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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
With seven sons and two daughters, my mother figured out very early when we were growing up that taking all my brothers and me to a barber and my sisters to a hairdresser would be very expensive, so she saved a lot of money by learning how to cut hair herself. Actually, Mom was my barber until I came to Springfield. When I moved to Springfield, my barber was Larry Spinner, until he retired last year at the age of 85. My new barber, Pat Campbell, was younger: he was only 81!
I have been very pleased with the work of Larry and now Pat, but I was recently out of town for a number of commitments in Texas, Ohio, New York, California, and Chicago, and I found myself in need of a haircut while I was traveling. So I went to a barber shop in the Chicago area where the next available barber was 21 years old with two years’ experience. He did a fine job, but what I found fascinating was my conversation with this young man.
As he began cutting my hair, he asked almost immediately what I did for a living, which was not readily apparent since I was not wearing my clerical collar. I answered that I was a Catholic priest. That led to more questions about what attracted me to be a priest and he wondered what the next step is above being a priest. So I told him that the next step is a bishop, and that in fact I was the Bishop of Springfield in Illinois.
I asked him if he went to church. He told me he went to a Protestant church when he was younger, but had stopped going. Although he was not Catholic, he knew that priests do not marry and said that he did not think he could do that since he could not go longer than a week without seeing his girlfriend. That prompted me to ask if he was planning to get married.
He replied, “Oh no. Why would I want to involve the government in my relationship with my girlfriend?” He went on to say that his parents were divorced, and he had also heard from many of his customers how they had cheated on their spouses, or their spouses had cheated on them. Based on these conversations and his own family experience, he had a very negative view of marriage.
I asked him if he ever wanted to have children. He said no, he had two dogs and that was good enough for him. He thought that children would be too much trouble.
Finally, I said that he was young and maybe someday he would fall in love in and would want to get married. He said, “Oh, I hope not! Yes, I’m young, so who knows what will happen, but I really don’t want ever to get married.”
I am telling you about this conversation with my young barber because I have been saying for a while now that we are facing new challenges in our culture today with the institution of marriage. While I certainly know young people who have recently gotten married and are generously giving of themselves to their spouse and family, the reality is that the views of my 21-year-old barber about marriage reflect the attitude of a substantial number of young people today.
To respond to these challenges, I believe we must be more pro-active in promoting the Sacrament of Matrimony. When our culture was more overtly Judeo-Christian, it was a given assumption that young people would look for a spouse and get married in their church or synagogue. That is not the case today in our secular culture, especially since the widespread acceptance of contraception and abortion have changed many people’s views of sex from procreation to recreation. Even those who have an ongoing relationship are often content with living together, but prefer not to get married or make any long-term commitment. No-fault divorce has not been helpful either.
In response to the current reality, we must actively educate and even recruit young people for marriage and family life, just as we recruit young men to become priests and young women to enter religious life. First of all, parents need to give a good example of marriage and family life to their children. Key to this effort is for the Sacrament of Matrimony to be understood as a total giving of oneself for the sake of one’s spouse and children. This means going beyond the narcissistic approach of selfishly seeking one’s own personal pleasure and changing the focus to what will make one’s spouse and children happy. Marriage is a social institution that precedes Christianity. It is a necessary component of a healthy society. Most of all, young people need good role models of married couples who have stayed together and continue to be there for each other in their old age.
Larry Spinner is now 86 years old. He and his wife Virginia (nickname Sue) just celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. Pat Campbell is now 82 years old. He and his wife Marcelline (nickname Marcie) are married for 62 years. They provide beautiful examples of marital love and commitment for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until they are parted at death.
As we celebrate All Saints Day on November 1st, we also look to the example of married saints with children, like Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and Saint Thomas More, and married couples who are saints, like Saints Joachim and Anne, Saints Zachary and Elizabeth, and, of course, the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse. We pray that these heroes of holiness may intercede for young people to follow the path of the Holy Family and embrace the blessed vocation of marriage and family life.
May God give us this grace. Amen.
Following a preparatory meeting with representatives of bishops’ conferences from around the world at the Vatican on Oct. 9, 2021, Pope Francis formally opened the first phase of the Synod on Synodality with a Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 10. The plan is for a series of regional, national, and international meetings that will lead up to the Sixteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2023, whose theme is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.”
By convening this synod, Pope Francis invites the entire Church to reflect on a theme that he sees as decisive for its life and mission: “It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium.” The three dimensions of the theme are communion, participation, and mission. These three dimensions are profoundly interrelated.
Communion finds its deepest roots in the love and unity of the Trinity. It is Christ who reconciles us to the Father and unites us with each other in the Holy Spirit.
Participation calls for the involvement of all the members of the People of God — laity, consecrated and ordained — to engage in the exercise of deep and respectful listening to one another. In a synodal Church the whole community, in the free and rich diversity of its members, is called together to pray, listen, analyze, dialogue, discern and offer advice on making pastoral decisions which correspond as closely as possible to God’s will.
Mission recognizes that the Church exists to evangelize. We can never be centered on ourselves. Our mission is to witness to the love of God in the midst of the whole human family. This synodal process has a deeply missionary dimension to it. It is intended to enable the Church to fulfil her mission of evangelization more fruitfully in the world, as a leaven at the service of the coming of God’s kingdom.
The Preparatory Document for the Synod on Synodality says that the fundamental question that guides this consultation of the People of God is the following: “A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, ‘journeys together.’ How is this ‘journeying together’ happening today in your particular Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together’?”
In answering this question, I am pleased to say that our diocese has already embraced this synodal path of “journeying together” in a variety of ways, most significantly in recent years through our Fourth Diocesan Synod, which took place throughout most of the 2017 calendar year on the theme of discipleship and stewardship. Our diocesan synod included consultations with all the laity, priests, deacons, and leaders of the various religious communities in our diocese, as well as delegates from each of the 129 parishes in our diocese. This culminated in the adoption of 12 Synodal Declarations and 172 Statutes I followed up in 2018 with the publication of my Post-Synodal Pastoral Letter, Ars vivendi et moriendi in Dei gratia (On the Art of Living and Dying in God’s Grace).
At my request, Benedictine University (Lisle, Ill.) conducted a survey of inactive Catholics from November 2012 through March 2013, and then a second survey on active Catholics was gathered through February to March 2014. The survey results were published in September 2014 under the title, “Joy and Grievance in an American Diocese: Results from Online Surveys of Active and Inactive Catholics in Central Illinois.” In my reflections on the results of these surveys, I said that “I thought it was essential to hear not only from those who have stopped attending Mass, but also to hear from those who do attend regularly to find out what draws them and keeps them coming to church. If we are doing something right for some people, that should help us learn what we need to do to bring back those who have drifted away.”
According to the Preparatory Document for the Synod on Synodality the “purpose of the first phase of the synodal journey is to foster a broad consultation process in order to gather the wealth of the experiences of lived synodality, in its different articulations and facets, involving the Pastors and the Faithful of the particular Churches at all the different levels, through the most appropriate means according to the specific local realities: the consultation, coordinated by the Bishop, is addressed to the Priests, Deacons and lay Faithful of their Churches, both individually and in associations, without overlooking the valuable contribution that consecrated men and women can offer. The contribution of the participatory bodies of the particular Churches is specifically requested, especially that of the Presbyteral Council and the Pastoral Council, from which a synodal Church can truly begin to take shape.”
At the conclusion of our Fourth Diocesan Synod in 2017, I said that I did not plan to call another diocesan synod during my tenure, since a diocesan synod sets the pastoral direction for the indefinite future, but would leave that to my successors to determine when it would be opportune to convoke another diocesan synod. I think much of the information that we are being asked to gather during the diocesan phase of the Synod on Synodality can be gleaned from what we learned from our surveys of active and inactive Catholics and what we heard during our listening sessions and consultations held during our Fourth Diocesan Synod. Additional consultations will be done with our canonical consultative bodies, the Diocesan Pastoral Council, the Presbyteral Council, and parish pastoral councils, supplemented perhaps by focused listening sessions in the deaneries as needed.
The diocesan phase is to last from October 2021 to April 2022. A second, continental phase will take place from September 2022 to March 2023. The third, universal phase will then take place with the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October 2023.
Pope Francis concluded his homily on Oct. 10 with these words: “The Synod is a process of spiritual discernment, of ecclesial discernment, that unfolds in adoration, in prayer and in dialogue with the word of God. … Let us not miss out on the grace-filled opportunities born of encounter, listening and discernment. In the joyful conviction that, even as we seek the Lord, he always comes with his love to meet us first.”
May God give us this grace. Amen.