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Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

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March 14, 2022

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

It is heart-wrenching to read the news reports and see the images of the damage being inflicted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, such as the Russian bombing of a maternity hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariopol and the indiscriminate attacks on other non-military targets that have resulted in many civilian casualties. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zalensky has not only denounced Russia for these attacks, but has also expressed his frustration with the lack of support from the West, asking, “How much longer will the world be an accomplice to terror? You have power but seem to be losing humanity.”

Of course, everyone is concerned that the war in Ukraine not escalate into a catastrophic nuclear confrontation between Russia and the United States and other nuclear powers. At the same time, our basic sense of justice cries out for some way to help the victims of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked aggression and apparent violation of international law by invading a sovereign country and committing war crimes by targeting civilians.

Some political commentators seem to be saying that Ukraine has to be forfeited to the Russians because we do not want to provoke Putin into a reckless response that would start World War III and a possible nuclear holocaust. Such views seem reminiscent of the appeasement approach towards Adolph Hitler’s expansion of Nazi power prior to World War II.

Neville Chamberlain, who served as British Prime Minister from May 1937 to May 1940, was one of the chief proponents of appeasement towards Hitler. The Munich Conference of 1938, organized by Chamberlain and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, was an international meeting to settle the dispute between Germany and Czechoslovakia over the Sudetenland. The Conference was attended by Hitler from Germany, Chamberlain from Britain, Daladier from France and Mussolini from Italy. Czechoslovakia was not invited, despite the Sudetenland being part of its territory. At the Munich Conference, it was decided the Sudetenland was to be transferred from Czechoslovakia to Germany. After the Munich Agreement, Chamberlain and Hitler signed a document promising that Britain and Germany would promote peace in Europe. Chamberlain returned to London and announced that he had secured “peace in our time.”

Winston Churchill, who succeeded Neville Chamberlain as British prime minister in 1940, was a fierce opponent of appeasement. He said, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” Churchill was convinced that Hitler would not stop, and of course, we know now that he was right. Hitler did not stop until he was defeated. Many people fear the same with Putin.

What does our Christian faith have to say about defending people who are being attacked? In his sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well” (Matthew 5:38-39). The New Jerome Biblical Commentary says that Jesus offers this teaching as “a strategy for winning, not for passive resignation or indifference to evil. The goal is to shame the opponent into a change of heart. This presupposes the requisite dispositions in the opponent, which are not always present.”

Indeed, Catholic theology developed the “just war theory” to deal with unjust opponents. St. Augustine (d. 430) was the original proponent of the just war theory, which St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) later adapted and explained in his Summa Theologiae. The traditional elements of the just war theory are described in paragraph 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time: the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain; all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; there must be serious prospects of success; and the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.”

The Catholic Bishops of the United States in 1983 addressed these modern means of destruction in their pastoral letter on war and peace entitled, The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response. Specifically with regard to the use of nuclear weapons, the bishops said: “Under no circumstances may nuclear weapons or other instruments of mass slaughter be used for the purpose of destroying population centers or other predominantly civilian targets. Retaliatory action which would indiscriminately and disproportionately take many wholly innocent lives, lives of people who are in no way responsible for reckless actions of their government, must also be condemned. . . . We do not perceive any situation in which the deliberate initiation of nuclear war, on however restricted a scale, can be morally justified. Non-nuclear attacks by another state must be resisted by other than nuclear means. . . . One of the criteria of the just-war teaching is that there must be a reasonable hope of success in bringing about justice and peace. We must ask whether such a reasonable hope can exist once nuclear weapons have been exchanged. The burden of proof remains on those who assert that meaningful limitation is possible. In our view the first imperative is to prevent any use of nuclear weapons and we hope that leaders will resist the notion that nuclear conflict can be limited, contained or won in any traditional sense.”

As we pray for a just and peaceful resolution of the war in Ukraine, let us pray that these important principles for just war in a nuclear age be kept in mind and strictly adhered to by those responsible for making these critical life and death decisions.

May God give us this grace. Amen.

