son have learned these life lessons through other noncomputer related family activities? Absolutely. Should the lessons be limited to just non-media activities? Absolutely not," he argues in the May 3 issue of Our Sunday Visitor.
Read the whole thing here.
The ANSA and Apnews agencies have quoted Cardinal Renato Martino, who heads the Vatican's office for justice and peace, as saying the encyclical is expected to be released on the feast of St. Peter and Paul, a major day for the church.
Benedict has been working on Caritas in veritate (Charity in Truth) since 2007 but recently said he had held back on issuing it so that he could update it to reflect the global economic downturn.
An encyclical is the most authoritative document a pope can issue. Benedict has written two in his four years as pope: "God is Love" in 2006 and "Saved by Hope" in 2007.
h/t Brian Saint-Paul
Her two best friends are leaving, and while that isn’t reason alone to move her out of Catholic and into public school, it certainly set the wheels in motion for some serious discussion and reflection. We began weighing the benefits of her Catholic education against the negatives of being one of so few girls in a class.
The more we looked at it from every angle, the more we realized that, although Catholic schools are worth a sacrifice, there comes a time when the sacrifice may be too great. The unfortunate thing is that far too many families like ours, for one reason or another, are reaching the saturation point when it comes to the amount of sacrifice they can take on to give their children a Catholic education. You can see it in dropping enrollments, in closing schools, in the rise of charter schools, in the unwillingness and inability of even very active Catholic families to stretch beyond their financial means for a faith-based education option.
A few years ago, we made this decision in reverse. We pulled our older son out of the well-respected public school where he was very happy because we thought Catholic education made sense for our family. My husband and I both work for the Church. We are both active in our parish. Enrolling our children in Catholic school seemed like a natural extension of our faith life.
I envisioned all three of our children being in one school at the same time. I loved the close-knit school community where everyone knows everyone else. I took comfort in the fact that our children would learn about their faith in a holistic way, not just in religion class but interwoven with science and English and history and service projects.
Despite all the wonderful things that drew us to our Catholic school in the first place, however, I have to admit that there was a sense of relief when our daughter announced this week that she wants to give public school a try. Although my husband and I made sure that she did not have any sense of the financial impact one decision might have over another, we could not help but take into account the very real fact that a vote for public school would mean a significant drop in the monthly tuition bills that have had a stranglehold on our finances for several years now.
Already we have decided that our youngest, who has one more year of preschool, will not go to Catholic school because we simply cannot put ourselves through the financial and emotional uncertainty that has been part of our Catholic school experience to date. With tuition nearly doubling in just four years, we’ve been priced out of Catholic education. Unfortunately, that is the sad state of affairs for many Catholic families, families who serve on parish committees and run parish events and lector on Sundays but are effectively shut out of parish schools for purely financial reasons.
As we stand at the edge of this unexpected precipice, one where our three children will be in three different types of schools next year – Montessori, Catholic and public, I have to wonder how much longer other Catholic school families like ours can survive the tumult and tuition. If we don’t find a way to make our Catholic schools a more affordable option for average families – through government-sponsored vouchers or tax credits or through regionalization of some of our failing schools and certainly through any attempts possible to rein in rising tuition costs – our beloved Catholic schools could soon become nothing more than a footnote in Church history books. And that would be a sad day for Catholics everywhere.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Earlier this year, we reported here the good news that the Jesuit University of San Francisco had notified its faculty that as of March 1 it was removing abortion coverage — both surgical and chemical — from its Blue Cross plan (but was unable to do so from a recently negotiated Kaiser Permanente HMO plan).
Apparently that plan has run into some roadblocks.
Gary McDonald, a top communications official for the university, told us tonight that "altering an insurance plan once it goes into effect is more complicated than we anticipated."
"We have not yet been able to drop that coverage. A number of unions have voiced objections to any change in their insurance, and we are working with our employee groups, our attorneys and insurance brokers to understand the complicated legal and procedural details."
"I do not know how long our review process will take," he added, "but I will keep you updated on any developments."
And we'll keep you posted, too. We're working on a major story on Catholic colleges/universities and their health insurance plans.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
A friend, Kathleen Gallagher, who is director of Pro-Life Activities for the New York State Catholic Conference, was present at the Mass and said that the archbishop's message of hope "was palpable."
