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January 31, 2019 – Memorial of Saint John Bosco, Priest

Parable of the Lamp Mark 4:21-25 Why would a person light a lamp and then hide it? A lit lamp is intended to illuminate its surroundings. Through this parable, Mark is likening his hearers to lamps, and the light is the light of Christ. That light must not be hidden. After hearing the word, we must ponder it and become a light for others. Prayer: As children we sang, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine … ” What sweet simplicity. I am going to let Christ’s light shine through me.

Parishes, dioceses feeling the financial pinch

These days, Father John Hollowell sits at his desk and pores over financial statements, trying to figure out how to cut almost 25 percent of his two Indiana parishes’ operating budgets for next year. “McCarrick and friends are coming home to roost in fiscal year 2019-2020 at a parish near you,” Father Hollowell wrote to his 8,800 Twitter followers on Jan. 22. In a recent interview with Our Sunday Visitor, Father Hollowell said he noticed “a pretty sharp decline” in parish weekend collections last summer, when the national clergy sexual abuse crisis exploded anew with revelations that former cardinal Theodore McCarrick was alleged to have harassed and molested minors and seminarians several decades ago. “I totally get why people are doing that. For many people, money is the last form of protest they have to speak to Church authorities,” said Father Hollowell, the pastor of Annunciation Church in Brazil, Indiana, and St. Paul Church in nearby Greencastle. ‘Noticeable’ decline Across the country, other Catholic parishes have seen fewer people donating to the Sunday collections in recent months. In some parishes, the faithful have continued to contribute to their regular collections in order to keep the lights on, but have withheld money from collections designated for their dioceses or the national bishops’ conference. “People love their parish, but they’ve lost trust in the bishops,” said Father Jay Mello, the pastor of two urban parishes in Fall River, Massachusetts. Father Mello told OSV that many parishioners have told him they give less to the second collections that go to the diocese or national organizations. Canon Law and Collections While canon law says that the Catholic faithful are obliged to assist the Church to obtain the resources it needs to carry out its mission, and that the Church has “an innate right” to require those resources from the faithful, there is no canon that requires Catholics to drop a donation in the Sunday collection. However, canon lawyer Edward Peters in his blog last year cautioned Catholics who are considering withholding their money from collections designated for diocesan appeals. A good portion of that money is often shared with parishes, and a sharp decline in second collections could actually hurt parish operations, Peters wrote. “Across-the-board calls for Catholics to withhold donations ‘from the Church’ are subject to so many qualifications and exceptions and ramifications (intended or not) that, well, it seems difficult to defend such calls as being based on convincing reasons,” Peters added. “And that is noticeable,” Father Mello said. Those financial decisions are consistent with how lay Catholics responded to the 2002 clergy sexual abuse crisis, according to data compiled by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University. Three CARA polls conducted in 2003 found that twice as many Catholics as before said that their giving had decreased from 2001 to 2002. About one-third of those respondents said the sexual abuse scandal was a major reason for why they gave less money to the Church. Other CARA polls indicated that the percentage of lay Catholics who had donated to diocesan financial appeals had declined from 38 percent in April 2002 to around 29 percent two years later. “We know in the past that Catholics haven’t been affected in their giving to their parishes, but the abuse scandal has affected their giving to the diocesan collections. We have evidence of that,” said Mark Gray, the director of CARA Catholic Polls. Varied responses Contacted by OSV, several parish priests across the country gave differing responses to how the abuse scandals had impacted their finances. Some, like Father Mello in Massachusetts, saw little to no change in their parish collections. “I haven’t — in fact, my collections have been up the last year, with the exception of last weekend because of the snow,” Father Mello said in mid-January. He added that pastors can ...

Establishment of religion under scrutiny

Will a 94-year-old cross-shaped memorial honoring servicemen who died in World War I be the vehicle for a Supreme Court decision that affirms a more realistic interpretation of the Constitution’s ban on a governmental “establishment” of religion? That question will move a step closer to its answer on Feb. 27 when the Supreme Court spends an hour hearing oral arguments in a case called American Legion v. American Humanist Association . The American Legion is a military veterans’ organization, while the American Humanist Association describes itself as an advocacy group on behalf of “humanists, atheists and freethinkers.” From a constitutional perspective, the case concerns the First Amendment clause forbidding an official “establishment of religion.” Legal authorities say the Supreme Court’s attempts to explain what that means currently are in a state of maximum confusion — a state of “shambles,” says Justice Clarence Thomas — that cries out for clarification. The Supreme Court is expected to announce a decision in the spring. Recent objections The 40-foot granite and cement Latin cross at the center of the present dispute — universally known to locals as the Peace Cross — stands on the median of a busy highway in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Bladensburg, Maryland. There it pays silent tribute to 49 men from Prince George’s County who lost their lives in military service during the First World War. The idea for the cross originated with a group of private citizens, including mothers of 10 of the men. The American Legion took over responsibility for the project in 1922, and the town then turned over the land on which the memorial stands to that group. The cross was completed and dedicated in 1925, and the National Park Service added it to its register of historic places in 2015. The plaque remembers the 49 men who died. Flickr via Maryland GovPics In 1961, largely for traffic safety reasons, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission — a public entity — acquired both the cross and the land it stands on. Since then, it has spent approximately $117,000 for upkeep of the memorial, with another $100,000 set aside for restoration work. The memorial met with no objection until 2014, when the Humanist Association and three individuals complained of “unwelcome contact” with the cross, suing the park and planning commission on Establishment Clause grounds. The American Legion entered the case in defense of the memorial. A federal district court held in 2015 that the cross is constitutional, but a divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled against it. Last year the full Court of Appeals refused 8-6 to reconsider that decision. One judge suggested removing the arms from the cross to make it acceptable. The Lemon test Central to the case is a three-part test of religious “establishment” adopted by the Supreme Court in 1971 in a case called Lemon v. Kurtzman . The three “prongs” of the test identified by the court are that an arrangement involving interaction between the government and religion have a “legitimate secular purpose,” that it not involve “impermissibly endorsing religion,” and that it not create “excessive entanglement” between the two. Applying that test to the Peace Cross, the three-judge panel concluded that, although the memorial serves the secular purpose of honoring the war dead, a “reasonable observer” would see endorsing religion as its “primary effect,” while using public money for its upkeep involves “excessive religious entanglement.” The case has brought numerous critics of the Lemon decision into the field, arguing that it foments religious conflict rather than preventing it. They see the three-prong test as an unworkable guide that allows some instances of church-state interaction while rejecting others for no clear reason. But one thing Lemon unquestionably has encouraged is colorful judicial language. Thus the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia ...

Seven Sisters Apostolate brings healing, peace through prayer

As the recent wave of the clergy sex abuse crisis continues to unfold, many laypeople are seeking ways to actively facilitate healing within the Church. One ministry for women has found greater purpose amid the crisis doing just that. Started in 2011 by Janette Howe of St. Paul, Minnesota, the Seven Sisters Apostolate brings hope and healing to the Church as women commit to praying weekly Holy Hours for their pastor, priest, bishop or even Pope Francis. Together they “cover” hundreds of clergy in prayer every day of the year. Around the country and the world, Howe said, women are responding, saying: “‘I can do something’ rather than call someone and speak about it and vent and maybe even move to gossiping about it. They’re saying, ‘this is what I can do to maybe reverse things or to heal.’” Grace in numbers As a member of the Seven Sisters, women make a yearlong commitment to pray for an hour either in adoration or before the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle on a specific day of the week in groups of seven, thereby covering the entire week. Initially the apostolate was intended to serve pastors, but now some of the roughly 750 groups also are praying for other members of the clergy. Currently more than 5,200 women are praying in 39 states and eight other countries. They range from teens to those in their 80s, and they come from all backgrounds. Howe believes the Holy Spirit inspired her to form the apostolate specifically for women, adding that men can pray on their own or serve as substitutes. Though women aren’t called to be priests, Howe said, God entrusts them to “pray into this life, into this situation, into this call of something you’re never going to be called to. I think it really causes us to lean into the guidance of the Holy Spirit: ‘How do I pray for a priest?’” There is no set format for prayer, though sisters are asked to pray for the priest or bishop’s increased devotion to the Blessed Mother. Deeper peace, love Chris Heiderscheidt of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, said she responded to a call to pray for her pastor “because they are human beings, and the climate of the Church requires that they, more than anybody in the world, recognize and stand in love and not get distracted by what the devil is up to.” “He’s a man, and we need to pray for his holiness, and that is not something I ever recognized before (joining Seven Sisters),” said Connie Mungia of Raymond, Nebraska. “When you have a holy priest, you have a holy Church.” Father Joseph Bergida, parochial vicar at St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Clifton, Virginia, and a Seven Sisters prayer recipient, said the prayer fortifies priests who need the graces for their ministry. “I think as priests are seeking to be faithful to their vocation, they’re coming under more attack from the enemy,” Father Bergida said. “I think it also helps priests realize that their priesthood is appreciated by the faithful.” Father Bergida introduced his parish to the Seven Sisters Apostolate this past summer, just as another wave of the clergy sex abuse scandal was breaking. He said parishioners have thanked him for giving them a way to respond. And Father Bergida said he appreciates the daily prayers. “I notice this deeper sense of peace where certain things had been more difficult, or where I had been responding to them with a sense of burden — that’s been removed,” he said. Fruit of prayer Parishioners are noticing changes in their pastors as well. During the two years Estella Robles has been praying as a Seven Sister, she’s noticed her pastor has begun to delegate more. Prayer has made it easier to follow his lead, she said. “We look more at the big picture and see how Father has brought us together.” Christ’s real presence transforms women’s hearts as they hope their priest is benefiting from the prayers, Howe said. They’ve also found a healthy sense of unity with their priests. “I think there’s a great discipline of call that the women are saying, ‘my prayer for one priest is ...

January 30, 2019 – Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

The Parable of the Sower/The Purpose of the Parables Mark 4:1-20 Mark introduces Jesus’ unique teaching style using parables. They are similes or metaphors that draw themes from nature or from the common life of the people. They invite the listeners to doubt and question their ways and ultimately move them to God’s way. The Parable of the Sower speaks to the faith and belief of an individual and of a community. Prayer: We have all been blessed with extraordinary teachers at some point in our lives. Pray for them today.

House members introduce bipartisan measure to ban abortions at 20 weeks

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, was joined by more than 100 other members of the House Jan. 24 in introducing the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act of 2019, a measure that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of gestation. Smith, a Catholic, who is co-chairman of the House Pro-Life Caucus, is the lead sponsor of the bill, which cites research showing that unborn babies "can feel agonizing pain" at 20 weeks of development. "The majority of Americans -- some 59 percent according to a recent poll -- support legal protection for pain-capable unborn children," Smith said in introducing the bill. He was referring to results of an annual poll of Americans' views on abortion conducted by the Marist Poll at Marist College and sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. The poll also showed that 75 percent of respondents want "substantial" restrictions on abortion access even as more than half of respondents describe themselves as "pro-choice." The poll was conducted Jan. 8-10 and the results were released ahead of the Jan. 18 March for Life. "Today we know that unborn babies not only die but suffer excruciating pain during dismemberment abortion -- a cruelty that rips arms and legs off a helpless child," Smith said. "This tragic human rights abuse must end." Smith’s bipartisan bill contains additional provisions to ensure that two physicians are present to provide care for an unborn child who survives an abortion, and states that the baby must be transported and admitted to a hospital. "These are very developed babies -- these babies are capable of feeling pain and are considered by the medical profession to be a second patient,” said Jennifer Popik, legislative director for National Right to Life. Similar laws are on the books in 17 states and three more states ban abortion after 20 weeks for other reasons. The legislation would punish doctors who perform an abortion after 20 weeks, except in cases of rape, incest or if the life of the mother is threatened. Women seeking abortions would not be penalized under the bill. "This legislation has saved lives, driving abortionists out of states who are performing abortions on these babies," Popik said in a statement supporting the measure. "And this legislation has the power to speak to the people of this country, highlighting, that where this bill is not law, it is legal to kill these very developed unborn children." The House passed the bill in October 2017, but in January 2018, the Senate failed to pass its version of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. President Donald Trump had said he would have signed the measure if it had passed both houses of Congress. "The Senate's rejection of this common-sense legislation is radically out of step with most Americans," Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York said in a statement as then-chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

January 29, 2019 – Tuesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Jesus and His Family Mark 3:31-35 This passage in Mark’s Gospel may seem oddly inserted, yet it is clearly intended as a response to the blasphemous scribes. Jesus tells the crowd that, more than family ties, doing God’s will is essential for being part of Jesus’ family, the kingdom of God. Prayer: I pray, in words not quite the same as the Psalmist, “Here I am, trying, though not always understanding, not always succeeding. I want to do your will. Please show me the way.”

January 28, 2019 – Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Blasphemy of the Scribes/Jesus and Beelzebul Mark 3:22-30 The scribes continue to build their case against Jesus. He responds to their accusation that he is possessed by Beelzebul with parables about divided houses and divided kingdoms. He tells them in no uncertain terms that he and all who follow him are possessed by God's Spirit. Prayer: St. Thomas, your writings inspire and challenge. Pray for us.

January 27, 2019 – Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Prologue/The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry/The Rejection at Nazareth Luke1:1-4, 4:14-21 Luke introduces his gospel with his reasons for writing. The gospel continues with Jesus returning home. Though early in his ministry, news of him has spread. He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath and reads from the prophet Isaiah. The passage explains Jesus’ mission, and he concludes his reading by saying that the words of Isaiah are fulfilled in him. Prayer: Your mission continues, by the power of the Holy Spirit. You are the fulfillment of the prophecy, and your Church is the fulfillment on earth of your ministry.

January 26, 2019 – Memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus, Bishops

Blasphemy of the Scribes Mark 3:20-21 Jesus returns home. Crowds gather, making it impossible for him to rest and eat. Even his relatives, though concerned for him and his well-being, cannot help but think he is out of his mind. Prayer: I think about that saying, "You can't go home again." That is a natural consequence of being sent on the journey with you. You are my home.