Director Josh Logan’s screen version of the Broadway musical on the King Arthur legend offers the charming Lerner and Loewe score and lyrics, luxurious fantasy settings and a grand cast (Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero and David Hemmings). Emphasizing the human implications of the legend rather than its romanticism, the musical shows that power is not strength and that compassion is not weakness. Never has adultery carried so high a price–the downfall of Camelot. The CNS classification is A-II–adults and adolescents. Not rated by the MPAA. (Warner Home Video; also available in Blu-ray)
Framed for the murder of a fellow operative, a late-21st-century CIA agent (Guy Pearce) is offered a reprieve if he rescues the president’s (Peter Hudson) daughter (Maggie Grace), who’s been taken hostage by rioting prisoners during a goodwill tour of an orbiting penitentiary. Logical lapses are papered over with macho posturing and wisecracks in directors and co-writers James Mather and Stephen St. Leger’s dreary action exercise which features a protagonist who likes his women–the first filly included–to shut up and look pretty. Constant action violence with occasional gore, a fleeting gruesome image, several instances of sexual humor, including a gag that’s also irreverent, about a half-dozen profanities, at least one use of rough language, numerous crude and crass terms. Spanish language and titles options. The CNS classification is A-III–adults. The MPAA rating is PG-13–parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray)
‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ (2012)
A fish-out-of-water story about a billionaire Arab sheik (Amr Waked) with a seemingly impossible dream: to transport the titular activity–his favorite Scottish pastime–to the Arabian Desert, and thereby build a peacemaking bridge between East and West. Helping him in this folly is a glamorous consultant (Emily Blunt) and a skeptical fisheries expert (Ewan McGregor). Lives are transformed along with nature in director Lasse Hallstrom’s screen version of Paul Torday’s novel, a charming blend of comedy and drama that also promotes the value of religious faith. Brief war violence, partial nudity, implied premarital sex, occasional profanity and crude language. The CNS classification is A-III–adults. The MPAA rating is PG-13–parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray)
‘Singin’ in the Rain’ (60th Anniversary Blu-ray Edition; 1951)
Engaging musical spoof of early Hollywood as a silent movie star (Gene Kelly) makes the transition into talking pictures with some help from a loyal pal (Donald O’Connor) and a talented young singer (Debbie Reynolds) who dubs the voice of the star’s shrill leading lady (Jean Hagen). Directed by Kelly and Stanley Donen, the period nostalgia is served up as light-hearted fun with the Kelly-Reynolds romance sweetly in the background while the plot rolls along with fine songs, zestful comedy routines and lovely production numbers, from O’Connor’s solo “Make ‘Em Laugh” to Kelly’s memorable title number. Minor sexual innuendo. The CNS classification is A-II–adults and adolescents. Not rated by the MPAA. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray)
‘The Three Stooges’ (2012)
Most of the ingredients in this updated version of the titular comedy act’s antics are about what you’d expect: a lot of shtick, a little dance, a big live lobster down someone’s pants. Far less predictable, and most unwelcome, is the assault on the dignity of those in religious life that also characterizes this highly uneven comedy. Raised in an orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy but never adopted, Moe, Curly and Larry (Chris Diamantopoulos, Will Sasso and Sean Hayes, respectively) emerge as true adult innocents, sallying forth into the outside world intent on raising the large sum it will take to keep their home facility from closing. Such tasteless jokes as a character named Sister Mary-Mengele and a sight gag involving a sexualized young nun figure in a swimsuit derail what the directing team of brothers Bobby and Peter Farrelly clearly intended as a sweet-natured tribute to the much-beloved original trio. Irreverent and occasionally offensive humor directed at clergy and religious, some crude comedy, extensive physically abusive slapstick. Spanish titles option. The CNS classification is L–limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The MPAA rating is PG–parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment; also available on Blu-ray)
St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Thérèse of Lisieux rank among the thirty-three Doctors of the Church. Their lives have played decisive roles in the building up of the Church, and their writings enrich for their theological content and spiritual doctrine. Who were these women?
St. Catherine of Siena (1347-80)
As a Third-Order Dominican religious woman, Catherine experienced God’s love not from books but from the immediacy of her own experiences in prayer. “Her doctrine was infused, not acquired,” declares the Papal Bull of canonization. She told her confessor that she never learned anything about salvation from others, but only from “the sweet Bridegroom of my soul.” It is said that Catherine could not finish the Lord’s Prayer without falling into an ecstasy. “Match love for love,” she writes; God is a Trinity of Power, Wisdom, and Mercy, and it is fitting that the Wisdom should take upon himself our human nature so as to remedy our disobedience, ignorance, and selfishness.”
From 1376 to the end of her life, she influenced public affairs, first concerning a Crusade against the Turks, and the second, dealing with her efforts to return the Avignon papacy to Rome. She spent her final days in Rome pleading for the unity of the Church. In “The Dialogues of Divine Providence,” she addresses Christ with clarity, force, and sweetness. Concerning his passion and death, she writes: “Oh Loving Madman! It was not enough for Thee to become Incarnate, that Thou must also die?”
In 1939, Pius XII declared St. Catherine of Siena and St. Francis of Assisi as the chief patron saints of Italy. A contemporary portrait of the mystic-saint, painted by Andrea Vanni, hangs in the church of St. Dominic in Siena, Italy. Her feast day is firmly fixed for April 29.
We now turn to consider two Carmelite saints, one who shone like a glittering star and the other, like the tiniest pearl of great value.
St. Teresa of Avila (1515-82)
In her autobiography, St. Teresa of Avila gives a vivid account of her early Carmelite life as worldly and indulgent. As she began to receive remarkable graces in prayer, she came to see that her vocation within a vocation was to reform the Carmelite Order. Those who knew about her tepid religious living and who themselves lived lukewarm lives opposed the reform. For the former group, she seemed a hypocrite, and for the latter, reform would show up their own mediocrity. Nevertheless, with St. John of the Cross, she undertook the reform of the Carmelite Order.
Teresa was a shrewd woman but lacked any formal theological training. She writes therefore from her own personal experience with a lively charm, ever astute, but with a disregard for orderliness in her writing. This may be partly due to the fact that her confessors directed her to write down her thoughts in the swirl of her reform.
Ascetical theology is indebted to Teresa for describing in words an ordinary lay person can grasp the four stages of the mystical life: mental prayer, the prayer of quiet, the prayer of union, and the prayer of ecstasy. Her best known book is The Mansions of the Interior Castle, a beautiful metaphor for the inner life of man and woman.
On prayer, her counsels are practical: “Never, for any reason, neglect to pray.”…“The quality of one’s life and the quality of one’s prayer interact with one another. Both must be steadfastly oriented toward God.”
Teresa’s sense of humor is legendary. One day, as she rode on a donkey traveling from one convent to another, she was thrown to the ground. She quipped to the Lord, “If this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!” Below is one of her many prayers, universally loved and often quoted:
Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you.
Everything passes. God never changes.
Patience obtains all.
Whoever has God wants for nothing.
God alone is enough.
The original sculpture of “The Ecstasy of St. Teresa” by Gian-Lorenzo Bernini (1645) is located in the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. Teresa’s feast day is October 15.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-97)
St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face, who died at age 24, entered the Carmelite Order at the age of 15. Two of her older sisters were also nuns in the same monastery. She sought to live a prayerful life but she could find no explicit ministry that she could practice when she reflected on First Corinthians, chapters 12 and 13. But then she made a startling discovery–it was really a grace.
The Mission of Love
Thérèse offers all in the Church a valuable lesson on 1 Corinthians 12-13. She goes to the heart of First Corinthians:
I knew that the Church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love. I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action, that if this love were extinguished, the apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer. I saw and realized that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraces every time and every place. In a word, love is everlasting. (“Liturgy of the Hours,” Oct. 1, 1450-51)
As Thérèse read the ode to love in chapter thirteen, her heart was filled with joy:
Then, nearly ecstatic with the supreme joy in my soul, I proclaimed: O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my calling is love … In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its direction (Ibid).
She became convinced that the power of the love of one person could build up the Body of Christ, anywhere and at any time.
In her autobiography, Thérèse writes: “I knew that the Church had a heart that appeared to be aflame with love. I saw and realized that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love embraces every time and every place.” At last, she found her answer. Her calling was love, and she perceived the power of the love of one person to build up the Body of Christ.
Unfortunately, photographs of her can be insipid, and many look on her ‘little way’ as sentimental piety. If it were, it should be rejected. But in fact, it is a heroic way concerned with the present moment.
Why has the Church ranked this cloistered nun with such a short life among the Doctors of the Church? First, she grasped the heart of the Church’s mission. In the vocation of love, there is no separation or opposition between love of God and love of neighbor. Limitations of the cloister would not curtail her ministry or her total self-giving, which she knew was the most effective and most fruitful action of the Church. Second, her ‘little way’ is simple, direct, and universally accessible, especially to the homebound, the infirm, and the forgotten.
Finally, Thérèse embraces a theology of Christian hope. Sooner or later, every person comes to the edge of the cliff, and perhaps many times during one’s lifetime. The time of unemployment is one example of this. It is a dynamic faith and unshaken trust that casts one’s care on the Lord. For her, the Carmelite vocation was an apostolically-fruitful life, a life lived in the heart of the Church. Though St. Francis Xavier spent his life as the itinerant apostle to the Indies, Thérèse spent herself as a cloistered missionary, and for this, she has been named with him as Co-Patron of the Missions. “Thérèse’s ‘little way’ no longer seems little.” (Stephanie Paulsell, Reading St. Thérèse, Harvard Divinity Bulletin (Summer/Autumn, 2010. 74) Her message, Paulson concludes? “More love.” Her feast day is October 1.
Here we have three women-saints, three Doctors of the Church, each so different in personality yet one in purpose. Their message to women as well as to men: pray, work your best, and let God do the rest. Of saints, Phyllis McGinley writes: “What are saints except geniuses–geniuses who bring to their works of virtue all the splendor, eccentricity, effort, and dedication that lesser talents bring to music or poetry or painting?” (Saint-Watching, 17)
Like musicians, painters, poets, saints are human beings but obsessed ones. They are obsessed by the goodness and beauty of God as Michelangelo was obsessed by line and form, as Shakespeare was bewitched by language, and Beethoven by sound.
Saints are not born; they become God’s masterpieces. They are made into God’s works of art.
Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (PhL), musicology (PhD), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (PhD). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her Email address is email@example.com.
Were the Popes Against the Jews? Tracking the Myths, Confronting the Ideologues by Justus George Lawler. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing (Grand Rapids, Mich., 2012). 405 pp., $35.
Reviewed by Eugene J. Fisher
Justus George Lawler’s Were the Popes Against the Jews effectively rebuts the negative critique of the popes of the 19th and 20th centuries in David Kertzer’s 2001 The Popes Against the Jews and in those of even earlier books by Daniel Goldhagen and John Cornwell. In so doing, Lawler makes a significant contribution to what has become an ongoing discussion among scholars and journalists. He carefully analyzes Kertzer’s presentation, showing where he fudges and manipulates historical facts and statements.
Lawler tracks Kertzer’s anti-papal attacks from the pontificate of Pope Pius IX through those of Leo XIII and Pius X, XI and XII. In Kertzer’s view, each was not only theologically triumphalist toward Judaism and presumed the ancient Christian teaching of contempt that held Jews collectively responsible for the death of Jesus, but also propagated modern racial anti-Semitism, making the Vatican the “antechamber of the Holocaust.” Kertzer accuses the popes of inventing the phrase “Satanic synagogues,” speaking of “Jewish dogs” running in the streets of Rome, and fostering and spreading ritual murder charges against Jews.
Lawler meticulously researches each accusation, providing the necessary historical context to understand the papal utterances as well as numerous statements and actions of popes seeking to defend and help the Jews in time of need.
Though incisive and in many ways decisive of the historical questions it takes up, Lawler is not a theologian and does not seem to be familiar with the important literature in the field of Catholic-Jewish studies. He often omits or misinterprets developments concerning the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on Catholic-Jewish relations, “Nostra Aetate,” No. 4, and subsequent official documents of the Holy See and of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as the works of the Catholic scholars in the field.
For example, Lawler erroneously equates the concepts of “fulfillment” and “supersessionism,” defining the latter as “super-added” when, in fact, the word means to “take the seat” or place of, which is in effect to reject the church’s fundamental teaching on the ongoing validity of God’s covenant with the Jewish people. He likewise equates modern Judaism with the state of Israel, though many Israelis as well as American Jews have been as critical of specific actions of various Israeli administrations over the years as is he.
Lawler reprints a lengthy and negative review he wrote in 1965 of Fr. Edward Flannery’s groundbreaking “The Anguish of the Jews,” ignoring the substantially revised second edition of the book. Father Flannery was my predecessor as director for Catholic-Jewish relations at the (then) National Conference of Catholic Bishops, so I take this slight a tad personally.
Perhaps even more personally, Lawler uses as a leitmotif a paragraph-long selection of phrases taken from reviews of the Kertzer book without giving the full reviews or even their citations so the readers can look them up. The words he takes from my own review, which was in the main critical, make it sound laudatory. Here, Lawler should have subjected his own writing to the rigorous standards to which he rightly holds Kertzer.
Fisher is professor of Catholic-Jewish studies at St. Leo University in Florida.
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor/HHS “took a first, urgently-needed step toward upholding rights of conscience and religious freedom in our health care system,” by including two key provisions in its appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2013, according to the chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
Card. Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston welcomed the inclusion of the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA, HR 361) and the policy of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (HR 1179) in the appropriations bill, July 18, saying it will “strengthen federal protections for health-care providers who decline to take part in abortions, and will ensure that the Affordable Care Act allows Americans to purchase health coverage without being forced to abandon their deeply-held religious and moral convictions on matters such as abortion and sterilization.”
Card. DiNardo expressed gratitude to subcommittee chairman Representative Denny Rehberg (R-MT) for his leadership in sponsoring the conscience provisions when he introduced this bill, adding, “The Catholic community and many others concerned about religious freedom will work hard to ensure that these protections are enacted into law.”The Labor/HHS bill must be approved by the full House Appropriations Committee, then the House of Representatives, before it can be sent to the Senate for further action.
In a July 17 letter, Card. DiNardo had urged the subcommittee to include both provisions in the appropriations bill. ANDA, he wrote, would codify the Hyde/Weldon amendment, a longstanding part of this appropriations bill that prevents government discrimination against health care providers who decline participation in abortion.
“Instances of discrimination against pro-life health care providers continue to emerge, and some states implementing the Affordable Care Act have begun to claim that they can force all private health plans on their exchanges to cover elective abortion as an ‘essential health benefit,’” Card. DiNardo wrote. “By closing loopholes and providing victims of discrimination with a ‘private right of action’ to defend their rights in court, Sec. 538 will provide urgently needed relief.”
Card. DiNardo said the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which is sponsored by 224 House members and supported by nearly half the Senate, should be incorporated into the bill to counter “the most direct federal threat to religious freedom in recent memory”–the HHS mandate for all private health plans, even those sponsored by most religious organizations, to include sterilization and contraceptives, including drugs that can cause an early abortion. He added that this provision leaves in place all existing legal protections against discriminatory withholding of health care, only allowing “an opt-out on moral or religious grounds from the new benefits mandates to be created for the first time by the Affordable Care Act itself.”
Intriguing Canadian documentary that focuses on the Holy Land’s Bethlehem University, a Catholic institution open to students of all faiths, and shows how the lives of those associated with it are caught up in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Filmmakers Kris Dmytrenko (who also narrates) and Richard Valenti offer insights into the larger cultural and political situation through a handful of personal stories. The most prominent of these concerns a student the Israeli authorities deport from the West Bank, where the university is located, to her home area of Gaza, thus endangering the completion of her studies. Scenes of real-life violence and potentially upsetting subject matter preclude endorsement for children, who are obviously unlikely to be interested anyway. But this otherwise unobjectionable study presents a valuable and enlightening educational opportunity for teens and their elders. The CNS classification is A-II–adults and adolescents. Not rated by the MPAA.
I’m absolutely fed up! I’m done! I’m tired of the singles trap and everyone telling me it’s just not my turn yet! Why isn’t it my turn? Why must it take so long? I’m tired of being alone! I’m tired of having no one to share my life with! I’m trying not to be upset with God, but seriously, enough is enough! And if you tell me it will happen in God’s time, I’m done with you too. I don’t mean any disrespect, but I can’t handle hearing anymore pious mumbo jumbo.”
That’s a lot of exclamation points, indicating a lot of frustration. I can’t blame you, especially about not wanting to hear the same “pious mumbo jumbo” anymore. Of course, it’s not mumbo jumbo at all, but I will admit that many of us advisor types tend to take the easy way out by saying, “it’s all in God’s time” or “when it’s meant to happen to you, it will” or “I’ll pray for you.”
We take that easy way out sometimes because frankly, we just don’t have the answer.
When people are suffering, what they need most is empathy. I have no idea what you are going through and what factors are contributing to your obvious suffering. I only know for certain that you are in pain.
You want some answers, and fast. But that’s not going to happen. It’s futile to insist on and force solutions, and even more futile to succumb to anger and bitterness.
It’s very interesting that you mentioned being tired of “the singles trap.” That’s actually exactly what you have fallen into, perhaps without even realizing it. The singles trap is the belief that life is meaningless as an unmarried person. Marriage makes happiness possible at last.
You might be saying, “That’s rubbish! That’s not what I think.” Maybe not consciously. But consider how you feel, and what you are saying as a result of your frustration. You hate it that you are still single, and don’t want to be single anymore. That’s valid enough. I fully support that. But not to the point that you harbor anger, bitterness, excessive frustration, and resentment.
These attitudes are fashioned over time through voluntarily allowing negative realities to penetrate to the depths of the self. You are slowly but surely becoming these negatives. You allow your personal peace and happiness, that are gifts of God, to be rattled or replaced by the anger.
God created you first and foremost to love Him, serve Him, and be with Him forever in Heaven. He did not create you to be married. Marriage is not the answer to your happiness, nor the solution to your overcoming your anger. That’s a trap. The singles trap, to be exact.
It sounds to me that you believe you are entitled to be married by now and you are on a quest to find out why you’re not.
There are undoubtedly reasons why you are still single. Some of it’s probably your fault. Some of it’s probably the fault of your parents and your upbringing. Some of it’s probably the fault of free will and those who sadly choose to break up with you for stupid reasons. Some of it probably has nothing to do with fault at all, but one thing’s for sure…it’s not God’s fault.
In fact, it’s also futile to look for fault at all. When you do find out where the fault lies, it doesn’t help. It might provide some kind of distorted satisfaction, but you don’t find peace and happiness.
You can let anger run aggressively and recklessly until it becomes who you are, thus you are habitually a bitter, nasty, and unenjoyable person to be around.
And then congratulations! You just made yourself completely unattractive to anyone who might be a prospective candidate for a marriage partner.
Do you see what I’m getting at? You might very well have good reasons for being upset as to why you are still single. But you can’t give into it. It’s not worth it. You only hurt yourself, and your chances of finding love.
You might never really know why you are still single. But you are. You are still the unique person God created you to be. He made you for love. Maybe you won’t live that love in the context of marriage. There are so many ways to give yourself away in love for God and neighbor that can fulfill your life and provide a lasting peace and happiness.
I realize that’s easier said than done, but honestly, what choice do you have? Keep succumbing to the anger, and you isolate yourself from God, the source of all love and happiness.
Have some people in your life you can trust and who are empathetic when you need to vent. This will help you prevent your natural and understandable frustrating moments from becoming part of who you are.
Give all your problems, emotions, and negativity to God (really letting it go and making it His problem), and you are truly free.
It might be pious mumbo jumbo to say it, but be happy that you were created by God, you are loved intimately by God, and you are destined to be with God. Your life has purpose and meaning regardless of marriage. Be happy, and don’t let anything or anyone take it from you.
Anthony Buono is the founder of Avemariasingles.com. For thousands of Catholic singles, Anthony offers guidance, humor, understanding, and practical relationship advice. Visit his blog at 6stonejars.com.
At some point in time, most everyone will have the opportunity and experience of planning a Funeral Liturgy for a deceased loved one. For many people, this can be a very difficult yet beautiful gesture and action.
The Funeral Liturgy of the Catholic Church is a very profound and moving liturgical celebration. Over the years, many have reported to me that the liturgy was a great source of peace and comfort for them in their time of sorrow and grief.
The Funeral Liturgy provides a perfect opportunity for catechesis regarding our belief about life and death. For many non-Catholics, attending a funeral in the Catholic Church is their first and sometimes only experience of Catholic worship. Very beautiful and meaningful, the Mass of Christian Burial has sometimes been the inspiration for some people to embrace the Catholic Faith and be fully initiated into the Church.
The Funeral Liturgy is an opportunity to remember and celebrate the life of faith lived by the deceased person. At the same time, the liturgy is not meant to be a “canonization ceremony” for the departed. Sadly, many funerals resemble just that. Within the context and setting of the Funeral Mass, we are invited to reflect on the ways in which the deceased person’s life of faith was connected to and interwoven with the life of Christ. But the Person we truly remember and celebrate in a Funeral Mass is Jesus Christ. Without Him, there would be no reason to celebrate a funeral.
An important spiritual and theological aspect of the Funeral Liturgy is the offering of prayers for the deceased as well as bringing comfort and hope to the family. The Church reminds us of the graces and spiritual benefits of offering the Holy Eucharist for the welfare of the deceased person. Praying for the dead is an ancient and important practice of our Catholic Faith, finding its scriptural roots in the Second Book of Maccabees in the Old Testament (2 Mac 12:38-46).
The Scripture readings chosen and selected for the Funeral Liturgy should reflect the Christian mystery of life and death. The Church provides several appropriate readings in the Order of Christian Funerals. Poems and other non-Scriptural readings cannot replace Sacred Scripture at the Funeral Liturgy.
The sacred hymns chosen for a Funeral Liturgy should reflect the mystery of our life and death in Christ and emphasize the glory of His Death and Resurrection. Oftentimes, families choose songs or hymns that were “favorites” of the deceased, even if their content and lyrics have no connection or relationship to our salvation and life in Christ. Secular songs and other elements and practices of a “secular” nature have no place in the Sacred Liturgy and are best suited and more appropriate at other times and places, perhaps at the visitation, if it is held in a place other than the church, or at the dinner/gathering following the burial and Rite of Committal.
Planning the Funeral Liturgy for a deceased loved one is perhaps the last and greatest thing we can do for him or her, so let us do it well. The Church provides us with the tools to do so. On behalf of my brother priests, we do ask to be notified and consulted before any definite funeral plans are made and finalized for a deceased loved one. Many priests and pastors today care for several parishes and may have other funerals and commitments already scheduled. So, please give us a call before the information and arrangements are sent to the local newspaper for publication!
In closing, the Order of Christian Funerals reminds us: “Christians celebrate the funeral rites to offer worship, praise, and thanksgiving to God for the gift of a life which has now been returned to God, the author of life and the hope of the just. The Mass, the memorial of Christ’s Death and Resurrection, is the principal celebration of the Christian funeral” (OCF #5). May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen!
Whether the federal contraception mandate stands or falls, it has changed US politics forever, the head of the Knights of Columbus observed during the 2012 Catholic Media Conference.
“It definitely has changed the political landscape,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in a June 22 interview at the convention held in downtown Indianapolis.
“What we see clearly, is an attempt to redefine the role of religion in American society.”
The Obama administration, he said, is applying a “very narrow” conception of religion and its social role. “So that leads us to ask the question: What will the administration do next, whether or not it wins on the HHS mandate?”
He predicted that US politics would be permanently changed by the assault on the Church’s freedom and its role in society, even if the HHS mandate eventually fails.
“Once the ‘genie is out of the bottle,’ it’s going to be difficult to put it back in,” the head of the Catholic fraternal order noted. “It ought to give us all very serious concern.”
Anderson, a veteran lawyer, explained that the administration’s restrictive view of religion was previously seen in the “Hosanna-Tabor” Supreme Court case, pitting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against a Lutheran church and school.
In that 2011 case, Anderson recalled, the government attempted “a redefinition of what constitutes ‘ministry,’” claiming that a teacher of religious and secular subjects was not a “minister” and could not be fired at the school’s discretion. The school’s rights, however, were unanimously upheld by the court.
Shortly after that decision was handed down, Health and Human Services finalized its contraception mandate, forcing religious institutions–except those covered under a narrow exemption–to provide services that violate their moral principles, including sterilization and abortion-causing drugs.
According to Anderson, both the Hosanna-Tabor case and the HHS mandate are part of a larger effort to redefine religious freedom and marginalize faith-based institutions.
In Hosanna-Tabor, “the administration was arguing for the most narrow possible, most restrictive possible, definition of ministry.” Similarly, the HHS mandate granted an exemption only to institutions that primarily employ and serve those of the same faith for the purpose of spreading “religious values.”
The Obama administration, Anderson said, “has continued to attempt to redefine religion, by taking an extremely narrow definition of what constitutes a ‘religious institution.’”
“Many institutions that we would normally think of as part of the charitable or service mission of the Church, suddenly are defined out of the ambit of being a faith-based religious institution.”
Even if the HHS mandate is defeated in court, or fundamentally changed by the administration, the thinking behind it will persist and continue to shape political life.
“What we’re seeing is a paradigm shift–in how religion is viewed in American society, and the role of religion. Once you make that shift, the logic leads on down a certain path. And that path is: ‘Wherever we can find a less inclusive role for religion, we take the less inclusive role.’”
To turn back from this course, Anderson suggested, Americans must first “understand authentically what the Constitution intends by the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause.” These clauses exist not to marginalize religion, but to protect its integrity and allow it to shape social life.
The head of the Knights of Columbus also wants Americans to rediscover “the role of religion in society in promoting the common good,” as envisioned by the country’s founders.
“American society has traditionally found, and the Founders believed, that religion is good–and is good for the common good,” the Supreme Knight noted. “We value a freedom because the freedom produces a good in society.”
“If you look at the history of the Catholic Church in America–where we built so many schools, and hospitals, and orphanages, and Catholic charities–it’s a tremendous contribution.”
But modern Americans, Anderson said, may have a “diminished sense of the role of religion in fostering the common good.” Without this sense of religion’s social role, its “free exercise” may be misunderstood as serving only the self-interests of believers, rather than the nation’s common interest.
To fight this perception, Anderson suggested Catholics “need to tell our story better–and we also need to do more.” The Church’s social teaching, he said, “should compel Catholics to works of greater charity in society, to promote the common good.”
By using their freedom to serve society as a whole, Catholics can help all Americans rediscover religious liberty as a universal good–worth preserving not only for the benefit of believers, but for the good of the whole country.
To preserve their religious freedom in the long term, Anderson suggested, Catholics “have to have a more visible role in society–and a more effective role in society–in actually doing those things that actually benefit the common good.”
Every child and adult with special needs, every unwanted unborn child and every person who is “poor, weak, abandoned or homeless” is “an icon of God’s face and a vessel of his love,” said Philadelphia Abp. Charles J. Chaput. “How we treat these persons–whether we revere them and welcome them or throw them away in distaste–shows what we really believe about human dignity, both as individuals and as a nation,” he said Jan. 22 in an address at a pro-life conference at Georgetown University in Washington. He was the keynote speaker at the 13th annual Card. O’Connor Conference on Life held the weekend before the annual March for Life in the nation’s capital. The archbishop’s address follows:
The great French Jesuit Henri de Lubac once wrote, “Suffering is the thread from which the stuff of joy is woven. Never will the optimist know joy.”(1)
Those seem like strange words, especially for Americans. We Americans take progress as an article of faith. And faith in progress demands a spirit of optimism.
But Fr. de Lubac knew that optimism and hope are very different creatures. In real life, bad things happen. Progress is not assured, and things that claim to be progress can sometimes be wicked and murderous instead.
We can slip backward as a nation just as easily as we can advance. This is why optimism–and all the political slogans that go with it–are so often a cheat. Real hope and real joy are precious. They have a price. They emerge from the experience of suffering, which is made noble and given meaning only by faith in a loving God.
As a young bishop I had the privilege of knowing Card. John O’Connor as a mentor and friend. Later I had the great fortune to work closely with his eminence and Bp. James McHugh as they developed the text of the 1998 US bishops’ pastoral letter “Living the Gospel of Life”–which is still, in my view, the best statement of pro-life convictions ever released by the Church in the US.(2)
Throughout our friendship, Card. O’Connor was a man of uncommon hope, integrity, and kindness. And these virtues were never more evident than during his final illness. In the face of all of his suffering, he never lost his sense of joy in the goodness and sanctity of life.
I want to talk about the kind of people we’re becoming, and what we can do about it. Especially what you can do about it. But it’s always good to start with a few facts. So that’s what I’ll do.
A number of my friends have children with disabilities. Their problems range from cerebral palsy to Turner’s syndrome to trisomy 18, which is extremely serious. But I want to focus on one fairly common genetic disability to make my point. I’m referring to trisomy 21 or Down syndrome.
Down syndrome is not a disease. It’s a genetic disorder with a variety of symptoms. Therapy can ease the burden of those symptoms, but Down syndrome is permanent. There’s no cure.
People with Down syndrome have mild to moderate developmental delays. They have low to middling cognitive function. They also tend to have a uniquely Down syndrome “look”–a flat facial profile, almond-shaped eyes, a small nose, short neck, thick stature, and a small mouth which often causes the tongue to protrude and interferes with clear speech. People with Down syndrome also tend to have low muscle tone. This can affect their posture, breathing, and speech.
Currently about 5,000 children with Down syndrome are born in the US each year. They join a national Down syndrome population of about 400,000 persons. But that population may soon dwindle. And the reason why it may decline illustrates in a vivid way a struggle within the American soul. That struggle will shape the character of our society in the decades to come.
Prenatal testing can now detect up to 95 percent of pregnancies with a strong risk of Down syndrome. The tests aren’t conclusive. They can’t give a firm yes or no. But they’re pretty good. And the results of those tests are brutally practical. Studies show that more than 80 percent of unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome now get terminated in the womb. They’re killed because of a flaw in one of their chromosomes–a flaw that’s neither fatal nor contagious but merely undesirable.
The older a woman gets, the higher her risk of bearing a child with Down syndrome. And so, in medical offices around the country, pregnant women now hear from doctors or genetic counselors that their baby has “an increased likelihood” of Down syndrome based on one or more prenatal tests.
Some doctors deliver this information with sensitivity and great support for the woman. But, as my friends know from experience, too many others seem more concerned about avoiding lawsuits, or managing costs, or even, in a few ugly cases, cleaning up the gene pool.
In practice, medical professionals can now steer an expectant mother toward abortion simply by hinting at a list of the child’s possible defects. And the most debased thing about that kind of pressure is that doctors know better than anyone else how vulnerable a woman can be in hearing potentially tragic news about her unborn baby.
I’m not suggesting that doctors should hold back vital knowledge from parents. Nor should they paint an implausibly upbeat picture of life with a child who has a disability. Facts and resources are crucial in helping adult persons prepare themselves for difficult challenges. But doctors, genetic counselors and medical school professors should have on staff–or at least on speed dial–experts of a different sort.
Parents of children with special needs, special education teachers and therapists, and pediatricians who have treated children with disabilities often have a hugely life-affirming perspective. Unlike prenatal caregivers, these professionals have direct knowledge of persons with special needs. They know their potential. They’ve seen their accomplishments. They can testify to the benefits–often miraculous–of parental love and faith.
Expectant parents deserve to know that a child with Down syndrome can love, laugh, learn, work, feel hope and excitement, make friends, and create joy for others. These things are beautiful precisely because they transcend what we expect. They witness to the truth that every child with special needs has a value that matters eternally.
Raising a child with Down syndrome can be demanding. It always involves some degree of suffering. Parents grow up very fast. None of my friends who has a daughter or son with a serious disability is melodramatic, or self-conscious or even especially pious about it. They speak about their special child with an unsentimental realism. It’s a realism flowing out of love–real love, the kind that forces its way through fear and suffering to a decision, finally, to surround the child with their heart and trust in the goodness of God. And that decision to trust, of course, demands not just real love but also real courage.
The real choice in accepting or rejecting a child with special needs is never between some imaginary perfection or imperfection. None of us is perfect. No child is perfect. The real choice in accepting or rejecting a child with special needs is between love and unlove; between courage and cowardice; between trust and fear. That’s the choice we face when it happens in our personal experience. And that’s the choice we face as a society in deciding which human lives we will treat as valuable and which we will not.
Nearly 50 percent of babies with Down syndrome are born with some sort of heart defect. Most have a lifelong set of health challenges. Some of them are serious. Government help is a mixed bag. Public policy is uneven.
Some cities and states provide generous aid to the disabled and their families. In many other jurisdictions, though, a bad economy has forced very damaging budget cuts. Services for the disabled–who often lack the resources, voting power, and lobbyists to defend their interests–have shrunk.
In still other places, the law mandates good support and care, but lawmakers neglect their funding obligations and no one holds them accountable. The vulgar economic fact about the disabled is that, in purely utilitarian terms, they rarely seem worth the investment.
That’s the bad news. But there’s also good news. Ironically, for those persons with Down syndrome who do make it out of the womb, life is better than at any time in our nation’s history. A baby with Down syndrome born in 1944, the year of my own birth, could expect to live about 25 years. Many spent their entire lives mothballed in public institutions. Today people with Down syndrome routinely survive into their 50s and 60s.
Most can enjoy happy, productive lives. Most live with their families or share group homes with modified supervision and some measure of personal autonomy. Many hold steady jobs in the workplace. Some marry. A few have even attended college.
Federal law mandates a free and appropriate education for children with special needs through the age of 21. Social Security provides modest monthly support for persons with Down syndrome and other severe disabilities from age 18 throughout their lives. These are huge blessings.
And, just as some people resent the imperfection, the inconvenience, and the expense of persons with disabilities, others see in them an invitation to learn how to love deeply and without counting the cost.
Hundreds of families in this country–like my young friends in Denver, Kate and JD Flynn–are now seeking to adopt children with Down syndrome. Many of these families already have, or know, a child with special needs. They believe in the spirit of these beautiful children because they’ve seen it firsthand. A Maryland-based organization, Reece’s Rainbow, helps arrange international adoptions of children with Down syndrome.
The late Eunice Shriver spent much of her life working to advance the dignity of children with Down syndrome and other disabilities. The Anna and John J. Sie Foundation committed $34 million to the University of Colorado to focus on improving the medical conditions faced by those with Down syndrome.
And many businesses all over the country now welcome workers with Down syndrome. Parents of these special employees say that having a job, however tedious, and earning a paycheck, however small, gives their children pride and purpose. These things are more precious than gold.
I said at the start of my remarks that I wanted to talk about the kind of people we’re becoming and what we can do about it. And especially what you can do about it as Catholics who take their faith seriously.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer once wrote that “a man is truly ethical only when he obeys the compulsion to help all life which he is able to assist and shrinks from injuring anything that lives.”(3)
Vessel of God’s love
Every child with Down syndrome, every adult with special needs; in fact, every unwanted unborn child, every person who is poor, weak, abandoned, or homeless–each one of these persons is an icon of God’s face and a vessel of his love. How we treat these persons–whether we revere them and welcome them or throw them away in distaste–shows what we really believe about human dignity, both as individuals and as a nation.
The American Jesuit scholar Fr. John Courtney Murray once said that “anyone who really believes in God must set God, and the truth of God, above all other considerations.”(4)
Here’s what that means. Catholic public officials who take God seriously cannot support laws that attack human dignity without lying to themselves, misleading others, and abusing the faith of their fellow Catholics. God will demand an accounting.
Catholic doctors who take God seriously cannot do procedures, prescribe drugs, or support health policies that attack the sanctity of unborn children or the elderly; or that undermine the dignity of human sexuality and the family. God will demand an accounting.
Catholic citizens who take God seriously cannot claim to love their Church and then ignore her counsel on vital public issues that shape our nation’s life. God will demand an accounting.
As individuals, we can claim to believe whatever we want. We can posture and rationalize our choices and make alibis with each other all day long–but no excuse for our lack of honesty and zeal will work with the God who made us. God knows our hearts better than we do. If we don’t conform our hearts and actions to the faith we claim to believe, we’re only fooling ourselves.
We live in a culture where our marketers and entertainment media compulsively mislead us about the sustainability of youth; the indignity of old age; the avoidance of suffering; the denial of death; the nature of real beauty; the impermanence of every human love; the oppressiveness of children and family; the silliness of virtue; and the cynicism of religious faith. It’s a culture of fantasy, selfishness, sexual confusion, and illness that we’ve brought upon ourselves. And we’ve done it by misusing the freedom that other–and greater–generations than our own worked for, bled for, and bequeathed to our safekeeping.
