Posts Tagged ‘Francis Cardinal George OMI’

Cardinal Francis George on Evangelization, Mission, Communion, and the Ecclesiology of Faith and Culture vs. Church and State

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

Here’s another one of my favorite talks by the late Cardinal Francis George, OMI, on the Ecclesiology of Communion, given at Leeds Trinity University in 2012 —

–in which he made a critical distinction between the ecclesiology of of Faith and Culture versus that of Church and State, and he emphasized the Vatican II teaching on the Church as the sacrament of the unity of the human race (Lumen Gentium, Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 1). These distinctions have profound implications for pastoral and educational practice.

This talk requires several separate hearings to capture some of the prescient points the late Cardinal shared.

I’m assuming that some of this talk will be included in Cardinal George’s forthcoming book, A Godly Humanism: Clarifying the Hope that Lies Within, which is due from Catholic University of America Press in June, 2015.

© Copyright 2015, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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The views posted at sanityandsocialjustice.net are those of Albert J. Schorsch, III, alone, and not those of any of his employers, past or present.

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A Seminal Lecture on Religious Freedom by the Late Cardinal Francis George; New Book Preview

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

A more probing and prayerful mind than that of the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago can probably not be found.

Several of Cardinal George’s important presentations can be found on Youtube. Here is one of my favorites, in which he offers, along with his views on religious liberty, something of a theology of history, leading up to his recasting the challenge of religious freedom today as Faith and Culture, not simply Church and State:

Francis Cardinal George. O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago presents Dignitatis Humanae: The Second Vatican Council’s Document on Religious Liberty @ St. Procopius Abbey, Tuesday, September 4, 2012:

Here’s the announcement on Cardinal George’s forthcoming book, A Godly Humanism: Clarifying the Hope that Lies Within, which is due from Catholic University of America Press in June, 2015.

© Copyright 2015, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Didache Bible

Friday, April 10th, 2015

The Didache Bible from Ignatius Press is a very useful edition of the Bible for those studying the Catholic Christian faith. When paired with other editions such as the New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE) and its notes, along with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a student of the faith has access to rich sources for learning and reflection for informing the life of faith in Christ.

PS: I should mention that the late Cardinal Francis George, OMI, had a hand in supporting this Didache Bible project.

© Copyright 2015, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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The Suffering of Egypt’s Christians

Monday, August 26th, 2013

According to the Jubilee Campaign, “Last week’s [of 8/12/13] destruction saw over 80 Christian churches, ancient monasteries, and charities attacked by the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the country.”

Blogger Amira Mikhail and colleagues have been documenting the sectarian destruction, which appears to be “religicide.”

Despite growing coverage in the mainstream media, the slow response by the White House to the plight of Christians in Egypt, in Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East has been astounding.

On 8/15/13, Cardinal Francis George, OMI, of Chicago sent a letter to Chicago Catholics asking for prayers for Christians in Syria. We can certainly add Egypt to this prayer list as well.

Something to think about: Are petrodollars from US vehicles destined in the end to burn down Christian churches?

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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A Day of Atonement for Blasphemy in a Seminary, 40 Years Later

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

Today, on the Eighth of December, for Catholics the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, memories bring me back to another December the Eighth forty years ago. For me, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception has become something of a day of atonement. Please let me explain why.

In a recent post I mentioned my unhappy college experience in the late 1960s and early 1970s at Niles College Seminary, the former college seminary (campus closed 1994) of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and specifically cited a beer party on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, which the students had given a mocking and vulgar name.

This name was the “Immaculate F_ _ _ Party,” and this party began on December 8, 1972 at one of the Niles College residence halls, Thomas Merton Hall. Chicago’s John Patrick Cardinal Cody learned of this party in 1979 due to a dispute among the clergy when someone leaked the word to him, and ended it.

But for a time this party drew a few from around the Chicago seminaries and the archdiocese to stage a beer blast at the college seminary on a rather theologically inappropriate night, a night intended for the mystery of faithful love, the feast of the Patroness of our country, Our Lady, as Vatican II called her, the Mother of the Church.

Drinking by seminarians and some priest faculty at Niles College was always problematic for me. The young priests in my own boyhood parish had “taken the pledge,” as did many newly ordained priests of the 1950s and early 1960s, not to drink alcohol until the age of thirty.

The multiplication of alcohol in rectories was one of the unacknowledged changes of the Vatican II era. Witness the account from Margery Frisbie’s biography of late Msgr. John J. “Jack” Egan, when he was assigned as pastor of Chicago’s Presentation Parish in 1966:

There were some surprises for Jack, even in himself. “I’ll never forget the first night. I went up to (Father) Jack Gilligan’s room. Father Tom Millea and Father Jack Hill were there. I can’t imagine myself doing this or saying this. They were having a drink and there was a bottle of Scotch on top of the dresser. Now, we’re on the third floor of the rectory and here’s the new pastor, saying, ‘Fellows, do you think we should have a bottle out in public like this?’ I turned them off. I remember them looking at one another, thinking who the hell let him in. They had just got rid of Monsignor McCarthy, an old conservative, and now this guy comes along, Jack Egan, whom they know!”

Jack describes his reversion to prototype domineering Irish tyrant as “a certain type of rigorism that did occupy my life when I was given positions of authority up to the time I was at Presentation. I think I’ve lost it. I hope I’ve lost it, he says now. He had exploded at his surprised young associates in their own rooms on their own time. “Here was a man trained in YCS, YCW, the Christian Family Movement, and in community organization all through the fifties and sixties. Now I go into that parish as a pastor. I practically forget all my training. Why? Because I was scared.” Jack admits. He was scared of the huge responsibility he’d been given. Driven by that fear and by his gut hankering to succeed, he momentarily parodied himself. But he didn’t please himself. His bona fide style was eliciting cooperation, not demanding conformity. Jack Hill, now resigned from the priesthod, doesn’t remember the Scotch story. He remembers Father Egan greeting his new associates, “Well, guys, I’m home.”

Margery Frisbie, An Alley in Chicago: The Ministry of a City Priest, 1991, Sheed and Ward, Kansas City, pp. 183-184.

The moral argument to allow the 1960s young priests to drink hard liquor seems to be, “Can’t a guy have a drink in peace on his own time at the end of the day?”

But imagine what the Church would be like if Mother Teresa gathered her nuns together each evening, not for an hour in the presence of the Holy Eucharist, but around a bottle of Scotch. This contrasting, non-liquor ridden ideal of holiness never seemed to have taken root among a certain number of Chicago clergy of the 1960s and 1970s: “Sometimes, a guy just needs a stiff drink.”

For some among the post-Vatican II clergy, being free to drink alcohol was an essential expression of independence and freedom.
But this freedom only went so far. One friend has told me that a priest close to him left the priesthood for the very reason that he tired of coming back to his room and drinking alone each night.

The anti-authoritarian attitude of a few of the faculty in control of Niles College in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was similar. Although officially there was not supposed to be liquor in Niles College seminarians’ rooms, this rule in time was ineffectively enforced, and in some cases, and at some times, a faculty member’s refrigerator might provide beer to whomever among the older students wished to pop open a can.

It is difficult to reconstruct, after the word “enabler” permeated the culture in the 1980s, the prior particular attitude of “concerned let-be” inspired by the work of psychologist Carl Rogers in the 1960s that would let alcohol and some drug abuse run rampant through a college seminary. When coupled with Niles College’s late 1960s idiosyncratic interpretation of the humanistic psychology of Abraham Maslow that assumed that young undergraduate men, left unimpeded by any significant authority structure or limits, would grow inevitably to maturity without any pathology, seems to us today as incredibly naive.

But the formations approach at Niles College during the late 1960s and early 1970s was inspired by the highest ideals then current on the freedom of the human spirit.

A close reading of Eugene Kennedy’s contemporaneous contribution to the 1970s “priest study” (Heckler, Victor J., and Eugene C. Kennedy. 1972. The Catholic priest in the United States: psychological investigations. Washington: United States Catholic Conference), reveals such a strong focus on maturity and self-actualization, that pathology, outside of immaturity, was hardly considered as a possibility. But pathology is precisely among those things that we would up inheriting from the 1960s and early 1970s Niles College.

It is true that no authority was just about the only authority that the Viet Nam era young man, even the seminary young man, would accept. Hindsight is indeed 20/20, so it is easy to compute now that, if one mixed dozens of young undergraduate men into a seminary that at the time offered a deferment from Viet Nam military draft (and did not ask young men who no longer intended to study for the priesthood to leave the seminary in any systematic way, but let them stay for four years during which a few did little else but party), coupled with the widespread availability of alcohol and drugs, in rooms that offered little privacy, among formations faculty some of whom were still in their young 30s, and placed very few limits on the young men, with some students obtaining liquor from the faculty themselves, that literally all hell would break loose.

The high ideals of the seminary faculty, formed amidst a deep and resentful reaction against their own authoritarian pre-Vatican II training, were contradicted regularly by the disordered reality of the seminary they shaped.

I prefer not to recall how many times at the college seminary that I found a classmate retching with his arms wrapped around a toilet, or passed out on the floor near his own vomit or pee, or hovering at the door of another student in a state of buzzed obsession, or stiff and stupefied unable to walk, or crouched weeping in a stairwell in inebriated panic, or worse, in a state of soused rampage seeking to beat another student. Indeed, our only Latino classmate was driven from the seminary by the relentless, intoxicated vendetta of a bully whom to my knowledge was evidently never disciplined, because, apparently, he was one of the “boys.” I recall first meeting a noted theologian as he collapsed, “drunk on his arse,” on a nearby couch in the seminary rectory. I remember hearing of one fellow so drunk–perhaps this is apocryphal–that he could not find a part of his anatomy–“It’s gone!”–and who broke down in grateful tears when someone helped him “find” it. I particularly remember the “crying in his beer” soliloquy of a student whom decades later was jailed for pedophilia–not the misnamed abuse of a teen or a young adult–but real pedophilia with young children. How he was ever ordained I will never know.

When the press picked up on the “Woodstock” or “blame the 1960s” aspect of the John Jay study, Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, RSM, of the USCCB reacted strongly against this analysis. Fortunately, Sr. Walsh cannot be expected to know even a fraction of what went on at the late 1960s/early 1970s Niles College, which did at times did indeed vie to out-Woodstock Woodstock.

One night working at an apostolate for troubled teens, I cleaned up a drunken young man’s vomit off the floor, and returned to Niles College only to find the dorm faculty on vacation and the dormitory filled with drunken and carousing seminary students and female guests.

I recall in particular one Spring day in 1970 when no priest appeared to say the morning Mass at Niles College, and a number of us enlisted our holy teacher of dear memory, the late David J. Hassel, SJ, who walked at our request directly from teaching us in his classroom to the chapel and celebrated Mass. (I highly recommend Fr. Hassel’s book, Radical Prayer: Creating a Welcome for God, ourselves, other people, and the world.)

Perhaps the most infamous “prayer service” at Niles College of that era was the Easy Rider-inspired ritual, which culminated with a motorcycle barreling up the aisle. I remember opening the windows to release the fumes from the chapel. At Niles College, aggiornamento apparently meant opening the windows of the church to let the smoke out.

Niles College of the late 1960s and early 1970s was in many ways a social experiment in the establishment of a free, permissive environment, an experiment–based upon an incorrect reading of John Henry Newman and a probably correct reading of Jean-Jacques Rousseau–that not only failed, but that had terrible and costly later consequences in the number of abusers who arose from that environment.

Theoretically, it appeared that the students were expected to develop leadership by being cast into a chaotic and disordered maelstrom. In reality, some forms of order were never established, and great damage was done to some. (By the grace of God, a few other amazingly holy priests somehow survived Niles College). While many of the academic faculty of Niles College were proven, scholarly, and holy men, the formations faculty included men just a few years older than the students, some of whose perplexed attitude toward authority and alcohol mirrored that of the late Monsignor Egan in 1966.

One of the most difficult decisions I made was to remain at Niles College after my first week in the Fall of 1969, a week of what seemed endless carousing and partying by the students long into the night, making study all but impossible unless one hid in a remote corner of the seminary.

I remember sitting in the yard a few hundred feet opposite my dormitory and praying for a long time about my decision, since the college I had chosen was the most contradictory of seminaries. (One of my dear friends, now a missionary priest, was actively discouraged by his father from entering Niles College because of its reputation, so a number of us had advanced warning about what we called “The Niles Experience.”)

During my time of prayer, I reasoned that if I was called to be a priest in Chicago, and if Niles College was the pathway, and if the Devil himself had scrambled the seminary, I would ask God for the strength to persist and to live on to change the seminary for the better. (I was indeed blessed to return to much quieter though still troubled Niles College as a lay faculty member years later, 1992-94, until the day it finally closed and moved to another location under a new name.) I coped at Niles College during my own college days by throwing myself into volunteer work at mental hospitals, and at child care and correctional institutions.

Although it was in many ways unfortunate for me that I decided to remain at Niles College in 1969, by three years later, in the week of early December, 1972 when I had the opportunity to graduate early in the upcoming January, and I had made the decision to leave the Chicago seminary, I remember finding a flyer announcing the December 8, 1972 beer party and showing it to a friend. I debated with myself whether I should throw away the flyer, and simply purge myself of the memory. I first threw the flyer out, but later retrieved and archived it. I have never been able to purge myself of the memory, because of what such a beer party on such a holy feast represented for a seminary.

The Immaculate F_ _ _ Party served as a metaphor for me of how a seminary could go almost completely awry, and dishonor its very purpose and the source of its integrity.

With the passing years I came to view the choice of the evening of the feast of the Immaculate Conception for a beer party as an intentional “poisoning of the well” within the seminaries, a not so subtle rejection of Marian devotion and the place of Our Lady in Catholicism, part of a vain attempt by change agents within the seminary to form the illusive “unclerical clergy.”

By attempting to wipe out traditional “clericalism,” which included certain lifestyle practices meant to sustain clerical virtue, seminary change agents opened the doors to clerical vice.

I recall the mockery at the time that both students and faculty had for things Marian, such as the rosary, the color “Blessed Mother Blue,” Marian hymns, prayers, novenas, the Pilgrim Virgin, Lourdes and Fatima, and such organizations as the Blue Army. Seminary students in the early 1970s, unless they were Latino or Polish, where overt piety was tolerated as ethnic heritage, were mocked if they prayed the rosary. Earlier, one pious one close to me was purged from the seminary because of his “authoritarian personality” and Marian devotion by a priest who was finally almost 50 years later revealed as an abuser.

Niles College was quite a change from our early high school days in 1965 at Quigley Seminary North in Chicago, where as freshman (called “Bennies” because Benjamin was the twelfth son of Jacob, and the cycle of high school seminary in Chicago to priesthood took twelve years), we were encouraged to pray the rosary at least once a day. Quigley even had a club called the Beadsmen, who prayed the rosary after school or in between classes.

A seminary friend from that era of the 1970s tells the story of how he placed a statue of the Blessed Mother five separate times in an empty niche in the hallway near his room at the then St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, IL, the major seminary of Chicago, and five times it was removed, despite his public pleas to the contrary. He finally painted Mary’s image in the niche, where it reputedly remains to this day.

As a student at Niles College of the late 1960s and early 1970s, I like other students served as subject, whether witting or unwitting, in someone else’s social experiment: the construction of an experimental seminary “without rules” in which the students had to form their own social order.

A long-time and holy faculty member at Niles College, Fr. Stanley R. Rudcki, penned in 1995 an article on Niles College in the New Oxford Review entitled, The Tale of a Dead Seminary. I recommend this first-person account by a man of prayer, music, and culture who taught at Niles College from its beginning in the early 1960s to its end in 1994.

In an “Catholic samizdat” article entitled “Deconstructing the Seminary” on the Chicago seminaries that I privately circulated in 1996 and 1997 after years of reflection and after my own return to teach at a later (1992-4) Niles College when I interviewed key witnesses, I wrote:

If it is not an old proverb, it should be–that you should never poison a well, because one day you may desperately desire to drink from it. This adage brings to mind something of a Prometheus in reverse: while it takes a powerful titan to steal fire from the heavens and free humanity from the gods, any trickster can poison a well and sicken a village. In [recent] decades, a number of American seminaries have seen their wells poisoned–by intent, by neglect, by hubris, or by circumstance–and have become for a time sickened villages. These sickened villages have contributed to the many problems besetting the Church. During these decades, some unfortunate American seminaries have been run by faculties including titans and tricksters: titans who sincerely and tragically embraced bad ideas, and tricksters bent on the eradication of a lifestyle which they hated. From year to year bright-eyed young men called to priesthood by the example of Jesus of Nazareth have been forced to maneuver their way through the subtleties and hidden agendas of sickened seminaries. For the sake of these young people, one task of our age is to rebuild the sickened, deconstructed seminary. . . .

What happened? Nothing less than the continual deconstruction of what once was the largest and arguably the finest Roman Catholic seminary system in North America. This deconstruction, far from being the solely the result of demographic and cultural change, was also the result of conscious change-agency in Chicago seminary education. This change-agency included a reduction of the perennial or classical tradition and the by-passing of canonical requirements for seminary activity and conduct. This reduction was accomplished by a subtle dialing down of the thermostat of seminary tradition. . . .

Enough. I now take a big step back from my 1996 words above, and consider, with the perspective of the aging grandfather that I now am–and I never wish to claim to be anything other than a sinner–that while the Catholic seminaries of Chicago have in many ways been reformed thanks in great part to Francis Cardinal George, OMI, Archbishop of Chicago–and thankfully Our Blessed Mother is honored again in the Chicago seminaries–we as a culture have still not learned the “sobering” lesson of the corrupting effects of alcohol abuse on both the young and the old, and the importance of confronting this deadly disease as the public health challenge that it is.

Alcohol abuse provides a turbulent gateway to violence, to sexual abuse in particular–the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that each year “97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape”–to injury to hundreds of thousands of young adults and to death for over 1,800 young adults in the USA annually, with 25% of college students reporting that alcohol abuse interferes with their studies.

The scope and scale of the college-age alcohol abuse statistics today are dumbfounding. See them again here.

Alcohol and other drug abuse has not changed greatly over the past decades among the young. Alcohol and drug abuse helped lead to the wild late 1960s, early 1970s days of buzzed stupidity at Niles College Seminary. It was in this environment that a few ill–later to be abusive–men were educated and later unfortunately ordained. The Catholic generation of today, and the generations of tomorrow, will continue to pay the price.

While others debate many of the liturgical or doctrinal changes of Vatican II, few concentrate on the cultural changes, like the proliferation of useless meetings, or the introduction of microphones and sound systems, or especially the impact of alcohol abuse among the clergy and in seminaries.

Much has happened in the seminaries since the 1970s that led these church institutions to come to terms with alcohol abuse among seminarians and clergy. But the damage has been done.

So I agree in this respect with Sr. Walsh: The problem with Niles College during my years there, 1969-1973, was not so much the Woodstock culture. It was the alcohol abuse culture, one of the most powerful forces in human civilization, that still directly today affects by illness about one in thirteen adults and about one in four college students. Think of the wasted energy, resources, and all those student loans taken on by those with this terrible affliction. . .

Forty-some years ago, an idealistic group of change agents shaped, for what they were convinced were the best of reasons, a seminary without rules, but they instead succeeded in releasing one of the most familiar scourges known to man and to woman.

Although colleges and universities still struggle with widespread alcohol abuse to this day, seminaries are among the few institutions, if properly led and structured, that can minimize it.

Earlier this year, we buried a seminary friend from those days, who died, fifteen years earlier than his life expectancy, from the damage that the disease of alcoholism did to his internal organs. Binge drinking sneaked up on him in his later years, in a familiar progression for lifetime drinkers.

As he lay dying and we prayed at his side, I had time to reflect on the past five decades of his life, from a young, bright, promising teen, to an aged and broken physical wreck. His drinking habits were laid down, quite early in his life, in the Chicago seminaries.

“Albert,” he asked me, when he woke from a prolonged sleep, “Am I dying?”

“Yes, (his name), you are,” I said. “We’re here with you (and will pray with you, I thought).”

The disease of alcoholism and alcohol abuse is an attribute of the culture of death. This culture, and its effects, must be systematically eliminated from seminary and priestly life, for the sake of the bright and idealistic young men who begin the journey to priesthood, and for those whom they will serve.

The Immaculate F_ _ _ Party at Niles College Seminary on 12/8/1972 came but a few months after Pope Paul VI stated on 6/29/1972, “Da qualche fessura sia entrato il fumo di Satana nel tempio di Dio (The smoke of Satan has penetrated the Temple of God through some crack),” and expanded upon his remarks on November 15, 1972. But a few of us in 1972 were not then prepared to “put on the armor of God” because we had not yet learned our struggle was not with mere “flesh and blood” but with “Principalities and Powers,” as St. Paul warned the Ephesians (6:10-17). We were confronted then not only with the culture of death, but with the power of sin and evil.

So indeed, December 8 will again be for me, a sinner, a day of prayer and atonement, and also a day in which I am happy to report that Chicago seminarians can honor Our Lady once again, and learn from her who is so filled with grace that her “yes” to God helped promise us eternal life. May seminarians especially continue to turn to Our Lady as a paradigm of grace!

And may the Lord forgive our sins from the old, now dead, Niles College. . .

PS: Here is a link to the Office of Readings second reading for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, by St. Anselm. It was these truths that were denied to many of the seminarians 40 years ago —

From a sermon by Saint Anselm, bishop
(Oratio 52: PL 158, 955-956)

Blessed Lady, sky and stars, earth and rivers, day and night – everything that is subject to the power or use of man – rejoice that through you they are in some sense restored to their lost beauty and are endowed with inexpressible new grace. All creatures were dead, as it were, useless for men or for the praise of God, who made them. The world, contrary to its true destiny, was corrupted and tainted by the acts of men who served idols. Now all creation has been restored to life and rejoices that it is controlled and given splendor by men who believe in God. The universe rejoices with new and indefinable loveliness. Not only does it feel the unseen presence of God himself, its Creator, it sees him openly, working and making it holy. These great blessings spring from the blessed fruit of Mary’s womb.

Through the fullness of the grace that was given you, dead things rejoice in their freedom, and those in heaven are glad to be made new. Through the Son who was the glorious fruit of your virgin womb, just souls who died before his life-giving death rejoice as they are freed from captivity, and the angels are glad at the restoration of their shattered domain.

Lady, full and overflowing with grace, all creation receives new life from your abundance. Virgin, blessed above all creatures, through your blessing all creation is blessed, not only creation from its Creator, but the Creator himself has been blessed by creation.

To Mary God gave his only-begotten Son, whom he loved as himself. Through Mary God made himself a Son, not different but the same, by nature Son of God and Son of Mary. The whole universe was created by God, and God was born of Mary. God created all things, and Mary gave birth to God. The God who made all things gave himself form through Mary, and thus he made his own creation. He who could create all things from nothing would not remake his ruined creation without Mary.

God, then, is the Father of the created world and Mary the mother of the re-created world. God is the Father by whom all things were given life, and Mary the mother through whom all things were given new life. For God begot the Son, through whom all things were made, and Mary gave birth to him as the Savior of the world. Without God’s Son, nothing could exist; without Mary’s Son, nothing could be redeemed.

Truly the Lord is with you, to whom the Lord granted that all nature should owe as much to you as to himself.

Amen!

© Copyright 2012, 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Francis Cardinal George on Death and Other Limitations

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

Francis Cardinal George, OMI, Archbishop of Chicago, shared on 8/26/12 a beautiful Christian reflection on his own illness and mortality in light of the Feast of the Assumption (8/15/12) homily of Benedict XVI.

I’m hoping that more people will take the time to read what Cardinal George has written. He does not have a media cheering section, but he continues to call us to holiness in a striking, insightful, and sincere way. May the Good Lord bless him.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Cardinal George on “Chicago Values”

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Francis Cardinal George, OMI, Archbishop of Chicago, has shared his reaction to the “Chicago Values” controversy about same-sex marriage, and asks, “Could Jesus be accepted as a Chicagoan?”

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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How to Disagree with an Icon: On Rejoicing in Being Persecuted While Defending the Innocent

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

How does a pro-life believer best publicly disagree with President Obama, who possesses iconic cultural and political status?

And how best does a believing and active Catholic Christian respond to anti-Catholic persecution and anti-Catholic injustice in public life?

As Bill Clinton used to say, I’ll first consider the second question, then respond to the first one.

Defending Life while Rejoicing at Being Persecuted

On the one hand, our Blessed Lord taught us to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) and to rejoice when we are persecuted (Matthew 5:10-12). On the other hand, Scripture calls upon us to respect and defend the rights of the widow, the orphan, and the alien (Exodus 22:21-23; Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 24:17-18), and the Catechism of the Catholic Church urges us to disarm the aggressor (CCC 2265).

Herein I propose that the best way to strike a balance on this question is to accept persecution of one’s own person in Christian joy, but to continue to defend in the public square the truth and the rights of others–especially of the innocent, particularly the unborn–as citizens claiming the rights of any citizen and of any human.

About forty years ago, when I was still in college, my late father asked me to consider a similar set of questions. He had received a letter from his old high school teacher, Fr. Virgil Blum, SJ, who was in the process of establishing the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. My father was thinking about the turn-the-other-cheek / defend-the-innocent-and-the-truth question. I recall at the time coming down myself on the turn-the-other-cheek side, but acknowledging that distortions of truth and unjust attacks against individuals needed to be publicly refuted. We agreed then that the Catholic League was worth supporting, and my Dad became one of Fr. Blum’s early backers in this effort.

Christians and Catholics are today openly persecuted in a “red” or bloody manner in many Asian, Middle Eastern, and African countries, and in a mostly “white” or un-bloody manner at this time in Europe, the Americas, and Australia. In the United States, which brought with it the legacy of British anti-Catholicism, Catholics had a long climb up to open public acceptance until John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960. U.S. Catholics bore a special burden in proving that they could be both truly Catholic and truly American. This struggle is reflected in many ways in American Catholic church and school architecture of the early part of the 20th Century, which blend both American and Catholic themes.

St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, Chicago, 1917; Source: non-copyrighted parish website; fair use invoked

Films such as The Fighting 69th (1940), starring James Cagney and Pat O’Brien, showed how Catholics were willing to fight for America.

from Wikipedia, fair use invoked

The HHS Rule Controversy

But in the past few weeks, Catholics in the U.S. have begun to face perhaps the most significant church-state conflict in over a century.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) confirmed a rule on 1/20/12 that almost all private health care plans must cover sterilization, abortifacients, and contraception effective August 1, 2012. According to the NCHLA website, “Non-profit religious employers that do not now provide such coverage, and are not exempt under the rule’s extremely narrow definition of religious employer, will be given one year—until August 1, 2013—to comply.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, with Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York acting as spokesman, has published a number of responses on their website, calling for Catholics and people of good will to urge Congress and the President to take specific actions to respect religious freedom, such as supporting the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179, S. 1467).

Besides writing Congress, other politicians, and the President, and voting one’s conscience, what other actions are appropriate for believers?

Certainly, violent actions are forbidden and are dreadfully self-defeating. Such extreme action is not only immoral in itself, but would discredit religious believers and the pro-life cause. Only the deranged or an agent provocateur would suggest violence in this case. History has shown, especially in the case of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, that contemplating extreme or violent action can activate an even more direct persecution, and marginalize religious believers for centuries. Catholics were only able, by the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, to regain their right to religious freedom in England more than two hundred years after the Gunpowder Plot. The British monarch is still forbidden to join the Catholic Church.

Extreme rhetoric in response to the HHS rules is also not appropriate, and will in the long run prove ineffective. Appeals to constitutional, Biblical, and universal human rights on behalf of others, these others being the unborn and those believing taxpayers morally objecting to pay for sterilization and abortifacients, promise to be the most effective.

But mere words are not enough. Politicians can and in some cases must be voted out of office over this issue peacefully through the constitutionally-established electoral process.

There is also the question whether the honors and courtesies usually granted to certain politicians, such as appearances speaking to students and faculties, should be given. This is not yet the time for any across the board end to these practices, but each case should be carefully reconsidered. But this is also not the time for Catholic institutions to shower politicians, labor, and business leaders who support abortion rights with awards and knighthoods.

A Failure as Men

This HHS challenge faces the Catholic Church in America at a time when, weakened by the priest abuse scandals, it lacks unobstructed access to the public square without every message from the Church being confounded and scrambled by the scandal.

A few comments on the clergy scandal are therefore apt, because present communication from the Catholic Church is heard in light of it, and little effective communication is possible without addressing it. In a powerful sense, a Catholic bishop’s public words have the priest abuse scandal static humming behind them.

Recently, I have begun to think of the failure of certain bishops and clergy as responders to the priest abuse scandal in a different way: The failure of these bishops and priests was not only a failure of church “headship,” but a “natural law” failure in the traditional male role as the defender of children. Certain bishops and clergy have failed in the priest abuse crisis in a manly sense, as men, in their paternal role. This failure brought into question not only the integrity of ineffective bishops and clergy, but their very manhood.

Because certain bishops and clergy appeared to fail as men in this natural law sense, they have in a very visceral way especially lost the confidence of many women who still value the male as defender. Four decades of political correctness have not wiped out this traditional expectation for the male. Many Catholic men who value this expectation are likewise sickened by this failure.

This loss of confidence in certain bishops and leading clergy is of Biblical proportions. I recall Professor Scott Hahn’s theory of Adam as the failed husband for his silence in not defending his family when Satan came to tempt in Genesis 3. Prof. Hahn assigned great significance to the silence of Adam in this passage.

Weakened by the clergy scandals, our Catholic Church “headship” is therefore in need of redemption in a theological sense, which we believe is a grace given by Christ. The redemption in the social sense will take many years, and depends on the repenting actions of the clergy and of all believers. The episcopacy must understand the depth of their failure in not just the hearts but in the guts of the faithful. I cannot stress more emphatically that this redemptive action includes bishops and clergy reaffirming and in a sense reestablishing their own Christian manhood.

In the mean time, Catholics must effectively communicate as citizens against violations of human and religious freedom, and in particular against the HHS rule in question. This effectiveness of communication depends on the individual acts of millions of believers in contact with their own government officials despite the constant static of the clergy scandals. We should not be deterred by scandal into allowing serious violations of human rights and religious freedom.

It is fortunate that Cardinal (effective mid-February, 2012) Timothy Dolan serves as the spokesman for the U.S. Catholic Bishops in this instance. Despite continual attempts to smear him, his integrity and forthrightness continue to shine through. I do not doubt that there will be aggressive efforts to discredit him going forward. Cardinal Dolan is the right man to stand before the faithful both on the question of episcopal redemption and on defending the unborn and the consciences of those who recognize the rights of these holy innocents. Please see his 1/25/12 Wall Street Journal article.

The bishops’ strong stance on the defense of innocent life is not only redemptive in a theological sense, but in a natural law, manly sense. They are restoring their manhood by acting as the defenders of the innocent, and provide a stunning contrast with the unmanly compromises of business, labor, and government leaders who somewhere along the line decided that they would betray themselves on the defense of innocent life, perhaps, as the old saying goes, to be “happy” in this world rather than “right.” The bishops are seen by many critics in their strong pro-life stand as being on the wrong side of history, when they in fact are on the right side of eternity.

Since potentially millions of pro-life citizens may in one way or another speak to the HHS rule controversy, below I offer some background information on some of the social and political forces at work, which I hope will be helpful for these pro-life citizens as they communicate with their government representatives.

Toward Disagreement with an Icon

Barack Obama is not only the President of the U.S., but commands additional power as a cultural icon.

Many, not only social progressives but also the young, see President Obama as the standard-bearer for movements for human and civil rights, whose election vindicated their lifelong efforts. The Grant Park, Chicago celebration of the President’s election on November 4, 2008 was for many the high point of their lives.

Pro-life believers see this same President as the most radical pro-choice politician ever to hold high office, who would not support a proposed Illinois law providing medical care for infants who survived abortion.

The U.S. Catholic population reflects this divergence of views, and the success of President Obama’s agenda has depended on his ability to in a real sense divide and conquer the U.S. Catholic population on the question of life. He has taken great pains, most recently in his speech at the 2/2/12 National Prayer Breakfast, to establish how a believing Christian can support his own pro-choice policies, with some skirting of the direct question on whether a believer can support abortion rights.

