The First Sunday of Advent

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

 

Dear friends in the Lord,

 

As we begin a new Liturgical Year with the powerful symbols of the Advent season and the promise of grace and hope that the new Church year always brings, we turn first of all to the opening prayer for today’s Mass.  In the powerful image of this opening prayer we read “Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming…”

 

Advent draws first in the mystery of the Lord’s second coming, and then to the mystery of His first at his birth.  We run forth to meet Christ, who in turn comes to us.  This encounter of Faith can be found in the people who cross our paths daily.  As we enter now more fully this new liturgical year, I hope to return a little more often to reflect on these encounters of Faith in the people, prayer and events of the Diocese of Orange, as I did when I began writing this blog some years ago in Fort Worth.  To that end, I would like to reflect on the events of this first Sunday of Advent in our local Church.

The sanctuary window at Our Lady of Guadalupe in LaHabra

The sanctuary window at Our Lady of Guadalupe in LaHabra

First of all, we gave thanks to God for the gift of rain this Sunday, which is the first in many months, and there is more forecast for this week.  Interestingly, I now anticipate rain as much as I did the snow when I was back in the Midwest, in my home Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.First Rain

The rain was evident during my time at Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Habra, which is on the northern boundary of our Diocese, next to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  I was there to install Fr. Ed Becker as the new pastor, who succeeds the beloved Msgr. Justin McCarthy.  Msgr. McCarthy was also present along with the parochial vicars, deacons and staff of the parish during this joyful celebration. 

Altar servers after Mass at Our Lady of Fatima

The afternoon saw a group of about 40 Knights and Dames of Malta gather for the rosary for the First Sunday of Advent, led by Abbot Eugene Hayes and members of the Order.  The Order of Malta does great work with the sick and the infirmed, and many of these members (including myself) will be going on the annual pilgrimage to Lourdes in May with those who are ill and infirm and are referred to as malades.   I have been to Lourdes three other times since 1976 and the days in Lourdes are always moments of great grace, healing and perspective on life and Faith.  These are also moments to meet once more the Mother of God who said that “I am the Immaculate Conception” to St. Bernadette. Order of Malta

Finally, in the evening hours I was the main celebrant at a 7:00 PM Mass in Spanish at Our Lady of Fatima in San Clemente.  This was an addition to the parish Mass schedule to help meet the needs of the many Hispanic families in the southern part of our Diocese who cannot for various reasons (employment and family) make the Spanish Masses during the day and in the afternoon.  The Church was full!  The response of the people to this additional Mass was one of gratitude to the Hispanic leaders of the parish and the dedication and vision of the parish priests, Father Jim Reis, pastor, and Fr. William Hubbard, parochial vicar and the parish staff and musicians.  Viva Cristo Rey! 

           

The Promise of Palliative Care

Dear brothers and sisters in The Lord,

I have had the privilege of spending the last two nights with my father as he is preparing for his journey into eternal life.  This has been a chance for me to return thanks and give back to them, as I have been thinking of the many nights he and mom stayed up with all of us when we were sick!

I have seen first-hand the love and care of all of the sisters, nurses and staff here at St. John’s Hospital hospice here in Springfield who care for him and administer his medications so he is not in pain nor alone in his journey. Their choice of living this life of compassionate care is a blessing to us all.

While we appreciate the wonderful advances of modern medicine – which have given us many cures for diseases and extended our lifespan considerably – many people today also worry that our last days might be filled with undue pain, discomfort, or other indignities.  One hundred years ago, most people died in their own homes; today, most people die in hospitals.  We worry that the diseases that afflict us, or even excessive medical care at the end-of-life, may be too burdensome to bear.  Few of us want to spend our last moments in an intensive care unit, with IV lines and breathing tubes and all the other apparatus of high-tech medicine. 

But this vision of what medicine has to offer the dying is limited; it does not give us the full picture of what is available.  Fortunately, medicine today offers better alternatives for end-of-life care – alternatives that do not involve excessively burdensome interventions that have little chance of benefit.  In fact, there is now a medical specialty all its own devoted to the care and comfort of patients when cure has become impossible: it’s called palliative care.  Good palliative care can offer tremendous solace and consolation to patients and families in the face of an inevitable death.

Good palliative care addresses the needs of the whole person – not just the biological aspects of disease or disability, but the psychological, social, and spiritual needs of people in their final days.  The work of palliative care in medicine is complemented by the hospice movement in nursing, which has made great advances in recent years in allowing patients to die in the comfort of their homes surrounded by loved ones, rather than in a hospital bed.  With these approaches, the goals shift from curing the disease (which at some point becomes impossible) to caring for the person (which always remains possible).  Good pain management, treatment of depression and anxiety, emotional and social support, and spiritual care are among the building blocks of good palliative care.  We understandably fear the effects of terminal diseases – pain, loss of functioning, isolation, or becoming a burden on others.  But with good palliative care, we need not fear that we will spend our last moments in intolerable pain, or alone, or subject to humiliating indignities. 

While he was on this earth, our Lord Jesus Christ’s ministry was a ministry of healing.  In imitation of Christ we are called to provide healing, comfort, and care to the sick, and especially with those whose illnesses prove to be terminal.  At the end of life, medicine has made not only technological advances, but also advances in compassionate care, which we should embrace as Catholics.  Our Catholic faith and morals do not require that we continue to pursue useless or excessively burdensome treatments that have little chance of benefit.  St. John Paul II witnessed to this in his final days: he heroically bore the burdens of chronic Parkinson’s disease for years, but in his last days he decided to forego further intensive medical treatments in a hospital, and instead lived out his final days in his apartment surrounded by caregivers and friends.  He accepted death when God wanted it, without hastening it and without fighting uselessly against it. 

Medicine is built upon a long and venerable ethical tradition, stretching back to the Hippocratic Oath, which can be summarized: when possible to cure, always to care, never to kill. Their choice of living this life of compassionate care is a blessing to us all, and truly enables us –with those whom we love and care for (compassion) — to choose the gift of life at the end of life!

As Pope Francis has said “There is no human life more sacred than another, just as there is no human life qualitatively more significant than another. The credibility of a health care system is not measured solely by efficiency, but above all by the attention and love given to the person, whose life is always sacred and inviolable.”

 In Christ,

+ Bishop Vann

Waiting for the Lord’s call

photo (8)

I set out to write this column regarding the month of November and the days of All Saints and All Souls and what they teach us about life and eternal life. However, things have changed somewhat and now the reflections on the Eternal Life to which we are called, which we received in our baptism, has now become very personal as I sit by my father’s beside at hospice in Saint John’s Hospital in Springfield , Ill., praying with him into eternal life. I am writing this, as I have occasionally done before, on my iPhone.

 

For these days and this month, I found these words from All Souls Day yesterday in a parish bulletin from a church where I celebrated Mass: “We do everything possible to eliminate the thought. Yet for the Christian, death is not a moment separate from the rest of life. The deepest hope nourished by the faith is the final encounter with Christ. But that final encounter with him requires we face on a daily basis many options during our lives before that final meeting. The love and the fullness of joy at this final birth are built a day at a time by the efforts that we knowingly exerted because we opened ourselves to the Holy Spirit.”

 

All Saints Day and All Souls Day have their roots in sacred Scripture, which contemplates the mystery of life and death and our eternal life in the resurrection of Christ. The history and prayers for these days, which go back to the 10th century, were nuanced and clarified and celebrated in various cultural contexts. I have had the blessing to experience these days both in Italy and Mexico. These days remind us that although we are individuals, these passages from death to life are rooted and secured as a response of faith in community. We are not solo and not our own masters.

