Freedom, sanctity, and the future

CRACOW. We’ve been doing this for 17 years now, my colleagues and I—running an intensive, three-week, Cracow-based immersion course in Catholic social doctrine, centered on Pope John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical, Centesimus Annus. It’s been different this year, of course, what with Father Richard John Neuhaus, a key faculty member, having died in January and yet another stalwart of years past, Michael Novak, unable to join us. We’ve brought two of our priest-alumni back as faculty members, though, and they’ve been splendid. From my personal point of view, perhaps the biggest change over almost two decades is that the onetime Kid—me—is now the Old Man. Time flies, indeed.

Our students this year—31 men and women, generally in their mid-20s,  from the United States, Poland, Germany, Ukraine, Belarus, Croatia, Romania, Hungary, Georgia, Slovakia, and Lithuania – are among the best we’ve ever had. Yet things on that front are also different than they were when the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society began in 1992.

Virtually none of our European students have any detailed memory of life under communism. Indeed, more than one of them has asked me what to read in order to understand what the world of their parents was like. Perhaps even more surprisingly for young people of intense Catholic faith, few of them know much of the heroic narrative of the Church’s resistance to communist oppression. They don’t know the stories of the confessors of the 1950s, men like Cardinals Stefan Wyszynski, Jozsef Mindszenty, Josef Beran, Iosyf Slipyi, or Alojzije Stepinac. But what was really stunning was to find intelligent Catholic young people from central and eastern Europe who didn’t know the story of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, the martyr-priest of the Solidarity movement.

What these young people do know, however, is that they are coming to Catholic maturity in a Europe increasingly hostile to public manifestations of Catholic faith. When the Tertio Millennio Seminar started in 1992, our debates were about church-state law, democratic theory, and the structure of the free economy; now, they’re about the nature of marriage, the challenge of biotechnology, the life issues, Islam, and an aggressive secularism that tries to keep religiously informed moral argument out of the European public square. The Church in this part of the world has yet to find its public “voice,” 20 years after the Wall came down; one goal of the seminar is to help shape a lay leadership in these new democracies that can develop the voice of religiously informed public moral argument. The task is a huge one.

For all the change, though, there are also the constants. It’s a wonderful thing to introduce young Catholic men and women to the places where Karol Wojtyla, the future John Paul II, was a young man, asking many of the same questions about life and vocation that they ask. It’s always an eye-opener for young adults from outside Poland to come here and experience what remains, despite enormous challenges, a more intact Catholic culture than exists perhaps anywhere else in Europe. And then there is Cracow itself, a great city whose massive Market Square, the largest public space on the continent, is the physical embodiment of an ancient and honorable civic spirit of openness and dialogue among cultures and nations.

Cracow is also a city of saints, in which the history of sanctity encompasses almost a full millennium: from the martyr-bishop Stanislaus in the 11th century to the 14th-century queen Jadwiga and on to such 20th-century heroes of the faith as Faustyna Kowalska (apostle of divine mercy and first saint of the third millennium) and Albert Chmielowski (“God’s brother,” the avant-garde painter who became the servant and advocate of the destitute). We pray that their number will soon be joined by John Paul the Great and by his best lay friend, Jerzy Ciesielski, whose beatification cause is underway.

For, as our daily Mass together reminds our students, the best way to become a leader of the free and virtuous society of the future is to become the saints their Christian and human destiny calls them to be.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash