Friday, December 31, 2010

Ode to Magnificat - Or how it made my son a theologian

My wife got a subscription to Magnificat about a year ago and it has been a great blessing to our family. We’ve developed a routine whereby we read the readings for the day and then I give a little reflection. Sometimes I’ve got something smart to say and sometimes I come up blank, and then we just read from Magnificat about the Saint of the day or read Magnificat’s reflection of the day.

My 10 year old son is hyper-competitive and he’s now gotten to the point that before I give my brilliant reflection on the readings, he has to tell the family what he thinks the readings are about. He’s hit and miss, but yesterday he was hit. The first reading was from the First Letter of John:

I am writing to you, children,
because your sins have been forgiven for his name’s sake.

I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.

I am writing to you, young men,
because you have conquered the Evil One.

I write to you, children,
because you know the Father.

I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.

I write to you, young men,
because you are strong and the word of God remains in you,
and you have conquered the Evil One.

Do not love the world or the things of the world.
If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world,
sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life,
is not from the Father but is from the world.
Yet the world and its enticement are passing away.
But whoever does the will of God remains forever.

I was about to tell him that it’s interesting that John is addressing this letter to males – fathers and young men. But before I do, my ten year old says that John is saying to men that you cannot be like Adam who was weak and blamed his sin on others. Pretty good, kinda relevant.

Then I tell my son that John tells fathers twice, in the very same language, that he is writing to them because “you know him who is from the beginning” and therefore fathers should not fall for “sensual lust” and the enticements of the world which are “passing away,” but should rather look to the Father who remains forever.

I was a little worried that the sensual aspect of the reference would be too specific for a 10 year old to get a general lesson from the reading, but no. My son says to me, “Dad, I know what it means. It’s like if you get me a computer and then all I do is play with the computer and I don’t pay any attention to you. That’s wrong.”

Good lesson for sons and fathers.

I’m making this a New Year’s post. Subscribe to Magnificat and resolve to use it in the new year! It is a fantastic tool for keeping faith at the center of your family.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

What is the Worth of a Person? - Bishop Finn’s Christmas Message

Merry Christmas from The Catholic Key! Following is Kansas City – St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn’s Christmas message given at Masses on Dec. 24-25 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City and the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph:
Dear friends in Christ,

In the birth of this Child, the promise of the ages was fulfilled. Since the sin of Adam, the world needed its Redeemer, and now the New Adam is born among us. “O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.” In Jesus, the New Adam, creation is in a sense re-started.

Mary, the woman promised in Genesis who would crush the head of the serpent, is the Mother of the Savior and the Mother of us all. Her “yes” to God’s mysterious plan catapulted the work of love forward powerfully, and changed human history. Her baby is “God With Us,” and, in Him, the down-payment has been made on the gift of salvation. “Long lay the world, in sin and sorrow pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

When Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, took our flesh in the mystery of the Incarnation, He became flesh: True God and True Man. So what is the worth of a person? It is not primarily the sum of our actions. It is certainly not limited in any way to the status of our citizenship. Nor is it tied to the measure of our I.Q., the quantity of our material possessions, or our position in the community or the Church. Our lasting and irrevocable worth is grounded in the fact that we are a son or daughter of the heavenly Father. Our inestimable value is tied to the fact that Jesus Christ has united Himself in some fashion with each person. He has died for me and you. He has given our mortal nature, immortal value. Because of His Plan we are destined for eternity, and even now He has made it possible for us to live in His grace and life. Mankind has become new – newborn – in this mystery of Christmas. And while we adore the Christ-child, we must be ready to honor each person – all of whom share His image.

An important icon of Christmas is that of the Holy Family. Mary and Joseph chose to live in fidelity and love. It seems true that neither Mary nor Joseph could fully anticipate how God’s promise would unfold. And couples and families – indeed any of us - can never know all that God may ask of us. Nonetheless, they gave their full assent to this gift of life at Christmas. In the Gospels of the coming days we hear how Mary held all these things in her heart; how Joseph would awaken to carry out the next divine instruction. Their docility to God and their complete love for Jesus would hold them together as a family – through poverty, and exile, and the ordinary moments of home life.

Mary and Joseph, intercede for married couples and families. Jesus, bless our children. Keep them safe and close to you, whether they are young or old. Be our Savior at every moment of life. Protect this most unique gift which is marriage and family. Affirm and sustain it at the core of society and at the heart of the Church.

The angels announce peace, and the Prince of Peace is the Way, Truth, and Life of the world. Teach our world the Way to peace; the Truth that endures; and make us protectors and advocates for Life. Help us to know and revere the worth of each person.

In our prayers these days, dear friends, we have no more worthy image than that of the Crib scene: Mary and Joseph and Jesus huddled in simple surroundings, angels praising, shepherds and kings adoring. Don’t let Christmas melt away too quickly. Let us spend some time each day gazing on these pictures of Christmas, contemplating their meaning – then and now. We also can come simply before Jesus to adore him as Lord of our life. Ask Mary and Joseph to kneel next to you. Ask them to introduce you to their Son; to help you to know and love Jesus more truly and deeply. So that when we go out into the world that longs for its Savior, we will be able to give Him in love to others.

Dear friends, I wish you the lasting joy and peace of these holy days. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Revised Grail Psalms Ready For Publication and Pre-order

Last April, we reported that the Vatican had given its recognitio to the Revised Grail Psalter. The new translation was undertaken by Abbot Gregory Polan and his fellow Benedictines at Conception Abbey in the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph. We now receive word from Conception Abbey that the psalms are ready for publication and pre-order for delivery in January:

RGP photo_ad Conception, Mo – December 15, 2010 – We are happy to announce that final approval has been granted to The Revised Grail Psalms by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Printed copies may be preordered from The Printery House of Conception Abbey with shipping available in early January 2011.

The Revised Grail Psalms has been a decade-long project of the monks of Conception Abbey. Undertaken at the request of the Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops, these psalms will be used in all future liturgical books produced for our country under the auspices of the USCCB; it is expected that they will gain usage in many English-speaking countries beyond the U.S. as well.

“The monks of Conception have given much time, energy, and devotion to this project,” said Abbot Gregory. “It is our hope that this newly-revised and updated version of the Church’s preeminent prayer-book will lead many people to a deeper reflection on God’s mysterious presence in their own lives, and lead them to heartfelt expressions of petition, praise, and gratitude to our all-loving and provident Lord.”

The publication of the Grail Psalms from Conception Abbey includes a Preface by Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I. and introduction from Abbot Polan. For a detailed history on the project, see our earlier post. Visit the Printery House to order your copy. There is also a singing version available with pointed text.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Immaculate Conception of Guadalupe

December 8 is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. It was not ever thus. In the fifth century, a celebration of the “Conception of the Most Holy and All Pure Mother of God,” was celebrated on December 9. The Eastern Orthodox today celebrate “The Conception by St. Anna of the Most Holy Theotokos (God-bearer)” on December 9. And in the calendar of the Spanish Empire operative in 1531, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception was celebrated on December 9.

On December 9, 1531, a lady who called herself “the ever virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God” made her first appearance to Juan Diego on Tepeyac hill in Mexico. This Immaculate Conception day revelation of the Mother of the True God occurred 34 years before the first European settlement in what was to become the United States (Spanish in St. Augustine, FL), 76 years before the first successful English settlement at Jamestown and 245 years before the founding of our country.

Oddly enough, the Virgin who appeared to Juan Diego on the Spanish Feast of the Immaculate Conception, was quite popular among U.S Catholics in the 19th century – though not in her appearance as Our Lady of Guadalupe, but rather, simply as the Immaculate Conception.

I have worked for two dioceses with cathedrals named for the Immaculate Conception - Here in Kansas City and in San Francisco, where Old St. Mary’s, the first cathedral in California, was the first church in the world to be dedicated to the Immaculate Conception following the formal definition of the doctrine in 1854.

Just the first page of google results on the name shows Immaculate Conception Cathedrals in Denver, Albany, Springfield, Portland, Tyler, Syracuse and Memphis. The bishops of the United States chose the Immaculate Conception as Patroness of the United States eight years before the formal definition of the doctrine.
In an interesting column by Archbishop Richard Cushing of Boston, probably dating from the early 1950s before he was Cardinal, he notes (my emphases):
The patronage of the Blessed Virgin over American territory did not begin, however, with the reorganization of the Church which was made possible under the changed political conditions of the post-Revolution era. It did not begin in the new republic at all.
The first official proclamation of it was made in 1643 by the King of Spain, and to this we shall refer again, but her patronage was implicit in the bull of Alexander VI in which, in 1493, he ordered the Spanish Crown in virtue of holy obedience to send to the newly-discovered lands learned, God-fearing, experienced and skilled missionaries to instruct the inhabitants in the Catholic faith and imbue them with good morals. The Holy See endorsed Spain's claim to the whole western hemisphere with the exception of Brazil under these conditions. Our territory remained within this claim until other European nations successfully challenged it, and our history was Spanish colonial history for over a century in the East, for much longer in the West.
He then goes on to speak of Our Lady of Guadalupe as “the first of the native Madonnas” and says that “Tepeyac has been referred to as the Lourdes of America,” again with obvious reference to Our Lady of Guadalupe’s identification with the Immaculate Conception.

The claim of the Virgin of Guadalupe over the entire continent was confirmed by Pope Pius XII in 1945 when he named her “Empress of the Americas” and again in 1999 when Pope John Paul II declared her Patroness of All the Americas.

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the traditional depiction of the Immaculate Conception make look different. But She is the same Lady. And she is the mother of all Catholics in all the Americas.

To see where I pinched some of this stuff see this article by then-Archbishop Raymond Burke.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Republican Argument for the DREAM Act

Can you guess who made this straightforward and impassioned plea for the DREAM Act?

