Archbishop Coakley: Pray for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty

This letter from Archbishop Paul Coakley of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City was read in the churches in the archdiocese this weekend.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The year 2013 promises to be one of great consequence on many fronts for our Church and our Nation. With the looming threat to our religious liberty posed by the HHS mandate, the rapid erosion of respect for human life and the unprecedented assault on the institution of marriage taking hold in our nation we bishops of the United States are issuing a Call to Prayer.

St. Thomas Becket, whom the Church honors as I write this letter, was a martyr for the sake of justice. As Archbishop of Canterbury he steadfastly defended the rights of the Church against the unjust interference of his king. He wrote, “If we who are called bishops desire to understand the meaning of our calling and to be worthy of it, we must strive to keep our eyes on him whom God appointed high priest forever, and to follow in his footsteps.” In a similar spirit during our November Plenary Assembly we bishops of the United States determined that it is our duty as shepherds to mobilize the entire Church against the threats against people of faith in our day.

Consequently, we have issued a Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty. I want to join my voice to that of my fellow bishops in summoning the faithful, clergy and religious of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City to embrace this coordinated spiritual effort to combat these looming challenges to the free and public exercise of our faith. We ought to understand this spiritual effort in conjunction with the Year of Faith, inasmuch as we are defending concerns that are integral to our faith as its public consequences. These threats call for a public witness and a concerted spiritual effort.

There are many ways to participate as individuals, families, parishes and schools. Here are five key components to this Call to Prayer.

Beginning now and continuing through Christ the King Sunday on November 24, 2013, cathedrals and parishes are urged to have a monthly Eucharistic Holy Hour for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty.
Families and individuals are encouraged to pray the daily Rosary, especially for the preservation of Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty in our nation.
At Sunday and daily Masses, we encourage that the Prayers of the Faithful include special intentions for respect for all human life from conception to natural death, the strengthening of marriage and family life and the preservation of religious liberty both in our nation and abroad.
Recognizing the importance of spiritual and bodily sacrifice in the life of the Church, we encourage abstinence from meat and fasting on Fridays for the intention of the protection of life, marriage and religious liberty.
There will be another national Fortnight of Freedom at the end of June and beginning of July 2013. This Fortnight effort will emphasize marriage in a particular way in the face of the potential Supreme Court rulings expected during this time. It will also emphasize the need for conscience protection in view of the August 1, 2013 deadline for religious organizations to comply with the HHS mandate. It will emphasize religious freedom concerns in other areas, such as immigration, adoption and humanitarian services as well. The focus will be on the God-given nature of religious freedom and the right to publicly witness to our faith in the public square as well as the rights of individuals and institutions to conduct their professional lives in accord with their religious convictions.
A website with the plan for the Call to Prayer and many additional resources is available at www.usccb.org/life-marriage-liberty. I urge you to participate in this important Call to Prayer for our Nation and our Church. With prayerful best wishes for you and yours during this New Year, I am

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Paul S. Coakley
Archbishop of Oklahoma City

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

Click here throughout the Year of Faith, as the Catholic Channel at Patheos.com invites Catholics of every age and stripe to share what they are gleaning and carrying away from this gift of timely focus.

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!


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