Christian Persecution: Standing for Jesus in the Face of Worldwide Persecution

This Worldwide Christian Persecution video is made using films from Voice of the Martyrs.

 

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Christian Persecution: MPs Defend Church Denied Charitable Status Over Communion

Last Friday I re-blogged an article about the Brethren Church in the UK which was denied charitable status because it had a closed communion.

There is evidently some argument about whether this is the reason, or that the reason is that the church doesn’t do charitable work. A reader added a link about the Brethren Church which seems to make clear that it does do charitable work.

In my opinion, this discussion about whether or not the church complies with the law begs the question of whether or not the law itself should exist. From what I’ve read, it appears that the law on which this decision is based is one of the many new laws that seek to narrow religious freedom in the West. Rather than explain my concerns, I’ll let you read the article below and judge for yourself.

The Barnabasaid article reads in part:

MPs have made a robust defence of the Brethren church that has been denied charitable status by the Charity Commission in an important test case for churches and Christian organisations throughout the country.

In a well-attended debate led by Fiona Bruce, Conservative MP for Congleton, in Westminster Hall on Tuesday (13 November), members discussed the implications of the decision against Preston Downs Trust, which owns gospel halls in Torquay, Paignton and Newton Abbot.

There are over 370 Brethren Gospel Halls throughout the UK
There are over 370 Brethren Gospel Halls throughout the UK
Mary and Angus Hogg / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Brethren church was denied charitable status over concerns that it does not satisfy the “public benefit” requirement; the lack of public access to the communion services held in gospel halls was specifically mentioned.

Ms Bruce and numerous other MPs highlighted the extensive work carried out by the Brethren in their communities, including support for families, care for young people, disaster relief, visits to prisons, hospitals, and donations of substantial funds to many charities. She said, “Surely no one can argue that they do not provide public benefit” and also defended the “openness” of the Brethren; they actively share their faith and make information about their services available to non-Brethren.

Ms Bruce said, “Restricting access to Holy Communion should not be a reason for refusing charitable status.”

Other MPs raised concerns about the wider implications of the Charity Commission’s decision for churches and Christian groups.

Charlie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover, said:

This is a test case on religion and the thin end of the wedge, particularly given that the Charity Commission’s letter says that even the Church of England would have to prove public benefit.

All churches now have to prove their "public benefit"
All churches now have to prove
their “public benefit”
Eamon Curry / CC BY 2.0

Amendments under the Charities Act 2006 removed the presumption of “public benefit” for organisations that advance religion and required charities that had been registered under the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855 to seek registration with the Charity Commission. Churches therefore now have to demonstrate how they are of benefit to the public, whereas before it was taken as a given that they were.

“Public benefit” is not clearly defined in the Act, but the Charity Commission states that it must be identifiable, balanced against any harm, appropriate to the charity’s aims, and not “unreasonably restricted” in a way that might prevent some people from benefiting from the charity’s work. (Read more here.)

Penance, Meatless Fridays and True Conversion from the Heart

I’m a strong believer in penance, but not so much in assigned penances.

As a convert I think it’s highly likely that I just don’t “get” penance in the Catholic sense. Whatever the priest tells me to do as a penance in confession, I do. I don’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent. If the American Bishops decide that we should return to meatless Fridays all year round, I’ll do that, too.

But so far as I’m concerned, penance is an adjunct to conversion, not the cause of it. What I mean is that penance comes about almost naturally from a changed life, and a changed life is the inevitable result of genuine conversion from the heart. Is it a more signatory penance to eat a grilled cheese sandwich rather than a roast beef sandwich on Fridays or to give up your friends who cannot accept your stands on moral issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage?

I can tell you from personal experience that losing the people you love because they will not accept you as your conversion to Christ has made you is enduring and genuine grief. It hurts all the way through and the pain does not stop in a day or an hour or even, perhaps, a lifetime. The grilled cheese sandwich, on the other hand, does not even sting. It is, at most, a discipline.

If the bishops decide that such discipline is necessary and useful, I not only will follow it, I will trust that they know what they are doing and that it is, indeed, salutary. But it seems to me that such penances are only really effective if they lead to a deeper and more absolute conversion of the heart.

Jesus doesn’t just ask that we follow the rules, although He never abrogated following the rules. He asks that we live a life-giving Gospel of light, love and fidelity, and that we live it to the death, if need be.

Christians today must decide who they will follow. Will they follow the ever-expanding nihilism of the larger culture, or will they follow Christ? This is no longer a hypothetical for most Christians. It is the pressing reality of their walk of faith.  It can cut to the core of who you are. It asks you to follow Jesus even if your friends turn on you and become your enemies for doing so. It asks you to stay the course of true discipleship no matter where it leads you or what it costs.

It is my theory that following Jesus in this hostile world will send you enough penance to scour you clean if you can just accept it. The trouble is that these conversion-caused penances are painful almost beyond enduring. Everyone wants to run away from them. I certainly did and I certainly have. We all would like to slide by and live out a discipleship without cost.

But the devil will always make you choose. Those who do not follow Christ will turn on you and attack you and refuse to accept you. They will rip and tear at the fabric of friendships that have withstood decades, all in the name of pushing you to choose either them or Christ.

I’ve tried to find a way out of it, but I no longer believe there is one. You must, ultimately, decide who you will follow. And you must pay the penance that choosing Christ exacts of you.

To the extent that meatless Fridays prepares us for the greater penances we must pay for choosing Christ in this increasingly pagan world, it is a wonderful discipline. But if we do it mindlessly and resentfully, it will not build the strength in us that we will need to stand for Jesus in the coming days. Discipline of this type is always a practice for the real penances of life that can not be avoided and which, if we try to shoulder them alone, will break us.

On the other hand, if we are willing to accept the love and help God offers us in the face of the deep hurt of lost friendships, the pain and the isolation will make us stronger, more committed Christians. In time, it may allow God to fashion us into someone He can actually use to play a small part in His redemptive work in this world.

 

 

Join the Discussions of the Year of Faith

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Today I Took the Oath of Office and Will Begin a 54 Day Novena

5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

… 7 “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

 

My family and I made the trek to the capitol this morning for my swearing in.

Most of the rest of the representatives are still out there, going through the long ceremony, complete with speeches, of the regular, formal, swearing in. I decided, due to Gimpy the Foot, to go out early and get sworn in privately. However you do it, taking the oath of office is always a kick. Now I am legally the representative for District 89 in the Oklahoma State Legislature for the next two years.

I always begin a 54 Day Novena at this time of year. I ask God to use me however He wishes in the upcoming legislative session and to please protect me from my own stupidity so that I won’t accidentally do something that hurts people by mistake. I also pray Solomon’s prayer when he was first anointed king.

This is a good time to remember what happened to Solomon after he prayed this prayer. God heard him and gifted him with great wisdom and prosperity. But Solomon, despite his excellent intentions at the beginning of his reign, fell into apostasy, allowing his many political marriages to women who were not of his faith to re-introduce idolatry and human sacrifice into Israel.

That same thing has happened to our own country. Many of the leaders we’ve trusted, including some of our religious leaders, have led us into blatant human sacrifice to the gods of commerce, success, and a false sense of freedom. We abort our children, euthanize our elderly or warehouse them in nursing homes. We buy and sell young women as if they were chattel. Everything is forfeit to the pursuit of our private narcissism and the almighty dollar.

I remember all this when I pray Solomon’s prayer. It is a perfect prayer for any elected official, and the sad end to which Solomon fell after praying it is also worth pondering.

The 54-day Novena involves praying the Rosary for 54 days. For the first 27 days, you pray for your intention. For the last 27 days, you thank God for answering you. I do it every year before session. It focuses and cleanses me. I also think that it has been answered, usually in surprising ways that I would not have dreamed of at the time I prayed it.

So for me this business of being sworn in is another starting point. It signifies that I am, once again, committing myself to the job of being the voice for thousands of people within Oklahoma’s state government. I don’t take this lightly. In fact, it can be rather terrifying. Which is why I always turn to the Lord for support, guidance and help.

