Throwback Thursday: Rejoice in the Lord Always

December 14th, 2017

With all of the festivities and preparations associated with the weeks before Christmas, this can be a very hectic time.  Add shopping to the mix, and the long day at the mall jostling amid the crowds might tempt some to irritation.  Meanwhile, others may be distressed because they are out of work.  It is in this atmosphere of anticipation in the midst of the realities of the human condition that the Church invites us to rejoice on the third Sunday of Advent.

Joy.  It is a word we hear and use all the time.  We sing, “Joy to the world,” and Pope Francis famously reminds us of the “joy of the Gospel” and the “joy of love” in the family. But what exactly is joy?

Modern commercialism gives one answer – joy is something that can be purchased.  A similar answer is given by popular culture which tells us our individual needs and desires trump all other considerations.  Yet, invariably the people who follow these paths end up miserable as they realize that material possessions and worldly delights are superficial and fleeting.

The Church proposes another answer – namely, that joy is more than simply having fun, that it goes beyond pleasure and the world’s understanding of happiness.  Authentic joy is necessarily oriented towards the transcendent, towards things eternal, rather than worldly things that will one day turn to dust.  This joy “fills us from within” as “an expansion of the heart” that helps us find fulfilment and can still be experienced when material pleasure has ebbed and even amid sorrow, explains Pope Francis (Amoris Laetitia, 126).  And the way to this joy is love and goodness.

If we want to truly understand joy, just as if we want to understand Christmas – indeed the whole Christian faith – perhaps we need to learn from, and become like, children.  “Christmas is for kids,” we often hear.  All the excitement of this season is heightened when it involves youngsters.  Moreover, Christmas brings out the “kid” in each of us as we adults remember how, when we were little, we had no problem expressing genuine joy in simple things like singing carols and making cookies and snow angels.

However, this joy of children is not really about the presents.  Have you ever been in the toy department of a store and seen a child crying because he has lost his parents?  Here he is surrounded by all of these fun things, but at that moment, they mean nothing to him.  All he really wants is mom and dad.

What makes us rejoice is not getting lots of stuff, but having people who love us, especially the infinite love of the little Child of Bethlehem (Evangelii Gaudium, 7).  When he grew up, our Lord told us the source of all real joy – himself.  “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love,” he said.  “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.”

All authentic joy finds its origin in the Lord who is Love and, thus, the joys of this world are but a foretaste of the fullness of joy that is found only in heaven.  Those who come to eternal life know every blessing, but at the core of their joy is communion with God himself.  As described by Pope Benedict XVI, “We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy” (Spe Salvi, 12).

Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and is thus interrelated with the other fruits of the Spirit.  Hence, you cannot truly be joyful if you are lacking in charity, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, or chastity.  With love at its foundation, joy must also be shared if it is to remain joy.  “Joy is a pilgrim virtue,” says Pope Francis, “if we keep this joy to ourselves it will make us sick in the end.”

The Christmas message is one of great joy, which is to say it is a message of love – Jesus Christ is born, God is with us.  “With Christ,” Pope Francis affirms, “joy is constantly born anew” (Evangelii Gaudium, 1). When we share that message and joy with others – at work, at home, and even at the mall – we give them the perfect gift.

Prepare the Way of the Lord

December 12th, 2017

Confession
Amidst all the preparations, decorating and shopping this Advent season, the voice of John the Baptist cries out to us, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths!” (Mark 1:3)

The way of the Lord is love and mercy, light and salvation which leads out of the spiritual desert to the spring of life-giving water. To prepare this way for Our Redeemer and making straight his paths, then, means straightening and prioritizing our own lives so that we are worthy to receive him.  It means opening our hearts, where his love can heal and sustain us and transform our lives into a unique reflection of his own.

Revealing in himself the merciful love of God, Jesus comes to offer us the gifts of grace and new life.  One way to keep the way clear for the Lord to enter into our hearts is by a contrite examination of conscience each day and striving to do better.  However, in a more particular fashion, Jesus makes us a new creation in the sacrament of Reconciliation.

There is a struggle between the spirit and the world in which we live. The sobering and sad fact of life is that each of us from time to time sins.  Each of us sometimes goes off on our own way, rather than God’s way, with the inevitable adverse consequence that we stumble through a wilderness in the dark.  Thankfully, the light of the confessional is there serving as a beacon of love and caring concern which says  that inside is an oasis of mercy where the Lord is ready and waiting to receive all who enter.

Confession is the story of reuniting with our Lord and the embrace of his infinite love.  In the sacrament, we receive a grace that has a real impact on us in real life.  Through this gift that is as undeserved as it is unmerited, not only are we reconciled to God with our sins forgiven, but we also receive his divine assistance to lead a more loving, truthful, and faith-filled life.  Whatever small penance we perform is merely a token of our resolve to amend our lives in love and thanks to God, who is all good and deserving of our love.

The message of Christmas is God loves us and it remains one of the marvels of his endless love that through his Son, born in Bethlehem, he would make forgiveness and spiritual renewal so readily available to us.  As we journey to Bethlehem, we need to prepare the way for him and bring to him a fitting gift.  We want to be able to approach and lay before the manger our own loving, pure and reconciled heart.

The Trinity Dome: The Crowning Jewel of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

December 8th, 2017

The dedication today of the Trinity Dome mosaic, the crowning jewel of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, marks the completion of a pilgrimage that began nearly a century ago, with the laying of the shrine’s foundation stone in 1920. The final touches on this sanctuary of prayer are thanks to the overwhelming support of the nation’s Catholics, just as they have contributed from the very beginning. This outpouring demonstrates the faithful’s love for Mary – the mother of Jesus and the mother of the Church, whose “yes” gave us our Savior and who shows us the way to him.

The dramatic new mosaic shows the Blessed Mother with her arms outstretched, leading us, as represented by a procession of saints, to the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Included in this pilgrim journey are 18 saints and blesseds from all backgrounds and walks of life, but with a special connection to the Americas and to the Basilica. Among these inspirational holy men and women who now pray for us in heaven are Saint John Paul II, who visited and prayed at the shrine in 1979, Blessed Paul VI, who visited before he became pope and whose papal tiara is on display there, and Saint John XXIII, who was pope when the Great Upper Church was dedicated in 1959.

The base of the dome is ringed by the words of the Creed. Pope Francis blessed the section with the beginning and concluding words, “I believe in one God” and “Amen,” during his 2015 visit to the Basilica, where he celebrated the Canonization Mass for Saint Junípero Serra, the great missionary who is also depicted in the work.

The papal connection so evident in the mosaic and a part of the shrine reminds Catholics of their connection to Peter, the rock on whom Christ built his Church. Meanwhile, we could say that the millions of pieces of colored glass in the mosaic symbolize the universality of the Church, including the diverse pilgrims from across the country and around the world who come to pray here, offering the gifts of their different backgrounds and heritages. United in faith in the Lord Jesus, together these elements reflect the beauty and transcendence of God’s holy Church.

Tomorrow, our archdiocesan family of faith is invited to join the Walk with Mary procession and Mass honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe. The celebration starts at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart for another pilgrimage to the house of Mary, reminding us that our journey of faith continues with our Blessed Mother showing us the way to God, as depicted in the Trinity Dome. This happens not only through dramatic, colorful artwork, but by saying “yes” to the Lord each day of our lives.

Throwback Thursday: The Incomparable Importance of Immaculate Mary in Our Life of Faith

December 7th, 2017


The Blessed Virgin Mary is a beautiful, beloved, essential and pervasive figure in the Church calendar.  Tomorrow, we rejoice in her Immaculate Conception, celebrating her as God’s greatest creation – the vessel he fashioned to be his own mother, the woman who would bear him into the world.

