Happy birthday Diocese of Dallas!

Happy Birthday Diocese of Dallas

On July 15, 1890, one-hundred-and-twenty-five years ago, Pope Leo XIII erected the Diocese of Dallas. Because of the July heat and the absence of so many on vacations, birthday celebrations are postponed until the fall and winter. A number of festivities are planned to celebrate the event. Every pastor will set a date to observe the Quasquicentennial in their parish. A diocesan 125th Anniversary observance will take place Saturday, October 3rd at Cathedral Guadalupe. More details on these events will be forthcoming in The Texas Catholic and online at www.cathdal.org/125.

However, the July 15 anniversary date will not pass unobserved. Prologue to the Future, an eBook history of the Diocese of Dallas, has been released at www.cathdal.org/prologue. It is comprehensive and features many photographs, and may be downloaded to your computer or tablet. I hope you will read and enjoy this interesting, chronological history of our diocese.

I was asked to write an introduction to Prologue to the Future. It seems appropriate to first release it in this blog to mark the anniversary of Pope Leo’s bull that brought this great diocese into being.

Every story has a pre-story. Any one moment is but a point on the continuum of time. When Pope Leo XIII declared July 15, 1890, as the moment the Diocese of Dallas would come into being, that event, like all events, was the culmination of a succession of occurrences. When a diocese is erected, it does not establish a new church; rather it establishes a formal ministerial structure for a church that already exists.

In the northernmost reaches of Texas that would become the Diocese of Dallas, from the Piney Woods to the Chihuahua Desert, the Church arrived with the first Catholic. For where there is even one Catholic, there is the Church. We know not where or when the Catholic continuum began that came to fruition with Pope Leo’s Bull, but we do know that, like the mustard seed, it was destined for prodigious growth.

We stand at the convergence of what has been and what will be in the continuum that is the Catholic Diocese of Dallas. As we mark our 125th anniversary, we celebrate the faith of our Catholic forbearers who nurtured the mustard seed that has become the diocese. We are tomorrow’s forbearers. We are those into whose hands God has placed the future of our faith and our children. Let us not be found wanting.

Catholic teaching on the Sacrament of Marriage

Catholic Teaching on the Sacrament of Marriage

In light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision finding same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, some Catholics feel confused and somewhat apprehensive. I would like to make several observations to put the situation in context.

Catholic teaching on the Sacrament of Marriage remains as it always has been: marriage is the sacred lifelong commitment of one man and one woman and is about creating new life and the next generation. This requires both a man and a woman. The SCOTUS ruling addresses the civil definition of marriage. It confirms same-sex marriage as a civil right.

The court’s ruling also ensures the First Amendment rights of religious organizations, holding that “Religions and those who adhere to religious doctrines may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere convictions that by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.” (Page 27) The same section confirms our First Amendment rights to the free practice of religion.

Of course, there will be no same-sex marriages in Catholic churches. But, it is important to state that while the Catholic Church can never condone same-sex marriage, the Church makes clear that persons with a homosexual orientation “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church Par. 2358) This acceptance of gay and lesbian people must be real and not merely symbolic. The Church, in her mission, is committed to reaching out to all people.

As a result of this action by SCOTUS, we know some are taking it as one more opportunity to characterize the Church and the Catholic faithful as bigots opposed to a fundamental human right guaranteed by the constitution. This is nothing new. In opposing the abortion rights granted by Roe vs. Wade, the Church is in a similar situation. Of course, we are not alone in our opposition.

There are those who see this as the oft referred to “slippery slope,” foreseeing dark days ahead for the Church in America. The Church has seen much darker days. It is no stranger to adversity. The New York Times (May 15, 2008) described Catholics as “a persecuted minority in colonial New York … denied all religious and civil liberties except for a few years in the 1680s when the Catholic Stuart monarchs ruled England.” The first Catholic parish was not established in New York until 1785.

Lord Calvert’s Maryland colony was composed of Catholics fleeing the English penal laws against the practice of Catholicism. Many German immigrants came to America seeking refuge from Bismarck’s Kulturkampf in the 1870s.

Yet a Christian consensus around biblical morality emerged.

President John Quincy Adams wrote, “The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.” That consensus has been destroyed, first by legislation and adjudication, and later by the recasting of biblical teachings on morality by some religious bodies.

As Catholics, our response to these legal and societal changes is still the same: to proclaim the gospel in word and deed and to witness the healing and forgiving love of Jesus. St. John Paul II pointed the way in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, “The Church addresses people with full respect for their freedom. Her mission does not restrict freedom but rather promotes it. The Church proposes; she imposes nothing. She respects individuals and cultures, and she honors the sanctuary of conscience. To those who for various reasons oppose missionary activity, the Church repeats: Open the doors to Christ!”