I rise today to introduce legislation that will help make the American dream a reality for many young people. ``The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act ,'' or ``The DREAM Act ,'' resolves immigration status problems that plague undocumented immigrants who came to our country as youths. It also removes barriers to education so that they are better equipped to succeed in our society.

   Each year, about fifty thousand young undocumented immigrants graduate from high school in the United States. Most of them came to this country with their parents as small children and have been raised here just like their U.S. citizen classmates. They view themselves as Americans, and are loyal to our country. Some may not even realize that they are here in violation of our immigration laws. They grow up to become honest and hardworking adolescents and young adults, and strive for academic as well as professional excellence.

   Many of these youngsters find themselves caught in a catch-22 situation. As illegal immigrants, they cannot work legally. Moreover, they are effectively barred from developing academically beyond high school because of the high cost of pursuing higher education. Private colleges and universities are very expensive, and under current federal law, state institutions cannot grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, regardless of how long they have resided in that state. To make matters worse, as illegal immigrants, these young people are ineligible for federal tuition assistance. Moreover, these young people have no independent way of becoming legal residents of the United States.

   In short, though these children have built their lives here, they have no possibility of achieving and living the American dream . What a tremendous loss to our society.

It is a tremendous loss to our society and so is the loss of any principled reasoning about immigration reform among Republicans in Congress. The man who made the above plea was Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah when he introduced the DREAM Act in the 108th Congress.

Senator Hatch’s argument for the DREAM Act is one that used to resonate with a number of Republican Senators, including John McCain (R-AZ), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and others. All of them sponsored the DREAM Act at one point or another. Now it is uncertain whether even Hatch still stands by his words. At this point, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) is the only Republican certain to vote for the DREAM Act, with Bob Bennett (R-UT) a possibility.

Nothing has changed about the moral argument for the DREAM Act since the 108th Congress. But today, instead of sponsoring the bill, the face of Republican thought on the subject is portrayed by the nativist demagoguery of Alabama Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. If that view holds sway, it will not only be a “tremendous loss to our society,” but a very likely demographic dead-end for the Republican party.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bishop Finn Urges Passage of Dream Act

The Dream Act is expected to soon come before the U.S. Senate as a stand-alone bill. The act would provide a path to conditional permanent legal resident status to those who were brought into the country by their parents, have lived here for more than five years, stayed out of trouble, completed high school or GED and who commit to attending college or military service.

Today, Kansas City – St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn wrote to members of Missouri’s congressional delegation urging them to support passage of the Dream Act. Following is his letter to Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO):

Dear Senator McCaskill,

Thank you for your previous commitment to vote for the DREAM Act, which would benefit thousands of young people here in the United States. I understand that the issue of immigration is a controversial one and one which the nation has grappled with for many years. To date, our elected officials have not been able to come to a fruitful compromise, one which protects the integrity of our nation’s borders and security but also provides a humane solution for the millions of persons now in limbo. It might take more time before the nation reaches consensus on how best to fix our national immigration system.

At the current moment, however, our federal elected officials can provide a remedy for a very vulnerable group of immigrants – young persons who entered the United States with their parents years ago. Their futures are limited because of their undocumented status, yet they have so much to give to our communities and nation.

These young people entered the United States as children, following the direction of their parents, as we would all do in the same situation. The United States is the only country that they know. They have incredible talent and energy and are waiting for the chance to fully contribute their skills to our country. We would be foolhardy to deny them that chance.

The United States is a great country because it is a land of opportunity. We have given newcomers the opportunity to work hard and be successful, and it has benefited our country immensely.

Today, I am asking you to remember how we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants and that we, too, have benefited from this opportunity and the American values of fairness, compassion, and hard work. With the passage of the DREAM Act, we can welcome a new generation of Americans who will one day become the leaders of our communities.

In the past attempts have been made to attach the DREAM Act to legislation that would fund abortions at military hospitals and legislation that would repeal the military policy “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” regarding homosexuals serving in the military. I, along with the entire body of U.S. Bishops, oppose these other pieces of legislation and therefore I could not ask you to vote for the DREAM Act if it were attached to such policies that are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. It is my hope that the DREAM Act could be removed from such politics and receive a fair vote on its own merits.

I also ask you to put aside politics in this instance and to vote on the merits of the proposal. There are times when a proposal should be enacted because, simply put, it is the right thing to do. This legislation is one of those times. On behalf of the Catholic community of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, I urge you to vote in favor of the DREAM Act.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

In Christ and Mary,


Most Reverend Robert W. Finn
Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lowest Crime Cities Have Huge Immigrant Populations and Vice Versa

CQ Press came out with their annual ranking of US cities based on crime rate in the US on Monday. Just looking at the list, I got a hunch as to an interesting correlation; the safest cities seemed to be high-immigrant population centers, while the most dangerous were not. So I checked it out.

The following table lists the ten safest cities in the U.S. according to CQ, along with the percentage of their population which is foreign born, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform (an anti-immigration lobby).


El Paso 26.1 %
Honolulu 25.3 %
New York 35.9 %
San Jose 40.5 %
San Diego 25.7 %
Austin 16.6 %
Portland 13.0 %
Los Angeles 40.9 %
Seattle 16.9 %
Fort Worth 16.3 %

And now for the


Detroit 4.8 %
Baltimore 4.6 %
Memphis 4.0 %
Washington, DC 12.6 %
Atlanta 8.7 %
Indianapolis 4.6 %
Philadelphia 9.0 %
Milwaukee 7.7 %
Houston 26.4 %
Columbus 6.7 %

That’s a pretty strong correlation. Safe cities have a consistently high percentage of foreign born residents; 60 percent of those cities have more than a quarter of their population born overseas (to say nothing of the children of immigrants).

With the exception of Houston, none of the most crime ridden cities have an immigrant population higher than any of the safe cities; 80 percent of dangerous cities don’t even climb out of single digits for immigrant population.

The correlation doesn’t necessarily demonstrate a causation for high or low crime rates, but it certainly pokes a gaping hole in the meme that having a bunch of immigrants in your city makes for higher crime rates. If anything, the opposite is true.

Reason Magazine noticed this same correlation last year and in an article called the El Paso Miracle reported that:

There were just 18 murders in El Paso last year, in a city of 736,000 people. To compare, Baltimore, with 637,000 residents, had 234 killings.

In fact in the most recent full-year statistics, El Paso had only 13 murders, whereas Baltimore had 238.

Reason Mag goes on to ask:

So how has this city of poor immigrants become such an anomaly? Actually, it may not be an anomaly at all. Many criminologists say El Paso isn't safe despite its high proportion of immigrants, it's safe because of them.

"If you want to find a safe city, first determine the size of the immigrant population," says Jack Levin, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Massachusetts. "If the immigrant community represents a large proportion of the population, you're likely in one of the country's safer cities. San Diego, Laredo, El Paso—these cities are teeming with immigrants, and they're some of the safest places in the country."

Read the whole report.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bishop Finn on the Pope’s New Book: Light of the World

It is somewhat amusing now to post Bishop Finn’s thoughts on Peter Seewald’s book-length interview of Pope Benedict XVI. He wrote it last week before heading to the USCCB meeting in Baltimore and then on to the consistory in Rome.

The plan was to put out Bishop Finn’s column in conjunction with the release of the book, but a small portion of the book was curiously released early, in a “palpably incompetent manner,” with predictable results.

What’s amusing is that Bishop Finn evidently read the whole book without being thrown by the passage that now defines its release; he doesn’t even mention it. What Bishop Finn does say is that God has given us a “holy father, a wise and good shepherd,” who “wants people to understand the Church he loves.”

Bishop Finn also says of the book, “This is not ‘sound bite’ theology, and I hope people won’t just pick through it – but read it in its entirety for the full picture.”

So, get the full picture, “like” the '”Light of the World” facebook page, visit the website and buy the book.

Here’s the column:

On the Pope’s New Book: Light of the World

Most Rev. Robert W. Finn
Bishop of Kansas City – St. Joseph

Dear friends,

I recently had the opportunity to read an advance copy of a new book by Pope Benedict XVI. Entitled, “Light of the World: The Pope, The Church, and the Signs of the Times,” published by Ignatius Press. It is a book length conversation between the Holy Father and the German journalist, Peter Seewald, and it reaches the market this week. I don’t want you to think that I get any fee for saying so, but this text is another great gift from “Papa Ratzinger” to the Church.

In this first ever such interview of a sitting Pope, the Holy Father takes on the most direct, challenging and heart wrenching issues and questions of the day, including the response of the Church to the scandal of priest sexual abuse, the tension and promise of dialogue with other Christian and non-Christian denominations; as well as the somewhat neuralgic propositions urging the abandonment of priestly celibacy and the promotion of women’s ordination. Pope Benedict receives these and many other questions with warmth and addresses them with reasonableness and candor.

This is the third published interview between the two men, Peter Seewald and now-Pope Joseph Ratzinger. The previous books, “Salt of the Earth,” and “God and the World,” came out during the latter’s tenure as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This time we hear the successor of St. Peter – and it is a quick and enlightening read.

When I picked up the earlier works some years ago, I was amazed at the ability of Cardinal Ratzinger to synthesize and explain – without notes and previous knowledge of the questions – complex and nuanced topics with apparent calm and kindness. He wants people to understand the Church he loves, and he has extraordinary talents as a teacher. As George Weigel says in the forward to the new book, the Pope speaks in “full paragraphs.” Again, the interview was several hours sitting face to face without notes. His answers are well organized and focused. His responses are concise but substantive. This is not “sound bite” theology, and I hope people won’t just pick through it – but read it in its entirety for the full picture.

The Pope speaks about his election as Pontiff, his emotions, and ultimate trust in God. He talks about what he does in an evening where he has relaxing time. He tells of how he found himself weeping as victims recounted their narratives of abuse. The Pope chides the inquisitor for recounting all the things he has had to say “no” to over the years, and asks us to recall some more positive initiatives. In the most trying situations he has faced, in the perilous circumstances of planet earth, in the face of serious challenges of peace and unity, the Holy Father offers again and again his conviction of authentic Christian hope. It is very uplifting. We see that God has placed at our head a holy father, a wise and good shepherd.