"You could reach out and touch it. The women were clearly moved," she said, noting that the new Archbishop of New York made the women "feel loved and special and cared for." One woman gave him a painting she had made and another wrote him a poem.
"He was warm and witty and prayerful and genuine. He said he wanted to visit a prison early on because 'I'm your Archbishop, too.' He said, "I knew you couldn't come to see me, so I wanted to come to see you,' " Gallagher recalled.
Archbishop Dolan told the women that when he dies, God will not ask him what he wore or what he drove or what seats he had at Yankee Stadium, but rather, He will ask him if he ever gave him food when he was hungry or visited him when he was in prison.
Gallagher said that the "best part of his homily" was when Archbishop Dolan told the inmates that they should never feel alone because 2,000 years ago Jesus was arrested and imprisoned and suffered a cruel and horrifying death by capital punishment and knows what they're going through.
After the Mass, the archbishop visited ill inmates at the medical unit and went to the nursery to bless the babies of the women inmates.
"It was a faith-filled, uplifting day for me, so I am sure it was doubly so for the inmates and the correctional officers and staff," said Gallagher, who attended the Mass with prison chaplains from the region. "Archbishop Dolan's obvious joy in his chosen vocation and his Catholicism is downright contagious."
For another take on the archbishop's prison visit, check out Gary Stern's post at Blogging Religiously by clicking HERE.
Monday, April 20, 2009
"His first homily adhered closely to Roman Catholic doctrine," the article stated. Well, there's a news flash that required the deep insight that only the Times could bring us. I believe my exact reaction was, "Whatever," sounding more like a character from the Hannah Montana Disney series than a Catholic journalist, but that's what this type of reporting drives me to.
I had almost forgotten about the story when I happened upon Amy Welborn's post today. It is so worth heading over to Via Media by clicking HERE to get her full and funny take on the report. So go there now. Just be sure you read all the way to "bratwurst."
Sitting down to write on "no fault" divorce, I thought I'd start with an Internet search on the subject. Good idea. I didn't need to go beyond the first page to find evidence confirming something I'd supposed.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
What can I tell you about the installation of Archbishop Timothy Dolan that you haven't already heard? Well, I can tell you that sitting in St. Patrick's Cathedral yesterday watching the event unfold and listening to the new archbishop speak to the standing-room-only crowd gave me renewed hope for the Church in New York and the Church in the United States. Archbishop Dolan's enthusiasm for his faith is surely infectious, but, more importantly, his ability to speak clearly on Church teaching while drawing in people from all camps seems to be just what the doctor ordered in these days of moral relativism and cloudy consciences.
The most moving moment of the entire two-and-half-hour installation came when, during his homily, the archbishop stressed the Church's position on the dignity of life. At the mention of "the tiny baby in the womb," the congregation erupted in applause that just went on and on, and, after a few minutes, rather than dying down, the applause became more deafening and the crowd got to its feet for a rousing standing ovation. As I stood there clapping, near tears at the sight of thousands of people spontaneously applauding the unborn, I wondered if all the politicians and secular media present were taking note. These weren't the on-again-off-again Catholics interviewed by pollsters. These were practicing, faithful Catholics, and their collective voice on the abortion issue was obvious and evident and clear yesterday afternoon.
One of my favorite lines of the homily came soon after when the new archbishop said that the Church is a loving mother who has a "zest for life and serves life everywhere," but she can also "become a protective mama bear when the lives of her innocent cubs are threatened." What a wonderful image, and what a gentle way of putting a teaching that many in our society find very hard to accept.
Of course, the new archbishop touched on many other topics, including the fact that he wants to help Catholics reclaim Sunday as their own and give the "family meal" of the Eucharist renewed prominence. He acknowledged that many Catholics are fatigued due to the problems of our day, and the "wounds" of the sexual abuse scandal, and by ridicule of the Church for its positions on things like the sanctity of life and sacredness of marriage (which was especially timely since, hours before taking his seat in the front row of St. Patrick's, Gov. David Paterson of New York had just announced his plan to introduce a gay marriage bill today).
Alluding to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus from the Gospel reading, Archbishop Dolan said that Catholics today cannot be downcast as those disciples were at first, failing to recognize Jesus as he walks alongside them -- and us.
