Peter’s Denial

There is always so much to contemplate in the Scriptural readings for Holy Week.

This year, I found myself focusing on Peter’s denial of Jesus—and its lesson for us. It is really, when you think about it, another passion story, another story of suffering, death, and resurrection—one that all of us can probably relate to situations in our own lives. 

Think of what Peter went through—beginning with Jesus telling him, in front of all the other apostles, that “this very night before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times.”

How must that have felt! Jesus, to whom he had devoted his life, his entire being; in whom he had absolute faith and trust; Jesus, whom he loved with all his heart and soul, now believes—and tells the others—that Peter will deny Him in His terrible hour of trial.

How deep, how searing, the pain and hurt Peter must have felt, as he stammered in reply, “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.”

Who can doubt that in that moment Peter meant what he had said, and believed with all his heart that he would never deny the one he had proclaimed “the Christ, the son of the living God.” 

 And then, only hours later, he did just that—denying Jesus in order to save himself. And not once, but three separate times! Given two subsequent chances to overcome his fear, and stand up for Jesus, he instead doubled and tripled down, as we say today, repeating his denials ever more vehemently.

Then the cock crowed—and Peter “went out and began to weep bitterly,” as Matthew’s Gospel tells it.   

He must have felt as though he were suffering death; not physical death, but something far worse: death of the spirit. For in denying Jesus, he had denied everything he had come to believe, that which gave his life, indeed life itself, its only true meaning. He had denied the Way, the Truth, and the Life; he had denied the Son of the living God; and he had thereby denied the transcendent meaning of his own existence.  

Yet, though he had succumbed to weakness, Peter had in fact never stopped believing. As he had done at other times after Jesus had rebuked him, he remained faithful. He stayed with the apostles, saw the empty tomb, and encountered the risen Christ. And then came the resurrection: Pentecost, when Peter, along with the other apostles, received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including the courage they would need to proclaim the Gospel in the face of unrelenting persecution. And ultimately, Peter would fulfill his promise to Jesus, that he would remain faithful “though I should have to die” for Christ.   

Surely, all of us can relate to Peter’s succumbing to weakness, because we all have our own human weaknesses. Some manifest themselves in our personal lives: treating others badly, acting selfishly or pridefully, indulging various sinful desires, or just failing to maintain a healthy prayer life and keep our lives centered in God.

Or perhaps we fail in a way similar to Peter: allowing fear and weakness to prevent us from standing up for our beliefs, or against cruel persecution of another. Maybe we are silent—or even join in—when our Catholic faith is ridiculed, rather than risk being socially ostracized. Maybe back in our school years, we failed to speak up for the kid who was being bullied, afraid of being targeted ourselves; and now we repeat that behavior, refusing to confront cancel culture bullies and their media allies as they use vicious smears to destroy the reputations, livelihoods, and even lives of those who dare to differ with them.

In all of these areas, we may be aware of our shortcomings, and determined to change. But as we continue to repeat the same failings, it is easy to despair of our ability to overcome our weaknesses and improve ourselves. That is where the example of St. Peter can serve us.    

Christ did not choose Peter because he was perfect. Far from it. Peter repeatedly fell short and was rebuked by Jesus. But he persevered, allowing Jesus to work through him, to strengthen him; until finally—after suffering the devastation of his greatest failing, his denial of Christ—he opened himself to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and truly became the rock upon which Jesus would build His Church. 

And so we are called to persevere, in faith, through our repeated failings and shortcomings; allowing ourselves, like Peter, to be fortified by the Holy Spirit in overcoming our weaknesses, resisting temptation to sin, and finding the courage to stand up in defense of our faith, our Church, and all who are unjustly persecuted.

Rick Hinshaw to Write for Newsmax Insiders

Hi, Friends.

Just wanted to share some exciting news, that I am now a regular contributor to Newsmax Insiders on the Newsmax website. I’ll be publishing at least two columns a month on Newsmax. This will give much greater exposure to my Reading the Signs blog posts, affording me the opportunity to share with a wider audience my perspective on the contributions that Catholic moral and social teaching can and should make to cultural and public policy deliberations. It will also allow me to occasionally expand my writing into areas beyond what I focus on in my blog posts. 

To see my first post on Newsmax, a shorter version of my blog post on the Equality Act, click here.

‘Forgive Us, As We Forgive Those…’

We are approaching Monday of Holy Week—Reconciliation Monday here in the New York metropolitan area, when virtually all parishes are open for confessions throughout the entire day.

This tradition was started in our Diocese of Rockville Centre more than two decades ago, and instituted shortly thereafter in the Brooklyn Diocese and Archdiocese of New York. It is a wonderful way to begin this holiest of weeks in the Church calendar, availing ourselves of the spiritual cleansing and reconciliation offered through the sacrament of Penance, uniting our own atonement with that which Christ offered on our behalf, as we prepare to celebrate the glory of His Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

It is a truism that virtually every Catholic who has lapsed in their practice of the faith has that “bad confession story”—a priest who was cross or impatient during a childhood confession, or a confessor who seemed insensitive or judgmental as an adult grappled with serious or troubling issues in the confessional. That such stories are often repeated not from personal experience but second or third hand makes them no less damaging in turning people away from this vital, healing sacrament.    

A few years ago, prior to Reconciliation Monday, several women allowed me to use the pages of The Long Island Catholic magazine to share their inspiring stories of spiritually uplifting confession experiences. In that same spirit, allow me to now recall several of my own very positive experiences with the sacrament of Reconciliation and the priestly guidance I was blessed to receive.  

Some years back, I felt that my colleagues and I were being treated unjustly in a workplace situation. Heading home after a Saturday in the office, and filled with anger, I decided—was led, I am sure, by the Holy Spirit, or perhaps my guardian angel—to stop at a parish that I knew had confessions before its 5 p.m. Mass.  

I expressed, in confession, my anger and frustration at this perceived injustice, and my inability to forgive those responsible. The priest hearing my confession directed me, as penance, to spend a few minutes before the First Station of the Cross, where Pilate condemns Jesus to death, and meditate on the injustice that our Lord willingly endured. 

I hadn’t shared the particulars of my work situation with Father, and he hadn’t asked. He was making no judgements about the validity of my complaints. He just wanted me to contrast the level of injustice I felt my colleagues and I were subjected to—and my inability to forgive it—with the unspeakable injustice that Jesus endured, and His extraordinary witness to forgiveness from the Cross—asking, while in the throes of crucifixion, the Father’s forgiveness of those who had put Him there.

At that time, I focused on our Lord’s forgiveness of His immediate persecutors—the Jewish high priests who accused Him, Pilate who condemned Him, the Roman soldiers who crucified Him.

But now I am thinking of how Jesus’ words on the Cross—“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”—pertain to all of us, to all humanity, across all of human history. For we too put the sinless Christ on the Cross, to atone for all of our sinful transgressions, against God and against each other.

Several weeks ago at daily Mass, we heard the parable of the servant who, having been forgiven an enormous debt by his master, refuses to forgive a much smaller debt owed to him, and instead has the offender thrown in prison. 

Now, reflecting on how Jesus willingly endured such horrible—and unmerited—suffering because of our wrongdoing—and asked God to forgive us for it—I think, as the master thought of his ungrateful servant, how dare I refuse to forgive another person for a perceived, and certainly less grave, wrong done to me.

And still, I struggle to do so. In a more recent confession, speaking more generally, I explained to a different priest that while I know I should forgive others, and I tell myself that I have, I don’t really feel forgiveness in my heart when I recall some particularly painful past hurts.

In another insightful penance assignment, Father told me to think of one person I seemed unable to forgive—and offer a prayer for that person. I did—and it gave me a sense, a true feeling, of forgiveness, not only toward that person, but toward others I have found it difficult to forgive. More than that, it caused me to reflect on the many persons—more than I could even think of, let alone count—from whom I need forgiveness.

Both those confessions, besides filling me with the peace and reconciliation that come with God’s mercy and forgiveness, also fortified me—thanks to the wisdom and inspired guidance of my priest confessors—with tools to employ in my continued struggles to forgive others and to humbly seek forgiveness from those I have wronged.

And so I would invite everyone—particularly those who may have been away from confession for an extended period—to give yourself the opportunity, on this Reconciliation Monday, to experience what I have been blessed to experience: the graces and healing of this penitential sacrament; the richness of God’s love and mercy; and the wisdom and inspired guidance that await you from our caring, faith-filled Catholic priests.    

Church’s “Yes” to God’s Timeless Truths

To the dismay of those who repeatedly misread Pope Francis’ conciliatory words as a harbinger of doctrinal changes, the Vatican has dashed expectations that the pope would approve Church blessings on homosexual relationships.

Those expectations were clearly misguided. Yes, Pope Francis, presenting the Church as universally welcoming and inclusive, has seemed to engage in a special pastoral outreach to those in same-sex relationships, assuring them of his and the Church’s love for them.

This has led many—in the Church, in gay rights circles, in media—to cite, selectively and without adequate context, various papal statements as signs that Papa Bergoglio was intent on changing Church teaching to accommodate homosexual unions.

Yes, Pope Francis last year called for same-sex civil unions. But that was in the context of protecting legal rights and health care benefits, not conferring Church approval upon such relationships.

Yes, in Amoris Laetitia he urged understanding for “complexities” and “irregularities” in family situations. But he also reiterated—unequivocally—Church teaching that “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”

Even his oft-quoted 2013 remark, “Who am I to judge” takes on a quite different meaning when read in the full context he later detailed.

“On that occasion I said this: If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person?” he explained in a 2016 book, The Name of God is Mercy. “I was paraphrasing by heart the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says that these people should be treated with delicacy and not be marginalized.”