As this goes to press I am happy to be able to make a rather brief trip to Rome to witness the Consistory and creation of new cardinals on the Sunday of Christ the King. There in particular I plan to congratulate “Cardinal Raymond Burke,” former Archbishop of St. Louis and now Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, “chief justice of the Church’s Supreme Court,” and a good friend; he was the principal consecrator at my episcopal ordination here in May, 2004.

Though I do not anticipate having the opportunity to greet Pope Benedict on this visit, I know I carry with me your affection for him, and our prayerful gratitude for our Holy Father. May our Blessed Mother protect him and keep him close to her Son.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Beatification Cause for Founder of Mary’s House at Ephesus to Begin in Kansas City

SrMarie016 The cause for the beatification and canonization of the French Daughter of Charity regarded by the Church as the Founder of Mary’s House at Ephesus will open in Kansas City, January 21. In the words of one of Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey’s biographers, Mary’s House is a remarkable place where Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics “all join together in the home of a Jewish Mother.”

Mary’s House was discovered in 1891 on a mountain near Ephesus based on descriptions of the place from the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich. It is believed to be the place where Mary lived with St. John after the death and resurrection of her Son and the place of her Assumption. The home has been visited by Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. A remarkable aspect of the home is that it is a place of pilgrimage for not only Catholics and Orthodox, but for Muslims as well, who revere the Mother of Jesus.

Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey was of noble French birth. As a Daughter of Charity, she worked in orphanages in France. In 1886, she moved to work at a French hospital in Smyrna, Turkey and used her own funds to refurbish the hospital and establish a school for girls. Though Sister Marie lived her life under a vow of poverty, she was allowed, with permission, to use her family’s wealth for apostolic works.

Sister Marie had read Emmerich’s description of the life of Mary and was convinced Mary’s home was to be found in Ephesus, per Emmerich’s vision. Sister Marie encouraged some local priests to read the visions of Emmerich and based on these the house was found in 1891. In 1892, Sister Marie purchased the property and began restoring it and in 1914 Pope St. Pius X granted an indulgence to those who visit the house. A permanent indulgence was later granted by Blessed Pope John XXIII.

So what does this all have to do with Kansas City? Read Bishop Finn’s column below from this week’s edition of The Catholic Key. You may also be interested in a biography of Sister Marie (pdf) and Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s fascinating essay, Mary and the Moslems. A prayer card for Sister Marie follows Bishop Finn’s column:

Sr. Marie de Mandat-Grancey:
Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese Studies Her Life and Work

By Most Rev. Robert W. Finn

Many times I have said that our goal in this life is to get to heaven and bring as many others with us as we can. This month of All Saints and All Souls helps us to focus on the holy and faithful people who have gone before us.

I felt very privileged recently when our Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph was asked to participate in a Cause for the Beatification and Canonization of a woman who died almost 100 years ago half way around the world! It occasionally happens that a diocesan bishop may be expected to participate in the Cause of a holy man or woman who lived or died in the bishop’s local diocese. Today I want to tell you about an extraordinary woman who never visited Kansas City, or the United States. Soon she will come to be better known here in Missouri. Her name was Sr. Marie de Mandat-Grancey, a Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent DePaul. The Daughters of Charity have been an important part of the history of our diocese in both St. Joseph and Kansas City.

Who is Sr. Marie de Mandat-Grancey?

Sr. Marie was born of nobility in France in 1837. She joined the Daughters of Charity in 1858. She was professed in 1862. She died in Smyrna, Turkey in 1915. Sr. Marie was a devout Religious who gave up her status and wealth to care for the poor. She served as a nurse in France. In 1886, she was assigned to the French Naval Hospital at Smyrna. She became superior of the house and was dedicated to the care of the sick and children. During the time Sr. Marie served in Turkey, she was instrumental in identifying and procuring the House of Mary in Ephesus. Mary’s Home at Ephesus has become a place of pilgrimage for millions of people every year, the majority of whom are Muslims. Pope’s Benedict XVI, John Paul II, and Paul VI, have all celebrated Mass there. The process of the cause would attempt to investigate the heroic sanctity of Sr. Marie, and present this for consideration by the Church.

Why is this cause being considered in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph?

About two years ago I participated in a pilgrimage to Meryem Ana Evi, or “Mary’s House” in Ephesus, Turkey. I traveled with faithful from Kansas City and various places in the U.S. During that visit I met Mrs. Erin Von Uffel of New York, who had studied the life of Sr. Marie and had worked with the Archbishop Emeritus of Smyrna (modern day Izmir), Most Reverend Giuseppe Bernardini, to research the life and work of Sr. Marie. While I was in Turkey, I met with Erin and the current Archbishop of Izmir, Ruggero Franceschini. In this meeting Erin encouraged the Archbishop to promote Sr. Marie’s cause. In February of 2010, I was formally petitioned by Archbishop Franceschini to assist with the cause, given the insufficient personnel and other resources of the Archdiocese in Turkey. After a series of discussions and prayerful considerations, I requested, and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph was granted, jurisdiction by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints for this initiative.

How will the process take place?

After having received the support of our neighboring bishops in Missouri and Kansas, the Superior General of the Daughters of Charity, the Archbishop of Dijon, France, where Sr. Marie was born, and the Presbyteral Council of our Diocese, I nominated a postulator and formally requested permission to “open the cause.” Dr. Andrea Ambrosi of Rome is the postulator, the person who will oversee the whole process and bring the case before the Vatican, and has worked on many such causes. He explains that, “a beatification cause involves a years-long process of examination of the candidate’s life, virtues, writings, reputation for holiness, and reputation for intercession.” When a candidate’s cause is opened, that person is called a Servant of God. After the Servant of God’s heroic virtue has been proven, he or she is declared “venerable.” Then, to be beatified, one miracle must be attributed to the Venerable’s intercession. Finally, a second miracle is needed for canonization. Dr. Ambrosi said, “The Church’s criteria for accepting a miracle are very rigorous.”

When will the Process begin?

Although much work has been going on to gather archival materials, and assign responsibilities for the work of the cause, the first step of the process will be the solemn opening. The opening of the cause for Sr. Marie is now scheduled for Friday evening, January 21, 2011, at 6:00 p.m. in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City. Everyone is invited to attend this historic event. A number of the family members of Sr. Marie have been invited. As the local bishop I will receive the oaths of the postulator, the members of the Tribunal who will gather all the materials, and the Historical and Theological Commissions who will help in evaluating the materials.

Sr. Marie seems to have been a holy woman who lived her life humbly in God’s service. Please pray for God’s blessing on our work. A prayer that was written a number of years ago in thanksgiving to God for Sr. Marie is provided here.

Von Uffel_Sister Marie graphic_Page_01

Thursday, November 11, 2010

World War II Through the Eyes of a 20 Year Old

We weren’t going to publish this piece about the inspiring WWII stories collected by a local vet till the next issue, but since it’s Veteran’s Day it seemed appropriate to post. The story notes that the vet comes from the “tiny farming community of Utica, Mo., near Chillicothe.” If that doesn’t nail it down for our out of state readers, Chillicothe is, among other fine things, the “Home of Sliced Bread.”

Thanks from The Catholic Key to all our Veterans! Story follows:

World War II Through the Eyes of a 20 Year Old

By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor1119_WWII_book

LEE’S SUMMIT — The most remarkable thing about Harold J. Braden’s story is that it is so common among the men of his generation.

They lived through the Great Depression, fought and won World War II, then came home to build the strongest middle class and the highest standard of living history has ever known.

Braden, 89, only tells a small part of that story in his book, “World War II Through the Eyes of a 20 Year Old.” But it is a story that Braden had to tell before it went untold forever.

“It’s not going to be a money-maker,” Braden told The Catholic Key. “But I am happy I have written it. Now I have a record of not just myself, but my brothers and brothers-in-law and friends.”

His story centers on the tiny farming community of Utica, Mo., near Chillicothe.

“It was a little town then, and it’s gotten littler since,” Braden said. “We used to have a couple of grocery stores, a filling (gasoline) station, a blacksmith shop and a brick yard. We don’t have any of that any more.

“And we had a Catholic church. The priest would come on the train at first, then he got a car and drove,” Braden said. “We’d get the young priests, mostly Irish. We had one from Holland. He couldn’t speak English too good, but he was a good ol’ boy.”

The story is about growing up when everybody was poor, when farming fathers went broke then took any job they could find.

“You could buy a loaf of bread for a dime, but you’d have trouble finding that dime,” he said.

And it was about how virtually every young man answered the call to military service after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Big brother John Braden was drafted into the Army two months before Pearl Harbor.

“I’d say he was blessed with the Braden big mouth because he never got far in the Army,” Braden said. “He was a leader but the Army never found out about it.”

John Braden would later serve as mayor of Greenwood, Mo., and retire from a career in finance as a vice president of the Bank of Lee’s Summit.

Younger brother Robert Edward — “We called him Ed” — was too young for World War II, but served in Korea where he earned the Bronze Star.

Bill Lightner married Braden’s sister Mary Margaret.

“He volunteered for the Navy the day after Pearl Harbor,” Braden said. “They assigned him to the USS South Dakota, which was just being built. He served the entire war on the South Dakota, sailing to the sound of guns.”

Joseph Dietrich, an Army Air Corps radioman and gunner, married his sister Cornelia, who was nicknamed Corky.

“They got married in 1944 down in Texas after he came back from North Africa and Italy,” Braden said. “He flew 52 missions.”

There was his uncle, Francis Murphy, who was not that much older than Braden.

“He was a tanker with (Gen.) Omar Bradley” in the European Theater, Braden said. “He lost a couple of tanks, and one time, he was the only survivor.”

There was Maurice Dietrich, Joseph’s brother.

“He was a gunner on a B-24 bomber,” Braden said. “He took part in the first raid on the oil refinery at Ploesti (Romania on Aug. 1, 1943). They lost 800 men that day. He was awarded a whole bunch of ribbons and medals.”

There was Ellsworth Lawson, a friend from childhood.

“He was a couple of grades ahead of me,” Braden said. “He went to work for the Burlington Railroad, and they drafted him and put him in the group that took over the French railroad and ran it to the advantage of the Allied armies.”

There was Fred Merryfield.

“He was in the Air Force and spent most of his time in the South Pacific,” Braden said. “They called it the Jungle Air Force. They would just make an airstrip out in the jungle until they got back to Manila, where they had a real air field.”

Every airman who participated in the Ploesti raid earned a Silver Star or higher. Five earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.

As for Braden himself, he started working for the Civilian Conservation Corps right after he graduated from high school in 1939.

“They paid us $1 a day, $30 a month,” he said. “They’d give us $5 and send $25 home.”

His parents could have used the money, but didn’t. Instead they saved it so that when Harold returned home, he could enroll in classes at a business college in Chillicothe.

The clerical skills he learned there landed him a job in Kansas City for a company that made milk bottles and caps for dairies. After working there for a few months and taking the civil service exam, Braden got a job in October 1941 with the new Social Security Administration in Washington, D.C.

“It was $25 a month more than I was making, so I got on a bus and went to Washington, D.C.,” he said.

The following May, he was in the U.S. Navy, where he would serve until November 1945.

“They just transferred me to the Navy Department,” Braden said. “I was in communications because I could type.”

Soon he was sent to the South Pacific, where a good deal of his service was spent in communications and intelligence, particularly under Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

“I was assigned to whatever ship he (MacArthur) would be on to do the extra communication work,” Braden said.

He was no fan of the commander of Allied forces in the Pacific.

“He was a real leader, but he was pompous and arrogant and all that,” Braden said. “He thought the bullet wasn’t made that would get him. He was so brazen that people wouldn’t care to go with him.”

After his discharge from the Navy, Braden returned to classes at Chillicothe Business College.

“Before I got my degree, the Santa Fe Railroad hired me,” he said.

The job sounded real good to a child of the Great Depression.

“I always had this notion that we were going back to the Depression,” he said. “My brother John used to say we had no guts because we never took chances.”

In 1956, he married Lucille, his wife of 56 years, and they had two children. He had by then settled into jobs with trucking companies, and bought a brand-new house in the then-tiny suburb of Lee’s Summit in 1963, three years before joining Yellow Freight, from where he would retire in 1983.

But World War II, Braden said, “was the defining moment in my life.”

“Even now, I think of before the war, and after the war,” he said. “It broadened me greatly. I traveled across the country several times, I spent time in Brisbane, Manila, New Caledonia and lots of jungle spots. It broadened me from being an old country boy. It broadened all of us.”

Braden also said that it was a defining moment for the nation as well.

“There are very few times when the whole country strives together for just one result,” he said. “Going to the moon was another time, but that didn’t last as long as World War II.”

As Braden was putting the finishing touches on his book, he had a chance for another rush of memories.

On Sept. 28, Braden was the guest of the Honor Flight Network of Kansas City that flies World War II veterans, expense free, to Washington, D.C., for a one-day trip to see the new World War II monument.

“It was a great day. They wore me out to a frazzle,” Braden said.

“At 4 a.m., I was talking to a reporter from Channel 9 at the airport, and I didn’t get to bed until 11 that night,” he said. “We were on the go the whole time. I had my two children with me, and that was great.”

Braden said he was no different than millions of men of his generation.

“I’m no hero,” he said. “I was never any good at volunteering. We were all just civilians, but we did what we were told to do.

“Some of us were well-trained, and some were like me — didn’t know nothing,” Braden said.

“But we were going to win the war,” he said. “Nobody I ever talked to thought anything different but that we were going to win.” o

Harold Braden will be a the VFW Hall, 329 SE Douglas St., Lee’s Summit, from 1 to 4 p.m. Nov. 21 to sign copies of his book, “World War II Through the Eyes of a 20 Year Old.”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Review - ‘You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger’

From the upcoming edition of The Catholic Key:

‘You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger’

Reviewed by Santiago Ramos

DIR and SCR Woody Allen
Starring Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Freida Pinto, and Naomi Watts

This year’s Woody Allen opus begins with the story of Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), a wealthy septuagenarian lawyer living in London who becomes gripped by the fear of his own mortality and, after the brief paralysis that such gripping fear brings, decides to do something about it. He divorces his longtime wife, Helena (Gemma Jones) and pursues younger women, until he finds a call girl named Charmaine (Lucy Punch), who he can persuade, after buying several dozen hours of her service, to marry him. A new life.

MediaPicNov12 Alfie and Helena have one daughter, Sally (Naomi Watts), an unhappy former art student and reluctant career woman. She is married to an American writer, Roy (Josh Brolin), a sort of emasculated Hemingway who can’t write a good second novel—he is currently writing his fourth as the movie begins. Roy does not want to have a baby with Sally until his literary career has been cemented into excellence. But Sally wants a family.

Sally begins to work—reluctantly, instead of making a family—as an assistant to an art dealer, Greg (Antonio Banderas), who plays the newly standardized Woody Allen role of “Hispanic sophisticate” perfected by Javier Bardem in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and to whom Sally becomes instantly attracted. Roy, on the other hand, is drawn by a woman wearing a red dress that he sees every day from his bedroom window across the short distance to the next apartment building, where she lives and plays guitar by her window. Sometimes she does more than play guitar, and Roy becomes a true voyeur.

Sally and Roy are only the second sundered marital union in this film. There are more. But Woody Allen is not interested in satirizing the selfishness and shortcomings of the old and young. That we are moral failures is merely a premise to the film. The other premise is supplied by MacBeth, and quoted at the beginning of the film: “Life is a tale told by an idiot / full of sound and fury / Signifying nothing.” The film is about measuring the effectiveness of our responses to these premises. “Sometimes the illusions are better than the medicine,” is a line that is repeated in the film. It refers to two possible responses.

The first is Helena’s, who dives into illusions after a botched attempt at suicide. She starts frequenting a psychic, who assures Helena that she is about to enter “into a period of great fulfillment.” Even if her husband has decided to marry a blonde half his age, Helena needn’t worry; she too will soon meet a handsome new love—or, as Roy sarcastically puts it, “a tall, dark, stranger.” Sally supports her mother’s visits to the psychic precisely because “the illusions are better than the medicine,” but Roy thinks that the psychic is merely conning Helena out of a lot of money.

Everyone else, however, tries different types of “medicine,” that is to say, a rearrangement of their living situation through force of different types—persuasion, seduction, coercion. Divorce is the first move for all of them. Sally becomes emotionally involved with Greg, though with mixed results. Roy finds his way into the apartment of the girl in the red dress, whose name turns out to be Dia, and begins an affair with her.

In one of the best scenes of the film, Roy stands alone in Dia’s bedroom, looks outside her window and back into the window of his old apartment, and finds Sally in their old bedroom, more attractive than he had found her in years. There will always be another window, and the grass is always greener… The medicine is not enough because it cannot guarantee something completely new and free and good.

The “completely new,” or “the new which stays new” (to steal from Ezra Pound), is one way to describe what Woody Allen makes his characters desire. Another way to describe it would be: “something that doesn’t go away,” something that lasts. Allen’s worldview is comprehensively tragic: the new and lasting—the eternal—does not exist. And he has become an expert at crafting stories about people living this very drama of desire gone unmet. This film is unique, however, because one character’s desire is met.

Helena’s superstition, which is the symbol for religion in the universe of the film, is not, in the end, as ridiculous as all of the film’s characters make it out to be. It is not “effective” merely because it provides a consolation and an anesthetic with which Helena can live her remaining, painful days. It actually works. Her fulfillment does come. No doubt Woody Allen is trying to be ironic—“See how beautiful and ironic life is?” Antonio Banderas asks Sally. There is something funny about a group of intelligent people who are unhappy, being laughed at by a superstitious old woman who is happy. Nevertheless, he places religion before a reasonable standard: Have you found true fulfillment? Does the tall, dark, stranger truly exist? Have you seen him?

Among the film’s restless characters, only Helena stays put long enough to ask herself those questions. Among filmmakers, Woody Alone stands out as a restless (and repetitive) asker of the same.

Santiago Ramos has written for First Things, Commonweal, Image Journal, Traces, and the Kansas City weekly, The Pitch. He is currently pursuing graduate studies in Boston College.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Five-Hour ‘Tavern Check’

Below, Kevin Kelly relates an eyewitness account of what has turned out to have been an unprecedented non-workplace immigration raid in Kansas City. Previous parts of this series are linked below the story:

By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — Patrons of a troubled nightclub that was the scene of a joint raid by Kansas City police and federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were held inside the club for up to five hours while the federal agents checked their fingerprints on an ICE computer for outstanding immigration warrants, according to a witness.

Speaking to The Catholic Key on the condition of anonymity for fear of further reprisals, a man who was detained and fingerprinted inside the club but charged with no crime said he was not allowed to leave for nearly four hours.

A friend who was with him at the Club Oasis, 2805 Southwest Blvd., when the raid began shortly before midnight Oct. 24 was not released until 5 a.m. Oct. 25.

The source, who speaks English with a heavy accent, said that both he and his friend were given written instructions to appear for a hearing Oct. 26 at the federal Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Platte County, near Kansas City International Airport.

Another Latino, who spoke English without an accent, was allowed to leave shortly after the raid began after showing police an out-of-state driver’s license, the source said.

The source said that at least 200 patrons were inside Club Oasis when the raid began. He said that at least 100 of them were given the instructions to appear at the office in Platte County and charged with no other offense.

