Hello and welcome!
Thursday evening, I went to Quincy to attend the second Night 4 Life celebration organized by Daughters of Mary of Nazareth and the Men of the Divine Mercy prayer group at Divine Mercy Parish.
There was a very good turnout for the event, and I was happy to see quite a number of priests and deacons of the archdiocese were on hand for the event, as well.
Friday, I went to St. Theresa of Avila Church in West Roxbury for the funeral Mass of Marie Barry, the sister of Msgr. William Helmick and the late Father Ray Helmick, SJ. They were a very extraordinary, close-knit family of exceptionally talented individuals who were committed to their faith and one another. So, I was happy to accompany Msgr. Helmick for the funeral Mass.
Msgr. Helmick gave a very beautiful homily and reflection on her life. At the end of the Mass, I commented, as I often do, that looking back on the life of someone like Marie gives an answer to the question many so young people ask today: “Why should I be Catholic?” When we see someone like Marie, whose very existence was transformed by her faith and who made such a positive contribution to society, we see how valuable living one’s Catholic faith is. It brings us real happiness, meaning in life and leads us to salvation.
In June, we celebrate the feasts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. So, on Friday evening, I went to Sacred Hearts in Malden to celebrate a Mass with the parish. It was a lovely celebration, and it was impressive to see what a large and diverse community they have there.
Deacon Nguyen shared with me that he is going to go to serve in the rural diocese of Mandeville, Jamaica, where they are in need of doctors. I told him that the first bishop there, Bishop Paul Doyle, was a good friend of mine, and I know that place very well.
Saturday, I went to St. Mary’s Church in Charlestown to bless the renovations to the parish.
I joked with the pastor, Father Ronan, “Are you having an excursion to the Encore Casino with your parish?” But he said, “Oh, no, that is a picture of the renovations on the ceiling!” So, I looked up and saw the figures of angels holding the different symbols of the Passion — and these were, of course, the lots they cast for Jesus’s robes on Calvary.
It reminded me of the footbridge leading to Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, where Bernini’s angels are carrying the cross, the whip, the nails, the dice and all the other symbols of the Passion. And here, in this beautiful Keely church, they have that same theme on the ceiling, which you can now see so well because of the restoration. They were somewhat hard to see before, but now, with the refurbishment, they are very beautiful and striking.
Sunday, I went to St. John The Baptist in Peabody for a Mass to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the parish.
It was Father’s Day, so I thanked Father John MacInnis for being a spiritual father to the community for 21 years, and everyone gave him a standing ovation. The people really love him there, and he has done a fabulous job. He is retiring this month, so it was a wonderful way to celebrate his ministry at the parish.
Tuesday, I joined our seminarians for their summer retreat at The Franciscan Guest House and Retreat Center in Kennebunkport, Maine. I joined them for Mass and lunch, and then I gave them a talk.
I’d like to share with you some of my reflections that offered the seminarians during our retreat:
In my mind, the two greatest evils in American history are slavery and abortion. I will always be ashamed that instead of strongly opposing slavery and racism, too often in our history, American Catholics tended to be assimilated into the dominant culture that justified slavery, maybe even as a necessary evil, but necessary. Religious communities and Catholics were slaveowners; bishops defended the institution of slavery. This was fueled in part by a Catholic inferiority complex that impelled us to be ever trying to prove how American we were and, hence, very pliable under societal pressure. There were Catholic abolitionists, but the Church in the United States failed miserably to be a prophetic voice by not condemning the cruel institution of slavery. Other religious groups like the Quakers were much more faithful to the Gospel values and defending the human rights of the enslaved. The Catholic Church’s historical complicity with slavery causes much pain and shame today, particularly among our Black Catholics.
The Catholic Church’s history with abortion in the United States is different. We were not co-opted by the secular culture; we were not assimilated into the pro-abortion mentality of political correctness. The Catholic Church in the United States — the hierarchy of the United States —has never retreated from the fight against abortion. And before other groups ever raised a finger, the Catholic bishops were loud in our opposition to the culture of death. I do not know of any other hierarchy in the world that has fought harder to stop abortion and to promote the Gospel of Life.
As a young priest, I was working with Nellie Gray, organizing the first March for Life in Washington, eating the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches she would serve me in her living room. Nellie Gray was a lawyer working in the Labor Department at the time of Roe vs. Wade. She immediately gave up her job and dedicated her life to making the world safer for unborn babies. The pundits were all saying that these groups of pro-life people will all die off, and the future will be ours — for the people of choice.
Well, 50 years later, the pro-life movement has not died off, and, in great part, it is because the Catholic Church is here.
In my lifetime, our Church has not done a great job in teaching people about preparedness for the Eucharist. I grew up in a world where many people were afraid to come to Communion. If you swallowed even a sip of water while brushing your teeth, you might be afraid to draw near the Communion rail for fear of committing a sacrilege. As a young priest, I spent hours in the confessional with people tortured by scruples. No Catholic ever wants to commit a sacrilege. That fear often made people hesitate to receive the sacrament.
At the same time, I saw many people were motivated to leave behind a life of sin and vice because of their hunger to receive the Eucharist. Mauriac speaks of how people’s hunger for the Eucharist brings about conversion in their lives. Some people have resisted temptation, overcome feelings of jealousy and revenge, abandoned infidelities and lies, all because of their desire to be able to receive the Body and Blood of Christ worthily.
