Standing Up for Human Life: Saint John Paul II’s Mass on the National Mall

October 21st, 2016
Photo Credit: The Catholic University of America

Photo Credit: The Catholic University of America

As always, the feast day of Saint John Paul II tomorrow will be a time to remember his life and continue his legacy.  This year, I will celebrate a special Mass with the men studying to be priests at our Saint John Paul II Seminary in Washington.  Over at the nearby Saint John Paul II National Shrine, a new statue of this great pope who inspired generations and is a model for priests will be unveiled.

One especially moving section of the Shrine’s permanent exhibit is the display on Pope John Paul’s October 1979 apostolic journey to our nation’s capital, including the historic Mass he celebrated on the National Mall.  The homily he gave at that liturgy, with its message in defense of human life, marriage and the family is still timely and poignant nearly four decades later.

Noting that his visit coincided with the national observance of Respect Life Month, the Holy Father said in a strong voice: “I do not hesitate to proclaim before you and before the world that all human life – from the moment of conception and through all subsequent stages – is sacred, because human life is created in the image and likeness of God. Nothing surpasses the greatness or dignity of a human person. Human life is not just an idea or an abstraction; human life is the concrete reality of a being that lives, that acts, that grows and develops; human life is the concrete reality of a being that is capable of love, and of service to humanity.”

About six years earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had handed down the Roe v. Wade case creating a “right” to abortion on demand.  However, as he did at his Mass of Inauguration when he challenged nations to “open wide the doors for Christ,” Pope John Paul was not afraid to speak out and stand firm in the truth.  “Courage is needed to resist pressures and false slogans, to proclaim the supreme dignity of all life, and to demand that society itself give it its protection,” he stressed in the National Mall homily. Then he quoted Thomas Jefferson in saying, “‘The care of human life and happiness and not their destruction is the just and only legitimate object of good government.’”

Nevertheless, in recent years, we have seen across the country a push to expand abortion by advocating taxpayer funding of abortion, requiring medical students to be trained in abortion, and by opposing basic health and sanitation standards for abortion clinics.  Meanwhile, physician-assisted suicide has been promoted in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and elsewhere, threatening the most vulnerable in our communities.

As our society confronts these grave challenges, there is need to make John Paul’s words here our own personal vow.  “We will stand up every time that human life is threatened,” he said.  “When the sacredness of life before birth is attacked, we will stand up and proclaim that no one ever has the authority to destroy unborn life. When a child is described as a burden or is looked upon only as a means to satisfy an emotional need, we will stand up and insist that every child is a unique and unrepeatable gift of God, with the right to a loving and united family. When the institution of marriage is abandoned to human selfishness or reduced to a temporary, conditional arrangement that can easily be terminated, we will stand up and affirm the indissolubility of the marriage bond.”

These are words we need to hear again and again.  The struggle to defend and protect life since the time Pope John Paul spoke them has not been easy and people might be tempted to lose heart.  Recalling his words, as well as his steadfast determination as the Successor of Peter, should inspire and strengthen our consciences and resolve.  “When freedom is used to dominate the weak,” he said, “we will stand up and reaffirm the demands of justice and social love. When the sick, the aged or the dying are abandoned in loneliness, we will stand up and proclaim that they are worthy of love, care and respect.”

Here in the archdiocese, we have stood up for life in initiatives like the Youth Rally and Mass for Life, and the March for Life, we have said “yes” to life and “no” to the efforts to take human life through assisted suicide, we have offered sanctuaries for life to help others to choose life and to help women and men to begin to heal from the wounds of abortion. Yet we can always do more.

On this feast day, we remember why so many people at his funeral shouted, “Santo Subito! (Sainthood Now).”  It was because, in an age of cultural strife, when it seems that society has been built on sand and is being washed away, they saw in John Paul the “rock” upon which Christ has built his Church.  Two years ago, Pope Francis formally declared this holy and courageous man to be a saint. We who were blessed to have Saint John Paul II visit us have now the opportunity to take his words to heart and help make them a reality in a world which needs that witness now more than ever.

Saint Luke and the Gospel of Mercy

October 18th, 2016


As we near the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy next month on the Solemnity of Christ the King, today’s feast of Luke the Evangelist is particularly noteworthy.  Just as Saint Luke’s second book, The Acts of the Apostles, has come to be known as the “Gospel of the Holy Spirit,” highlighting the mission of Christ’s disciples to be his Spirit-filled witnesses to the ends of the earth, the Gospel that bears Luke’s name is popularly called “the Gospel of Mercy” for the way the theme of the Lord’s mercy runs through the entire book.

Fittingly for this Jubilee in which we have been reflecting upon, experiencing, and sharing the Good News of God’s loving compassion, the Mass readings for this liturgical year are drawn from the Gospel of Mercy.  The Collect for today’s feast captures well Luke’s attention to mercy:

Lord God, who chose Saint Luke to reveal by his preaching and writings the mystery of your love for the poor, grant that those who already glory in your name may persevere as one heart and one soul and that all nations may merit to see your salvation.

In his announcement of a Jubilee, which in the tradition of the Old Testament and the Church is “a year of the Lord’s favor,” Pope Francis pointed specifically to the Gospel of Luke and the passage in which Jesus announced his mission (Misericordiae Vultus, 16).  Unrolling the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah, Jesus read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”  Rolling up the scroll, Jesus then said, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:16-21; Isaiah 61:1-2).

In reading through Luke’s first book, we can find multiple examples of Jesus carrying out this mission of mercy, including accounts that are not found in the other three Gospels. Certainly the most well-known are the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son (Luke 10:29-37, 15:11:32).  Recently at Sunday Mass we heard the account of Jesus healing the ten lepers, only one of which – a Samaritan – returned to thank the Lord (Luke 17:11-19). Another example is the powerful story of the healing of the widow of Nain’s only son (Luke 7:11-17). There is also the story of how Jesus asked to stay at the house of the socially ostracized Zacchaeus, saying, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:1-10).

Each of these stories, combined with many more in the Gospel of Luke, offers us a portrait of the many and varied ways of our Lord’s loving compassion for all of God’s children.  These accounts also invite us to ask how and where in our own lives we can humbly experience that same compassion and also be agents of God’s tender mercies to others.

The desire of Pope Francis in proclaiming this Jubilee has been that over the past months we have reflected on the gift of mercy, how we have received it from God and how we share it with others. Hopefully we have come to appreciate that a merciful love is the particular gift of the Christian to all those he or she encounters.

What Luke proclaims is that the way in which Jesus sought out the lost, the brokenhearted, those seeking to be healed or hungering for forgiveness are all manifestations of the kingdom of God.  Listeners of his Gospel are thus given a blueprint for their own life as a disciple.  In every action, our starting point and goal is Jesus Christ.

In the same way that Jesus sought out Zacchaeus, we are asked to be particularly attentive to those who are alone, isolated, living at the periphery, as Pope Francis often implores.  We cannot simply pass by the afflicted, but like the Good Samaritan, are expected to be moved by compassion at their sight to give of ourselves and care for them.  Like the son who left home and sank into iniquity, it is essential that we realize our need to return to our Father and like him, also be patient and forgiving of others.

In our community, we can make the stories of Saint Luke’s Gospel of Mercy come alive in a twenty-first century expression. We can be “an oasis of mercy” (cf. Misericordiae Vultus, 12). In this way, by becoming a sign of Divine Mercy in our lives, we become participants in our salvation and in the salvation of the world.

Medical Ethics and Witness in a Time of Challenge

October 15th, 2016

This weekend, the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) is holding its annual education conference in our nation’s capital. This will be an opportunity for Catholic physicians, nurses and other medical professionals to pray and reflect upon their vocation to the healing ministry, including our common calling to be “missionary disciples.”

If we look at the face of health care across the country and the world, we see that it has been changing in ways that affect everyone. The response to an illness, how the medical profession deals with us, the amount of time we spend in an acute care facility, who pays for what, and even the process of diagnosing illness are all very different from past experience. Yet, in some respects the challenges are the same as those faced by people for thousands of years.

The wide, varied and complex field of human suffering is an unavoidable part of human existence. It presents itself in the form of illness, injury, anxiety, depression and despair, diminished abilities, social alienation, loss, abandonment, and more, including the mystery of death.

Through it all in every age, there has always been the temptation for people to simply “end it all.” Yet, there has also traditionally been the recognition that medicine and society as a whole must be guided by the natural and objective moral law, which is knowable to all by right reason, including the ethic that all human life is sacred.

