My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Following a preparatory meeting with representatives of bishops’ conferences from around the world at the Vatican on Oct. 9, 2021, Pope Francis formally opened the first phase of the Synod on Synodality with a Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 10. The plan is for a series of regional, national, and international meetings that will lead up to the Sixteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2023, whose theme is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.”
By convening this synod, Pope Francis invites the entire Church to reflect on a theme that he sees as decisive for its life and mission: “It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium.” The three dimensions of the theme are communion, participation, and mission. These three dimensions are profoundly interrelated.
Communion finds its deepest roots in the love and unity of the Trinity. It is Christ who reconciles us to the Father and unites us with each other in the Holy Spirit.
Participation calls for the involvement of all the members of the People of God — laity, consecrated and ordained — to engage in the exercise of deep and respectful listening to one another. In a synodal Church the whole community, in the free and rich diversity of its members, is called together to pray, listen, analyze, dialogue, discern and offer advice on making pastoral decisions which correspond as closely as possible to God’s will.
Mission recognizes that the Church exists to evangelize. We can never be centered on ourselves. Our mission is to witness to the love of God in the midst of the whole human family. This synodal process has a deeply missionary dimension to it. It is intended to enable the Church to fulfil her mission of evangelization more fruitfully in the world, as a leaven at the service of the coming of God’s kingdom.
The Preparatory Document for the Synod on Synodality says that the fundamental question that guides this consultation of the People of God is the following: “A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, ‘journeys together.’ How is this ‘journeying together’ happening today in your particular Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together’?”
In answering this question, I am pleased to say that our diocese has already embraced this synodal path of “journeying together” in a variety of ways, most significantly in recent years through our Fourth Diocesan Synod, which took place throughout most of the 2017 calendar year on the theme of discipleship and stewardship. Our diocesan synod included consultations with all the laity, priests, deacons, and leaders of the various religious communities in our diocese, as well as delegates from each of the 129 parishes in our diocese. This culminated in the adoption of 12 Synodal Declarations and 172 Statutes I followed up in 2018 with the publication of my Post-Synodal Pastoral Letter, Ars vivendi et moriendi in Dei gratia (On the Art of Living and Dying in God’s Grace).
At my request, Benedictine University (Lisle, Ill.) conducted a survey of inactive Catholics from November 2012 through March 2013, and then a second survey on active Catholics was gathered through February to March 2014. The survey results were published in September 2014 under the title, “Joy and Grievance in an American Diocese: Results from Online Surveys of Active and Inactive Catholics in Central Illinois.” In my reflections on the results of these surveys, I said that “I thought it was essential to hear not only from those who have stopped attending Mass, but also to hear from those who do attend regularly to find out what draws them and keeps them coming to church. If we are doing something right for some people, that should help us learn what we need to do to bring back those who have drifted away.”
According to the Preparatory Document for the Synod on Synodality the “purpose of the first phase of the synodal journey is to foster a broad consultation process in order to gather the wealth of the experiences of lived synodality, in its different articulations and facets, involving the Pastors and the Faithful of the particular Churches at all the different levels, through the most appropriate means according to the specific local realities: the consultation, coordinated by the Bishop, is addressed to the Priests, Deacons and lay Faithful of their Churches, both individually and in associations, without overlooking the valuable contribution that consecrated men and women can offer. The contribution of the participatory bodies of the particular Churches is specifically requested, especially that of the Presbyteral Council and the Pastoral Council, from which a synodal Church can truly begin to take shape.”
At the conclusion of our Fourth Diocesan Synod in 2017, I said that I did not plan to call another diocesan synod during my tenure, since a diocesan synod sets the pastoral direction for the indefinite future, but would leave that to my successors to determine when it would be opportune to convoke another diocesan synod. I think much of the information that we are being asked to gather during the diocesan phase of the Synod on Synodality can be gleaned from what we learned from our surveys of active and inactive Catholics and what we heard during our listening sessions and consultations held during our Fourth Diocesan Synod. Additional consultations will be done with our canonical consultative bodies, the Diocesan Pastoral Council, the Presbyteral Council, and parish pastoral councils, supplemented perhaps by focused listening sessions in the deaneries as needed.
The diocesan phase is to last from October 2021 to April 2022. A second, continental phase will take place from September 2022 to March 2023. The third, universal phase will then take place with the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October 2023.
Pope Francis concluded his homily on Oct. 10 with these words: “The Synod is a process of spiritual discernment, of ecclesial discernment, that unfolds in adoration, in prayer and in dialogue with the word of God. … Let us not miss out on the grace-filled opportunities born of encounter, listening and discernment. In the joyful conviction that, even as we seek the Lord, he always comes with his love to meet us first.”
May God give us this grace. Amen.
On Sept, 15, 2021, Pope Francis stated in no uncertain terms, “Abortion is murder. .,, whoever performs an abortion kills. … It’s a human life, period.” The Holy Father added, “Scientifically, it is a human life. Is it right to take it out to solve a problem? That is why the Church is so harsh on this issue, because if it accepts this, it is as if it accepts daily murder.”
So, it is very disturbing that just a few days later, on Sept. 24, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 218-211 in favor of an abortion bill with the misnomer, “Women’s Health Protection Act” (WHPA), which misrepresents the reality that it has nothing to do with protecting women’s health and hides the fact that is has everything to do with promoting abortion. The WHPA would impose abortion on demand nationwide at any stage of pregnancy through federal statute and invalidate state laws banning abortion at any stage of pregnancy, including laws that require parental notification and that prohibit abortion based on race, sex, disability, or other characteristic. The WHPA would also threaten state and federal conscience laws that protect the right of health care providers and professionals, employers, and insurers not to perform, assist in, refer for, cover, or pay for abortion.
President Joe Biden’s Administration “strongly supports House passage of H.R. 3755, the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021.” In light of Pope Francis’ unambiguous statement that “abortion is murder,” it must be said that Joe Biden is an accomplice to murder.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi expressed her support for this bill, praising it as “legislation that can become law.” Nancy Pelosi is an accomplice to murder.
U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin of Illinois have signed on as co-sponsors of this abortion legislation. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin are accomplices to murder.
Governor J.B. Pritzker spoke inside the Planned Parenthood abortion facility in Aurora on Sept. 14, 2021, urging Congress to pass the proposed federal law promoting abortion. He has also indicated that he wants to gut the Illinois Right of Conscience Act that currently protects doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care workers from being forced to perform or assist at abortions or dispense abortifacient drugs. J.B. Pritzker is an accomplice to murder.
These politicians are also fond of saying “follow the science.” Well, as Pope Francis has pointed out, science tells us that human life begins at conception, so proponents of easy access to abortion are not following the science, but are basing their arguments on purely political grounds.
Please note that I am not calling out these pro-abortion politicians in order to condemn them, but rather to call them to conversion. Please pray for them to have a change of heart, so that instead of condemning unborn babies to death, they will seek their protection and give them a chance to live, as you and I have been blessed by God to live out our lives here on earth.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has posted a fact sheet and an action alert with an online form to tell your congressional representatives of your opposition to the “Women’s Health Protection Act” (H.R. 3755/S. 1975). Please make your opinion known to them.
October is Respect Life Month. Our annual diocesan Respect Life Mass will take place at Holy Family Parish Church in Granite City at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 9, followed by our rosary walk to the Granite City abortion facility. Please join us in solidarity to pray for this abortion facility to close. Please pray throughout this month of October for the protection of human life from conception to natural death.