 

As I sit here with my father waiting for his passage into eternal life, I remember that we are not far from what was once called the hospital’s “expectant fathers’ waiting room” where he waited for me to be born in the early hours of May 10, 1951. I specially thank the staff of hospice at Saint John’s Hospital. Through their ministry and professional and loving palliative care (like that of the St. Joseph Health system in Orange County) they have ensured that he is not in pain and does not suffer. Their work in palliative and hospice care assures that while the patients here await the Lord’s call, they do not suffer and are not alone. Their presence here is a reflection of the Paschal Mystery of Christ and Saint Paul’s words, “O Death, where is your victory, O Death where is your sting?”

 

Working together for life and human dignity

Last June a 40-percent increase in abortion funding passed along with the rest of the California budget. Unbelievably, a 10-percent cut in all other hospital and provider fees in the Medi-Cal Program remained, endangering access to essential medical care for all women and families who qualify.

Even more troubling is the reason given for the increase in the Medi-Cal estimate: “Early statewide access ensures services are less costly, whereas lack of access results in increased ongoing expenses for years.” It is apparently more important for the state to prioritize cheap abortions than to enhance primary care and prenatal care for those who are poor and working poor.

The Catholic Church’s position on life beginning at conception is well known and, frankly, is not debatable scientifically. In our pluralistic society, significant disagreements persist on moral and legal questions about abortion. However, even the “safe, legal and rare” mantra of abortion advocates is rarely heard any more in a state that has gone out of its way to refuse any reasonable restrictions to abortion. Refused safeguards—as if an abortion could ever be safe—include the requirement of physicians and safe building standards in facilities that provide abortions, outlawing sex-selective abortions, and parental notification for minors.

We continue to be grateful for the public service of those in office of both parties and we must continue to work together for the common good, especially in those areas that concern the most fundamental right, which is life. It has been a blessing to visit with our officials, both here at home and in Sacramento. As the California Catholic Conference of Bishops, we affirm the necessity of working to improve both major political parties in such a way that they better reflect a fundamental respect for the life and dignity of every human person, especially the poor and most vulnerable. At our most recent Catholic Advocacy Day, we supported the now-passed AB 1579, a bill that acknowledges the humanity of unborn children and allows expectant mothers to collect CalWORKs benefits earlier, thereby enhancing the welfare of both baby and mother.

It’s time for our state officials to come together on common sense approaches to mitigate the suffering of women, children and families in life-affirming ways. The kind of public policy calculation revealed in the recent budget increase does not guard human life and dignity and suggests that our primary response to economically vulnerable populations ought to be a cost-benefit analysis. God forbid!

Through our public policy we have the opportunity to shape the character of our society. What kind of people do we need to be to welcome children into this world? What kind of message does the state send to the next generation of Californians by suggesting abortion as its most significant policy response, over and against properly funding essential medical care for mothers and children?

The Church has worked and continues to stand ready to work with politicians of both parties willing to put aside ideology and work for the betterment of our communities to improve education, create jobs, raise wages, encourage affordable housing and protect the life and dignity of every human person, particularly the most vulnerable, including children, immigrants and others at the economic margins. We can and we must do better for women, children and families in California.

Domestic Violence Awareness Sunday – October 26th

As Catholics in the Diocese of Orange, we are committed to the protection of the life and dignity of every human person, not only during this Respect Life Month, but in our pastoral outreach and ministry as priests of Jesus Christ.  The Gospel of Life, so well-articulated by Pope Saint John Paul II, exhorts us to live this commitment in practical ways. Domestic violence is a hidden threat to our families and communities that demands more of us. As the U.S. Bishops wrote in When I Call for Help: “Violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified. Violence in any form—physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal—is sinful; often, it is a crime as well.” As parish priests we have all encountered our share of the spiritual and physical damage that ensues from this reality.