Image credit: bm.iphone on Flickr

Examining Laudato Si': Agenda for a Generation

Examining Laudato Si': Agenda for a Generation


Laudato Si’ is unique in many ways. It is addressed to “all people of good will” (No. 62) and Pope Francis states that “I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.” (No. 3) It is also distinguished by the fact that it is intended to provoke both dialogue and action. (No. 16)

Make no mistake about it this encyclical is not about a “quick fix.” (No. 179) Instead, it sets out an agenda for our time here on this planet, observing that the environment “is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next.” (No. 159)

Setting forth a litany of major ecological problems that need to be dealt with the Pope lists: pollution, climate change, water, loss of biodiversity, decline in the quality of human life, the breakdown of society, and global inequality and comments that, “Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded.” (No. 25)

“As Christians,” the Holy Father reminds us, “we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbors on a global scale,” recognizing, in the words of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, that we must “look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms.” That will require “replacing consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing.” (No. 9)

What the Pope is calling for is nothing less than a change in worldview, a monumental task that must begin with each of us who shares in spoiling our common home. We must acknowledge the seriousness of the situation and accept our share of the blame. The structural causes of ecological disintegration must be acknowledged and addressed collaboratively on a global basis. Unfortunately, as Pope Francis observes, “Politics and the economy tend to blame each other when it comes to poverty and environmental degradation. It is to be hoped that they can acknowledge their own mistakes and find forms of interaction directed to the common good. (No. 198)

“There is no one path to a solution.” (No. 60) There is no magic bullet. Through prayer and dialogue we must collectively work toward a comprehensive solution to save our God’s creation, our common home.

Laudato Si’ is not a doomsday proclamation but it sets out an agenda for a generation. As the Holy Father writes in his closing prayer: “May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope.” (No. 244)

Image credit: Stephanie Sicore on Flickr

Examining Laudato Si': Poor treated as “collateral damage”


Poverty and the condition of the poor and excluded are inexorably connected to the ecological crisis and Pope Francis says must be included in the “dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.” (Laudato Si, No. 14) Pope Francis speaks of “the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet, the conviction that everything in the world is connected.” (No. 16)

Because they tend to be on the periphery, they are easily and frequently ignored, as the Holy Father points out

It needs to be said that, generally speaking, there is little in the way of clear awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded. Yet they are the majority of the planet’s population, billions of people. These days, they are mentioned in international political and economic discussions, but one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an afterthought, a question which gets added almost out of duty or in a tangential way, if not treated merely as collateral damage. Indeed, when all is said and done, they frequently remain at the bottom of the pile. (No. 49)

Part of the reason for this is the fact that those in power have little or no contact with the poor and the marginalized — a reality that the Pope points out. “… Many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centers of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems. They live and reason from the comfortable position of a high level of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world’s population.” (No. 49)

For many the solution to poverty is “a reduction in the birth rate.” To which the Pope responds, “To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.”(No. 50)

But the ecological burden of the poor has a direct effect upon the entire community. For example, the migration crisis in Europe and the Americas is partially the result of “migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation.” Another major problem faced by many poor is the lack of potable water. Pope Francis’ encyclical points out that “Every day, unsafe water results in many deaths and the spread of water-related diseases, including those caused by microorganisms and chemical substances. Dysentery and cholera, linked to inadequate hygiene and water supplies, are a significant cause of suffering and of infant mortality.” (No. 29)

Quoting the U.S. bishops, Pope Francis calls for greater attention to be given to “the needs of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, in a debate often dominated by more powerful interests. ” He then adds, “We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference.” (No. 52)

A response to the SCOTUS ruling on marriage

A response to the  SCOTUS ruling on marriage

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a ruling that redefines the civil definition of marriage. Marriage, as understood in the Catholic faith, has always been and still is the sacred lifelong commitment of one man and one woman. Marriage as the union of one man and one woman predates all nations, laws and constitutions. Marriage is not only a relationship of love between two persons who are committed to one another, but it is also about creating the next generation — this requires both a man and a woman.

The same Constitution that has now been held to open civil marriage to same-sex couples confirms and protects the Church’s right to carry forward the historic teaching of the Church regarding the Sacrament of Marriage.

As Catholics we believe in the dignity of each and every human being made in the image and likeness of God. As such, we accept all persons with respect, compassion, and sensitivity and must be mindful that, even in polarizing times, there is no place for derision or smugness. I pray that all persons who hold dear the civil liberties afforded by the United States Constitution will join us in working to safeguard the rights of people of faith to live and exercise that faith as they believe God requires.

I ask all to pray for the sanctity of the Sacrament of Marriage and to join me in continuing to always pray for our country.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Examining Laudato Si': The Common Good

Examining Laudato Si': The Common Good

As I promised, I will devote several blogs to Pope Francis’ recent papal encyclical, Laudato Si’. It is difficult to know where the to begin, but a good place seems to be with the concept of the common good, which the Holy Father refers to more than 30 times in his encyclical.

