Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Have you ever visited the abortion monument at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago?

It stands just west of the bridge at the bottom of the hill atop which sits the Cardinal’s mansion. Actually it’s his country mansion, modeled after Mount Vernon. His city mansion with its 17 chimneys is located in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood near Lincoln Park. At any rate, the seminary’s granite monument to victims of abortion is in a peaceful setting under pine trees near rippling waters. It was paid for by the Knights of Columbus.

A visit prompts a host of thoughts and emotions. Deep sadness for the thousands of young lives lost to abortion. Compassion for the mothers, many of whom were themselves victims, facing desperate circumstances before terminating their pregnancies. Frustration about the fathers, a good number of whom walked away from their responsibilities for these women and children. Consternation about our nation’s polarization and inability to deal effectively with abortion, and its tangled web of causes and effects.

Standing at that spot brings thoughts of Cardinal Bernardin, who once dwelled in that big house up the hill. With his “seamless garment” approach he attempted to find common ground on a wide variety of respect-for-life issues, trying to bridge the toxic gap between the right and the left. Sadly, during his lifetime he was accused by his colleagues of equivocating on abortion by mingling it with a host of other contentious societal problems. After his death, that voice of moderation and reconciliation has been overwhelmed by armies of angry partisans. However, in his controversial visit to Notre Dame earlier this year, President Obama resurfaced the Cardinal’s name as one whose vision might help us find our way out of the so-called abortion wars and our current stalemate on this crucial issue.

But back to the victims. Why was this monument located in this isolated setting? How many people even know that it’s here? And what about those other victims – the children and teens who have been sexually abused by priests and teachers, relatives and neighbors, and other trusted adults? What about a monument to them? If one monument is good, wouldn’t two be better?

What might it look like? Perhaps it should depict Jesus, seated and surrounded by a group of girls and boys. Jesus as their protector and friend. Perhaps such a monument would include his words to the disciples who wanted to send away the children and parents who sought to see him after a long, laborious day. “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them.” Or perhaps, more ominously, it might include those words about the millstone which would be fastened around the necks of those who scandalized these little ones. Such a monument might be a fitting twin to the abortion monument.

And where would it be located? Here in this bucolic spot at the seminary? Or perhaps just as the Cardinal has a country mansion and a city mansion, there should be a country monument and a city monument to victimized children. Perhaps it should be in the courtyard of the cathedral, or on the corner of North Avenue and State Parkway on the Cardinal’s property across from Lincoln Park, or at the corner of Chestnut and Rush, where the old Quigley Seminary has been transformed into the new Archdiocesan Pastoral Center. In any of those locations, hundreds of passersby each day might be reminded of our communal responsibility to guard and protect vulnerable young lives at all stages. Perhaps this second monument could serve as a reminder of that seamless garment of compassion and concern which envelopes the precious gift of life.


Thursday, September 3, 2009


Teddy Kennedy’s funeral was different. It wasn’t your typical Roman Catholic celebrity liturgy. Ordinary priests had the starring roles of presider and homilist. There was an abundance of stories and much tenderness. The preacher spoke as one who had been a soul companion on Teddy’s final spiritual journey, rather than merely a clergyman. It was basically a “low Mass” with the ordinary parts spoken, not sung. Family was central despite the presence of exalted guests. The locale wasn’t a famous cathedral, but rather the working class church where Teddy had prayed most powerfully when his daughter was at death’s door, and where he himself encountered God during his final illness. There was open admission that the deceased had once led a wild life, which had been redeemed by God’s grace and the love of a good woman. There was talk of the spacious sea as well as the contours of politics and the urgency of social justice. The dominating figure was the widow, Vicki, who said not a word, but embraced and comforted all comers. Boston’s Cardinal stood on the sidelines until the very end, looking uneasy as if expecting a deluge of letters from his colleagues, many of whom would have denied Teddy Holy Communion if he had dared enter their precincts.

What was going on? Perhaps the Catholicism on display was more Celtic than Roman. History reminds us that ancient Celtic Christianity is not the same as the Irish Catholicism created under Cardinal Paul Cullen in the homeland back in the mid-nineteenth century with its legalism and Jansenistic rigidity, which accompanied the immigrants to our shores during the devastating potato famine. Centuries ago, Celtic Catholicism had gone underground after the Roman ways were imposed at the Synod of Whitby in 664.

The precipitating arguments at that time were about the date of Easter and tonsure and Baptism. But the issues beneath the surface focused on the fact that the leaders of the ancient Irish were not bishops and clerics, but abbots and abbesses in their monasteries, and holy men who lived in the forests. Moreover, the Irish form of Confession was ongoing spiritual direction rather than once-in-a-lifetime deathbed forgiveness. Also, women were powerful and honored church leaders. Rome was distant geographically and spiritually. When the Viking raiders arrived in the 9th century, many of the great abbeys were pillaged and destroyed. Still the faith persevered. And when Cromwell and his armies arrived in 1649, the ancient religion burrowed even deeper. Once again, in our own day, the pervasive sex abuse crisis is testing the faith of the Irish.

These ancient rivers run deep. They explain how the Catholic faith continues to hold our hearts despite clergy misconduct, hierarchical ineptitude, and the shortages of parish priests. They also explain how we can support Obama and Notre Dame and women religious and gays and other assorted outcasts. Teddy Kennedy’s funeral touched our hearts, and as he himself said, “The dream goes on.”

-- Baltasar