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St. Thomas More Corner
St. Thomas More


posted Jul 22, 2012, 7:29 PM by Web Team

“To err is human, to forgive, divine.”

--Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism (1709)

With Council elections fast approaching, this installment of the St. Thomas More Corner will be the last for the 2011-12 fraternal year. As announced earlier, I am not running for re-election as Grand Knight of St. Sebastian Council # 14255 for the 2012-13 fraternal year. Having been an officer of this Council since its charter issued, I am convinced that the Council needs new blood at the top of the organization. In July 2011, I attended a meeting in Garfield Heights at which a State Officer spoke. One of his remarks particularly struck me: if the same people run a Council at the highest leadership positions year after year, such is the path to stagnation and ultimate loss of membership for that Council.

Any organization needs new ideas and fresh approaches to retain vitality. A Council continuously operated by the same people will naturally tend to pursue the same programs in the same way as in prior years, both from a sense of comfort and inertia. It is simply human nature to do so. I recall that when the great NBA player and later coach, Lenny Wilkins, was discharged from employment by the Cleveland Cavaliers, he said that a change might indeed be warranted, as the players had become tired of hearing the same voice and needed to hear a new one. So it may be with our Council.

Council elections will occur at the June 6, 2012 general membership meeting. I strongly encourage every member of this Council who is a Third Degree member, and therefore eligible for election, seriously to consider running for an officer position. To be sure, being an officer requires a commitment to the charitable endeavors of the Council, to being willing to organize programs in order to effectuate Council priorities and to handle the administrative aspects of the Council, whether it be timely filing reports and financial assessments with the State and Supreme Councils or ensuring that IRS obligations are discharged and website updates occur in timely fashion. A substantial commitment of time is necessary. But, for the Council to function as it should, some new officers with new ideas and approaches are equally necessary.

During the 2011-12 fraternal year, four accomplishments were particularly meaningful to me. First, the Council completed work on the lower level of Forest Lodge and moved our operations to that site. Second, as a result of the yeoman efforts of our Deputy Grand Knight and Knight of the Year, Tony Burgoyne, we conducted the inaugural 5K Race Around the Park, which was a smashing success as a Council and community event, as well as a substantial, non-raffle, fund-raiser. Let us hope the 5K Race will become that one event which we always conduct, and for which our Council will become known throughout the area. And may we ultimately be able to rely less on raffles as a source of income for conducting our charitable activities. Third, we more completely effectuated the original concept of the Rose Mass by selecting a worthy recipient of the Dr. Carl Krill Award, which was bestowed at a liturgy over which a Bishop presided. Fourth, we continued our commitment to the Deacon Terry Peacock scholarship program, which shows that the Knights support Catholic education at the secondary school level.

The 2011-12 fraternal year, of course, also saw some shortcomings, the most obvious of which was my failure to organize a membership recruitment program which would ensure that the number of new members exceeded suspensions for non-payment of dues. As a result, our Council suffered a small net decrease in membership this fraternal year. I must admit that marketing is not my strength; an important task facing the new Grand Knight will be to implement a more effective membership recruitment and retention program.

Next fraternal year, I will remain active in the Council. I will continue to coordinate the First Degree team. I will assist with the golf outing and the 5K events to the degree that I am able. And, if something needs to be written, whether it is the form 1728 annual report of fraternal activities, website updates or reports of programs on the State website, I shall be happy to participate.

Finally, I am fully aware that my interpersonal style can, at times, be viewed as abrupt or abrasive. That personality flaw is particularly noticeable when one wields a gavel. For that personal failing, I must apologize. But, as the second most often quoted writer in the English language, Alexander Pope, recognized, error is a human matter. Forgiveness is participation in the divine. And so, I ask you to follow the model of our Lord and pardon me for the shortcomings attendant to my term as Grand Knight.

Bernard A. Smith
Grand Knight
May 15, 2012

ST. THOMAS MORE CORNER - April 15, 2012

posted Jul 22, 2012, 7:27 PM by Web Team

“Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.”

--William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

Among all the figures prominent in the Passion and Easter Scriptures, your Grand Knight’s favorite is the Apostle Thomas, whose name I took at Confirmation in 1969. Then, at the age of 12, I was already considering the law as a profession and was questioning the reasoned basis for everything (whether it be parental authority or matters of faith); thus, the person of “Doubting Thomas” was highly attractive. To this day, St. Thomas the Apostle is a kindred spirit.

As any human being, St. Thomas had both admirable and flawed character traits. The Gospel of John, which from a literary and thematic standpoint emphasizes stark contrasts such as light vs. darkness, sight vs. blindness, truth vs. lies, and life vs. death, carefully identifies and contrasts St. Thomas’ good and bad traits of character. On the positive side, St. Thomas is portrayed as a man of loyalty and courage. By its 11th Chapter, the Gospel of John makes clear that it was dangerous for Jesus to preach or even appear anywhere near Jerusalem. Yet, when Jesus left for Bethany, near Jerusalem, to raise Lazarus, it was St. Thomas who loyally uttered the words, “Let us go along, to die with him.” John, 11:16.

Similarly, after the Resurrection, the Apostles were locked in a room for fear that their own deaths would soon follow. Except, that is, for St. Thomas, who the Gospel specifically says was not present when the risen Christ first appeared to the rest of the Apostles in that locked room. John, 20: 24. St. Thomas, in other words, was the only Apostle with the courage to leave the locked room in which his fellow Apostles cowered.

But St. John’s literary method of articulating stark contrasts then appears in the next verse, for when St. Thomas returned to the locked room, he was told about the Lord’s appearance. His response was a stubborn refusal to believe: “I will never believe it without probing the nail prints in his hands, without putting my fingers in the nail marks and my hand into his side.” John: 20, 25.

A World War II general once remarked that there is a fine line between courage and foolhardiness. So also is there a fine line between reasoned faith and stubbornness. St. Thomas, apparently a practical man, reacted to Jesus’ death much like a lawyer: show me the evidence!! And, the only evidence that St. Thomas possessed was that Jesus had been nailed to the Cross, had died in agony and had been buried in a tomb. Jesus was dead, along with his message. No amount of protestation by his fellow Apostles would convince St. Thomas otherwise, absent solid empirical evidence to the contrary. A week later, of course, Jesus re-appeared to the Apostles in the locked room and provided that irrefutable evidence to St. Thomas.

Shakespeare wrote that “love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.” Love is unconditional; it is not withdrawn or changed when one discovers a previously unknown flaw—an alteration—in a person upon whom love has previously been bestowed. If it were otherwise, no marriage relationship would survive.

So it is with our relationship to God and with St. Thomas’ failure of faith. For St. Thomas, faith was not faith which altered when it alteration found. With the crucifixion of Jesus, St. Thomas’ world view had been annihilated. Jesus, who St. Thomas had followed for three years, had gone from being the final, decisive Word of God’s revelation of the plan of salvation (and also, as the four Gospels’ portray it, the Apostles’ mistaken assumption that Jesus was a political leader who would finally liberate Israel from Roman military domination) to being a common corpse in the space of three hours. Finding his understanding of Jesus radically altered by the events of Good Friday, St. Thomas’ faith was altered—indeed, destroyed—and so he was bereft of faith entirely. His faith was restored only when the resurrected Christ revealed himself to St. Thomas as being far different in nature and in mission than the Apostle had previously grasped.

Scripture tells us that the name “Thomas” means “twin.” We are, indeed, twins of St. Thomas. We who have believed without seeing nevertheless tend to view God through our own preconceived lens of what God’s plan is for us and what God should be doing for us. Rather than listening and then seeing what God intends for us, we paint the picture of life ourselves. Then, when family, financial, employment or health hardships occur, which constitute “alterations” in our plan, we are tempted to allow our faith in God to be shattered, just as was St. Thomas’ faith. But as St. Thomas’ experience demonstrates, it is precisely at that point that we need to encounter Jesus in prayer again, to be converted in spirit again and to understand again that no matter what happens to us in this life, the love of God is unconditional and that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor powers, neither height nor depth nor any other creature, will be able to separate us from the love of God, that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Romans, 8: 38-39.

Bernard A. Smith
Grand Knight
April 15, 2012

ST. THOMAS MORE CORNER - March 15, 2012

posted Jul 22, 2012, 7:25 PM by Web Team

"Here at least We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice,
To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."

--Proclamation of Satan, Book I, Paradise Lost, John Milton, 1674

During the February or March CCD (now PSR) classes of my elementary public school years in the mid-1960’s, the lay instructors inevitably requested the students to “give up” something for Lent. The teachers, being very well-meaning but not expertly trained in either pre-Vatican II or post-Vatican II theology, did not link this small sacrifice to a larger goal; the act of “giving up” something for Lent was inadequately presented as an end in itself. Perceiving no reason to jettison something for no apparent purpose, I annually ignored the CCD teachers and never “gave up” anything for Lent. I still do not.

It was not until March, 1983 that anyone explained to me the reason for sacrificing something during Lent. Father Joseph Fortuna, incredulous that I did not understand the rationale for “giving up” something during Lent, finally explained that renouncing a thing or item during Lent has no intrinsic value unless tied to a more comprehensive effort towards reformation or conversion of heart. Although Father Fortuna’s explanation made sense, and although Shakespeare once uttered that “it is by indirection that we find directions out,” I have never been one to pursue indirectly that which may be pursued directly. Since moral reformation or conversion is the heart of the matter during Lent, better to pursue becoming a better person directly rather than through the detour of temporarily sacrificing a material item. Hence, I continue to ignore the 1960’s CCD teachers’ plea to “give up” something for Lent.

The direct question, therefore, in this month’s reflection is: “how do I become a better person during Lent?” Perhaps an examination of the statement of Milton’s Satan provides a clue. Satan’s proclamation that it is “better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” exemplifies the deadliest of the seven deadly sins: Pride, which is literally the original (i.e., in the sense of first) sin. Rather than serve God the Father, as did Jesus Christ when he taught, suffered and died on this Earth for our benefit, Satan is consumed by the desire to rule and to dominate for his own selfish purposes. The temptation of power is his downfall; Satan cannot abide the truth that there exists a Being who created him and who is greater than he. Satan cannot worship and love the God who created him as an angel.

According to the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve committed a similar sin of pride. They succumbed to the temptation to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree based on the tempter’s assurance that they would become gods themselves. Permit me to suggest that the sins which we habitually commit, and which prevent us from becoming better people, are likewise ultimately rooted in pride.

The human beings who inhabit planet Earth may habitually commit different types of sins, but our experience is that every human being has one or more consistent weaknesses. Since we commit the same sins repeatedly, we almost become comfortable with them. We may even come to regard them as no impediment whatsoever in our relationship with God. As Milton’s Satan would say it, we “reign secure” in these sins. Worse, we delude ourselves, like Satan, into thinking that our sins make us “free.” Consider, for a moment, all of the sins (many in violation of the Second, Sixth, Eighth and Tenth Commandments) that movies and modern advertising attempt to convince us will make us “free”. But, as our Church has constantly reminded humanity for 2,000 years, the supposed “freedom” generated by sin actually results in the opposite. Rather than becoming empowered by sinful conduct, we become enslaved to our appetites and weaknesses. The “security” of habitual sins is the security of a jail cell. Sin is confinement, not freedom. And Satan, having mortally sinned without remorse, is indeed eternally confined, not free, in a horrible place because God is not there.

How do we escape our habitual sins that imprison us and that create the possibility of further, more serious sin that threatens eternal confinement with Satan? How do we initiate that reformation or conversion of heart to which Lent calls us? As those who participate in organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous insist, the first step towards conversion is to admit that we have a problem. And that, gentlemen, is where Pride may prevent reform. For just as Satan refused to acknowledge God as a superior Being who should be loved, adored and worshipped, so also we refuse to admit that our habitual sins, in fact, are serious moral problems that are an impediment to our relationship with God. Our own culpable pride prevents us from acknowledging the injury we do to ourselves and others through our habitual sins. Rather than act as the tax collector of the Gospel story who kneels in the rear of the synagogue beating his breast and saying, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner,” we sometimes act like the Pharisee who stands at the front of the synagogue proclaiming to the Lord how great he is. Luke, 18: 9-14.

In short, if we as Knights wish to become better persons during this season of Lent, the first task is to recognize in ourselves, and then to cast off, the pride that prevents us from admitting to God how sinful we are and specifically identifying those sins. Rather than “reigning secure” in our habitual sins, all of us must admit our faults, resolve to amend them and serve God in Heaven better. For it is, indeed, better to serve in Heaven than to rule in Hell.

Bernard A. Smith
Grand Knight
March 15, 2012

ST. THOMAS MORE CORNER - February 15, 2012

posted Jul 22, 2012, 7:22 PM by Web Team

“At the Cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.”

--from the Sequence, “Stabat Mater”
Traditionally sung at the end of the First Station of the Cross

As we enter the penitential season of Lent, there can be but one subject of reflection this month: the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ upon the Cross to forgive our sins and his Resurrection on the third day with its offer of eternal life in Heaven for all human beings. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the signature actions of the season. As to prayer, Catholics traditionally have meditated upon the fourteen Stations of the Cross during Lent, particularly on Fridays. Although many versions of the Stations of the Cross have been published, the gold standard, of course, is the one used at Lenten Friday evening services at St. Sebastian Parish. Members of the Knights of Columbus are certainly encouraged to attend those services.

Nonetheless, the Stations of the Cross remain a private devotion and a practicing Catholic is free to pray them in his or her own words. Although virtually all attempts at doing so by lay people will fall far short of the standard version, there is no reason not to try. And, in making the attempt, a lay person is forced outside the comfort zone of rote prayer and into the less familiar realm of personal meditation whose subject is God.

In that spirit, I composed a set of reflections on the fourteen Stations of the Cross, which are set forth below. Although this set of reflections is, no doubt, amateurish compared with versions written by those with professional theological training, feel free to examine them this Lent if you are so inclined.


First Station: Jesus is Condemned to Death

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

In appearance, Jesus was condemned to death by Pilate, a corrupt government bureaucrat who ordered the crucifixion of a man he knew to be innocent, because it was a politically expedient means of quieting a mob which threatened to spread word that Pilate was tolerating Caesar’s rival within Roman jurisdiction.

Pilate, however, does not warrant the full weight of the condemnation which history, in turn, has assigned to him. It is true that Pilate’s order to crucify Jesus was the most unjust death sentence ever imposed. But to blame Pilate alone for this gross miscarriage of justice inflates his stature and denigrates our own responsibility.

For if each man and woman born into the world had not freely chosen to disgrace the gift of human life by sin, then God the Father would not have faced the terrible decision, out of love, to send his only Son into the world to save it through a sacrificial death. Ultimately, the reason that Jesus stood before Pilate is because I have sinned, you have sinned and every human being except for Jesus’ own Mother has sinned. Pilate, who otherwise would have had no occasion to encounter Jesus, was merely our surrogate in condemning Jesus to death.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be.

Second Station: Jesus Accepts the Cross

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

The infinite injustice of the perfectly innocent Son of God being sentenced to death is exceeded only by his infinite love in accepting the burden of our sins in the form of the cross. As disciples of Jesus in an imperfect world, we are called to accept our own crosses in life. When we are tempted to complain that we do not deserve the problems which we confront, we should recall that the Son of God deserved far less to be saddled with the consequences of the sins of all humanity. We must realize that part of loving is to bear another’s burden, even when we have done nothing to cause the difficulty. By definition, the burden of the cross is unfairly visited upon its recipient. May we embrace the burden nonetheless.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be.

Third Station: Jesus Falls the First Time

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

When Jesus fell the first time on the path to Calvary, it was caused by other’s sins in the form of a weighty cross. When we fall, by contrast, it is usually the result of our own faults, not someone else’s. For Jesus, the road to Calvary was also the path to his Father. Jesus’ first fall only momentarily delayed him from reaching the crucifixion site, dying for our sins, rising from the dead on Easter Sunday and returning to the Father on Ascension Thursday. We humans, on the other hand, face a lifetime of daily falls because of sin. Our progress towards the Father is constantly interrupted or even halted when we surrender to our faults. Jesus’ first fall should remind us to strive to reduce, to the greatest degree humanly possible, the occasions of sin. And, when we do sin, may we arise and persist on the path to the Father.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be.

Fourth Station: Jesus Meets his Mother

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Jesus once told his disciples that they must be willing to abandon father, mother, brother, sister, and family, if necessary to do the will of God. On the path to Calvary, Jesus was required to practice what he preached.

Meeting his Mother while walking to his own execution must have been unbearable. Although Jesus had the power to cast off the cross in order to relieve his Mother’s anguish, he did not. Instead, he left her behind and continued carrying the cross towards death. Jesus’ meeting with his Mother demonstrates the price which discipleship may exact. While we pray that obedience to God’s call will not result in abandonment of family and friends, we are reminded that, in extraordinary cases, our commitment to Christ may require it.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Fifth Station: Simon Helps Jesus Carry the Cross

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Simon the Cyrenian no doubt considered himself unlucky. One moment, he was minding his own business, returning from work in the fields as he had done countless times before. The next moment, Roman soldiers ordered him to participate in history’s most infamous crucifixion, making him assist Jesus carry the cross.

Since Simon was compelled to help Jesus, upon pain of severe punishment for disobedience, he can be accused neither of complicity with Roman authorities nor with compassion for an exhausted, condemned man. Of all the figures in the Passion narrative, Simon the Cyrenian evokes the least feeling because he was not acting as a moral agent. Being compelled, he merits neither praise nor scorn. He could just as well have been left unidentified.

We have no such excuse. Our God invites but does not compel us to assist our brothers and sisters in need. We may do so joyfully, may do so from a sense of duty or may elect not to help at all. Unlike Simon the Cyrenian, however, we are responsible for our actions because we have a choice. Whether we do the right thing gladly or only reluctantly, we should, above all, do the right thing.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Sixth Station: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

We know as little about Veronica as we do about Simon the Cyrenian. Her encounter with Jesus on the path to Calvary is the only record we have of her. Whether she meaningfully contributed to the development of the early Church is unknown. Yet she is revered while Simon the Cyrenian is generally regarded with indifference. Why?

Perhaps it is because Veronica voluntarily took the initiative, if even in a small way, to relieve the discomfort of a man in severe pain. Shortly before entering Jerusalem, Jesus told the disciples to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the ill, welcome the stranger and visit the imprisoned. Taking action to ameliorate human suffering is an essential element of what it means to be a disciple. Veronica did not form a committee, delegate to someone else or seek permission from higher authority before acting. She saw a human need and took a concrete step to address it. Veronica, apparently an ordinary woman, responded to the Gospel message. Her simple but good example explains why she is remembered.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Seventh Station: Jesus Falls the Second Time

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he appeared to be at the height of personal popularity. Had he lived in the 21st century, Jesus would have been an international media star.

Jesus’ second fall may be thought to reflect his rapid fall from popular esteem. In the end, Jesus’ message offended powerful people, who used their influence and authority to destroy him. Having rejected Satan’s temptation in the desert to rule the world, Jesus chose to do his Father’s will and accepted his fall from worldly favor.

How often do we selfishly seek worldly position, recognition or approval at the expense of doing what is right? How often do we fail to live Gospel values from fear of secular disapproval, scorn or ridicule? As we reflect upon Jesus’ second fall, we should resolve in our daily lives to accept our own small falls from public grace where necessary fully to respond to God’s call.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Eighth Station: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Jesus told the women of Jerusalem to “weep not for me, but for your children.” This remark clearly runs deeper than the surface meaning of not wasting time and effort lamenting the condition of a man who would be dead within three hours anyway. Jesus was addressing the vocation of parenthood.

What does it mean to “weep for our children?” Crying is an intense emotional experience. We generally do not cry for persons to whom we are not closely committed. There is the root of the matter: commitment to our children.

In the 21st century, children often are unwanted (spawning abortion and child abuse) or are wanted for the wrong reason (to fulfill the desires of the parents). As Christians, we must be committed to our children for their sakes. Although self-fulfillment hopefully will be a by-product of the commitment to our children, it should not be the motive for loving them and raising them in the faith. By its nature, love seeks what is best for the other person. May parents, first and foremost, always seek what is best for their children and not worry about whether that choice will best serve their own needs.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Ninth Station: Jesus Falls the Third Time

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

When Jesus fell the third time, it was from sheer physical exhaustion. He had en beaten unmercifully by the Roman soldiers and then forced to carry a heavy cross. The physical abuse took its toll.

As disciples of Jesus, we have an obligation of stewardship towards our bodies. Proper nutrition, adequate rest and recreation, avoidance of vice substances such as illegal narcotics, tobacco and excessive alcohol, as well as regular exercise all contribute to proper stewardship of our bodies. As we reflect upon Jesus’ third fall, we should resolve not to abuse our bodies, but to protect and use our bodies appropriately until the day when God reclaims them at death.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Tenth Station: Jesus is Stripped of his Garments

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

When Jesus died, he was bereft of any material item. Even his clothes were removed and sold. In 21st century America, however, we often forget that, in this respect, we are very much like Jesus. Western culture preaches the acquisition of material goods. Bigger homes, luxury cars, and the finest in food, clothes and entertainment are the order of our day. Yet, when we die, we will exit the world just as we entered it: with nothing.

Acquisition of material goods, therefore, cannot provide meaning to human life. If our lives are to have any meaning whatsoever, we must focus on eternity, and on the traits of character that will assist in obtaining happiness there. Scripture says that only faith, hope and love endure. Please do not surrender to the temptation to add material goods to that list.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Eleventh Station: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

In Jesus’ time, the Romans used ropes and nails to affix a victim to a cross. Although crucifixion is distinctly out of style (and would be unconstitutional in 21st century America), modern man has used the hangman’s noose, the guillotine, the firing squad, the electric chair, the gas chamber and, most recently, the antiseptic and perversely medicinal means of lethal injection. Killing becomes easier and, in outward appearance, less grisly every day.

Christ’s crucifixion is particularly horrific because he had the virtue of being completely innocent. No appeal to any theory of retributive, deterrent or incapacitative justice can possibly warrant the result in Jesus’ case. And so we tend to distinguish the crucifixion of Jesus from the execution of heinous killers who are guilty.

But the crucifixion of Jesus and the execution of convicted criminals are identical in one fundamental respect, even setting aside weighty objections of possible judicial error and racial or socioeconomic discrimination. Whether the executed person be Jesus or a common criminal, the State has chosen to extinguish the God-given gift of human life. By what right does the State presume to possess such authority? However much the murderer has marred his soul and inexcusably deprived another person of God’s gift of life, the State is not God. The Gospel teaches not to respond to violence with yet more violence, unless to kill is absolutely necessary in self-defense or in defense of another to preserve innocent human life. As Pope John Paul II has argued, in light of advances in prison technology, there is virtually no killer who cannot be imprisoned without further threat to society. Capital punishment is illicit because it fails the necessity test: we may kill only when doing so is strictly necessary.

In the end, the death penalty is not about who the murderer is. It is about who we are. Will we surrender to the urge for retribution or will we kill only when strictly necessary? Will we respect God’s gift of human life or will we not?

Twelfth Station: Jesus Dies on the Cross

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

St. Paul wrote that it is hard enough to give one’s life for a just person; though for a good person, one might summon the courage to die. God, on the other hand, showed his love because he sent his Son to die for sinners; indeed, Christ died for us, who continue to sin despite full knowledge of the price that Jesus paid on our behalf 2000 years ago. The boundlessness of God’s love is demonstrated by Jesus’ willingness to die for a people that he knew would ignore or remain untransformed by his sacrifice. Despite that knowledge, God chose never to reject us and to invite us to reform our lives.

Our duty as Christians is to respond to the unmerited gifts of life and salvation that God has given us. If a person luckily possessed a winning $20 million lottery ticket, surely that person would redeem it. By virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, every human being possesses a far more valuable gift: a chance for eternal life. Unlike the lottery ticket, moreover, the chances of obtaining heaven are certain if we commit our lives to and trust in God. We should not waste the gift that Jesus won for us with his blood. The grim reality of Jesus’ death should penetrate our hearts and minds, spurring us to reform our lives.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Thirteenth Station: Jesus is Removed from the Cross

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you for by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Since Jesus was a pariah to the religious leadership and executed by the Romans, the easiest thing for Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, to do was to disavow his secret discipleship of Jesus. With Peter having denied Jesus three times and most of the other Apostles having fled into hiding, Joseph could comfortably have disassociated himself from Jesus’ followers and returned to traditional participation in Jewish religious life.

But Joseph did not. Incomprehensibly, Joseph chose the day of Jesus’ death, when Jesus’ disciples were most vulnerable, to publicly announce his association with Jesus by approaching Pilate with a request for the body. Joseph and Nicodemus then prepared Jesus’ body for burial.

Joseph’s actions exemplified a sometimes overlooked Christian virtue: courage. Early Christians often needed courage to face death for their faith. Although martyrdom is practically unknown in 21st century developed countries, it still takes courage to act in conformity with Christian principles when doing so conflicts with predominant secular, cultural or peer influences. Let us be people who act from principle, rather than

expedience, from commitment, rather than self-advantage. Anyone can act consistently with principle when it is in their self-interest. It takes conviction and courage to act from principle where there is risk. Joseph of Arimathea decided to take the risk.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Fourteenth Station: Jesus is Laid in the Tomb

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Much has been written of late about the “historical” Jesus. In four historical facts, however, even the atheists believe: Jesus lived, was crucified, died and was buried in a tomb. What followed, the Resurrection, is based upon the witness of the Apostles and early disciples and upon faith. That point is where believers and unbelievers part company.

The tomb in which Jesus was buried presents every person with a stark choice. In unbelief, we may conclude that life ends at the grave. Or we may believe that Jesus defeated death by rising on Easter Sunday and promised us the same.

Why, in a few short words, should we cast our lot with the believers? We should be loath to conclude that life is meaningless. If life ends at the grave, then we should always pursue self-interest and self-gratification. If life on earth is all that exists, then virtues such as selflessness, sacrifice, commitment, justice, mercy, charity and love are futile, a complete waste of time and effort. We should serve ourselves while we can. The suffering and the poor will be just as eternally dead whether we help them or not.

But do we not notice that life is better and more peaceful when we love? Is it not true that we are happiest when we love? One of the laws of physics and chemistry, that the sum total of matter in the universe is a constant and that matter cannot naturally be created or destroyed, proves that there is a supernatural Creator. The sum total of matter in the universe had to have some origin, as St. Thomas Aquinas taught. And that Creator has imbued all humans with an unmistakable trait: we are happiest and are our truest selves when we love. We have an ingrained attraction to altruism, in direct contradiction to the principle of natural selection. Would a non-loving or evil creator choose to instill that characteristic in every human heart? Would not an evil creator desire our misery at every moment? No, it is far more probable, indeed a certitude, that only a loving God would create a people who, however flawed, have instilled in them the primordial instinct to love.

Is it not reasonable to assume that the Creator, whatever his nature, would reveal himself to his Creation? Otherwise, why bother creating other beings in the first place? In the Jewish and Christian traditions, the Creator has revealed himself as a God of love. Or, as St. John wrote, “God is love.”

Would it be the will of a God who loves and who desires an intimate love relationship with each person to have that love relationship extinguished forever at the moment of natural death? To allow death to destroy and triumph over love? No. Such a God would ensure that despite human death, the love relationship would continue. That is exactly what God has done through his Son. In English, we have chosen to name it Heaven.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Bernard A. Smith
Grand Knight
February 15, 2012

ST. THOMAS MORE CORNER - January 15, 2012

posted Jul 22, 2012, 7:13 PM by Web Team

Noght a word spake he moore than was neede,
And that was seyed in form and reverence,
And short and quyk and ful of hy sentence;
Sownynge in moral vertu was his speech,
And gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche.

--Prologue to the Tales of Canterbury, “The Clerk”
Geoffrey Chaucer, (ca. 1386, rendered in original middle English).

As Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the Tales of Canterbury in the late 14th Century, he unwittingly chronicled an era that was about to vanish. The Tales are firmly set in Medieval England, as pilgrims travelled from London to Canterbury to visit the tomb of Archbishop St. Thomas Becket, who had been murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 A.D. after King Henry II had uttered the immortal words, “will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” The Tales are told by familiar Medieval figures, from the Knight, to the Prioress, to the Franklin, to the Maunciple, to the Pardoner. The occupations of many of the Tale’s story-tellers have receded into history, including the Knight himself, who Chaucer gave the honor of telling the first tale and whose values survive in our fraternal organization, the Knights of Columbus.

When Chaucer wrote, Europe was in upheaval, both politically and religiously. Feudalism, the political organization of the Middle Ages, was crumbling, soon to be replaced by the modern nation state. The papal bull of 1302, Unam Sanctum, in which Pope Boniface VIII made the most extreme claim in Christian history for Church control over secular government, was a dead letter upon its issuance. For Philip the Fair, dedicated to creating a cohesive nation we now know as France, kidnaped Pope Boniface VIII shortly thereafter, forcing a 73-year sojourn of the Papacy from Rome to Avignon. During the Avignon Papacy, the Bubonic Plague struck from 1348-52, killing 25 million people in Europe. After the Papacy returned to Rome in 1378, the disastrous four-decade Great Western Schism soon occurred in which, at one point, three different men simultaneously claimed to be Pope and which was not resolved until the election of Pope Martin V during the Council of Constance in 1417, well after Chaucer’s death. Abuses in the Church abounded and the Protestant Reformation was but a century away. In short, when Chaucer wrote the Tales, Europe was experiencing its greatest instability since the invasion of the Vikings and Magyars had initiated the Dark Ages in the late 9th Century. Upheaval, instability and uncertainty: the late 14th Century during which Chaucer nostalgically wrote sounds much like early 21st Century western society, does it not?

Yet, the Tales also include a figure of utmost stability, seriousness and studiousness: the Clerk. In modern parlance, the Clerk would be a teacher or a professor. Note the characteristics which Chaucer attributes to the Clerk. Although the Host of the Tales, before allowing the Clerk to tell his story, warns him to say something interesting and not laboriously academic, the Prologue describes the Clerk as one who speaks seriously, with no wasted words. The Clerk’s words carry the ring of moral virtue. And, in the most commonly quoted words about the Clerk: “gladly would he learn and gladly teach.” Chaucer’s Clerk, now called a teacher, was committed both to acquiring and transmitting knowledge, leavened by moral virtue. He did so at a time of unremitting political, social and religious change.

We focus this month on that portion of Chaucer’s Prologue concerning the Clerk because late January marks Catholic Schools Week. In our own era of violence, unrest and unease, let us reflect upon the role of Catholic education and the roll that teachers play in providing quality Catholic education in a time of change.

Why does the Roman Catholic Church operate schools at all? Surely, the Church has no interest, consistent with its mission, of operating schools at considerable cost simply to compete with the United States’ system of public education. Nor does the Roman Catholic Church have an institutional interest in operating schools, such as our St. Sebastian day school, simply to help stabilize homeowner property values in a neighborhood, although that effect is a welcome by-product of the existence of St. Sebastian School.

No, the raison d’etre for Catholic schools runs deeper. If the Church is to operate schools, those institutions must provide our children with something that the public school system cannot provide. That “something” is well-articulated in terms of iconography: Catholic schools provide our children with a window to Jesus Christ himself.

Several years ago, Father Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, was beatified in France. Blessed Basil Moreau was first and foremost an educator of young people. He said some things that we ought to remember about the real reason for providing Catholic education to our children. For example, “if there ever existed a time when [Catholic] education should be an influence in the lives of young people, it is certainly now—a time when worldly and unchristian values seem to produce such confusion for the young.” Fr. Moreau uttered those words in 1856. Obviously, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

At the heart of his message, Fr. Moreau also said: “true education consists in forming the hearts of young people. Knowledge and scholarship have meaning only when placed in a context of values.” For Fr. Moreau, as for Chaucer’s Clerk, the best education in the secular disciplines is useless unless the whole person is formed both in mind and in spirit.

Human knowledge, by itself, is indifferent. With a map of the human genome, one can advance towards curing illness and disease—or one can engage in human cloning. With knowledge of advanced physics, one can build a nuclear power plant to supply needed electricity to millions of people—or one can build a thermonuclear bomb capable of destroying all life on the planet.

Knowledge, therefore, is not the question. The issue, rather, is what ought we to do with the knowledge we acquire? That question can only be answered, for Christians, by internalizing theology, moral principles and the person of Jesus Christ. Fr. Moreau was correct: the teaching of knowledge and Christianity must be inextricably linked. In Fr. Moreau’s words, “while we prepare useful citizens for society, we shall likewise do our utmost to prepare citizens for heaven.”

That is why the Roman Catholic Church operates schools. Although pursuing excellence in academics and extracurricular activities is a good thing, it is not good enough. We have a deeper vocation. As parents, we have a God-given responsibility to instill the faith and its values in our children. They will not hear that message from secular society. Catholic schools, like St. Sebastian School, exist to help parents discharge their obligation to raise their children in the faith.

Our present-day teachers, principals and aides, like Chaucer’s reliable Clerk of old, whether they teach English or mathematics, social studies or science, physical education or religion, are blessed and charged with the duty of helping our children to internalize the Gospel so that it informs their minds, touches their hearts and penetrates to the marrow of their bones. Christian concepts of faith and virtue must attend the teaching of human knowledge. A principal, teacher or aide at St. Sebastian School does nothing less than help you, as parents, bring your children closer to Jesus Christ. And so, next time you see the principal, or a teacher or an aide, take a moment to thank them for helping you to fulfill the most serious obligation which you face: teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to your own children.

Bernard A. Smith
Grand Knight
January 15, 2012

ST. THOMAS MORE CORNER - December 15, 2011

posted Jul 22, 2012, 7:08 PM by Web Team

“It came without presents. It came without tags. It came without ribbons, boxes or bags.”
--The Grinch, as he stood puzzling atop of Mount Krumpet

As this reflection is posted a mere half fortnight before Christmas, one presumes that our Order’s membership, our fellow parishioners and certainly our fellow travelers throughout the Christian world are pre-occupied with purchasing presents that have varying price tags and equally varied boxes and bags. But as the Grinch learned in a book written nearly a half-century ago, when he foolishly attempted to stop Christmas from coming by stealing literally every item of monetary or material value in the town of Whoville (and, one might add, committing serial felony burglary in the process), Christmas has a far deeper meaning and the world cannot stop Christmas from coming no matter how hard it tries.

As Dr. Suess’ children’s book, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas demonstrates, the complaint that modern society expends extraordinary amounts of money and energy attempting to ignore the true meaning of Christmas is not new. Christian clergy of all denominations have been decrying holiday materialism for generations. Our own Order pleads with culture to “Keep Christ in Christmas” rather than relegate the Second Person of the Trinity to a 5” x 7” greeting card or to a crèche on a side altar at Church.

One may ask why, in light of our culture’s best efforts to secularize Christmas, it continues to come each year in all its grandeur. The answer, one suggests, lies in the concept of “gift” that material society crudely mimics each holiday season. People give material gifts that ultimately break, corrode, are lost or simply wear out. But Christmas is a very different gift.

Mankind cannot stop Christmas from coming because the Incarnation—God freely choosing to reveal Himself to this world, to enter this world and to become human like us in all things but sin—is pure gift. Christmas is God’s gift to us, which necessarily makes it, with life itself, the greatest of all gifts. Christmas is the gift of God’s divine Son, who in his humanity grew to adulthood and died on the Cross in order to atone for our sins. That act of self-emptying love makes eternal life available for every human being.

Thus, Christmas is not only the greatest gift. It also is the perfect gift: the perfect God-man, out of perfect love, makes of himself a perfect self-sacrifice so that we may one day be perfected in Heaven. Christmas has, does and will continue to come because God’s offer of eternal life remains open until the end of human life. Perfect love is never withdrawn or conditionally extended. God always offers salvation, unconditionally, and no amount of holiday shopping, family or office parties or corporate concern with fourth quarter profits can stop God from extending that offer to each human being, individually.

That is why Christmas will always come, no matter what may be the predominant mores of an era. The only question is, what will our response to God’s offer be? Will it be acceptance, indifference or outright rejection? “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith upon the Earth?” Luke 18:8.

Bernard Smith, Grand Knight
December 15, 2011

ST. THOMAS MORE CORNER - October 15, 2011

posted Jul 21, 2012, 9:26 PM by Web Team

“The world may construe according to its wits. But this Court must construe
according to the law.”

St. Thomas More, arguing during his treason trial why his silence in the face of the King’s command to affirm the Act of Supremacy could only be construed as innocent in light of the common law principle that “silence imports consent”.

By this point in human history, most people in American society either personally know, or at least know of, an elderly person who has been stricken by mentally incapacitating dementia. I have personally known two such persons; both persons suffered and have suffered from this irreversible condition for several years.

For wise reasons, the Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church traditionally elect a holy man, who has decades of experience, as the Roman Pontiff. As do all of us, however, our Popes age. Have you ever considered what could happen to the Roman Catholic Church during a time period, which could last years, in which a Roman Pontiff were stricken with incapacitating, permanent dementia as part of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases? In such a situation, the Pope could not resign, as being incompetent, he could not form the moral or legal intention to do so. What should the Roman Catholic Church do in such a situation which, statistically, is bound to occur sooner or later? Who should be trusted to handle such a serious situation?

As a lawyer, your Grand Knight believes that the Church should systematically address this issue by creating Canon Law norms to govern this inevitable problem. The matter should not be left even to the Cardinals and Bishops to deal with according to their wits as the situation arises; solid, well-reasoned legal provisions should be enacted in advance. The following is a rationale for, and language constituting, a Canon Law solution to the problem of a Pope who is permanently incapacitated with a mental condition such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s dementia.



When a man is elected Pope, his life and even his name immediately change forever. By tradition, however, there is at least one thing upon which the newly elected Roman Pontiff can depend: he will remain Pope until death. Although resignation from office is not unknown in the history of the papacy, it is rare. The last Pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415 during the Western Schism. There is no provision in Church law for removing the Pope from office without his consent. Thus, for nearly 600 years, the only path to leaving papal office has been natural death.

In light of advances in medical knowledge, technology and treatment options, however, it is becoming increasingly possible to keep a person alive for an extended period of time even if his ability to exercise morally responsible judgment may be severely or totally impaired. Dementia accompanying advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, for example, may destroy all capacity for adult judgment. There can be no guarantee that a present or future Pope will never contract a disease or psychological condition that results in permanent mental incapacitation. Since modern medicine may enable physicians to keep a mentally disabled Pope alive indefinitely, the Catholic Church eventually faces the prospect of facing the world without having a capable leader. And, being mentally incapacitated and incompetent, the stricken Pope could not form the intention to resign voluntarily.

The need of the People of God for effective papal leadership counsels against allowing such a situation ever to develop. Simply waiting indefinitely for an incapacitated Pope to die is no solution. Thus, the Catholic Church should define when the Pope may be removed from office without his consent for mental health reasons, who should exercise such authority, and how such a decision should be made.

The norms promulgated for this purpose must protect the Pope from any faction that would seek to remove him for a reason other than permanent mental incapacitation and must be so objectively fair that an involuntary retirement under those norms would be accepted as legitimate both within the Catholic Church and in the world community. Moreover, since the problems underlying permanent mental incapacitation are essentially medical in nature, participation by medical professionals in the removal process is both desirable and unavoidable.

With respect to when a Pope may be involuntarily removed from office, the Church should include only permanent mental incapacitation and should exclude any scenario involving only physical incapacitation. In the latter situation, the Pope would remain in command of his mental faculties and, therefore, would be capable of deciding, in conscience, whether God wills him to continue in office until death or to resign voluntarily. Such a case presents no basis for changing the status quo.

As to mental capacity, however, the Pope could not perform his duties if completely deprived of the ability to engage in morally responsible judgment. Although the need to protect his office may counsel against involuntarily removing a Pope where the medical evidence suggests that he may recover from a temporary inability to engage in such judgment, the Church could be seriously harmed if a permanently incapacitated Pope continued in office.

The question of who should have the authority to remove a Pope from office without his consent because of permanent mental incapacitation obviously implicates the theology of the office, ecclesiology and history. Only a few brief points are offered here in the interest of suggesting a procedural framework for removing a mentally incapacitated Pope.

The history surrounding the 10th and 11th Century lay investiture controversy demonstrates the dangers inherent in allowing lay persons to control the selection of men to Episcopal office. That unfortunate chapter from the Church’s past suggests that lay persons should not control the removal of a Pope from office either. In earlier centuries, however, the Church selected Bishops after lay persons were consulted about, but did not exclusively control, the appointment process. Particularly where, as here, the question of removing a Pope from office inherently involves medical issues about which lay physicians will have greater expertise than persons holding Episcopal office, it makes sense for duly-appointed medical professionals to be involved in an advisory capacity.

History further shows that, since the 11th Century, the College of Cardinals has had exclusive prerogative to elect the Roman Pontiff. Moreover, as explained by Pope John Paul II in Universi Dominici Gregis (1996), the rules under which Pope Benedict XVI was elected, the College of Cardinals uniquely reflects two aspects of the Petrine office: the Cardinals are specially identified with the Church at Rome and yet, because they come from around the world, the Cardinals as a body reflect the Church’s universal nature. The College of Cardinals is both large enough to be representative of the universal Church, but small enough to be readily accommodated in a single place for confidential deliberations.