Thus, when we confront threats to human life arising from sickness, injury and old age, historically they have been viewed as something we should struggle against individually and collectively as a people. From the time of Hippocrates in ancient Greece, there has been an ethical code that prohibits physicians from taking a life, even when asked. More recently, groups like the American Medical Association have stated in their professional principles that it “is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer” to hasten a person’s death through in physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia. Of course, in the Judeo-Christian tradition which has enlightened Western Civilization for thousands of years, we know that God alone should determine the life span of each person.

In modern times, however, have we seen the counter-argument that it is not wrong to actively take steps to end a human life as long as there are ideologically acceptable parameters that determine who lives and who dies. Nowhere is the traditional view of life, death, and God’s sovereignty over both more seriously challenged than in the medical field, where technological and scientific advances often outpace the necessary moral reflection. Increasingly we hear professionals conclude that such moral reflection is unnecessary and superfluous. Even many bioethicists today have adopted an ideology that essentially says that there are no ethical boundaries.

There is a utilitarian threat in medicine according to which truth and the good are relative, and human life is judged according to its usefulness and weighed in the scales of cost-benefit analysis. More and more, it is no longer academic talk, but real practice when it comes to such matters as assisted suicide, both passive and active euthanasia, organs being harvested as articles of commerce, cloning and hybridization, medical experimentation, and rationed medical care according to the “worthiness” of the patient’s life. These matters not long ago were the stuff of science fiction, if not prosecution.

This presents a grave challenge for all of us, but especially for a faithful Catholic on the front lines in the healing professions or studying in medical or nursing school. In the face of this destructive utilitarianism, Catholic doctors, nurses, technicians and specialists have another role beyond serving as healers of their patients, and that is to serve as the conscience of medicine.

A primary way for Catholic medical professionals to do this is to bear daily witness in their offices, patient rooms and operating theaters to the Divine Physician Jesus Christ, recognizing the transcendent dignity, value and worth of every human life, whether in the womb or in the sunset days for a terminally ill patient. Another way is to speak out, either personally or through membership in groups like the CMA, and call the medical profession to age-old moral norms as well as medicine’s own highest principles and virtues.

“The true measure of humanity,” Pope Benedict XVI counseled in his encyclical on hope, “is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer. This holds true both for the individual and for society” (Spe Salvi, 38).

Medical science and technology can empower us to do many wonderful things. What they should not do is kill. By manifesting the teaching and love of Christ in what they do and say, Catholic health care workers can be the bulwark against the “brave new world” that our society needs.

Throwback Thursday: We are Made for Life, We are Made for Love

October 13th, 2016

Going to the outskirts to encounter others, as Pope Francis asks, means confronting those great existential questions, being ready to give a reason for our hope when people ask: Why are we here? What’s the meaning of life? What’s the point of it all?

These foundational questions go directly to all of the “hot button” issues of today.  In a sense, we can say that they have been at the center of the human condition from the days of Genesis.

Some assert that life has no inherent meaning – “man is nothing else than what he makes of himself,” said the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.  This idea of choosing one’s own notion of existence is at the root of those cultural issues – the redefinition of marriage, the dehumanization of the unborn, and now the claim that persons can choose their own sex.  Swept away are concepts of objective right and wrong and any moral imperative. Similar ideologies reduce men and women to objects, saying that the usefulness of life determines its “value.”  This utilitarianism underlies the movements advocating abortion and assisted suicide.

These ideas which find their imagination in sources alien to the Gospel have taken a hold in society. But they have not led to greater happiness. Rather their fruit is anxiety and despair.  Detached from objective truth, people are struggling to find their way in the resulting darkness, fearing that man is “made for death,” as another philosopher, Martin Heidegger, claimed.

It is clear that once God is removed from the equation, the understanding of human life is altered.  Thus, the New Evangelization must speak to what it means to be authentically human; it must point to our origin and essence.

What we offer people is hope – the good news that God exists and our own existence is not random and accidental.  We are not at the mercy of arbitrary forces; chaos does not rule the universe.  Rather, we exist because God brought us into being and breathed life into us (Genesis 2:7; Jeremiah 1:5). This is demonstrated not only in scripture, but by reason – the universe did not create itself and none of us can create life or bring it back once it is gone.  It is a sacred gift from God.

Man is made for life. The author of life made us not as some superfluous or futile act, but because he wants us to exist.  “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they might have being” (Wisdom 1:13-14).

