Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Five Things To Remember On Nov. 27

1. The USCCB continues the tradition of providing online resources for the Advent and Christmas seasons with daily suggestions for prayer, reflection and action beginning on the first Sunday of Advent, December 1. The content is presented in a clickable calendar format, with each date opening a page of suggestions and links.

2. How do you prepare for Christmas? Our Photo contest begins Dec.1, which is the first Sunday of Advent. Copies of the books "The Simple Wisdom of Pope Francis" will be given out as part of the contest.

3. The interim accord with Iran that would limit its nuclear program in exchange for some sanctions relief “is greatly preferable to military action, which could have unpredictable and negative repercussions for the region,” said the chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the USCCB in a November 27 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.

4. We will be out of the office during Thursday and Friday. We wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving.

5. God loves you.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Five Things To Remember On Nov. 26

1. Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel, has people all over the world talking. It places the Church's focus on supporting the poor, marginalized and defenseless as keys for society.

2. The chairman of the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, Wisconsin, welcomed the release of exhortation. Bishop Ricken added: "He is showing us how to live the Gospels and reach out to the world with what every person needs, a relationship with God. He is leading the world to deeper faith, and the bishops of the United States happily receive this exhortation with faith and look forward to sharing it in our dioceses.”

3. Thirty-two percent of working-age Catholics have given online to some cause at some point in the past. Among these, 17 percent donated online using automated payments, according to a report on U.S. Catholic and online giving from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University.

4. To get a broader understanding of the exhortation, watch this great, short Catholic News Service video.

5. God loves you.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanks for Pope Francis

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

It’s the time of year to think about what to be thankful for.

Top of my list is Pope Francis, who has brought new life to the Catholic Church. It seems like we’re in a bit of a renaissance. People who had written off the church are taking time to pause to hear the church’s message – a tried and true message now told in a different way. People of other faiths want to talk about Pope Francis. I have a no-nonsense physician, who is Jewish. She’s the in-and-out type, with no time to spare. Until the last time I saw her and she wanted to talk about the pope. I wound up late for work.

The other day I heard a telling anecdote. Sister John Mary Fleming, the Dominican nun who is the bishops’ secretary for education, was in an airport security line. She felt someone tugging on her habit and turned. “What do you think of him?” the stranger asked. “I like him,” she answered. “What do you think of him?” Meanwhile a man a couple people back, joined the conversation: “Are you talking about Pope Francis?” he queried. And the conversation was off.

We’re hearing plain speak from the papacy. From the start the pope’s said we need to be a church this is poor and for the poor. He speaks in practicalities: wasting food is like taking it away from the poor, he says, for example.

He uses images we can understand; he says he is like a doctor – he offers healing, he prescribes the rosary. He says priests should be so united to their people that they smell like the sheep.

He offers homespun humor, such as papal advice to a mother hoping her son will soon get married: “Stop ironing his shirts.”

“He acts like a parish priest,” a cleric told me. That’s a shot-in-the-arm for a cadre of men who have been bruised over the last decade because of the sexual abuse crisis, culture wars, and general anti-institution attitude in society.

Media are looking for hard evidence of the Francis effect. They want data. But it is too soon for that. Anecdotes abound however. Priests report people returning to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Church-going Catholics report seeing strangers at Mass. Such things occur after disasters like 9/11. Can a new pope’s message of love have the same emotional impact as being terrified by something you fear is a precursor to Armageddon? Does this suggest love is stronger than fear?

There is something exciting here and it’s one more reason to give thanks this year.

Five Things To Remember On Nov. 25

1. The USCCB Subcommittee on the Church in Africa approved 38 grants totaling $948,195 to assist the Church in Africa. The subcommittee approved the grants during their November 10 meeting in Baltimore.

2. The USCCB has produced English and Spanish-language versions of a video highlighting Pope Francis reaching out to the poor, vulnerable and defenseless. You can watch both below.

3. Over the weekend, the USCCB Blog passed its one millionth page view milestone. Series, such as last week’s popular JFK reflection entries, have helped propel the USCCB into a daily must-read blog, along with “Five Things To Remember.” The blog continues to grow its subscriber list and has seen steady readership growth during the last year thanks to interaction through social media. Thanks to all who have made this possible.

