Archive for May, 2010


Straight Talk

Monday, May 31st, 2010

I am truly blessed with many fond childhood memories. I had a loving father and mother and many other family members who cared deeply about me.

Even so, my dominant reality, at least during my school years, was that I was a fat kid. I was relentlessly teased, pushed around, and called names, and I felt powerless to do anything about it. By the time I hit adolescence, I was filled with rage, rebellion, and negative feelings about myself. In my late teens I finally started to get a handle on my weight, but for the past 30+ years I’ve considered myself in “recovery,” always in need of vigilance lest I return to the nightmarish girth of my youth.

I realize that homosexuality and obesity are two very different conditions, but there are some important points of similarity. For one thing, I know from experience how bullies on the playground (some of whom don’t change their stripes as adults) prey on kids who are different, so I can sympathize with those who have been mercilessly persecuted because of their not-so-hidden sexual identity struggles.

Leaving aside the bullies, there are several typical responses to the fat kid. Some disdainfully point out the obvious (“you’re fat”) and what should happen (“you need to lose 50 lbs.”), but through word and attitude communicate indifference (or worse) to the poor guy’s situation. On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who want to offer an easy way, who want to make the child feel good about being fat.

While my built-up defenses might have suggested otherwise, and I didn’t always respond favorably to constructive weight-loss suggestions, deep down I wanted to change. I appreciated efforts–even seemingly unsuccessful ones–to reach out to me. The people who cared most about me offered diets, changes in lifestyle, and fitness regimens to help me escape an unwanted condition. They offered a plan which typically involved hard work and discipline. Even more, they offered hope.

Homosexual persons need a similar message. [more]

Bible Basics

We all know about the dissent that has plagued the Church in recent decades, contributing mightily to the contemporary “crisis of faith.” Some point to problems in the revised liturgy–both in itself and, more credibly, in the way it’s been implemented. Others point to problems in moral theology ushered in by Fr. Charles Curran and his colleagues. But I think underneath this is a crisis in Scripture scholarship, which today has led to a certain agnosticism and skepticism about God’s inspired Word.

This is true when it comes to the Bible’s clear condemnation of homosexual activity. One frequently hears, for example, that contrary to Church teaching (cf. Catechism, no. 2357), the sin of Sodom was not homosexual activity but inhospitality. Of course, we also hear that Our Lord’s multiplication of loaves was not a miracle, but an important lesson on sharing.

Let’s look at just one of the several passages on homosexuality in the Bible:

“Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

First, note that there are actually two words in the Greek that are combined to form the word “homosexuals” in the above translation: malakoi (literally, “effeminate males who play the sexual role of females”) and arsenokoitai (literally, “males who take other males to bed”). Despite persistent attempts to relativize or explain away this passage, what St. Paul is saying here is beyond reasonable dispute, and it’s entirely consistent with other biblical passages on the subject and two millennia of Church teaching.

Second, St. Paul is writing here to baptized Christians, some of whom used to engage in one or more of these serious sins. Even though they have now been washed, they are still prone to commit these sins and, if they want to inherit the kingdom, they must not return to such sinful ways. (By the way, this is one of a host of passages that dispels the “once saved, always saved” error we often encounter today.)

So, those who engage in homosexual acts are expected to walk away from that lifestyle, and in fact people even in St. Paul’s time were apparently able to do it, with God’s grace. Surely it can be a long, difficult road that can at times involve relapse, but contrary to the modern line that some people are born that way and unable to restrain themselves, it is indeed possible and necessary to decisively turn away from sinful lifestyles.

Finally, there are many sins listed in this passage. While we might not experience predominant same-sex attractions ourselves, we are inclined to a host of other sins, and for ourselves eliminating those sinful areas of our lives has to be the first priority.

Still, there is good reason to single out homosexuality for special mention. While many forms of immoral conduct are rampant today, they are nonetheless considered wrong and utterly to be avoided. We don’t celebrate “drunk driving month.” We’re not required to give our employees sensitivity training so that they can be more understanding of the internal conflicts of adulterers. When we condemn corporate crime we’re not called “greedophobes.” We don’t congratulate sneak thieves who “come out of the closet.”

