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  • The sorry state of our politics



    Teaching Constitutional Law for over 25 years can be hazardous to your (mental) health. The reason is that our U.S. Constitution articulates a certain vision of how our country should be run: the rule of law, separation of branches of government, limits on government powers, and the importance of individual rights like freedom of speech and religion, all of which our founders and framers thought would ensure a unified nation in the midst of racial, ethnic and religious diversity, "e pluribus unum." That, at any rate, is the theory. The actual practice can be quite another thing.

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  • Gifts given and received



    Gift-giving is much more of an art than a lot of us (mostly men?) suspect. Choosing the right gift for the right occasion isn't easy. You know how it works. When you have a gift you need to buy, you have a hard time finding anything to get excited about. Unless, of course, it's at least four times what you're able to spend. You end up doing the best you can, and hoping the person you're buying it for will like it better than you do. Every once in a while, though, you happen upon something you know without a doubt a person will love. (Usually, it's when you aren't looking for it.) Whatever it is, it's just the right size, or style, or color. Just seeing it makes you think of the person you're buying it for, and you can hardly wait to see them open it.

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  • Visitors from Chicago



    ''Renew My Church" is the Archdiocese of Chicago's multi-year planning process, announced some months ago by Archbishop Blaise Cupich. Recently, the Pastoral Center in Braintree was blessed by a week-long visit by three counter-parts from the Archdiocese of Chicago: Msgr. Richard Hynes, director of the Department of Parish Life and Formation; Father Jason Malave, co-chairman of the Priests' Steering Committee for "Renew My Church" and pastor of St. Benedict Parish, a parish with a kindergarten through grade 12 school; and Mr. Tim Weiske, director of Strategic Planning and Implementation. They came to learn about "Disciples in Mission" the Archdiocese of Boston's pastoral plan. The visit began early Monday morning when Msgr. Hynes, the first of the group to arrive, met with staff from offices of Lifelong Faith Formation and Parish Support, Evangelization, Institutional Advancement, Pastoral Planning, Parish Financial Services, and Real Estate. By Tuesday, all three members of the Chicago contingent were here. They attended the monthly Pastoral Center all-staff meeting and heard a presentation from the leadership team of the Salem Catholic Collaborative. More meetings with Pastoral Center staff followed.

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  • Mary in our increasingly secular world



    The month of May has been dedicated to the Virgin Mary for centuries -- so long, in fact, that the precise origin of this Catholic devotion is lost in the mists of time. Still, it is a fitting devotion during what is arguably the most beautiful and colorful month of the year in most of the Northern Hemisphere.

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  • Leicester's miracle



    We're still in the merry month of May. There's miles to go. 2016 could be the year. Promise rises sharply at such wayward outposts as Chicago's north side and even tired old Cleveland. Might we (gulp) have a Stanley Cup landing in San Jose? It's possible. Ponder that for a nano-second. And one of these eons, Jacksonville may win a Super Bowl, while the dish runs away with the spoon. The Age of Miracles hasn't entirely passed, hard as that notion may be to hold dear if you hale from Buffalo.

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  • Intolerance and evangelization



    Cardinal Robert Sarah is one of the adornments of the Catholic Church, although it's very unlikely that this man of faith, humor, intelligence, and profound humility would appreciate my putting it that way. His 2015 book, God or Nothing, is selling all over the world, currently available in twelve languages with more to come. The book tells his story, that of a contemporary confessor of the faith who accepted episcopal ordination knowing that he might well be killed for his witness to Christ by the madcap Marxist dictator who then ran his West African country, Guinea. But the point of God or Nothing is not to advertise the virtues of Robert Sarah: the book is an invitation to faith, addressed to everyone, but with special urgency to those parts of the world dying from a suffocating indifference to the things of the spirit.

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  • Why "Last Days in the Desert" is so boring



    With his latest film, Last Days in the Desert, Rodrigo Garcia has accomplished something truly remarkable. He has taken a portion of the life of the single most compelling person who has ever lived and turned it into a colossally boring movie. As I watched Last Days in the Desert, I was reminded of many films that I saw in Paris as a doctoral student: lots of uninterrupted shots of natural scenes, many views of people walking around and saying nothing, endless close-ups of serious faces looking blankly into the middle distance. At times I thought that all of this meditative build-up would result in a spectacular payoff, but no--just more walking around and looking.

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  • Faith and Fear



    A common soldier dies without fear, yet Jesus died afraid. Iris Murdoch wrote this and that truth can be somewhat disconcerting. Why? If someone dies with deep faith, shouldn't he or she die within a certain calm and trust drawn from that faith? Wouldn't the opposite seem more logical, that is, if someone dies without faith shouldn't he or she die with more fear? And perhaps the most confusing of all: Why did Jesus, the paragon of faith, die afraid, crying out in a pain that can seem like a loss of faith?

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  • Actions on global warming



    Q. Pope Francis published his encyclical on global warming in June 2015. What actions has the church initiated to put his recommendations into effect? Are we waiting for more guidance from the Holy Father, or should we be looking for something from our bishops and priests? (Centertown, Missouri)

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  • Hunger Chopped



    Recently, Pew Research released their data about the shrinking middle class in Massachusetts. Pew, that defines middle-income households as those having three people and an annual income between about $42,000 to $125,000, adjusted for the cost of living in a metro area and the number of household members.

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  • Conquering our fears



    Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The center said the overall suicide rate rose 24 percent from 1999 to 2014. What is most disturbing is the steep rise of suicides in women and among middle-aged Americans.

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  • A cheerful disposition in adversity



    In this post-Pentecost season, it is important to remember some lessons from Jesus: love, pray, go, teach. After his ascension, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to us. He wanted to spread his message to the world. He chose the Jewish festival of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, to send his Holy Spirit to us. The Hebrew spring festival was about giving thanks for harvested crops. For us, it's about saving souls. Love and salvation bring joy to the soul. We are called to joyfully announce that Jesus is Lord. And to do that, we must put on the will to be a cheerful person.

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  • Ordination, vocations, and plan writing



    Phase III collaboratives have started down the road of Local Pastoral Plan (LPP) writing. Six kick off meetings, held across the archdiocese in mid-April, introduced collaborative staffs and Plan Writing Teams to what lies ahead. Part pep rally, part infomercial, the three-hour meetings explored the difference between maintenance-driven and mission-driven ministry. Discussion included a look at requirements for success, the four disciplines of a healthy, vibrant collaborative, and the elements of a LPP. All of this must be rooted in prayer and aligned with the vision of the universal Church and the Church in Boston.

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  • Chicago's Cubbies



    In a season widely conceded to them back around the end of last year, the Chicago Cubs are somehow exceeding expectations. That's no mean achievement, especially for a luckless and, more often than not, lackluster outfit which has won nothing in 108 years. Which is, of course, precisely the point.

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  • Youth Today -- Who are They Really?



    A seminarian I know recently went to a party on a Friday evening at a local university campus. The group was a crowd of young, college students and when he was introduced as a seminarian, as someone who was trying to become a priest and who had taken a vow of celibacy, the mention of celibacy evoked some giggles in the room, some banter, and a number of jokes about how much he must be missing out on in life. Poor, na´ve fellow! Initially, within this group of millenniums, his religious beliefs and what this had led to in his life was regarded as something between amusing and pitiful. But, before the evening was out, several young women had come, cried on his shoulder, and shared about their frustration with their boyfriends' inability to commit fully to their relationship.

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  • Biblical preaching and healing the culture



    If Catholics in the United States are going to be healers of our wounded culture, we're going to have to learn to see the world through lenses ground by biblical faith. That form of depth perception only comes from an immersion in the Bible itself. So spending ten or fifteen minutes a day with the word of God is a must for the evangelical Catholic of the twenty-first century.

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  • Parish as dictatorship



    Q. Could you explain to me why Catholic parishes are run as dictatorships and are not democratic? Priests who act as dictators are driving young people to go to non-Catholic services or to quit altogether. Priests are 9-to-5 employees who do not earn their salary; if they were in the real world, many of them would be fired.

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  • Embryos and the '14-Day Rule'



    Arguments in favor of research on human embryos typically play off our unfamiliarity with the way that we ourselves once appeared and existed as embryos. Humans in their tiniest stages are indeed unfamiliar to us, and they hardly look anything like "one of us." Yet the undeniable conclusion, that every one of us was once an embryo, remains an indisputable scientific dogma, causing a "fingernails on the chalkboard" phenomenon for researchers every time they choose to experiment on embryos or destroy them for research.

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  • Educating the little ones



    Catholic elementary schools frequently come to mind when people mention Catholic education. The Catholic school with kindergarteners through 8th graders is very common in the United States and, according to the National Catholic Educational Association, there are more K-8th grade schools than any other type of Catholic school in the United States.

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  • Veni Sancte Spiritus



    The words of the Pentecost Gospel Sequence are ancient; we've been singing them for 1,000 years. Because we only hear it once a year -- and some of us do not hear it at all -- I offer this extended meditation, and ask God to fill each and all of us once again with his Holy Spirit.Come, Holy Spirit, come! Fulfill the promise of Jesus in our lives! Come, and do not leave us to our own devices. From your celestial home shed a ray of light divine! Lord, the world is dark, and our hearts too often embrace that darkness. We are blind without your light. Illumine us with your truth and love.

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  • Religious education / faith formation



    So important is faith formation in the life of each Catholic and the whole Church, that it could be the topic of Disciples in Mission columns for months. Phase I, II, and III Collaboratives reflect the broad range of approaches to parish faith formation. Some models may seem drastic, others look familiar but with slight tweaks. We close this series -- for now -- with a snapshot of two Phase I collaboratives: Belmont and Billerica.

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  • Nobody asked



    As we attempt now and again, it's time for a "Nobody Asked Me" sort of column with a deferential nod as well as apologies to the late, great Jimmy Cannon, the legendary New York sporting scribe and stylist who not only devised but perfected the trick. No doubt while hanging out with Joe D at Toots Shor's. Those were the days.

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  • Celebrating, but not too much



    A few days ago, I was asked to "celebrate" lupus, the disabling disease that I have been living with for more than 15 years. The invitation came in an email, and close on its heels came one inviting me to "celebrate celiac disease." Before I could check my calendar, in came "celebrate spring!" and "celebrate pet adoption month!"

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  • Assisted suicide



    Q. Two years ago, my daughter was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. We understand that the disease is considered terminal but pray for a healing. Two of her friends died of cancer, so she has witnessed firsthand the stages of dying and the profound sadness which that leaves in its wake. Based on those experiences, my daughter has said more than once that, when her own death draws near, assisted suicide is her wish. (And her husband has promised her that he will comply.)

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  • The latest addition to the culture war



    Although the wave of battles now underway in several parts of the country over religious freedom laws and LGBT rights may come as a surprise to some people, it shouldn't. At least since last year's Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, and probably longer than that, it's been clear that something like this was bound to happen.

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  • The Fire of God's Mercy



    During this extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, it's easy to focus on the mercy of God the Father. After all, the motto of this Jubilee is "Merciful like the Father" and perhaps the greatest illustration of God's mercy -- besides Calvary -- is the love of the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

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  • Berrigan and Non-Violence



    Last week Fr. Daniel Berrigan, S.J. passed away at the age of 94. Though many younger Catholics might not remember him, Fr. Berrigan was one of the most provocative and controversial religious figures of his time. Standing in the tradition of principled non-violence proposed by Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and others, Berrigan led the charge against America's involvement in the Vietnam conflict and its on-going participation in the Cold War and the nuclear arms race. He was most famous, of course, for his leadership of the "Catonsville Nine," a group of protestors who, in the spring of 1968, broke into a building and burned draft records with homemade napalm. To say that he was, during that tumultuous time in American history, a polarizing figure would be an understatement.

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  • The Ten Commandments of Mercy



    Among the Ten Commandments, one begins with the word "remember": Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day". It reminds us to recall something we already know. There are commandments of mercy written into our very DNA. We already know them, but we need to remember them more explicitly. What are they?

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  • Now what?



    Two days after that circular firing-squad known as the "Republican primaries" came to a de facto conclusion on the banks of the Wabash, the Wall Street Journal had this to say: "A plurality of GOP voters has rejected the strongest presidential field in memory to elevate a businessman with few fixed convictions and little policy knowledge" to Republican nominee-presumptive, a man "who has the highest disapproval ratings in the history of presidential polling....Mr. Trump wasn't our first choice, or even the 15th, but the reality is that more GOP voters preferred him to the alternatives. Dozens of miscalculations made his hostile takeover possible, not least the decisions by other candidates in the early primary states to attack each other instead of Mr. Trump....Yet GOP voters made the ultimate decision, and that deserves some respect unless we're going to give up on democracy."

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  • The president we deserve



    ''Donald Trump is manifestly unfit to be president of the United States. His campaign has already driven our politics down to new levels of vulgarity"-- Robert P. George and George Weigel, "Appeal to Our Fellow Catholics."

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  • Dorothy Day: Not your off-the-shelf saint



    The word on the "Catholic Street" is that Dorothy Day is being fast-tracked to sainthood. Pope Francis, who shows no fear of controversy, strongly indicates his admiration for her. When the pope spoke before the U.S. Congress last September, he singled out four Americans, or what he called "the Fantastic Four," for special praise: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day.

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  • Faith formation in collaboratives -- two new models



    The Catholic Community of Gloucester-Rockport discontinued their classroom model of youth faith formation-religious education. The pastor, Father Jim Achadinha, reports, "We are currently focusing our energies on strengthening our sacramental preparation programs; and on reminding our parishioners about these timeless truths: Mass is our class! Jesus is our teacher!" The collaborative has begun "a Mass for Families celebrated on different weekends, each with a different theme." They formally invite all young families to these Masses. To date, Father Jim has personally signed and sent over 500 letters of invitation, followed by an electronic message. He says, "Although this process is time-consuming, it has yielded much fruit in the form of dozens of children and their parents at Sunday Mass!"

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  • Reflections of a mom



    When students and professionals, men or women, have sought my advice on careers, one key point I mention is to not give up family for work. As Mother's Day arrives, let me share my experience. Our sons are now grown. Ryan is a young clinical professor of medicine specializing in geriatrics, and Justin seeks his way to make God real and lives holy in a secular culture through the path of graduate theological studies. These choices emanate from a strong faith, the desire to touch, heal and minister, and discipline that hones natural gifts into skills.

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  • A tip of the hat to former seminarians



    Soon after my grandson turned 11, I said to him, "Well, in three years you can move away from home." He looked at me. "That's what I did," I said. He turned to his mom. "Really?" he asked since he knew his grandfather can be one who stretches the truth. "Really," she said. "A boarding school," I said.

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  • These three remain



    Basketball So, we don't have the Celtics to kick around anymore this spring. But they'll be back on the firing line in a half dozen weeks with a gaggle of draft picks; one of which with any luck should be among the vaunted top-three, plus lots of pad in their salary cap with which to accommodate a premium free-agent, presuming one -- for a change -- would be actually willing to play in Our Town.

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  • Shakespeare and the Fading of the Catholic World



    Last week the world marked the 400th anniversary of the death of the greatest writer in the English language and one of the three or four most significant artists the human race has produced. William Shakespeare simply contains so much. In the manner of Dante, Homer, Michelangelo, James Joyce, and Aquinas, he seems to encompass the whole: every texture of feeling, every nuance of thought, the tragedy of sin, the most exquisite longings of the soul, the most confounding confusions, heaven, hell, and everything in between.

