“This Land Is Home to Me,” 40 years on

this landTomorrow, February 1, marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of This Land Is Home to Me, a historic pastoral letter by the bishops of the Appalachian region of the United States. OSV Newsweekly has just published a new article I’ve written about the origins of that letter, its impact on the U.S. Catholic Church and the region, and its enduring legacy. It’s in this week’s print edition and here on the OSV website.

You can find the full text of This Land Is Home to Me here (the link opens a .pdf). At the same link, you’ll also find At Home in the Web of Life, the letter the Appalachian bishops released in 1995, to mark This Land‘s twentieth anniversary. Both documents are well worth a look.

On This Land‘s anniversary, I’d also point you to “A Judgment upon Us All,” an article of mine published by Commonweal almost two years ago, which offers a more personal and on-the-ground perspective on the issues addressed by This Land. Finally, you’ll find a selection of other reflections and comments on Appalachian poverty that I’ve offered on this blog by clicking here.



A fine foreworder & more kind words

120622_christiansen-631Two exciting bits of news to pass along today about my upcoming book, Struggle, Condemnation, Vindication: John Courtney Murray’s Journey toward Vatican II.

First, the book will include a substantial foreword by Drew Christiansen, SJ!

Fr. Christiansen (that’s him in the photo) is currently the Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Global Development at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He is also co-director and senior research fellow of the Program on the Church and the World at the Berkley Center. A mouth-full! Many, however, will remember him for his fine work as editor-in-chief of America magazine, a post he held from 2005 to 2012.

I’ve had a chance to read the foreword Fr. Christiansen prepared for the book, and I’m happy and honored to say it’s good bit more than a cursory “here ya go.” Indeed, if you’re interested in John Courtney Murray or the topic of religious freedom, Christiansen’s foreword alone will be worth the price of admission. (So if you buy the book to read what he has to say about Murray more than for what I have to say, no hard feelings at all!)  It’ll be an thrill to have his insights leading off my book!

Second, Boston College professor of theology Cathleen Kaveny has now weighed in on the book. Kaveny is an insightful writer and noted authority on the complex intersections of culture, law, and Catholic faith. Here’s what she has to say:

Barry Hudock’s account of the life and work of John Courtney Murray shows that the development of Catholic teaching on religious liberty cannot be reduced to abstract, numbered paragraphs in an encyclical or catechism. It is a riveting story of clashing personalities, impossible possibilities, and hope against all hope. It is the story of the Holy Spirit at work in the Church.

I’m excited about these words, because Professor Kaveny’s experience of reading the manuscript was apparently very similar to my experience of writing it: Murray’s story is indeed a riveting one, with a fascinating cast of characters living out a drama that is very real.

My sincere and enthusiastic thank-you’s to Professor Kaveny and Fr. Christiansen for their gracious support!



Francis at Tacloban: pointing us to Jesus

francis taclobanSeveral times since Friday night, I have watched that homily that Pope Francis offered at Tacloban in the Philippines. One of the things that keeps coming to mind as I do is some commentary I heard Fr Robert Barron offer some months ago, probably in one of his many online videos. He said that we Catholics today are fortunate to be living in a “golden age of the papacy” that has perhaps not been seen since the early Church. Pope after pope has come before us: John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Francis — remarkable and holy leaders for God’s church, each in their own way.

In Tacloban on Friday we saw in a luminous way the courage, compassion, and holiness of Francis. He said himself that he had decided at the time of Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013 that he needed to go to Tacloban, where so many thousands died and many more thousands lost family and homes and livelihoods. And so it was not surprising that he fulfilled that intention this weekend, despite the onset of a tropical storm at the time of this pastoral visit to the Philippines. The sight of Pope Francis in that yellow poncho, on that windy and rain-swept makeshift altar, was powerful testimony to his determination to fulfill it.

And then the homily. He didn’t even bother to begin the homily prepared for the occasion. He simply spoke ad lib and obviously from his heart. And what came was a proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in simple and clear and moving terms: Jesus as Lord, Jesus as incarnate in the suffering of humanity.

As we see in the video (and the photo above), Francis literally did in this homily exactly what those previous great Popes of ours have each done so insistently, in their own ways and in the circumstances of their own times: he pointed the people, pointed us, to Jesus.

