It’s the feast of St. Athanasius, and you’re reading The Tuesday Pillar Post.
Athanasius is one of the greatest men ever to strap on a pair of sandals, and we’ll talk about him a bit later on, I promise.
But first, please accept my greetings from Lander, Wyoming, to which I was invited in order to give at Wyoming Catholic College a lecture this evening on the life of the Church and the universal call to holiness. In candor, it’s probably a bit of puffery for me to call my talk a “lecture,” but I’ve always wanted to visit this college, and here I am.
I arrived late last night, landing at nearly 11, on the only daily commercial flight into this part of Wyoming, and was then driven across dark prairie for an hour or so. But I was awed by the beautiful darkness of Wyoming night sky, which dazzled with the light of innumerable stars.
And while I’ve been in Lander itself for fewer than eight hours now, and spent at least five of them sleeping, I must admit that I already feel like I know the place. Or at least I’ve seen most of it.
This morning, I asked the clerk at my hotel whether there was a nearby place where I might eat breakfast and hunker down for a while to write this newsletter. The clerk at first said no, that the restaurants were “all the way downtown,” and that I’d have to walk as many as 10 blocks to get somewhere.
I was indignant, immediately, but I wasn’t entirely sure why: It wasn’t clear whether I was having a kind of grumpy, pre-coffee fit of pique about people not walking much anymore, or whether I was offended that perhaps the clerk thought that I, personally, wasn’t up to task of a 10-block jaunt. I resented that possible assessment of my fitness, harrumphed a few times, and said that I’d love to walk downtown.
I realized it wasn’t really about me when the clerk explained that I’d just have to turn right out of a parking lot, and then walk straight for 10 or so blocks — and then began looking under the counter for a map I could take with me along the journey.
In fairness, they were uptown blocks, not crosstown blocks. And after seven of them, ok, I conceded that it was a long walk.
But I made it, and I do know a lot about Lander, Wyoming’s main drag now.
I don’t know what “cheesewheels” are, but I’d rather live in the mystery than just google it.
I also know now enough about Lander to have at least one restaurant not to recommend, should a tourist, newer in town than even I am, decide to ask.
The diner I found has the right country-and-western look, and country music playing on the radio, and I was all set to love it. But the ketchup tastes like a cinnamon candy apple, and I just can’t imagine the reasons why that might be. That’s just not how ketchup is supposed to taste, my friends, and I can’t let it go.
But at least I know where the other restaurants are in town, including the college-student-run coffeehouse, which is excellent. They’re only a few blocks walk, if you have a map.
Anyhow, let’s talk about the news.
Since we’re talking about walking, let’s start with this story, which comes to us from Maracaibo, Venezuela — an oil city at the mouth of the Gulf of Venezuela.
The Venezuelan city, where temperatures run into the 90s every month of the year, is the unlikely home of one of the largest Divine Mercy Sunday processions in the world — drawing more than 300,000 people each year to adoration, a 3-mile procession, and a Mass celebrated outdoors, under Maracaibo’s blazing sun.
And why, exactly, does Maracaibo’s procession draw so many people? Well, nobody’s quite sure, even the organizers. They’re not 100% sure how devotion to the Divine Mercy image spread to Maracaibo in the first place.
But the entire project is a grassroots initiative spearheaded by a few local laypeople — with a lot of help from schools, parishes, and the local archdiocese.
Jose Luis Matheus, the organizer of the entire project, talked with The Pillar this week about Maracaibo’s extraordinary devotion to Divine Mercy.
He told us that it takes a lot of miracles to pull the procession off each year, and that he’s heard stories about miraculous healings of all kinds from the participants. But the best part of the procession, he said, is to see thousands of people go to confession during the procession each year — some of whom have been away from the sacrament for decades.
“On the day of the procession we place a lot of emphasis on providing spaces for confession, we ask the priests of the diocese to accompany us on the day, with confession both in the church where the procession begins, and in the place where we have Mass at the end.”
“And that is where the miracles begin: I once saw a whole line of people who said they had gone more than 10 years without going to confession. Others who have not confessed since their first communion. I have seen people who have gone 70 or 80 years without confession, and that day they come to the sacrament,” said Matheus.
“That's the real miracle.”
Read the whole story here. It’s a slice of the Church’s life you probably didn’t know about, reported very well by our own Edgar Beltran.
Bishop Stephen Chow of Hong Kong is trying to thread a difficult needle after his visit to Hong Kong last month — acknowledging tensions between the Church and state authorities, while reminding Chinese Catholics of their duty to be good citizens.
Chow’s encouragement, published in a Friday column in Hong Kong’s diocesan newspaper, came after he frustrated some Hong Kong Catholics in April by encouraging them to love their country.
Some Hong Kongers, who have protested in recent years against the reach of the Beijing government, argued that Chow’s language sounded a lot like the rhetoric of the Chinese Communist Party, and that left some of them quite angry.
But Chow wrote last week that he hadn’t meant to evoke CCP talking points, and he acknowledged that “love of country” language is pretty rare, and sounds kind of strange in Hong Kong.
But citizens, including Catholics, have a “duty” to “contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom,” he wrote.
“Therefore, loving our country means the dignity of its people should come first,” Chow said. “I believe any responsible government must have the same mission in mind, though the approaches prescribed may vary due to different external factors.”
Many Hong Kong Catholics are protesting Beijing’s security apparatus in the region, some have gone to jail — and in other parts of the country, priests last month told The Pillar that they’re having trouble trusting either Beijing or the Holy See in recent days.
Chow is urging “an opening for dialogue between the government and the Church.”
“For the sake of the country, we should help the government to become better,” he said.
So will Chinese Catholics take up Bishop Chow’s call for conversation? Will the bishop himself eventually change his tune?
Read The Pillar’s latest reporting on ecclesial efforts — and tension — in a volatile region for Catholics.
This newsletter is sponsored by an anonymous reader who encourages you to read The Soul of The Apostolate by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard, O.C.S.O. It is in print and should be easy to buy or borrow. If you have this book already, consider rereading or lending it to a friend.
King Charles III will be crowned on Saturday, in a ritual that includes elements nearly 1,000 years old.
To prepare readers for that event, The Pillar talked this week with Rev. Angus Morrison, once the moderator — or head — of the Church of Scotland, who also served as a royal chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II and the British Royal Family.
Morrison talked with us about the faith of Charles III, saying that in his view “religion and faith are matters of very great importance to King Charles.”
Now if you only know about Charles from “The Crown,” like most of us, you might have a very different impression of Charles. But English people keep telling me that “The Crown” apparently “isn’t a documentary,” and they seem to be serious about it. Apparently their entire monarchy “can’t be reduced to Netflix.” I don’t know, but I suppose we ought to at least consider that possibility.
Morrison, for his part, aimed to clear up some misconception around Charles’ once-reported plan to be known as the “Defender of Faith,” rather than as the “Defender of the Faith.”
Morrison said the Charles has both “reaffirmed his own Christian faith and commitment to the Church of England,” and emphasized “his personal determination, to provide safe space for those who choose to follow ‘other spiritual paths, as well as those who seek to live their lives in accordance with secular ideals.’”
Now, if you’re like me, and you’re not a careful follower of the British Royal Family, you’ll probably still find this interview interesting, because Morrison offers a thorough discussion of the relationship between the Church of Scotland and the Church of England — and offers some of his own views on the very notion of ecclesial communion.
Listen — you probably won’t agree with everything he says. For example, Morrison makes an argument for sacramental intercommunion which doesn’t jibe with Catholic sacramental theology. But his experience — as both moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and a former royal chaplain — makes Morrison worth reading.
Really. Give this interview a read.
Last June, The Pillar reported that Solidarity HealthShare, a health insurance alternative popular among many Catholics, was behind on paying the medical bills of many of its members, in some cases, for years.
Well, we’ve got an update, with some solid investigative reporting from Michelle La Rosa.
While Solidarity pledged transparency last year, it still has not complied with federal regulations requiring that it publish annual financial audits. And some members and former members say the “health sharing ministry” has left big medical bills unpaid for more than two years, hitting their credit ratings, emptying their bank accounts, and making it hard for them even to get doctor appointments.
Solidarity told The Pillar that it doesn’t believe it’s actually in violation of federal law, because federal statutes don’t actually say when an organization is required to publish its audits. But the company hasn’t published an audit for any year since 2019, which was by now quite some time ago.
Here’s why this is important: I know parish and diocesan employees, Catholic school teachers, and lay people involved in apostolates of various kinds who have been encouraged to avail themselves of Solidarity and similar health-sharing ministries. Such ministries are often viewed as a more affordable option for employers who don’t think they can afford to subsidize employee health insurance. Now, whatever you think about that, when the programs don’t actually work, the issue of justice becomes much more acute.
And members tell us that Solidarity isn’t working — with one member even providing emails in which she was accused by a company rep of “bearing false witness” after making a complaint to the Better Business Bureau.
Despite the issues with Solidarity, they’ve gotten endorsements from the March for Life and the Catholic Medical Association, which told The Pillar last week that “Solidarity fills a great need in the Church for those seeking authentically Catholic healthcare, and for those seeking to practice medicine according to their Faith and best medical evidence.”
Does it, really?
Read a deep-dive report on Solidarity Health — with some stories you’ll find remarkable — right here.
Last week, I mentioned to you that we were aiming to meet some internal subscription goals before the month of April was over. I asked you to consider becoming a paid subscriber to The Pillar, many of you did.
We’re hard at work on a number of important reporting projects right now, and you’re making them happen. We don’t take that lightly.
And we’ve been trying out a new little feature, as a thank you for our paid subscribers. Substack, the webhosting platform which powers The Pillar, has recently launched a chat feature, something like a Discord platform, on which discussions of all kinds can be had, among the community of Pillar subscribers.
We think it is — at least potentially — pretty cool, and we’ve decided to experiment with it with our paying subscribers. Actually, we started yesterday, and we’ve already had some good conversations get started. If you’re a subscriber have the Substack app, or if you go here, you should be able to find it.
We’ll continue playing around with how to best make use of this feature to build The Pillar’s community. And if you’re not yet a subscriber, but you want to be able to chat online with those who are, sign up here:
Some of you have probably noticed that I’ve been talking a bit lately, both in the newsletter and on social media, about the playoff run of my beloved New Jersey Devils — who have missed the playoffs for the past couple of years.
We beat the Rangers last night in a thrilling game 7 shutout, which means we’re now on to a tough playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes, who I still think of as the Hartford Whalers, because the logo was so much cooler.
I talk about hockey because I love hockey, and I aim to pass on a love for the game to my children. But that’s not, as you might have suspected, because my dad loved hockey and passed that passion on to me.
On the contrary.
In truth, I want to pass on hockey fandom to my kids in large part because my dad doesn’t especially love hockey, but went to a lot of games anyway.
I started playing street hockey on rollerblades when I was 9 or so, and soon enough, found myself playing with a group of guys just about every day — on our street, at the schoolyard, in an empty tennis court that made an especially good rink.
I came to love the New Jersey Devils because they were the hometown team — and within a few years, they were in some exciting playoff runs, including the heartbreak of the 1994 Conference finals loss to our regional rivals, and our historic 1995 run to win the Stanley Cup itself.
Now, my parents didn’t care very much about hockey at all. But my dad saw that I liked it, saw that he could spend time with his son, and made it a point to take me to a fair number of games each season — and now realizing what that cost, I realize the sacrifice of the thing.
Plus, when I wanted to take up ice hockey — a hugely expensive sport — my parents, who didn’t have a lot of money, made sacrifices to make that happen, and to drive me to rinks at ungodly hours, even though it was obvious from the very beginning that I had much more enthusiasm than actual talent. (Wyomingites don’t even expect me to walk 10 blocks to breakfast, don’t forget!).
My parents, and my dad especially, took up an interest of mine and made sacrifices to support it, even while my dad has really no interest in watching a bunch of French Canadians pinging around a small sheet of ice crashing into each other.
So it seems the least I can do as an act of appreciation is make sure to pass my love for hockey to my own kids. Plus, they sometimes ask my dad to watch games with them, and it’s funny to chuckle at how profoundly bored he is while feigning interest for their sake.
Here’s my prediction: Devils in six.
And speaking of fatherhood, yesterday my son Davey’s kindergarten class had a “Dad’s party” for the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
We ate some cinnamon rolls, and built birdhouses together, in imitation of St. Joseph the Carpenter.
Here’s ours, hand-lettered by Davey:
I did the portraits, Davey did the lightsabers:
Anyway, the moving moment was when a room full of kindergartners stood next to their dads and said this prayer:
I wasn’t the only dad a bit misty-eyed, I’m certain.
But I provide it for you as a reminder of the beautiful things that happen when Catholic schools are committed to building their formation around the family, and around the liturgical calendar. It’s a gift. And if you’re looking for a prayer to pray for your own dad, that’s a pretty good one under most circumstances.
Finally, St. Athanasius, among the most extraordinary men ever to strap on a pair of sandals.
Athanasius, the fourth century bishop of Alexandria, was a defender of the faith against the heresy of Arianism, which was widespread across the Church in the fourth century. His fight against Arianism meant that Athanasius faced down both a powerful coalition of bishops, and various civic officials who opposed him. It also meant that he was exiled five times from his own see, and spent a lot of time either on the run or in hiding.
He took all that for love of Jesus Christ, and for love of his Church.
At one moment, a cadre of soldiers were looking for Athanasius along the banks of the Nile River. So they asked a poor-looking old pauper if they’d seen him. The man replied, “Yes, Athanasius is not very far off.” The soldiers took up the river in pursuit. The only problem? Athanasius was the poor-looking old pauper — and he had answered truthfully.
Here’s an excerpt from an Athanasius discourse on the Incarnation:
“The Word of God, incorporeal, incorruptible and immaterial, entered our world. Yet it was not as if he had been remote from it up to that time. For there is no part of the world that was ever without his presence; together with his Father, he continually filled all things and places.
Out of his loving-kindness for us he came to us, and we see this in the way he revealed himself openly to us. Taking pity on mankind’s weakness, and moved by our corruption, he could not stand aside and see death have the mastery over us; he did not want creation to perish and his Father’s work in fashioning man to be in vain. He therefore took to himself a body, no different from our own, for he did not wish simply to be in a body or only to be seen.
In death the Word made a spotless sacrifice and oblation of the body he had taken. By dying for others, he immediately banished death for all mankind.
In this way the Word of God, who is above all, dedicated and offered his temple, the instrument that was his body, for us all, as he said, and so paid by his own death the debt that was owed. The immortal Son of God, united with all men by likeness of nature, thus fulfilled all justice in restoring mankind to immortality by the promise of the resurrection.
The corruption of death no longer holds any power over mankind, thanks to the Word, who has come to dwell among them through his one body.”
St. Athanasius, a bishop of courage and holiness, pray for us!
Please be assured of our prayers, everybody. And please pray for us. We need it.
And stay tuned — we’ve always got more great reporting coming.
Yours in Christ,