US Bishops Begin New Year with Retreat

Pope Francis has called for the bishops of the United States to gather for a 7-day retreat at the start of the new year. This period of prayer and reflection will commence on January 2nd and conclude on the 8th. Father Raniero Cantalamessa, a Capuchin Friar and the Preacher to the Papal Household, will direct their retreat. Its theme is taken from Mark 3:14 – “He appointed twelve to be with Him and to be sent out to preach.”

This is a very unique episcopal gathering because it will be solely devoted to prayerful reflection. No business of any kind will be conducted during this retreat! Instead of business discussions, break-out sessions or workshops, the bishops’ schedule will consist entirely of daily Mass and Vespers, silent meal times, communal and personal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and ample time for reflection and Reconciliation.

Cardinal DiNardo, President of the USCCB, had this to say about the retreat:

“I am grateful to the Holy Father for calling the bishops and me to step back and enter into this focused time of listening to God as we respond to the intense matters before us in the weeks and months ahead. I also humbly ask the laity, our priests and religious for your prayers for my brother bishops and me as we join in solidarity to seek wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit. Pray also for the survivors of sexual abuse that their suffering may serve to strengthen us all for the hard task of rooting out a terrible evil from our Church and our society so that such suffering is never multiplied.”

It is encouraging to hear Cardinal DiNardo seeking prayers not only for himself and his brother bishops, but also for the survivors of clerical sexual abuse. None of the Church’s efforts to address this crisis will be fruitful if they are not imbued with deep respect and true compassion for survivors along with an uncompromising commitment to truth and justice on their behalf.

Please join me in fasting and praying for our bishops as they gather for this most unique and very important retreat. Scripture tells us that some demons can only be conquered through prayer and fasting. Surely the demons of clerical sexual abuse are some of the worst imaginable and thus much prayer and fasting is in order. After the feasting of the recent holidays, many of us may be naturally thinking of cutting back as we begin the new year. Let us bring those efforts into the spiritual realm by offering our fasting to God along with our earnest prayers for our bishops.

EAS and JN

During the course of this bishops’ retreat, we will celebrate the feast days of two saints with special ties to the United States: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Neumann.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was born in New York City in 1774 and went on to live a life of heroic virtue as a wife, mother, widow, and founder of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. She and her Sisters laid the foundation of Catholic Education within the United States. Mother Seton was the first United States citizen to be canonized and her feast day is January 4th.

St. John Neumann was born in what is now known as the Czech Republic. At age 25, he came to New York and joined the Redemptorist Order several years later. He was an indefatigable missionary throughout New York, Ohio, Maryland and Virginia. St. John Neumann has special significance for our Buffalo Diocese as he founded and pastored several parishes within our region. Upon becoming bishop of Philadelphia, St. John Neumann established the first diocesan school system in the United States. He was the first male saint of the United States and is the only US bishop to be canonized. His feast day is January 5th.

Let us particularly pray to these two wonderful saints that they might intercede on behalf of our United States bishops during their retreat!

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Another important saint’s feast day will be celebrated during this retreat: St. Raymond of Penafort. St. Raymond is the patron saint of canon lawyers and thus another significant intercessor at this time. In 1230, Pope Gregory IX called St. Raymond, a Dominican priest and contemporary of St. Thomas Aquinas, to the Eternal City and gave him a mammoth task. He was to assemble and organize all the laws and rules of the Church into one systematic collection! (I like to think that the expression on his face in this painting is very similar to the expression with which he received the Pope’s request: “You cannot be serious, Your Holiness.”) St. Raymond produced a 5-book collection that was the basis of the Church’s legal system for many centuries. His feast day is January 7th.

As you’ve likely realized over the past few months, canon law will play a significant role in the Church’s response to the clerical sexual abuse crisis. At the press conference at the start of the USCCB Assembly last November, Cardinal DiNardo noted that there were “some points in one or two of the documents where the canon law needed further precision.” The documents he was referring to pertained to the Code of Conduct for Bishops and the lay-led commission that the US Bishops planned to discuss and vote on during their assembly. Canon law is the ecclesiastical law that governs the Catholic Church and thus is an unavoidable element in the Church’s response to this crisis. We would do well to pray to St. Raymond since he is essentially the Father of Canon Law though not known as such formally.

There aren’t many prayers written specifically for bishops or at least not many that I am aware of or could locate. Here is one that I composed to be prayed just for our bishops during their retreat:

Good and gracious God, we seek your blessing upon our bishops as they gather for prayer and reflection during this time of crisis within the Church. Grant that they may be strengthened and healed by the power of the Eucharist they will celebrate and receive. May they likewise be strengthened by the time they will spend before the Blessed Sacrament. May the Gospel and Scriptures they meditate on give them courage and wisdom. Please send your Holy Spirit to enlighten and guide them during this time of retreat. Help them to be shepherds filled with conviction, courage and compassion. Mary, Mother of the Church, and Saint Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, pray for these shepherds of our Church within the United States. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Neumann, great saints of our nation, intercede for our bishops at this critical time. May their time of retreat bear much fruit for them individually and collectively for the renewal of our Church, the healing of survivors, the salvation of souls and the glory of God. Amen. 

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Bishop Malone (and Bishop Grosz) will be attending this retreat. Some people have asked me if it is difficult for me to pray for Bishop Malone. It is much easier to pray for him than it is to think of him or to recall difficult interactions or distressing memories. He may no longer be my boss, but he is still my bishop and thus I must pray for him. I particularly like this prayer of his patron, Saint Richard of Chichester:

Thanks be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits you have given me,
for all the pains and insults you have borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly, day by day.
Amen.

I offer this prayer for Bishop Malone, for myself and for all of you that each day of 2019 might bring us closer to Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts At Year’s End

After my siblings and my first year of life, our parents assigned an adjective to us that best described our first 12 months. I was good, my sister happy and my brother content. I’ve always thought this was a very creative idea of my parents.

This concept came to mind as I’ve been pondering the past year as it mercifully comes to an end. What adjective would I assign to 2018? Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad… oh wait, that’s a children’s book title.

2018 began innocently enough but was not even two months old when the darkness began to emerge here in the Diocese of Buffalo. March, April and May were especially dark months for our diocese, but by summer’s end, our national and global Church were facing the same storm of scandal and tragedy. This has been an incredibly painful year for Catholics in Buffalo, the United States and across the globe. It has been emotionally, physiologically and spiritually exhausting.

If I had to choose just one word to describe this infamous year, I would call it the Year of Upheaval. On a personal level, this description definitely works. During the course of 2018, I had 3 jobs, moved 3 times, lived in 4 homes, leaked hundreds of documents and appeared on TV numerous times. For a naturally private person who didn’t even have a Facebook account before this started, it was a jarring change to my normal existence. Upheaval is defined as “a violent or sudden change or disruption to something.” My life has absolutely changed and I still feel that disruption keenly. Yet the challenges I’ve faced are so many ounces to the oceans of suffering endured by the survivors.

On the national and global level, the Catholic Church experienced great upheaval this past year. We Catholics are still reeling from the seismic shock of learning that the clerical abuse scandal of the early aughts was not a thing of the past, but an ongoing crisis. This CNN article gives an excellent (albeit nauseating) month-by-month explanation of the many upheavals of 2018. It is staggering to review the year and realize the many facets of this global scandal.

This has been the worst year of my life. Other years might have been in contention for a few months, but by May they were out of the running for that ignoble title. Yet amidst this year of dark distress, there was still good to be found. Here are the best things about my worst year:

1. I’m still a practicing Catholic. Thank you, Lord.

2. I was able to do something for the victim-survivors, who matter so very much to me, and for the Church that I love.

3. I’ve learned the painful yet valuable lesson of who my true friends are while gaining wonderful new friends.

4. I still believe that there is more good than bad in the world, but I’ve learned that sometimes the bad is where you thought the good was.

5. I have an enduring peace of soul that defies explanation.

All that is good comes from our gracious and loving God. With all my heart, I thank Him for these good things that penetrated the darkness of this difficult year.

jesus pic

In this photo from the crypt of the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore, Christ steps out of the darkness with His hands stretched out towards us. I love how this image contrasts His light with the surrounding darkness. Christ’s face is pained as is His Sacred Heart. Long ago in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus knew that one day the descendants of His followers would hurt and harm the little ones He loves so much. He knew that the Church He founded would be run like a corporation within a few millennia. He knew that in 2018 His people would be suffering in mind, heart and soul. He anticipated the pain of victim survivors and their loved ones. No wonder he experienced hematohidrosis there in the Garden!

Jesus well knew how ugly, evil and horrible humanity would be across the ages and yet he willingly died for us after establishing the Church through which we were to follow Him and His teachings. Let us unite our broken hearts to His and offer our own yes in response: Yes, Lord, I will follow you. Through the darkness, the turmoil, the pain and the upheaval. I need to keep reminding myself that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life even if my way forward is unclear, the truth came at a cost and my life is still unsettled.

During the unsettling months of 2018, a much-listened-to song became a prayer as well. Abide with Me is a hymn written in Scotland in the 1840’s which draws inspiration from this line in Luke where the apostles address Christ: “Abide with us for it is toward evening and the day is far spent.” You can read the lyrics of this hymn below or listen to it sung with haunting beauty by Audrey Assad here.

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away
Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou who changest not, abide with me

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless
Ills have no weight and tears no bitterness
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still ​if Thou abide with me

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me
Abide with me, abide with me.

The most poignant line for me is: “O Though who changest not, abide with me.” During this year of such upheaval and so many changes, God was with us. As we cross the threshold of a new year, He will remain by our sides. Abide with us, Lord, and help us never to lose our trust in You. You gave your life for us. May we live our lives for you.

Guadalupe Gratitude

The Blessed Mother has so many wonderful titles – enough to fill a year’s calendar! Many Catholics may have their personal favorite titles for her. I’m partial to Mary, Star of the Sea and Our Lady of Knock and of Victory. 11 years ago, rather dramatic circumstances led me to be devoted to her under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

It was a Wednesday evening and I was driving on Route 66 in Northern Virginia near Christendom College, where I worked after graduating. I had put in over 100 hours the previous week and was too exhausted to be driving. My car radio and CD player were out of commission so I was trying my hardest to stay awake sans music. The next thing I knew, I was jolted awake by the impact of my vehicle colliding with another car. I will never know how I got across 4 lanes of fast-moving traffic to the shoulder of that ever-busy highway. My Guardian Angel must have taken the wheel for me.

The gentleman I struck, a military veteran named George who was on his way to a VFW meeting with his sweet wife, was convinced I was intoxicated based on the erratic behavior of my vehicle before it struck his. Fortunately, they were driving a Lexus SUV, which was hardly damaged by the impact and kept them safe. My little Civic did not fare so well and was off its front axle among other injuries, but it had also kept me safe. When the State Trooper arrived, he gravely assessed my car’s condition and then surveyed the shoulder where huge cement barrier walls were lined up as part of ongoing construction work. I’ll never forget his expression as he turned to me and said: “You should not be alive right now. If you hadn’t hit their car, you would have ended up hitting one of these. You should not be alive. You are extremely lucky.”

Of course, luck had nothing to do with it. I will never forget the realization that I could easily have died on Route 66 that night. It was both a chilling and heartwarming realization. The former because it made me appreciate how quickly our lives can be extinguished. The latter because it literally warmed my heart and soul to consider God’s generous protection of me. I knew that He was responsible for the preservation of my life that night. Then I remembered what day it was and knew that Our Lady of Guadalupe must have had a hand in it as well. Ever since then, I’ve had a small statue or image of her in my car to remind me of her intercession that cold winter’s night. I will always be grateful for her maternal intercession that evening and always.

This year I met a wonderful woman who has a very special devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Rosa Flores was the first national journalist I worked with regarding the situation in our diocese. I couldn’t have asked for a sweeter, kinder person with whom to work! Her concern for our diocese was only exceeded by her respect for our Church and our faith, which she shares. She also has an amazing story about how Our Lady of Guadalupe influenced her career in journalism. Even Rosa’s full name is a beautiful testament to “Virgencita,” as Our Lady of Guadalupe is called in Spanish, since it reminds us of the Castilian roses that bloomed on Tepeyac Hill in December of 1531. Thank you, Rosa, for being a beautiful witness to the Catholic faith and a true friend to the people you assist through your earnest journalistic efforts.

When we consider the miracle of Guadalupe, the primary figures we think of are Mary and St. Juan Diego, whose feast was this past Sunday. Yet there is another crucial character in this story: Bishop Juan de Zumarraga. I must admit that my view of him used to be pretty one-dimensional… I thought of him as the stubborn bishop who refused to believe Juan Diego until miraculous roses cascaded from an even more miraculous tilma. Then I read about Bishop Juan and realized that his life story is very complex. My initial assessment of him was rather harsh given that I knew nothing of the many challenges he faced and overcame during his life. Based on what I know of him now, it wouldn’t surprise me if he is an undeclared saint who completes the heavenly trio of Guadalupe. Perhaps he can intercede for the bishops of the United States – many of whom are truly obstinate!

