Dear Parish Family:
I do not know about you, but I have been pretty overwhelmed (and exhausted) from hearing about all that has happened in our country since the incidents in Charlottesville, Virginia last week. There are a lot of voices—political, racial, social - from a lot of places speaking loudly. I’ve tried to take some time this week to listen to the voices of some of the teachers of the Church, the bishops (in italics below).
We all must raise our voices in condemning the vile acts that have taken place, and also standing in solidarity and union with those who are speaking out in their communities….” - Archbishop Wilton Gregory, Archdiocese of Atlanta
As Catholics, there should be a deep wrenching in our hearts whenever we hear of acts related to racism and discrimination. For the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: ‘Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design’” (1935). If we really believe the Church’s teaching in the dignity of every human being—and it’s not just a slogan or a pious statement we make— then we should be filled with a holy anger of sorts that inspires us to pray for justice and to do what we can to curb and eradicate racism. There is no option to look the other way here.
“If our anger today is just another mental virus displaced tomorrow by the next distraction or outrage we find in the media, noth-ing will change. Charlottesville matters. It’s a snapshot of our public unraveling into real hatreds brutally expressed; a collapse of restraint and mutual respect now taking place across the country… If we want a different kind of country in the future, we need to start today with a conversion in our own hearts, and an insistence on the same in others. That may sound simple. But the history of our nation and its tortured attitudes toward race proves exactly the opposite.” - Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia
It is pretty easy for me to look at Charlottesville from not only a physical distance but an emotionally safe one that says to me, “Well, that’s their problem...glad it’s not an issue for me.” And, if I say that, I am a liar. Because the reality of racism, like any sin, is that it is often insidious. How often do I look down on people with a different skin color or different way of life than mine? At times, can I avoid being with certain “kinds” of people, even cate-gorizing them by their race or religion or orientation or gender and failing to see the other as a child of God too? Or do I share a joke based on a certain skin color or ethnicity or even pass it on to my children? How quickly do I rush in my heart to say things like “It’s my country” or even to have the audacity to call other humans –with the same dignity as me—by their immigration or legal statuses? Maybe you do the same some times? Maybe you justify it like I do and convince myself that I do other good things. This just might be a blind spot. Well, last Saturday reminds me that I have a lot of work to do in these areas, a lot of work. Maybe we all have some work to do. If we do not start from within, we have no ground to stand on when it comes to insisting on the conversion of others.
“The violence in Charlottesville did not develop in that moment or in one day. Rather the seeds of Saturday’s tragedy had been planted long before, going back far in the history of our nation. We can look upon last Saturday’s tragedy with a sense of great sadness and defeat. Or we can look at these events with the vision the Paschal Mystery brings us - a vision of healing, a vision of new life.” - Bishop John O. Barres, Diocese of Rockville Centre.
The events of Charlottesville and the reactions of so many have weighed on me this week. I find myself defeated and saddened for our country and fearful for what might come next. Yet, if I am a disciple of Jesus and belong to the Church, I have to see with the vision of the Paschal Mystery—moving from places of death to new life even in what has been so dark and despairing. Let’s pray that as we gather as Church, as we hear readings this week that remind of us our God who is here for all nations that we might listen to His voice and “observe what is right and do what is just” (Isaiah 56:1).
Dear Parish Family:
Over the past fifteen years or so, I have been impacted, probably like you, by the scandal of clergy sexual abuse. There were priests who I knew as a child who were accused and removed from ministry. I have worked with victims—young men and women—who were sexually abused by a member of clergy or lay minister in the Church. Experiences of working with them have been some of the most heartbreaking experiences I have encountered as a social worker and human being. And yes, priests who I looked up to and who I would call friends, have been accused and even admitted guilt for their own weaknesses and faults. I have also had the privilege—and I know that’s an odd word—of accompanying victims in the process of contacting the Church, sharing their story of abuse and being supported by and ministered to by the Church.
The sexual abuse of children is not a “Church” problem. It extends far beyond the Catholic Church. Newspapers and online news often share stories of teachers, family members, religious leaders, politicians, civil servants and others who have abused children. Is the Church held to a higher standard? You bet and we should be! We should set the standard for many things and treatment of this issue should be no different.
It is in this context that I want to address an important issue for our parish community. In the weeks ahead, we are going to be carrying out a bit of “push” regarding the VIRTUS training, completed codes of conduct and background checks for all volunteers.
To be direct, NO ONE MAY WORK IN ANY CAPACITY OR MINISTER IN ANY MINISTRY WITHOUT THESE FOUR THINGS.
Here is what we have been working on and are planning to do in the weeks ahead:
You might be saying, “Fr. John, this seems a little tough, a little direct for you.” You’re right. It is. It is not meant to be punitive or hurtful. But as a community of faith, we must be vigilant. That is a large part of the reason for VIRTUS training and awareness about the Code of Conduct. We need to keep our eyes open for areas of concern. The care of our young people is of the utmost importance. We must be certain that all who serve here are able to do so and we all must be informed to identify and pay attention to areas of concern.
I wish I could say I know that there is a perfect system in place to stop the abuse of children. One does not exist. Even what we are going to carry out in our parish is not fool-proof but it is a clear attempt to make sure we are providing the safest environment possible for our parish’s young people.
As you can tell from the beginning of this letter, I have been involved in issues related to the abuse of children from a number of different angles. It is an issue that brings about a lot of various emotions in me—anger, rage, sadness, empathy, disappointment and disillusionment. Yet, the Paschal Mystery teaches us that new life and new beginnings are always possible. I have seen many in the Church respond with a real sense of justice, compassion and generosity. I hope you will see our efforts in this area as part of that same response.
Dear Parish Family:
As I write this letter, we are in midst of interviews for faculty and staff at Our Lady Queen of the Apostles Regional Catholic School (OLQA). I love that St. John’s is part of OLQA and I love that OLQA is right here on our parish campus.
St. John Paul II once wrote, “A Catholic school is a place where students live a shared experience of faith in God and where they learn the riches of Catholic culture...Catholic schools must help students to deepen their relationship with God and to discover that all things human have their deepest meaning in the person and teaching of Jesus Christ.”
In writing today, I think of the story of this week’s Gospel. We celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration on a Sunday this year so it takes precedence over the Sunday in Ordinary Time. What happens to these chosen disciples? Jesus takes and leads them. They experience an encounter with the sacred. They are transformed and return back carrying out the missionary work of building the Kingdom of God.
I would like to think that every Catholic school community does the same things. It takes young people to a place they can deepen their relationship with God in a community of shared faith and Catholicity. Then, each day ideally, they are sent forth to carry out the missionary work of the Kingdom of God. I have witnessed this throughout the past year in my experiences of OLQA!
Here young people know about the presence of Christ through his Church and its ministers. Here young people come to receive the gift of knowledge. Here young people come to know the power of service and the important difference they can make in the life of the Church and the world. Here students are met where they are at and led to a deeper relationship with the sacred. Here great efforts are made to bring families together in the life of the school and the Church.
This year, we are making some good changes at OLQA! We are in the process of hiring a Campus Minister for the school. This person will work with Mr. Erlanger and with me to ensure that this remains a Catholic school in every aspect. He or she will teach religion to the upper grade students, organize prayer experiences and service trips and create a renewed Catholic culture in our school. This will ensure our students come down the mountain and are ready to work for the building up the Kingdom of God. We are beginning a new enrichment program for our students that will allow them to explore the multitude of gifts—academic and other wise—that God has provided them. Recognizing the many challenges placed on our students and their families, we have hired a social worker. Our Associate Director of Parish Social Ministry, Alex Finta, will also serve as the school social worker.
So you can see we have a lot in store for 2017-18….and it’s only the beginning of August! If you’re not a part of the OLQA community, can I ask you to think about it for your children or grandchildren? Call, come for a visit and learn more about the transformation that can take place here. It’s a transformation that will allow our young people “to deepen their relationship with God and to discover that all things human have their deepest meaning in the person and teaching of Jesus Christ.” Like those disciples, it might be worth being taken up the mountain so, that transformed, your children and grandchildren can come down the mountain and even more powerfully build up the Kingdom of God.