4. Download our family Advent calendar with suggestions for prayer, reflection and action.

5. God loves you.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Five Things To Remember On Nov. 22

1. Today, the country looks back at the legacy of John F. Kennedy on the country and his death on this day 50 years ago. All week long we've featured this series of blogs where scholars talk about JFK's impact on politics, society and Catholicism in the U.S.

2. Catholic News Service looks back at JFK's death in this moving video.

3. Indianapolis Bishop Christopher Coyne, who is also on Twitter, will present two sessions today at the National Catholic Youth Conference about powering down to power up. The technologically-saavy bishop should have a lot to share with the NYYC attendees. Live streaming of other sessions is happening as well.

4. Pope Francis has emphasized the importance of church during his papacy and today's Gospel reading allowed him to reflect on the reasons we go there.

5. God loves you.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Five Things To Remember On Nov. 21

1. “The decision by the Illinois legislature and the governor to redefine marriage in law does not alter the natural reality that marriage is and can only be the union of one man and one woman,” said Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, responding to the decision by the Illinois legislature and the governor to redefine marriage. “Furthermore, marriage redefinition is a serious injustice. The law exists to safeguard the common good and protect authentic rights, especially the right of children to have a married mother and father.”

2. Catholics will be asked “How do you prepare for Christmas?” and encouraged to share photos in exchange for a new book series on Pope Francis from the USCCB. The question and book giveaway will be posted at beginning December 1, the first Sunday of Advent.

3. Lino Rulli, a popular Catholic radio show host, discusses Pope Francis' success in the mainstream media.

4. The National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis will begin today in Indianapolis. More than 20,000 young people will be there, along with many bishops. Follow social media talk, which will be very busy, at #NCYC.

5. God loves you.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Five Things To Remember On Nov. 20

1. The Simple Wisdom of Pope Francis Series, two brief books of homespun messages of Pope Francis, have been released by the USCCB Communications Department. The first, on hope, is 66 pages; the second, on evangelization, is 73.

2. The USCCB Subcommittee on Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe evaluated and approved grant proposals for 2014 during the bishops’ annual fall General Assembly, November 11-14, in Baltimore. The subcommittee approved 61 grants for a total of $1,608,639 in aid.

3. Margaret Steinfels, former editor of Commonweal Magazine and recently retired from the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture contributes a new blog in our series on the anniversary of JFK's death. It's an entry called, "From Rational Argument to Political Polarization"

4. Did you know Pope Francis goes to Confession every two weeks?

5. God loves you

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Five Things To Remember On Nov. 19

1. Our blog continues the series reflecting on the legacy of John F. Kennedy, this time with an entry by Father Daniel Coughlin, who was chaplain of the House of Representatives. He reflects on the President Kennedy's gift of language and the art of prayer.

2.Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City has been appointed chairman of the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Board of Directors by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the USCCB. Archbishop Kurtz made the announcement November 19.

3. Pope Francis reminds his Twitter followers that saints were people, too, saying: "The Saints were not superhuman. They were people who loved God in their hearts, and who shared this joy with others."

4. Download our family Advent calendar with suggestions for prayer, reflection and action.

5. God loves you.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Looking back on the first Catholic U.S. President, John F. Kennedy

This blog will feature posts by four scholars looking back on the contribution of America’s first and only Catholic president. The posts will run Nov. 18-21, leading up to the Nov. 22nd anniversary of the assassination.

Posters include:

Father J. Bryan Hehir, a Boston priest and professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, who looks at Kennedy’s famous Houston address that centered on the President’s responsibilities to his religion

Father Daniel Coughlin, a Chicago priest and the first Catholic chaplain of the U.S. House of Representative. Father Coughlin looks at Kennedy’s gift of language and the art of prayer.

Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, former editor of Commonweal Magazine, recently retired from the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture. Steinfels looks at the values that Catholic politicians once brought to politics—rational argument and respect for institutions—now drowned in the passions stirred by the culture wars and political polarization.

John Carr
, director of the new Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University and Washington correspondent for America Magazine. Carr served as the director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ justice and peace work for more than 20 years. He reflects on the lifelong impact of the first Catholic President on a pre-teen Catholic.

President Kennedy and the Vocation of Politics

By Father J. Bryan Hehir

As the first and only Catholic President, John F. Kennedy’s election marked a turning point in presidential history. He knew his Catholicism would shadow his campaign. Yet, he was determined, as he put it, not to be the Catholic candidate but the Democratic Party’s candidate for the presidency. However much he sought to focus on the secular issues rather than the “religious issue,” the debate about his faith followed him, so he took his case to the heart of the Bible belt, Houston, to a meeting of Protestant (mainly Baptist) ministers.

Evaluations of his address continue to this day. The immediate response was that the encounter in Houston was a strategic success, a statement about religion and politics that fitted securely within the ambit of the First Amendment. Many believed it was crucial to his election. Within a generation, the address was a point of contention rather than a consensus statement. By the 1980s religion had taken on new visibility and salience in U.S. politics. In election after election religious affiliation and party participation had grown to the point where Robert Putnam (American Grace) and others argued that frequency of church attendance was a dominate predictor of party affiliation.

Within the Catholic community, which had voted overwhelmingly for Kennedy, some argued that in his drive to demonstrate his independence Kennedy had split asunder his religious convictions and his conception of presidential responsibility. Other Catholic voices stressed the severe test Kennedy faced in Houston and in the election and recognized the necessity of his drawing firm lines in the complex field of the U.S. constitutional context.

Beyond the Catholic community a broader debate about the address was whether any presidential candidate could separate religious conviction and constitutional responsibility as sharply as Kennedy had. Today, liberals and conservatives, evangelicals and secularists, all seem to want (for different reasons) exact answers to discrete questions about faith and politics. Some want a comprehensive accounting of faith positions; others want only a “private” role for faith; others lament the whole debate of faith and politics.

Once elected, Kennedy catalyzed a generation’s interest in public service. He advocated a broad range of policies and programs, many of which took longer than his lifetime to be realized. If the Houston address symbolized the religion-politics issues, Kennedy’s Inaugural Address set out his conception of “the long twilight struggle” ahead.

The single event which carries his legacy in U.S. history is the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. Usually regarded as the closest the U.S. and Soviet Union came to nuclear war, the crisis tested not Kennedy’s religion but his strategic determination and sense of ethical restraint. Like the Houston address, successive decades have brought revisionist accounts of his handling of the crisis. While the dominant view still securely regards his actions as necessary and yet restrained and his management of the crisis as brave and effective, the broader debate runs from positions that he conceded too much to his following a policy of reckless risk.

Kennedy’s administration left a legacy of strategic concepts which came to be regarded as the baseline for managing the nuclear age. Catholic voices from the papacy to parishioners have repeatedly called for going beyond managing nuclear weapons to abolishing them. Support for this has expanded in our time. But the means and methods to achieving this goal still draw heavily on the Kennedy legacy.

In retrospect, I found the Houston address a bit too absolute in its separation of religion and politics, but I believe the time required a position very close to what Kennedy adopted. Likewise, I believe a new century should find a more secure answer to the nuclear age, but a better answer will depend on the Kennedy legacy.

Father J. Bryan Hehir is a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston and the archdiocese’s secretary for health and human services. He also serves as a faculty member at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

To read more in this series, visit "Looking back on the first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy"

President Kennedy’s Gift of Language and the Art of Prayer

By Father Daniel Coughlin

As the first Catholic priest to serve as chaplain of the U. S. House of Representatives, I witnessed many historic events and led moments of prayer. On January 20, 2011, Members of both chambers and both political parties gathered with the Kennedy family and their friends in Statuary Hall to mark the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s famous Inaugural speech.

Everyone was frozen in silence as we listened to a recording of that young, strong voice who invited Americans to celebrate “not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom – symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning – signifying renewal, as well as change.” The words chosen seemed to spring from a sacramental background even hinting at the Paschal Mystery as a means for interpreting human history.

In fact, the whole speech was framed by his belief in a living and ever-present God both at its beginning and in the end. In his first paragraph, he said: “For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath … Man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe – the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”

Near the end of his speech he extends this Catholic vision of concern and service to a “grand and global alliance…that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind.” Then he asks: “Will you join in that historic effort?”…

“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country….Knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

Kennedy’s choice of words made a great difference. As I sat there it was an affirmation of my own efforts to find secular language for prayer in Congress. So filled with a Catholic perspective of humanity, personal power, the needs of the world and the priority concern for the weak and the poor, President Kennedy’s words still stirs the heart and imagination of America.

