The Holy Family and Catholic Social Doctrine
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
The Advent and Christmas seasons are great times to reflect on the lives of the Holy Family and how they relate to God’s concern for the poor, justice, and human life.
Central to the Church is her concern for the poor and the marginalized. The Holy Family was most certainly poor, even by the standards of their time. The sacrifice offered at the presentation in the temple was one prescribed for poor people. Nazareth and Bethlehem were not centers of wealth. Our God’s closeness to the poor is also expressed by the fact that our Lord was born in a stable.
The infancy narratives contain other examples of the Holy Family’s lowliness and marginalization, as well as special concern for justice. Mary’s Magnificat praises God because he exalts those of low degree, fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich away empty. They lived in a conquered nation subject to the whims of the often brutal Roman empire. They were Jews in a pagan world. They were homeless, with no room at the inn. Jesus’ first visitors were shepherds, who at that time were considered dirty outcasts.
Mary and Joseph most likely experienced first-hand what it is like to be subjected to ridicule and rejection. We know in hindsight the circumstances of Jesus’ conception, as did Mary and Joseph. Those around them, however, probably saw only a girl who conceived out-of-wedlock and a man who was willing to bring shame on himself by marrying this “fallen” girl. Although they committed no sin, we can be assured that they hear the prayers and feel the pain of those ostracized and feeling alone.
The innate dignity of all human persons is, of course, brought forth in the lives of Mary and Joseph, but it can also be seen in others in the infancy narratives. We live in a society that often marginalizes the old. At Jesus’ presentation in the temple we see the prophetess Anna. Working from Luke’s text, some scholars conclude that she might have been 105 years old. Elizabeth and Zachariah were old, at least beyond child-bearing years. Yet God answers their prayersand they conceived John the Baptist.
John the Baptist’s story demonstrates the dignity of the human person at the other end of the spectrum. When Mary, bearing Jesus, visits Elizabeth the babe “leaped in her womb” and she was filled with the Holy Spirit. Note to abortion advocates: clumps of tissue do not leap or receive the Holy Spirit.
After Jesus’ birth, the Holy Family again experiences some of the same pains and trials experienced by people today. Like refugees fleeing places like Syria and Somalia, the Holy Family was forced to leave their homeland for Egypt. They became immigrants, aliens in an strange land. The massacre of the children by Herod’s men that followed should remind us of the children today who are killed by war, terrorism, and abortion.
We usually gloss over these facts when remembering Christmas. Our Christmas cards and nativity scenes present an ideal pastoral image rather than the aesthetic ugliness of poverty. We sanitize the portrayal so we are left only with the Holy Family’s humility. They truly were humble, but their humility and faithfulness should not cause us to lose sight of their plight. Nor should we twist the scriptures to conclude that because Mary and Joseph did not complain the poor should “buck up” and accept what is dealt them. On the contrary, because Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were poor, we need to help the poor. Because they were immigrants, we need to welcome the immigrant. Because they were human persons, we should protect and embrace all human life.
The faithful of the state of North Dakota are invited to pray a Novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 4 – 12. On December 11, the eve of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the North Dakota Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that could determine the fate of North Dakota’s pro-life laws. Abortion proponents are asking the court to find that the North Dakota Constitution provides a “fundamental right” to abortion. If the court agrees, all of the state’s laws to protect life, family involvement, and women’s health would be in jeopardy. Please join us as we implore the intercession of the Patroness of Unborn Children to protect our current state laws and pray for all those involved with this court case.
NOVENA TO OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE
Virgin of Guadalupe, Patroness of unborn children, we implore your intercession for every child at risk of abortion.
Help expectant parents to welcome from God, the priceless gift of their child’s life. Console parents who have lost that gift through abortion,
and lead them to forgiveness and healing through the Divine Mercy of your Son. Teach us to cherish and to care for family and friends
until God calls them home. Help us never to see others as burdens. Guide our public officials to defend each and every human life through just laws.
Inspire us all to bring our faith into public life, to speak for those who have no voice.
We ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, who is Love and Mercy itself. Amen.
Pope Francis is leading the world to deeper faith, and the U.S. bishops look forward to sharing his words in their dioceses, said the chairman of the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, Wisconsin, welcomed the release of Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), the pope’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation to 2012’s Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization.
“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day,” Pope Francis wrote in the opening of the document. The pope presented the exhortation over the weekend in Rome, at events commemorating the end of the Year of Faith, which began October 11, 2012. It is the pope’s official response to the discussions held as part of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization, which occurred October 7-28, 2012, in the Vatican. Bishops from around the world gathered to discuss how the Catholic Church can renew the energy of Catholics, strengthen their faith and better share the Gospel with the rest of the world.
“Pope Francis is a living model of the New Evangelization,” said Bishop Ricken. “He is showing us how to live the Gospels and reach out to the world with what every person needs, a relationship with God. He is leading the world to deeper faith, and the bishops of the United States happily receive this exhortation with faith and look forward to sharing it in our dioceses.”
The Vatican has posted the exhortation online: www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium_en.html
USCCB has also made the exhortation available for order online: www.usccbpublishing.org/
The Synod of Bishops is an international gathering of Catholic bishops, convened every few years for discussion and to advise the pope on specific concerns related to the Church and the world. It was first convened by Pope Paul VI in 1967 and has subsequently met to discuss Scripture, the Eucharist, priesthood, the laity, pastoral circumstances in different regions of the world and other topics. Pope Francis has announced an Extraordinary Synod on Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization, to be held in October 2014, followed by an Ordinary Synod on the same topic in 2015.
Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, welcomed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today to hear arguments in the cases of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties. The U.S. government and the Hahn family, Mennonite owners of Conestoga Wood, a cabinet-making company, respectively, petitioned the Supreme Court to review these cases. The Court will consider the legality of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “preventive services” mandate, which requires virtually all employers to include female sterilization and all drugs and devices approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as contraceptives in their employee health care plans.
“The Supreme Court’s review of these cases highlights the importance of this conflict between the federal government and people seeking to practice their faith in daily life,” said Archbishop Lori. “We pray that the Supreme Court will find that the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protect everyone’s right to religious freedom. We are encouraged by the advances in the lower federal courts so far in cases involving family-owned companies as well as non-profit religious organizations. On behalf of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, I would like to thank all of the litigants—including those who run diocesan service ministries as well as the lay faithful who run closely-held businesses—for their courageous actions in seeking religious liberty in courts around the country.”
The HHS mandate requires family-owned businesses like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood to cover abortifacient and contraceptive drugs and devices in their employee health care plans, even if providing those particular items violates the religious beliefs of the individuals who own and operate the company. In a unanimous “Special Message” on the HHS mandate issued last month, the U.S. bishops reaffirmed their opposition to a mandate that “compels our faithful people in business to act against our teachings, failing to provide them any exemption at all.”
These cases are among at least 84 lawsuits filed by over 200 plaintiffs against the HHS mandate.
USCCB Committee on Migration Chairman urges approval of Temporary Protected Status for Philippine Citizens
Continued deportations would further destabilize the nation TPS would allow Philippine citizens to send remittances and aid in the recovery Half a million homes destroyed, thousands of casualties caused by Typhoon Haiyan
November 18, 2013 WASHINGTON—The chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration urged the Department of Homeland Security and the White House to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Philippine citizens residing in the United States in light of the devastation and disruption of living conditions caused recently by Typhoon Haiyan.
“Given the widespread loss of life and property caused by Typhoon Haiyan, in our view the Philippines warrants an immediate grant of TPS,” wrote Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, M.Sp.S., auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the Committee. “Although DHS can take other limited actions to assist this population, they are insufficient compared to the magnitude of this disaster.”
The USCCB has a long history of serving the Philippine community in the United States and abroad through Catholic Relief Services (CRS).
It is reported that about half a million people lost their homes, at least 4,460 deaths have been confirmed with more anticipated and 11.8 million people have been impacted, with 3.6 million in the direct line of the storm.
TPS allows citizens of the designated country to reside legally in the United States with work authorization. It is based in part by a determination that an earthquake or other natural disaster creates a substantial temporary disruption such that the deportation of that country citizens from the United States would further destabilize the nation or bring them harm.
“The designation of TPS would ensure that nationals of the country currently residing in the United States are able to work and to send remittances back to their families, thus helping aid the recovery,” Bishop Elizondo wrote. “It also would protect them from deportation to a nation that, for the time being, is unable to assist them in their reintegration.”
The full text of the letter addressed to Rand Beers, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Denis McDonough, chief of staff at The White House and to Secretary of State John Kerry, is available online at:
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a “Special Message” at the conclusion of their fall General Assembly, November 13, in Baltimore. USCCB regulations regarding statements and publications define a Special Message as a statement, only issued at general meetings, that the general membership considers appropriate in view of the circumstances at the time. The message was passed unanimously.
Full text of the Special Message follows:
Special Message from the Bishops of the United States
The bishops of this country have just concluded their traditional fall meeting in Baltimore and have spent time on issues important to them and their people: help to those suffering from Typhoon Haiyan; an update on the situation in Haiti; matters of worship and teaching; service to the poor; and comprehensive immigration reform. Among those priorities is the protection of religious freedom, especially as threatened by the HHS mandate.
Pope Francis has reminded us that “In the context of society, there is only one thing which the Church quite clearly demands: the freedom to proclaim the Gospel in its entirety, even when it runs counter to the world, even when it goes against the tide.”
We stand together as pastors charged with proclaiming the Gospel in its entirety. That Gospel calls us to feed the poor, heal the sick, and educate the young, and in so doing witness to our faith in its fullness. Our great ministries of service and our clergy, religious sisters and brothers, and lay faithful, especially those involved in Church apostolates, strive to answer this call every day, and the Constitution and the law protect our freedom to do so.
Yet with its coercive HHS mandate, the government is refusing to uphold its obligation to respect the rights of religious believers. Beginning in March 2012, in United for Religious Freedom, we identified three basic problems with the HHS mandate: it establishes a false architecture of religious liberty that excludes our ministries and so reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship; it compels our ministries to participate in providing employees with abortifacient drugs and devices, sterilization, and contraception, which violates our deeply-held beliefs; and it compels our faithful people in business to act against our teachings, failing to provide them any exemption at all.
Despite our repeated efforts to work and dialogue toward a solution, those problems remain. Not only does the mandate undermine our ministries’ ability to witness to our faith, which is their core mission, but the penalties it imposes also lay a great burden on those ministries, threatening their very ability to survive and to serve the many who rely on their care.
The current impasse is all the more frustrating because the Catholic Church has long been a leading provider of, and advocate for, accessible, life-affirming health care. We would have preferred to spend these recent past years working toward this shared goal instead of resisting this intrusion into our religious liberty. We have been forced to devote time and resources to a conflict we did not start nor seek.
As the government’s implementation of the mandate against us approaches, we bishops stand united in our resolve to resist this heavy burden and protect our religious freedom. Even as each bishop struggles to address the mandate, together we are striving to develop alternate avenues of response to this difficult situation. We seek to answer the Gospel call to serve our neighbors, meet our obligation to provide our people with just health insurance, protect our religious freedom, and not be coerced to violate our consciences. We remain grateful for the unity we share in this endeavor with Americans of all other faiths, and even with those of no faith at all. It is our hope that our ministries and lay faithful will be able to continue providing insurance in a manner consistent with the faith of our Church. We will continue our efforts in Congress and especially with the promising initiatives in the courts to protect the religious freedom that ensures our ability to fulfill the Gospel by serving the common good.
This resolve is particularly providential on this feast of the patroness of immigrants, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. She was a brave woman who brought the full vigor of her deep religious faith to the service of the sick, the poor, children, the elderly, and the immigrant. We count on her intercession, as united we obey the command of Jesus to serve the least of our brothers and sisters.