Twenty Fourth Sunday In Ordinary Time

September 12, 2015 Column Father De Celles

Choosing a New Bishop. Bishop Paul Loverde, Bishop of our Diocese of Arlington, turned 75 years old on Thursday, September 3. We congratulate him and pray for “many happy returns of the day.”

But this also marks an important date in the life of our Diocese: under canon law a bishop is required to hand in his resignation to the Pope on his 75th birthday, which Bishop Loverde has done. As is usual, the Pope did not accept the resignation immediately, and may wait several months to several years to do so, at which time he will appoint a successor. In the meantime, Bishop Loverde continues as our Bishop, AND the process to pick his successor, the new Bishop, begins in earnest.

The choice of a new bishop ultimately rests in the hands of the Pope, but the long process begins here in the US. First, the bishops in our area (the “Province,” headed by the Archbishop of Baltimore), submit the names of priests or bishops they think would be good candidates to the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Vigano, in Washington. (The “Nuncio” is Pope Francis’ ambassador and personal representative to the US). He then considers these names, consults a wide variety of bishops, priests and laity, and comes up with his own short list of candidates (which may not include the names submitted by the Provincial Bishops). He then begins a careful investigation of these men as to their suitability, including making inquiries among their friends and associations (if the candidate is already a bishop this is abbreviated, since he was previously investigated). He then narrows his list to three names, called the “terna,” which he submits, along with their files, to the Congregation for Bishops in the Vatican.

The Congregation for Bishops, a committee of (mainly) Cardinals from around the world, meets in Rome to review the files, and may accept the Nuncio’s terna or nominate others, sending their final terna to the Pope. The Pope then normally choses from that list of three names, although he may ignore it and choose someone else.

While the Holy Spirit is involved in the process, decisions are ultimately made by mere men, and so it is subject to ordinary human manipulation and politics. Which is a mixed blessing: it is good to have  holy bishops and cardinals influence the process, but all such human intervention admits of error, influenced, even, by sin. Even so, the Holy Spirit is active in all this, and the Lord Jesus loves us, and wants to send us a good, holy and wise Bishop to succeed our good Bishop Loverde.

The Bishop is crucial in the life of a diocese—he is its spiritual father and shepherd, and his decisions have a huge impact. Unfortunately, not all bishops are up to the task: they, too, are mere men. Some are great, but some…are not.

            So, I exhort you all to pray daily for the selection of our next bishop. Pray the Rosary, or any other prayer you like. Ask the Holy Spirit to move all those involved to open their hearts to His promptings. Beg the Lord Jesus to send us a shepherd after His own Heart. And lay all this in the hands of our Blessed Mother, who will surely take  care of her beloved children.

With this in mind, from now until the name of our new Bishop is announced I ask that the final “Hail Mary” we pray after all Masses at St. Raymond’s be dedicated to this intention: “For our good Bishop Loverde, and for the selection of his wise and holy successor.”


KIM DAVIS. Many of you may have been following the story of  the county clerk in Kentucky who was jailed for refusing to comply with a judge’s order to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. Let me try to shed light on the moral aspects of this case.

Many say that “it’s the law of the land” so she should just “obey the law.” It is true that Christians are obliged to follow all just laws, and to assume that laws are just unless they are obviously not so. As Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in 1963:

“One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’….A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God…To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.”

Clearly the new law allowing “same sex marriage” is obviously not a “just law”—it is absolutely contrary to natural and eternal law. So we are not obliged to obey it, and we are obliged to change it.

Some say Mrs. Davis should go along with the law to keep public peace. But you can never directly and materially cooperate with evil, even for a good reason, so she was right to try to avoid this. But there are often alternative ways of doing this: not everyone has to be a martyr. For example, she could have simply resigned from office (as St. Thomas More did). Or, she could remain in the job if her authority over these licenses was given to someone else (e.g., her assistant) by the judge, governor, or legislature (as long as this didn’t depend on her direct consent).

So, she didn’t have to go to jail. But, she was certainly free to do so, and it was heroic for her to do so. This is “peaceful civil disobedience”—we peacefully disobey an unjust law and accept the consequences. This is why Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote that “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”—he’d been jailed for disobeying a court order not to protest racial segregation.

Christians will face more and more of these situations in the days to come. We don’t always have to go to jail for our beliefs, and some are obliged to try not to (e.g., parents of small children), as long as we choose other morally acceptable tactics. But it is never morally acceptable to directly and materially cooperate with unjust laws.


Annulments. You’ve probably read about Pope Francis’ changes to the rules about marriage annulments. As I write this the rules are only one day old, and are still only available in Latin and Italian, so I’m going to withhold commentary until I have a chance to review them carefully. In the meantime, remember: never believe the secular media.


September 11, 2001. Lest we forget those innocents and heroes who died in the attacks of 9-11… Eternal rest grant unto them Oh Lord. And send Your holy angels to defend us and to protect all who risk their lives for our safety.


Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles