Archbishop Aquila: The Little Sisters’ Holy Week trial

This Lenten Season is going by quickly, and with Easter being so early this year, I want to wish all of you a very blessed Holy Week and Easter!  You will all be in my heart and prayers as we journey with the Lord through his passion, death and resurrection. My heart is filled with gratitude for you and the many blessings the Lord has bestowed on the Church of Northern Colorado.

And yet, the Little Sisters of the Poor, who serve the elderly in our archdiocese through their ministry at Mullen Home, are arguing their case before the United States Supreme Court during Holy Week. They are asking the court’s justices to overturn the government’s HHS mandate that would force them to violate their consciences.

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Little Sisters of the Poor at Mullen Home in Denver. Photo: Catholic News Agency.

If you haven’t followed the Little Sisters’ case, it involves the Obama administration insisting that the sisters facilitate contraceptive and abortion-inducing drug coverage for their employees. Under the government’s current regulations, if the sisters refuse to allow this, then they will be hit with fines of up to $100 per employee, per day. Over the last two years, the case has worked its way up to the Supreme Court, where oral arguments will be heard on March 23, Wednesday of Holy Week.

Our archdiocese is blessed to have the Little Sisters in Denver, where they carry out their ministry of caring for the poor and lower income elderly, making them a part of their loving family and comforting them in their final days. Their charity has even included priests of the archdiocese.

Some have tried to argue that the sisters are no more than a social service agency, but to say that is to fundamentally misunderstand their ministry, which is animated by their love of Christ and for Christ in the elderly people entrusted to their care.

At the heart of the government’s case stands the assertion that the Little Sisters’ should not object to letting their health plan be used to distribute contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs because they will not have to pay for the drugs. But the government and its lawyers don’t seem to understand that the sisters aren’t concerned about money; they’re concerned about their consciences.

As he stood before Pilate, Jesus stated, “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” The Little Sisters believe that the Church that Christ created has faithfully passed on the truth for over two millennia, including the truth in the area of contraception and abortion-inducing drugs, which is first mentioned in the first-century Church document called “The Didache.”  Our faith holds that contraception is immoral because it intentionally separates the life-giving and unitive aspects of love from each other.

When Jesus said that he came to bear witness to the truth, Pilate replied, ‘What is truth?’ (John 18:37-38). The government seems to believe that it knows the truth about our faith and argues that the Little Sisters shouldn’t have any moral objections. In essence they are imposing their morality on those who disagree with them. The Little Sisters are objecting to cooperating with evil and are ready to shut down their ministry, rather than comply with the government’s mandate.

I am proud of the Little Sisters of the Poor. They have demonstrated courage in the face of threats, they have tenaciously proclaimed the truth and have refused to cower in fear or complacency, and they deserve our support.

While the sisters are in court on March 23, the group Women Speak for Themselves will be organizing a day of service at the Little Sisters’ homes around the country, including at Mullen Home in Denver. Hundreds of people will also be rallying in front of the Supreme Court building in D.C. If you are able to stand in solidarity with the Little Sisters at either of these events, I urge you to do so. I encourage you especially to participate in the day of services at Mullen Home. Visit http://womenspeakforthemselves.com for more information.

May we all be inspired to live our faith with the fortitude, boldness and love Christ showed us upon the cross, and which he has given to the Little Sisters and so many other Catholic and Christian ministries that refuse to violate their consciences. In our relativistic age, may we encounter the truth, who is a person, Jesus Christ, and may we live according to the truth and embrace it fully!

May our Risen Lord bless the Little Sisters of the Poor and your families!

COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.