Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Feb. 12, 2017

"Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him." -- Sirach 15:17

“Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.” — Sirach 15:17

Feb. 12, Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Sirach 15:15-20

      Psalm 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34

      2) 1 Corinthians 2:6-10

      Gospel: Matthew 5:17-37

 

By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

Most people would agree that living an ethical life boils down to our personal choices between “good” and “evil.” Others might use different criteria, such as useful or not useful, pleasurable or not pleasurable, etc. Whatever our standards, we value the freedom to identify our own paths as one of the most treasured aspects of being human, and we resist someone else’s telling us what to do.

Today’s readings are full of references to making wise choices, but as St. Paul states, the wisdom informing those choices is “not a wisdom of this age.” The wisdom spoken to “those who are mature” takes the form of “statutes,” “decrees,” “commandments” and “law” — the very things that make postmodern society nervous.

Fearing a loss of freedom, some renounce organized religion and submission to God’s commandments. But the Bible leads us to a great paradox. God, the author of human freedom, doesn’t command us to act unjustly and “to none does he give license to sin.” St. Augustine put it another way, writing that God is the master “whom to serve is perfect freedom.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus not only affirms the “law and the prophets” but interprets them more rigorously, teaching that “whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

In our day-to-day living we constantly make choices, between the freeway or the backroads, a salad or a burger, or whether to wear the blue tie or the red one.

Very seldom do we actually choose between “good” and “evil,” but faced with what we perceive to be two “goods,” we usually pick what we think is better; or confronted with two undesirable outcomes, we go for the one that’s “not so bad.” And we think that our exercise of choice comprises the extent of human freedom.

Today’s readings are God’s invitation to take his gift of freedom to the next level, to not merely settle for the lesser of two evils or the more expedient of two good outcomes. God wants us to be truly free in the deepest sense of the word, to be formed according to his life-giving divine wisdom and to act accordingly. His commandments are the means that make this possible.

QUESTION:

How do you use God’s gifts of free will and his commandments to make daily decisions?

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Protecting children: Taking stock of stereotypes

Drew Dillingham of the USCCB office of child protection is pictured in Rome Jan. 31. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Drew Dillingham
Catholic News Service

(Second in a series)

ROME — They say stereotypes exist for a reason. Well, the first person my wife Kim and I met in Rome was named Mario. How much more cliche can it get than meeting an Italian man named Mario? But this Mario is not a plumber and he doesn’t have a twin brother named Luigi. He is the barista at the cafe around the corner from our apartment in Rome. He makes some pretty good cappuccinos, which I indulge in frequently.

While we all know that the “all Italians are named Mario” stereotype is not true, our Mario is the only Italian that Kim and I have had the chance to befriend in the two weeks since our arrival.

The people we have met so far have very un-Romanesque names because they all hail from places like Uganda, India and Mexico. When most people think of Rome, they don’t typically think of it as a melting pot. Yet here we are making new acquaintances with such a diverse group of people that would make any American university admissions officer jealous.

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Drew and Kim (center) with Lay Centre scholars, Isaias Marcano from Mozambique (left) and Filipe Domingues from (right). (CNS photo courtesy of the Lay Centre).

Some of the new friends we have made reside at the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas. The Lay Centre “promotes the lay vocation, Christian unity and interreligious dialogue.” Thanks to the warm hospitality of the staff, we were able to meet scholars from Mozambique and Brazil, and sit in on a roundtable on human trafficking that featured the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Holy See and a Kenyan member of Jesuit Refugee Service. I highly recommend making a point of visiting the Lay Centre while you are in Rome. They go above and beyond to make you feel welcome.

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Drew and Brother Amandi Mboya in front of the Gregorian University. (CNS photo courtesy of D. Dillingham)

However, most of our new friends are my fellow students at the Gregorian University — 24 students from 18 different countries. On Tuesday, I had the chance to speak with one of my classmates, Brother Amandi Mboya, a Christian Brother who works in Kenya. Our conversation centered around issues of abuse in East African communities.

I was not surprised to learn that like dioceses in the United States, dioceses in countries like Kenya and Tanzania are focused on changing the culture within their communities so victims are supported and encouraged to report abuse. While abuse remains a major problem in East Africa, and the neglect of victims by authorities and society in general remains an obstacle to justice, advocates like Brother Mboya are working with their local churches to reverse these trends. More conversations with other students in my program made it apparent that while the church is diverse, dioceses and communities across the world are facing many of the same issues.

promiseRecently, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse reported on the rampant abuse that took place in the Catholic Church in Australia. The question now, more than ever, is how can the church better protect children, bring healing and justice to victims, and ensure the scandals that have engulfed the church in countries like the United States, Ireland, Germany and Australia do not reach other parts of the world? For unless we do something, we will never be rid of the negative stereotype of the “pedophile priest” uttered by the media, the public and sometimes our own faithful.

pledgeThese are questions I will pray about when I attend our new parish, St. Sylvester, whose Mass is celebrated by two Irish priests and whose parishioners are overwhelmingly Filipino. I will surely find some answers during the next few months of my studies at the Gregorian University, but one thing I have already determined is that Rome is definitely not a city of stereotypes.

Next week, I hope to write about the start of my courses. This week’s meetings were all about enrollment forms, orientation and payment. Ci sentiamo presto!

Drew Dillingham is the Coordinator for Resources and Special Projects with the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.  He is an avid reader of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and shares his April 26th birthday. Dillingham also dabbles in the works of Bishop Robert Barron, thanks to the ongoing encouragement of his wife, Kim. 

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Faith leaders’ ongoing reaction to Trump ban on refugees

A woman holds a sign during a protest in front of Trump International Hotel Jan. 29 in Washington. (CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard)

A woman protests outside Trump International Hotel Jan. 29 in Washington. (CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard)

UPDATED Feb. 10.

WASHINGTON (CNS) — This morning the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration welcomed the federal appeals court ruling Feb. 9 that upheld a temporary restraining order against President Donald Trump’s travel ban on refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries that also temporarily suspended the country’s refugee resettlement program.

And here’s more reaction to Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order intended to restrict the entry of terrorists coming to the United States in the guise of refugees:

—  Bishop Edward C. Malesic  of Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

Alaska’s Catholic bishops.

— Catholic colleges and universities all over the country also have weighed in. The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities has a statement here. The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities website has links to statements from individual schools here.

Right after Trump’s issued his order,  the action brought quick response from Catholic and other religious leaders. Trump’s executive action suspends the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days and bans entry of all citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries — Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia — for 90 days. It also establishes religious criteria for refugees, proposing to give priority to religious minorities over others who may have equally compelling refugee claims.

After a federal judge in Seattle Feb. 3 temporarily halted Trump’s denial of entry to those traveling to the U.S. from the seven majority-Muslim countries, the administration appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco. The circuit court heard oral arguments late Feb. 7 and a decision was still pending. Court battles will continue in the days ahead.

Statements of reaction from Catholic bishops and other faith leaders have continued to pour forth. Here are links to many of them:

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president and vice president, respectively, of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a joint statement. Archbishop Gomez also discussed Trump’s action in a column on the Los Angeles archdiocesan media platform, Angelus. Even before Trump was inaugurated, Archbishop Gomez on Jan. 20, the eve of the new president’s swearing-in, urged a new recognition of the humanity of immigrants.

Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration.

— Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico — chairmen of bishops committees on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Religious Liberty (ad hoc) and International Justice and Peace. Archbishop Lori also wrote an open letter to Catholics in his archdiocese addressing the new reality for refugees. Bishop Rozanski also issued a separate statement. And in his diocese, Bishop Cantu led a prayer service.

— Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago.

— Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey. Besides that statement on the Newark archdiocese website, the cardinal wrote an opinion piece (updated yesterday) that appeared on The Record daily newspaper’s website, NorthJersey.com.

— Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, who wrote a blog post on the issue and an opinion piece in the Boston Globe, headlined “Doing What Is Just for Immigrants.” The cardinal also joined Muslim leaders and public officials in solidarity and prayer Feb. 2.

— Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington.

— New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan writes in the New York Daily News about the Catholic Church’s consistent ethic of life and how it holds lessons for both Trump, whose executive action closing America’s door to refugees the cardinal called “impetuous and terribly unfair,” and for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has proposed a “radical extension” of abortion in the Empire State.

— In Louisiana, New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond; Baton Rouge Bishop Robert W. Munch; and Houma-Thibodeaux Bishop Shelton J. Fabre.

— Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit issued a letter of support to area Muslim leaders. Also in Michigan, Bishop Paul G. Bradley of Kalamazoo issued a statement.

— In Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik and Erie Bishop Lawrence T. Persico.

— Arizona’s bishops issued a joint statement.

— Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock, Arkansas.

— Here are statements by other California bishops: Monterey Bishop Richard J. Garcia, Monterey; Orange Bishop Kevin W. Vann, writing as chairman of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, or CLINIC; San Bernardino Bishop Gerald J. BarnesBishop Robert W. McElroy, San Diego.

—  Bishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford, Connecticut.

— In Florida, Bishop Gregory L. Parkes of St. Petersburg presided over a prayer service for migrants and refugees.

— Here are statements from Indiana bishops: Evansville Bishop Charles C. Thompson; Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades; Gary Bishop Donald C. Hying; and Lafayette Bishop Timothy L. Doherty.

— In Iowa, Davenport Bishop Martin J. Amos and Des Moines Bishop Richard E. Pates.

— Bishop John E. Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky.

— Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland, Maine.

— Bishop Robert J. McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts.

— In Minnesota, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis and Bishop Donald J. Kettler of St. Cloud.

— Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz of Jackson, Mississippi.

— In Missouri, the state Catholic conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops issued a statement , as did St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson.

— Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

— In Texas, in the Star-Telegram newspaper, Bishop Michael F. Olson wrote this opinion piece.

— In Washington state, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain and Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle issued a joint letter.

Many Catholic and interfaith organizations also have issued statements in reaction to Trump’s executive action on refugees. Here’s a sampling: Catholic Charities USA; Catholic Theological Society of America’s board of directors: and more than 3,500 religious leaders have signed a letter to Trump and Congress supporting refugee resettlement.

TENNESSEE VIGIL REFUGEES

People attend a Feb. 1 vigil for immigrants and refugee rights in Nashville, Tenn. (CNS photo/Theresa Laurence, Tennessee Register)

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Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Feb. 5, 2017

"If salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?" -- Matthew 5:13

“If salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?” — Matthew 5:13

Feb. 5, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Isaiah 58:7-10

      Psalm 112:4-9

      2) 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

      Gospel: Matthew 5:13-16

 

By Deacon Mike Ellerbrock
Catholic News Service

When Jesus tells his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth,” his metaphor may have evoked bad memories and feelings of horror. At the least, it may have seemed a puzzling statement.

Under Roman domination, Jewish peasant farmers had to pay several annual taxes. Most burdensome were the Temple tax of half a shekel to Jerusalem authorities and property tax to local magistrates levied at a sizable percent of their agricultural produce. If they refused or were delinquent, Roman soldiers would cruelly salt their fields to destroy their livelihood. The threat was terrifying.

Frequently in Israelite history, conquering invaders would salt the land to declare their victory and intimidate the vanquished into servitude and worship of their new king. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, “salted land” was synonymous with “desert wasteland,” a painful reminder of dark days.

On the other hand, it was Jewish custom to see salt as symbolic of a covenantal relationship. In sacred ritual, Temple priests used salt to sparkle incense. All offerings had to be sprinkled with salt.

Israelites also used salt as a food preservative and source of flavor to spice up meat.

Jesus’ declaration calls his disciples — then and now — to see themselves as the salt that cures, not as salt that punishes or oppresses. He calls us to be a cure for injustice and an antidote for oppression. By ministering to the suffering he urges us to be “the light of the world.” Visible from the mountaintop, our bold discipleship cannot be hidden under a bushel basket, but instead must be “light to all in the house,” glorifying God by our lives.

Also, Jesus calls all followers to be the salt that both preserves the faith and invigorates it with our actions.

The vast majority of Americans reported feeling “repulsed” by our recent national election campaign. Why did it sink so low? Are fear and anger so pervasive that our salt has gone sour, infected our spirit? As disciples of Christ we are called to be a light to all.

Founded on the ideals of indivisibility, liberty and justice for all, the U.S. professes to be one nation under God. May our actions match our words!

QUESTIONS:

With a new presidential administration, what will I personally do to manifest healing and unity after such a divisive campaign? How can we as a nation be a light to the world?

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Protecting children: U.S. bishops’ staffer heads to Rome for specialized studies

Drew Dillingham of the USCCB office of child protection is pictured in Rome Jan. 31. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Drew Dillingham
Catholic News Service

(First in a series)

ROME — Since the 16th century, 16 popes have been students at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. I will never be the 17th — just ask my wife.

Instead, I am attending one of the oldest universities in the Eternal City as an American Catholic layperson to learn how to more effectively protect children from sexual abuse and better respond to the needs of victims and survivors.

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Drew Dillingham from the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection at the USCCB taking a look at his new neighborhood in Rome. (CNS photo courtesy of D. Dillingham).

After praying multiple never-failing “Flying Novenas” to ensure my wife and I were speedily granted visas by the Italian Embassy, I have finally made it to my flat in the local, non-touristy neighborhood known as Monti. Monti is less than a mile from the Colosseum as well as from the university. I highly recommend this neighborhood for those looking to escape huge crowds of tourists and find a little peace and quiet.

The Gregorian University’s 12-week interdisciplinary program for a diploma in safeguarding minors is offered through its Center for Child Protection. The curriculum is designed to equip me and the other dozen or so priests, religious and laypeople enrolled in the course with the tools to confront the issue of clergy sexual abuse through multiple lenses, including psychology, social sciences, theology and canon law. From now through June, I will be with international students learning from experts in a number of fields and discussing how we can strengthen the church’s efforts to prevent and respond to this grave sin.

promiseOf course while there is still much to improve upon, dioceses in the United States have accomplished a great deal since the sex abuse scandals rocked the church in 2002. Through this course, it is my hope (and the bishops’) to share the experiences of U.S. dioceses, both our success and failures, with other students from dioceses around the world. I also expect to learn much from them. This dialogue will prove to strengthen the entire church’s approach to child protection and victim assistance.

pledgeAbuse is prevalent in all communities. It is our duty as a church to never again fail in our own sacred responsibility to carry out Christ’s call to protect the most vulnerable — not only in our own parishes, but across all geographic boundaries. The fact that the bishops of the United States, especially Bishop Edward J. Burns, chair of the USCCB Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, have sent me to Rome to study this issue shows they remain committed to answer that Gospel call. I pray that through our studies, all of us at the Gregorian University will be better able to assist our bishops as they shepherd God’s flock.

Please pray for me and all of those studying at the Gregorian this semester. I encourage you to follow along with my studies and experiences at the Gregorian through this weekly blog. Ci sentiamo presto!

Drew Dillingham is the Coordinator for Resources and Special Projects with the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.  He is an avid reader of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and shares his April 26th birthday. Dillingham also dabbles in the works of Bishop Robert Barron, thanks to the ongoing encouragement of his wife, Kim. 

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Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Jan. 29, 2017

"The Lord keeps faith forever." -- Psalm 146:6

“The Lord keeps faith forever.” — Psalm 146:6

 

Jan. 29, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13

      Psalm 146:6-10

      2) 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

      Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12a

 

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

Once a week, I help out at an after-school center in my community. The long-standing program, which provides supervision and enrichment activities for disadvantaged children, is a place of pride for the community because it fills an important need for many struggling families and has become a valuable resource in improving the prospects for their children.

Local news periodically shows smiling kids from the center participating in special events such as planting a community garden or taking swimming lessons at the YMCA.

But behind the feel-good images is a highly challenging environment in which staff members try to mentor some 200 children, most of whom have academic, social or psychological difficulties.

Constant behavior problems make it hard to accomplish much on any given day, so it’s not uncommon for frustrated staffers or volunteers to give up after only a brief time. But a core group stays. They endure the frustration, work through obstacles and celebrate incremental successes. They stay because they are true believers in the center’s mission.

Similarly, staying power is a challenge to the Christian faithful. Conflicts, wars, materialism, selfishness and an overarching secular culture threaten our ability to follow the ways of Christ. How can we hold fast to our beliefs against overwhelming opposition?

Zephaniah’s prophecy in today’s Scriptures provides the assurance we seek that Jesus’ mission will continue despite forces in this world that constantly conspire to bring it down. Speaking God’s word, the prophet says, “I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord … they shall do no wrong and speak no lies.”

God promises that a core of true believers always will carry on, committed and living the life to which he calls us.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus describes that life in the beatitudes, reiterating that the faithful will be rewarded by God’s faithfulness.

It’s our only hope in this world, but it’s a great hope, and we can witness its truth in people such as the committed leaders at the after-school center. When I observe this small group patiently enduring because of their compassion and selflessness, I have to believe that they actually are a part of that remnant maintaining God’s goodness here and now.

QUESTIONS:

Where do you see committed people around you struggling against obstacles to living the Gospel? Which of the beatitudes poses the greatest challenge to you?

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Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Jan. 22, 2017

"He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him." -- Matthew 4:21-22

“He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.” — Matthew 4:21-22

 

Jan. 22, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

      1) Isaiah 8:23-9:3

      Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14

      2) 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17

      Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23

 

By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

In my work as the Catholic campus minister at a large state school, I spend a lot of time commiserating with college students about their futures. Some come to the university with a definite plan. They know their major, the list and order of classes needed for their degree and what internships will best put them on track to reach their goals. But alas, such college students are the exception, not the rule.

According to National Center for Education Statistics, about 80 percent of students in the U.S. end up changing their major at least once and, on average, college students change their major at least three times over the course of their college career. Yet even among students who are certain about their choice of major, many often do not know what kind of career they want to pursue after college.

These major-changing nomads of the halls of higher education are very much like the people described in today’s Scriptures: a people walking in darkness, longing for the light, any light!

While dark and directionless times are hard and often longer than four years of college, there is nothing like the look on a student’s face when he or she finally has some peace regarding the direction for his or her life. It’s as though this big, life-defining decision they have been waiting for, seemingly forever, has finally come and made a home within them.

I imagine it is this exact experience, taken to a transcendent level, that the first disciples felt when Jesus asked them to follow him. They had been waiting, not just for their whole lives, but with the entire nation of Israel, they had been waiting for centuries. They had wandered in spiritual darkness all this time and finally the Light had come.

When the darkness is so deep and has lasted for so long, the light is especially bright. It is this circumstance that fueled the scene in Matthew’s Gospel: “(Jesus) called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.”

Whether we are seeking direction in this life or directions to the next life, we all experience times of darkness, but as the psalmist says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?”

QUESTIONS:

When was a time of darkness that you have come through? What is something you have left behind to follow Jesus?

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