Pope Francis explains that, in view of her divine motherhood, “Mary was preserved from original sin, from that fracture in communion with God, with others and with creation, which deeply wounds every human being. But this fracture was healed in advance in the Mother of the One who came to free us from the slavery of sin. The Immaculata was written in God’s design; she is the fruit of God’s love that saves the world” (Angelus address of December 8, 2013).  By her Immaculate Conception, Mary is truly a proper and pure living temple for the Son of God, a holy living house of the Lord.

Our Holy Father has stated that Mary is more important than the bishops and that without her, we could never truly understand the spirit of the New Evangelization (e.g. Evangelii Gaudium, 104, 284).  In fact, without Immaculate Mary, without her “yes” to God, the events of salvation that were to come could not have taken place.

Recognizing her unequaled importance in the incarnation of Jesus and his work of salvation, the Second Vatican Council devoted a substantial portion of its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, to the Virgin Mary.  More than that, recalled Pope Benedict XVI, who served at the Council as a theological advisor when he was a young priest, the entire process was pervaded by a Marian dimension (Homily for the 40th anniversary of the closing of the Council, December 8, 2005).

Summarizing the Council Fathers, Pope Benedict said, “The Council intended to tell us this: Mary is so interwoven in the great mystery of the Church that she and the Church are inseparable, just as she and Christ are inseparable. Mary mirrors the Church, anticipates the Church in her person, and in all the turbulence that affects the suffering, struggling Church, she always remains the Star of salvation.”

The role that Mary played and continues to play in pointing the way for the Church is crucial, taught the Council.  “Adorned from the first instant of her conception with the radiance of an entirely unique holiness,” such that throughout her life she remained “free from all stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature” (Lumen Gentium, 56), we find in Mary both the most sublime example of God’s grace at work and also a sign that we too can be made new and grow in holiness if only we accept his grace.  Just as the Blessed Virgin is “the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come, so too does she shine forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come, as a sign of sure hope and solace to the people of God during its sojourn on earth” (Lumen Gentium, 68).

Everywhere the Church has spread there are signs of profound veneration of Our Lady.  There is a complete symphony of praise for her in poems, litanies and hymns sung in every language, giving voice to her vital role in our life of faith.

While we cannot equal Mary in the singular privilege of her Immaculate Conception, as we seek to renew ourselves in preparation for Jesus during this Advent season, we can certainly emulate her faith and her love for the Lord. Following her example as handmaid of the Lord, we can continually progress in faith, hope and charity, seeking and doing the will of God in all things (Lumen Gentium, 65).  In this way, we become more like her exalted type and help to manifest already in this world the beginnings of Christ’s kingdom of peace and justice, truth and love.

The Perfect Gift

December 3rd, 2017


Today begins the liturgical season of Advent, during which the Church prepares to receive the fullness of God’s promise. We recall the centuries and millennia when the world awaited the arrival of our Lord and Savior. There is also an intensifying of the Church’s expectations for the future as we reflect on what it means to be prepared for the second coming of Christ. Thus, in Advent the Church looks backward and forward, while living also in the present moment.

In the cycle of readings chosen for this year, we hear an urgency, almost a command that seems to be exactly the tone we need in the hectic world in which we live. Mark’s Gospel for this first Sunday of Advent urges to “be alert,” to be “watchful.” It seems the right invitation during a time when we are tempted by the many distractions that make us so easily forget the real meaning of Christmas. What is involved in adopting Advent’s interior disposition of a confident peaceful waiting for Jesus to come again? It begins by remembering that which is most important about Christmas – the one and only gift that matters the most has already been given. God gave us his only Son, and in that Son we find the perfect gift.

This theme of the perfect gift is the focus of the archdiocese’s annual Advent evangelization initiative. Find the Perfect Gift is a reminder to people that the celebration of Christmas is a celebration of love – God’s love for all his people and the many ways that loved is shared in families, among friends, through individuals and groups who reach out to the most vulnerable and poor to insure they have food, warm clothes and gifts to share.

