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Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

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January 31, 2023

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Bishop Robert Barron, the Bishop of Winona-Rochester and the founder of Word on Fire, wrote an article recently (Jan. 27, 2023), entitled, “Inclusivity and Love,” in which he said, “The other night, I had the privilege of participating in one of the listening sessions for the continental phase of the Synodal process. The basis for our discussion was a lengthy document produced by the Vatican after it had compiled data and testimony from all over the Catholic world. As I have been studying and speaking about synodality, I very much enjoyed the exchange of views. But I found myself increasingly uneasy with two words that feature prominently in the document and that dominated much of our discussion — namely, ‘inclusivity’ and ‘welcoming.’ Again and again, we hear that the Church must become a more inclusive and welcoming place for a variety of groups: women, LGBT+ people, the divorced and civilly remarried, etc. But I have yet to come across a precise definition of either term. What exactly would a welcoming and inclusive Church look like?”

Like Bishop Barron, I also participated online in one of the listening sessions of the “North American Continental Virtual Assembly” held by videoconference, and I too was uneasy about the ambiguous use of the words “inclusivity” and “welcoming,” so I was pleased to see Bishop Barron address this issue in his article.

Bishop Barron answers the question of what a welcoming and inclusive Church would look like by pointing to “the attitude of radical welcome” that Jesus showed to everyone, including sinners, but he adds that “this inclusivity of the Lord was unambiguously and consistently accompanied by his summons to conversion. Indeed, the first word out of Jesus’ mouth in his inaugural address in the Gospel of Mark is not ‘Welcome!’ but rather ‘Repent!’ To the woman caught in adultery, he said, ‘Go and sin no more’; after meeting the Lord, Zacchaeus promised to change his sinful ways and compensate lavishly for his misdeeds; in the presence of Jesus, the good thief acknowledged his own guilt; and the risen Christ compelled the chief of the Apostles, who had three times denied him, three times to affirm his love.”

Thus, Bishop Barron says that he would characterize Our Lord’s approach “not simply as ‘inclusive’ or ‘welcoming,’ but rather as loving. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that to love is ‘to will the good of the other.’ Accordingly, one who truly loves another reaches out in kindness, to be sure, but at the same time he does not hesitate, when necessary, to correct, to warn, even to judge.”

I must add that I am also somewhat uneasy about all the emphasis being put on listening and the ambiguity about the supposed outcome of such listening. Yes, we must listen to what others have to say and we do quite a bit of listening in our diocese through our parish pastoral councils, parish finance councils, school boards, diocesan pastoral council, diocesan finance council, presbyteral council, and the college of consultors, as well as the diocesan synod that we held in 2017 with representatives from each of our diocese’s 129 parishes. But then the question becomes: What do we do with what we have heard? Some would suggest that we must then change doctrines and canon law if we hear that some people do not accept or are not happy with what the Catholic Church has been teaching for almost two thousand years. But that is not the purpose of our listening.

St. John Henry Cardinal Newman gave correct and helpful guidance regarding what to do with what we have heard in his essay, On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine, which Newman wrote in 1859, just five years after Pope Pius IX promulgated the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. It was reported that the pope had widely consulted the faithful on this issue before promulgating the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. But Newman distinguishes different understandings of what it means “to consult.”

On the one hand, a person may consult a physician about a sickness, the purpose of which is to obtain the doctor’s advice and follow it. On the other hand, Newman points out that “consult” can also refer to ascertaining facts: “Thus we talk of ‘consulting our barometer’ about the weather: the barometer only attests the fact of the state of the atmosphere. In like manner, we may consult a watch or a sundial about the time of day. A physician consults the pulse of his patient; … It is but an index of the state of his health.” It is in this sense that Newman speaks of consulting the faithful: “Doubtless their advice, their opinion, their judgment on the question of definition is not asked; but the matter of fact, that is, their belief, is sought for, as a testimony to that apostolical tradition, on which alone any doctrine whatsoever can be defined.” Thus, when we consult people and find out that they do not like a church teaching, it is like taking their pulse or their temperature and finding that the patient is not healthy and needs healing.

The Great Commission that our Risen Lord gave to His Disciples was not, “Go and listen to all the nations,” but, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

May God give us this grace. Amen.