"My new friends of this great archdiocese, would you consider joining your new pastor on an adventure in fidelity, as we turn the Staten Island Expressway, Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, Broadway, the Major Deegan and the New York State Thruway into the Road to Emmaus?" he asked.
Those roads will eventually take the new archbishop to the corners of his archdiocese, which stretches from the urban neighborhoods of Manhattan and Staten Island and the Bronx, to the suburban centers in the counties just north of the city, to the rural farmland of the lower Hudson Valley. Having covered those areas for many years when I worked for Catholic New York and having sat in St. Patrick's Cathedral through many Church events over the past two decades, I can tell you that yesterday's Mass was a high point for this New Yorker and, I think, for many others who welcomed Archbishop Dolan. As my husband said, "My faith has been energized by what I saw and heard today." Amen to that.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Mel Gibson's break-up with his wife of 28 years is remarkable only in the probable size of the settlement and its attraction of the insatiable media gossip machine.
Married Americans, including Catholics, today find it awfully easy to walk away from marital commitments, even ones in which years have been invested. And all at enormous social cost.
What's to blame? Well, a key role was played by the introduction of "no fault" divorce laws, starting with California in 1970.
Emily Stimpson reports in the latest issue of Our Sunday Visitor that there's a movement afoot in some states to introduce a "mutual consent" or "modified no fault" divorce law for situations in which there are minor children and only one spouse wants out of the marriage. The idea is to give leverage to the spouse who wants to keep the family together (which is in society's best interest, not least of which financially).
A long shot? Judge for yourself after reading the full story here.
Click HERE to read "It's a blessing to be here," the archbishop's essay on his hopes for his tenure in New York.
I'm heading to NYC now to get my spot in the cathedral. I'll be back later with an update.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Archbishop Timothy Dolan, on the eve of his installation as the new Archbishop of New York, said that he would fight anti-Catholic bias, restore Catholic pride, and challenge the notion that the Church is "unenlightened" because of positions on abortion and gay marriage. In an exclusive AP interview, the soon-to-be New York Archbishop said, "Periodically, we Catholics have to stand up and say, 'Enough.' The church as a whole still calls out to what is noble in us."Archbishop Dolan, who headed up the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for seven years, moved into his new residence on Madison Avenue behind St. Patrick's Cathedral yesterday. Part I of his installation will include a solemn vespers service at the cathedral tonight, during which a letter from the pope appointing him archbishop will be read. Tomorrow at 2 p.m. he will be officially installed as archbishop before thousands of well-wishers. (I will be among them and bringing you an update as soon as possible.)
To read the archbishop's interview with AP, click HERE. But be sure to watch the video version of the interview as well. It includes some things that were left out of the print version, including Archbishop Dolan's classification of abortion as the "premier civil rights issue" of our day and his comments on the Notre Dame scandal.
Monday, April 13, 2009
The cardinal used the opportunity to urge the 2,700 in attendance and all New Yorkers to remain hopeful despite a dismal economy.
"This is not all that there is to life. We are here for a passing moment of eternity, and we are destined to live forever in the presence and the embrace of a loving creator and savior. And this is what Easter is all about," Cardinal Egan, 77, told the packed cathedral. "Life can appear unfair and pointless, but Easter gives meaning to the reality of life."
Cardinal Egan missed Palm Sunday Mass at the cathedral after a gastrointestinal virus and the possiblity of pacemaker surgery landed him in St. Vincent's Hospital. Now all eyes are on the other big event this week.
I will be at St. Patrick's Cathedral on Wednesday when Archbishop Dolan is installed, so stay tuned for my report on the happenings of the day.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Father forgive them, they know not what they do...
We see Jesus on the cross today and hear him forgiving his persecutors, forgiving us. It is a powerful scene, but it is more than just a scene out of our faith history. Jesus’ way is supposed to be our way. Forgive, forgive, forgive, even in the face of the most unreasonable suffering and injustice. Are we willing to forgive as Jesus did?
Today you will be with me in Paradise.
The “good thief” has always been a favorite of mine. Imagine in your last dying moment that you utter a few kind words and are assured by Jesus himself that you will be in heaven with him that day. It would be nice to assume that in that situation I would have taken the path of belief, like the good thief, but there is a much bigger part of me that probably would have been like the unrepentant thief, expecting mercy and miracles despite faithlessness.
Woman, behold your son...