To establish a common language for prayer I never worked to be “politically correct.” I steered clear of political issues and looked for a deeper understanding of “Divine Providence” used by the nation’s founders and more compassion for the problems facing members of Congress and our nation.

Since sworn in as chaplain, I exhort people to pray for those in government. But I am often stunned by the response – “those crooks,” “those numbskulls.” That makes me wonder if people really do pray at all for government or if they know how to draw from Kennedy’s example and find for themselves a positive way of praying. By reflection on our prayer I believe we could change the polemic in Washington and wipe away the negative attitude across the nation. When praying for government, I suggest we do two things. First, suspend judgment – leave that to The Almighty. Truly name the issues as sacrifice and let go of them as you place them before God. Name those in leadership and trust the Lord knows them – at least better than you do. Second, take steps daily to pray as someone truly free. In the presence of God, pray without an agenda. Do we really think that God needs our advice on how to settle disputed questions? Perhaps God is more interested in converting our hearts into loving care for our huge and diverse country than hearing our political opinions.

In our public prayer, we Catholics pray for the pope and bishops as well as for civic leaders because of their important positions whether we know or agree with them or not. They always need our faith-filled and hope-driven prayer.

Remember: the same Spirit which animates our prayer unites us and gifts us with peace.


Father Daniel P. Coughlin is a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago and was the first Catholic chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, 2000-2011.

From Rational Argument to Political Polarization

By Margaret O’Brien Steinfels

When John Kennedy was elected president in 1960, the Catholic Church was still five years from officially acknowledging the value of separating church and state. Kennedy’s effort to explain his own views as a Catholic before a group of Protestant ministers in Houston resolved that neuralgic issue as far as the U.S. electorate was concerned. In recent years, Catholics have quibbled over whether he gave away too much in order to win his election. This intra-church debate will not be resolved short of a return to a more cohesive sense of the Catholic values that once typified Kennedy’s approach and that of other Catholic politicians.

For much of the 20th century those values were closely tied to politicians representing an immigrant population gradually assimilating into American society. Kennedy’s campaign and his speech were an important occasion for advancing that process. In Houston, he demonstrated that reasoned argument could be rhetorically marshaled in a way that triumphed over deep-seated prejudice.

A long Catholic tradition of philosophical discourse and moral casuistry — describing, differentiating, and analyzing the elements of one’s position—served to clarify choices whether of individuals, communities or political systems. Concepts such as “double effect,” “end and means,” “the lesser of two evils,” and “unintended consequences” fostered compromise in politics and promoted pragmatism in governance. Reasoned argument had the further value of tempering an American tradition of moralism. Quoting Scripture or reiterating doctrinal beliefs did not assure a winning political argument, nor did personal righteousness insure sound policy.

A second important Catholic value in political life was respect for institutions and their rules. Catholic Congressmen, John McCormick, Tip O’Neil, and Thomas Foley, who each served as Speaker of the House, saw their role not so much as promoting the partisan advantage of their party but managing the legislative process and the interests of all its members. Some would call it wheeling and dealing, but it fostered a sense of comity and resulted in compromise that served the interests of the country and its citizens.

Church authorities also made their contributions to these political values. In 1983, when Cardinal Joseph Bernardin enunciated the consistent ethic of life, he placed before politicians and voters alike a measuring stick for choosing candidates and framing legislation. His proposal had the merit of joining though not equating seemingly disparate issues as abortion, poverty, and warfare. Like Kennedy, the hallmark of Cardinal Bernardin’s appeal was reasoned argument. And it reminded everyone that Catholic moral principles did not fall neatly along partisan issues.

Over the last 30 years that standard though sometimes invoked has been largely ignored in the bitter partisanship that has eroded the nation’s capacity for effective governance. Indeed, the values that Catholic politicians once brought to politics—rational argument and respect for institutions—have been drowned in the passions stirred by the culture wars and political polarization.


Margaret Steinfels, former editor of Commonweal Magazine, recently retired from the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture.