Beatification of Pope Paul VI

October 19th, 2014
Tapestry of Blessed Paul VI hangs from facade of St. Peter's Basilica during his beatification Mass at Vatican A tapestry of Blessed Paul VI hangs from the facade of St. Peter's Basilica during his beatification Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Oct. 19. The Mass also concluded the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family. B lessed Paul, who served as pope from 1963-1978, is most remembered for his 1968 encyclical, "Humanae Vitae," which affirmed the church's teaching against artificial contraception. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A tapestry of Blessed Paul VI hangs from the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica during his beatification Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican October 19.  (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Today during a Mass in St. Peter’s Square marking the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, Pope Francis beatified his predecessor, Pope Paul VI.  How fitting that our Holy Father has lifted up Blessed Paul VI as a model for families, and indeed for all individual Catholics, in our call to emulate the Apostle Paul and bring the Good News of Jesus’ Gospel to the ends of the earth.

When he was elected pope in 1963, Giovanni Battista Montini took the name of Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, and he immediately declared his intention to complete the Second Vatican Council. While studying for the priesthood in Rome during this period, I along with my fellow seminarians had a sense that something very wonderful was happening – that the Church was undergoing a moment of renewal, rededication and recommitment. We were also reminded during those years that while the Church was in the process of being made new again, the renewal was anchored in her history, in the living continuity of the great apostolic tradition.

Blessed Pope Paul VI has been called a “great light” by Pope Francis.  Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI likewise attested to the profound influence of Pope Paul on them – from his teachings and steadfast guidance of the Church through the storms of cultural upheaval, to his pioneering practice of overseas apostolic journeys and a more modest papal style.

Pope Francis often quotes from Blessed Paul VI’s 1975 apostolic exhortation on evangelization in the modern world, Evangelii nuntiandiwhich he has called “the most important pastoral document” following the Second Vatican Council, and “a great source of inspiration” to him personally.

In my 2010 pastoral letter on the New Evangelization, Disciples of the Lord: Sharing the Vision, I underscored the importance of that landmark document by Blessed Paul VI, noting that he affirmed that the Church should be an evangelizing community.

“The command to the Twelve to go out and proclaim the Good News is also valid for all Christians, though in a different way…. the Good News of the kingdom which is coming and which has begun is meant for all people of all times. Those who have received the Good News and who have been gathered by it into the community of salvation can and must communicate and spread it,” Paul VI wrote in Evangelii nuntiandi, 13.

In my pastoral letter, I also noted that in this historic document, issued 10 years to the day after the close of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI discerned the need for “a new period of evangelization”. In a heartfelt way, Pope Paul VI encouraged us to continue the work of the Apostles today, and carry out the New Evangelization as we share our faith by witnessing to Christ’s love and hope in our homes, our workplaces, our communities and our world.

Pope Paul VI was a true pastor, as he worked to implement the documents of the Second Vatican Council and reaffirm how the Gospel and the Church’s teachings offer a light to humanity. His encyclical Humanae vitae offered a template for the work of the just-concluded synod in its teaching on the God-given dignity of marriage and family life, and that holy pope responded in a pastoral way to the public dissent and confrontation which followed that encyclical’s challenging but prophetic teachings.

As the first modern pope to make pilgrimages to his flock around the world, Blessed Paul VI made nine major trips abroad, including to the Holy Land, Asia, Africa, South America, Australia and to the United States, where he made his famous plea for peace at the United Nations in 1965. He also demonstrated the importance of ecumenism and interfaith relations, and of working together with people of different religions for peace and to bring justice to the poor.

Saint John Paul II said of Pope Paul: “He made himself a pilgrim on their roads, meeting them where they lived and (he) struggled to build a world of greater attention and respect for the dignity of every human being.”

As he frequently calls on Catholics to “go out” and share their faith, and reach out with love to the poor, Pope Francis echoes the call of Blessed Paul VI, the pilgrim pope who not only set the stage for the New Evangelization – he lived it. So should we, as pilgrims on the journey to heaven.