Pope Francis uses the traditional Catholic definition of the common good: “the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment,” (No. 156) elaborating on how we should understand what that means in today’s world.

Underlying the principle of the common good is respect for the human person as such, endowed with basic and inalienable rights … It also has to do with the overall welfare of society and the development of a variety of intermediate groups … [especially] the family, as the basic cell of society. (No. 157)

Thus, the common good is centered on the respect and dignity due each human being and their right to develop and flourish. But the common good goes beyond the individual to embrace the whole of society.

Recognizing that society is dynamic and subject to disruptions due to inequities and disequilibrium, the Holy Father cautions that “the common good calls for social peace, the stability and security provided by a certain order which cannot be achieved without particular concern for distributive justice; whenever this is violated, violence always ensues. Society as a whole and the state in particular, are obliged to defend and promote the common good.” (No. 157)

Reality is a far cry from the ideal and the Pope paints a vivid picture of today’s world:

In the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, the principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters. (No. 158)

We cannot however, think only of ourselves and our contemporary situation; we must be aware of our debt to the future. Pope Francis reminds us that, “The notion of the  common good also extends to future generations. The global economic crises have made painfully obvious the detrimental effects of disregarding our common destiny, which cannot exclude those who come after us. We can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity. Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others.” (No. 159)

Thus the Holy Father outlines the basis for the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which will require solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms.

We will examine those environmental problems and the Pope’s proposed solutions in future blogs.

Image credit: Sreyena, right, and her sister Salim stand in front of their house near the dump, where they scavenged for metal, plastic, glass and anything else they could sell to a recycler to make money. Each child would make about $10 a month at the dump to help out their families. They had no electricity or water. (Courtesy  of anewdaycambodia.org)

When will we ever learn?

When will we ever learn?

The sadness and mourning in Charleston are being felt throughout this great country. I fervently pray that racism will finally be eradicated in our nation. I pray for the victims, their families and all affected by this horrible tragedy.

Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Killeen, University of Texas, Aurora, and now add Charleston to the tragic litany of massacres by disturbed people who had easy access to guns. The horror of the Emanuel A.M.E. Church massacre is exacerbated by the fact that it occurred in a place of sanctuary as did so many of the others.

Of course, we will hear the mantra, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Yes, people kill people, but in each of the massacres I mentioned, they did it with a gun. Had they not been able to obtain a weapon, they could not have perpetrated their crimes.

America is the most “gun crazy” society in the world. The gun death rate of 13.47 per 100,000 in the United States is more than double that of the next highest country and gun ownership far surpasses other countries. Almost 90 out of every 100 people own a gun.

In 2011 only 6 percent of the U.S. population 16 or older went hunting, according to the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation. Opponents of gun control will tell us that the gap between hunters and gun owners is because people need weapons to protect themselves. But, are more guns really the answer?

As in so many other instances, gun safety and the common good have been sacrificed for Americans’ demand for individual freedom. Sadly, the lawmakers in our state have decided that the answer to the gun problem is indeed more guns in more places.

When will we ever learn?

Image Credit: Mourners cast shadows on the wall of a makeshift memorial at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., June 18. Nine people were murdered the day before during a Bible study session at the church. (CNS photo/Brian Snyder, Reuters) 

Laudato Si’: Pope Francis calls for “global ecological conversion”

Laudato Si’: Pope Francis calls for "Global ecological conversion"

Pope Francis’ long awaited and much heralded pastoral encyclical, Laudato Si’ was released this morning calling for “global ecological conversion” based on limiting the use of non-renewable resources and re-use and recycling of materials to preserve resources for present and future generations.

While it is a pastoral and not a political document, it nevertheless calls for dialogue on the issues with which it deals; climate change, pollution and the need for a radical change in our relationship with our planet Earth. It is sure to trigger a spirited international response.

Taking its name Laudato Si’ (Praise be to You) from the invocation of St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of Creation, the encyclical, like the canticle, emphasizes that “creation can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all, and as a reality illuminated by the love which calls us together into universal communion.” (No. 76)

Referring to the Canticle’s reference to “our Sister, Mother Earth,” the beginning of the encyclical reminds the readers that, “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life.” (No. 2)

Identifying climate change as “one of the principal problems facing humanity in our day,” the document predicts, “Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades,” and will be particularly devastating to the poor whose living is often solely dependent upon “natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry.”(No. 25)

Pollution of air, water and the environment caused by hundreds of tons of waste generated through the years, much of it non-biodegradable, has, according to the encyclical, caused the earth “to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”(No. 21) The problem is, “closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish.”

Laudato Si’ is really an examination of conscience and asks of each of us: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” (No. 160)

In my opinion the importance of this encyclical as Christian teaching and as a wake up call to the reality of an impending ecological catastrophe cannot be overstated. I plan to devote a number of future blogs to Laudato Si’ and the significance of this important papal encyclical.

Image credit: kris krüg on Flickr