In 2023, many crises face us — war, the economy, viruses, vaccinations, human folly, human sin. So we must be vigilant — even more than we have been — to keep the faith and to fight for it and… for our civilization 

 The Lord comes to the world in a stable… because the word of God needs no spotlights or loud human voices. The Lord is Himself the Word that gives life its meaning.” —Pope Francis, Urbi et Orbi Christmas message, December 25, 2022, Rome 

May the Lord… enlighten the minds of those who have the power to silence the thunder of weapons and put an immediate end to this senseless war!” —Ibid

Our time is experiencing a grave famine of peace, also in other theaters of this third world war.—Ibid. 

Fr. Frank Pavone, a well-known pro-life activist… has been dismissed from the clerical state.’” —CNA on Dec. 17, after obtaining a Dec. 13 letter to US bishops from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the US. Pierre said the decision was issued Nov. 9 with “no possibility of appeal” 

“It is said the CDF Prefect, the Jesuit Luis Ladaria, wished, after the trials and fact-finding, to reduce Fr. Marko Rupnik, S.J., to the lay state. Pope Francis removed this extreme sanction [of ex-communication]… As is known, the pontiff is the only authority authorized to decide in this matter.—Luis Badilla, a journalist supportive of Pope Francis, editor of Il Sismografo, questioning why Francis in May 2020 reversed the ex-communication of Rupnik for sacrilege 

December 26, 2022, Feast of St. Stephen, the First Martyr— As 2022 is drawing to a close, as Christmas is quickly followed by the recollection of the stoning of St. Stephen because he bore witness to the same Christ who was born in Bethlehem, we see many worrisome signs in the world — war, hunger, sickness, addiction — and in the Church — efforts to alter established teaching, lack of clear leadership from Rome, incidents of sexual abuse and of sacrilege. Yet signs of hope remain. 

One worrisome sign: Pope Francis, in his Christmas Day Urbi et Orbi message, said that the world is already in “World War III,” referring to Ukraine, but also to Syria and the Holy Land. During ten months of war in Ukraine, tens of thousands have been killed. And 2022 has seen the most violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in years, with at least 150 Palestinians and more than 20 Israelis killed. So the Pope is warning us, and urging us to be vigilant about, the danger of war. 

A second sign: On December 25, Christmas Day — yesterday as I write — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia is “ready to negotiate” to end the war in Ukraine. “We are ready to negotiate with everyone involved about acceptable solutions, but that is up to them — we are not the ones refusing to negotiate, they are,” Putin told Rossiya 1 state television. Of course, as it is often said, “talk is cheap,” and an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky quickly said that Putin needed to acknowledge it was Russia which did not want talks. “Russia single-handedly attacked Ukraine and is killing citizens,” the adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, tweeted, adding: “Russia doesn’t want negotiations, but tries to avoid responsibility.” Still, there are only two possibilities to end this war: negotiations, or the total defeat of one side or the other. So, this sign reminds us that we must weigh everything, with calls for peace, with care, in order to judge what is prudent. 

A third sign: Pope Francis cried out yesterday: “Our time is experiencing a grave famine,” then ended his phrase by saying “of peace…” A famine of peace. He said the war in Ukraine has put millions at risk of actual famine, mentioning Afghanistan and countries in the Horn of Africa. So, the Pope is warning us that the spreading wars may lead to famine. 

A fourth sign: the differing treatment by Church authorities of the cases of Fr. Frank Pavone and Fr. Marko Rupnik. Pavone was laicized on November 9 “for blasphemous communications on social media” and “disobedience.” Rupnik, a Jesuit artist, was excommunicated in May 2020 when an investigation judged as “credible” that he had used the sacrament of confession to absolve the sin of a woman he had sexually abused — a sacrilege (the crime of “absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the sixth commandment”). Then, within weeks, his ex-communication was lifted — something only Pope Francis has the authority to do. (These two decisions were not made public until early this month.) So these two cases, as well as many others in recent years, are also signs: that, despite decades of attempts to reform the Church’s procedures to avoid “coverups” of sexual crimes, there is still too little transparency, leaving many faithful to conclude that either Pope Francis is acting based on information he alone has received, information never made public, or that he is acting on bad advice from uninformed, unbalanced, or unfaithful advisors. So, a lack of transparency in these matters — and also in doctrinal matters, like the decision not to answer the five dubia of 2016, or not to explain the decision to bring images of the Pachamama into St. Peter’s in 2019 — is undermining papal authority, and so harming the Church, as millions are perplexed and asking, “Why was this decision taken?” Again, these two decisions are signs that there should be greater transparency in Church decision-making processes, to lessen much faith-destroying confusion. 

A fifth sign: a hospitalized man in Vienna, Austria, left totally alone by his family due to alcohol addiction, for whom a Rosary group has been praying, has recently been visited by his brother, and it seems a reconciliation is occurring. This is a sign that prayers can be answered, in small and in large ways. 

So, in spite of so many concerns, there remains much to be thankful for, as 2023 begins. 

In his First Letter, St. Peter, writing “from Babylon” (Rome) to Christians in Asia Minor, says: “Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour. Whom resist ye, strong in faith: knowing that the same affliction befalls your brethren who are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little, will himself perfect you and confirm you and establish you. To him be glory and empire, for ever and ever. Amen.”

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