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  • Unrequested religious mailings



    Q. I receive, on a daily basis, mailings from multiple religious organizations requesting monetary help. Often they include address labels, holy pictures, prayers cards, etc. I feel guilty just trashing them, so I collect them and when the pile gets big, I mail it to one of the organizations, hoping that they will know how to dispose of them. But this gets costly and, as a senior citizen, I have a limited income. Please let me know what I can do. (Cranbury, New Jersey)

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  • Good Catholics, good citizens



    The Catholic love affair with the United States of America is heading into rough and uncharted waters -- and not only in this 2016 election cycle, but for the foreseeable future. U.S. Catholics have, in a sense, been there and done that, given that the history of the Church in this country includes fending off anti-Catholic bigots like the 18th-century Know Nothing Party (about which 99% of Catholics today know nothing) and the late-19th century American Protective Association (another puzzler, these days, in Catholic Jeopardy). But there's something different about today's turbulence. Identifying that difference, understanding it, and knowing how to respond to it are all imperative if we're to navigate these troubled waters in such a way as to advance the New Evangelization and give our country a new birth of freedom, rightly understood.

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  • On 'aging gracefully'



    It seems odd, even a bit repulsive, when we encounter tales of elderly men running after women who are young enough to be their granddaughters. The wheelchair-bound billionaire oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall was 89 years old when he married the 26 year old Anna Nicole Smith. He had met the Playboy model and reality TV star in a strip club. Anna insisted that she really did love the old man, and wasn't in it for the money.

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  • Why the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide unite us today



    On April 23, in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, an historic event took place. There have been ecumenical services commemorating the Armenian Genocide before and that is good; this one was unique in the way we brought the message of the Holy Father Pope Francis to the Armenian people to life on the local level here in Boston. It was also a welcoming, an opening of our church, our house, to our Armenian brothers and sisters in Christ.

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  • Mercy in the mess



    This year, our Lent started early. And, five weeks after Easter, it isn't over yet. It's been four months since our house caught on fire, and no, we're not back home yet. In fact, the reconstruction work has only just now begun.

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  • Through the eyes of another person



    Recently, I listened to Junlei Li, of the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media, speak about his work with children. He spoke to our advisory board at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. I wondered what seeing the world through a child's eyes would be like. The question struck me as we viewed a video of captivated children working with electrical conductors.

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  • Accepting what God has chosen for us



    I've explained to God that he might want to rethink this free-will business. Yes, my generation can handle it, but those young people may not be able to handle it. "It seems to me," I've told him, "it's just too much responsibility and freedom for them." Apparently God disagrees.

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  • Greetings en route to Communion



    Q. Something's been going on for a while in our church. I've never said anything to anyone about it, but I do find it annoying. I was raised to believe that the moments right before, during and after holy Communion are a sacred time because we encounter Christ in a special way.

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  • Collaborative look at faith formation



    Celebration of the Mass and sacraments is the most important thing that takes place in every parish -- collaborative or not. Other sacred responsibilities include practicing the Works of Mercy, helping adults deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ, fostering discipleship, and passing on the faith to children, youth, and young adults. The Code of Canon Law says: "The Church has in a special way the duty and the right of educating, for it has a divine mission of helping all to arrive at the fullness of Christian life." (Can 794.1)

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  • April Ball



    One has long disdained here the rush to judgment that obsesses that American subspecies lovingly known as "the baseball fan". The indictment covers the idiotic pre-season predictions of the not so very learned jock media, an annual exercise in pure nonsense from which they never learn. It even more harshly calls to task the bird-brains of Talk Radio who become apoplectic when the illustrious Home Team gets shelled in the home-opener. But then there's little or no hope for that crowd.

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