May God give us this grace. Amen.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I am writing this on Sept. 11, 2021, 20 years after the terrorist airplane attacks of 9-11-2001. Most of us probably remember exactly where we were when we heard this news. At the time, I was pastor of St. Constance Parish near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. I had just finished celebrating morning Mass and went to the rectory to have breakfast. I turned on the television in the kitchen and heard the news that an airplane had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. At first, no one knew what to make of this strange incident, which initially seemed to be some sort of bizarre accident. That perception changed drastically and dramatically within a few minutes as a second plane crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Then a third plane crashed into the west side of the Pentagon (headquarters of the United States Department of Defense) near Washington, D.C. Shortly thereafter, United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville, Pa., after the plane’s courageous passengers attempted to regain control of the aircraft away from the hijackers. In doing so, at the cost of their lives, they successfully diverted the flight from its intended target, which was either the White House or the U.S. Capitol.
It was now abundantly clear that the United States of America was under attack on her own soil, but it was not immediately clear who was attacking us or what the extent of the attack would be. I returned to church to pray, and was joined by several parishioners who spontaneously came to church to seek divine protection. This continued for the next couple of weeks as people would drop by the church for at least a few minutes to pray at various times throughout the day.
As people came to church, I thought perhaps this attack was waking people from their spiritual slumber to realize how vulnerable we really are and how dependent we are on God’s providence. Unfortunately, this spiritual awakening did not last very long. Within just a few weeks after the terrorist attacks of 9-11, many people returned to their irreligious ways of life. Indeed, in the last 20 years our society has become increasingly polarized and divided. People not only disagree vehemently about almost everything, but do so with a lack of basic courtesy, lack of common civility, and lack of Christian charity, as they hurl crude insults and vulgar profanities at their opponents.
When evil strikes, such as the Holocaust during World War II or the 9-11 terrorist attacks of 20 years ago, people tend either to turn more resolutely to God for His divine assistance or they turn quite decidedly away from God, questioning how a loving God could allow such evils to happen. People of faith understand that God has given everyone a free will, which means that bad things happen when people exercise their freedom and choose to reject God and commit their evil deeds.
People who live as if there is no God also live as if He gave us no Commandments, the greatest of which, of course, is to love God with all your heart and mind and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27). Jesus also taught His Disciples to love their enemies (Matt. 5:44) and to forgive those who have harmed them if they expect God to forgive their sins (Matt. 6:15).
Loving our enemies does not mean that we can never disagree with anyone, but we must make every effort to resolve our disputes with reasoned arguments and civil discourse, not with vicious personal attacks.
When Jesus asked His Disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”, Peter was the first to reply, “You are the Christ.” But Peter did not fully understand what that meant, as he tried to dissuade Jesus from His suffering and cross. Jesus was quick to reject this temptation, telling Peter, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Jesus added, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it” (Mk 8:27-35). As we read in the Letter of St. James, “faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas 2:14-18). Thus, to be true Christians, we must put our faith into practice in our actions and in the way we treat other people.
During his visit to Ground Zero in New York on April 20, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI concluded his prayer with this plea for peace and love:
“God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world: peace in the hearts of all men and women and peace among the nations of the earth. Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred.
“God of understanding, overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy, we seek your light and guidance as we confront such terrible events. Grant that those whose lives were spared may live so that the lives lost here may not have been lost in vain. Comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope, and give us the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all.”
May God give us this grace. Amen.
Debates about mask mandates and required vaccinations are much in the news in light of Governor Pritzker’s Executive Order seeking to slow the spread of COVID. In the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, our schools are already complying with the governor’s prior Executive Order regarding masks, and our parishes are asked to follow the new mask mandate in indoor public places. Our parishes will also continue other safety measures as COVID cases, hospitalization rates, and ICU admissions have risen rapidly in recent weeks.
The Executive Order’s face covering requirement for indoor public places applies to “all individuals in Illinois who are age two or over and able to medically tolerate a face covering (a mask or cloth face covering).” Noting that some people may be excused from wearing a face covering for medical reasons, no one is to be excluded from attending Mass for not wearing a face covering. The obligation to attend Holy Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation is paramount since eternal life is the most important consideration. As Pope Pius XII said in his Nov. 24, 1957, address to Catholic physicians and anesthesiologists, “Life, health, all temporal activities are in fact subordinated to spiritual ends.”