At last a comfort in the midst of all this misery. God gives us a mother for all time. He reminds us that his mother is our mother, who, with a mother’s unconditional love, will open her arms to us when we are desperate, when we are hurting, when we are searching for peace and a way back to the Father.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Despair, despair. If Jesus can feel despair, what hope is there for me? Then again, Jesus’ moment of despair reminds me of his humanness and that gives me hope even in this dark moment. God became man, walked on earth, suffered torture and death beyond our comprehension. My God is fully human and fully divine. My God knows what it means to live this earthly life, and so my God knows my small sufferings and heartaches and will not turn His back on me.
The wretched physical anguish of the Crucifixion is coming to bear. It is almost too much for us to take. Jesus, water poured out for the world, thirsts. And yet in the midst of this suffering, we remember Jesus’ words to the woman at the well, the woman to whom he first revealed his identity: “...whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst.” (John 4:14)
It is finished.
Jesus has completed his mission of redemption. Darkness descends, the earth shakes, the temple curtain tears in two. We see Jesus’ anguish near its end. We should be reduced to trembling at the enormity of his suffering, his gift to us. Unlike his followers who were plunged into fear and despair at this moment, we have the benefit of hindsight. We know what is coming. We know that his Crucifixion was cause for our salvation. His death a victory. His earthly end our eternal beginning.
Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
Jesus is going back to the Father, back to where he started before time began, but he will not leave us orphans. We patiently wait to celebrate his Resurrection, to rejoice in our unearned windfall. We wait, pray, watch, listen -- hopeful, trusting, faithful. We begin our vigil now, waiting for the darkness to turn to light.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
The main denial comes from the Vatican spokesman, but is supported by the experienced view of a former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See (who acknowledges he is not in the know of the specifics of this case).
I have to wonder a bit if there are some semantics being deployed, though. A source I trust and who is in a position to know told me that "at least two" names informally floated by the administration to the Vatican were indeed nixed.
Still, the CNS story makes the important point that Obama has not yet filled many ambassadorial posts to countries that are probably a lot more significant to his foreign policy. It is hard to believe that the State Department already would have dedicated the resources to propose three people for this post.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
OK, I told Olivia, we're taking this one then. When we got home, she started flipping through the biography, subtitled "Protector of the Sick." Noah, my 12-year-old, came in and asked what she was doing. That started up the Mother Teresa conversation again.
"Did you know Mommy met Mother Teresa?" Olivia inquired. Noah quickly responded that, yes, he did know, but tell us the story again. Well, it wasn't a private meeting or anything like that. I was covering a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral on the anniversary of Cardinal Terence Cooke's death, and there, in the sanctuary after Mass, as we were about to go down to the crypt, Mother Teresa stood beside me and put her hand on my arm. As simple as that, but I will never forget it.
The kids started getting very excited when they heard the story again, saying, "You met a saint." Don't worry, I corrected them and reminded them that she is Blessed as of now. But then I told them that I had met another saint in the making, Cardinal Cooke. When I was young, I performed a religious song I had written at a Mass in my parish. My pastor, a classmate of Cardinal Cooke, wanted to introduce me to him. Later on, of course, I would often find myself writing about Cardinal Cooke's canonization process as I worked as a reporter for Catholic New York newspaper.
But that is all beside the point of this post, really. As we talked about my brush with spiritual celebrity, I told the kids that, while it is exciting and inspiring to have met people who are on the official road to sainthood, we are all, in fact, called to be saints. They stared at me with a confused look on their faces. Once again, I had to flip back through my memory bank to try to figure out how that information had bypassed them. I guess on some level I assumed they knew that. But why would I assume such a thing? Maybe because when I was growing up, a priest who served weekends at our parish would mention that fact in every single homily he gave. It was constantly out there before us: You are called to be a saint.
The kids liked this idea. Olivia mentioned Adele, an amazing woman from our parish who died a couple of years ago. She had cerebral palsy and lived in a group home next to our church. Olivia's class would plant flowers at the home or visit the residents to make crafts. Adele was a fixture at our parish. She often parked her wheelchair with the "Got Jesus?" bumper stick on the back in front of the statue of Mary on the school grounds to sit and pray for hours. She was a true witness to all of us, but especially to our school children. Adele was as saintly as they come, and yet it took a school assignment to make me realize that I needed to connect the spiritual dots for my kids in order for them to see the real people in the stained glass versions of sainthood.