How unbelievably generous God was to give us not only a loving Savior, but also a Blessed Mother! Thank you, Virgencita, for your powerful intercession and your beautiful, encouraging words:

“I am your merciful mother, the merciful mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who seek me, and of those who have confidence in me.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us and for your Son’s Church!

 

 

 

 

Upon These Rocks

The photo above was taken exactly one year ago. It was the first picture in a photo album/memory book that one of the pilgrims created and sent to Bishop Malone after the Ireland Pilgrimage he led last October. I’d never seen the photo before viewing the book and hardly remembered the photo being taken. But then I recalled that someone had gotten a photo of the Bishop and me as we were walking down from the Rock of Cashel after our group tour.

Rock of Cashel actual


The Rock of Cashel in Tipperary is one of the most famous sites in Ireland. “Cashel” is an Anglicized version of the Gaelic “caiseal,” which means fortress (similar to the English “castle” as you may have surmised.) Amidst the gorgeous green countryside, this massive edifice rises up and gives you a powerful sense of its former glory. The grounds include a round tower, 13th-century Gothic cathedral and a 12th-century Romanesque chapel that houses stunning frescoes. The Rock of Cashel is also known as St. Patrick’s Rock since legend holds that the greatest Irish saint visited Cashel to baptize King Aengus, Ireland’s first Christian ruler.

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Our pilgrimage also brought us to a rock of a much more humble nature. The Rock of Cashel may boast historical and architectural significance, but this other rock is an even greater treasure. On our way to the Marian Shrine at Knock, our group stopped by Tobernalt, a holy well in Sligo. Tobernalt is translated as “the well in the cliff” and as these photos illustrate, that is an apt name for the spot. In addition to the natural spring well that is renowned for its curative powers, Tobernalt is also known for its Mass Rock.

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During the penal days in Ireland, Catholics were not able to attend Mass publicly due to persecution from the British. Thus the priests and people looked for hidden areas where Mass could be celebrated on a large rock. Tobernalt was an ideal secluded spot at which to celebrate a clandestine Mass. In those days, priests were hunted men with a price on their heads. Traveling in disguise, these brave priests journeyed from one Mass rock to the next in order to bring the sacraments to the Irish people. While Mass was celebrated, sentinels kept close watch from nearby look-outs in order to prevent any surprise attacks by British soldiers.

Everyone at such a Mass was there at great personal risk. At that time, anyone found participating in any form of Catholic worship was subject to extreme fines and/or imprisonment. For priests, the penalty was much more severe – they would pay with their lives. Can you imagine celebrating such a Mass or attending it? You were risking either your life or your livelihood to be there. You did not know if you would ever celebrate or attend another Mass. What reverence, adoration and love must have marked such a Mass!

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When you arrive at Tobernalt, you are greeted by the sign shown above. It reads:

Pilgrim walk softly, this is holy ground.
It has been made holy by the feet of generations
Who came here to worship God,
To hear Mass, to honor Our Lady,
To pray for their needs and for peace.
Here are the memories of a poor, persecuted people.
They braved death to come.
They walked barefoot through the woods to worship in secret.
Here are memories of hunted priests,
Offering Mass in this hallowed place at risk of their lives.

Will their sufferings and sacrifices be in vain?
They have handed on a torch – let us keep that torch alight!

The very thought of Tobernalt brings tears to my eyes. It is humbling to consider the faith of my ancestors. How very weak is my faith in comparison! They were willing to sacrifice everything in order to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Theirs was an heroic faith.

Then too I consider the hunted priests, who brought Jesus to these persecuted Catholics all across the Irish countryside. Talk about heroes! A sizable bounty was on their heads and a horrible fate awaited them if they were captured: they’d be hung until almost dead before their torsos were sliced and disemboweled. Finally they would be beheaded. If a priest was found while being sheltered by Catholics, the people would be hung alongside the priest they had harbored.

Such was the harsh reality for Catholics in 17th century Ireland. For us Catholics in 21st century America, it is hard to fathom such unbelievable circumstances. Yet we the clergy and laity of 2018 profess the very same faith as the priests and people of the Mass Rocks. They were willing to die for their faith. Are we willing to live for it?

As much as we know our hierarchy and clergy need to be reformed and renewed, we the laity have need of such renewal as well. We are all called to holiness in the particular circumstances of our lives. While we respectfully challenge our clerical leaders, we must also challenge ourselves. Our faith calls us to greatness – how will we answer that call?

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The gates of hell seem perilously close these days, but they must have seemed even closer to the Catholics of 17th century Ireland. They practiced their faith despite incredible persecution. May we, the Catholics of early 21st century America, live out our faith with similar fortitude, gratitude and courage.

They have handed on a torch – let us keep that torch alight!

Miss Understood

Arachnophobia.

Aichmophobia.

Hemaphobia.

Anelkystirasphobia.

These are the technical names of four fears I used to have. I got over the first one when my memories of the movie by that name mercifully began to fade. The second and third ones I conquered because needles and blood are non-negotiable elements of blood/platelet donation, which I am now happily able to do. The last one I overcame because I prefer to get my exercise amidst the beauty of nature rather than climbing stairwells in an attempt to avoid elevators.

Lest you think I’m fear-free, I want to talk about a remaining fear that has proven much harder to eradicate: the fear of being misunderstood. This fear came to the forefront a month ago when my whistleblower identity was revealed and I began speaking publicly for the first time. I was able to speak freely because I had nothing to hide and was simply a messenger of the truth, but soon learned that people could and would misunderstand me. People attributed ulterior motives to my actions, ascribed meanings to my words that I did not intend, and took my remarks out of context.

This proved a challenging experience for me especially since I soon learned there was little I could do to combat the problem. I couldn’t very well issue a stream of statements that amounted to “That’s not what I meant!” When Bishop Malone issued his statement comprised of my prior emails to him, it was very tempting to respond with a detailed defense explaining what I was thinking as I wrote each of those messages. I quickly decided against that for two reasons: first, this isn’t about me and second, I knew by then that even my explanations could be misunderstood. I would just end up clarifying my clarifications.

In the weeks since, I’ve devoted much time and prayer to fighting this fear of mine. While I can’t say it has been eradicated, I’m much better off than I was this time last month. I have come to realize that my fear of being misunderstood is in many ways associated with the perfectionism I’ve endeavored to keep at bay since struggling with it during childhood and adolescence. In addition, I recognize that I care so deeply about the matter at hand that any misunderstanding is amplified in my mind because of the significance of the issue. Most importantly, I discovered the best remedies for this fear: humility and trust.

It is humbling to have your words, motives or actions misunderstood. You instinctively want to defend yourself. As a lifelong logophile, I also want to defend my words and offer any needed clarity. It is quite humbling to accept misunderstandings and move on. In doing so, you have to entrust any misunderstanding to God. The Creator of my heart knows its depths far better than I ever could. He therefore knows full well the intentions and motives behind my words and actions. This passage from Proverbs is especially comforting right now: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and He will make straight your paths.” Just as I must not lean on my own understanding, I likewise cannot focus on others’ misunderstanding. The Lord who can make straight my paths can certainly make the most of a misunderstanding. 

These lines from Saint Francis’ beautiful prayer are ones that I repeat often at this time:

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be understood, as to understand!

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P.S. Best name for the “fear of being misunderstood” that I can come up with is parexigisiphobia, which is a spelling bee word if I ever saw one.

 

Confessions of a Catholic Whistleblower

Deeply grateful to First Things for the opportunity to share my story with their readership. I used to enjoy reading their publication when it would arrive at Bishop Malone’s office when he was out of town and wouldn’t miss it if I read through it first. Another surreal experience to have now written a piece for their journal!

https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2018/11/confessions-of-a-catholic-whistleblower

Yet Another Distressing Report

CBS’s Eye on America news program revealed: “Head of U.S. Catholic bishops kept 2 priests accused of abuse in active ministry. ”

Excerpt:

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, making him one of the most powerful Catholic officials in the country. He has also been one of the most vocal critics of the church’s handling of its sex abuse scandal.

But this summer, Rev. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, a priest whom DiNardo had promoted, was arrested for allegedly molesting two children. DiNardo, the archbishop of Galveston-Houston since 2006, has vowed to release by January a list of all the priests in Houston who have been, in the church’s judgment, “credibly accused” of sexually abusing a child.

Now, a CBS News investigation has uncovered a lack of action by DiNardo in handling sex abuse allegations in his own archdiocese.

CNA follows up with Cardinal DiNardo’s expected denial stating the cases weren’t judged credible.

Can’t even express how distressing this report is. God help us.

H/t Charlie Specht