As you drive around over the next few weeks and engage in social media and listen on the radio, you will see banners and promotional spots and hear ads that invite people to find that perfect gift of Jesus in prayer, in reflection, at Mass and in reaching out to our brothers and sisters most in need. You can also visit FindThePerfectGift.org for resources to help adopt an attitude of watchfulness and be alert to where and how you can share the gift of love that God first shared with you, including a series of spiritual reflections by some of our priests and videos that celebrate the richness of Advent and Christmas traditions in the many ethnic communities that make up our spiritual family. Advent wreaths can be downloaded as well as a resource for daily prayer for the family.

The cultural demands of this time need not distract us from being alert to the presence of the Lord here and now and to the confident hope we can have in knowing that at the first Christmas, the Word made his dwelling among us, and he is already with us “always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Throwback Thursday: Bringing the Light of Advent to a Black Friday Culture

November 30th, 2017


The use of the term, “Black Friday,” to identify the day after Thanksgiving has always struck me as appropriate given how swiftly our society turns its attention from thanking God for our many blessings to scrambling to the stores in the middle of the night to find a bargain on the “perfect gift” for Christmas.  We seem to forget that the true perfect gift has already made its way to us.  Yes, this gift was found in the middle of the night, but it happened over 2,000 years ago and took the form of a Child born in Bethlehem.

With Advent now about to begin, instead of hectic shopping, perhaps this is a good time to reflect on how we can make better use of this time of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ, who is God with us. For example: What devotional materials might we gather with the intention of spending quiet time with Jesus in prayer?  What works of charity will we perform in service to our neighbors in need?  When will we schedule time to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation or to participate in Eucharistic Adoration?  And which people in our lives will we invite to return to the Church – or come for the first time – to experience the love of Christ our Hope?

Advent offers many natural opportunities to invite people back to the Church, whether by spending part of a day together serving the poor, attending an evening of Christmas carols at church or enjoying a performance of Handel’s “Messiah” together.  Every human being has a longing for God, but sometimes the sound of his call becomes stifled by anger, hurt, disagreement or just the cacophony of everyday life.  Sometimes all it takes is a simple invitation or even a small gift such as an Advent calendar or a CD of sacred Christmas music to revive the still-glowing but buried embers of faith in a person who has not tended that fire in some time.

Perhaps some of the people we may want to reach out to are members of our own families.  In this case, we can learn from the example of Saint Andrew the Apostle, whose feast day we celebrate today.

In John 1:35-41, we learn that Andrew and another disciple heard John the Baptist say, “There is the Lamb of God,” when Jesus walked past, so Andrew and the other man followed Jesus.  When they asked him where he lived, the Lord said, “Come and see,” and they spent the day with him.  Andrew then rushed to find his brother, Simon the fisherman, and excitedly told him, “We have found the Messiah!”  Andrew brought his brother to Jesus, who would call him “Peter” and say that he was the rock on which he would build his Church.  Saint Peter, who was led to Jesus by his brother, became our first pope and one of our greatest saints.

In a special way, Saint Andrew – the first disciple of Jesus – can be regarded as a patron saint of the New Evangelization, a patron saint for family members who invite their loved ones to the Church.  Recent popes have called all Catholics to take up the work of the New Evangelization, to deepen our faith, grow confident in its truth, and share it with others.  Advent is an especially appropriate time to embark on this journey of transformation.

With the start of Advent this Sunday, we also begin our annual “Find the Perfect Gift” campaign, which reminds people that we do not have to rush out in the middle of the night to find the best bargains on Christmas presents.  The perfect gift, one that we are called to share with others, was given freely to us 2,000 years ago in Jesus Christ and remains with us today.

Making a Positive Difference in the Care of Creation

November 28th, 2017


Laudato Si’ has become a catalyst for us all – individuals, families, the Church and communities – to join in solidarity for the protection of ecosystems and promotion of sustainable use of natural resources. In that light, I applaud the innovative green infrastructure partnership recently entered into between the archdiocese, Mount Olivet Cemetery and the Maryland and D.C. Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

The project, which includes removing unused roads to create an environmentally-friendly oasis, will increase the beauty of the cemetery with new gardens and trees, and improve water quality in the Anacostia River and Chesapeake Bay by retaining rain water on the grounds. Consequently, there should also rightly be a substantial reduction in the fees charged on impervious areas by the D.C. government since those surfaces are being eliminated.

As Pope Francis says, “All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents” (Laudato Si’, 14). This exciting initiative is an example of how, by coming together, we can take positive steps to improve the environment and protect the common home in which we all live. Please see here for more information.

Jesus Christ is King

November 26th, 2017

Raising the Cross in Mosul, Iraq. Credit: CNS/EPA

It has been the practice of the Church since 1925 to mark the last Sunday of the Church year by celebrating the Solemnity of Christ the King. At the time of the establishment of the feast with his encyclical Quas Primas, Pope Pius XI was concerned with a spreading wave of anti-clericalism and secularism, and with people’s complacency toward the many forms of godlessness in modern culture (24).

Fast-forward 90 years and we know that today’s culture is not only by and large a secular one, but quite antagonistic toward religion in general and Christianity in particular. The 20th and 21st centuries produced more Christian martyrs than during any other period of the Church’s life, and now we are living through a particularly violent period for Christians in the Middle East and Africa.

As a “remedy for the plague which now infects society,” the Feast of Christ the King is not meant to be an excuse to preach doom and gloom, but rather is a day of encouragement and confident hope (Quas Primas, 24). Today, in the context of the New Evangelization, the feast offers us an opportunity to proclaim the Good News that the kingdom of God is at hand.  The sovereignty that this feast speaks of is a spiritual one laying claim to our hearts and offering us the grace to establish a truly good and just society.  It is also a time for us to reaffirm the longstanding recognition in our nation that the realm of faith and religious expression must be free from the interference of state and government intervention.

This year with the Solidarity in Suffering campaign, we recognize that the freedom we take for granted in this country is not always the experience of others around the world.  In a particular way, we need to remember our Christian sisters and brothers who are giving witness to the reign of Christ by their steadfast faith in the face of severe persecution and even martyrdom. They teach us the strength that comes from faith in the reign of God and the promise of eternal life – even in the face of cruelty, war and death. They know that their captors and conquerors cannot take away their future with God. With their lives they are a living testimony that the kingdom of God transcends and is victorious even over the violence of this world.

Today on this Feast of Christ the King, we join Christians across the United States in a day of prayer and solidarity with our persecuted sisters and brothers. This day is followed by striving this week to learn more and raise awareness of the situation of Christians in the land where it all began and elsewhere around the world, and to consider ways we may be able to support them with spiritual and material assistance and by speaking out on their behalf.  Looking forward as well to the beginning of the Advent season, we also pray more fervently to the Lord of all, “Thy Kingdom come.”

Throwback Thursday: Give Thanks to the Lord for He is Good and His Love Endures Forever

November 23rd, 2017

St. Clement’s Island, site of Maryland settlers’ 1634 Mass of Thanksgiving

It is said that the busiest travel season is Thanksgiving.  People trek all over the country, not to feast on turkey and pumpkin pie – they can have those at home without the expense and several hours traveling.  No, they go to spend time with family.

In addition to family, some have discovered the joy of inviting to the table those who have no family of their own, sharing the festivities with those who otherwise would be alone on this day.  Here is a praiseworthy example of what Pope Francis is talking about when he calls us to be a welcoming people, working to build a culture of encounter and fraternity.

Another laudable practice around many tables involves people identifying those gifts in their lives for which they are thankful.  Even if people do not express such thanks verbally, the day invites them to reflect inwardly on the blessings of their lives.  Yet this is not called Thankfulness Day, but Thanksgiving Day.  To give thanks, rather than being merely thankful, means giving that thanks to someone.

Certainly, some of our gratitude goes to family and friends for all they do for us, but primarily our “thank you” is given to our ever-loving God for the many graces he bestows on us. We are grateful not only for the gift of food that we receive from the Lord’s bounty, but for all the blessings of our lives.

