In two weeks we will have completed half of the TOP 100 CATHOLICS OF THE CENTURY as the voters chose. Note, those last words - "as the voters chose." We have received numerous e-mails from readers who begin "How could you include" this person or that person. "He (or she) wasn't a good Catholic, in fact he (or she) was known to..." There we go, judging again. No proof, only assumptions that this person or that person was not deserving in their opinion of the honor. First of all, we repeat for the umpteenth time, we did not choose the top one hundred. The voters did. The only editorial license we took was to make sure the candidate chosen among 728 nominees submitted was that in the eyes of the Church they were still in good standing either presently or when they died. The Gospel from Thursday's Mass shows how we can misjudge someone so readily as the Pharisee Simon did when, embarrassed that his honored guest Jesus was being interrupted by this wanton woman Mary Magdalene who was lavishing so much attention on Him at Simon's chagrin, tried to shoo her away. Our Lord questioned Simon if he had treated Him the same and, of course, Simon sheepishly had to admit he hadn't. Christ's response to Mary? "Thy sins are forgiven" (Luke 7: 48).
Why can't we also forgive? That's the central theme of what the Holy Father is asking of all as we prepare for the new millennium. That is why we have offered this list of TOP 100 CATHOLICS OF THE CENTURY. Sure, there are many that might have been omitted who one or another person feels should have been on the list, others who can't understand how another made the list, claiming they were a sinner because of this or that. There we go again, judging. Why can't we realize that if Christ forgives, we must also. Again, we assure you those chosen are accepted by the Church and therefore we stand by them. It's interesting that on almost every complaint we received, the person always inadvertently praised the selection - then added the proverbial "but" to it which provided the launching point for a diatribe on why this person was not worthy of the list. To quote the centurion "Lord, do not trouble Thyself, for I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof;" (Luke 7: 6). When push comes to shove, none of us are worthy. It is only through the grace of God that we can become worthy through the great gift of the Sacraments. All of the TOP 100 CATHOLICS OF THE CENTURY did partake of the Sacraments. Were they sinners? You betcha! We all are. The only one who we can remember that was not a sinner was that special person born without Original Sin and chosen by God the Father to be the Mother of the Son of Man. The rest, even the greatest of saints were sinners. Why they're saints today is that they overcame sin by living the Gospel. Are we striving to do the same?
In defense of those attacked especially Tuesday's selection John Fitzgerald Kennedy, we provide not our comments, but readers. We don't have room to list all of them and, for the sake of brevity we provide just one for we have been inundated with e-mails of "how could you?" This comes from a 78 year-old retired priest who knew Kennedy. He wrote:
"As a Catholic priest who studied for the priesthood in Washington, D.C. I feel it only proper to inform you: to my knowledge and experience, John F. Kennedy was a good Catholic. As a seminarian I met him at Epiphany Parish in Georgetown, D.C. I was introduced to him as my friend Jack Kennedy, who works for the Government. The Pastor, Fr. Chester Ball, made the introduction. Jack attended daily Mass there and was a daily communicant. I didn't learn until some weeks later when he served the Mass of a priest from Massachusetts who informed us that Jack was the Junior Senator from the Commonwealth of Massachuesetts. His wife Jacqueline was born at Southampton Hospital and was baptized in East Hampton at St. Philomena's Church. The name of the Church was changed to Holy Trinity. While in the White House, a priest was assigned by the Archbishop (O'Boyle) to say Mass at the White House every day. When the President and the family went to the estate at Virginia, another priest was appointed to say Mass at the residence where the President stayed. I really get upset when I read some of the trash about this man. Before God, I am certain he was a true Catholic gentleman. Anyone can write stories after you are dead. There is no one to defend you. I didn't vote for John F. Kennedy because I have always voted Republican. To this day I wish I had voted for him. I guess all this sounds foolish to you and I have been laughed at when I mention it to others - however, these things I know with imperical knowledge. The priest who went to the White House had been with the Sacred Heart Fathers (Father Damien was one of them) and he left the Sacred Heart Community to become a secular priest in the Washington D.C. Archdiocese...Please pardon a senior retired priest for coming to the defense of a man I knew. I wish other politicians had the same love and respect for Almighty God and the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. God love, protect and bless you for your efforts on behalf of our Faith."
This priest was ordained in 1951 at the National Shrine in D.C. It is another example of someone "going against the grain" as Mary Magdalene did when she "crashed" Simon's party because of her love for the Lord. Because of his love for the truth this retired priest stepped out and defended a man badly maligned. Even we didn't know he was a daily communicant. His words we included in today's commentary to show all how we can all misjudge someone and malign someone without a thorough knowledge of one's soul. Only God knows the heart and soul, not man. It gives us all pause to hang our heads in shame for preconceived thoughts about anyone without truly knowing the truth about that person. If we are not absolutely sure of someone's guilt, then we best keep our mouths closed and our minds and hearts open. For to condemn one of God's creatures, we surely must realize we will have to stand before our Maker one day to answer for our sins. When that time comes, will we remember Our Lord's words in Matthew 7: 1-2, "Do not judge, that you may not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged; and with what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you"? In other words, button our lips and open our hearts. By opening our hearts we will grow closer to Jesus and His Blessed Mother and follow their example, making it less and less likely we'll malign others. Therefore, with just over one hundred days left before the new millennium, let us all strive to do as Mary Magdalene and this honest priest of God have done: step out in faith. If we are truly striving for sanctity and understand our Faith, then we will follow Christ and the Church's call to help others and, to paraphrase the man so maligned: Ask not what God can do for you, but what you can do for God!