When it comes to homosexuality, though, we are getting bullied and tricked into moving from decriminalization to societal recognition and institutional legitimacy.

Uncommon Valor

Fundamentalism is a significant problem today, but for the most part, fundamentalists stand outside the Church waiting to pounce on the unwary. Contemporary apologists such as Karl Keating and Pat Madrid have done a terrific job of arming the faithful against such attacks and transforming them into fruitful opportunities for dialogue and evangelization.

Homosexuality poses a more internal threat. It has effectively scaled the ramparts of the Church castle. If we deny the deleterious effects of homosexuality on the institutional Church, we have stuck our heads in the sand. We need repentance, purification, and grace, and we need heroic leaders–clerical and lay–who are willing to take on this beast.

Sexual impurity, even among seemingly devout, practicing Catholics, has weakened our defenses and compromised our witness when it comes to any sexual morality issue. In particular, Internet pornography has made substantial inroads in our culture and is destroying families. I urge men who struggle in the area of sexual addiction to seek assistance today.

The National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People has reported, to no one’s surprise, that over 80 percent of the victims of clerical sex abuse were male, and of these the vast majority were postpubescent. While all categories and types of abuse are deplorable and tragic, the significant increase of homosexual activity involving young boys (and the accompanying episcopal misgovernance) beginning in the 1960s is what really turned this situation into a full-blown, front-page crisis.

It’s beyond the scope of this article to examine the complex causes of the scandal and offer possible remedies, though one obvious part of the solution would be not to accept seminary applicants who openly identify themselves as homosexual. Rather, the point is that the entire Church, beginning at the top, more than ever needs to be spiritually ready to proclaim the truth about human sexuality in the face of the ungodly push for same-sex unions.

Getting Personal

The Catholic Church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15) and thus possesses the fullness of the truth. So, while other Christian communities have part of the truth (and often do more good with their portion of the truth than we do with the fullness), the strength of the Catholic perspective is that it’s inclusive; it captures the big picture. In the area of homosexuality, the Church doggedly insists upon a both-and: absolutely love the sinner, and absolutely hate the sin. One without the other misses the mark.

The vast majority of Christians surely affirm the need to love the sinner and the need for a compassionate approach. Without all the pastoral resources of the Church (especially Confession), however, the message can be a little strong on hating the sin, which is right, but incomplete. I think that’s an especially important consideration today. Try criticizing somebody’s work, or cooking, or opinion, without that person taking it, well, personally.

Homosexuals often define themselves–selling themselves short in the process–in terms of their sexual preference, so telling them that their conduct is objectively disordered and sinful, without all the pastoral charity the Church can muster, predictably isn’t going to go over well.

On the other hand, a significant segment of the Catholic Church (though not in her official teaching) has softened on the “hating the sin” part, buying into modern scholarship and rampant secularism and relativism that call into question the longstanding biblical and traditional condemnation of homosexual activity. Without that key aspect of the truth, loving the sinner loses its authentic, salvific meaning and degenerates into a spineless gospel of tolerance.

I remember a time as a young adult when I casually referred to myself as being fat. At the time I was a starving law student and the thinnest I’d ever been in my life. The person I was addressing said, “Leon, what are you talking about? You’re not fat.” It struck me then how deeply I associated myself with my tendency toward obesity, as though it would always define who I am.

Our society has largely lost its sense of the intrinsic worth of the human person, so we tend to define ourselves through external, secondary characteristics. That is never good, but it’s especially tragic when those with same-sex attractions define themselves as “gay.” Once they are so defined, they give up hope of ever being anything else, and so through force and illusion they strive to change their environment–including the laws of society–to accommodate their lifestyle.

In the face of this, we must be ambassadors of hope and mercy, not wimpy enablers. Woe to us if out of silence or misplaced tolerance we allow homosexual relationships to take further steps toward becoming the legal equivalent of marriage. As St. Paul urges, “do not be deceived” (1 Cor. 6:9).