Christians can do nothing for God without God’s help. We are not are own. We belong to Him.

Prayer is the well-spring from which our grace and strength comes to us.

This is the beginning of my 17th year in elected office. My prayer is that God will use me however He sees fit. I am His.

Papal Nuncio: Threats to Religious Freedom Emerging in Western Democracies

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano CNA

South Bend, Ind., Nov 12, 2012 / 07:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano has told the University of Notre Dame that there is a concrete “menace” to religious liberty in the U.S. that is advancing in part because some influential Catholic public figures and university professors are allied with those opposed to Church teaching.

“Evidence is emerging which demonstrates that the threat to religious freedom is not solely a concern for non-democratic and totalitarian regimes,” he said. “Unfortunately it is surfacing with greater regularity in what many consider the great democracies of the world.”

The apostolic nuncio, who serves as the Pope’s diplomatic representative to the U.S., said this is a “tragedy” for both the believer and for democratic society.

Archbishop Vigano’s Nov. 4 speech keynoted the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life conference. He discussed martyrdom, persecution, and religious freedom, with a particular focus on the United States.

He cited Catholics’ duties to be disciples of Christ, not elements of a political or secular ideology. He lamented the fact that many Catholics are publicly supporting “a major political party” that has “intrinsic evils among its basic principles.”

“There is a divisive strategy at work here, an intentional dividing of the Church; through this strategy, the body of the Church is weakened, and thus the Church can be more easily persecuted,” the nuncio said.

Archbishop Vigano observed that some influential Catholic public officials and university professors are allied with forces opposed to the Church’s fundamental moral teachings on “critical issues” like abortion, population control, the redefinition of marriage, embryonic stem cell research and “problematic adoptions.”

He said it is a “grave and major problem” when self-professed Catholic faculty at Catholic institutions are the sources of teachings that conflict with Church teaching on important policy issues rather than defend it.

While Archbishop Vigano noted that most Americans believe they are “essentially a religious people” and still give some importance to religion, he also saw reasons this could change.

He said that the problem of persecution begins with “reluctance to accept the public role of religion,” especially where protecting religious freedom “involves beliefs that the powerful of the political society do not share.”

The nuncio said it is “essential” to pray for a just resolution to religious freedom controversies, including the controversy over the new federal mandate requiring many Catholic employers to provide morally objectionable insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some abortion-causing drugs.

The issues that the Catholic bishops have identified in this mandate are “very real” and “pose grave threats to the vitality of Catholicism in the United States,” Archbishop Vigano said.

The nuncio also discussed other religious liberty threats.

He cited a Massachusetts public school curriculum that required young students to take courses that presented same-sex relations as “natural and wholesome.” Civil authorities rejected parents’ requests for a procedure to exempt their children from the “morally unacceptable” classes.

“If these children were to remain in public schools, they had to participate in the indoctrination of what the public schools thought was proper for young children,” the archbishop said. “Put simply, religious freedom was forcefully pushed aside once again.”

Catholic Charities agencies have also been kicked out of social service programs because they would not institute policies or practices that violate “fundamental moral principles of the Catholic faith.” (Read more here.)

What is Wrong — and Right — With the Role of Faith in American Politics Today?

Reprinted with premission from St Peter’s List

What is wrong — and right — with the role of faith in American politics today?

Several Patheos bloggers took a shot at answering this question before the November 6 election. To be honest, I’m more interested in what you think.

Before we devise a plan for what we’re going to do, let’s stop and ask ourselves how we got here. This question is a good one for beginning the process of thinking that through.

You may have noticed that what I’m doing with Public Catholic is building. I am trying to build a community of thinking, committed Christians who can take on the culture of death and win. Before we can do that, we’ve got a lot of thinking and a lot of learning to do.

I want to focus specifically on what is wrong and right about the way Christians and Christianity have conducted themselves in the political process. People who are not Christians are welcome to participate if they offer constructive thoughts and forgo diatribes and canned attacks on Christians and Christianity. It’s ok to talk about ways that you feel the Church in particular or Christianity in general have failed or succeeded in their political activities. Just do it in a constructive, idea-generating way.

Jesus said, “By their fruits you shall know them.”

What fruits do you feel that 40 years of Christian political activism have borne? Why do you feel this way?

What, in your opinion, is wrong — and right — with the role of faith in American politics today?

So … What does it look like from your side?

A reader brought me up short yesterday with the observation that Oklahoma is not the center of the known universe and what I experience here doesn’t translate so well to her life as a Christian in Seattle.

She had a point, and a good one. In truth, I am an expert on what it means to be a female, pro-life, Catholic, Democratic wife, mother, member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. It’s kind of hard to top my knowledge of that itty bitty piece of the universe. But in other things, other places, other ways of living … not so much.

I hadn’t looked too closely at the election numbers until yesterday. I wanted to wait until all the votes everywhere were counted and on the tally sheet. When I did take a look, I saw that the only state that went harder for Governor Romney than Oklahoma was Utah. Interesting, but not surprising. What did surprise me was how razor-thin the popular vote turned out to be.

President Obama targeted his race and drove up his electoral vote count. He did it with carefully selected wedge issues designed to appeal to urban voters in the big population areas of the electoral bread basket states of the country. He also clearly let the rest of the country go. His goal was to win.

Now, he has to govern. The way he won will inevitably make governing far more difficult than if he had been elected by a wider swath of the electorate. It also spells trouble for Democratic Congressional candidates who have to run for re-election in two years in states that were left off the list by their president.

Make no mistake about it: The electoral vote will elect a president, but the popular vote affects his ability to govern.

How does this relate to the reader’s comments about my lack of understanding concerning the life of a pro-life Christian in a blue-state environment like Seattle? Just this: Obama won Washington State with a healthy 55.8% margin, but he didn’t landslide it. Romney came in at 41.8%, which leaves a little less than 3% of the voters who either voted for third-party candidates or didn’t vote in the presidential election at all.

Don’t misunderstand me; President Obama won Washington State, and he won it decisively. But 42% of the votes cast still went to the candidate nobody but his mother wanted. Why, with 42% of the voters demonstrating that they are in some sort of general agreement with her, would the commenter feel so isolated?

She said, “Here in Seattle I espouse conservative pro life ideas and get knocked over the head called names yelled at, etc. Forget the party elites, you are a fool to try to compete here with if you are a conservative.”

That’s isolation. It’s also outrageous behavior on the part of those who are treating her this way. However, even based on my almost total ignorance of what it’s like to live anywhere except what is called “flyover country” by those on the coasts, I can see the truth of what’s she’s saying. In my very brief visits to areas like San Francisco and Seattle, I’ve heard some of the same.

Based on the statistics I’ve looked at, the big vote totals for President Obama came, not just from the states he targeted, but from the parts of those states that he targeted. He went for the urban vote and he got it. One method he used to engage voters in those areas was to use things like abortion, same-sex marriage and an inaccurate representation of federal funding for contraceptives as wedge issues.

He didn’t have to do much to engage the Hispanic populations in those areas. The Republicans, with their attacks on Hispanics in the past, had done that for him. All of this was layered on top a base of passionate African American voters.

I can see how any traditional Christian living in one of these cities would feel isolated, beleaguered and totally outnumbered. The President not only won the commenter’s town, he won it by going in-your-face with traditional Christians like her. That says plenty about what the comfort level in the community would be for a  pro-life, pro-family, pro-religious freedom Christian.

I can also see that someone who is living through that would feel more than a little bit of exasperation with me for assumptions I make based on life in Oklahoma. I’m not trying to equate my experiences with hers, or to say I know what I don’t, but I have had some experience with being hazed for my faith.

Even though I live in the reddest of red states, I am still a Democratic elected office holder. I get my fair share of what traditional Christians who live in places like Seattle encounter. But the commenter is right when she says it comes from party activists and not the larger culture.

Actually, here in Oklahoma, most of the criticism I get from the larger culture is for my more Democratic opinions, such as my opposition to the attacks Republicans made on Hispanics. My feeling is that wherever you live, if you follow Jesus, you’re going catch flack.

One thing I’ve learned from doing this blog is that the blah, blah, blah of those who attack traditional Christians is virtually the same everywhere. I don’t just mean that it’s the same both in Seattle and Oklahoma. I mean it’s the same worldwide. The intensity may vary. The freedom these people feel to attack Christians surely varies. But the verbiage is identical to the point of boredom.

We can discuss what this identical messaging from these people means another time. For now, let’s focus on what life is like for a traditional Christian in an urban, blue-state environment. How can a Christian be effective for Christ in an environment like this?

Since I don’t live in that part of the country, I need to learn from those of you who do. Feel free to tell me these things. I really want to learn from you.

Cardinal Dolan’s Speech to USCCB General Assembly

This is Cardinal Dolan’s address to the Fall USCCB General Assembly. I’m going to put the entire address here for you to read it. I will add one spoiler: There’s talk about bringing back meatless Fridays. How would you feel about that if it happens?

Here’s the address, from the USCCB website.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York,
president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)

Address given at the USCCB General Assembly Fall meeting on November 12, 2012.

My brother bishops,

Yes, we have “a lot on our plate” as we commence our meeting, urgent issues very worthy of our solicitude as pastors — the suffering in vast areas not far from here caused by the Hurricane of two weeks ago, the imperative to the New Evangelization, the invitation offered by the Year of Faith, and our continued dialogue, engagement, and prophetic challenge to our culture over urgent issues such as the protection of human life, the defense of marriage, the promotion of human dignity in the lives of the poor, the immigrant, those in danger from war and persecution throughout the world, and our continued efforts to defend our first and most cherished freedom — all issues calling for our renewed and enthusiastic commitment.

But I stand before you this morning to say simply: first things first. We gather as disciples of, as friends of, as believers in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, “the Way, the Truth and the Life,” who exhorted us to “seek first the Kingdom of God.”

We cannot engage culture unless we let Him first engage us; we cannot dialogue with others unless we first dialogue with Him; we cannot challenge unless we first let Him challenge us.

The Venerable Servant of God, Fulton J. Sheen, once commented, “The first word of Jesus in the Gospel was ‘come’; the last word of Jesus was ‘go’.”

Fifty years ago, on October 11, 1962, Blessed John XXIII courageously convened the Second Vatican Council “the greatest concern of which,” he insisted, “is that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously.”(Allocution on the occasion of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudet mater ecclesia).

We gather for our plenary assembly in our nation’s premiere see, at the close of the XIII Ordinary General Synod of Bishops, still near the beginning of the Year of Faith. Both occasions have the same origin, the same goal expressed by Blessed John XXIII: the effective transmission of the faith for the transformation of the world.

A year ago we began our visits ad limina Petri et Pauli. I know you join me in expressing deep gratitude for the extraordinary affection, warmth and fraternal care with which our Holy Father welcomed us.

But Pope Benedict did not stop with his gracious hospitality. No. He also gave us plenty of fatherly advice — for our ministry as pastors of the Church and our personal role in the New Evangelization.

Here’s an especially striking example from his first ad limina address: “Evangelization,” the Successor of St. Peter noted, “. . . appears not simply a task to be undertaken ad extrawe ourselves are the first to need re-evangelization. As with all spiritual crises, whether of individuals or communities, we know that the ultimate answer can only be born of a searching, critical and ongoing self-assessment and conversion in the light of Christ’s truth.”

As we bishops at the just concluded Synod of Bishops confessed in our closing message:

“We, however, should never think that the new evangelization does not concern us as Bishops personally. In these days voices among the Bishops were raised to recall that the Church must first of all heed the Word before she can evangelize the world. The invitation to evangelize becomes a call to conversion.”

“We Bishops firmly believe that we must convert ourselves first to the power of Jesus Christ who alone can make all things new, above all our poor existence. With humility we must recognize that the poverty and weaknesses of Jesus’ disciples, especially us, his ministers, weigh on the credibility of the mission. We are certainly aware – we bishops first of all – that we can never really be equal to the Lord’s calling and mandate to proclaim His Gospel to the nations. We… do not hesitate to recognize our personal sins. We are, however, also convinced that the Lord’s Spirit is capable of renewing His Church and rendering her garment resplendent if we let Him mold us.” (Final Message of the Synod of Bishops to the People of God, October 28, 2012)

The New Evangelization reminds us that the very agents of evangelization – you and me — will never achieve that abundant harvest Blessed John XXIII described unless we are willing and eager to first be evangelized themselves. Only those themselves first evangelized can then evangelize. As St. Bernard put it so well, “If you want to be a channel, you must first be a reservoir.”

I would suggest this morning that this reservoir of our lives and ministry, when it comes especially to the New Evangelization, must first be filled with the spirit of interior conversion born of our own renewal. That’s the way we become channels of a truly effective transformation of the world, through our own witness of a penitential heart, and our own full embrace of the Sacrament of Penance.

II.

“To believers also the Church must ever preach faith and penance,” declared the council fathers in the very first of the documents to appear, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. (SC, n. 9)

To be sure, the sacraments of initiation – - Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist – - charge, challenge, and equip the agents of evangelization. Without those sacraments, we remain isolated, unredeemed, timid and unfed.

But, the Sacrament of Reconciliation evangelizes the evangelizers, as it brings us sacramentally into contact with Jesus, who calls us to conversion of heart, and allows us to answer his invitation to repentance — a repentance from within that can then transform the world without.

What an irony that despite the call of the Second Vatican Council for a renewal of the Sacrament of Penance, what we got instead was its near disappearance.

We became very good in the years following the Council in calling for the reform of structures, systems, institutions, and people other than ourselves.That, too, is important; it can transform our society and world. But did we fail along the way to realize that in no way can the New Evangelization be reduced to a program, a process, or a call to structural reform; that it is first and foremost a deeply personal conversion within? “The Kingdom of God is within,” as Jesus taught.

The premier answer to the question “What’s wrong with the world?” “what’s wrong with the church?” is not politics, the economy, secularism, sectarianism, globalization or global warming . . .none of these, as significant as they are. As Chesterton wrote, “The answer to the question ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ is just two words:’I am,’”

I am! Admitting that leads to conversion of heart and repentance, the marrow of the Gospel-invitation. I remember the insightful words of a holy priest well known to many of us from his long apostolate to priests and seminarians in Rome, Monsignor Charles Elmer, wondering aloud from time to time if, following the close of the Council, we had sadly become a Church that forgot how to kneel.If we want the New Evangelization to work, it starts on our knees.

Remember a few years back, when Cardinal Cahal Daly led us in our June retreat? Speaking somberly of the Church in his home country, he observed, “The Church in Ireland is in the dirt on her knees.” Then he paused, and concluded, “Maybe that’s where the Church is at her best.”

We kneel in the Sacrament of Penance because we are profoundly sorry for our faults and our sins, serious obstacles to the New Evangelization. But then we stand forgiven, resolute to return to the work entrusted to us – as evangelizers of the Gospel of Mercy.

I recall a conversation about a year ago with one of our brother bishops, newly ordained, attending his first plenary assembly. I asked his impressions of the meeting. “Well organized, informative, enjoyable,” he replied, but he went on to observe that it was one moment in particular that had the greatest impact on him. It was during our closing Holy Hour, as he entered the large room next to the chapel, to see dozens and dozens of bishops lined up to approach the Sacrament of Penance. This new Bishop told me that he felt that moment had more of an influence upon him than anything else at the meeting.

Who can forget the prophetic words of repentance from Blessed John Paul II, during the Great Jubilee, as he expressed contrition – publically and repeatedly – for the sins of the past? He mentioned the shame of the slave trade, the horrors of the holocaust, the death and destruction wrought by the crusades, the injustices of the conquest of the new world, and the violence of religious wars, to name only a few.

I remember during the celebration of the 50thInternational Eucharistic Congress in Ireland last June, when Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Papal Legate, expressed this so forcefully as he spoke on behalf of the Holy Father at the penitential shrine of St. Patrick’s Purgatory: “I come here with the specific intention of seeking forgiveness, from God and from the victims, for the grave sin of sexual abuse of children by clerics. . . In the name of the Church, I apologize once again to the victims, some of which I have met here in Lough Derg.”

And so it turns to us, my brothers. How will we make the Year of Faith a time to renew the Sacrament of Penance, in our own loves and in the lives of our beloved people whom we serve? Once again, we will later this week approach the Sacrament of Penance.

And we’ll have the opportunity during this meeting to approve a simple pastoral invitation to all our faithful to join us in renewing our appreciation for and use of the Sacrament. We will “Keep the Light On” during the upcoming Advent Season!

The work of our Conference during the coming year includes reflections on re-embracing Friday as a particular day of penance, including the possible re-institution of abstinence on all Fridays of the year, not just during Lent. Our pastoral plan offers numerous resources for catechesis on the Sacrament of Penance, and the manifold graces that come to us from the frequent use of confession. Next June we will gather in a special assembly as brother bishops to pray and reflect on the mission entrusted to us by the Church, including our witness to personal conversion in Jesus Christ, and so to the New Evangelization.

We work at giving our people good examples of humble, repentant pastors, aware of our own personal and corporate sins, constantly responding to the call of Jesus to interior conversion. Remember the Curé of Ars? When a concerned group of his worried supporters came to him with a stinging protest letter from a number of parishioners, demanding the bishop to remove John Vianney as their curé, claiming he was a sinner, ignorant, and awkward, St. John Vianney took the letter, read it carefully … and signed the petition!

III.

As I began my talk this morning, my brothers, so I would like to end it, with Blessed John XXIII.

It was the Sunday angelus of October 28, 1962.The message the Holy Father delivered on that bright Roman afternoon never even mentions the phrase New Evangelization.But it strikes right at the heart of the mission entrusted to each of us as shepherds.

“I feel something touching my spirit that leads to serenity,” Good Pope John remarked. “The word of the Gospel is not silent.It resonates from one end of the world to the other, and finds the way of the heart. Dangers and sorrows, human prudence and wisdom, everything needs to dissolve into a song of love, into a renewed invitation, pleading all to desire and wish for the establishment of the Kingdom of Christ. A kingdom of truth and life; a kingdom of holiness and grace; a kingdom of justice, love and peace.”

How could we not see it alive in those holy men and women of every time and place, the heroic evangelizers of our faith, including most recently St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Marianne Cope?

We have beheld it in the Church’s unrelenting corporal and spiritual works of mercy, in the heroic witness of persecuted Christians, in the Church’s defense of unborn human life, the care of our elders and the terminally ill, advocacy for the unemployed, those in poverty, our immigrant brothers and sisters, victims of terror and violence throughout our world, of all faiths and creeds, and in our defense of religious freedom, marriage and family.

And, I have suggested today, that as we “come and go” in response to the invitation of Jesus, we begin with the Sacrament of Penance.This is the sacrament of the New Evangelization, for as Pope Benedict reminds us, “We cannot speak about the new evangelization without a sincere desire to conversion.” (Homily for the Opening of the XIII Ordinary General Synod of Bishops).

With this as my presidential address, I know I risk the criticism. I can hear it now: “With all the controversies and urgent matters for the Church, Dolan spoke of conversion of heart through the Sacrament of Penance. Can you believe it?”

To which I reply, “You better believe it!”

First things first!

St Martin of Tours and Building a Christian Counter-Culture

St Martin of Tours offers an example for Christians in these times of aggressive secularism.

According to a recent CNA article, Professor John Bequette, of the University of St Francis, says that “Martin of Tours challenged a dying Roman culture by presenting a radical Christian counter-culture.”

The article says in part:

St Martin of Tours gives half his cloak to a beggar.

Washington D.C., Nov 10, 2012 / 04:04 pm (CNA).- St. Martin of Tours’ “Christian valor” is an example of how to sustain and rebuild Christian culture in a time of “moral exhaustion” and cultural decay, theology professor John P. Bequette said.

“Martin of Tours challenged a dying Roman culture by presenting a radical Christian counter-culture, rooted in Christian valor,” Bequette, a professor at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind. wrote in Crisis Magazine Nov. 8.

“This re-orientation saved what was truly worthwhile of Roman culture and give it new life within the emerging Christian culture.”

“As Christians, we have a responsibility to build a distinct, living culture in the twenty-first century, just as our forebears had the same responsibility in their time, a culture which will manifest itself in education and humanitarian institutions.”

Bequette recounted the life of St. Martin of Tours in the fourth century Roman Empire, comparing it to the contemporary United States.

He said the Roman populace had lost its traditional civic devotion and its readiness to sacrifice, instead engaging in “an impoverished attitude of hedonism and self-promotion.”

“The cultural foundation of Rome was disintegrating, and since political life follows culture, Roman civic life was collapsing,” he said. The Catholic Church was cultivating “an alternative culture and alternative civic life” by “transforming what was good in the Roman legacy .” ….

…. Bequette said that in the present day the Church is “increasingly under attack by a new, secular imperium which would strip the Church of her right to evangelize, educate, and minister.”

“This new imperium is possessed of the same ferocious hostility that beset the Church in reign of the pagan emperors,” the theology professor concluded. “In the face of this new, militant paganism, may God grant us the full measure of the Christian valor of Saint Martin of Tours.” (Read the full article here.)

After Long Battle and Theft, Veterans’ Cross Goes Up Again


This Associated Press story by Julie Watson highlights the sacrifices of our veterans and the fact that the freedoms they fight for are endangered here at home as well as abroad.

By JULIE WATSON Associated Press Writer
November 12, 2012 (AP)
A war memorial cross that once stood on a rocky hilltop in a national park before being deemed unconstitutional and ordered removed was resurrected on Veterans Day at the stunningly stark Mojave desert site, capping a landmark case for veterans fighting similar battles on public lands.

Henry Sandoz, who cared for the original 1930s cross as part of a promise to a dying World War I veteran, rededicated a new, 7-foot steel cross on the same hilltop before more than 100 people. The site is now in private hands as part of a land swap with the National Park Service that ended the longstanding legal dispute, which had become entangled in the thorny issues of patriotism and religion.

“Judges and lawyers may have played their roles, but it was the veterans who earned this memorial, and it is for them it rises once more,” said attorney Hiram Sasser of the Texas-based Liberty Institute, which represented veterans in the legal fight.

The settlement approved by a federal judge in April permitted the Park Service to turn over the acre of land known as Sunrise Rock to a Veteran of Foreign Wars post in Barstow and the Veterans Home of California-Barstow in exchange for five acres of donated property elsewhere in the 1.6 million acre preserve, about a four hour-drive east of Los Angeles.

The donated land was owned by Sandoz and his wife, Wanda, of Yucca Valley.

Sandoz, 73, has cared for the memorial as a promise to World War I veteran, Riley Bembry, who with other shell-shocked vets went to the desert to help heal and erected a wooden cross on Sunrise Rock in 1934. It was later replaced with a cross made of steel pipes.

Then Sunrise Rock became part of the Mojave National Preserve in 1994, putting the Christian symbol on public land.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in 2001 on behalf of a retired Park Service employee who argued the cross was unconstitutional on government property because of the separation of church and state, and federal courts ordered it removed.

Congress stepped in and ordered the land swap in 2003, but the courts rejected the transfer. The issue made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in April 2010 refused to order the cross removed. The high court directed a federal judge to review the congressional land transfer plan.

The decision was the latest on the issue by a Supreme Court that has signaled a greater willingness to allow religious symbols on public land amid a number of legal challenges in recent years by civil liberty activists and atheists.

Weeks after the 2010 court decision, the cross — which had been covered up to comply with court injunctions — was stolen. The stolen cross turned up earlier this month in the San Francisco Bay area tied to a fence post. The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department plans to return the cross.

But veterans decided to start fresh and dedicate its replacement in Sunday’s ceremony, (Read more here.)


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