Sailing through uncharted waters

The feeling of being in uncharted territory is one that many of us are experiencing these days. When I consulted with Bishops Berg and Sheridan this past March and jointly decided to suspend public Mass, I certainly felt that way.

In the months since then, we have gradually worked toward reopening our parishes and welcoming more people back to Mass. Throughout this time, I have prayed about how to best balance protecting everyone entrusted to me by the Lord and to honor the right of every person to receive the sacraments.

I have also been thinking about the need that each of us has for community. We are social beings who are made for community with each other, and ultimately, with the Holy Trinity and the communion of saints in heaven. I know that these months and weeks of taking precautions to protect the health of our community have been difficult for everyone, and I greatly appreciate all the sacrifices that have been made and will continue to be made.

I am happy to announce that parishes in the Archdiocese of Denver are now being encouraged to increase the number of people who can attend Mass, with respect to local restrictions. The dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass every Sunday will remain in place for the time being. That said, this is not a dispensation from keeping the Lord’s day holy. Eventually, when the obligation is restored, those who are at risk or are possibly infected will not be expected to attend Mass. Before this occurs, clear guidance will be given.

For these challenging days all of us need the gifts of faith, hope and charity. I am reminded of the story of Jesus walking on the water toward the disciples as they were tossed about by the sea. He came in the fourth watch of the night, which was between 3 and 6 a.m. As the disciples cried out in fright, he told them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” And when St. Peter tried to walk on the water and began to sink, he shouted, “Lord, save me!” Jesus responded by catching him and saying, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Cf. Mt. 14:22-33).

Let us each ask the Lord for the gift of faith in his saving power, for hope in his goodness and love for us, and for hearts that love as he does. May you find inspiration and encouragement to continue your walk with Jesus and his Church at this particular moment in history. May God bless you! 

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”