Sunday, August 30, 2009

Homily for 22nd Sunday in O.T. Aug 30th

A mother, a talented cook, was sharing her cooking expertise with her grown daughter. Sharing her recipe for the perfect baked ham, she instructed her daughter to carefully slice about 1 inch from each end of the ham. The daughter asked why? The response from mom: that’s how my momma taught me.

When grandma came for a visit, the granddaughter related the cooking lesson so she naturally asked why did you teach mom to slice the ends of the ham? Well, she replied, that is how my mom taught me. Totally frustrated, she asked more forcefully, but why does cutting the ham make such a difference. Grandma replied it doesn’t really; you see the ham never fit in my mom’s small pan.

What seemed liked the secret to cooking a really good ham was nothing more than passing on an outdated tradition. Traditions! We all have them. Tradition literally means passed on, handed down. Many things we do in our personal lives, among our families are based in traditions. How we cook, what we like, our family celebrations, holiday events are influenced by traditions.

We even have many traditions regarding our spiritual life. As people of faith, do we cling to mere traditions; satisfying our curiosity with we’ve always worshipped that way or do we develop a deep personal relationship in matters of faith.

St. Mark’s Gospel today describes the Pharisee’s and the scribes objecting to disciples not closely following the traditional washing ritual. This is not just simply washing up or doing the dishes, this is a purification rite that the religious leaders of the day have made more complicated. The Pharisee’s and scribes were more interested in the outward appearance, the showiness of the ritual and paid little attention to the motivation of the heart. They were misusing the traditions of God and being hypocrites in their rules and regulations.

Jesus, of course, knows what is on the inside; he knows the hearts of all. Jesus never criticized the law or the rituals; he criticized the man made interference with God’s law and the hypocrisy of the ritual. After all, if the inside, which Jesus tells us can produce such an impressive list of sins, is not clean; if the heart cares little about a relationship with Him, then all the outward appearances; all the detail to tradition means little.

Is this relevant to us today? Do we belong to a church that has rituals and traditions? Are we following God’s law or those of man? Difficult questions that beg careful answers! First, we know that Jesus came to earth and established a church. The church indeed needs rules and regulations. He established a church on the first Pope, Peter and has allowed for successors all the way to Benedict 16th. And we have a teaching authority, called the Magisterium, which is the Pope and all the Bishops who cooperate with him in guiding the church under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The Bishops are the successors to the original Apostles. Our current Bishop is Archbishop Gregory Aymond.

But what does that have to do with us? We are obligated to follow the teaching authority of the church but we are also obligated to develop an interior relationship with God. God wants our hearts. He wants a personal relationship with each of us. He wants us to be the same on the inside as we appear to be on the outside. He wants us to look and act the same inside Church and outside in the parking lot. He wants us to interiorly know why we make the sign of the cross, genuflect, stand, kneel and sit. If someone asks you why do you Catholics do that; can we answer them or do we simply say, I’ve always done it that way, my mom told me to or everyone else does that way too. Maybe we can ask ourselves; why do we do it. Is it mere tradition or does it flow naturally from a sincere interior and a clean heart that wants to love, obey and worship God.

Let’s also be honest with ourselves. Temptation to sin is strong. Jesus knows this. If our exterior appearances cries out “look at me; I’m holy, I’m religious” but our interior likes that list of sins we just read, we need to pray for a clean heart.

We also are called to live out our faith by our response to each other. Do we live out from our interior the call to serve our brother and sister in need? St. James puts it best in our 2nd reading today: be doers of the word not just hearers of the word. Are we doers?

In just a little while we will approach the Eucharist and proclaim amen when we hear “Body of Christ”, “Blood of Christ”. Do we say amen because we always say amen or do we believe with a clean heart? In the week ahead, simply take some appropriate time in prayer and ask ourselves, do we follow traditions or do we truly believe. Let’s ask ourselves is our interior as clean as our exterior. And ask God to help you find the answer. Ask Him to create a clean heart.

And in the week ahead, spend less time cleaning the dishes, pots and pans. And remember, you don’t need to cut the ends off the ham anymore!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Four years later Katrina still feels like yesterday

As I sit at my computer getting ready for bed, my thoughts turned to four years ago as Katrina approached the Gulf Coast. It was an eerie Sunday night back in 2005. My family, with my then 83 year old mom with us and all our small animals in tow, was settling in to sleep in a Cullman, Alabama hotel room. Of course, nothing was "settling".

Our story was one of complete indecision. Living well north of I-12, some 20 miles north of the lakeshore and 45 miles inland from New Orleans, we really did not want to go. And the fact that I was scheduled for a medical procedure on Monday added to our indecision. Around noon, the forecast sounded more ominous. We loaded up, left our horses in open pasture and drove north. We packed almost nothing as we assumed a 24 hour stay on the road.

Reflecting back I also recall being in the first few weeks of my fourth session in formation to the diaconate. Our last class was just 3 nights earlier and none of us knew Katrina would disrupt our lives both personally and as formation classmates.

When we rose on Monday morning we were watching national coverage and things looked bad. Katrina was powerful and initial reports, even before the flooding, indicated to me we would be gone longer than we thought. We decided to head for North Carolina and bunked in with our son for a week. We had no cell phones on our drive and radio reports were sporadic. Not to we got to Jimmy's house did we learn of the floodwall breach and the profound devastation in New Orleans. By Tuesday morning, we were learning of the wind and tidal surge damage in lower Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We knew our area would have strong wind damage.

Our decision to come home was also frought with indecision. What would we find? How hard would it be to reenter? Would we be out of power for a week? We purchased a generator and assured my mom all would be ok. And relatively speaking it was. Overwhelmed by the miles and miles of down trees and power lines, our home was intact, a few shingles missing, damage to exterior buildings, nothing major. Our horses survived the 100 + mph winds.

We had no idea what life would be like for 4 weeks in hot, humid September Louisiana. All I can say is thank goodness for a generator and a window air conditioner. All our family did well and no one suffered any damage from floods. It was a strange month that I will never forget.

My classmates and I would find out in early October that the Archdiocese took a big hit and our formation program was put on hold for one full year. This too was a cause for concern but nothing really could be done. Both Wendy and I returned to work within days of returning home and Elizabeth was able to return to high school by the end of the month.

Much time and effort was spent helping and ministering to those in our own neighborhood and those from New Orleans and St. Bernard who came to our area for refuge; many still here four years later. Our church parish was overflowing with extra worshippers. Many area churches helped in feeding our community and supplying basics.

I remember long lines for gas, showering under an oak tree with a free flow artesian well, and everyone just trying to be nice and supportive.

Much of our area is back to normal; well, the new post-Katrina normal. Our friends south of us are still rebuilding and adjusting but overall, the entire area is coming back. Many still need basic services, health care, mental health services and, of course, our prayers.

I hope everyone in our nation remembers that Saturday, August 29, 2009 is the fourth anniversary of Katrina and the devastating flood caused by human and governmental error. Let us all pray that the infrastructure is in place to protect us and let's ask for the powerful intercession of Our Lady of Prompt Succor to keep us safe for the duration of this hurricane season.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What's on my mind tonight...

This is simply a personal reflection; random thoughts on a quiet and somewhat pleasant late August night. Tonight was my Wednesday visit to prison. I love prison ministry. And our small but faithful Catholic community seems to be growing. On this particular evening we celebrated Mass thanks to Fr. Peter Hammet. At prison I collide head on with accepting people where they are and I offer words of encouragement around God's love and mercy. And as is so often the case, they accept it with open arms and hope, as they desire to change their life. How often do we encounter friends and family that don't want to hear that same message; at least not from one so familiar. I truly struggle with the reality of helping bring Christ to prisoners, strangers, others and how hard it is to impress this message to those so close. Is it hard to accept a relative or close friend as a messenger of God's word and a doer of His will? At times, to me, it appears so! Do others find this to be true also? Jesus said it would be like this; did he not?

I also get hung up on constantly posting all the things I do in ministry because I do not want to give the impression that a Deacon is simply a task master. It truly is more important to focus on who we are so that the good works can be judged in context: they flow naturally from an inner disposition that rests in God's will and Jesus' agape love. Yes, it is true that these past few days and the days ahead; clear through the weekend are full of things to do. But because of who I am, because of God's grace, I view these busy days ahead as joy and not tasks.

This weekend alone will bring the opportunity to furthur develop prison ministry with Kairos training, moving on to teaching for the first time in the diaconate formation program for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, assist at Mass for the quarterly celebration of the Knights of Columbus, baptize two new Catholics and preach a homily at the last Mass of the weekend. In the meantime, I will prepare both a Baptism homily and a Mass homily while completing my materials for class on Saturday. See what I mean? Sounds like a list of things to do. And yet it is. But this is not all that this is. By being open to God's grace, by cooperating with the call to sacramentalize service; this is who I am; not what I do.

And I have lots of folks on my heart and mind tonight I am praying for. I have friends who have lost their way; friends who are shallow; family members struggling; others recovering. I have co-workers with sick children, others with special concerns. I encounter a lack of peace among both family and friends. Yet there are others experiencing life events that bring great joy. How often during the day do we lift others up in prayer? Probably not often enough.

And yes I still struggle in trying to understand how good people can throw away a good life by chasing foolishness. Is the allure of popularity, ego, shallow relationships, excessive drinking and drugs enough to satisfy? Is being in any relationship; even a bad one, and an even worse one, waiting for the worst one really lead to happiness? Is impressing someone by how willing you are to abandon caution and good judgement for a roll in the sack build up your self esteem? Do we even spend one minute celebrating that we are indeed made in the image and likeness of God?

Join me when you read this post in praying for my faithfullness to my ministry, to my fairness to those I minister to, for standing strong in the face of adversity and rejection, especially from those I love, for those I pray for who are struggling with their own weakness. And pray that I will always minister with compassion and kindness never diluting the fullness of truth.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Remembering Pope John Paul the First?

Do you remember that before the amazing 27 year reign of Pope John Paul II there was a John Paul I? His name before becoming the supreme pontiff was Albino Luciani. Many forget about Pope John Paul I because he was the Holy Father for just 33 days. August 26th is the anniversary of his elevation to the chair of St. Peter. We really never got to know him as our Pope. Here is some background on Pope John Paul I:

Born: 17 October 1912
Birthplace: Forno di Canale, Italy
Died: 28 September 1978 (heart attack)
Best Known As: The pope who reigned for 33 days
Name at birth: Albino Luciani
Albino Luciani was elected to replace Paul VI as head of the worldwide Catholic Church in 1978 -- only to die himself 33 days after his election. Born in rural Italy, Luciani was ordained as a priest in 1935. After three decades of service he became Patriarch of Venice in 1969 and then was made cardinal in 1973. Luciani was elected as the supreme pontiff on 26 August 1978. He combined the names of his two immediate predecessors, Paul VI and John XXIII, to become Pope John Paul. Cheerful and low-key, he was soon dubbed the Smiling Pope and the Laughing Pope by admirers. His time as leader was short: on the night of 28 September he died of a heart attack, apparently while reading in bed. He was succeeded by Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope in more than four centuries.

St Louis King of France; a letter to his son!

The Archdiocese of New Orleans celebrates in a special way the Memorial of St. Louis who our grand cathedral is named for and who is one of our patrons. St. Louis was a wise and kind king who understood the riches of this world are nothing compared to those of eternal life. Read now a letter to his son Philip and reflect: as parents do we care as much about their eternal life or do we just want to be their friend?

St. Louis' letter of advice to advice his eldest son, the later PhilipIII provides us with some insight into the attitudes of one of the most important French kings of the period. There has been some questions about its authorship. Even if not by the hand of Louis IX, it does reflect a mindset which, despite the pieties of the language, puts forth some real concept of kingship - with regard to justice, administration, the various classes, towns and the Church.

1. To his dear first-born son, Philip, greeting, and his father's love.
2. Dear son, since I desire with all my heart that you be well "instructed in all things, it is in my thought to give you some advice this writing. For I have heard you say, several times, that you remember my words better than those of any one else.
3. Therefore, dear son, the first thing I advise is that you fix your whole heart upon God, and love Him with all your strength, for without this no one can be saved or be of any worth.
4- You should, with all your strength, shun everything which you believe to be displeasing to Him. And you ought especially to be resolved not to commit mortal sin, no matter what may happen and should permit all your limbs to be hewn off, and suffer every manner of torment , rather than fall knowingly into mortal sin.
5. If our Lord send you any adversity, whether illness or other in good patience, and thank Him for it, thing, you should receive it in good patience and be thankful for it, for you ought to believe that He will cause everthing to turn out for your good; and likewise you should think that you have well merited it, and more also, should He will it, because you have loved Him but little, and served Him but little, and have done many things contrary to His will.
6. If our Lord send you any prosperity, either health of body or other thing you ought to thank Him humbly for it, and you ought to be careful that you are not the worse for it, either through pride or anything else, for it is a very great sin to fight against our Lord with His gifts.
7. Dear son, I advise you that you accustom yourself to frequent confession, and that you choose always, as your confessors, men who are upright and sufficiently learned, and who can teach you what you should do and what you should avoid. You should so carry yourself that your confessors and other friends may dare confidently to reprove you and show you your faults.
8. Dear son, I advise you that you listen willingly and devoutly the services of Holy Church, and, when you are in church, avoid to frivolity and trifling, and do not look here and there; but pray to God with lips and heart alike, while entertaining sweet thoughts about Him, and especially at the mass, when the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are consecrated, and for a little time before.
9. Dear son, have a tender pitiful heart for the poor, and for all those whom you believe to be in misery of heart or body, and, according to your ability, comfort and aid them with some alms.
10. Maintain the good customs of your realm, and put down the bad ones. Do not oppress your people and do not burden them with tolls or tailles, except under very great necessity.
11. If you have any unrest of heart, of such a nature that it may be told, tell it to your confessor, or to some upright man who can keep your secret; you will be able to carry more easily the thought of your heart.
12. See to it that those of your household are upright and loyal, and remember the Scripture, which says: "Elige viros timentes Deum in quibus sit justicia et qui oderint avariciam"; that is to say, "Love those who serve God and who render strict justice and hate covetousness"; and you will profit, and will govern your kingdom well.
13. Dear son, see to it that all your associates are upright, whether clerics or laymen, and have frequent good converse with them; and flee the society of the bad. And listen willingly to the word of God, both in open and in secret; and purchase freely prayers and pardons.
14. Love all good, and hate all evil, in whomsoever it may be.
15. Let no one be so bold as to say, in your presence, words which attract and lead to sin, and do not permit words of detraction to be spoken of another behind his back.
!6. Suffer it not that any ill be spoken of God or His saints in your presence, without taking prompt vengeance. But if the offender be a clerk or so great a person that you ought not to try him, report the matter to him who is entitled to judge it.
17. Dear son, give thanks to God often for all the good things He has done for you, so that you may be worthy to receive more, in such a manner that if it please the Lord that you come to the burden and honor of governing the kingdom, you may be worthy to receive the sacred unction wherewith the kings of France are consecrated.
18. Dear son, if you come to the throne, strive to have that which befits a king, that is to say, that in justice and rectitude you hold yourself steadfast and loyal toward your subjects and your vassals, without turning either to the right or to the left, but always straight, whatever may happen. And if a poor man have a quarrel with a rich man, sustain the poor rather than the rich, until the truth is made clear, and when you know the truth, do justice to them.
19. If any one have entered into a suit against you (for any injury or wrong which he may believe that you have done to him), be always for him and against yourself in the presence of your council, without showing that you think much of your case (until the truth be made known concerning it); for those of your council might be backward in speaking against you, and this you should not wish; and command your judges that you be not in any way upheld more than any others, for thus will your councillors judge more boldly according to right and truth.
20. If you have anything belonging to another, either of yourself or through your predecessors, if the matter is certain, give it up without delay, however great it may be, either in land or money or otherwise. If the matter is doubtful, have it inquired into by wise men, promptly and diligently. And if the affair is so obscure that you cannot know the truth, make such a settlement, by the counsel of s of upright men, that your soul, and the soul your predecessors, may be wholly freed from the affair. And even if you hear some one say that your predecessors made restitution, make diligent inquiry to learn if anything remains to be restored; and if you find that such is the case, cause it to be delivered over at once, for the liberation of your soul and the souls of your predecessors.
21. You should seek earnestly how your vassals and your subjects may live in peace and rectitude beneath your sway; likewise, the good towns and the good cities of your kingdom. And preserve them in the estate and the liberty in which your predecessors kept them, redress it, and if there be anything to amend, amend and preserve their favor and their love. For it is by the strength and the riches of your good cities and your good towns that the native and the foreigner, especially your peers and your barons, are deterred from doing ill to you. I will remember that Paris and the good towns of my kingdom aided me against the barons, when I was newly crowned.
22. Honor and love all the people of Holy Church, and be careful that no violence be done to them, and that their gifts and alms, which your predecessors have bestowed upon them, be not taken away or diminished. And I wish here to tell you what is related concerning King Philip, my ancestor, as one of his council, who said he heard it, told it to me. The king, one day, was with his privy council, and he was there who told me these words. And one of the king's councillors said to him how much wrong and loss he suffered from those of Holy Church, in that they took away his rights and lessened the jurisdiction of his court; and they marveled greatly how he endured it. And the good king answered: "I am quite certain that they do me much wrong, but when I consider the goodnesses and kindnesses which God has done me, I had rather that my rights should go, than have a contention or awaken a quarrel with Holy Church." And this I tell to you that you may not lightly believe anything against the people of Holy Church; so love them and honor them and watch over them that they may in peace do the service of our Lord.
23. Moreover, I advise you to love dearly the clergy, and, so far as you are able, do good to them in their necessities, and likewise love those by whom God is most honored and served, and by whom the Faith is preached and exalted.
24. Dear son, I advise that you love and reverence your father and your mother, willingly remember and keep their commandments, and be inclined to believe their good counsels.
25. Love your brothers, and always wish their well-being and their good advancement, and also be to them in the place of a father, to instruct them in all good. But be watchful lest, for the love which you bear to one, you turn aside from right doing, and do to the others that which is not meet.
26. Dear son, I advise you to bestow the benefices of Holy Church which you have to give, upon good persons, of good and clean life, and that you bestow them with the high counsel of upright men. And I am of the opinion that it is preferable to give them to those who hold nothing of Holy Church, rather than to others. For, if you inquire diligently, you will find enough of those who have nothing who will use wisely that entrusted to them.
27. Dear son, I advise you that you try with all your strength to avoid warring against any Christian man, unless he have done you too much ill. And if wrong be done you, try several ways to see if you can find how you can secure your rights, before you make war; and act thus in order to avoid the sins which are committed in warfare.
28. And if it fall out that it is needful that you should make war (either because some one of your vassals has failed to plead his case in your court, or because he has done wrong to some church or to some poor person, or to any other person whatsoever, and is unwilling to make amends out of regard for you, or for any other reasonable cause), whatever the reason for which it is necessary for you to make war, give diligent command that the poor folk who have done no wrong or crime be protected from damage to their vines, either through fire or otherwise, for it were more fitting that you should constrain the wrongdoer by taking his own property (either towns or castles, by force of siege), than that you should devastate the property of poor people. And be careful not to start the war before you have good counsel that the cause is most reasonable, and before you have summoned the offender to make amends, and have waited as long as you should. And if he ask mercy, you ought to pardon him, and accept his amende, so that God may be pleased with you.
29. Dear son, I advise you to appease wars and contentions, whether they be yours or those of your subjects, just as quickly as may be, for it is a thing most pleasing to our Lord. And Monsignore Martin gave us a very great example of this. For, one time, when our Lord made it known to him that he was about to die, he set out to make peace between certain clerks of his archbishopric, and he was of the opinion that in so doing he was giving a good end to life.
30. Seek diligently, most sweet son, to have good baillis and good prevots in your land, and inquire frequently concerning their doings, and how they conduct themselves, and if they administer justice well, and do no wrong to any one, nor anything which they ought not do. Inquire more often concerning those of your household if they be too covetous or too arrogant; for it is natural that the members should seek to imitate their chief; that is, when the master is wise and well-behaved, all those of his household follow his example and prefer it. For however much you ought to hate evil in others, you shoud have more hatred for the evil which comes from those who derive their power from you, than you bear to the evil of others; and the more ought you to be on your guard and prevent this from happening.
3!. Dear son, I advise you always to be devoted to the Church of Rome, and to the sovereign pontiff, our father, and to bear him the the reverence and honor which you owe to your spiritual father.
32. Dear son, freely give power to persons of good character, who know how to use it well, and strive to have wickednesses expelled from your land, that is to say, nasty oaths, and everything said or done against God or our Lady or the saints. In a wise and proper manner put a stop, in your land, to bodily sins, dicing, taverns, and other sins. Put down heresy so far as you can, and hold in especial abhorrence Jews, and all sorts of people who are hostile to the Faith, so that your land may be well purged of them, in such manner as, by the sage counsel of good people, may appear to you advisable.
33. Further the right with all your strength. Moreover I admonish you you that you strive most earnestly to show your gratitude for the benefits which our Lord has bestowed upon you, and that you may know how to give Him thanks therefore
34. Dear son, take care that the expenses of your household are reasonable and moderate, and that its moneys are justly obtained. And there is one opinion that I deeply wish you to entertain, that is to say, that you keep yourself free from foolish expenses and evil exactions, and that your money should be well expended and well acquired. And this opinion, together with other opinions which are suitable and profitable, I pray that our Lord may teach you.
35. Finally, most sweet son, I conjure and require you that, if it please our Lord that I should die before you, you have my soul succored with masses and orisons, and that you send through the congregations of the kingdom of France, and demand their prayers for my soul, and that you grant me a special and full part in all the good deeds which you perform.
36. In conclusion, dear son, I give you all the blessings which a good and tender father can give to a son, and I pray our Lord Jesus Christ, by His mercy, by the prayers and merits of His blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, and of angels and archangels and of all the saints, to guard and protect you from doing anything contrary to His will, and to give you grace to do it always, so that He may be honored and served by you. And this may He do to me as to you, by His great bounty, so that after this mortal life we may be able to be together with Him in the eternal life, and see Him, love Him, and praise Him without end. Amen. And glory, honor, and praise be to Him who is one God with the Father and the Holy Spirit; without beginning and without end. Amen.
From Saint Louis' Advice to His Son, in Medieval Civilization, trans. and eds. Dana Munro and George Clarke Sellery (New York: The Century Company, 1910), pp. 366 -75.