Made in his image and likeness, God wants us to live because he loves each of us. It is this love which gives us life; it also points to the inherent dignity and meaning of all human life – to love and be loved.  Indeed, “Man cannot live without love.  He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it,” observed Saint John Paul II (Redemptor Hominis, 10).

We understand this most fully in Jesus Christ, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).  He shows this on the Cross, where, by that act of compassionate love, Christ brings eternal life. Here we see that the Gospel of Life is a Gospel of Love (Evangelium Vitae, 80-81).

Being “made for life” means bringing life to all we do, that is, it means loving in all we do.  The fullness of love is by its very nature dynamic and creative, it seeks to burst out from itself and bring new life.  This is the love for which we were made, to love as Jesus loves us.  A life lived in faith cannot be barren and static. Living united to Christ calls us to share that love with those we encounter.

By our love, we satisfy the longings of people today, we answer those demanding questions of the heart, bringing a fuller vision of life than secular society provides.  Through love, hearts can be changed and new life brought to the world.

This is a revised version of a post that was originally published on October 29, 2013.

Saint Ignatius Parish at Chapel Point and 375 Years of Making a Catholic Impact

October 10th, 2016


Saint Ignatius Parish in Chapel Point is the oldest Catholic parish in continuous service in the United States. Some families there have roots in colonial times, and even to the native peoples that predated the arrival of the original English settlers in 1634.

Seven years after he landed with those pioneers aboard the Ark and the Dove, Jesuit Father Andrew White, known as the “Apostle of Maryland,” built a wooden chapel near the shore of the Port Tobacco River. He named the site Chapel Point, and the small house of God he erected in 1641 was named after the founder of the Society of Jesus, whose religious order helped spread the faith to Asia and throughout the Americas, including own area.

To mark this 375th anniversary of Saint Ignatius Parish, yesterday I celebrated a special Mass in the church which overlooks the river. As we gave thanks to God, the historic arrival of another famous Jesuit to these shores came to mind – Pope Francis. He reminded us during his visit here last year that we are heirs to a bold missionary spirit and are “indebted to a tradition, a chain of witnesses who have made it possible for the good news of the Gospel to be, in every generation, both ‘good’ and ‘news.’”

Included in that chain of witnesses is the missionary Father White, who was drawn to the place because he wanted to evangelize the Piscataway people. Upon learning their language, he shared with them the Good News of Jesus Christ and even wrote a catechism in their language. Today, a window above the church’s choir loft depicts the Jesuit priest baptizing the king and queen. Many members of the native community followed suit and converted, and nearly four centuries later, some of their descendants continue to worship in that very church. Fittingly, members of the Piscataway people participated in the Mass in July on the eve of the feast day of Saint Ignatius that kicked off the parish’s year-long celebration of its 375th anniversary.

History shows how the faith planted at Saint Ignatius Parish by the Apostle of Maryland bore abundant fruit. In time, Chapel Point would become the residence of other Jesuits who came to this region. From their Saint Thomas Manor at Chapel Point, they set out on horseback to evangelize and bring the sacraments to Catholics in present-day Charles County and parts of Prince George’s County, and by boat to northern Virginia. Today, the current pastor of Saint Ignatius Parish, Jesuit Father Thomas Clifford, continues his order’s legacy of serving the Gospel in that area.

By the early 1700s, there were nearly 3,000 Catholics in Maryland and despite periods of severe oppression, as of 1790, there were about 16,000 Catholics living in the area. Today, the Church of Washington includes over 620,000 Catholics, a family of faith consisting of people from many diverse lands, backgrounds and ages who speak many different languages but are united in one faith and the call to be Jesus’ disciples and share his Good News.

Throughout that time, the Catholic impact on this region and this nation has been tremendous and indispensable to building a free, equal, just and prosperous community and country. From the founding of the nation to the building of the capital and the enactment of just laws, as well as the education and care of the people, Catholics made their mark.

Over the years, Catholic ministries, agencies and everyday men and women have made a profound difference in the lives of millions of our sisters and brothers in the human family. Today, in addition to schools, universities, hospitals and clinics, the Catholic Church is the largest nongovernmental provider of social services in this area. Each year, more than 120,000 people rely on Catholic Charities for housing, food, job training, immigration assistance, legal aid, help for vulnerable pregnant women and unwed mothers, care for the elderly, and more. Moreover, the Catholic voice has long had significant influence on the social legislation of our nation, especially laws pertaining to social justice and civil rights.

