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The Church & The Poor by Fr. Henri Nouwen

Like every human organization the Church is constantly in danger of corruption. As soon as power and wealth come to the Church, manipulation, exploitation, misuse of influence, and outright corruption are not far away.

How do we prevent corruption in the Church? The answer is clear: by focusing on the poor. The poor make the Church faithful to its vocation. When the Church is no longer a church for the poor, it loses its spiritual identity. It gets caught up in disagreements, jealousy, power games, and pettiness. Paul says, “God has composed the body so that greater dignity is given to the parts which were without it, and so that there may not be disagreements inside the body but each part may be equally concerned for all the others” (1 Corinthians 12:24-25). This is the true vision. The poor are given to the Church so that the Church as the body of Christ can be and remain a place of mutual concern, love, and peace.

Pope B16 Canonized Marianne Cope last Sunday.

In his homily, the Pope said about St. Marianne Cope, known as the “Angel of the Lepers:”

“I now turn to Marianne Cope, born in 1838 in Heppenheim, Germany. Only one year old when taken to the United States, in 1862 she entered the Third Order Regular of Saint Francis at Syracuse, New York.

Later, as Superior General of her congregation, Mother Marianne willingly embraced a call to care for the lepers of Hawaii after many others had refused.  [“Initially, Mother Marianne only intended to help the six volunteer sisters to settle down in the mission.  Deeply touched by the plight of those with Hansen’s disease (then know as Leprosy), she chose instead to remain with them.”]*

She personally went, with six of her fellow sisters, to manage a hospital on Oahu, later founding Malulani Hospital on Maui and opening a home for girls whose parents were lepers.

Five years after that she accepted the invitation to open a home for women and girls on the island of Molokai itself, bravely going there herself and effectively ending her contact with the outside world. [“Mother Marianne served the lepers for 30 years; in her freely chosen exile, she provided a safe, loving home for the social outcasts.”]*

There she looked after Father Damien, already famous for his heroic work among the lepers, nursed him as he died and took over his work among male lepers. At a time when little could be done for those suffering from this terrible disease, Marianne Cope showed the highest love, courage and enthusiasm.

She is a shining and energetic example of the best of the tradition of Catholic nursing sisters and of the spirit of her beloved Saint Francis.” Pope Benedict XVI

*The canonization biography prepared by the Office for Papal Celebration for the canonization ceremony adds the following, “With deep maternal concern, Mother Marianne promised her sisters that none of them would contract leprosy from their patients – and none have to this day.”


“Brother” Joseph helper of Molokai

“A Servant of the Lepers”: Brother Joseph of Molokai

A Civil War veteran, a reformed drunkard, a rich man, a penitent: an inspiring story of love, hope, and joy.


By Pat McNamara

In late July 1886, a ship pulled into Molokai, Hawaii’s leper colony. Father Damien de Veuster always greeted the newcomers, usually lepers seeking refuge and comfort. But one passenger stood out, a tall man in a blue denim suit. He wasn’t a leper; he was Joseph Dutton, and at age 43 he came to help Father Damien. The priest warned he couldn’t pay anything, but Dutton didn’t care. He would spend forty-five years on Molokai, remaining long after the priest’s death of leprosy in 1889.

Joseph’s journey to Molokai was full of twists and turns. Born Ira Barnes Dutton in Vermont on April 27, 1843, he grew up in a thoroughly Protestant setting. By age 18, he was teaching Sunday school in Wisconsin and working in a bookstore, when the Civil War broke out. It was an exciting time, he recalled: “streets lined with cheering crowds, bands playing, flags flying.” He enlisted in September 1861, and for the next four years he served with the 13th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment.

Although the regiment saw little fighting during the war, Ira showed leadership and administrative skills, reaching the rank of Captain. As quartermaster, one fellow officer remembered him as having “a rare gift for business.” He liked army life, and he considered it as a career, but military downsizing meant few commissions. Discharged in 1866, he spent the next two decades in a variety of jobs.

He married a woman he met during the war. It proved to be tragic, “one of those things I have tried to forget” (he never mentioned her name). Friends warned of her reputation for infidelity, but Ira had hoped to change her. A shopaholic who left him broke, she soon ran off with another man. Dutton seemed to hope she might return; he didn’t file divorce papers until 1881.

After the war, he worked in cemeteries. He then oversaw a distillery in Alabama before working in Memphis on the railroads. In 1875, he joined the War Department settling claims against the government.

Successful in every field, he was nevertheless a functioning alcoholic. In the day, he was a solid citizen, but he spent his evenings with “John Barleycorn,” although “I never injured anyone but myself.”

