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Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

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November 22, 2021
CATHOLIC TIMES
November 28, 2021

Lex Cordis Caritas
The Law of the Heart is Love

Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki
Bishop of Springfield in Illinois

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

Earlier this month I attended the meetings of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. Much was discussed and decided, the most significant of which was approving a document on the meaning of the Eucharist, which has been give the title, The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church. It has the essentials of the doctrine and the discipline on the Eucharist and will be helpful as we prepare for the Eucharistic Revival that is being planned in our diocese and nationwide over the next three years.

Our Diocese is planning to participate in this Eucharistic Revival by observing a Year of the Eucharist, which will be opened at our former Cathedral, Saints Peter and Paul Church in Alton, on December 8, 2022, then conclude December 8, 2023, at our current Cathedral in Springfield. Parish activities throughout the Eucharistic Year will be encouraged, such as Corpus Christi processions, the Eucharistic miracle display, Eucharistic adoration, and study of Eucharistic documents. Our Diocesan Eucharistic Year will also include the Centennial Celebration of the transfer of the See City of our Diocese from Alton to Springfield in October of 2023. The details of the day are still being planned. The Eucharistic Revival will culminate with a National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis July 17-21, 2024.

Since much of the reporting on the meeting has been distorted through the secular media, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the main points of what this document actually says. I encourage you to read the entire document, along with a free two-hour online course on the new document presented by Bishop Andrew Cozzens, which is available online at www.usccb.org.

Contrary to what you may have seen in the headlines of newspapers, this document was not primarily about the eligibility of certain Catholic politicians to receive Holy Communion. The criteria for the worthy reception of Holy Communion are discussed, but they flow from the foundational understanding of the meaning of the Eucharist, as explained by Christ Himself when He said, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (n. 4, quoting Jn 6:53).

First of all, it is important that we understand the Eucharist as a sacrifice “because all that Jesus did for the salvation of humanity is made present in the celebration of the Eucharist, including his sacrificial death and resurrection” (n. 14).

The core belief of Catholics about the mystery of the Eucharist is our faith in the Real Presence of Christ: “The reality that, in the Eucharist, bread and wine become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ without ceasing to appear as bread and wine to our five senses is one of the central mysteries of the Catholic faith. This faith is a doorway through which we, like the saints and mystics before us, may enter into a deeper perception of the mercy and love manifested in and through Christ’s sacramental presence in our midst. While one thing is seen with our bodily eyes, another reality is perceived through the eyes of faith. The real, true, and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist is the most profound reality of the sacrament” (n. 21). It is also important to understand the relationship of Holy Communion, with a capital “C”, to communion, with a small “c”, which refers to the bond of unity we share with Christ and with other members of the Catholic community. “The Sacrament of the Eucharist is called Holy Communion precisely because, by placing us in intimate communion with the sacrifice of Christ, we are placed in intimate communion with him and, through him, with each other” (n. 25). When that communion with Christ and the Christian community is ruptured through sin, our suitability to receive Holy Communion is adversely affected until we repent, confess our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and receive absolution from a priest.

Our response to God’s great gift of the Eucharist is thanksgiving and worship. An essential part of our grateful response to God’s generous gift of Himself in the Eucharist is how we treat other people. “As Christians, we bear the responsibility to promote the life and dignity of the human person, and to love and to protect the most vulnerable in our midst: the unborn, migrants and refugees, victims of racial injustice, the sick and the elderly” (n. 38).

Our failure to love God and our neighbor as we should is called sin. “One is not to celebrate Mass or receive Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin without having sought the Sacrament of Reconciliation and received absolution. As the Church has consistently taught, a person who receives Holy Communion while in a state of mortal sin not only does not receive the grace that the sacrament conveys; he or she commits the sin of sacrilege by failing to show the reverence due to the sacred Body and Blood of Christ. St. Paul warns us that whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself (I Cor 11:27-29). To receive the Body and Blood of Christ while in a state of mortal sin represents a contradiction. The person who, by his or her own action, has broken communion with Christ and his Church but receives the Blessed Sacrament, acts incoherently, both claiming and rejecting communion at the same time. It is thus a counter-sign, a lie -- it expresses a communion that in fact has been broken” (n. 47).

