Love saves lives

By Bishop James Conley

In early January, the city of Lincoln reported that there had been no homicides in the city during the entire year of 2017. It had been 26 years since the last time the city recorded no homicides taking place.

This is great news for the city of Lincoln, and an accomplishment for which our police, first responders, and emergency room personnel can be proud. In fact, all of us can be proud to live in a city in which violent crime is on the decline, and the murder rate has declined all the way to zero.

But there is another reality that all of us must remember. In 2016, the last year for which data is available, 1,907 abortions were reported to have taken place in Nebraska, and 382 of those abortions took place in Lancaster County.

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Following the light

By Bishop James Conley 

An epiphany is a moment of startling clarity; a moment when the truth is suddenly and blindingly clear to us. An epiphany is the moment when we suddenly see the meaning of something that had been hidden, mysterious, or unclear to us just moments before.

This Sunday, we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, remembering magi—spiritual seekers—who had come to Bethlehem seeking the meaning of a mystery. They had seen a star rising in the east, a star which they believed portended the birth of a great king. They had travelled to Jerusalem, seeking “the newborn king of the Jews,” whom they believed would be a great leader to his people, and to the world.

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The radical claim of Christmas

Christmas celebrates the reality that God himself came into the world as a man—fully divine and fully human, to die for us.

Christmas celebrates that God, the Creator of everything that is, became a baby, born into poverty, so that we could be set free from sin, be unconquered by death, and spend eternity in paradise, with God.

Christmas makes claims which defy our understanding, and exceed our comprehension. Christmas makes claims which, because they are true, should change everything about the way we live.

But in the celebration of Christmas—in giving gifts, and gathering with families, and singing familiar carols, in feasting and making merry —we can sometimes lose sight of just how radical Christmas really is. Even when we celebrate it well, we can lose sight of what it means for our lives.

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Gaudete in Domino semper!

By Bishop James Conley 

This Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, we will light the rose-colored candle as we celebrate Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete simply means “rejoice,” and is taken from the first words of the entrance antiphon, “Gaudete in Domino semper” – Rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4: 4-6). And so, as we make our final preparations for Christ’s coming – we rejoice!

Advent, in the words of Pope St. John Paul II, is “the time of expectation for the definitive return of Christ!”

If we abide in Christ, and live as his disciples, then his “definitive return” is, indeed, a reason for great joy. If we follow Christ, we can anticipate his coming as faithful servants expecting the Master, who will draw us into the fullness of his love.

But Gaudete Sunday offers something for those who have fallen away from the Lord as well, those who have drifted from the path. Christ came into the world for sinners, not for the righteous. He became man, and went to the cross, and conquered death, and ascended to heaven, for the broken, the lost, the stubborn, and the reprobate. Christ came into the world so that all people might live in the freedom of truth, and in the joy of his love.

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Advent: the season of hope

By Bishop James Conley 

“Advent,” says Pope Francis, “is a journey toward the horizon of hope.”

The hope of Advent, the pope says, “does not disappoint because it is founded on the Word of God. A hope that does not disappoint, simply because the Lord never disappoints! He is faithful!”

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The School Sisters of Christ the King and the vocation of consecrated life

By Bishop James Conley 

This past Sunday, the Solemnity of Christ the King, the Diocese of Lincoln celebrated the establishment of our own School Sisters of Christ the King as a Religious Institute of Diocesan Right.

Related item: photo slideshow

Founded in 1976 by my predecessor, the Most Reverend Glennon P. Flavin, the Seventh Bishop of the Diocese of Lincoln, the School Sisters of Christ the King have educated thousands of children in our Catholic schools and in CCD programs throughout the diocese and beyond.

In 1996, my immediate predecessor, the Most Reverend Fabian W. Bruskewitz, the Eighth Bishop of Lincoln, recognized the School Sisters of Christ the King as a Public Association of the Faithful.

Establishing the School Sisters of Christ the King as a religious institute is a recognition of God’s guiding hand on their lives, their charism, and their community over these past 40 years. It is a recognition that they live the life of consecration to which they have been called, as a public, vital and enduring part of the Church’s own life.

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Happy Thanksgiving

By Bishop James Conley 

This Sunday, as the Church celebrated the first World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis said that each of us should be thankful for “the joy of breaking the bread of God’s word, and... the joy of breaking and receiving the Bread of the Eucharist, food for life’s journey. All of us, none excluded, need this, for all of us are beggars when it comes to what is essential: God’s love, which gives meaning to our lives and a life without end.”

God’s love, which gives our lives meaning and invites us to eternal life, is a gift of grace. A gift the Lord gives us only because he loves us. Not because we have earned it and not because we are worthy of it, but solely because God created us, delights in us, and desires to love us.

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The prophetic witness of chastity

Last month, more than a dozen women accused movie producer Harvey Weinstein of harassment and sexual assault. Since that time, similar allegations have been made against public figures in entertainment, politics, business, and media.

Of course, allegations do not constitute proof, and justice requires that such serious allegations be considered fairly, in light of the evidence. Nevertheless, it is becoming clear that incidences of sexual harassments, assault, and abuse are far more commonplace in American society than many people would prefer to admit.

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Overcome evil with good

By Bishop James Conley 

Twenty-six people were killed Sunday morning as they prayed in the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Five days before that, eight people were killed when a terrorist, who claimed allegiance to ISIS, drove a truck along a pedestrian path in New York City.

A month before, a sniper killed 59 people as they attended an outdoor concert in Las Vegas.

Most people, in the wake of these kinds of evil acts, ask themselves why such things happen. People become fixated with a search for answers. Media reports often reflect this: seeming to search for some clue, or some hint, that might point at the reason such things happen.   

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Prayer of intercession

By Bishop James Conley 

Out of love for God and love for our neighbor – the two greatest Commandments – we have an obligation and a duty to pray for those whom we know and love. When we pray for other people, we express confidence that the Lord will love them as they need, and we commend them to his will.  Intercessory prayer – the practice of praying for others – is an obligation for all Christians.  The Lord calls us to pray for one another. 

Blessed John Henry Newman called our obligation to pray for each other “the prerogative and the privilege of the obedient and holy.”

Our obligation, and our privilege, also extends to those souls in purgatory.  We are obliged to pray for them out of love. 

Purgatory is, for every soul who experiences it, an expression of the Lord’s mercy.

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Be not afraid

By Bishop James Conley 

In 1993, Pope St. John Paul II had plain words for the several hundred thousand young people gathered in Denver, Colorado, for World Youth Day: “Woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life.”

The pope continued: “The Church needs your energies, your enthusiasm, your youthful ideals, in order to make the Gospel of Life penetrate the fabric of society, transforming people’s hearts and the structures of society in order to create a civilization of true justice and love.”

“Place your intelligence, your talents, your enthusiasm, your compassion and your fortitude at the service of life,” the pope encouraged. “The liberating message of the Gospel of Life has been put into your hands. And the mission of proclaiming it to the ends of the earth is now passing to your generation.”

I heard John Paul II speak those words 24 years ago. I was a young priest, travelling with young pilgrims from Wichita to pray with John Paul II. But the young people who heard the pope speak those words 24 years ago are not so young anymore.

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The important mission of the family

By Bishop James Conley 

“When the fullness of time had come,” says St. Paul, “God sent his Son, born of a woman,” so that we might be set free from sin, reborn into the inner life of God, and made sons and daughters of the Father, adopted into Christ Jesus.

God sent his son to a particular family, at a particular time and place, according the mystery and wisdom of his will. After man’s fall from grace, God formed a people, a nation, to whom he revealed himself, preparing them for the birth of his son.

And from that nation, God chose a family: one man, and one woman, Mary and Joseph, who would become the human family of the Incarnate Word of God. It was in and through this family that God saved the world.

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Our eldest brothers and sisters in the faith

By Bishop James Conley 

The Church was born at Pentecost, in the upper room of the building in Jerusalem where Jesus Christ and the apostles celebrated the Last Supper.

Faith in the Gospel spread from that room in Jerusalem to every corner of the globe. The Holy Spirit was poured out upon the apostles; they were given the grace and gifts to make disciples of all nations. They proclaimed Christ and his Church with joy and fervor.

Each of the apostles, save one, died a martyr’s death. But their successors, and the disciples they formed, continued to proclaim the Gospel across the world. It grew deep roots in some places, and became the foundation for new cultures and nations. In other places, the ground seemed to be rocky, and the Church struggled to form more than a faithful remnant. But the Holy Spirit formed the Church in Jerusalem, to go out to all nations, and the Church in Jerusalem did just that.

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The Miracle of the Sun

A steady rain fell on the morning of October 13th, 1917, onto a freshly plowed field that had become a muddy mess. Clouds covered the sky.

It was a dreary fall day outside of the village of Fatima, Portugal. Still, a crowd of more than 70,000 people had gathered, because three children had told them that the Blessed Mother would appear.

She had been appearing since the spring, six times in all, and over the summer the crowds had become larger. When she appeared in September, she said that a miracle would occur when she next came, “so that all may see and believe.”

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Meaningful, attainable and just health care

By Bishop James Conley 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is very clear: “Concern for the health of its citizens requires that society help in the attainment of... health care.” (CCC 2288)

Securing affordable access to health care is a requirement of just societies and a function of the common good. Catholics have an obligation to work for the common good and to work to ensure that all people have affordable access to health care. Every family and, indeed, every person, should have the freedom to treat their medical needs and to live in the freedom of good health.

The Church provides principles and guidance regarding the provision of health care. But it is primarily the work of the lay faithful to put those principles into practice: to do the hard work of discerning how to ensure affordable access to health care, for the sake of the common good, in the particular circumstances of each society.  

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The shepherd who didn’t run

By Bishop James Conley

In July of 1981, two armed men entered a church in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, a small town on a lakefront, in a valley between two volcanoes. It was around midnight when they entered. A teenager named Francisco was alone in the Church. It was dark, and he was at prayer.

The men pointed guns at Francisco, and asked where they could find the “red-bearded priest.” He led them to the rectory door and knocked. Father Stanley Rother answered. He was the “red-bearded priest.” He was a missionary from Okarche, Oklahoma, who had lived in Guatemala for more than 10 years.

At the time, Guatemala was in the midst of a violent civil war. There was a price on Father Rother’s head. The men pointed guns at him, and he told them “kill me here.” They shot him twice in the head. He was martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ.

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Rescued from the storm

By Bishop James Conley 

Three weeks ago, Hurricane Harvey struck the coast of Texas with ferocity, and wreaked havoc on Houston and surrounding cities. Last week, Hurricane Irma flooded parts of Florida, and displaced millions. Islands of the Caribbean have seen nearly every building flattened, and families left homeless. Everywhere, men and women are unsure of where and how to rebuild.

We can thank the Lord for the first responders and others who sheltered families from the storm, for those who risked their lives to rescue others, and for the lives saved and homes spared in the path of the hurricane and tropical storms. But we also have a responsibility to assist our brothers and sisters in Christ, the men and women who have lost so much in these storms.

Catholic Relief Services, the Knights of Columbus, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and many other organizations have collected millions of dollars in recent weeks, and begun putting those funds to work to assist the places damaged by the hurricanes. Each one of us should consider how we can contribute generously to fundraising campaigns, and how we can offer our resources to assist those in need.

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Our Lady of Fatima

By Bishop James Conley 

Less than 200 years after the Ascension of Jesus, a Christian disciple wrote a biography of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The biography is not a part of Scripture; its historical accuracy is not certain, and it contains some theological ambiguities difficult to reconcile with the teachings of the Gospel. But the biography was well known among the Fathers of the Church, and it reminds us that since the earliest days of the Church’s life, Christians have revered the Blessed Mother, have prayed for her intercession, and have loved her as a mother.

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Finding Calcutta

By Bishop James Conley

Almost seven million people live in and around Nairobi, Kenya, in a river valley north of Mount Kilimanjaro. Nearly half of Nairobi’s residents live in slums—in makeshift houses and tents, surviving on less than $1 a day, where HIV, prostitution, and crime run rampant. Open sewers and garbage litter the streets. The ground is often a muddy mix of decomposing trash and human waste.

The slums of Nairobi are populated by families and children who work to survive amidst terrible conditions. They often find creative ways to work together. They are often people of faith. They often, in ways we cannot imagine, have not lost sight of their dignity, and have not lost the joy of human life. Still, no one should have to live in such terrible poverty, and it is a profound injustice that they do.

In Laudato si, Pope Francis says that those living in such abject conditions remind us that “in the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable; the principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters.”

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Our response to Charlottesville

In the late 1940s, Archbishop Joseph Rummel began the process of ending segregation in the parishes, seminary, and schools of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. He faced real opposition, from families, from teachers, from civil officials, and even some of the priests and religious of his diocese.

Political leaders threatened to end all state financial support for integrated Catholic schools. Catholics wrote to Pope Pius XII asking him to remove Archbishop Rummel from his post. At times, the opposition became violent—A cross was burned on Archbishop Rummel’s lawn; his home was picketed nightly.

In 1959, eight years after segregated Church seating was banned, two black men were beaten by a mob because they sat in the front pews of a New Orleans area parish. Some diocesan officials pleaded with Archbishop Rummel to end his mission. But the archbishop was undeterred.

In 1956, he wrote that racism “is morally wrong and sinful because it is a denial of the unity… of the Redemption. The Eternal Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord, came into the world to redeem and save all men, to die for all men on the cross, to make the life of grace available through the Church and the Sacraments for all men.” Racism, he wrote, and especially segregation “would draw the color line across the inspiring plan of the Redemption and thus sin against the divine providence, the love and the mercy that conceived and carried out the wonderful Mystery.”

No matter the cost, Archbishop Rummel was committed to ending racial stereotypes and prejudices, which are, he said, “grievous violations of Christian justice and charity.”

Archbishop Rummel died in 1964. By then, the Archdiocese of New Orleans had done away with racial segregation in its institutions. But the evil of racism—which sins against Providence, justice, and charity—remains a powerful force in our country.

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The true dignity of education

The following is an excerpt from a talk given by Bishop Conley July 5 at the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education’s Regional Catholic Classical Schools Conference

Good students, and good teachers, seek to know things as they are. To know the Lord, and to see the world in light of divine truth. True schools are communities of learners, receiving and apprehending reality, not asserting themselves, or their importance. True communities of learners are humble disciples of the truth.

Pope St. John Paul II wrote that “faced with the sacredness of life and of the human person, and before the marvels of the universe, wonder is the only appropriate attitude.”

Wonder is humility before the majesty of God. Wonder tolerates no self-importance. Wonder forgets the self. Wonder seeks only to gaze at the marvelous beauty of the world, and its creator. 

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Scouting and gender ideology

In 1909, a Chicago businessman named W.D. Boyce found himself lost one night, on a foggy street in London. A boy approached him, asked him where he was going, and guided him to his destination. Boyce was grateful, and offered his guide a tip. But the boy refused, saying that he was a Boy Scout, and he was doing his “daily good turn.”

Boyce was intrigued. He’d never heard of the Boy Scouts, and he asked the scout for more information. He later visited Lord Baden-Powell, a British general who had founded a movement of boys, called Scouting, just two years earlier.

One year later, in 1910, W.D. Boyce founded the Boy Scouts of America, an organization dedicated to teaching young men “patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred values.” In 1913, Juliette Gordon Lowe, a Georgia artist and philanthropist, founded the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, with just 18 members. Since that time, millions of American boys and girls have become scouts, including hundreds of priests and religious brothers and sisters.

For more than 100 years, scouting in America has formed men and women of character, helping each one, as the Boy Scout Oath says, “to do my duty to God and my country,” to “help other people at all times,” and to “keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”

In recent years, unfortunately, both the Girl Scouts of the USA and the Boy Scouts of America, have begun to reflect the troubling errors of our culture about what it means to be men and women. Both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have decided to permit those with gender dysphoria—boys who think they are girls, and girls who think they are boys—to join their organizations based upon self-defined “gender identities.” Obviously, these decisions will gravely impact the moral and personal formation offered by Scouting movements.

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The evangelization of Love

“At the age of 21,” Sister Miriam James Heidland, SOLT, shared with 3,000 people last Sunday afternoon, “I was already an alcoholic. I was very promiscuous. My life was broken by lust. It had been decimated by childhood sexual abuse that I never told anybody about.... But God didn’t abandon me.”

“Somebody loved me in my brokenness,” Sister Miriam continued, “and it changed my life. God sent a Catholic priest into my life who was authentically holy, and it rocked my world. He fathered me—loved me as a father—and I could not deny his witness.”

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Taking Christ’s love to the world

Last week, the bishops of the United States met in Indianapolis for the annual spring meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It was a busy meeting full of committee meetings and general sessions with all the US Bishops. We had vigorous discussions about the formation of young people, Catholic healthcare, immigration, marriage and family life and our pastoral leadership in these areas. We discussed our work to support religious liberty, and reaffirmed our commitment to that important cause. And we approved new guidelines for the inclusion and support of disabled people in the Church’s sacramental life. We ended our meeting with a Eucharistic Holy Hour and Benediction. Local priests were available during the holy hour so each bishop had the opportunity to go to confession.

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The ‘fount and apex’ of the Christian Life

This week, I will have the awesome privilege of ordaining two men to the sacred diaconate, and five men to the sacred priesthood.

Their new lives in these sacred ministries of priesthood and diaconate will begin in the context of the Holy Eucharist.  During the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, I will place my hands upon their heads and pray the ancient words of ordination.  They will be changed forever; their souls, configured by an indelible mark, to unity in identity and mission with Jesus Christ.

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Turn away from sin, and pray for the conversion of the world

In the spring of 1916, a full year before the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an angel—the Angel of Peace—appeared to three shepherd children in a field outside their village of Fatima, Portugal, in order to prepare them for things to come. The angel taught them how to pray, and to offer penances in reparation for the sins of the world, and especially how to adore Jesus, truly present in the Holy Eucharist.

The children saw the Angel of Peace several times. The last time he appeared, the angel came holding a chalice in his hands with a Host above it. Without a word, in utter silence, the angel knelt with his forehead touching the ground leaving the Host and the chalice suspended in the air. The angel prayed three times: “Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore you profoundly, I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference with which He Himself is offended. And, through the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart and through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg the conversion of poor sinners.”

Imitating the angel, with their foreheads pressed to the ground in profound adoration, the children joined the angel in reciting the prayer three times. The angel stood up and gave the oldest child, Lucia, the Sacred Host. Then he gave the Chalice with the Most Precious Blood to the other two children, Jacinta and Francisco. He said these words: “Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.” Once again, the angel prostrated himself on the ground in silent adoration before the raised Host and chalice, and repeated the prayer three times, and then disappeared.

I am convinced that the Angel of Peace was calling all of us, in a special way, to pray before the Holy Eucharist, in silence, for the salvation of every single soul.

On May 13, 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the shepherd children in that same field. When the Blessed Mother appeared, she was, they said “brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal goblet filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun.” She asked the children to pray the Rosary every day, and to pray for peace in the world. 

The Blessed Mother appeared again. In fact, she appeared six times over the next six months. In October, a huge crowd gathered with them.  That day, a new miracle happened: the sky grew dark, and then the sun burst through the clouds, dancing and spinning across the sky. It shed colored light across the landscape.  Tens of thousands reported seeing the same thing.

During the third apparition in July, the Blessed Mother shared a message for the children: three prophetic secrets, or messages: a vision of hell, a request that the world should turn from sin and consecrate Russia to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, and a prophetic vision which was revealed in the Jubilee Year, 2000, that the Church, and the Holy Father, would be called to suffer and be called to pray for the salvation of souls, and to penance for the conversion of the world.

The appearance of the Blessed Mother at Fatima was a grace for the whole world and the most important Marian apparition of our era. Her message was that the whole world should turn from sin, and pray for the grace of salvation in Jesus Christ, especially through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This message is the message of the Gospel, and a message the world needs today, more than ever.

The Blessed Mother also shared with the children that the greatest battle against evil in our time is waged in the family, and for the family. That Satan wishes to attack and undermine families, and that we must be vigilant to protect our families, and to defend the importance of the family in the world. Our families are made in the image of God, and God forms us to know him in the family. The Blessed Mother called us, at Fatima, to protect the family.

In a letter to Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, first President of the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome, and entrusted to St. John Paul II in 1981 on the occasion of his founding of the new Institute, Blessed Lucia of Fatima wrote these words: “The final battle between the Lord and the reign of satan will be about marriage and family… Don’t be afraid, because anyone who works for the sanctity of marriage and the family will always be fought and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue… However, our Lady has already crushed his head.”  

Today, we celebrate 100 years since the Blessed Mother first appeared to the children at Fatima. But her message remains urgent and critical. We must pray for the conversion of the world and for the conversion of the family.

In the Diocese of Lincoln, we are blessed with a shrine to Our Lady of Fatima in Arapahoe. This year, the Holy Father has given a special gift to those who travel to the shrine as pilgrims. 

Catholics who “visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Arapahoe in the form of a pilgrimage… humbly praying for the conversion of sinners, for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and in defense of the institution of the human family, concluding by saying the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and invoking our Lady of Fatima,” are granted a Plenary Indulgence—a remission from the temporal punishment of our sin in purgatory. 

To gain such an indulgence, Catholics must also make a good confession, receive the Eucharist, and pray for the intentions of the Pope and the Church, and renounce attachment to sin. Those who are sick, elderly, or unable to travel to Arapahoe may gain the same indulgence through the same prayers, in the presence of an image of Mary, asking for her powerful intercession.

This indulgence is a special grace—given to us by the Holy Father to honor the Blessed Mother, and to encourage us to pray for the conversion of the world, and for the family. I encourage every Catholic in the Diocese of Lincoln to travel to the shrine in Arapahoe if they can, or to pray for the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima.

Our Lady of Fatima appeared to promise us that Christ can bring peace to the world, and peace to every single heart. She begged us to pray for that peace, and to offer up every sacrifice for the conversion of the world. As we remember her appearance at Fatima, let us pray for peace, through the intercession of her Immaculate Heart.

A saint for the scourge of human trafficking

By Bishop James Conley  

Josephine Bakhita became a slave when she was 9 years old.

She was born in Darfur, on a waterless plain south of the Sahara Desert. Her family was wealthy, comfortable, and powerful. Her early years were carefree.

In February 1877, Josephine was kidnapped by slave traders outside of her village. She was 9. She was forced to walk 600 miles to a marketplace in Sudan. She was forced to convert from her native religion to Islam. She was sold five times over the next 12 years.

She was branded, beaten frequently, forced to travel great distances, and so traumatized that she forgot her own name. She took the word bakhita for a name, which means lucky, because she felt she was lucky to be alive.

Eventually, Josephine moved to Italy with her Italian owners. There, in 1888, with the help of Canossian nuns, a court declared her to be a free woman. Two years later, she was baptized a Catholic, confirmed, and received her first Communion.

Josephine Bakhita became a religious sister, and by God’s grace, she became a saint. I was privileged to be in Saint Peter’s Square on October 1, 2000, when St. John Paul II canonized her a saint.

Josephine Bakhita’s path to holiness was unique and miraculous. Her enslavement traumatized her—wounded her physically and psychologically. She might have easily died during the beatings she received as a slave. And even at the end of her life, when she had been free for more than 40 years, she had nightmares of being chained up by slave owners. The Lord healed her, but she had to overcome extraordinary obstacles as she learned true freedom in Jesus Christ.

We might be tempted to imagine that stories like St. Josephine Bakhita’s only happened in the past. That slavery no longer exists; that human beings no longer buy and sell one another like property. But modern slavery exists today in many forms, most prominently, in the form of human trafficking. Human trafficking is the trade or brokering of human beings, for forced labor, sexual slavery, coercive and forced prostitution, or even coercive gestational surrogacy. Human trafficking is among the fast-growing criminal activities among gangs in the United States, and criminal organizations around the world.

Human trafficking is modern slavery. It occurs when a girl or boy is coerced by a boyfriend or a parent into prostitution. It occurs when a smuggler forces undocumented immigrants to work for years without pay, to pay off a debt or to avoid family punishment. It occurs when a poor woman is forced by her family into working as a pregnancy surrogate for the wealthy. 

Human trafficking reduces people—created in the image of God—into commodities.

In 2016, Pope Francis said that “the trade in human beings is a modern form of slavery, which violates the God-given dignity of so many of our brothers and sisters and constitutes a true crime against humanity.” Catholics, Pope Francis said, are called to “bring the balm of mercy” to the “open wound” of human trafficking in our world.

Last month, Grace Williams, the founder of Children of the Immaculate Heart, a California apostolate helping women and children escape sex trafficking, spoke at the Newman Center about her work. She said that human trafficking is growing in popularity among gangs because “you can sell a person over and over again. The supply doesn’t run out.”

Grace also shared that, in Christ, women and children can experience true healing, and escape the coercive power of human trafficking, just as St. Josephine Bakhita did.

Glen Parks, Nebraska’s Human Trafficking Task Force Coordinator, spoke along with Grace. He shared that 135 people in Nebraska are sex trafficked every month—1,620 each year.

The evil of human trafficking—the “open wound”—has taken root in our state.

Each one of us is called to pray for the victims of human trafficking—modern-day slaves—especially those in our own state. We are also called to work to stop the evil of modern-day slavery, and to help its victims. In the months to come, our diocese will work to find ways to help the victims of human trafficking in Nebraska. In the meantime, I ask you to join me in continued prayer for an end to human trafficking.

The Lord gives liberty to captives. His mercy sets us free. He gave freedom to St. Josephine Bakhita. In hope, we pray that he will bring freedom to the modern-day slaves among us.       

An irrational ideology of abortion

In 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would soon be elected Pope Benedict XVI, preached that “we are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

In the past month, we’ve learned that relativism can be a very cruel dictator.

Most basically defined, the pro-choice political position is that the “right to choose” is sacrosanct, and that no one may legitimately question the moral choices of another with regard to abortion. That overwhelming and indisputable scientific evidence regarding the beginning of unique human life through conception, has no place in the political conversation about abortion. That all philosophical, anthropological, or biological arguments regarding abortion must be subordinated, at all times, to the primacy of other people’s choices.

The pro-choice political position is the true embodiment of the dictatorship of relativism. It demands that there can be no “right choice” or “right answer.” Pro-choice ideology prioritizes individual decision-making above every other concern, including the right of unborn children to life. This is simply irrational.

Two weeks ago, Tom Perez, the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee, affirmed this position unequivocally. He said that “every Democrat” in America is expected to support the pro-choice position, without exception. He insists that there is no room for pro-life Democrats in his party. The dictatorship of relativism expects absolute conformity, and is willing to jettison anyone who dares to disagree with his party on this issue.

“Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health,” Perez said. “That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.”

The so-called “right to choose” is sacrosanct except, of course, the choice to support unborn children. This is the real irony of Mr. Perez’ statement. He claims to prioritize the rights of conscience, but he makes no provision for those in his own party who, in conscience, disagree with him.

Of course, this means that many Catholics who agree with other elements of the Democratic platform have been rejected by their political party, for failing to swear allegiance to relativism. But the pro-choice position, which embodies the dictatorship of relativism, allows no dissent, no disagreement, no questioning and no exceptions - period.

In our state, this was demonstrated by a nearly seven-hour debate in the Legislature last week. The state’s mainline budget bill proposes to prioritize the recipients of federally-provided Title X family planning funds, directing money to facilities that offer comprehensive healthcare, namely: community health centers, hospitals, and public health departments. This move would ensure that Nebraskans have access to facilities able to provide them comprehensive health services.

But Planned Parenthood, by far the largest provider of abortions in America, and the primary recipient of Title X funds in Nebraska, opposed the change, because it would route the few hundred thousand dollars Planned Parenthood receives to other, more qualified, and more accessible agencies. The dictatorship of relativism would not allow this.

Immediately, Planned Parenthood and its allies attacked and reframed a reasonable and commonsense measure designed to help Nebraskans, as a “war on choice.” The bill is about helping Nebraskans to access healthcare. But the dictatorship of relativism demands federal dollars, and bullies and threatens those who oppose it.

We oppose the dictatorship of relativism by the telling the truth. Abortion harms women. Abortion kills children. Planned Parenthood is an abortion retailer masquerading as a community health provider. And Planned Parenthood opposes providing healthcare access to Nebraskans in order to protect its bottom line. None of those things is morally right. And none of them should be acceptable to Nebraskans.

It’s time we choose to support women and their unborn children, by ending abortion. It’s time we choose to stop providing public money to abortion providers who exaggerate their public health services. It’s time we choose to stop living under the dictatorship of relativism. It’s time we choose the freedom that comes from truth. 


By Bishop James Conley 

On a hilltop in the mountains of Spain, an iron cross has stood for at least one thousand years, visible from villages, roads, farms, and mountain paths for miles away. Below it is a pile of rocks—some pebbles, and some much larger—which have been carried from around the world and quietly, and prayerfully, placed at the foot of the cross.

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Divine Mercy and the Culture of Death

By Bishop James Conley 

On Good Friday, I joined Christians from around the city of Lincoln to pray at the Planned Parenthood abortion facility on south 48th Street, for an end to abortion, and for a flourishing of the culture of life. In the grey and rainy mist, we prayed for those who are involved in the abortion industry, for women and families in unexpected or crisis pregnancies without a sense of where to turn, and for children in the wombs of the mothers, being formed and nurtured for life.

Together, we prayed that our world would become a place in which the dignity and humanity of the unborn is respected, and in which women and families can come know the love and mercy of God, through the love of his Church, especially in situations of crisis or challenge.

We prayed that the unborn would be safe in the refuge of their mothers' wombs, and that their mothers would bask in the joyful and live-giving light of hope. Fittingly, we concluded our prayers with the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. “Where, if not in Divine Mercy,” asked Pope St. John Paul II, “can the world find refuge and the light of hope?”

God’s mercy is exactly what is needed to combat the culture of death, and to build a culture of life. “How greatly today’s world needs God’s mercy! In every continent, from the depth of human suffering, a cry for mercy seems to rise up,” wrote Pope St. John Paul II. “Wherever respect for life and human dignity are lacking, there is need of God’s merciful love, in whose light we see the inexpressible value of every human being. Mercy is needed in order to ensure that every injustice in the world will come to an end in the splendor of truth.”

We gathered on Good Friday to pray at a place which represents abortion, the profound evil of our time—which takes the life of an innocent child, and causes grave harm to its mother. We gathered at a place which has become a modern day Calvary, where pure innocence meets deadly evil. Abortion is disguised in the language of choice and empowerment, but abortion disempowers, objectifies, and wounds. And that is exactly why we prayed for the Lord’s mercy.

“The cross,” wrote Pope St. John Paul II, from which Divine Mercy flows, “is like a touch of eternal love upon the most painful wounds of man’s earthly existence.” At Planned Parenthood, we prayed for a touch of eternal love upon the painful wounds which cause abortion, and which are caused by abortion.

Many of you have read that as we concluded praying, there was a terrible accident. A pickup truck skidded on a slick road, jumped the curb, and drove onto the sidewalk where we were gathered. Five people were hit by the pickup, and another was knocked down by those thrown by the truck. Some suffered serious injuries, though, thank God, none were life-threatening. There were two of us priests still on the scene, and we had the opportunity to pray with those who were injured before they were treated. Those who gathered with us also, quite immediately, began to pray.

After I got home that evening, I found myself wondering why something so terrible had happened. I don’t think we’ll have a full answer to that question until we are in heaven with God. But I do think that God might bring, from that terrible accident, “a touch of eternal love” upon very painful wounds.

Accidents are unsettling. When the accident happened, our entire city took note. Media crews arrived almost immediately. Many people expressed concern for the injured. That accident was a reminder that life is precious, and that human dignity is innate, and undeniable. Perhaps it might remind people that all life is precious—even unborn life. Perhaps the sense of unsettledness caused by the accident might lead some to consider why some lives seem so naturally worthy of protection, while the lives of the unborn, and their mothers, are so casually disposed of, disregarded or dismissed.

Perhaps that unfortunate accident outside of Planned Parenthood, and on Good Friday, might be a reminder that there is nothing accidental about abortion.

Perhaps the love and concern expressed by so many people for those who were injured might be extended through the quiet prompting of Divine Mercy, to the unborn and to their mothers, who are sorely in need of love, concern, and respect.

The accident which occurred at Planned Parenthood was very unfortunate. For some, it will have lasting effect. We must pray for the young driver of the truck. But unified with the cross of Jesus Christ, perhaps it might take on a different meaning. Perhaps, unified with Christ’s cross, it might bring about “a touch of eternal love,” and a “light of hope” for a world longing for Christ.

This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday. Please join me in praying for the unborn, for their mothers, and for those who were injured on Good Friday. Please include in your prayers, the driver of the truck. Please also join me in praying that the Lord might use something, even a frightening accident, as an occasion of Divine Mercy—through the power of the Cross—which heals every wound and frees every heart.

See also: Pro-lifers hit by truck in accident after prayer vigil

O Sorrowful Mother

By Bishop James Conley

In the last two weeks of Lent, traditionally called Passiontide, we are called to think often of the love of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and on the suffering he endured for our salvation, through his passion and death. The Lord knew that the hour of his crucifixion was coming, and, as the Sacred Scriptures tell us, this weighed heavily on his heart. 

Blessed John Henry Newman wrote that during these last weeks of Lent, we are “called upon to raise our hearts to Christ, and to have keen feelings and piercing thoughts of sorrow and shame, of compunction and of gratitude, of love and tender affection and horror and anguish, at the review of those awful sufferings whereby our salvation has been purchased.”

A very powerful and efficacious way that we can call to mind the gift of Christ’s love, manifested in his passion, is by remembering and reflecting on the sorrowful sufferings of his dear mother.  For that reason, it is a long-standing Catholic custom, to remember the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the Friday before Palm Sunday. 

