Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

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April 27, 2023

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Recently, the priests at the Cathedral rectory and I watched the classic movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. I had seen this film in the theater after it first came out in 1968 and wanted to watch it again in light of the many news reports and articles being published about the quantum advances being made in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). I do not want to spoil the story line for you in case you have not seen the movie yet and are thinking of watching it, so suffice it to say that one of the main characters of the movie is HAL, an acronym that stands for Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer.

According to the story line, HAL became operational on Jan. 12, 1992, at the University of Illinois at their Coordinated Science Laboratory in Urbana. HAL is responsible for controlling all the systems of the Discovery One spacecraft on its mission to the planet Jupiter. HAL's "eye" is depicted as a camera lens containing a red or yellow dot. HAL interacts with the ship's astronaut crew, speaking to them in a soft, calm voice and a conversational manner. Programmed to think and feel like a human being, problems emerge when HAL starts to act all too much like a human being, including the human proclivity to do evil deeds. I will leave the specifics for you to watch or read about elsewhere.

It is amazing that this movie was originally released over half a century ago, before there were all the personal computers and smart phones that we have at our fingertips today. At the time, this seemed to me to be just another wild imaginary tale of science fiction. Entertaining yes, but nothing real to worry about.

Fast forward 55 years and now conversations are making casual references to artificial intelligence and ChatGPT, another acronym that stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer, that is, a "chatbot" developed by OpenAI and released in November 2022. Transformers are specialized algorithms for finding long-range patterns in sequences of data. A transformer learns to predict not just the next word in a sentence but also to compose an entire essay. This is not just finding data or quotes in a search engine, but generating and composing text. While ChatGPT has gained attention for its detailed responses and articulate answers across many domains of knowledge, it has also been found at times to provide factually incorrect responses with confident self-assurance in its own accuracy, similar to HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

ChatGPT is already being used for nefarious purposes. One news story last month reported that employers are catching job applicants using ChatGPT to dress up their job applications and write résumés for them. Another person wrote that he asked ChatGPT for information about himself and was given a false description that accused him of professional misconduct. He wondered if he could sue the computer for libel!

In his August 2021 article in First Things on "The Threat of Artificial Intelligence," Ned Desmond, a senior executive in the technology sector, wrote, "The technologies referred to as 'artificial intelligence' or 'AI' are more momentous than most people realize. Their impact will be at least equal to, and may well exceed, that of electricity, the computer, and the internet. What's more, their impact will be massive and rapid, faster than what the internet has wrought in the past 30 years. Much of it will be wondrous, giving sight to the blind and enabling self-driving vehicles, for example, but AI-engendered technology may also devastate job rolls, enable an all-encompassing surveillance state, and provoke social upheavals yet unforeseen. The time we have to understand this fast-moving technology and establish principles for its governance is very short."

Concerned about such threats, Elon Musk and several other tech executives and artificial-intelligence researchers have called for a pause in the rapid development of powerful new AI tools, saying that a moratorium of six months or more would give the industry time to set safety standards for AI design and head off potential harms of the riskiest AI technologies. Others have called for a longer AI pause and for government regulation.

In an intriguing essay in The Wall Street Journal on April 20, 2023, entitled, "Artificial Intelligence in the Garden of Eden," Peggy Noonan wrote that the icon of the Apple computing company, an apple with a bite taken out of it, made her think of Adam and Eve in the garden and their fall as described in the Book of Genesis. She warns that "developing AI is biting the apple. Something bad is going to happen. I believe those creating, fueling and funding it want, possibly unconsciously, to be God and on some level think they are God."

That's a helpful warning. While the Catholic Church does not view technology as evil, we recognize that technology can be used for good as well as for evil purposes. The late Pope Benedict XVI in his last encyclical letter, Caritas in veritate, dedicated a whole chapter to the use of technology, which he characterized as a form of stewardship as a response to God's command to till and keep the land (cf. Genesis 2:15). He advised: "Technology is highly attractive because it draws us out of our physical limitations and broadens our horizon. But human freedom is authentic only when it responds to the fascination of technology with decisions that are the fruit of moral responsibility. Hence the pressing need for formation in an ethically responsible use of technology" (Caritas in veritate, 70). We would do well to heed this sage advice.

May God give us this grace. Amen.

April 13, 2023

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

In my column for the March 5 issue of Catholic Times, I wrote about the football player, Damar Hamlin, who suddenly collapsed at a Monday night football game on Jan. 2 and went into cardiac arrest after a seemingly routine tackle. As Hamlin lay motionless while receiving medical attention on the field, players and team staff knelt and bowed their heads in a spontaneous prayer led by the team’s chaplain. I said that there is indeed power in prayer, as Hamlin made a miraculous recovery, and I noted that he thanked God, friends, family, and medical professionals who “saved [his] life.”