Now this morning comes news of a crowd of 6 to 7 million people for today’s Mass in Manila. And in today’s homily he reminds us of “our deepest identity,” that of each of us being, together, members of God’s family and that we must live with one another like that is what we are. Again, he says it simply, plainly, winsomely. What he said and the way he said it reminds me very much of the thing I often hope my children will always remember as being a fundamental lesson I tried to raise them to understand: God gives us to each other as gifts, to be God’s help and God’s love to one another, to make one another’s lives better, and so we must always ask ourselves, “Am I being a gift to him or her?”

Rocco comments on today’s numbers:

Beyond taking the all-time record from the final day of John Paul II’s 1995 visit in the same place, it is significant that today’s mass of humanity did not come in the context of a World Youth Day, unlike the prior title-holder and Francis’ draw of 3 million to the closing of 2013’s WYD on Rio de Janiero’s Copacabana beach. What’s more, while John Paul’s last trip to Asia was commonly understood as a “farewell” to a pontiff who was entering the pantheon of legend in his 17th year as Pope, Francis has now presided over the two largest papal crowds ever within the first two years of his pontificate.

To those who scowl at Francis in our day for characteristics and priorities that we have seen on display clearly enough even on this Philippines visit — because he is not attentive enough to the prettiness of the liturgy (that damned yellow poncho!) or because his language at times lacks theological precision (“if someone says a swearword against my mother, of course he’ll get a punch in the nose”) — we should all have the wisdom and common sense to say, “You are silly,” and then to ignore them. Because may God protect us from getting so wrapped up in those peripherals that we keep ourselves from following the direction of Francis’s pointing finger, pointing to Christ, and from allowing his simple, loving, and humble witness from forming us into better Christians.

“An extraordinarily important book”

Here’s some exciting advance feedback on my new book Struggle, Condemnation, Vindication: John Courtney Murray’s Journey toward Vatican II. It comes from Mark Massa, SJ, who is professor of church history at Boston College and the author of several highly regarded books on the history of the church in the United States. About my book, Massa has said:

“This is an extraordinarily important book — arguably the most important study of the thought and influence of John Courtney Murray in 40 years. Hudock elucidates how Murray’s contribution to North American and world Catholicism transcends the tired political labels of our time, so that both Catholic ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ have benefited from his forceful defense of religious liberty and freedom of conscience. A must-read.”

My thanks to Fr. Massa for his gracious words!

The book will be available in May. More on it (including the chance to pre-order a copy) here.

Let me introduce you and your group to John Courtney Murray

I’m interested in spending a good chunk of my time during 2015 talking about Fr. John Courtney Murray. This guy lived out a real-life theological adventure story, he faced some powerful opposition gracefully and obediently, and he ended up having a bigger impact on the doctrine of the Catholic Church than any American has ever had. I had such a great time learning about him and writing about him for my new book, I’m itching to get the word out about him among Catholics today. Not enough of us know about him.

If you’re interested in hearing about him at a parish adult education program, a conference, or other event, drop me a line and we’ll talk. I’ll make sure it’s affordable for your organization or parish. What you’ll get is a dynamic presentation — no monotonous droning on, no reading from Powerpoints or texts — that is interesting and even surprising. And it won’t be something you need a theology degree to understand. I’m not a professional academic; I’m in Catholic publishing, and I know how to make things clear and engaging.

You’ll hear about where things stood in Catholic theology on the topic of religious freedom when John Courtney Murray took up the question, the fascinating way he offered a new way of looking at the topic while constantly insisting on being faithful to orthodox Catholic teaching, and the result that shook up the Second Vatican Council and led to the remarkable achievements of people like Pope John Paul II that would not have been possible without Murray.

I’ll talk for about 50 minutes (and you will not be bored), backed up by plenty of helpful photos, and then there will be time for question and answer. I’ll have copies of my new book, Struggle, Condemnation, Vindication: John Courtney Murray’s Journey toward Vatican II, available for purchase and signing. For a sense of the sort of presentation I give, take a look at this article on one that I recently delivered at the annual University of Dallas Ministry Conference (written by a reporter I didn’t know was in the room at the time).

Oh, and 2015 is a great time to learn about Murray, because this December will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae, Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, of which Murray was a central architect. Let’s mark the anniversary in a fitting way.

I’m not out to make a killing; it just doesn’t work that way for this kind of work. What I want is to make the great stuff I’ve learned more widely available. (And if you want to really make the visit worthwhile and arrange for a second dynamic talk the next day — for example, on Pope Francis and Catholic social teaching, on Oscar Romero, or the crucial place of the Eucharistic prayer in Catholic worship — we can do that, too.)

If this sounds worth looking into, email me at barryhudock[at]gmail[dot]com, and we’ll talk. Thank for considering it.

Romero the martyr

There’s been some breaking news today on the recognition of Oscar Romero’s martyrdom by the theological committee of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. It seems that everyone is citing and linking to this page from the Italian newspaper Avvenire’s website, and as far as I can tell — to my surprise — there’s almost nothing available yet in English.

I’m sure that will change soon, but in the meantime, here’s a quick translation of the entire Avvenire report there. (At the conclusion of that summary, there’s a link to “Read the Entire Article,” but you need a subscription to get to that.)

Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was assassinated “out of hatred for the faith.” This is the news in the preview edition of Avvenire for Thursday, January 9, 2015. The members of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints’ theological committee have expressed their positive unanimous vote on the martyrdom undergone by the Archbishop of San Salvador on March 24, 1980. It is a decisive step needed for [the cause of] the Latin American bishop who was killed while celebrating the Eucharist and who is already considered to be a saint by popular acclaim. All that remains now, according to canonical practice, for Romero’s beatification is the judgment of the congregation’s bishops and cardinals and finally the approval of the Pope. His cause, introduced in March 1994 and concluded in its diocesan phase the following year, landed in Rome in 1997, promoted by its postulator, Msgr. Vincenzo Paglia.

Pope Francis cited Romero during his most recent general audience. The Archbishop of San Salvador, Bergoglio recalled, “said that mothers lived a ‘maternal martyrdom.’ In a homily for the funeral of a priest assassinated by the death squads, he [Romero] said, echoing the Second Vatican Council: ‘Everyone must be ready to die for our faith, even if the Lord doesn’t grant them this honor… To give one’s life does not mean only being killed; doesn’t it also mean to give one’s life, having the spirit of martyrdom, to give oneself in duty, in silence, in prayer, in the honest completion of one’s responsibilities, in that silence of daily life, giving one’s life little by little? Yes, like a mother gives it, who without fear, with the simplicity of the maternal martyr, conceives a child in her womb, gives birth to it, nurses it, helps it to grow, and attends to it with affection. She gives her life. She is a martyr.'”

When a stunner is no longer so stunning

We’re already “getting used to” Francis and his distinctive priorities, so even the “stunner” of yesterday’s announcement of new cardinals is not very surprising to anyone, is it? After nearly two years of Francis, many would have been more shocked if he had named a slew of new cardinals to the traditional, powerful cardinalatial sees, right?

So it’s worth taking a step back and using this little event and our lack of surprise about it as a single fascinating indicator of where Francis has brought us and continues to lead us as a church.

I’m unashamed to admit I profoundly admire the leadership of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI – neither of them perfect, but both great in their own ways. Still, only a few short years ago, seeing this as the opening lines of an article by the top U.S. journalist on things Catholic would have seemed fantastical, like some dreamy passage from one of those “if only the church could be this way” novels by Joseph Girzone:

ROME — With his picks for new cardinals announced on Sunday, Pope Francis continued his campaign to reach out to the peripheries. The pontiff bypassed traditional centers of power and awarded red hats to such typically overlooked locales as Panama, Thailand, Cape Verde, New Zealand, and the Pacific island of Tonga.

For the second time, there were no new cardinals from the United States on the list announced by Francis. There were also no Americans in the first crop of cardinals named by Francis in February 2014.

(That’s from the article John Allen posted yesterday at Crux.)

God bless our Holy Father. And may God’s Holy Spirit make our hearts ever more receptive and malleable to the Christian witness he is offering all of us by word and example. May we all continue to be “stunned,” but more importantly, to be formed by it.