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Lex orandi, lex credendi

By Bishop James Conley

Because we are Catholic, sacred liturgical worship should be at the center of our lives. 

Jesus Christ is present among us in the Church’s sacred worship.  In the mystery of Holy Mass, we are present to the Paschal mystery, the sacrifice of Christ’s death on Calvary.  Our liturgical worship is a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy, and expresses our love for God.  We are made, literally, to worship God.

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24 hours for the Lord

By Bishop James Conley

One of the great gifts and privileges of the priesthood is serving as a minister of God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of confession.

I have been hearing confessions for almost 32 years, since the time I was ordained a priest in May of 1985. I have heard confessions on five continents, in multiple languages, in places and at times I never expected. I have heard confessions in the rain, on a plane, on the beach; I have heard confessions lasting hours, and confessions lasting just a moment or two. I have heard the first confessions of young children, and the confessions of men and women moments from death.

Like most priests my age, I have heard literally thousands of confessions. And I have never tired of the powerful words a priest is privileged to say: “I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

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Temptation and St. Joseph

Jesus fasted in the desert outside Jerusalem for 40 days. The Judean desert is barren and craggy, hot in the day and frigid at night. Jesus prayed without ceasing, and without food, for weeks. And then Satan appeared to him, and, while Jesus was hungry and tired, Satan tempted him, with food, glory, power and pride. Jesus was tempted by Satan, but he did not succumb to the temptation.

In Lent, as we offer small sacrifices and penances—small acts of charity or commitments to prayer—Satan often tempts us to abandon them. He tells us that they are too hard, or useless, or that we can make excuses to keep our fasts. We can look to Christ, who conquered temptation in the desert, and ask him for the graces we need to overcome our own temptations. And in the moral life, when we are tempted to sin, we can also look to Christ.

Jesus loves us, and desires for us to be holy. And when we are tempted, he knows the experience. He knows the difficulty. He wants to help us. The letter to the Hebrews says that in Christ, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet never sinned.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that in the desert, “Christ reveals himself as God’s Servant, totally obedient to the divine will. In this, Jesus is the devil’s conqueror.”

Jesus conquers the devil. And when we’re tempted, we can rely on his grace to conquer sin. The Lord wants to help us overcome temptation. He wants to deliver us from evil. He knows the power of temptation, and he wants us to be free.

The practice of sacrifice in Lent helps us to grow accustomed to asking Christ for help, so that when we are tested in greater ways—when the temptation seems more urgent, or the stakes seem higher—we will already know that we can rely on Jesus. Our Lenten sacrifices aren’t supposed to be a test of our strength—they’re supposed to be a reminder that we can only conquer sin through Christ, who conquered temptation in the desert.

For Jesus, fully God and fully man, temptation was different from our own experience. We can’t really understand what it was for him to live with both a human and divine will. But we do know that as Christ grew into adulthood, he had the experience of watching his foster-father, St. Joseph, a good and virtuous man, who often resisted temptation, in order to follow the will of God.

From St. Joseph, we can learn three important lessons about resisting temptation.

First, St. Joseph was a man of prayer. He heard the voice of God, in his dreams, especially, because he lived prayerfully, in close union with the Father. Pope St. John Paul II wrote that St. Joseph was a man “who with his whole life seemed to cry out to God: ‘You are my father!’”

His life was punctuated by prayer. “How many times,” the Holy Father wrote, “in the course of long days of work would Joseph have raised his mind to God to invoke him, to offer him his toil, to implore light, help, comfort?” St. Joseph, in his work, and his family life, offered himself to the Lord in prayer. And he heard the voice of God. Because he heard God’s voice, he knew the Lord’s will, and was firm in his resolve to follow. Prayer, at every moment, strengthens us against temptation.

Second, St. Joseph was a man of silence. The epistle to St. James says that “everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” St. Joseph was quick to hear, and slow to speak. He was slow to anger. He built the habits of patience and forbearance. And in his silence, he grew deeper in awareness of the Lord, and deeper in the life of prayerful friendship with God.

We live in an age of noise. Cultivating an interior silence makes us slow to speak, slow to anger, and quick to hear the word of the Lord. Silence, like St. Joseph’s, helps us to resist temptation.

Finally, St. Joseph was close to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is, in fact, nearly impossible to imagine the beauty of the friendship between St. Joseph and the Mother of God. They were unified in their desire to raise Jesus, to be good stewards of what the Lord had given them, to humbly undertake the great call which God had given them. How often St. Joseph must have sat with the Blessed Mother, how often he must have taken solace in her company. And how often her holiness must have inspired him to holiness. St. Joseph, as chaste bridegroom, learned patience and kindness through his love of Mary. He did so, not by keeping himself closed off, but by pouring himself out in love for Jesus Christ, and for his mother. That intimate and beautiful friendship—his love and respect for Mary—must have given him trust in the Lord’s plan at moments of temptation.

Christ gives us the grace to overcome the temptation of Satan. The Church gives us the holy season of Lent to grow in reliance upon that grace. And St. Joseph, whose feast we celebrate next week, gives us a model for reliance and cooperation with grace, to serve the Lord with love and generosity.

Strangers in a strange land

In his new book, Strangers in a Strange Land, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, writes that we are now living in a post-Christian world.  He suggests that we, as a culture, have not embraced atheism, but we go about our daily lives as if God doesn’t exist. We live a kind of “practical atheism,” even though large numbers of Americans would still profess a belief in God.

In the time since America’s founding, the primacy of God—God’s sovereignty—has all but disappeared from our cultural landscape.  American law and culture has distanced itself from the Gospel’s truths about abortion, contraception, immigration, poverty, technology, and education. And our views on marriage, the family, and, in fact, the very nature of the human person reflect a serious departure from the truth of God’s creation. All of us know that the impact of our cultural worldviews make our lives harder, lonelier, and more vulnerable than God wants them to be.  

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Standing in solidarity

(Para leer esto en español, vaya aquí)

The Catholic Church’s teaching on immigration is based on three clear principles: that families have the right to migrate for economic opportunities, for freedom, or for safety; that nations have the right to security, to fixed borders and ordered policies for immigrants; that as an obligation of justice and mercy, nations who can receive immigrants without detriment to the welfare of their citizens should do so.

By those standards, the immigration policy of the United States is in serious need of reform.

The United States does not adequately address its citizens’ right to safety, because it does not adequately address the challenges posed by those who enter the country illegally, or those arrive legally and, after visas have expired, remain illegally. Nor does the United States base immigration quotas and limits on unbiased and fair assessments of our economy and infrastructure’s capacity to welcome immigrants to our nation. Finally, the byzantine rules governing immigration to the United States, which often include waiting lists decades long, do not adequately respect the natural right of families to migration. Many experts believe that there is no reasonable way for the average Latin American family, for example, to enter the United States legally.

In short, our immigration system is broken, and that broken system is the cause of serious injustice.

There are some who suggest that our immigration system is broken because some industries benefit from the status quo: they depend on paying undocumented workers illegally low wages, and therefore oppose reforming the system. The more common assessment is that our immigration system is broken because overhauling it would require that political leaders on all sides put aside partisan posturing and incendiary rhetoric, in order to reach meaningful and comprehensive agreements.

Whatever the reason for it, our broken immigration system is an injustice to immigrants and to all Americans.  That injustice has tragic consequences in the lives of real families, who reflect the image of the Trinity.

This week, President Trump issued a directive ordering the deportation of millions of people living in the United States illegally. That order will do very little to resolve the immigration problems in our country. It will not change the economic and social conditions which lead people to leave their homes and enter the United States illegally. It will not change the demand for low-wage workers in our economy. It will not secure the borders or change the immigration process.

Nor will it meaningfully impact the security of our nation, or the safety of our citizens. In fact, over the last eight years, President Obama deported more people than any other president in United States history, with no meaningful or demonstrable impact on our country’s security or safety.

Mass deportation is a panacea: the appearance of an answer without really resolving anything. And, after eight years of mass deportation under President Obama, President Trump’s administration has doubled down on that panacea, proclaiming now the time to “take the shackles off” America’s deportation officials.

Of course, some immigrants, legal and illegal, prove themselves to be a danger, and should not be permitted to remain in this country. Unrestricted amnesty proposals are also unrealistic panaceas.

Certainly, entering a country illegally is a crime. The government has an obligation to uphold the rule of law, and to punish those who commit crimes. But the crime of illegal immigration must be considered in light of other factors: the rights of parents to provide for their children, the poverty and danger families face around the globe, and the injustice of American laws and policies governing immigration in the first place. Many immigrants who have been exiled by the circumstances of their homelands want to follow the law, but our broken system makes that impossible.  The consequences of illegal immigration should be determined in light of the sovereignty of the family, and the inhumanity of separating children, often US citizens, from their parents.

My friend, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, says that today’s immigration policy reflects “indifference and cruelty.” None of us can be indifferent, or turn a blind eye to suffering. Human beings, made in God’s image, deserve better than that.

Surely, our government, in wisdom, and creativity, and human decency, can find just means of addressing the crime of illegal immigration, without severing marriages, sending children to foster care, and returning people to situations of abject hopelessness. Surely, if America is truly great, it can respond to these challenges with ingenuity, and virtue, and charity. Catholics must lead that charge.

The consequence of America’s immigration enforcement policies is that families are living in fear. Children are afraid they will come home from school to find their parents gone. Families are afraid they will be returned to violent homelands. Many Hispanics are afraid that they might be profiled and targeted by the police, or presumed by neighbors to be criminals. Fear feeds on itself, and quickly, a sense of panic conflates truth and fiction, making it all the more difficult to separate rumor from reality. Panic leads people to desperation, and to hopelessness. This is the situation in which many Catholics now find themselves.   

For Catholics, the current immigration orders should remind us of our history in this nation. The Catholic Church in America is an immigrant Church, and since the time of the American Revolution, Catholic immigrants have been targeted with discriminatory social policies and widespread cultural suspicion. The integrity and loyalty of Catholic immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Bohemia, Italy and many other nations have been attacked at various points in our nation’s history.

Today 38% of the Catholics in the United States are Hispanic. When Catholic immigrants from Mexico and Latin America are portrayed as thuggish criminals or economic liabilities, our history should remain forefront in our minds. Immigration enforcement policies rooted in stereotypes, rather than facts, are attacks on all Catholics. We are united in the body of Christ, and brothers and sisters to one another. When members of the Body of Christ are unfairly stereotyped, or unjustly treated, each one us must stand up in solidarity.

I stand in solidarity with immigrant families living in fear of what might be coming for them. I stand in solidarity with American citizens, looking for real security, instead of political showmanship and rhetoric. I stand in solidarity with those politicians and law enforcement agents working to find fair and humane solutions to complex problems. I stand in solidarity with those living in poverty or danger, seeking some promise of safety, and opportunity for their children. I ask all Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln to join me in that solidarity.

As Catholics, we must continue to call for real, comprehensive, safe, and just immigration reform. But we cannot accept the panacea of mass detention and deportation. Americans, immigrants, and the Church should expect something better than that. 

Prayer for Migrants and Refugees:
Heavenly Father, no one is a stranger to you and no one is ever far from your loving care.
In your kindness, watch over migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, those separated from their loved ones, those who are lost, and those who have been exiled from their homes.
Bring them safely to the place where they long to be. Send your Holy Spirit over our government leaders, that they may enact laws and policies in accord with the dignity of every human person. Grant us the grace of holy boldness to stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable among us and to see in them the Face of Your Son.
We ask this through Christ our Lord, who too was a refugee and migrant.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

Blessed John Henry Newman and Lent

The Palazzo di Propaganda Fide sits at the south end of the Piazza de Spagna in Rome. The building has housed the Vatican’s offices for evangelization around the world since the 17th century. It is a beautiful baroque building, designed by the great Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and designed to evoke the Church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel to every human heart, to every people, to every nation.

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Upon this Rock

Four years ago, at the end of this month, Pope Benedict XVI resigned his office as pope, the Vicar of Christ, the successor of St. Peter and head of the universal Church. This was the first time in 600 years a Roman Pontiff had resigned his office.

I am writing this column from Rome, where I am visiting the Diocese of Lincoln’s seminarians and priests studying at the North American College and at pontifical universities, and the priests of our diocese working in offices of the Vatican. The Eternal City holds a lot of vivid memories for me, having spent 12 years living and working in Rome. It is always a joy and a grace to return to Rome, the site of the martyrdom of St. Peter, and the center of the Catholic Church across the world.

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The age of noise

More than 70 years ago, the English satirist Aldous Huxley wrote that modernity is the “age of noise.” He was writing about the radio, whose noise, he said “penetrates the mind, filling it with a babel of distractions – news items, mutually irrelevant bits of information, blasts of corybantic or sentimental music, continually repeated doses of drama that bring no catharsis.”

If Huxley had lived into the 21st century, he would have seen the age of noise redoubled and amplified beyond the radio, first to our televisions, and then to our tablets and mobile devices, machines which bring distraction, and “doses of drama,” with us wherever we go. We are, today, awash in information, assaulted, often, with tweets and pundits analyzing the latest crisis in Washington, or difficulty in the Church, or serious social, political, or environmental issue. It can become, for many people, overwhelming.

To be sure, we have a responsibility as faithful Catholics to be aware of the world and its challenges, and to be engaged in the cultural and political affairs of our communities. We cannot shirk or opt out from that responsibility. But we are living at a moment of constant urgencies and crises, the “tyranny of the immediate,” where reactions to the latest news unfold at a breakneck pace, often before much thought, reflection or consideration. We are living at a moment where argument precedes analysis, and outrage, or feigned outrage, has become an ordinary kind of virtue signaling—a way of conveying the “right” responses to social issues in order to boost our social standing. 

The 2016 presidential election was a two-year slog of platitudinous and superficial argument, and now that the election is over, that argument seems interminable. No person can sustain the kind of noise—polemical, shrill, and reactive—which has become a substitute for conversation in contemporary culture. Nor should any person try. The “age of noise” diminishes virtue, and charity, and imagination, replacing them with anxiety, and worry, and exhaustion.

The Lord didn’t make us for this kind of noise. He made us for conversation, for exchange and communion. And our political community depends upon real deliberation: serious debate and activism over serious subjects. But the Lord also made us for silence. For contemplation. For quietude. And without these things anchoring our lives, and our hearts, the age of noise transforms us, fostering in our hearts reactive and uncharitable intemperance that characterizes the media and social media spaces which shape our culture.

The age of noise is grinding away at our souls.

In the second century, just 100 years after Christ’s Ascension, an anonymous Christian disciple wrote a letter to a man named Diognetus, telling him something about the lives and practices of early Christians. “There is something extraordinary about their lives,” he wrote. “They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through…. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven.”

When our friends and neighbors look to us, as disciples of Jesus, they should see that there is something extraordinary about our lives: that although we live fully in our nation, we are, first, citizens of heaven. This means that we must live differently, in the age of noise. We must speak, and act, and think differently. In the words of St. Paul, we must “not be conformed to this world,” to the age of noise, “but be transformed by the renewal of our minds.” We must be, in the best sense of the word, “counter-cultural.”

To be citizens of heaven, we must be detached from the noise of this world. We must participate fully in cultural, and political, and public life, but we must entrust the outcomes of our participation to the Lord. We must detach ourselves from the news cycles, and social media arguments, and television pundits, which inflame our anger, or provoke our anxiety, or which shift our focus from the eternal to the fleeting and temporal.

My good friend Chris Stefanick, a wise speaker and author, wrote last week that we should “read less news,” and “read more Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.” He’s right. We won’t be happier, or wiser, or more peaceful because we consume more of the “age of noise” than we need. Of course, we should be engaged in current affairs. But we’ll be truly happy, through Jesus Christ, when we spend far more time reading Scripture, and spending time before the Lord in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

We’ll be free from the anxiety and worry of the “age of noise” when times of prayer, and silence, are regular facets of our day. We’ll be detached from false crises and urgency of the culture of outrage when we do our small part, and then entrust the affairs of this world to the Lord. We’ll also be, when we quiet the “age of noise” in our hearts, the leaders of wisdom and virtue which our culture desperately needs, right now.

Saint Teresa of Avila, the great Carmelite mystic, wrote a small poem which should guide us in the “age of noise” —
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

The noise of our culture is designed to disturb and frighten us, and to distract from the unchanging and ever-loving God. But in silent prayer and contemplation before the Blessed Sacrament, we can turn down the noise, and the Lord himself can calm our hearts and renew our minds. To live extraordinary lives, as citizens of heaven before all else, it’s time that we turn down the “age of noise.”

Supporting Nebraska’s communities, supporting Catholic schools

In the early 1860s, during the time of the Civil War, a small brick Catholic schoolhouse, St. Benedict School, went up in Nebraska City, built mostly by the hands of the town’s citizens.
St. Benedict’s students were boys and girls, Catholic and non-Catholic, the children of immigrants and pioneers. Those students received the gift of Catholic education from their teachers, Benedictine nuns, and from their parents, who built the school, and from their entire community, who sacrificed so that children could be formed in faith, in character, and in knowledge.

Today, the 26 elementary schools and six high schools in the Diocese of Lincoln are extraordinary places. Our schools still serve the children of immigrants and refugees; our students represent nations and cultures from around the world—in some schools, dozens of languages are spoken, and students learn English together in the classroom.

We welcome children from families in poverty—in some schools, more than half of students qualify for free and reduced lunches, and for other kinds of assistance. We welcome children with disabilities and challenges. We welcome children from broken families needing love, attention, and assistance. Our schools serve children whether they are Catholic or not. We welcome as many children as we are able to, because the Lord calls us to love and serve with gladness.

It is a blessing to give our students an excellent education. Our teachers and administrators have the best possible training and experience. And because of the generosity of donors, our schools have the best of modern educational technology, and a full-time team of experts helping to use technology to support our educational goals. And, of course, our philosophy of education ensures that every child is held to high standards, and helped to achieve his full potential.

Our students consistently outscore their Nebraska peers on standardized tests, and are recognized by our state, and by the University of Nebraska, for their ongoing academic excellence.

But our Catholic schools also provide something no other schools can. Our students learn the meaning of their lives in Jesus Christ. They learn to put others before themselves, and to put God before all else. Our alumni become good citizens, good mothers and fathers, good leaders in business and government, and good priests and religious sisters, because they know what truth, goodness, and beauty are, and they pursue those things. Our Catholic and non-Catholic students are shaped by the virtues of our faith: they learn, and live, that faith, hope, and charity are at the center of meaningful lives.

I am continually renewed and encouraged by the character, the integrity, the ingenuity, and the imagination of our Catholic school students. They are prepared to lead loving families, holy parishes, and thriving Nebraska communities, in virtue, joy, and truth.

Catholic education in Nebraska has always been a partnership of pastors, and parents, and religious sisters, and parishioners, and communities. The Diocese of Lincoln has excellent, affordable, vibrant schools because so many people sacrifice to make them thrive. Our schools have always been an apostolate of our parishes: a dedicated effort to form all students for excellence, for happiness, and for holiness.

This year, the Nebraska Legislature is considering LB 295, the Opportunity Scholarship Act, which would give tax credits to those who donate money to the costs of private school education. The Opportunity Scholarship Act would incentivize donations for tuition scholarships to support the Catholic or private-school education of low and middle-income students, and, because many public school districts receive state aid for each enrolled child, create a direct savings for our state.

Opportunity Scholarships would allow students without financial resources to more easily attend private and parochial schools. And because Opportunity Scholarships would be funded by private donations, they would not divert any public money to non-public schools, or harm the educational mission of our public school systems. Instead, they would support a parent’s right to choose the best education for each child, and recognize the critically important role that Catholic and private schools play in our state.

Seventeen states offer Opportunity Scholarship tax credits. They’ve led to billions of dollars of states savings. And 44 states have some publicly supported options for non-public schools. Nebraska, despite its rich legacy of Catholic education, is one of only six states with no publicly supported options for school. The Opportunity Scholarship Act could change that.

Our Catholic schools support Nebraska’s communities in serious and important ways. The time is now for Nebraska to recognize and encourage those who support our Catholic schools.
I am proud of our Catholic schools, and grateful for the sacrifices that Nebraskans have made for Catholic education. I ask each of you to join me in encouraging your state senators to support the Opportunity Scholarship Act; to honor the long history of Catholic school education in Nebraska by supporting its future. 

Women’s rights are human rights

Last weekend, hundreds of thousands of women gathered for marches and demonstrations across the country, organized to proclaim that “women’s rights are human rights.”

No Catholic can dispute that claim. Women are created in the image of God, with dignity and beauty, and are deserving of the respect, honor, and appreciation afforded to every human person. And women suffer great injustices and indignities in places around the world, none of which should be tolerable for Christians. The Church should be the first to call for just, honorable, and loving treatment for every woman, at every stage of her life.

But the women’s marches organized last week, however well-intentioned, had a troubling approach to their advocacy. The marches tended towards an approach which plagues many movements in contemporary political and social life—they fostered a narrative of opposition, in which men and women are cast as adversaries, each grasping for the reins of power, instead of seeking unity, complementarity, mutual support, respect, and charity. Moreover, the marches seemed to embrace a kind of crudity which robs women of their true identity. There seemed to be a focus on crass slogans and symbols, replacing the beauty of femininity with an unbecoming, hard-edged vulgarity. This vulgarity was, in some cases, a response to intolerable and unacceptable crudities cast at women, most notably by our new president—but it should be clear that both his words and many responses were simply beneath our human dignity.

Finally, the women’s marches last week embraced the lie that legal protection for abortion promotes women’s dignity. In fact, abortion undermines the rights of women to life, to respect, and to freedom.

(Related item: Bishop Conley's column "Building a Culture of Life")

The early American feminists—women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Alice Paul—began a movement rooted in Christian morality, and pro-life convictions. Alice Paul, who wrote the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923, taught that “abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women,” through which men escape responsibility for their own choices, and use economic and social power to impose harmful choices on women. Sadly, the organizers of last weekend’s marches seem to have embraced the lie of abortion, without ever recognizing its danger.

While watching media coverage of the women’s marches, I saw a sign I greatly appreciated. A young girl held a poster with a picture of a mother and a daughter, next to the words “without a woman, you wouldn’t be here.” That sign reflects a true feminism, which recognizes that women, through whom every single person comes into the world, are deserving of the highest respect.

The Church, in our veneration of the Blessed Mother, has always recognized that women are critical to the salvation of the world, and to every single human family. Women and men, created complementary to one another, reflect the image of God.

Motherhood is an extraordinary part of the role of women in the life of the world. But, in a 2004 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Church teaches that “this does not mean that women should be considered from the sole perspective of physical procreation.” Instead, our faith teaches that the genius of women is a “capacity for the other,” a “deep intuition of the goodness in their lives of those actions which elicit life, and contribute to the growth and protection of the other.”

Women, the Church teaches, have “a sense and a respect for what is concrete,” and “a singular capacity to persevere in adversity, to keep life going even in extreme situations, to hold tenaciously to the future, and finally to remember with tears the value of every human life.”

We all depend on the feminine genius. The Church teaches that “femininity is more than simply an attribute of the female sex,” it is “the fundamental human capacity to live for the other and because of the other.” 

Men and women, who are created different, bring unique perspectives and approaches to family life, to culture and politics, and to the workplace. Both women and men are essential to the welfare of our families, our Church, and our communities. The Church teaches that, for this reason, “women should be present in the world of work and in the organization of society, and that women should have access to positions of responsibility which allow them to inspire the policies of nations and to promote innovative solutions to economic and social problems.”

To achieve a just society, we must work to make it possible for women to be welcomed in leadership and collaboration in all areas of life, and all communities. This requires policies which respect the role of women in the workplace and in the family, which ensure that women who devote the totality of their time to their families are not stigmatized or financially penalized, and which ensure that women in the workplace are not penalized or excluded because of their obligations to their families and children.

Women’s rights are, indeed, human rights. This essentially includes the right of all women to life, and the right for women to live without the coercion or exploitation of abortion. It includes the right of women to participate in social and economic leadership, and their right to do so without unjust personal or family costs. God did not create men and women to vie for power, to be at odds with one another, to be mistrustful or defensive. He created men and women, in His image, for unity, respect, support, and love. May each of us work for that unity, in our hearts, in our families, and in our world.

Building a culture of life

In 1919, almost 100 years ago, a young journalist living in New York discovered that she was pregnant. She was dating an editor, Lionel, who was nine years older than her. He pressured her to have an abortion. He told her that if she had the baby he would leave her and her journalism career would fall apart. Her family was 700 miles away. She had few friends, no real faith in God, and no money.

She went ahead with the abortion – all alone. She later said that the doctor was “dirty and furtive. He left hastily after it was accomplished, leaving me bleeding.”

When she returned to her apartment, she found a note from Lionel, saying that he was leaving her. “It is best” he wrote, “that you forget me.”

The young journalist was Dorothy Day, who later converted to Catholicism and became a great social activist, a holy mystic, and a friend to the poor. Years later, she explained that she felt she had to choose between the child she had conceived and its father; between the love of her boyfriend and her love for the child. She wrote “I wanted the baby but I wanted Lionel more. So I had the abortion and I lost them both.”

Dorothy Day learned that day in 1919 what thousands of women learn painfully each year—that abortion does not solve problems, it only adds to the pain. She learned that abortion does not heal our hurt, it only creates new wounds. Abortion does not protect women, it harms them; it brings not freedom, but coercion. The legal protection for abortion makes it easy for boyfriends, or husbands, or parents, or employers, to coerce women; to tell them that to preserve their jobs, or family life, or relationships, they must sacrifice their own children.

Dorothy Day learned what Saint Teresa of Calcutta learned from her work among women who had suffered abortion, that “abortion is profoundly anti-woman. Three quarters of its victims are women: Half the babies and all the mothers.”

Abortion has been available in our country for more than a century. And, for 44 years, it has been legally protected, in every state of our nation, by the tragic decision of Roe vs. Wade. In those 44 years, abortion has taken the lives of millions of children, and, it has caused untold pain, regret, and coercive harm to millions of women. It is time to end the scandal of legally protected abortion in our nation.

Last Saturday, I joined thousands of Nebraskans in the annual Walk for Life, a witness to the fundamental dignity of every human person, especially the unborn, the most vulnerable among us. At the end of this month, young people from Nebraska and I will travel to Washington, D.C., where we will witness to the dignity of life in the national March for Life with hundreds of thousands of Americans, walking, praying, and witnessing, in the hope of ending legal protection for abortion.

We witness to life because we believe that every single human person is made in the image of God. We believe that children, and women, deserve better than abortion.

The good news is that more young people than ever before report acknowledging the fact that abortion takes a human life, and that abortion harms women. Young people today are more likely to identify as pro-life than at any time since 1973. Millennials want to see legal protection for abortion eradicated. They also want to see policies which support the sovereignty of the family, the protection of women and the dignity of of the poor. And they’re willing to work towards those goals.

We should be encouraged by Catholics, young and old, who are working to end legal protection for abortion in our country. We should be optimistic, though cautiously optimistic, about the possibility of support for life from the incoming administration. We should continue to pursue policies which end legal protection for abortion, and hold our incoming administration accountable to its pro-life promises.

But the story of Dorothy Day reminds us of something important: ending legal protection for abortion is a critically important goal, but it is not the only goal. When Dorothy Day had an abortion, performing the abortion was a misdemeanor in New York State. Both she and the doctor broke the law. But Dorothy Day did so because she felt she had no choice: because she had no family nearby, no community, no material support, or emotional and spiritual support, she was coerced by her child’s father.

Abortion is often a temptation when expectant mothers face the challenges of loneliness, of spiritual emptiness, of unstable relationships and absent families. Poverty is often a factor in choosing abortion, but spiritual poverty, isolation, and hopelessness are far more powerful factors. The Lord calls us to give the gifts of freedom, of healing, of grace—to be conduits of love—in the lives of women and families who might be tempted to consider abortion.

This means that our parish and school communities, our social circles, our Church’s entire life, must seek out, welcome, and support those who might otherwise never find the Lord—those who, absent his love and the love of his Church, might be led into terrible and painful choices.

This January as we commemorate 44 years since Roe vs. Wade, we can be grateful that the tide is turning in our nation, and we have hope for ending legal protection for abortion. Let us also remember those who, like Dorothy Day, need the unity of the Church, and the mercy of God, before considering abortion, or after having one. And let us pray for all victims of abortion—babies, and women—as we work to build a culture of life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.    

Following the star

On Sunday, Jan. 8, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord.  The word epiphany means “revelation,” and the Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the revelation of Jesus Christ to the entire world.  We celebrate the three kings—the magi—on Epiphany because, when the magi discovered Christ, he was revealed to the world beyond Israel—and his mission of salvation for every nation began to take shape.

St. Matthew says that the magi came from “the land of the sunrise,” from the east.  Most probably, the magi were priests of a Persian religion, whom Pope Benedict XVI calls “custodians of religious and philosophical knowledge that had developed in that area and came to be cultivated there.”

At every time, in every culture, man looks up to the stars in wonder, seeking and searching for the truth. He has always done so. The philosopher Rudolf Steiner wrote that anthropos, the Greek word for man, is best understood as “he who looks up into the heights to find the source and origin of his life.” 

The magi looked up into the heights. The magi were seekers and mystics, searching for meaning in the stars. And astoundingly, they found it. They came to Jerusalem because they had seen a star which promised them that the “king of the Jews” had been born. The magi were not among the Jewish people, they did not have the benefit of God’s prophetic revelation, but still, in their own religious search for truth, they expected something great from the “king of the Jews,” and so they sought him out.

And the magi went searching in hope for the Lord after seeing a star. 

Of course, we do not know quite what they saw in the sky. The German astronomer Johannes Kepler says that Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn were aligned in the years that Jesus was most likely born. And that this alignment, if combined with the sight of celestial supernova, would have been an extraordinary vision in the sky. The Magi might have seen this, and through some glimmer of prophetic insight, expected that this star meant that a great king, a king of hope and promise, had been born in Jerusalem.

Pope Benedict says that the magi remind us that “the cosmos speaks of Christ, even though its language is not yet fully intelligible to man in his present state. The language of creation… gives man an intuition of the Creator. Moreover, it arouses the expectation, indeed the hope, that this God will one day reveal himself.”

The magi also tell us that many men and women of wisdom, from other religious faiths, are earnestly seeking God, and searching for the truth. That many seek Christ without knowing it, because they are seeking something great from God, and seeking him in hope. The magi remind us that there are often glimmers of truth—penumbras of God’s revelation—which can and should lead all people to discover the savior of the world.

When the magi began their journey, they did not go straight to Christ—they went to Jerusalem—and they remind us that those who seek God may come close to Christ, but they will not know and enjoy real and authentic communion with him unless we point the way, unless we lead them directly to the King of Kings.  The magi glean a great deal about God through his creation.  But leading the world to know the Lord, Jesus Christ, is the work and mission of his disciples—each one of us.

When the magi went to Jerusalem, they asked King Herod to help them find the newborn King of the Jews. But Herod knew that if a Messiah had come, his own power would be lost, his own pride would be humbled, his own reign would have to submit to the Christ. And so, rather than seek the truth, he sought to protect his own interests, and ordered a massacre of any child who might be the Christ.

The magi found Jesus, and despite the words of Herod, they worshipped him.

In the story of the magi, each one of us is reminded that Christ has come to lead all people to Christ. That we must be witnesses and evangelists.  That we must find those who seek him, like the magi, and lead them to truth. That knowing Christ requires humility, and sacrifice, and placing the truth above our own narrow interests. 

St. Paul says that God has given us the grace to make disciples of Jesus Christ of all nations. And by the grace in every human heart, many are seeking the Lord. May we proclaim that Christ the King, the Lord of every human heart, has been born.  May we proclaim “Emmanuel”—God is with us—to everyone who seeks to know and live the truth.

Jesus Christ is born

His name is Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. He is the savior of the world. He is the Lord of the dead and of the living, the Lord of time and history. He is the the Word of God, the eternal son of the Father, who has always existed, and who will always exist.

He is God made man. And he was born in a stable, a cave, probably, where livestock were kept. After he was born, he was lovingly dressed by his mother, and then his exhausted parents laid him in the best place they could find, a hastily cleaned feeding trough, where animals had been eating just hours before.

To be sure, a barn is an unworthy place for any woman to give birth, for any baby to be born. A trough is an inhospitable and unwelcoming crib. But this is the place where Jesus Christ, God made man was born. His parents were so poor they had no place to stay. They were alone in a strange city, apart from their families, delivering the King of Kings in a drafty, earthy, inhospitable barn.

The Lord chose this humble place for his entrance into the world. And Pope Benedict says that the birthplace of Jesus “points towards the reversal of values found in the figure of Jesus Christ and his message. From the moment of his birth, he belongs outside the realm of what is important and powerful in worldly terms.”

We, the disciples and followers of Jesus, need to remember his birth each day. We need to remember that the savior of the world chose to be born into indecency, homelessness, even temporarily. And for all his life, he remained outside the centers of power and influence, outside the realm of security and comfort.

St. John’s Gospel tells us that “he came into his own home, and his own people received him not.” 

He himself told us “foxes have dens, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

He came into the world outside of the city, and, later, he was crucified outside of the city.

When he was born, Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes—he was wrapped tightly, so that he would rest comfortably. And then he was laid atop a manger of stone. His birth evokes the memory of Isaac, the son of Abraham, who was bound and laid on a stone altar, before the Lord provided a lamb to be offered in his place.

From the very first moment of his birth, Christ was bound to be the sacrificial victim, the innocent lamb led to the slaughter, who would give his life for the salvation of the whole world. And he was laid in a place where animals eat. He, Jesus, is the true and living bread of life, his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink, which gives us eternal life. In the manger, Christ reveals to us that he will give himself to us as real food and real drink, true and living nourishment.