Suzanne Gladney, immigration attorney for Legal Aid of Western Missouri, confirmed that at least 60 Club Oasis patrons appeared at the Citizenship and Immigration Services office as directed. She said more people were issued the written instructions to appear, but could not say how many.

“I think we are talking between 60 and 100 people,” Gladney said.

Those people were in addition to the 23 people who were arrested and taken into police custody at the club that night, Gladney said.

Private immigration attorney Angela Ferguson said that the number of people who appeared apparently overwhelmed the Citizenship and Immigration Office.

“They were surprised,” she said. “They had to call the (ICE) officer who issued the instructions at his home and tell him to get over there.”

Ferguson said the people who reported were separated into smaller groups and given new dates to report.
Kansas City police continue to characterize the Club Oasis raid as a routine “tavern check” at a nightclub that had been the subject of numerous police calls.

On his Internet blog, Kansas City Police Chief James Corwin called the Club Oasis action one of 324 “tavern checks” that local police have made in 2010.

He also said that the Club Oasis check “by far yielded the greatest amount of arrests and drugs recovered.”

Corwin listed 28 violations charged against patrons or employees of the Club Oasis — four arrests for drug possession, four arrests for underage drinking, 13 arrests of people who had previously been deported, four arrests of people with outstanding deportation warrants, and three arrests of people who are under deportation proceedings for a past criminal history.

Both Ferguson and Gladney said that the people ordered to report later then released were not arrested and not charged with any other offense.

Corwin described a tavern check on his blog, Chief Corwin’s blog, in a post entitled “Club Oasis tavern check.”

“During such a check, detectives enter a business that is licensed to serve alcohol and check the IDs of all patrons to ensure that the establishment is conforming to the law. The IDs of all patrons are checked to see if they have any warrants,” Corwin wrote.

“The Vice section conducts about 30 tavern checks a month and has done 324 so far this year,” he said.

The anonymous source told The Catholic Key that there were some 200 people inside Club Oasis when Kansas City police, identified by markings on black flak jackets, appeared and secured all exits.

“We were just partying and dancing. There was no trouble that night,” the source said.

“They came in and turned off the music. Then they told everyone that they were going to check everybody’s identification,” he said.

He said that people began to panic, and two people tried to leave before a police officer “pointed a weapon at them, it looked like a rifle” and ordered them to stay.

A Club Oasis employee tried to calm the crowd, the source said.

“He told us not to worry, that all they (police) were going to look for was underage drinkers,” the source said.
At about that time, agents wearing jackets with “ICE” on the back entered the club with electronic equipment, which the source said was “computers.”

The source said that both Kansas City police and ICE agents made a quick check of identification, and told about half the people that they could leave.

One of them was the man who spoke unaccented English, the source said.

“He showed them (an out-of-state) driver’s license, and they told him he could go,” he said. “They must have believed he was American.”

The source said that he also showed his driver’s license.

“I showed them, but they asked me if I had my papers. I told them no, so they told me to stay,” he said.

One by one, he said, the approximately 100 people remaining in the club were fingerprinted electronically, and their fingerprints checked against a database.

“They had a computer,” he said. “You put your fingers on it and your picture would show up if you had been deported.”

The process, he said, took hours. When he was finally checked at about 3:30 a.m., the check showed no warrants against him and he was released. But he was still given instructions to appear at the Citizenship and Immigration Services office on Oct. 26.

A friend was one of the last to be checked, the source said. “He told me he couldn’t leave until 5 in the morning,” he said.

The source said he took Oct. 26 off work and reported to the office as instructed.

“A lot of people came to the place,” the source said. “They only took us in about 20 at a time, and they told us to come back later.”

He was given another instruction to appear in November, the source said.

The source said that he knows it is common for ICE agents to check for immigration status and work permits of employees at businesses.

“But this was a club,” he said. “We didn’t know they could do that.”

View part one of this series - ICE Presence at Club Raid Raises Questions

And part twoMore to Kansas City Tavern Check than Reported

Thursday, October 28, 2010

More to Kansas City Tavern Check than Reported

Below, Kevin Kelly continues to report and comment on the recent tavern check at Club Oasis. He includes information on 60+ “orders to appear” issued by ICE to patrons not accused of crimes – information which has eluded other reports. Tomorrow, Kelly will interview one of the patrons so ordered:

Let’s be clear. Whatever else the Oct. 25 midnight raid at the Club Oasis was, it also appears very much to be an immigration raid.

Kansas City Police Chief James Corwin, in his Internet blog, called it a “tavern check” at a nightclub that had been the scene of numerous calls to police. He cited 68 calls for police service to Club Oasis, located on Southwest Boulevard on Kansas City’s West side, since May 2009, and another 99 police calls to “addresses immediately adjacent to the club.”

“These have included multiple shootings, fights, thefts, traffic obstructions and more,” the chief wrote.

Well and good. That is not in dispute. During the raid, according to the chief, four underage drinkers were busted, and an apparently unlicensed security guard and three others were arrested for possession of cocaine. In addition, the club owner was cited for allowing the underage drinkers, and two other security guards were arrested for not having licenses.

This is great police work and a community service.

On top of all that, as they ran the identifications of the estimated (according to police) 100 patrons inside the bar, police discovered 13 patrons who had been deported before and were back in the United States, four who had been ordered to leave and had outstanding federal warrants against them, and three more with criminal histories who were not legal residents.

Again, good and valuable police work.

But here is a number that hasn’t been reported. According to Suzanne Gladney, immigration attorney for Legal Aid of Western Missouri, 60 people showed up two days later at the Platte County office for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for “further processing” as they were ordered to do by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents permanently assigned to the Kansas City Department’s Gang Squad who were involved the Club Oasis raid.

Gladney stressed that she could not say whether the 60 were formally cited for immigration violations.

“They were given a piece of paper and told to report for further processing,” she said.

Gladney also said that the 60 were just those who reported as instructed, and could not say how many others might have been so ordered at the raid.

“I think we are talking between 60 and 100,” she said.

So here is the tally from the Club Oasis raid:

- Four arrests for drug possession.
- Four arrests for underage drinking.
- Thirteen arrests for re-entering the United States after deportation.
- Three arrests for being in the United States with a criminal arrests.
- 60 to 100 orders to appear for “further processing” by federal immigration officials.

“Tavern check”? Yes it was. “Immigration raid”? Well . . .

Vietnamese Man Saves Kids from Abortion by Adopting – 80 of Them!

What it says. And he makes $180 a month. He also rescues the bodies of aborted children from clinics and buries them in a cemetery he's built. There are 9,000 children buried there. And he’s Catholic.

The man raises the children as his own, but will return them to the mothers if they want them back. There is much amazing about this story, but what struck me is that the news report is entirely respectful.

When I googled this man, I found that his story made the rounds in 2008. I didn’t see it – apologies if you did. Much more can be found out about him in this 2008 report. Now watch this amazing video.

H/T What Does Mike Think?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Soft Underbelly of Success - Thoughts on 'The Social Network'

From the upcoming edition of The Catholic Key comes Santiago Ramos’ take on The Social Network:

The Soft Underbelly of Success
By Santiago Ramos

The Social Network
DIR David Fincher
SCR Aaron Sorkin, based on the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Rooney Mara
Aaron Sorkin is one of the few screenwriters in Hollywood who can stir as much interest among moviegoers as a director. In a movie written by Sorkin you can always expect a few things: smart, ping-pong like dialogue (often during Sorkin’s famous walk-and-talks), a detailed picture of the inner workings of a complicated profession, and a celebration of a distinctively American manifestation of excellence. Thus we get the inner workings of highly articulate policy wonks from Washington in The West Wing and Charlie Wilson’s War, and the life of a team of socially-conscious TV comedy writers in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

What Sorkin celebrates in those scripts is a unique combination of power and intelligence which we call “success.” His characters go to the top schools, and their intelligence takes them on a life trajectory of both personal achievement and altruism. They are always idealistic, often wealthy, and sometimes, in Sorkin’s lesser moments, preachy.

The founding of Facebook, then, is a natural subject for such a writer. Sorkin’s screenplay was inspired by Ben Mezrich’s recent book, The Accidental Billionaires, which tries to piece together the early gestation of an internet company which has seduced millions of people into joining its network. Sorkin portrays Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jason Eisenberg), the computer science student who developed Facebook from his dorm at Harvard, as a recovering nerd blossoming into an eccentric genius, who nevertheless bears the tragic flaw of being a serial betrayer of his closest friends (he is a jerk to his girlfriend in the opening scene of the film, and later on we discover what happens between him and his best friend, Economics major Eduardo Saverin, played by Andrew Garfield).

This flaw, however, exposes a wound in Zuckerberg which makes him a special Sorkin character. The Social Network shows us the soft underbelly of success.

Before we talk about the soft underbelly, let’s cover the success. Eduardo made 300 thousand dollars betting on oil futures in the summer between his freshmen and sophomore year of college. Zuckerberg had, as a high school student, already developed a program which caught the eye of Microsoft. (Instead of selling it to them, he chose to make it available for free on the internet. He knew he was meant for greater things.) Zuckerberg’s three roommates are skillful programmers with uncanny powers of concentration. The drama begins when Zuckerberg is dumped by his girlfriend. He retreats to his dorm and sublimates his anger into writing a program which he calls “Facemash,” taking the photos of Harvard female students and placing them on the internet for evaluation by their male peers. The site gets 22,000 hits that very night.

This success catches the eye of a pair of identical twin students named Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, representatives of the elite Ivy League WASP ancien regime, who would like to add web entrepreneurship to their resume which already lists excellence in academics and rowing. They ask Zuckerberg if he would be willing to write the programming for “Harvard Connect,” a sort of online Who’s Who for those with email addresses. Zuckerberg is at first lured by the idea of being able to join the Winklevoss’s elite social world. But he soon realizes that the Winklevosses aren’t thinking big enough. He evades them, breaks the promise he made to them, and decides to found Facebook instead.