A few days after my column appeared I received a letter from a person who had recently lost a loved one who died from an unexpected illness. This person was angry with God, saying that God had not answered their family’s prayers. This reaction is not uncommon. Undoubtedly they are not alone in feeling that God has seemingly turned His back on them and ignored their prayers. That is an understandable reaction when we fervently ask God for something, and then it does not happen.

Jesus Himself experienced this sense of abandonment as He was dying on the cross and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In fact, Jesus was proclaiming the opening lines of Psalm 22. What is noteworthy is that Psalm 22 does not end in despair, but in fact goes on to “offer praise in the great assembly” and proclaim that “those who seek the LORD will offer praise.” Despite their misfortunes, the people continue to place their trust in God, who fulfills their hopes in the end.

While the death of those we love is always painful, we must remember that God loves us and longs for us to be with Him in the Kingdom of Heaven even more than we long for them to stay with us here in this world. When someone dies despite our prayers for their healing and recovery, that does not necessarily mean that God has not answered our prayers. As a loving Father, God always answers our prayers, but not always in the way we want. Every parent has experienced their children saying they want something, but Mom and Dad know better what their children need and what is best for them. No one likes to be told no in answer to a request, but no is still an answer even if it is not the one we wanted to hear.

Our greatest hope as Christians is to become saints, that is, to spend eternity with our loving God in Heaven. God decides when it is best for us to receive that reward. For many, it comes after a long life. For others, perhaps God in His love simply wants them to be with Him sooner. In the end, we know that our Lord’s trust in His Father even as He suffered was rewarded in His resurrection from the dead, which opened the way for us to share in that same hope for eternal life.

May God give us this grace. Amen.

March 28, 2023

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

The goal of our Lenten practices over the past several weeks has been for us to grow in holiness by turning from our sinful ways and stiving to be more like Christ, our Risen Lord. As we celebrate His resurrection on Easter Sunday, we are filled with hope for the resurrection of our own bodies and the promise of eternal life in God’s kingdom.

One of the ways that we grow in holiness is through pious practices that grant indulgences. An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment for sins, whose guilt is forgiven, which a properly disposed member of the Christian faithful obtains under certain and clearly defined conditions through the intervention of the Church, which, as the minister of Redemption, dispenses and applies authoritatively the treasury of the expiatory works of Christ and the saints. An indulgence is partial or plenary according to whether it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin.

Last year on Dec. 8, as we began our Diocesan Year of the Eucharist and opened our Centennial Celebration of the 100th anniversary of the transfer of our diocese from Alton to Springfield, I announced that I had received a decree from the Holy See granting a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions for the Christian faithful who visit our Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception here in Springfield or the Church of Ss. Peter and Paul in Alton between the 8th day of December 2022 and the 9th day of December 2023.

The “usual conditions” to gain a plenary indulgence are excluding all attachment to sin, even venial sin, performing the indulgenced work, and fulfilling the three conditions of sacramental confession, Eucharistic Communion, and prayer for the intention of the pope. The “indulgenced work” for this plenary indulgence is to attend a liturgical service celebrating the jubilee or at least spending a suitable period of time devoted to prayers for the people of our diocese to be faithful to the Christian vocation, and recite the Lord’s Prayer, profess the Creed, and offer invocations to the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and Saints Peter and Paul.

The three conditions may be fulfilled several days before or after the performance of the prescribed work; it is, however, fitting that holy Communion be received and the prayer for the intention of the Holy Father be said on the same day the work is performed.

The condition of praying for the intention of the Holy Father involves reciting one Our Father and one Hail Mary or any other prayer according to one’s individual piety and devotion, if recited for this intention.

In addition to plenary indulgences, there are partial indulgences that may be gained every day in the course of our daily lives and ordinary activities.