As he lay in the manger, shepherds came to adore him. In fact, they ran to adore him. They knelt before him, and gave God thanks and praise for the presence of his son in the world. They rejoiced, and worshipped, and gave glory to God in the highest. The shepherds humbled themselves to kneel before a child, hidden in a barn, and trusted that he was the Lord of the Universe.

Christ is present to us now in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Most Blessed Sacrament. When we adore him in the Holy Eucharist, exposed upon the altar, we continue to experience the joy and wonder of those shepherds. We kneel before the true food of Christ’s body, in his sacramental presence in the Eucharist. We kneel as if before the manger in Bethlehem. And we give thanks, and glory, and honor to God, who sent his son into the world, so that we could have eternal life. Praise and adoration is the only fitting response. This is why Eucharistic Adoration is so important for our spiritual lives. Praise and adoration was the first response of those who came to Bethlehem two thousand years ago, and praise and adoration must be our response as well.

God is present to each one of us, because the savior of the world came to us, in humility and poverty. He revealed to us the glory of God, the redemption of men, the eternal love of the Trinity.  In adoration and worship, he calls us to set aside worldly honor, or power, or glory. The shepherds humbled themselves to kneel before a child, hidden in a barn.

When we kneel before the Holy Eucharist, Christ hidden under the appearance of bread, we can trust that he is the Lord of all things, and that he came to heal us, free us, and to give us the life of the Trinity itself forever. This kind of trust is not easy. But trust is precisely what Christ has asked of his disciples from the very moment of his birth, since the Lord of the Universe was born in a stable, outside of the small city of Bethlehem, to transform and redeem every single heart.

The just man

Christmas is more than the tree, the carols, the presents, and the feasting. Christmas is more than even time with family and friends. Christmas is our recollection and celebration of the Incarnation of the Word of God, Jesus Christ, who was born more than 2,000 years ago in a stable in Bethlehem.

Christmas is the celebration of a fact of history, a reality: that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come into the world, and that through his life, death, and resurrection, death itself was defeated, and we can now share the glory of the Trinity for all eternity.

Christmas comes, like Christ, into the world whether or not we are prepared for it. Christ has come into the world whether or not we really understand how and in what way his coming into the world will transform our lives. There is a danger at Christmas, that in the noise, and activity, and festivities of the season, we will not see the presence of Christ among us, or hear the voice of the Lord calling us to follow him in extraordinary ways.

There is, perhaps, no one who understands that more than St. Joseph. When Mary found out that she was with child, and would bear the savior of the world, she was engaged to an honest workingman, a carpenter from Nazareth named Joseph.

When the Blessed Mother had become pregnant, Joseph faced a difficult choice. The law required that if a betrothed woman was unfaithful, the engagement should be cancelled.
St. Joseph was a just man, who wanted to follow the law faithfully, and to follow it in love. In his book “Jesus of Nazareth,” Pope Benedict XVI explains that Joseph’s task was “to interpret and follow the law faithfully,” to decide whether to bring Mary to court, where her pregnancy would be exposed, or to quietly end the betrothal. St. Joseph knew that if Mary’s pregnancy had been exposed, she would have been outcast, shamed, and would have carried in their community the stigma of adultery.

Pope Benedict says that Joseph made a choice to love. “He does not want to give Mary up to public shame. He wishes her well, even in the hour of his great disappointment… He lives the law as Gospel. He seeks the path that brings law and love into a unity.”

For that reason, St. Joseph, following the law, decided to end his engagement quietly, rather than “put her to shame.”

Pope Benedict says that St. Joseph’s decision was the result of a lifetime spent in dialogue with God, a “man with roots in the living waters of God’s word.” Because of his justice, his mercy, and his intimate discipleship with God, Pope Benedict says that St. Joseph is “inwardly prepared for the new, unexpected, and humanly speaking incredible news that comes to him from God.”

In fact, after St. Joseph decided to quietly end his engagement, an angel appeared to him in a dream, telling him “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

St. Joseph was given extraordinary clarity of vision, as a particular and special grace from the Lord. And because St. Joseph was a lifelong disciple of the Lord, who placed God’s revelation above his own desires or happiness, he heard the Lord’s call, even in his dream, and had the courage to follow it. 

Pope Benedict writes that “this shows us an essential quality of the figure of St. Joseph: his capacity to perceive the divine and his ability to discern. Only a man who is inwardly watchful for the divine, only someone with a real sensitivity for God and his ways, can receive God’s message in this way.”

As God speaks to him through an angel, Pope Benedict says that “Joseph is drawn up into the mystery of God’s incarnation.”

The Lord wants to draw us up into the mystery of his incarnation, as well. God wants to redeem us, and make us holy, and he wants us to participate in his plan for the salvation of the world. God has a role for each one of us, an important place in the mystery of the incarnation.

We might miss it—we might not hear the Lord’s call, unless, like St. Joseph, we are “watchful for the divine,” we are in “dialogue with God,” we have cultivated an intimate friendship with the Lord. To become a part of the mystery of the incarnation, we need to seek God, in silence, in prudence, in discernment, and in faith. The Lord’s coming into the world, and into our lives, can surprise us. Like St. Joseph, we must be ready, and we must be listening.


Six hundred years before the coming of Christ, God sent the prophet Zephaniah to call his people to conversion.  Zephaniah called the Kingdom of Judah to observe the promise of the covenant, and to wait in hope for the fulfillment of God’s promises.  Zephaniah foretold that “a mighty savior” would bring glory, and peace, and joy, to the Lord’s chosen people. 

“Rejoice, daughter of Zion, shout, Israel,” Zephaniah proclaimed, “the King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, a mighty savior, who will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love.”

When the angel Gabriel appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary to announce that she would bear the Messiah, he greeted her with the Greek word chaire, which means “Rejoice!”

“Rejoice, O favored one of God,” Gabriel proclaimed. “The Lord is with you!”

Gabriel had good reason to call Mary to rejoice.  As the angel spoke, he reminded her of the promises of the prophets, and he told her that the long-awaited savior would be her son; that through her, the Lord would renew the people of Israel “in his love.”

When Christ was born, angels appeared to shepherds outside of Bethlehem, with a call to rejoice.  The angels appeared with “good news of great joy,” and appeared as a multitude expressing their joy in praise to the Lord.

Joy is the gift the Lord Jesus gives the world by his Incarnation.  Joy is a supernatural gift.  Joy comes from heaven.  Pope Benedict XVI wrote that “joy appears” during Advent “as the particular gift of the Holy Spirit, the true gift of the Redeemer.  So a chord is sounded with the angel’s salutation which then resounds throughout the life of the Church.”

During Advent, the Church remembers the gift of joy that the Lord gives us, especially on Advent’s third Sunday: Gaudete Sunday.  For more than one thousand years, the Church has celebrated a moment of joy during the season of Advent—because when we experience joy, we know that the Lord is near.  When we experience joy in the liturgy of Gaudete Sunday, we know that the Lord’s Incarnation, at Christmas, is nearing. 

Joy is the fruit of faith, hope, and love.  And it is the response of our souls to communion with God.  Joy is a mark of faith—those who know the Lord, and who are near to him, well up with joy.  On Gaudete Sunday, we pray that the Lord might increase our joy, and in so doing, we pray that we might draw ever closer to Jesus Christ, the source of all joy. 

Chaire, “rejoice” — with which Gabriel greeted Mary — has the same root as charis, the Greek word for grace.  Pope Benedict XVI wrote that “joy and grace belong together.”

During this season of Advent, may we continue to pray that the Holy Spirit increase our joy, and that the Lord might be ever close to us.  May we receive the grace of the Eucharist, and the grace of mercy, which “belongs together” with joy.  May we rejoice with the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, because the Lord is truly with us!  

Waiting and watching for Christ

Christ has come into the world.

More than 2,000 years ago, the Word of God, the eternal Son of the Father—God, himself—became a man, and came into the world as an infant, born quietly, in poor and humble circumstances, while few took note of his arrival. He came to fulfill God’s promise through the prophets; he came to conquer sin and death; he came so that we human beings—fallen, sinful, and mortal—could be transformed, and share in God’s own divinity, living the life of the Trinity itself, forever.

Those who knew that God had come into the world were those who were already seeking God, awaiting his promise, or listening for his voice. The Blessed Mother and St. Joseph heard the Lord tell them, through his angels, that they would bring God into the world and become his family. St. Elizabeth, thankful for the extraordinary grace of God in her own life, recognized that her cousin Mary had become the “mother of the Lord.” The shepherds outside Bethlehem heard a great proclamation as they humbly and quietly tended to their sheep. The wise men of the east—the Magi—knew that something extraordinary happened, because they sought the truth, looking up at the skies in wonder and searching for the presence of God in the world.

Christ comes now into the world. 

Christ comes into the world now, in the Eucharist and in the other sacraments, in the Church, in Sacred Scripture, and in our hearts. Christ comes into our lives to give us the gift of his redemption, of his sacrifice, of his promise. Christ comes into our lives to heal us, and set us free. Christ comes into our lives to make all things new—our hearts, our minds, our wills—and to make us holy disciples of God.

He comes quietly into the world, without fanfare or majesty. Those who know that he has come are those who search for meaning, those who quiet their hearts from distractions, and those who set aside pride, or complacency, or cynicism, or vanity, to search earnestly for the truth, and to accept it, even when it seems impossible.
Christ will come again into the world.

At the end of this world, Christ will come in glory, to bring the final triumph of good over evil, to reveal our hearts, and to judge every human being according to his justice, and his mercy. Christ will come so that the living and the dead who have responded to God’s grace will enter eternal life with the Trinity. Christ will come again after great trials and persecutions, but we will not know the hour, we will not know the time or the place.

Those who will be prepared for his glorious coming are those who have been waiting and watching for Christ; those who have been seeking to live in truth, and placing their trust in almighty God. Those who will be prepared are those who have taken up the call to discipleship, who have chosen goodness, who have not put off his call. God’s call to holiness is immediate, his call to follow him is urgent. We do not know when he will return. But we know that he will, indeed, return at some point and we need to be prepared.

The coming of Christ—yesterday, today, and tomorrow—is what Advent is about. Advent is a moment in which the Church calls us to remember that Christ has come, and is coming now, and will come again. Advent is a reminder to repent, to prepare our hearts, and to search for the coming of Jesus Christ.

Blessed John Henry Newman wrote about those who are preparing for Christ’s coming. “They watch for Christ,” he wrote, “who have a sensitive, eager, apprehensive mind, who are awake, alive, quick-sighted, zealous in seeking and honoring Him, who look out for Him in all that happens, and who would not be surprised, who would not be over-agitated or overwhelmed, if they found that he was coming at once ... This then is to watch: to be detached from what is present, and to live in the thought of Christ as He came once, and as He will come again; to desire His second coming, from our affectionate and grateful remembrance of His first.”

Newman’s reminder is a blueprint for our call this Advent. We should open our minds, by honoring and seeking God. We should repent of our sin. We should do our best to detach ourselves from distractions and comforts, and ask for the Lord’s help. We should read Scripture, and spend time in prayer and worship, so that we will remember that he has come, know that he is with us now, and will have a strong desire in our hearts for his coming again.

Jesus Christ is coming into this world. Let us watch for him: awake, eager, humble, and prepared.

Reasons to give thanks

1863 was the bloodiest year of the Civil War.  By some estimates, more than 200,000 American soldiers died that year.  Our nation was wounded, deeply divided, and angry.  Political leaders were distrusted and reviled, the economy was fluctuating wildly, immigrants and minorities were marginalized, and religious practice was waning in some places, and taking new and unusual forms in other places.  In 1863, many people wondered whether the United States would survive as a nation very much longer.

Writing to his divided and discouraged country, President Lincoln issued a proclamation recalling the many blessings that Almighty God had given our nation.  Lincoln recognized that the United States had been showered with “the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.” 

Lincoln called for a national day of thanksgiving, because he knew that in moments of division or discouragement, or fear, the first thing to do is to remember what the Lord has given us, to remember our responsibilities to him, and to give thanks.

The Lord has, indeed, remembered us in his mercy.  He has graced us with his presence, in his word, in the Church, in the Sacraments, and in the hearts of millions of earnest believers across our country who seek to do God’s will in their lives.  He has graced us with the gift of freedom: the liberty to seek the Lord and to serve him, and to worship him, as he has called us.  He has graced us with peace, and security, and a prosperity so excessive that each one of us has the ability to do incredible amounts of good for those who are poor and without the basic material goods of life.

Because of the Lord’s blessings, we have the freedom to follow the commands of the Gospel in extraordinary ways.  Because of his blessings, we have the freedom to love our neighbors well, to protect and serve our common good, to build the bonds of unity in our nation, despite our profound political disagreements.  Because of the Lord’s blessings, we have the freedom and responsibility to support unborn children and their parents, even in crisis situations.  We have the freedom to build a culture which values and supports human dignity and the gifts of life, marriage and parenthood. 

Because of the Lord’s blessings, we have the freedom and the responsibility, to build an economy in which every family can meaningfully participate and benefit. 

Because of the Lord’s blessings, we have the freedom and responsibility to welcome immigrants generously to our nation, to provide families with an opportunity to share in our blessings and prosperity, to remember that we are a continent of immigrants, who, through God’s blessings, have become a nation. We must never forget these truths.

In 1987, Pope St. John Paul spoke to our nation saying that “the ultimate test of your greatness is the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenseless ones.”  Because of God’s blessings, we can make our nation great, by making our nation holy.  We have the freedom and the responsibility to do so.

We are living at a moment of extraordinary division, discouragement, uncertainty, and fear in our country.  Even in our local community we are living in a moment in which racial, social, economic, religious, and political differences have become charged, too often, with anger or resentment.  Our moment in history calls for Thanksgiving: God calls us to remember what he has given us, to repent of our own sinfulness, and to foster the common good, trusting in His Providence.

In his Thanksgiving Proclamation, Lincoln expressed hope that as Americans give the thanks “justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers… and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union.”

May we give God thanks.  May we repent of our sins.  May we live the freedom and responsibility God has given us.  And may God restore our nation to peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

Servants of Christ the King

On the Solemnity of Christ the King Nov. 20, the great Jubilee Year of Mercy will come to an end. In Rome, a friend tells me that there has been a little bit of concern about the end of the Year of Mercy. Typically, a jubilee year ends with the closing of the great holy doors at St. Peter’s Basilica. But there is some concern about a ceremony to “close the doors of mercy!” This is not exactly the message the Church wants to send! (Editor's Note:  Read more about the holy doors at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln.)

Although the Year of Mercy will come to an end, its message is that God’s mercy is inexhaustible, and never-ending. And because the Year of Mercy ends on the Solemnity of Christ the King, God’s Providence reminds us that the Lord, who is kind and merciful, is the sovereign Lord of our hearts, our lives, and the sovereign Lord of history.

We are living at an important juncture in history. Last week, the results of the presidential election were a surprise to many people. We have some reasons to hope that the incoming administration will do some good things for our nation after this election, especially when it comes to greater protection for the unborn and greater respect for the human right of religious liberty and conscience protection. But we have to hold the administration accountable to its promises to defend life and religious liberty. And we have to insist that the administration take seriously the sovereignty of the family, especially of immigrant families, the moral good of affordable healthcare, and the Church’s commitment to the poor. We have to insist upon a robust defense of human dignity, as it impacts economic policies, immigration policy, foreign and domestic policy agendas, and as it impacts our national character.

Since the election, protests have sparked in cities across the United States, and some cases have become occasions of considerable and inexcusable violence. The protests are a visible sign of how deeply divided our nation really is at this moment in her history. And the protests are a reminder of our Catholic obligation to foster the common good, to build a civilization of love, and to be true missionaries of mercy—those who reveal the mercy, peace, and the transformative power of Christ the King.

The day after the election, Pope Francis prayed that we would “make God’s merciful love ever more evident in our world through dialogue, mutual acceptance and fraternal cooperation.” The Holy Father was pointing to an important reality. God calls communities, and states, and nations, to a true internal communion—to a unity with one another, rooted in the unity of the Most Holy Trinity itself.

God calls the bonds of our national unity to be the bonds of a particular kind of love. And for that to come to fruition, we must be committed to genuine love of our neighbors—not to loving “mankind” in the abstract, but to regarding our countrymen, our individual neighbors whom we know, and those with whom we disagree, as the beloved children of God.

This does not mean that we should ignore disagreements with one another. Instead, it means that we should have disagreements in humility, in peace, in the true charity which is gained by seeing one another through the eyes of mercy.

Each one of us needs to pray that we will see all of our fellow citizens as Christ the King sees them: as his beloved subjects, his brothers and sisters, and those for whom he willingly gave his life on the cross.

We have serious work to do in the political forum in the next four years. But we also need to rebuild the public square as a place in which Christ the King is sovereign, and his mercy is the beginning of real common ground.

May God grant us the humility, the hope, and courage to live as subjects of Christ the Merciful King, so that his peace may reign in our hearts, and in our nation.

Signs of contradiction

The following is an excerpt from “Make Disciples of This Nation,” a speech given by Bishop Conley Oct. 29, at a Catholic Answers conference in Omaha.

GK Chesterton says each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.

We are called to be disciples of all nations, to proclaim the Gospel and bring the world to Jesus Christ. The world sorely needs Christ. It’s clear, and becoming clearer every day, that our culture is characterized by relativistic consumer values and a profound crisis of real meaning. It’s become clear that we do not live in an era defined by Christian virtue, or a true sense of human dignity.

If we are going to make disciples in the stark, technocratic, lonely culture of American public life, we need to become signs of contradiction. In today’s world, that means that we are called embrace what the world rejects: friendship, beauty, goodness, truth, weakness, suffering, joy, and hope. If we are going to become the saints of this moment, it will be because we embrace the reality of human life, living fully and freely: because of the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.

Becoming a sign of contradiction is not the same as becoming contrarian. Evangelization is not a war with the world. Nor does becoming a sign of contradiction mean withdrawing from the world. The world is already mired in conflict, and fractured, and atomized. Becoming a sign of contradiction means witnessing to something more delightful, more profound, and more meaningful than what our world offers.

Evangelization is an invitation, expressed in love, to encounter, love, and serve the living God. Evangelization is a witness to the real peace, joy, and hope of life in Jesus Christ.

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of leading a candlelit Eucharistic procession through the Lincoln campus of the University of Nebraska. More than 500 college students walked in the procession. We stopped at three outdoor altars for prayers and benediction, one in front of the student union, one in front of Memorial Stadium—right in front of the statue of Bob Devaney!—and one on the corner of “Fraternity and Sorority Row” on 16th Street. The students sang hymns as we walked. It was a powerful witness of public faith, and a powerful sign of contradiction.

The third altar was across from the Lutheran Student Center. As we passed by, Newman Center students signaled to students standing at the window to come and join us—and they did! Five Lutheran students joined in the procession back to the Newman Center, where we had the concluding benediction and the Divine Praises.

I met these students after the procession, and we talked, in a spirited and meaningful conversation, about the Eucharist. It was wonderful! Our sign of contradiction led to a moment of evangelization.

Every human heart is made for love. Every human wants to be free. Thirty years of priesthood have taught me that every single soul is seeking mercy.

God made us that way.  And becoming signs of contradictions means witnessing to the love, and freedom, and mercy that we have experienced in Jesus Christ.

Becoming signs of contradiction means forming authentic friendships and authentic communities. Becoming signs of contradiction means witnessing to the freedom that comes from the sacrifice and self-denial of real love. Becoming signs of contradiction means promoting the true, the good, and in our culture, most especially the beautiful. Being signs of contradiction means sharing that Jesus Christ is a person, whom we know, and love, and whom we have experienced loving us.

This summer at World Youth Day in Poland, Pope Francis said something very profound at the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, He said that “God saves us by making himself little, near and real.”

That’s true. Each one of us can know God, and love him, and follow him because we have the experience of his reality, through which we can say “Love looks like this. Truth speaks this way. Salvation has come, in this man, Jesus of Nazareth, who is not a proposition or a conclusion, but a person.”

Becoming signs of contradiction means speaking, from one heart to another, of the love of Jesus Christ, who is small, near, real.  God calls each one of us to that mission.

May we have the courage to become signs of contradiction—witnesses of love—and to proclaim that God, little, near, and real, calls every human heart to his eternal mercy.

Benedict in the ruins

St. Benedict and St. Scholastica were twins, born in the Italian city of Norcia more than 1,500 years ago, in the year 480. They changed the world. Benedict is the father of western monasticism: he was a hermit who developed a rule for monastic life that transformed the Church, transformed Europe, and transformed the world.

The Rule of St. Benedict established the principles that are at the heart of nearly all of the Church’s monastic traditions. When Benedict founded a community of monks in the sixth century, he developed a pattern for labor and prayer that millions of people around the world still follow, in one form or another. And when the Benedictine Order spread across Europe, it brought peace and tranquility to warring and lawless territories, and, more importantly, it brought the light of Jesus Christ to untold numbers of souls.

We cannot overestimate the significance of St. Benedict in the spread of the Gospel, the development of western culture, or the sanctification of the world. Pope Benedict XVI called St. Benedict “the father of many nations;” he often said that one can hardly understand Europe, the Church, or Christian civilization without understanding St. Benedict.

Benedict’s sister, St. Scholastica, is no less significant. Scholastica began the Benedictine Order for women, which also spread in extraordinary ways around the world. And Scholastica was the most trusted confidant, advisor, and collaborator of her brother St. Benedict. Their spiritual friendship influenced every part of the development of Benedictine spirituality and monasticism.

Since the deaths of Benedict and Scholastica, pilgrims have visited their birthplace to pray for their intercession, and to pray for the salvation of the world. The Basilica of St. Benedict, built over their birthplace, grew up over hundreds of years, little by little, through painstaking labor, until its completion in the sixteenth century.

On Sunday, Oct. 30, a basilica that took hundreds of years to build was flattened in a matter of minutes. Around 7:40 a.m., Norcia and the surrounding mountains were shaken by Italy’s strongest earthquake in decades. This, in fact, was the second major earthquake in Norcia in recent months. The basilica crumbled. All the other churches in this picturesque Umbrian town did too. Miraculously, though more than 3,000 people were evacuated from their homes, there were only 20 injuries, and no deaths.

The Benedictine Monks of Norcia emailed their friends just a few hours after the earthquake. They were all safe, and they had begun helping with the rescue efforts. The priests of Norcia’s monastery were especially looking for those who might need anointing of the sick or spiritual support. The monks gathered, as soon as they could, at their mountain monastery to pray for the people of Norcia before they continued helping with the rescue effort.

The prior, or superior, at the monastery in Norcia, has been my friend for nearly 20 years. The monks of Norcia began their community in Rome in the mid-90s. They were a small community of three, though they have grown exponentially since then. I would visit Father Cassian Folsom, the prior, and his monks in a small upstairs chapel near the Roman Forum. We would often pray vespers together, or share a meal.

The monks of Norcia are witnessing to the world an important reminder. Their home has crumbled around them. But they are undeterred in hope. Christ is the source of their hope, and the center of their lives. They are able to carry on in the ruins of their home because they have fortitude, and hope, and charity. They know the Lord has called them to continue to pray, and continue to work. They know that God calls them to be a source of grace in the middle of tragedy.

I often speak with friends these days who feel that our culture is crumbling around us. That things built over centuries have collapsed very quickly. I know how easy it is to become discouraged. But the monks of Norcia are a shining witness to the call of every Christian. If Christ is our hope, we will carry on, with fortitude, no matter what happens around us. In every season and circumstance, God calls us to pray and to work – ora et labora. And when culture crumbles, God calls us to be a source of grace in the middle of tragedy.

The philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre says that the world is “waiting for another St. Benedict.” The monks of Norcia, following their holy founder, will spread the Gospel, and worship the Lord, and bring hope, peace, and freedom in the midst of their crumbled city. May each one of us have the courage to do the same.


The Monks of Norcia are raising funds to aid relief efforts and rebuild the churches of Norcia.  To support them, visit:

Deliver us from evil

Each time we pray as Jesus taught us, we ask God to “deliver us from evil.”

Evil is real. Evil is not only an abstract idea or the absence of good. Evil is a person, Satan: the Evil One. Satan is the angel who opposes God and who desires to disrupt the power of God in our lives. Satan, the father of all lies, wants to trap us in evil in order to prevent God’s plan from being accomplished in our lives, to keep us from doing good in the world, and to keep us from eternal intimacy with God in heaven.

Evil can keep us from living as God made us to live; evil can keep us from becoming the saints God wants us to be, evil can make us slaves, and ultimately, evil can lead us to final separation from God in eternal damnation. But the Lord conquers all evil. And St. Paul taught that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

Through the power of God, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, evil can be conquered, and we can be set free.

When Christ became a man, and when he died and conquered death in his resurrection, he assured us that we can be delivered from evil through his victory. He assured us that we can conquer even the great evil of death, because he conquered it, and by his grace, we share in that victory.

We are delivered from evil through baptism and confirmation, through confession, through the most Holy Eucharist. But our lives can be entangled with the evil of sin, and that evil can bind us. The evil of anger, of self-doubt, of fear, of pride, or shame, or mistrust, or laxity, or scrupulosity can work its way into our lives and prevent us from living in the real freedom God has planned for us. Christ can cast out these spirits and each time we pray the Lord’s prayer; we can be delivered from evil.

Satan works most often in ways that are subtle, that begin almost unnoticed, and that grow and fester over time into serious problems. Satan wants his work to be unnoticed in our lives. In The Screwtape Letters, the Christian apologist CS Lewis says that Satan wants to tempt us with “the safest road to Hell… the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

To be sure, there are those who encounter Satan in more dramatic ways, in the manifestations of demonic possession. Those occurrences are addressed, through the power of Jesus Christ, by a priest who is properly trained to identify them, understand them, and rebuke them. But Satan usually works through less apparent pathways: through whispered temptations, which can lodge themselves in our hearts in subtle and unnoticed ways.

To be sure, God wants to us to be free of the influence of evil in our lives. He wants to deliver us from all evil. And praying for deliverance, as a specific intention and with confidence in God’s power, can transform our lives.

In the Diocese of Lincoln, many Catholics have experienced the grace of freedom, of deliverance from entanglements with evil, through the ministry of Unbound teams. Unbound is a ministry which helps Catholics to pray for deliverance from the influence of evil in specific ways.

Through Unbound ministry, Catholics repent and seek freedom from their sins. They renounce the specific ways in which Satan’s lies have impacted them in the authority of Jesus, and then seek the blessing of God the Father through the prayers of other faithful Catholics. The ministry of Unbound is not a ministry of exorcism; it is instead an exercise of prayer—of entrusting all things to the power of Jesus Christ, and asking him for true and lasting freedom.

Evil is real. But grace is also real. And the power of God’s grace conquers all evil—and can conquer the evils present in our own lives. St. Paul says that the “fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” God desires to bring those spirits into our lives, and to deliver us, and set us free, from everything that keeps us from him. Oh Lord, deliver us from evil.

Virtue and the common good

The presidential election of 2016, I am convinced, will be remembered as one of the most dispiriting periods in American history. The last few weeks of the presidential race have been characterized by a kind of mean-spiritedness, egoism, and unvarnished ambition for power—on both sides—that would have been unimaginable even just a few years ago.

Regardless of who becomes President, the past several months have made obvious how uncivil and vicious our public conversation can become when our leaders lose sight of basic human virtues.

In a dispiriting period like ours, it’s easy to become hopeless about the future of our country, and especially about the integrity of our civic leaders and institutions. In fact, that’s exactly what Satan hopes will come from a political contest like this one. The evil one tempts us to cynicism and despondency. He hopes to undo our patriotism, our trust in one another, and our commitment to collaborating for the common good. The evil one uses bad situations to rob us of our hope.

It helps, in a political season like ours, to remember and recognize that virtuous public leaders do still serve the common good, that public institutions can provide meaningful and just assistance to our state and our community, and that our voices, and our votes, still matter in public life.

It helps, once in a while, to turn from what’s broken in order to be thankful, and grateful, for the good that can be accomplished in public life, and by government leaders.

The Catholic Church has long taught that government has the responsibility to assist families trying to raise their children and live their vocation well, and to assist the poor, the elderly, and the physically and mentally ill. The principles of subsidiarity and solidarity call us to just that.

Subsidiarity calls governments to support the vocation of parents, and solidarity calls us to “friendship” and a “preferential option” for those facing hardships and need. The Church also teaches that governments need to be good stewards: spending money wisely, and not mortgaging the future for the sake of the present.

Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is charged with many serious responsibilities of subsidiarity and solidarity.  DHHS provides Medicaid assistance and administers the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, for those without access to medical care or nutritious food. DHHS serves military veterans, living in State Veterans’ Homes in Norfolk, Bellevue, Grand Island, and Scottsbluff.

Through the Aid to Dependent Children program, vulnerable and needy children are given opportunities and assistance, most especially the opportunity to qualify for well-paying jobs, and experience the dignity of supporting themselves through work instead of long-term dependence on public assistance. The Department’s Behavioral Health Division provides resources, services, and counseling to many of the 37,000 children in Nebraska who experience behavioral health disorders, and to parents and adults struggling with mental health challenges, or addictions.

The work of DHHS is a compliment to the Church’s own work to serve the poor and the vulnerable. DHHS serves foster children, and needy families, and those who find themselves on the margins of society—what Pope Francis calls the “existential peripheries” of our communities.  Their work is an expression of the government obligation of justice: giving that which is due to one other. It is also a commitment to the common good, to serve those in need. And it is an act of virtue and justice when state governments are good stewards of our financial resources.

For several years, Nebraska’s DHHS has been criticized for wasteful spending and inefficient service. Administrative issues kept needy families from service and from opportunities. But over the past few years, I have been grateful that Governor Pete Ricketts and the Nebraska Legislature have made real efforts to bring efficiency, expertise, justice, and mercy to the work of DHHS.

In the past few years, Governor Ricketts, legislative leaders, and DHHS CEO Courtney Philips have worked together to build a new plan for service to Nebraskans in need of assistance. DHHS has developed new business plans, begun tracking the efficiency and accuracy of services, increased funds available to the neediest families, and increased school attendance and performance rates among needy children, accomplishing more for Nebraska’s children and needy families, while lowering costs to be good stewards.

We should place our hope in Jesus Christ, and Christ alone. But the Catholic Church believes that governments have a mission and responsibility, which comes from Christ, to serve the common good by supporting and recognizing the dignity and rights of every human being. Where our governments, and civic officials, are working to fulfill that mission, they ought to be recognized. And when governments work to act with virtue, we ought to be encouraged. 

The power of good teachers

This week, the Diocese of Lincoln honored more than 100 teachers celebrating milestones of service in Catholic schools: 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35 years and beyond. We honored Marian Sister Loretta Happe (pictured) for 50 years of service as a Catholic school teacher.

Many of us can point to the holy and meaningful teachers who have revealed the Gospel to us, and have witnessed to life in Jesus Christ. I converted to the Catholic faith during my college years, and my teacher, Professor John Senior, was also my godfather. His lectures and courses revealed truth to me. But his life, more than anything else, was a witness to the living reality of Christian discipleship. My godfather, and his collaborators, and my fellow students, gave a witness to intellectual and spiritual life in Jesus Christ, a model that still inspires me today.

Truth and beauty is revealed in the real lives of good teachers. This week we celebrated the 171st anniversary of the conversion of Blessed John Henry Newman, the great Anglican convert to the Catholic Church and Oxford professor of the classics. Newman was a gifted teacher and a gifted preacher. He had a tremendous influence in the lives of his students, mostly undergraduates at the University of Oxford.

Newman understood that we experience the deepest conversion to faith when we see it in concrete realities, among the lives of believers and the saints, and especially the lives of our teachers,

He wrote that we come to a deeper kind of knowledge of God, which he called “real assent,” when we see it in concrete and living realities. Real assent, he wrote, as opposed to merely “notional assent,” comes “through the imagination, by means of direct impressions, by the testimony of facts and events, by history, by description. Persons influence us, voices melt us, looks subdue us, deeds inflame us. Many a man will live and die upon a dogma: no man will be a martyr for a conclusion.” 

The best kind of education, and the best kind of teachers, reveal faith to us, and teach us what it means to be free.

Aristotle called the basis for all education the “liberal arts.” That term doesn’t mean just studying history or literature. “Liberal arts” is a term to describe the habits of mind, the powers of induction and deduction, the virtues, especially, that make us free. Liberal arts give us liberty. True education gives us freedom. And Catholic education is a vital part of growing in holiness and missionary discipleship, a vital part of becoming a saint.

Virtue makes us authentically who we are. And imparting virtue, in the mind, and in the will, is what makes a good teacher. Helping students to do their duties to the Lord and to their neighbors, to train their minds, to grow in will and knowledge, in imagination and charity, is at the heart of Catholic education. Giving students a vision for their own good—for a rich and full life in Jesus Christ, is the longstanding mission of Catholic education, and the mission of good Catholic teachers.

Our Catholic school teachers prepare students for careers. But more importantly, they prepare them for the most important challenges of their lives: to be parents, or priests, or religious. They prepare them to choose goodness when no is watching, and to love with consistency and generosity. Our Catholic school teachers show students how to serve the Lord, with their hearts, and minds, and strength.

The profound relationship between teacher and student is the impetus for so many great things. I am grateful for the Catholic school teachers of the Diocese of Lincoln. Please pray for them, and support them, as they help our students to know the Gospel, and to know true and lasting freedom through life in Jesus Christ.

Our Lady of Victory

On October 7, 1571, the rosary saved Western Civilization.

In 1571, the Christian nations of Europe were under siege in the Mediterranean. Ships of the Turkish Ottoman Empire were bent on capturing port cities and expanding the rule of their empire. Pope Leo XIII wrote that “the vast forces of the Turks threatened to impose on nearly the whole of Europe the yoke of superstition and barbarism.”

In Cyprus, thousands of Venetian colonists were trapped by the Turks, starving and exhausted, entire cities were tortured and executed. If the Ottoman Empire were not stopped in the Mediterranean, the colonists would die and the Catholic nations of Europe would likely be overtaken—forced to submit to Ottoman rule.

To defend Christendom, Pope Pius V brought together forces from across Catholic Europe to form the Holy League, who agreed to work together to defend Europe. Under the leadership of the Captain Don Juan of Austria, more than 200 ships sailed to defend Cyprus, and push back the Ottoman Empire. As they sailed, the sailors prayed the rosary together. And across Europe, Catholics everywhere prayed the rosary in solidarity, entrusting the fate of their nations to Our Lady.

Against a much larger Turkish force, the Holy League prevailed off the coast of Lepanto. Don Juan led his fleet into battle Oct. 7, and defeated the Turks. In fact, the battle came to a conclusion shortly after 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the hour of Divine Mercy, during which Christ hung on the cross.

The Venetian colonists were freed, and the threat of European invasion was quelled. Pope Pius V credited the outcome to Our Lady of Victory, who prayed for Christendom as the battle was waged. Each year on Oct. 7, the Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, remembering her intercession for the fate of Catholics across Europe.

The rosary is a powerful prayer, because Our Lady is a powerful intercessor in heaven. She is the Queen-Mother of heaven, and the Lord hears and answers her prayers.

It is Providential that we remember Our Lady of the Rosary during October, which the U.S. Bishops have proclaimed “Respect Life Month.” The “superstition and barbarism” of our time is the culture of death: the lie of pro-choice rhetoric, and the barbarism of abortion, euthanasia, and other sins against human life.

Pope St. John Paul II called the culture of death “a war of the powerful against the weak: a life which would require greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held to be an intolerable burden, and is therefore rejected in one way or another. A person who, because of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favored tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated. In this way a kind of ‘conspiracy against life’ is unleashed.”

During Respect Life Month, we recommit ourselves to defeating the culture of death, and building a culture of life, a civilization of love.

The Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, and the Battle of Lepanto, gives us powerful lessons about how to build a culture of life.

The first lesson is that all of our pro-life work must begin and end with prayer. Prayer is the most important pro-life activity we can undertake. And the rosary, which invokes the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is especially powerful. During Respect Life Month, I ask all Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln to commit to praying the rosary—each day, or each week, to end abortion and euthanasia, and to build a culture of life.

I especially encourage Catholics to pray, peacefully, at abortion facilities themselves—to bring the grace of Our Lord’s mercy, and the consolation of Our Lady’s maternal love, to places of evil. Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln pray each day outside abortion facilities, with untold spiritual effect on those who work there, and those who go there considering an abortion. We need to continue this practice, even if we are discouraged, because our prayers can effect great change.

Because of the powerful intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I solemnly consecrated the Diocese of Lincoln to the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sept. 7, the eve of the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, at the annual Marian Mass, entrusting our sacred mission to her powerful intercession (please see the text at left).

The second lesson is that we need to work tirelessly and generously to build a culture of life. We need to provide support to families and mothers in need. We need to live as if each life has dignity and value, and we need to witness to that. We need to be known, as a Church, as those who will generously support the dignity of every human life, and the needs of every human person, because of God’s love. We need to be known as a great force for love to those who are victimized, marginalized, or discarded by the culture of death. And we each need to discern how to work in the public square, as good citizens, to end legal protection for abortion, euthanasia, and other sins against human life through our actions, and through our votes.

When we tire in these efforts, we need to depend upon the grace of God, and the intercession of Our Lady of the Rosary. When the sailors of Don Juan’s armada tired, they depended upon God’s grace, and he aided them and strengthened them.

Christ brought victory at Lepanto, securing the peace and freedom of the Church, and protecting her people for the mission of sanctifying the world. Christ will bring victory to the great battle of our time, the battle to build a culture of life. In God’s Providential plan, we will share in Christ’s victory of life over death. May Our Lady of the Rosary—Our Lady of Victory—intercede for us, as we build a culture of life.

Voting and living as good citizens

This November, American Catholics have the opportunity to shape the direction of our nation, our states, and our local communities in the voting booth. Good citizenship is a moral obligation for all Catholics, and voting is an important part of that obligation. In the United States, the responsibility for our government’s direction lies with us, as citizens, and we can’t take that responsibility lightly. We cannot, because of apathy, or discouragement, or perfectionism, abandon our obligation to vote.

In the past few months, many Catholics have asked me how to make good choices in the voting booth. Many Catholics have especially expressed to me being uncertain about how to make choices when faced with two presidential candidates they find intolerable or unacceptable. While a bishop should never tell Catholics who they should vote for, I would like to offer four points of guidance, drawn from wisdom of the Church, as we discern our choices as voters.

The first is that government has an important purpose, and our votes help to achieve that purpose.

The Catholic Church teaches that the purpose and obligation of our government is to support the common good. The Second Vatican Council said that the common good is “the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment.” Our common good has three elements: respect for the dignity, rights, obligations, and freedom of the human person; respect for the well-being, development, and flourishing of the entire community; and peace, in the stability and security of a well-ordered community, governed by the rule of law.

When we vote, we do so in order to promote the common good, to express it, advance it, and protect it. There are some issues in which the common good is clear and some issues which require careful discernment and prudent judgment. This discernment can, therefore, lead to different conclusions and ideas among people of good will. In fact, often the best solutions to difficult political issues can come from robust discussion among people with the same goals in mind, and different ideas about the best ways to achieve those goals.

My second point is that on some issues the moral obligations of Catholics, and the demands of the common good, are abundantly clear. For example, no Catholic can vote in good conscience to expand legal protection for abortion, or to support the killing of unborn children.

Mother Teresa of Kolkata, who was canonized a saint earlier this month, said it best in a 1994 letter she wrote to the United States Supreme Court. She said that “Roe v. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has shown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father’s role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts --a child-- as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience.... Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign.”  

Abortion is a grave, unconscionable, and intolerable evil, and we cannot support it in the voting booth.

My third point is that when we vote, we need to carefully consider the specifics of each race. Blind partisanship can be dangerous, and we have to look past political rhetoric and media alarmism to make prudent discernments. 

In each race, we need to discern whether there is a candidate who can advance human dignity, the right to life, and the common good. When there is, we should feel free to vote for that candidate—whether they are a member of a major party or not. In extraordinary circumstances, some Catholics may decide, in good conscience, there is not a suitable candidate for some particular office and abstain from voting in that particular race. 

We also need to remember that we are not responsible for the votes of other people.  Choosing not to vote for “Candidate A” is not the same as actively voting for “Candidate B.” No Catholic should feel obliged to vote for one candidate just to prevent the election of another.

In good conscience, some Catholics might choose to vote for a candidate who, with some degree of probability, would be most likely to do some good, and the least amount of harm, on the foundational issues: life, family, conscience rights and religious liberty. Or, in good conscience, some might choose the candidate who best represents a Christian vision of society, regardless of the probability of winning. Or, in good conscience, some might choose not to vote for any candidate at all in a particular office. 

As a matter of conscience, faithful Catholics have to weigh all those pertinent issues, and make the choice that seems most in accord with the common good of our nation: with respect for human dignity, social well-being, and peace. Catholics will make different judgments about those questions, and come to different conclusions—this reflects the fact the Lord has given us free intellects and free wills.

My final point is that we need to remember that being good citizens—building a culture of life and a civilization of love—is a much broader obligation, and opportunity, than the voting booth. Americans today, are, in many ways, disengaged, discouraged, and divided. Much of our political rhetoric is unhelpful. And family, community, and public life are in decline. We need a broader vision of public life, which values and proclaims the dignity of every human life, and which aims for the flourishing of individuals, families, and communities. This broader vision won’t come through an election. It will come through life in Jesus Christ. The most important part of being good citizens is living as faithful and active missionary disciples of Jesus Christ.

In fact, Christ is the broader reason we are called to hope. God calls us to be faithfully engaged in working to build up and proclaim the Kingdom. That includes our vocation to the public square. But our hope is in the eternal mercy of God—the salvation won in the Incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This month at Notre Dame, Archbishop Charles Chaput said that “Christians are not of the world, but we’re most definitely in it. Augustine would say that our home is the City of God, but we get there by passing through the City of Man.” Our hope is in the Lord. We are his faithful disciples when we work to help others to know the Lord. But the success is according to his plan. We are called to be faithful to his call, as we make thoughtful, prudent, and prayerful choices as citizens. And we are called to trust in the Providence of his plan for the world. Christ is the only real source of our nation’s hope.

Apostolic times

Eleven of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ were martyred. So was St. Paul. 30 of the first 33 popes of the Catholic Church were also martyred, along with many of the first bishops, priests, and deacons. In the Book of Acts, St. Stephen was martyred shortly after Christ’s Ascension. Thousands of Christian disciples have followed the path of his martyrdom.

The word martyr simply means witness, and, in one sense, we are all called to the martyrdom of witness—to live our entire lives in witness to Jesus Christ, in witness to his passion, death, and resurrection. To be sure, we will face obstacles—we will be challenged, or marginalized, or ignored because of our faith. Faith in Jesus Christ seems foolish to the world. It always has. The confidence of believers in the truth of the Gospel provokes outrage. Our fidelity to God is an affront to tyrants. Our prophetic voice makes sin uncomfortable. Our witness to charity, even, when juxtaposed with greed and evil in this world, is seen as a threat by those who seek to advance themselves by immorality or selfishness.

Believers live in this world, but they do not live like the world lives. For that, since the first days of the Church’s life, we face trials and challenges.

Some Christians, though, are called beyond the martyrdom of witness in their lives. Last week in Rome, Pope Francis celebrated a Mass for Father Jacques Hamel, who was killed in July while celebrating Mass in Rouen, France. The pope said that “this is a story that repeats itself in the Church, and today, he said, there are more Christian martyrs than there were at beginning of Christianity.”

The death of Father Hamel was shocking, but not surprising. And his death called to mind the recent killings of the Missionaries of Charity Sisters who operate a nursing home in Yemen, and the 30 Ethiopian Christians beheaded on a beach last year by ISIS. The image of this killing is horrific, and unforgettable.

But while those killings made headlines, and drew attention, Christians are martyred around the world, with startling and sobering frequency, and very rarely are we aware of it. Low estimates suggest that seven or eight thousand Christians are killed because of their faith each year. This means that today a Christian is killed for his faith nearly every hour of every day!

Martyrdom has been a part of the Church’s life since the beginning. And as believers, there are three things that Christian persecution requires of us.

The first is that we pray for Christians in parts of the world where persecution and martyrdom are common: the Middle East, of course, especially those places governed by the barbaric ISIS; also parts of Asia, where Christians also face serious persecution at the hands of governments, and the hands of militant extremists. In fact, we need to pray for believers in every part of the world: the death of Father Hamel demonstrates that dangerous and violent anti-Christian ideologies do not confine themselves to regional or national boundaries.

Our prayers are an expression of solidarity with persecuted Christians, an act of entrusting their needs to Almighty God. Our prayers are a source of unity and a plea for their safety to the Lord. And our prayers have real effect on their situation. Scripture says that the fervent prayers of the righteous bear true fruit. Our prayers help the persecuted Christians around the world bear their circumstances with courage, grace, and the truest kind of freedom.

The second is that we work to help end Christian persecution through the democratic and political tools available to us. As Americans, we live in the most influential nation in the world. We are free to contact our lawmakers and leaders to express our concerns for persecuted Christians around the world. We are free to expect our nation to help find solutions for persecuted Christians, and to hold them accountable to that expectation. The leadership of our own Congressman, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, has already impacted the situation of Middle Eastern Christians for good. Our obligation as Christians is to use the political influence and opportunities we have for the welfare of persecuted and martyred Christians.

Finally, our obligation is to build the kind of robust Christian culture that helps to defeat the ideologies and efforts of anti-Christian terrorists and organizations. The French philosopher Pierre Manet says that “The universal Church alone is up to the task of holding together a… form of life that has the capacity to offer hospitality to Judaism, Islam, evangelical Protestantism, and the doctrine of human rights.”

The Church has the fullest view of the common good, and the fullest view of what human rights really are. In a society shaped by real Gospel truths, in which real freedom is paramount, and human dignity is at the forefront of social and cultural life, the appeal of anti-Christian terrorism and persecution rings hollow. In a vision of the world shaped by the vision of Jesus Christ, murders like those of Father Jacques Hamel make no sense. And in a world confident in the truth of Gospel, the evil of Christian persecution is named and addressed quickly, without the hand-wringing characteristic of relativism.

In the second century, the Christian author Tertullian wrote that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christianity.” He meant that when martyrs are unified in death to the cross of Christ, grace abounds. In that grace is the spread of the Gospel. But we should do all we can to protect the right of Christians to practice the faith freely and safely. We need to continue to pray for persecuted Christians, to work to end religious persecution, and to build robust and free societies, rooted in the truth of Jesus Christ.

Priesthood: gift and mystery

In 1942, Krakow was occupied by Nazi forces, who had arrived in the city in 1939. They had exported Jewish people, political dissidents, and academics. They had shuttered the universities. They ruled by martial law. They had conscripted all young men into manual labor, to support the Nazi conquest of Europe.

At the age of 18, Karol Wojtyła had moved with his father to Krakow in 1938. They lived in a basement apartment, and Wojtyła studied at the Jagellonian University. In 1940, he began working in a quarry, and later in a chemical factory. In separate automobile accidents, he fractured his skull and hurt his spine, shoulders, and hips. In 1941, Karol’s father died. At 21, his parents were dead, his body in ill health, and his work was exhausting.

Amidst those circumstances, Karol Wojtyła heard a call. He remembered years later that he “became convinced that Christ was saying to me what he had said to thousands before me: ‘Come, follow me!’ There was a clear sense that what I heard in my heart was no human voice, nor was it just an idea of my own. Christ was calling me to serve him as a priest.”

Wojtyła began seminary studies in 1942, while the Nazis remained in the city. The seminary had been outlawed: he and his fellow students studied at night, and worked during the day. In 1944, when the Nazis arrested every young man living in Krakow, the seminarians went into hiding: living and studying in the home of Krakow’s Archbishop, Adam Sapieha. When Soviet forces took over the city, Wojtyła and other seminarians, who demonstrated for democracy and human rights, were spied upon by Polish and Russian secret police.

Wojtyła was ordained on November 1, 1946. He had already carried more crosses than many people carry in a lifetime. But he said that nothing meant more to him, or gave him greater joy, “than to celebrate Mass each day, and to serve God’s people in the Church.”

Wojtyła received what he called the “gift and mystery of the priesthood.” He said that every priest should be humbled to represent Christ—because through the priesthood, the world can “catch a glimpse of the Lord.”

Truly, the priestly vocation of Karol Wojtyła, who would become Pope St. John Paul II, was heroic, generous, and holy. Indeed, every priest is called to a heroic, generous, and holy life of ministry, and service. Priesthood is a gift and mystery—a source of profound grace and wonder—for us all.

The priests of the Middle East, who face martyrdom, are called to share the “gift and mystery” of Jesus Christ. So are the priests among the poor of the third world. So are the priests of the military, and those in monasteries and abbeys, and those priests who give their lives to God in the mission fields of schoolrooms, or nursing homes, or jails, or parishes.

Every priest is called to the adventure—the “gift and mystery”—of a life configured to Christ: to his mercy, to his truth, to his love. The priesthood is an extraordinary gift for each man on whom it is conferred, an extraordinary gift for the entire Church. Through the priesthood comes the love, grace, and truth of God in the sacramental mystery of the Eucharist, and the healing mercy of confession.

Men hear the call of priesthood—as Wojtyła did—when they have been taught to pray: to speak to the Lord, and to hear his voice. This is why the family, the domestic Church, is where the seeds of vocations are so often planted. And the seeds of vocations are planted in Catholic schools and parishes, where young people learn to know and hear the voice of God. Families, schools, parishes, and communities have the responsibility and privilege of helping all young people to realize the call the Lord has given them.

It is privilege to support vocations in that way. It is also a privilege to support young men as they study for priesthood, as they prepare for lives offered in love to Christ’s Church. It is a privilege to help young men take the steps of discernment that lead to lives of heroic sacrifice and generous witness. This month, the Diocese of Lincoln is beginning the 2016 Bishop’s Appeal for Vocations. In gratitude to the priests who have revealed to me the love of God, I am proud to contribute to this appeal. I pray that you will do the same.

In gratitude to men like Karol Wojtyła—Pope St. John Paul II—and to the pastors, and teachers, and confessors who have changed your lives, I pray that you will support the young men of the Diocese of Lincoln who have heard the Lord’s call, and who are preparing for the “gift and mystery” of sacred priesthood. 

How Mother Teresa welcomed my parents into the Church

The first time Mother Teresa spoke to me, she was looking for a pen. She needed to write a letter — and do it quickly. The letter was to my parents, who lived in Kansas and whom she had never met.

I was a young priest, studying in Rome, in 1991. I had been invited by a friend to concelebrate Mass at the Missionaries of Charity house in Rome. Mother Teresa was there, and she had heard that my parents would soon be baptized and confirmed, received into the Catholic Church. She wrote them a short and beautiful letter: She thanked them for giving their son as a priest to the Church. She congratulated them on becoming Catholic, asked for their prayers and promised them hers.

Mother Teresa made me promise that I would deliver the letter to my parents. I gave it to them on the day they became Catholic, framed, along with a photograph of Mother Teresa and me.

Mother Teresa of Kolkata, who was canonized Sept. 4, has a worldwide reputation for holiness. Pope St. John Paul II called her “one of the most important figures of our time.” He’s right.

Mother Teresa was one of the most significant and influential figures of the 20th century. But she didn’t possess a high office, or direct a large social movement, or teach at an elite university. Mother Teresa just practiced kindness in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

She saw each person she encountered as Jesus Christ himself, and she loved them as Jesus Christ. She bathed the dying, or comforted the mourning, or gave away chocolate, or wrote notes to the parents of priests because she wanted to love each person as the Lord.

Through her kindness, selflessness and fearless heart, Mother Teresa became one of the most powerful witnesses to the Gospel in the Church’s history.

I worked in the Vatican for 10 years, and during that time, I became “Father Friday” at the Missionaries of Charity house in Rome, Dona di Maria. I celebrated Mass for the sisters each Friday. Sometimes, Mother Teresa would simply show up unannounced and pray and work with her sisters: scouring pots, sweeping floors and welcoming the homeless women of Rome to her convent.

One day in 1996, just a year before she died, Mother Teresa was in the back of the chapel, behind the other sisters. She knelt on the floor, gazing at Our Lord on the cross. I trembled when she came forward to receive the Eucharist, because I knew that she was a saint.

Before I left, she asked me for a blessing, which I gave her. I never spoke to her again.

But the humility, faith and high expectations of Mother Teresa are really unforgettable. She never assumed a privileged place in her community; she never expected special treatment; she never looked for honor or recognition. She simply loved as the Lord Jesus loved, and she taught others to do the same.

Mother Teresa’s influence is evident in each of her community’s homes. The Missionaries of Charity always live simply, and they depend on divine Providence. Mother Teresa lived with absolute dependence on divine Providence. She asked the Lord for everything that she needed, and she asked those she knew to give whatever they could. They expect the Lord to provide for them, and they expect others to provide for the poor.

Mother Teresa knew that serving the poor is a way to love Jesus, and so she encouraged everyone to join in her work. The Missionaries of Charity invited the late Cardinal John O’Connor to clean bathrooms in New York. They invited Pope John Paul II to serve meals to the dying in Kolkata.

While I was working in Rome, the Missionaries of Charity asked me to go to Russia, Armenia and Kenya to give retreats during Holy Week. Holy Week is one of the few times when Vatican employees have enough time to make a visit home. But when the Missionaries of Charity ask for anything, it is almost impossible to say No. 

One year, I arrived in Nairobi on Tuesday of Holy Week to celebrate the Sacred Triduum for the sisters. I thought I might have a day or so to rest and prepare before the ceremonies began. The local superior asked me if I would be willing to hear confessions before the Triduum began. I agreed. Then she informed me that there were 200 novices and postulants who needed to go to confession. I asked if I was the only priest. She had learned from Mother Teresa: With a smile on her face she said, “Oh, yes, Father. We are going to use you up to the last drop and then send you back to Rome!”

Mother Teresa was not afraid of hard work, nor are her sisters. She expected no less from the priests who served her sisters!

In all of Mother Teresa’s chapels, next to the crucifix, are the words of Jesus: “I thirst.” She taught us that Jesus thirsts for us. She said that, on the cross, he is consoled by the small signs of love we offer him, that his satisfaction is in our love. She also said that we find Jesus among those who suffer, that we should take joy among the poor, the dying, the filthy, or the destitute, because Jesus himself is there.

On Mother Teresa’s canonization, I celebrate a figure who influenced the entire world for the Gospel. But I also remember the small, persistent, radiant woman who loved me with the Lord’s love and who taught me how to love as Jesus does.

May St. Teresa of Kolkata intercede for us.

This column was originally published Sept. 2 in the National Catholic Register. It is reprinted here with Bishop Conley’s permission.

The necessity of music

It was an extraordinary experience to kneel before the Blessed Sacrament at Copacabana Beach in Brazil, at World Youth Day in 2013.  Catholic musician Matt Maher led us in worship—more than 3 million people, and Pope Francis, sang “Lord, I need you, Oh, I need you,” as Matt Maher softly played the guitar.

At the Mercy Center in Krakow this summer, nearly twenty thousand young people knelt before the Eucharist, praising the Lord as Matt Maher and musician Audrey Assad led songs of praise and thanksgiving.  I watched as tears streamed down faces, and young people touched by the moment lined up for the sacrament of confession.

Music can be a powerful part of our relationships with Almighty God.  And every culture and generation sings songs and hymns of praise and thanksgiving that speak the love of their hearts.

As a child in the Protestant church, I learned the canon of hymns most treasured in America— “How Great Thou Art,” “Amazing Grace,” “Nearer my God to Thee.”  As a young man, I learned the inspiring folk songs of Ireland, England, and France.  Those songs helped me to grow in devotion to God.  They helped me to keep the Lord in the forefront of my mind.  They gave language to my praise and gratitude to the Lord.  They became a part of my devotional life.  And, because I shared them with others, they became a part—an important part—of the Catholic culture I continue to share with my family and friends.

We need singing, and music, and songs in our family life, the life of our community, and the life of our prayer.  Scripture calls us to “make a joyful song unto the Lord,” and St. Augustine tells us that “he who sings, prays twice.”

It is almost impossible to imagine a robust Christian civilization, or a robust spiritual life, without music.  The Second Vatican Council taught that music is “a treasure of inestimable value,” that “adds delight to prayer” and “fosters unity of minds.”  The Church has long known that we especially need music during our most important, and most sacred moments of worship: during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In fact, the Second Vatican Council said that music “forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy” of the Mass.

But music at Mass has a different purpose than the devotional music of our families, communities, and personal prayer lives.  The Church says that sacred music, sung during our liturgies, is for the glory of God, and for our sanctification.  At Mass, we offer our lives to God through worship, unified with the Eucharistic sacrifice.  And we receive the graces that make us saints, and draw us into relationship with God.  The Church says that certain kinds of music, developed over centuries, help us to actively participate in the Mass, and to more fruitfully receive the graces of the Eucharist. The Second Vatican Council taught these kinds of music should be preferred during Mass. 

In the first place, when it is possible, the prayers and responses of the Mass itself should be sung, including short introductory reflections, and short musical meditations, called antiphons.  And the Second Vatican Council taught that the ancient custom of Gregorian chant should “be given pride of place” when it is possible.  Other kinds of music, like beautiful sacred polyphony, also should have a special place in Mass.

Sacred music in Mass is different from the devotional and folk music that impacts so many of our lives.  Sacred music amplifies the sacred words of the Mass, pointing us more deeply into the mystery of the Eucharist, and uses tones and rhythms that aid us in contemplation.  Through careful reflection over thousands of years, the Church has developed a sense of the music that best fits the mystery of the Mass, and when sung with reverence and humility, gives glory and honor to Christ’s sacrifice. 

The Church does not teach that we should only use old music during Mass.  In fact, Pope John Paul II encouraged composers and musicians to write new music, that speaks to modern man, but that is rooted in continuity with the genius and richness of the Church’s tradition.  Today, many composers write beautiful sacred music, building upon the richness of all that has come before, and faithful to the wisdom and teachings of the Church.

This week, more than 200 musicians from across the Diocese of Lincoln gathered at our first annual “Sacred Music Clinic,” to learn and practice the principles and traditions of the Church’s liturgical music.  Many of them will introduce the beautiful customs they learned in their parishes, in small ways. Many of our priests have begun learning to chant the prayers of the Mass, and many lay Catholics are learning to do the same.  All of these efforts help us to glorify God in the Mass, and to contemplate the mystery of the Eucharist.

Father Daniel Rayer, chair of the Diocesan Liturgical Commission, the planning committee chaired by Father Rayer, Amy Flamminio and Jessica Ligon, and all the members of the liturgical commission worked very hard and so well to plan and organize our sacred music clinic this year. I’m grateful for their work.

It is clear to me that in the Diocese of Lincoln, the Holy Spirit is at work.  The Lord is helping us to grow in deeper understanding of the meaning of music in the sacred Mass.  In that way, we can grow closer to the Lord.  And at Mass, or in our families, or in our cars on the way to work, or on a beach with three million people, when we praise the Lord with song, we lift our hearts to him, and he touches our hearts in love.

Editor’s note: Please also see “Diocese holds first clinic on sacred music.”

Beauty gives way to contemplation

There are times when words cannot express the profound meaning of a moment; when silence is the only appropriate response to beauty. Times when the heart is moved in contemplation, in adoration, in wonder, and nothing at all needs to be said.

It was extraordinary to kneel in silence with nearly 20,000 young pilgrims inside the Tauran Arena (temporarily renamed the Mercy Centre), the English-speaking venue for catechesis at World Youth Day in Krakow. To watch as young people spoke silently to the Lord. To see thousands of young people transfixed, in awe and humility, on the mystery of God, made present in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I won’t soon forget that experience. And I won’t soon forget the power of beauty in the sacred liturgy in that arena.

The sacred liturgy at World Youth Day, organized for English-speakers by Polish and American Dominican friars, was an experience of beauty that touched my heart beyond my expectations. I have long known that sacred liturgy is an experience of wonder, as Pope Francis has described so often: a moment “to enter into the mystery of God, to allow ourselves to be brought to the mystery, and to be in the mystery.” But in Poland, I experienced thousands of young people entering into the mystery of God, through the power of beautiful liturgy.

At World Youth Day, I was reminded how powerfully sacred worship can transform our hearts.

The Church teaches that the beauty of sacred worship can lead Catholics to encounter Christ in a direct and immediate way, and can help us to offer fitting worship to God, and through him. By encountering Christ in beautiful liturgy, we are sanctified, filled with heavenly grace, and made icons of the beauty of Christ. When we participate in the sacred liturgy, we are enabled to live beautiful lives—not only for ourselves, but so that we can bring the beauty and radiance of Christ to the world around us.

At World Youth Day in Poland thousands of pilgrims encountered Christ in sacred and beautiful liturgy. The organizers of World Youth Day’s English liturgies said that their goal was to express that “the Mystery of God is always ahead of us, approached but never comprehended.” Worship of the Mystery of God, they said, should call us to “fundamental humility.”

Worship calls us to fundamental humility, and brings us into communion with the Most Holy Trinity, when it is ordered, and reverent, and beautiful. Worship calls us into communion with God when it helps us become “open to the vastness of God,” expressing “the deepest human yearning for the Mystery of Love.”

Pope Benedict says that worship transforms our lives when, through it, we are “struck by the arrow of Beauty… struck and overcome by the beauty of Christ.”

Sacred worship, celebrated according to the customs, guidance, and rich tradition of the Church, can lead us to encounter Christ, approach him in humility, and offer him our lives, in union with his offering on the cross, and the sacred offering of Holy Mass. Beauty gives way to contemplation. And the beautiful music of the Church’s tradition gives us a pathway to completing the mystery of God.

When we are moved by the beauty of sacred liturgy to offer our lives in union with Christ, the Lord invites us to be transformed by the Eucharist, and, as the Dominican friars of World Youth Day said, be “transformed by the Eternal beauty of God himself.”

In some places, the importance of beauty in sacred worship has been lost. Some are fearful that if musical styles are unfamiliar, they will be an impediment to participation in the Mass. Some are concerned that if Mass is not entertaining and stimulating, it will not capture people’s attention. Some believe that to be “relevant,” the music of the Mass must mirror what we hear on the radio, or what we’ve grown up with. But the Mass is an entry point into a sacred moment: a true entryway into the living presence of God. If it seems unfamiliar, it is because the mystery of God is unfamiliar. If it is not entertaining, it is because the satisfaction God gives runs much deeper than entertainment.

The Dominican Friars in Krakow reminded young people, in the worship aid prepared for each day’s liturgy, that first and foremost, the liturgy “is all about God, and He’s a mystery.”

The polyphonies, and chants, and antiphons sung at World Youth Day were unfamiliar to many pilgrims. But they became familiar, because the ancient music of the Church is easy to learn, and easy to contemplate. And the Church’s beautiful liturgy transformed the hearts of young people, because it reflected the beauty of God. My heart was struck by that beauty. And I became convinced, more now than ever before, that beauty is “ever ancient, and ever new,” it speaks to us all, no matter our formation or circumstances, because it speaks with the beauty of God.

May each of us experience the beauty of the Most Holy Trinity in the profound, vast, and sanctifying beauty of sacred liturgy.

Editor’s Note: The Newman Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture and the Diocese of Lincoln Liturgical Commission will sponsor a guest lecture, “The Way of Beauty,” at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26, at the St. Thomas Aquinas Newman Center, 320 N. 16th St., Lincoln. Click here to read more.

Proclaim the Prince of Peace

I spent July 18 in Rouen, the city along the River Seine where St. Joan of Arc was tried and put to death in 1431. She was a defender of the faith, and a fierce defender of the freedom of France. She was also an evangelist. She called her fellow soldiers to faith, to virtue, to earnest discipleship of Jesus Christ. She died for the cause of justice, in defense of her people, and she died with the name of Jesus on her lips.

A few days before I went to Rouen, a terrorist drove a truck through a crowd in Nice, France, killing 84 people. A month before, a terrorist killed 49 people in a nightclub in Orlando.

On the day I spent in Rouen, a terrorist attacked German train passengers with an ax. A few days later, a suicide bomber attacked a music festival in Ansbach. In the same week, suicide bombers killed more than a hundred in attacks in Baghdad and Kabul.

And on July 26, just outside of Rouen, Father Jacques Hamel was martyred in his Church—his throat slit as he celebrated Holy Mass.

Father Hamel was killed in the Church of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Like St. Stephen, and St. Joan of Arc, and the tens of thousands of Christians martyred each year, he died proclaiming Jesus Christ. 

The Islamic State—ISIS—claimed responsibility for each of those attacks. Terrorists of ISIS—in the name of Islam—are waging a full-scale war against all those they deem their enemies, most especially the people and nations of the West. ISIS calls their enemies the “Crusader coalition.” The enemies of ISIS are those who pose a threat to their stated goal of forceful Islamic domination of the world. The greatest enemy of ISIS is the Church, the root of Western culture, which proclaims the grace of freedom, and peace, and new life in Jesus Christ.
The twisted ideology of ISIS blasphemes the idea of religion itself. Faith is perverted by the lie that God can be served by terrorism.

But violence in this world is not confined to a singular cause. And the battle between good and evil is not only waged between cultures—it is waged in every single human heart.

This summer, violence seems to be reaching a kind of fevered pace. The headlines seem to be more violent, and less predictable, each day. Nineteen people, many of them disabled, were killed in Japan this week by a man wielding a knife. An 18-year old, obsessed with violence, killed 10 people in Munich, at a shopping mall and a McDonald’s. In our country, citizens have been shot by the police, and police officers have been gunned down in response. A young woman told me recently that her stomach aches as she reads the newspaper each morning.

In times past, in the time of St. Joan of Arc, building ordered, safe, and free communities seemed simpler. The distinction between marauders and citizens was more obvious. Heroic armies held back invaders on battlefields. Fortresses, and walls, and battle lines kept chaos at bay. But today, the threat of violence seems everywhere. The possibility of chaos seems always around the corner. Security seems evermore to be a myth.

Young people, especially, are asking me over and over again: what is happening?

The answer is not difficult. The world around us lives, ever more, as if there was no God. Hearts, around the globe, live without the peace of Jesus Christ. We live in a culture which has abandoned the peace that surpasses understanding.

Without the peace of Jesus Christ, distorted religious ideologies stoke anger and hatred with calls to acts of terror. Without the peace of Jesus Christ, the evil one whispers into loneliness or frustration that violence is the answer. Without the peace of Jesus Christ, we have no defense against the Prince of Darkness, who sows chaos, fear, and violence into every human heart.

In the wake of attacks by ISIS, nationalists call to dispel every Muslim immigrant, or to restrict the movement and rights of some citizens. But we live in a globalized world, where worldwide communication is instant and easy. ISIS spreads its message through the internet to the citizens of every nation. Principled immigration and security reforms, respecting the natural community of the nation and the dignity of the human person, are always important. But excesses of reactionary nationalism do not stop violence, they foment it.

In the wake of unspeakable gun violence, some call to banish firearms. Reconsidering gun laws might be worthwhile, but banishing certain weapons is not enough to deter those bent on destroying human lives. Violence finds axes, and knives, and rented trucks.

In the wake of injustice, or prejudice, or racial strife, we call for justice. But we cannot achieve justice through brute force or retaliation. Real justice is impossible without the Living God—the source of all that is just.

We cannot eliminate violence from our culture through legislation, nor can we satisfactorily conquer it on foreign battlefields. We cannot easily or simply identify those who might be violent and banish them from our midst. More will crop up. Some will shroud hatred in false religious ideologies, some will become vicious in order to feel important, some will incite violence in the name of social change. In a culture without Christ, acts of depravity and violence will become ever more prevalent.

Aleksandr Solzenitzen wrote famously that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” Jesus Christ conquers the evil in our hearts. And the only answer to the depravity of violence is to convert hearts to Jesus Christ. In Christ, the lion and the lamb lie down together. In Christ, the meek inherit the earth. The peace of Christ alone can rule, and pacify, our disordered human hearts.

Peace comes in the renewal of culture. And renewing culture begins with Jesus Christ. If we want peace in the United States, in Europe, in the Middle East—if we want peace across the globe—we must become evangelists. In a culture living without God, we must all become martyrs—heroic witness to life in Jesus Christ.

We must win hearts for Jesus Christ. The urgency of the moment is clear. We must trust that baptism brings peace where nothing else does, that the Holy Spirit is at the root of communities of true peace and justice. To build civilizations of love—cultures of peace—we must build cultures which know new life in Jesus Christ.

We want peace because we’re made for the peace of eternal life with God. Every human being is made for that peace. And if we want a foretaste of Christ’s peace on earth, we must be radical, committed, and fervent missionaries of Jesus Christ. The world without Christ is shaken by the violent disorder of sinfulness. Peace is the fruit of discipleship.

This week, I am at World Youth Day in Krakow, where hundreds of thousands of Catholic youth have gathered in the city of Pope St. John Paul II. These young people know peace. They know justice. They know truth. They have been transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. Christ alone is the answer to our problems, Christ alone conquers the violence of the evil one.

Together, we mourn victims of terror and violence around the globe. We mourn with hope in God’s enduring mercy. But violence always reminds us that we must make disciples of all nations. The time is now. We must proclaim the Prince of Peace, who can rule, and free, and sanctify, every human heart.

This column was originally published July 28 at It is reprinted here with Bishop Conley’s permission.

Open wide the doors to Christ

In 1978, Karol Wojtyla was elected John Paul II, the first Polish pope in the history of the Church. His election was shocking. It had been almost 500 years since a non-Italian was elected pope. And no one expected that the pope would be elected from a country ruled by Communists, in which the Church was systematically marginalized and persecuted.

Before his election, John Paul II was the Archbishop of Krakow. A few months into his pontificate, he made a historic visit to Communist-controlled Poland. His visit has been called the “nine days that changed the world.” In a nine-day pilgrimage, John Paul witnessed to the vibrancy and endurance of Catholic faith in a place where radically statist secularism had worked to eradicate the influence of the Church on national politics and culture.  

Christianity had come to Poland in 966, with the baptism of Mieszko I, the father of the Polish state. For nearly a millennium, the Polish people had produced saints and missionaries, holy families and holy vocations, in the context of a Christian nation.  

But the establishment of Poland as a satellite state of the Soviet Union at the conclusion of the Second World War inaugurated an era of secular, materialist, and communist indoctrination on the part of party organizers and state officials. As a young priest, Wojtyla was spied on by Communist forces: he hid his pastoral work with youth, and he taught in underground philosophy courses. As Archbishop, he was followed and spied on constantly by Communists, who sought to undermine his work, in order to eradicate faith from Polish culture.

This was the context of John Paul II’s visit to Poland in 1979. He called the Catholics of Poland, especially the young, to build a society rooted in the truths of Jesus Christ—to know that man’s true dignity is found in Christ, not in secular values or powerful ideologies. He told young Poles to be unafraid to “open wide the doors to Christ,” to rebuild their country in the true light of the Gospel.

In short, John Paul’s visit was the beginning of an effort to reanimate the Soviet bloc with the spirit of the Gospel.  

It worked. His visit sparked new energies and enthusiasms—convinced people to believe they could change the oppressive Communist regime that ruled them. John Paul sparked faith, and hope, and action. Ten years after his visit, as a direct result of the social movement he sparked, Poland held free elections. Communism fell apart in Poland, and then across the Soviet Union.

We cannot be afraid to open wide the doors to Jesus Christ—the doors of our nation, of our families, and of our hearts. We must believe in the power of Jesus Christ to bring truth, and freedom, and grace to our lives, and our hearts. The witness of John Paul II, and the movement for freedom he inspired, prove to us the power of God’s grace.

This week, millions of young Catholics from around the world will gather in Krakow, the city where Pope St. John Paul II sparked a revolution for freedom in Christ. I will be with them, and with a group of young pilgrims from the Diocese of Lincoln.

We will gather for World Youth Day, a celebration of the Church’s life across the world, and an opportunity to pray together, to grow in unity, and to worship the Lord together. Pope Francis will lead the celebration of World Youth Day. He will, doubtlessly, remind us of what his holy predecessor, Pope John Paul II, accomplished in Poland. And he will doubtlessly call us to bring Christ to the world in the very same way.

Three years ago, at World Youth Day in Rio de Janiero, Pope Francis said that “faith is a flame that grows stronger the more it is shared and passed on, so that everyone may know, love and confess Jesus Christ, the Lord of life and history.”

The pope’s wisdom is confirmed by the story of freedom in Poland and the former Eastern bloc. Christ is the lord of life and history. Sharing the light of Christ makes it stronger and more powerful. We are called to share that light. We are called to be unafraid. We are called to bring Christ to the world, and to witness the transforming power of his grace.

I pray that World Youth Day 2016 will be days that change the world. I pray that the witness of Krakow, the witness of Pope Francis, and the witness of the Church around the world will transform the hearts of our pilgrims. And I pray that in Christ, the pilgrims of World Youth Day will make disciples of all nations.

Please join me in that prayer. 

The duty of freedom

The Fourth of July in Nebraska is an extraordinary celebration. In every town and city, families and neighborhoods join together to barbecue hamburgers and hot dogs, to spend time in recreation together, and to light off hundreds of fireworks and sparklers.

In Nebraska, fireworks ring out throughout the night, to help us commemorate the independence of our nation, declared by our Founding Fathers now 240 years ago, on July 4, 1776.

We celebrate what Abraham Lincoln called “a new birth of freedom,” which was “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
The story of America’s independence is a story of freedom for all. Our annual celebration is a reminder of the great freedoms that God has given us. And as we thank God for the liberty he has given us, it seems to me that there are two important things that Catholics should remember about the deepest meaning of our freedom.

The first is that our freedom is a natural right; given to us by God, and not given to us by an entity of government or society. America’s founding recognized that God created man to be a free creature; a reality that must always be respected by governments. Today, it seems, government is often in danger of forgetting that our freedom comes from God.

When the government redefines the natural right of marriage and family, or seeks to eradicate our right to religious freedom and the freedom of our conscience, it redefines human rights; it acts as if the government is the source of our rights, and is therefore free to redefine them according to its own judgment. Pope Leo XIII taught that our natural rights “cannot… be prohibited by the state.” In fact, he taught that “the state is bound to protect natural rights, not to destroy them.” When the state undermines the rights of its citizens, he taught, “it contradicts the very principle of its own existence.”

Each of us must be zealous to remind our leaders that freedom does not come from the government, and that legislators, judges, governors, and presidents, must always respect and promote the freedom God has given us.

The second thing to remember is that our freedoms exist for a reason. Freedom is not the same as license. Freedom does not mean that we can do whatever we want; that we can live however we prefer, or make money in every possible way, or ignore the obligations we have to one another, and to God. Freedom is the opportunity, and obligation, to live as God calls us, and as he made us; for the well-being of others and for ourselves, and as His servants, in unity with one another, and in unity with the Most Holy Trinity. The truest use of our freedom, its truest expression, comes in loving God, and in respecting, promoting, and supporting the beauty and dignity of others.

God is a communion of freedom: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit love one another in true and authentic personal freedom. We are given freedom because we are made in the image of God. The purpose of that freedom, of our human and natural rights, is to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to love the Lord our God, “with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.”

As citizens, God calls us to build a society that supports the common good: the needs, opportunities, and rights of all people. We are called to build a society that respects the human right to life, religious liberty, to economic opportunity, to justice, and peace, and discipleship. Pope St. John Paul II taught that citizens are called to build a society committed to “building up a more decent life” for each person, and to “concretely enhancing every individual’s dignity and creativity, as well as his capacity to respond to his personal vocation, and thus to God’s call.” The aim of a just society, Pope St. John Paul II taught, “is the exercise of the right and duty to seek God, to know him and to live in accordance with that knowledge.”

Our freedom is the obligation to support, develop, and enhance our societies and communities for true pursuit of the common good. Our freedom is the duty to build just and loving societies, which help each person to live in the image of God, by knowing, serving, and following Him.

The Church is called to teach the truth about human dignity, human rights, and true freedom. And every single one of us is called to use our freedom, in every area of our life, to promote the common good. Pope St. John Paul II taught that “The Kingdom of God, being in the world without being of the world, throws light on the order of human society, while the power of grace penetrates that order and gives it life. In this way, the requirements of a society worthy of man are better perceived, deviations are corrected, the courage to work for what is good is reinforced. In union with all people of good will, Christians, especially the laity, are called to this task of imbuing human realities with the Gospel.”

Freedom is a grace, as well as an obligation. In the United States, we have the opportunity to exercise our freedom, for the sake of the common good, in accord with the truth of the Gospel. As we continue to celebrate our freedom, let us each commit to protecting our natural rights, and to exercising them for the sake of our fellow men and women, each created free, in the image of the Most Holy Trinity.

Ut unum sint - that all might be one

The Gospel of Jesus Christ has been alive in Greece for 2,000 years. St. Paul preached in Athens, and Corinth, and Thessalonica. He formed the people of Greece to become some of the very first Christian communities in the world. For two millennia, the Churches of Greece have produced mystics, saints, scholars, and martyrs.

The Churches of Greece, like the Churches of many parts of the East, are true Churches, led by successors to the Apostles. But these Churches—the Orthodox Churches—have broken their communion with the pope, the Vicar of Christ on earth. Over time, many of the Christian Churches of the East—while maintaining true and valid sacraments, and the gift of apostolic succession, have lost their connection to the successor to St. Peter, and therefore been severed from the fullness of Christian unity.

There are, in many of the Christian traditions of the East, faithful Christians who have maintained, or restored, communion with the universal Church, and the Bishop of Rome. These Eastern Catholic Churches are witnesses of the true diversity of cultures and traditions, formed by the Holy Spirit, in union with the universal Church, and sharing in the fullness of truth. But, sadly, many Christians across the Eastern world do not enjoy sacred communion with the Vicar of Christ, and the unity with the universal Church is fractured.

In 2001, Pope St. John Paul II became the first pope to visit Greece in more than 1,200 years. He visited with the head of the Greek Orthodox Church. Two years earlier, he visited and prayed with the Patriarch of Constantinople. Since that time, the popes—John Paul, Benedict, and Francis—have continued to meet and pray with the leaders of the Orthodox Churches—praying, especially, for unity.

In 2001, Pope St. John Paul II said that Christian civilization “has two lungs, it will never breathe easily until it uses both of them.” The two lungs of the Church are the Churches of the East, the Orthodox Churches, and the Catholic Church. Pope St. John Paul, like his predecessors, prayed fervently that the Holy Spirit would unify the “two lungs” of the Church, so that Christians around the world would be united in fraternity, in discipleship, and in truth.

This week, leaders of Orthodox Churches from around the world gathered in Crete for beginning of the “Great and Holy Council,” a meeting of most Orthodox Churches, which will invoke the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and discern how the Orthodox Churches can serve Christ in the modern world, as witnesses of the Gospel and light to all nations. The Orthodox Churches have been planning the meeting—properly called a synod—since 1961. It has taken very careful planning for the Orthodox leaders to develop a plan to come together, and to seek consensus—and the will of God—for their Churches.

Sadly, not all Orthodox Churches will participate in the Synod. A few Orthodox Churches—most notably the Russian Orthodox Church—will not participate. Theological disputes, among other things, have prevented all 14 of the Orthodox Churches in the world from gathering. But those who are present will pray fervently, seeking the will of God for their Christian communities. When the Council began on June 16, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople prayed that the Council would “deliver a single message of true faith, real hope and peaceful reconciliation to our world that is in conflict.”

As the “Great and Holy Council” continues this month, we should join Patriarch Bartholomew in this prayer. The Orthodox are our brothers and sisters, and we should pray that the Lord will work through them to reveal the mercy of God to the world. We should also join Patriarch Bartholomew in his prayer that all Christians might know “unity in Christ.”

As the Orthodox gather in Crete, where the Gospel has been alive since St. Paul preached there, we should pray the Holy Spirit will bless their discernment. We should pray that the Church might “breathe with both lungs.” We should pray that the Holy Spirit might reveal the fullness of all truth to the eastern successors of the apostles. And we should pray for Christian unity, in the words of Jesus, “that all might be one.”

Leisure and evangelization

Lake Albano is a placid volcanic lake in the hills southeast of Rome, at the base of beautiful Monte Cavo. Overlooking Lake Albano is the ancient hilltop village of Castel Gandolfo, a sleepy, picturesque town just 15 miles south of Rome, known for its white wine. There is a classic villa in town, the Palazzo Apostolico di Castel Gandolfo, where for hundreds of years, the popes of Rome have traditionally spent a few weeks of quiet time during the summer months.

Obviously, very few of us can spend time in a lakeside Italian villa during the hot months of the summertime. But for most people, summer does represent a kind of slowing down; a time when many formal activities are on hiatus, and the long dog days of summer seem to leave more room for leisure. Leisure is important for all of us. But real leisure is not just the isolated consumption of pre-packaged entertainment. True leisure, for which we seem to have more opportunity in the summer, is something much more profound.

In 1958, the philosopher and educator Mortimer Adler wrote, “Leisure consists in activities which are neither toil nor play, but are rather the expressions of moral and intellectual virtue — the things a good man does because they are intrinsically good for him and for his society, making him better as a man and advancing the civilization in which he lives.”

The German philosopher Joseph Pieper said that real leisure — the capacity to perceive, contemplate and celebrate the world we’ve been given — is a gift from God. To be fully human is to accept the gift of leisure from God and to cultivate serenity, joy and peace.

Leisure, said Pieper, is not about the absence of work — about idleness. Instead, leisure is about the cultivation of goodness in souls; about curiosity, and conversation, and friendship, and wonder.

Pope St. John Paul II, who spent portions of more than 25 summers at Castel Gandolfo, said that leisure is “not just any kind of interruption of work, but the celebration of the marvels which God has wrought.”

Leisure is the basis of culture and the basis by which we can grow in wisdom. And the summer months afford us opportunities to grow in friendship, devotion, wisdom, and wonder—through leisure. Real leisure is as simple as gardening, or talking with friends over a cool drink on the front porch, or watching the stars spread across the clear summer sky. Real leisure is praying the rosary on a quiet walk, or reading a good book, or making music—even poorly!—with family and friends. Leisure is the basis from which we form the bonds, habits, connections, and rituals that build real Christian culture.

Leisure is also a very strong basis for evangelization. We have a tendency to think of evangelization as being rooted in activity; in large programs or initiatives that draw dozens or hundreds of people at a time. But Pope St. John Paul II reminded us that, “The kingdom of God is not a concept, a doctrine, or a program subject to free interpretation, but it is before all else a person with the face and name of Jesus of Nazareth, the image of the invisible God.”

The Kingdom is a person, and the faith is often best transmitted between persons: from one heart, alive in Christ, speaking to another. It is important for us to remember that some of the most effective opportunities we have for evangelization come in the context of friendship, in leisure, in mutual activities and lingering conversations with neighbors and friends.

Summer is the right time to invite neighbors to a meal or an outdoor barbecue, to have long conversations about faith on the porch, to evangelize, and form disciples of Jesus Christ, while stargazing or sitting around a campfire. The Lord formed just 12 apostles—his friends—intimately.  If we too formed just a small group to know Christ—through the leisure of true friendship—we might set the world aflame.

I pray that each of you will be refreshed and renewed in the leisure of this beautiful Nebraska summer. And I pray that in leisure and friendship, you might form dynamic Catholics—faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

Forming and encouraging good shepherds

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to visit with the pastor of one of our small country parishes. I asked him how he was doing. We ended up talking for a full 10 minutes about fluctuating corn and bean prices, fuel and fertilizer costs, and about the impact of rain on irrigation and soil quality. He was concerned about how these factors would have an effect on crop yields, because he was worried about the farm families in his parish.

He was also thoughtful about how these factors would impact families in his parish and he understood the connections between each family, their needs, and their livelihoods. He knew that all of these issues would have an impact on both the family life and the spiritual life of his flock.

While I learned a few new things about farming from this pastor, I mostly learned how well he knows his people. How deeply he experiences their daily trials, and challenges. How much he hopes for their success, and how much he prays, in very specific ways, for their well-being.

In that conversation, I encountered a priest who loves his people. I encountered a pastor with the heart of a shepherd. In the words of Pope Francis, I encountered “a priest who wears the smell of the sheep.”

Pope Francis says that we priests “are to rejoice with couples who marry; we are to laugh with the children brought to the baptismal font; we are to accompany young fiancés and families; we are to suffer with those who receive the anointing of the sick in their hospital beds; we are to mourn with those burying a loved one.”

Priests are called to give themselves in love as a selfless gift of Jesus Christ. We’re called to proclaim the Gospel, to teach the truth, and to offer the mercy of God in the sacraments of the Church. Priests are called to know and love our people, so that we can form them in grace, and discipleship, and holiness.

A priest is called to be, as Jesus Christ is, a good shepherd, who lays down his life for his flock.

This weekend, I will ordain four new priests in the Diocese of Lincoln. I will also ordain five deacons, who, Lord willing, will be ordained priests next year. Including the eight priests ordained last year, I am blessed to ordain, God willing, 17 new priests in the Diocese of Lincoln in a span of only 24 months. Only one priest will retire during that time, giving us a net gain of 16 new priests in 24 months. We are deeply blessed and grateful to God for his goodness to us.

The Lord reminds us, in the midst of the great blessings we have received, to continue to foster a culture that promotes holy vocations to the priesthood, to religious life, and to family life. We begin by praying for vocations, asking the Lord to bless us with priestly ministers of his mercy, with religious sisters who witness to the grace of baptism, and with holy, faithful, and fervent men and women who proclaim the Gospel in their families and in the world. Each one of us can foster vocations by our fervent and earnest prayers.

The Lord reminds us to encourage young men to be open to a priestly vocation, and to encourage young women to be open to a religious call. I tell children across the Diocese of Lincoln that the Lord plants a seed of vocation in each one of us, which we must faithfully nurture. But the encouragement of a bishop is not enough. Young men consider priestly vocations, and young women consider religious vocations, because their pastors, teachers, and parents encourage them and invite them. Year after year, young men report to me that the reason they considered seminary is simply because an influential priest, teacher, or other adult invited them to consider it, and encouraged them to hear the Lord’s call.

Children take the possibility of their vocations seriously when their parents do the same: when children witness parents who pray together, and with their children, and whose lives are animated by the mission of the Gospel, they take seriously the ways in which God might call them to religious vocations.   

It is a truly awesome privilege as a bishop to ordain new priests and deacons—new missionaries of mercy and truth—this weekend. It is a privilege to pray with the families and communities which formed them. May each one of us continue to form and encourage young people in their vocations, and may the Lord continue to bless us with loving pastors—good shepherds—who have a true zeal for souls.

Time for healing, not lamenting

On Friday, May 13, the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice issued a joint instruction, which they called “significant guidance,” to public school districts across the country. The guidance stated that in order to receive federal funds for education, every public school district must provide services, restrooms, and “equal access” to all students according to their stated gender identity.

The federal government has ordered that when any student and his parents tell the school that his “gender identity” has changed—if he was born a boy, for example, but considers himself a girl—the school must treat him, in every possible way, like an actual girl. The government declared that the boy who says he is a girl must be permitted to change in locker rooms with girls, to stay in girls’ rooms on overnight trips, and, very often, to participate on girls’ sports teams.

This “guidance” is deeply disturbing. In fact, the administration’s action is simply wrong. It is wrong to deny the fundamental difference between men and women; and to teach children that our identity, at its very core, is arbitrary and self-determined. God created us male and female, and policies like this deny the basic beauty of God’s creation.

Boethius, the 6th century Roman senator and Christian philosopher, was a thoughtful critic of disturbing trends he saw in Roman society. In his classic work, the Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius criticized those evil spirits “who slay the rich and fruitful harvest of Reason with the barren thorns of Passion. They habituate men to their sickness of mind instead of curing them.”

We are living in a time when ordinary human reason is quickly being replaced by “the barren thorns of passion.” Our entire culture has been caught up in a kind of sentimentalized and relativized tyranny of tolerance: we vilify and condemn, ever more quickly, any sense of reasonable and ordered social policy. We have a vague sense that endorsing certain fashionable kinds of social and emotional disorders—including transgenderism—is a mandate of justice, or a victory for civil rights.

But the real victims of our culture of relativism are those who suffer from serious problems, and who need compassionate help. Pathological confusion about one’s own identity is a kind of illness. It brings tremendous personal and emotional difficulties. Transgenderism cries out for compassionate assistance. Pope Francis says that “acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital,” and “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary” for authentic human freedom.

But, as Boethius wrote, we “habituate men to their sickness, instead of curing them.”

Children and parents in very difficult situations deserve compassion, sensitivity, and respect. The Church will continue to make every effort to assist those suffering gender dysphoria; in fact, we can improve our efforts in this regard in many ways. But the Church will not deny that God created us male and female. We will not confuse respect and compassion with capitulation to a tragic delusion. Our Catholic schools will continue to teach and live the truth, because of our care for every student. We can only help students grow in holiness when we help them to live in accord with the truth. We will continue to do that, no matter the cost.

The Obama administration’s directive is a sign of the brokenness of our culture; of our lost sense of the common good, of individual goodness, of true freedom, real rights, and authentic happiness.  Nebraska’s Governor Pete Ricketts pointed out earlier this week that this directive is basically a kind of coercive opinion, which does not enjoy the authority of law. It is a form of bullying and, ultimately, it is a sad sign of how much we have lost our way; how little of the Gospel’s good news forms and shapes our culture.

This directive is a sign of a great tragedy.  We are living in an atheocracy: a society determined to stamp out every vestige of God’s plan for mercy, and justice, and goodness. We are living in a society ensnared by the evil of relativism, to which human flourishing, in this life and the next, poses a threat.

The Gospel is a threat to the forces of this world. And in such a circumstance, there is a great temptation, for all of us, to withdraw into our families, into our Catholic community, into those places which we believe are safe, places in which we think we might be spared from the evil of this world. 

But facing an evil world, Boethius wrote that “it is time for healing, not lamenting.” Boethius was right. Our culture is in need of healing. The victims of relativism’s dictatorship—those who are harmed by false compassion and tolerance for evil—need our help. Only we can be the leaders who stand up in the face of the storms. The Lord calls us to leadership, and so do the victims of the culture of death.

We are called to stand up—right now, we must be committed to carrying the healing mercy of Jesus Christ to this world. And the fight is not easy. We will not likely fight on a battlefield, in a glamorous blaze of glory. Instead we fight by claiming our nation for Christ, by forming Catholic culture that welcomes others to real freedom, by speaking—heart to heart—with those who are in need of Christ’s healing. We fight evil by praying, and hoping, to win every heart, every soul, every life, for Jesus Christ; as missionaries and disciples of mercy.

We also fight evil on our knees. We fight evil through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We fight evil by invoking St. Michael the Archangel. We fight evil by consecrating our nation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the fount of true mercy, and true peace.

All of us can read the signs of the times. We are living through a great trial and a great tragedy. Real people, about whom we care very much, are gravely harmed by the infiltration of evil in our world. We know that Christ will be victorious in the end. But we also know how urgently Christ is needed in this world. Only we can entrust this nation to Jesus Christ—especially his Sacred Heart—in our prayers. And only we can choose, in response to the urgency of the moment, to be active, joyful, faithful missionaries of Jesus Christ—declaring the Gospel, and inviting the world to mercy.

We live in a grave and serious time in history. But now is time for healing, not for lamenting.

There is only one way to find out

One of the best scenes in C.S. Lewis’ classic seven volume children’s novel, The Chronicles of Narnia, takes place in the second book, Prince Caspian.

In Prince Caspian, the Pevensie children return to Narnia, summoned while waiting for a train, at a railway station. The children return only a year after leaving Narnia, but because time works differently in that world, 1,300 years have passed.

Narnia has been overtaken by the barbarous Telmarines, and the days of the Aslan and Cair Paravel have long passed. In fact, many Narnians believe that Aslan and the epic stories of old are only fairy tales.

The children fall in with a network of freedom fighters, led by the true king, Caspian. They’re trying to bring goodness back to Narnia; they’re fighting for truth, but they’re fighting alone, and with little success. As the children travel, they become hopelessly lost. Young Lucy sees the sight—just a glimmer really—of Aslan, walking through the woods. She tries to follow him, but no one believes what she has seen, and they tease her and go on their own way.

That night, Aslan calls to Lucy. She wakes from her sleep and talks with him. And he tells her that he came to guide her on a true path, and that she and the others must wake up, and follow after him. Lucy is hesitant to wake the others and tell them to follow a lion they don’t even all believe in. She wants assurance from Aslan that if she follows his command, all will be well.

Aslan won’t give assurances. But he tells her this: “anyone can find out what will happen. If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me—what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.”

In Lewis’ work, Aslan represents the Lord, who comes to guide us in the way of truth, and to make fruitful the good works we undertake. C.S. Lewis’ point is this: we do not know what will come of following the Lord. We do not know how things will turn out. We have no guarantee of success, no assurance that all will be easy, or comfortable. We are called to trust and follow the Lord because he is good, and because he has bidden us to follow him. We cannot expect to know the outcome; we can only be obedient.

Lewis also makes this point: apart from following the Lord, we cannot hope to know success at all. The path to holiness is a somewhat hidden path; like looking through a glass darkly, as St. Paul puts it, and we follow where God has called us, without knowing where that will lead.

Our time is not unlike the time in Narnia, in which the truest things in the world seemed like a fairy tale. Today, in our country, faith in Jesus Christ—the incarnational God who knows and loves us—is being replaced with a vague, vacuous, self-focused kind of deism. Today, even as evil abounds, faith in what is real is set adrift amid a sea of relativism, and confusion.
We are called to follow as the Lord calls, and to bid others to do the same. We are called to be missionary disciples, so that we might form others who will also walk in the way of truth.

The Church is now in a novena of prayer between the Ascension and Pentecost. We spend this period with Mary, the true spouse of the Holy Spirit, who strengthens the Church in faith, just as she did with the early disciples, as they awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit. There were not a few who doubted Jesus’s promise that he would send the Holy Spirit. Mary helped the early apostles to stay focused, to have hope and to trust in the promises of her Son, even after our Lord departed from this earth in his physical form. She helped them walk in faith.

Mary helps us, too, to walk in faith.

In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to ask, and they will receive. Of course the Lord does not mean that he will answer our prayers as we imagine they might be answered. Instead he means that every good and perfect gift comes from God, and that every worthwhile endeavor we undertake will only be fruitful if we ask the Lord to bless it, to make it bear fruit, to bring it to completion.

The Lord says that if we ask we will receive, so that “our joy may be complete.” Our joy is complete not because God gives us things exactly as we ask for them, nor as we expect them to be, but because the life of asking the Lord’s blessing, and following him as he bids us, and depending on his Providence, and seeing him answer prayer in unexpected ways—that life, in itself, is a life of pure joy.

In the fifth century, St. Leo the Great said that “our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments. Our faith is nobler and stronger because sight has been replaced by a doctrine whose authority is accepted by believing hearts, enlightened from on high. This faith was increased by the Lord’s ascension and strengthened by the gift of the Spirit; it would remain unshaken by fetters and imprisonment, exile and hunger, fire and ravening beasts, and the most refined tortures ever devised by brutal persecutors. Throughout the world, women no less than men, tender girls as well as boys, have given their life’s blood in the struggle for faith that has driven out devils, healed the sick and raised the dead!”

God asks us to have faith in things unseen. He asks us to trust that he gives as he promises, leads as he promises, and guides, as he promises. He asks us to trust, and ask, for all that we need. We should expect the Lord to do the unexpected. We should expect the Lord to act in mysterious and beautiful ways.   

God calls us to trust in him who, through the Father, gives us every good thing. He calls on us to be missionaries of the new evangelization, even without knowing what will come of our efforts.

To paraphrase Aslan, speaking to Lucy Pevensie: “What will happen if we follow Christ, and bid others to do the same? What will happen if we depend on the Lord’s Providence? What will happen if we form others to walk in the way of the truth? There is only one way to find out.”

Editor’s Note: Please see Dr. Nollen’s review of “Prince Caspian.”

Motherhood and the common good

Last week, the New York Post published an essay arguing for a new concept in the workplace: “me-ternity leave.”  The essay’s author argued that working mothers—who are sometimes able to take leave from their jobs after having children—are granted a “sabbatical-like break,” a “time and space for reflection,” when they take maternity leave. She wrote that it was unfair that working mothers in her office were granted a “break,” while “co-workers without kids would stay behind to pick up the slack.”

The essay was entitled “I want all the perks of maternity leave — without having any kids.” It seemed to me to be so outrageous I thought it was satire. But it wasn’t. The author said that in her workplace, “parenthood was the only path that provided a modicum of flexibility,” and that working parents are more likely to achieve a good “work-life balance.”

Suggesting that working mothers have an easy time balancing their lives is certainly naïve. And saying that a mother’s time with a newborn is a “sabbatical-like break” is simply wrong and misguided. But the essay should not be dismissed offhand because it clearly points, in a disturbing way, to a mentality prevalent in our culture today. Simply put, we are forgetting the central role that parents, especially mothers, play in creating just, virtuous, thriving, and stable communities. 

We are forgetting that parenting is not primarily a journey of self-discovery or personal satisfaction. We are forgetting that parenting, motherhood especially, is an act of generosity and sacrifice, undertaken for the good of children, and for the common good of our civilization. And we are forgetting that all of us have a common responsibility to support the noble vocation of motherhood.

The month of May is a month when we, as Catholics, celebrate in a special way the sacrifice of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. We crown the blessed mother with flowers in the “May crowning.” Many families build a “May altar” of devotion to the Blessed Mother in their homes, adorned with flowers, candles, and pictures of Our Lady.  Some families plant marigolds- “Mary’s gold,” during the month of May. On May 13, we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, and on May 31, we honor two mothers as we celebrate the feast of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth.

On Sunday, we honor our own mothers as we celebrate the civic holiday of Mother’s Day. All families are encouraged to honor their mothers with special gifts, meals, and celebrations.

The month of May is a time in which we particularly recognize the centrality of motherhood to the human family, and the gift of motherhood—in all its beauty—to each one of us.  Pope St. John Paul II said that “motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life… from the beginning a special openness to the new person… In this openness…the woman ‘discovers herself through a sincere gift of self.’”  Of course, not all women become physical mothers—but Pope St. John Paul said that all women are called to exercise “cultural” and “spiritual motherhood.”

Each one of us is called to help foster, protect, and celebrate the gift of motherhood in our families, communities, and nation. This is, for example, the reason why working mothers ought to be given flexibility and support from their employers: exceeding what is given to other employees. It is also the reason why our government should encourage and support the institution of marriage, in which mothers are joined to fathers in a relationship of mutual aid and support and directed toward children, the hope of a future. And it is the reason why we should commit to providing support, companionship, and resources to women in difficult pregnancies, in poverty or isolation, who may be understandably afraid of the sacrificial life of motherhood. Motherhood is a noble, beautiful, and challenging vocation, which no one should have to face without help, or without hope.

Our call to support motherhood should remind us, in all contexts, that the family is the nucleus of society, the basic-building block from which all communities begin. Supporting motherhood does not discriminate against unmarried or childless people, instead, it recognizes that every person has a mother, who likely has faced challenges, and made sacrifices, and has needed support.

The New York Post’s essay got it wrong. Support for families is not an unfair perk, and maternity is not a “break” from what’s really important. Motherhood, and family life, is what’s really important.  It’s one of the most important things in the whole world. And reasonable and decent support for mothers and fathers is an act of justice, and essential for the common good. Mothers participate in the mystery of Mary’s motherhood, and in the mystery of Christ’s salvation. 

This month, let us pray for mothers, let us work to support families, and let us thank God for the gift of our own mothers, and for the the beautiful gift of our gracious and holy Blessed Mother.

Discipleship and citizenship

April 24, 1916, one hundred years ago this week, was a warm and beautiful day in Dublin, Ireland.  It was Easter Monday, a national holiday, and families walked together through the city.  It seemed a calm and uneventful morning.  But away from downtown, on Dublin’s outskirts, organized groups of Irishmen began to quietly overtake roads, and bridges, and telephone stations surrounding the city center. 

Shortly before noon, 400 Irishmen entered the downtown General Post Office on O’Connell Street, evacuated it, locked the doors, and hoisted on the rooftop a flag of the Irish people.  A schoolteacher walked into the square and read a proclamation, declaring that Ireland would be a free nation.

Five days of conflict between the Irish and the British army followed. After that came years of political struggle, and decades of protracted fighting, during which grave acts of violence were committed by both sides. 

But the “Easter Rising” of 1916 began a movement for the personal and religious freedom of the Irish people.  It began the end of the centuries in which Ireland was ruled by other kingdoms and nations. And the roots of that Easter Rising and the desire for Irish freedom, was the deep and abiding Catholic faith of the Irish people.  In fact, many leaders of the Easter Rising began their involvement because they wanted to leave for their children a more just, free, and charitable society. 