Homily for last weekend

Ok, why are you posting a homily that already happened? No computer over the weekend. But since this was our last week in the 6th chapter of John and the oft quoted wives be submissive epistle I thought I'd share what I did with the rich fare provided by the Word of God:

Homily for August 22, 23 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

I have two memories from my childhood that remind me about choices. The first one is of time spent on the school playground. We used to play a game called red rover. After picking sides, one group would chant “red rover, red rover send Billy right over”. And Billy would run at our group, arms locked, and try to break through our line. If he could break our line, the other side won, if not, our side one. Making the right choice was part of the strategy in winning the game.

And then on that same playground came the time to pick sides to play ball. Two captains would alternate, usually picking the best athlete first, then the popular kids, or friends, and then begrudgingly, those chose last.

Again, the choices went a long way to how well we played and if we won the game.

Choices; we all have made hundreds of them in our lives. Choices about our family life, even who we will date and maybe even fall in love with, career choices, social choices, hundreds of choices! Sometimes we make smart choices, wise choices and sometimes we make poor choices, weak choices. Whether good or bad, our choices have always had consequences.

As people of faith, have we made the right choices, the wise choices in our spiritual lives? Do we choose to follow Jesus and His teachings or do we choice or own way to go?

Today’s readings are all about choices. In John’s Gospel today, Jesus concludes His “bread of life discourse” and again, the disciples are murmuring. Remember the last 5 weeks; murmuring, complaining, demanding a sign, quarreling and now murmuring again. And now they declare Jesus’ teachings are too hard. Even after Jesus clearly tells them He is offering a gift they can freely choose; His true Body and His true Blood, that leads to eternal life, many walk away, make the wrong choice and return to their former way of life. But we have an awesome example in John’s Gospel today, a witness who made the right choice. Peter, questioned by Jesus about leaving too, chooses and says, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God”! There it is; the right choice. Do we, with all the pressures of our world, with those things we knit pick apart, about the church, the liturgy and more, do we make the right choice?

Even in our 1st reading today, Joshua sets before the whole people a choice: “decide today whom you will serve”? Joshua may as well be asking us, decide today…who will we serve? Will we answer like Joshua did: “as for me and my household we will serve the Lord”. Will we answer the same way? Will we serve the Lord, in our household?

What does that look like? Will we love and support each other? Will our home look and act like a domestic church? Will we, like St. Paul encouraging us in our 2nd reading today, be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ? We know the quote, wives being subordinate. The language makes us nervous. But as a spiritual teaching it does not mean what we think it means. It means do we make the choice to follow Jesus. After all, St. Paul tells husbands, love your wife just as Christ loved the church. Again, this is a choice we can or can not make. Again, St. Paul is sharing with us the gift, freely given by the Lord, to make our lives, our homes and our marriages, all to serve the Lord and one another.

Next week, we will leave this 6th chapter of St. John and return to the Gospel of St. Mark. Have you read and prayed with this 6th chapter of St. John yet. It’s a free choice you can make. And in the week ahead, can we as families, discuss and pray with each other, answering this question: does our home and our relationships look like the domestic church? And as we prepare to come forward to receive the Eucharist in just a few minutes, do we make the free choice to receive Him worthily, free from mortal sin and firmly declaring He is true food and is true drink; the Body and Blood of the Lord?

Imagine if you will, playing red rover or waiting for someone to pick sides on the playground. And imagine hearing Jesus call out: “red rover red rover send (insert your name here) right over” or, I choose you.

At that moment we have a choice; we have an answer to give. Will it be like Joshua; we choose to serve the Lord or perhaps like Peter; to whom else do we go; for we believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Are you saved?