The above is taken from an article published in the May-June 2004 issue of Lay Witness magazine. Back issues are archived here

Seatbelts and Abortion

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Not long ago my family and I drove through four states to attend the wedding of a family friend. As we entered one state, we encountered a huge sign that read “Seatbelts Save Lives: Buckle up–It’s the Law!” Then underneath in smaller print we saw the fashionable cliché: “Click it or Ticket.”

A law that requires all passengers in motor vehicles to wear seatbelts is a no-brainer. Most people consider this a commonsense safety practice and don’t need a billboard and the threat of criminal prosecution to compel compliance with the law.

It’s not so much the law that caught my attention, so much as its inner logic, which often seems to be missing in discussions pertaining to abortion “rights.”

Let’s start with the premise that seatbelts save lives. This premise far outweighs the 101 reasons why one might not want to wear a seatbelt. Yet, wearing a seatbelt doesn’t make me a safer driver. People who are not in my car are not in any way threatened by my not wearing a seatbelt. As my Mom used to say, “it’s your own funeral,” meaning I’m only hurting myself by not wearing a seatbelt.

If that’s the case, isn’t wearing a seatbelt a “personal decision”? [more]Shouldn’t I be able to personally weigh the pros and cons and come up with my own decision without threat of legal repercussion?

Or, does the state have a vested interest in my well-being and that of my passengers–especially those who are too young to make their own decisions? Should the state protect this interest even when I am too foolish or ignorant or reckless to do so myself?

Clearly society’s answer to the second set of questions–at least when it comes to seatbelts–is yes.

But where is my choice in the matter? Shouldn’t I have a certain autonomy to decide how I will protect myself and my passengers without outside interference? I’m not saying that seatbelts aren’t right for most people. I’m not even saying that seatbelts most of the time aren’t right for me. But doesn’t the Constitution respect my freedom to make choices that concern my own body?

Apparently when it comes to seatbelts, there is no “right to choose.”

And lastly, doesn’t it seem legitimate for the state to make the judgment that its citizens should wear seatbelts? Yes, there is a value judgment or moral judgment implied in all this. While some people probably disagree with the law, the state is free to make the law if most of the people think it’s going to promote the common good. Those who back the law see this as an important public safety issue, and not as the unwarranted imposition of the “values” of the majority on the minority.

After all, don’t all laws reflect the values of those who enact them? I mean, it seems silly to think one way, but legislate another, doesn’t it?  

Wouldn’t it seem to be an undue and in fact odd imposition of the federal courts to strike down seatbelt laws because they violate the privacy and autonomy of individual motorists and their passengers? Further still, wouldn’t it be strange if the Supreme Court were to find somewhere in the Constitution a “fundamental right to choose” to not wear seatbelts?

Of course it would. Maybe we should use more common sense when it comes to abortion. At least seatbelts save lives. Abortion doesn’t.

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Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

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Dissent Matters

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Not long ago I was asked, “Is there anywhere a list of the definitive moral teachings of the Church? Would it be correct to call anyone a dissenter who dissents from a teaching in the Catechism even if it not on a list of definitive teachings?”

Probably the closest thing to a comprehensive list of definitive moral teachings, in the context of offenses against human life and dignity, would be [more]this passage from Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), no. 27:

“Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.”

The problem is that “dissent” or “dissenter” is not really a technical term as much as it’s a popular term used to describe someone who doesn’t accept one or more significant Church teachings.

Fr. Peter Stravinskas gives a good definition of dissent in the Catholic dictionary he wrote several years ago for OSV. Therein he writes: “In theological language, dissent refers to the rejection of authentic Church teaching in matters of faith and morals. Such dissent cannot be justified according to Catholic teaching, whether the position in question has been proposed by the extraordinary Magisterium (a solemn definition by a Pope or ecumenical council) or by the ordinary Magisterium (i.e., the constant teaching of Popes and bishops). Persistent and radical theological dissent places one outside the bonds of communion with the Catholic Church.”

