My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
President Joe Biden and his administration are continuing their aggressive assault on the religious liberty rights protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, thus threatening the ability of the Catholic Church to continue her essential work in education and health care. The Catholic News Agency reported on Aug. 10 that “Catholic school leaders need to be aware that their schools could be cut off from the federal government’s free and subsidized lunch program if their policies don’t comply with the Biden administration’s revised rules against LGBTQ discrimination.”
The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential childcare institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. The program was established under the National School Lunch Act, signed by President Harry Truman in 1946.
Earlier this year the Biden administration announced that their interpretation of Title IX’s federal ban on sex discrimination would be expanded to include “sexual orientation and gender identity.” Religious freedom and free speech advocates warn that the proposed rule change could be used to enforce mandates on hiring, access to bathrooms according to the student’s gender of choice, using preferred pronouns, and dress codes.
Fifty-two percent of U.S. Catholic schools participate in the federal lunch program, according to Sister Dale McDonald, vice president of public policy at the National Catholic Educational Association, which represents nearly 150,000 educators serving 1.6 million students in Catholic schools, universities, and religious education programs.
Grant Park Christian Academy in Tampa, Fla., was able to obtain a religious exemption earlier this month from the state’s agriculture department, but the school first had to file a lawsuit in order to get it. Thankfully, the school was represented in court by the nonprofit public interest law firm, Alliance Defending Freedom. Other schools may well have to go to court to preserve their religious freedom.
With regard to health care, the Biden administration earlier this year promised new regulations that are contrary to Catholic values and will be a disaster for Catholic employers, physicians, and hospitals. These regulations will require employers and health care providers to cover or perform abortions, gender transition services, and unethical fertility treatments. Other regulations will affect insurance and exchange plan coverages, education discrimination rules, eligibility for HHS grants, religious student groups’ ability to select like-minded leaders, and contractors’ freedom to make employment decisions consistent with their religious beliefs.
Then, on June 15, President Biden issued an executive order that seeks to dramatically advance his administration’s radical LGBTQ+ agenda. These regulations will violate the God-given dignity of men, women, and children. They will attack the science that we are made male and female, promote the destruction of innocent human life, and undermine protection of religious liberty and the ethical ordered liberty enshrined in our Constitution.
Thankfully, there are organizations like the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Catholic Benefits Association, Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Liberty Initiative, and the Thomas More Society Public Interest Law Firm who are fighting to protect the religious freedom rights of Catholic dioceses, hospitals, schools, ministries, religious orders, and businesses guided by our Catholic values.
It is a shame that religious freedom is under attack these days right here in the United States of America, but we must continue to be vigilant and vindicate our God-give rights, even if this means fighting for our rights in court.
May God give us this grace. Amen.
The month of July typically provides an opportunity for me to get away for a bit during the summer, some of it for vacation and some of it to attend out-of-town conferences. This year saw the resumption of several conferences that had been cancelled or postponed during the COVID pandemic of the past two years. Among those that I attended were the International Congress of Medieval Canon Law, which took place at Saint Louis University, and the Conference of the Association of Catholic Diocesan Archivists, which was held at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein. The topics of discussion for experts on Medieval canon law and diocesan archivists admittedly take place in a rarefied atmosphere not frequented by most people. Maybe that is why I find these subjects so fascinating!
Perhaps the topic of greater interest to people in general and parents in particular was the conference I attended on dealing with the challenges of gender ideology. Presentations included speakers from CanaVox, which they describe as “a cheerful marriage movement that offers reading groups to friends who support the historic understanding of marriage.” Their website, canavox.com, includes readings lists on topics such as:
There are also several excellent videos on the CanaVox website, canavox.com/videos, on the following topics:
While traveling, I also had the opportunity to read some very informative books related to these topics. Among these books is Unraveling Gender: The Battle Over Sexual Difference, published in 2022 by TAN Books, and was written by John Grabowski, who is Professor of Moral Theology and Ethics at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Professor Grabowski describes gender ideology as one of the greatest moral errors of our times, threatening the truth and meaning of human sexuality. It is essentially the mistaken notion that gender is not necessarily connected to the sex of the body, but is a personal construct. Noting that the Catholic Church in her wisdom has stood up to stem the tide of this harmful new attack, Professor Grabowski draws upon Scripture and Church teaching to equip parents, religious educators, and clergy with the information they need to confront this dangerous ideology with clarity, confidence, and charity. As gender ideology continues to spread its errors, infecting our culture like a deadly virus, this book provides a valuable resource to confront this destructive ideology.