January 17, 2023

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Our diocese is blessed with seven Catholic high schools, seven Catholic hospitals, seven state prisons, and one federal prison. While most people would readily agree that it is a blessing to have seven Catholic high schools and seven Catholic hospitals, some may question how seven state prisons and one federal prison could be considered a blessing. I would answer that question by considering what Jesus had to say about the last judgment as described in the Gospel of St. Matthew, chapter 25, verses 31-40, where Our Lord said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

Our Lord’s instructions about the necessity of feeding the hungry, welcoming immigrants, clothing the needy, caring for the sick, and visiting those in prison are called the corporal works of mercy, as distinguished from the spiritual works of mercy. The difference between the corporal works of mercy and the spiritual works of mercy is described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 2447), as follows: “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God.”

Thus, Catholic education is a spiritual work of mercy as a way to provide instruction and lead people to the truth, while Catholic hospitals, food pantries, and social services are examples of putting the corporal works of mercy into practice. While prisons and jails are run by federal, state, and local authorities, the Church provides chaplains to provide for the pastoral care of those who are imprisoned. I am deeply grateful to the priests, deacons, and lay ecclesial ministers who carry out the prison ministry in our diocese, and I consider their work an essential part of the mission entrusted to us by our Lord, Jesus Christ.

In fact, it has been my practice to visit one of our prisons personally each year (except when the prisons were locked down due to COVID) either on Christmas morning or sometime during the days leading up to Christmas. This past Dec. 24, I celebrated Mass for prisoners at the Western Illinois Correctional Center in Mt. Sterling. In past years I have celebrated Mass at the Jacksonville Correctional Center, Taylorville Correctional Center, Vandalia Correctional Center, Graham Correctional Center in Hillsboro, the Women’s Unit at the Decatur Correctional Center, and both the Men’s and Women’s Units at Greenville Federal Prison. It is my plan to visit Robinson Correctional Center later this year before Christmas. I must acknowledge that I learned this commendable practice from the fine example of my episcopal mentors in the Archdiocese of Chicago, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and the late Cardinal Francis George, each of whom in his time would celebrate Mass at Cook County Jail on Christmas morning.

My message to the prisoners was simple but profound: “Christmas reminds us that God, in Jesus, is present in our midst. I have come here among you on this day before Christmas as a sign and a reminder that Christ is in your midst, even here, in prison. God has not abandoned you.”

We are sometimes tempted to think or to imagine that Jesus has left us completely alone, that He no longer cares for us, but Holy Mother Church gently corrects this thought and reminds us that, “The Lord Jesus, the king of glory, the conqueror of sin and death, ascended to heaven while the angels sang his praises. Christ, the mediator between God and man, judge of the world and Lord of all, has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us but to be our hope. Christ is the beginning, the head of the Church; where He has gone, we hope to follow” (Preface II for the Ascension). This, then, is the hope that belongs to Jesus’ call: to be with Him forever in His kingdom!

May God give us this grace. Amen.

January 02, 2023

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

It was with sadness but with hope in the promise of eternal life that we received the news on the last day of the year 2022 of the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. I had the honor of meeting Pope Benedict XVI several times. I will forever remember his friendliness and compassion. His theological genius and his ability to communicate our rich and oftentimes difficult theology to the people in a clear and understandable way was most impressive.

The first time I met him in person was when I was a priest doing graduate studies in Rome from 1987 to 1991 many years before he was elected Pope. Then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. It was not uncommon to see him walking across St. Peter’s Square on his way from his apartment to the Holy Office, as it was called, wearing a simple black cassock and the red skullcap or zucchetto of a Cardinal of the Church, carrying his briefcase full of papers for his day’s work. He was very approachable and would casually say hello as people passed by.

After I was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago in 2003, the Bishops of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin had our periodic ad limina visit with Pope John Paul II in 2004. During that week in Rome, in addition to meeting with the Pope, we had several meetings at the Vatican with various dicasteries or departments of the Holy See. The meeting that impressed me most was the one we had at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where Cardinal Ratzinger mostly listened to us, allowed his staff to do most of the talking, and then intervened with his intelligent and insightful remarks.

Years later after he became Pope, on Monday, March 29, 2010, I was on my way to O’Hare International Airport when I received a message that Cardinal Francis George, then Archbishop of Chicago, had called me. He knew I was on my way to Rome and wanted to talk to me before I got on the plane. I was in the car with another priest and I did not know if the Cardinal wanted to talk to me privately, so I waited until I got to the airport to call him back.

As soon as the priest dropped me off at the airport, I went inside and called the Cardinal. He said, “Good, I’m glad I got hold of you before you took off. Can you talk?”

I looked around and said, “Well, I’m in the terminal at O’Hare, but I can talk. What’s up?”

Cardinal George, who was always right to the point without a lot of small talk, said, “The Holy Father is appointing you to be Bishop of Springfield in Illinois.”

I had heard some rumors to that effect, but rumors are just that: rumors, so when you hear something officially, it still takes you somewhat by surprise.