February 28, 2022

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

As part of our diocese’s response to Pope Francis’ call to provide input for the Synod of Bishops that will take place at the Vatican in October of 2023, I invite all the faithful of our diocese to a diocesan-wide listening session on Sunday, March 27 at 2 p.m. Groups will gather locally in the deaneries and connect together with me and across the deaneries by video. Seven locations have been designated as follows:

  • Alton Deanery: One location at St. Boniface Parish, Edwardsville
  • Jerseyville Deanery: One location at Ss. Simon and Jude Parish, Gillespie
  • Mattoon Deanery: Two locations, one at Immaculate Conception Parish in Mattoon and one at Sacred Heart Parish in Effingham
  • Quincy Deanery: One location at St. Francis Solanus Parish, Quincy
  • Springfield Deanery: Two locations, one at Holy Family Parish in Decatur and one at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Chatham

The theme for the “Synod on Synodality” is: A Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission. 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. In our diocese, we have fully embraced this approach, having completed our Fourth Diocesan Synod of 2017, which involved a comprehensive process of dialogue and discussion, and produced great insights and goals for our diocese to become a community of missionary disciples.

While our official synod process has been completed, we continue to sustain dialogue, listening, and collaboration through avenues such as our Diocesan Pastoral Council, Diocesan Presbyteral Council, parish pastoral visits, and Canonical visitations. After a pause due to COVID-related restrictions, I recently revived parish pastoral visits and intend to visit all 129 parishes over the next few years.

These important and ongoing means of sustained dialogue and collaboration will be supplemented by the input from the local gatherings of the faithful in the deaneries throughout our diocese on March 27. In this session, which will begin in each location at 2 p.m., we will discuss three topics:

  1. We will reflect on the progress we have made in the five years that have passed since we held our Fourth Diocesan Synod in 2017: In what ways are we seeing the fruits of discipleship unfold in our local communities? What essential work remains to be done? What are the challenges and opportunities we see to evangelize and form missionary disciples of Christ?
  2. We will reflect on synodality and evangelization: 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’? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
  3. We will also reflect on challenges to authentic discipleship: Given our negative experience with the loss of Catholic Charities foster care and adoption services 10 years ago due to government mandates contrary to our Catholic faith, how do we prepare for such mandates possibly being imposed on our Catholic schools?

I look forward to the ongoing dialog across our diocese and the insights we will share in this upcoming listening session.

In listening to the needs of the faithful, I am also mindful of the cries for help coming now from the Ukrainian people, who have suffered so much and continue to suffer from the brutal and unjust aggression of Russia’s invasion into their country. While I have no special expertise in military strategy or international diplomacy, it is apparent to everyone in the free world that the Russian attack on the sovereign country of Ukraine is an unprovoked and unjustified act of aggression, which has already cost the lives and livelihoods of many innocent people. As people of faith, our strongest weapon, and the most important thing we can do is to pray, asking our Blessed Mother, the Queen of Peace, and her son Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to bring a peaceful end to this dire conflict.

The Gospel message is all about conversion, about change. Changing behavior starts with changing the way we think and the way we talk. There is a poster that urges its readers to “Watch your thoughts, they become your words … your actions … your habits … your character … your destiny.” That expresses well the influence that our thoughts can have on our actions. Obviously, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been engaging in some very toxic and wrongful thinking and has been saying outright lies about the Ukrainian people, leading to very violent actions with lethal consequences. We must pray for his conversion and change of heart, for as Jesus said, “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil” (Luke 6:45).

In the alternate Opening Prayer for the Mass in Time of War or Civil Disturbance, which I gave permission for priests to use last Sunday, Feb. 27, we prayed to “God, author and lover of peace,” asking Him to “defend us against every attack of those who cry to you, so that we, who trust in your protection, may not fear the weapons of any foe.” Indeed, the Ukrainian people have been fearless in defending their nation against a much more powerful foe, and we pray for God to protect them and assist them in their time of need. May God give us this grace. Amen.

February 15, 2022

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

“Follow the science” is one of those conversation-stopping statements often used condescendingly by some politicians and others who seek to stifle debate or disagreement with their policies by asserting that their position is scientifically infallible, so anyone who disagrees is simply ignorant. Of course, many issues are not so simple or clear-cut. Claims regarding the science behind the shutdowns of our economy, online learning for public schools, mask mandates, and safe-distancing during the COVID pandemic are examples of instances where the mantra “follow the science” was often invoked.

