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Shaking Up the Church

A recent batch of WikiLeak documents reveals high-level Clinton campaign officials and supporters suggesting that that political forces should engineer a so-called “Catholic Spring” to rebel against the “middle-ages dictatorship” of the Catholic Church (folks like me, I’d guess). The emails also indicate that organizations have been formed and funded to divide the Church, apparently with the approval and support of these same high-level operatives.

Various writers have ably pointed out how egregious are such plans to interfere with the inner life of the Roman Catholic Church. They explain that this represents a serious breach in relations between Church and state, a disregard for basic human rights and liberties, and a special mark of contempt for Catholics as well as Evangelicals. I agree with these views. I also have to note at the outset the across-the-board moral bankruptcy of the current presidential campaign. At the same time, I’d like to take the discussion in another direction.

WikiLeaks revealed political operatives hoping to shake up the Church so that it would be conformed to their view of the world. Truth to tell, the Church does need to be shaken up, but not in the way these politicos imagine. It’s Pope Francis who’s shaking up the Church in a good way through an approach far different from that of these operatives. If we follow the Pope’s lead, not only will the Church be strengthened, so too society will become a more just, peaceful, and merciful place. Let me offer a few examples.

All it takes is a look at a recent report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to know that powerful political forces insist that the Church’s social service institutions be mere extensions of the government, with a moral compass indistinguishable from that which drives government policy. But Pope Francis insists that Catholic charitable and social service institutions must be more than mere NGO’s (non-governmental organizations). Rather, they must bind up the wounds of society with the compassion of Christ who alone fully reveals the dignity of each person. The Pope teaches us to think of the Church as a field hospital, and his arresting image highlights what Catholics bring to our public work: love of our neighbors rooted in our love of God. That’s not something on offer from the government.

Powerful political forces seek to provoke strong opposition to the Church because of its teaching on marriage as between one man and one woman. Yet Pope Francis called not one but two synods on marriage because it’s urgent that we strengthen the vocation of marriage and family life. His beautiful exhortation on marriage, “The Joy of Love,” guides married couples, the young, and the Church’s pastors in renewing marriage and family in our day. In fact, he’s jolting us out of our complacency as the true meaning and purpose of marriage are obscured and family life continues to break down. Pope Francis knows that it’s the young and the poor who will suffer disproportionately if this societal trend continues. Healthy societies and a healthy Church rest on healthy families.

Powerful political forces ridicule the Church’s teaching that one’s biological sex and one’s gender cannot be separated. They would force the Church to abandon a most elemental teaching of faith and reason: “male and female He created them.” But Pope Francis has forcefully challenged contemporary gender theory because he knows it’s the potential undoing not only of marriage but of a right understanding of human identity and dignity. When young people were told “you can be anything,” it used to mean that a wide range of careers was open to them. Now it means you can be a man or a woman or some other version of sexuality and that you can, God-like, create your own alternative universe. Pope Francis knows this is false and he wants us to make sure we know it, too.

Powerful political operatives have suggested that well-educated, professional people embrace the Catholic religion because it is more acceptable than the evangelical churches, thus insulting both faith communities. They have derided Catholics who take seriously the Christian formation of their children, who have had their children baptized in the Jordan River (where Christ was baptized), and who advance principles of Catholic social teaching such as subsidiarity (which stresses the importance of addressing problems and issues at the local level when possible). It doesn’t seem to occur to these political operatives that many people embrace religious faith because they actually believe it to be true and good.

Here, too, Francis is out to shake up the Church by calling us to authenticity, to become missionary disciples who go out to the margins. He’s challenging each of us truly to encounter the living Christ and to embrace the Gospel with enthusiasm, prompting us to compassionate action outside the sanctuary, at risk not only to our social standing but even to our personal security. He is urging us to be not only true believers but indeed the Lord’s messengers who bring the joy and healing of the Gospel to the peripheries of society.

These political operatives aren’t seeking to shake up the Church; they’re seeking to domesticate it. Pope Francis wants to revitalize it. Where the tactics of these operatives reveal a view of religion as something to be informed by political values, the Holy Father, in his book “On Heaven and Earth,” makes the case that religion should be informing politics with values, not engaging in partisan politics. Let’s follow his lead, not theirs.

Mass at Morgan State University Homily

“I am honored and delighted to offer Holy Mass here at historic Morgan State in this beautiful University Chapel. I would like to thank your President, Dr. David Wilson, Rev. Dr. Bernard Keels, Chaplain, as well as Dr. Victor McCrary, Vice-President for Economic Research and Development . . . for their warm invitation to celebrate this Mass.

“I have been told that I am the first Archbishop to celebrate Mass on the campus of this university in its 150-year history. Well, I have been the Archbishop of Baltimore for less than 5 of those 150 years . . . but I can promise you this: We won’t wait another 150 years to do this again, if you’ll have us back!”

Read the complete homily HERE.