After the Second Vatican Council, we had many liturgical changes that came quickly. Many of these changes were very helpful, but often there was little explanation or catechesis about why things were changing. When I was a young lad, to receive Communion, we fasted from midnight, even from water. Only the priests could touch the host. We received Communion kneeling down. We all went to confession almost every Saturday. Women covered their heads in Church, if not with a hat, with a piece of Kleenex or a glove. All of this changed practically overnight. There was never any anthropological consideration of how changing the symbols can change the meaning for people.
One of the things that changed was the connection between confession and Communion. Suddenly, the impression was often given that everyone was invited to come forward to receive, regardless of their preparedness or lack of it.
I would welcome a good catechesis about how we must prepare to receive the Eucharist worthily, but I fear that the discussion that is simply about denying Communion to politicians has already become the focus of the conversation, resulting in a lot of finger-pointing and finger waving. The serious examination that we need to make as Catholics is being subsumed into the political polarization of our country.
Our Catholics, whether conservative liberal or middle-of-the-road, have been through a lot. I always say that being a Catholic in Boston is a contact sport. The secularization of our culture, the loss of a commonly held Christian anthropology, and now the fallout of the sex abuse crisis have left Catholics shaken in their faith, angry at the bishops and mistrustful of leadership in the Church.
The controversy about the denying of Communion to politicians fuels anger on both sides. If we bishops get caught up in this fight, we can easily give the impression that we are divided in our opposition to abortion, and I do not believe that.
We need to show a united stance on behalf of the Gospel of life and all of its ramifications. If we are divided, we will be weakening the Church, and our ability to promote the Gospel of Life will be compromised. Denial of Communion to politicians will be interpreted by most Americans and Catholics as partisan politics that has nothing to do with reverence or piety.
I understand how Catholics can be angry and saddened when our elected officials try to dismiss the Gospel of Life as some optional sectarian issue rather than the sacred duty to defend human rights. It has nothing to do about imposing our Catholic faith on anyone. It is a human rights issue.
We need to recommit ourselves to working tirelessly to overcome abortion by changing hearts, by serving women in difficult pregnancies and by changing the conditions of injustice that push people to the tragic choice of destroying their own children.
So often, when I am speaking to our priests and deacons about their great responsibility to teach the truths of the Catholic faith, I try to make the point that people will give us a hearing if they see that we are authentic in living our life of discipleship and if they are convinced that we care about them.
The Holy Father calls on us to dialogue with those who do not agree with our convictions. We must try to engage in a way that will bring more light and less heat to the conversation. Otherwise, the sad divisions that plague our country and our Church will only grow deeper and more intractable.
Today, we are living a very challenging time for the pro-life cause, as became evident at our Spring General Assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Though each bishop may have a different opinion on the best way to promote the defense of life in the current context, there is no doubt in my mind that they are all pro-life and want to do what is in their power to protect innocent human life and communicate the Church’s social teaching to our Catholic people.
It’s hard to imagine anyone in the United States who does not know of the Catholic Church’s unfailing opposition to abortion. This will never change.
The present debate about Communion for Catholic politicians supporting abortion exhibits a deep divide among the bishops on this topic, but not on abortion.
Unfortunately, when these kinds of divisions become too evident, it hinders our ability to be able to teach the Gospel and draw our communities closer to Christ and one another.
The Eucharist is the center of our life as a Church, and I hope that, as the drafting of the document progresses, we will find a way to reconcile the different perspectives on how to take a pastoral approach with our Catholic politicians without undermining the centrality and importance of the Eucharist.
The Holy Father is urging us to find paths to heal divisions and announce the good news boldly and joyfully.
Thursday, we had a meeting of the C8 Council of Cardinals with the Holy Father. We are still meeting virtually, but it was good to see the Holy Father doing so well and be able to hear the reports from the cardinals from different parts of the world. It was alarming to hear about how bad the situation with the pandemic is in other parts of the world, particularly Africa and India. The number of priests, bishops, religious, and physicians who have died from the virus is just staggering.
It was a wonderful meeting, and it is always a joy to be able to share that time with the Holy Father.
During the meeting, I spoke to the Holy Father and the cardinals about the appointment of Father Andrew Small as the new secretary for the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. (A number of the cardinals know him, and one commented that, although his name is Small, he is really quite tall!)
We are very grateful for the wonderful service that Msgr. Robert Oliver has given for so many years, and we feel very blessed that we have someone who is also a very talented priest with great experience and ability coming into that position.
I have known Father Small for many years. He was born in Liverpool but has worked in the U.S. for many years. He has a degree in theology and also in civil law. He speaks many languages fluently and has been involved in developing safeguarding policies.
He was a missionary in Brazil and was the director of the Collection for the Church in Latin America for the USCCB. In fact, when he was serving in that capacity, I traveled with him to Latin America, and we visited with Archbishop Bergoglio together in Buenos Aires. Most recently, he served as the national director for the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States.
We are very grateful that he is able to begin in his new position immediately because we are beginning to prepare for the release of the new Apostolic Constitution, “Praedicate evangelium.” We anticipate that the commission will become an office of the Holy See. So, we need to begin planning for how that office will be structured. This will be one of his first tasks, and we are very grateful to have him on board.
Until next week,