The film is told through a series of flashbacks as both Eduardo and the Winklevosses testify against Zuckerberg in a couple of hearings which take place a few years after the founding of Facebook. All of them have legitimate grounds for suing Zuckerberg, but those grounds cannot tarnish Zuckerberg’s place in history. When Zuckerberg idly stares outside the window during a hearing, the opposing counsel asks him: “Do you think I deserve your attention?” Zuckerberg responds:

“I think if your clients want to stand on my shoulders and call themselves tall they have a right to give it a try. But there’s no requirement that I enjoy being here… You have part of my attention, the minimum amount needed. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook where my employees and I are doing things that no one in this room…are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.”

When Beethoven told Goethe that the Emperor should bow to them, his arrogance seemed justifiable because he wrote the Ninth Symphony and Goethe wrote Faust. But Facebook doesn’t stack up against either of those achievements, and Zuckerberg’s auto-celebration appears to be the celebration of magnanimity without content. Yet without such greatness or almost greatness, we couldn’t fully appreciate the soft underbelly.

Zuckerberg’s big speech doesn’t capture everything essential about himself. Sorkin’s character is more interesting than that. Zuckerberg is not only the creator of Facebook: he is also a user. The heartbreak which gave tortured birth to Facemash and Facebook doesn’t fully go away. Neither does the tenderness that Zuckerberg feels for Eduardo, who, we are told over and over again, is Zuckerberg’s “only friend.”

Facebook is great but greatness is not enough. The soft underbelly of success is the need we have for affection, which is a need exploited, but not fulfilled, by the program which has made Zuckerberg a quiet billionaire.

Santiago Ramos has written for First Things, Commonweal, Image Journal, Traces, and the Kansas City weekly, The Pitch. He is currently pursuing graduate studies in Boston College.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

ICE Presence at Club Raid Raises Questions

This is, oddly I think, not that big a news story in Kansas City right now. It appears that in the course of a legitimate police raid on a problem night club, ICE officers requested identification and cited persons for immigration violations who were not themselves suspects in a crime. Here we see an “approach” by law enforcement that seems to go even beyond the Arizona statute, ie., Hispanics merely in proximity to people suspected of other offenses are asked for their papers. This in a city whose Council officially rejected the Arizona statute and whose police force has previously rejected such tactics.

The presence of ICE raises a lot of questions and I’m grateful to our associate editor for putting together this story quickly on our production day. He gets a lot of information that’s been ignored elsewhere. We’ll certainly have follow-up. From the upcoming edition of The Catholic Key:

Nightclub raid raises question about police policy on immigration

By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — A joint raid at a trouble spot nightclub on the city’s West Side has threatened efforts to build trust between the Latino community and the Kansas City Police Department.

The raid, which occurred shortly before midnight Oct. 24 at the Club Oasis, 2845 Southwest Blvd., was conducted jointly between officers of the police department’s vice squad and agents of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

According to police, at least 100 persons were inside the club. Police arrested or cited at least 20 people, including a security guard allegedly in possession of cocaine, and three minors under the legal drinking age.

News reports said that ICE agents arrested 15 people for being in the United States in violation of U.S. immigration codes. But the number of people cited at the club may be much higher.

Jude Huntz, director of the Diocesan Human Rights Office, said that attorneys for Legal Aid of Western Missouri told him that 20 people cited by ICE at the club had sought their help on Oct. 25, the day after the raid.

Private immigration attorney Angela Ferguson told the Catholic Key about 10 people cited in the raid had sought her help.

Ferguson said that those cited were ordered to report to U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Custom and Immigration Services office near Kansas City International Airport on Oct. 26.

“Those are just the people seeking legal help,” Huntz said. “How many more didn’t seek help or are choosing to flee the area? That’s what we don’t know.”

Club Oasis has been the source of numerous complaints to police concerning alleged drug trafficking, underage drinking and shootings, including a reported Oct. 10 parking lot gun battle involving a vehicle theft.

Ferguson said the people she spoke with told her that ICE agents and Kansas City police entered the club together shortly before midnight and ordered all people inside to divide themselves in two groups.

“They announced that people with documents (proving legal residency) should go to one side of the room, and people without documents should go to the other side,” she said.

Ferguson said she had no issues with police raiding Club Oasis when they have probable cause to believe that criminal activity is taking place. But she also noted that the vast majority of citations and arrests at the raid were not for violations of criminal law, but for violations of civil immigration code.

“There is a real concern with that club, and we want police to catch criminals,” Ferguson said. “But there were many people there who were detained and apprehended for not having papers.”

Ferguson also questioned why Kansas City police were accompanied by ICE agents on this particular raid.

“I’m guessing it was because it was a Latino joint. Why else would Immigration be there?” she said.

That raised concerns for her of what other places that draw crowds of Latino people might be targeted.

“What if they started going to churches after Mass? What if Immigration started showing up at soccer games? What kind of community do we want to live in?” she said.

Christian Brother Jim Krause, pastoral associate at St. Anthony Parish in Kansas City’s northeast neighborhood which also has a large Latino population, said that the parish’s Communities Creating Opportunity (CCO) organizing network has worked for several years to build trust between the community and the Kansas City Police Department, particularly the East Patrol Division.

Brother Jim noted that the Club Oasis raid occurred in the department’s West Patrol Division, but that CCO would be collecting more information in meetings with top police officials.

He also noted that Police Chief James Corwin said at a CCO action in June that it is the policy of his department not to detain people solely on immigration charges unless there was a felony crime involved.

Brother Jim said that assurance was important as a way to encourage victims to report crimes, regardless of the victims’ immigration status.

“People who come from the Third World do not have a good record of cooperation with police,” Brother Jim said. “They are the victims of all kinds of crime because they are afraid to talk to police for fear that they will be reported to Immigration. The criminals know that, and they are emboldened by it.”

Brother Jim said CCO will be working to prevent the Club Oasis raid from destroying the trust that has been building with the department’s East Patrol Division, which he said has been exemplary.

“They have said they will not call ICE on people unless there is criminal activity involved,” he said. “If that is the policy, then that is the policy. What we would like to see in the West Patrol Division is if they would like to follow the lead of the East Patrol Division.”

Huntz, however, also questioned the presence of ICE agents in the Club Oasis raid.

“The club in question has had lots of trouble and those are legitimate police matters,” Huntz said. “Why ICE had to be brought in is not clear to me.”

Huntz also said that the raid underscores how broken the U.S. immigration system is and why the U.S. bishops are pressing hard for comprehensive reform.

“The larger issue is that most people enter the country legally and they are still here on expired visas because they lost their jobs or they couldn’t keep up with the expense of keeping up their visas,” he said.

“We need to find a way to keep them in the process (toward legal residency and citizenship) without the threat of deportation hanging over their heads,” he said.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ninth Circuit Lets Stand San Francisco Condemnation of Catholicism

Last Friday, an eleven-member panel of the Ninth Circuit Court dismissed a claim by Catholics in San Francisco that the City Board of Supervisors violated the Establishment Clause when they denounced Church teaching and urged the Archbishop of San Francisco to defy the Vatican. A little background is warranted.

Early in 2006, Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a statement clarifying that Church agencies should not place children for adoption with same-sex couples. The statement had particular significance for Levada’s former Archdiocese of San Francisco, whose Catholic Charities agency had been placing children for adoption with same-sex couples.

In response to Cardinal Levada’s statement, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution denouncing the Vatican’s foreign meddling, demanding Levada retract his “hateful,” “insulting,” “discriminatory,” “callous”  and ignorant directive, and urging current San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer and Catholic Charities “to defy all discriminatory directives of Cardinal Levada.” Members of the Board of Supervisors also threatened to remove funding from Catholic Charities’ other programs unless they did defy the Vatican (The City was not funding the adoption program at Catholic Charities).

Two Catholic citizens of San Francisco joined the Catholic League in filing suit against the Board of Supervisors claiming their resolution violated the Establishment Clause by, among other things, sending a message of official state disapproval of Catholic teaching and entangling itself with the internal affairs of a church.

The case was dismissed by a district court, a three member panel of the Ninth Circuit and now, finally by the Ninth Circuit en banc by 8-3. Five members of the court found that the Catholic citizens had no standing, three that they had standing but no valid claim, and three that they had standing and a valid claim. Here’s what the last three succinctly found in dissent:

…a mere message of disapproval, even in the absence of any coercion, suffices for an Establishment Clause violation . . .The “message” in the resolution [that] a Catholic doctrine duly communicated by the part of the Catholic church in charge of clarifying doctrine is “hateful,” “defamatory,” “insulting,” “callous,” and “discriminatory,” showing “insensitivity and ignorance,” the Catholic Church is a hateful foreign meddler in San Francisco’s affairs, the Catholic Church ought to “withdraw” its religious directive, and the local archbishop should defy his superior’s directive. This is indeed a “message of . . . disapproval.” And that is all it takes for it to be unconstitutional.

As to the entanglement issue, the dissent found:

San Francisco entangles itself with the Catholic hierarchy when it urges the local archbishop to defy the cardinal. It is a dramatic entanglement to resolve that the Cardinal “as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” should withdraw his directive. The Catholic Church, like the myriad other religions that have adherents in San Francisco, is entitled to develop and propagate its faith without assistance and direction from government.

Seems straightforward to me, but on the Ninth Circuit sense is held by only a minority of three. There are several other positions on the jurisprudence of the Establishment Clause in the court’s opinion, including this bizarre finding:

We would have a different case on our hands had the defendants called upon Cardinal Levada to recant his views on transubstantiation, or had urged Orthodox Jews to abandon the laws of kashrut, or Mormons their taboo of alcohol. Those matters of religious dogma are not within the secular arena in the way that same-sex marriage and adoption are.

Translated, your freedom of religion encompasses all the superstitious voodoo you care to indulge in, but you may not have a religious dogma at variance with something the City cares about – like sex.