“We repeat what the U.S. Bishops stated in 2006: ‘If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to reject the defined doctrines of the Church, or knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definitive teaching on moral issues, however, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church. Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain.’ Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation is also likely to cause scandal for others, weakening their resolve to be faithful to the demands of the Gospel” (n. 48).

“One’s communion with Christ and His Church, therefore, involves both one’s “invisible communion” (being in the state of grace) and one’s ‘visible communion.’ St. John Paul II explained: ‘The judgment of one’s state of grace obviously belongs only to the person involved, since it is a question of examining one’s conscience. However, in cases of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, the Church, in her pastoral concern for the good order of the community and out of respect for the sacrament, cannot fail to feel directly involved. The Code of Canon Law refers to this situation of a manifest lack of proper moral disposition when it states that those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin” are not to be admitted to Eucharistic communion.’ It is the special responsibility of the diocesan bishop to work to remedy situations that involve public actions at variance with the visible communion of the Church and the moral law. Indeed, he must guard the integrity of the sacrament, the visible communion of the Church, and the salvation of souls” (n. 49).

“Before we receive Holy Communion, we should make a good examination of conscience to ensure that we are properly disposed to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord. If we find that we have broken communion with Christ and his Church, we are not properly disposed to receive the Eucharist. However, we should not despair since the Lord in his mercy has given us a remedy. He loves us and deeply desires to forgive us and to restore our communion with him. . . . In the words of Pope Francis, we say to all Catholics in our country: “Don’t be afraid to go to the Sacrament of Confession, where you will meet Jesus who forgives you’” (n. 50).

As we receive Christ in Holy Communion, may we remember that the “Lord is generous to us with his grace; and so we, by his grace, should always humbly ask him to give us what we need. . . . Let us adore Jesus who ever remains with us, on all the altars of the world, and lead others to share in our joy!” (nn. 58-59).

May God give us this grace. Amen.

November 14, 2021

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

In my previous column in Catholic Times, I wrote about the different attitudes towards marriage that were held by two men in their 80s and a 21-year-old young man. The older gentlemen were both married for over 60 years. The young man wanted nothing to do with marriage. He blamed the divorce of his parents and hearing how married people were cheating on their spouses. He was content to have a girlfriend and two dogs rather than a wife and children. I have been thinking how sad it is that this young man has such a negative view of marriage and family life. I wonder who will be there for him over the years and into his old age. These thoughts prompt me to address the issue of divorce and the negative impact that divorce has on children.

One of the men who is over 80 years old with whom I spoke told me how his parents sat him and his siblings down one day when he was a teenager and asked them which parent they would prefer to live with if they got divorced. He answered that if they did not love each other and their children enough to keep their family together, then he did not want to live with either of them. He said he would go to live with his grandparents instead. His parents were apparently taken aback by his answer, which caused his parents to rethink their plans to get a divorce. They stayed together and worked things out. He said he even saw his parents grow closer to each other over the years as they learned how to work through their difficulties in their relationship.

Divorce is a subject that Jesus spoke about very clearly. When asked if divorce was lawful, Jesus answered, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12). Following this teaching of Our Lord, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. … The Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence” (1650).

Such persons are not excommunicated, and in fact are “encouraged to listen to the Word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts for justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace” (1651).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church also describes the negative consequences of divorce, saying, “Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign. … Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society. This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect which makes it truly a plague on society.” (2384-2385).

Not everyone who is divorced is guilty of a moral offense. “It can happen that one of the spouses is the innocent victim of a divorce decreed by civil law; this spouse therefore has not contravened the moral law. There is a considerable difference between a spouse who has sincerely tried to be faithful to the sacrament of marriage and is unjustly abandoned, and one who through his own grave fault destroys a canonically valid marriage” (2386).

In an age when too many people turn hastily to divorce as a quick fix to their marital problems, not heeding the negative consequences of doing so, we need to recover the understanding of marriage taught by Jesus and subsequently codified in the Church’s Code of Canon Law that, between the baptized, “a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death” (c. 1141).

May God give us this grace. Amen.

