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Not too long ago, media attention was focused on a comment by Pope Francis about studying the possibility of priestly ordination for select married men in remote places that are in dire need of a priest to celebrate the sacraments. “But,” he cautioned, “optional celibacy isn’t the solution.”
It is true that celibacy is not absolutely required for priestly ordination. The Latin Catholic Church already has some priests who were married before they were received into the Catholic Church and then ordained, as have the Eastern Catholic Churches. What is troubling is that so many Catholics have little or no appreciation of the scriptural origins and spiritual value of celibacy.
During Holy Week, we are going to celebrate the work of our salvation that once took place in time, and, which now, continues sacramentally until the end of time.
Familiarity with the story can blind us to the reality of these great events. The paschal mystery (the Passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ) is not just past history or a myth. It is not just a morality play with some lessons for everyday life. It is nothing less than victory over sin and death.
In the paschal mystery, the Most Holy Trinity is fully revealed as a God of total self-giving love. The Father gives his Son for us. The Son gives his all for us. And the Holy Spirit is the gift that unites us to the divine love. Self-sacrificing love unto death, even death on the cross, is the only path to redemption, to resurrection and life. It is the only way out of human misery, the only answer to the longings of the human heart.
DURING LENT, WE HEAR THE REFRAIN: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” What exactly does this mean? Get rid of your bad habits and vices? Accept the teachings of the New Testament? Yes, indeed, but first and foremost it means cleaving — heart, mind and soul — to the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is the Gospel, the “Good News.” Being a Christian believer involves not only renouncing sin and self, but first and foremost establishing a personal relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior — an encounter that blossoms into a lifelong commitment. It’s like climbing a mountain, planting and nurturing a seed, laboring on a building and, yes, carrying a cross, in the sure knowledge that Christ has already accomplished our success and victory. It is a hard road that we walk, but we walk it with Christ. The mystery of his own dying and rising is accomplished in us every day.
Welcome to the Catholic Transcript magazine, a new full-color publication that will dynamically advance the tradition of a beloved, respected, award-winning newspaper with roots going back to the year 1829.
In magazine format, the Catholic Transcript will continue to be the communications centerpiece of Catholic news and information for our archdiocesan family of faith. And its visibility and relevance will be greatly enhanced thanks to its digital presence, social media interconnectivity, evangelizing content and distribution 10 times a year to more than double the number of Catholic households than in the recent past.
All this is a direct response to the Your Voice Counts survey, in which a majority of respondents and focus group participants requested content that is more evangelizing and catechetical in nature, while at the same time not neglecting news about the archdiocese and the Church at large. We are eager to share the Good News of the Gospel with everyone, even to the “peripheries” outside our own comfort zone, in the words of Pope Francis, in the hope of drawing them to Christ and into the communion of Catholic faith and practice.
As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, I wish all of you a holy Advent and a Christmas filled with joy and peace. Once again this year, I urge everyone to “keep Christ in Christmas,” because without him there is no joy or peace.
In the midst of so much materialism and commotion, together let’s make a concerted effort to focus on the spiritual – on prayer and penance – so that we can be made worthy to receive Christ the Lord and to bring him to a world so much in need of healing and peace. I especially ask that we pray for peace in the Middle East, and other places of grave conflict where so many people suffer, including our own military and their families.
In January, you will be receiving something new from the Archdiocese of Hartford. I’m referring to the inaugural edition of the Catholic Transcript in a different format. While it was quite challenging to raise the bar of excellence on an award-winning publication that readers have loved since 1829, the newspaper is being transformed into a full-color magazine. It will now be sent 10 times a year, on a complimentary basis, to more than 192,000 Catholic households in the archdiocese. That is more than a doubling in circulation.
A revamped Catholic Transcript is just part of a broader effort that our local church is making to revitalize, with God’s grace, our practice of the faith and the witness to the Gospel that we are called to give to one another and to the wider community.
Responding to invaluable input from “Your Voice Counts” survey and focus group respondents, we have preserved the most popular elements of the Catholic Transcript newspaper, while honoring the request for a publication that is more purposefully evangelical and catechetical. Mindful of the ways that young adults converse and interact within digital “social communities,” the new Catholic Transcript magazine will include an interconnection with social media, incorporating a mobile app that will soon be available to every parish in the archdiocese.
What better time than the New Year to introduce a new way for me and for the Archdiocese of Hartford to communicate with you on an ongoing basis – a New Year bright with the promise of God’s redeeming and transforming love.
The new Catholic Transcript will also be an essential instrument for wider education and accurate information regarding archdiocesan-wide pastoral planning. I hope that you enjoyed the mailing that was sent recently to our 192,000 Catholic households in anticipation of the new Catholic Transcript magazine. It includes a comprehensive “Stewards for Tomorrow” report prepared by the Office of Pastoral Planning. This is meant to engage you in the pastoral planning process now under way throughout the three counties that comprise the Archdiocese of Hartford.
As we prepare for 2017, Pope Francis challenges us to evangelical “boldness” and creativity as “missionary disciples” “capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, languages and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.” (Evangelii Gaudium 27) Simply put, Our Holy Father sees the challenges and opportunities that present themselves at a crossroads that he calls “not an age of change, but the change of an age.”
