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December 15, 2018 – Saturday of the Second Week of Advent

The Coming of Elijah Matthew 17:9A, 10-13 Jesus tells the disciples that John the Baptist’s mission did in fact fulfill the expectations of those looking for Elijah to return, but he was not recognized. In the same way, the Son of Man is not recognized and will suffer and die like John. Prayer: Lord, I am thankful to see you in your Word and sacrament. I pray to be able to see you in others, especially those who choose not to see or hear, whose hearts are hardened.

December 14, 2018 – Memorial of Saint John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Jesus’ Testimony to John, cont’d Matthew 11:16-19 Jesus is frustrated by the hypocrisy of the people. He tells the crowd their behavior is like that of petulant children. John is judged and rejected for his ascetic ways, and Jesus is rejected for keeping company with the people, especially those shunned by society. In the end the ways of both John and Jesus will prove to be pleasing to God. Prayer: St. John, you said that we will be judged on how well we have loved in our lives. Pray for me that I love always in a way pleasing to God.

December 13, 2018 – Memorial of Saint Lucy, Virgin and Martyr

Jesus’ Testimony to John Matthew 11:11-15 Jesus reminds the crowds that John is the greatest of all the prophets. He is the prophet who announces the fulfillment of the Kingdom and at the same time the herald of one greater. The crowds are rejecting the Kingdom through their opposition. Jesus warns them that they must listen. Prayer: Perhaps I am not being honest with myself in thinking I would in no way reject Jesus. St. Lucy, pray for me that I might be more aware of what I do and say. I hope to light the way for all I encounter.

Primacy vs. synodality

Something that happened at a bishops’ meeting nearly half a century ago raises questions about the Vatican’s action this past November telling the U.S. bishops to cancel a scheduled vote on two proposals for self-policing on sexual abuse. It also illustrates the built-in tension between two interlocking principles — “primacy” and “synodality” — that today are increasingly shaping the Church. The earlier incident is recounted in my book about secrecy in the Church, “Nothing To Hide” (Ignatius). It occurred just before the general meeting of the U.S. hierarchy held in April of 1972 in Atlanta. Five months earlier, the bishops had voted to set aside their practice of meeting behind closed doors and open the proceedings to the media and observers. As director of media relations for what was then called the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, I was one of those who’d argued for this step. On the eve of the spring general meeting, the bishops’ administrative committee met to review the agenda. At a coffee break, Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia, who’d been elected president of the Conference the previous November, approached me holding a sheet of paper and looking angry. The cardinal had a reputation for being tough. But he also was notably fair man with a wry sense of humor. “I just got this message from Rome,” he said. “They’re very worried at the idea that the bishops are going to allow reporters in. They want me to prevent it. You know very well that I opposed the idea from the start. But the bishops voted for it, and it’s my job as president of the Conference to see that their decision is carried out — and I will.” He paused and, fixing me with a glare I took to be only partly humorous, added, “I bet you think that’s funny.” Although the cardinal proved good as his word, he also managed to take his revenge. As the meeting got underway, he addressed the bishops and reporters for the first several minutes in Latin. Fast forward to the bishops’ recent meeting in Baltimore and the scrubbing of the vote on the two proposals. This incident has been reported and commented on repeatedly since then. No need to repeat here much of what has already been said. But it is helpful to reflect on the tension clearly illustrated in what happened between synodality — the decision-making authority of a group of bishops such as an episcopal conference or a synod — and primacy — the absolute authority enjoyed by the pope and, by extension, agencies of the Roman curia acting in his name to answer questions, settle issues and make decisions anywhere in the Church. In noting this tension, furthermore, it’s helpful to consider the contrast between what happened in Baltimore and what happened in Atlanta in 1972. Although some element of conflict between primacy and synodality is unavoidable, it would make good sense to develop clearer ground rules for the relationship than apparently now exist. “We are not branch managers of the Vatican,” one bishop reminded his brothers during the debate in Baltimore. The Vatican no doubt would agree — and then go on to add that the pope always retains universal jurisdiction in the Church. Isn’t there some middle ground? Back in 1972, when the term “synodality” was not yet in use, Cardinal Krol’s decision expressed the wisdom of letting local bishops facing sensitive practical issues handle them as they judge best, without last minute interventions by people in Rome who lack an experience-based grasp of the facts. That sounds like a sound principle to me. Russell Shaw is an OSV Newsweekly contributing editor.

Study shows young adults leaving church start down that path at age 13

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (CNS) -- To find Catholics who have left the church, start looking at the faces in the pews, according to a recent report. A 2018 study on young adults leaving the Catholic Church found people stopped identifying as Catholics at a median age of 13, long before they ceased attending a parish. The report adds to the picture of a church that more people are leaving and that fewer ever want to return to. At a Nov. 29 symposium prior to the start of the Santa Clara Faith Formation Conference, researchers from St. Mary's Press discussed the findings from their study. Titled "Going, Going, Gone: the Dynamics of Catholic Disaffiliation," the report presented an in-depth look at stories of the men and women who left Catholicism. Robert J. McCarty, one of the study authors, told the audience that about a third of respondents left over church teaching, most often that on same-sex marriage and homosexuality. "Young people see dealing with the gay community as an issue of social justice and human dignity, not an issue of sexuality," he said. Study participants also said they stopped identifying as Catholics because of a disbelief in religion, or a personal or familial change in their religious denomination. About half of those who left Catholicism joined another religion, while 35 percent became "nones," unaffiliated with any particular religious tradition. Less than a fifth of respondents became atheists or agnostics. According to St. Mary's Press research, many of the respondents who stopped identifying as Catholics tended to have weak signs of attachment to the church. More than half of respondents said when they identified as Catholic they attended Mass a few times a year or less. Two-thirds of them had made their first Communion, but only a third had received confirmation. Nearly 60 percent had never been involved in any religious education or youth ministry. Although their work focused on young adults age 15 to 25, McCarty said disaffiliation from the church is not a problem of youth ministry but a systemic crisis in handing on the faith. According to Pew Research Center, a little over a third of the adults born between 1981 and 1996 do not identify with any religion tradition. Around 13 percent of U.S. adults are former Catholics. Part of the story of disaffiliation is the decline of social trust in all institutions. The young age of disaffiliation suggests families play an important role in choosing to leave Catholicism, McCarty said, but he also pointed to the experience of community at churches. "Our faith community enables us to encounter Jesus: If the community doesn't do that, it's easier for us to walk away," he said. Disaffiliation happens slowly, McCarty said, with faith gradually disappearing until a crisis forces people to make a choice. Above all, the rise in disaffiliation reflects "the secularization of culture where faith and belief are optional and not a given," he said. The end of religious practice is not the end of spiritual desire: McCarty noted study respondents were still intensely interested in finding meaning, dignity, justice and community. But for 87 percent of respondents, nothing the church could do would bring them back to Catholicism. Responses to disaffiliation have varied. Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron, a participant in the recently concluded Synod of Bishops on young people, has argued for "a renewed apologetics and catechesis" that will allow for "an intelligent, respectful, and culturally sensitive explication of the faith. "The church must walk with young people, listen to them with attention and love, and then be ready intelligently to give a reason for the hope that is within us," he said. Whether people will continue to form religious identities absent an interest in God is in question. A recent Pew Research Center study on what gives meaning to people's lives found that only 10 percent of American adults under 30 mention "spirituality, faith, or God" when ...

New law will provide relief to genocide victims in Iraq, Syria

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- President Donald Trump has signed into law the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2018, which will provide humanitarian relief to genocide victims in Iraq and Syria and hold accountable Islamic State perpetrators of genocide. "The legislation signed today again reminds us of America's earlier efforts to aid victims of genocide -- Christian communities targeted by Ottomans a century ago and Jewish survivors of Shoah," Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in a Dec. 11 statement. With the bill now law, "America speaks with bold moral clarity and political unanimity," he added. Anderson and other officials of the Knights of Columbus took part in a signing ceremony at the White House. As chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services praised the new law, calling it a "critical" measure and "a signal of hope for the critically vulnerable of this region." The law enables financial and technical assistance for the humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery needs of former and current religious minority residents of Iraq and Syria. The assistance may come through the federal government or other entities, including faith-based groups. In addition, the act enables the U.S. Department of State -- in collaboration with other federal agencies -- to conduct criminal investigations and apprehend individuals identified as alleged IS members, and to identify warning signs of genocide and threats of persecution. In Iraq, the number of Christians is below 200,000, down from 1.4 million in 2002 and 500,000 in 2013, before IS militants went on a genocidal campaign, according to figures provided by Smith's congressional office. Many of the remaining Christians in Iraq are displaced, mostly in Irbil in the Kurdistan region, and need assistance to return to their homes and stay in Iraq. Of the 550,000 Yezidis who remain in Iraq, about 280,000 are still displaced and also need assistance to return to their homes. The U.S. House of Representatives Nov. 27 unanimously passed the measure, known as H.R. 390. The Senate in an earlier vote passed its version of the measure unanimously. Before the House vote, Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, said in remarks on the floor: "When genocide or other atrocity crimes are perpetrated, the United States should direct some of its humanitarian, stabilization and recovery aid to enable these groups to survive -- especially when they are minorities whose existence as a people is at risk." "We should commit to such a response whether the victims are the Rohingya in Burma or Christians and Yezidis in Iraq and Syria," he added. Earlier that day, he said, he had met with Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, Iraq, who told him: "Christians in Iraq are still at the brink of extinction. H.R. 390 is vital to our survival. If it becomes law, implementation must be full and fast. Otherwise, the help it provides will be too late for us." Smith, who is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, introduced the legislation in 2016 and again in 2017, with lead Democratic co-sponsor Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California. More than a dozen Democrats and Republicans also co-sponsored H.R. 390. Anderson had twice testified in support of the bill before Smith's House subcommittee, and Smith told House members that his testimony "was the blueprint for the legislation." He praised the Knights for being "unflagging supporters of the bill." Since 2014, the Knights of Columbus has committed more than $20 million for relief efforts on behalf of Christians and other religious minorities in the region. In October, the Knights signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Agency for International Development for how religious minorities are to be assisted in the rebuilding and stabilization of their communities. Besides the Knights, a number of religious ...

High court won't hear states' appeals over defunding Planned Parenthood

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pro-life leaders said they were disappointed the U.S. Supreme Court declined Dec. 10 to hear appeals from Kansas and Louisiana on lower court rulings that have stopped the states from blocking Medicaid funds going to Planned Parenthood. "Complicated legal arguments don't take away from the simple fact that a majority of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortion," said Jeanne Mancini, who is president of March for Life. "America's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, is responsible for more than 300,000 abortions each year and was recently found to be involved with the harvesting and trafficking of body parts from aborted babies," she said in a statement issued shortly after the high court declined to hear the states' appeals. "Abortion is not health care, it is a human rights abuse," Mancini added. "Until Planned Parenthood ceases to perform abortions, they should not receive any money from taxpayers." Federal funds cannot be used to pay for abortion, but pro-life advocates say Planned Parenthood should not get Medicaid funding because its facilities primarily perform abortions. Also, the organization has been accused of making a profit on providing fetal body parts to researchers. Planned Parenthood officials and its supporters say the Medicaid funds are used only to help low-income women receive wellness services, cancer screenings, pregnancy tests and birth control. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the national pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, said that despite the Supreme Court declining to take the two states' appeals, the pro-life grassroots movement "will not stop fighting until every single tax dollar is untangled from the abortion industry led by Planned Parenthood." She said the pro-life citizens of Kansas, Louisiana and other states "do not want Medicaid tax dollars used to prop up abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood." "We support their right to redirect taxpayer funds away from entities that destroy innocent lives and instead fund comprehensive community health care alternatives that outnumber Planned Parenthood facilities at least 20 to one nationwide," Dannenfelser added. The court issued the 6-3 order in the cases of Andersen v. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri and Gee v. Planned Parenthood of Gulf Coast. The three who dissented were Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. New Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was in the majority; if the order had been 5-4, the court would have heard the appeals. "So what explains the court's refusal to do its job here? I suspect it has something to do with the fact that some respondents in these cases are named 'Planned Parenthood,'" Thomas wrote in dissent. "That makes the court's decision particularly troubling, as the question presented has nothing to do with abortion." Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer, who is a surgeon, said in a statement: "We regret today’s decision from the U.S. Supreme Court announcing that it fell one vote short of taking our case against Planned Parenthood. My support of the pro-life movement will not be diminished by today’s development, and I look forward to future victories in defense of the right to life."

'Heartbeat Bill' could undo abortion precedent

Ohio’s state legislature in mid-December was on the verge of passing a law that would ban abortions at the moment that a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks of pregnancy. If not vetoed by Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who rejected similar legislation in December 2016, the “Heartbeat Bill,” as it is known, could challenge U.S. Supreme Court precedents that currently prohibit states from outlawing abortion before a fetus is viable outside the womb, which is now around 22 weeks. “The premise of this bill is to directly challenge Roe v. Wade , and present the question in a different way, based off of cardiac activity rather than the presumption of viability, which is an ever-moving target,” said Ohio State Rep. Christina Hagan, the lead House sponsor of the bill. Hagan told Our Sunday Visitor that she believed the “chances were good” for the state Senate to pass the bill, which the House approved in a 60-35 vote on Nov. 15, before the end of the current legislative session, which ends on Dec. 31. A vote was originally scheduled for Dec. 6, but the Senate postponed the matter amid protests from abortion advocates from in- and outside Ohio who argued that the legislation would criminalize physicians and cause them to flee the state while leaving women open to criminal liability for seeking an abortion. Hagan said those criticisms are unfounded. “There are zero criminal penalties for any woman in the legislation unless she’s the abortion provider who ignores the law and the beating heart, and executes a child in the womb at that point,” Hagan said. Likely blocked Under the bill, aborting an unborn baby with a detectable heartbeat would result in a fifth-degree felony, which is punishable in Ohio by up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine. The legislation has exemptions that enable doctors to perform abortions in the event of a medical emergency, such as to save the mother’s life or to prevent risking a substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function. According to an Ohio Legislative Services Commission analysis, the law would also encourage that women seeking abortion be informed of the available options for adoption, and would create a new legislative committee to further that goal. Hagan said the idea for the legislation was presented to her shortly after she joined the Ohio state legislature in 2011. “It just made an awful lot of sense, that we would protect children with beating hearts,” Hagan said. “I think what’s unique about this particular piece of legislation is that it’s a more certain marker than viability for the uniqueness of the human DNA, and it gives us a better chance at challenging Roe v. Wade , and extending rights to the unborn.” If passed, Ohio would actually become the fourth state to ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. Since 2013, lawmakers in Iowa, Arkansas and North Dakota have passed similar legislation, but those laws are all blocked because of pending litigation in the federal courts. Planned Parenthood, NARAL, the American Civil Liberties Union and similar organizations have challenged those laws in court, and have indicated that they will do so if the “Heartbeat Bill” becomes law in Ohio. “If it passes, we will challenge it, and it will likely be blocked by the lower courts,” Brigitte Amiri, the deputy director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, wrote in a Nov. 19 blog post where she suggested that the Ohio bill is “designed to directly challenge the fundamental constitutional right to abortion.” Makings of a challenge With President Donald Trump having appointed two conservative justices to the Supreme Court — Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh this year — advocates for and against legal abortion see a real possibility that the high court will soon be open to revisiting its abortion precedents. “With Brett Kavanaugh, that definitely was a positive change. Whether or not that’ll be enough, that remains to be seen,” said ...

Missionary apostolate sends students, grads 'to the nations'

The call to the missionary life is a large cornerstone in the history of the Catholic Church. However, without the means to support such service or the guidance to pursue independent trips, some people are unable to follow the call. One organization is trying to change that. Ad Gentes Mission is a Catholic apostolate established to help independent lay missionaries with financial support, practical instruction and spiritual guidance as they travel the world bringing souls to Christ. It began by helping send young missionaries to assist an American priest operating a mission in Russia in 2017, and today it supports six missions worldwide. “It’s been humbling to see the growth of Ad Gentes Mission in such a short period of time,” said Heather Perry, founder and president. “At our last meeting, my board of directors and I sat back in awe at the response we’ve received. We’ve really met a need for students who want to do independent missions.” Pilgrimage to Poland Perry was a stay-at-home mother of five from the Washington, D.C., area when she went on pilgrimage to Poland in 2013 and felt a “call to global evangelization.” Over the next two years, “I couldn’t shake this burning desire in my heart each time I went to Mass,” she said. “Historically, we Catholics have looked to religious orders to take care of our missionary work. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he told us to ‘make disciples of all nations.’ We should be working in concert with religious orders, but not putting it all on their shoulders. And, as we grow lay missions, it will yield more religious vocations.” — Heather Perry, founder and president of Ad Gentes Mission In 2016, she learned of a student-led mission to Magadan, a far-eastern Russian coastal city that had been a gulag during the Stalin era. The students went to assist the missionary work of Father Michael Shields, a priest of the Diocese of Anchorage, who is serving as pastor of Magadan’s Church of the Nativity. Perry supported the students both financially and through her prayers. In 2017, Perry bought a home in Steubenville, Ohio, near the campus of her alma mater, Franciscan University. Its purpose was to serve as a mission house for students interested in doing missionary work — a place where they can “connect and find community with one another.” Wanting to do more, she founded Ad Gentes Mission (Latin for the missionary cry “To the nations!”), which in three months was helping missionaries going to Peru, Alaska, Russia, Ireland and Ukraine with such needs as fundraising, training and leadership skills. Missionaries to Russia were given an introduction to the Russian language. In its first year, the organization helped nearly 50 students turn their desire to be a missionary into a tangible reality. “It’s been very exciting,” Perry said. “I really believe we’re following a call of the Holy Spirit.” Ukraine mission Caroline Reel, a first-grade teacher from Scottsdale, Arizona, volunteered to teach English in Lviv, Ukraine, through a program called English Summer School, which served Ukrainian Catholic University students in 2017. “After returning, I felt a deep call to bring back a team of Catholic, American missionaries to serve those in Ukraine through the same program,” she said. Ad Gentes facilitated her return in 2018, helping send 12 total missionaries to serve 250 students this past summer. The three-week immersion camp helped Ukrainian students learn English and receive an introduction to American culture, with students invited to take part in daily Mass and praise and worship. “To learn, walk and pray with peers from Ukraine is our ministry,” Reel said. “As volunteers, we understood that this was the Lord’s mission and that the Holy Spirit would work in our lives. We chose missionaries ready to serve, willing to give and eager to live the joy of the Gospel.” This was Reel’s first mission trip, and the support Ad Gentes offered was “monumental.” The organization’s mission ...

Discussion focuses on healing a broken Church and nation

Polarization in the United States has increased dramatically in recent decades. At a Georgetown University event on polarization in a “broken Church and nation,” John Carr, the director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, described the grim landscape of American politics. He argued that Americans are more divided than united and that fear, cynicism and anger are leading to tribalism, resulting in the nation’s capital failing to do even basic tasks like fund the government. This division has created fault lines that run through the Church, not just the government and culture. Many Catholics feel “politically homeless,” while others have become polarized, mirroring the values and behavior of others in their political party. The event featured four panelists who brought unique perspectives and insights on polarization and its impact. Finding neighbors John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, began the panel by doubling down on the grave nature of the status quo, particularly as our polarized Church deals with the fallout of another sexual abuse crisis. He stated that there is a crisis and that the situation is dire. We face the danger that then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio warned about on the eve of his election as pope: of turning inward, rather than going to peripheries to find wounded souls. But there is a better way forward. Gehring said that now is the time to reclaim Catholic social teaching. He noted that we are a “both/and” Church that has the resources and worldview to transcend some of the deep divisions in American society. He urged a revival of the consistent ethic of life, an approach that challenges the reigning ideologies on the right and left in the U.S. Gehring offered practical steps. He said people on opposite sides of the political spectrum should not question each other’s personal faith or commitment to the Church, even when challenging a fellow Catholic’s public positions on important matters. Elise Italiano, the founding executive director of The GIVEN Institute, also pointed to the value of the consistent life ethic and the importance of fully embracing Catholic social teaching. She noted that many young Catholics are showing a commitment to this approach in their activism, prayer life and on social media. However, Italiano pointed to high rates of stress, isolation and depression that millennials face. Many young leaders do not know to whom they should turn for advice or to emulate in their search for the best way forward. She closed by saying we can help each other and live as real neighbors, even if we disagree on certain matters. The marginalized Gloria Purvis, host of the EWTN radio show Morning Glory and editor of the African American Catholic Youth Bible, noted her disappointment that some of the conservatives around her failed to take the U.S. bishops’ recent pastoral letter on racism seriously. Likewise, she expressed disappointment that some of her fellow pro-lifers have responded to police brutality with seeming indifference to the extrajudicial killing of black people. Purvis argued that our belief in the dignity of the person and sanctity of life must lead to more consistency, and that a more holistic approach to those inside and outside the womb can reduce polarization. Hosffman Ospino, associate professor of Hispanic ministry and religious education at Boston College, argued that in order to overcome polarization, the Church must come to terms with its own growing diversity and see it as a gift, not an illness. He pointed to the slow response in increasing the number of Latinos in Catholic schools and seminaries, Masses in Spanish, and leadership opportunities for Latinos in the Church. Like what you’re reading? Subscribe now in print or digital . Ospino echoed Pope Francis’ call for a Church that goes out, not one that retreats. This requires recognizing that racism and classism are real. It means seeing that people are deeply impacted by ...