Thanksgiving is the closest thing we have to a national holy day.  The history of our nation – and of our world – shows many such days of communally giving thanks to God for his blessings with a feast.  In fact, it has been the practice of people throughout all of human history to express gratitude to the Lord for his providential goodness and celebrate with festivities.

This ability to freely exercise religion is at the root of the Thanksgiving holiday.  The Pilgrims, who gave thanks to God while sitting down for a harvest feast with their indigenous Wampanoag neighbors, came to Plymouth to escape religious persecution and be able to practice their faith freely.  Likewise, the Catholic settlers of the Maryland colony, who celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving upon their arrival, came here so that religious freedom for all people would be allowed.  And when President George Washington proclaimed “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God,” it was immediately after the First Amendment was approved by Congress with the rest of the Bill of Rights.

Notably, Thanksgiving Day was established as an annual holiday not during one of these happy times, but in the midst of the horrors of the Civil War.  Nevertheless, even then, President Abraham Lincoln noted that our beneficent Father had remembered mercy and bestowed many blessings upon the land.  He also recommended that, in addition to offering thanks, the American people should with humble penitence commend to God’s loving care all those who suffered because of the war and fervently implore him to heal the wounds of the nation and restore peace, harmony and unity.

Together with this example from history, our faith reminds us that, in both good times and bad, we can find much to be thankful for, most especially the love in our lives which brings meaning to our existence, brightens our hearts with hope, and can transform not only us, but the entire world.  This is why we want to spend Thanksgiving with family – including those from our extended human family – to share our love with them.

May this Thanksgiving Day be for you a time of love, joy, appreciation and the continued blessings of God.

Give Thanks and Celebrate with a Feast

November 22nd, 2017

This week our nation celebrates our civil holy day of Thanksgiving, with people across the country gathering with family and friends for a feast to offer thanks to God for all the blessings in their lives. The holiday also reminds us how feasts play a prominent role in our lives as people of faith.

Feasts are found throughout the Bible.  We read in the Creation account how God rested on the seventh day, establishing the Sabbath as the original religious festival and prototype of all the feasts (Genesis 2:2-3).  As a reminder and celebration of how he has provided for his people, God announces various festivals, including the Feast of Booths, saying to them, “you shall gather fruit of majestic trees, branches of palms, and boughs of leafy trees and valley willows. Then for a week you shall make merry before the Lord, your God” (Leviticus 23:40).  Also, the Prophet Isaiah foretells the time when the Lord would bring peace and unity to all the peoples of the world, imagining that day as a banquet, a feast of rich food and wine at which all would rejoice in the salvation offered by the Lord (25:6-9).

Feasts are the setting for key events in Jesus’ life. It was at a wedding feast in Cana that he performed his first miracle (John 2:1-11), and it was in the context of Passover that the Lord would in the Paschal Mystery save his people from the bondage of sin and death. Saint Luke even arranges his Gospel narrative of Jesus’ ministry around a succession of ten banquets, beginning with the dinner hosted by Levi (Matthew) the tax collector and ending with the post-resurrection supper at Emmaus.

Many of Jesus’ parables are told in the context of a banquet or wedding feast as well.  For example, upon the return of the prodigal son, the father celebrates with the fatted calf (Luke 15:11-32).  The kingdom of God is likened to a wedding banquet to which many are called (Matthew 22:1-14), and we are cautioned to be like the wise virgins who kept their lamps lit awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-13).

“Blessed are those called to the wedding feast of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9). The pre-eminent feast is the Eucharist, which in Greek means “thanksgiving.”  Instituted at the Last Supper, this memorial of Jesus’ death and resurrection where the central event of our salvation becomes truly present is at the center of every Christian feast.

As November draws to a close, we begin a new year on the Church’s calendar, pointing toward the new age that begins with God coming to dwell with humanity in Jesus.  Filled with feasts, memorials of saints, and solemnities, each day of the liturgical year forms a kind of catechism that conveys the mysteries of God.  These days help to remake us according to the life of Jesus Christ, a life we are meant celebrate with family and friends and everyone we meet.