During this season of material gift-giving, we need to be attentive to the spiritual God-given gifts with which we have been blessed – most especially our potential to do great things for Christ and the Gospel, not by any power of our own, but by opening ourselves to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We are not the masters, but only the stewards of the Lord’s vineyard. To be good stewards, we have to use our God-given faith and intelligence to cultivate new ways for the church to grow and thrive. Let’s not ever underestimate the power of welcoming others, or the importance of new ideas or solutions, as small as they may first appear. As children, we used to look through a kaleidoscope and be amazed when one seemingly minute fleck of color would shift and suddenly a new, more beautiful shape would emerge. In pastoral planning, too, may our collective imaginations be kaleidoscopic with possibility!
There are many effective and creative initiatives that are taking place, both in our archdiocese and nationally, to reinvigorate Catholic life and practice, marriage and family, evangelization and catechesis, parishes and schools. I pray that through new and renewed communications vehicles like the Catholic Transcript magazine, we will be a closer family of faith, committed to promoting spiritual vitality, organizational efficacy and accountability and social and financial responsibility.
Wishing you and all your loved ones a happy, healthy and Holy Christmas, and a very blessed 2017!
In the year 1965, there were almost 46 million Catholics in the United States served by a total of 58,632 priests. Today, there are over 70 million Catholics with fewer than 38,000 priests whose average age is increasing rapidly. In 1965, there were 535 active priests in the Archdiocese of Hartford. As of 2015, there were 186, a decrease of 65 percent. This sobering number is one of the reasons why our archdiocese has begun a process of pastoral planning.
Jesus says: “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Mt 9:37f, Lk 10:2). Although Jesus often drew great crowds, his mission, by worldly standards, was not a success. Rather, to all appearances it ended in ignominy and failure. Yet Jesus knew that the seeds of the kingdom he had planted in human hearts would bear fruit once his earthly mission was accomplished.
“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” (http://bit.ly/2cgjg7j) is the title of the document approved by the bishops of the United States in anticipation of this year’s November elections. For many years now, the bishops of our country have followed this practice in order to help Catholics to be thoughtful about the moral dimensions of their faith as these apply to participation in political life.
Over the years, we have witnessed a great upheaval in the life of our society. Consensus about fundamental moral issues has broken down, for example, with regard to the protection of unborn life and the very definition of marriage and family. In the Catholic Church, this tidal wave of cultural and social change has given rise to a situation in which some people claim to be Roman Catholic and yet dissent from fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church, sometimes in a public manner that is scandalous, sometimes out of ignorance of what their own church believes and teaches, other times not.
The bishops’ desire to fulfill their responsibilities as teachers of faith and morals by offering guidance to the Catholic voting public is often the focus of attention and criticism. Some accuse the bishops of trying to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote, thus embroiling the church in partisan politics. Others think that the bishops are timid, and that they should be more pointed in telling Catholics exactly how to vote in light of the gravity of the moral issues.
In “Faithful Citizenship,” the bishops state flatly: “The Church is involved in the political process but is not partisan. The Church cannot champion any candidate or party.” What the church is calling for is “a different kind of political engagement: one shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable. As Pope Francis reminds us, ‘Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good’” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 205).
The bishops highlight concerns that reflect Catholic moral and social teaching. Without going into the detail that you can read for yourself in “Faithful Citizenship,” these include the following: not surprisingly, first and fundamental to everything else is the right to life and the dignity of the human person; the protection of the God-given meaning of marriage and the moral, social and economic well-being of family life; comprehensive immigration reform; a just and decent standard of living and educational opportunities for all people; conscience protections and religious freedom; adequate health care; an end to every form of unjust discrimination; responsible and limited use of military force; and care for creation.
The question arises on the part of a believing and practicing Catholic: How can I, by my participation in political life, best uphold fundamental moral truths of right and wrong, justice and injustice? In human history, rarely if ever does one candidate or party embody all that is morally good or all that is morally evil with respect to a given situation. Furthermore, to quote our document: “Not all issues are equal [but rather] address matters of different moral weight and urgency. Some involve intrinsically evil acts, which can never be approved. Others involve affirmative obligations to seek the common good.” For these reasons, the bishops seek to provide principled guidance for conscience formation as Catholics make political choices for the common good of their country and participate in the political process.
The bishops refer to a basic principle of moral life when they speak of a well-formed conscience. Today, people sometimes mistakenly equate a well-formed conscience with a supposedly individualistic right to determine good and evil for themselves. This is not what Catholic teaching means by a well-formed conscience. Living as we do in a sinful and fallen world, an individual may sincerely follow a process of conscience formation marred by ignorance or error. And such ignorance and error are not always free of guilt. There are abortionists or racists who may believe that what they do is right according to their conscience, but that does not make either one right. To be well-formed or correctly formed, the judgment of conscience must, in the words of the Catechism, be “upright and truthful … in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator.”
In addition to a well-formed conscience, the bishops speak of the virtue of prudence. According to the Catechism, “the virtue of prudence enables us to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it” (No. 1806). We might say that conscience reveals what is right in a concrete situation, and prudence helps us discern how to achieve it. Never has the need for prudence been greater than in the present political climate of our nation.
I would like to conclude with these words of our bishops’ document: “In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue and participation in political life is a moral obligation.” It can equally be said that this is an American tradition. The church exercises her constitutional right to bear witness to her religious and moral convictions and concerns in public life. I know that you join me in praying earnestly for divine assistance and the gift of prudence for every voter in November.