The declaration of the Irish republic placed the nation under the care and protection of Almighty God, and expressed hope that in his blessing, the Irish people would serve “the common good,”—the Catholic sense of just governance. The Irish Constitution, adopted some years after Easter Rising, invoked the grace of Jesus Christ in the establishment of a nation “seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured,” and “true social order attained.”

Political history is always complicated. But it is clear that the fathers of independent Ireland were formed and motivated by a commitment to Catholic teaching, and they sought to build a nation which would serve justice for all, ordered and animated by the principles and meaning of the Gospel. It is also clear that the “Easter Rising”—and the Catholic values promoted by its leaders—was only possible in a culture in which Catholicism was expressed in the art, and music, and family life of the people—in which the meaning of the Gospel bubbled up through every part of family and public life, naturally shaping the direction of the nation.

We are all called to build civil society ordered by the spirit of Jesus Christ. We do this through our direct political engagement; by voting, and running for office, and advocating for just legislation—for the family, the poor, and the unborn.  But we also build Catholic culture by the way we engage with our families, our neighbors, our colleagues, and our friends. Very little of our everyday lives are directly impacted by particular government policies. But our lives are never lived in isolation.  We form authentic Christian communities—and promote the common good—when we carry ourselves, through our ordinary relationships, with a desire to live the meaning of the Gospel. We build a just social order, one step at a time, in the ordinary experiences of our lives.

Forming truly Christian culture is a part of our responsibility as Catholics, and also a part of our responsibility as citizens. Last month, a friend and former student of mine, author Stephen White, published “Red, White, Blue, and Catholic.” He writes that “this book is a Catholic guide to faithful citizenship for every day of the year—not just Election Day.”  The book is exactly that—a thoughtful and practical guide to becoming good citizens by building, in real steps, just and vibrant American culture. 

White says that our Catholic faith should make all the difference in the way we live as American citizens. And he’s right. And to become good citizens, in the best sense, we should first become good disciples of Jesus Christ. “Red, White, Blue, and Catholic” can help us to do both of those things—I hope you will read it with your families, and I hope it will help us to build a culture, and rebuild a nation, in which we will be proud to raise future generations. 

Our missionary call

Earlier this year, Pope Francis reminded all Catholics that “the Church is mission.”

The pope meant that our entire identity as Catholics can be understood as a commission from Christ himself: the salvation of souls. Each one of us is called to be a missionary because, by our baptism, we belong to the mission of the Church, each in our own way. Pope St. John Paul II said it this way: “missionary activity is a matter for all Christians, for all dioceses and parishes, Church institutions and associations.”

Pope Francis has confirmed this self-identity of the Catholic Church in the context of the New Evangelization by reminding us that we are a Church “permanently in mission.”

Our diocese, the Diocese of Lincoln, is called to missionary work. To be sure, we are called to be missionaries here at home, among the people and communities of Southern Nebraska. But we are also called to discern the ways in which God calls us to be missionaries “on the periphery,” among the poor, the marginalized, and those who have not heard the message of the Gospel.

Pope Francis says that we must be a Church that seeks out the marginalized. The pope says there is a special virtue in proclaiming Christ among those who are poor and isolated, and walking, as Christ did, among those often forgotten or maligned.

In the Gospel of St. Luke, Our Lord says; “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required (Luke 12:48).” We have been blessed abundantly in the Diocese of Lincoln in so many ways. We are blessed with holy families and parishes and schools, and with men and women committed to the missionary life of priests and consecrated religious. Next month I will ordain four men as priests of the Diocese of Lincoln. Next year, I will ordain five new priests; they will become deacons this year. Last year, I ordained eight men as priests. In 24 months, the Diocese of Lincoln will have gained 17 new priests—and only one priest will retire. We will have been blessed with a net gain of 16 new priests in two years!

God calls us to be generous stewards of the blessings we are given. In the Diocese of Lincoln, this means allowing and encouraging our priests to serve as missionaries among people in need of sacred ministry. We have priests in service to the military, to seminaries, to the service of the national and universal Church, and to college students through FOCUS. And this year, we are blessed to send two priests as missionaries to sister-dioceses in the United States.

(Related news: Lincoln priest tapped for USCCB liturgy post)

(Related news: Diocesan priest serving as secretary for papal nuncio)

The Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, is one of last American frontiers. The diocese is 409,849 square miles: more than five times the land area of Nebraska! Fourteen-thousand Catholics live across the vast and isolated territory, working as fisherman, on oil wells, in timber, and other industries. The diocese is home to many native communities. Fairbanks is a beautiful place; but it is also a place in which isolation leads to family difficulty, mental health struggles, and substance abuse. Frontiers are often places in which people run from God, and even from human connection. Frontiers are often places where the Gospel is sorely needed.

The Catholics in Fairbanks are served by just 13 diocesan priests, and a host of missionaries. In July, Father Thomas Kuffel, pastor of parishes in Wallace, Grant and Elsie, will begin a period of service as a missionary to the Diocese of Fairbanks. I am grateful to God for his missionary heart and his willingness to serve.

The Diocese of Gallup, N.M., comprises one of the poorest regions in the United States. It includes reservation land for the Zuni, Hopi, Apache, and Navajo people. The people in Gallup face low employment prospects, minimal infrastructure and services, limited educational opportunities, and, very often, a poverty of hope.

Many people in the Diocese of Gallup are those who seem to have no place in American public life—especially the American Indian families who still face real prejudices and difficulties. I am a descendent of the Wea people, members of the Confederated Peoria Tribe of Kansas. There is a small town in Kansas by the same name where my ancestors are buried. I am very proud of my American Indian heritage. I currently serve on the USCCB’s Subcommittee for Native American Affairs. Through that work, I am aware of the serious needs of native families—especially needs for a deeper connection to the life of the Church herself.

In July, Father Thomas Walsh, pastor of parishes in Geneva and Shickley, will begin a period of service as a missionary to the Diocese of Gallup. In particular, Father Walsh will work closely with the Missionaries of Charity who serve there—religious sisters founded by soon-to-be Saint Mother Theresa, who work with the poorest of the poor. Their center in Gallup also serves as regional retreat house for the Missionaries of Charity serving in the West Coast Region. 

The work of our missionary priests is an extension of the generosity of all Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln. Because of God’s blessing—and because of your support—they’re able to brings God’s mercy, especially through the sacraments, to people in need. But the witness of our missionary priests is a reminder for each one of us. The Church is mission, and we all share in the missionary call.

I’m moved by the lay missionary families of the Diocese of Lincoln, serving in places like Haiti, and I’m moved by families in our diocese with a commitment to apostolic and missionary work here, in Southern Nebraska. The Gospel is needed everywhere. God’s mercy is needed everywhere. The poor—materially and spiritually—are always with us. God calls us to serve the poor with our lives, with the Gospel, and with our love. May we be ever generously committed to that mission.


(Related news: Students transformed by mission trip)

(Related news: Weston missionaries prepare to serve in Japan)

(Related news: Teens take 'gap year' to work in missions)

(Related news: Graduate becomes missionary)

Dialogue, and the ‘Joy of Love,’ from the heart of the Church

(Bishop Conley wants to hear from you! Click here to share your thoughts about Amoris Laetitia and the family.)

Nearly three years ago, Pope Francis told bishops around the world that “never before has proclaiming the Gospel on the Family… been more urgent and necessary.” 

No one can deny that the Holy Father was right.  In our modern culture, family life is in a particular and urgent kind of crisis.  Since the “sexual revolution” of the 1960s, the family has been relentlessly assaulted by a pervasive contraceptive mentality, by widespread divorce, by increasingly ubiquitous pornography, and by the radical redefinition of marriage itself.  Families face challenges their ancestors rarely did, and they seem to be assaulted by the “culture of death” constantly. 

In 2013, Pope Francis called for two meetings of bishops from around the world—an Extraordinary and Ordinary Synod—as forums for discussion and discernment about how the Church can call families to conversion and support them in the Christian life.

The pope began those conversations with a worldwide consultation.  He asked every diocese in the world to reach out to lay people—to mothers and fathers, sons and daughters—and ask for their insights, their advice, their concerns, and their hopes.  In 2014, the Church conducted another consultation.  In the Diocese of Lincoln, hundreds of Catholics participated in these consultations.  I was moved by the thoughtful reflections of our lay faithful and by the generosity with which they shared themselves and their points of view.

Last week, Pope Francis published Amoris Laetita, a letter to families around the world, encouraging them to experience the “joy of love,” and to live as active, faithful, and generous disciples of Jesus Christ. 

Pope Francis writes that, “the Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.”  He means that joyful families enliven the entire Church, generation after generation, by witnessing to the fidelity of Jesus Christ.  I have experienced families witnessing to the joy of love.  I have seen parents who generously support and guide and form their children. And I have seen children who reflect the best of their parents, and the truth of the Gospel.  I know that those families—so present in our diocese—can give entire parishes and communities the gift of Christian joy.

Pope Francis’ letter recognizes that many families live without joy.  Many families suffer, often in isolation, and often without hope.  He reminds us of the basic Christian vocation to proclaim Christ to those without hope, and to “accompany” those who are suffering.  Amoris Laetitia encourages the whole Church to support the vocation to family life, especially among families living without joy. 

In a particular way, the pope calls bishops to teach, and encourage, and assist families in the path of Christian holiness.  Pope Francis calls me to accompany families through they joys and the hardships of their lives.

Since the publication of Amoris Laetitia, I have received many questions about its content and meaning.  Pope Francis also calls bishops to offer help to Catholics trying to understand and interpret the teachings of the Church.

In response to Amoris Laetitia, and to the spirit of consultation from which it began, I would like to hear from the families in the Diocese of Lincoln.  I would like to hear from active Catholics in our diocese.  I would also like to hear from Catholics who do not practice the faith and from non-Catholics families as well.  I would like to hear your needs and questions, so that I can offer insight into the Gospel’s teachings.  And I would like to hear your questions about the issues Pope Francis raises in Amoris Laetitia, so that I can initiate a conversation about them in the Diocese of Lincoln.

The Diocese of Lincoln has set up a page on its website: where each of you can offer your thoughts, your questions, and your concerns.  I encourage you to share them, and to share this site with your friends and families. 

I will not be able to respond personally to each participant, but as questions and comments are received, I will pray about the best way to respond to them with guidance from the Church’s teaching. 

Amoris Laetitia says that “dialogue is essential for experiencing, expressing and fostering love in marriage and family life.”  I pray that your opinions and questions on the needs of the family in the life of the Church will allow us to continue a dialogue, speaking ‘heart to heart,’ as we seek guidance, wisdom, and truth from the heart of the Church, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ himself.

The land of Abraham

A version of this column was previously published at 

Church bells rang in the city of Mosul, Iraq for 2,000 years. St. Thomas the Apostle preached the Gospel in Iraq and Syria soon after Christ ascended from the earth. St. Jude was martyred in Syria in the first century. Since that time, faithful Middle-Eastern Christian communities have lived through wars and persecutions, through famines and oppressions, proclaiming the Gospel despite tremendous obstacles. For 2,000 years, Christ has been present in Iraq and Syria in the mystery of the Eucharist.

In fact, the region of Iraq and Syria had sacred meaning even long before Jesus Christ walked this earth.

More than 4,000 years ago, God made a covenant with Abraham ben Terah. The Lord promised that Abraham would be the father of nations and kings, and patriarch of the land of Israel. Through his covenant with Abraham, the Lord revealed himself: in the law, in the prophets, and in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ: God’s own son, and a descendent of Abraham.

Abraham was a native of Ur Kaśdim, an ancient city located on the plains of modern-day Iraq. To reach the Promised Land, Abraham journeyed through modern-day Syria.

God chose to begin the covenant that reached its fulfillment in Jesus Christ with a man from the region that is now Iraq. And across the plains and cities of modern-day Syria, God led Abraham, spoke to him, and formed him. Through Abraham, those places have ancient and sacred meaning.

But today, in the birthplace of Abraham and the resting place of martyrs, the Gospel has nearly been silenced. Since the rise of ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities have been slaughtered, beaten, raped, and exiled from their homes. Across Iraq and Syria, Christian children have been enslaved and tortured.

Christians have been simply decimated in ISIL territory: their long-vibrant communities are no longer. ISIL acts to eliminate non-Muslims in their territory with inhuman brutality, and unimaginable violence. In March, ISIL affiliated terrorists martyred four Missionaries of Charity in Yemen, and kidnapped a priest, Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who remains missing.

In no uncertain terms, ISIL is engaged in the systematic genocide of Christians and other religious minorities in its territory. On March 14, the United States House of Representatives passed a unanimous resolution condemning that genocide, and calling the United States government, and the United Nations, to recognize ISIL atrocities as genocide, and to act to stop them.

In our polarized nation, it is rare for the House of Representatives to act unanimously. But on this issue, there was no disagreement. And I am very proud that my congressman, and my dear friend, Representative Jeff Fortenberry, has been Congress’ leading advocate for the defense of Middle Eastern Christians.

On March 17, in response to the leadership of Rep. Fortenberry and the House of Representatives, along with leaders from the Knights of Columbus and other groups, the US State Department officially classified ISIL atrocities against Christians as genocide.

But the State Department has emphasized that the US does not consider itself obliged to intervene in ending the genocide. To do so would require action, commitment, and investment. Certainly, the policies and politics of the Middle East are complicated; acting rashly and without understanding is a mistake. But no just government can stand by as families are slaughtered, and children are tortured. The United States, and all people of good will, must help to find just and fruitful ways to end the genocide, and reign of terror, of ISIS.

During the Easter season, we should be especially conscious of the Christians in the Middle East, and remember our unity with them. I ask that each of you join with me, and with Christians around the world, in praying for the people of an ancient and sacred place: the birthplace of Abraham, and the resting place of holy martyrs.

Christ is Risen

This week, the Southern Nebraska Register presents excerpts from Bishop Conley’s Easter Sunday homily at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ:

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Christ is Risen; Christ has truly Risen, alleluia, alleluia!

It is with Easter joy in my heart this morning, that I welcome you to the Cathedral of the Risen Christ. Christ has truly risen as he promised, and we celebrate that joy together this morning—celebrating with one another the greatest gift and grace of our Christian faith.

I had the privilege of hearing many confessions this past week. Holy week is a time of tremendous grace and conversion. It was a particular joy to welcome back to the sacraments those who have been away for whatever reason. We are overjoyed that you each one of you is with us.

Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead for each one of us! Christ offers each one of us the hope and promise of eternal life; he offers us joy, peace, and purpose of life. I pray that you will continue to worship with us, and that you will experience Jesus Christ in a way that brings true and lasting joy.

Pope Benedict XVI says that “Easter is concerned with something unimaginable.” In the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter proclaims the unimaginable: he says that a man, Jesus of Nazareth, came into the world, he went about doing good and healing the sick, because God was with him. That Jesus was put to death and three days later he was raised from the dead. That he walked and talked with his friends; that he and ate and drank with his disciples, after he had been dead and returned to life. And, that this man, Jesus Christ, will forgive our sins.

Pope Benedict is right. The Easter story is unimaginable. Rational people might have trouble believing in what St. Peter proclaims. Science tells us that life does not end and then begin again. Our experience tells us the same. Easter makes a claim that seems impossible to accept: Christ died, Christ rose again, and Christ’s Resurrection gives us new life.

St. Peter says that prophets bear witness to Jesus. He means that the prophets of Israel foretold all that would happen in the life of Jesus.

The apostles and disciples of Jesus knew what the prophets wrote. In fact, as faithful Jewish men and women, they would have heard the prophecies of the Messiah all their lives. And the apostles and disciples had believed that the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament were realized in the Incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth.

The apostles knew that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. But when he was resurrected, it was still unimaginable to them. The Gospel of John tells us that Mary Magdalene went to Christ’s tomb and found the stone rolled away. She couldn’t imagine that Christ had risen from the dead; she thought his body had been stolen.

Mary Magdalene immediately ran to the apostles and told them that Christ’s body was gone. Simon Peter and John ran to the tomb. They did not understand that Christ was risen from the dead. It was unimaginable to them. John tells us today; “they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”

In fact, they did not understand it until they actually saw Jesus. He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, and then to his disciples and apostles. Until they saw it, they could not believe it. And then, as witnesses, they told the whole world that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Dear brothers and sisters, this morning, the Church makes claims that are unimaginable! We proclaim that Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully man. We proclaim that he lived, died, and then that he rose again. And we proclaim that his resurrection is more than a historical fact: we proclaim that the resurrection of Jesus Christ can transform our lives and unite us forever with God.

We can understand why the apostles may not have understood or imagined this. And we can understand why they had to see for themselves. The claim of the Resurrection challenges each one of us.

In the first century, St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote that, “Christianity is not the work of persuasion, but of real power.”

The power of the Resurrection is not only the power of a historical fact. The power of the Resurrection is a power that is alive today. And the Lord invites each one of us to see and experience the power of his Resurrection.

Today, dear brothers and sisters, we can believe in the Resurrection of Jesus because we can see its real and true power.

This Easter, God invites us to see the power of the Resurrection. As Pope Benedict XVI said, “the Risen One does not show himself in a great public spectacle before the Masses.”

Instead, the power of the Resurrection is seen in the ordinary lives of believers.

We can see the power of the Resurrection in the lives of ordinary believers, transformed in holiness, who have hope, and joy, and real authentic love in their lives, through Jesus Christ.
We can see the power of the Resurrection in the life of the Church, in those who have been healed through Christ, in those who have experienced the power of God’s mercy. We can see the power of the Resurrection in the lives of saints: 2,000 years of disciples who discovered the meaning and purpose of their lives in the power of Jesus Christ.

We can see the power of the Resurrection in those who have given their very lives for Jesus Christ, particular those who have laid down their lives for Christ in the Christian genocide that is currently taking place in the middle east.

We can see the power of the Resurrection in the beauty of the Church’s sacraments: in the transformation that comes through the sacrament of penance and the Holy Eucharist.
We can see the power of the Resurrection in the truth of the Gospel, and in the beauty and truth of the Church’s teachings.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Lord invites all of us on this Easter Sunday to see the power of the Resurrection by following Jesus Christ more openly and more intentionally, by living as Christ calls us to live, and by experiencing the meaning and power of Christ’s life, death, and Resurrection.

The Gospel is more than a conclusion, or a proposal, or a historical fact. The Gospel is a living fact—a living person—Jesus of Nazareth. Christ invites us to new life in Him—to know our deepest purpose and meaning through his resurrection.

Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ is Risen, as he has promised. We have heard that he is risen—may we, each one of us, see and experience the power of his Resurrection!

Choosing his way

“Only where there is mercy does cruelty end,” said Pope Benedict XVI in a rare and recent interview. “Only with mercy do evil and violence end.”

The Church is in the midst of a great celebration of mercy, the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which began Dec. 8.  And this week, the Church celebrates the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ; the most incredible witness of God’s mercy the world has every seen. 

As we celebrate the Easter Octave this year, which concludes with Divine Mercy Sunday on April 3, the Church recognizes that Jesus Christ’s resurrection is a sign that God’s mercy conquers all things—even death.  If God’s mercy can conquer death, as it did when Christ was resurrected, there is no cruelty, or violence, or evil that mercy cannot conquer.

Pope Benedict said that in sinfulness, men and women in the modern world live in the “dominion of evil.”  But, he also said, “the counterweight to the dominion of evil can consist in the first place only in the divine-human love of Jesus Christ that is always greater than any possible power of evil…. The reality of injustice, of evil, cannot be simply ignored, simply put aside. It absolutely must be overcome and conquered. Only in this way is there really mercy.”

To conquer the evil we face in our lives, we must address it in the power of God’s mercy.  To overcome our own sinfulness, we must seek God’s mercy in the sacrament of penance. To overcome the evil of conflict, or worry, or anger, or anxiety, or cruelty, or hatred, we must consecrate our families, communities, and nation to the merciful heart of Jesus—entrusting the world to God’s mercy.

We must also be, as Pope Francis reminds us so often, “missionaries of God’s mercy.” Our families and friends need God’s mercy to overcome the evil in their own lives. 
Pope Benedict said that, “everyone is looking for the mercy of God.”

“In my view,” Pope Benedict said, “under a veneer of self-assuredness and self-righteousness, the man of today hides a deep knowledge of his wounds and his unworthiness before God. He is waiting for mercy.”

In these weeks, as we celebrate Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday, we should call to mind the ways in which God’s mercy has healed and transformed our own lives: conquering sinfulness, overcoming struggles and letting go of past hurts. And we should consider how we can, how we must, reveal the mercy of God to those “waiting for his mercy.” 

Revealing God’s mercy begins with the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.  With bearing wrongs patiently, and forgiving generously, with feeding those who hunger, with welcoming the lonely into our homes and lives, and with mourning alongside those who mourn.  Practicing the works of mercy sets us apart, they make it clear to the world, and to our friends, that disciples of Jesus Christ live differently: giving their lives for love of others, instead of living for their own desires, wants and needs.

Of course, we can only dedicate our lives to the works of mercy if we avail ourselves of God’s mercy first, especially through the sacrament of penance and reception of the Holy Eucharist.  

In his Palm Sunday homily, Pope Francis said when Jesus suffers on the cross, “he reveals the true face of God, which is mercy.”

The pope said, “we are called to choose His way: the way of service, of giving, of forgetfulness of ourselves.”  As we receive God’s mercy during this sacred season of Eastertide, let us choose the way of Jesus: giving ourselves, practicing mercy, and revealing the merciful face of God.

Eyes that are seeing

The 19th-century poet Charles Warren Stoddard wrote a poem, “Stigmata,” which I often reflect on during Holy Week. The second stanza is striking:

They have crucified Thee for a token,
For a token Thy flesh crucified
Shall bleed in a heart that is broken
For love of the wound in Thy side;
In pity for palms that were pleading,
For feet that were grievously used,
There is blood on the brow that is bleeding
And torn, as Thy brow that was bruised!
By Thee have we life, breath, and being;
Thou hast knowledge of us and our kind;
Thou hast pleasure of eyes that are seeing,
And sorrow of eyes that are blind;
By the seal of the mystery shown us—
The wound that with Thy wounds accord—
O Lord, have mercy upon us!
Have mercy upon us, O Lord.

By Jesus Christ, “we have life, breath, and being.” God offers us life in this world, and eternal life, with him, forever. God offers us mercy from our sins: freedom and forgiveness—new life, new breath, and a new kind of being.

But God’s mercy comes to us at a price. Christ became a man in order to overcome the chasm of sin separating God and mankind. And Christ suffered, died, and was resurrected in order to conquer death, to bear the consequences of our sin and to make everlasting mercy manifestly possible for each one of us. 

Paragraph 616 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says “It is love ‘to the end’ that confers on Christ’s sacrifice its value as redemption and reparation, as atonement and satisfaction. He knew and loved us all when he offered his life… No man, not even the holiest, was ever able to take on himself the sins of all men and offer himself as a sacrifice for all. The existence in Christ of the divine person of the Son, who at once surpasses and embraces all human persons, and constitutes himself as the Head of all mankind, makes possible his redemptive sacrifice for all.”

He was crucified: beaten, bleeding, and broken, because of his love for us, and because his crucifixion bore the penalty for our sin.  “The wages of sin is death,” St. Paul tells us, and so Christ took on death, taking on the cost of our sin, so that we could have eternal life.

It is easy, in the busy-ness of ordinary life, to forget what Christ bore for our sake. We often have “eyes that are blind” to the great penalty he paid for us.  Lent is a time to remember Christ’s sacrifice, and during Holy Week, and the Sacred Triduum, we remember it especially. We recall Christ’s sacrifice each year, so that we will not forget the source of God’s mercy.
Since at least the fifth century, in one form or another, the Church has remembered Christ’s passion during the sacred Triduum in a haunting ritual called Tenebrae. Tenebrae is a service of readings and chanted psalms. The Latin word “Tenebrae” simply means “shadows,” because as the Church prays, light is gradually extinguished, reminding us of the darkness of death, into which Christ descended.

Tenebrae is both beautiful and haunting. It is especially beautiful when it is prayed using the rich melodies and customs of the Church’s traditions. As we pray Tenebrae, the Lord reminds us of his mercy, and gives us “eyes that are seeing.” Through these ancient liturgical rituals, we somehow get a glimpse, an insight, into the incomprehensible mysteries that surround us during this holiest time of the liturgical year.

The seminarians of St. Gregory the Great will pray Tenebrae on Holy Saturday in the Cathedral of the Risen Christ. They will call to mind the passion of Jesus Christ. They will do so with great beauty, with deep faith and with solemn reverence. I invite the faithful from across the Diocese of Lincoln to join me and our seminarians in this ancient prayer of the Church at 8:30 a.m. on Holy Saturday, March 26, at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ.

Whether or not you pray Tenebrae during this Holy Week, I pray that you set aside time to reflect on the gift of God’s mercy, and on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I pray that Christ give you new life and breath, and that you know the mercy of God, and you know its source: Jesus Christ, who heals our wounds with his wounds, and gives us life by conquering death.

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Men of prayer and action

In 1941, when Paris had been occupied by German forces and France had fallen to the Third Reich, a Frenchman named Jacques Lusseyran gathered with friends to begin planning an important movement in the French Resistance. They called themselves the Volunteers of Liberty. 

They began by helping downed British airmen sneak through France en route to Britain. They recruited hundreds, and then thousands, of men to join them in the Resistance. They published an underground newspaper to spread word of the Resistance, and to call for volunteers. Eventually, in 1943, 2,000 were caught, and sent to a concentration camp. By the time the camp was liberated in 1945, only 30 remained. Jacques Lusseyran, who had recruited nearly every leader in the Volunteers of Liberty, was among the few survivors. 

Jacques Lusseyran was 16 years old when he helped begin the French Resistance. And he was completely blind.

Later in his life, he recalled that he was given extraordinary courage largely because his parents had trusted him to do extraordinary things. His father, he said, especially had formed him to believe that despite his physical limitations, he could be heroic, and valorous, and good. 

His father encouraged young Jacques to develop a new way of “seeing” the world, despite his blindness, and to trust it. He encouraged his son to develop a rich interior life, so that he could hear, and see, and know what others couldn’t. Lusseyran said that his father encouraged him to see the deepest meaning of reality.

On March 19, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus Christ. And like the father of Jacques Lusseyran, St. Joseph trusted that his beloved child, Jesus, was made for something extraordinary. 

Because St. Joseph himself had a rich interior life, he trusted the voice of God. When the Lord spoke to him, in dreams especially, St. Joseph listened. And as a faithful man of prayer, he trusted that when Jesus had a different way of seeing the world, and when he heard the voice of God, he should act with valor, and courage, and greatness.

St. Joseph trusted in the voice of the Lord. When he heard God’s voice, he took Mary as his wife without hesitation. And when the time required it, he protected his family by leading them in flight to Egypt.       

St. Joseph trusted the Lord when Christ took up the great mission of his life. In fact, St. Joseph helped to form and encourage Jesus, in the mysterious path by which God’s incarnate Son, came to understand and prepare for his passion, death, and resurrection.

He formed, protected, led, encouraged, and trusted. And he did these things because he was a faithful follower of God the Father.

No man can hope to become a father like St. Joseph, or to raise holy and courageous children unless, before all else, he is a man of prayer. In 1999, Pope St. John Paul II said that in our country,  “male Catholicism is not interior and deep enough; the male believer does not have a true interior life… we men do not have a deep enough interior life.” 

To be like St. Joseph, we must develop a deep interior life. We must spend time reading Scripture, at Holy Mass, in Adoration, and praying the rosary. We must learn to hear the voice of God. We must find new ways of “seeing the world.”

Like St. Joseph, all men are called—as friends, and husbands, and fathers—to lead, to act, to form, and to protect. And to do these things, all men, like St. Joseph, must be men of prayer. Men of prayer, like St. Joseph, and like Jacques Lusseyran, will develop new ways of “seeing the world.”  And men of prayer will do extraordinary things, and engender and promote greatness in others.

In September, Bishop Thomas Olmsted, published “Into the Breach,” a pastoral letter for men, encouraging them to become men of prayer, trust, and action.  On the feast of St. Joseph, I pray that the all men in the Diocese of Lincoln might read it, and reflect upon it. We need men of courage, like Jacques Lusseyran today, and because of that, we need men of holiness, wisdom, and trust. 

May the men of the Diocese of Lincoln become men like St. Joseph, our patron.  And on his feast day, may St. Joseph intercede the holiness of all men.

The ‘reckless’ mystery of mercy

Mercy may seem reckless to us at times. Mercy trusts those who have proven themselves untrustworthy, those who have failed us. Mercy loves those who acted without love. Mercy hopes in those for whom it seems all hope is lost.

Mercy seems reckless. It seems counter-intuitive. Mercy seems, very often, like a naïveté—like a choice only made by those who do not understand the world.

Very often, we question the practice of mercy. A wife forgives an unfaithful husband, and her friends call her a fool. A man gives money to those on the street, and his family warns that the money will be spent on alcohol or drugs. If we befriend the weak, or the elderly, or the unborn, or the disgraced, the world believes we are wasting our time.

But God is merciful. God trusts us, even when we have failed him. God hopes in us, even when we disappoint. God loves us, with love beyond measure, even when we do not believe that we are worthy of his love.

God is not merciful because he is reckless. God is merciful because we are his children. God is merciful because we are made in his image; in God’s sight, we are worthy of his sacrificial love, for the sake of our redemption. God’s mercy is a mystery. But the mystery of God’s mercy gives us new life.

Our lives are often messy, complicated, and disappointing. Very often, we have the sense of being unloved. Our sins can leave us depressed and despondent: without a sense of meaning, or purpose, or hope. Unhappiness, rootlessness, and loneliness seem often to be endemic to the human condition. But, as Archbishop Charles Chaput so often reminds us, mercy gives us “a new life in God’s friendship.” 

There is nothing more profound than receiving the mercy of God. And in his grace, we can receive his mercy through the sacramental life of the Church. Pope Francis says that the sacraments—especially the sacrament of confession—are the “bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”

St. Paul says that, at all times, “God is rich in mercy, because of his great love.” In the sacrament of confession, God reminds us that his love has no conditions, no bounds, and no exceptions.

There is no sin too great for the Lord to forgive. No matter what we’ve done, he loves us. In the holy sacrament of confession, mercy conquers our sinfulness.

Mercy forgives, and it strengthens, and comforts, and restores. Mercy is not reckless, because mercy prepares us to leave our sinfulness behind, and to love as God loves, in faithfulness and freedom. Mercy sets us free for new lives of holiness and joy.

Blessed John Henry Newman wrote that the sacraments are the “keys which open the treasure-house of mercy.” Newman said that the sacraments are “means and pledges of grace.” In the sacrament of confession, God gives us the grace of his mercy, and pledges to continue that mercy—to remain with us, present to us to make us perfect—to unite us to him in holiness through the mystery of his love.

In the sacrament of confession, God offers us the key to the treasure-house of mercy.

On March 4 and 5, the Cathedral of the Risen Christ will celebrate “24 Hours for the Lord.” For twenty-four hours, confessions will be heard in the Cathedral, and the Lord will be present. He will also be present to us in sacred adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist, exposed on the altar.

In the sacrament of confession, God enters our hearts, and, if we allow him, gives us new lives in his friendship. No matter how long it has been since we’ve last confessed our sins, he is waiting. I pray that each one of you will enter the treasure-house of God’s mercy in the sacrament of confession this Lent—at “24 Hours for the Lord,” or at your parish.

God’s mercy frees us, and gives us peace. As Blessed John Henry Newman wrote, “Oh what piercing, heart-subduing tranquility, provoking tears of joy, is poured, almost substantially and physically upon the soul, the oil of gladness, as Scripture calls it, when the penitent at length rises, his God reconciled to him, his sins rolled away for ever!”

God is rich in the mystery of mercy. May we encounter that mercy in the holy sacrament of confession!

Building bridges: the principles of just immigration policy

A modern pope wanted to make a point about immigration to the people of our country.  He said that he had been worried—preoccupied—with “those who have been forced by revolutions in their own countries, or by unemployment or hunger to leave their homes and live in foreign lands.”

“Devotion to humanity,” the pope said, “urges that ways of migration be opened to these people.”

The pope was Pius XII, the Bishop of Rome from 1939 to 1958.  He wrote those words to America’s Catholic bishops nearly seventy years ago, in 1948. 

Like Pope Pius XII, Pope St. John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis has continued to call the Church to solidarity with immigrants and their families.  Last week, in the border city of Juarez, Mexico, Pope Francis called the world to work for justice, mercy, and freedom for immigrants.  The pope asked that each of us know the “names, stories, and families” that have suffered in the “human tragedy that is forced migration” around the globe.

In Juarez, Pope Francis spoke beautifully of Christ’s solidarity with those who must leave their homelands behind.

Of course, on his return from Mexico, the Holy Father was asked about presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall across the United States’ border with Mexico. Pope Francis did not address a particular policy proposal. Instead, he simply said that building walls without building bridges is not a Christian approach to immigration. The Holy Father was speaking off the cuff, and he did not speak in the formal and precise way he might have done in a teaching document. For that he has been criticized, called naïve and disingenuous. 

Pope Francis is not naïve. He understands the complexity of immigration policy, and its consequences for just societies. But when Pope Francis talks about immigration, he does so as a pastor of souls, and from the richness of Catholic social teaching. We can only understand Pope Francis, and hear his prophetic voice, if we do so in light of Church’s teaching. 

And the Holy Father is right: we can only hope to build a just immigration policy in our nation if we understand and respect the guiding voice of the Gospel.

The Church teaches that all people, and all families, have the right to migrate in order to sustain their lives, and the well-being of their families.  Poverty, corruption, persecution, and the uneven distribution of resources across the globe often force families to leave their homelands and cultures, to seek security and opportunity. All people have the right to opportunity, all people have the right to seek safety, and all people have the right to seek some portion of the world’s resources for their security. And while holding private property is a good and obvious right, all Christians have the obligation to manage their resources in light of the common good. 

If we ignore the fundamental right of families to migrate, or dismiss it callously, we ignore the wisdom of the Church, and the mandate of the Gospel. 

At the same time, the Church teaches that nations have a right to security: to secure, and defined, national borders. Governments have the right to establish ordered and well-defined immigration policies. The United States has the right to ensure that those who enter our country do so according to the just laws we enact, without threats to our safety, or to their own.  Every country has the right to ensure that its common economic welfare is not decimated by an influx of people it simply cannot support.  The right to migrate is not an unconditioned right, because every country has the right to establish reasonable and just policies assuring safety and common economic welfare.

But the Church also teaches that we must approach immigration policy from the perspective of solidarity with those who suffer, and mercy toward those in need of charity.  In the United States, where we are blessed with abundant natural resources, we must be thoughtful about how to utilize our resources to welcome as many people into our nation as is sustainable.  And we must be creative about finding ways to enhance our ability to support immigrants in need. 

Moreover, in the United States, we must recognize that those who seek to enter our nation often do so because of the poverty and corruption of their own nations.  Christian solidarity, and the principle of subsidiarity, requires that we find ways to help other nations develop robust and just economies.  We must form partnerships, which include real accountability, to serve the common good across the globe. Unreflective nationalism is not a Christian virtue.

Pope Francis is not naïve about the complexities of immigration policy. Nor should we be naïve. But we should remember this: Abraham, and Moses, and Jesus Christ spent time as immigrants or refugees. They fled injustice, and sought opportunities for their families, and in the case of the Holy Family, they fled their homeland for the sake of their lives. And for most of us, our ancestors in this land were also immigrants—our ancestor immigrants built the great schools, and churches and institutions of our country. 

The faces, and names, and stories of immigration are the faces of our families, and the stories of our faith. 

Our “devotion to humanity”—and our devotion to Jesus Christ—requires that we be just, charitable, and merciful to those who seek our help. As Catholics we must form and support policies for social justice around the world, and we must form just policies—building bridges—to welcome those who seek to experience America’s greatness, and who seek to help make America great for generations to come.

The wisdom of this world

In 2012, I was seated next to Justice Antonin Scalia at a small dinner of Catholics in Denver. We talked about his son, Father Paul Scalia, my good friend. We talked about his formation as a Catholic, most especially his memories of the faith in his family life. We talked about the vital place of faith in the public square, and the importance of believers willing to advocate for the common good.

I had a few other occasions to meet Justice Scalia, but none compared to the experience of that dinner. For a while, we talked about the role of natural law in modern democracies.   Justice Scalia explained his own viewpoint in great detail, and then fairly, accurately, and clearly presented the other viewpoints on the subject. I have a graduate degree in moral theology, and still, the depth of his reflections, and the obvious extent of his research, astounded me. No one, no matter his politics, can credibly deny Scalia’s genius.

Over the next few weeks, Scalia will be analyzed and categorized to no end, by commentators hoping to weigh in on his legacy. Some will vilify him, of course, and some will portray him as flawless. But those kinds of commentaries often miss the mark; they usually reveal more about the author than about their subject.

We can only really understand the life and legacy of Justice Scalia if we understand his Catholic faith. His faith influenced his mind, his will, and his imagination. It seems clear to those who knew him that Scalia was a committed jurist precisely because of his formation as a Catholic—as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ and his Church.

As a Catholic, Scalia was committed to certain fundamental truths. He was particularly attentive to the needs of the unborn, the defense of marriage and the family, and the fundamental right to religious liberty. Justice Scalia believed, firmly and wholeheartedly, that life began at conception. And he believed that the judges of the Supreme Court had no right to impose legally protected abortion on the United States.

Scalia was a principled man who believed in objective truth and objective moral law. Despite the prevailing relativism of our day, he believed in objective reality, and defended it. Scalia believed in the objectivity of justice, and the objectivity of the common good. He believed in the rule of law, and he confronted a troubling erosion of integrity in our nation’s legal and judicial processes.

Because Scalia believed in objective reality, he tried to understand the Constitution as it really is, and not as he wished it to be. In 2002, he wrote that the Constitution “means today not what current society thinks it ought to mean, but what it meant when it was adopted.” Scalia was an optimist about democracy; he trusted that if Americans wished the Constitution to change, it would be voters, and not courts, who would bring that change to bear.

Of course, Catholics do not need to agree with every decision or viewpoint Antonin Scalia offered. A Catholic American does not need to hold the same perspective on Constitutional originalism as Justice Scalia, or reach the same conclusions he did about the Constitution’s meaning. But like Justice Scalia did, all Catholics have an obligation to form their consciences according to the teaching of the Church, and to commit themselves to serving the common and public good.

In Christifidelis Laici, Pope St. John Paul II wrote that the political situation of our time “calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful. If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle.”

Justice Scalia did not remain idle in the face of our political circumstances. In the face of great injustices, he offered himself—his intellect, his energies, and his judgment—for the sake of the common good. Every Catholic is called to imitate Scalia’s commitment to religious liberty, the family, and the unborn. And each one of us is called to use our votes, and our voices, to form a culture of life, and a civilization of love.

Like Justice Scalia, each one of us is called to seek justice and truth. We are called to support the right to life and the dignity of the human person. We are called to actively engage in public and political life, not in spite of our faith, but because of it.

It seems likely that Justice Scalia’s death will lead to a Supreme Court more hostile to religious believers, and less supportive of real human freedom. In the absence of Justice Scalia, our obligations in the public square, and the voting booth, become even more important. Today, the words of John Paul II ring ever more true: “it is not permissible for anyone to remain idle.”

Shortly after our dinner in 2012, Justice Scalia gave a formal talk about the witness of St. Thomas More’s integrity. He said that very often “the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight.” He meant that nothing should deter us from proclaiming the truth, no matter how unpopular or unpleasant. Justice Scalia lived his life seeking the truth, and proclaiming it. I pray that each one of us will have the courage to do the same.

May Justice Antonin Scalia rest in peace. May perpetual light shine upon him.

Fasting from indifference

On the top of Mount Sinai, Moses fasted for forty days, hearing the Word of God, the law of the Lord proclaimed for his people.

Elijah walked across the desert for forty days, fasting the entire time, to hear the Word of the Lord, spoken in a small, still whisper.

The Word of God himself, Jesus Christ, fasted in the wilderness for forty days, resisting the temptations of Satan and preparing for his sacred ministry.

The Lord often calls his disciples and servants to periods of fasting, in which he reveals himself to them, and to the world, in a new way. When we fast from the distractions of this world, and when we fast even from the demands of our own appetites, we can hear the voice of God more clearly and directly. 

Lent is a period of time in the liturgical year when the whole Church is called to fast and do penance in order to hear the voice of God more clearly and directly.  We fast from food, especially on particular days of penance, and we fast from distractions, and appetites, and preferences that often distract us from seeking the voice of God, and from hearing it.  In Lent, we are called to fast from the things that dull our spiritual senses, which leave us feeling satisfied—because in Lent, we are reminded to hunger for the Word of God.

Pope Francis says that we should also, during Lent, “fast from our indifference.”  We should fast from our indifference to the needs of the poor, the marginalized, and the lost.  The Holy Father says that we hear the voice of God, and see the face of Christ, in the voices and faces of the poor.  We should, he says, fast from our indifference to those on the periphery, because “whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.”

We fast from our indifference by committing to extending mercy to those most in need of God’s love.  And this Lent, during the Church’s Year of Mercy, each one of us should “fast from indifference” by committing to practicing the Church’s works of mercy. 

This Lent, I ask every Catholic household, family, religious sister, and priest to commit to extending God’s love through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

The corporal works of mercy are feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, giving alms to the poor, and burying the dead. 

The spiritual works of mercy are admonishing sinners, instructing the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, comforting the sorrowful, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving injuries, and praying for the living and the dead.

I hope that as this Lent begins, every Catholic in the Diocese of Lincoln will prayerfully reflect on the works of mercy, and choose a spiritual work of mercy, and a corporal work of mercy, to practice during the period of Lent.  This will take different forms in each family or household.  But I hope that this Lent will be a time in which all of us offer the mercy of God to the spiritually and materially poor.

As we enter into fasting this Lent, we will hear the voice of the Father, as did Moses, Elijah, and Jesus Christ in their own fasting.  And as we “fast from our indifference,” may we reveal the love of God, and hear the voice of the Lord, spoken by Christ through merciful encounters with the poor.

Educating saints!

“When it comes to education,” writes Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, “nobody has a better track record than the Church.”

Cardinal Dolan is right. Catholics have always been educators: wherever the Gospel is proclaimed, intellectual formation follows. The Catholic Church invented the modern university. A Franciscan friar, Roger Bacon, is the father of the scientific method. And in America, there have been Catholic schools longer than there have been parishes and cathedrals.

In the late 19th century, the great Bishop John Lancaster Spalding wrote that: “without parish schools, there is no hope that the Church will be able to maintain itself in America.”

The first missionaries to America, long before dioceses and parishes were formally established, built schools for the sake of teaching the faith, and for the sake of building Catholic communities, united around the mission of education. Catholic education creates Catholic culture by forming leaders who think and live, in all aspects of life, from the perspective of faith.

Catholic schools have long been essential to the Church’s mission in the United States and have been at the heart of Catholic life in Southern Nebraska for well over a hundred years. In the Diocese of Lincoln, our Catholic schools have allowed us to transmit the faith, from one generation to the next, to form and equip young men and women to make virtuous and holy choices, to become priests, and religious sisters, and good parents—and to become leaders in business, the arts, and public life in our state.

In fact, Catholic schools are important for more than the survival of the Church. Catholic schools are important for the sake of peaceful, prosperous, and well-ordered communities. In 2014, law professors at the University of Notre Dame released research demonstrating the Catholic schools are critical to maintaining strong and safe neighborhoods in many American cities. They found that, “Catholic school closures precede elevated levels of crime and disorder and suppressed levels of social cohesion. Conversely . . . an open Catholic school in a neighborhood (correlates) with lower levels of serious crime. . . . Catholic schools matter to urban neighborhoods not only as educational institutions—although, to be sure, they matter a great deal educationally—but also as community institutions.”

Catholic schools are institutions that impact entire communities. The researchers concluded by saying that neighborhoods rise and fall, predictability and demonstrably, with the presence of Catholic schools.

Families, too, depend on Catholic schools. Catholic school students are prepared to become good husbands and wives, good fathers and mothers. Catholic school students learn, from an early age, to treat their families as gifts from God, and to love them with humility and grace.

Catholic school students learn, in fact, to treat all people with respect. And they learn that each one of us has a vital role to play in building and maintaining the common good. Catholic school students learn how to protect the vulnerable, support justice, and work for freedom. And they learn how to live and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This week, the Church celebrates Catholic Schools Week, and I am privileged to spend time each day visiting our Catholic schools. I see in our students the leaders of their generation, and I see the saints of their generation. And saints, more than anything else, are what Catholic schools help to produce.

Families, communities, and the Church all face new and unprecedented challenges in the modern world. The decay of Christian culture seems to have no limit. We need saints to lead our world to peace, to virtue, and true freedom. We need saints, and as long as that is true, each one us needs Catholic schools.

May we thank God for our Catholic schools, and may we commit to supporting their critical mission.


Editor's Note: Learn more about our diocesan Catholic schools here. A full list of the schools is here.

The call to consecrated holiness

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta had been a religious sister for nearly 20 years when the Lord called her to serve India’s poorest people on the streets of Calcutta. She’d been the headmistress of a school, when the Lord gave her a “call within a call” to leave her community, and begin her work as a Missionary of Charity. She got permission to begin wearing a simple Indian sari, and to live her life in service to the poor and dying.

On her first day as a Missionary of Charity, she began a school to serve five indigent girls. She hoped more would come. They came, in droves, and the dying came as well. She washed them, and fed them, and prayed with them as they died. She fed their families, and cared for their children.

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta became a witness to the whole world of the unending mercy of God. She did so by following a simple call, and trusting in the Lord’s Providence to guide her, and care for her.

The same thing can be said of St. Francis of Assisi, who began his consecrated life with Christ’s simple call to “rebuild my Church.” The great missions of St. Ignatius of Loyola began with a call.  The monasteries of St. Benedict of Norcia began with a call. The greatest witnesses to God’s incredible mercy began with a call from the Lord—a call to be consecrated, in poverty, chastity, and obedience—to missionary discipleship of Jesus Christ.

Next week, the Church concludes the Year for Consecrated Life, in which we celebrate and recognize the call to consecration as servants of Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters to us all.
Many Catholics have some devotion to the heroic witness of some beautifully consecrated life—Blessed Mother Teresa, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Maximilian Kolbe. Many of us look to the saints of religious life as witnesses to heroic fidelity to Jesus Christ.  And many of us can think of the religious brothers, priests, and sisters, who have witnessed unfettered charity in our own lives. In the Diocese of Lincoln, we are greatly blessed with an abundance of religious women, visible witnesses in the beautiful habits, of lives consecrated to serve Christ and his Church.

The mission of consecrated life is discipleship—in prayer and contemplation, in catechesis and evangelization, or in heroic works of charity. But the witness of consecrated life, to all of us, is especially important. Pope St. John Paul II wrote that consecrated life reminds us that this world is not our home—that we are passing through as servants of Jesus—but made to store up treasures in our eternal home in heaven. Consecrated life, he said, “anticipates in a certain way that eschatological fulfillment towards which the whole Church is tending.” 

Consecrated men and women remind us that this world will end, but that we are made for an eternal world.  Consecrated men and women remind us that nothing in this world should come before our salvation in Jesus Christ.

God calls ordinary men and women to consecrated life—he makes simple calls to lives of prayer, apostolic work, and community. Everyone should be open to hearing the call of the Lord, and to following it.  Religious life is a beautiful, joyful, and heroic opportunity to know, love, and serve the Lord.

But those of us who are not called to it should still thank God for the vocation of consecrated life. Consecrated men and women remind us—in a clear and radical way—how each one of us should live our lives. Mother Teresa would tell those who wanted to follow her to “begin at home by saying good things to your child,” or by “helping someone in need in your community.” In a simple way, the beauty of her vocation calls all of us to holiness.

As the Year for Consecrated Life concludes, join me in thanking God for the work and witness of consecrated men and women. Pray for their holiness. And pray that as we see the beauty of their lives, each one of us, no matter our vocation, might pursue the holy virtues of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Related News: All invited to closing Mass for Year for Consecrated Life

Pro-woman, pro-life

God’s greatest gift to us is human freedom. God gives us the freedom of our lives, of our choices, and decisions, and opportunities. God gives us the freedom to live in peace, joy, and hope. And God gives us the freedom to live with Him, forever, in unimaginable unity with the Blessed Trinity.

God wants all of us to experience the freedom of abundant and joyful lives. He wants us to live to the fullness of our human potential, and even beyond—to live in the freedom of loving, and being loved, as God himself loves.  God wants this freedom for every man, woman, and child.  And, in fact, the mission of the Church is to proclaim the freedom that comes from life in Jesus Christ. Freedom comes through sacramental grace, through repentance and mercy, through understanding the dignity and mission of being a person, and through the formation of societies and cultures that respect human dignity, and promote the truest kinds of human flourishing.

Catholics are called to build societies and cultures rooted in true freedom – to create what Pope St. John Paul II calls “true civilizations of love.”  To help build civilizations of love, the Church is called to defend the freedom of the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. In many cultures, the Church has been called upon to defend the rights of women who are often objectified, or victimized, or degraded by sinful choices, and sinful systems.  The great southern author Flannery O’Connor wrote that the Catholic Church “has done more than any other force in history to free women.”

Abortion is a profound threat to the freedom of women everywhere. Across the globe, of course, children are systematically aborted simply because they are female, in cultures in which women are not respected or appreciated, but are rather viewed as a liability. And abortions cause grave harm to the women who undergo them. Taking the life of a child, before it is born, has a long-lasting psychological and emotional impact.

Alice Paul, an early suffragist and author of the 1923 U.S. Equal Rights Amendment, once wrote that, “abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women.”

Our culture fails to appreciate and support the profound capacity and gift of a woman to foster new life, and to welcome it. Women face pressure to abort their children from social expectations, from poverty, from men who irresponsibly abandon their children and families. Too often, our culture regards bearing children as a burden, and pressures or expects women to undergo abortion to resolve that burden and to “solve the problem.” Abortion is used as a tool to avoid addressing social inequality, and the need for greater legal and social support for women, children, and families.

A true civilization of love would support all women who experience the gift of new life, offering the freedom to receive and experience the gift of new life with true joy.

In 1994, Blessed Mother Teresa wrote that “The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men…it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners.”  

“Abortion is profoundly anti-women,” Mother Teresa said. “Three quarters of its victims are women: Half the babies and all the mothers.”

Abortion threatens the freedom, health, and well-being of women. To support legal protection for abortion is opposed to the good of all women. True feminism, which recognizes the beauty and dignity of all women, knows that to be pro-woman, we must be pro-life.

This week, hundreds of thousands will gather in Washington, D.C. for the annual March for Life. I will be with them, as will hundreds of young Catholics from the Diocese of Lincoln. (Editor's Note: March for Life 2015 video) And thousands more will pray and fast with us, offering their prayers as we march. The 2016 theme of the March for Life is this: “Pro-Life and Pro-Woman Go Hand in Hand.”

To protect the rights, freedom, and dignity of women, we must end legal protection for abortion. We must promote and protect the freedom of all women: born and unborn. And we must pray for a culture of life—a civilization of love—in which every man, woman, and child experiences the incredible gift of freedom in Jesus Christ.

Truth, Compassion, and Mercy

This week, representatives from high schools across Nebraska will vote on policies to define the scope of participation in high school athletics and other extra-curricular activities.  They will consider whether students should participate in sports and other activities according to the sex into which they were born, or according to a gender of their own choosing. 

By the time many of you read this column, the votes will have been cast: if three Nebraska regions support the truth that the sex we’re born with matters, the issue will be considered by a statewide assembly of school districts in April.  But if three or more districts decide that students can choose or define their genders at will, Nebraska schools will soon be required to permit students who identify as transgendered to compete on the playing field according to their chosen gender.

For the past several months, the Nebraska Catholic Conference has worked tirelessly to promote the idea that our God-given gender matters.  That the sexes are different, and that ignoring the sex into which we are born—the “gender identity” God gives us—has real consequences.  Parents across the state of Nebraska have contacted their school districts to encourage them to make the right choice.   Our governor, lieutenant governor, state treasurer, and secretary of state have unequivocally stated that gender matters. And many people have taken this issue to prayer.

Still, if you read this column after January 13th, the votes will have been cast, and Nebraska may be continuing down a path that defies reason, justice, charity, and God’s revealed truth. [If you are reading this before January 13th, click here to make your voice heard.]

To many people, this issue seems unimportant.  They ask why “transgendered” students should not be supported in the identities they choose for themselves.  They ask if the Church is unfairly persecuting students with gender dysphoria.  They ask if Catholics have compassion for those who see and experience the world in a different way than the Church does.

But the truth is that our sex is a fundamental part of who we are.  God made us to be male and female, and he created men and women to complement each other—to be partners in love, parenting, and family life.  Not one of us can define our own gender—we are male and female because the Lord created us each, exactly as we are, for a purpose. 

There are people who, sadly, experience confusion about their sex, or sexual orientation, or personal identity.  For psychological, emotional, and even physiological reasons, there are men and women who are convinced that their bodies do not reflect the reality of who they are.  This is especially common among young people—many of whom grow out of this confusion as they mature. 

We are called to support men and women who experience this kind of confusion.  We are called to welcome them into the life of the Church, and to welcome them into our communities and into our friendships.  But true compassion does not validate their confusion, or encourage them to deny the reality of God’s plan for their lives.  This is especially true of children, who depend on adults to help them understand how to grow and mature into adulthood.

If Nebraska high schools endorse the idea that our “gender identity” is something we choose, they will send students down deeper paths of confusion and darkness.  If adults validate every confused feeling children experience, we will deny them the opportunity to grow in wisdom and maturity.  If we care about children—especially those who experience gender dysphoria—we will be present to them, we will be patient with them, and we will teach them the truth about who God made them to be.

Our culture has an ethos that endorses every preference or feeling that people experience—especially in the area of sex and gender.  Our culture tends to believe that we should “live and let live,” and that we should encourage children to trust and pursue every curiosity, desire, or attraction they experience.   But adults have the wisdom to know that many of our feelings and preferences have unhealthy consequences, especially during the turbulence of adolescence.

The Church is called to speak on behalf of all children across Nebraska.  We are called to advocate for truth.  We are called to share the wisdom of the Gospel, especially the basic idea that if we defy who God made us to be—as revealed in our own bodies—or if we believe that we can define the parameters and meaning of our own existence, we will only experience greater turmoil, greater unhappiness, and greater confusion.  The path of truth—although often difficult—is the path of joy, peace, and freedom.

The Church has a great love for those who experience gender dysphoria.  And we have an obligation to proclaim and witness to the truth.  As our culture becomes ever more relativistic, the voice of truth seems to be heard more faintly, and by fewer people.  The Church needs your voice—to proclaim God’s love, to witness to truth, and to express the profound goodness of God’s plan for us.

Advocates of libertine social ethics will not stop with “transgendered” high school sports policies.  They will continue to attack the basic realities of humanity, of family life, of God’s great gift of sexuality.  And with each victory for relativism, more people will be led into darkness, confusion, and grave harm.  But the mercy of God, which brings light, clarity, and healing, is available to all.  And each one of us must be a missionary of God’s mercy to a world in ever-greater need of his love.

A Year of Mercy

In this first week of 2016, I have been spending time reflecting on the words of Pope Francis about the mercy of God.

Our Holy Father writes that, “mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.”

Mercy is a profound and transformative force, one that can unite our families and communities, and can calm and soften our troubled hearts. Mercy can draw each one of us into deeper communion and friendship with one another, and with God.

It should be obvious to most of us that the world is in great need of mercy at this particular time in history. On Christmas Eve, Pope Francis said that, “In a world which all too often is merciless to the sinner and lenient to the sin, we need to cultivate a strong sense of justice, to discern and to do God’s will. Amid a culture of indifference which not infrequently turns ruthless, our style of life should instead be devout, filled with empathy, compassion and mercy, drawn daily from the wellspring of prayer.”

The Year of Mercy is a call precisely to do those things: to cultivate a sense of justice which includes a true sense of God’s mercy, and to develop a sense of mercy within ourselves by faithful and devout commitment to the daily practice of prayer.

On Dec. 8, we began the “Jubilee Year of Mercy” that will last for most of 2016.  During the Year of Mercy, we will give thanks for God’s mercy to us, and seek to become more merciful to one another. As we begin this Year of Mercy, I have already been encouraged that Catholics across our diocese continue to be committed to works of mercy: to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, visit the lonely and indigent, and to pray for those in need of healing, forgiveness, and peace. 

Mercy often does as much good for the merciful as it does for those who receive mercy. When we forgive a wrong, we are relieved from the burden of bearing a grudge. When we give what we have to those who need it, we discover the freedom and joy of unbounded generosity. When we give ourselves to others, we discover the profound meaning of our humanity: to love, simply, in imitation of the profound and merciful love with which God loves us.

“Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,” said Jesus Christ. “But whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Mercy gives our lives meaning. We are made for mercy: made to receive mercy, and made to be merciful to others. 

Of course mercy is not without challenges. As we practice mercy, we discover our shortcomings, and our egocentricities, and our preference for the comfortable and easy paths. We discover, in short, our sinfulness. When we fail, we repent, receive God’s forgiveness, resolve to do better, and try again. As we’re challenged by the difficulties of being merciful, we discover that we can’t do it on our own.   To love other people as they deserve, we need the grace of God in our lives.

Amid the chaos, violence, and hopelessness of modern culture, in a time when so many people are seeking meaning and answers, we should consider making 2016 a “year of mercy” in our personal and family lives. We might find that mercy has a multiplying effect: one act of mercy encourages another; our merciful choices begin to form the foundation for a civilization of love. 

New Year’s resolutions, of course, are seldom kept. Gym memberships begun in January are often abandoned by March. So are diets, and many other resolutions. Despite our good intentions, we are most influenced by our habits: and developing the habits of virtue requires a long-standing commitment, and the grace of God.

But in 2016, the Church asks us to develop the habits of mercy, and I pray that we will resolve to do so. I pray that we will resolve to practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and, most especially, that we will resolve to develop the habits of prayer from which true mercy springs.

I pray that in this Year of Mercy, each one of us will encounter the love of God, and that we will find love, hope, joy and peace in giving and receiving the boundless gift of mercy.

The newness of Christmas

Christmas is the celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, in which we remember that God became man for our sake, in the humility of being born a baby, in the poverty of a small stable, in the tiny town of Bethlehem, 2,000 years ago.

We celebrate Christmas because the Incarnation of Jesus changes everything about being human. Because Christ has come, we can share in the divine nature of God, we can live forever, we can love as God loves.

We celebrate Christmas because through Christ’s Incarnation—and his passion, death, and resurrection—we can be set free from the chains of sin and death, and adopted into the life of eternal Trinity.

We celebrate Christmas with traditions that are familiar and beautiful. We worship God at Holy Mass. We gather with our families to feast and exchange gifts. We sing familiar songs, and celebrate the warmth and conviviality of life in Christian love and friendship.

For some people, the experience of Christmas can begin to feel stagnant—simply the commemoration of what has been, set apart from the reality of what is now. And for some people, of course, Christmas can be a difficult celebration. At Christmas, we often remember those loved ones who have gone before us: parents and spouses who have passed away. We gather with those we love, and for those who have lost the ones they love, Christmas can come with a stark sense of being alone.

But for most of us, Christmas often evokes a familiarity, a joyful optimism, a sense of warmth, recollection, and nostalgia.

We can, however, risk complacency in the comfortable familiarity of Christmas. We risk losing the profundity of the Incarnation in the sentimentality of the season. And we risk losing the radical meaning of the Incarnation in the familiarity of our holiday traditions.

We do not celebrate Christmas merely to remember what God has done in history, and to remember the joy of Christmas celebrations of the past. We celebrate Christmas because God wants to enter our lives and hearts anew—in new ways, ever deeper, ever more profound ways.

Four hundred and fifty years ago, St. Charles Borromeo preached that “each year, as the Church recalls this mystery, she urges us to renew the memory of the great love God has shown us…. The Church asks us to understand that Christ, who came once in the flesh, is prepared to come again. When we remove all obstacles to his presence he will come, at any hour and moment, to dwell spiritually in our hearts, bringing with him the riches of his grace.”

Christ is prepared to come again, into our hearts, to fill us with the riches of his grace, and to call us to a deeper response to the challenge of Christian discipleship. This Christmas, as we celebrate in familiar ways, we should also pray for, and seek out, the unfamiliar: new promptings by the Holy Spirit, new calls to missionary discipleship, new kinds of friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

And to prepare us to encounter Christ in a new way, we should commit, at Christmas, to remove the obstacles to his presence. We should confess our sins with heartfelt contrition and gratitude as we examine our habits, choices, and consciences. We should consider the obstacles in our lives to unbounded charity.  As we celebrate Christmas, we should ask the Lord to reveal to us what we might change in order to let Christ “come again” into our lives.

And we should ask the Lord to reveal what we might do to prepare for his final coming, his return to the earth in glory, which will come without expectation, and which will come whether or not we have sufficiently prepared.

Christmas is the memory of his coming, the reality of his coming here and now, and the anticipation of his future coming—his return to this world—in glory and exaltation.

TS Eliot wrote:
The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder
At the Feast as an event not accepted as a pretext;
So that the glittering rapture, the amazement
Of the first-remembered
Christmas Tree…
So that the reverence and the gaiety
May not be forgotten in later experience,
In the bored habituation, the fatigue, the tedium…
So that before the end, the eightieth Christmas
(By “eightieth” meaning whichever is the last)
The accumulated memories of annual emotion
May be concentrated into a great joy
Which shall be also a great fear, as on the occasion
When fear came upon every soul:
Because the beginning shall remind us of the end
And the first coming of the second coming.

The beginning—remembering and celebrating the Incarnation—should remind us of the end—that Christ will return in glory, and in judgment. And it should remind us of the present—that Christ wishes to come now to us, to draw us into his life, and to prepare us for eternity.

As we celebrate Christmas—the entire holy season of Christmas—let us rejoice in the comfort and familiarity of our traditions. But let us ask the Lord, who desires to come into our hearts—to make all things, even Christmas, beautifully and profoundly new.

The Holy Doors of Mercy

Wherever there is sin, there is disorder, chaos, and slavery. Sin binds us in the patterns of action and habits of thought that isolate us; that disrupt and sever the bonds of charity with our families and friends, and that disrupt and sever the bond of love that unites us to the Lord.

Sin has consequences, in this world, and in the next. Sin can separate us from God eternally. But it can also effect real consequences in this life. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they lost paradise, and were consigned to a life of toil and pain. Our own sins also bring temporal punishments—consequences of hardship that stem from our bad choices.

To spend eternity with God, we must be transformed, from sinners to saints. We must be forgiven of the guilt of our sins, and we must be set free from the effects of sin—our attachments, preferences, and evil inclinations, as well as from the temporal punishment due to sin. This transformation begins now, here on earth, and, if not completed, will continue in purgatory.

God’s mercy sets us free from sin. Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection merits eternal life for us: new life dispensed in the grace of baptism, Holy Communion, and confession. Christ transforms us, during our lives, in holiness. And if we have died in union with God, but not yet totally sanctified, Christ transforms us in purgatory, cleansing us from the temporal effects of our sin, to prepare us for eternal holiness.

But the Lord wishes us to set us free from the temporal consequences of our sin even in this life.  And among the ways God sets us free, through his Church, is through the grace of an indulgence.

An indulgence, the Catechism says, “is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.” 

Throughout the history of the Church, indulgences have been made available to Catholics who undertake pilgrimages, periods of prayer, or acts of penance. Indulgences are offered, as a special grace, with the condition that Catholics confess their sins, receive the Eucharist, offer prayer for the mission of the Church, and renounce their attachments to sin.

During the Year of Mercy, the Holy Father has asked that indulgences be made available to those Catholics who make pilgrimages of prayer, and who journey through the Jubilee Year’s Holy Doors—the doors of mercy, present at the cathedral doors of every diocese.

On Sunday, Dec. 13, I opened the Jubilee Doors of Mercy in the Cathedral of the Risen Christ. The holy doors will remain open for the Year of Mercy, which concludes with the Solemnity of Christ the King Nov. 20, 2016. These doors symbolize the open door of mercy the Lord extends to each one of us—the doors of mercy that free us from our sins, and lead us to eternal life.

Pilgrims who pass through the holy doors, in humility, and asking for God’s mercy, can receive an indulgence—the mercy of freedom from the temporal consequences of our sin. Each one of us invited to enter the Holy Doors of mercy as a pilgrim, grateful for the mercy of God.

Holy Doors—and the grace of indulgences—are meant to strengthen us, to call us to seek God’s mercy, and to remind us that God desires to free us from all sin. Indulgences remind us that when we repent of our sins, and turn our lives to Jesus Christ, we will become merciful—in freedom from sin, we enter the mystery of love- the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.
Last week, Pope Francis prayed, “in passing through the holy door, then, may we feel that we ourselves are part of this mystery of love.”

In the mystery of his love, God, through his Church, invites us to the mystery of forgiveness, and the mystery of freedom. May we seek freedom from the eternal and temporal consequences of sin. May we enter the holy doors as pilgrims, as we seek the gift of God’s mercy.

Editor's Note: Read more about the holy doors at the Cathedral here.

The Marriage Tribunal – An Apostolate of Mercy

Marriage is God’s first gift to humanity. “In the beginning” God created one man and one woman, and he joined them together, instructing them to be fruitful and multiply. God created us for families, in his own image, through the gift of marriage.

Marriage is a life-long partnership of spouses, which exists to form families in the procreation and education of children, and to assist the spouses in the pursuit of holiness. Marriage is a permanent and exclusive union, which, when the spouses are baptized, is a sacramental union, in which Christ’s presence is manifested in grace.

Marriage is the fruit of choice—of consent. When a man and woman commit themselves to one another, and publicly manifest that choice in accord with the law of God, they become husband and wife—one flesh, joined for the remainder of their lives.

Consenting to marriage is a beautiful and serious choice. Marriage is a choice that must be free, honest, and mature. You need not be a saint to choose marriage, but you must be an adult: a person capable of making an unencumbered and rational decision. And consent requires intending what marriage really is: a choice for marriage cannot exclude the choice to be faithful, or open to children, or committed for life.

It should be obvious to all that we live in a culture that is not conducive to healthy marriages. The media devalues fidelity, permanence, and fertility. We are accustomed to egocentric instant gratification. The culture of death erodes the integrity of families, and that problem compounds with each generation: children who grow up without healthy families as role models are unlikely to form healthy families of their own. Today, for many reasons, there are people who intend to choose marriage but are not mature enough to do so, free enough to do so, or prepared enough—personally, intellectually, emotionally and morally—to do so.

Some sociologists believe that a marriage that begins in 2015 has a nearly 50% chance of ending in divorce.

Only exceptional circumstances justify divorce: married people are called to offer the sacrifices of their vocation, even in hardship, unless the gravest circumstances require separation. But, of course, there are couples that do separate. And for centuries, the Church has offered a legal process to determine whether those couples actually contracted marriage: this process is commonly referred to as the annulment process, or the tribunal process.

The tribunal process uses the accounts of both husband and wife, and the testimony of witnesses and experts, to determine whether both parties were fully capable of consenting to marriage, and whether they consented to marriage without excluding its most essential goods and properties. The tribunal asks questions about the very beginning of a marriage, in order to judge whether the consent supplied on the day of the wedding sufficiently established marriage.

The tribunal does not find fault or assess blame: it simply considers whether the words of consent corresponded to the object and capacity of the spouses’ wills. This process is a kind of mercy for the couple, because it clarifies the truth about their lives. Knowing the truth, and living in accord with the truth, brings us to freedom.

The tribunal process requires legal, theological, and psychological experts to evaluate the situation of broken marriages. It requires gathering testimony and facts. It must be undertaken carefully, fairly, and professionally. The process is not without significant costs.

But clarifying the truth about marriage is an apostolate of mercy. Helping people to know how God calls them to live is a part of the Church’s essential mission. Inviting divorced Catholics to know and live as disciples of Jesus, in the full communion of the Church, is a privilege, and a grace.

The Diocese of Lincoln has long believed that every child should be welcomed at Catholic schools, regardless of his ability to pay. We have long offered counseling to families, couples, and individuals, even when they are unable to afford it. We provide food, clothing, job training and housing to those who cannot pay. And effective this week, as we enter the Year of Mercy, we will offer the tribunal process to all who need it, without requiring payments or assessing fees.

Each year, fees cover roughly 15% of our tribunal’s budget. We hope that those who utilize the process might offer freely some contribution for the Church’s work. But we will no longer assess fees of any kind for the legal processes of the diocesan tribunal. We offer the tribunal as a court of justice, and a prophet of mercy, without any consideration of cost. I pray that those who are searching for the truth might avail themselves of the Church’s judgment.

The Year of Mercy requires that each of us help the world to live according to the will of God. May our tribunal assist in that process, and may our witness to the gift of marriage, given freely by the Lord, call families to holiness, sacrifice, and charity.

Made for Mercy

Last week, in the Central African Republic, Pope Francis offered a universal truth about the human person. “All of us,” he said, “ask [God] for mercy, reconciliation, forgiveness and love.”

Every single human person is made by God to love, and to be loved. We are each formed in God’s image, and we are each made for eternal life with him. And all of us—no matter who we are, what we know, or from where we come—have a hunger for the love of God, for his forgiveness, and for his presence in our lives. Each one of us has sinned. Each one of us has been separated from union with our Creator. And every person is born longing to be reconciled to God our Father.

Mercy is what makes unity with God possible. Mercy is God’s grace, present in our lives, forgiving our sins, and preparing us for holiness. Mercy is the means by which we can perfectly reveal the image of God written in our very being.

Mercy is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ—God who became man, so that all mankind might share in God’s life. Mercy is Christ’s death on a cross, by which our sins can be forgiven. Mercy is Christ’s resurrection, which opens heaven to us. Mercy is the Church that Christ gave us, and the sacraments that manifest his presence, his grace, his power, for each one of us.

Mercy is the gift of God that each one of us longs for from the depths of our hearts.

Mercy does not mean that God simply ignores the things that separate us from him. Mercy does not mean pretending that sin is good, or that falsehoods are true.  Mercy can never be separated from justice, or from truth. Instead, mercy means that God gives us the grace to be truly freed from our sins, and the grace to follow God’s call in our lives—to love as he loves. Mercy seasons justice and lives in the light of truth.

On December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the Church will begin a special Jubilee Year of Mercy. During this year, Pope Francis asks each one of us to reflect on the mercy of God in our lives. He asks us to contemplate the “mystery of mercy.” And he asks us to be merciful—to reflect the mercy of God in our treatment of others.

In Rome, the Holy Father will open a jubilee door of mercy, through which pilgrims can enter in prayer, asking for the merciful grace of indulgence—freedom from the temporal effects of our sin. In the Diocese of Lincoln, we’ll open a jubilee door at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ, for the same reason. An indulgence, says Pope Francis, is a gift by which God the Father, acting through the Church, “reaches the pardoned sinner and frees him from every residue left by the consequences of sin, enabling him to act with charity, to grow in love rather than to fall back into sin.”

The Holy Father has asked that the sacrament of penance be made more available for the mercy of forgiveness of sin. Across the Diocese of Lincoln, special times for confession will be available during the Year of Mercy, in which God’s forgiveness will be manifested to all who seek it in humility and repentance.

Most especially, in the Diocese of Lincoln, I pray that we will spend time thinking about the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The works of mercy are the practices by which we participate in the merciful love of God—by which we extend God’s mercy to those in need of it.

The corporal works of mercy are to feed the hungry; to give drink to the thirsty; to clothe the naked; to harbor the harborless; to visit the sick; to ransom the captive; to bury the dead. The spiritual works of mercy are to instruct the ignorant; to counsel the doubtful; to admonish sinners; to bear wrongs patiently; to forgive offences willingly; to comfort the afflicted; to pray for the living and the dead.

During the Year of Mercy, our diocese will undertake initiatives to practice the works of mercy. I’ll write about them in the weeks to come. But I pray that your family, parish, and community will do the same. I pray that during this Year of Mercy, you’ll find ways to share the mercy of God with everyone, particular with those who are in most need.

All of us, in the depths of our hearts, ask for the Lord’s mercy. During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, may we receive the mercy of God, and may we extend mercy to all those whom we are called to love.

Conversi ad Dominum!

In the early centuries of the Church, preaching bishops and priests observed a beautiful custom. At the end of each homily or sermon, they would proclaim to the faithful “Conversi ad Dominum!”—turn yourselves to the Lord.

In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI explained this custom in the early Church by saying, “fundamentally, this involved an interior event; conversion, the turning of our soul toward Jesus Christ and thus toward the living God.”

Pope Benedict writes that “Conversi ad Dominum!” reminds us, “we must always turn away from false paths, onto which we stray so often in our thoughts and action. We must turn ever anew toward him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We must be converted ever anew, turning with our whole life toward the Lord.”

Each one of us, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, is in need of constant conversion. We are called to follow Jesus with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. And yet, in the day-to-day challenges of family life, or priesthood, or religious consecration, we can become distracted. We can stray from the Gospel. We can begin to walk along false paths or just become complacent with the status quo of our lives.

Conversi ad Dominum!  Each one of us needs a reminder to examine our hearts. Each one of us needs to be called again to conversion. Each one of us needs to begin anew.

The Church gives us the season of Advent to call us anew to conversion. Advent is a time of preparation for the Lord’s coming at Christmas. To be sure, Christ is already Incarnate in this world, he has already come in history, and he is already present in the Church and in the Eucharist. Advent, therefore, is a time to prepare our hearts to receive God’s presence anew, ever more deeply, ever more profoundly – as if for the first time.

Advent is a time for conversion. A time to examine our hearts and minds. A time to confess our sinfulness. A time to cast off old habits, and take up new disciplines. Advent is a time to immerse ourselves completely in the word of God and the Holy Sacraments of the Church, in order to know and follow Jesus, our King. The Church gives us the season of Advent to prepare our hearts, our families and our world to welcome Jesus again.

Advent is a time to turn toward the Lord.

In your families, I hope that you will turn to Christ this Advent by opening the Scriptures together—reading St. Matthew’s account of Christ’s coming, and Isaiah’s prophetic account of God’s love. I hope that you will spend time before the Blessed Sacrament together.  I hope that during Advent, your families might attend Mass more often together, and that each of us might examine our hearts, and turn toward the Lord in the sacrament of penance, particularly as we begin this special Jubilee Year of Mercy Dec. 8.

We turn toward the Lord because he is coming, ever new, into our lives, calling us more deeply into the mystery of Christian discipleship.  The Lord is coming to call each one of us to become saints.

The Church, in her sacred worship, helps us to turn ourselves more frequently to the Lord.  This Advent, in the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln, I will, once again, celebrate Holy Mass ad orientem—facing toward the liturgical east, facing toward Christ, on the cross, and, most especially, turning toward the Lord in the Holy Eucharist. In parishes of the Diocese of Lincoln, according to the discretion of the pastor, other priests will also celebrate Mass ad orientem this Advent, turning toward the liturgical east, anticipating the coming of the Lord at Christmas.

Ad orientem celebration of the Eucharist will not happen everywhere in the Diocese of Lincoln, or all the time. But in some places, it will. It serves as a reminder to each one of us, that our entire Church must “turn toward the Lord,” standing together, looking to Christ, who will transform our lives.

May Advent be a time of blessed conversion for each of you and for your families, a time of turning once again toward the Lord.  May Christ renew your hearts and renew your minds. May you discover Christ anew, in the Sacred Scripture, and in the sacramental life of the Church. May each one of us turn to the Lord.

Conversi ad Dominum!


Next week, most of us will celebrate Thanksgiving around family tables, gathered with those we love, to give thanks to God for the blessings of our lives. We will share a festive meal together, celebrate the gift of family life, and enjoy the comforts of friendship.

But as we give thanks for the blessings of our own lives, we should also remember those who suffer tragedy around the world.  

As we give thanks this year, we might remember those who were victims of last week’s horrible terrorist attack in Paris. We might also think of the Christians who are persecuted now in the Middle East—Christians who have lost their homes, their jobs, their families—and who face the cross of martyrdom today. As we give thanks to the Lord, we should remember the homeless, the mentally ill, the elderly and disabled, and the unborn—those who suffer on the margins of our own communities, and even within our own families.

As we honor God for the blessings in our own lives, it seems to me that we might remember two things this Thanksgiving.  

The first is that God’s greatest blessings are grace, salvation, mercy, and holiness—not material comfort or prosperity. We should be careful to remember this Thanksgiving that the measure of a blessed life is not what we have, but who we have become, in and through Jesus Christ. We should remember that if we want to experience the blessings of the Lord in an abundant way, we should seek only to live according to the Gospel, with no fear, no limitations, and no reservations. The surest path to experiencing a blessed life in Jesus Christ is to “cast into the deep”—seeking to follow the Lord to a life of radical and blessed missionary discipleship.  

We should also remember that we are to bless others through the witness of our own family life. Our families are called to discipleship. The mission to bring grace, peace, mercy, and freedom to others depends on us. We are called to “make disciples of all nations,” and that the abundant grace of God is revealed through our witness. This past week, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz reminded the Church that “all families are called to be ministers of the Gospel.”  

During this Thanksgiving, I urge every family in the Diocese of Lincoln to reflect prayerfully on their own family life. I ask families to ask themselves how they are missionaries of the Gospel, what their apostolic call is, and how they can proclaim and witness to the Gospel in order to bring the Lord’s love to others. I encourage every family to ask themselves, and ask the Lord, what they can do this year so that by next Thanksgiving others will have experienced God’s blessings through their efforts.

I am truly blessed by the priests, consecrated religious and lay faithful of the Diocese of Lincoln and I give thanks for your witness. I am blessed by your prayers, your friendship, your generosity—especially in the Joy of the Gospel campaign—and by your work as “missionary disciples” for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us give thanks to the Lord together this Thanksgiving.

And let us commit ourselves to giving our lives to the mission of Jesus Christ and his Church, so that others might give thanks to God because of the mission, the work, and the charity in our lives.

The courage of Jesus Christ

The novelist William Faulkner understood the virtue of courage. He understood that to be courageous implies taking a risk; stepping foot into the unknown; pursuing a good even when it might place us in danger.

“You cannot swim for new horizons,” he wrote, “until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”

Jesus Christ called his disciples to the same kind of courage. He told them to lose sight of the shore’s safety—to “cast out into the deep,” where they would find the abundance of his grace. In him, and because of him, they had the courage to follow Jesus to an abundant life—an extraordinary life—but only because they were willing to risk the unknown.

When Pope St. John Paul II was inaugurated, in 1978, he echoed Jesus’ call for courage. “Do not be afraid to follow Jesus,” he told the world. “Take courage—Corragio!”

It can take courage to follow Christ to the world with the Gospel. But it can take even more courage to open ourselves to Christ—to allow the Gospel to transform our own hearts, to loosen what binds us, to set us free for the abundant life we’re made for. “Do not be afraid to open yourselves to Jesus,” Pope St. John Paul said, have “courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves,” in the grace of God.

Nothing can be more daunting than revealing the brokenness and challenges of our lives to the Lord, and asking him to bring us healing and wholeness. Seeking grace is always an act of courage. But acts of courage—losing sight of the shore—lead us to new horizons.

In 1980, the late Cardinal Terrence Cooke served as a spiritual advisor to men and women with homosexual attractions, seeking to live the fullness of God’s plan for their lives—seeking to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Cardinal Cooke and Father John Harvey began forming groups—which they called “Courage”—of men and women with homosexual attractions, dedicated to chastity, prayer, friendship, and mutual support. Courage groups now meet across the globe, helping to form and support those Catholics with the courage to seek God’s grace, and to follow after the Gospel. We’re blessed, in the Diocese of Lincoln, by the ministry of Courage.

Dan, Rilene, and Paul are three Catholics who’ve experienced healing and mercy through Jesus Christ—and through the ministry of Courage. And last year, they had the courage to share the story of their extraordinary lives in Jesus Christ in “Desire of the Everlasting Hills,” a documentary in which they share their hope in Jesus Christ, and the challenges they’ve faced in the experience of same-sex attraction.

The candid discussion of their lives reveals their humanity, their crosses, and the profundity of their own courage. It also reveals how damaging the homosexual lifestyle can be to men and women with same-sex attraction. And it reveals the need for the Church—and for Catholics—to welcome those with same-sex attraction as human beings, in true friendship, calling to conversion, but also expressing true compassion for the challenges of their lives. Following Jesus takes courage for each one of us—and appreciating the courage of those who follow Jesus despite cultural and emotional pressure to reject the Gospel, is instructive inspirational.

The Church should always be a place of welcome for those in need of healing, mercy, and courage. God’s plan—setting out into the deep—is the best possible plan for each one of us. And inviting men and women with same-sex attraction to know the meaning of the Gospel—and to experience supportive and prayerful chaste communities—is a part of our Christian mission.

I pray that those with same-sex attraction will have the courage to follow the Gospel, and to contact the community of Courage. And I pray that each of us will have the courage to welcome, invite, and respect those who carry heavy burdens, and who are in need of the healing presence of Jesus Christ.

Monastic silence

On Sunday, Nov. 8, I will travel to the Benedictine Abbey of Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek in Eastern Oklahoma for the ordination of three monks: one will be ordained a deacon, and two will be ordained priests. 

Clear Creek Abbey is a special place; a cloistered contemplative monastery in the Oklahoma Ozarks, teeming with life, joy, youth and the special fraternity of monks living radically for Jesus Christ.

Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey was founded in 1999.  Thirteen original founding monks came from the Abbey of Fontgombault, in France, where I spent time living as a young man before I discerned my vocation to the diocesan priesthood. Several of the monks, including the abbot and the prior, are my life-long friends and fellow converts from my college days at the University of Kansas. The monastery now numbers around 50 monks with an average age of 35. I am honored and blessed to continue a friendship with the monks of Clear Creek.  

Each summer, I travel with some of Lincoln’s seminarians to visit Clear Creek. Our seminarians spend several days in the rhythm of prayer and labor that defines life at Benedictine monasteries around the world.  The monks farm and keep livestock, and our seminarians share in that work. The community gathers to pray, eight times a day, and our seminarians share in their prayer. At Our Lady of Clear Creek, they discover what I love about the place: that every aspect of daily life points us to Jesus Christ, if we are steadfast about making time, every day, for prayer.

Most especially, our seminarians discover that prayer, work and contemplation, and even thoughtful friendship, becomes simpler in the profound experience of silence.

One of the young monks who will be ordained a priest wrote me a letter a few weeks ago. He wrote about the incredible grace of the monastery’s silence. 

“My youth and adolescence was largely impacted by the growth of cell phone usage, social media, the internet, email, and so forth,” He wrote. “It is all quite amazing, but yet so often superficial. Man feels more and more alone because of lack of authentic encounter. The Holy Father keeps using the phrase ‘desertification’ of our urban centers. It seems like this is at the heart of the problem—the lack of authentic human contact.”

The monk wrote that when friends visit the monastery, “they really are touched by the time in parlor [where visits takes place]—without cell phone or internet, and just the ability to have a simple open-hearted talk.” 

Silence—freedom from the devices that so often distract us—makes it possible for all our relationships to grow stronger and more authentic. This is especially true of our relationship with God.   

At Clear Creek, the chant of daily prayer echoes through the monastery’s silence. And without distractions, the prayers of the breviary remain in the heart—the Psalms and the Gospel echo across the work each monk is called to do. The monks of Clear Creek chant the full monastic breviary in Latin according to the tradition of ancient Gregorian chant. 
You can go to their website and order CDs and see photographs of the abbey at

In the Diocese of Lincoln, we are blessed by two communities of contemplative sisters—who spend their time in silence, and prayer, for the salvation of souls around the world. The Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters (the “Pink Sisters”) in Lincoln, and the Carmelites at the Carmel of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Valparaiso, live in the mystery of silence, in order to encounter the mystery of God.

Cloistered communities—like those at Clear Creek, or in our diocese—do not pursue silence to escape the world.  They pursue silence to understand the world more beautifully and profoundly, and in order to entrust the world to Christ through prayer.  Silence is never an escape—it is an opening to the mystery of creation, and the Creator.  The grace of those who are silent—who hear the needs of the world, and entrust them to God, is incredible. 

Not all of us are called to the silence of the monastery.   But all of us are called to open ourselves to the world, by quieting the distractions and devices that call for our immediate attention.  All of us are called to cultivate silence—in our prayer, and in our daily lives. God speaks to us in the silence of our hearts. Like the monks of Clear Creek, or the cloistered nuns in our diocese, quieting ourselves, and putting away the distractions of this world, will help us to encounter the world as Christ does, and to bring the power of grace to a world in need.

The tyranny of the powerful

The historian Christopher Shannon claims that in America, social progress and advancement is perceived as the expansion of “free choice” to as many individuals as possible.  Shannon says that modern Americans understand history as the advancement of increased protection for license across as many social groups as possible.

What Shannon means, it seems to me, is that Americans have a tendency to believe that justice requires more legal protection, for more choices, in all circumstances, at all times.  Less relevant is whether those choices are good, fair or reasonable. If a social group is granted new freedoms or protections, Americans understand that to be a good thing. 

To be sure, the protection of freedom is a good thing.  And assuring civil rights is a positive value.  But if we believe that governments and civil society should endorse and protect all social choices, at all times, in all circumstances, we will be marching steadily towards conflict, isolation, or the tyranny of the powerful.

When justice is seen as the protection of self-proclaimed rights, those who argue the loudest, or have the most money, or best appeal to the emotions, will be able to impose their views on the entire community.

Ten years ago, the movement for legally protected civil unions of same-sex couples was trumpeted as a necessary aspect of civil rights.  Bishops, pastors, academics and politicians warned that the advocates of civil unions would not be satisfied with “partial victory.”  They warned that those who advocated for civil unions would soon begin advocating for legally protected same-sex “marriage.”  And, of course, they were right.  Advocates continued to lobby for a total redefinition of the family, and in June, five judges imposed same-sex marriage across the United States.

But even before the Supreme Court decided that same-sex marriage is a Constitutional right, the promoters of “marriage equality” began to argue for other “rights.”  The right of sexual preference to trump religious liberty.  The right of individuals, even children, to decide their own gender.  The right to impose on family businesses, and public institutions, and religious organizations, whatever expression of sexual preference or identity seemed most appropriate to them.

We are conditioned, in America, to think that whatever we want to do ought to be protected in law as a right.  However, we should remember that our rights do not come from government.  Our most important rights come from God.  For example, the right of children to a mother and father; the right of families to make a living; the right of each person, and each community, to practice religion freely, all come from God and are rooted in the natural law.  Today, the advocates of transgender and homosexual “civil rights” act as though justice demands that their agenda overpower basic human and family rights.

Last month, the Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) began developing policies to allow “transgendered” high school athletes to compete on whatever teams seem most appropriate to them.  Boys could freely sign up for girls’ basketball, or girls sign up for the boys’ swim team.  Under such a policy, the “rights” of transgendered students would compromise the basic fairness of sport, and basic norms of safety.  But those who believe that progress is the same as unfettered license will see this as a triumph.

In the Nebraska Legislature, a bill is being considered that would legally protect any desired expression of sexual preference or identity in the workplace.  Religious institutions, and public schools, and family businesses would be required to accommodate the needs or behaviors of any declared “gender identity.”  Will public employees undergo “gender sensitivity training” at taxpayer expense?  Will small businesses be required to build additional restrooms?  Will women be required to share changing areas or restrooms with men?  Will religious institutions be required to support lifestyles in opposition to their faith?

Not all preferences are rights. In a civil society, the common good—the good of common human flourishing—requires that rights be determined according to reality—that “justice” not be determined by power, money, or influence.   We face real battles in Nebraska for the basic human rights of children and families. The tyranny of the powerful will not stop at “partial victory.”  Each one of us must stand for common sense.  Each one of us must make our voices heard.

God’s faithful prophets

On the day of our baptism, each one of us was called to become a prophet. In fact, we were called by God to share in the prophetic mission of Jesus Christ, who revealed in his life, death, and resurrection the eternal will of God the Father.

We are each called to become prophets. But few of us have given much thought to what that really means. For many people, the idea of prophecy is confused with fortune-telling or predicting the future. Many people think that prophecy is always some kind of mystical experience reserved to a limited or select number of Catholics.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains our prophetic vocation much differently. We are prophetic, says the Catechism, when we “deepen understanding and become Christ’s witnesses in the midst of this world.” We are prophetic when we understand the way in which God works in the world, and when we deepen our understanding of the Gospel. And we are prophetic when we are witnesses to the meaning of the Gospel in the lives of believers.

We are prophetic when we are disciples of Jesus Christ, hear his voice, and witness to our faithful response to his call.

To be sure, the Lord reveals himself to each of us in different ways and with different purposes. To some people, the Lord reveals meaningful aspects of his abundant love. To St. Margaret Mary, for example, whose feast we celebrate on Friday, the Lord revealed the inestimable love of his Sacred Heart. To St. Faustina, the Lord revealed the graces available in his Divine Mercy. Today, in our midst, the Lord reveals himself to men and women of faith in order to help each of us live the Gospel’s call more freely and faithfully.

The Church calls this kind of revelation “private revelation.” Private revelation does not add anything to the deposit of faith revealed in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Instead, private revelation can “help us live more fully” the Catholic faith “in a certain period of history.” Private revelation does not compel us to believe anything new; it only helps us to understand how to live out our beliefs.

When a person claims to receive private revelation, the Church carefully investigates the veracity of the claim, and the fidelity of the message to the teachings of the magisterium. No person could, for example, receive private revelation that contradicts the sacred teachings of the Church. But private revelation that calls Catholics to the sacramental life, to discipleship and evangelization, to veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, can be a good and fruitful tool. When private revelation seems to be credible, the Church approves its use by Catholics in their devotional lives.

Of course, there are many people who claim to have received private revelations of prophetic significance who have not received the approval of the Church. However, some do; and if the Church approves their witness, Catholics can consider it helpful in the spiritual life.

But some people who claim to receive private revelation pose a danger, because they conflate their own viewpoints and judgments with the revelation of God. In some cases, they may claim to be able to predict very specific world events, often catastrophic. In some cases, they may claim to have the sole means of resolution to a political or social problem. In some cases, they may contradict the inerrant teaching of the Church.

Catholics should approach unapproved private revelation with healthy discernment about the wisdom of the message. They should seek out the guidance of their pastors and spiritual directors. And they should prudently discern the fruits of so-called revelations: do they lead to greater devotion, and greater peace, or do they sow a spirit of fear, distress and anxiety? The work of the Holy Spirit does not engender anxiety and worry among believers.

Above all, Catholics should be concerned when alleged revelations draw their focus from the ordinary and daily challenges of the spiritual life. The truth is that we do not know when the Lord will come. And we know that the evil one most often visits us in the ordinary and daily temptations of the flesh. An unbalanced focus on catastrophes, end times, or unusual demonic activity can distract us from the daily commitment to know the Lord, to love him, and to serve him—to turn away from sin, and to make disciples of all nations.

We should each listen attentively for the Word of the Lord—spoken to us directly, or through the Church, or through others. But we should also be careful, each day, that the voices we hear are those of God’s faithful servants, under the direction of the Church, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Not one of us knows when our last day will come. We do not know what tomorrow will bring. But we do know that the Lord calls us to faithful, active, and generous discipleship each day. And we know that in the sacramental life of the Church, and in her sacred teaching, every grace that we need for salvation is made manifest. And we should remember that the Lord calls each one of us to be prophets—witnesses—to God’s grace, his promise, and his eternal Kingdom.

Reflections from the Eternal City

Last week in Rome, Lincoln seminarian Jim Morin stood before the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica, and promised “to hold fast to the mystery of faith with the clear conscience” and to “proclaim this faith in word and deed according to the Gospel and the Church’s Tradition.” 

He promised obedience to me and to my successors, and then Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York placed his hands upon his head and prayed the ancient prayers for the ordination of a transitional deacon (Editor’s Note: story and photos here).

Jim Morin was transformed in that moment; his life and his soul were configured to Christ in a new way, as a deacon of Jesus Christ. God willing, in May he will be ordained a priest along with his three Lincoln classmates.

No matter where it takes place, sacred ordination is a holy and awesome privilege.  But ordination at St. Peter’s in Rome contains a special symbolism—it reminds each one of us of the universality of the Church. It reminds us of our unity, in obedience to the Bishop of Rome, the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church. The bones of St. Peter are buried beneath the central altar, not far below where Jim Morin and 38 other new deacons from across the United  States laid prostrate during the chanting of the litany of the saints. And the successor of St. Peter, our Holy Father Pope Francis, leads the Church as Christ’s vicar, as he teaches, governs, and celebrates Holy Mass from the center of the Church’s life.

As Jim Morin pledged to hold fast to the mystery of faith, he did so in the place where the Holy Father preserves, defends, and proclaims that sacred deposit of faith.

At the very same time, bishops from around the world were gathering in Rome to prepare for the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. 

The synod is comprised of bishops called to reflect, with the Holy Father, on the vocation and mission of the family in the modern world.

A discussion about ministry to families is sorely needed.  Family life around the world is disintegrating—ruptured by pornography, contraception, technocracy, economic and social instability, and radical individualism. Families need new kinds of pastoral assistance to live the Gospel faithfully. And all cultures—post-modern Western culture especially—need the witness of joyful and cohesive families united in solidarity, affection, and common cause. All of us need to learn to restore the family to its rightful place as the nucleus of social and political institutions.

If the synod can help the Church to strengthen Christian family life and witness, it will do a great deal of good for a great many people. 

Unfortunately, the synod has been the source of considerable anxiety and speculation across the Church. The media has reported that the synod’s fathers will not faithfully defend the teachings of the Church, especially about marriage, family life, and sexuality. To be sure, there will be viewpoints represented at the synod far beyond the confines of orthodoxy. But the synod fathers will mostly be bishops of great faith and integrity, working to speak the truth of the Gospel with love. 

And at the center of the synod, and charged with definitively teaching the faith at the synod’s conclusion is the Holy Father—who is protected by the Holy Spirit as he works to proclaim the Gospel clearly and compellingly.

The Holy Father’s ministry is a guarantee that Christ will always be present to us, and that in the Holy Spirit, the Church will never deviate from the true teachings of the deposit of faith.  Unity with the Holy Father is a sign of our unity with Christ—as Deacon Jim Morin demonstrated on the occasion of his sacred ordination.

Please pray for Deacon Morin as he begins his diaconal ministry.  Pray for the fathers of the Ordinary Synod.  And pray for the Holy Father, the principle of unity in the Church, the Vicar of Christ, and the great guardian and defender of the Gospel’s truth.

Let those who have ears

On March 13, 2013, Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio was elected the 265th successor of St. Peter, the Bishop of Rome and the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. Crowds had been waiting in St. Peter’s square for days. They stood side by side waiting for the Pope’s election. Millions of people around the world had been waiting in front of televisions—waiting for news from Rome, waiting for the white smoke from the Sistine Chapel, waiting for the Vicar of Christ on earth.

The evening was cool and quiet when Pope Francis appeared on the loggia above St. Peter’s Square. “Brothers and sisters,” he said, “buona sera—good evening.”

The first thing he did was to ask the crowd to pray with him for his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Then he asked the crowd to pray for the new pope—to pray in silence for his new ministry. And then he offered his first blessing to the world.

Pope Francis began his ministry in utter simplicity. With silence. With prayer. In unity with men and women of the Church around the world. From the humility of his first greeting as pope, the world has been enamored with the gentle, spontaneous, humble Pope Francis.

This week, Pope Francis is undertaking an apostolic journey to the United States. He will speak to a joint session of Congress and to the General Assembly of the United Nations. He will meet with the President, he will canonize a new saint, and he will celebrate a Mass at Madison Square Garden. The culmination of his trip, and the principal reason for his apostolic journey, will be the World Meeting of Families, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Sunday in Philadelphia, with hundreds of thousands of Catholics.

I will be with the Holy Father for prayer, fellowship, and Holy Mass in Washington and Philadelphia. Dozens of families, seminarians, and priests from the Diocese of Lincoln will be there, too. And I look forward to hearing the Holy Father’s message to the United States.

Doubtlessly, he will deliver strong words with gentle kindness. Doubtlessly, he will inspire us to greater charity, while witnessing to charity with his own life. Doubtlessly, he will urge us to become more vibrant and engaged missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, as he reveals to us the missionary discipleship of his own life.

I have no doubt that the message of Pope Francis to our nation will be inspirational, challenging, and enduring.  I am certain he will lead each one of us to a greater love for God and neighbor.

But for every word that Pope Francis speaks, media commentators will offer myriad interpretations. His homilies and exhortations will be filtered through the lens of social and political agendas. His every move will be spun by those who would like to align Pope Francis with their own personal and political causes.

This week, I’ll try to receive Pope Francis as he is: as the Vicar of Christ, the Bishop of Rome, and as a man, a brother in Christ. I’ll try to hear his words, and reflect on them for myself. I’ll try to take what he says in the context of the Gospel, not in the context of political party platforms. I’ll try to learn from the Holy Father what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

May I suggest that we all do the same.

The homilies and speeches of Pope Francis will be broadcast on television stations and on the internet. The texts will be readily available. They will certainly contain wisdom. But to glean that wisdom, we must hear it from the Vicar of Christ himself. I urge everyone to read the full texts of this talks.

When Christ walked the earth, some said that he was John the Baptist. Some said he was a prophet. Some thought he was a political revolutionary. To some he was a charlatan, a criminal, or a heretic. And to some he was the Christ, the Son of the living God. But everyone who heard the words of Jesus told the story according to his own view—save for those inspired by the Holy Spirit to tell the truth. The words of Our Lord were twisted, manipulated, and subverted. The same will be true of the words of His Vicar.

If you want to hear the words of Christ, we should look to the Gospels. If we want to hear the words of Christ’s Vicar, we should refrain from the commentaries, the agendas, and the manipulations—we should hear and reflect on the message of Pope Francis, our humble Pope, to the Church, and to our nation.

To deny reality

God is a communion of persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — the mystery of the Trinity.  We are created to live in families patterned after the divine communion of the Most Holy Trinity, the divine family of God.

Sacred scripture reveals that “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Marriage, in a unique way, reveals the divine community of God. The unity of men and women—their complementarity, and their procreativity—reveals the unified, complementary, and creative love of the Most Holy Trinity.

We are created to live in the image of God—each one of us is created in a family that begins with complementary and procreative love of one man and one woman. Because God created us to live in the image of his divine communion, children have a natural right to live in families of one man and one woman. This is God’s plan for human flourishing. While this is certainly the ideal, we know that, for a variety of reasons, not every child is able to enjoy this right.  But no one has the right to completely redefine the family, as we have always known it—to deny the meaning of marriage, or to undermine its import. 

In 2003, in a document on the subject of same-sex marriage, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote: “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family. Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law. Homosexual acts ‘close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.’”

Furthermore, the Church teaches that governments have a solemn obligation to protect and support the true meaning of marriage and of the family.  Governments which repudiate that obligation deny reality, and deny the truest sense of the common good which they are obliged to serve.

In June, the Supreme Court of the United States attempted to redefine marriage, and compelled state governments to ignore their solemn obligation to support, regulate, and protect the family. Because of the Obergefell vs Hodges decision, every state must now deny the sacred origins and meaning of marriage, and sanction unions of same-sex couples by calling them “marriage.” 

The Supreme Court compels government officials—county, state, and municipal administrators and clerks, to deny the sacred meaning of marriage. But Catholics cannot deny reality.

The CDF document states that “in those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.”

Catholics cannot directly facilitate any government action to sanction same-sex unions as marriage. And they must resist even cooperation in same-sex marriage. In many cases, the Civil Rights Act establishes an obligation for employers and government agencies to respect and accommodate the convictions and obligations of Catholics, to provide protections for those who object to it on religious grounds. But when no such respect or accommodation can be found, Catholics must do all that they can to avoid cooperation with a false notion of marriage. In some cases, this might require resignation—a heroic witness to the sacred meaning of marriage.

In the Diocese of Lincoln, there may be Catholics who find that their employment requires them to act against their conscience, and against the teachings of the Church regarding the meaning of marriage. I ask any Catholics who find themselves in such a situation to visit with their pastors about this issue. The Church is eager to support Catholics standing, in the full freedom of their conscience, in witness and commitment to the truth.

The Trinity is revealed to us in marriage. And God gives us the grace to live in imitation of his Holy Trinity. Everything we do should be in gratitude to that grace. And each of us should do all that we can to reveal that truth to the world.

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