Assurance of Salvation? Also from Tim Staples:

There are few more confusing topics than salvation. It goes beyond the standard question posed by Fundamentalists: "Have you been saved?" What the question also means is: "Don’t you wish you had the assurance of salvation?" Evangelicals and Fundamentalists think they do have such an absolute assurance. All they have to do is "accept Christ as their personal Savior," and it’s done. They might well live exemplary lives thereafter, but living well is not crucial and definitely does not affect their salvation. Kenneth E. Hagin, a well-known Pentecostal televangelist from the "Word Faith" wing of Protestantism, asserts that this assurance of salvation comes through being "born again": "Unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Though much of Hagin’s theology is considered bizarre in Protestant circles, his explanation of being born again could be endorsed by millions of Evangelical Protestants. In his booklet, The New Birth, Hagin writes, "The new birth is a necessity to being saved. Through the new birth you come into the right relationship with God." According to Hagin, there are many things that this new birth is not. "The new birth is not: confirmation, church membership, water baptism, the taking of sacraments, observing religious duties, an intellectual reception of Christianity, orthodoxy of faith, going to church, saying prayers, reading the Bible, being moral, being cultured or refined, doing good deeds, doing your best, nor any of the many other things some men are trusting in to save them." Those who have obtained the new birth "did the one thing necessary: they accepted Jesus Christ as personal Savior by repenting and turning to God with the whole heart as a little child." That one act of the will, he explains, is all they needed to do. But is this true? Does the Bible support this concept? Scripture teaches that one’s final salvation depends on the state of the soul at death. As Jesus himself tells us, "He who endures to the end will be saved" (Matt. 24:13; cf. 25:31–46). One who dies in the state of friendship with God (the state of grace) will go to heaven. The one who dies in a state of enmity and rebellion against God (the state of mortal sin) will go to hell. For many Fundamentalists and Evangelicals it makes no difference—as far as salvation is concerned—how you live or end your life. You can heed the altar call at church, announce that you’ve accepted Jesus as your personal Savior, and, so long as you really believe it, you’re set. From that point on there is nothing you can do, no sin you can commit, no matter how heinous, that will forfeit your salvation. You can’t undo your salvation, even if you wanted to. Does this sound too good to be true? Yes, but nevertheless, it is something many Protestants claim. Take a look at what Wilson Ewin, the author of a booklet called There is Therefore Now No Condemnation, says. He writes that "the person who places his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and his blood shed at Calvary is eternally secure. He can never lose his salvation. No personal breaking of God’s or man’s laws or commandments can nullify that status." "To deny the assurance of salvation would be to deny Christ’s perfect redemption," argues Ewin, and this is something he can say only because he confuses the redemption that Christ accomplished for us objectively with our individual appropriation of that redemption. The truth is that in one sense we are all redeemed by Christ’s death on the cross—Christians, Jews, Muslims, even animists in the darkest forests (1 Tim. 2:6, 4:10, 1 John 2:2)—but our individual appropriation of what Christ provided is contingent on our response. Certainly, Christ did die on the cross once for all and has entered into the holy place in heaven to appear before God on our behalf. Christ has abundantly provided for our salvation, but that does not mean that there is no process by which this is applied to us as individuals. Obviously, there is, or we would have been saved and justified from all eternity, with no need to repent or have faith or anything else. We would have been born "saved," with no need to be born again. Since we were not, since it is necessary for those who hear the gospel to repent and embrace it, there is a time at which we come to be reconciled to God. And if so, then we, like Adam and Eve, can become unreconciled with God and, like the prodigal son, need to come back and be reconciled again with God, after having left his family.
You Can’t Lose Heaven?Ewin says that "no wrong act or sinful deed can ever affect the believer’s salvation. The sinner did nothing to merit God’s grace and likewise he can do nothing to demerit grace. True, sinful conduct always lessens one’s fellowship with Christ, limits his contribution to God’s work and can result in serious disciplinary action by the Holy Spirit." One problem with this argument is that this is not even how things work in everyday life. If another person gives us something as a grace—as a gift—and even if we did nothing to deserve it (though frequently gifts are given based on our having pleased the one bestowing the gift), it in no way follows that our actions are irrelevant to whether or not we keep the gift. We can lose it in all kinds of ways. We can misplace it, destroy it, give it to someone else, take it back to the store. We may even forfeit something we were given by later displeasing the one who gave it—as when a person has been appointed to a special position but is later stripped of that position on account of mismanagement. The argument fares no better when one turns to Scripture, for one finds that Adam and Eve, who received God’s grace in a manner just as unmerited as anyone today, most definitely did demerit it—and lost grace not only for themselves but for us as well (cf. also Rom. 11:17-24). While the idea that what is received without merit cannot be lost by demerit may have a kind of poetic charm for some, it does not stand up when compared with the way things really work—either in the everyday world or in the Bible. Regarding the issue of whether Christians have an "absolute" assurance of salvation, regardless of their actions, consider this warning Paul gave: "See then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off" (Rom. 11:22; see also Heb. 10:26–29, 2 Pet. 2:20–21).
Can You Know?Related to the issue of whether one can lose one’s salvation is the question of whether one can know with complete certainty that one is in a state of salvation. Even if one could not lose one’s salvation, one still might not be sure whether one ever had salvation. Similarly, even if one could be sure that one is now in a state of salvation, one might be able to fall from grace in the future. The "knowability" of salvation is a different question than the "loseability" of salvation. From the Radio Bible Class listeners can obtain a booklet called Can Anyone Really Know for Sure? The anonymous author says the "Lord Jesus wanted his followers to be so sure of their salvation that they would rejoice more in the expectation of heaven than in victories on earth. ‘These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God (1 John 5:13).’" Places where Scripture speaks of our ability to know that we are abiding in grace are important and must be taken seriously. But they do not promise that we will be protected from self-deception on this matter. Even the author of Can Anyone Really Know for Sure? admits that there is a false assurance: "The New Testament teaches us that genuine assurance is possible and desirable, but it also warns us that we can be deceived through a false assurance. Jesus declared: ‘Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord" shall enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 7:21)." Sometimes Fundamentalists portray Catholics as if they must every moment be in terror of losing their salvation since Catholics recognize that it is possible to lose salvation through mortal sin. Fundamentalists then hold out the idea that, rather than living every moment in terror, they can have a calm, assured knowledge that they will, in fact, be saved, and that nothing will ever be able to change this fact. But this portrayal is in error. Catholics do not live lives of mortal terror concerning salvation. True, salvation can be lost through mortal sin, but such sins are by nature grave ones, and not the kind that a person living the Christian life is going to slip into committing on the spur of the moment, without deliberate thought and consent. Neither does the Catholic Church teach that one cannot have an assurance of salvation. This is true both of present and future salvation. One can be confident of one’s present salvation. This is one of the chief reasons why God gave us the sacraments—to provide visible assurances that he is invisibly providing us with his grace. And one can be confident that one has not thrown away that grace by simply examining one’s life and seeing whether one has committed mortal sin. Indeed, the tests that John sets forth in his first epistle to help us know whether we are abiding in grace are, in essence, tests of whether we are dwelling in grave sin. For example, "By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother" (1 John 3:10), "If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20), "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). Likewise, by looking at the course of one’s life in grace and the resolution of one’s heart to keep following God, one can also have an assurance of future salvation. It is this Paul speaks of when he writes to the Philippians and says, "And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). This is not a promise for all Christians, or even necessarily all in the church at Philippi, but it is a confidence that the Philippian Christians in general would make it. The basis of this is their spiritual performance to date, and Paul feels a need to explain to them that there is a basis for his confidence in them. Thus he says, immediately, "It is right for me to feel thus about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel" (1:7). The fact that the Philippians performed spiritually by assisting Paul in his imprisonment and ministry showed that their hearts were with God and that it could be expected that they, at least in general, would persevere and remain with God. There are many saintly men and women who have long lived the Christian life and whose characters are marked with profound spiritual joy and peace. Such individuals can look forward with confidence to their reception in heaven. Such an individual was Paul, writing at the end of his life, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day" (2 Tim. 4:7-8). But earlier in life, even Paul did not claim an infallible assurance, either of his present justification or of his remaining in grace in the future. Concerning his present state, he wrote, "I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby justified [Gk., dedikaiomai]. It is the Lord who judges me" (1 Cor. 4:4). Concerning his remaining life, Paul was frank in admitting that even he could fall away: "I pummel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (1 Cor. 9:27). Of course, for a spiritual giant such as Paul, it would be quite unexpected and out of character for him to fall from God’s grace. Nevertheless, he points out that, however much confidence in his own salvation he may be warranted in feeling, even he cannot be infallibly sure either of his own present state or of his future course. The same is true of us. We can, if our lives display a pattern of perseverance and spiritual fruit, have not only a confidence in our present state of grace but also of our future perseverance with God. Yet we cannot have an infallible certitude of our own salvation, as many Protestants will admit. There is the possibility of self-deception (cf. Matt. 7:22-23). As Jeremiah expressed it, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9). There is also the possibility of falling from grace through mortal sin, and even of falling away from the faith entirely, for as Jesus told us, there are those who "believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away" (Luke 8:13). It is in the light of these warnings and admonitions that we must understand Scripture’s positive statements concerning our ability to know and have confidence in our salvation. Assurance we may have; infallible certitude we may not. For example, Philippians 2:12 says, "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." This is not the language of self-confident assurance. Our salvation is something that remains to be worked out.
The fundamentalist asks, are you saved? The Catholic should reply; "as the Bible says I am already saved (Rom. 8:24, Eph. 2:5–8), but I’m also being saved (1 Cor. 1:8, 2 Cor. 2:15, Phil. 2:12), and I have the hope that I will be saved (Rom. 5:9–10, 1 Cor. 3:12–15). Like the apostle Paul I am working out my salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), with hopeful confidence in the promises of Christ (Rom. 5:2, 2 Tim. 2:11–13)."

NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors. Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004 IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827permission to publish this work is hereby granted. +Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004

Saved by faith alone??

The following is from Catholic apologist Tim Staples; a longtime Protestant minister who found the Catholic faith thru an intense study of Scripture:

So often non-Catholics get caught up on the Catholic Church’s doctrine of salvation by faith and works. Most protestant denominations believe in salvation Sola Fide, or by faith alone. However, not only is this principle of salvation by faith alone not found in scripture anywhere, it is actually contradictory to scripture. Further, it would seem to me to also be very contradictory to reason as well.
This has been debated on a scripture verse-by-verse basis plenty of times in the past. I don’t want to recount that entire argument here, but, instead, hopefully get the reader to look at the issue from a little different perspective. It’s easy to take a scripture passage out of context and make it seem to say something that it really doesn’t say. Scripture always and everywhere must be taken in its entire context – not just the context of the paragraph, or the chapter, or the book, or even the entirety of scripture – but in it’s place in salvation history as the Word of God, the entire deposit of Faith, and natural law. In other words, how does it fit into all that is Truth, whether divinely or naturally revealed?
However, even just looking at scripture by itself as a whole, the written Word of God, the overwhelming message from God is very clear: Jesus redeemed every one of our sins, at no cost to us. There is nothing we can do to earn it. However, God doesn’t force it on us, but always respects our free will. We must accept this gift of salvation. In other words, it requires a response on our part. And what response does it ask of us? Catholics would say that this response is to be one of faith and works. Protestants would say that it requires a response of faith alone. What does scripture say?
Let’s look at it very simply from an overall perspective. Nowhere in scripture does it explicitly say that we attain salvation by faith alone. That passage simply doesn’t exist. However, scripture does say very explicitly that we are to respond with works. Here are a few of them:
“One came up to him, saying, `Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?’ And Jesus replied ‘If you would enter life, keep the commandments‘” (Matt. 19:16-17).
“He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21).
“But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by perseverance in good works seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury” (Rom. 2:2-8).
“You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love” (Gal. 5:4-6).
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).
Jesus even goes so far as to make an even further distinction that acknowledging and believing in God is one thing…but doing the will of the Father is what will bring eternal salvation:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matt 7:21)
Looking at more scripture we see that there are still other things we need to do to be saved, including repenting and being baptized (Acts 2:37-38) – not just believing the gospel in our hearts, as many Christians falsely believe.
Many will quote Ephesians 2:8-9 as proof that we are saved only by faith, and not works. It says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God–not because of works, lest any man should boast.” And it could seem on the surface, when taken out of context, that it is saying just that – we are saved by faith, not works. But that’s not actually what it says, and it most certainly doesn’t say faith “alone.”
First of all, if we take that interpretation of it, then it is in stark contrast to all of the scripture verses listed above (as well as much of the rest of scripture) that do say some type of work is required for our salvation. So do we have the authority to pick and choose which verses we want to believe and which ones we don’t? Of course not. And scripture can not contradict itself. So this means we must look further into how all of these verses can make sense together – scripture as a whole.
Second, if we do look at the context of this scripture passage, it is easy to see that Paul is making a point about boasting about our works. He is saying that we can not take credit for them because they are not really from us, but are the grace of God working through us. And that is true, but it doesn’t say that these works are not still necessary for our salvation. Even simply continuing to read onto the very next verse we get some insight into this interpretation and the role of works.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God–not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).
The natural, reasonable conclusion after reading these scripture passages, taking them in their entire context and seeing how they can all be compatible (and not contradictory), we must conclude that salvation at least requires a response of faith and works. It’s not one or the other, but both. At least that’s what scripture as a whole clearly says. And these works are done entirely by the grace of God, of course, but still require the cooperation of our own free will.
So there is a huge difference between saying that we are “saved by faith” and that we are “saved by faith alone.” I can understand somebody claiming that we are “saved by faith.” That is entirely true and clearly scriptural. But, as we see in reading scripture as a whole, that is not the only thing required for salvation. Scripture clearly lays out more to the story, as seen above. So we can not be justified in saying “saved by faith alone”. Especially when such a principle is not only unscriptural, but it also contradicts large parts of it.
I think part of the problem is that too many people have an incorrect sense of the word “work” when used in this context. They automatically connect it to a sense of working to earn something, but this does them a great disservice. We are not earning anything. We are accepting a gift. We are cooperating with God’s grace. A work is simply something that we do, and in this case, it is something that God himself has asked us to do to attain our salvation. So if you have an issue with it, feel free to take it up with the big guy himself. But scripture, the Tradition of the Church, and Jesus himself are all pretty clear on it.
I sincerely believe that most non-Catholic Christians agree with the gist of this, and understand that what we do, our work, does obviously play a role in our salvation – that’s just reasonable, scriptural, and apostolically Traditional. Unfortunately, it seems that many of them are so set in their own tradition of protesting the Catholic Church on this matter that they will never even consider admitting that they believe it. I hope that with further dialogue we can all work past that and agree on the Truth and be that much more closely unified as Christians.
Overall, I think one of the greatest verses in the bible can reveal something very important to us regarding this issue. “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is…faith”? No. Of course not, that is not what the Bible says.
If “faith” alone was the only thing required for our salvation, shouldn’t the greatest of these most definitely be “faith”? It would seem so, but this isn’t what scripture says. Ultimately, the greatest commandments involve what? Having faith in God? And having faith in each other? No. They involve loving God and loving one another. And this makes sense since “God is love” and we want to be as close to God as possible. But love is not just a feeling, or a belief, it is much more than that…it is a work that we do from the heart…faith working through love – faith and works.
“So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Thursday, August 20, 2009

An eyewitness to Apostolic Succession; a new Archbishop for New Orleans

A Glorious Day for the Archdiocese of New Orleans

This is my personal reflection on my day spent witnessing the installation of a new Archbishop. And what a day it was.

It’s been just a little over 2 months since the news came from Rome. The Archdiocese of New Orleans was getting a new Archbishop; and he would be a native son. The anticipation of the actual installation came to a head today with the installation Mass held in the historic and beautiful St. Louis Cathedral.

The day was somewhat typical for late August in the Big Easy. Hot, humid, rain threatening as you looked out toward the mighty Mississippi River. But the rain held off. The atmosphere outside the Cathedral was all anticipation and excitement.

As one of the many Permanent Deacons taking part in this beautiful celebration I and my brother Deacons were vested in the old Presbytere building along with hundreds of Priests. In the historic Cabildo were the Bishops and the 3 American Cardinals on hand to help usher in the new Archbishop.

We were lined up and preceded down the block so we would actually walk through Jackson Square and enter through an honor guard of Knights of Columbus, Knights of Peter Claver and other fraternal honor guards. In the background, a Mississippi river boat calliope was playing the Prayer of St Francis; Make me a Channel of your Peace. As you would expect the music was overwhelming and the Cathedral was beautiful. The procession of Deacons followed by Priests took over 15 minutes and then came the awesome sight of 60 Bishops. As Archbishop Hughes entered the Cathedral, he was greeted by generous applause; a recognition by those who know him best as a generous, pastoral, spiritual Archbishop who made the tough decisions and stood firm. Then the Cathedral exploded in joy as Archbishop Gregory Aymond, our 14th Archbishop and first native son entered in procession. It was an electric moment I will not soon forget. And then to see the red hats, the 3 American Cardinals; what a sight.

So the stage was set. Archbishop Hughes graciously bade his farewell, asking for mercy from anyone who may have been hurt or offended by his difficult, but necessary, choices in reconfiguring our Archdiocese. He pledged his total fidelity to Archbishop Aymond. Then the Pope’s representative, the Most Reverend Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, read the declaration of Archbishop Aymond’s appointment. And then, the new Archbishop of New Orleans was escorted by Archbishop Hughes and Sambi to the cathedral chair, the Cathedra. The cathedra, or bishop’s chair, is the most ancient symbol of the bishop’s ministry. Archbishop Aymond then took the crozier, another symbol of the bishop’s ministry that looks like a shepherd’s staff.

I was struck by the care and precision of the movements and the beautiful significance of the installation. This was me, a relatively new ordained Catholic Permanent Deacon, receiving a new spiritual father while witnessing the continuation of real Apostolic Succession with my own eyes. Praise God!

As we arrived at the homily; our first chance to hear the words of Archbishop Aymond, we all anticipated what he would say. The new Archbishop is definitely a speaker. He took a glance back to our past, reminding all that Catholicism arrived in Louisiana in 1682 and New Orleans made a diocese, receiving its first Bishop in 1793. What am amazing Catholic heritage in my home town, in the Archdiocese in which I minister. Again, praise God!

Archbishop Aymond paid tribute to his 3 predecessors; that’s right 3! With Archbishop Hughes along with the 96 year old Archbishop Philip Hannan and Archbishop Francis Schulte; the Archdiocese of New Orleans boasts of 4 living Archbishops. Our new shepherd quipped; “who’s really in charge.” The remainder of his homily was full of hope and direction and a pledge to cooperate with his brother Priest, the Permanent Deacons and all religious and all the laity.

The Mass continued and the communion procession was quite a sight, with hundreds of Priests, Deacons and guests receiving our Eucharistic Lord.

Overall, the liturgy was uplifting, the prayers and responses resounded with vigor from the voices of clergy and laity. The music inspired; I especially loved when they sang The Servant Song and We are Called.

Then it came time to process out of the beautiful old Cathedral, Deacons first, followed by Priests, Bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals. What a sight in Jackson Square as all the clergy gathered around. The celebration continued at a local French Quarter hotel as over 800 guests got a quick opportunity to visit with the new Archbishop and share, in fellowship, our rich Catholic culture and tradition.

When I reflect on the Apostolic Succession of a new Archbishop, the richness of the liturgy, the fellowship of so much clergy, the support of the greater community, the signs and symbols of the installation, I realize that we are blessed to be Catholic and blessed to be witnessing this historic event in the over 200 year history of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

May God’s abundant blessings be with Archbishop Aymond as he shepherds his flock, the people in and of the Archdiocese of New Orleans!

And from Archbishop Aymond’s coat of arms we can all be glad because:

“God is Faithful” 1 Corinthians 1:9

A New Archbishop for New Orleans

I plan on posting a personal reflection on my day spent at St. Louis Cathedral to participate in and witness the installation of Archbishop Gregory Aymond. For now please enjoy:

God Bless Archbishop Aymond and God Bless the Archdiocese of New Orleans!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Orleans Catholics ready to celebrate a new Archbishop

New archbishop of New Orleans to be installed Thursday
by Bruce Nolan, The Times-Picayune
Wednesday August 19, 2009, 8:33 PM

When Bishop Gregory Aymond left his native New Orleans to lead the Catholic Church in Austin, Texas, nine years ago, he was a relatively new bishop without experience at the head of a regional church.
But as Aymond frequently told Texas friends in a series of farewells during the past three weeks, Austin taught him how to be a bishop.
The bishop Austin sends back, as Aymond awaits his installation this afternoon as the 14th archbishop of New Orleans, is described as a builder and quiet pragmatist who prefers to promote Catholic values in and out of his church without the public confrontations some colleagues willingly accept.
Bishop Aymond named Archbishop of New Orleans
In Austin, observers say, Aymond reorganized an explosively growing diocese, significantly multiplied vocations to the priesthood and managed doctrinal or cultural challenges to the church from both the left and the right.
On public matters, observers say, he speaks for himself. He tries to stay tuned to details, as well as the big picture. And in Austin he set up an advisory board of ordinary Catholic laypeople to escape the inner circle he said threatens to smother every bishop with uncritical approval.
"You know the joke, " he said recently. "There are two things every bishop can count on -- never missing a meal, and never hearing the truth."
Click to see a PDF file about Archbishop Aymond's installation.
Politically, Aymond fully backs Catholic church teaching in the public arena -- and while he says abortion and other life issues like euthanasia and embryonic stem cells research are fundamental, during the last election cycle he urged Austin voters also to be mindful of candidates' approach to other social issues, like the death penalty, racism and poverty.
"We're lucky to have had him, " said the Rev. Louis Brusatti, dean of the school of humanities at St. Edward's University in Austin. "He's moderate; he's consensual; he's low-key. He's not an ideologue. We could've done a lot worse."
Aymond will face enormous challenges in New Orleans, where the stresses of leadership will be radically different than those in Austin.
Still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, the Archdiocese of New Orleans, although older, more prestigious and culturally richer, is smaller, poorer and more troubled than the Diocese of Austin.
In the coming weeks, unhappy Catholics from several Uptown parishes will ask Aymond to revisit decisions by his predecessor, Archbishop Alfred Hughes, to shutter their beloved churches in a post-Katrina reorganization that closed nearly three dozen parishes.
As he did in his New Orleans introduction in June, Aymond said recently he was willing to do whatever he could to heal those wounds -- but added that he was not now inclined to reverse Hughes.
"I would expect that in any diocese where such important decisions are made there has been prayer and a pastoral planning process, " Aymond said recently. "And I don't think it's appropriate for me to second guess that."
Aymond said he was aware of "the hurt and pain that goes with closing parishes, and if I can be a source of reconciliation and compassion in talking to (parishioners) I would want to do that, because they're part of the family.
"But I don't think it would be appropriate for me to re-look at that, because it's just not a parish or two -- it's what, 34?"
The post-Katrina struggle
Aymond confessed that despite his continuing ties to New Orleans, his focus on managing Austin has left him largely uninformed on the details of the Catholic church's post-Katrina struggle here.
But Aymond has an advantage: He already knows the city, its rhythms and traditions.
Michael DeMocker / The Times PicayuneBishop Gregory Aymond will be installed today as the 14th archbishop of New Orleans. He takes the helm of a diocese that is older, more prestigious and culturally richer but also smaller, poorer and more troubled than Austin, his last stop.
Aymond grew up the eldest of three children on Piedmont Drive in Gentilly, literally within sight of Brother Martin High School -- then called Cor Jesu High School -- where he would graduate in 1967.
Like many New Orleanians, he grew up surrounded by cousins. He relished night parades during Carnival. The day after Hurricane Betsy in 1965 his family evacuated their flooded neighborhood by skiff.
Aymond took the short, direct route to the priesthood, straight from high school into seminary studies. Ordained in 1975, he taught at his alma mater, Notre Dame Seminary, then ran it as rector for 14 years. He became a bishop in 1997.
Except for the last nine years, Aymond, 59, has lived his entire life in New Orleans. A sister's family lives in Metairie. He already knows most of the priests of the archdiocese -- many of whom he trained.
In Austin, Aymond managed a regional church stressed by explosive growth, yet accompanied by prosperity few other dioceses enjoy.
The growth is driven partly by a continuing influx of thousands of poor Hispanic immigrants whom the church seeks to serve -- but also by software engineers and entrepreneurs moving into Austin's high-tech economy from the Midwest and Northeast.
With more than 450,000 Catholics now, compared with about 380,000 locally, the Austin diocese has doubled in the past 20 years. Church planners expect it to double again over the next 20.
"Austin has the feel of a young technology company, " said Scott Whitaker, the diocese's director of development. "People are coming here faster than we can keep up."
Early in his tenure Aymond reorganized the diocese, and more recently completed a second strategic plan to improve spiritual life in its 125 parishes. The diocese borrowed $80 million on Wall Street in 2005 for debt consolidation, school building and parish improvements; a year later, Aymond launched the diocese's first-ever capital campaign.
Aymond asked parishioners for $45 million; they gave him $84 million in pledges, which will probably translate to $70 million in collections, even in recession, Whitaker said.
About $5 million of that is earmarked to finance the education of new seminarians, who are pouring into the Austin church at a rate that far exceeds its growth.
"Austin has one of the best vocations programs in the country, " said the Rev. David Toups, associate director of the Committee of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Aymond and others point to a remarkably vibrant, diocesan-run campus Catholic ministry at Texas A&M University as a major supplier of seminarians.
Aymond said Austin currently has 46 men studying for the priesthood, the most in Austin's history; New Orleans has eight.
Ellis Lucia / The Times-PicayuneGregory Aymond, then a monsignor and head of Notre Dame Seminary, is made bishop on Jam. 10, 1997, during ceremonial services at St. Louis Cathedral.
"Now when provincials or priests outside the diocese write (for permission) to come in, I have to write back and say, I'm sorry, I don't have a place for you, ' " Aymond said. "We have all of our parishes taken care of."
Lessons learned
Although Aymond arrived in Austin in 2000 with little front-line experience, his resume by then already included what he later described as a painful blunder involving a New Orleans sex abuse allegation.
In 1998 he allowed Brian Matherne, a teacher and coach at Sacred Heart elementary school in Norco, to remain on the job despite accusations from a parent that years earlier Matherne had molested his son, by then a young adult.
Acting on lawyers' advice, the archdiocese allowed Matherne to stay on the job because the young man, who was by then in therapy, refused to give first-hand testimony to Aymond. A year later the church was deeply embarrassed when the St. Charles Parish sheriff's office arrested Matherne, who was convicted of abusing many children -- some after the church had been warned. He is now in prison.
Aymond's take-away from that episode, he said recently, was that he and the church hewed too closely to careful legal advice.
"I learned from that, " he said. "We all learned: When the allegation comes in, act as soon as possible. Even if it doesn't fit into the legal mode -- act."
In nine years in Austin, Aymond removed three priests from ministry on grounds of sexual abuse. He updated that diocese's sex-abuse reporting policy and deployed education programs to teach children and adults the warning signs of abuse. He later headed American bishops' main committee on dealing with the sexual abuse crisis.
But neither he nor the church has yet won the confidence of organized sex abuse survivors.
Aymond opposed creation of a searchable Internet database recording the names of every credibly accused priest or Catholic volunteer, for fear inaccuracies would damage the reputations of dead but innocent priests. Advocates say the database would help still-isolated and suffering victims see they were not the only children abused by a particular person.
The New Orleans chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said Aymond's position demonstrates that he is still not putting victims' needs first. Aymond's reference to his own pain in the Matherne affair also demonstrates a certain insensitivity, said spokesman Michael Kuczynski.
"The pain of Matherne's many victims ought to be our focus, not that of the archbishop-elect, " he said. "While bishops like Aymond are on the learning curve, those victimized in the past continue to suffer and more kids in all probability are being hurt."
Decisive actions
In Austin, Aymond several times moved decisively to protect the interests of the church as he saw them.
In 2007, he ordered Catholic school libraries to remove copies of Philip Pullman's fantasy, "The Golden Compass, " because of its anti-religion themes.
But at the other end of the spectrum, he also effectively banned from a local Catholic radio station Mother Angelica, a conservative Alabama nun and broadcaster whose commentary, Aymond thought, sounded "angry" and "judgmental."
Earlier this summer, he was among 80 or so Catholic bishops who wrote the president of the University of Notre Dame to protest its award of an honorary degree to President Obama, who favors abortion rights.
Yet Austin observers say that was rather atypical for Aymond, who did not usually go out of his way to confront distant issues -- and who acknowledged he usually finds it more effective to quietly engage people over differences.
"I believe I have a responsibility as a bishop and a teacher to stand for the truth, " Aymond said. "I also have an obligation to do it with respect and to respect the people I disagree with. And not to embarrass them more than the situation calls for."
During the past few weeks, Aymond has been making the rounds of farewell banquets, saying good-bye to Texas priests and friends he has made since 2000.
At one, before an audience of priests, he offered a hint that he understands the challenges facing him in New Orleans.
As described by Brusatti, Aymond told them he had been reflecting recently on a Gospel passage in which Jesus observes to his own townspeople that a prophet has no honor in his own country.
"I hope it doesn't turn out that way for me, " he joked.