What have we done with that freedom? In whose service do we now use it?
John Courtney Murray is most often remembered for his work at Vatican II on the issue of religious liberty and for his great defense of American democracy in his book We Hold These Truths. Murray deeply believed in the ideas and moral principles of the American experiment. He saw in the roots of the American Revolution the unique conditions for a mature people to exercise their freedom through intelligent public discourse, mutual cooperation, and laws inspired by right moral character. He argued that–at its best–American democracy is not only compatible with the Catholic faith but congenial to it.
But he had a caveat. It’s the caveat that George Washington implied in his Farewell Address and that Charles Carroll–the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence–mentions in his own writings. In order to work, America depends as a nation on a moral people shaped by their religious faith, and in a particular way, by the Christian faith. Without that living faith animating its people and informing its public life, America becomes something alien and hostile to the very ideals it was founded on.
This is why the same Fr. Murray who revered the best ideals of the American experiment could also write that “our American culture, as it exists, is actually the quintessence of all that is decadent in the culture of the Western Christian world. It would seem to be erected on the triple denial that has corrupted Western culture at its roots: the denial of metaphysical reality, of the primacy of the spiritual over the material [and] of the social over the individual. … Its most striking characteristic is its profound materialism. … It has given citizens everything to live for and nothing to die for. And its achievement may be summed up thus: It has gained a continent and lost its own soul.”(5)
Catholics need to wake up from the illusion that the America we now live in–not the America of our nostalgia or imagination or best ideals, but the real America we live in here and now–is somehow friendly to our faith. What we’re watching emerge in this country is a new kind of paganism, an atheism with air conditioning and digital TV. And it is neither tolerant nor morally-neutral.
As the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb observed more than a decade ago, “What was once stigmatized as deviant behavior is now tolerated and even sanctioned; what was once regarded as abnormal has been normalized.” But even more important, she added, “As deviancy is normalized, so what was once normal becomes deviant. The kind of family that has been regarded for centuries as natural and moral–the ‘bourgeois’ family as it is invidiously called–is now seen as pathological” and exclusionary, concealing the worst forms of psychic and physical oppression.(6)
My point is this: Evil talks about tolerance only when it’s weak. When it gains the upper hand, its vanity always requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because the example of good and innocent lives is an ongoing witness against it. So it always has been. So it always will be. And America has no special immunity to becoming an enemy of its own founding beliefs about human freedom, human dignity, the limited power of the state, and the sovereignty of God.
A friend of mine has a son with Down syndrome, and she calls him a “sniffer of souls.” I know him, and it’s true. He is. He may have an IQ of 47, and he’ll never read The Brothers Karamazov, but he has a piercingly quick sense of the people he meets. He knows when he’s loved–and he knows when he’s not.
Ultimately, I think we’re all like her son. We hunger for people to confirm that we have meaning by showing us love. We need that love. And we suffer when that love is withheld.
These children with disabilities are not a burden; they’re a priceless gift to all of us. They’re a doorway to the real meaning of our humanity. Whatever suffering we endure to welcome, protect, and ennoble these special children is worth it because they’re a pathway to real hope and real joy. Abortion kills a child; it wounds a precious part of a woman’s own dignity and identity; and it steals hope. That’s why it’s wrong. That’s why it needs to end. That’s why we march.
The task you need to take home with you today is this. Never give up the struggle that the March for Life embodies. No matter how long it takes; no matter how many times you march–it matters eternally. Because of you, some young woman will choose life and that new life will have the love of God forever.
The great Green Bay Packer theologian Vince Lombardi liked to say that real glory consists in getting knocked flat on the ground again and again and again, and getting back up–just one more time than the other guy. That’s real glory. And there’s no better metaphor for the Christian life.
Don’t give up. Your pro-life witness gives glory to God. Be the best Catholics you can be. Pour your love for Jesus Christ into building and struggling for a culture of life. By your words and by your actions, be an apostle to your friends and colleagues. Speak up for what you believe. Love the Church. Defend her teaching. Trust in God. Believe in the Gospel. And don’t be afraid. Fear is beneath your dignity as sons and daughters of the God of life.
Changing the course of American culture seems like such a huge task, so far beyond the reach of this gathering today. But St. Paul felt exactly the same way. Redeeming and converting a civilization has already been done once. It can be done again. But we need to understand that God is calling you and me to do it. He chose us. He calls us. He’s waiting, and now we need to answer him. Thanks, and God bless you.
(1)Henri de Lubac, SJ, Paradoxes of Faith, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1987, p. 39.
(2)Available at http://old.usccb.org/prolife/gospel.shtml.
(3)Albert Schweitzer, The Philosophy of Civilization, Prometheus, Buffalo, N.Y., 1987, pp. 307-29.
(4)John Courtney Murray, SJ, “The American Proposition,” an interview with “The Catholic Hour,” 1961; http://woodstock.georgetown.edu/library/murray/1961a.htm.
(5)Murray, “The Construction of a Christian Culture,” 1940; http://woodstock.georgetown.edu/library/murray/1940a.htm
(6)Gertrude Himmelfarb, One Nation, Two Cultures, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1999, p. 28.