Not quite Herman Cain’s (RIP) 999 but I’m getting there. Anyway, a few pieces I came across that you may find of value and a quick thought about today’s readings.
WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM JUDAS ISCARIOT
Both Judas and Peter realized their sin, and they turned away in repulsion, but in different directions: Judas upon himself and Peter to Christ. This directional difference distinguished Judas’s despair from Peter’s repentance. Judas returned to the source of his sin; Peter returned to the source of mercy
An excerpt from the article named in the section heading that gave me new insight into the respective sins of Judas and Peter on the first Holy Thursday. Dominicana Daily makes a wonderful addition to my inbox — sign up here.
PAGANS FOR BIDEN
Atheists lined up behind Joe Biden, along with pagans, agnostics, humanists, and witches—and The New York Times.
Some fascinating stats on voting patterns of people of various faith traditions and no faith whatsoever. Find the full article here.
JONAH AND JESUS
Today’s reading give us Jonah walking through Nineveh conveying the Lord God’s message of repentance (Jon 3:1-10) and Jesus referring to Jonah as the “sign” that will be given to Jesus’ contemporaries (Lk 11:29-32). Something I never considered that I heard recently but is kind of obvious particularly in light of Jesus’ words: Just like Jesus would die and be hidden away for three day so did Jonah die when being swallowed by the sea creature. Makes sense, right? Digestive juices and no oxygen are not hospitable for any living creature — they do not a siesta make. Could the Lord have preserved him by a miracle? Of course. But the typology works much better if Jonah, like Jesus, died then rose again to save a people. True, Jonah did it reluctantly while Jesus did it freely, and Jonah would have resurrected by God’s power while Jesus did it of His own power, but the outcomes were of a kind. Worth chewing on, I think.
TODAY’S GOSPEL Here we get Jesus teaching His listeners the familiar version of the Our Father (Mt 6:7-15) during the Sermon on the Mount (the shorter version is found at Lk 11:1-4). I endeavor to never fail to mention that it is only the most difficult of the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer that Christ reinforces after reciting the prayer:
If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.
It is as if Our Savior realizes that we need to hear it again and He wants to confirm in no uncertain terms that He is serious about it’s importance. Like the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit (Mk 3:28-29), that is usually defined as believing our own sins are unforgivable by God, this passage also gives us a path to hell if we do not heed it. It reminds me of another passage a little further along in the same sermon that should make one’s blood run cold:
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.
Few words are more challenging in the Gospel than the two excerpts above. I will be working an entire lifetime (and beyond, God willing) to get this right.
STATIONS OF THE CROSS
I am a big fan of Bp. Robert Barron and his Word on Fire ministry. In this video from 2019 he spends about an hour meditating on the Stations of the Cross. Sixty minutes worth spending (over and over) this Lent.
PAROUSIA: THE BIBLE AND THE MASS
Dr. Scott Hahn himself hosts this series. I remember presenting this to my parish years ago as a PowerPoint with handouts. The St. Paul Center has come along very nicely and I am pleased to be a proud supporter of its work.
Be sure to jump on this free offering soon, episodes are only available gratis for a short time.
I hope you will consider joining us for “Black Catholics on the Road to Sainthood” presented by Katrenia Reeves-Jackman who heads Black Catholic Ministry for the Miami Archdiocese. It is happening this Thursday evening at 7:00pm via Zoom so sign up here now!
I just finished a little book on this subject with the same name as the talk. I encourage you to check it out.
A few words on each of the readings that kick off Lent.
For the first two readings I am struck by the opening lines of each as particularly worthy of contemplation as we enter the penitential season of Lent. Joel (2:12-18) begins with these words:
Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God.
We tend to associate Lent with fasting even though only two days require reduced food consumption (today and Good Friday). While we may not be thrilled with being hungry, we can definitively say that we would prefer to avoid things that give us cause for weeping and mourning. That is as it should be. God, in this passage, is calling for repentance from what should be a cause for weeping and mourning: sin. So while we are called to fast from food (more about that in the Gospel), we do even better to fast from iniquity. We are called to tear our hearts from earthly pursuits that draw us away from the Lord and turn to Him completely.
Brothers and sisters: We are ambassadors for Christ
Every single Christian is called to be such an ambassador by word and example with Lent being a particularly apt time to do so as we become more introspective and strive to do more worthy things and avoid unworthy things. Paul tells us in the same verse how to be properly disposed for this role, echoing Joel (above): “be reconciled to God.” The Church invites us in a special way during this to give up that which has caused distance between ourselves and Jesus and to embrace that which can bring us closer to Him — and in the process be increasingly mindful of others. We are ambassadors for Christ when we are Christ to others and see Christ in others — “God…appealing through us” (5:20).
Last but not least the Gospel gives us the oft-repeated keys to a life lived for the Lord: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. None of these are to be done for show lest we become prideful — all that is important is that the Father knows. But all are necessary for the Christian. By opening up Lent with this reminder, the Church provides a reminder of the importance of these actions, encourages us to increase all of these actions throughout this season, and invites us to continue these worthy practices throughout the year.
BOOKS FOR LENT
I began today the recently released What Christ Suffered by Thomas W. McGovern, M.D. By studying Roman crucifixions, using medical knowledge, and contemplating spiritual and psychological aspects of suffering, he hopes to shed new light on exactly what Jesus experienced in His Passion. I can always use a vivid reminder of what (my) sin did to our Redeemer.
I also began today an advance copy of my friend Jim Papandrea’s soon to be released book called Praying a Christ-Centered Rosary. I will be praying the Rosary each day this Lent for a friend or colleague and his or her intentions and this book will help me enter into the mysteries more deeply. I’m quite sure.
SPIRITUAL HELPS FOR LENT
There are so many opportunities to draw closer to the Lord this Lent. You may just want to peruse my Catholic Links page and click through for some ideas. One coming to my inbox daily is from Catholic Answers, helping us be ambassadors to Christ. Another is daily reflections on the readings from some Dominican confreres (sign up here). One last recommendation: Parousia: The Bible and the Mass is available for free during Lent.
Time is short today, so I will leave you with a few items related to today’s readings and of recent vintage.
The reading from Job (7:1-4, 6-7) is a perfect one for those suffering from pandemic fatigue. With lines like “I have been assigned months of misery” and “I shall not see happiness again” I can imagine many folks around the world can empathize. But, remember, few have ever had it harder than Job (just read 1:13-19). The good news is that he kept the faith and in the end few have ever had it better (see 42:7-17). Whether or not we will realize such bounty in this life, we are assured that by keeping the Faith we will have riches beyond imagination forever in the next life.
For a contemporary exposition of the Sunday readings one can hardly do better than check out Bp. Robert Barron (check out his YouTube channel). Today he speaks on the second reading (1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23).
Each Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation I read from a book I recently discovered. It is the only one I could find of its kind in that it gives substantial quotes from sermons of the early Church Fathers based on the current lectionary. Anyway, here are its closing words on today’s Gospel () that struck me regarding Jesus healing Simon’s mother-in-law:
At a glance he saw her desperate plight, and at once stretched out his hands to perform their divine work of healing; nor would he sit down to satisfy his human needs before he had made it possible for the stricken woman to rise up and serve her God. So he took her by the hand, and the fever left her. Here you see how fever loosens its grip on a person whose hand is held by Christ’s; no sickness can stand its ground in the face of the very source of health. Where the Lord of life has entered, there is no room for death.
St Peter Chysologus, Sermon 18: PL 52, 246-9 as quoted in Stephen Mark Holmes, ed., The Fathers on the Sunday Gospels (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2012), 68. Emphasis mine.
So we must stay close to Christ in physical illness, it is true, but also in all troubles of mind, body, and spirit. More so, the fevered passions that lead to sin are remedied by grasping the Lord tightly and not letting go.
David French, who has been on the front lines of the pro-life movement, provides encouragement for pro-lifers regarding recent positive trends as well as practical advice what we can do right now to support this movement. How To Be Pro-Life in Joe Biden’s America
I will add this. Make no mistake that Joe Biden would not be president today if he held every position he espouses currently with the only difference that he was adamantly pro-life in his public policies instead of militantly pro-abortion in a way unseen in our country’s history. Not to mention the rabid anti-Catholicism that would have arisen from the rank and file of his party (it still lurks just below the surface with some very close to him). The devil is laughing, whether or not Mr. Biden has made a conscious Faustian bargain. I will not tire of asking all readers to pray for his conversion daily, as I do, for the sake of our country and for his precious immortal soul.