 

Domestic violence is far too common, affecting women and men, teenage dating relationships, children, and the elderly. Within Orange County, domestic violence is occurring even in our parishes and centers, across all ethnic and economic backgrounds. Domestic violence often occurs concurrently with other pro-life concerns. Here are just a few startling statistics:

  • 1 in 4 women will be physically assaulted by a jealous boyfriend or husband during her lifetime
  • 1 in 5 teenage girls will experience dating violence
  • Children who grow up in homes with domestic violence are more likely to become abusers or be abused
  • 90% of elder abuse is committed by family members
  • In Orange County, 26.3% of women surveyed said they have experienced domestic violence; the state average is 20.5%.

 

As pastors, parishes, and people of God, we are all called to be bearers of hope to those struggling with domestic violence. I am thankful to all of those who for years have been involved in this ministry, in our time we can respond to these challenges with God-given insights and resources we have now that were not perhaps accessible or understood in years past. We do so in order to make our parishes safe, healthy, healing, and hopeful places for those whose lives are touched by domestic violence, both the victims and the perpetrators. The Gospel offers hope to all and we are well-equipped to be communities that encourage all to find safety and shelter in the loving arms of our God, healing under the care of the Great Physician, and hope in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Strengthened by God’s grace, our call is certainly one of prayer, education, and being of assistance where we can and where the Lord calls us to be.   We can help break the cycle of violence by making our parishes places that can direct people affected by domestic violence to timely help and provide spiritual support along the way.

 

Thank you for all that you do to live and teach by the Gospel of Life by word and example.

 

__________

Bishop Vann has designated the last Sunday of Respect Life Month, October 26th, as Domestic Violence Awareness Sunday. Find out more about our Domestic Violence Awareness Initiative, community partners, and more resources: http://www.lifejusticepeace.org/programs-initiatives/domesticviolence/

 

RESPECT LIFE MONTH: “Misa de Intercesión para Familias con Hijos Discapacitados”

Respect life 4The month of October brings with it a number of themes, topics and prayers to be considered here in the United States, as it has been designated “Respect Life Month” by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  The packet that the Bishops receive, and accompanying materials, suggestions and prayers have always been helpful.  However, it seems to me, what can speak the strongest in this month (or indeed at any time) is when one encounters a “living Gospel” or living example of living the theme of Respect Life:  or indeed  when one sees the living result of “choosing life” in a person or family.  This echoes the words often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi “preach the Gospel and if necessary use words.”

This was certainly the case this year when for the second time, I celebrated the Intercession Mass for Families of Children with Disabilities, or in Spanish “Misa de Intercesión para Familias con Hijos Discapacitados.” This year was a celebration of the twenty-first anniversary of this Mass, sponsored by the Office for Hispanic Ministry of the Diocese of Orange and the Hispanic Consortium of Orange County. The Mass was held at the parish of St. Boniface in Anaheim, and the care, love of the families – many of them probably with financial struggles and some probably without proper documentation – had for their children (some of them adults by this time with elderly parents or aunts or uncles) was evident.  Some of the children couldn’t speak or had to be restrained and have constant attention by their families.  What was evident to me was how they loved their children and did not see them as a burden in any way.  Many introduced them to me proudly by name and asked for pictures.  I was deeply moved again this year, as was Fr. Gilberto, the pastor at St. Boniface.

These families chose to bring these children to birth, in spite of most likely, great culture and societal pressure for abortion.  It was clear here that a “no” to abortion means a resounding “yes” to life, to care and to support. The witness of the families present at this Mass certainly mirror the words of Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium (213).  This is a theme that the Holy Father takes up elsewhere also when he ways that “Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care for with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us.  Nowadays efforts are made to deny them human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this.  Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s efforts to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative.  Yet this defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right.  It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable in any situation and at every stage of development.  Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems.  Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be.”

Finally, speaking of “passing whims”, these families and their children are “easy targets” for language of “compassionate choice” that the currents of the assisted suicide and right to die movements use so often these days.  We always have to be very attentive and vigilant in this regard and commit ourselves to the proclamation of the inherent dignity of each and every human life.  The Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation certainly does this and urges us on.  Even more so, the love, faith and support of the Faith community for these families at yesterday’s Mass at St. Boniface does so even more!

 

Praying for rain—and the future

As crowds gathered in Huntington Beach recently for the Blessing of the Waves, I was struck by the majesty, might and beauty of the Pacific—particularly “mighty” that day with 6-foot swells and a powerful rip current. Big waves and their beauty can also mean, on the reverse side, evacuations and damaged homes in Mexico and record rainfall in Arizona and parts of California. Unfortunately, the rain fell so fast and hard that precious water became runoff rather than soaking into the ground to alleviate our drought.

Our relationship with nature, as part of nature, is full of contradictions. The beauty of nature can draw us to God, helping us to reflect on God’s creation—water is essential to our liturgical and celebrations. However, the consequences of a lack of water, or a deluge, can be catastrophic. We learn to adjust to seasons and changes in creation, from new farming techniques to fuels and construction materials. Listeners to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount knew that building one’s house on sand is foolish.

Nonetheless, technologies and methods have different consequences and sometimes what was once thought to be a rock-solid foundation shows cracks. Ours is a “throwaway culture” and it is not only things that are thrown away, but people as well. We know that adverse climate and environmental degradation always hurt the poor and vulnerable most. Catholic Relief Services witnesses these effects firsthand in countries where they work.

Here in Orange County we can take for granted our beautiful environment, fertile land, and stable weather. But we know that all this can change. Right now California is entering its fourth year of a record-setting drought. As my brother bishops and I wrote recently: The shortage of water illustrates how precious, and sometimes precarious, that connection can be…Californians have responded with support for fire victims, greater water conservation and realistic conversations on future water management. The solidarity and compassion that guide these efforts must become abiding habits of the heart as we discern the best way to ensure a sustainable future for the present and future generations of Californians.

What can we do? Ora et labora. Pray for the good of creation and work to conserve and increase our practices of sustainability. A great place to start is the work of the Catholic Climate Covenant, which has gathered a host of helpful resources (including the St. Francis Pledge) and actions that you can take, locally, nationally and globally, to care for God’s creation.

By the example and intercession of Saint Francis, may we protect creation, safeguarding the dignity of the human person and life itself. In the words of Pope Benedict (who wrote and spoke extensively about care for the environment and which was often overlooked): “My dear friends, God’s creation is one and it is good. The concerns for non-violence, sustainable development, justice and peace, and care for our environment are of vital importance for humanity. They cannot, however, be understood apart from a profound reflection upon the innate dignity of every human life from conception to natural death: a dignity conferred by God himself and thus inviolable.” Let us remember the One who has made each one of us and all the beauty we enjoy and let us worship our Creator with great joy and care.

 + Bishop Kevin Vann

Well Done Good and Faithful Servant and Friend: Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel CFR

groeschel   This past Saturday morning, as I was attending to some of my correspondence at home, I was reflecting on the death of my good friend Fr. Benedict Groeschel CFR.  Two thoughts came to me that day in various moments:  1) that he had his own “transitus” into Eternal Life at the same time of the celebration of the “transitus” of St. Francis.  How appropriate for someone who certainly was a son of St. Francis, through and through!  And 2) The words of exhortation during the ordination to the Diaconate refer to the destination of eternal life when the one ordained would hear “Well done good and faithful servant, enter now into the joy of your Lord.”   Truly, well done good and faithful servant, Fr. Benedict, may we accompany you as you enter into the joy of the Lord.  These words of the Catholic Rite of the Ordination to the diaconate are certainly in contrast to Fr. Benedict’s own jokes about purgatory being “drinking bubble gum soda and listening to tapes of his own talks.”

     I first got to know Fr. Benedict in the summer of l994 when I had the blessing to spend a week at Seton Hall University in South Orange at then Msgr. Andrew Cusack’s wonderful summer sessions for priests.  I spent part of the time listening to his conferences, and over the years we became good friends.  He became a good friend and a real help and support during some difficult times in my home Diocese.  He came to Springfield and I was able to assist him, as a canonist, with the proceedings in the testimony for a possible cause for beatification of Cardinal Cooke.

    I admired his care for the poor, his courage, his pro-life work and his willingness to speak about his concerns about inaccurate and poor Scripture Scholarship, and the absolute necessity of authentic living of religious life and one’s priestly vocation.  His courage and humor continued to inspire me, especially as I got to know well the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.   I am grateful to be considered among their “family.”  Sometimes others simply need someone to speak up and speak for authenticity and truth, and others will find the courage to follow. His fearlessness and courage to speak up on behalf of the unborn was a great inspiration to me and many others, and was especially evident in the coming into existence of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.  His gifts of courage, love and humor were a great gift to me and so many others, especially when I was able to visit him at Trinity Retreat.  I helped him at least once in distributing food for the poor in New York City.  

    He gave my ordination retreat nearly ten years ago when I was ordained the Bishop of Fort Worth and after that I was also blessed with the friendship of his family with his brother Ned and sister in law Dolores. His work “The Courage to be Chaste” was an invaluable reference for me when I was a parish priest and I still offer this book as a reference to others.  It is a book of hope and courage for those who struggle with, but still wish the grace and blessing of the virtue of chastity, and don’t know how to begin or take the challenging “narrow way”.  This book, like all of his work and ministry was done with great love and humor.  I would laugh again and again at his stories, particularly the one about Father Innocent Fuestler, OFM Cap, and the Capuchin Friary on the feast day of Our Lady of the Angels!  [The Friars will know exactly what I am speaking about!] His remembrances of Father Solanus Casey, OFM Cap, were also a great source of inspiration for many. 

   In his last major book which he authored (that I know of)  I Am With You Always: A Study of the History and Meaning of Personal Devotion to Jesus Christ for Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians [Ignatius Press, 2010] he wrote to me “To my dear friend Bishop Kevin Vann.  Oremus pro invicem.  Benedict.”  In the introduction to this book we find, I believe the foundation of his life and vocation:

    “To summarize this definition, we can define Christian devotion as a powerful awareness of or long for Christ’s presence, accompanied by a trustful surrender to Him of our personal needs.  To this is joined a willingness to do His will and a sense of repentance for any previous failure to do so.  We must true Him not only with our present need but also with the salvation of our souls and those we care about.  Finally, in some way we must anticipate our meeting with Him at the hour of death…Our personal response to these words and to that Presence is Christian devotion.  It was there when the first Christian martyrs surrendered in spirit to Christ.  That Presence and that devotion will also be there when the last Christian, at the point of death, prepares for the face-to-face encounter with the Risen Lord.”

    These words of introduction to this one of his last, but most profound writings were prophetic, I believe, for his own “transitus” to this past week to the Lord whom he loved and whom he served with great love, courage and humor.  Indeed, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter now into the joy of your Lord.”

   As we pray for him, may be pray for us that we may continue to labor in the Lord’s vineyard with the same love, courage and humor!

 

 

 

+Kevin W. Vann

 

Bishop of Orange

 

October 6, 2014

 

Feast of St. Bruno

 

 

                                                                              

Each of Us is a Masterpiece of God’s Creation!

October is upon us and Catholic Churches across the nation are observing Respect Life Month. Here in the Diocese of Orange, I have been blessed to encounter so many individuals, groups, and parishes committed to upholding the life and dignity of the human person. From the Mass for handicapped children and families, seeing the witness of immigrant families welcoming their children into this world rather than choosing abortion, to the recognition of Nancy Phan for her work saving lives and caring for women through Viet Respect Life; with Pastor Rick and Kay Warren, and so many wonderful people, gathered to address mental illness, and our diocesan Domestic Violence Awareness Initiative; we are working to remove stigmas and address threats to life. In our support for Proposition 47, California bishops have affirmed that respecting life and dignity does not stop at prison walls and ought to create pathways for alternative treatment for nonviolent offenders. From conception to natural death–

 

Each of Us is a Masterpiece of God’s Creation!

 

Let us reflect on this theme for the 2014 Respect Life Program. Throughout all our pro-life activities, we must never lose sight of the fundamental encounter with God and one another. As Pope John Paul II stated, “The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, finds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life.” He went on to admonish that “the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.” Far from narrowing our many efforts to care for the human person, these words help us remain steadfast in our respect for the gift of life, from beginning to end, especially where it is most threatened. I encourage you to connect with the Catholic Legislative Network at the California Catholic Conference (cacatholic.org) to advocate for public policy that seeks the common good, affirms the life and dignity of the human person.

 

“The credibility of a healthcare system,” said Pope Francis to medical professionals, “is not measured solely by efficiency, but above all by the attention and love given to the person, whose life is always sacred and inviolable.” Locally, St. Joseph Health is a model of this type of healthcare. Indeed the credibility of all of our ministries is measured by this love and respect for one another, and especially the least. In his July letter, Bishop Dominic reminded pastors and parishioners alike that our Pennies from Heaven campaign (which raised over $240,000 last year) seeks to bless the clinics, centers, and shelters that enable life-affirming choices and provide essential services for women, men, and children in crisis. As we celebrate Respect Life Month, let us unabashedly witness to the Gospel of Life: God’s love for the unborn, women and families in crisis, those on death row, unaccompanied refugees, those struggling with mental illness, or surviving domestic violence. Each of Us is a Masterpiece of God’s Creation! And all of us can lend a helping hand to a neighbor in need.

 

For more on how to become involved, go to lifejusticepeace.org/respectlife and inquire at your parish about local activities.

 

Ministering to the divorced

Some years ago, Francis Cardinal George, now Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Chicago, appointed me to be the liaison to the North American Conference of Separated and Divorced Catholics. He asked me to do this because it was important to him, and to the Bishops’ Conference, to support this ministry to those who struggle with the loss and pain of divorce, and who at the same time seek to maintain the bonds of family and ecclesial communion. I supposed I was asked to take this on because of my canon law degree, my experience in the Diocesan and Appellate Tribunal, and general experience as a pastor who deals with marriage preparation, weddings, and pastoral care of families. I undertook this specialized ministry while I was still the Bishop of Fort Worth and still have this role for the Bishops’ Conference (along with several others). I have recently returned from spending three mornings with the leaders of this ministry at their annual meeting in St. Louis. Many in this ministry have experienced the tragedy of a broken family (as my own father did), but now walk with others in their time of transition and change. The ministers also help them to process their petitions for declarations of nullity of their previous marriages as Tribunal Advocates. They certainly uphold the sacrament of marriage as they minister to those whose marriages have failed, and to some who seek to be able to maintain the bonds of communion and marry again in the Church. I salute and thank them for their heroic and, at times, demanding ministry.

 

I reflected with them on the teaching of Saint John Paul II in his document on the family that followed the Synod of l980, titled Familiaris Consortio. In numbers 83 and 84 of this document the Holy Father makes very clear the importance of pastoral care and outreach to those whose marriages have failed. He clearly gives a foundation for this mission, even before the Code of Canon Law was revised in l983, which helped to simplify and streamline the previous process for a declaration of nullity. At the same time, we reflected on the introduction to Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, which, in effect, now sends them (and all of us) on a mission to live our faith with joy. One of the sentences from the apostolic exhortation that I shared with them were the following words, which in their ministry and mission they should take with them: “I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI, which takes us to the very heart of the Gospel: ‘Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, which gives life a new horizon and decisive direction.’”

 

To all involved in this pastoral and canonical care of those who have journeyed through separation, divorce and remarriage, thank you, and be assured of our prayers and support. Your ministry has always been important and is especially so now, in the times of these next two synods.