So what started out as a somewhat dreaded trip to the library turned into one of those teachable moments I always hear about. I reminded the kids that not everyone will be called to give up everything and serve the poor, as Mother Teresa did, but that everyone is called to walk the path to sainthood right there in the midst of everyday life, even when everyday life is about homework or cooking dinner. It's nice when the teachable moment reaches not only the kids but mom too.
Bishop John M. D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, in which the University of Notre Dame is located, explains, in an exclusive interview to a local television station, his take on the university's decision to honor President Barack Obama at this year's commencement.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Apparently the scientists have never seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the 2004 movie based on exactly this premise. A woman hires a company to erase her memories of her ex-boyfriend. The boyfriend goes on to do the same, only to realize as his memories begin to fade that he doesn't want to lose his past, that he still loves this woman.
In a world bent on around-the-clock happiness, it's easy to see how this discovery might go wrong. Our memories make us who we are. Yes, some of them are incredibly painful, and yet, when we look back on our lives, aren't those painful memories often the very things that lead us to a particular place we need to go or to a particular person. Where do we draw the line on painful memories? An assault? War? Loss of a parent, spouse or child? Loss of a job? Failing a test? It could easily become a slippery slope of could have, should have, would have.
Our memories help define us. They guide our consciences. For better or worse, even bad memories shape our life stories. To erase those moments is to try to rewrite history without knowing what the potential fallout might be.
This week, as we journey with Jesus to Calvary, we can imagine the memories his mother might have wanted to erase, the mistakes the Apostles may have wanted to forget. And yet those memories became the foundation of faith that feeds us to this day. We cannot erase who we are. We cannot pretend we have not made the wrong choices or chosen the wrong paths. We can, however, ask for God's forgiveness and allow him to erase the sins.
Friday, April 3, 2009
Truth be told, I did just fine with the fasting portion of our program. Giving up sweets or between-meal snacking can be a sacrifice that really does make me stop and think on an almost hourly basis (I like to snack), but, overall, fasting is a piece of cake, so to speak, compared to the other two prongs of our Lenten challenge: prayer and charity.
My hopes for daily silent contemplation and a nightly family Rosary failed miserably, although I think the fact that my 8-year-old daughter asked why we weren't saying the Rosary the other night means that even our minimal efforts had an impact. Maybe that's what I need to take away from what otherwise seems like 40 days of spiritual business as usual.
Lenten plans are not the spiritual equivalent of New Year's resolutions. They are not about us but about God. They are not something we toss aside the first time we fall or fail. Lent offers us an opportunity to take a hard look at our relationship with God and figure out where it needs shoring up or complete renovation. But the end of Lent shouldn't mean we pack up our plans for another year. Every day is a chance to die to self, even if that day happens to be an ordinary day in Ordinary Time. Lent may be an especially good time to begin a new practice that will lead us closer to God, but the hope is that those practices will continue long after the season of sorrow ends.
What was your experience this Lent? Did you follow through on your plans or did life get in the way? Are you hoping to continue some of what you started in Lent throughout the rest of the year? In sharing your story, you may just inspire the rest of us.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Just when you thought the news of the day couldn't get any worse, here's a story that's sure to make you scream, or cry. The University of Maryland in
Since when did hard-core porn become a positive alternative to drinking -- or whatever other "dangerous activities" occur on campus after dark? I have a feeling if they're alluding to dangerous sexual activity then the hard-core porn is not going to be part of the solution. In fact, the public university has invited Planned Parenthood to speak to students before the screening about sexually transmitted diseases, condom use, emergency contraception, and abstinence. Yes, because students watching hard-core porn are likely to choose abstinence as an option. How do they even suggest that with a straight face?
The student committee that chose the film voted unanimously for Pirates II, which apparently is available in an R-rated version but did not seem as likely to draw the students out as the XXX romp.
"We thought this would be something fun for the students to do, especially since we're getting close to the end of the semester," Lisa Cunningham, program coordinator for the Hoff Theater, told the Baltimore Sun.
Remember the days when cutting a class and sitting out on the campus lawn was considered a fun thing to do at the end of semester? Ah, how quaint. Little did we know that it was hard-core porn we needed to really put the fun in finals.
Not surprisingly, the only voice of reason in the Baltimore Sun article, was the Catholic chaplain on campus, who reminded that hard-core porn "is not contributing to the buildup of the human person."
"It's degrading to the human person. It really runs counter to our efforts to try to form people to be men and women who will go out and contribute to society," Father Kyle Ingels told the reporter.
The university administration has admitted it has no problem with the screening of the hard-core film on campus, where the student committee has said it appeals to a "niche market" that exists at UofM. I wonder if they include that demographic group in the information they send home to prospective students and their parents.
Unfortunately, the University of Maryland screening is not an anomaly. The University of California at Davis is also showing Digital Playground's $10 million porn film this week. You can click HERE to read that story and comments that really sum up what this is all about: "to get young people accustomed to seeing adult movies as mainstream entertainment."
It's becoming abundantly clear that our society is reaching a point where now even the most basic limits on the most extreme forms of sexually explicit materials is consider puritanical. There was a time when college students who were looking for alternatives to keg parties opted for more intellectual fare -- like classic movies or poetry readings. Who'd have thought we'd one day be longing for the moral compass of the Beat Generation.
UPDATE: University of Maryland President C.D. Mote Jr. has just announced that he is canceling the screening of hard-core Pirates II at the student union this weekend after state lawmakers threatened to cut funding to the state university. Read the full story HERE.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
For people whose view of history extends beyond last week, the furor over Notre Dame's decision to invite President Barack Obama to be its commencement speaker and receive an honorary degree is simply the latest chapter in an old story by the name of "Americanism."
Notre Dame is a paradigmatic institution — flagship of the Americanist impulse in U.S. Catholicism — and with the uproar over our pro-abortion president the university's special status has come home to roost for folks under the Golden Dome.
Pope Leo XIII in 1899 condemned a heresy he called Americanism as a "reprehensible" error. He had in mind a set of attitudes and practices intended to adjust Catholic belief and behavior (or in some cases just sweep them aside) to suit contemporary secular standards in unacceptable ways. The existence of such views, Leo said, "raises a suspicion that there are those among you who envision and desire a Church in America other than that which is in all the rest of the world."
Prominent figures in U.S. Catholicism like Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore — to whom the pope's letter was addressed — and Archbishop Ireland of St. Paul promptly insisted they held none of the views which Leo had condemned. And thereupon, one historian writes, Americanism "quickly disappeared as a meaningful force in the U.S."
But of course it didn't. Instead, as the 20th century progressed, the Americanist spirit merged with the sociological phenomenon of cultural assimilation. Especially after World War II, higher education, new affluence, and population shifts — the breakdown of inner-city ethnic parishes as Catholics moved to the booming suburbs — fueled a progressive thinning-out of Catholic identity that's still going on.
One result of this is easy to state: "American Catholics are firmly implanted in the American mainstream." Those words come from an official history of Notre Dame on the university website. The overview leaves no doubt that Notre Dame considers itself similarly "implanted" while at the same time remaining a Catholic school.
The cultural assimilation of American Catholics has been a good thing in many ways — but not all. That's painfully clear from empirical data on U.S. Catholicism showing declines in Mass attendance and sacramental participation, in priests and religious, in adherence to Catholic doctrine, and even in number of Catholics (partially masked by Hispanic immigration). Life in the secular mainstream has not proved to be all that healthy for the Church.
Notre Dame's invitation to President Obama — an aggressive supporter of abortion "rights" who already has promulgated several anti-life policy decisions and threatens more — is part of this Americanist pattern. What could be more mainstream for a Catholic school, after all, than having the president of the United States as commencement speaker? That the official policy of the Catholic bishops of the United States rules it out evidently doesn’t matter.
"Quite a coup," Kenneth L. Woodward, former Newsweek religion editor and a longtime Notre Dame booster, crowed on the op-ed page of The Washington Post. "Our voices must be raised to say that we are thrilled such a distinguished Catholic university is considered such a part of the life of the nation," gushed an America magazine blogger named Michael Sean Winters.
At least since the time of Leo XIII, American Catholics have faced a choice between assimilation and counterculturalism. The emergence of legalized abortion makes that choice even more demanding. But Notre Dame's invitation to Obama comes from the assimilationist heart of Catholic Americanism. The outrage it has produced is counterculturalism's response. However this turns out, the argument will go on.
Image credit: vatican.va