GOOD KING RICHARD
A favorite of mine (for obvious reasons).
St. Richard the King
St. Richard the King (c. 720 A.D.), also known as Richard the Pilgrim, was a Saxon king born in Wessex, England, who was related by blood to the royal house of Kent. His brother-in-law was St. Boniface, and three of his children are numbered among the saints: St. Willibald, St. Winnebald, and St. Walburga. When Willibald was gravely ill as a child, Richard’s prayers for his son are said to have saved his life. He wrapped his child in a blanket and took him to the foot of a large crucifix erected near their village, and the child recovered. When Willibald was grown, he convinced his father and brother to accompany him on a missionary pilgrimage to Rome and the Holy Land. St. Richard agreed, renounced his royal estate, and embarked on the journey with his two sons, while his daughter entered a convent. In Italy he became sick and died, and was buried in Tuscany at the Church of San Frediano. Numerous miracles are reported to have occurred at his tomb. Some of his relics were transported to Eichstatt, Germany, where his son Winnebald would become Bishop. His feast day is celebrated on February 7th.
SOURCE: The Catholic Company’s “Your Morning Offering:” email (subscribe here — highly recommended as a short daily devotional
NEW CATHOLIC NEWS SOURCE
I’m very excited about The Pillar which was begun by a couple of veteran Catholic journalists at the beginning of the year. Objective and in-depth reporting and analysis that is very welcome.
I don’t know about you, but I always found exceedingly strange the swine part of the Gerasene demoniac story (Mk 5:1-20). Jesus is confronted by a possessed man who acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God (demons are evil but intelligent). When Jesus asks the name of the spirit (a not insignificant question: “[t]o know the name of a demon was…in a certain sense to have authority over it, to make it act” [Mary Healy, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 100]) they reply “Legion” (a Roman legion was anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 men). Knowing their time in the poor man was about to come to an end they ultimately request being driven into a herd of swine. But why? This is where my commentaries come in handy to bring light (and surprises) to this dark episode.
Let us turn to the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture:
Although the demons seem to win a concession from Jesus, it proves to be their downfall. Unable to control their new hosts, they inadvertently send them careening down the bank in a deadly stampede. Like the ancient enemy of Israel, Pharaoh and his army (Exod 14), the demons meet a watery demise. (p.100)
May we all be tormentors of evil, driving it away from our territory.
MORE ON VACCINES
I meant to post this earlier but couldn’t find it. Well, I came across it again. Long, but thorough, it is a must-read for the serious Catholic (and all Christians) who wants comprehensive overview of moral theology as it relates to cooperation with intrinsic evil so as to have a properly informed conscience.
Today’s Gospel (Mk 4:35-41) struck me as particularly relevant to me (and many others, I’m quite sure) in these turbulent times in our nation and in our world. Jesus’ words (above) to His disciples in the boat being tossed about in a storm tracks very well with the tempest we are experiencing in these days. It is quite easy to fall into discouragement and even fear regarding seemingly unending and increasingly turbulent civil unrest, a devastating pandemic raging for nearly a year, and upheavals in government policy just beginning but sure to be exacerbated in the coming days. It is important to be aware of what it going on in all of these areas and to do what we can to deal with them (beginning and ending with prayer). But we never must forget who is in charge and who wins in the end. So let us be at peace, a tranquility that comes with faith in a God who said, “I will never forsake you or abandon you” (Heb 13:5).
Out of curiosity, I counted how many books I read in 2020 (a number easy to determine since I post every book I read along with a short review on Goodreads). Fifty-seven books (59 if I add two books finished in the first days of this year) were polished off in a year in which reading became a leading pastime for many folks. You can see all my books and reviews here, but i thought I would highlight seven (a biblically perfect number) in no particular order:
You will not find a better resource for vaccine ethics than the National Catholic Bioethics Center. Go to https://www.ncbcenter.org/bioethics-resources and click on “COVID-19” for a wealth of information on this important subject. Stay informed in knowledge and conscience.
Scandal is the word that keeps coming to mind as our new Catholic president continues to flout in a major way the faith he professes to hold. First, what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about this sin:
Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.
Turning to Scripture (as all of us should do often), these verses jump immediately to mind regarding the matter of scandal:
[Jesus] said to his disciples, “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.”