After I told the Cardinal that I was honored to accept the appointment, I said, “You know I’m on my way to Rome and I plan to attend the Pope’s General Audience on Wednesday. If I get the opportunity, should I say something to the Holy Father about this?”

Cardinal George replied, “Well, it’s still under pontifical secret, so you would want to make sure no one overhears you.”

Sure enough, at the Pope’s General Audience that Wednesday morning, I was seated on the stage next to three other bishops near Pope Benedict XVI. There was only a small group of bishops present that day because all diocesan bishops were required to be in their own dioceses for Holy Week. As an auxiliary bishop at the time, I had the opportunity to go to Rome since Cardinal George would be taking all of the Holy Week and Easter liturgies at Holy Name Cathedral. Of the other three bishops at the General Audience, two worked in the Roman Curia and one was retired. Since I was youngest in seniority, I was last in line to greet Pope Benedict after he finished his talk.

When I walked up to the Holy Father, there was no one else nearby, so I introduced myself and said that I had just received word that he had appointed me to be Bishop of Springfield in Illinois. I thanked him for the appointment and for his confidence in me, assuring him that I would do my best to try to be a good bishop. He just smiled and nodded. But I do have a great photo of that moment with Pope Benedict XVI!

To this day, I am humbled Pope Benedict appointed me as the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. The Catholic Church has lost an incredible and humble man, but his legacy leaves a lasting impression on the faithful and our Church. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was an authentic example of faithfulness to God and Catholicism, living and preaching the Gospel message with truth and passion. Always writing and teaching, his warm smile, gentle demeanor, and pastoral approach to explaining and living out the Catholic faith inspired millions and brought people closer to Christ. His reverence toward the Eucharist, the Mass, and the sacraments are examples for us today on how we should all view and respect these treasures of the Catholic faith. His steadfast defense of our faith’s teachings and traditions and remaining faithful to them, despite the pressures of the secular world and from inside the Church, is the mark of a true leader.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote of God’s love in his papal encyclical of 2005, Deus Caritas Est, Latin for God is Love: “In the Church’s Liturgy, in her prayer, in the living community of believers, we experience the love of God, we perceive his presence and we thus learn to recognize that presence in our daily lives. He has loved us first and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love” (n. 17).

May God give us this grace. Amen.

December 19, 2022

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Sympathy for the Devil is the title of the 1968 Rolling Stones song composed by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. “Sympathy for the Devil” could also be the title of the article written by Christopher Borrelli and published by the Chicago Tribune about the Satanic Temple display in the rotunda of the Illinois State Capitol. What is curious is that the article appeared on page one of the Dec. 14, 2022, print edition of the Chicago Tribune. Page one articles of a major newspaper are usually reserved for news stories, not opinion pieces. Christopher Borrelli makes his opinion clear when he writes, “‘Tis the season for understanding. And who could use it more this holiday than the Satanists of Illinois?”

In affirming their right to the Satanists’ display in the rotunda, Mr. Borrelli proclaims, “Say what you will about Satanists, they know the Constitution.” To which I respond: Not so fast. The Constitution is not as simplistic as the Satanists may think.

I am a law school graduate and I keep my license to practice law current in the State of Illinois. As any lawyer can tell you, not all speech is protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. In the United States Supreme Court case Schenck v. United States, decided in 1919, the Court ruled that it was a violation of the Espionage Act of 1917 (amended by the Sedition Act of 1918) to distribute flyers opposing the draft during World War I. Writing on behalf of a unanimous court, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic ... . The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.” This ruling was partially modified by Brandenburg v. Ohio in 1969, in which the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press “except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action [e.g., a riot] and is likely to incite or produce such action.” Thus, there are many types of speech and expression that are not protected by law and in fact are punished by the law, such as defamation (slander if spoken, libel if written), conspiracy to commit a crime, and child pornography. The legality of “hate speech” has also been a matter of substantial debate among lawmakers, jurists, and legal scholars in recent years. In the 2003 case of Virginia v. Black, the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to uphold a Virginia statute making it illegal to burn a cross in public with the intent to intimidate others. Writing for the majority, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor held that even though cross burning was at times expressive, Virginia could ban cross burning because it represented a “true threat,” a category of speech that is not protected by the First Amendment.

Invoking Satan should be understood as a form of hate speech that poses a true threat to individuals as well as to society. Those who do not believe in a literal Satan but rather think that Satan is merely a literary metaphor are sadly seduced by Satan’s lies.

Jesus said this about Satan in the Gospel of John (8:44): “He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.” We should all reject the Devil’s lies and turn to Christ, the way, the truth, and the life.