The 375th anniversary of Saint Ignatius Parish is a time to remember the legacy of the missionaries who planted the Catholic faith in this part of the New World and helped the Gospel to spread and grow in the hearts of the people. From those small beginnings, the service that the Catholic faithful rendered became a cornerstone of the American experience. Now it is our turn, to be missionary disciples in today’s world, and continue that work.

Every Life is Worth Living

October 6th, 2016


During Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, one of the most striking images was how the Holy Father’s love radiated whether he was greeting a head of state or a homeless person. His gestures, his words, his actions in every encounter proclaimed the truth that every life is worth living. As a gift from God, every human life from conception to death is sacred.  It is this fundamental truth the Pope so convincingly communicates.

October is Respect Life month.  During this time, in a special way, people are invited to reflect on the ways they can give witness to the dignity of every human life. “In many places, quality of life is related primarily to economic means, to ‘well-being,’ to the beauty and enjoyment of the physical, forgetting other more profound dimensions of existence – interpersonal, spiritual and religious,” observes Pope Francis. “In fact, in the light of faith and right reason, human life is always sacred and always ‘of quality.’ There is no human life that is more sacred than another – every human life is sacred.” (Address of November 15, 2014).

The Church has always proclaimed the dignity of each human person. Because we are images of our Maker and are called through Christ to share in the personal life of the Trinity, each of us has a transcendent worth.

The Second Vatican Council addressed a special need of our age when it stressed anew how human life must be honored and upheld, fostered and respected, saying, “whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, and willful self-destruction . . . all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed” (Gaudium et Spes, 27).

Tragically in recent times, we have experienced an increase in violent crime in our neighborhoods, our Christian brothers and sisters in Syria are facing genocide, our legislative bodies in the District and Maryland are discussing the legalization of assisted suicide, and some even seem to be unmoved by news of trafficking in the body parts of aborted children.  Thus, there is great need now for our Church members to give ready witness to the dignity of human life at every stage, including our efforts to bring hope and healing to those who are or have been in crisis situations, leading to pain and despair.

For example, for more than 25 years the archdiocese’s Project Rachel Ministry has helped women and men heal spiritually and psychologically from the pain of abortion.  Please take a minute to go here to learn more about this blessed work.

The archdiocese has also created a variety of #TransformFear resources that address the questions related to the end of human life due to illness, age or injury.  With Pope Francis warning us of the “throwaway culture,” we must remember that human life is a gift from God – there is no such thing as a life not worth living.  Our response as family members, as caregivers, and as a Church to those facing the end of life – with all their feelings of isolation, fear, and burdensomeness – is genuine compassion and reciprocal love, which seeks to provide comfort and hope in the face of fear and suffering.

A human value is realized and fostered only in concrete acts of love and justice. It is not human life in the abstract we are speaking about, but the real life and flourishing of people, of individual persons.

This is a revised version of a post that was originally published on October 4, 2015.

Physician-Assisted Suicide and Genuine Mercy

October 5th, 2016

assisted suicide

Throughout the country, a concerted aggressive campaign is underway which plays on people’s darkest fears and exploits their vulnerabilities to advance ideas and practices that have long been understood to be grave infamies opposed to human dignity and which poison human society (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 27).  Utilizing manipulating language and euphemisms which cloud the truth, there is a push for our culture and laws to no longer view and respect all human life as sacred and inviolable, but rather as something which can be terminated if thought to be inconvenient or not worth continuing.

This campaign to make assisted suicide normative and legal – some even advocate for direct euthanasia – is not new, but in recent years has been gaining ground.  A widespread mentality has taken hold which believes that, because of their so-called minimal quality of life, it is a moral and social good for people with infirmities, disabilities or serious illnesses to be able to end their lives whenever they want – and that others should help them do it.

Today the D.C. Council is currently considering a bill, B21-38, which would remove legal protections of human life and allow medicalized death from those whose profession exists to help save life, not take it.  Similar legislation is expected to be introduced next year in the Maryland General Assembly.

We are facing a seismic shift in how we, as a society, will look at life in the future and, even more frightening, what powers the state will have to determine who lives and who dies.  Today, we face the first step in that direction because we take the first step in recognizing and appropriating to ourselves power over all life, to take that life when it is decided the life is no longer worth living.

Up until now, our culture has always recognized life as a sacred gift.  We are all responsible for working to protect all human life until it ends naturally, until the time that God alone appoints for our departure.  It not for us to decide the hour, we are not the arbiters of life and death. For this reason, the Archdiocese of Washington has been diligently working with a broad coalition of medical experts, family and disability advocates and people of many faiths to oppose these proposed measures.  Please visit our website #TransformFear, as well as the websites for Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide and No DC Suicide, to learn more about how you can help.

The push to legalize assisted suicide raises the question of why the practice is illegal in the first place.  Christianity and Judaism have condemned it for thousands of years. When we come to Anglo-American jurisprudence, for its entire recorded history of over seven hundred years, aiding and abetting a suicide has been deemed criminal, even when life was a burden, as noted by the U.S. Supreme Court when the issue came before it (Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 711-17 (1997)).  Such laws are expressions of civil society’s compelling interest to protect all human life, recognizing both the inherent good of every human life regardless of medical or physical condition, and recognizing also that complicity in taking that human life or in otherwise hastening death is a great evil in and of itself.

There are things which, as human beings, we must not do if we wish to maintain our dignity and humanity.  The injunction of the Fifth Commandment – thou shall not kill – is one of those things.  To be sure, when speaking of human life, we do not hesitate to use the word “sacred.”  Only God is the true author, judge and Lord of life.  When we approach the chamber of life, we are not the masters of the room. God alone has the right to determine the life span of each person.

It cannot be denied that there are hardships in life, some of which seem to overwhelm us. Whether experienced late in life, in a physical illness or a bout of mental depression, or in a crisis pregnancy, the human condition is for us all beset with trials and tribulations.  In particular, the losses and changes associated with the progression of a terminal illness often contribute to psychological distress and feelings of worthlessness and despair.

A truly compassionate and merciful response to the sick and vulnerable is not to confirm these impulses by offering a lethal drug. Whether it is a terminally ill person or a young person suffering from depression, our response should be to draw them away from the edge, to help the vulnerable among us – regardless of their condition or circumstances – with genuine compassion and give them hope.

“The fullness towards which every human life tends is not in contradiction with a condition of illness and suffering,” Pope Francis affirms. “Therefore, poor health and disability are never a good reason for excluding or, worse, for eliminating a person.”

As the assisted suicide movement offers only futility, despair and desolation in response to human suffering, we offer a fuller and more blessed vision and hope.  Christ taught us to care for and comfort the sick and dying, to value and protect the lives of the elderly, the disabled and other vulnerable members of our community, to offer a loving embrace and the gift of peace in mind and soul.  To do otherwise is to really deny the dignity of every person (see Care of the Sick and Dying, pastoral letter of the bishops of Maryland).

When we speak of respect for human life, it is easy for us to get caught up in abstractions, and our response can seem somewhat theoretical. But our obligations are quite concrete. Lives depend on us.

Joining in Solidarity to Strengthen our Catholic Identity

October 4th, 2016


The New Evangelization beckons all of us to proclaim anew with vigor the Good News of Jesus Christ, to radiate the splendor of his light of love and truth in a world of increasing spiritual darkness as various social and cultural trends seek to bleach out recognition and appreciation of God.

The laity, whose task it is to renew the temporal order, have a significant role in the mission of cultural renewal. On a daily basis, laywomen and laymen go into workplaces, sit around lunch tables and socialize with neighbors, friends and classmates. In this setting, they are able to manifest God’s kingdom of love and truth in every walk of life: parenting, law, industry, education, commerce, banking, baking, government, medicine, military, entertainment, media, and more.

In a special way, particularly at a time like now when our Catholic identity is being challenged in many quarters, there is a need for lay people to join in Catholic solidarity and fellowship, boldly, confidently and proudly proclaiming and living their Catholic faith together out in the world. When we come together as one in faith, we reinforce each other and are stronger, better able to face the challenges before us.

This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of meeting with two such groups – joining the John Carroll Society for brunch after the Red Mass and celebrating Mass with the student group GW Catholics. Each of these associations in its own way advances the New Evangelization by helping people to renew and deepen their faith and be a light in the world, enabling others to encounter the love and truth of Jesus.

The John Carroll Society brings together Catholic professionals who wish to grow spiritually, intellectually and socially. Named after the first bishop in the United States, and with a special mission of serving the Archbishop of Washington in his works of charity and other projects, the Society has since 1951 contributed significantly to the building up of the kingdom of God. Charitable service projects, fellowship events, lectures, dinners and brunches, pilgrimages, retreats and days of reflection, as well as hosting the Red Mass and the Rose Mass, all are examples of the Society’s faith in action. In addition, the group awards scholarships and supports critical ministries like the Catholic Charities Health Care Network and the Catholic Charities Legal Network.