Another highly informative book from my summer reading was What It Means to Be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics, published by Harvard University Press in 2020, and was written by O. Carter Snead, director of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture, Professor of Law, and Concurrent Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. He is also a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, the principal bioethics advisory body to Pope Francis. Inspired by the insights of Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor, Professor Snead proposes a vision of human identity and flourishing that supports those who are profoundly vulnerable and dependent, especially children, the disabled, and the elderly. To show how such a vision would affect law and policy, he addresses three complex issues in bioethics: abortion, assisted reproductive technology, and end-of-life decisions, situating them within his framework of embodiment and dependence. He concludes that, if the law is built on premises that reflect the fully lived reality of life, it will provide support for the vulnerable, including the unborn, mothers, families, and those nearing the end of their lives. In this way, he argues, policy can ensure that people have the care they need in order to thrive.
I hope some of these resources which I have found very helpful will also be of valuable assistance to you.
May God give us this grace. Amen.
The following letter was sent by a Congressman to one of his constituents in Springfield:
“I believe we should end abortion on demand, and at every opportunity I have translated this belief into votes in the House of Representatives. I am opposed to the use of federal funds to pay for elective abortions, and will continue to support amendments to prohibit the funding of elective abortions for federal employees and Medicaid recipients. … I continue to believe the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade should be reversed.” That letter was sent on Aug. 14, 1989, by then-Rep. Richard J. Durbin. Now Sen. Durbin’s wish has finally been granted by the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, reversing Roe v. Wade.
Similarly, when Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973 just 17 days after Joseph Biden entered the U.S. Senate, he said, “I don’t like the decision. I think it went too far.” His wish has now been granted, too.
Unfortunately, Biden and Durbin and other formerly pro-life politicians have flip-flopped their positions 180 degrees and are now promoting a very pro-abortion agenda. In his opening statement on July 12 during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “A Post-Roe America: The Legal Consequences of the Dobbs Decision,” Sen. Durbin said, “A woman’s choice to get an abortion is her choice alone.”
President Biden has gone beyond words by issuing an executive order on July 8 to promote access to abortion. The Office of Personnel Management issued guidance that allows for federal workers to take paid sick leave to cover absences for travel to obtain an abortion. This is truly scandalous, in that it leads others to take similar immoral actions. Following the lead of the Biden administration, dozens of companies announced that they will pay for employees who want to get an abortion. See the accompanying list of companies who have issued new “health care” policies that provide thousands of dollars in abortion stipends and travel reimbursement. It would be good to keep these companies in mind and avoid buying their products whenever possible.
These actions in promoting abortion have crossed a significant line with profound moral implications for their proponents, moving from what might have been considered material cooperation with evil, which sometimes is excusable, into the realm of formal cooperation, which is always sinful. The difference is that material cooperation does not share in the intent to commit sin, but may involve unintentional cooperation with evil. An example would be paying taxes in a state like Illinois which provides for taxpayer funding of abortion. When paying sales tax for purchasing goods in Illinois, the purchaser is a material cooperator in evil since the sales tax will go into the state treasury from which abortions are funded. Such material cooperation is remote and usually unavoidable, which means that it is not sinful.
Formal cooperation shares the intent to commit evil, and is therefore sinful. In the case of a person who deliberately purchases goods in Illinois with the intent of providing the State with sales taxes to help pay for abortions, that person is formally cooperating in grave evil and thereby is committing a serious sin. One of the consequences of formal cooperation with grave evil is that those who commit serious sins are not permitted to receive holy Communion unless they repent and receive sacramental absolution.