Also, since the sanctuary of the church is not a public place — in that people are not free to walk through the sanctuary area where the altar, ambo, and tabernacle are located — priests, deacons, and lectors are not expected to wear face coverings while fulfilling their functions at Mass, since this would interfere with their public speaking and the performance of their liturgical roles.
With regard to mandatory vaccination, while the Church promotes vaccination as morally acceptable and urges cooperation with public health authorities in promoting the common good, there are matters of personal health and moral conscience involved in vaccines that must be respected. Therefore, vaccine participation must be voluntary and cannot be forced, as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the authority of Pope Francis, indicated last December. While we encourage vaccination, we cannot and will not force vaccination as a condition of employment or the freedom of the faithful to worship in our parishes.
Further, it is imperative that the faithful who choose not to be vaccinated recognize their moral duty to take other measures to protect others from harm. Whether or not one is concerned about personal risks associated with COVID, each person has a moral duty to act responsibly out of concern for his or her neighbor by diligently following other safety measures.
In this regard, the Executive Order’s vaccination requirements for health care workers, school personnel, higher education personnel, and state-owned or operated facilities provides the following exemption: “Individuals will be exempt from the requirement to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 if (l) vaccination is medically contraindicated, including any individual who is entitled to an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act or any other law applicable to a disability-related reasonable accommodation, or (2) vaccination would require the individual to violate or forgo a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance. Individuals who demonstrate they meet the requirements for an exemption will be subject to additional testing requirements.”
In seeking to demonstrate that they have “a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance,” some people have been asking priests to write a letter on their behalf and some employers are requiring such letters from clergy. I would argue that such letters are unnecessary and inappropriate. In an article that I coauthored last April in The Observer with Professor Gerard Bradley, who teaches constitutional law at Notre Dame Law School, we wrote that giving “perspicuous witness to the truth about the horrors of abortion … does not depend upon holding the Catholic faith, or adhering to any other religion. It is based upon moral and scientific considerations equally available to all persons. For that reason, there is no non-arbitrary ground to distinguish ‘religious’ from simply ‘moral’ objections to the vaccine.” In that sense, no one should need a letter from a priest, as we also wrote, “A religious, moral or other exemption of conscience should be ascertained not by documents, but by a simple conversation seeking only to establish that the individual has a sincerely held, reasonable belief that they should not receive the vaccine.”
Moral objections of conscience should be respected, but should not require a letter from a priest or other clergyman, since the objection is based on the person’s individual personal conscience, not some specific tenet of the Catholic faith. It is not even apparent what any such letter from a priest could helpfully say, beyond restating what I have here recounted, which is that the Catholic Church teaches that some persons may have conscientious objections to the taking of the COVID vaccines, and that these conscientious convictions ought to be respected. (Note that the National Catholic Bioethics Center has provided a Vaccine Exemption Template Letter for Catholics who themselves seek an exemption from an immunization requirement.)
In the event, however, that an employer requires a letter from the clergy, the essential point for which the attestation of a Catholic priest might be helpful is therefore the primacy of conscience, as Pope St. Paul VI wrote in his 1965 Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae, no. 13), “The Christian faithful, in common with all other men, possess the civil right not to be hindered in leading their lives in accordance with their consciences.” More recently, Pope Francis has said, “The conscience is the interior place for listening to the truth, to goodness, for listening to God; it is the inner place of my relationship with Him, the One who speaks to my heart and helps me to discern, to understand the way I must take and, once the decision is made, to go forward, to stay faithful.” Thus, while Catholics are not bound to refuse the vaccine as a form of immoral cooperation with abortion, and while there is a prima facie obligation to cooperate with public health authorities in promoting the common good, each Catholic must make his or her own decision, in light of each person’s particular situation and moral responsibilities. The Catholic Church recognizes that some Catholics will be bound in conscience to refuse the vaccine.
May God give us this grace. Amen.