Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Letter from Archbishop Kurtz on Informed Consent


Please forward to your email groups and school communities.

March 28, 2012

Dear Pastoral Leader:

I am writing to ask that you take immediate action on a very important bill that has been amended in the state Senate and returned to the House for concurrence. House Bill 274 now contains the language of SB 102, an informed consent bill that the Catholic Conference of Kentucky has supported for many years.

Informed consent requires abortion providers to ensure that patients are fully informed about this procedure in a face-to-face meeting, as done for other surgical procedures. The current practice of using a recorded phone message is inadequate and does not allow the patient to ask questions about the procedure or about how the surgery might affect her based on her personal health history. There is evidence that a percentage of women who seek abortions, but who are fully informed, change their minds and bring the baby to term. For that reason I urge you to call House leaders as soon as possible.

PLEASE CALL 1-800-372-7181 as soon as you can and leave the following message for the five House Democratic leaders (i.e. Representatives Stumbo, Adkins, Clark, Thompson, and Damron):  

The Senate has returned HB 274 to you for concurrence after amending it with language that clarifies Kentucky's informed consent law. This language makes it clear that there is to be a face-to-face in-person meeting with a health care professional prior to an abortion. Please honor your pledge to my Bishop to get a bill like this to the House floor for a vote. Now is the time. Thank you!

Thank you so much for your time and your willingness to be a true faithful citizen in making this important call.

                                                                                                Sincerely yours in our Lord,


                                                                                                Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz

                                                                                                Archbishop of Louisville

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Homily 5th Sun Lent Year B (3rd Scrutiny, Year A)–Raising of Lazarus

lazarusIn the summer of 2008, I had one of the most difficult experiences of my entire formation to be a priest; I participated in a program at U of L Hospital called C.P.E. – Clinical Pastoral Education. This is an ecumenical program in which I worked as a hospital chaplain while learning how to be a more effective minister. Each of us in the group of different faiths, genders, and ages were assigned to visit the patients in a particular department of the hospital. We would then gather as a group to discuss and study our experiences.

My department was particularly difficult: Palliative Care – which is the care that one receives in order to manage pain or to aid in making end of life decisions. Most of the patients I visited were dying or near death, but I felt like it was a great honor to be with these patients in their greatest need. Perhaps what I appreciate the most, though, are the times I spent with patients who, while they were dying of a terrible cancer or intense pain, were comforting and praying for me, consoling me, and reassuring me. Shouldn’t I be taking care of them? What was it about these particular patients that enabled them to be so other-centered, so charitable, so loving, so peaceful? I saw a wide range of reactions to death that summer. I myself had a wide range of reactions! The Gospel from today’s Mass, of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, has helped me to understand better what I experienced during that summer almost four years ago.

In today’s Gospel reading and in many other places in Scripture, we can see that wherever Christ is present at significant events, he sanctifies the situation. One of the reasons we celebrate Matrimony as one of the Church’s seven sacraments is because Christ was present at the Wedding Feast of Cana, thus making it holy, grace-filled, and a sign of his love. One of the reasons we celebrate Baptism as a sacrament is because Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan River to be baptized by John even though he was without sin, thus making the waters of Baptism holy and able to wash away sins and give divine life.

And so today, on this 5th Sunday of Lent, Jesus enters into our lives too, particularly our experiences of suffering and death, making them holy too, making them a mystery, and taking away the crude and narrow finality that we too often give them and replacing it with his presence. Even death, even times of great suffering, when Christ enters into them, can become times of his healing and divine life. What was a time of grief and confusion for Mary, Martha, and their friends and family, became an occasion of faith, hope, and love.

Because Jesus Christ was fully human, we can feel comfortable inviting him into any place, any circumstance, any struggle, any memory whatsoever. He was once like us, completely human, in every way except for our sinfulness. That humanity he still has in heaven, but in a glorified state, no longer affected by the limitations he once felt alongside us. He did feel them. He felt the full range of human emotion. The Gospel mentions that he wept in sympathy for Mary and Martha and for what Lazarus had to endure. He understands our lives and what we are going through. At the same time though He is fully God and so wherever he goes, wherever we welcome him, he brings the fullness of divinity and all that God has to offer.

To places of pain and suffering he brings new purpose, meaning, and value; he brings the Resurrection. He is the Resurrection. To places of happiness and success he brings a glimpse and a foretaste of eternal happiness with him in everlasting life. He is everlasting life. He wants to be for us, right here and now, Resurrection and Life. He wants to show us too, like he showed Martha and Mary, that death is not the end; it is simply the step, God-willing, to eternal life. He wants to give us a share in eternal life which grace brings to the soul even while we still live on earth. Mary and Martha have shown us how to enter into this type of relationship with Jesus Christ. “They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’” As Catholic Christians, I think we would do well to have these words always on the tip of our tongue in prayer: “Lord, come and see.”

To the students here: Whenever you get a good grade on a test, pray to him, “Lord, come and see” and he will share that joy with you and help you to know he is proud of you whenever you use the gifts he has given you well. What else can we invite the Lord to come and see today? What is it for you? Perhaps it is a childhood trauma that has affected you for years. Perhaps it is a relative or a friend who has driven you to your wit’s end. Perhaps it is a physical or psychological illness or the struggles of someone in your family.

Mary and Martha have taught us what power can come from the simple prayer of invitation, “Lord, come and see.” They have also taught us that when we run to the Lord without delay, with patience and humility, and without presumption, even though he may seem to delay he actually desires to exceed our expectations. He is not content to simply restore us to level zero. He wants to do that and so much more! He wants to restore us and then increase us! This may be hard to believe when the Lord doesn’t respond to our invitation when we want him to. If Jesus had come to Lazarus in two days rather than four then Lazarus could have been cured and would not have died. But, Jesus knew that raising Lazarus from death to life would have a more profound effect on his disciples’ faith than simply raising him from sickness to health.

“So then Jesus said to them clearly, ‘Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.’” Despite this though, when Martha came to Jesus she said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” not in order to complain to him or to ridicule him but because she actually believed that to be true. Her faith was so deep that she didn’t even ask him to raise her brother Lazarus from the dead. She abandoned herself to him, trusting that if he willed it he would do it. Jesus, moved by her faith and the sympathy he felt, did indeed raise Lazarus from the dead. He could have left it at that! But he also asked his disciples to unbind Lazarus after he had risen. Then he had a meal with Lazarus and his family!

One of the most profound ways Jesus is present to us, giving us peace and strength, is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. St. Augustine saw the episode with Lazarus as an image of this sacrament. Whenever we sin, our spiritual lives can begin to die and we find ourselves in our own tomb of despair or isolation. The call to reconciliation that this Lenten season brings is like Jesus crying out to each one of us, “Lazarus, come out.” Through the words of absolution our sins are forgiven, we are given new life and emerge from the tomb. Then Jesus instructs the priest in the confessional, like he instructed the friends of Lazarus: “Untie him, and let him go.” We are released from the sins that bind us and are restored to full fellowship and communion with God and with the Church, our spiritual family.

All of this is offered to each one of us, individually, personally, during the remainder of this Lent and beyond. The prayer to the Lord to “come and see” and his call that we be unbound and “let go” – these are how a dying cancer patient can have more peace and strength than those sent to minister to her. When the Lord is present and we are set free, our happiness can be transformed from happiness that fades away to happiness the brings a taste of eternal life. And suffering and death are transformed from a meaningless pain or a senseless end, to experiences that give faith to others by the sheer power of what God can do in the heart of one who believes. He gives us the hope that with death life is changed, not ended.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Homily 4th Sun Lent Year B (2nd Scrutiny, Year A) - Man Born Blind

Jesus and man born blindA couple of weeks ago, while many of the priests of the Archdiocese were on their annual retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani, I was on a retreat at St. Meinrad for recently ordained priests called, “Settling into Priesthood.” It was good to spend the week with young priests from the area, praying together, and sharing stories, experiences, thoughts, and feelings. There were also several speakers who addressed different topics in order to make sure we were starting off on the right foot.

At one point we were talking about which areas of ministry exceeded or came below our expectations and which areas still excited us or had become routine. One of the guys who had studied at the North American College, the American seminary in Rome, told an interesting story that stuck with me. He said that after studying in Rome for six years, he actually got to the point where he could walk past St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest Church in Western Christendom, and not give it one glance. His eyes were not open to the beauty of faith, they were only open to the cobblestone at his feet, to his next destination, to the next task to accomplish. For this reason it was always a blessing, he said, to be able to lead a tour through St. Peter’s for some pilgrims seeing the Basilica for the first time. Seeing their eyes, physically and spiritually, open wide with awe and wonder at the grandeur of St. Peter’s always opened his eyes in a new and fresh way to allow him to see again the tremendous blessing it is for him to live, move, and have his being in Jesus Christ in the Eternal City.

Today the Church invites us to have this type of experience ourselves as we celebrate the Second of a three-part ritual called “The Scrutinies” with our catechumens. As they move closer and closer to Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion, and to continued study and reflection, they are called “The Elect” and move through the phase of Purification and Enlightenment.

This is a period of more intense spiritual preparation, consisting more in interior reflection than in catechetical instruction, and is intended to purify the minds and hearts of the elect as they search their own consciences and do penance. This period is intended as well to enlighten the minds and hearts of the elect with a deeper knowledge of Christ the Savior. The celebration of certain rituals, particularly the scrutinies, brings about this process of purification and enlightenment and extends it over the course of the entire Lenten season (RCIA 139). They are beginning to get excited as the joys of Easter draw near. We rejoice with them on this 4th Sunday of Lent and we wear Rose vestments instead of Violet to give witness to the fact that the joys of Easter are indeed close at hand.

But how often have you and I been like that seminarian studying in Rome? Our eyes become closed and the great mysteries of our faith no longer impress on us wonder and awe, they become commonplace. Especially if we have been raised Catholic since infancy, we can easily let our eyes close to the grandeur of our faith so that it no longer impresses us. Today, let us look again through the eyes of The Elect and of the Candidates who will be received into full communion with the Church. Today, look at the many aspects of our faith through the eyes of someone who has never seen them before. Look at the holy water at the front of the Church and see your Baptism all over again. Remember the joy of your children’s Baptism! That water is a sacramental, it gives grace! Look at the statue of Mary at the entrance, at the Infant of Prague in the cry room, at the depiction of the Holy Family here in the sanctuary. We are surrounded by the Communion of Saints! Look at the red candle by the tabernacle, Christ is truly present among us! Look especially at the Host and the Chalice when they are elevated at the Consecration – BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. These are things that our eyes should never become closed to.

After this homily we will celebrate the Second Scrutiny with the elect, but this is something that we can all benefit from. The scrutinies, solemn rituals reinforced by minor exorcisms, are rituals for self-searching and repentance and have above all a spiritual purpose. The scrutinies are meant to uncover, then heal all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect – may our hearts be healed too. The scrutinies bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong, and good in the elect – may these be strengthened in us too. The scrutinies are celebrated in order to deliver the elect from the power of sin and Satan, to protect them against temptation, and to give them strength in Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. The rituals, therefore, should complete the conversion of the elect and deepen their resolve to hold fast to Christ and to carry out their decision to love God above all. God-willing, we too will be delivered from sin, protected, and strengthened for our own ongoing conversion (RCIA 141).

Their spirit is also filled with Christ the Redeemer, who is the living water – seen in last Sunday’s gospel of the Samaritan woman; the light of the world – seen in today’s gospel of the man born blind; and the resurrection and the life – seen in next Sunday’s gospel of Lazarus. From the first to the third scrutiny the elect – along with us – should progress in their perception of sin and their desire for salvation (RCIA 143).

The man born blind, in our Gospel today, had a heart that was open to God. Why else did he go, without hesitation, to wash his eyes in the Pool of Siloam at the command of our Lord? Why else did he perceive that the water that flowed every day into that pool since the 8th c. BC would on this day be any different? Even Tobit whose eyesight was temporarily lost and later restored was not blind from birth. It was unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. Yet he did go and was healed. But the eyes of the Pharisees were closed to God and could not see the evidence before them (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, Jn 9:32).

Our Lord enlivened the water and made it life-giving for the blind man. There is no reason this cannot happen for all of us too, in a deeply spiritual but no less real way. The gospel relates that the pool was of Siloam which means “Sent.” We have our own Pool of Siloam, our Baptismal font. Jesus Christ is the One Sent by the Father. He is the source of life-giving water. The eyes of the man born blind were anointed with clay. The elect will be anointed at their Baptism and Confirmation with the Oil of Catechumens and of Sacred Chrism. The man born blind washed in the pool and was given the gift of faith. They too will be washed in Baptism and infused with Faith, Hope, and Love. Just as Jesus became the light of the man born blind, so too our catechumens will be enlightened with grace and truth. When we gather at the Easter Vigil to behold these sacred mysteries, when we dip our fingers in the Holy Water and sign ourselves every Sunday after that, let us never fail to let these mysteries be relived in us and continually seen with the eyes of faith.

Homily 3rd Sun Lent Year B–The Body of Christ and the Dwelling Place of God

Jesus templeJesus does not come to destroy the temple, but to fulfill it - to reveal its true purpose in God’s saving plan.

He is the Lord the prophets said would come - to purify the temple, banish the merchants, and make it a house of prayer for all peoples.

The God who made the heavens and the earth, who brought Israel out of slavery, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands.

Nor does He need offerings of oxen, sheep, or doves.

Notice in today’s First Reading that God did not originally command animal sacrifices - only that Israel heed His commandments.

His law was a gift of divine wisdom, as we sing in today’s Psalm. It was a law of love, perfectly expressed in Christ’s self-offering on the cross.

This is the “sign” Jesus offers in the Gospel today - the sign that caused Jewish leaders to stumble, as Paul tells us in the Epistle.

Jesus’ body - destroyed on the cross and raised up three days later - is the new and true sanctuary. From the temple of His body, rivers of living water flow, the Spirit of grace that makes each of us a temple, and together builds us into a dwelling place of God.

In the Eucharist we participate in His offering of His body and blood. This is the worship in Spirit and in truth that the Father desires.

We are to offer praise as our sacrifice. This means imitating Christ - offering our bodies - all our intentions and actions in every circumstance, for the love of God and the love of others.

Notes from St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology

Friday, March 16, 2012

Letter to the Editor, The Record, Mar 15, 2012: Jesus the New Adam in the Mass

Jesus the New AdamTo The Editor:

In the Jan 12 edition of The Record, I was disappointed to read the response given in the “Question Corner” to the concern about inconsistent inclusiveness in the Gloria and the Creed at Mass.

We say in the Gloria, “Peace to people of good will,” yet we say in the Creed, “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven.”  I would like to comment on the decisions made by the translators.

In the Gloria, “people” is the well-known and close translation of the inclusive, Latin word, hominibus, as the 2001 document on translation, Liturgiam Authenticam, recommends (see no. 56).

In the Creed, homines, also an inclusive word, is translated “men,” reminiscent of the once-common and inclusive term, “mankind.”  Because few use “men” inclusively anymore, Father Doyle says that the translators should have “bowed to that reality and used the generic phrasing,” like “people,” for example.

Liturgiam Authenticam cautions, though, that the liturgical texts “should be free of an overly servile adherence to prevailing modes of expression,” thus freeing the liturgy “from the necessity of frequent revisions when modes of expression may have passed out of popular usage” (no. 27).

The use of “man” in the Creed recalls important theological and anthropological correlations between Jesus and Adam, the first man, whose original sin and the resulting tendency toward sin is passed on to all of the “sons of man.”

Jesus Christ, the New Man, the Son of Man, “came down from heaven” in order to save us from sin and draw all of us, men and women, into a participation in his own sonship in the life of the Trinity.

Father Doyle, in order to be more inclusive, excludes these important correlations when he recommends saying, “for us – (pause) – and for our salvation” at Mass.  I do not think this is a valid choice.

With the above reasons, let us remember the caution from Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium: “No other person [than the bishop(s)], not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority” (para. 22).  This is because the Mass is not our creation; it is a gift from God and his work.

Father Matthew Hardesty
Elizabethtown, KY

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Homily 2nd Sun Lent Year B–Mountain-Top Experiences

mt taborLast weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in a program called Engaged Encounter at Mt. St. Francis in southern Indiana.  Engaged Encounter is a weekend retreat for young engaged couples in the area to come together and focus on preparing well for a holy Catholic marriage.  I led the retreat along with one married couple in their 30’s and another in their 40’s.  We gave several talks that weekend intended to open up communication at a deep level on topics that they may not have considered.

One of the talks we gave was on how to accurately interpret highs and lows in marriage.  Some let the good times distract them from real problems that need to be addressed.  A more mature approach is to let these times built you up so that you are sustained through the rough times.  On the other hand, some let the bad times cause them to doubt the covenant they entered into rather than approaching them as opportunities for purification that can make the relationship even stronger.

Our readings today have given us three profound highs – or mountain top experiences – that we all can use to sustain us in the valleys of our own lives.  The Holy Spirit gathers us and leads us up these mountains together.

The first mountain we ascend together today is Mount Moriah from the first reading. Here we behold a scandalous episode indeed! How could God ask Abraham to sacrifice his only son?! This doesn’t seem like the God we know, the God who has said that burnt offerings from us he would refuse. Our sacrifice, he has told us, must be a contrite spirit for a humbled and contrite heart he will not spurn. And besides, Abraham’s son Isaac is the key to the covenant that God made with Abraham. God promised Abraham that he and his wife Sarah, despite their old age, would become fertile and would bear a son, Isaac. And it was through Isaac that Abraham would be the father of many nations, of peoples as numerous as the stars. These are the people of Israel, God’s chosen people, a people set apart to be an example to all mankind that God alone is our God and we are his children. From the people of Israel, our elder brothers and sisters, we have inherited this covenant and Abraham is our father in faith. For him to sacrifice his only son, his beloved son, would dissolve all of this!

Abraham was aware of what was at stake but his faith in the Lord was rock-solid. He no doubt trusted that God would find a way to keep his promise. Abraham’s only concern was fidelity to God’s command: to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, his beloved son.  So Abraham ascends the mountain with Isaac, with his only son carrying the wood for the sacrifice, and builds an altar on which to accomplish it. He then places his son on the wood and as he takes his knife to slaughter Isaac, an angel of the Lord stays Abraham’s hand. He assures Abraham that his intention, his devotion, his obedience, his willingness to do even this is as good as if he had done it. Then the Lord provides a ram, caught by its horns in the thicket, to take Isaac’s place.

But what is the Holy Spirit trying to teach us by putting before us such a chilling account? I believe it is this: that even in the midst of unthinkable sacrifice, when our circumstances in life make demands on us that seem unbearable, God is always by our side, watching and waiting to help us and to bless us abundantly. But, we must be obedient to him, trust him, and have unwavering faith in him. Unlike Abraham, we may not be called to make heroic acts of faith in God. But, like Abraham, it is not what we accomplish that matters, only that we act with a pure heart. God judges not the results of our works but the intention of our hearts. In our hearts he sees our devotion. So, for example, when we suffer injury and illness with a heart of patience and humility, he is there. When we spend long, agonizing hours at the bedside of a dying loved one with a heart of commitment and love, he is there. When we strive during Lent to uproot our vices and sins so that our hearts are open and free, he will bless us abundantly and give us not descendants but graces as numerous as the stars.

Our second reading points us to the second mountain we must climb today: Mount Calvary. Here God the Father himself, as St. Paul tells us, “did not spare his own Son, but handed him over for us all.” Here too we behold an Only Son, a Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, ascending a mountain of sacrifice to God, submitting to his Father’s will, carrying the wood along the Way. He too was placed on the wood, but for him the nails and the knife of the soldier’s lance were not held back. For him there was no ram caught in a thicket. He himself was the ram, suspended from the thicket of the cross, to take the place not of one, but of all mankind.

Faced with this parallel, St. Paul asks us, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?” Even on Mount Calvary we are again assured of God’s constant love and help, for He was raised and not sits at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. We must never doubt the lengths that God has gone and will go to help and save us. No scene in our lives – not even divorce, separation, abuse, violence, sin or death – no scene is darker than the scene the only beloved Son of the Father has already entered and overcome.

Finally now, we climb our third and final mountain, Mount Tabor of our Gospel reading. Here we find Jesus with his three favorite apostles: Peter, James, and John, his inner circle. Six days before this episode, Jesus taught them that he must soon suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes; be killed; and after three days rise again. Furthermore, “If any man would come after me,” Jesus said, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This was unthinkable to Peter, how could the long-awaited Messiah suffer and die? Jesus rebuked Peter for thinking this way but out of his great love and generosity takes him along with James and John, on the seventh day, to Mount Tabor to strengthen them. There, he showed them and us that God never abandons us even in our deepest despair or confusion. He appeared transfigured before them, along with Elijah and Moses, and his garments were glistening and intensely white. He allowed his glory to shine forth, the glory that is rightfully his as the Divine Son of God, the glory he set aside in order to be like us. This he did in order to encourage his apostles and us to follow the difficult way that leads to our own glorification.

When our Mass is finished today we will be sent to “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” We will descend the mountains of Moriah, Calvary, and Tabor and return to the valleys of our everyday lives, our schools, our homes, our workplaces. We will return to our Lenten penances and sacrifices and good works. We may even be returning to much suffering and pain. But let us not forget the mountains we have climbed today and what we witnessed at the top of each one. The God who stayed Abraham’s hand and provided for him on Mount Moriah is the same God who provides for us today. The God who loved us so much that he allowed his only Son to die on Mount Calvary on behalf of all mankind, is the same God who loves us today. The God who strengthened the apostles by allowing them to behold the glory of his Divine Son, is the same God who strengthens us today. Let us be faithful and obedient to Him with the hope that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18) at our coming Easter.