In fact, many scientists often disagree among themselves, which is the way science operates. Scientists propose a hypothesis, test it, and then compare results, which are not always unequivocal. There may be a variety of reasons why a study may be flawed due to methodology or bias. Peer review of test results and scientific studies helps to sort out which conclusions are more or less reliable.

When it comes to facial coverings and masks, for example, there are experts who argue for the advisability of wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID, but there are also studies that conclude that wearing masks is not very effective in preventing people from becoming infected by COVID. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization initially recommended against cloth masks for the general public and later recommended the opposite. The Cleveland Clinic said last month that “cloth masks, which are often made of materials like cotton, don’t do much to protect you from inhaling particles that carry the virus — and with a virus as infectious as omicron, that becomes a problem.” It is no wonder that many people are confused by these shifting recommendations on the utility of masks.

With regard to social shutdowns, The Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise in January 2022 published “A Literature Review and Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Lockdowns on COVID-19 Mortality.” This meta-analysis of COVID lockdowns identified 1,048 studies published by July 1, 2020, and focused on the following question: “What does the evidence tell us about the effects of lockdowns on mortality?” Their conclusion provides a firm answer to this question:

“The evidence fails to confirm that lockdowns have a significant effect in reducing COVID-19 mortality. The effect is little to none. The use of lockdowns is a unique feature of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns have not been used to such a large extent during any of the pandemics of the past century. However, lockdowns during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic have had devastating effects. They have contributed to reducing economic activity, raising unemployment, reducing schooling, causing political unrest, contributing to domestic violence, and undermining liberal democracy. These costs to society must be compared to the benefits of lockdowns, which our meta-analysis has shown are marginal at best. Such a standard benefit-cost calculation leads to a strong conclusion: lockdowns should be rejected out of hand as a pandemic policy instrument.”

The data in this meta-analysis certainly support my conclusions in my article, “Social Shutdowns as an Extraordinary Means of Saving Human Life,” published in the September issue of Ethics & Medics and the Autumn 2020 issue of the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly.

In my article, I said, “If we had a moral obligation to use every possible means, even extraordinary means, to preserve life, then we should not even get into our cars, since there is a risk that we could be killed, given the fact that over thirty-five thousand people have died nationwide in auto accidents every year since 1951. We do not stop driving, however, and there is no moral imperative to stop driving, because we recognize that it would be an extraordinary burden on everyday life if people could not get to where they need to be for work, school, family, and other obligations to which they must attend. Instead, we take safety precautions to minimize the risk, such as using seat belts, installing air bags, and following the rules of the road.

“Similarly in the face of a pandemic, do we have a moral obligation to shut down our society, require people to stay at home, put employees out of work, send businesses into bankruptcy, impair the food supply chain, and prevent worshippers from going to church? I would say no. That would be imposing unduly burdensome and extraordinary means. While some people may voluntarily adopt such means, only ordinary means that are not unduly burdensome are morally required to preserve life, both on the part of individuals as well as society as a whole.”

So, when we hear someone say, “Follow the science,” we must distinguish between science and omniscience. Both words come from the Latin root scire, which means “to know.” Science seeks to know the truth, but cannot claim to know all truth. Omniscience, on the other hand, means to know all truth, since the prefix omni means universal or everything. Only God is omniscient, that is, only God knows all truth and everything in this universe. Since scientists are only human, what they know will always be limited, so a good scientist is modest enough to acknowledge his or her limits in asserting definitive conclusions about the absolute truth of a matter.

A good scientist also seeks divine guidance, praying for help to know the truth, especially turning to His Son, Jesus Christ, who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).

May God give us this grace. Amen.

February 02, 2022

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

When I was in my third year of theology at the major seminary, I spent a semester doing an internship as a hospital chaplain in a program called Clinic Pastoral Education at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas. Parkland Hospital was a fascinating place since it was a large hospital with over 900 beds and had a diverse population of patients. In one room there would be an indigent person because Parkland served as the public hospital for Dallas County. In the next room would be a wealthy person because Parkland was a teaching hospital affiliated with the Southwestern Medical School of the University of Texas and had the best doctors in town. Parkland was also the hospital where President John F. Kennedy died after he was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald.

