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Telling the Good News

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Apr 30, 2008

Occasionally it is worthwhile to remind ourselves that some news is good. For example, in mid-April the Congregation for the Clergy launched a campaign to remind priests that prayer must be their first priority, and to remind all of us that we should be praying for our priests. This campaign, complete with excellent supporting materials, is leading up to a new World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests on May 30th.

It has long been observed that a loss of the habit of personal prayer precedes the abandonment of the priesthood, as well as most distortions of it, in the vast majority of cases. The CC’s renewed emphasis on prayer in the life of priests, if successful, will be one of the most important steps taken to strengthen the Catholic priesthood in decades. Eucharistic adoration is at the heart of the program. This can work a miracle of reconversion for all—priests and lay people alike—who take advantage of it. For more information on this upcoming Day, see the official website at World Day of Prayer for Priests.

While on the subject of miracles, I also note that a miracle has apparently been approved for the final stage in the beatification of John Henry Cardinal Newman, the great 19th century convert from Anglicanism, and one of the finest spiritual writers of the modern period. The miracle occurred in the case of Jack Sullivan, a 69-year-old permanent deacon serving in Massachusetts, who began praying to Cardinal Newman when he was afflicted with a severe spinal disease which forced him to remain doubled-over. Sullivan was healed of the disease on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 2001. He attributes the cure to Cardinal Newman, and the Vatican’s medical committee for reviewing such claims ruled on April 24, 2008 that no medical explanation for the cure is possible.

The miracle will now be reviewed by a theological committee, which is expected to rule that it can be used as the miracle required for beatification (by which Cardinal Newman would be named “Blessed”). A second miracle would then be required for canonization at some point in the future. Other miracles have been put forward, but have not yet been studied. One rumor from Rome suggests that Pope Benedict is interested enough in Newman to declare him a doctor of the Church when he is beatified, in which case his final canonization is likely to proceed very rapidly. Meanwhile, after initial confusion and disagreement over how best to protect Newman’s grave in Birmingham (England) from vandalism, local authorities and Newman’s Oratory Fathers are working together to find a solution which will ensure that the site can continue to be a place of pilgrimage without risk to Newman’s memory.

On a somewhat more humorous note, recent news reports have highlighted new demographic studies which link child-bearing to religious fervor. One marvels at the uncanny ability of sociology to prove the obvious, but it is nonetheless useful to have clear evidence from nearly a score of countries that the number of children women bear is directly related to the degree of their self-professed religious commitment. These studies have been increasing in recent years primarily because it has been widely observed that the United States is both more fertile and more religious than Europe, especially Western Europe. Perhaps the best overall review of the evidence may be found in the 2007 study Religion, Religiousness and Fertility in the US and in Europe, published online in both English and French.

Given Europe’s demographic winter, the question of what factors influence parents to have children is far from inconsequential. The alarm over European infertility was raised by no less a figure than Pope John Paul II, and it has become a major concern for many reasons, not least because of the widespread conviction that it indicates a crisis of European morale. Certain American authors, George Weigel among them, have suggested that the state of Europe is also highly relevant to the future state of America. Undoubtedly the thought of John Henry Newman could be used to address this crisis of morale, along with prayer for—and by—Catholic priests. But for now, having further confirmation that religion is positively associated with demographic health is one more piece of good news. Indeed, it is part of the Good News itself.

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