Annual Archdiocesan Scout Mass Homily

“Fr. Proffitt, Msgr. Phillips, my brother deacons, and dear friends in Christ: It’s a real pleasure to be with all of you today for the annual Archdiocesan Scout Mass and Presentation of Awards. And thank you so much, Father Proffitt, for hosting us here at St. John’s.

“Let me say how grateful I am to the members of the Catholic Committee on Scouting. And I am especially happy to offer my warm congratulations to all of you who will be receiving special awards today. I admire your hard work, dedication, faith, and values. You are models for your peers and for all of us gathered with you today.”

Read the complete homily HERE.

6th Sunday A; Homily

“Some years ago, on a flight from New York to Chicago,
a man seated next to me noticed that I was dressed as a priest
and asked if he could talk to me about his problems with the Church.
Just at that moment the flight attendant told us to buckle our seatbelts
and I’ll confess that I not only buckled it
but I also made sure it was pulled a little tighter than usual.
I was getting ready for in-flight turbulence of another kind.

“But, you know, it wasn’t that way at all.
My fellow passenger was a good person; he only was feeling perplexed.
In fact, he felt like a lot of people probably feel.
‘I was raised Catholic,’ he began, ‘but I’ve fallen away.
And the reason is that there are so many rules to keep.
The Church imposes too many laws and rules on its parishioners.
We need less rules and more love!'”

Read the complete homily HERE.

5th Sunday A; Knights of Columbus Board Meeting

“Years ago I met with a priest to discuss how things were going in his parish. Truth to tell, things were not going well. His parish was in rapid decline; Mass attendance was dropping; school enrollment was decreasing; and worst of all (!) the weekly collection was down. We began to focus on the causes for such precipitous decline. ‘It’s the culture,’ my brother priest asserted, ‘I blame the culture for all this.’ ‘But father,’ I found myself retorting, ‘It’s the culture you should be evangelizing.’

“I thought of that conversation as I reflected on today’s readings, readings that ask us to look at the culture of which we are a part, readings that challenge us to ask what our role is, as citizens and believers, in transforming that culture of which we are a part from within.”

Read the complete homily HERE.

Saturday 4th Week Year 1; Optional BVM Mass; Knights of Columbus Board Meeting

“A few years ago, in his Easter Vigil homily, Pope Francis invited all of us to return to Galilee – that is to say, to our first encounter with Jesus, to that time when our faith was young, to that place in our life when we were first conscious of our calling to follow Christ in love and to embrace a specific vocation. To use the Pope’s own words, ‘To go to Galilee means something beautiful; it means re-discovering our baptism as a living fountainhead, drawing new energy from the sources of our Christian faith and our Christian experience.’

“In the Gospel we meet the newly called apostles in Galilee itself. Here we find Jesus in the process of forming them as disciples. They witness his preaching and miracles; they listen as he instructs them in private; but Jesus also sends them out long before their formation is complete. Yet they go in his name and in his power – and like Jesus – accomplish great things. People have begun to seek them out just as they sought out Jesus. So, they return to Lord, excited, full of enthusiasm, anxious to report to him ‘all that they had done and taught’ . . . and what was Jesus’ response? Jesus did not say to them, please turn in your reflection papers on your pastoral experience by 5:00 p.m. so that we can analyze the quality of your interaction with God’s people. No, he said something very different: ‘Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.’ It is on this one line in our readings that I would like to dwell for a few minutes.”

Read the complete homily HERE.

Friday 4th Week Year 1; Optional Memorial of St. Blaise; Knights of Columbus Board Meeting

“Perhaps it is only coincidental that the Gospel episode of John’s beheading and the blessing of throats on the feast of St Blaise occur on the same day! In any event, at the end of Mass I will offer the traditional throat blessing asking God the Father to keep us in good health and on the road to holiness, as we, the family of the Knights of Columbus, pursue the mission of His Son, Jesus.

“In fact, this is exactly where our Scripture readings and the feast of St. Blaise lead us: deep into the mission that Jesus came into the world to accomplish. So, what does today’s liturgy tell us about the Lord’s mission and our role in it?”

Read the complete homily HERE.

Monday of Catholic Schools Week Homily, Mt. De Sales Academy

“I don’t want to upset anyone during Catholic Schools Week, but I have to tell you that my Catholic elementary school career was not so good. In other words, I got into a lot of trouble. One day, when Sister Mary Janet left her classroom for but a moment, general mayhem ensued among all fifty of us. When she returned, she caught me in the act of flinging a little piece of crayon with my plastic ruler at a classmate, a few seats away. In a room full of juvenile delinquents, Sister Janet voted me most delinquent.

“That night, mom and dad were summoned to the convent where Sister Janet informed them of my bad behavior. I was home while this appointment was going on, shaking in my boots, so I don’t know exactly what was said. But I think mom and dad apologized and told Sister Janet they were doing the best they could with me. ‘I know you are,’ Sister said to them, ‘but your son has a touch of the devil in him.’ Years later, mom also told me how embarrassed she was when my dad responded to Sister Janet by saying something to the effect that he would extract hell out of me . . . but his exact words are lost to history!”

Read the complete homily HERE.