There are four general concessions by which the Christian faithful are encouraged to infuse their daily lives with a Christian spirit and strive toward the perfection of charity. These four general concessions or grants are as follows:

  1. A partial indulgence is granted to the Christian faithful who, while carrying out their duties and enduring the hardships of life, raise their minds in humble trust to God and make, at least mentally, some pious invocation. This can be done, for example, by offering to God the hardships encountered in one’s daily work or tasks.
  2. A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful who, led by the spirit of faith, give compassionately of themselves or of their goods to serve their brothers and sisters in need. There are a variety of ways to do this, such as volunteering at St. John’s Breadline, donating clothing to the St. Martin de Porres Center, or making a monetary contribution to Catholic Charities or some other charity that helps the poor.
  3. A partial indulgence is granted to the Christian faithful who, in a spirit of penance, voluntarily abstain from something that is licit for and pleasing to them. The Lenten requirements of fast and abstinence are actually quite minimal. Thus, we are encouraged to do voluntary penances. Indeed, every Friday throughout the year calls for some form of penance in remembrance of the day Christ died for our sins. By holding our appetites in check, we are moved to regain mastery of our bodies and conform ourselves to the poor and suffering Christ.
  4. A partial indulgence is granted to the Christian faithful who, in the particular circumstances of daily life, voluntarily give explicit witness to their faith before others. This grant encourages the faithful to profess their faith openly before others, for the glory of God and the building up of the Church. In addition to these four general concessions of partial indulgences that can be gained on a daily basis, there are many other prayers and pious practices by which the faithful can gain partial indulgences and, in some cases, plenary indulgences as well. For example, the faithful can obtain a plenary indulgence each day of the year by the devout reading or listening to the Sacred Scriptures for at least a half an hour, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for at least one-half hour, praying of the Way of the Cross, or recitation of the rosary in a church or an oratory or in a family, a religious community, or in general when several of the faithful are gathered to pray together. Many other prayers impart a partial indulgence.

A full listing of the indulgences granted for various pious practices, prayers, litanies, devotions, and invocations can be found in the Manual of Indulgences, published in 2006 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is available online by searching for Manual of Indulgences.

I encourage us to become more familiar with the Church’s teaching on indulgences and take advantage of this wonderful means of growing in holiness and grace. As we celebrate our Lord’s resurrection this Easter, may we grow in holiness and follow the way that Christ has prepared for us, the path to eternal life.

May God give us this grace. Amen.

March 13, 2023

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

March 19, 2023, marks 20 years since my ordination as a bishop. It was on March 19, 2003, that His Eminence, Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, ordained me along with Bishops Francis Kane and Gustavo Garcia-Siller to serve as Auxiliary Bishops of Chicago.

Prior to my episcopal consecration, it was a great privilege for me to have served as Chancellor for Cardinal George. When my second term as Chancellor expired, Cardinal George appointed me to serve as pastor of St. Constance Parish, a large parish near O’Hare Airport. Then, for seven years, I served as Auxiliary Bishop overseeing a region in the Archdiocese of Chicago on the northwest side of the city and the western suburbs known as Vicariate IV. After my appointment as Bishop of Springfield in Illinois in 2010, I continued to work with Cardinal George in his capacity as Metropolitan of the Province of Chicago, which, along with the Archdiocese of Chicago, includes our Diocese of Springfield and the other four dioceses in Illinois — Rockford, Joliet, Peoria, and Belleville.

I learned an abundance of important lessons that have shaped my life and ministry as a bishop by observing and working closely with this brilliant and holy churchman over the span of almost two decades. Now, thanks to the outstanding biography of Cardinal George by Michael Heinlein, Glorifying Christ: The Life of Cardinal Francis E. George, O.M.I, newly published by Our Sunday Visitor, many more people who never had the opportunity to meet Cardinal George will get to know this saintly and towering figure who dedicated his life to giving glory to Christ in the Church and in the world.

Cardinal Francis Eugene George, O.M.I., was an exemplary pastor and heroic disciple of Christ. After graduating from St. Paschal Grade School on the northwest side of Chicago, he was told that he could not be a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Chicago because of a physical disability resulting from polio that would have posed a hardship for him to climb the stairs at the high school seminary in downtown Chicago, to and from which he would have needed to commute every day by public transportation. So instead, he enrolled at St. Henry’s Preparatory Seminary in Bellville, a boarding school where he would not have to deal with stairs.

He joined the Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and studied theology at the University of Ottawa in Canada. He was ordained a priest by Auxiliary Bishop Raymond P. Hillinger in his home parish at St. Pascal Church on Dec. 21, 1963.

Cardinal George pursued undergraduate studies in philosophy at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., and then doctoral studies in philosophy at Tulane University in New Orleans, La. In these years, he also taught philosophy at the Seminary of the Oblates in Mississippi (1964-69), at Tulane University (1968), and at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. (1969-73).

From 1973 to 1974 he was Provincial Superior of the Midwestern Province of the Oblates at St. Paul, Minn. He was then elected Vicar General of the Oblates and worked in Rome from 1974 to 1986, during which time he also visited the many Oblate missionary communities around the world.