Daniel Piedra with the Thomas More Law Center which represented the plaintiffs said the center will ask the Supreme Court to review the dismissal. If that happens, the Supreme Court could issue a writ ordering the lower court to re-evaluate the case based on the Establishment Clause. As stated above, five of the members didn’t even touch the merits of the case leaving a 3-3 division on the actual Constitutional issue.

“The current jurisprudence on the Establishment Clause is an absolute mess,” Piedra said. “There is no coherent principle,” he said, a fact evident within the Ninth Circuit’s three-way opinion in this case.

For more information, see this report by Gibbons Cooney at California Catholic Daily and check out his blog.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Fall of Don Draper

From the upcoming edition of The Catholic Key:
Season4 The Fall of Don Draper
Season 4 Finale of Mad Men
By Santiago Ramos
“I know what you want,” Don Draper’s paid escort says to him in the first episode of the fourth season of Mad Men, which ended this past Sunday. Sometimes, in the movies, prostitutes are the key to a mysterious man’s heart, but the writers of Mad Men have skirted past that cliché. Instead, they have made their hero’s heart impenetrable. For four seasons, we have seen Don Draper (Jon Hamm), a wealthy and successful family man and advertising genius, slalom from mistress to mistress and rise from being the creative director of one ad agency, to a full partner of another. More than that, in this last season, Don is celebrated by admirers as being a sort of artist, a cross between Hemingway and a 1960s art-film director, because of an award-winning ad that he created for a floor polish product called Glo-Coat.
Before season 4 began, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote that “After three seasons of Mad Men, I have absolutely no idea what Don Draper’s intentions are.” At the time, I thought Douthat raised a legitimate question. I kept returning to it in my mind as I watched the fourth season these past few months—as I watched, that is, the aftermath of Don Draper’s broken marriage, his feeble efforts to connect with his children, and the several business crises which his agency, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, suffers throughout its second year of business.
After last Sunday’s season finale, which culminates with Don’s marriage proposal to his young French Canadian secretary, Megan Calvais (Jessica Pare), I made an earnest attempt to resolve Douthat’s question. Here are my answers.
1. If Don Draper wants anything, it is nothing mysterious or unique—it is what any human being wants. That is, love, shelter, stability, happiness. (“Advertising is based on one thing: Happiness!” he says in the pilot episode of the series.)
2. Don Draper is no longer aware that he is a human being with such wants.
3. His paid escort friend, as world-wise as she is portrayed as being on the show, doesn’t really know Don. Not because she doesn’t know what he wants, but because he no longer knows what he wants.
4. Don has become completely swallowed up by the universe of his own advertisements.
The last point is not as outlandish as it might sound. What I mean is that Don has allowed his real problems and desires to become deceived by the types of promises that advertising makes—promises that appeal to your very real human heart, and offer you something you can buy. Something not very real, and less than true—a product that distracts you instead of fulfilling you. Don is an expert at crafting such advertising, and now he has become his own customer.
Throughout the season, a couple of characters have tried to offer Don something true. Anna Draper (Melinda Page Hamilton), the woman who, more than his real mother, has offered Don something like maternal love, says to Don exactly what he needs to hear: “I know everything about you, and I still love you.” I know, in other words, all the things that keep you from sleeping at night, and fuel your desire for whiskey—and I still love you. Faye Miller (Cara Buono), the market research consultant who becomes Don’s lover midway through the season, offers him not only the affection and stability he needs, but also the truth about what he should do. Don is able to confess his secrets to her, and she returns with calm and with reality: You need to become a normal, real person.
But he rejects it all and becomes a cliché. He marries his secretary, whom he hardly knows apart from a couple of trysts. It is a romance completely unpolluted by good sense. The agency he works for is on the brink of collapse, and it is kept afloat not by his own work, but by that of his younger protégé, Peggy. Anna Draper, by the season finale, has already passed away, and Don abruptly, over the phone, breaks up with Faye. His tethers to the real world have become unhooked.
Don is not an artist, but a dreamer. An artist tells the truth, and Don runs away from the truth.
The main drawback to painting such a comprehensive picture of a brilliant man’s slow process of dehumanization is that he becomes boring. The brilliant advertising pitches that we saw Don present during the first couple of seasons of the show are no longer there. Don now merely repeats himself: his schtick about nostalgia as being the way to the consumer’s wallet feels laughable in the dawn of the cultural upheaval of the 1960s. I have no idea where the writers will take the show next, but if they are planning a happy ending for Don Draper, they will by necessity have to see him suffer through a reawakening from the illusions that Draper has created for himself.
Santiago Ramos has written for First Things, Commonweal, Image Journal, Traces, and the Kansas City weekly, The Pitch. He is currently pursuing graduate studies in Boston College.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Kansas City has Two of America’s Top 50 Catholic High Schools

And five of them are in Missouri. Congratulations to Pius X and Sion! From the upcoming edition of The Catholic Key:

st piusX HighSchool By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — Dioceses celebrate when one school makes the Acton Institute’s Catholic High School Honor Roll.

But when two make it?

“It is incredible that there are two high schools in Kansas City earning this honor in one year,” said Dr. Dan Peters, diocesan school superintendent.

Peters came to St. Pius X High School Oct. 15 to present a certificate recognizing the award to principal Joe Monachino Jr. and the entire St. Pius X faculty.

Also earning a spot among Acton’s honor roll of the 50 best Catholic high schools in the nation was Notre Dame de Sion High school, a private Catholic academy for young women in south Kansas City.

“This is national recognition that St. Pius and Notre Dame de Sion are exceptional schools,” Peter said after the pre-game ceremony before the football game against Cameron High School.

“It shows the effort that the schools have made for academic excellence, clear Catholic identity, and service to the community,” he said.

Bishop Robert W. Finn also congratulated both schools.

“I am very proud of all the Catholic high schools in our diocese,” he said.

“For St. Pius X and Notre Dame de Sion, recognition from the Acton Institute is particularly meaningful because it confirms that we integrate the Catholic faith into the fabric of our schools and continue to set benchmarks for moral and academic formation.”

The Acton Institute, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., announced its first honor roll in 2004. This year marks the first time that any Catholic high school in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has been honored.

Three other Missouri Catholic high schools earned the award. They were Notre Dame Regional High School in Cape Girardeau and Springfield Catholic High School, both in the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, and St. Vincent High School in Perryville in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Monachino and Sion Principal Michelle Olson were also bursting with pride.

“This is the culmination of the hard work of our students, teachers, parents and alumni,” said Monachino, whose school has seen millions of dollars worth of capital improvements from its “Education for Life” campaign.

“Receiving a national honor for our academic excellence, Catholic identity and civic education confirms that we are succeeding in our goal to educate each student to their full academic potential as well as enhancing their growth in Catholic values,” he said. “We are proud to provide an education for life to our students.”

The Notre Dame de Sion community has also raised millions of dollars to enhance its physical plant and strengthen a strong academic program.

“Being a college preparatory high school for young women and having this kind of recognition says Notre Dame de Sion High School is among the best in our nation,” Olson said.

“Our young women live the spirit of Sion through their commitment to community service, academic excellence and community involvement,” she said. “Because of our mission, which is rooted in the Catholic faith and the Sisters of Sion, our students are being prepared to live and lead in a religiously and culturally diverse world.”

In order to be recognized, the Acton Institute requires schools to complete three surveys, examining academic excellence, theology curriculum and social studies/civic education. In addition, this year’s process added a social outreach component, demonstrating the school’s service to the community.

As with all Catholic high schools in the diocese, St. Pius X and Notre Dame de Sion require community service hours as a graduation requirement.

At St. Pius, student-led initiatives have included joining the late Manute Bol, a former NBA star, in raising thousands of dollars to build schools in Bol’s native Sudan.

At Sion, students are actively involved in the movement for inter-faith understanding, an extension of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion work in France in World War II to rescue Jewish children from the Nazi Holocaust.

According to the Acton Institute, the goal of the national Catholic High School Honor Roll is to “acknowledge those schools that maintain high academic standards, uphold their Catholic identities, and prepare their students to actively engage the world.”

Friday, October 15, 2010

‘A Bright Light in the Dark Evil of Tyranny’

Such was the conscience of Thomas More according to Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted. Thomas More’s conscience, how it was formed, and most importantly, how he managed to follow it against nearly unbearable and unanimous opposition, was the topic of Bishop Olmsted’s homily at Kansas City’s Red Mass on Wednesday.

The homily is at once a beautiful tribute to More and an important teaching on the effort and habits required in properly forming and following conscience. “Thomas More knew, from his early twenties, that the greatest threat to freedom of conscience did not come from outside a man but from within his own heart,” Bishop Olmsted said. Read on to see how Thomas More prepared his own heart:

Olmsted2 The Conscience of Thomas More

By Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted

Less than a month ago, on September 17, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI was welcomed at Westminster Hall in London by John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons. In that same hall, nearly 500 years before, on July 1, 1535, John Bercow’s predecessor, Thomas More, was condemned to death on the charge of treason because he refused to recognize Henry VIII, the King of England, as the supreme authority over the Church and over the pope. Recalling that earlier event, our Holy Father spoke of “the dilemma which faced More in those difficult times;” one which he described as “the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God.” I cannot help but think of that historic event of last month as we celebrate this Red Mass in Kansas City, and as we pray for lawyers and statesmen, judges and other public officials.

I thank Archbishop Joseph Naumann and Bishop Robert Finn for their kind invitation and gracious welcome. It is a joy and honor for me to join these courageous successors of the Apostles at this Mass. I am also delighted to return to the heartlands where I grew up and especially to celebrate this Red Mass with the members of the St. Thomas More Society and the distinguished public officials who join us this evening. Thank you for your public service.