“I prefer that homosexuals come to confession,” he added, “that they stay close to the Lord, and that we pray all together. You can advise them to pray, show goodwill, show them the way, and accompany them along it.”

While a clear expression of love for homosexual persons, that is hardly an embrace of same-sex relationships. Rather, it is an affirmation that true Christian love means praying for us when we go astray, showing us the way back—especially through penance and reconciliation—and accompanying us on that journey. It manifestly does not mean encouraging us to continue in our errant ways.

I love Pope Francis’ image of the Church as a “field hospital” whose healing love is accessible to all. Part of that healing is physical, of course, and the Church responds in so many tangible ways to human suffering and need.

Infinitely more important is the Church’s role as a spiritual field hospital, providing—through prayer, grace, the sacraments—healing balm for our immortal souls; but then going beyond that to also give us tools, through its teachings and guidance, to overcome temptation and live in harmony with God’s natural law.

Notice I have not used the word “sin” in discussing same-sex relationships. That is not because I deny its reality, but because I want to focus on something that Pope Benedict XVI emphasized:  that every “No” within Catholic teaching, far from being arbitrary, follows naturally from a greater “Yes” to “God’s infinite, transforming and ennobling love for all of us”—a love that is reflected in the Church’s “positive and inspiring vision of human life, the beauty of marriage and the joy of parenthood.”  

So, for example—as St. Paul VI explained so beautifully in Humanae Vitae and St. John Paul II in his Theology of the Body—the Church’s “No” to artificial contraception follows naturally from our “Yes” to God’s gift of new life, generated through the loving intercourse of husband and wife in marriage.

And our “No” to homosexual relations—and to heterosexual relations outside of marriage—follows from our “Yes” to God’s divine plan for His gift of human sexuality, in which male and female are designed, physiologically and spiritually, for sexual union as husband and wife; part of their lifelong giving of themselves to each other, to their children, and to God.

As such, the Church confers its blessing on those holy actions—marital love between man and woman in openness to new life—which express our resounding “Yes” to the natural order ordained by God. And it cannot confer its blessings on behaviors which defy that natural order.

Among the many harsh criticisms of this Vatican decree, I was struck by Argentine LGBT leader Esteban Paulon’s statement that “It takes us back 200 years.”

What does that mean, exactly? Every Sunday, our sacred liturgy takes us back two thousand years, to the Last Supper when Jesus instituted the Eucharist, and to His passion, death and Resurrection, re-enacted in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.    

Church teaching, and God’s natural law on which it is based, are timeless, meant to guide us in season and out: during times when those teachings seem almost universally accepted, as the teaching on marriage between one man and one woman has been throughout history; and during times, like now, when large segments of the prevailing culture reject that teaching.

We are called by God to conform our lives not to the transient values of the passing cultural zeitgeist, but to the timeless truths of His natural law. The Church, through her teachings, must help us to do that; as she has with this latest decree.

“Equality” Act is Anything But

When is “Equality” not a good thing?

When it is deceptively invoked to disguise legislation that will not advance equality, but will instead radically rewrite civil rights law and destroy religious freedom protections; that will impose “gender ideology” upon children, families, and faith-based institutions, affecting everything from bathroom privacy, to the integrity of women’s sports, to the right of religious people and institutions to live according to their sacred beliefs.

That is the true nature of the so-called “Equality Act,” which has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is pending in the U.S. Senate. It is actively opposed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops because it “discriminates against people of faith.”

The bill would expand the reach of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or national origin, to now include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity”—thereby criminalizing those who hold to beliefs and practices that recognize marriage as between one woman and one man, and gender as a permanent biological reality, not a changeable social construct. 

And to make sure that people and institutions of faith have no legal recourse, the bill exempts itself from the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, so that there will be no religious or conscience exemptions from its dictates.

As self-described “gay conservative” Brad Polumbo wrote in USA Today in May 2019, “the Equality Act goes too far for any level-headed gay rights advocate to support, and its blatant disregard for the basic right to religious freedom is appalling.” (My emphasis)

This bill, if enacted, will:

  • force religiously operated facilities—such as parish or Knights of Columbus halls—to either host events, like same-sex “weddings,” that violate their beliefs, or close their doors to the community;
  • require women and girls to compete against biological men and boys in scholastic sports, and to share restroom, locker room, and shower facilities with men and boys;
  • mandate that faith-based charities either act in violation of their religious beliefs —for example, housing biological males in shelters for abused women, or placing children for foster care or adoption with same-sex, transgender, or non-married co-habiting couples—or be shut down, depriving people in need of their charitable services;
  • cite “pregnancy discrimination” to mandate taxpayer funding of abortions and force health care providers to perform abortions in violation of their conscience or the teachings of their religion;
  • force health care professionals, against their medical judgment and/or religious beliefs, to facilitate “gender transition” treatments, including hormone therapies and surgical procedures. “This,” wrote Polumbo, “eviscerates freedom of conscience and tramples over the basic constitutional rights of religious Americans who work in the health care industry.”  

