Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, April 9, 2017

April 9, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

      Cycle A. Readings:

      Gospel at the Procession With Palms:
Matthew 21:1-11

      1) Isaiah 50:4-7

      Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24

      2) Philippians 2:6-11

      Gospel: Matthew 26:14-27:66


By Deacon Mike Ellerbrock
Catholic News Service

What is the difference between Peter and Judas, both of whom denied Jesus? One becomes the rock upon which the church is founded, our first pope and a great saint. The other becomes synonymous with personal betrayal by a kiss and famous as history’s ultimate traitor.

When someone is mad at me, I don’t like it. Why? Truth be told: I don’t like the guilt of being “guilty” … busted, exposed, vulnerable, sinful.

For me to practice unconditional love, I must delve deeper for the grace and courage to empty my conscience of ego, to get to “It’s not about me!”

Simon Peter, Jesus’ close friend and confidant, boldly declares to Jesus that “though all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be” and, “even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” Yet, Peter cowers three times when confronted by two girls and some bystanders: “I do not know the man.” The cock crows, signaling his betrayal.

Among the Twelve, Judas apparently held some rank, as he was appointed treasurer by Jesus.

After betraying Jesus, both Judas and Peter deeply regret their actions. Peter “weeps bitterly.”

“Flinging the money into the temple,” Judas attempts to return the “blood” bribe to the chief priests and elders and then commits suicide. What’s the difference?

In our own relationships today, when we speak those sacred words, “I am sorry,” to someone we have hurt, what is our motivation?

Judas is sorry because he knows that he is in trouble with God. The consequences are terrifying.

Peter is sorry because he knows he has hurt his dear friend’s feelings. The regret is genuine.

The difference is that Peter trusted in Jesus’ forgiveness, while Judas lost all hope and fell to despair.

When we gossip or bad mouth others, do we owe them a private or public apology, and likewise when we have been hurt? Private apologies are often easier and less embarrassing, but do not fully repair the harm done.

True reconciliation requires “kenosis” or “emptying” ourselves, “taking the form of a slave” to “humble” ourselves for the sake of others, no matter how painful.


How well do we know ourselves? Do we truly listen to the face in the mirror?

Posted in Word to Life

U.S. faced ‘months of fiery trial and sacrifice’ in Great War

On this day 100 years ago the United States entered World War I. The declaration of war by the U.S. Congress followed by four days an address President Woodrow Wilson gave at a special joint session of Congress, urging lawmakers to make that declaration.

“There are, it may be, many months of fiery trial and sacrifice ahead of us. It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance,” Wilson said. “But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts — for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.”

U.S. soldiers with the 1st Division of the 6th Field Artillery Regiment are seen in an undated photo in World War I. (CNS photo/U.S. Signal Corps, courtesy National World War I Museum and Memorial)

The war had already been officially underway since July 28, 1914. That the American Doughboys found horror of an unprecedented scale in the Great War, aka World War I, is well-documented.

A Tuesday story in The Washington Post gives a glimpse: “At night when things were quiet in the ‘jaw ward,'” wounded soldiers “would take out their small trench mirrors and survey the damage to their faces. Noses had been shot off. … Chins were destroyed. … Mouths had been torn apart.”

Chemical warfare also was a major component of this first global war of the 20th century from disabling chemicals, such as tear gas, to lethal agents like phosgene, chlorine and mustard gas. A distant relative of mine was one of the young men Nebraska gave up to the war. He was blinded by mustard gas, his life changed forever.

As CNS notes in this story, the Great War also brought Catholics, including the hierarchy, into the mainstream of U.S. society. CNS also has produced two videos about the war, found here and here. By entering the war, the U.S. played a decisive role in its outcome. It ended Nov. 11, 1918, when Germany formally surrendered.

The Catholic University of America in Washington has just created an extensive website that chronicles the U.S. Catholic experience in the war. It features material curated by the university’s American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives. Hundreds of pages of photographs, letters, scrapbooks, and other documents available online to the public free of charge on the site.

The University Archives has digitized a series of articles published in the late 1920s by what is today Catholic News Service called “Catholic Heroes of the World War” — a chronicle of men, and some women, who won the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, and/or the Distinguished Service Medal.

The archives staff has compiled other resources highlighting Catholic participation in the war: The “For God and Country” blog post recounts the university’s role in the war, as does “Catholic University Declares War”  in the “The Archivist’s Nook. “Catholic Women in World War One” focuses on the role of Catholic women’s organizations in the war.

Elsewhere, the Knights of Columbus just today opened an exhibit on the war at the organization’s museum in New Haven, Connecticut, where the organization has its headquarters.  More than 116,000 Americans died as a result of the war, and at least 1,600 were Knights of Columbus, according to a news release.


Replica of a battlefield trench is on display at Knights of Columbus Museum. (Courtesy of Knights of Columbus)

Titled “World War I: Beyond the Front Lines,” the exhibit runs through Dec. 30, 2018. It shows a retrospective of the war, includes interactives, visuals and artifacts from the Knights of Columbus Museum collection and its Supreme Council Archives. Other objects are on loan from private lenders and organizations.

The fraternal organization was involved in war relief efforts, spearheaded fundraising drives and sponsored recreation centers, known as “huts,” to offer hospitality to members of the military in the U.S. and abroad. “Everybody Welcome; Everything Free” was the centers’ motto.

Posted in CNS

Protecting children: Being aware of how sex offenders “groom” their victims

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

(Tenth in a series)

ROME — This week at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, my class learned about the ethical issues related to the sexual abuse of minors. One question we discussed was, “To what extent, ethically speaking, are sexual offenders responsible for their actions?”

Sexual abuse is listed in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as a mental disorder. It is true that offenders who commit abuse have mental disorders and this plays a role in their crimes. For this reason, dioceses offer psychological and spiritual care both to those who have been abused, as well as to offenders.

However, sexual abuse of minors is also an abuse of power, trust and sexuality. Despite their disorders, offenders must be held accountable for their actions. In justice there is mercy and in mercy there is justice.

promiseEspecially when it comes to abuse of minors by those close to them, such as relatives, caretakers or priests, abuse is not spontaneous. It takes a long period of premeditated, logical and patient “grooming” before abuse occurs. According to the acquaintance model of abuse, the following behaviors are most commonly carried out by an offender:

  1. Identify preferred or acceptable child target. The offender actively searches for a “suitable” victim.
  2. Gather information about the child’s interests and vulnerabilities. The offender learns more about the victim with the intent of exploiting him or her.
  3. Gain access to the child. The offender misuses the trust of those close to the child to gain private time with the child.
  4. Lower the inhibitions of the child and oneself. The offender uses drugs, alcohol, pornography, etc. to decrease the natural resistance of the victim and himself.
  5. Seek to fulfill one’s own physical and emotional desires. The offender abuses his power, the trust of the victim and his or her caretakers, and the sexuality of the victim in pursuit of his own self-centered desires.
  6. Gain and maintain control of the child. The offender forces or manipulates the victim into remaining in the abusive relationship.

pledgeIn each of those steps, the offender freely carries out an improper use of power and trust to abuse the child. Ethically speaking, these premeditated abuses of power and trust, as well as the sexual abuse itself, are further proof that those who abuse children must be held accountable and no longer have access to children.

Should an organization put those who have abused back into roles with “power” where they can abuse children if they gravely misused that power in the past? The answer is clearly no. In his letter to bishops on the feast of the Holy Innocents, Pope Francis reiterated the need for zero tolerance in the Catholic Church.

St. Peter’s Basilica seen during a sunset in Rome in 2011. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Since 2002, dioceses in the United States have followed the guidelines of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which calls for the removal of priests who have abused children from active ministry. It’s up to all of us, especially those in positions of leadership in the church, to do all we can to prevent those who would harm children from carrying out their crimes.

– – –

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

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