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The following was printed in parish bulletins throughout the Diocese of Raleigh (pdf) :

Since late January the Church has been engaged in intense public debate about the federal mandate that some of its institutions must, directly or indirectly, provide health insurance that includes contraception to any employees who want it. The latest installment occurred yesterday (March 1), when the Senate voted 51-48 to reject an amendment to the mandate that would have permitted employers to refuse, for religious or moral reasons, to supply or pay for such coverage.

In one corner have been our bishops, who have taken the line that the mandate should be resisted because it attempts to force the Church to do something its doctrine judges immoral. They are supported in this by some representatives of other Christian churches, by some Jews, and by some secular people.

In the other corner have been those who say that the provision of contraception to those who want it is essential for the proper care of women’s health, and therefore belongs to the common good. Those who seek exemption from providing it are, according to this line of thought, themselves immoral and should be constrained by law to do the right thing.

There are a number of difficult questions wrapped up in these debates. Among them, one stands out as most pressing. It is: How should we Catholics think and act when the agencies of the state attempt to force us, whether individually or collectively, to act against what we hold both true and dear? On this, we can say two things with confidence, one about ourselves, and the other about America.

The first, about ourselves, is that the state has no real power in such matters, and we need to encourage one another to act as if we believe that to be true. The state can use its legislative and judicial machinery, of course; but the worst it can do is punish. Our consciences and our fidelity to the church we believe to be Christ’s are beyond the state’s reach. This is what contemplation of the church and its history with various pagan states shows us. It is a matter for serene confidence.

The second, about America, is that we are not only Catholics, but also American Catholics. That means we should love America with the love appropriate to her. She is not the church, and she has no special place in the eyes of the Lord. But America is where we live, and so we love her. Loving her means wishing her well and hoping for her good. It means praying for her, and publicly offering her, in humility and lament, our best understanding of what is good for her. One thing that is good for her is the flourishing of her churches, and ours among them. We should, each of us, now in this difficult and interesting time, be doing what we can to help our country see what that means.

Paul J. Griffiths
Warren Chair of Catholic Theology at Duke Divinity School
St. Thomas More Parish, Chapel Hill, NC,
Drafted 2 March 2012

Anton van Dyck, Emperor Theodosius Forbidden by St Ambrose To Enter Milan Cathedral (1619)

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You, Lord God, calmed the winds and the waves, and brought rest to the Lake of Gennesaret, grant eternal rest to those who died in the wind and the waves, and bring calm to those mourn them now.

In nomine Domini nostri Iesu Christi. Amen.

[Frank Franklin II, “Breezy Point, Queens” (2012). Link here]

Dixit autem illis: ‘Ubi est fides vestra?’ Qui timentes mirati sunt ad invicem, dicentes: ‘Quis putas hic est? quia et ventis et mari imperat, et obediunt ei?’ [Lk 8.25]

He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?’ [NRSV]

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Et ecce unus accedens, ait illi: Magister bone, quid boni faciam ut habeam vitam æternam? Qui dixit ei: Quid me interrogas de bono? Unus est bonus, Deus. Si autem vis ad vitam ingredi, serva mandata. Dicit illi: Quæ? Jesus autem dixit: Non homicidium facies; non adulterabis; non facies furtum; non falsum testimonium dices; honora patrem tuum, et matrem tuam, et diliges proximum tuum sicut teipsum. Dicit illi adolescens: Omnia hæc custodivi a iuventute mea: quid adhuc mihi deest? Ait illi Jesus: Si vis perfectus esse, vade, vende quæ habes, et da pauperibus, et habebis thesaurum in cælo: et veni, sequere me. (Mt 19.16-21)

And behold one coming along said to Him, “Good Master, what good must I do to have eternal life? And He said to him, “Why are you asking me about what is good? God alone is good. Therefore, if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to Him, “Which?” Then Jesus answered him, “You shall not murder; you shall not be an adulterer; you shall not commit theft; you will not give a false testimony; honor your father and your mother, and care for your neighbor as if it were yourself.” The young man said to Him, “I have kept all these since my youth; what do I lack even still?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go, sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; and come, follow me.” (Translation mine)

It is the commandments of God that compels us not to sin; it is the grace of God in Christ that frees us from the need of our possessions, allowing us to give them over to the poor, and to go and follow Him.

From tonight’s Vespers:

Because he has given freedom to the destitute who called to him,
to the poor, whom no-one will hear.
He will spare the poor and the needy,
he will keep their lives safe. (Ps 72)

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A sermon of St Gregory the Great on his feast day:

For the love of Christ I do not spare myself in preaching him ‘Son of man, I have appointed you as watchman to the house of Israel.’ Note that Ezekiel, whom the Lord sent to preach his word, is described as a watchman. Now a watchman always takes up his position on the heights so that he can see from a distance whatever approaches. Likewise whoever is appointed watchman to a people should live a life on the heights so that he can help them by taking a wide survey.

These words are hard to utter, for when I speak it is myself that I am reproaching. I do not preach as I should nor does my life follow the principles I preach so inadequately.

I do not deny that I am guilty, for I see my torpor and my negligence. Perhaps my very recognition of failure will win me pardon from a sympathetic judge. When I lived in a monastic community I was able to keep my tongue from idle topics and to devote my mind almost continually to the discipline of prayer. Since taking on my shoulders the burden of pastoral care, I have been unable to keep steadily recollected because my mind is distracted by many responsibilities.

I am forced to consider questions affecting churches and monasteries and often I must judge the lives and actions of individuals; at one moment I am forced to take part in certain civil affairs, next I must worry over the incursions of barbarians and fear the wolves who menace the flock entrusted to my care; now I must accept political responsibility in order to give support to those who preserve the rule of law; now I must bear patiently the villainies of brigands, and then I must confront them, yet in all charity.

My mind is sundered and torn to pieces by the many and serious things I have to think about. When I try to concentrate and gather all my intellectual resources for preaching, how can I do justice to the sacred ministry of the word? I am often compelled by the nature of my position to associate with men of the world and sometimes I relax the discipline of my speech. If I preserved the rigorously inflexible mode of utterance that my conscience dictates, I know that the weaker sort of men would recoil from me and that I could never attract them to the goal I desire for them. So I must frequently listen patiently to their aimless chatter. Because I am weak myself I am drawn gradually into idle talk and I find myself saying the kind of thing that I didn’t even care to listen to before. I enjoy lying back where I once was loath to stumble.

Who am I — what kind of watchman am I? I do not stand on the pinnacle of achievement, I languish rather in the depths of my weakness. And yet the creator and redeemer of mankind can give me, unworthy though I be, the grace to see life whole and power to speak effectively of it. It is for love of him that I do not spare myself in preaching him.

Salva nos, Domine, vigilantes, custodi nos dormientes, ut vigilemus cum Christo et requiescamus in pace.

Keep us safe, Lord, while we are awake, and guard us as we sleep, so that we can keep watch with Christ and rest in peace.

Brothers of Holy Cross Abbey before Vigils (website).

vig·i·lant

adj., on the alert; watchful.

[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin vigilāre, to be watchful]

See also:

Through the night

The Feast of the Nativity

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Et accusabant eum summi sacerdotes in multis. Pilatus autem rursum interrogavit eum, dicens: Non respondes quidquam? Vide in quantis te accusant. Iesus autem amplius nihil respondit, ita ut miraretur Pilatus. (Mk 15.3-5)

And the high priests accused him of many charges. Pilate, moreover, asked him again, saying: “Why do you not answer? See how many charges they are accusing you of.” But Jesus all the more said nothing, and at this Pilate was astonished. (Translation mine)

Humans are given the remarkable gift of speech, reflecting that Trinitarian relationship between God the Father and the Word who proceeds. Because of this gift, we as God’s creatures are compeled to return the gift of speech back to our Creator, to render praise to Him who has given us the gift of speech.

Otherwise, we are to remain silent, lest we fall into sin.

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The following is a short documentary made by my friend Pilar Timpane, a fellow student at Duke’s Divinity School, after her Summer 2012 field education in Uganda.

Kasana Cathedral Parish is a 15 year old parish in Luweero, Uganda. The parish priest, Father Joe, shows us around the multitude of ministries and programs that his church is able to sustain through donations and gifts. We see that in Uganda, the work of the priest is not just spiritual, but physical. The tangible needs of the people in touch with the church are met on small and large scale programs including schools, health centers, farming help, and water wells.

Here is a link to Pilar’s vimeo page, where you can see other short clips and interviews.

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It was na sae in the Highland hills,
Ochon, Ochon, Ochrie!
Nae woman in the Country wide,
Sae happy was as me.

Robert Burns, “The Highland Widow’s Lament” (1794)

untitled, taken by Kagey Parish and Laura Wortman of The Honey Dewdrops (website)

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