The New & The Former Archbishops of New Orleans on health care

Joint Statement of Archbishops Aymond and Hughes on Health Care Reform

August 19, 2009

The Catholic bishops in the United States recognize a pressing need for health care reform. Too many American citizens lack basic health care coverage and the cost of health care is becoming prohibitive for many more.

The Lord Jesus, who came to save us from our sins, manifested a great concern for the sick in his public ministry. He also urged us to reach out to the poor and sick in our midst. The Church rightly considers that government has a responsibility to ensure access to basic health care for all.

The bishops do not propose a specific plan or policy. But we set out the following principles to shape public policy:
· We need to develop a plan which ensures access to basic health care for all.
· We need to make sure that the poor and the vulnerable, including legal immigrants, are part of this plan.
· We need to control health care costs so that it is affordable to all.
· We need to make sure that abortion, euthanasia or other immoral activities are not mandated or financed with tax payer dollars. This includes conscience protection for all providers, whether institutions or individual persons, and for all recipients.

The bishops, without proposing either a public or private sector option, urge that any plan which is developed embrace these principles. Catholics are urged to contact their United States Senators and Representative to ask them to use these principles to evaluate all proposals that are developed.

Strident or shrill rhetoric does not help us to engage in civil and respectful deliberation about a serious social issue with significant moral implications. God grant us the wisdom to discern what is right and the courage to do it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A hopeful message for Permanent Deacons

I received a copy of this from a Priest friend and it could not have come at a better time. I don't waste a lot of time wondering "why me" concerning being an ordained Catholic Deacon. But I do experience frustration from time to time in balancing all things ministry. I experience much more joy, much more than I do frustration! And I sometimes forget to realize that some of my best ministry occurs when I'm least aware of ministering. So to all my brother Deacons, please read, and all my dear friends too:

My Dear Permanent Deacons:

The Church discovers more and more the richness of the permanent diaconate. Whenever Bishops come to the Congregation for the Clergy, on the occasion of their ad limina visits, the theme of the diaconate, among others, is often commented upon and the prelates are generally very much pleased and full of hope in regard to you, Permanent Deacons. This fills all of us with joy. The Church thanks you and recognizes your dedication to your qualified ministerial work. At the same time, the Church would like to encourage you on the way of personal sanctification, in your prayer lives and in the spirituality of the diaconate. To you one can equally apply what the Pope has said to priests, for the Year for Priests, that is that it is necessary “to work in favor of this pull of priests toward spiritual perfection, upon which, above all, depends the efficacy of their ministry.” (discourse of March 16, 2009).

Today, on this feast of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr, I would like to invite you to reflect upon two areas, your ministry of the Word, and your ministry of Charity.

We recall with gratitude the Synod on the Word of God, celebrated in October of last year. We, ordained ministers, have received from the Lord, through the mediation of the Church, the task of preaching the Word of God to the ends of the earth, announcing the person of Jesus Christ, who has died and risen, His Word and His Kingdom, to every creature. This Word, as the final Message of the Synod affirms, has one voice which is His, Revelation, has one will which is His, Jesus Christ, and one Way which is His, Missionary Activity. To know Revelation, to adhere unconditionally to Jesus Christ as a fascinated and enamored disciple, to base oneself always upon Jesus Christ and to be with Him in our Mission, this is then what awaits a permanent deacon, decisively and without any reservation. From a good disciple a good missionary is born.

The ministry of the Word which, in a special way for Deacons, has as its great model St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr, requires of ordained ministers a constant struggle to study it and carry it out, at the same time as one proclaims it to others. Meditation, following the style of lectio divina, that is, prayerful reading, is one well traveled and much counseled way to understand and live the Word of God, and make it ones own. At the same time, intellectual, theological and pastoral formation is a challenge which endures throughout life. A qualified and up to date ministry of the Word very much depends upon this in depth formation.

We are awaiting, in the proximate future, a document of the Holy Father regarding the Synod which we have referred to. This must be welcomed with an openness of heart and with profound commitment to study it.

The second reflection regards the ministry of Charity, taking as a great model St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr. The diaconate has its roots in the early Church’s efforts to organize charitable works. At Rome, in the third century, during a period of great persecution of Christians, the extraordinary figure of St. Lawrence appears. He was archdeacon of Pope Sixtus II, and his trustee for the administration of the goods of the community. Our well beloved Pope Benedict XVI says regarding St. Lawrence: “His solicitude for the poor, his generous service which he rendered to the Church of Rome in the area of relief and of charity, his fidelity to the Pope, from him he was thrust forward to the point of wanting to undergo the supreme test of martyrdom and the heroic witness of his blood, rendered only a few days later. These are universally recognized facts.” (Homily Basilica of St. Lawrence, November 30, 2008). From St. Lawrence we also take note of the affirmation “the riches of the Church are the poor.” He assisted the poor with great generosity. He is thus an ever more present example to permanent deacons. We must love the poor in a preferential way, as did Jesus Christ; to be united with them, to work towards constructing a just, fraternal and peaceful society. The recent encyclical letter of Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), should be our updated guide. In this encyclical the Holy Father affirms as a fundamental principle “Charity is the royal road of the social doctrine of the Church” (n. 2). Deacons must identify themselves in a very special way with charity. The poor are part of your daily ambiance, and the object of your untiring concern. One could not understand a Deacon who did not personally involve himself in charity and solidarity toward the poor, who again today are multiplying in number.

My dear Permanent Deacons, may God bless you with all his love and make you happy in your vocation and mission! With respect and admiration, I greet the wives and children of those of you who are married. The Church thanks you for the support and multifaceted collaboration which you give to your respective spouses and fathers in their diaconal ministry. In addition, the Year for Priests invites us to manifest our appreciation for our dear priests, and to pray for them and with them.

Vatican City, Feast of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr, August 10, 2009

Claudio Cardinal Hummes
Archbishop Emeritus of Sao Paulo
Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Homily for August 16th...You Can't Handle the Truth

The Colonel took the stand in the military courtroom with defiant confidence; almost arrogance. The young Navy defense attorney knew this was his last chance to prove the innocence of his two clients. With skill, he agitated the Colonel to the point of anger and then it began: “I want answers”; the Colonel shoots back questioning “you want answers?” The reply, “I want the truth” and then it happened, Colonel Jessup yells “you can’t handle the truth.”

This is the powerful dialogue between Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in the classic movie, A Few Good Men. And that line, “you can’t handle the truth” is one of the most quoted lines of any movie made in the last 25 years.

Truth is (pun intended) that there is a lot of truth in that statement. You can’t handle the truth! Perhaps in our lifetime someone has told us the truth and we could not handle it. Maybe it was truth about our own lives, the quality of the job we do; or don’t do, our health, our likes and dislikes.

As people of faith, can we handle the truth? I’m speaking of course of the truth taught by Jesus Christ and handed down by His universal church.

Today, we read in St. John’s Gospel as Jesus continues to teach the truth about the Eucharist. And the word truth is heard as Jesus speaks. “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” This is not symbolic language. This in fact is language of self giving, self sacrifice, self-less love. This is the language of truth.

Let’s look at the statement from verse 53: “I am the living bread came down from Heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Again, he tells the truth. And look at the reaction; the Jews began to quarrel. Remember last week, the word was murmur, and the week before they demanded signs. Yes, the truth is often met with everything from anger, to denial, to persecution of the one speaking the truth.

In reality, the Jews in our Gospel reading today and the world in which we live now still can’t handle the truth. As the sixth chapter of John continues, Jesus’ truthful teaching of eating His flesh and drinking His blood so whoever eats this bread lives forever, many disciples left Jesus, abandoned Him and rejected His gift of eternal life.

What about our world today? Jesus still is giving us His body and blood, in the Eucharist, and yet many fail to believe. Studies show that in some cases more than 50% of Catholics doubt the real presence in the Eucharist. In our world today, there exist many who wish the Church would just “get with it” “chill ax” “go with the flow” in many social issues of our day. In other words, don’t handle the truth, just “do it”.

You know maybe the Church should relax its teaching about abortion. Maybe we should not teach that artificial contraception; birth control, is wrong. Get with the times about embryonic stem cell research. Maybe euthanasia is not so big a deal. Maybe the Church should get with it and allow multiple re-marriages and ditch that annulment deal. Maybe the Church should just look the other way when it comes to same-sex marriage too.

Yes, the Church could perhaps change; if it chooses to no longer be Catholic, to no longer teach truth, no longer be faithful to the teaching of Jesus Christ. And yes, in our modern day world too, many disciples just abandon Her, the Church, and reject truth.

So how do we, whether we are solid in our convictions or still seeking the fullness of truth, respond? How do we put into action the words from John’s Gospel, chapter six? How do we, in charity, defend the faith?

We can follow a few simple steps. Know your faith. Return to the catechism. Read just one section every week. Live your faith. In word and deed, at work or play, in the market place or work place, be a living example of Christ, of the Eucharist. Practice what we preach. Be what we believe.

With His help, we can be like the Eucharist. The Eucharist nourishes our heart and soul. We can nourish the hearts and souls of our brothers and sisters; especially those who need us the most. Jesus, in becoming Eucharist for us, poured out His all; we can pour our energy and talent for the sake of His kingdom; for the sake of His Church. Jesus does the will of His Father. We can do His will too! We can do more.

And when given the opportunity to share the faith, to spread the truth, do so always like Jesus did. Be gentle, kind and patient!

When Colonel Jessup uttered those words, “you can’t handle the truth”, he was concealing a horrible crime and trying to suppress the freedom of two men caught up in following unjust orders.

The truth that Jesus brings us today is the truth that makes us free. For He who is true food and true drink is the way, the truth and the life.

That’s the truth we want to handle; that’s the truth that makes us free!

Friday, August 14, 2009

What will separate us?

What will separate us from the love of Christ?

St. Paul wrote many letters to various communities to encourage believers. The earliest days of the Church were challenging. Undoubtedly, they are still challenging today.

To the Romans he wrote: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose”. 8:28

He continues, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him”? 8:31-32

Then he asks this most profound question: What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future thins, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 8:35, 37-39

The power of God’s love has overcome every obstacle to Christian’s salvation and every threat to separate from God. Thus, for us, he gave his Son to death. But it was a death that brought our salvation. Through Jesus, we can overcome all affliction and trial.

So I ask again, what can separate us from the love of Christ? Will we allow this world, the economy, the job market, the political environment, the stock market, personal debt to separate us? How about more personal? Will we allow our job, job changes, changing responsibilities, layoffs, salary freezes, uncooperative co-workers to separate us? More personal? Will we allow tension at home, illness, pressures of family, disappointment among loved ones, disagreements to separate us? What about the unexpected? Bad news, tragic news, loss of love, loss of a loved one, a ruptured friendship, accidents, storms, hurricanes; can these separate us?

What about our faith? Do we feel separated when we realize that mercy is balanced by justice, charity balanced by obedience, worship by God’s will? Do we wish to be the image and likeness of God or do we desire to make God in our image?

Jesus will never abandon us; he can’t help but love us. It is us that separate ourselves from Him. Stay in his love. Trust in him. When the storms of life come at you, in whatever form they take; when those who love you hurt you; when that which you depend on let’s you down, go to Him, run to Him.

Surrender to His love, seek to do His will, not your own, and there in His will, you will find perfect peace.

What can separate us from the love of Christ? Nothing, if we transform our lives to do His will.

Here’s praying that you find perfect peace.

The Assumption of Mary

Tommorrow, Saturday August 15th is the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. First some background. Catholics, along with many other faith traditions, have long acknowledged the belief that Mary, at the end of her life, was taken up to Heaven. Many literal Bible types will ask to point to the actaul event of the Assumption in Scripture. Of course, those who understand prefigurement and typology in Scripture can point to evidence of the Assumption. Revelation 11:19 tru 12:1 would be one place to start. And all the typology in Old Testament Scripture, surrounding a Queen Mother for the Davidic kings makes some sense too.

But the Catholic Church also has tradition and TRADITION. The latter is sacred and was bestowed upon the Church by Christ. Always remember, Jesus never founded a book, he founded a Church. Of course, this is not to be misinterpreted as any slight to Sacred Scripture. By the 5th century, the Tradition of the assumption was well known. And in 1950, The Assumption was declared dogma by Pope Pius XII after many years of careful study, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This teaching, then, is one that all Catholics are obliged to believe.

The Catholic Church has been very very careful in declaring an infallible dogma. The Immaculate Conception and The Assumption are two of the three declared by the Popes.

Because the Assumption falls on a Saturday this year, the obligation to attend Mass has been abbrogated by the Bishops this year; at least in my diocese. But if it all possible, attend Mass tommorrow and honor the Blessed Virgin Mary.

*Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among woman and blessed the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hauntingly beautiful

Too beautiful not to share. Shut out the world for 4 minutes or so; give a listen; renew yourself and give all the glory to God!

Avoid the hype; here is what the Bishops say about healthcare

Question and Answer on Health Care Reform
From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Q. The Catholic bishops support health care reform. What are the bishops* key criteria for health care reform?
A. The bishops have been consistent advocates for comprehensive, life-affirming reform to the nation*s health care system. Health care reform needs to reflect basic moral principles. The bishops believeaccess to basic, quality health care is a universal human right not a privilege. In this light they offer four criteria to guide the process: a truly universal health policy that respects all human life and dignity, from conception to natural death; access for all with a special concern for the poor and inclusion of legal immigrants; pursuing the common good and preserving pluralism including freedom of conscience and variety of options; and restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of payers.Q. Why are the bishops so vocal about health care reform?
One out of three Americans under the age of 65 went without health insurance for some period of time during 2007 and 2008. Of these, four out of five were from working families. Sixty four percent of theuninsured are employed full time, year round. This state of affairs is unacceptable. In the Catholic tradition, health care is a basic human right not a privilege. It is a fundamental issue of human life anddignity. Q. Are the bishops trying to promote an anti-abortion agenda through health care reform?
No. The bishops will continue to fight against the evil of abortion by all means available. But they have not demanded that urgently needed health care reform become a vehicle for advancing the pro-life cause,and they likewise believe it should not be used to advance the cause of abortion. In this sense, the bishops have asked that health care reform be *abortion neutral,* this is, that existing laws and policies with regard to abortion and abortion funding be preserved, allowing healthcare reform to move forward and serve its legitimate goals. Q. Why are the bishops insistent that healthcare reform be *abortion neutral*?
Abortion advocacy groups are trying to use health care reform to advance their agenda, by having Congress or a federal official establish abortion as a *basic* or *essential* health benefit,guaranteeing *access* nationwide and requiring Americans to subsidize abortion with their tax dollars or insurance premiums. This would reverse a tradition of federal laws and policies that have barredfederal funding and promotion of abortion in all major health programs for over three decades (e.g., the Hyde amendment, 1976), and have respected the right of health care providers to decline involvement inabortion or abortion referrals. This agenda would also endanger or render irrelevant numerous local and state laws regulating abortion. The bishops cannot, in good conscience, let such an important and pressing issue as health care reform be hijacked by the abortion agenda. No health care reform plan should compel anyone to pay for the destruction of human life, whether through government funding or mandatory coverage of abortion. Any such action would be morally wrong and politically unwise.Q. Are the bishops promoting socialized medicine by advocating for universal access?All people need and should have access to comprehensive, quality health care that they can afford, and it should not depend on their stage in life, where or whether they or their parents work, how much they earn, where they live, or where they were born. There may be different ways to accomplish this, but the Bishops* Conference believes health care reform should be truly universal and genuinely affordable.Q. Health care is already expensive. Why advocate for legal immigrants to be covered too?
Legal immigrants pay taxes and contribute to the U.S. economy and social life in the same manner as U.S. citizens do. Therefore, there should be equity for legal immigrants in access to health care. In theCatholic tradition, health care is a basic human right, like education, and having access to it should not depend on where you were born. Achieving equality in this case, for instance, means repealing the fiveyear ban currently in effect for legal immigrants to access Medicaid, and ensuring that all pregnant women in the United States, who will be giving birth to U.S. citizens, are eligible along with their unbornchildren for health care.Q. What kind of actions do the bishops recommend to make quality healthcare accessible for all and genuinely affordable?
Many lower income families simply lack the resources to meet their health care expenses. For these families, significant premiums and cost sharing charges can serve as barriers to obtaining coverage or seeing a doctor. Medicaid cost-sharing protections should be maintained and new coverage options should protect the lowest income enrollees from burdensome cost sharing. The bishops have urged Congress to limit premiums or exempt families earning less then 200 percent of the FederalPoverty Level from monthly premiums; they also recommend limiting co-payments and other costs which could discourage needed care, and increasing eligibility levels for Medicaid and CHIP (Children*s HealthInsurance Program). They have urged Congress to provide states with resources to expand coverage and ensure sufficient funding for safety net clinics, hospitals and other providers serving those who willcontinue to fall through the cracks even after the system is reformed.Sister Mary Ann WalshDirector of Media RelationsUnited States Conference of Catholic Bishops3211 4th St., NEWashington, DC 20017-1194Ph 202-541-3201Fx

**My commnets: note the Bishops declaration that access to health care is a universal human right not a privilege. Also note the the preferential option for the poor and the Bishop's concern that health care be accessible for all, including legal immigrants. The Bishops affirm that any health care reform must be life affirming, from conception to natural death. And the Bishops certainly proclaim a pro-life, anti abortion message.

So maybe we must all continue to stay vigilant, gleen what the Church teaches through the Bishops, stop yelling at each other, oppose anything that effects the most vulnerable, the unborn, fight any promotion of abortion and support real health care reform that truly lifts the poor and marginalized.