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  • 'Tis the season for traditions



    At a time when tracing your ancestry, delving into your cultural identity, and even testing your DNA are popular, Christians could take a moment this season to look back at their own traditions. Over the centuries fashion has shaped Christmas. White lights, colored lights, cranberry chains, a crib for the animals, or city sparkling glamour and glitz. There are many choices for how to celebrate the coming of Christ according to our talents and family tastes. If grandma baked yeast bread, called "potecia," rolled with filberts, and raisins, we don't want to lose the recipe or the technique. Europeans, east and west, and north and south, have their own tantalizing recipes for cookies and pastries baked this time of year.

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  • Joy from the inside out



    The crunch is upon us! Christmas is near, and there is too little time, too much to do and still more to come. We're supposed to shout, "Joy to the world!" but the actual feeling of joy might seem quite distant or exhausting, forced, like a photographer's insistence that we "smile" when we really don't feel like it.

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  • Advent meditation: Joy during life's struggles and sorrows



    Rejoice always! Those words from St. Paul in Thessalonians reverberate through the ages, through prayer and song. Again, I say rejoice. This Advent, we take time to pray with St. Paul, one of history's most compelling figures. A focused and intense man, he dedicated himself to persecuting followers of Jesus. Then, after a dramatic encounter on a journey to Damascus left him blinded and dazed, St. Paul changed course entirely.

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  • Remembering incredible, often forgotten journeys



    A few weeks ago, the Providence Journal ran a column about the experience visiting an elderly parent. The columnist, like so many of us, recognized how much lies beneath an older person's aged appearance or physical ability. In those few minutes with his mother, he remembered her extraordinary work as a female journalist in Paris following World War II.

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  • The gift of giving



    While many of us are able to celebrate the holidays with our loved ones, not everyone in our community is so fortunate. Those living on the margins need our support so that they might be able to make ends meet, and make the holiday season merry. As Christmas draws ever near, now more than any other time of year, we are called to embrace the spirit of giving.

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  • A quiet Christmas



    Like just about everything else this year, Christmas will be different for us. A whole lot of things have changed. And while it seems like all-of-a-sudden, our lives have been headed in this direction for quite a while.

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  • A novel solution to an old problem



    We are all shaped by our own experiences. When it comes to education, I spent nine years in Chelsea public schools, followed by high school at Austin Prep, an Augustinian Catholic school north of Boston. St. Augustine's dictum from his Confessions, "Tolle, lege," "Take up and read," became Austin's school motto.

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  • The 'bitter pill' of false liberation



    A major study published on Dec. 7 in the New England Journal of Medicine concludes that hormonal contraception increases the risk of breast cancer for women. The research used all of Denmark as its sample, following nearly 1.8 million Danish women of childbearing age for over a decade. The study, as described by the New York Times, "upends widely held assumptions about modern contraceptives for younger generations of women," especially the view that "newer hormonal contraceptives are much safer than those taken by their mothers or grandmothers." It also establishes that the risk to women increases with longer periods of use. Major media outlets have done their best to minimize the implications of the study and "soften the blow" for the millions who, for decades, have faithfully embraced a "contraceptive mentality."

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  • The Immaculate Conception and the nightingale's song



    Preparations for the celebration of Christmas begin (much to the chagrin of many) in the United States with the end of the festivities associated with Halloween and conclude abruptly on December 25th. Because of the hegemony of American culture and the shortness of historical memory, this current practice might leave the impression that the Christmas Season has always followed this pattern. However, this is not the case.

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  • One who is coming



    The mysterious figure of John the Baptist, introduced in last week's readings, comes into sharper focus today. Who he is, we see in today's Gospel, is best understood by who he isn't. He is not Elijah returned from the heavens (see 2 Kings 2:11), although like him he dresses in the prophet's attire (see Mark 1:6; 2 Kings 1:8) and preaches repentance and judgment (see 1 Kings 18:21; 2 Chronicles 21:12-15).

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  • Hall of Fame politics



    Baseball has two more "immortals." Hurrah! Neither of them is named Marvin Miller. Boo! Somehow they've done it again. They've managed with the customary and clever corporate gymnastics to again insult the equally irascible and brilliant labor-leader whose landmark and historic impact on the game they are determined to deny. Five years after he departed this mortal coil and for the seventh time overall, Miller is given the bum's rush at Cooperstown. But then he predicted as much. Somewhere in the great beyond the old fox is laughing uproariously.

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  • The Real Tragedy of Sin



    The real tragedy of sin is that often the one who is sinned against eventually becomes a sinner, inflicting on others what was first inflicted upon him or her. There's something perverse within us whereby when we are sinned against we tend to take in the sin, complete with the sickness from which it emanated, and then struggle not to act out in that same sick way. The ultimate triumph of sin is that first being sinned against, we often become sinners.

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  • "Lady Bird" and the Breakthrough of Grace



    Greta Gerwig's new film, Lady Bird, has taken the critics by storm. It is the most-reviewed movie in the history of the website Rotten Tomatoes to have sustained a 100% positive rating, and it is receiving serious Oscar buzz for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress. Having seen the coming attractions, I knew it would be a quirky, offbeat comedy, but I had no idea that Lady Bird would be of considerable religious interest as well.

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  • Helping the Survivors of Isis this Christmas



    One of the most rewarding aspects of my work for the Holy See's Mission to the United Nations in New York is the ability to organize conferences at UN headquarters to shine a spotlight on realities that we believe deserve greater attention and give a voice to those whose cries for help are not adequately heard.

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  • Books for Christmas



    It's been a good year for publishing -- at least in the sense of a lot of good books getting published -- so here are some for the readers on your Christmas gift list (in addition, of course, to Lessons in Hope: My Unexpected Life with St. John Paul II [Basic Books], by your scribe):

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  • The Wise Men teach us to kneel



    ''Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him," (Mt 2:1-2, KJV).

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  • Hoping rather than worrying during Advent



    We are now in the blessed season of Advent, when we wait eagerly to receive our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into our hearts on Christmas, as he was born in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, and will come again at the end of time to mercifully judge the living and the dead. Hope is the characteristic virtue of the season, as it is the confident expectation, based on Jesus our Redeemer, to be happy with him forever in heaven, as he promised his faithful followers.

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  • The choice of Bishop Cheverus' successor



    The Diocese of Boston's first bishop, Bishop Jean Cheverus, departed for his native France in the autumn of 1823. When he did so, he left the diocese uncertain whether or not he would return, and his successor, Bishop Benedict Joseph Fenwick, would not arrive to assume this role for over two years following his departure. In the interim, the Diocese of Boston was largely overseen by a priest, and Bishop Cheverus' choice as his successor, Father William Taylor.

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  • Disciples in Mission Pastoral Planning Report



    In 2014, a small group of lay people and clergy were appointed by Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley as the Pastoral Planning Advisory Board (PPAB). This group of people were charged with the task of evaluating the progress and effectiveness of the implementation of Disciples in Mission in the collaboratives. The results of their work is shared each year with Cardinal Sean. In the years since beginning their work, these yearly reports have focused on such topics as: collaborative training sessions, the local pastoral plan writing process and the effectiveness of the Disciple Maker Index survey, pastoral plan implementation.

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  • Straighten the path



    Our God is coming. The time of exile -- the long separation of humankind from God due to sin -- is about to end. This is the good news proclaimed in today's liturgy. Isaiah in today's First Reading promises Israel's future release and return from captivity and exile. But as today's Gospel shows, Israel's historic deliverance was meant to herald an even greater saving act by God -- the coming of Jesus to set Israel and all nations free from bondage to sin, to gather them up and carry them back to God.

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  • Hot Stove time



    The heat is arising on the Hot Stove! With the countdown to the Winter Meetings underway, Baseball's winter season formally launches. For the game's charter member nerds who groove on its byzantine inner-workings -- such as your host -- this season within the season can be almost as compelling as a torrid pennant race.

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  • Post-truth culture



    Has America become home to a post-truth culture? I ran into that phrase--"post-truth culture"--casually applied to the United States, in something I was reading, and it brought me up short. Have things really gotten that bad, I asked myself, or was the writer only saying something attention-grabbing for effect?

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  • A plea for our fellow Catholics



    This Advent, stop worrying about Christmas presents and hanging lights, negotiating mall traffic or scouring the web for the perfect gift. This Advent, imagine that you and your family lose everything. Home, neighbors, livelihood. This Advent, imagine that you have only one choice: Leave everything you know, you possess, you count on. Or die.

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  • Reticence and Secrecy as Virtue



    In all healthy people there's a natural reticence about revealing too much of themselves and a concomitant need to keep certain things secret. Too often we judge this as an unhealthy shyness or, worse, as hiding something bad. But reticence and secrecy can be as much virtue as fault because, as James Hillman puts it, when we're healthy we will normally "show the piety of shame before the mystery of life."