Looking to the Catechism to ascertain what Catholics believe in the moral realm is a legitimate approach. In his apostolic constitution approving its publication, Pope John Paul II called the Catechism a “sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.” So placing ourselves outside of what the Church teaches in the Catechism on matters of faith and morals would mean that we would be lacking in one of the visible bonds of unity in the Church (see CCC 815).

And while we don’t like to use the h-word (heresy) today, there is some overlap. Often we use the word “dissent” as a relatively palatable alternative for heresy, just as it’s more acceptable to refer to someone as a dissident or dissenter than as a heretic. Yet the meanings are similar. The Code of Canon Law does define heresy as “the obstinate denial or doubt, after baptism, of a truth which must be believed by divine and catholic faith” (canon 751).

Since dissent is essentially a synonym for heresy when used in the context of the Catholic faith, of course we have to be duly “pastoral” in our use of the word, especially when assigning it to others. And surely, like heresy, “dissent” can be material or formal, and we can’t judge the state of a dissenter’s soul. Even beyond that, if we don”t speak the truth with complete charity, then our use of words like “dissenter” is not an act of mercy, but rather a harsh label or insult. 

Yet the point remains that a Catholic who rejects the Church’s teaching in matters such as abortion, contraception, euthanasia, homosexuality, and the like is a “dissenter” who needs to be patiently brought to the fullness of the truth.

For more on this subject, see my 2002 article “The Grammar of Dissent,” published by This Rock magazine.

Protestant “Verses” Catholic

Monday, May 24th, 2010

A Catholic school teacher once posed this question to me: “Protestants always have signs, t-shirts, and the like with John 3:16, so it seems that for them that is the one definitive verse of the Bible. If you had to sum up the Catholic faith in one Bible verse or passage, what would it be?”

Obviously our faith isn’t reducible to individual verses or passages or “sound bites,” but I still thought this was–and is–a most interesting question.

I began by acknowledging that Protestants and Catholics alike rightly emphasize John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

It’s a beautiful verse that succinctly captures much of the Gospel message or, in more technical terms, the Gospel kerygma.  It shows God’s love for the world, the shared divinity of Father and Son, Our Lord’s saving mission, the necessity of faith, and the goal of eternal life—not bad for just one verse!  Catholics do well to proclaim that verse in season and out.

Nonetheless, I came up with five other verses or passages that I think are especially significant for Catholics and indeed for all who believe in Christ:

(1a) 1 John 3:1—See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.

(1b) Galatians 4:4-7—But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.

Okay, I cheated by pairing up those two passages. What has always struck me about these passages and others like them are the fact that the “eternal life” spoken of in John 3:16 is to be experienced as truly sons and daughters of God, as what St. Peter describes as being “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). Our “sonship” is a present reality, which among other things makes us “heirs” of the fullness of eternal life in heaven. I think these verses also help us to understand the problem with a “once saved, always saved” theology that implicitly denies the freedom we have as children of God to turn away from Him through mortal sin.

(2) Acts 2:42—And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

These four activities are described as the pillars of the first Christians, and they continue to be the pillars of the Christian life today and in fact are expressed in the four pillars of the Catechism, which is the basic structure of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Namely, “apostles’ teaching” refers to the Creed; “breaking of the bread” refers specifically to the Eucharist and more generally to the Sacraments; “fellowship” refers to Christian morality and a Christian understanding of the Ten Commandments; and “the prayers” refers to Prayer, typically summarized by the Our Father.

(3) Philippians 2:5-11—Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I have always been especially moved by this passage. Also, scholars generally believe that this passage from St. Paul was quoting an ancient Christian hymn, which also demonstrates the role of Tradition and the function of the liturgy as the Church’s “memory” of what God has done for us through His Son.

(4) Matthew 5-7—Christ’s Sermon on the Mount

This is a little longer (okay, a lot longer!), but it is truly the “Magna Charta” of the life Christ calls us to lead. Here we see Christ as the New Moses giving us a New Law. While Moses brought the Old Law down to us from Mt. Sinai, Our Lord takes the crowd (and us) up on the mountain to give us His blueprint for our eternal happiness or “beatitude.”

(5) Matthew 28:18-20—And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

These are the instructions of Christ to His Church before His Ascension. He instructs His Church to go out and make disciples–baptizing and teaching with His authority, and also promising His continual presence in His Church.

Obviously many other passages or verses can be cited. Perhaps John 1:14 and Matthew 16:18 deserve “honorable mention.” Let me know if you think of any others that should have cracked my top five!

Living Vicariously

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

We’re all accustomed to referring to the Pope as the “Vicar of Christ.” After all, it was Peter who received the keys, and as Catholics we recognize the special role of the popes–St. Peter”s successors–as Christ’s chosen representative to rule and guide the Universal Church until the end of time.

But one teaching that sometimes gets overlooked today is that the other bishops are not simply vicars of the Pope, but vicars of Christ Himself in the particular Church (i.e., diocese) assigned to them. They legitimately exercise their role only in communion with the Pope, but nonetheless they personally exercise their office in the name of Christ as a successor of the apostles. He is neither a mere representative of the Pope nor does he legitimately exercise authority apart from the Pope (See Catechism, nos. 880-96, especially 894-95).

Some may be surprised to know that a number of Popes have even referred to Christian parents as vicars of Christ in the home. [more]For example, Pope Pius XI, in his 1929 encylical Divini Illius Magistri, wrote: “Parents . . . should be careful to make right use of the authority given them by God, whose vicars in a true sense they are.” Of course this truth connects well with Vatican II’s emphasis on the family as the “domestic Church” or “Church in miniature.”

Now the Pope, the bishops, and Christian parents are all vicars or representatives of Christ in different senses and in different realms, but these roles again need to be understood and exercised in a complementary, not competitive sense. A good example of this is found in a canon from the First Vatican Council (1869-70), which affirms the authority of bishops in the context of upholding papal primacy:

“This power of the Supreme Pontiff is so far from interfering with that power of ordinary and immediate episcopal jurisdiction by which the bishops, who, ”placed by the Holy Spirit” [cf. Acts 20:28], have succeeded to the places of the apostles, as true shepherds individually feed and rule the individual flocks assigned to them, that the same (power) is asserted, confirmed, and vindicated by the supreme and universal shepherd, according to the statement of Pope Gregory the Great: ”My honor is the universal honor of the Church. My honor is the solid vigor of my brothers. Then am I truly honored, when the honor due to each and everyone is not denied.””

One fairly recent example we have of the authority of the individual bishop can be found in the 1998 document of Pope John Paul II entitled Apostolos Suos. This document gave some specific theological and legal principles regarding episcopal conferences, the establishment of which is something that Vatican II heartily encouraged. This document points out (reiterating and clarifying Vatican II’s teachings) that there are two ways that episcopal conferences exercise magisterial authority: Either documents must be “unanimously approved by the bishops who are members, or receive the formal recognition (recognitio) of the Apostolic See if approved in plenary assembly by at least two thirds of the bishops belonging to the conference and having a deliberate vote.”

In the first case, because every bishop approves the document, it takes effect immediately because of the authority held by each individual bishop. In other words, what is operative here is the authentic teaching authority of each bishop, not the authority of the conference itself. The conference merely becomes the vehicle by which each bishop promulgates a teaching within his diocese, thus showing the authority of the individual bishop as vicar of Christ. In the second case, it is the authority and approval of the Roman Pontiff, not that of the conference, that makes the document binding.

Since the Pope is the vicar, or representative, of Christ for the universal Church, and the bishop is the vicar of Christ for the diocese entrusted to him, one can readily see potential conflict, especially if the local bishop doesn’t seem quite seem to be on the same page as the Holy Father. Yet the Popes have emphasized that union with the Pope and union with one’s bishop has to be a both/and proposition. For example, in an address given on November 20, 1999, Pope John Paul II drives home this point, quoting extensively from Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium:

“I likewise point out the attitude that the laity should have toward their bishops and priests: ‘To their pastors they should disclose their needs and desires with that liberty and confidence which befits children of God and brothers of Christ. . . . If the occasion arises, this should be done through the institutions established by the Church for that purpose and always with truth, courage, and prudence and with reverence and charity toward those who, by reason of their office, represent the person of Christ.’