October 26, 2021

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

With seven sons and two daughters, my mother figured out very early when we were growing up that taking all my brothers and me to a barber and my sisters to a hairdresser would be very expensive, so she saved a lot of money by learning how to cut hair herself. Actually, Mom was my barber until I came to Springfield. When I moved to Springfield, my barber was Larry Spinner, until he retired last year at the age of 85. My new barber, Pat Campbell, was younger: he was only 81!

I have been very pleased with the work of Larry and now Pat, but I was recently out of town for a number of commitments in Texas, Ohio, New York, California, and Chicago, and I found myself in need of a haircut while I was traveling. So I went to a barber shop in the Chicago area where the next available barber was 21 years old with two years’ experience. He did a fine job, but what I found fascinating was my conversation with this young man.

As he began cutting my hair, he asked almost immediately what I did for a living, which was not readily apparent since I was not wearing my clerical collar. I answered that I was a Catholic priest. That led to more questions about what attracted me to be a priest and he wondered what the next step is above being a priest. So I told him that the next step is a bishop, and that in fact I was the Bishop of Springfield in Illinois.

I asked him if he went to church. He told me he went to a Protestant church when he was younger, but had stopped going. Although he was not Catholic, he knew that priests do not marry and said that he did not think he could do that since he could not go longer than a week without seeing his girlfriend. That prompted me to ask if he was planning to get married. He replied, “Oh no. Why would I want to involve the government in my relationship with my girlfriend?” He went on to say that his parents were divorced, and he had also heard from many of his customers how they had cheated on their spouses, or their spouses had cheated on them. Based on these conversations and his own family experience, he had a very negative view of marriage.

I asked him if he ever wanted to have children. He said no, he had two dogs and that was good enough for him. He thought that children would be too much trouble. Finally, I said that he was young and maybe someday he would fall in love in and would want to get married. He said, “Oh, I hope not! Yes, I’m young, so who knows what will happen, but I really don’t want ever to get married.”

I am telling you about this conversation with my young barber because I have been saying for a while now that we are facing new challenges in our culture today with the institution of marriage. While I certainly know young people who have recently gotten married and are generously giving of themselves to their spouse and family, the reality is that the views of my 21-year-old barber about marriage reflect the attitude of a substantial number of young people today.

To respond to these challenges, I believe we must be more pro-active in promoting the Sacrament of Matrimony. When our culture was more overtly Judeo-Christian, it was a given assumption that young people would look for a spouse and get married in their church or synagogue. That is not the case today in our secular culture, especially since the widespread acceptance of contraception and abortion have changed many people’s views of sex from procreation to recreation. Even those who have an ongoing relationship are often content with living together, but prefer not to get married or make any long-term commitment. No-fault divorce has not been helpful either.

In response to the current reality, we must actively educate and even recruit young people for marriage and family life, just as we recruit young men to become priests and young women to enter religious life. First of all, parents need to give a good example of marriage and family life to their children. Key to this effort is for the Sacrament of Matrimony to be understood as a total giving of oneself for the sake of one’s spouse and children. This means going beyond the narcissistic approach of selfishly seeking one’s own personal pleasure and changing the focus to what will make one’s spouse and children happy. Marriage is a social institution that precedes Christianity. It is a necessary component of a healthy society. Most of all, young people need good role models of married couples who have stayed together and continue to be there for each other in their old age.

Larry Spinner is now 86 years old. He and his wife Virginia (nickname Sue) just celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. Pat Campbell is now 82 years old. He and his wife Marcelline (nickname Marcie) are married for 62 years. They provide beautiful examples of marital love and commitment for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until they are parted at death.

As we celebrate All Saints Day on November 1st, we also look to the example of married saints with children, like Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and Saint Thomas More, and married couples who are saints, like Saints Joachim and Anne, Saints Zachary and Elizabeth, and, of course, the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse. We pray that these heroes of holiness may intercede for young people to follow the path of the Holy Family and embrace the blessed vocation of marriage and family life. May God give us this grace. Amen.

October 12, 2021

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Following a preparatory meeting with representatives of bishops’ conferences from around the world at the Vatican on Oct. 9, 2021, Pope Francis formally opened the first phase of the Synod on Synodality with a Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 10. The plan is for a series of regional, national, and international meetings that will lead up to the Sixteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2023, whose theme is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.”