As Monica Burke at the Heritage Foundation has pointed out, the Equality Act also threatens employers and workers, particularly small and family-owned entities, with loss of their businesses and jobs if they refuse to violate their religious beliefs. This is already playing out on the state and local level, with florists, bakers, photographers, and many other wedding service providers charged with civil rights violations—some hit with crippling fines, others driven out of business altogether—because their religious or moral convictions prevent them from participating in same-sex “weddings.”    

The bill would also harm families, Burke points out, “by normalizing hormonal and surgical interventions for gender-dysphoric children”—the vast majority of whom outgrow such dysphoria “by the end of puberty”—”as well as ideological ‘education’ in schools and other public venues.”

The Equality Act, then, is a collection of self-evident contradictions:

  • Under the guise of prohibiting discrimination, it would discriminate against people and institutions of faith;
  • Under the guise of protecting privacy, it would destroy women’s privacy in restrooms, locker rooms, showers, and homeless shelters;
  • Under the guise of promoting equality, it would undermine women’s equality in sports;
  • And of course, it denies equality for unborn children, whose mass destruction would be further advanced by its provisions.  

Further illustrating this, last Tuesday EWTN reporter Owen Jensen, concerned about recourse for doctors forced to perform abortions under the Equality Act, asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki whether President Biden would keep in place the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division established by President Trump at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Psaki deferred the question to Biden’s nominee for director of HHS, Xavier Becerra.

That is hardly reassuring. As Attorney General of California, Becerra sued to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to include coverage for abortion-inducing drugs in their employees’ health insurance. And he enthusiastically supported a state law—defending it, unsuccessfully, thank God, before the U.S. Supreme Court—that would have forced pro-life pregnancy centers to refer for abortions. They could have been fined out of existence for not complying, depriving many women—and children—of the loving services they offer.

The Equality Act in Becerra’s hands would be a dangerous weapon in service to his pro-abortion absolutism and his demonstrated hostility to conscience rights and religious liberty. His nomination, and the Equality Act, should both be rejected by the Senate.

If you agree, please contact your U.S. Senators and urge them to vote against Xavier Becerra’s confirmation as director of Health and Human Services.

And, to go the U.S. Bishops’ Action Center and make your voice heard in opposition to the misnamed Equality Act, please click here.

‘Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness’

President Biden’s choice for Secretary of the Interior, Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), drew immediate opposition from some Republicans, and reported concerns from West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin—although Manchin subsequently said he would vote to confirm the nominee.  

“We are concerned with Rep. Haaland’s record on energy development,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) explained, citing her “opposition to important energy infrastructure like pipelines” and “support for policies like the Green New Deal, which raises prices for consumers while increasing our reliance on foreign energy sources.”

Supporters countered that Haaland will stand up to powerful interests in pursuing policies essential to protecting the environment.

She “is going to shift a worldview on how we’ll be managing water, land and natural resources in the future,” said Julia Bernal, director of Pueblo Action Alliance in New Mexico. “The way we’ve been misusing resources and mismanaging land has resulted in a climate crisis. Seeing a change in who holds that power, if that threatens the interests of oil and gas, that definitely reveals what’s wrong with things.”   

This seemed to portend a healthy Senate debate, one well worth having. How severe is the impact of fossil fuels on the climate? What level of trade-off, if any, is acceptable between a cleaner environment, and loss of jobs and energy independence? How effective are alternative sources of energy? (an issue dramatized by the apparently widespread solar and wind power outages during the recent powerful storm in Texas) Do major oil and gas producers have an out-sized influence on American energy policy, and are they using it to advance their self-interest by suppressing alternatives?

Sadly, a more toxic scenario was also portended.

Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo, would be the first Native American to serve in a presidential cabinet. And that, for some, was enough to justify imputing bigotry to anyone who opposed her nomination.

Typical was this statement by Montana state Sen. Shane Morigeau, a Democrat and member of the Salish and Kootenai tribes, as reported by Politico:

“Being a minority person and being a person of color, it makes you wonder if she would get this treatment if she wasn’t a person of color, if she wasn’t Indian and if she wasn’t a woman. She became an easy target because we haven’t gotten to this place in our country where we give — especially women and people of color — a fair shot.”

Then there was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who excoriated fellow Democrat Manchin for having concerns about Haaland while he voted to confirm the “openly racist” Jeff Sessions as President Trump’s attorney general. Her evidence that Sessions was “openly racist”? His hard line on immigration—which I didn’t like either, but I require some actual evidence, which AOC didn’t provide, before assuming it was motivated by racism.

True to form, during hearings last Wednesday and Thursday, Republican senators challenged Haaland with tough questions on energy and environmental issues. Also true to form, Haaland supporters and mainstream media outlets decried the tough questioning as evidence of racial bias. While they cited not one instance of Haaland’s critics referencing her gender or ethnicity—indeed, it is only her supporters who are doing so—they simply claimed that various criticisms of her, even though issues-based, were “code” for anti-Native American racism. Thus could the Associated Press, without evidence, blare the headline, “Native American nominee’s grilling raises questions on bias.”    

Do you see how insidious this is? For her supporters to suggest that those opposing Haaland were motivated by racism and sexism, dismissing the policy differences they delineated, is no better than if those opponents had suggested that Haaland’s nomination was based solely on her ethnicity and sex, dismissing her experience, qualifications, and policy positions.

I am old enough to remember when opponents of the Vietnam war had to fend off charges that they were anti-American, even Communist sympathizers. Doubtless that was true of some of the more extreme, violent protesters—as doubtless there are some in America today whose opposition to Haaland is motivated by bigotry. But to impute such motives to respectable public officials and mainstream Americans who have no record of support for such evils, and who seek only to express legitimate policy differences, was wrong then and is wrong now.

And it is destructive in a number of ways:

  • to the good name of those Senators being maligned, without cause, as bigots;
  • to the nominee herself, as it suggests that supporters have no substantive arguments for her, and so must resort to slandering her opponents;
  • to the serious debate and discussion we needed our Senate to engage in on critical energy and environmental policy questions;
  • to equal rights, because falsely imputing racism and sexism to gain political advantage, like promiscuously labeling political opponents “Nazis” or “Communists,” trivializes the true nature of these evils, undermining our efforts to identify and combat them.  

And of course, this resort to ad hominem attacks to try to discredit those we disagree with only further exacerbates the incivility which so poisons our public discourse.

Can we please, instead, rely on principled persuasion, rather than personal attacks, to advance the people and policies we believe to be good and just?

In short, can we all please heed the Eighth Commandment?

Compromise Needed on Immigration

Readers of my columns and editorials in The Long Island Catholic over the years know I have a very positive view of immigration. I believe immigrants—even those who come here illegally—can make vital contributions to our economy and social fabric.

They contribute economically by becoming consumers as well as producers, thereby increasing demand and creating more jobs; and by filling some jobs, especially in the critical agricultural sector, that Americans are unwilling or unable to do.

And they contribute socially through a strong work ethic, love for their families and for our country, and often a deep religious faith.

Yet certain considerations have caused me to modify—although surely not abandon—my pro-immigrant sentiments. 

The threat of international terrorism is of course magnified by lax border security. And, without embracing former President Trump’s sweeping disparagement of Mexican immigrants as “rapists and murderers,” there is no denying that significant criminal elements—including brutally violent gangs—continue to come into our country illegally. That they prey primarily on their own immigrant communities—particularly those who, because they are here illegally, will not turn to law enforcement for help—should lead those of us who sympathize with the plight of undocumented immigrants to embrace stricter border security to keep violent criminals out.

It is also arguable that in some fields—manufacturing, retail work, food service, to name a few—immigrants willing to work for lower wages do pose a threat to American workers. And yes, there are some who come not to find work but to avail themselves of public assistance, overburdening our generous, but far from limitless, social services programs.  

Add to that the economic and health devastations wrought by COVID, and this hardly seems the time to open the floodgates to thousands more job seekers and potential pandemic spreaders.    

So we need to balance compassion for the plight of illegal immigrants with respect for laws designed to protect a way of life that is the very reason so many want to emigrate to America.

I still feel strongly that we should strive to regularize undocumented immigrants already here, and already or potentially making positive contributions.

For that reason, while I opposed Congressional funding for Trump’s border wall—I felt he should be held to his promise that Mexico, not American taxpayers, would pay for it—I supported his proposal to regularize DACA recipients, even giving them a path to citizenship, in exchange for funding the wall.

To me, this was normal legislative horse trading. Trump would accede to the priority of Congressional Democrats, just treatment for immigrants brought here as children, and they would accede to his priority, funding the wall he saw as vital to border security. 

Congressional Democrats, however, refused to compromise, accusing Trump of holding DACA recipients “hostage.” So we got neither security for DACA recipients nor enhanced border security.  

Now President Biden is proposing legalization and a path to citizenship not just for DACA recipients, but for virtually all 11 million immigrants here illegally. Republican leaders are already voicing opposition, decrying it as blanket amnesty and noting the lack of provisions for border security.

And of course there is the elephant in the room, no pun intended. Eleven million new citizens means 11 million new voters. That would likely be a major political boost for Democrats—and a major political blow to Republicans—as immigrants, especially low-income immigrants, tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

Here again I think compromise is in order. I believe we should strive to regularize law-abiding, hard-working undocumented immigrants and their families, enabling them to move into the mainstream of American society and contribute to our economic, social, and cultural life. But I do not think those who enter our country illegally should be gifted with citizenship. If Democrats’ goal is to ease the plight of these immigrants and bring them out of the shadows, they should offer to drop the “path to citizenship” provision in exchange for Republican support of the bill; and Republicans should embrace that compromise, and drop their opposition to the bill, if the citizenship path is removed and effective border security measures specified.

This issue cries out for compromise and mutual respect—not the mutual demonizing that is far too prevalent.

Yes, there is a criminal element among those who illegally enter our country. But that hardly characterizes the vast majority who come here seeking a better life for themselves and their families, bringing with them the kind of work ethic, religious faith, love for family and love for America that we should welcome.  

Yes, there has always been an element of bigotry among those concerned about immigration, going back to Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. But that hardly characterizes the vast majority who have legitimate concerns about the impact of illegal immigration on public safety, national security, our economy, and public health.

We need to listen to and understand each other’s concerns; then work, in a spirit of compromise, to formulate solutions that, while requiring mutual sacrifice, can redound to the benefit of all.  

Most of all, we need politicians and public officials, on both sides of the aisle, to support policies that advance the common good, not their partisan political interests. 

Responding to Human Suffering

I recently wrote that there can be no true social justice until our laws uphold the sanctity of all human life, beginning with the most innocent, most vulnerable—unborn children.   

That is not, however, to dismiss the very real human sufferings all around us that cry out for just and humane responses—as befit the culture of life we seek to build.   

Children who are neglected, abused, abandoned, need laws and public policies that protect them, and social outreach to place them with loving families. Those struggling against poverty, hunger, homelessness, need services that meet their immediate needs, and long-term economic policies that help them escape such poverty. People suffering serious illness and disease must have access to the healthcare they need.

Children and adults with mental illness, or physical or developmental disabilities, need adequate treatment and care, educational and employment opportunities, assistance when they run afoul of the law. Law enforcement systems must protect innocent people from crime, while ensuring fair treatment for criminal suspects, justice for those wrongly accused, and humane treatment for those incarcerated. Restorative justice initiatives should help crime victims cope with their injuries, trauma, and loss, and perpetrators prepare to rejoin society as law-abiding, productive citizens once they have paid for their crimes.

War, even when fought for a just cause, is fraught with unintended consequences and inflicts untold sufferings on innocent people. We must therefore never stop striving for peaceful resolution of international conflicts, and assurance that every non-violent alternative is exhausted before arms are ever resorted to.

The problem, in all these areas, comes when we must make political choices.  

First is the issue alluded to above. Many Catholic social justice activists believe progressive policies generally espoused by the Democratic Party best address these issues of human suffering. Yet that party, and virtually all its candidates, support laws allowing the unrestricted killing of children in the womb. Can/should we still vote for them?

Some say yes, because they “check more of the boxes” on our social justice agenda, and are “wrong” on “only one issue.” And to be fair, some see in this broader agenda the potential for saving some unborn lives by alleviating some of the social conditions that can lead to abortion.

Others—myself included—say no, because, as even the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, originator of the “seamless garment,” said, “a society which destroys human life by abortion under mantle of law unavoidably undermines respect for life in all other contexts”—and thus undermines all efforts toward social justice.

Another issue of politics involves our prudential judgment as to which public policy approaches actually hold better potential for alleviating human suffering.

Consider the experience of the late Michael Novak, distinguished Catholic theologian, philosopher, and political and social commentator whose memoir I was privileged to review in 2014 for the Catholic League’s journal, Catalyst.    

Novak, whose blue-collar upbringing in a Pennsylvania mining town led to a lifelong advocacy for poor and working people, was, in his own words, “a man of the anti-capitalist left.”

But, driven to learn “how to break the chains of poverty throughout the world,” he opened himself to exploring different approaches. Ultimately, he concluded that capitalism, rather than socialism or other government-centered economic systems, offered the best pathway out of poverty. He also came to understand that various cultural factors also contribute to impoverishing people, and that those must be addressed as well.

My purpose here is not to posit the rightness of Novak’s conclusions. In coming months I will offer my own thoughts, and welcome comments, on how we might best address some of these issues of human suffering. For now, I simply want to commend, to each of us, Novak’s open-minded, principled search for solutions to human suffering; and to lament, as he did—even eight years ago, well before we reached our current level of polarization—the growing unwillingness, on all sides of our nation’s partisan divide, to engage in the kind of respectful dialogue, mutual charity, and openness to new ideas that can best advance the common good. 

Novak refused to be limited by the narrow “anti-capitalist” ideology he had previously espoused. He wanted to hear what others had to say, avail himself of their research and expertise; because his goal, ultimately, was not to win an argument, but to identify the most promising approaches to lifting people out of poverty.

We should likewise open our minds and hearts to the experience, research, and especially the sincerity of those who offer different approaches to alleviating human suffering; rather than clinging tenaciously to pre-conceived ideas and ideologies, and labeling as “uncaring” any whose views differ from ours.         

Some thirty years ago, speaking at our diocesan seminary on Long Island, Michael Novak offered this paraphrase of Scripture: 

“It is not those who cry, ‘the poor, the poor’ who will enter the Kingdom, but those who truly help the poor.”

Good intentions alone will not alleviate human suffering. It takes all of us, with open minds and hearts, learning together and then working together—with God’s help and guidance—to apply what we have learned, in service to others and with reverence for all human life.

Daniel Murphy Retires

I digress today to a sports topic: the retirement last week of Daniel Murphy.

Most baseball fans know Daniel Murphy from his spectacular 2015 post-season performance, when his seven home runs, including a record six in six consecutive games, propelled the New York Mets into the World Series.

But I was a huge Daniel Murphy fan long before that; and remained one, even after the Mets made no serious effort to re-sign him as a free agent, and he became a Met killer extraordinaire—and one of the best hitters in baseball—for the division rival Washington Nationals.

I loved Murph’s hitting skills. For years, he and David Wright seemed the Mets’ only reliable hitters—and as Wright’s later years were beset with injuries, Murphy emerged as the team’s most consistent clutch hitter.

I also liked his hustle, hard work, and team-first attitude; and his devout Christianity, devotion to his family, and humility—a refreshing change from the me-first, ego driven personas of far too many modern-day professional athletes. 

To me, the 2015 post-season heroics that defined Daniel Murphy as a ballplayer were not the home run streak, but his overall performance in the deciding fifth game against the Dodgers in the first playoff round. 

He gave the Mets a 1-0 lead with an RBI double in the first inning; after singling in the fourth and jogging to second on a walk to Lucas Duda, he alertly took off and stole third base when the Dodgers’ shift against Duda left no one covering third. That enabled him to score on Travis d’Arnaud’s sacrifice fly, tying the game at 2-2. Two innings later, Murphy homered to break the tie, and the Mets won by that 3-2 final score.  

So it wasn’t just the home runs. It was the awareness and situational play that always characterized Murphy’s game: a run-scoring opposite field double; a single and then heads-up baserunning setting himself up to score the tying run; then a home run to win the game.

As a Christian ballplayer, Murphy was never preachy, but he didn’t hesitate to publicly express how his faith served him in key situations. Once, after Yankee centerfielder Brett Gardner had robbed him of a three-run homer with a spectacular leaping catch, the post-game TV interviewer asked him about it.   

Murphy—who had been caught on camera slamming his helmet to the ground after Gardner’s catch—replied that he did “a lot of praying” for help in overcoming his frustration. Two innings later, he delivered a two-out, RBI single that won the game for the Mets.    

After that Dodger playoff game, the post-game interviewer remarked that Murphy seemed unaffected by the tension surrounding that elimination game.

“That was the Holy Spirit,” he replied, “that was Jesus” helping him stay calm. 

His humility, so obviously a product of his faith, was also displayed in that interview, as he passed credit to Lucas Duda for drawing the walk that made his heads-up baserunning play possible.  

Another time, Dillon Gee had pitched a great game, but the Mets trailed, 1-0—until Murphy belted a three-run homer in the top of the ninth, then made a brilliant, diving defensive play to help the Mets secure the victory. 

Afterward, the TV interviewer asked Murphy what he wanted to talk about first, his home run or his defensive play.

“I’d like to talk about Dillon Gee,” Murphy answered—deflecting credit, as he always did, from himself to his teammates.

His devotion to his family—his wife and three little children—was evident in his retirement announcement. He explained that Major League Baseball’s COVID lockdown last spring had revealed “a blind spot” to him. “I didn’t fully comprehend the trade-off that was being made each time I was separated from my family. I didn’t know this was what I was missing. I had a thought: You could identify what you were giving up” by retiring, “but now you can identify what you’re getting.”

Sadly, in today’s world one cannot be devoted to family and faith without being vilified for it. So even a fun tribute to a sports hero cannot avoid our great moral and cultural divide.   

In 2014, Murphy was ripped by Mike Francesa and other sports talk show hosts for missing Opening Day and the next game to be with his wife for the birth of their first child.

“What are you going to do?” Francesa snarked. “I mean you are going to sit there and look at your wife in a hospital bed for two days?” 

Murphy gracefully defended his decision, and was subsequently invited to address a White House gathering on working parents.

Then there was his encounter with Billy Bean, MLB’s gay ambassador of diversity. After Bean visited the Mets spring training camp in 2015, a website reporter contacted Murphy for his response, as a Christian, to Bean’s presentation.

“Maybe, as a Christian,” Murphy was quoted, “we haven’t been articulate enough in describing what our actual stance is on homosexuality. We love the people. We disagree [with] the lifestyle.”

He had touched the third rail. It is an article of faith among gay rights advocates that homosexuality is inborn, and therefore not a “lifestyle.” Because Murphy disagrees, he has been slandered as a “bigot,” “hater,” “homophobe”—even though Bean himself said he appreciated Murphy speaking “his truth,” and Murphy has praised Bean and expressed appreciation for the respectful conversations they have had since.

“That was probably my biggest takeaway,” Murphy said, “that two people with different views, we could come and have reasonable dialogue. That’s a good thing.” And journalist Andy Marino, who interviewed him at the time, praises “Murphy’s willingness to engage civilly. … Looking back on it five years later, in a time of intense polarization, that seems especially valuable.” Indeed.

I and many others will miss the excitement of watching Daniel Murphy play baseball. Let’s hope he will continue to promote—through his lived example and his gracious, humble public statements—the faith, family values, and human respect to which he has borne witness on and off the field.

Life and Justice

In a statement on the inauguration of Joe Biden, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, welcomed the nation’s second Catholic chief executive as “a President who clearly understands, in a deep and personal way, the importance of religious faith and institutions”; and whose “piety and personal story,” as well as “his longstanding commitment to the Gospel’s priority for the poor,” are “hopeful and inspiring.”

“At the same time,” Archbishop Gomez lamented, “I must point out that our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity.”

Advance moral evils and threaten human life. Can there be a more harsh indictment of the agenda of a Catholic public official?

Yet there is no getting around it. Archbishop Gomez lists Mr. Biden’s policy positions on “abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender” as the most serious of these evils and threats, along with “deep concern” for “the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.” On every one of these concerns, Joe Biden has gone to the farthest extremes in embracing policies opposed by the Church.

He would force Catholic entities, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, to provide coverage not only for contraceptives, but for abortion-inducing drugs. He not only embraces same-sex “marriage,” he mocked the teaching of his own Church by proudly officiating, as Vice President, at a “wedding” of two men. He embraces gender ideology, which Pope Francis has termed “dangerous,” “evil,” and “demonic.” And, after decades of at least favoring some limits to legal abortion, he now wants none; pledges to codify Roe v. Wade, which allows abortion up to birth; and wants to force his fellow Catholics to be complicit in the killing of the unborn through our taxes.   

Archbishop Gomez, issuing his statement two days before the anniversary of Roe, reiterated that “For the nation’s bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the ‘preeminent priority.’

“‘Preeminent,’” he stressed, “does not mean ‘only.’ We have deep concerns about many threats to human life and dignity in our society. But as Pope Francis teaches, we cannot stay silent when nearly a million unborn lives are being cast aside in our country year after year through abortion.”

Moreover, he added, abortion “is also a matter of social justice. We cannot ignore the reality that abortion rates are much higher among the poor and minorities, and that the procedure is regularly used to eliminate children who would be born with disabilities.”  

This is critically important. Some Catholics insist on reducing the mass destruction of pre-born children to a “single issue,” just one of many “boxes” to check on their social justice agenda—if they include it at all.

But as Archbishop Gomez points out, the use of abortion to target the poor, the disabled, and other vulnerable populations undermines the entire social justice agenda. Twenty-three years ago, the late Bishop John McGann of our Diocese of Rockville Centre, Long Island, emphasized this in a Newsday op ed piece on the eve of the 25th anniversary of Roe.

Deploring promotion of abortion as a “solution” to poverty, disability, child abuse, and other issues of human suffering, Bishop McGann described how “this destroy-the-victim approach, combined with the ‘freedom of choice’ promoted by the abortion mentality, seems to have engendered a selfish individualism through which we dehumanize any whose lives inconvenience us: the poor, the disabled, the homeless, the elderly, the terminally ill, the immigrant, the prisoner, the unwed mother and her child.”

He detailed how “the resulting breakdown in respect for life” had brought us “to the brink of infanticide,” “increased the clamor for euthanasia and assisted suicide,” contributed to “a resurgence in support for the death penalty,” and left “countless numbers of women throughout our land” bearing “deep and lasting spiritual and emotional scars from the tragedy of an abortion.  

“It is time to acknowledge,” Bishop McGann declared—in a plea that rings ever more urgent today—that “our experience with legalized abortion has been a national tragedy. And it is time to try instead a truly pro-life response to issues of human suffering.”  

He called for re-doubling efforts to support women in crisis, develop life-affirming alternatives to abortion, and provide healing for women, and men, struggling with the pain and anguish of an abortion experience.

He urged “loving and compassionate care to the elderly and the terminally ill”; acceptance of “our responsibility, individually and collectively, for the ‘least among us’—the poor, the disabled, the homeless, the sick”; efforts to “build and sustain strong families, which can best welcome and nurture God’s gift of life.”  

“Finally,” Bishop McGann concluded, “we must all work fervently to restore legal protection for all human life, born and unborn. For, as Mother Teresa taught us, all our charitable works, and all our efforts toward social justice, will go for naught unless they are founded in an abiding reverence for the sacredness of each and every human life.”

That is why abortion is more than a “single issue”; why it must be, as the U.S. Bishops have long maintained, “the preeminent priority”: because as long as unborn children are denied the protection of our laws; as long as they continue to be legally killed, by the millions, there is no reverence for the sacredness of life. And there can be no true social justice.    

And until President Biden’s “priority for the poor” is joined to a reverence for all human life, it is not a “commitment to the Gospel.” And it cannot be called “justice.”