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Posts Tagged ‘Roman Catholic Church’

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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The following is a letter I wrote to Samuel G. Freedman, author of “Amid the Ashes, a Statue of Mary Stands as a Symbol of Survival,” (New York Times, 16 Nov 2012). See also my previous post Et ventis et mari.

Mr Freedman,

I want to thank you for your recent piece about the Madonna at Breezy Point. Though brief, the article’s clarity presents a brilliant and sublime event now happening amid the chaos of distaster and loss. Most remarkably, you have hinted to the fact that men and women of faith, particular of Catholic Christian faith, of which I am a part, can make pilgrimage to this site of hope, carry with them their prayers and tears, and so commend the souls of those who are lost to the grave (or even unburied, as in the case of some in Hurricane Sandy and 11 Sept 2001) to God in Heaven. Such a focal point, a place of pilgrimage, is necessary for lives to be lived and to be made intelligible in the blood-soaked world in which we all find ourselves today; that though we have been “crushed” we are “not abandoned.”

Thank you again,

Charles McCants
Raleigh, NC
(Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)

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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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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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[My response to “A Catholic tradition of social justice,” The News & Observer, May 12, 2012]

We Catholics do not just help the poor; we are the poor. For this reason we share our gifts with each other. Indeed, some of these gifts will go toward the construction of a new Cathedral, which in turn we will share in the worship of Christ. Such worship inspires greater numbers of the faithful to charity, both within this diocese and beyond. We do not just give to an organization to which we do not belong. We strive, often imperfectly, to have our goods and gifts in common for the construction of a kingdom to the benefit of the orphan, the widow, and the sojourner, and others in distress. If others outside of the Church are concerned with the welfare of the poor in our area, they, too, should give as they are able; there are number of groups that strive in an honest way to alleviate the struggles of those affected by poverty, hunger, drug-addiction, et al.

Perhaps we all might begin with the money we give to political campaigns or PACs. It’s been a while since I’ve seen an ad that has been charitable or constructive, either in the feeding of the hungry or otherwise.

Charles H. McCants
Raleigh, NC

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St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in ruins, March 1, 2012, in Ridgway, Ill. A pre-dawn twister flattened entire blocks of homes as violent storms ravaged the Midwest and South.

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The universe rejoices with new and indefinable loveliness. Not only does it feel the unseen presence of God himself, its creator, it sees him openly, working and making it holy. These great blessings spring from the blessed fruit of Mary’s womb.

Saint Anselm of Canterbury, bishop.

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I will not give a full meaning for the Feast Day and its significance in the life of the Church, the history of the Dogmatic pronouncement, nor will I try to lay out or elaborate the theological significance of this teaching of the Christian Church, relating it to original sin or sanctifying grace.

In truth, I think “immaculate conception” is this one moment where many Roman Catholics receive it all too easily, many Protestants reject it all too easily, and somewhere in between there is gift of wrestling theologically with what it really means to be born immaculate by the grace of God.

I will, however, simply point back to St Anselm above, who I believe said it best: “Not only does [the universe] feel the unseen presence of God himself, its creator, it sees him openly, working and making it holy.”

The Immaculate Conception of Mary is one of the many ways God has made this fallen world holy in preparation and anticipation for the coming of the Λογος, the Word of God, who is Son of God and Son of Mary.


im·mac·u·late,
adj., free from stain or blemish; pure.

[Middle English immaculat, from Latin immaculātus (in- + past participle of maculāre, to blemish (see macula, spot).]

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