By convening this synod, Pope Francis invites the entire Church to reflect on a theme that he sees as decisive for its life and mission: “It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium.” The three dimensions of the theme are communion, participation, and mission. These three dimensions are profoundly interrelated. Communion finds its deepest roots in the love and unity of the Trinity. It is Christ who reconciles us to the Father and unites us with each other in the Holy Spirit.

Participation calls for the involvement of all the members of the People of God — laity, consecrated and ordained — to engage in the exercise of deep and respectful listening to one another. In a synodal Church the whole community, in the free and rich diversity of its members, is called together to pray, listen, analyze, dialogue, discern and offer advice on making pastoral decisions which correspond as closely as possible to God’s will.

Mission recognizes that the Church exists to evangelize. We can never be centered on ourselves. Our mission is to witness to the love of God in the midst of the whole human family. This synodal process has a deeply missionary dimension to it. It is intended to enable the Church to fulfil her mission of evangelization more fruitfully in the world, as a leaven at the service of the coming of God’s kingdom.

The Preparatory Document for the Synod on Synodality says that the fundamental question that guides this consultation of the People of God is the following: “A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, ‘journeys together.’ How is this ‘journeying together’ happening today in your particular Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together’?”

In answering this question, I am pleased to say that our diocese has already embraced this synodal path of “journeying together” in a variety of ways, most significantly in recent years through our Fourth Diocesan Synod, which took place throughout most of the 2017 calendar year on the theme of discipleship and stewardship. Our diocesan synod included consultations with all the laity, priests, deacons, and leaders of the various religious communities in our diocese, as well as delegates from each of the 129 parishes in our diocese. This culminated in the adoption of 12 Synodal Declarations and 172 Statutes I followed up in 2018 with the publication of my Post-Synodal Pastoral Letter, Ars vivendi et moriendi in Dei gratia (On the Art of Living and Dying in God’s Grace).

At my request, Benedictine University (Lisle, Ill.) conducted a survey of inactive Catholics from November 2012 through March 2013, and then a second survey on active Catholics was gathered through February to March 2014. The survey results were published in September 2014 under the title, “Joy and Grievance in an American Diocese: Results from Online Surveys of Active and Inactive Catholics in Central Illinois.” In my reflections on the results of these surveys, I said that “I thought it was essential to hear not only from those who have stopped attending Mass, but also to hear from those who do attend regularly to find out what draws them and keeps them coming to church. If we are doing something right for some people, that should help us learn what we need to do to bring back those who have drifted away.”

According to the Preparatory Document for the Synod on Synodality the “purpose of the first phase of the synodal journey is to foster a broad consultation process in order to gather the wealth of the experiences of lived synodality, in its different articulations and facets, involving the Pastors and the Faithful of the particular Churches at all the different levels, through the most appropriate means according to the specific local realities: the consultation, coordinated by the Bishop, is addressed to the Priests, Deacons and lay Faithful of their Churches, both individually and in associations, without overlooking the valuable contribution that consecrated men and women can offer. The contribution of the participatory bodies of the particular Churches is specifically requested, especially that of the Presbyteral Council and the Pastoral Council, from which a synodal Church can truly begin to take shape.”

At the conclusion of our Fourth Diocesan Synod in 2017, I said that I did not plan to call another diocesan synod during my tenure, since a diocesan synod sets the pastoral direction for the indefinite future, but would leave that to my successors to determine when it would be opportune to convoke another diocesan synod. I think much of the information that we are being asked to gather during the diocesan phase of the Synod on Synodality can be gleaned from what we learned from our surveys of active and inactive Catholics and what we heard during our listening sessions and consultations held during our Fourth Diocesan Synod. Additional consultations will be done with our canonical consultative bodies, the Diocesan Pastoral Council, the Presbyteral Council, and parish pastoral councils, supplemented perhaps by focused listening sessions in the deaneries as needed.

The diocesan phase is to last from October 2021 to April 2022. A second, continental phase will take place from September 2022 to March 2023. The third, universal phase will then take place with the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October 2023.

Pope Francis concluded his homily on Oct. 10 with these words: “The Synod is a process of spiritual discernment, of ecclesial discernment, that unfolds in adoration, in prayer and in dialogue with the word of God. … Let us not miss out on the grace-filled opportunities born of encounter, listening and discernment. In the joyful conviction that, even as we seek the Lord, he always comes with his love to meet us first.”

May God give us this grace. Amen.

September 27, 2021

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

On Sept, 15, 2021, Pope Francis stated in no uncertain terms, “Abortion is murder. .,, whoever performs an abortion kills. … It’s a human life, period.” The Holy Father added, “Scientifically, it is a human life. Is it right to take it out to solve a problem? That is why the Church is so harsh on this issue, because if it accepts this, it is as if it accepts daily murder.”

So, it is very disturbing that just a few days later, on Sept. 24, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 218-211 in favor of an abortion bill with the misnomer, “Women’s Health Protection Act” (WHPA), which misrepresents the reality that it has nothing to do with protecting women’s health and hides the fact that is has everything to do with promoting abortion. The WHPA would impose abortion on demand nationwide at any stage of pregnancy through federal statute and invalidate state laws banning abortion at any stage of pregnancy, including laws that require parental notification and that prohibit abortion based on race, sex, disability, or other characteristic. The WHPA would also threaten state and federal conscience laws that protect the right of health care providers and professionals, employers, and insurers not to perform, assist in, refer for, cover, or pay for abortion.

President Joe Biden’s Administration “strongly supports House passage of H.R. 3755, the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021.” In light of Pope Francis’ unambiguous statement that “abortion is murder,” it must be said that Joe Biden is an accomplice to murder.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi expressed her support for this bill, praising it as “legislation that can become law.” Nancy Pelosi is an accomplice to murder.

U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin of Illinois have signed on as co-sponsors of this abortion legislation. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin are accomplices to murder.

Governor J.B. Pritzker spoke inside the Planned Parenthood abortion facility in Aurora on Sept. 14, 2021, urging Congress to pass the proposed federal law promoting abortion. He has also indicated that he wants to gut the Illinois Right of Conscience Act that currently protects doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care workers from being forced to perform or assist at abortions or dispense abortifacient drugs. J.B. Pritzker is an accomplice to murder.

These politicians are also fond of saying “follow the science.” Well, as Pope Francis has pointed out, science tells us that human life begins at conception, so proponents of easy access to abortion are not following the science, but are basing their arguments on purely political grounds.

Please note that I am not calling out these pro-abortion politicians in order to condemn them, but rather to call them to conversion. Please pray for them to have a change of heart, so that instead of condemning unborn babies to death, they will seek their protection and give them a chance to live, as you and I have been blessed by God to live out our lives here on earth.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has posted a fact sheet and an action alert with an online form to tell your congressional representatives of your opposition to the “Women’s Health Protection Act” (H.R. 3755/S. 1975). Please make your opinion known to them.

October is Respect Life Month. Our annual diocesan Respect Life Mass will take place at Holy Family Parish Church in Granite City at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 9, followed by our rosary walk to the Granite City abortion facility. Please join us in solidarity to pray for this abortion facility to close. Please pray throughout this month of October for the protection of human life from conception to natural death.

May God give us this grace. Amen.

September 13, 2021

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I am writing this on Sept. 11, 2021, 20 years after the terrorist airplane attacks of 9-11-2001. Most of us probably remember exactly where we were when we heard this news. At the time, I was pastor of St. Constance Parish near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. I had just finished celebrating morning Mass and went to the rectory to have breakfast. I turned on the television in the kitchen and heard the news that an airplane had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. At first, no one knew what to make of this strange incident, which initially seemed to be some sort of bizarre accident. That perception changed drastically and dramatically within a few minutes as a second plane crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Then a third plane crashed into the west side of the Pentagon (headquarters of the United States Department of Defense) near Washington, D.C. Shortly thereafter, United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville, Pa., after the plane’s courageous passengers attempted to regain control of the aircraft away from the hijackers. In doing so, at the cost of their lives, they successfully diverted the flight from its intended target, which was either the White House or the U.S. Capitol.

It was now abundantly clear that the United States of America was under attack on her own soil, but it was not immediately clear who was attacking us or what the extent of the attack would be. I returned to church to pray, and was joined by several parishioners who spontaneously came to church to seek divine protection. This continued for the next couple of weeks as people would drop by the church for at least a few minutes to pray at various times throughout the day.

As people came to church, I thought perhaps this attack was waking people from their spiritual slumber to realize how vulnerable we really are and how dependent we are on God’s providence. Unfortunately, this spiritual awakening did not last very long. Within just a few weeks after the terrorist attacks of 9-11, many people returned to their irreligious ways of life. Indeed, in the last 20 years our society has become increasingly polarized and divided. People not only disagree vehemently about almost everything, but do so with a lack of basic courtesy, lack of common civility, and lack of Christian charity, as they hurl crude insults and vulgar profanities at their opponents.

When evil strikes, such as the Holocaust during World War II or the 9-11 terrorist attacks of 20 years ago, people tend either to turn more resolutely to God for His divine assistance or they turn quite decidedly away from God, questioning how a loving God could allow such evils to happen. People of faith understand that God has given everyone a free will, which means that bad things happen when people exercise their freedom and choose to reject God and commit their evil deeds.

People who live as if there is no God also live as if He gave us no Commandments, the greatest of which, of course, is to love God with all your heart and mind and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27). Jesus also taught His Disciples to love their enemies (Matt. 5:44) and to forgive those who have harmed them if they expect God to forgive their sins (Matt. 6:15).

Loving our enemies does not mean that we can never disagree with anyone, but we must make every effort to resolve our disputes with reasoned arguments and civil discourse, not with vicious personal attacks.

When Jesus asked His Disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”, Peter was the first to reply, “You are the Christ.” But Peter did not fully understand what that meant, as he tried to dissuade Jesus from His suffering and cross. Jesus was quick to reject this temptation, telling Peter, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Jesus added, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it” (Mk 8:27-35). As we read in the Letter of St. James, “faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas 2:14-18). Thus, to be true Christians, we must put our faith into practice in our actions and in the way we treat other people. During his visit to Ground Zero in New York on April 20, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI concluded his prayer with this plea for peace and love:

“God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world: peace in the hearts of all men and women and peace among the nations of the earth. Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred.

“God of understanding, overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy, we seek your light and guidance as we confront such terrible events. Grant that those whose lives were spared may live so that the lives lost here may not have been lost in vain. Comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope, and give us the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all.”

May God give us this grace. Amen.

August 30, 2021

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Debates about mask mandates and required vaccinations are much in the news in light of Governor Pritzker’s Executive Order seeking to slow the spread of COVID. In the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, our schools are already complying with the governor’s prior Executive Order regarding masks, and our parishes are asked to follow the new mask mandate in indoor public places. Our parishes will also continue other safety measures as COVID cases, hospitalization rates, and ICU admissions have risen rapidly in recent weeks.

The Executive Order’s face covering requirement for indoor public places applies to “all individuals in Illinois who are age two or over and able to medically tolerate a face covering (a mask or cloth face covering).” Noting that some people may be excused from wearing a face covering for medical reasons, no one is to be excluded from attending Mass for not wearing a face covering. The obligation to attend Holy Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation is paramount since eternal life is the most important consideration. As Pope Pius XII said in his Nov. 24, 1957, address to Catholic physicians and anesthesiologists, “Life, health, all temporal activities are in fact subordinated to spiritual ends.”

Also, since the sanctuary of the church is not a public place — in that people are not free to walk through the sanctuary area where the altar, ambo, and tabernacle are located — priests, deacons, and lectors are not expected to wear face coverings while fulfilling their functions at Mass, since this would interfere with their public speaking and the performance of their liturgical roles.

With regard to mandatory vaccination, while the Church promotes vaccination as morally acceptable and urges cooperation with public health authorities in promoting the common good, there are matters of personal health and moral conscience involved in vaccines that must be respected. Therefore, vaccine participation must be voluntary and cannot be forced, as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the authority of Pope Francis, indicated last December. While we encourage vaccination, we cannot and will not force vaccination as a condition of employment or the freedom of the faithful to worship in our parishes.

Further, it is imperative that the faithful who choose not to be vaccinated recognize their moral duty to take other measures to protect others from harm. Whether or not one is concerned about personal risks associated with COVID, each person has a moral duty to act responsibly out of concern for his or her neighbor by diligently following other safety measures.  

In this regard, the Executive Order’s vaccination requirements for health care workers, school personnel, higher education personnel, and state-owned or operated facilities provides the following exemption: “Individuals will be exempt from the requirement to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 if (l) vaccination is medically contraindicated, including any individual who is entitled to an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act or any other law applicable to a disability-related reasonable accommodation, or (2) vaccination would require the individual to violate or forgo a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance. Individuals who demonstrate they meet the requirements for an exemption will be subject to additional testing requirements.”

In seeking to demonstrate that they have “a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance,” some people have been asking priests to write a letter on their behalf and some employers are requiring such letters from clergy. I would argue that such letters are unnecessary and inappropriate. In an article that I coauthored last April in The Observer with Professor Gerard Bradley, who teaches constitutional law at Notre Dame Law School, we wrote that giving “perspicuous witness to the truth about the horrors of abortion … does not depend upon holding the Catholic faith, or adhering to any other religion. It is based upon moral and scientific considerations equally available to all persons. For that reason, there is no non-arbitrary ground to distinguish ‘religious’ from simply ‘moral’ objections to the vaccine.” In that sense, no one should need a letter from a priest, as we also wrote, “A religious, moral or other exemption of conscience should be ascertained not by documents, but by a simple conversation seeking only to establish that the individual has a sincerely held, reasonable belief that they should not receive the vaccine.”

Moral objections of conscience should be respected, but should not require a letter from a priest or other clergyman, since the objection is based on the person’s individual personal conscience, not some specific tenet of the Catholic faith. It is not even apparent what any such letter from a priest could helpfully say, beyond restating what I have here recounted, which is that the Catholic Church teaches that some persons may have conscientious objections to the taking of the COVID vaccines, and that these conscientious convictions ought to be respected. (Note that the National Catholic Bioethics Center has provided a Vaccine Exemption Template Letter for Catholics who themselves seek an exemption from an immunization requirement.)

In the event, however, that an employer requires a letter from the clergy, the essential point for which the attestation of a Catholic priest might be helpful is therefore the primacy of conscience, as Pope St. Paul VI wrote in his 1965 Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae, no. 13), “The Christian faithful, in common with all other men, possess the civil right not to be hindered in leading their lives in accordance with their consciences.” More recently, Pope Francis has said, “The conscience is the interior place for listening to the truth, to goodness, for listening to God; it is the inner place of my relationship with Him, the One who speaks to my heart and helps me to discern, to understand the way I must take and, once the decision is made, to go forward, to stay faithful.” Thus, while Catholics are not bound to refuse the vaccine as a form of immoral cooperation with abortion, and while there is a prima facie obligation to cooperate with public health authorities in promoting the common good, each Catholic must make his or her own decision, in light of each person’s particular situation and moral responsibilities. The Catholic Church recognizes that some Catholics will be bound in conscience to refuse the vaccine.

May God give us this grace. Amen.

August 22, 2021
In the previous issue of Catholic Times, I wrote about a talk I attended recently on “How to Effectively Defend the Church’s Controversial Moral Teachings,” presented by Father Robert Spitzer, SJ, Ph.D., president of the Magis Center for Reason and Faith. I summarized some of his key points in which he used secular statistics that illustrate the negative consequences to emotional health, relational health, and spiritual health resulting from a homosexual lifestyle and transgenderism. Father Spitzer also provides statistics for the negative consequences of premarital sex and cohabitation, pornography, artificial birth control, and abortion, which I will summarize here. 
August 08, 2021
Last month I attended a talk on “How to Effectively Defend the Church’s Controversial Moral Teachings,” presented by Father Robert Spitzer, SJ, Ph.D., president of the Magis Center for Reason and Faith. Recognizing the need to spread this crucial information as widely as possible, Father Spitzer generously made his data available to conference participants.
July 25, 2021
As announced previously, the Catholic Bishops of the United States will be drafting a document on the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church to be voted upon at our next meeting in November. An important aspect of this topic is the relationship between receiving the holy Eucharist and the sacrament of penance.