He returned to the United States and became coordinator of the Circle of Fellows of the Cambridge Center for the Study of Faith and Culture in Cambridge, Mass. (1987-90). During that time, he pursued doctoral studies in theology at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome, with a specialization in ecclesiology (1988).

Pope John Paul II named him Bishop of Yakima in Washington State in 1990. After five and a half years at Yakima, he was named by Pope John Paul II as Archbishop of Portland, Ore., in 1996. Less than a year later, on April 8, 1997, Pope John Paul II named him the eighth Archbishop of Chicago, following the death of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin on Nov. 14, 1996. The installation took place on May 7, 1997, at Holy Name Cathedral.

As Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago, I was present at the funeral of Cardinal Bernardin in 1996 and the Installation Mass for then-Archbishop Francis George in 1997. I accompanied him to Rome when he received the pallium — a band of wool that symbolizes the role of a Metropolitan Archbishop as shepherd of the flock — and again in 1998 when he received his red hat from Pope John Paul II, making him a member of the College of Cardinals. He served as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from November 2007 to November 2010. After working with him for almost 20 years, it was a privilege for me to concelebrate his Mass of Christian Burial at Holy Name Cathedral on April 23, 2015.

As Michael Heinlein describes so eloquently in his book, Cardinal George was a prophetic voice in the Church — a man able to see things as they are and from the point of view of the whole Church. His episcopal motto, “To Christ be glory in the Church,” encapsulates his legacy, because every decision he made, every action he took, every suffering he endured, was about serving others and pointing them to our Savior.

Most of all, Cardinal George was a Christian in every sense. He was concerned about relationships and people, not careerism or advancement. He was attentive to the poor and those on the margins. He was a man of prayer, dedicated to Our Lady, and devoted to the Eucharist. He articulated the Faith and was committed to reform. He was honest, accountable, genuine, and holy. Admired for his pursuit and proclamation of the truth and his personal witness to the Gospel, Cardinal George remains a model for discipleship and leadership.

I would not be the bishop I am today without the excellent example, mentoring, and continued intercession of this saintly man. May he rest in peace, and may he continue to guide and inspire us to glorify Christ in His Church.

May God give us this grace. Amen.

February 27, 2023

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

There is an old joke about the person who is looking for a parking place in a packed parking lot. In desperation, he offers a prayer to the Blessed Mother with a promise: “Mary, if you find me a parking space, I promise to go to Mass every Sunday from now on.” Miraculously, as he turns down the next aisle, behold! There is an open space! The driver immediately says, “Never mind, Mary, I found one myself!”

The joke comes to mind when we think about how often we pray for something we need or want, but then do not offer thanks to God when we receive it. Worse yet, perhaps we do not even acknowledge that Divine Providence may have played a role in receiving what we had prayed for. Earlier this year at a Monday night football game on Jan. 2, 2023, Damar Hamlin, a football player for the Buffalo Bills, suddenly collapsed and went into cardiac arrest after a seemingly routine tackle. Hamlin lay motionless for more than 18 minutes while receiving medical attention on the field before an ambulance arrived to take him to the hospital. What happened next was described in an article by Ruth Graham in The New York Times:

As the ambulance carrying the injured Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin rolled slowly off the field in Cincinnati Monday night, a huddle of players and team staff knelt in a massive yet intimate circle on the field. They bowed their heads, some placing hands on each other’s shoulders and others with tears streaming down their faces, in a moment of spontaneous prayer led by the team’s chaplain. . . . Video circulated online of Bengals fans reciting the Lord’s Prayer in the stands. . . . Troy Vincent, the executive vice president of football operations at the N.F.L., told reporters, “I think we all have to recognize the power of prayer from coaches, players, the staff and the fans that was in that stadium, and the people watching from around the world. There is power in prayer.”

There is indeed power in prayer, as Damar Hamlin made a miraculous recovery. One week after many people feared he was dead, Hamlin was released from the hospital and returned to his home in Buffalo. Hamlin, who attended Catholic schools as a youth, is a devout Christian. In his first public appearance after being released from the hospital, Hamlin said, “What happened to me on Monday Night Football, I feel, is a direct example of God using me as a vessel to share my passion and my love directly from my heart with the entire world.” He thanked God, friends, family, and medical professionals who “saved [his] life.”

At the NFL Honors event in Phoenix, Ariz., a few days before the Super Bowl, Hamlin said, “First, I would just like to thank God for being here. Every day I’m amazed that my experiences could encourage so many others across the country and even across the world — encourage them to pray, encourage to spread love, and encourage to keep fighting no matter the circumstances. … My entire life, I felt like God was using me to give others hope, and now with a new set of circumstances, I can say he’s doing what he’s always done.”

Not everyone may be as quick to thank God for the gifts we receive. Though provided with so many blessings from God, people often choose to overlook those blessings and instead credit themselves for their accomplishments. It is refreshing to see the faith of this young man and his gratitude to God expressed publicly in a time when nonbelievers and skeptics scoff and ridicule Christians who offer their thoughts and prayers after some tragedy or misfortune. His example reminds us to offer thanks to God in our prayers for the blessings He gives us.

Our instructions for our Lenten journey are clear: Jesus tells us to pray, fast, and give alms. We are told this in our liturgy, and we read it in the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church. These are practices that will lead us to Heaven. Beginning with the pillar of prayer, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2623-2649) teaches us that there are various forms of prayer. These various forms include prayer of blessing or adoration, prayer of petition, prayer of intercession, prayer of praise, and prayer of thanksgiving.

Since our natural tendency seems to focus on prayers of petition, that is, asking God for something we need or want, it is important remember to include prayers of gratitude when we pray, which is what we do every time we gather for the Eucharist, thanking God for all the gifts He has given us and the many ways in which He answers our prayers.

Our Lenten practices should have one singular goal: How can I grow closer to Jesus Christ? Prayer is the best way to do this. St.Teresa of Avila said that “Prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.” This is the key point, for it is in right relationship with Jesus Christ that we find true happiness, as He leads us to the joy of eternal life.

May God give us this grace. Amen.

February 13, 2023

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Several years ago, I was celebrating Mass on Ash Wednesday. Ashes are normally blessed and distributed after the homily during the Mass on Ash Wednesday. A person who arrived late and missed the distribution of ashes came up in the line for holy Communion apparently expecting to receive ashes. When I held up the Host and said, “The Body of Christ,” the person looked at the Blessed Sacrament and said, “I don’t want THAT! I came for ashes.” I responded politely that this was the time for holy Communion, but ashes would be available after Mass as well.

How sad that someone would want to receive ashes but not the Body of Christ! Yet it is not uncommon to see large crowds of people coming to church on Ash Wednesday, including many people who do not regularly come to Mass on Sunday. Ashes received on Ash Wednesday are an important sacramental reminding us of our mortality and calling us to repentance so that we will be in the state of grace when we die. Despite the symbolic significance of receiving ashes to mark the beginning of Lent, the sprinkling or smudging of ashes on our head pales in comparison with the sublime gift of the Real Presence of Christ that we receive in holy Communion.

Of course, if we are conscious of grave sin, we are not to receive holy Communion until we have repented, confessed our sins to a priest, and received absolution in the sacrament of penance. The only exception is if there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess, in which case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible.

An example of a grave reason and no opportunity to confess would be if a priest were to commit a mortal sin and is scheduled to celebrate Sunday Mass for a church full of people, while the nearest priest is miles away. Since he has a grave obligation to celebrate that Mass for these people to fulfill their Sunday Mass obligation, the priest should make a perfect act of contrition and resolve to confess his sins as soon as possible thereafter. A perfect act of contrition is when we are sorry for our sins because they have hurt God. An imperfect act of contrition is when we are sorry for our sins because we are afraid of going to hell. A perfect act of contrition is motivated by love of God. An imperfect act of contrition is motivated by love of self.

Most lay people have ample opportunity to go to confession prior to Mass. Priests are usually very willing to hear someone’s confession outside of scheduled times, unless it is right before Mass is about to begin. Receiving holy Communion while one’s soul is in the state of mortal sin is itself a grave sin, that is, it is a sacrilege to receive holy Communion while not in the state of grace. The Bible teaches clearly about the proper disposition to receive holy Communion. In the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor 11:27-29).

The priest, deacon, or extraordinary minister who distributes ashes does so while saying to each person one of the following formulas: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Having been reminded of our mortality and the need to repent our sins, the goal of our Lenten practices should be to do penance for our sins, replace our vices with virtues, and seek to be restored to a right relationship with God. In addition to fasting and abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent, making charitable contributions to help the poor, and devoting ourselves to prayer and reading the Bible, two of the most salutary practices to bring us closer to God are to receive the sacraments of penance and holy Eucharist.

I pray that this Lenten season will be a time of spiritual renewal and enrichment for you.

May God give us this grace. Amen.

January 31, 2023

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May God give us this grace. Amen.

January 17, 2023

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

May God give us this grace. Amen.

January 02, 2023

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May God give us this grace. Amen.

December 19, 2022

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May God give us this grace. Amen.