“We pledge to surround you with our love”

Kudos to Portland, Oregon, Archbishop Alexander K. Sample, who offered an important and moving statement in the name of the Catholic community in response to the announced plans of Brittany Maynard to kill herself soon. Maynard has made a lot of news recently, after moving with her husband to Oregon, to take advantage of its assisted-suicide law. It is a sad and tragic story.

This week, Archbishop Sample issued what he called a “Pastoral Statement on Assisted Suicide.” It’s brief and to the point, insisting that “Life is a gift of God” and that assisted suicide “suggests that a life can lose its purpose” — both true statements that need to be made. In what was to me the most effective part of the statement, the archbishop wrote directly to people who might be considering suicide as a response to suffering:

“Don’t give up hope! We are with you. As friends, families and neighbors we pledge to surround you with our love and compassion until the sacred moment when God calls you home.”

It’s a beautiful statement, full of love and power and goodness. It is the assertion of a truly Christian, truly Catholic community to one who suffers — as Brittany Maynard clearly is, in many ways — presuming of course that that community is prepared to back up its words in real action. And it’s just the right message we should be able to offer, and must offer, to people in situations like Maynard’s.

Of course, it’s also precisely the statement we should be able to offer to many other people in many other situations, and reading Archbishop Sample’s words were for me an occasion of an examination of conscience. I would suggest it might serve as an examination of conscience for the Church.

“We are with you. As friends, families and neighbors, we pledge to surround you with our love and compassion.” Can we and do we say this, and mean it, to people among us who are poor, homeless, unemployed? Can we and do we say it to people on death row? To the unwanted unborn, the women who carry them, the doctors who have aborted them?

Such an examen is also relevant in the wake of this month’s Synod on the Family and the difficult issues that were addressed there. What consequences might be suggested if we decided we want to say it to the divorced and remarried? What might that mean? To people who are gay? People who are gay and in civil marriages?

Indeed, some of the synod discussion suggests we might ask: Are we willing to say it to folks such as these? Or do we only choose to say it when we’re trying to prevent someone from doing something we know is bad, but lose interest in saying it after they’ve done it?

I’m not saying the answers to these questions are obvious or that there will only be in all cases one right answer. But I do think Archbishop Sample offers us a good, useful, and challenging statement by which we can measure ourselves and the effectiveness of our Catholic witness to the world.


Unveiling the cover!


There it is — the cover of my new book, Struggle, Condemnation, Vindication: John Courtney Murray’s Journey toward Vatican II. I’m very excited about it.

There is, unfortunately, precious little public photographic record of Fr. Murray, and so the few photos of him that are out there are used repeatedly in various publications and articles. So Liturgical Press and I together commissioned the creation of a new portrait of Murray. It’s been created by Jamel Akib, an award-winning  British artist and illustrator. I hope you will agree that Mr. Akib has produced an impressive portrait.

Liturgical Press’s talented creative director, Monica Bokinskie, used the portrait as the basis of a great cover. The result is something I’m proud to have my name on. I worked hard on what’s inside over a period of nearly three years, so it’s good to know it will have a cover that is so striking.

The book will be available in May, but you can pre-order it here today.


First feast

Our Sunday Visitor offers this today, on this very first celebration of the feast of Saint John Paul II:

Today, Oct. 22, marks the first feast day of Pope St. John Paul II, who was canonized April 27 along with Pope St. John XXIII.

Barry Hudock wrote on the legacy of this great pope earlier this year:

“Pope St. John Paul II reminded the Church of its central mission: the proclamation of Jesus Christ to the world. From his very first encyclical letter in which he proclaimed Jesus as “the center of the universe and of history,” John Paul produced a massive amount of documents, speeches and books marked by the centrality of Jesus and the redemption he won for humanity. Besides his words, this pope also provided a striking personal example, traveling to 129 countries to proclaim the Gospel. On each voyage, he made contact with common people — particularly with the young, the sick and the poor — just as effectively as with world leaders. One of his most striking evangelization efforts is the World Youth Day celebrations. Starting with an event in Rome in 1984, he led massive gatherings of young people in such cities as Buenos Aires, Czestochowa, Denver and Sydney. (The 1995 event in Manila brought a gathering of a stunning 5 million people, one of the largest gatherings of people for any reason in history.)”

As we remember Pope St. John Paul II today, here’s a short prayer in his honor:

Wise and gracious God,
in your divine wisdom
you send Pope Saint John Paul II
to guide and shepherd the Church
in changing times.

He courageously defended all human life
from conception to death.
Through his intercession, we pray,
strengthen us to follow in his footsteps
so that we might experience
“true joy and authentic love,
and a lasting solidarity among peoples.”

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Pope St. John Paul II, pray for us.

Happy day!

JP2 and B16: a knack for raising heretics to positions of authority

So to summarize and perhaps expand just a bit on a little Twitter conversation, one thing that is especially interesting and dismaying to me about the Catholic conversation of recent weeks is how widely the uber-Catholics had to expand the circle of those who must be included among the bad guys, the ones who are not Catholic enough, those who have betrayed their faith and capitulated to the spirit of the world, in order to make their case that the discussion at the synod was evidence of the smoke of Satan in the Church .

I mean, think about it. For the Rorate Coeli and National Catholic Register narrative to be right, the people who are building a “false and dark church” are guys like

  • Christoph Schonborn, the general editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (chosen for that job by Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, you’ll recall)
  • Walter Kasper, author of one of the most respected and cited christologies of the post-Vatican II era, and another distinguished work on trinitarian theology
  • Donald Wuerl, author of The Teaching of Christ, probably one of the most popular and soundest of post-Vatican II catechisms published in English prior to the Catechism of the Catholic Church
  • And Bruno Forte, another highly regarded theologian — accomplished and sound enough that Pope John Paul II invited Forte to preach his Lenten retreat one year (that’s an invitation, we might note, that is sometimes taken by Vatican-watchers to be a subtle indication of who the current Pope thinks might be a good successor in his chair)

Every one of these guys were named bishops and then archbishops and then (with the exception of Forte) cardinals by Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

And these are our traitors? These are the people we are to believe are under the sway of the dictatorship of relativism? These are the ones who have, without a care, thrown the deposit of the faith under the bus in favor of a wishy-washy, modernistic, kumbayah alternative? Not a lone rogue element who went off the reservation, but of all of ’em. Seriously? (And don’t forget, at least half the synod fathers — a large group of distinguished pastors from around the world — seem to think that the conversation they want to have is worth having.) Because, after all, that was the criticism of JP2 and B16 all along, right: they were careless in paying attention to the doctrinal convictions of the men they named bishops and cardinals. Yeah.

Let me be clear: I have my own doubts about whether or not Kasper’s proposal for communion to the divorced and remarried is workable. I blogged about that here, on the first day of the Synod. But my response to this fact is to think, “Hm, this will be an interesting conversation among some extraordinary theological and pastoral leaders. It sure would be amazing if we could work out a way that people who are divorced and remarried could receive Communion in faithfulness to the Church’s tradition. Let’s see where this goes,” and to pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance of their work.

It is not to sound the alarms and scream about traitors to the faith who are building a dark and false church, much less to suggest in public that the Pope (another guy to whom I’m inclined to give the benefit of the doubt!) is doing great harm to the Church by allowing the discussion to happen.

But that’s just me.

Blessed Paul VI

With the beatification of Pope Paul VI upon us, I wanted to point out just a few posts from this blog in which this fascinating Pope is featured.

1. I did a series of posts to mark the fifth anniversary of Pope Benedict’s social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. One of them took a look at the previous papal encyclical that Benedict intended to commemorate by publishing it, Pope Paul VI’s historic Populorum Progressio. I noted:

CiV was intended to mark the fortieth anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s landmark 1967 encyclical on human development, Populorum Progressio. This is itself noteworthy, since almost every social encyclical prior to that was published on an anniversary of Rerum Novarum; for tradition-minded Benedict, the departure was certainly a deliberate choice. Why make it?

That full post is here.

2. During my John Courtney Murray research, I offered a post about the events of one particular day at the Second Vatican Council, under Paul VI’s leadership. It’s a window into the Council’s deliberations on the topic of religious freedom.

This one is especially relevant right now because it’s helpful remedial history to anyone who thinks what happened in Rome these last three weeks is not a lot like what went on for four years at Vatican II. And it’s a helpful theological-doctrinal-pastoral lesson to anyone who thinks that taking the most hardline, conservative approach to any doctrinal question is always the one most faithful to authentic Catholic tradition. Does this paragraph from that post, for example, have a familiar ring to it?

Despite these dramatic statements, there still was a great deal of disarray on the issue among the bishops and theologians at the Council. Several interventions were highly negative. Archbishop Lefebvre — who was then the superior general of the Holy Ghost Fathers, but later excommunicated from the Catholic Church — bitterly condemned it the schema, saying that the principle of religious freedom “is not one conceived … by the church.” The sharp conflict even generated some apathy on the part of some Council fathers. Many of the official Protestant observers began to sense that the schema might not succeed. Historian Gilles Routhier has written of this point, “The debate seemed to have bogged down, and no one could find a way of ending it.” The next morning’s headline in the New York Herald Tribune would read “Vatican Council near Crisis over Religious Liberty Issue.”

The full post is here.

3. Finally, when Pope Francis released his remarkable apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium last year, I pointed out the appearance in it of a significant quotation from Pope Paul VI’s apostolic letter Octogesima Adveniens. In a post titled “Octogesima Adveniens is Back,” I commented:

Among the (ever-growing) list of “firsts” ascribed to Pope Francis, we can add: first Pope to quote section 4 of OA in a papal document. (Not as sexy, I’ll grant you, as first Pope to be named Esquire magazine’s Best Dressed Man of the Year. But interesting at the very least.)

Find out why the quotation is both unique and perhaps quite important in the full post, here.

These are not the only places Paul VI has been brought up on this blog. All my posts related to Paul VI are here.