Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, April 2, 2017

“I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” — Ezekiel 37:12


April 2, Fifth Sunday of Lent

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Ezekiel 37:12-14

      Psalm 130:1-8

      2) Romans 8:8-11

      Gospel: John 11:1-45


By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

When it became clear that my mother was not going to survive her cancer, along with the devastation of this news and the heartache I felt, I also realized that I had never been to a funeral.

I was 25 years old and, thankfully, I had not lost anyone extremely close to me up to that point in my life. I did not want my mother’s funeral to be my first, so I started to attend funeral Masses for people from my parish, even if I did not know them well.

At first, these ceremonies seemed to be familiar and strange at the same time. The Mass was the same, but there were new parts I did not totally understand, and there was the whole thing about the deceased’s body being present — definitely a new experience for me.

After a few funerals I got a better sense of all the rituals that had been new to me and I felt as prepared as I could be for the looming funeral of my mother.

That day came and went like a blur, but because I had become somewhat comfortable with the Mass of Christian Burial I was at least able to get through it fully aware of what was going on.

As the years have progressed, I have been to many funerals and I now find them to be comforting and, in a particular way, a fulfillment of all that I believe.

At the beginning of the funeral, the casket is draped with a white pall and the covered casket is sprinkled with holy water. Each of these ceremonial actions serves as bookends to our spiritual life on earth. We begin in a white garment sprinkled with water at our baptism and this is repeated as we head heavenward.

This week’s readings speak of the promise of resurrection. Ezekiel says, “I will open your graves and have you rise from them,” prefiguring what actually happens to Lazarus, which is brought to fulfillment in Jesus and, hopefully, awaits us all.


What has your experience of funerals been like? How does your belief in the resurrection impact the way you look at the passing of loved ones?

Posted in Word to Life

Protecting children: Learning to listen to the voiceless

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

(Ninth in a series)

ROME — One of the most joyful people I know is one of my wife’s relatives who I will call Anne. Anne is almost always happy and immediately lights up a room when she enters it. On major holidays, my wife and I venture up to Long Island, New York, from Washington, D.C., to visit family. Every time we arrive, I can count on being warmly welcomed and embraced by Anne as soon as we walk through the door. Anne’s joy is truly contagious — her happiness brings happiness to others. To me, she epitomizes the spirit of St. Mother Teresa’s life and teachings: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

What I have not mentioned is that Anne is developmentally disabled. It is apparent that this condition has not kept her from bringing a bit of God’s kingdom to Earth; rather, it has provided her with a unique ability to do so.

Volunteers and participants at retreat for adults with cognitive disabilities take time for prayer at a parish in Kaukauna, Wis., in 2014. (CNS photo/Sam Lucero, The Compass)

Earlier this week, I was dismayed to learn about the extent of abuse perpetrated against people like Anne. According to the National Research Council, the rates of abuse against disabled children range between 22 and 70 percent. Other studies found that “individuals with intellectual disabilities are 4 to 10 more times as likely to be victims of crime than others without disabilities (Sobsey, et al., 1995). One study also found that children with intellectual disabilities were at twice the risk of physical and sexual abuse compared to children without disabilities (Crosse et. al., 1993).” This is truly disturbing.

Ppromiseeople can abuse disabled children undetected for a prolonged period because of society’s tendency to attribute any negative behavioral changes in a child to his or her disability, rather than the abuse. It is important to recognize that all children, including those with disabilities, do not experience prolonged and unexpected negative behavioral changes at random — these changes are almost always a reaction to negative event they have experienced.

Another reason for the vulnerability of disabled children is lack of communication. It is very difficult for those with intellectual disabilities to voice their suffering to their caretakers — they often do not have the language to do so. For these reasons, it is very important to put in the effort to create methods for communication that result in meaningful dialogue.

How can we enter into this dialogue in our daily lives? Simple — by listening. In his message for the 50th World Communications Day, Pope Francis describes what communicating and listening entail. What he says relates perfectly to how we should engage those with intellectual disabilities:

Pope Francis listens to a journalist’s question aboard the papal flight from Seoul, South Korea, to Rome 2014. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“Communicating means sharing, and sharing demands listening and acceptance. Listening is much more than simply hearing. … (It) calls for closeness. Listening allows us to get things right, and not simply to be passive onlookers, users or consumers. Listening also means being able to share questions and doubts, to journey side by side, to banish all claims to absolute power, and to put our abilities and gifts at the service of the common good.

Listening is never easy. … Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says. It involves a sort of martyrdom or self-sacrifice, as we try to imitate Moses before the burning bush: we have to remove our sandals when standing on the ‘holy ground’ of our encounter with the one who speaks to me (cf. Ex 3:5). Knowing how to listen is an immense grace, it is a gift which we need to ask for and then make every effort to practice.”

pledgeI pray that each of us will strive to communicate and listen to those with disabilities in these ways. It is through these means that we can begin to better protect the most vulnerable among us.

Finally, let us also remember that it is often those whom we consider to be the least among us, who turn out to be greater than we could ever imagine to be. In my case, I know that Anne will always best me when it comes to bringing joy to others.

When I read this verse from 2 Corinthians (12:9), I think of Anne and wish to share in her strengths:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.”

– – –

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 attending Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University’s interdisciplinary program for a diploma in safeguarding minors. 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. 


Posted in Protecting Children blog | 2 Comments

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, March 26, 2017

"We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day." -- John 9:4

“We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.” — John 9:4


March 26, Fourth Sunday of Lent

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a

      Psalm 23:1-6

      2) Ephesians 5:8-14

      Gospel: John 9:1-41


By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

In the U.S. there is an eight-month period called daylight saving time. Each fall, we move our clocks back one hour and in the spring we move the clock an hour ahead (“spring forward, fall back”).

Aside from confusing my body’s sleep cycle and causing people to be an hour late for Mass one Sunday out of the year, the manipulation of the clock serves a useful purpose. Taking advantage of the longer and later daylight hours during those eight months presumably allows us to use less electricity in lighting our homes and thus conserve energy.

The downside for me, however, is that my mind and body shut down an hour earlier in the wintertime, making me much less productive than I’d like to be. Because it’s already dark by the time I get home from work, I’m less inclined to take that pre-dinner walk or work in the yard like I did during the summer. I have to make new rules to make the clock work for me during the months of November through March.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus also changes the Sabbath rules — by using spittle, kneading clay and healing a blind man. But he’s not simply flouting convention for the sake of it. Rather, he is making a point that the covenant between God and human beings — which the strict observance of the Sabbath venerates — is fulfilled in Jesus’ merciful act of bringing sight to human beings, both physically and spiritually. The bystanders, whose well-meaning religious zeal led them to object so strenuously to the healing, missed the entire point.

Jesus came to the world to bring judgment, “that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” Simply put, his light comes to those who admit their blindness and acknowledge their need for healing. And nothing — not our past transgressions, nor our current narrow-mindedness, nor our inevitable future failings — can prevent his radiance from piercing our darkness.

As St. Paul tells the church at Ephesus: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” Regardless of what the clock says, it’s daytime for the disciple of the Lord Jesus.


Have you ever been blind to your own self-righteousness? How did your attitude prevent you from seeing Jesus’ merciful healing at work right in front of you?

Posted in Word to Life

Protecting children: Warning signs of potential abusers

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

(Eighth in a series)

ROME — Everyone knows the story of the prophet Jonah. He is commanded by God to prophesy to Nineveh, home of one of Israel’s greatest enemies. Despite receiving God’s commission to save 120,000 people from destruction, he instead chooses to flee on a ship, is thrown overboard by its sailors and ends up in the mouth of a great fish or whale.

“The Story of Jonah” by artist Fritz Eichenberg. (CNS photo/courtesy of Jundt Art Museum in Spokane, Wash.)

Many fears could have caused Jonah to flee — for example, fear of persecution from his fellow countrymen for helping an enemy or his own fear of helping a nation he despised. Some commentators also remark about his fear of undertaking such a monumental and generally undesirable task — imagine being appointed to confront your nation’s greatest enemy and asking them to repent or face destruction!

Nevertheless, the threat of dying in the belly of a fish at the bottom of the sea changes Jonah’s mind, and after praying for God’s help, Jonah ends up on the shores of Nineveh anyway. God again commands Jonah to prophesy to the people and this time Jonah accepts. After only “a single day’s walk announcing, ‘Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown,’ the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth(Jonah 3:4-5). Thus, the entire city was saved from destruction.

To me, this story has two central themes. First, we must always be attentive to true warning signs and be willing to react to them. Though they were sinful, the people of Nineveh recognized the sign of God’s mercy and they repented, ultimately preventing the destruction of their city. Second, we cannot allow our fears to prevent us from doing what is right. Out of fear, Jonah tried to hide from his responsibilities. Thankfully God intervened, but if he had not, Jonah’s fear would have led to the destruction of the Ninevites.

promiseThese two themes are why this story came to my mind as we discussed in class, this week at the Gregorian, the potential warning signs and “grooming behaviors” of sexual offenders. Research shows there are certain behaviors, if exhibited by adults such as teachers, priests, coaches or relatives, that could be warning signs or grooming behaviors for potential child sexual abuse. Some of these behaviors include: taking personal vacations and trips with children; allowing children to often be in his/her personal living quarters; giving lavish gifts to children; violating physical boundaries with children; having countless photos of children; making sexually suggestive remarks to children; giving alcohol and/or drugs to minors; allowing children to break the rules.

pledgeIn some cases, these warning signs are not reported due to fear, our own biases in favor of adults who we couldn’t imagine as offenders or because of the perceived problems reporting these behaviors would create for the church, the offender or ourselves. The person left out of the equation in these situations is the child who could be abused.

Today, if you noticed warning signs of abuse or grooming behaviors, how would you react? Overall, as a church and as individuals, would we behave more like Jonah or the people of Nineveh? Does it take being swallowed by a whale to respond to God’s will or, despite being sinners, will we immediately recognize a devastating threat and take action in these situations before it is too late? If you notice these behaviors, it is important to keep your children away from those who exhibit them, report the individuals behaving inappropriately to your diocese, and if appropriate, to law enforcement as well. When it comes to warning signs, we must behave more like the Ninevites and less like Jonah in order to prevent abuse.

– – –

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 attending Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University’s interdisciplinary program for a diploma in safeguarding minors. 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. 


Posted in Protecting Children blog

Mother Mary: The merciful, mischievous interceder in Italian legends

Panel of Our Lady as Advocate from 1150s by unknown artist. National Gallery of Ancient Art in Rome.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis told a story today about a legend in southern Italy to illustrate how Mary is always nearby, watching, waiting and ready to jump in and lend a hand.

While Jesus is every person’s best advocate in heaven, Mary plays an important role in many traditions and miracles.

Speaking to hundreds of priests and seminarians attending a course at the Vatican on confession, the pope said he heard about a legend that thieves would often pray to Our Lady of the Tangerines.

Every time Our Lady would notice one of the “pious” thieves waiting in the long line outside the gates of heaven, she would give him a sign to go and hide while St. Peter let in all the others, one by one. When St. Peter was done, locked the gate and left, that’s when Mary would call out and let the good thief come through a window she had opened.

“But don’t go and say that robbers go to heaven. Don’t say that!” Pope Francis told his audience to laughter.

The point of the story, he said, is that Mary is always by everyone’s side — the priest and the penitent, and especially the sinner. When a sinner goes to confession, he said, “he has a mother in heaven who will open the door and help him in that moment” to take the right step in order to make it into heaven. She has a knack for showing up at just the right time in people’s lives, and helping them make it right, he said.

Terracotta figures made by Paolo Sandulli of Our Lady of the Tangerines and two women. (Photo courtesy of Massimo Capodanno)

The story of “Our Lady of the Tangerines” is actually a Neapolitan poem, written by Ferdinando Russo in the 19th or early 20th century.

The gist is the same, only this time it’s an angel who’s misbehaved and didn’t do what God asked. God locks him in a dark cell and tells St. Peter to bring the angel bread and water, but not to let him out for 24 hours.

St. Peter hears the angel cry and feels pity, so he asks God to just let it slide this one time. God puts his foot down and says, “No,” otherwise everyone will get the wrong idea and do whatever they want. “In heaven, I’m in charge!” he says. So St. Peter leaves.

But in the dead of night, when everyone is fast asleep, Mary sneaks by and brings the angel tangerines.

Here’s an English translation of the Neapolitan poem, A Madonna d’ ‘e mandarine:



Posted in CNS, Vatican

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, March 19, 2017

"We have heard for ourselves." -- John 4:42

“We have heard for ourselves.” — John 4:42

March 19, Third Sunday of Lent

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Exodus 17:3-7

      Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9

      2) Romans 5:1-2, 5-8

      Gospel: John 4:5-42


By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

Why are you a Christian? What is it that has causes you to follow a man who walked the earth about 2,000 years ago, never traveled too far from his home and died a criminal’s death? Why do you go to church on Sundays and, for that matter, why are you reading this column?

My guess is that a big part of the answer to those questions is connected to a number of people in your life. Maybe the main people who influenced your faith are your parents. Maybe it was one of your relatives, a friend, a priest or youth minister. I do not think there are many disciples of Jesus who got to that faith totally on their own.

In my own case, I can point to my parents, many priests, my youth minister and a number of friends. Each of them in some way witnessed to me about what Jesus had done for them. Their stories had such an effect on me that I decided to surrender my heart to him as well.

Soon after this surrender, I began to encounter Jesus in a more personal way and before I knew it, my faith in Jesus was not based on the words of others but on my own experience of the living God.

This same story plays out in this week’s Gospel. The woman at the well encountered Jesus in such a powerful way that she went back home and told about her experience. Not long afterward, the people of the town say this: “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

This is how the Christian faith spreads. We first hear about God from others, but for faith to have its deepest impact we must believe based on our own experience of the God who, as St. Paul puts it, “proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, (he) died for us.”

It is one thing to stand on the shoulders of others, but it is even more important to stand on your own experience of God and his saving love.


Who are the people who have shaped your faith life? What are some reasons you continue to follow Jesus?

Posted in Word to Life

Protecting children: How loving families, strong social support can help

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

(Seventh in a series)

ROME — If you think the problems facing families today are new, just open your Bible; the common themes remain. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments are stories of the sins, sicknesses and difficulties that have affected families since the beginning of time.

In fact, in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis titles one of his chapters “A Path of Suffering and Blood” (p. 15-17) to describe Scriptural accounts of the “presence of pain, evil and violence that break up families and their communion of life and love.” He then lists the numerous stories of biblical families and their struggles, from Adam and Eve in Genesis to the Holy Family in the Gospels.

The Holy Family on their flight into Egypt from a stained-glass window in St. Edward’s Church in Seattle. (CNS photo/Crosiers)

In one of this week’s seminars at the Pontifical Gregorian University, my class discussed the risk factors and protective factors related to the sexual abuse of minors. Risk factors are those characteristics of a child, family or society correlated to a statistically higher rate of abuse, while protective factors are those characteristics correlated to a lower rate.

Many of the familial problems, particularly in the Old Testament, that are quite common today have been identified as risk factors of abuse. They include: ongoing marital conflicts, alcohol or drug problems, criminal backgrounds, women with “early” or “unwanted” pregnancies, separation or divorce, and social isolation of the family. These characteristics can lead to conditions that make children more vulnerable to offenders both within and outside of the family. The list of protective factors is much shorter and more straightforward: warm, predictive and supportive parent/child relationships and sibling relationships, created and nurtured by a loving and stable mother and father. Children living under these conditions are less likely to suffer abuse and more likely to report abuse if it does occur.

Playing football near the Arabian Sea coast of Mumbai, India, March 15, 2017. (CNS photo/EPA)

“The sexual abuse of children is all the more scandalous,” Pope Francis says in Amoris Laetitia, “when it occurs in places where they ought to be most safe, particularly in families, schools, communities and Christian institutions.” It is true that children ought to be the most safe in these places. Despite the constant problems that seem to face all families, the family unit remains the foundation of society and is the institution which can best lead children to happiness and holiness. For this reason, the “joy of love experienced by the family is also the joy of the church,” as the pope said.

Yet it is also true that many families will encounter the same problems that have been identified as destructive to life, love and happiness since the beginning of time. To prevent abuse, it is not only important for the church to confront the evil that may exist within some of her clergy, but also to provide families with the tools, support and general accompaniment they need to push through hard times.

Sister Leo Therese, a member of the Missionaries of Charity, helping families at a refugee camp in Basagaon, India, in 2012. (CNS photo/Anto Akkara)

Pope Francis notes, “The strength of the family lies in its capacity to love and to teach how to love. For all a family’s problems, it can always grow, beginning with love.” Helping family members grow closer to one another and to God must remain a key aspect of the Church’s mission in its fight against abuse. Building strong families, though not fail-safe, is one more way the church can decrease the risk factors that are associated with abuse. The family is the first “church” children experience. What types of “little churches” are we developing in our own homes to help our children grow safely in their faith?




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. 


Posted in Protecting Children blog