When the leader of the Satanic Temple says that Satanism “is compatible with other religions,” that their “core tenets are moral values” such as “treat people with empathy,” and that “these tenets should work in concert to inspire nobility of thought,” he is simply lying like the Devil. True religion binds people to God and to each other in love of neighbor. Satan seeks to divide people from God and from each other.

The Rolling Stones at least got it right when they challenged listeners to guess the name behind the death sentence rendered by Pontius Pilate against Jesus, the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, the Nazi blitzkrieg of World War II, and the killing of the Kennedys. Their answer? “Just call me Lucifer, ‘cause I’m in need of some restraint. So if you meet me, have some courtesy, have some sympathy … or I’ll lay your soul to waste.”

The true meaning of Christmas is summed up in the Gospel of John (3:16): “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

Christians look forward to eternal happiness with God in Heaven. Those who worship Satan are doomed to suffer the pains of hell with the Evil One and his minions forever. People are free to choose. I pray for the conversion of sinners and their eternal salvation.

May God give us this grace. Amen.

December 05, 2022

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

As featured in the November 27th special edition of Catholic Times on the Eucharist, we began our diocesan celebration of the Year of the Eucharist on December 8th, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and will continue through December 9th, 2023. In anticipation of this Year of the Eucharist, I requested and received a decree from the Holy See granting a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions of sacramental Confession, Holy Communion, and prayers for the intention of the Pope, for the Christian faithful who are truly penitent and motivated by love to visit our Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield or the Church of Ss. Peter and Paul in Alton between the 8th day of December 2022 and the 9th day of December 2023. Such a visit to a sacred place is known as a pilgrimage, which involves attending a liturgical service celebrating the jubilee or at least spending a suitable period of time devoted to prayers for the faithfulness of the Diocese to the Christian vocation, concluding with reciting the Lord’s Prayer, professing the Symbol of Faith, that is, the Creed, as well as offering invocations to the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and Saints Peter and Paul.

Those coming to our Cathedral in Springfield for the Sacraments of Confirmation and First Holy Communion should be mindful to take advantage of this opportunity for a Plenary Indulgence.

The elderly, the sick, and all those who cannot leave their home for a grave reason are equally able to attain a plenary indulgence, having the disposition of detachment from any kind of sin and the intention of fulfilling, as soon as possible, the three usual conditions, by joining themselves spiritually to the jubilee celebrations and offering prayers to the merciful God for the sufferings or hardships of their own lives. One way for them to do this would be by watching and praying along with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass being livestreamed from our Cathedral on https://spicathedral.org/livestream-feed/.

This plenary indulgence may be offered for one’s own spiritual benefit or may be applied through prayer for the souls of the faithful held in Purgatory. All of this may seem a bit byzantine, so some explanation might be helpful.

First, the Decree comes from the Apostolic Penitentiary in Rome. Here the word “Penitentiary” should not be confused with the secular understanding of a penitentiary as a prison, although even that use of the term is rooted in the sense of a place of penance or repentance. The Apostolic Penitentiary is a dicastery or department of the Holy See at the Vatican that has the responsibility to act on behalf of the Pope for matters dealing with what is called the internal forum, such as the Sacrament of Penance, and indulgences as expressions of divine mercy.

Most people have heard of indulgences, but some people mistakenly think that indulgences were abolished some years ago. That is not true. Indulgences as still very much a part of “the heavenly treasures of the Church,” as the Decree from the Apostolic Penitentiary states. Martin Luther protested against the sinful practice of selling indulgences, which is known as simony. The selling of indulgences is forbidden by the Church for the same reason that it is a sin against simony to sell anything that is blessed, such as a blessed rosary or crucifix. It is certainly advantageous to use religious articles for our spiritual benefit that have been blessed after they were purchased. Having abolished the practice of selling indulgences, we should certainly make use of indulgences for our spiritual benefit as well.

According to the Manual of Indulgences published by the Apostolic Penitentiary in 1999, “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment for sins, whose guilt is forgiven, which a properly disposed member of the Christian faithful obtains under certain and clearly defined conditions through the intervention of the Church, which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies authoritatively the expiatory works of Christ and the saints. An indulgence is partial or plenary according to whether it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin” (nn. 1-2).

At this point some people may wonder: if I have confessed my sins and they were forgiven when they were absolved by the priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, how is it that there is still temporal punishment for my sins? Saint Augustine provides a helpful answer to that question: “Man is obliged to suffer (in this life) even when his sins are forgiven, although it was the first sin that caused him to fall into this misery. For the penalty is of longer duration than the guilt, lest the guilt should be accounted small, were the penalty also to end with it. It is for this reason—either to make manifest the indebtedness of his misery, or to correct his frailty in this life, or to exercise him in necessary patience—that man is held in this life to the penalty, even when he is no longer held to the guilt unto eternal damnation” (Tract n the Gospel of John, 124, 5).