During my internship at Parkland Memorial, I became good friends with a physician who specialized in obstetrics and gynecology, with a subspecialty in reproductive endocrinology and infertility. When visiting him and his family at their home, he would ask me about various real-life cases that presented complicated questions of medical ethics, which we would discuss in great detail. This is when I first became interested in the field of bioethics and led to me writing my Master of Divinity thesis on “Moral Considerations of Problem Pregnancies.”

One of the cases that my physician friend presented to me concerned the situation of the anencephalic fetus. Anencephaly is a severe birth defect in which all or a major part of the skull and brain are missing and occurs in about one out of every 1,000 pregnancies, but most cases end up as miscarriages. Approximately one out of every 10,000 babies in the U.S. is born with anencephaly. The moral question was whether a fetus without a brain could be considered truly human and, if not, whether the pregnancy could be terminated upon a definitive diagnosis, since arguably it would then not constitute the abortion of a human life.

Since at the time the Church did not have an authoritative teaching on this point, some theologians speculated that the dignity of human existence consists in the potential for relationship. According to this line of thinking, since the anencephalic fetus is regarded as lacking relational potential due to the absence of a functioning brain, and thereby an essential component of what it means to be human, the general proscription against abortion would not apply, for the act of abortion is considered morally evil as the willful taking of human life.

This argument was refuted, however, by the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in its 1996 statement on Moral Principles Concerning Infants with Anencephaly, which declared, “Doubts about the human dignity of the anencephalic infant, however, have no solid ground, and the benefit of any doubt must be in the child’s favor. As a general rule, conditions of the human body, regardless of severity, in no way compromise human dignity or human rights.”

A somewhat related but distinct question arises at the other end of the life spectrum, when a person has suffered a severe brain injury. Until the 20th century, death was normally determined by cessation of heartbeat and breathing. For the first time in history, a person with total and irreversible loss of brain function who is unable to move, breathe, and react — thereby appearing to be dead — could be maintained with cardiac circulation mechanically, thus exhibiting characteristics associated with living. Also, with Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), we have seen how people whose hearts have stopped beating can be resuscitated, thus making the mere fact of cardiac arrest obsolete as the defining factor for determining death.

In 1968, the Harvard Ad Hoc Committee for the first time proposed a set of neurological criteria for determining death, but from the beginning concerns were raised that these criteria could be manipulated for utilitarian purposes, such as procuring organs for transplantation.

In his recent book, Determining Death by Neurological Criteria: Current Practice and Ethics, published in 2020 by the National Catholic Bioethics Center, Matthew Hanley describes how the neurological criteria for determining “brain death” have been tightened up. Specifically, a clinical examination looks for a lack of response to stimuli, and a battery of tests seeks to elicit reflexes mediated by the brain stem. Finally, an apnea test assesses the patient’s capacity to breathe. As Hanley says, “This is obviously very important, since patients who are capable of breathing on their own are not dead.” Although he describes some cases of premature declaration of brain death, he asserts that “the determination of death by neurological criteria is widely viewed as a reliable diagnosis, and there have been no confirmed reports of a patient recovering when the neurological examination was followed properly.”

Pope St. John Paul II reached this conclusion in 2000 in his Address to the Transplantation Society, in which he stated, “Here it can be said that the criterion adopted in more recent times for ascertaining the fact of death, namely the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity, if rigorously applied, does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of a sound anthropology. Therefore, a health-worker can use these criteria in each individual case as the basis for arriving at that degree of assurance in ethical judgment which moral teaching describes as ‘moral certainty.’”

While we pray for all to be spared the grief of an anencephalic infant or a devastating injury of the brain, we should be aware of the guidance that the Church gives us in these tragic situations.

May God give us this grace. Amen.

January 18, 2022

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

It was 49 years ago that the United States Supreme Court announced their infamous pro-abortion decision in the case of Roe v. Wade on Jan. 22, 1973. The recent oral arguments in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson give hope to pro-life advocates that Roe v. Wade will be overturned entirely or at least in part before that wrongly-decided case reaches the half-century mark.

First, we should ask: What was wrong with the decision in Roe v. Wade? There are many things wrong with this poorly-reasoned decision, not the least of which was that it took a highly-debated issue out of the political process of legislative deliberation and fabricated a fictional constitutional right to abortion out of the supposed “penumbras” that emanate from the United States Constitution.

Most significantly, the Court in Roe v. Wade pretended to ignore the basic question at hand when it declared, “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins.” That is precisely what the Court did, however, when it invalidated state laws declaring that human life begins at conception. That is comparable to the horrible decision rendered in 1857 when the United States Supreme Court by a 7-2 majority held in the case of Dred Scott that black people could never be citizens of the United States. While that terrible decision was overturned just 11 years later, it took a civil war and the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 to repudiate that unjust ruling.

In a commentary published in The Wall Street Journal, Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, a diagnostic radiologist, wrote about “The Obsolete Science Behind Roe v. Wade.” Dr. Christie submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in Dobbs v. Jackson, in which she was joined by two other female physicians, a neonatologist and an obstetrician, pointing out that ultrasound technology “was in its infancy in the 1970s, when there was much more uncertainty about life before birth. The first ultrasound machines, introduced in 1958, were enormous, and the images were rudimentary. It was only in the later 1970s that fetal ultrasound became widely available, with increasingly detailed images of recognizably human babies. Black-and-white ultrasound images are now found on refrigerators of expectant parents across America. New three-dimensional images have put a human face on the person once dehumanized as a mere clump of cells.”

These ultrasound images make it perfectly apparent now that babies are fully alive and human at 15 weeks of gestation — the age at which Mississippi proposes to protect them from elective termination. Dr. Christie explains further, “A healthy baby at 15 weeks is an active baby. Unless the child is asleep, kicking and arm-waving are commonly seen during ultrasound evaluations. The fetal spine is a marvel of intricacy, and it is most often gently curved as the fetus rests against the mother’s uterine wall. Often, I watch as babies plant their feet against the uterine wall and stretch vigorously. Sometimes a delicate hand — with all five fingers — approaches the face and appears to scratch an itch. Fingernails aren’t visible, but they are present. We can see how the bones of the leg meet the tiny ankles and the many-boned feet.

“At 15 weeks, the brain’s frontal lobes, ventricles, and thalamus fill the oval-shaped skull. The baby’s profile is endearing in its petite perfection: gently sloping nose, distinct upper and lower lips, eyes that open and close. With the advent of 3D ultrasound, we can now see the fetal face in all its detail.”

Dr. Christie concludes, “These are the patients I encounter daily in my work as a radiologist. Clearly human, clearly alive, no longer mysteriously hidden from the eyes and knowledge of man, they ask us to consider them not disposable nonhumans but valuable members of our human family.”

We must also ask, however: what will happen if Roe v. Wade is overturned? Legally, overturning Roe v. Wade will not bring about an immediate end to abortion, but will simply return the matter to the states and to the legislative process. That means that our pro-life efforts in Illinois would just be at the beginning of a new chapter. That is because the Illinois General Assembly passed the Act Concerning Abortion of 2017, signed by then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, which provided for taxpayer funding of abortion and removed the provision in Illinois law that would have automatically outlawed abortion if the Supreme Court were to modify or overturn Roe v. Wade. The Illinois General Assembly then passed the Reproductive Health Act of 2019, signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, which declared abortion to be a fundamental right, while also declaring that an unborn baby does not have independent rights under the laws of this state. As a result, abortions in Illinois increased 7 percent in the year after the law was enacted expanding taxpayer funding of abortion and Illinois has become a haven for those seeking an abortion from neighboring states with stricter abortion laws. This pro-abortion environment in Illinois was further worsened by Gov. Pritzker’s signing of the repeal of Parental Notice of Abortion Act just one week before this past Christmas. So, we pro-life advocates have a daunting task ahead of us to reverse this culture of death in our state.

We must not let these distressing facts discourage our determination to protect human life from conception to natural death, but should rather underscore the urgency of the situation and spur us on to intensify our pro-life efforts to change minds and hearts, with the help of God’s grace.

May God give us this grace. Amen.

January 04, 2022

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

As I look back on 2021, I cannot help but smile with satisfaction. You may be wondering amongst all the negative news and the pandemic, how is this possible? It’s because of people like you, the Catholic faithful, who did and are continuing to do amazing things. As a diocese, we had so many accomplishments and good things that happened last year that we should have much hope this year. Here are just 21 highlights from 2021 that give us hope: 

  1. In all, 162 people became Catholic in our diocese.
  2. Also, 496 more students are attending Catholic schools across our diocese this year compared to last school year, an increase of 5 percent.
  3. There were 1,047 infant baptisms and 227 marriages involving two Catholics and 105 marriages involving a Catholic and non-Catholic.
  4. Six permanent deacons were ordained and are now serving in parishes across the diocese (Deacons Adam Cox, Michael Halbrook, Robert Sgambelluri, Joseph Zagorski, Bruce Scott, and Dennis Holbrook).
  5. Two seminarians were ordained to the transitional diaconate and will be ordained priests later this year (Deacons Paul Lesupati and Zachary Samples).
  6. Father Christopher Trummer was ordained a priest, and he is now getting a degree in moral theology.
  7. Three women and two men in our diocese professed religious vows and four women entered the novitiate. 
  8. More than 150 young people attended our first March for Life in Springfield, and we already have more than 430 signed up for the march later this month.
  9. About 250 volunteers from Adams County and Madison County quickly teamed up to pack 18,360 servings of food for people in Haiti when the country suffered a devastating earthquake in August.
  10. More than 120 young people from our diocese joined 12,000 peers in Indianapolis in November to learn more about our faith, become inspired to live the Gospel, and receive the sacraments at the National Catholic Youth Conference.
  11. Members of the Oakley family in Quincy made the largest gift in school history to Quincy University, a $6.5 million investment in undergraduate and graduate student scholarships, improvements for academic facilities, and in programs to enhance the student experience and for faculty support.
  12. The Hospital Sisters of St. Francis in Springfield made an agreement with the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois in which the diocese formed a new entity that has assumed ownership and responsibility in a trust, effective this month, for the operations, care, and maintenance of the St. Francis Convent property, which includes the former Chiara Center, in Springfield.  The Hospital Sisters community will continue to live on the property indefinitely, through a long-term lease agreement with the newly formed entity.
  13. The Diocese of Springfield in Illinois announced it will form a new institute for religious life and intellectual and spiritual formation for teachers of the Catholic faith, parish teams, priests, and lay faithful at what was the former Chiara Center.
  14. Our administrators, teachers, staff, students, and parents are overcoming the challenges of the pandemic to offer in-person learning safely and responsibly in our 43 schools.
  15. The Dominican nuns of the Monastery of Mary the Queen broke ground on the site of what will become their new monastery in Girard in Macoupin County. Once the monastery is complete, it will be the only Dominican monastery in Illinois.
  16. The life of Quincy’s Venerable Father Augustine Tolton is now on display on beautiful, marble panels at the Church of St. Peter in Quincy for people to learn about his life of heroic virtue and appreciate the hardships he overcame to become the first black priest in the country.
  17. More than $100,000 was raised during the All-City Food Drive in Springfield for the St. Martin de Porres Center, which provides weekly food and clothing to dozens of individuals and families in need.
  18. A $2 million endowment was created to help offset the cost of food at the St. John’s Breadline in Springfield thanks to Frank and Marian Wagner and 152,000 meals were served at the St. John’s Breadline.
  19. In all, 132,000 meals were served to those in need in Decatur through Meals on Wheels. 
  20. On that note, thousands of volunteer hours and donations to organizations that help people in need in our own communities were made by people of our parish/school communities. For example, students went on mission trips to repair/paint homes, lay Catholics helped construct a home for Habitat for Humanity, and parishes/schools hosted toy/food drives. There was so much giving, we do not even have specific numbers for all these efforts!
  21. A 2021 survey from the Pew Research Center reports that only the Catholic Church showed an increase in growth, while every other religious group decreased.

I want to say thank you to our priests, deacons, religious, seminarians, principals, teachers, staff, catechists, volunteers, parents, and all our Catholic faithful for their hard work, dedication, and advancing the Kingdom of God in our diocese in 2021. I also wish to acknowledge all the sacrifices you made, prayers you said, Masses you attended, sacraments you received, and people you helped and loved unconditionally. If you could quantify graces, what the people of faith did across our diocese in 2021 would be a really big number! I am grateful for this witness of discipleship. We are one Church and have one mission: to live a life of heroic virtue so as to become saints. I look forward to this year and wait with anticipation on what God has in store for us. I wish you blessings and prayers in this new year!

May God give us this grace. Amen.

December 20, 2021

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

On the Sunday before Christmas, we read the Gospel passage from St. Luke (1:39-45) about the Visitation, which commemorates Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth. The important detail that we should note about the Visitation is that both Mary and Elizabeth are pregnant. We are told that, "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.'" Elizabeth then added, "For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy."

What Mary and Elizabeth knew 2,000 years ago is a fact ignored by abortion advocates today who claim that an unborn baby is not a living human being. Recently United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor compared an unborn child to a brain-dead person or a corpse. The fact that a United States Supreme Court Justice could make such an ignorant statement in the 21st century is astounding and deeply disturbing.

In a similar vein, on Dec. 17Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation into law that repeals the Parental Notice of Abortion Act, claiming that "reproductive rights [are] under attack across the nation." Well, nobody's rights to reproduction are under attack. The only right that is under attack is the right to life.

Governor Pritzker's signing of the deceptively titled "Illinois Youth Health and Safety Act," which repeals the Parental Notice of Abortion Act, marks a dark and disgraceful moment in the history of the State of Illinois. Those legislators who promoted and voted in support of this legislation, and the governor who signed this unjust law, have granted a five-part victory to evil in our state.

First, our government has granted a free pass to sex traffickers. Those who enslave young women and girls throughout our state can now even more easily than ever before cover up their crimes with impunity. Those in law enforcement and social service who fight so hard to combat this evil as well as those young women and girls who are enslaved by evil forces in this industry have been dealt a demoralizing blow by our government.

Second, our government has violated God's will in stripping the authority and responsibility entrusted to parents. This legislative action violates the most fundamental rights and duties entrusted by God to parents to ensure the health and safety of their children. This is a right and responsibility that God grants, and which no government can take away. In attempting to do so, this legislation acts directly against God's will, which is the very definition of evil.

Third, our government has imperiled the children whom God has entrusted to their governance. The government rightly exercises its authority by establishing laws that protect minors from making life-altering decisions that they are not equipped to make, establishing laws that prohibit children from tanning, buying lottery tickets, buying cigarettes, and purchasing alcohol and tobacco. Minors cannot get body piercings without parental consent, nor can they undergo every other invasive medical procedure without parental consent. Removing the requirement for parental notification, our government has knowingly put our children in mortal danger and physical danger.

Fourth, and most grievous, our government has promoted and facilitated murder. Pope Francis has rightly called abortion murder and "hiring a hit man to solve a problem." This most heinous offense against God and neighbor is now made more easily accessible to minor children than tattoos or getting their ears pierced.

Fifth, the government has provided evil the cover of darkness in which it thrives. The devil desires darkness and despises the light. It is striking how much this legislation does to provide cover, secrecy, and darkness over evil deeds.

Yes, there is much evil being perpetrated in our Statehouse, both literally and symbolically. Recently a satanic display was placed in the Rotunda of our State Capitol. As I said at the blessing of the Nativity scene in the Rotunda on Nov. 30, satanic displays should have no place in this Capitol or any other place. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the free exercise of religion, but Satan worship is not a religion. The word "religion" comes from the Latin word, religo, to bind together. True religion binds people to God and to each other in faith. The Devil seeks to divide, not to unite, and the only thing that Satan worship binds its adherents to is the Evil One.

As Jesus said in the Gospel of John (8:44) about Satan, "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 not be surprised that the death of innocent babies would accompany our celebration of Christ's birth. Like King Herod who ordered the murder of innocent babies after the birth of Jesus, Gov. Pritzker and his pro-abortion allies have condemned innocent babies to death.

Rather than give in to discouragement, we must be signs of hope. We Christians believe that the Light will come and judge the deeds of men. We pray for a conversion of heart and a renewal of mind among those in authority who perpetrated this evil on our people. We pray also for the protection of the many children and families imperiled by this unjust law.

Jesus was born in the midst of a sinful world precisely to save us from our sinfulness. Just as Our Lord and Savior came into this world 2,000 years ago to conquer sin and death, we who are His disciples must bring Christ into a world beset by evil.

I pray that you and your loved ones will receive many blessings during this sacred season of Christmas and throughout the new year!

May God give us this grace. Amen.

December 12, 2021

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

On the Second and Third Sundays of Advent, the Gospels focus on St. John the Baptist. The Gospel of St. Luke (3:1-6) situates John the Baptist in a historical context. St. John the Baptist is not some fictional character, but truly lived in the course of history as a contemporary of Jesus, whose very real birth into this world we are preparing to celebrate.

St. Luke tells us that John the Baptist “went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Luke then quotes from the prophet Isaiah to indicate that the mission of John the Baptist was to “prepare the way of the Lord.” John’s baptism of repentance must be seen, then, as preparatory for the baptism that Christ would bring to His disciples. Indeed, Christ began his public ministry by calling people to repentance and conversion: Repent, and believe in the gospel (Mk 1:15; cf. Mt 4:17).

While both John the Baptist and Jesus call people to repentance and baptize with water, Jesus goes beyond that and sends the Holy Spirit to those who are baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives us the power to live as Christians, to proclaim the Gospel to others, and to lead others to God.

When a person is baptized, it is not necessary to go to confession to confess one’s sins committed before baptism, since baptism forgives all previous sins. Despite receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us to live as Christians, baptism does not take away our free will, which means that we must still fight the temptation to sin, and sometimes in our weakness we will give in to sin. Since a person can be baptized only once, Jesus gave us another sacrament, the sacrament of reconciliation, so that we can repent of our sins committed after baptism and be forgiven by confessing our sins and receiving sacramental absolution. Thus, one of the best ways to prepare spiritually for the celebration of Christmas is to go to sacramental confession. Our society spends so much time, money, and energy on the material preparations for Christmas. We should not neglect to give at least as much attention to our spiritual preparation as well.

Just before Christmas in 1980, Pope John Paul II was with over 2,000 children in a parish in Rome. He began teaching them by asking, “How are you preparing for Christmas?”

“By praying,” the children shouted back.

“Very good, by praying,” the pope said, “but also by going to Confession. You must go to Confession so that you can go to Communion later. Will you do that?”

In an even louder voice, those thousands of children shouted back, “We will!”

The Holy Father told them, “Yes, you ought to go.” Then John Paul lowered his voice and whispered, “The Pope will also go to Confession so as to receive the child Jesus worthily.”

Yes, popes, bishops and priests go to confession, too. Pope Francis makes no secret of his going to confession. Last month at our meeting of the Catholic Bishops of the United States, we began with a morning of eucharistic adoration and prayer, during which the sacrament of reconciliation was offered. It was inspiring to see long lines of bishops going to confession, myself included. No one should think that he or she is without sin and does not need to receive the graces of the sacraments of penance and the holy Eucharist in order to grow closer in our relationship with Christ.

In order to make a good confession, one must make a sincere and honest examination of conscience, reviewing the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the seven deadly sins of pride, envy, anger, avarice, gluttony, lust, and sloth. Then, one must not hesitate to confess these sins to the priest in confession. Doing so will relieve a great burden from one’s conscience, and will make our celebration of Christmas truly a season of peace and joy.

In his sermon on the six aspects of Advent, St. Bernard said, “God reveals to you, as He did to the children, what is hidden from the learned and wise: the true ways of salvation. Meditate on them with the greatest attention. Steep yourself in the meaning of these Advent days. And above all, pay heed to Him who is approaching.” May God give us this grace. Amen.

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.