As is often the case in my daily reading, Bede Jarrett in Classic Catholic Meditations, in a section called “Avoid giving bad example,” provides wonderful insight on a matter of particular relevance regarding the matter at hand:
To a very large extent, from the very nature of human existence, I must live in the full view of my fellows, who are quick to repeat as well as watch, and who will find in my age, or better education, or higher position, or Catholic belief, a justification or excuse for imitating my shortcomings.
p. 175 (emphasis mine)
As it turns out today’s email from The Catholic Thing (which was an egregious omission from the list of Catholic websites in my last post), Hadley Arkes’s piece hits on the issue of scandal and the bishops’ response to the new Chief Executive. A key excerpt:
What I’ve wished for years for the bishops to say to the Bidens and Cuomos is something in this vein: “We cannot presume to instruct you on your job, but the problem now is that you are creating ‘scandal.’ You are seriously mis-instructing many Catholics on the teaching of their own Church, and in that way sapping the convictions that sustain that teaching. We would not make heavy demands on you, but we would plead simply that you ‘do no harm.’”
Finally, I just received this short article from the always insightful Phil Lawler, similarly themed. A taste:
If our bishops take disciplinary action against politicians who flout Church moral teachings, they will undoubtedly be unpopular. There will be outraged editorials, angry demonstrations outside the chancery, maybe even large contributions withdrawn. But truly courageous bishops—shepherds who cared about the souls of their wayward sheep—would accept those costs.
I have said it before but can’t repeat it enough. Pray frequently for the conversion of the president and our beloved nation.
We are blessed to have in Ordinary Time this liturgical year the proclaiming of the short but powerful Gospel of Mark. Mark jumps into Jesus’ story introducing John the Baptist who the evangelist tells us “appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (1:4). Elsewhere, the first recorded words of the Baptist are “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”” (Mt 3:2). In today’s passage (1:14-20), we hear nearly identical words (in the headline from Jesus as He begins His public ministry upon hearing of the arrest of His cousin. It as if Jesus’ is taking John’s mantle and running with it (see my previous post on Elijah and Elisha for the amazing parallels). The arrest of John does not have Jesus shying away from His task but rather signals Him to take over, to increase while John decreases (cf. Jn 3:30). Preparing the way did not end well for John. Jesus knows that a full-throated preaching of the Gospel will not end well for Himself, either. But, like Jeremiah, Jesus’ message “is as if fire is burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding back, I cannot!” (Jer 20:9) How often Jesus must have considered the words of this prophet (see esp. 20:7-19) as His ministry progressed and increasingly met with resistance.
Does the fire burn within us so fiercely that it no longer can be contained? Or does resistance lower our thermostat to our comfort level? You know what the euphemism “returning to room temperature” means, don’t you? Let that not be us until we have fulfilled the mission given to us by the Lord.
BEDE JARRETT ON RIGHTEOUS ANGER
Nearly every day I find precious nuggets from my spiritual reading, again so practical for our times (and again neatly tying in with the exposition above):
Think of the evils that are in the world, that are known to all, admitted to exist by public press and on a public platform. Would they have survived thus far, had folk all shown the indignant anger of Christ [in cleansing the Temple]? Hypocrisy, cant, and the whole blatant injustice that stalks naked and unashamed in national life — may not our own weakness and silence have helped to render impotent all efforts to reduce these terrible things? … But what is the use of conviction or determination unless they are driven by the fire of anger?
As mentioned yesterday, lukewarmness only makes God’s stomach turn, so to speak. No use complaining, “How did we get here?,” when so little fuss was made as we helped grease the slippery slope with inaction, ambivalence, or indifference. Let us not be like the proverbial frog who boils unknowingly as the temperature is raised slowly in his water-filled pot. We are meant to jump out of the seemingly safe warm bath into the cold world to ignite the flame of truth and love.
Just finished reading the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible volume on the Book of Judges. A rough period for the Twelve Tribes, to put it mildly. Few highlights or noble behavior in these twenty-one chapters but an interesting study nonetheless. Greasing the skids for the beginning of monarchy. Ruth is next.
Today’s Gospel (Mk 3:20-21) is maybe the shortest one in the lectionary — just two verses. I am sure I am one of a vast multitude who heard this passage proclaimed today and was struck by the last six words, repeated in the headline. My pastor is certainly a member of this large group as he focused on this sentence in his homily this morning. Our thinking was along the same lines: Isn’t it the case — more and more in our day — that faithful Christians are called out increasingly for professing their faith authentically? Elites, activists, and media types do not spare the vitriol and actively advocate or implement shutting down and “canceling” the faithful believer. Despite all this, I find these attacks quite comforting, actually. If Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the perfect man, is called crazy (by those closest to Him, by blood, anyway) for sharing and living the Gospel, should I be spared? “‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” (Jn 15:20)
Joe Biden declares loudly and repeatedly that he is a practicing Catholic. I, too, am happy to share that conviction — it is the primary way i define myself. I have been practicing for about a half century (on this count he has me beat) and am still very far from perfection (this we have in common). I know what the Church teaches and I suspect the president does as well. The difference is that I accept it all, declare it all unhesitatingly to the world, and try to adhere to it even if I fall repeatedly (thank the Lord for His mercy!).
Pope Emeritus Benedict, as Fr. Ratzinger, famously said in 1969:
From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. … As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. … But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world.
We are in a crisis (see this excellent article for the potential implications of a Biden presidency for the Catholic Church). I believe that, with the combination of an antithetical (on many issues) Catholic president and the ongoing pandemic, the time has come for Benedict’s prediction to be made manifest full throttle. To be sure, weekly Mass attendance has been declining for years in the West (particularly in Europe but also in the USA). But now with a Catholic president enthusiastically espousing and implementing intrinsically evil policies and the ongoing prevalence of virtual Masses along with the downplaying of the importance of the sacraments (at least in some corners) we are poised for an upheaval. I am reminded of one of the Book of Revelations’s starkest and most disturbing images (and that’s saying something):
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold, nor hot. I would thou wert cold, or hot. But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.
John, the author of Revelation, was asked to write this to the church in Laodicea. Well, we are Laodicea. It is imminent (and already here for some), I fear/hope, that sitting on the fence will no longer be acceptable in society or in the Church.
As long as Mr. Biden is president, there will be plenty to write about regarding the relationship between his governing and his Catholicism. I would refer you to a few of my favorite Catholic news and opinion sites to keep abreast:
But whether or not you take advantage of any of these resources (although I strongly encourage you to keep informed and to counter the secular media narrative), as I have already implored you in this space, please pray for the president that he comes to know and to follow God’s will (regardless of how the reader feels about any particular policy all faithful persons of good will can agree to this). Radical conversion is possible. His soul is just as precious as every other one created by God. Remember, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance” (Lk 15:7).
Such a conversion, and the (super)natural impact on the way he would govern, would be a triumph for the Faith even as it would spell his downfall from his party (impeachment, anyone?). The nation and the world will be the beneficiaries, though, as the turn back to God will bring countless blessings (and likely even more persecutions — see Mk 10:29-30).
I close with two quotes. The first is from my daily spiritual reading from a book I have touted here before that coincidentally ties in with today’s theme very well:
The genuine patriot, just because his patriotism is genuine, may not be obliged to denounce the evil and unjust courses of his own people; and the greater his love for his country, the more passionate, in all likelihood, will be his appeal to it to follow after justice and truth. For patriotism, like every other good quality, must be subject always to conscience, and cannot dictate to conscience. Its promptings must be carefully censored by prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.
(Poster’s Note: Bravo to all of it. I pray that American bishops in particular, but all persons of strong Christian conviction, will continue to proclaim the truth boldly, even unto martyrdom in whatever form it comes. May the Holy Spirit give these men an abundance of His gifts to shepherd the Lord’s people faithfully not counting the cost. et us pray often for our bishops. Empahases in the document are mine.)
Statement on the Inauguration of Joseph R. Biden, Jr., as 46th President of the United States of America from Most Reverend José H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles, President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
My prayers are with our new President and his family today.
I am praying that God grant him wisdom and courage to lead this great nation and that God help him to meet the tests of these times, to heal the wounds caused by this pandemic, to ease our intense political and cultural divisions, and to bring people together with renewed dedication to America’s founding purposes, to be one nation under God committed to liberty and equality for all.
Catholic bishops are not partisan players in our nation’s politics. We are pastors responsible for the souls of millions of Americans and we are advocates for the needs of all our neighbors. In every community across the country, Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, and ministries form an essential culture of compassion and care, serving women, children, and the elderly, the poor and sick, the imprisoned, the migrant, and the marginalized, no matter what their race or religion.
When we speak on issues in American public life, we try to guide consciences, and we offer principles. These principles are rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the social teachings of his Church. Jesus Christ revealed God’s plan of love for creation and revealed the truth about the human person, who is created in God’s image, endowed with God-given dignity, rights and responsibilities, and called to a transcendent destiny.
Based on these truths, which are reflected in the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, the bishops and Catholic faithful carry out Christ’s commandment to love God and love our neighbors by working for an America that protects human dignity, expands equality and opportunities for every person, and is open-hearted towards the suffering and weak.
For many years now, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has tried to help Catholics and others of good will in their reflections on political issues through a publication we call Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. The most recent edition addresses a wide range of concerns. Among them: abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, immigration, racism, poverty, care for the environment, criminal justice reform, economic development, and international peace.
On these and other issues, our duty to love and our moral principles lead us to prudential judgments and positions that do not align neatly with the political categories of left or right or the platforms of our two major political parties. We work with every President and every Congress. On some issues we find ourselves more on the side of Democrats, while on others we find ourselves standing with Republicans. Our priorities are never partisan. We are Catholics first, seeking only to follow Jesus Christ faithfully and to advance his vision for human fraternity and community.
I look forward to working with President Biden and his administration, and the new Congress. As with every administration, there will be areas where we agree and work closely together and areas where we will have principled disagreement and strong opposition.
Working with President Biden will be unique, however, as he is our first president in 60 years to profess the Catholic faith. In a time of growing and aggressive secularism in American culture, when religious believers face many challenges, it will be refreshing to engage with a President who clearly understands, in a deep and personal way, the importance of religious faith and institutions. Mr. Biden’s piety and personal story, his moving witness to how his faith has brought him solace in times of darkness and tragedy, his longstanding commitment to the Gospel’s priority for the poor — all of this I find hopeful and inspiring.
At the same time, as pastors, the nation’s bishops are given the duty of proclaiming the Gospel in all its truth and power, in season and out of season, even when that teaching is inconvenient or when the Gospel’s truths run contrary to the directions of the wider society and culture. So, I must point out that our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender. Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.
Our commitments on issues of human sexuality and the family, as with our commitments in every other area — such as abolishing the death penalty or seeking a health care system and economy that truly serves the human person — are guided by Christ’s great commandment to love and to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable.
For the nation’s bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the “preeminent priority.” Preeminent does not mean “only.” We have deep concerns about many threats to human life and dignity in our society. But as Pope Francis teaches, we cannot stay silent when nearly a million unborn lives are being cast aside in our country year after year through abortion.
Abortion is a direct attack on life that also wounds the woman and undermines the family. It is not only a private matter, it raises troubling and fundamental questions of fraternity, solidarity, and inclusion in the human community. It is also a matter of social justice. We cannot ignore the reality that abortion rates are much higher among the poor and minorities, and that the procedure is regularly used to eliminate children who would be born with disabilities.
Rather than impose further expansions of abortion and contraception, as he has promised, I am hopeful that the new President and his administration will work with the Church and others of good will. My hope is that we can begin a dialogue to address the complicated cultural and economic factors that are driving abortion and discouraging families. My hope, too, is that we can work together to finally put in place a coherent family policy in this country, one that acknowledges the crucial importance of strong marriages and parenting to the well-being of children and the stability of communities. If the President, with full respect for the Church’s religious freedom, were to engage in this conversation, it would go a long way toward restoring the civil balance and healing our country’s needs.
President Biden’s call for national healing and unity is welcome on all levels. It is urgently needed as we confront the trauma in our country caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the social isolation that has only worsened the intense and long-simmering divisions among our fellow citizens.
As believers, we understand that healing is a gift that we can only receive from the hand of God. We know, too, that real reconciliation requires patient listening to those who disagree with us and a willingness to forgive and move beyond desires for reprisal. Christian love calls us to love our enemies and bless those who oppose us, and to treat others with the same compassion that we want for ourselves.
We are all under the watchful eye of God, who alone knows and can judge the intentions of our hearts. I pray that God will give our new President, and all of us, the grace to seek the common good with all sincerity.
I entrust all our hopes and anxieties in this new moment to the tender heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ and the patroness of this exceptional nation. May she guide us in the ways of peace and obtain for us wisdom and the grace of a true patriotism and love of country.