Thomas More was a man of quick wit and a judge of impeccable integrity, a statesman of rare abilities and Lord Chancellor of England. Of greater importance to him than these duties were his good friends and especially his wife, his family, and his Catholic faith. But the defining characteristic of Thomas More was his conscience. Pope John Paul II, in his Motu Propio proclaiming St. Thomas More the Patron of Statesmen and politicians, said: “Thomas More witnessed the primacy of truth over power…He died as a martyr because of his passion for truth… for him his moral conscience was a defining voice, the voice of God in his soul.”

At this Red Mass when we honor and pray for lawyers, judges, politicians and others who serve in the legal profession and public office, let us, with the help of the Sacred Scriptures and the personal writings of our patron saint, consider the role of conscience in the life of a follower of Christ, especially one called to serve in public office. Perhaps it’s best to begin at the end.

In the final weeks before he was put to death for refusing to subscribe the Oath of Supremacy demanded by King Henry VIII, nearly everyone in England, his peers, his foes and his friends, even the vast majority of the bishops and priests of his country, lined up on the side opposed to Thomas More. Lord Audley, his successor as Chancellor of England, called him ‘a foolish scrupulous ass;” King Henry screamed that he was “a traitor.” His own wife Lady Alice openly opposed her husband’s “scruple of conscience.” Even his beloved daughter Meg, his closest and dearest confidante in the last years of his life, failed to understand her father, and repeatedly tried to convince him to change his stand. This was what weighed heaviest on his heart, the fact that his own wife and all his children could not understand and openly disagreed with his decision. How, then, did he remain steadfast to the end? How did he remain true to his conscience in the face of such a barrage of scorn and pleading and tears, and in view of the dire consequences of his stand? To answer that, we need to go back to his early years when he was a student of the law in London.

His ultimate decision was determined a long time before his imprisonment in the Tower of London and his execution nearby. It was the consequence of years of searching God’s will and striving to develop the virtues to be able, in good times and in bad, to be guided by truth and love. His conscience was founded on a lifelong habit of daily prayer and sacrifice.

In his biography of Thomas More, Professor Gerard B. Wegemer describes More’s first four years after leaving home to begin his law studies (p. 15), “During these years, More worked at developing his prayer life and achieving self-mastery…As a result, he began the spiritual practices he would maintain for the rest of his life. Until the time of his imprisonment, he started each day with private prayer, study and Mass…He also limited the number of hours he slept, fasted regularly, and strove to teach his quick tongue to seek charity rather than victory.” Thomas More knew, from his early twenties, that the greatest threat to freedom of conscience did not come from outside a man but from within his own heart. That freedom had to be won anew, day after day, through the discipline of self-sacrifice, ongoing conversion and prayer. Freedom of conscience required freedom from self-deception, freedom from fear, and freedom from pride.

It is instructive to recall that Thomas More’s first book was not about the law but about the spiritual life. In it, he gives the following instruction on how to pray (Idem, 21), “I care not how long or how short your prayer is, and how effectual, how ardent, how interrupted and broken with sighs...if you desire to be secure from the snares of the devil, from the storms of this world, from the hands of your enemies; if you long to be acceptable to God; if you covet everlasting happiness—then let no day pass without at least once presenting yourself to God in prayer, falling down before Him flat on the ground with a humble affection and a devout mind; not merely with your lips, but from the innermost recesses of your heart, crying out these words of the prophet: ‘The sins of my youth and my frailties remember not, but in your mercy remember me because of your goodness [Ps 25:7).”

His daily prayer was built around the Eucharist and the Sacred Scriptures. Without a doubt, then, he read and prayed over God’s word to us at this Red Mass; and used these inspired words to examine his conscience. In our First Reading, the Epistle to the Galatians (5:18-25), St. Paul contrasts “the works of the flesh” with “the fruit of the Spirit”. He writes: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

“In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires.”

As St. Paul makes clear, as Thomas More knew well, and as we experience in our own lives, every human being is engaged in a spiritual battle, a struggle between the flesh and the spirit, i.e. between earthly desires that lead to the works of darkness, and eternal realities that lead upward to the light of truth and love. Thomas More, from his first days in law school, prepared himself for this battle and waged it from morning to night until the day he died.

He was convinced that to be a good lawyer he needed first to be a good man. He needed to excel in his knowledge of the law and his practice of argumentation; but even more he needed to excel in virtue and integrity. The same virtues that helped him grow in love also helped him to serve in the courtroom, to lead in the public square, and to offer sound advice to the king. A clear and well formed conscience allowed him the freedom to choose what was right and to reject what was wrong, both personally and professionally.

When one’s heart is set upon the things of this world then it lacks the freedom to put persons above things, and to decide on the basis of truth and charity; it wants only what will benefit itself.

On the other hand, the person with a well formed conscience, while aware of the ever present possibility of selfishness, grows ever more capable of receiving good advice, of remembering solid moral principles and of applying those principles to the duties at hand. Any person who is free from fear and from pride is capable of living the truth in love.

Recall with me, for a moment, the Church’s teaching on conscience. We read in Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes (#16), “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment…His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”

Our conscience is so closely linked to our dignity as a person that we are obliged to follow it, even if it is erroneous. In other words, our integrity requires that we do what we think is right, even if in reality our thinking is wrong. This is why Thomas More could honestly tell his daughter Meg that it was important that she follow her conscience even when it disagreed with his.

He also knew, however, that when we act on an erroneous conscience, even if done in good faith and thus without subjective guilt for the sin, harm still results, and we and others will suffer the consequences. Objectively evil acts always cause harm, even when there is no subjective guilt. This is why we have the grave obligation to form our conscience in accord with the truth. Our knowledge of what is true helps us to realize those good things which ought to be pursued and those evil things which ought to be rejected. Thus, conscience is closely connected to prudence by which we can know what is good and also the right means of pursuing it.

We may be tempted to think that a good conscience, while being important for one’s personal life, makes little difference in the public square. Thomas More would totally disagree. His conscience was a bright light in the dark evil of tyranny that Henry VIII and his sycophant collaborators brought over England 500 years ago.

What is it that shapes history? Is it political and economic forces? Is it military might or terrorism? Or is it something much closer to the question of conscience. John Paul II, who witnessed firsthand the totalitarian ravages of Nazi terror and Communist oppression, was convinced that these powerful regimes, built on lies and brut force, could not last. For all their frightening power and catastrophic violence, they had nothing within them that could endure the test of time. Culture, the late Holy Father contended, is what shapes history through the ages and stands the test of time. By culture, he meant what men and women cherish and honor, what they believe and worship, what gives their lives meaning and is worth dying for, what they discover and hold to in conscience—that is what forms and transforms culture. In other words, people of conscience shape history.

An intellectual colleague and old friend of John Paul II, Father Jozef Tischner, when speaking of the impact of the Polish pope’s first pastoral visit to his homeland as Successor of St. Peter and the subsequent emergence of the Solidarity movement, described it as a “huge forest planted by awakened consciences.”

My dear brothers and sister in Christ, all who serve others in public office and through the legal, judicial and political processes, I urge you to follow the example of Thomas More, to be men and women of conscience. We find ourselves today immersed in a media-hyped, pop culture that claims to be free and that prides itself on “choice”; but it refuses to give due attention to the consequences of the choice or to the actual dependencies and addictions that run rampant in society and create havoc around us—things like alcoholism and drug abuse, unfettered greed, pornography, contraception and abortion.

In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II graphically described how legalized abortion has crippled the ability of many to form their conscience properly. He writes (#58), “The Second Vatican Council defines abortion, together with infanticide, as an unspeakable crime. But today, in many people’s consciences, the perception of its gravity has become progressively obscured. The acceptance of abortion in the popular mind, in behavior and even in law itself, is a telling sign of an extremely dangerous crisis of the moral sense, which is becoming more and more incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, even when the fundamental right to life is at stake. Given such a grave situation, we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception. In this regard the reproach of the Prophet is extremely straightforward: ‘Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness’ (Is 5:20)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus looks the truth in the eye and calls things by their proper name when he confronts the lawyers of his day (Lk 11:46), “Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.”

Lawyers in Jesus’ days enjoyed special status, were given places of honor at public functions, and dressed in distinctive robes but they used their office to exploit others rather than to serve them. They sought their own advantage rather than the good of their clients. Their public office, intended for service and the common good, became an empty façade rather than a respectable reality. So, out of love rooted in truth, Christ called them to conversion, just as He calls every one of His followers to be converted and live.

A person of conscience welcomes correction that is motivated by love and that is rooted in truth. He wants his life to be built, not on sand but on solid rock.

Thomas More “had to work hard to use the sharp blade of his wit to heal and construct, rather than to injure and dominate… [He] was a great talker and a constant joker. Such qualities can endear, but they can often irritate. When moderated they can become virtues, but when indulged they necessarily cause strife. More also recognized the inordinate strength of his attachment to the comforts and pleasures of life…But the fault that worried him the most was pride. In confronting these weaknesses, More did not try to excuse his faults by calling them virtues. This clarity of judgment led him to decide early in life to train himself with great diligence and care. Otherwise, he realized, he would stand to lose the battles that mattered most.”

John Donne said that Thomas More was “a man of the most tender and delicate conscience that the world saw since Augustine.” Anglican clergyman Jonathan Swift described him as “a person of the greatest virtue this kingdom ever produced.”

G.K. Chesterton wrote, in 1929, “Thomas More is more important at this moment than at any moment since his death, even perhaps the great moment of his dying; but he is not quite so important as he will be in about a hundred years’ time.” It has been nearly a hundred years since those words were spoken by Chesterton.

Tonight, let us give thanks to God for the example of courage and faith left to us by our patron saint Thomas More, a lawyer, a judge, a public servant, a husband and father, a follower of Christ in fact and not just in name, a martyr for love of God, and a man who remained faithful to the end to a well formed conscience.

(Pic: From left, St. Thomas More Pastor Father Donald P. Farnan, Kansas City in Kansas Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn and Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted)