Friday, April 22, 2016

Polite Persecution


By Aaron Matthew Weldon

In a recent homily, Pope Francis reminded Catholics that there are two kinds of persecution. There is the persecution that the early Church famously faced in the Roman Empire, and which Christians in places like Nigeria, Egypt, and Pakistan continue to face today. But Pope Francis names another kind of persecution: “polite persecution.” This is the social marginalization of Christians who dissent from the direction in which secular society is moving. Polite persecution has been on full display in recent weeks here in the United States.

Several states have passed or considered legislation designed to protect people of faith after the redefinition of marriage in civil law. In a pluralistic society, where there are deep disagreements about the nature of sex and marriage, people with deeply held religious convictions should not be required by the government to do what they believe is wrong. State religious freedom legislation, such as Mississippi’s Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, simply aims to protect people from being forced to violate their consciences.

Despite the clear need for laws protecting religious freedom in the wake of the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage, cultural and financial elites have used their power to threaten and even shut down some of these state bills, such as in Georgia. In the words of the Holy Father, these celebrities and business executives have engaged in a campaign of “polite persecution.” Pope Francis says that polite persecution goes by the name of “culture, modernity, progress.” And indeed, this kind of language is being used to shut out dissenting voices. A CEO, actor, or popular singer says that a person is “on the wrong side of history,” then the discussion is over.

These women and men could use their power to foster a legitimate debate about how our politics can function with a diversity of views. They could raise their voices in defense of what Pope Francis calls “a healthy pluralism,” one where people of faith are able to bring their understanding of the common good into public debate. However, what we increasingly see is bullying, public shaming, and the elimination of legal protections for people of faith. As the Pope says, polite persecution takes away “even conscientious objection.” In other words, if you don’t agree with what today’s film producers and tech industry leaders say about marriage, you cannot simply opt out. You have no place in “polite society.”

At every Mass, we Catholics remember the self-offering of a Christ who was rejected. As we take and eat the body and blood of Jesus, we are united with our persecuted Lord, and that is why Pope Francis can say that persecution is “the Church’s daily bread.” As we continue to work for the rights and freedom of our Church – and all people who may one day find themselves on “the wrong side” of the powerful in society– we do so with confidence, because “The Lord has promised that he will not be far from us.”

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Aaron Matthew Weldon is Program Specialist for the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. Learn more about the U.S. bishops' religious liberty efforts at www.usccb.org/freedom.
Follow the USCCB's religious freedom efforts on Twitter: @usccbfreedom

Monday, April 11, 2016

Strengthening the Church at Home



By Bishop Paul D. Etienne

Many Americans are surprised to hear that almost half of our country is considered mission territory. In fact, “home mission territory” can be found from Alaska to Louisiana, from Ohio to California. The needs of our mission dioceses vary greatly and the support of the Catholic Home Missions Appeal is vital to providing adequate pastoral services to our church at home.

The Diocese of Cheyenne, which I lead as bishop, is one of over 80 dioceses and eparchies that receives support from the Catholic Home Missions Appeal. One of our biggest challenges is how expansive and rural the diocese is – it covers the entire state of Wyoming. Many of our priests are charged with caring for multiple parishes, sometimes up to 100 miles apart. I drive more than 30,000 miles each year within the diocese to make pastoral visits.

These challenges impact our parishioners as well as they try to participate in the sacraments and parish life. For example, we wanted to provide a retreat for teens to give them an encounter with Christ and also to encourage them to return as leaders in future years. However, we faced a shortage of staff to plan the event and the lack of a retreat center in Cheyenne. But with the help of a grant from Catholic Home Missions, we were able to organize a successful event and bring teens from ten parishes to Colorado for the retreat!

The challenges in Cheyenne and across the home missions are great and often seem insurmountable. But many people give so much time and energy to serve the Church that it strengthens and grows. I cannot thank you enough for your support of the Catholic Home Missions Appeal. It is through not only your contributions but your prayers as well that make ministries possible.

This year I am excited to begin my tenure as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Catholic Home Missions and lead our efforts to support our many struggling dioceses. I encourage you to learn more about the home missions. Visit our website: www.usccb.org/home-missions. There you will find videos, newsletters, our annual report, and an interactive map of where funding goes.

Also, Catholic News Service recently featured Home Mission dioceses in a video and article series. They will help you put faces and experiences to the envelope you receive in your parish.

Please pray for the home missions and all who live and minister in them as you consider supporting the collection this year.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Prayer, Meditation, Integration—Ecumenical Reflections for Lent


By Father John Crossin

Prayer is necessary as we integrate our faith and the events of everyday life. This is true of the results of ecumenical conversations. We need to bring these results into our daily prayer, to reflect on these results, and to seek deeper understanding of what the Holy Spirit is saying to us in our conversations with other Christians.

This same process takes place as we interact with the culture which is around us and in us. We are part of American culture--not separate from it. In prayer, we discern the good and the questionable in our daily experience. In quiet meditative moments, we see more clearly both our emotional reactions and our understandings. Often deep insights come as we reflect prayerfully.

In these moments we often compare Jesus teaching and our experience. In the Gospel reading for Holy Thursday we see Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. We see Jesus emptying himself for our salvation. These acts of humility stand in contrast to the self-preservation, self-promotion and pursuit of power we see here in Washington. These acts of humility are affirmed in the work of So Others Might Eat, Catholic Charities, and other ministries also here in Washington.

A question that comes from such meditations is: how might I help transform the culture around me? How might the culture encourage the humility of Christ rather than political posturing or self-aggrandizement?

Ultimately prayer is transformative. Prayer that is attentive to everyday life and to the inner movements of the Spirit changes us. Such prayer leads us to action that in some small way transforms things around us.

Spiritual ecumenism is the foundation of the search for Christian unity. Deeper unity in Christ will change us and our culture.

Father John Crossin, OSFS is executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He tweets @crossinusccb.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Spiritual Maturity and Christian Unity—Lenten Reflections



By Father John Crossin

Am I spiritually mature enough for Christian Unity? This is a question I have kept asking myself in recent years. As we get closer to unity with our Christian Brothers and Sisters [See for example the Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry and Eucharist on our convergences and remaining differences with the churches of the Lutheran World Federation.], this question is becoming more salient.

Spiritual growth, growth in relationship to Christ, is necessary for our engagement with the world and with our Christian colleagues. The ecumenical saying is that ‘as we come closer to Christ we come closer to one another.’ What some call our ‘inner work’ is very important for Christian unity as well as for our engagement with a secularizing world [See our former USCCB colleague Fr. Allan Figueroa Deck’s new book Francis, Bishop of Rome for more on the necessity of taking time for deep prayer as we encounter the world.]

What are the contours or what is the outline of this growth? As you know if you have read my previous Lenten Reflections, I am a follower of St. Francis de Sales [d. 1622]. Thus I firmly ground myself on the path laid out by a Doctor of the Church in his Treatise on the Love of God—though I am quick to say that I am an imperfect follower of this great saint.

For DeSales, the first two ‘stages of loving’ concern a deeper conversion to Christ and coming to some balance in pursuing good things in our lives. I have mentioned these briefly in earlier Reflections. The third of these interrelated stages of loving involves coming to love what God wants for us—sometimes referred to as ‘loving God’s will’--above all things.

At this point we become more conscious of God’s grace in the present moment. Years ago I put it this way: “Now we are continually listening for God’s will, paying more attention than we once did to the things around us and the movements of the Spirit within us.” This attentiveness prepares us for deeper prayer and service to others.

I must admit that this level is a struggle for me! Sometimes I am more attentive, sometimes less so, and sometimes not at all. The goal, Christian unity and celebrating the eternal banquet with others, is clear; the spiritual path has stumbles and detours as well as smooth stretches.


Monday, March 7, 2016

Seeking God’s Will—Lenten Ecumenical Reflections

Giving everything to God involves both listening intently for God to speak and ongoing repentance for our sins. To grow spiritually, we must continue to deal with our ‘deafness,’ our denials and our deep feelings.

We also must ‘discern’ God’s will for us. I have to seek God’s will and not Crossin’s. This search can be simple or complicated.

We can at times see what God wants us to do quite lucidly. It is completely obvious even if we don’t want to do what God is asking of us. For example we know we should visit our friend who is dying but we are afraid that it will be so painful that we find almost any excuse not to go.

Other calls from God may not be so clear. Here we may wish there was a mathematical equation with a definitive answer. All God gives us are probabilities.

Here are some of the classic criteria for discernment passed on to us by the saints:

A. We need to gather the external data that is available. For example, if God is really calling me to this work, can I live on the income?
B. We might consult our spiritual friends for their wise advice.
C. We can look within to see if the call brings us inner peace and joy.
D. We can spend some significant time in prayer to the Holy Spirit seeking insight.
E. We can decide in the time available—not the time we would like to have.

Of course, many things in life are not our choice. St. Francis de Sales refers to the ‘will of God’s good pleasure.’ He is referring to the daily things that ‘just happen.’ We seek to deal with them in a gentle, humble and loving way.

Flexibility is central to spiritual growth. Even our discernment is subject to the ‘law of unintended consequences.’ We give them to God too!

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Father John Crossin, OSFS is executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He tweets @crossinusccb.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Deeper Conversion to Christ—Ecumenical Lenten Reflections



By Father John Crossin

Progress in spiritual ecumenism is deeply dependent on inner conversion. The problem for us is that our culture is achievement oriented. When we apply for a position, for example, we send our list of achievements in the hope that we will be interviewed for the job.

Busyness is an acceptable excuse for not looking inward. If we read St. Francis de Sales, however, we soon see that he encourages both contemplation and action. He thinks there is a balance and a positive relationship between these two phases of Christian life. Both need to be nourished each day.

We need to take some quiet time each day for God. It is in this inner time that we can become conscious of the obstacles to our deeper conversion to Christ. Here we can identify our outer and inner obstacles.

For example, we may have too much ‘stuff.’ We spend excessive time getting material things and taking care of them. Similarly, we may want to know too much. So we spend too much time watching cable TV or on the internet or using social media.

It may be best to establish our prayer and work times first and then let our ‘news or things time’ fit in as they can. We probably won’t miss much. Most important news will be repeated tomorrow; there will be other sales.

The virtue here is simplicity. Can we live simply enough to allow time to hear the Spirit speaking to us through inner inspirations or the word and example of others? Can we sense the inner peace/joy that the Spirit brings? Can we carry this peace with us into the tasks of the day?

Deeper conversion to Christ will bring us closer to one another and to Christian unity.


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Father John Crossin, OSFS is executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He tweets @crossinusccb.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Christian Churches Together Shows the Power of People of Faith Seeking a Better World Together



By Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski

It was with much joy that I was able to attend the 10th anniversary convocation of Christian Churches Together, the most inclusive ecumenical body in the United States, last week in Arlington, Virginia. CCT was first conceived of in 2001, officially announced until 2002 and held its first meeting in 2006. One of the many gifts of CCT is to be able to pray, reflect and discuss the important issues of our time that unite us in the Christian Faith. Chief concerns of this meeting were racism in the United States, immigration and the plight of our fellow Christians in the Middle East.

Anti-apartheid leader Allan Boesak addressed our group relying on his own experiences in South Africa and speaking of how much uniting ourselves in compassion with one another is crucial to making inroads against racism. In an impassioned talk, Allan Boesak talked of the importance of coming together to honestly address the harm that racism brings not only to the oppressed, but to the oppressor as well.

We also heard about the issue of global poverty and hunger from Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, who informed us that there are currently 52 different wars and insurrections occurring in our world today resulting in 60 million persons being displaced from their homeland. These startling statistics have to provoke Christians everywhere to action, especially to those who are fleeing persecution and sectarian violence.

To look upon the issues of racism, global poverty, immigration and the plight of our fellow Christians who are being persecuted with the eyes of faith gives us great hope that, despite so many obstacles, we can unite in addressing these issues through Christ Jesus.

As CCT celebrates the past ten years of achievement through mutuality and friendship, I look forward to the coming years and all the promise of Christians working together. It is a privilege to share in such a stimulating meeting with fellow Christian leaders who are not afraid of the difficult topics that need the healing presence of Jesus Christ.

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Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, is chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.