Throwback Thursday: The Most Holy Trinity and the Nature of Humanity

May 24th, 2018

The Holy Trinity, by Andrej Rublev

The Most Holy Trinity, which the Church specially celebrates the Sunday after Pentecost, is the central and most profound mystery of the Christian faith and life.  While we human beings can grasp certain aspects of this ultimate truth about God, precisely as a mystery, a full understanding is beyond our limited human comprehension.  Yet, this deep mystery of God’s inner life and essence is also one of the most informative, in that, reflecting on the Trinity can shed invaluable light on what it means to be a human person.

Throughout history and in cultures throughout the world people have, by reason alone and after much consideration, concluded that God exists.  Yet, we could devote ourselves to study over several lifetimes and never come to the conclusion that God is a Trinity of persons – one and yet three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We know this truth and other divine mysteries in our human weakness only because the Lord has revealed them to us.  And he has revealed this truth not as a matter of curious theological trivia disconnected from our everyday lives, but in order to share his divine life with us.

The mystery of the Blessed Trinity, as the mystery of God in himself, is “the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the ‘hierarchy of the truths of faith’” (CCC 234).

Since the earliest days – since before the Church was born at Pentecost – the Christian faith has been Trinitarian.  When Jesus descended into the water at his baptism, for example, the bystanders hear the Father’s voice and see the Holy Spirit descend as a dove (Matthew 3:16-17).  Later, Jesus will instruct his followers to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).  Likewise, Saint Paul offered blessings with a Trinitarian formula (2 Corinthians 13:13) and the blessings and prayers of the early Church reflect this faith in the Trinity.

The essential elements of this divine mystery are that we worship one God who is an eternal loving communion of three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who are all equal in power, all co-eternal, and all divine.  One divine nature, they differ only in that the Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Father; the Spirit is not the Son; the Spirit is not the Father.  While this mystery of one and yet three might at first seem contradictory and irrational by human reckoning, if we delve deeper, we will find, like the other paradoxes of the faith, an amazing and profoundly life-changing truth.

The doctrine of the Trinity can perhaps best be understood by Scripture’s most compact definition of God: “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).  Love is by its very nature relationship – it requires an “other.”  The fullness of love is also by its very nature unitive.  More than a mere association of individual persons, in the fullness of love there is a communion of persons – the multiplicity become one.

The Catholic author G.K. Chesterton observed that the Trinity is “simply the logical side of love.” Within God himself is Someone who loves and Someone who is loved, and there is the Love, who is a living reality as well. There is the Father and the Son, and the love which proceeds from them is not merely some warm sentiment, but a Person – the Holy Spirit.

Here too is revealed the essence of humanity.  Made in the image and likeness of God – in the image and likeness of the Trinity – human beings, made male and female, are relational beings made to live in a loving fruitful communion of persons.

We see this in a particular way in the union of man and woman in marriage.  As Pope Francis notes, “the couple’s fruitful relationship becomes an image for understanding and describing the mystery of God himself” as a communion of love (Amoris Laetitia, 11).  That is, “the family is entrusted to a man, a woman and their children, so that they may become a communion of persons in the image of the union of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Id., 71).

As a visible sign of the Trinity, marriage and family are in turn a sign of our heavenly Father’s greater plan for all humanity, that all of his creation be united as one in and through him – a communion of saints.  That is what God wants for you and me – to love and be loved – and nothing could be more wonderful, more vibrant and alive, than to share in this way in the life of the Trinity.

This blog post draws from passages of my book “Faith that Transforms Us: Reflections on the Creed (2013).”

Memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church

May 21st, 2018

Mater Ecclesiae mosaic at Saint John Paul II Seminary

Entering the Saint John Paul II Seminary chapel, one can see a lovely mosaic of Mater Ecclesiae, Mother of the Church, based on the mosaic that Pope John Paul II had installed in 1982 on the wall overlooking Saint Peter’s Square, one year after he survived an assassination attempt. The mosaic in our seminary’s chapel, like the one in Rome, depicts Mary tenderly holding the Christ Child, and below them is the pope’s coat of arms and his motto, Totus Tuus, “Totally Yours.”  Both represent his devotion to Mary, whose maternal care he relied upon as a boy after his mother died and later throughout his priesthood and papacy, and to whom he credited for preserving his life after he was shot.

Likewise, at the dedication Mass for the seminary, I encouraged the seminarians to have a special devotion to our Blessed Mother.  “Just as Jesus on the cross entrusted John to His mother,” I said, “so does the Church today continue to encourage all of us to entrust our lives, our vocation, our ministry, our service to Mary, the mother of Jesus, mother of God, mother of the Church. It is under that title that we bless this chapel – dedicated to Mary, Mother of the Church.”

This title is one by which Mary has been venerated in the Church for many centuries.  And in 1964 at a Mass closing the third session of the Second Vatican Council, Blessed Paul VI formally recognized her as “Mother of the Church.”

Now, on this day after Pentecost, the whole Church is celebrating for the first time as a universal feast the memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church.  This celebration, instituted by Pope Francis in March, incorporates the Gospel reading from Saint John which recounts how as Jesus was dying, he “the disciple he loved” with Mary at the foot of the cross, and the Lord said to him, “Behold your mother” (19:25-34).

Since we regard Pentecost as the birthday of the Church, it is fitting to celebrate this next day as the feast of Mary, Mother of the Church.  She was present, abiding in prayer with the Apostles in the Upper Room as they received the Holy Spirit, and it was in fact her “yes” to following God’s will that set in motion our salvation as she became Jesus’ mother, his first and greatest disciple, and our first and greatest example in faith.

On this inaugural universal feast day – which comes about a week after we celebrate Mother’s Day to honor our earthly mothers – we can, like Saint John Paul and also like the young men studying at our seminary, remember Mary’s maternal care for our Church and for each of us. Just as she prayed with the Apostles, she prays for us, that we too open our hearts and lives to the gifts of the Holy Spirit and become Jesus’ witnesses to the world.

Pentecost and the Fruits of the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church of Washington

May 20th, 2018

The Apostles Gathered Around Mary at Pentecost, Barnaba de Mondena (1377)

Pope Francis says in his recent apostolic exhortation that “holiness, in the end, is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 15).  Today, filled with and strengthened by the presence of the Holy Spirit as at the first Pentecost, we can see this local Church – clergy, religious and laity, institutional ministries, lay organizations and individuals in their daily lives all combined as one diverse body – producing a fruitful harvest as we boldly go out to manifest the kingdom of God in our world.

Every day, people’s lives are touched in ways big and small by the Catholic presence in this archdiocese, in the District of Columbia and the Maryland counties of Montgomery, Prince George’s, Calvert, Charles and Saint Mary’s.  The children who are the future are formed to be good citizens, patients receive life-saving treatment, families are strengthened, seniors are cared for, disadvantaged men and women are fed and provided a place to sleep, people in distress are given respite and hope, and others find the meaning in life they have been searching for – all due to a response to the Gospel call to love our neighbors.

Good neighbors can be proof as well that in time of division, social harmony and unity are possible. The over 650,000 men, women and children who make up this archdiocesan family are a living affirmation of the name “Catholic,” which is from the Greek meaning “universal.”  We come from every social background, occupation and a multiplicity of cultural heritages and language groups, with members in urban areas and rural tracing their ancestry back to Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Europe, Oceania and to the indigenous peoples of North America too.

The vast breadth and depth of the Catholic family signify also the extent of our involvement with all our neighbors, calling them sisters and brothers in one human family.  Taught by Jesus Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves and to celebrate the inherent dignity of every human person as made in the image of God, we aspire to a culture of inclusion and caring for one another.

Serving everyone regardless of religion, race, gender, sexuality, ethnic background or social condition, our many Catholic Charities, healthcare and social service agencies work for the poor, the marginalized and the suffering.  Furthermore, with two thousand years of experience in dealing with the human condition, the Catholic community has long been a voice of conscience in working for a better world of goodness, caring, hope, solidarity, justice and authentic human development.

This Pentecost, let us ask again that the Holy Spirit fill us so that, enkindled by the fire of his love, we can be a light to those who struggle in darkness and help renew the face of the earth.  Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Throwback Thursday: Bringing the Love of Christ to Our Sisters and Brothers in Need

May 17th, 2018

Visiting the Sick, by Gege workshop

Through our works of mercy, care and compassion, each of us can make the love of Jesus Christ present in our world.  One way of sharing the Gospel that is much appreciated, but which often goes quietly unnoticed except by those who are touched by it, is the Church’s ministry to those persons who are homebound or living in a care-giving facility due to sickness, infirmity, injury, age or other debilitating condition.

Being limited in what we can do is frustrating, but even worse is diminished social interaction and solitude.   Out of sight to others, there is a very real risk of feeling as if we were out of mind as well – abandoned or forgotten.  But those in this situation do not have to face the struggles of the human condition alone, without the consolation of others or, most particularly, without the sacraments.  Aware of our human frailty, Jesus Christ, the divine physician of our souls and bodies, has willed that his Church’s mission is to go out to people and bring comfort and compassion which show that we are all a part of God’s family, no one is to be excluded.

Remembering how the Lord went to meet people in need wherever they were and how Mary went in haste to Elizabeth’s home to help tend to her needs, with love the Church invites her members to go out to visit and minister to people in homes, hospitals, assisted living facilities, nursing centers, and every place that people live, especially the most vulnerable.  This ministry is made explicit in canon law, which provides that a pastor is to visit the people within his parish, sharing in their cares, anxieties and griefs, strengthening them in the Lord, and refreshing them with the sacraments (Canon 529 § 1).  In this, the pastor is assisted by lay ministers who, together with their prayers, can bring Christ in the Eucharist to the homebound and those in care-giving facilities, as well as by associate priests who can additionally hear confessions, provide an anointing, and give blessings.

In his apostolic exhortation “The Sacrament of Charity,” Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the pastoral imperative of going out and providing this spiritual assistance to those who cannot attend places of worship. “These brothers and sisters of ours should have the opportunity to receive sacramental communion frequently. In this way they can strengthen their relationship with Christ, crucified and risen, and feel fully involved in the Church’s life and mission by the offering of their sufferings in union with our Lord’s sacrifice” (58).

For such a visit by a priest, deacon or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacrament is carried in a special vessel called a pyx.  A liturgical rite is followed, but it is fairly brief to accommodate the possible limitations of the person receiving.  In a home, this ordinarily includes introductory rites, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of Communion and a concluding rite, while in the hospital setting, a shorter rite can be used.  If the person is unable to receive, or chooses not to, prayers may be offered instead.  Afterward would be an appropriate time for friendly socializing, showing pastoral concern and interest in their welfare.  Beyond the Eucharist, this loving action may be the greatest gift they can receive.

Another component of this ministry is the Sunday TV Mass produced by the Archdiocese of Washington.  Here, those who are unable to be physically present with a local worshipping community are given the opportunity to receive the word of God, merciful and full of love.

Those who minister to persons who are homebound or in care-giving facilities will tell you how personally rewarding it is.  However, all of the baptized share in this call to do all we can to help and show love for them.  Spending time with them, helping them with meals or housework, telephoning them – all of these provide a comfort.  Even just sending a card saying “get well” or “thinking of you” can brighten their day.

We are not bystanders in God’s plan for a world of healing, wholeness, kindness and love.  We are participants who answer Jesus’ call to meet the needs of others.

Honoring the Memory of Enslaved Ancestors

May 15th, 2018

The new memorial at Mt. Olivet Cemetery is surrounded by a field of green grass where enslaved African Americans were buried without markers.

In a poignant ceremony recently, choir members from Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Parish stood together at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington singing “Shall We Gather at the River.”  The spiritual opened a prayer service for the installation of a commemorative plaque honoring men, women and children who in life had been enslaved and in death were buried in unmarked graves in a section of this resting place.

The ceremony marked the first installation of other like plaques being placed this month for prayerful remembrance and honor at the archdiocese’s five major cemeteries, including Mount Olivet, Queen of Peace Cemetery in Saint Mary’s County, Resurrection Cemetery in Prince George’s County, and Gate of Heaven Cemetery and All Souls Cemetery, both in Montgomery County.

The spiritual for the Mount Olivet service is a song of hope that draws its inspiration from the coming together for worship and community fellowship on Sundays by families who had been held in bondage and forced labor during a shameful period of our nation’s history. It also harkens to the waters of Baptism that unite us all as sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters to one another.

“Today we need to acknowledge past sins of racism and, in a spirit of reconciliation, move toward a Church and society where the wounds of racism are healed,” I said in my pastoral letter last fall, The Challenge of Racism Today.  With that resolve, earlier this year I blessed and dedicated the bronze memorials to begin the process of correcting an unjust failure. Now, in ground made holy by their remains as a temple of the Holy Spirit, we mark and remember them.  In this small way, we seek to restore the honor and dignity that was so grievously denied them.

These enslaved ancestors and emancipated people of color helped build many of our landmarks here, including the U.S. Capitol and the White House.  But more importantly, they laid a foundation of faith that has endured in their descendants for generations. Despite the crosses they bore from the sin of racism, they kept and passed on the faith.  As we face struggles in our own day, we can learn from how they drew strength and courage from Jesus and his Gospel, the source of our ultimate freedom and hope.

The memorials remind us that those wounded by the sin of racism should never be forgotten.  By our prayers and through our work for justice, let us shine the light of faith on our world and live in solidarity with all those around us, respecting the God-given human dignity that we all share as we look forward to the day when together we will “gather with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God.”

The Gift of Motherhood

May 13th, 2018

No two relationships between a mother and a child are the same. Most siblings would agree that they experience something in their own relationship with their Mom that is unique even within the same family. We recognize that the experience of carrying a child creates a bond that, even if diminished, is never broken.

Pope Francis reminds us that “a mother joins with God to bring forth the miracle of new life. Motherhood is the fruit of a ‘particular creative potential of the female body, directed to the conception and birth of a new human being’” (Amoris Laetitia, 168, quoting John Paul II, General Audience of March 12, 1980).  For this reason and for the centrality of the family in society, it makes sense then that the Church join the country in honoring our mothers. From a spiritual perspective, that Mother’s Day always falls in the month of May, matches perfectly the Church’s practice of devoting the month of May to our Blessed Mother Mary, who brought Jesus into the world.

So many mothers draw strength from Mary’s witness of love for her Son and her fidelity during his passion and death.  Parish celebrations during this month such as “May Crowning” or Sodality breakfasts offer an opportunity to celebrate how the love of a mother reflects the beauty of Mary, the Mother of God and Mother of the Church as a model for the love that all mothers offer their children.

The maternal gift is not only to those who bear children, but is an essential expression of the feminine.  In fact, “God entrusted the human being to woman,” stressed Saint John Paul.  “Certainly, every human being is entrusted to each and every other human being, but in a special way the human being is entrusted to woman, precisely because the woman in virtue of her special experience of motherhood is seen to have a specific sensitivity towards the human person and all that constitutes the individual’s true welfare, beginning with the fundamental value of life. How great are the possibilities and responsibilities of woman in this area, at a time when the development of science and technology is not always inspired and measured by true wisdom, with the inevitable risk of ‘de-humanizing’ human life, above all when it would demand a more intense love and a more generous acceptance” (Christifidelis Laici, 51).

Our world particularly needs the vibrant witness of mothers and all women to the dignity of all human life and to the necessity of putting families and the needs of families first when considering the needs of our local communities and our country.  To all mothers this month – those women who gave birth to us, those who raised us, and also the woman Jesus called “Mother” and who now calls all of us her children in the Spirit – we express our great love, affection and gratitude for all that they have done and continue to do. Praise be to God for the blessings of our mothers.

Words of Advice for Our New Graduates and Thanks to Our Golden Apple Teachers

May 11th, 2018

Over the next few weeks, local Catholic universities and high schools will hold their commencement celebrations, which are not an ending, but a new beginning for these graduates. In addition to hearty congratulations to these young women and men, I would like to offer them a few words of advice.

As you now put your education to work and open a new chapter in your life, or continue in your schooling, you might hear from some who will tell you that success is measured in material terms – how much you earn and how much you have.  However, as we try to be disciples, followers of Jesus, we recognize that true success and real lasting happiness are not measuring by how many worldly goods we accumulate or how important we become in the eyes of those around us.  When everything is said and done, what is most important in life is love, which is also central to our holiness and is the lifelong vocation we all share. “We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves,” affirms Pope Francis (Gaudete et Exsultate, 14).

Love – and the fullness of joy that comes with it – is rightly called Good News.  Love is something we experience in our relationship with Jesus.  Our ability to stay close to the Lord is the true measure ultimately of our success and I urge you never to be tempted to accept less.  As Pope Francis tells us, we should always recognize that with the transformative power of God’s love in your heart, you not only make a difference, you can change the world for the better (32).

With your graduation comes the recognition that we do not proceed through life alone.  We thus give thanks that accompanying you are your parents and other family members, your teachers and friends, and above all, God.  In a particular way, please join me in expressing gratitude to the following educators from the Archdiocese of Washington who were honored last night with a 2018 Golden Apple Award, given thanks to the generosity of the Donahue Family Foundation of Pittsburgh:

  • Louisa Dwyer of St. Jerome Academy in Hyattsville
  • Paula Farina of St. Pius X Regional School in Bowie
  • Mary Hay of St. Philip the Apostle School in Camp Springs
  • Thomas Kolar of Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney
  • Kelly Nichols of St. Peter School in Olney
  • Paul O’Brien of Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville
  • Wendy Slay of St. Mary School in Bryantown
  • Jennifer Whelan of St. Columba School in Oxon Hill
  • Lauren Wisniewski of Holy Redeemer School in College Park, and
  • Jacquelyn Wolfgram of St. Elizabeth School in Rockville.

Each of these educators is a witness to the gifts given to them by God, their willingness to give of themselves in love to others, and thus set a true standard by which to measure success.  You graduates have your own gifts, talents and abilities as well.  Graduation time is a reminder that Jesus calls us to be part of something truly great – a world of justice, truth, kindness, compassion, wisdom, peace and love – and that each of you, in your own way, has something to offer to help make that happen.

I hope you will always be mindful that because of your Catholic formation, you bring a vision of life and purpose rooted in the Gospel, enlightened by your faith, and capable of making this world a better place.  All of us join you in recognizing that now it is your turn to become a part of this wonderful effort.

Throwback Thursday: We Are Sent – The Ascension of the Lord

May 10th, 2018

The Great Commission, by Szymon Czechowicz

The Ascension of Jesus to heavenly glory forty days after his Resurrection marks the final act of his earthly ministry and the necessary prelude to the birth of the Church.  This is not an ending, but a new beginning.  Jesus ascended in his visible body to make way for his Mystical Body, the Church, which was filled with the living breath of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

As he ascended into the heavenly sanctuary, Jesus sent out his Apostles to continue his work and proclaim the Gospel, just as he had been sent by the Father to bring the Good News of salvation to humanity.  The Lord tells them to go into the whole world and be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, to teach all that he has taught and make disciples of all nations.

As the definitive high priest, Jesus chose some of his followers to carry out publicly in the Church a particular priestly ministry in his name on behalf of all.  By virtue of their consecration in the sacrament of orders, these men are configured to Christ as priest and shepherd of his people and they continue his sacred ministerial presence.

Many times I have heard priests, particularly at anniversary celebrations, express the sentiment that all they ever wanted was to be a priest, giving their life over to the Lord.  Last week, the priests of this local Church gathered again for one of these annual events, giving thanks to God for their brother priests who are marking jubilee anniversaries of their ordinations.  For these men and for all our priests, I ask that you offer up your own prayers in communion with mine.

Like the Apostles, the priests who so superbly serve this archdiocese likewise have been sent to a variety of parishes, missions and ministries.  From the time I was in the seminary, I, too, experienced “being sent.”  Over the years, I have been sent to Rome and to Pittsburgh, to the state of Washington and now the city of Washington, and many places in-between as well.  But wherever we are sent, we are ever-cognizant of our commission to proclaim the Word in season and out, to celebrate the sacred mysteries, and to manifest a shepherd’s care for the flock which we are called to gather into one and lead to the Father.

Whether we were ordained fifty years ago or five years ago, our priestly ministry is ever new.  We are all priests of a new millennium and New Evangelization.  In the midst of a culture that too often leaves people wanting, the priesthood of Jesus Christ is sent to bear testimony to the truth of the Lord’s words of everlasting life.

However, while those who are ordained as priests serve a special role, every part of the Mystical Body of Christ is called to be witnesses of Jesus. The Ascension is directed to all the faithful also as a challenge.  We are all called to deliver the Good News to the ends of the earth and the laity play an invaluable role in this mission.

The “end of the earth” is the place where people live. It is the place where they work. It is the place where they socialize and spend their leisure time. Priests and bishops and the pope cannot reach all those places or the people there – but the laity can. As the Second Vatican Council’s decree on the laity reminds us, “The laity must take up the renewal of the temporal order as their own special obligation” (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 7).

As Christians, we all share in the apostolate of Christ. We all share to some extent in the work of an apostle. An “apostle,” according to the word’s root meaning, is someone who is sent – an ambassador – someone sent into the world to spread the Good News, to make disciples of all nations, to establish the kingdom and build it up with every action of every day.

We are ambassadors for heaven’s kingdom, sent to a particular family, a particular neighborhood, a particular school or university, a particular workplace.  Though we are ambassadors representing Jesus in those places here on earth, our true citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).  We are in the world, but not of the world.

We represent the kingdom to a world with which the kingdom is often at odds.  The people to whom we are sent will sometimes, and perhaps often, disagree with us.  This may prove challenging, but as ambassadors, we practice a certain diplomacy.   Rather than joining in crude discourse, our speech and action should be marked by the charity in truth that is characteristic of the kingdom.

Saint Peter puts it beautifully: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15-16).  In this way, every adversary – including the most anti-Christian kind – can become a friend and perhaps even a fellow sister or brother in Christ.

Mt. Olivet Cemetery Rain Garden Dedication

May 7th, 2018

Pope Francis begins his encyclical on caring for our common home with a line from Saint Francis’ Canticle of Creation:  “Praise be to You, my Lord.”  This famous hymn of praise of God beautifully portrays creation in familial terms, giving thanks for “Brother Sun,” “Sister Moon,” for our “Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs,” and for all the other elements and aspects of creation that bless our lives (Laudato Si’, 1, 11).

One line of the canticle sticks out in light of a recent Archdiocese of Washington collaboration with The Nature Conservancy: “Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water, who is very useful to us, and humble and precious and pure.”  Today, this partnership comes together to celebrate the dedication of the new Mt. Olivet Cemetery Rain Garden.

The dedication commemorates the completion of a first-of-its-kind green infrastructure project, started in November 2017, in which some of the cemetery’s 435,000 square feet of impervious surface was removed and replaced with rain gardens and bio-retention processes, while also carefully maintaining the sacred burial sites.  Furthering the natural and native beauty of the grounds, the rain gardens are filled with layers of soil and compost, mulch, and plants that will filter and clean some of the millions of gallons of storm water that falls on the cemetery grounds.

Most of this stormwater is absorbed into the earth, but some of it can flow into the Anacostia River watershed, making it important to clean any potential runoff. While the project is expected to alleviate a stormwater fee imposed by local government regulations, as Catholics we realize that our environmentalism is a response to a higher call, one given in the beginning when God directed us “to cultivate and keep” the land with which we have been blessed (Genesis 2:15).  We can all do our small part to obey this beautiful command.

Today’s dedication is not only a celebration of better caring for our common home, but a recognition of a collaborative partnership with others.  Pope Francis reminds us of the need for such cooperative efforts to care for our environment: “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (Laudato Si’, 14).

We pray that through the success of this project and future collaborations, we may help keep our “Sister Water, who is very useful to us, and humble and precious and pure” and thus give glory to the Creator.  Also, as Pope Francis said, “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home” (Id., 13). We hope then that this project can become a model for others to care for the environment and to take steps to ensure that its health and beauty last for future generations.

Throwback Thursday: Growing Closer to God

May 3rd, 2018

Once when I was traveling, a flight attendant shared with me her feeling that something was missing in her life, saying that she wished she had the sense of wholeness she knew when she was younger and attending Catholic school.  It became clear as we talked that it had been a long time since she had significant contact with the practice of the faith.  When she told me that she did not even remember how to pray, I told her I would help her.

It is not unusual for me or for any priest to have conversations with people about a desire to pray more or better or differently.  It is even a discussion Jesus had with his disciples!  To help others like this woman seeking more peace and joy in their lives, I wrote a book, Ways to Pray: Growing Closer to God.  My hope is that with this little book, readers will learn how to better and more deeply enter into God’s intimate presence.

In the Gospel we read how Jesus was praying in a certain place when one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1).  It is an important question, and even an urgent one. Maybe the disciple felt sheepish about bothering the great Master about such a simple matter, but he got over his inhibitions because he needed to know how to pray.

We all do. We need to learn how to pray and to spend our lives at that task. It is the life-long education of learning to speak the language of heaven. The good news is that God is present and wants to be present in our lives.  The Lord wants us apply ourselves to a closer relationship with him in prayer with diligence, passion, focus and endurance because he loves us and he knows that the greatest good is for us to be with him.

In response to the disciple who asked how to pray, Jesus gave us the Our Father, also known as the Lord’s Prayer.  This model for all prayer contains the four general types of prayer – adoration, thanksgiving, petition and contrition.

For most of us, the kind of prayer that comes most easily is that of petition – asking something of God. Usually, we are reaching out for God’s help for ourselves or someone we love. Every Sunday, at Mass we ask divine assistance for the Church, for our local parish, for the healing of those who are sick and for eternal life for those who have died.

Pope Francis describes petition as one of three movements of prayer: “gazing on the Lord, hearing the Lord and asking the Lord.” No one would dispute the elements of his sequence: gazing, hearing and asking. Those are basic components in most of our everyday conversations and, as Saint Teresa of Ávila observed, prayer is nothing more than conversation with God. We observe good manners we look in the direction of the people with whom we are speaking, when we listen to them, and when we speak to those whose company we share.

But notice the sequence in the Pope’s instruction: “hearing” comes before “asking.” He tells us to begin by gazing in God’s direction, but the next step is not talking – it is hearing. It is listening to and receiving a word that is given.  God has already taken the initiative.  “God calls man first,” explains the Catechism. “In prayer, the faithful God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response” (CCC 2567).

In this pattern of prayer, our bonds with God will grow stronger just as ordinary relationships grow stronger through talking and listening. We make time for one another and we proceed to fill that time in a variety of meaningful ways. We exchange customary greetings. We exchange updates, concerns, ideas, hopes, wishes, plans, and fears. This is how we share life with one another. We take what is inside us – what is entirely interior – and we communicate it to another person. At the same time, we make the effort to hear, understand, and respond to the other person.

We know this process from everyday life.  In prayer, God wants us to learn how the same dynamic, the same habits and custom, apply to our friendship with him. Through Catholic tradition, God has given you what you need to get started.  Now all that remains is for you to pray, to respond to his call in the language of love, one day after another.