The difference between forgiveness of the guilt and paying the penalty can be seen clearly in the sin of stealing. When a person goes to sacramental Confession and is absolved of the sin of stealing, there is still an obligation in justice to make restitution, that is, to pay back or restore what was stolen. If the rightful owner also discharges the debt, in a sense that is an indulgence, since the rightful owner is being indulgent in pardoning the debt as well as the guilt.

Similarly, a person who confesses to having used pornography is forgiven, but the desire to continue to look at pornography does not automatically go away and must be purged through mortification and penance. Thus, we have the pious practice of “offering up” our pains and sufferings in this life as penance for our sins. If that purgation is not accomplished before we die, it must be completed in Purgatory or be remitted through various partial indulgences or a plenary indulgence. A plenary indulgence can be acquired only once a day, except for those who are on the point of death. If we are able to receive a plenary indulgence on a frequent or even daily basis during our Year of the Eucharist, it would be laudable and charitable to apply some of those indulgences beyond what we need for ourselves for the poor souls still suffering in Purgatory.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). When our sins are forgiven and we are finally purged of all desires other than the desire to see God face-to-face, we will be ready to enter into His Heavenly Kingdom!

May God give us this grace. Amen.

November 21, 2022

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

In my preparation of homilies and in my own spiritual reflection, I have often found it helpful to look into the etymology of key words, especially technical theological terms. Etymology studies the origin of a word and the historical development of its meaning. For example, the etymology of the word “etymology” itself comes from the Greek words, etymon, which is translated as “true sense, original meaning,” and logos, which means “word.” Thus, etymology is the study of the true meaning of a word.

I mention this in light of our national celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday. What does it mean to give thanks? Before considering the etymology of the word “thank” in English, it occurs to me that the word for “thank” in Latin is gratia, which literally means “grace.” Thus, the phrase for “thank you” in Latin is, Gratias tibi ago, which is literally translated as, “I give you graces.”

Of course, the Spanish and Italian languages are derived from Latin, so the Spanish word for “thanks” is gracias and in Italian is grazie. Just as in Latin, then, the person saying muchas gracias in Spanish and tante grazie in Italian is not only saying “many thanks,” but is literally wishing someone many graces.

In looking at the English word “thank,” it would appear initially that it is not related to the Latin word gratia or “grace.” The word “thank” stems from the Latin word tongēre, which means “to think.” But to think what? One interpretation is that the concept of thanks associated with this word developed from the sense of thinking someone well. Indeed, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the Old English noun from which the word “thank” derives chiefly meant “thought, reflection, sentiment; mind, will, purpose, grace, mercy, pardon; pleasure, satisfaction.” So even in English there is the sense of thinking well or wishing graces to express our appreciation.

It is also interesting to look at the responses given when thanks are expressed. The traditional reply as a matter of courtesy in English has been to say, “You’re welcome,” although more commonly today it is not unusual to hear, “No problem” or “It’s my pleasure,” which are both close to the Spanish, De nada or Es mi placer, respectively. However, in Italian, the response is Prego, which literally means, “I pray.” Thus, when an Italian says “Prego” in response to tante grazie,” in a sense that person is indeed saying, “I pray for the many graces that you have just wished for me!”

Our celebration of Thanksgiving should also be seen then in connection with our upcoming Year of the Eucharist, which will begin in our diocese on Dec. 8 of this year, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek eukharistia, which means “thanksgiving.” So every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we are giving thanks to God for all the gifts of His creation, especially the gift of the Real Presence, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that we receive in holy Communion.

During this Year of the Eucharist, my fervent hope is that you will grow in your appreciation of this great mystery and the importance of participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and receiving holy Communion at least every Sunday. I pray that the Eucharist will indeed be a true expression of thanksgiving for the many gifts of God’s abundant graces.

May God give us this grace. Amen.

November 08, 2022

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

We began the month of November with All Saints Day and All Souls Day. We continue to pray for the souls in purgatory throughout the month of November. Catholics who are well-schooled in the teachings of the Catholic Church have no problem understanding the previous two sentences. Non-Catholics as well as Catholics with little or no catechetical training or religious education, however, may be somewhat confused by the terminology.

Why have both an All Saints Day and an All Souls Day? Are we not praying for dead people in either case? Yes, both the saints whom we honor on Nov. 1 and the souls of the faithful departed for whom we pray on Nov. 2 are all dead, but there is a difference. Saints are all those who have died and are now in Heaven. Many saints have been canonized by the pope over the past two thousand years, meaning that he has infallibly declared that they are now in Heaven, usually after two miracles have been ascribed to the intercession of the deceased person after a long and vigorous investigation. Even among those saints who have been officially canonized, not all of them have their own feast day, since there are more canonized saints than there are days in the year, hence a day to honor all of them. But the vast majority of the deceased who are now in Heaven have never been officially canonized, so All Saints Day is a way to honor them, as well.

Notice that we say that we honor the saints on All Saints Day. They do not need our prayers since they are already in Heaven. But we can look to them as role models of the Christian life and learn from their example of heroic and saintly living. We can also pray for their intercession, which simply means that we seek their heavenly influence in obtaining God’s graces for our spiritual benefit.

All Souls Day commemorates the souls in purgatory. According to the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nn. 210-211), “Purgatory is the state of those who die in God’s friendship, assured of their salvation, but who still have need of purification to enter into the happiness of heaven. Because of the communion of saints, the faithful who are still pilgrims on earth are able to help the souls in purgatory by offering prayers in suffrage for them, especially the Eucharistic sacrifice. They also help them by almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance.”

In response to those who might doubt the existence of purgatory and whether our prayers can help the souls in purgatory, St. John Chrysostom explains, “If Job’s sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them” (referring to Job 1:5). Also in the Old Testament, the Second Book of Maccabees (12:38-46) speaks of prayer for those who have fallen in battle. Three New Testament texts are also cited as the basis for the doctrine of purgatory: Matthew 5:26, Matthew 12:32, and 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, since they allow for the possibility that some sins are forgiven in this world and some in the next.

Another word that may need some explanation is “indulgence.” According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 1471), “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints. An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin. The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead.”

At this point, a person may be wondering: If I have gone to confession and the guilt of my sins has already been forgiven in the sacrament of reconciliation, how can there still be temporal punishment due to sin? Again, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nn. 1472-1473) explains, “To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the ‘eternal punishment’ of sin. On the other hand, every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the ‘temporal punishment’ of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain. The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the ‘old man’ and to put on the ‘new man.’”

May God give us this grace. Amen.

October 24, 2022

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

As our nation approaches the mid-term elections, President Joe Biden has apparently decided that promoting abortion will be the banner issue for him and his colleagues. According to The New York Times, “President Biden said [on October 18] that the first bill he would send to Capitol Hill next year if Democrats expand their control of Congress would be legislation to enshrine abortion rights into law.” The article also noted a   New York Times/Siena poll, which “found that the economy was a far more important issue to voters.”

The Biden administration has evidently also instructed federal officials at the Department of Justice to pursue pro-life advocates and threaten them with federal criminal charges. On September 23, 2022, Catholic pro-life advocate and speaker Mark Houck was arrested when 20 heavily armed federal agents stormed his home at dawn, frightening his family, pointing guns at his head, and then arresting him in front of his wife and seven young children. Houck is alleged to have violated the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, commonly known as the FACE Act, outside of a Pennsylvania abortion facility in October 2021.

Houck is being charged over an altercation with an abortion activist who repeatedly targeted Houck’s 12-year-old son with vulgar verbal attacks, facts that according to Thomas More Society Vice President and Senior Counsel Peter Breen, who is representing Hauck, do not fall under the federal FACE Act.

“This case is being brought solely to intimidate people of faith and prolife Americans,” stated Breen. “Mark Houck is innocent of these lawless charges, and we intend to prove that in court. Rather than accepting Mark Houck’s offer to appear voluntarily, the Biden Department of Justice chose to make a show of potentially deadly force, sending twenty heavily armed federal agents to the Houck residence at dawn this past Friday,” explained Breen. “In threatening form, after nearly breaking down the family’s front door, at least five agents pointed guns at Mark and arrested him in front of his wife and seven young children, who were terrified that their husband and father would be shot dead before their eyes.”

Less than two weeks later, a video taken by the wife of 55-year-old peaceful pro-life advocate Paul Vaughn shows him being arrested by armed FBI agents, guns drawn, swarming the property of the family’s Centerville, Tennessee farmhouse, frightening her children and dragging her husband away. Thomas More Society attorneys are also defending Vaughn against alleged violations of the federal FACE Act. The Biden Department of Justice claims that Vaughn, the President of Tennessee Personhood, is guilty of “conspiracy against rights secured by the FACE Act” as well as of violating the FACE Act itself, even though he never obstructed anyone. The U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Middle District of Tennessee indicted Vaughn and six others for conspiracy, and additionally four other individuals for committing FACE Act violations. The prosecution of these eleven life advocates results from an incident that occurred over a year and a half ago, in March 2021, which consisted of nothing more than a peaceful pro-life witness at an abortion facility in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, where several pro-life advocates were sitting in a hallway outside of the abortion clinic singing Christian hymns, reading scripture, and praying. No one was hurt, and no property was damaged during the pro-life witness. For Vaughn’s peaceful presence at the event, the Biden Department of Justice has levied at him charges that carry sentences of up to 11 years in prison and fines of up to $260,000.

According to Thomas More Society Senior Counsel Stephen Crampton, who is representing Vaughn, “Paul Vaughn’s arrest in front of his wife and seven of his [eleven] children, including the 18-month child she was holding, followed by his indictment on federal charges, is yet another attempt on the part of the Biden Department of Justice to frighten and intimidate Christians and committed life advocates. We believe the evidence will show that Paul did not violate the FACE Act, and we look forward to a chance to prove that in court.”

“Contrast that with the June 2022 firebombing of a pregnancy resource center in Buffalo, New York,” Crampton continued. “More than four months later, there have been no arrests, no serious investigation, and not even any suggestion by law enforcement officials that this was a violent arson attack motivated by abortion supporters, despite damning evidence that clearly points in that direction.”

Joe Biden likes to be portrayed as a devout Catholic. Joe Biden is no devout Catholic. Joe Biden is a disgraceful Catholic, in that his obstinate and persistent promotion of abortion is totally lacking in God’s grace.

Undoubtedly, I will hear complaints from people who put their politics before God’s commandments. But naming Biden’s wrongful actions that promote abortion is done with the hope for a positive outcome, namely, his repentance and the salvation of souls. As the Catholic author G.K. Chesterton said, “For after all, blame is itself a compliment. It is a compliment because it is an appeal; and an appeal to a man as a creative artist making his soul. … When we rebuke a man for being a sinner, we imply that he has the powers of a saint.”

May God give us this grace. Amen.

October 11, 2022

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Last month I celebrated Mass and attended the luncheon for the Springfield Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (SDCCW) at Immaculate Conception Church in Mattoon. The SDCCW is an affiliate of the National Council of Catholic Women and actively promotes the Catholic faith through service and leadership. The council is comprised of women from parishes all across our diocese. Before lunch, I was asked to say the grace before our meal, which I happily did. Since it was about 12 noon, I led the group in reciting the Angelus prayer. Afterwards, a woman who grew up in Germany thanked me for leading the Angelus prayer, saying that she and her family in Germany would always stop to say that prayer at 12 noon and 6 p.m. every day, but that custom did not seem to be observed in the United States.

I told her that it is my personal practice to say the Angelus prayer the first thing when I get up in the morning, at 12 noon, and at 6 p.m. every day. If I am with people at noon or 6 p.m., I invite them to say the Angelus with me. Perhaps many others still pray the Angelus privately, but it is very powerful when people stop whatever they are doing to say this prayer together.

An oil painting completed between 1857 and 1859 by French painter Jean-François Millet, that he called The Angelus, depicts two farmers bowing in a field over a basket of potatoes while saying the Angelus prayer. The portrait includes a church that can be seen in the distance, indicating that it is the ringing of the bell from the church on the horizon that reminded the couple that it was time to say this prayer. Many churches today still ring their bells at 6 a.m., 12 noon and 6 p.m. as a reminder and a call to pause and say the Angelus prayer. In 1964, Pope Paul VI began to pray the Angelus publicly on a weekly basis at St. Peter’s Square accompanied by a short address to the pilgrims there. Every pope since that time has continued to do so on Sundays at 12 noon.

So, what is the Angelus prayer and how does one pray it? The Angelus prayer is based on the biblical account of the Annunciation in the first chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke, verses 26-56. The Annunciation is the name given to that momentous event when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary at her home in Nazareth and announced that she was to become the mother of the Incarnation of God. The title Angelus is Latin for “Angel” and comes from the first word of the prayer, which starts out, “The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.” The angel Gabriel’s declaration starts out with the greeting, “Hail, Mary, full of grace” and then he tells her, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33). Mary responds, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). At that very moment, Jesus is conceived in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). Thus, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, which we celebrate in the Catholic Church throughout the world every year on March 25, also marks the Incarnation of God becoming man.