Increasingly ashamed of this double life, in 1876 he vowed never to drink again, remaining sober until his death. He also experienced a spiritual transformation. While he fell away from religion during the war, he became interested in Catholicism through the influence of Catholic friends. After studying the catechism for a month, he was received into the Catholic Church on April 27, 1883, his 40th birthday. He changed his name to Joseph, his favorite saint, retired from the government, and began a “new life.”

Wanting to do penance for his “wild years” and “sinful capers,” Joseph set out for Our Lady of Gethsemani Monastery, Kentucky. Founded in 1848, he had earlier visited the place in connection with his government work. Now he resolved to do “penance for the rest of my years.” After twenty months, he concluded that his life should be one of penitent action rather than contemplation. Still, he wrote, it was “what I needed at the time.” (He remained lifelong friends with the Trappist monks, remembering them in his will.)

It was only after reading about Father Damien that he found his “real vocation”:

The work attracted me wonderfully. After weighing it for a while I became convinced that it would suit my wants—for labor, for a penitential life, and for seclusion as well as complete separation from scenes of all past experiences. It seems a mere accident that I ever heard of this place, and it might never have happened again.

His motive was not to hide from the world, but “to do some good for my neighbor and at the same time make it my penitentiary in doing penance for my sins and errors.” From San Francisco, he sailed for Molokai in the summer of 1886.

With two pensions, Joseph had saved a good deal of money. (At Molokai, he would donate some $10,000.) He served as administrator, carpenter, and repairman; he bandaged wounds; he coached baseball; he comforted the sick and the dying. “Every day,” one biographer writes, “he marveled more and more at the courage he saw around him—bravery, he often said, much greater than in the war he had been through.” He made a difference. Before his death in 1889, Father Damien said: “I can die now. Brother Joseph will take care of my orphans.”

Although he never took religious vows, Dutton was known as “Brother Joseph,” a “brother to everybody.” On Molokai he found real peace and joy. One peer recalled: “Dutton had a divine temper; nothing could ruffle it.” At 83, Joseph wrote: “I am ashamed to think that I am inclined to be jolly. Often think we don’t know that our Lord ever laughed, and here my laugh is ready to burst out any minute.”

He never left Molokai; he never wanted to. “Seek a vacation?” he asked. “Anything else would be slavery . . . The people here like me, I think, and I am sure I like them.” He added: “I would not leave my lepers for all the money the world might have.” The one exception was in 1917, when the 74-year-old patriot tried “to buckle on my sword-belt again” and re-enlist. His application was rejected, but he wasn’t heart-broken.

Before his death on March 26, 1931, he said: “It has been a happy place—a happy life.” It had been a restless life until he found happiness among the lepers of Molokai. At the time of his death, the Jesuit magazine America noted: “Virtue is never so attractive as when we see it in action. It has a power to believe that we too can rise up above this fallen nature of ours to a fellowship with the saints.”

Read more from the Patheos Year of Faith series here.

Father Richard Rohr, OFM


Rudolph Otto in his book The Idea of the Holy says that when someone has an authentic experience of the Holy, they find themselves caught up in two opposite movements at the same time: the mysterium tremendumand the mysterium fascinosum, a scary mystery and a very alluring mystery. We both draw back from and are pulled forward into a kind of liminal space where we are not at home at all and yet totally at home for perhaps the first time.

In the mysterium tremendum, you know God as far and beyond—unreachable and beyond description! Here you experience God as dreadful and fearful, as the one who has all the power, and in whose presence I am utterly powerless. People at that stage tend to become overwhelmed by a sense of separation or alienation. If you stop there, you either become an atheist, an agnostic, or a loyal but distant soldier. The defining of sin and sin management becomes the very nature of religion.

But simultaneously with this dimension is an opposite feeling of fascination, allurement, and seduction, a being pulled and drawn into something very satisfying and inviting. This is the mysterium fascinosum. If you only have the alluring part without the deep reverence for this mystery, you get merely sentimental and emotional religion, usually without any real social consequences (“Sweet Jesus” Christianity, as it is sometimes called). Otto says if you don’t have both, you have not had a true or full experience of “The Holy.”

Loving the Church

Loving the Church often seems close to impossible.  Still, we must keep reminding ourselves that all people in the Church – whether powerful or powerless,  conservative or progressive, tolerant or fanatic – belong to that long line of witnesses moving through this valley of tears, singing songs of praise and thanksgiving, listening to the voice of their Lord, and eating together from the bread that keeps multiplying as it is shared.  When we remember that, we may be able to say,  “I love the Church, and I am glad to belong to it.”


Loving the Church is our sacred duty.   Without a true love for the Church, we cannot live in it in joy and peace.  And without a true love for the Church, we cannot call people to it.


The Garden of the Saints


The Church is a very human organization but also the garden of God’s grace. It is a place where great sanctity keeps blooming.  Saints are people who make the living Christ visible to us in a special way.  Some saints have given their lives in the service of Christ and his Church; others have spoken and written words that keep nurturing us; some have lived heroically in difficult situations; others have remained hidden in quiet lives of prayer and meditation; some were prophetic voices calling for renewal; others were spiritual strategists setting up large organizations or networks of people; some were healthy and strong; others were quite sick, and often anxious and insecure.


But all of them in their own ways lived in the Church as in a garden where they heard the voice calling them the Beloved and where they found the courage to make Jesus the center of their lives.


Native American Canonized Saint October 21, 2012

Native Americans feel ‘pulled up’ by Blessed Kateri becoming a saint
Catholic News Service

LA CROSSE, Wis. (CNS) — Since 1997, Eleanor St. John has lived for the day when one of her greatest heroes would be recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church — Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.

That year St. John attended her first Tekakwitha Conference, named for the young maiden known as the “Lily of the Mohawks.”

Blessed Kateri, the daughter of a Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father in upstate New York, will be canonized Oct. 21 at the Vatican by Pope Benedict XVI, along with several others. She will become the first Native American saint.

“Immediately after the announcement last December that she would be canonized,” St. John said, “Mass was being celebrated all over the country in celebration. People were crying in gratitude and joy. It makes me a little teary-eyed.”
A parishioner at St. Joseph the Workman Cathedral in La Crosse, St. John is a member of the Winnebago tribe of Nebraska. She and other pilgrims from the diocese were heading to Rome for the canonization.

“I know she’s the patroness of the environment and ecology, but I call her the saint of Native Americans,” she told The Catholic Times, La Crosse’s diocesan newspaper, in an interview before her departure. “We love her and are so happy she is put up in this different realm because of her sainthood.

“We feel pulled up with it because there’s so much emotion in the history of the different tribes throughout the United States that they’ve had to suffer and go through as the U.S. developed.”

In her own life, St. John said, that Blessed Kateri has inspired a greater love for Jesus and his sacrifice for the world.

“I am definitely encouraged by the faith that she had and her aspiration to be with Jesus and working for him,” she said. “She had a strong devotion to the cross and the suffering Christ made on the cross. I also encourage my daughters to think of her as a role model to help them stay pure and focused on the cross.”

Barbara Swieciak, assistant to La Crosse Bishop William P. Callahan, was also heading to Rome, for the celebration.

A consecrated virgin since 1984, Swieciak said that about 30 years ago she first became acquainted with the Kateri as she was preparing to take her own vows of perpetual virginity. She was encouraged by her spiritual adviser at the time — then-Father Raymond L. Burke — to research the lives of famous virgins, like Kateri. (Cardinal Burke is currently prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature; he’s a former bishop of La Cross and archbishop of St. Louis.)

Blessed Kateri took a private vow of virginity and devoted herself to prayer and to teaching prayers to the children and helping the sick and elderly.

For her own vocation, Swieciak said, Blessed Kateri’s canonization will make more visible to the world the sort of courage necessary in a world that doesn’t particularly prize purity.

“In her own life,” she said, “Kateri would live a life of purity in the midst of being taunted. She would be walking down the path to the fields, to the chapel or to gather fire wood, and people from the village would throw mud or stones at her, taunting her, ‘Christian, go away!’ Yet she lived among them, treating them with gentleness and faithfulness.”

As a saint, Swieciak said, Blessed Kateri will serve as a more visible role model for consecrated virgins around the country.

“Kateri valued her virginity and the purity of heart for God alone,” she said. “She also valued spending her day in prayer. She’s an example of contemplative prayer though she wasn’t taught it by anyone. It was the power of the Holy Spirit and openness to grace. That was something the Jesuit missionaries were amazed at — what she knew because of the inpouring of the Holy Spirit.”

Because Kateri’s life was full of suffering that she gladly bore for Christ — at age 4 she was disfigured by small pox and her eyesight was impaired — Swieciak also sees in her hero a spiritual kinship.

“I learned from her fidelity when being misunderstood, her fidelity to the truth and the church,” she said. “I saw how many times the ways of the world tested her and her faithfulness through everything impressed me — whether people liked her or didn’t like her. There was a constancy in her life and people could count on her.”


O’Brien is a staff writer at The Catholic Times, newspaper of the La Crosse Diocese.

Public Witness & Catholic Citizenship

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. October 18, 2012

Public witness on issues of public concern is natural for Catholics because we have a commitment to the common good and to the dignity of each human person. Those two pillars — the common good and the dignity of every human person — come right out of Scripture. They underpin all of Catholic social thought.

That includes politics. Politics is where the competing moral visions of a society meet and struggle. And since a large majority of American citizens are religious believers, it makes sense for people and communities of faith to bring their faith into the public square.

As a result, if we believe that a particular issue is gravely evil and damaging to society, then we have a duty, not just a religious duty but also a democratic duty, to hold accountable the candidates who want to allow that evil. Failing to do so is an abuse of responsibility on our part, because that’s where we exercise our power as citizens most directly — in the voting booth.

The “separation of Church and state” can never mean that religious believers should be silent about legislative issues, the appointment of judges or public policy. It’s not the job of the Church to sponsor political candidates.But it’s very much the job of the Church to guide Catholics to think and act in accord with their faith.

So since this is an election year, here are a few simple points to remember as we move toward November.

1. “Catholic” is a word that has real meaning. We don’t control or invent that meaning as individuals. We inherit it from the Gospel and the experience of the Church over the centuries. If we choose to call ourselves Catholic, then that word has consequences for what we believe and how we act. We can’t truthfully call ourselves “Catholic” and then behave as if we’re not.

2. Being a Catholic is a bit like being married. We have a relationship with the Church and with Jesus Christ that’s similar to being a spouse. If a man says he loves his wife, his wife will want to see the evidence in his fidelity. The same applies to our relationship with God.

If we say we’re Catholic, we need to show that by our love for the Church and our fidelity to what she teaches and believes. Otherwise we’re just fooling ourselves. God certainly won’t be fooled.

3. The Church is not a political organism. She has no interest in partisanship because getting power or running governments is not what she’s about, and the more closely she identifies herself with any single party, the fewer people she can effectively reach.

4. Scripture and Catholic teaching, however, do have public consequences because they guide us in how we should act in relation to one another. Again, Catholic social action, including political action, is a natural byproduct of the Church’s moral message. We can’t call ourselves Catholic, and then simply stand by while immigrants get mistreated, or the poor get robbed, or – even more fundamentally — unborn children get killed. If our faith is real, then it will bear fruit in our public decisions and behaviors, including our political choices.

5. Each of us needs to follow his or her own conscience. But conscience doesn’t emerge miraculously from a vacuum. The way we get a healthy conscience is by submitting it to God’s will; and the way we find God’s will is by listening to the counsel of the Church and trying honestly to live in accord with her guidance.

If we find ourselves frequently disagreeing, as Catholics, with the teaching of our own Church on serious matters, then it’s probably not the Church that’s wrong. The problem is much more likely with us.

In the end, the heart of truly faithful citizenship is this: We’re better citizens when we’re more faithful Catholics. The more authentically Catholic we are in our lives, choices, actions and convictions, the more truly we will contribute to the moral and political life of our nation.

Father Henri Nouwen, “The Church”



Over the centuries the Church has done enough to make any critical person want to leave it.  Its history of violent crusades, pogroms, power struggles, oppression, excommunications, executions, manipulation of people and ideas, and constantly recurring divisions is there for everyone to see and be appalled by.


Can we believe that this is the same Church that carries in its center the Word of God and the sacraments of God’s healing love?  Can we trust that in the midst of all its human brokenness the Church presents the broken body of Christ to the world as food for eternal life?  Can we acknowledge that where sin is abundant grace is superabundant, and that where promises are broken over and again God’s promise stands unshaken?   To believe is to answer yes to these questions.


A Year of Faith Proclaimed

Pope Benedict XVI has proclaimed a Year of Faith to awaken Catholics around the world to deepen our relationship with God and live as joyful witnesses to the Gospel.

From October 11, 2012, to November 24, 2013, we are called to prayer, study, outreach, and evangelization so that the name of Jesus Christ will be known and loved throughout the world.  The beginning of this special year coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and the twentieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Please join with all members of the Church.

Prayer for the Year of Faith

Heavenly Father, you give us the gift of faith to know and believe all you reveal through your Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  May we live by these divine truths as members of the Holy Catholic Church and proclaim them joyfully to others with the witness of our lives.  Through Christ our Lord. Amen.