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  • A meditation on "Maranatha"



    Happy (real) new year: the beginning of a new year of grace, which began December 3 with the First Sunday of Advent. "The holidays" so overwhelm our senses each December that it's hard to remember that Advent, the season of preparation for Christmas, has a "thy-kingdom-come" dimension as well as a Nativity dimension. For the first two weeks of Advent, the Church ardently and insistently prays the ancient Aramaic Maranatha: "Come, Lord Jesus!" And that petition is prayed, not in a spirit of disgust or resignation -- "C'mon, Lord, let's get this over with...." -- but in the sure confidence that the Lord's return in glory means the fulfillment of history: both the history of humanity and our personal histories. For in the Second Coming, history will be finally revealed as His-story, God's story, in which we have been privileged to participate by grace.

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  • Missing the glory



    It's hard to believe that Advent has rolled around again. But it seems to feel that way every year. It's always nice to see the violet and pink candles of the wreath be lighted in turn week after week. But the thing I notice most about Mass during Advent is moving from the "Lord, have mercy" directly into the opening prayer. Mass has just begun. Then all of a sudden, there we are, sitting down for the readings. The first part of the liturgy is abbreviated in Advent as it is in Lent. That's because the Gloria is omitted.

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  • How St. Joseph is an Advent model



    "Let us see your face." The whole church repeats this five-word, heartfelt plea to God four times during Masses on Advent's first Sunday. Heard in the responsorial psalm after the first biblical reading, it echoes this repeated plea to God in Psalm 80:

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  • Advent prompts questions of the heart



    Within hours of Black Friday, if not sooner, streets become adorned with Christmas lights, coffee cups change color and stores ready for another holiday season; the Advent season begins. The liturgy of Advent, with its songs and prayers, emphasizes that we are in a time of waiting, as do the prayers from the Roman Missal. In them, we beg for the resolve to run forth unburdened by earthly undertakings, eagerly pressing forward in haste to meet the Lord. Every detail reminds us to prepare in anticipation.

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  • What is sex for?



    It began with reports that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, over many years, used his power over aspiring actresses' careers to sexually harass and exploit them. The allegations soon extended to other prominent men in the entertainment industry, then to candidates and elected officials of both major parties.

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  • Creating a culture of intentional discipleship



    ''There's no silver bullet in forming intentional disciples," said Catholic evangelist Bobby Vidal at the Archdiocese of Boston's recent conference Intentional Discipleship: Moving from Maintenance to Mission, held Nov. 18 at Fontbonne Academy. Hosted by the Secretariat for Evangelization and Discipleship, the conference attracted over 200 people from around the archdiocese (and beyond) who came to learn more about how to evangelize and help form disciples in their own parish communities.

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  • Thankful for the unknowns



    I believe that it was the twentieth-century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar who described holiness as a quality by which one would disappear into the mission of the Church. This insight strikes me as right. Saints do not set about their mission with a publicity strategy in mind. Some saints do become famous, even in the face of their best efforts to resist, but no saint is looking for celebrity status. By the time their image is unfurled on the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica, the saint has long since moved on and receives no personal benefit from all the accolades. Their heart was always set on greater things anyway. If during their life on earth someone might have complimented them on their apparent holiness they would likely have dismissed such claims. Saints are the ones who have little appreciation for how much they manifest Christ. I think that they are so enamored of how the Lord reveals his divine life in others, that they have little time for seeing him in their own image.

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  • Watch for Him



    The new Church year begins with a plea for God's visitation. "Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down," the prophet Isaiah cries in today's First Reading. In today's Psalm, too, we hear the anguished voice of Israel, imploring God to look down from His heavenly throne -- to save and shepherd His people.

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  • Baseball votes on vets



    It's that time again. A 16-man committee of distinguished keepers of the American Pastime's flame is about to gather in Cooperstown to decide who should be canonized this time; or more precisely who will be rebuffed again in what oft amounts to downright cruelty. It has become a strange business.

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  • Playing Loose With the Truth



    It can be quite disheartening to watch the news these days. Our world is full of hatred, bigotry, racism, and over-stimulated greed and ego. The gap between the rich and poor is widening and random, senseless violence is an everyday occurrence. One lives with hope, but without much optimism.

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  • Preference for death penalty



    Q. My question as a faithful Catholic is this: Is it wrong for me to pray daily and unceasingly for death? I have been in prison now for 25 years. I am so tired of this existence that I am seeking legal action to have my sentence changed from life in prison to the death penalty.

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  • Paul VI, Prophet



    This coming July, we will mark the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's deeply controversial encyclical letter Humanae vitae. I won't bore you with the details of the innumerable battles, disagreements, and ecclesial crises that followed upon this text. Suffice it to say that this short, pithily argued letter became a watershed in the post-conciliar Catholic Church and one of the most significant points of contention between liberals and conservatives. Its fundamental contention is that the moral integrity of the sexual act is a function of the coming together of its "procreative and unitive" dimensions. That is to say, sexual intercourse is ethically upright only in the measure that it is expressive of love between married partners and remains open to the conception of a child. When, through a conscious choice, the partners introduce an artificial block to procreation--when, in a word, they separate the unitive and procreative finalities of the sexual act--they do something which is contrary to God's will.

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  • 'Go to Detroit'



    On December 8, 1896, now Blessed Solanus Casey (1870-1957) was in a vocational crisis. He had been asked to leave the diocesan seminary in Milwaukee because his grades -- C's, B's and a couple A's-- were considered signs that somehow portended, in the opinion of his priest formators, future inadequacy as a seminarian and parish priest. Nevertheless, because they couldn't help but note his virtuous character and intense piety, they (somewhat condescendingly) suggested that someone of his intelligence might have a vocation to be a religious. So he wrote to the provincial superiors of the Jesuits, the Franciscans and the Capuchins, and as all were willing to give him a chance, he didn't know which to choose.

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  • What's changed since Humanae Vitae?



    Throughout this academic year, Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University is hosting a series of lectures, billed as the "first interdisciplinary" study to mark the 50th anniversary of Blessed Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae. The series promises to examine the "many problems" that have emerged in family life since Pope Paul wrote on the ethics of human love and the morally appropriate methods of family-planning. And that could indeed be useful.

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  • When the end comes



    Many saints and Church leaders have seen a connection between Christ's words in the Gospel for the Solemnity of Christ the King (see Matthew 25:31-43) and His promise to be present in the Eucharist (see Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:15-20).

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  • Feast of the dedication of St. John Lateran Basilica



    Today (11/9) the Church remembers the dedication of the great basilica church of St. John Lateran in Rome. The Lateran Basilica is the cathedral church of the Holy Father as he is bishop of Rome. The magnificent building stands on land that was given to the bishops of Rome by the Emperor Constantine. Remember, it was during the reign of the Emperor Constantine that the laws restricting the practice of the Church's faith were removed from Roman Law and the Church went from being an illegal cult, whose profession of faith was considered an act of treason, to being the favored religion of the Roman emperor.

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  • The First Synod of the Diocese of Boston



    Earlier this month, this column discussed a conflict between Bishop Benedict Fenwick and the parishioners of St. Mary's, Boston. In the context of a popular movement at the time, known as "Trusteeism," the parishioners believed that they, the lay people, should be able to govern their parish, not the bishop or diocesan administrators. This, and other similar episodes, prompted Bishop Fenwick to call for the first diocesan synod which met in August 1842.

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  • 'Flock of Shepherds' celebrates 100 years



    In 1992 Jesuit Father Thomas Reese dubbed the then 75 year old National Conference of Catholic Bishops "Flock of Shepherds" in a book of that title in which the Jesuit sociologist surveyed some of the history as well as the composition and activity of the episcopal conference of the United States of America.

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  • Black Elk and the Need for Catechists



    I write these words as the annual November meeting of the United States bishops comes to a close. We bishops discussed many significant matters--from racism and immigration to the liturgy for the baptism of children. But I would like to emphasize one theme in particular that came up frequently in our conversations, namely, the catechesis of our young people. I have a rather intense personal interest in the topic since, at the conclusion of this gathering, I officially became chairman of the bishops' Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis.

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  • God's Closeness



    There's a growing body of literature today that chronicles the experience of persons who were clinically dead for a period of time (minutes or hours) and were medically resuscitated and brought back to life. Many of us, for example, are familiar with Dr. Eben Alexander's book, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife. More recently Hollywood produced a movie, Miracles from Heaven, which portrays the true story of a young Texas girl who was clinically dead, medically revived, and who shares what she experienced in the afterlife.

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  • A museum for which to be thankful



    On September 29, 1952, the publication of the complete Revised Standard Version of the Bible was celebrated at the National Guard Armory in Washington, D.C., and the principal speaker was the U.S. Secretary of State, Dean Acheson. The son of the Episcopal bishop of Connecticut, Acheson movingly described the ways in which the King James Bible, which the new RSV was to supplant, had once shaped American culture and our national life:

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  • Coercing our conscience



    Imagine the government ordered Ford dealers to post signs telling prospective auto buyers to check out Chevrolet or required vegan restaurants to give diners menus listing the offerings at neighborhood steakhouses as well as vegan fare--what would you say to that? More often than not, I suspect, you'd say the government had overstepped the line and ought to butt out.