Furthermore, since the Catholic faithful and the larger world community associate papal selection with the College of Cardinals, there exists a common sense basis for reposing any limited authority to remove a Pope in that same body. Where the tenure of the Pope is at stake, actions taken by the College of Cardinals are most likely to possess credibility and legitimacy both within the Catholic Church and in the world community.

For norms to remove a Pope to have the best chance of receiving general acceptance, the Holy Father himself should promulgate those rules, just as he does the substantive rules and procedures for electing his successor. The Church certainly should not wait until an emergency appears before having lower officeholders attempt to set the rules in media res.

Indeed, since the tenure of the Pope is at issue, the rules should reflect a level of formality that is on a par with those governing his election. The paramount importance of removal proceedings calls for a solemnity of atmosphere and procedure similar to a conclave. Conducting the proceedings in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City State would fully convey this sense of seriousness.

To further enhance the credibility and legitimacy of the process, the hierarchy should frankly acknowledge what is occurring. A public announcement that the norms are being invoked is essential.

Furthermore, just as a super-majority of two-thirds of the votes is necessary to elect a Pope, so also that same super-majority should be required to involuntarily remove him. Even in secular governmental structures, certain fundamental changes (e.g., U.S. constitutional amendments) require the approval of super-majorities. A more fundamental change in Church practice than allowing a Pope to be removed without his consent would be difficult to fathom. In addition, the norms should make clear that the collective decision of the College of Cardinals is final and that there is no appeal to any other person or entity.

As the decision facing the College of Cardinals is one about which lay medical professionals will possess greater technical expertise, the norms should systematically provide for formal, advisory input from designated physicians. Since it is the Pope who will be subject to medical examination concerning his mental capacity, he should have the prerogative, in advance, to select the medical professionals who will render advice to the College of Cardinals. Selecting some physicians who practice in the fields of neurology, mental illness and care of elderly persons would be wise.

To protect the Pope from uninformed or even abusive attempts to remove him, the norms should provide that only the designated medical professionals and men ordained to Episcopal orders have the authority to invoke them. Even then, as further protection against abuse, the norms might provide for screening by a committee of senior Vatican officials before the norms could be implemented. Some of these officials should have been selected by the Pope, demonstrating that they are persons in whom he places special trust. Including the Cardinal Secretary of State on the screening committee would contribute to the legitimacy of the process in the eyes of foreign governments. In addition, if the College of Cardinals ultimately were to determine that the Pope does not suffer from permanent mental incapacitation, the norms should require that a reasonable time period must elapse before they may be invoked again.

Respecting the Pope’s privacy in matters of personal health is a longstanding Vatican tradition. Consistent with that tradition, any medical examination of the Pope conducted under the norms and subsequent deliberations concerning the examination should be confidential. Moreover, if the norms are followed and the College of Cardinals decides not to remove the Pope, he would continue in office. Under those circumstances, there would be no basis to depart from the current practice of respecting the Pope’s privacy in medical matters.

Conversely, if the College of Cardinals determines that the Pope suffers from permanent mental incapacitation and must be retired from office without his consent, some public explanation would be necessary for the decision to be accepted as legitimate. One method of providing an explanation, while simultaneously respecting the confidentiality of the Cardinals’ deliberations, would be to publish only the diagnostic opinions of the designated medical professionals. Although the Cardinals and the medical professionals would remain barred from discussing the deliberative process, the physicians’ diagnostic opinions would provide the public with the medical basis for the removal decision.

The model norms presented below are one way in which all of the previously identified concerns could be addressed in practice.



Board of Medical Examiners: a committee of five physicians appointed by the Roman Pontiff to conduct Special Medical Examinations and to provide medical advice to the College of Cardinals on the question of whether the Roman Pontiff suffers from permanent mental incapacitation.

College of Cardinals: the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church who are eligible to vote during the election of the Roman Pontiff according to the rules governing that election.

Extraordinary Session: a meeting of the College of Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City State, for the purpose of determining whether the Roman Pontiff suffers from permanent mental incapacitation.

Involuntary Retirement: the removal of the Roman Pontiff from office, without his consent, by the College of Cardinals solely because of permanent mental incapacitation.

Mental Incapacitation: a mental (but not physical) impairment, stemming from any cause(s), of a degree so severe that the Roman Pontiff is incapable of exercising morally responsible judgment.

Permanent: a condition that will irreversibly exist until human death.

Physician: a person trained in medicine, who graduated from an accredited medical school and who has a license or permission to practice medicine according to the laws of the nation (or political subdivision thereof) in which the person professionally practices.

Roman Pontiff: the Bishop of the Church of Rome, known in common parlance as the Pope.

Screening Committee of Cardinals: a committee of three Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church consisting of the Dean of the College of Cardinals, the Cardinal Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church and the Cardinal Secretary of State. Should any Cardinal hold two of these positions, then the Cardinal Vicar General of the Diocese of Rome shall serve on the committee.

Special Medical Examination: a medical examination conducted by the Board of Medical Examiners for the sole purpose of assisting the College of Cardinals in determining whether the Roman Pontiff suffers from permanent mental incapacitation.


These norms apply only in determining whether the Roman Pontiff suffers from permanent mental incapacitation. These procedures do not apply to cases of physical impairment, regardless of how severe such impairment may be.


Any other provision of Canon Law notwithstanding, the following procedures shall be used in determining whether the Roman Pontiff should be involuntarily retired because of permanent mental incapacitation.

Within 90 days of being elected, the Roman Pontiff shall select five physicians who consent to serve on the Board of Medical Examiners (“Board”). He may select physicians from anywhere in the world. He may, but need not, appoint his personal physician. The physician-members of the Board serve at his pleasure, provided that a five-physician Board is maintained at all times and that the Roman Pontiff may not dismiss a physician-member of the Board once the Screening Committee of Cardinals (“Screening Committee”) orders a Special Medical Examination. At all times, the Board shall have at least one physician who practices in each of the following fields: neurology, psychiatry and geriatric medicine.

Any Cardinal or Bishop of the Catholic Church or any physician-member of the Board may petition the Screening Committee to order a Special Medical Examination of the Roman Pontiff.

A Special Medical Examination shall occur if and only if the Screening Committee unanimously determines that an objectively reasonable basis exists to believe that the Roman Pontiff suffers from permanent mental incapacitation. The Roman Pontiff’s consent to the Special Medical Examination is not required.

If the Screening Committee determines that a Special Medical Examination is warranted under the above standard, it shall direct the Board, as a team, to commence the examination without unnecessary delay at a suitable medical facility in the vicinity of Vatican City State or Rome, Italy. The physician-members of the Board may order such medical tests as, in their professional judgment, may be necessary or helpful in conducting the examination.

The Dean of the College of Cardinals shall publicly announce that a Special Medical Examination of the Roman Pontiff is to occur. The decision to conduct a Special Medical Examination does not create a vacancy of the Apostolic See.

After the Board has completed the Special Medical Examination, each physician-member shall, in writing, render an advisory diagnostic opinion about whether, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, the Roman Pontiff suffers from permanent mental incapacitation, as defined. The physician-members of the Board may take such time to conduct the Special Medical Examination and to compose their opinions as they in their professional judgment deem necessary, consistent with avoiding undue delay in such an important matter.

The Board shall transmit the opinions of its physician-members on a confidential basis to the Screening Committee. The physician-members of the Board shall refrain from publicly revealing any aspect of the Special Medical Evaluation process, including but not limited to their respective opinions.

Upon receiving from the Board the opinions of its physician-members, the Dean of the College of Cardinals shall summon the College of Cardinals to Vatican City State for an Extraordinary Session. The Extraordinary Session shall commence in the Sistine Chapel on a date stated in the summons. Beforehand, steps will be taken to ensure that there are no cameras or audio listening devices in the Sistine Chapel.

The Dean of the College of Cardinals shall preside over the Extraordinary Session. Each Cardinal shall take an oath not to reveal any part of the proceedings. All persons other than the College of Cardinals shall then be excluded. Provision shall be made to prevent anyone from having contact with any Cardinal-attendee until the Extraordinary Session has concluded.

No permanent record, in any form, shall be made of the proceedings of the Extraordinary Session. Any notes taken or records made by Cardinal-attendees shall be destroyed at the conclusion of the Extraordinary Session.

The first order of business in the Extraordinary Session shall be for each Cardinal-attendee to read the diagnostic opinions of the physician-members of the Board. The Cardinal-attendees may also review medical records from the Special Medical Examination and any other medical records concerning the Roman Pontiff that may be available. After the Cardinal-attendees have done so, the physician-members of the Board may individually be summoned to appear before the Extraordinary Session to answer any questions that any Cardinal-attendee may ask. Such appearances are not required. If a physician-member of the Board appears at the Extraordinary Session, he shall take an oath not to reveal any aspect of the proceedings. The role of the physician-members of the Board is advisory only.

When any appearance of a physician-member of the Board at an Extraordinary Session has been completed, he shall be excluded from the remainder of the proceedings. When such appearances, if any, have been concluded, the Cardinal-attendees shall conduct one, and only one, secret ballot on the question of whether the Roman Pontiff suffers from permanent mental incapacitation. A Cardinal-attendee may not abstain from voting. The votes shall be counted in the presence of the Cardinal-attendees in the manner which the Dean of the College of Cardinals prescribes. After the votes are counted, the ballots shall be destroyed. The decision of the College of Cardinals is final; there is no right of appeal to any other person or entity.

For the College of Cardinals to find that the Roman Pontiff suffers from permanent mental incapacitation, two-thirds or more of the votes cast are required.

If the two-thirds threshold is not achieved, the Extraordinary Session ends. The Dean of the College of Cardinals shall ensure that all records of the Special Medical Examination, including the diagnostic opinions of the physician-members of the Board, are sealed in the Vatican Archives unless a Roman Pontiff later orders them published. Another Special Medical Examination may not be requested or conducted within six months of the conclusion of an Extraordinary Session.

If the required two-thirds vote is attained, then the Roman Pontiff is immediately placed into involuntary retirement and a vacancy of the Apostolic See occurs. The Extraordinary Session ends and the Dean of the College of Cardinals shall arrange for publication of the diagnostic opinions of the physician-members of the Board so that the medical basis for the decision is apparent to the Catholic faithful and the general public. The physician-members of the Board and the Cardinal-attendees, however, shall permanently refrain from disclosing what occurred during the Extraordinary Session. The Cardinal Vicar General of the Diocese of Rome shall immediately and publicly announce the vacancy of the Apostolic See. Arrangements for the involuntarily retired Roman Pontiff to move to a retirement residence will also be made. If the Roman Pontiff is involuntarily retired, then the College of Cardinals will proceed to select a new Roman Pontiff pursuant to then effective rules governing such an election.

Bernard A. Smith, Esq.
Grand Knight
October 15, 2011

ST. THOMAS MORE CORNER - September 15, 2011

posted Jul 21, 2012, 9:05 PM by Web Team

“Not my will, but yours be done”

Luke, 22:42

In those seven short words, Jesus Christ, in prayer to his Father, conformed human will to divine will in the Garden of Gethsemane. In so doing, Jesus not only obeyed his Father’s will, but resolved to fulfill his vocation—the very reason he was born into the world. Indeed, Jesus had earlier taught the Apostles that he must be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes, suffer greatly and be killed so that he could rise, conquering sin and death. Mark, 9:31. Offering Resurrection and salvation to all human beings through his teachings and his death on the Cross was Jesus’ vocation.

The Knights of Columbus has always supported “vocations”. To the modern lay Catholic mind, the term “vocation” usually is first, or even exclusively, associated with commitment to religious life as an ordained priest or as a brother or sister of a religious order. But while support for such vocations is certainly of highest importance, permit me to suggest in this month’s reflection that the term “vocation” has a broader scope which has serious implications for lay Catholics.

When giving the valedictory speech at my high school graduation, I made a statement reflecting an inadequate understanding of the Catholic concept of vocation. I told my classmates that “it is now time for us to decide what we will do with our lives.” Unfortunately, that statement was the only quote from my speech that appeared in the local newspaper the next day.

Consider how I mistakenly articulated that line. “We” should determine what “we” would do with “our” lives—as if we owned them. The statement unconsciously reflected the typical American assumption that we are entitled to do as we please with our lives. We, in the exercise of absolute individual autonomy, only need to choose. Ah yes, the holy grail of secular American society: choice.

The great classic poet, Virgil, knew better. His epic, the Aeneid, is an account of how Aeneas supposedly founded Rome. But as does any world-class author, Virgil plows far more deeply than the surface story of founding Rome. For Virgil also explores the concept of vocation—and its costs. Throughout the epic, Aeneas acts in a manner consistent with his calling to be the leader who eventually founds Rome. In Chapter IV of the epic, for example, Aeneas leaves behind a woman, Dido, with whom he would have liked to have spent his life, because settling down with Dido would have been inconsistent with his calling and with his mission. And Dido, perceiving Aeneas’ decision, sadly turns and walks away, never to re-enter Aeneas’ life.

As a married man with four children, I would be the last to claim that marriage is inconsistent with vocation. Indeed, marriage and raising children is an honored vocation. But the truth reflected in the secular epic, the Aeneid, reveals that vocation is always a calling. The question is not, “what do I, in the exercise of absolute personal autonomy want to do with a life that I own as if it were my property”, as modern secularists would have it. Rather, the question is, “what am I called to do with my life?” In a very real sense, we do not select our vocation; our vocation selects us, if we are listening.

Of course, the question, “what am I called to do with my life,” simply raises three more questions: WHO is doing the calling, to WHAT am I called and WHY am I being called to do it? This is where our Catholic principles and values enter the picture.

Scripture tells us that Jesus prayed so hard in the Garden of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday night that his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Jesus, who was fully divine but also fully human, was sweating bullets as he realized that he would be dead within the next 24 hours. But in the midst of what Scripture describes as his agony, Jesus recognized WHO was doing the calling. God the Father himself was calling Jesus to fulfill his vocation—to fulfill the reason he had been born—to die on the Cross to forgive our sins. And thus, Jesus prayed, “not my will, but yours be done.” Let there be no mistake: our Catholic faith teaches that it is God the Father himself who calls, not just Jesus, but each one of us to our respective vocations.

Please consider the second question: to WHAT are we called? A human being can be called to several vocations. We can be called to be married or single, parents or childless, ordained or lay, doctors, accountants, teachers or any of numerous other professions. To determine WHAT we are called to always involves an examination of what talents and gifts has God given me? What natural interests has he given me? What opportunities does he simply present to me? What commitments in response to God have I already made in life that give direction to and shape further decisions that I must make and that must be consistent with those earlier commitments? The answers to these questions are not always immediately clear. They require prayer, counsel and discernment.

Finally, WHY have I been called to this vocation? I suggest that this third question is more easily answered than the second. Again, consider Jesus’ actions on Holy Thursday night. The Gospel of John tells us that before reclining for the Last Supper, Jesus, teacher and master, washed the Apostles’ feet. This example reflects a theme that runs throughout the New Testament: our vocation, whatever it is, must always be motivated by service to others. Have you ever noticed that the Pope specifically refers to himself as “the servant of the servants of God?” We are not on this earth to acquire as much as we can, for as long as we can, for ourselves. Whether our vocation leads us to authority or to powerlessness, to notoriety or to anonymity, our vocation must always lead us to Christian service.

Is that not what is encapsulated by the first principle of our Order? True charity also is always true service to others. To modify slightly the statement of a former President of the United States, “ask not what your brothers and sisters can do for you; rather, ask what you can do for your brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Thus, gentlemen, it is never the time to decide what you want to do with your life. It is always the time to discern what God wants you to do with your life. And may that life always be one of charity and service to others, consistent with the main founding principle of the Knights of Columbus.

--Bernard Smith, Grand Knight
September 15, 2011

ST. THOMAS MORE CORNER - August 16, 2011

posted Jul 21, 2012, 9:01 PM by Web Team

"Dear Lord, give us rest tonight,
But if we must be wakeful, cheerful.
Caring only for our soul's salvation,
For Christ's sake. Amen"

--A Medieval Prayer at Bedtime--

It was at bedtime as a child that I learned Catholic prayers, primarily under my mother's tutelage. My mother did not teach us any prayer as highly stylized as the Medieval bedtime prayer quoted above. She kept things simple: first came the Prayer to the Guardian Angel; then came the Hail Mary.

Each member of the Knights of Columbus has received at least one Rosary as a gift. The degree to which our Order values the spiritual benefits of the Rosary is reflected in the Order's efforts to ensure that all members have one and in the Order's gentle but persistent request that Knights pray it often. The Rosary consists, of course, of 1 Apostles' Creed, 6 Our Fathers, 6 Glory Be's and 53 Hail Marys. Without question, the heart of the Rosary is the Hail Mary, a prayer most Knights probably learned from a parent. Let us, therefore, reflect briefly this month upon the Hail Mary.

Hail Mary, full of Grace,
The Lord is with Thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
* * * * *
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Catholics in the 21st Century recite the Hail Mary as a single prayer. So why the typographical break above? Although many Catholics do not know it, the Hail Mary actually was written in two stages. The first stanza, which concerns Mary's fully graced status and her intimate motherly relationship with the Son of God, was written in the 12th Century. The Hail Mary remained in that form until after the Bubonic Plague ravaged Europe from 1348-1352, killing 25 million people. Unaware of the true medical cause of the Plague (bites from infected insects living on the ubiquitous rodents of the era), 14th Century Catholic lay people viewed the Plague as God's wrathful judgment on a sinful world. As the Church progressed into the 15th and 16th Centuries, ordinary Catholics generally possessed a powerful fear of God's judgment and of condemnation to Hell that is virtually unknown to modern Christians. In
that spiritual environment, unfortunate developments such as the sale of indulgences, which offered salvation for a price rather than promoting true conversion of heart, become understandable, although not excusable. But not all developments during this fear-filled era were bad. For in the 15th Century, the second part of the Hail Mary was composed, asking the Blessed Mother to pray for us sinners throughout our lives and at the time of our deaths so that we might attain Heaven rather than the unthinkable alternative.

What do we proclaim when we say the Hail Mary? First, we "hail", i.e., praise Mary for being full of grace. This most brief statement recalls the Catholic doctrine that Mary was conceived without sin, remained sinless throughout her life and always conformed her human will to the will of God. Mary literally was filled to the brim with grace.

Since Mary was filled with God's grace, the Lord was "with" her, first spiritually and then physically, as she carried Jesus during nine months of pregnancy. Such a spiritual and physical honor makes her blessed above all other women (and men as well); and certainly the fruit of her womb, Jesus, was even more blessed than she.

Turning to the second part of the Hail Mary, we encounter the phrase, "Holy Mary, Mother of God." This phrase harkens back to the Christological controversies of the 4th and 5th Centuries. During that time period, a heretical group from the Antioch region led by Nestorius denied that Mary could be given the title, "Mother of God." For the Nestorians, Jesus Christ was not one person with two natures, human and divine, but rather consisted of two different persons, human and divine, manifested in one body. The Nestorians, viewing Jesus as split or divided within himself, taught that Mary could only be the mother of Jesus' human person. At the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. and again at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D., the Bishops of the Catholic Church and Pope Leo the Great rejected the Nestorian formulation, proclaiming that Jesus was not internally split or divided but was one, whole, integrated person with both divine and human natures. And since Jesus was one person with divine and human natures, Mary properly is called the Mother of God. No responsible theologian, of course, has ever suggested that Mary was the source of Jesus' divine nature. The Son of God possessed that attribute from his eternal status as the Second Person of the Godhead. Nevertheless, each time we say the Hail Mary, whether we realize it or not, we reaffirm the teachings about both Jesus and Mary that were articulated at two major Catholic Church Councils of the 5th Century.

Finally, as sinners in need of help, we ask Mary to pray for us throughout our lives and at the time of our respective deaths. Note, contrary to a misunderstanding among some Protestant denominations, we do not pray to Mary as if she were God. We do not. Rather, we ask Mary to pray for us or with us, much as we would ask any human being here on earth to pray for or with us. But the defining difference is this: Mary has not only attained sainthood; she has already been assumed into heaven body and soul, an honor not even the first Pope, St. Peter, or any of the other Apostles can claim. The Apostles await the Resurrection of the body and its entry into heaven just as much as we do.

In short, Mary is the only human being who has already achieved the fullness of eternal life that every other man or woman born in human history yet awaits-life in both body and soul in Heaven. Why would we not want the greatest saint who ever lived to pray for us and with us? Why would we not say 53 Hail Marys in the Rosary as often as we can, invoking her intercession on our behalf? Why would we, as members of the Knights of Columbus, not follow the urging of our Order to honor Jesus by honoring his Mother in praying the Rosary?

Bernard A. Smith, Grand Knight
August 15, 2011

ST. THOMAS MORE CORNER - July 15, 2011

posted Jul 21, 2012, 8:56 PM by Web Team   [ updated Jul 21, 2012, 9:01 PM ]

“I am the King’s true servant, but God’s first.”

The last words of St. Thomas More at his execution on July 6, 1535

Welcome to the first monthly installment of the Grand Knight’s reflection entitled, “The St. Thomas More Corner.” Why St. Thomas More? The answer is simple: St. Thomas More is the patron saint of lawyers and your Grand Knight is an attorney. During this fraternal year, therefore, an attorney who actually was canonized a saint by the Roman Catholic Church shall receive top billing. Indeed, a large framed print of the official portrait of Thomas More, Chancellor of England, adorns the wall in my law office.

As all members of the Knights of Columbus know, the fourth charism of our Order is patriotism. In St. Thomas More, the Catholic Church possesses one of the greatest examples of a man who understood both patriotism and its limits. Born the son of a lawyer and judge in 1477, Thomas More was a prolific Catholic humanist scholar, authoring the classic Utopia, became a judge himself and, demonstrating his considerable political skills, was named Chancellor of England by King Henry VIII upon the death of Cardinal Wolsey. As Chancellor, More was the King’s personal attorney, in a position which, later in America, developed into the office of Attorney General of the United States.

As Chancellor, More unquestionably was a patriot of his native England. And yet, there were limits. When King Henry VIII and his wife, Catherine of Aragon (who the King originally had obtained dispensation from the Pope to marry, inasmuch as Catherine was his brother’s widow) conceived several sons, all of whom died in infancy, the King became obsessed with the possibility that he might not leave a male heir to the throne. Thus, he sought the Pope’s permission to divorce Catherine so that he could marry the
rather younger Anne Boleyn, who appeared more suitable to Henry’s dynastic interests. Catherine, however, was supported by her nephew, King Charles of Spain, and the Pope denied the request for divorce.

Ultimately, to obtain public authority for the divorce, King Henry VIII had Parliament, through the Act of Supremacy in 1534, declare him head of the Catholic Church in England over and against the Pope. Refusing to recognize that a secular King could usurp the Pope’s position and authority, More resigned the office of Chancellor and retired to private life. Unfortunately for More, prominent citizens were required to take an oath recognizing the validity of both the King’s second marriage and the King’s title as head of the Catholic Church in England. It was More’s refusal to take this oath that resulted in his being beheaded, along with his friend, Bishop St. John Fisher of Rochester, in 1535.

How many non-ordained, lay Catholic men can you name who have been canonized? St. Thomas More, martyr, is one. How many Renaissance Catholic Saints are the subject of a movie that won Best Picture? St. Thomas More, in A Man for All Seasons, is one.

Having experienced the First Degree ceremony, all members of the Knights of Columbus have heard the virtue of integrity extolled, in addition to charity. By resigning his powerful governmental office and accepting death rather than swear a false oath, St. Thomas More exemplified the meaning of absolute moral integrity. He also demonstrated that true patriotism, the fourth charism of our Order, can never consist of a “my country, right or wrong” attitude. Rather, our love of country must always be leavened and informed by the doctrines and moral principles of our Catholic faith. And if our country, the United States of America, strays from central and fundamental principles necessary for the common good as reflected in Church teachings, true patriotism requires us to oppose such error as well as our fellow citizens, politicians and media who support it. We must do so for the good of our country. To give but one example, we must defend the sacredness of human life, whether that life be an unborn child, an 80-year-old with Alzheimer’s disease or a convicted first degree murderer. So says our Church.

Gentlemen, we should be our nation’s true servants, but we can never forget, as St. Thomas More recognized, that we are God’s first. On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded that we are dust, and unto dust we shall return. One day, each one of us will enter a Catholic Church for the final time—in a casket. And when we enter the Church building for the final time, canon law prohibits the flag of any nation from being draped over the casket while it is in the Church. To the contrary, the cloth of Resurrection will be draped over our caskets instead. Make no mistake: God claims us first, ahead of the United States of America or any other nation on Earth.

St. Thomas More, true patriot of his country but patriot of Heaven first, fully understood that principle. May each Knight of this Council understand it as well.

Benard A. Smith, Grand Knight
July 15, 2011

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