I want to be the bearer of “good news” this week in telling you that our Father Jay (Yes, that Father Jay from Vermont) will be returning to us rather than taking up his previously announced post at the North American College in Rome. After prayerful consideration, further conversations and upon the advice of several good friends, he will resume his duties here (and in Vermont according to his previous seasonal preferences) beginning around mid-September. The choice was totally his, and I’m happy (as I believe you are) for that change in plans. Welcome back, Father Jay!
In less then two weeks, the saintly and revered Mother Teresa of Kolkata will be canonized as saint (officially proclaimed to be part of the Church Triumphant in heaven). The ceremony will take place on September 4th, and will honor the famous nun who made such an impact on our world just a few short years ago. Her humility, simplicity of life style and determination to help the least of God’s people moved the hearts of many non-believers and believers alike. Born in 1910, of Albanian heritage in what is present day Macedonia, she eventually worked in India, where she later became a citizen and was buried there with full religious and civil honors. Her total willingness to serve “the poorest of the poor” and the outcast of society earned her not only the Nobel-Peace Prize, but also an enduring place in the hearts of millions and a glorious crown in heaven. It was a privilege to meet her twice in Philadelphia.
Last week, you read about some particular thoughts on the political situation that confronts our nation as we contemplate the upcoming November election choices. These curious thoughts were serious musings of the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput. He expressed his concerns about the difficult times we live in, and what an effort many of us will have to make this year, especially where it involves the formation of a well-formed and informed conscience before we cast our vote. You see, politics involves the exercise of power for good or for ill. Therefore, politics always has a moral dimension. While politics should never be the primary focus of a Christian life, Christians can’t avoid applying their faith to their political reasoning without betraying their vocation as disciples. Christians should never be “of” this world, but rather, most definitely, “in” this world. We have the privilege and duty to engage the world, including the public square, with the truth of Jesus Christ. To put it plainly: The separation of Church and state does not mean, has never meant, and can never mean, the separation of our religious faith from our political, economic and social lives. No man is an island.
We also need to remember one other thing: The Church belongs to Jesus Christ, not to us. The Church is his spouse and our mother, not our personal property; and if we try to revise or ignore her teachings according to our own opinions or vanities or convenience, then we’re simply lying to ourselves and to others.
Eight years ago, “conservative” Catholics were criticized by “progressive” Catholics as being culture warriors and apologists for the then administration. Yet, Catholic “progressives” have played the same role, often more effectively, for the current administration. So, if we hold the previous administration responsible for the consequences of a naïve and disastrous war in Iraq, we also need to hold the current one accountable for a systematic, ideologically-driven attack on the unborn child, on our historic understandings of sexuality, marriage and family life, and on religious liberty.
Here’s the real point to be made: The deepest issues we face as a Church and a nation this year won’t be solved by an election – that’s not an excuse to remove ourselves from the public square, for we do need to think and vote this November guided by properly formed Catholic consciences. But as believers, our task now is much more difficult and long-term. We need to recover our Catholic faith as a unifying identity across party lines, and we can only do that by genuinely placing the Church and her teachings – all her teachings, rightly ordered — as first in our priorities. To be sure, larger forces shape our current realities; and if we fail to understand those forces, we’ll inevitably cripple our ability to communicate Jesus Christ to generations not yet born.
Finally, thank you for the many flowers, cards, well-wishes, prayers and gifts you gave me on the dual occasions of my birthday and foot surgery. It’s hard to thank so many kindnesses individually, so I hope this will help express my gratitude for your love and affection. May God reward you a hundred-fold.