No doubt some of the Society’s members of tomorrow can be found in student groups like GW Catholics or those at other area universities. Whenever I encounter Catholic young adults on campuses or at various events, such as the special Mass with students from George Washington University last Sunday, I am heartened by their refreshingly vibrant faith and hope-filled enthusiasm. Indeed, these young women and men provide hope to us all for the future of our Church and of the greater community.

All too often in academic settings and in the popular culture, young people generally are exposed to views contrary to virtue and moral good, not to mention contrary to the Christian faith. Yet we see also many “new evangelizers” in this youthful generation offering a better way of life and enriching those they encounter. They speak up for Gospel values, serve the community with charity and truth, participate in the sacraments, study the Bible together and take part in programs where they learn more about Catholic teaching, while also forming lasting friendships at social and recreational events. They are rightly enthusiastic in their Catholic identity, knowing that it is only in the truth and love of Jesus Christ that the problems of the world can be solved.

The John Carroll Society and GW Catholics are only two examples of the many groups of Catholics who have come together to be Catholic beacons of faith, hope and love in the world. There are also Catholic Business Networks, Catholic medical, psychotherapy and legal associations, the Catholic Coalition for Special Education, students groups at The Catholic University of America and the Catholic Student Center at the University of Maryland, and parish-based groups like the Knights of Columbus, Knights of Saint John International, Legion of Mary, sodality unions, and too many more to list here.

There are many opportunities for lay people to express their Catholic identity in solidarity with their Catholic sisters and brothers. Each is a welcome part of the body of Christ as together we remain committed to seeing that the threads of an encounter with Jesus and his life-giving message are woven into the fabric of our human experience, our society, and our culture.

Respect Life Sunday and Saint Teresa of Calcutta

October 2nd, 2016
Blessed Teresa of Kolkata cares for a sick man in an undated photo. (CNS photo/KNA)

Blessed Teresa of Kolkata cares for a sick man in an undated photo. (CNS photo/KNA)

In this Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, we are reminded of God’s gift of mercy to us, and our call to share his tender love and compassion with others. It is fitting then that “Moved by Mercy” is the theme for Respect Life Sunday today and the entire month of October.

As we are moved by God’s mercy to undertake the blessed work of caring for one another, and in all our efforts to protect human life and dignity, we have a special patron in Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was canonized last month. “Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life,” explained the Holy Father at the Canonization Mass, “was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defense of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded.”

When Mother Teresa spoke here at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994, she began with a reminder that Jesus calls us to carry out mercy in our world, quoting the Gospel in which the Lord says that those who do this service to the least of us – feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, visiting the sick – are doing it to him and will be welcomed into God’s kingdom of heaven (Matthew 25:34-45).

As this diminutive yet larger than life nun stood before the assembled, almost hidden by the microphones, her words resonated as a clarion call to respect life in all its stages. “I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion,” she said, “because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?”

That language might seem stark and unsettling, but like a prophet, Mother Teresa was challenging our nation’s leaders and citizens, many of whom call themselves pro-choice, to turn away from the violence of abortion and instead offer a better and more authentically human alternative. “How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love,” she said.

Mother Teresa noted how her Missionaries of Charity helped thousands of women choose to offer their babies for adoption to loving families. “The child is God’s gift to the family,” she stressed. “Each child is created in the special image and likeness of God for greater things – to love and to be loved.”

As we witness an energized effort by extremist groups, including some who deceitfully label their position as “Catholic,” to expand even further a society of abortion on demand – and to force taxpayers and employers to pay for this evil even against their conscience and liberty – we as a people need to hear Mother Teresa’s words again. “Abortion just leads to more abortion. Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want,” she emphatically said at the prayer breakfast.

Mother Teresa also spoke of elderly parents spending lonely days in nursing homes, looking toward the door for their family members. She described young people, neglected by busy parents, who turn to drugs for solace. She told of how when her sisters had taken in and cleaned a certain man who was half eaten by worms out of the gutter in Calcutta, he said to them, “I have lived like an animal in the street, but I am going to die as an angel, loved and cared for.”

“We cannot solve all the problems in the world, but let us never bring in the worst problem of all, and that is to destroy love,” said Mother Teresa, adding that that is what happens with abortion, which then fosters greater violence in society.

Today and throughout Respect Life Month, we will lift up the dignity of life that Mother Teresa spoke of, promoting adoption as a loving alternative for mothers in crisis pregnancies, emphasizing post-abortion healing as a bridge of God’s mercy, including the spiritual healing obtained in sacramental reconciliation, encouraging love for the sick and disabled instead of assisted suicide, and protecting our common home where we all live. Also, this coming Friday, October 7, at 10 a.m., you are invited to join in the launch of a special “Youth & Aged for Life” initiative at the Jeanne Jugan Residence administered by the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Our Church’s newest declared saint by her example and her words shows us how we can be channels of God’s love, peace and mercy. “Holiness is not the luxury of the few; it is a simple duty, for you and for me,” she said in her National Prayer Breakfast talk. This saint and this month dedicated to God’s gift of life remind us that respecting life is holy work that we are all called to do.

Growing in Knowledge and Understanding of the Word of God

September 30th, 2016
Saint Jerome Writing by Caravaggio

Saint Jerome Writing by Caravaggio

As the fall season settles in, a bit of that “back-to-school” feeling stays with us long after our student days are over. There is a natural inclination to learn and to grow that is part of the human experience at every age.

With the Church today celebrating Saint Jerome, the prolific scholar who is credited with the vital work of producing the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible, why not make a commitment to learn more about the word of God? Indeed, as Jerome asked of himself, “How could one live without the knowledge of scripture, through which one learns to know Christ himself, who is the life of believers?”

One can read the scriptures from a historical perspective and see how in time, the story of salvation unfolded. One can also read the Bible and learn the different styles of writing that were used in each of the books. We can appreciate the poetry of the Song of Songs, for example, as being different from the letters of Paul. However, in reading and seeking to understand and apply scripture to our lives, we should always endeavor to read the written word of God – both Old and New Testaments – with and in the context of the eternal Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, and in communion with the Magisterium as the authentic interpreter of the Bible (cf. Dei Verbum, 10, 16).

With this in mind, today I want to suggest that you make scripture a part of your prayer life. The best spiritual reading is the Bible, which gives us God’s Word in human words. Ultimately God is the author who, through the Holy Spirit, “inspired the human authors of the sacred books” (CCC 105-106; see also 2 Timothy 3:16).

The Bible itself tells us: “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). God knows how to reach into us through his revealed word.

The Church applies a special term to the prayerful reading of Holy Scripture. The practice is known as lectio divina – “divine reading.” This kind of engaging in the text is not like the studying for a test you had to do as a student. Rather, it is a dialogue with God.

Lectio divina, explains Pope Francis, “consists of reading God’s word in a moment of prayer and allowing it to enlighten and renew us” (Evangelii Gaudium, 152). Pope Benedict XVI described lectio divina as “pouring over a biblical text for some time, reading it and rereading it . . . ‘ruminating’ on it as the Fathers say and squeezing from it, so to speak, all of its ‘juice,’ so that it may nourish meditation and contemplation” (Angelus Address of November 6, 2005; see also Verbum Domini, 86-87). Here we learn that rather than trying to read as many pages as possible in one sitting or to finish the book quickly, praying with scripture is meant to savor God’s word slowly.

God has revealed himself in Sacred Scripture. When you make a commitment to read what the Lord is saying and wants you to know, you are showing your appreciation and saying “thank you.”

There are many ways to do this. You might decide to read a particular book – even the entire Bible – from beginning to end. I think that it is best to start with one of the Gospels and read just a little bit each day. This practice helps you enter into the mind of the human author, see the dramatic development of salvation history from Christ’s perspective, and gain a deeper appreciation of the Lord’s unique concerns. In this way, the books of the Old Testament and New are opened up in a more profound way.

You might also read along with the Church using the cycle of readings for Mass each day. This link to the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will guide you to a short video reflection on of the readings of the day as well.

Keep in mind that the reading is only spiritual if it is prayerful, if it responds to God’s initiative and receives him in our hearts. We should begin with prayer and close with prayer too, even if a simple Sign of the Cross.

In Divine Revelation, we learn about God and about ourselves. When we enter into dialogue with God through praying with Sacred Scripture, it really is an education that lasts a lifetime – and beyond.