Many socially progressive Catholics agree with the President, but their position has become much more difficult to reconcile with Catholic teachings. Whether by accident or by design, the President’s actions have begun to tear apart the recurrent claim that one can be both a social progressive–if that includes abortion rights–and a faithful Catholic.

While Benedict XVI forcefully linked life ethics and social ethics in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, many progressive Catholics have operated since the 1960s as if this link was not necessary. The President has now brought through the HHS Rule a firm decision on this matter to the doorstep of Christians in general, but to socially progressive Catholics in particular.

But First a Bit of History

Since President Obama arose politically from Chicago, I offer some history on what led to this turning point:

Chicago, the historic home of the Haymarket Affair and thereby the partial inspiration for May Day as an International Workers Day, has a long and varied tradition of progressive and radical political activism.

From the Haymarket martyrs, to Chicago and Illinois labor pioneers, to the intellectual progressives and philosophical pragmatists such as John Dewey and Jane Addams, to the Lakefront Liberals and community activists of today in the tradition of Chicago’s Saul Alinsky, to the violent anti-war protests and later education reforms of Bill Ayers, an amalgam of progressive ideas and traditions has firmly established itself within specific layers of Chicago culture. Over the 20th Century the progressive Chicago panacea of choice shifted from eugenics to abortion.

But despite the “brief, shining” progressive moment of the Harold Washington mayoral administration, 1983-1987, almost every institution established by the Chicago progressive reformers, from the pioneering Juvenile Court system and Chicago Park District to the Cook County Hospital to even the Chicago Public Schools, became a fiefdom within Chicago machine politics. The Chicago progressives, despite periodic vociferous protestations sometimes descending into sullen resignation, and despite the earnest shadow-government machinations of Chicago foundations and civic organizations, have likewise ultimately enabled the “Chicago Way” of one-party machine politics to rule Chicago for decades. Barack Obama himself prior to his presidency endorsed an inept Cook County Board president who had to be forced from office for incompetence. Chicago progressive history is thus comprised of recurrent vainglorious visions that continually evaporate into politics as usual.

Chicago also evidences a distinct tradition of activist Catholicism with likewise early roots prior to Leo XIII‘s encyclical Rerum Novarum. Chicago Catholic Action, with mentors like Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand, erupted during its heyday of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s into either “Specialized Catholic Action Movements” in the European Jocist tradition such as the Young Christian Workers, the Christian Family Movement, and the Young Christian Students, or into the separately-founded and imported Catholic Worker, Friendship House, or into the parallel and more institutional youth and labor-oriented efforts of Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Bernard Sheil, including the Sheil School of Social Studies (1943-1954), and the Chicago Labor Alliance, the latter led by former Catholic Worker and Loyola University educator Ed Marciniak. Later Chicago Catholic activist organizations, such as the Association of Chicago Priests, the Eighth Day Center for Justice, and allied activist non-sectarian organizations (but heavily supported with Catholic dollars) the Industrial Areas Foundation, United Power for Action and Justice, and several others, drew upon these Chicago Catholic activist traditions.

These two Chicago activist traditions, the progressive and the activist Catholic, have complexly intersected both in terms of social networks and in terms of ideas since the late 1800s, especially in labor, politics, philanthropy, neighborhood life, higher education, civic leadership, and clergy politics. Catholic organizations have generously funded community organizing in Chicago since the 1930s, including the work of a young community organizer named Barack Obama in the 1980s, whose move to the U.S. presidency echoed Chicago’s potent blend of strong-arm, one party rule with a progressive patina. By this Catholic-funded work, Mr. Obama earned his status as an “honorary Catholic” among religious Chicago progressives.

The traditions of Chicago progressivism and Catholic activism meet, if not merge, in another significant way, in their descent into pragmatism, not of the philosophical variety, but of the political and economic. The style of leadership among some of the elites of political Chicago and religious Chicago is therefore sometimes indistinguishable, and appears established along the categories of political power and money power alone. From time to time, one might find within Chicago church circles a brash, confrontational approach to action, including not-so-subtle forms of blackmail and intimidation, similar to what one might encounter in Chicago politics. As we say, “It’s a tough town.”

Since the time of the 1960s Kennedy-era “New Breed” Chicago Catholics, activity between Catholic and progressive activists represented itself in a number of free-flowing and permeable relationships. Catholic activists, and especially inner-city Catholic pastors and religious, have had strong standing in neighborhood and civic affairs.

Numerous neighborhood, community and economic development, professional, and civic organizations have been founded in the Chicago area in recent decades with the backing of Catholic talent and resources. In tandem with the growth of these organizations, a number of leading Chicago Catholic clergy, following the lead of Hillenbrand protege Msgr. John J. Egan, have strategically oriented their civic efforts into an interfaith and intentionally secular dimension, in order to broaden the base of support, participation, and power. This strategy, which heavily relied on coalition-building across a wide spectrum of organizations, coincided with the end of the influence of Catholic Action organizations as such, while still paradoxically relying on money donated from Catholic parishes and the Archdiocese of Chicago as a whole to sustain the bulk of these efforts.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, originally founded as the Campaign for Human Development in 1970 by the U.S. Catholic Bishops, but with significant impetus from Chicago Catholic clergy and in particular Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Michael R. P. Dempsey (1918–1974), who served as co-founder and first national director of what later came to be called CCHD, has served, among other things, to extend the Chicago style of Catholic community and development activism nationally. In an important way, the CCHD has institutionalized the pattern laid down by the original requests by Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Bernard Sheil and later Msgr. John J. Egan to Cardinal Samuel Stritch to fund Saul Alinsky’s community organizing with Archdiocesan funds.

These traditions of secular and Catholic progressivism overlapped most dramatically when a Chicago diocesan priest, Rev. Carl Lezak (1937-2009), served as head of the Illinois ACLU from July, 1971, until he resigned September, 1972.

The late Fr. Lezak’s clericalization of civic action was only one of several such incidents in Chicago history, a usurpation of the lay role against which Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand, unheeded, warned his protegees in the clergy. A number of these clerical interventions prevented the development of a lay reform tradition independent of one-party rule. Progressive Catholics therefore could not envision themselves voting against the dominant party, but would coalesce with almost liturgical devotion around this or that reform candidate for relatively minor office, thus shoring up of one-party, corrupt government in Chicago and Illinois.

The desire to participate in a glorious public jubilee like Chicago’s November 4, 2008 Grant Park celebration is a powerful one, as is the desire to belong to a larger group. Perhaps a desire to belong, an attachment confusing self-image with public interest, has long prevented socially progressive and labor activist Catholics from deserting one-party rule and throwing the rascals out. This attachment has shaped Chicago and Illinois toward one-party, pro-abortion oligopolies.

But there may be another reason for the staying power of one-party rule in Chicago and Illinois, and that may be abortion itself. Minus the abortion rights controversy, many voters would have switched parties long ago over financial mismanagement and public scandals. But the abortion issue has kept the otherwise reform-minded progressives inside the dominant party, thus perpetuating corruption. Abortion is in many ways the glue that holds the Democratic party together in Illinois and beyond.

Progressive Chicago Catholicism has long misunderstood power as originating solely in money and in politics, but has missed, as Blessed John Paul II well and better understood, the power of culture.

Progressive, pro-choice Catholicism has fed off the illusion that life issues can be set aside for the sake of a wider social justice agenda. Progressive Chicago Catholicism has accepted a permeable, non-Aristotelean definition of justice not inclusive of the rights of the vulnerable unborn, but tied to their own self-image as compassionate and just.

It appears that some of these contradictory progressive dreams and politics–and illusions–have been exported by Barack Obama from Chicago to the nation.

The End of the Church as Mediating Institution?

But now Catholics may face a choice between following their President’s health care policies and following their Church. The President promised a “Sensible Conscience Clause” at Notre Dame in 2009 but did not deliver on it. There is therefore no tangible bridge between the pro-life Catholic and Barack Obama’s “fundamental change.”

And equally critically, the important role of the Church as a mediating institution in society, an institution standing between the power and abuses of government and the defenseless, the very institutional foundation of progressive Catholicism, is being shaken away.

It is at this point an open question whether we will see the state slowly seize all health care away from pro-life charitable institutions, like the Tudor monarchs seized the monasteries, ending their charitable services to thousands who thereby had nowhere to go. If some day the government does seize the health care industry, we can expect that it will manage to combine therein the worst inefficiencies seen in Cook County government.

A strong clue to the intent of the Obama Administration in this HHS case can be found in the final chapter of economist Paul R. Krugman’s The Conscience of a Liberal, in which he urges a coming administration to in very determined fashion continue to lock in progressive reforms so that they can never be undone.


So, How Does One Disagree with an Icon?

First, more traditional Catholics should refrain from shouting “I told you so” to their progressive friends. This is a time for Church unity, not one-upmanship.

Second, the Herod analogy (as slaughterer of the innocents) should not yet be used by Catholics in President Obama’s case. St. John Fisher famously used this analogy regarding marriage with Henry VIII when all else failed, and an enraged Henry VIII lived up to the tagline by treating St. John Fisher as Herod treated Fisher’s namesake St. John the Baptist. All else has not yet failed with President Obama. (Strictly speaking, St. John Fisher had not even used the literal word “Herod” in reference to Henry VIII. Fisher had written in a book defending the marriage of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII that he, Fisher, was willing to die like St. John the Baptist defending the authenticity of their marriage. Henry drew the Herod reference himself. Fisher evidently thought and prayed for quite some time about invoking St. John the Baptist. The book he wrote on the royal marriage took him two years, and when the King’s men inventoried St. John Fisher’s possessions after his imprisonment in 1534, they found a replica head of St. John the Baptist on a platter in Fisher’s chapel.)

Third, Catholics should not bemoan any persecution they personally endure for their pro-life beliefs, but bear such persecution, invoking St. Thomas More, merrily.

Fourth, besides writing their legislators and voting their consciences, the very most effective thing pro-life Catholic grown-ups can do to oppose the HHS mandate and the pro-choice agenda is to speak first with their own teen and young adult children. These young adults are the most heavily propagandized generation in human history, regularly hearing from MoveOn.org, Change.org, Rock the Vote, MTV, etc., having hardly ever seen an intact family displayed on television for any length of time, having been carefully led through college’s second and hidden dorm curriculum, and having their own humor and thus thought processes constantly shaped by politicized late-night comedians. The most effective way therefore for pro-life Catholic parents to oppose the pro-choice position is for Catholic parents to personally explain the reasoning behind Catholic pro-life positions first to their own voting children, and then to dialogue with their children about their reaction. Pro-choice politicians absolutely count on the young adult vote, and expect young adults to sit out the HHS controversy. Happily, these young adults are growing more pro-life. Nothing would put pro-choice politicians into a panic more than receiving thousands of e-mails against the HHS mandate from high school and college students and young professionals. Another such panic would ensue if bishops and pastors systematically began to speak personally with high school and college young adult groups against the HHS mandate and enlist such letters on a regular basis.

Fifth, the way to oppose an icon is not to directly attack the icon, but to change the world around the icon so the icon loses its cultural power. This is how the power of culture trumps the power of money and politics. The way to change this world around the icon is to let loose the reasoning behind the pro-life position: the defense of innocent human life. There is no more powerful idea than the defense of the innocent. By unleashing the HHS mandate, the President and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius may have inadvertently set this very time for the powerful idea of the defense of innocent human life to come.

Six, by focusing on the reason for religious freedom in this HHS case–the defense of innocent human life–as opposed to simply religious freedom and freedom of conscience in and of themselves, defenses of religious freedom and conscience are then grounded on a doubly strong moral basis: they are not just about the person claiming religious freedom and freedom of conscience, but about the purpose and reason freedom is being exercised: the defense of the innocent unborn. This recalls Benedict XVI’s April 17, 2008 Catholic University of America Address statement to Catholic Educators that “Freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in–a participation in Being itself.” The religious freedom we seek is not freedom from, but freedom for–freedom for the good of another, in this case, for the innocent unborn.

Seventh, I wish Jimmy Cagney were around to drive home the point about the objections pro-life Catholics (whose numbers are growing) are making to President Obama: We are both loyal Catholics and loyal Americans, and are exercising our own rights in legitimate defense of others. But Jimmy Cagney has joined, I pray, the Communion of Saints (he did die on screen at least once to save the Dead End Kids in Angels with Dirty Faces), so we’ll have to make this point ourselves.

This is indeed a moment of moral choice for Catholics and for people of good will. I pray that this moment remains a peaceful one, and is resolved through reason and good will.

—-

Further Reading:

Cardinal Francis George’s 2/5/12 letter for parish bulletins on the HHS ruling.

The 2/6/12 Wall Street Journal article by Robert P. George and O. Carter Snead, Planned Parenthood’s Hostages.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Cardinal George’s apology about the Chicago Pride Parade and the Klan

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

Francis Cardinal George, OMI, offered on 1/6/12 via a Chicago Tribune interview a model first person, humble, concrete, non-metaphorical apology for his remarks about the Chicago Pride Parade 2012 and the Klan of 12/23/12, which he explained in an official statement on 12/27/12.

Particularly striking is the Cardinal’s owning not only his own fear for the religious freedom of the Catholic Church as well as his own love of his gay and lesbian family members and friends, but his willingness to share his regret for hurting others.

The quickest way to get into trouble is to speak an iconic metaphor in the middle of a controversy. Cardinal George’s 12/27/11 statement would have stood on its own merits without the following words: “One such organization is the Ku Klux Klan.”

The quickest way to apologize is to withdraw the metaphor and to state one’s regrets in the first person, taking ownership of and sharing one’s own feelings, while acknowledging the human rights and sensibilities of those who have been hurt.

Cardinal George has been blessed with the grace of apology. Cardinal George has not only apologized well, but set a tone for civil discourse on this issue.

In his book, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Erich Fromm described one common trait of oppressive societies: the lack of forgiveness. Cardinal George has shown humility, which opens the way for forgiveness.

I am thankful for Cardinal George’s apology, and I hope it is accepted with the same sincerity with which it was offered.

How refreshing to hear an apology from a public figure in Chicago that was not issued before a criminal courts judge: a rare event indeed!

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Cardinal George’s 2011 Christmas Midnight Mass Homily

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

This is an unofficial transcript of the homily of Francis Cardinal George, OMI, given at Christmas Midnight Mass, 12/25/11, at Holy Name Cathedral, Chicago.

—–

Bishop Lyne, Fr. Ahrens, our honored guests from the Armenian Church this evening, brother priests and deacons, religious women and men, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, friends in the Lord:

Welcome to Holy Name Cathedral: all of you who are gathered here, and all of you connected to us by the medium of television. Welcome to the celebration of the midnight Mass of Christmas. Together we pause and pray.

We gather and open our hearts to God’s love, and the love of our families and friends. We open our hearts as well to all those whom God loves, to the world, saved by the Child whose birth we remember this night.

The celebration of Christmas is a time to ask again a question sometimes put to us by children, and even sometimes put to us by ourselves: Who rules the world? Who really rules the world?

Our quick response might include presidents and other governmental figures, people of wealth, people who influence the shaping of public opinion and the public conversation in the media, people in the halls of power in Washington and other capitals or at the United Nations. In every case those who rule the world as we search for them are powerful people. Those are the people we look for when we try to answer that question, Who rules the world?

Well, all that is in some sense obviously true, it’s also true–Isn’t it?–that the world often isn’t very well ruled. The world opened up to us by Holy Scripture tonight is a world ruled by a Roman emperor Augustus Caesar. He ordered a census, and so two of his subjects, Joseph and Mary, are on their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem, their ancestral town.

But Bethlehem is a city of David, who was a king, a powerful ruler in his day. And Joseph and Mary are of David’s line–his house, a royal family obviously fallen on hard times, obviously out of power.

But hundreds of year before, as was proclaimed in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah, God had given hope to Israel in exile, hope that they would return to their homeland and be ruled again by a king of David’s line. The promise was that God would again use King David and his descendents, but that God Himself would rule, not just Israel, but the entire world.

And then the Gospel reports angels telling shepherds that the Lord has been born. For those shepherds and everyone else around the Mediterranean Sea, Lord meant Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor. So what was going on? Evidently, a new Lord was now here. God Himself was coming to his people and was claiming the world he had created as His own.

So who rules the world? God. But He has a peculiar way of doing it, and an odd way of showing it. The Eternal and Almighty God comes to us–becomes one of us, takes on our feeble and fallen nature–to rule us.

But he comes, not as a man of power, but as a Child born of a woman without power, and protected only by a man of less than modest means. The Eternal Word of God, in whose image, and through whose wisdom the whole world was created from nothing was without a room in which to be born.

The face of God in human form in the creche here, and in our parish churches, and sometimes in your home, the face of God in human form is that of a humble and defenseless child: not powerful at all.

More, he is born into a world ruled by inequity, unfairness, and oppression, with divisions of all kinds, generating anger, rancor and envy, a world of warfare and hunger and illness and abandonment and corruption and brutality.

Still puzzling over who is really ruling the world, we might ask: If God is ruling the world now, two thousand years after Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, why are all these evils still with us?

When, like the shepherds we make haste to see Him, turning from the normal distractions of our busy lives, we will, in taking these moments to adore Him, begin to see that He came to His people so that we can change. Ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, His mother and ours. She tells us, as she presents us to her Son, that nothing that happens to us is outside of God’s love. Love and truth, even God’s love and truth, do not overwhelm with power, but they do transform.

The tiny Baby Jesus is the source of whatever greatness is ours. If He is born in our hearts and our families through faith and love, then we enter the world that He rules.

And because Christ is born, we can conquer. We can conquer the habits of sin that separate us from Him and from one another. Habits and addictions–whether they are chemical or sexual, or addictions to power or wealth–need not rule our lives. Corruption and manipulation need not dominate our society. That is our hope fulfilled in the birth of Jesus.

God invites us tonight into a world where we will change, and everything else will change with us, if we cease adoring ourselves, and adore the Baby in the crib.

It is, we all know, a risk to enter into the Kingdom of God. It’s a leap of faith to surrender our entire lives to a powerless child and a crucified Lord. But it is a risk to which we can sincerely invite others as we help them see what we are shown tonight: the true face of God, the ruler of the world, in the Baby of Bethlehem. He respects our freedom, even as He asks us to surrender ourselves to Him.

And when we see how the very humility of His earthy existence is what gives Him the power to judge the world, when He shows us how the power of a world that resists God’s grace is a transitory illusion, then we will understand why we are to serve, to be ever attentive to the cry of the poor, the weak, the outcasts. They are first citizens of God’s Kingdom, without pretense or power, they have only God to protect them, and God expects us to do that work for Him.

O come, let us adore Him.

“O come, let us adore Him” we sang a few minutes ago. The manger in which we adore Him tonight is a throne, as is the cross above the altar.

We gather at the crib, knowing that we will also gather at the cross, for that is how Christ rules the world.

As the gentle power of Christ’s truth and love take possession of our lives in this Eucharistic celebration, may we become like King David and many others in history whom God has used to rule the world. This Christmas, let us enter wholeheartedly into God’s Kingdom as disciples of Jesus Christ, His Son, and our Lord.

And may the joy of God’s rule permeate your lives tonight, and in the days to come transform our society.

Merry Christmas!

—–

© Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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