“Unity with the bishop is the essential and indispensable attitude of the faithful Catholic, for one cannot claim to be on the Pope’s side without also standing by the bishops in communion with him. Nor can one claim to be with the bishop without standing by the head of the college.”

For more on the role of bishops in the Church, I recommend Servants of the Gospel, a collection of essays by prominent U.S. bishops. This title is available through Emmaus Road Publishing.

Virtue on the Mount

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

In contemplating Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7), one section that especially interests me is the part known as the “Six Antitheses”–the series of six statements by Our Lord that begin “You have heard it said . . .” followed by “I say to you . . .” These statements are found in Matthew 5:21-48.

There are many ways of looking at this passage. What has struck me of late is that Jesus, in coming to fulfill the law and not abolish it (Mt. 5:17), is having us move from mere adherence to negative moral precepts to the cultivation of the opposite virtues. Jesus’ words are not in opposition to what people have heard, but rather gives the motive and–through the gift of the Holy Spirit–the power to strive for a holiness and righteousness that exceeds mere observance of the law (cf. Mt. 5:20).

So, let me summarize the “Six Antitheses” [more]from the viewpoint of virtue development: 

(1)  You have heard it said that you shall not kill. Our Lord tells us to foster the virtue of meekness.

(2) You have heard it said that you shall not commit adultery. Our Lord tells us to foster sexual purity and the virtue of chastity.

(3) You have heard it said that you shouldn’t divorce and remarry. Our Lord tells us to foster marital fidelity.

(4) You have heard it said that you shouldn’t take a false oath. Our Lord tells us to foster the virtue of honesty.

(5) You have heard it said: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Our Lord tells us to foster the virtues of forgiveness and generosity.

(6) You have heard it said: “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Our Lord tells us to foster the virtues of charity and solidarity with all, especially with those who are most difficult for us to love.

In other words, we are called to be perfect, as Our Heavenly Father is perfect. We’re not there yet, and we’ll never get there on our own, but with God all things are possible. He not only shows us the way to happiness in the Sermon on the Mount, but also gives us His very life in the sacraments so we can get there.

St. Bernardine of Siena

Thursday, May 20th, 2010


Today the Church celebrates the feast day of St. Bernardine of Siena. As a child in Southern California, I never heard about St. Bernardine, though the nearby city of San Bernardino (my brother called it “San Ber-doo”) was named after him. I only later learned that this 15th-century Franciscan priest was quite a dynamic evangelist and preacher.

He is perhaps best known for fostering devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. His “MO” was to travel from city to city throughout all of Italy carrying a banner with the large letters “IHS” (more on that in a minute) [more]encircled by twelve golden rays surmounted by a cross.

I”ve always been curious about the “IHS,” which is found (thanks in large part to St. Bernardine) in many Catholic churches and on many religious items. There has been a certain amount of confusion on this. Some say it signifies “In hoc Signo vinces” (“In this Sign you will conquer,” referring to Constantine”s famous vision, with the nails on the emblem forming the “v”), while others say it”s the first letters of Jesus Hominum Salvator (“Jesus, Savior of Mankind”).

The most plausible and widely accepted interpretation that I”ve encountered is that it”s simply an abbreviated form of the name of Jesus, as it appears in Greek, The earliest recorded use of this monogram appears to be the eighth century.

Aside from all the history behind it, the important thing is that “IHS” has come to be recognized as a familiar symbol of the Holy Name of Jesus, a symbol that has been popularized over the past 500 years by Franciscans, Dominicans, and Jesuits. May we recognize, especially in our use of language, the holiness of the name before which “every knee shall bend” (Phil. 2:10).

Let”s close with the prayer of the Church:

You gave Saint Bernardine a special love
for the holy name of Jesus.
By the help of his prayers,
may we always be alive with the spirit of Your love.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. +Amen.