When Catholic politicians like Joe Biden, Dick Durbin, and Nancy Pelosi proactively promote abortion in their words and actions, they can no longer claim that they are “personally opposed to abortion, but are not going to impose their beliefs on others.” They are in fact intentionally imposing their pro-abortion beliefs on others and hence are now formally cooperating in evil. As such, they are not to receive holy Communion because of their manifest, obstinate, and persistent promotion of grave sin and their strident support for intrinsic evil. This applies to business executives who promote abortion policies as well.
In a television interview broadcast July 12, Pope Francis responded to a question about President Biden’s support for abortion by saying, “Let him talk to his pastor about that incoherence.” It is indeed incoherent for Catholics to promote abortion and it is incoherent for such Catholics to receive holy Communion. We must continue to pray for their conversion and return to full communion with the Catholic Church.
The following companies announced new “health care” policies that include thousands of dollars in abortion stipends and travel reimbursement:
When I was in the seminary, I began to discern a vocation within my vocation. I had wanted to be a priest for as long as I could remember (my mother said I was about 4 years old when I started talking about being a priest!), but perhaps because I had been thinking about priesthood for so long, I began considering different ways to exercise ministry as a priest: diocesan priesthood vs. religious life, for example, or being a parish priest vs. teaching or some other sort of specialized ministry. It was in this context that I decided I want to do something concrete to help the poor, rather than simply talk about it. So, in conversation with my spiritual director, I discerned that I wanted to be a parish priest who would provide legal services for the poor.
Four months after my priesthood ordination and after spending the summer in Mexico studying Spanish, I began studying law at DePaul University College of Law while serving in a parish in the heavily industrialized steel mill area known as South Chicago. Since I was not officially asked to do this by my Archdiocese, I took out a student loan, which I repaid with my own money. Shortly after I graduated with my civil law degree in 1981, I passed the Illinois Bar Exam and co-founded the South Chicago Legal Clinic, which was later renamed the Chicago Legal Clinic as we expanded into other neighborhoods. I specialized in immigration law to help the many immigrants in the area, who were mostly Hispanic.
I also began an internship with Catholic Charities under the guidance of then Father Edwin Conway, the devoted and capable Administrator of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago from 1983 until 1996. In 1995, he was named Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, also serving as Vicar General of the Archdiocese from 2003 until his death from cancer in 2004. Having obtained a master’s of social work degree from Loyola University Chicago in 1970, Bishop Conway was an influential mentor for my work in serving the poor.
One specific piece of advice from Bishop Conway that I distinctly remember is that he said there was never any reason to give cash to panhandlers or homeless people begging for money on street corners. All the basic necessities of life — including food, shelter, and clothing — were readily available from Catholic Charities and other social service agencies. Giving them cash would only provide them with funds to enable their addictive behaviors.
Bishop Conway’s advice comes to mind frequently as I see homeless people begging for money outside our Cathedral, usually right before or after Mass. It is understandable that homeless people apparently consider church-going people more receptive to their requests to “help the homeless” since we Christians wish to do as Jesus taught when He said, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Caring for the least among us, however, does not necessarily mean handing out cash. To provide true assistance that will help the person in need usually requires more than a handout. We could, for example, offer to take the person to a restaurant to get something to eat. But that would require more than money; actually getting some food for a hungry person would require real time and effort. It is far easier to just drop some cash into their cup, which is perhaps doing more to make the donor feel good than to provide real assistance.
Once, I was walking in downtown Springfield wearing my clerical suit and Roman collar when a person approached me asking for money to buy food. We were just a couple of blocks from St. John’s Breadline, so I started giving instructions on how to get there for a free meal when the person cut me off saying, “Oh, I know all about the Breadline. I don’t want that.” I said I was sorry, but if he did not want that, I could not help him. I have served meals at St. John’s Breadline and have eaten the food there myself. It is quite healthy and good. Anyone of any faith can walk in and have a meal for free — no eligibility requirements and no questions asked.
So, if you want to help feed the hungry, you could donate to Catholic Charities, which operates the St. John’s Breadline at 430 North Fifth Street in Springfield and the Catholic Charities Regional and Mobile Food Pantries located throughout our diocese. For locations and hours of operation, as well as for volunteer opportunities, or to donate online, go to https://cc.dio.org/. Donations may also be sent by check payable to Catholic Charities – Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, 1625 West Washington Street, Springfield, IL 62702.
In the Acts of the Apostles, we are told that “a man crippled from birth was carried and placed at the gate of the temple called ‘The Beautiful Gate’ every day to beg for alms from the people who entered the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked for alms. But Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ He paid attention to them, expecting to receive something from them. Peter said, ‘I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.’ Then Peter took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles grew strong. He leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God” (Acts 3:2-8).
Rather than give cash to beggars, our goal — like St. Peter and St. John — also should be to help them to rise and walk in the name of Jesus Christ, so that they too may enter the church to give praise to God.
Sunday, June 19, is the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, traditionally known by its name in Latin, Corpus Christi. This year’s celebration of Corpus Christi will mark the opening of the three-year Eucharistic Revival announced last year by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The mission of the Eucharistic Revival is “to renew the Church by enkindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.”
According to the Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs, by Francis X. Weiser, S.J., “Very early (in the fourteenth century) the custom developed of carrying the Blessed Sacrament in a splendid procession through the town after the Mass on Corpus Christi Day. This was encouraged by the popes, some of whom granted special indulgences to all participants. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) solemnly approved and recommended the procession on Corpus Christi as a public profession of the Catholic faith in the real presence of Christ in the Holy Sacrament.”
The Code of Canon Law encourages liturgical processions outside the church, “When it can be done in the judgment of the diocesan bishop, as a public witness of the veneration toward the Most Holy Eucharist, a procession is to be conducted through the public streets, especially on the solemnity of the Body and the Blood of Christ” (canon 944). The leading of processions outside the church is among the specific liturgical functions especially entrusted to the pastor (canon 530).
In my Pastoral Letter of June 22, 2014, Ars celebrandi et adorandi, Latin for “The Art of Celebrating the Eucharistic Liturgy Properly and Adoring the Lord in the Eucharist Devoutly,” I wrote, “I highly encourage and give permission for pastors to conduct processions with the Blessed Sacrament through the public streets, especially on the solemnity of the Body and the Blood of Christ, as a witness to our faith in the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist and as an expression of our belief that God is in our midst even in our everyday lives.”
This encouragement and permission for Corpus Christi processions is reflected in Statute 107 of our Fourth Diocesan Synod as adopted in 2017: “As a public witness of the veneration toward the Most Holy Eucharist, clergy in this Diocese may conduct processions with the Blessed Sacrament through the public streets and are especially encouraged to do so on the solemnity of the Body and the Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi). Such processions shall be conducted in accord with the pertinent liturgical customs and norms. Arrangements for the procession through the streets shall be made with local law enforcement and civic officials for the sake of good public order and as required by civil law.”
Carrying the Blessed Sacraments in procession through the streets is what Stephen Bullivant, professor of Theology and Sociology at St Mary's University in London, calls a Credibility Enhancing Display (CRED), which is a sociological term for what makes this Catholic experience special.
The focus of the first year of the Eucharistic Revival will be on Diocesan Revival. Here in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, we will observe a Year of the Eucharist, beginning on Dec. 8, 2022, and ending on Dec. 8, 2023. The highlight of our diocesan Year of the Eucharist will be our Centennial Celebration on Oct. 28, 2023, marking one hundred years since the translation of our Diocesan See from Alton to Springfield. This Centennial celebration will be held at the Bank of Springfield Center in Springfield, which holds 7,000 people. I have instructed pastors that there are to be no parish Masses or weddings across the diocese on Oct. 28, 2023, in order to allow all the priests and as many parishioners as possible to attend the day-long event at the BOS Center in Springfield. Our featured speakers, who will address the relationship of the Eucharist in the life of Christian discipleship, will be Dr. Scott Hahn, Professor of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, and Bishop Robert Barron, founder of the global media ministry Word on Fire, who recently was appointed as the new Bishop of Winona-Rochester in Minnesota.
The second phase of the Eucharistic Revival, through June 2024, will foster eucharistic devotion at the parish level, strengthening our liturgical life through eucharistic adoration, missions, resources, preaching, and movements of the Holy Spirit. These local efforts will be designed to help convert hearts and minds to fall more deeply in love with Jesus Christ, truly present in the Holy Eucharist.
The third phase of the Eucharistic Revival will be the National Eucharistic Congress, to be held in Indianapolis from July 17 to 21, 2024. At this historic event, more than 80,000 Catholics of all ages from every diocese in the United States are expected to gather in Indianapolis to worship our Risen Lord in the mystery of the Eucharist. Then, the Year of Going Out On Mission will take place from July 21, 2024, through Pentecost of 2025. We pray that the Holy Spirit will enkindle a missionary fire in the heart of our nation as we reconsecrate ourselves to the source and summit of our faith.
May God give us this grace. Amen.
“No one may share the eucharist with us unless he believes that what we teach is true, unless he is washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of his sins, and unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.” These words were written between 155-157 A.D. to the Roman Emperor by St. Justin in his treatise providing a detailed explanation of Christian practices and rituals, while also seeking to convince the emperor to abandon the persecution of the Church. Not only did the emperor reject Justin’s arguments, but Justin was eventually put on trial around the year 165 A.D. for refusing to worship the pagan gods of the Roman Empire.
The testimony of St. Justin’s trial before the Prefect of Rome, whose name was Rusticus, was recorded in the The Acts of the Martyrdom of Saint Justin and his Companion Saints. After these Christians were seized and brought before the judgment seat, Rusticus the prefect said to Justin: “Above all, have faith in the gods and obey the emperors.”
Justin said: “We cannot be accused or condemned for obeying the commands of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Rusticus asked: “What system of teaching do you profess?”
Justin replied: “I have tried to learn about every system, but I have accepted the true doctrines of the Christians, though these are not approved by those who are held fast by error.”
Rusticus asked: “Are those doctrines approved by you, wretch that you are?”
Justin answered: “Yes, for I follow them with their correct teaching.”
Rusticus said: “What sort of teaching is that?”
Justin responded: “Worship the God of the Christians. We hold him to be from the beginning the one creator and maker of the whole creation, of things seen and things unseen. We worship also the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He was foretold by the prophets as the future herald of salvation for the human race and the teacher of distinguished disciples. For myself, since I am a human being, I consider that what I say is insignificant in comparison with his infinite godhead. I acknowledge the existence of a prophetic power, for the one I have just spoken of as the Son of God was the subject of prophecy. I know that the prophets were inspired from above when they spoke of his coming among men.”
Rusticus asked: “You are a Christian, then?”
Justin answered: “Yes, I am a Christian.”
The prefect said to Justin: “You are called a learned man and think that you know what is true teaching. Listen: If you were scourged and beheaded, are you convinced that you would go up to heaven?”
Justin answered: “I hope that I shall enter God’s house if I suffer that way. For I know that God’s favor is stored up until the end of the whole world for all who have lived good lives.”
Rusticus said: “Do you have an idea that you will go up to heaven to receive some suitable rewards?”
Justin said: “It is not an idea that I have; it is something I know well and hold to be most certain.”
The prefect Rusticus then said: “Now let us come to the point at issue, which is necessary and urgent. Gather round then and with one accord offer sacrifice to the gods.”
Justin said: “No one who is right thinking stoops from true worship to false worship.”
The prefect Rusticus said: “If you do not do as you are commanded you will be tortured without mercy.”
Justin replied: “We hope to suffer torment for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so be saved. For this will bring us salvation and confidence as we stand before the more terrible and universal judgment-seat of our Lord and Savior.”
In the same way the other martyrs also said: “Do what you will. We are Christians; we do not offer sacrifice to idols.”
The prefect Rusticus then pronounced sentence, saying: “Let those who have refused to sacrifice to the gods and to obey the command of the emperor be scourged and led away to suffer capital punishment according to the ruling of the laws.”
The execution of St. Justin and his companion saints was described in these words: “Glorifying God, the holy martyrs went out to the accustomed place. They were beheaded, and so fulfilled their witness of martyrdom in confessing their faith in their Savior.”
The courageous martyrdom of these faithful saints comes to mind as we see so many politicians stoop to false worship at the altar of abortion rather than give true worship to the Triune God and adherence to His commandments.
Thus, it is entirely appropriate that Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco announced on May 20 with regard to the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, a staunch advocate of abortion who is a member of his archdiocese, “After numerous attempts to speak with Speaker Pelosi to help her understand the grave evil she is perpetrating, the scandal she is causing, and the danger to her own soul she is risking, I have determined that she is not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”
I fully support and earnestly commend Archbishop Cordileone’s action in regard to Speaker Pelosi. All politicians who promote abortion should not receive holy Communion until they have repented, repaired scandal, and been reconciled to Christ and the Church.
The Memorial of St. Justin Martyr is June 1. St. Justin, pray for us to have the courage to stand up for the true doctrines of Christianity as you and your saintly companions did.
May God give us this grace. Amen.
Lex Cordis Caritas
The Law of the Heart is Love
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
A priest on pilgrimage in the Holy Land described how he watched two shepherds talking together while their sheep milled around them in the valley beneath him. The sound of their voices carried up to him on the hillside. After a while, the shepherds parted and went off in opposite directions, all the while keeping up a “kind of conversation” with the sheep. To the priest’s astonishment, the sheep separated from one another and sorted themselves out into two flocks, each one going after its own shepherd. It was a perfect illustration, the priest said, of sheep recognizing the voice of their shepherd and following him. We can only marvel at the instinct by which the sheep recognized the voice of their own shepherd and did not follow the other one. We see the same instinct at work among penguins, who in a crowd of thousands manage to find their own offspring.
In the Gospel of Saint John, Jesus observes that “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10:27). He is making a claim that we can verify. Every human being, young and old, good and bad, has a conscience. Conscience is, as St John Henry Newman taught, “the voice of God.” For Newman, conscience is a proof of God’s existence. “Every human being has a certain commanding dictate,” he said, “an authoritative voice, bidding him do certain things and avoid others.” If we want to know whether we should do a certain thing we only have to ask ourselves and our conscience will give us the answer. Often enough our conscience prods us before we ask it, warning us not to go down this way or that. More positively, it will lead us where we should go.
Furthermore, what our conscience tells us is confirmed in scripture. The scriptures are the revealed word of God. “The word of the Lord,” the reader proclaims at the end of each reading. There can never be a conflict between what God tells us in our conscience and what God tells us in the scriptures. It is the same voice speaking in two different ways.
But there is what we might call a “false conscience” or an “erroneous conscience,” persuading us that our conscience is nonsense; that the scriptures are untrue; that our faith is unfounded; that we can do whatever we feel like doing. A man once told a priest that he thought God was telling him to leave his wife and marry another woman who was a more devout Catholic. The priest reminded him of the Sixth Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery.” What the man thought God was telling him could not have been from God, but was only his own fantasizing.
In this regard, as the national debate rages across our country in light of the malicious leak of the draft of a Supreme Court decision that will apparently overturn the disastrous 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, abortion activists and pro-abortion politicians are trying to convince themselves that abortion is not wrong. For example, President Biden recently contradicted Catholic teaching by asserting that no “mainstream” religion claims to know when human life begins. He stated, “Roe says what all basic mainstream religions have historically concluded, that the existence of a human life and being is a question. Is it at the moment of conception? Is it six months? Is it six weeks? Is it quickening, like Aquinas argued?”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has made similar arguments, claiming that, “over the centuries, the doctors of the Church have not been able to make that definition” [of when human life begins], arguing that St. Augustine said that ensoulment does not occur until 46 days after conception. Biden and Pelosi fail to mention, however, that both St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine were opposed to abortion.
Reacting to the news that Roe v. Wade may be overturned, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin issued a statement referring to abortion as “a critical constitutional right” and calling for legislation to “enshrine into law” the right to choose to have an abortion. While Biden, Pelosi, and Durbin are Democrats, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, both Republicans, have introduced their own bill seeking to codify current abortion protections into federal law.
These pro-abortion politicians, all of whom are baptized Catholics, but who do not speak authoritatively for the Church, are deluding themselves and their consciences, since the Catholic Church has always condemned abortion as gravely sinful since the earliest times of Christianity. They are listening to the wrong voices. A well-formed conscience, on the other hand, recognizes that human life begins at conception. Modern technology shows us plainly through ultrasound imagery that a fetus is indeed a human baby.
In response to those who say the Church’s teaching on abortion has changed or is of recent origin, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities has issued a fact sheet, noting that “knowledge of human embryology was very limited until recent times. Many Christian thinkers accepted the biological theories of their time, based on the writings of Aristotle (4th century BC) and other philosophers. Aristotle assumed a process was needed over time to turn the matter from a woman's womb into a being that could receive a specifically human form or soul. The active formative power for this process was thought to come entirely from the man – the existence of the human ovum (egg), like so much of basic biology, was unknown. However, such mistaken biological theories never changed the Church's common conviction that abortion is gravely wrong at every stage.”
Thus, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law” (no. 2271).
Many voices speak to us today, very often through the media. But even the most intelligent people can be wrong: not all the opinions we hear are right, so we test them by faith. Saints recognize the inner voice of God with clarity because they habitually listen to it. They are not easily deceived or misled. They trust the teachings of the Church, meditate on the scriptures, and pray, listening to the voice of Jesus, who leads us to the truth and to eternal life.
May God give us this grace. Amen.
Over 90 bishops from around the world recently signed a “Fraternal Open Letter to the Bishops of Germany,” including Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria, Cardinal Raymond Burke of the United States, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of South Africa, and Cardinal George Pell of Australia. I am among the signatories along with archbishops and bishops from every continent except Antarctica (which of course has no bishops).
The letter expresses “our growing concern about the nature of the entire German ‘Synodal Path’ process and the content of its various documents” as well as “the confusion that the Synodal Path has already caused and continues to cause, and the potential for schism in the life of the Church that will inevitably result.” Similar letters have been sent by the President of the Polish Bishops’ Conference and the Bishops’ Conference of the Nordic countries, which includes Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland.
So, what is the German Synodal Path and what are the concerns?
The German Synodal Path is the response of the Catholic Church in Germany to Pope Francis’ call to provide input for the Synod of Bishops that will take place at the Vatican in October of 2023. Pope Francis has encouraged bishops around the world to engage a process of “synodality,” characterized by dialogue, accompaniment, and collaboration among the diocesan leadership, ordained clergy, religious, and lay faithful. We have done this here in our Diocese of Springfield in Illinois at our listening sessions in various locations across our diocese on March 27, in conjunction with input from our Diocesan Pastoral Council and Presbyteral Council. All of this builds on the Fourth Diocesan Synod that we held in 2017.
Following the release of a study on the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clerics in Germany, the country’s Bishops expressed a desire in 2019 “to follow a binding Synodal Path” to address these and other topics. In the Fall of 2021, the German Bishops released several draft texts, which were discussed and voted on during the Second Synodal Assembly. In February of 2022, the Bishops met for the Third Synodal Assembly, where they released additional documents.
While listening to the flock, the shepherds must still lead and not let the sheep go astray. This is where the concerns arise, given that the German Synodal Path has gone off course, asserting in their documents that the Catholic Church “insists on doctrinal positions that many faithful, including deacons, priests and bishops, far beyond Germany, no longer find comprehensible.” They even go so far as to call certain Church teachings merciless, unloving, discriminatory, and intolerant. In particular, the German Synodal Path has called for the blessing of homosexual relationships, ordaining women as deacons, making celibacy optional for priests, giving the laity decision-making power in relation to the appointment of bishops, and restructuring the Church from its hierarchical form to something more democratic.
This is precisely what Pope Francis warned the German bishops about when he wrote a 28-page letter to them in 2019, urging them to be careful not to fall into the traps set along the way, which he calls “temptations” based on “the belief that the best response to the many problems and shortcomings that exist, is to reorganize things, change them and 'put them back together' to bring order and make ecclesial life easier by adapting it to the current logic or that of a particular group.”
In response to the concerns raised by bishops from around the world that Germany’s Synodal Path could lead to schism, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, President of the German Bishops’ Conference, defended their process as a response to abuses in the Church. However, as Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco has pointed out in an article he wrote for First Things, “A tepid accommodation to the latest dogmas of secular orthodoxy, on the other hand, cannot be the basis for renewal.”
It is significant that Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, has said in an interview that “there are legitimate concerns behind” this Fraternal Open Letter “that have to be taken seriously.” He added that, “In Germany, I have the impression that synodality consists in dealing with the structures, something that Pope Francis already urged very energetically in his “Letter to the People of God” in Germany, that it is first and foremost not about structures but spirituality.”
My hope is that the Fraternal Open Letter to the Bishops of Germany will prompt them to see the widespread concern from their brother bishops, reassess what they are doing, and get back on course with the true teachings of the Church.
May God give us this grace. Amen.
Our Easter celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord provides an opportunity for us as Catholics to look forward with hope and anticipation to the resurrection of our own bodies when Christ comes again on the last day.
Unfortunately, many Christians today do not understand or at least do not accept the Catholic Church’s teaching about the resurrection from the dead. Our profession of faith, the Nicene Creed, which we recite on Sundays and Holy Days, concludes with the statement, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” Do we really understand what that means? Many people, including many Catholics, believe in eternal life, but wrongfully think this means that when we die, we will live forever as spirits, without any type of body. This is what the ancient Greeks believed, but it is not what Christians believe. Hence the growing popularity of cremation on the part of people who think that death means we simply discard our bodies since they will not be needed any more.
In this regard, a bill on human composting (HB 4552), introduced in the Illinois General Assembly by Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), passed the Energy and Environment Committee 23-0 on Feb. 15, but fortunately has not moved beyond the committee. The bill has 28 co-sponsors, which indicates a certain level of support, and environmental groups are supporting it. Colorado, Washington, and Oregon have approved similar legislation. HB 4552 authorizes a body to undergo human composting after death. The process known as “natural organic reduction” is an accelerated conversion of human remains to soil. The body is placed in a vessel that accelerates biological decomposition. The body is laid into the vessel onto a bed of wood, chips, alfalfa and straw. Over 30 days, everything inside the vessel breaks down to natural composition. Each body that completes the process creates one cubic yard of soil. The remains can then be used as compost, essentially serving as fertilizer for plants!
But the Church teaches that, “We firmly believe, and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives forever, so after death the righteous will live forever with the risen Christ and He will raise them up on the last day” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 989. Thus, “Although cremation is now permitted by the Church, it does not enjoy the same value as burial of the body. The Church clearly prefers and urges that the body of the deceased be present for the funeral rites, since the presence of the human body better expresses the values which the Church affirms in those rites” (The Order of Christian Funerals, Appendix on Cremation, n. 413). Most especially, this refers to our belief that God will raise our bodies when Christ comes again on the last day.
Canon law says that “Unless they gave some signs of repentance before death …, those who chose the cremation of their bodies for reasons contrary to Christian faith must be deprived of ecclesiastical funerals” (c. 1184 §1). Now, I have never heard of anyone explicitly saying that they chose cremation because they do not believe in the resurrection of the body, but it does seem to be at least an implicit rejection of this dogma of our faith to turn one’s remains into compost to serve as fertilizer to grow plants! While God certainly has the power to raise cremated ashes into the form of a glorified body, burial of the full body better expresses our belief that we look forward to the resurrection of the body.
This belief is clearly expressed in the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, which says, “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you” (Rom 8:8-11). St. Paul also wrote, “How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain … . But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:12-20).
Raising the dead to life is a sure sign of the presence and action of God. In the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, the Lord says: “You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people” (Ezekiel 37:12-14). Faith in Jesus Christ empowers us to live in true freedom: freedom from fear, freedom from the power of death, freedom to live by the Spirit which God has placed in us — the Spirit of the risen Christ. Happy Easter!
May God give us this grace. Amen.