The Angelus prayer is said in the following way:

Leader: The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
Response: And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Leader: Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with Thee;
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Response: Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen
Leader: Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
Response: Be it done to me according to thy word.
Leader: Hail Mary ...
Leader: And the Word was made flesh.
Response: And dwelt among us.
Leader: Hail Mary …
Leader: Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
Response: That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Leader: Let us pray:
All: Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

The month of October is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. As we are encouraged to pray the rosary every day, it would also be a great blessing to pray the Angelus every day in the morning, at noon, and in the evening.

May God give us this grace. Amen.

Cutline: The Angelus, a painting by Jean-François Millet.
September 26, 2022

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

A Mickey Mantle baseball card from 1952 sold for $12,600,000 a few weeks ago, setting a new record for sports collectibles. Then last month a jersey worn by the Chicago Bulls Hall of Fame basketball player Michael Jordan was sold for $10.1 million — becoming the most expensive piece of game-worn sports memorabilia ever bought at an auction.

As you may know, I love sports, both as a participant and as a fan. I used to collect baseball cards in my youth, but I never paid more for one than the cost of a pack of bubble gum! I also have an assortment of hockey jerseys (or sweaters, as hockey purists would say). Most, if not all, of them were purchased off the rack at a sporting goods store or were given to me as a gift.

So the news of someone paying over $12 million for a baseball card and over $10 million for a basketball jersey strikes me as not only astounding, but even obscene. The $22 million from just these two items alone could feed a lot of hungry people, provide housing for the homeless, and pay tuition for needy low-income families.

The fact that such ludicrous amounts of money are spent on sports and sports-related activities shows how upside down our world’s values have become. Professional athletes and coaches receive millions of dollars in salary. Even college athletes are now being paid millions of dollars for their name, image, and likeness. Meanwhile, nurses, teachers, police officers, and firefighters are paid paltry sums in comparison, despite their much greater value to the health and wellbeing of our society. It is no wonder that there is a shortage of workers in these essential positions, since they are paid so much less than people who do far less for the good of society.

The source of this imbalance in values is rooted in vanity and greed. The remedy for this sad situation is a matter of justice, that is, giving to others what is properly due to them.

Someone who pays millions of dollars for a rare baseball card is saying, “Look at me and see what I’ve got that you don’t have.” That is vanity.

Someone who is paid millions of dollars but does not share that wealth with those in need is greedy.

The Book of Ecclesiastes concludes with the words, “Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity!” Father John Hardon wrote in his Modern Catholic Dictionary that vanity is “an inordinate desire to manifest one’s own excellence. It differs from pride, which is the uncontrolled desire for self-esteem, in that vanity primarily seeks to show others what a person has or has achieved. A vain person looks for praise from others and may go to great lengths to obtain it. More commonly, vanity is associated with an exaggerated importance attached to multiple details, especially external appearances, which in no way contain the value attributed to them. It is ostentation in fashion, wealth, or power regarded as an occasion of empty pride.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 2536) says, “The tenth commandment forbids greed and the desire to amass earthly goods without limit. It forbids avarice arising from a passion for riches and their attendant power. It also forbids the desire to commit injustice by harming our neighbor in his temporal goods.”

Vanity is related to pride, but is different in that pride is concerned with praising oneself, while vanity seeks the praise of others. Thus, the antidote to pride is humility, while the antidote to vanity is modesty. Ken Blanchard (author of One Minute Manager) wrote, “People with humility don’t think less of themselves. They think of themselves less.” Similarly, modesty does not involve demeaning ourselves in the eyes of others, but striving for success without going out of our way to draw attention to ourselves or our accomplishments in an inordinate way. In other words, there is nothing wrong in wanting to do things well and even in seeking to have a good reputation, but our desire for recognition from others should not become excessive. While modesty is often considered in relation to dressing in a way that is not sexually provocative, modesty also extends to behaving in a way that is not unduly preoccupied with receiving praise.

Another virtue that counteracts vanity is magnanimity. The classical definition of magnanimity is expressed in the Latin phrase extensio animi ad magna — the striving of the spirit toward great things. The French philosopher Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange says, “Vanity loves the honor and prestige that comes from great things, while magnanimity loves the work and effort that has to be done to achieve them.”

The antidote to greed is generosity. Generous people are willing to share with others not only from their abundance, but even when it requires sacrifice, whether material or spiritual. Thus, generosity means not only sharing material wealth unselfishly, but also being kind, loving, friendly, and cheerful with others.

We can overcome the vices of vanity and greed while growing in the virtues of modesty, magnanimity, and generosity with the help of God’s grace, which He makes available in abundance through the sacraments, especially when we confess our sins in the sacrament of penance and receive Our Lord in holy Communion.

May God give us this grace. Amen.