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  • Mass murder and our culture of death



    On Nov. 14, Kevin Janson Neal paced about a remote elementary school in the small Northern California community of Rancho Tehama Reserve, apparently looking for children to shoot during a killing spree that left five dead and at least 10 wounded in seven different locations.

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  • An 'unnecessary and unwise' decision



    Thanksgiving is a time to reflect upon the blessings our nation and ourselves and families have received from a generous God, and to renew our commitment, personally and nationally, to share these blessings with all who live in this land. The spirit of gratitude and generosity embodied in Thanksgiving stands in sharp contrast to the decision of the U.S. Government this week to end Temporary Protective Status (TPS) for over 50,000 Haitians living in the United States. TPS is an act of compassion and care designed to assist those whose visas have expired in the United States, and for whom return to their native land is either dangerous or threatening to their lives and welfare. TPS is the kind of political generosity which for decades has earned the United States a positive reputation throughout the international community.

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  • Help families avoid making the choice 'to heat or eat'



    This month, we at Catholic Charities are hard at work with our many partners to help our clients prepare for the impending chill of winter. Dropping temperatures create a whole host of new needs for our clients, we assist the people we serve at this time of year in part by stepping up our food distribution efforts. In addition to the work we do year round for our community at each of our six food pantries, we are holding our annual Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway and begin our Friends Feeding Families campaign.

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  • Signs of the times



    Despite the fact that it's not a big election year, if you drive along the residential streets of any city or town, you'll notice a growing proliferation of yard signs. Most are variations on a popular theme: Hate Has No Home Here. On the surface, the message seems positive and well-intentioned. But what lurks behind the signs feels an awful lot like judgment and accusation. After all, one who claims to have banished hatred from his own home in such a public way does so by implying that it is alive and well at the homes of the people who live next door or across the street -- in the houses without signs.

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  • Conservatives: What they are and what they aren't



    We all live in a moment in history where it is all-politics-all-the-time. Everything from our health to our wealth, from the womb to the tomb, is viewed through the lens of increasingly divisive and rancorous politics. The resulting distortions are many. The most serious is language, the very tool we use to make political sense to one another. The meaning of the word "conservative" has been a major victim.

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  • Supporting signature drives on church property



    As I learned as a young boy growing up in South Boston, life is about God, family and country. I certainly heard that at Catholic Memorial School in West Roxbury the other day listening to the students. I shared my experiences at CM with a group of professionals and Boston business leaders at the Pioneer Institute on "Education in America" Conference on Nov. 13 at the Parker House in Boston, speaking alongside author and scholar George Weigel.

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  • Hindu-Catholic national dialogue on love of neighbor



    ''Respect for the dignity of the human person is the foundational principle. The crown of creation is the human person," said Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Vatican Ambassador to the United States at the Nov. 11 third national Hindu-Catholic dialogue meeting. "The human person bears the divine image and is made for communion -- union with God and with others. Dignity is not based on what the person has or does, but on what the person is," he said.

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  • What's happening these days in pastoral planning?



    Every once in a while it is good to stop and take a good look at all that is going on behind the scenes in pastoral planning. It is important to keep our readers up to speed on all that is taking place in the archdiocese particularly in relation to Disciples in Mission. Recent articles have focused on a variety of events that have taken place on the archdiocesan level: the Hope Conference, the symposium at Boston College for the Portuguese Catholic Community and the Enculturation Program for priests from outside the U.S. While all of these programs have some degree of importance to the work of Disciples in Mission, there is still more going on at the parish level that is directly related to pastoral planning and the preparation of parishes before they begin as new collaboratives.

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  • Holding the pope's hand in gratitude for being Catholic



    Every now and then, I find in the offices of pastoral leaders and theologians, as well as in the homes of some families I know, a picture of them shaking hands with one of the recent popes. When I know the person well, I ask, "What was it like to hold the pope's hand?" For some, it is a formality. For others, a memorable moment.

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  • Why poetry matters



    Richard Wilbur died last month. He was, Dana Gioia said, the finest poet of his generation and the greatest American Christian poet since Eliot. Here's an example of why I liked him so much. It's part of a toast he gave at his eldest son's wedding. (I recited it at the marriage of our youngest.)

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  • Bruins 2017-2018 edition



    Whither goest, Bruins? That is the question. And it is only mid-November; not even Thanksgiving yet. Maybe too soon to kiss off an entire hockey season. But not too early to wonder if -- when all's said and done -- Bruins fans will have much to be thankful for.

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