How the Church Evangelizes Yesterday, Today and Always

October 18th, 2014
Pope Paul VI leads the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum in Rome in 1977. (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Pope Paul VI leads the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum in Rome in 1977. (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

As the Church Universal celebrates World Mission Sunday this weekend, as well as the beatification on Sunday of Pope Paul VI, a modern missionary pope, let us consider how the Church spreads the Gospel. “This question of ‘how to evangelize’ is permanently relevant,” said this holy pastor, “because the methods of evangelizing vary according to the different circumstances of time, place and culture, and because they thereby present a certain challenge to our capacity for discovery and adaptation” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 40).

There are a whole range of activities to share the Good News, but some have shown themselves more fruitful than others.  In particular, Pope Paul said, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41).

We see this approach in Saint Luke’s inspired authorship of the Acts of the Apostles, in which he relates what he has personally seen and experienced in accompanying Saint Paul on some of his travels, and in his faithfully handing on what the Church has related to him.  This affirms how we as evangelizers turn to the Church and the continuous apostolic tradition in the Body of Christ to encounter, illuminate and assure us of the message of eternal life we share with others.

The word that describes the missionary activity of the early Church is “bold.”  After the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Saint Peter immediately and boldly goes out and gives personal testimony, “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses . . . Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:32, 38, see also, 3:12-26; 4:9-12; 5:29-32; 10:34-43).  This Good News of salvation in the Risen Christ is what we proclaim.

The greater part of Acts follows Paul in his travels and he too relies abundantly on personal witness.  He was the great persecutor of the Church who, with the grace of God, became the great missionary apostle.

Multiple times Paul relates how, when he was on the road to Damascus, a bright light flashed as a voice from heaven said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  To which he replied, “Who are you, sir?” And the reply came, “I am Jesus the Nazorean, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 22:3-21).  He was struck blind for three days, and after he regained his sight, he never hesitated to profess the saving truth of Christ.

In applying the lessons of Acts to our efforts today, we realize, as did those early missionaries, that culture is the field in which we must work.  A superb model to follow is the approach of Paul in Athens, where he entered into dialogue with many philosophers and others in the public square.  In that city full of pagan idols, he discovered an altar inscribed, “To an Unknown God.”  He took that occasion to tell the people, “What you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you,” going on to speak of the living God and the Good News of the resurrection of the dead (Acts 17:16-34).

Today, as with Paul, our challenge is to provide people with an awareness and familiarity with the true Lord in practical language in the midst of their daily lives and concrete situations.  Our duty is not just to announce, but to adapt our approach so as to attract and to urge a people much in need of him to find the uncomplicated, genuine and tangible treasure of friendship with Jesus (Redemptoris Missio, 44).

The Gospel once delivered by the first disciples still has the power to transform the world.  The mission given to them is now ours and the opportunities are everywhere.

Reflections from the Synod

October 17th, 2014
Pope Francis uses incense as he celebrates Mass in St. Peter's Basilica to open extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family

Pope Francis uses incense to venerate an icon of the Presentation of Jesus as he celebrates a Mass to open the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Oct. 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Greetings and prayerful best wishes from Rome.

Since so much is being written and said about the progress of the Synod of Bishops on the Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of the New Evangelization, I thought it would be helpful to share a few thoughts from the perspective of someone inside the Synod.

In so many of the short talks given by Synod participants, the beautiful and scripturally-rooted vision of the Catholic understanding of marriage was lifted up as the starting point of our discussion. It was universally recognized how important the bond of marriage is and that it is indissoluble.  At the same time, our understanding of marriage was seen as a source of encouragement for people trying fully to live that sacramental state of life.

A second major point included many reflections on the situation in which marriage is lived today in the midst of the human condition.  What so many people are hearing from our culture today does not correspond to the Church’s teaching on marriage.  Consequently, the challenges are many.  There are large numbers of failed, broken and nonfunctioning marriages and numerous statistics were cited to show how many people live in second marriages or do not bother to get married at all.  All of this highlights the increasing distance between our Gospel vision of marriage as it is seen in our teaching and the actual lived reality in concrete practice.

We also heard a great deal about the influence of the dominant secular culture.  It was noted that there is little or no societal support for the Gospel view of marriage.  In fact, the opposite is more likely the reality.  Social structures and institutions that once supported the Judeo-Christian tradition dominant in Europe and found reflected in various parts of the world, no longer provide the societal context for young adults today.

In consequence of this state of affairs, there is serious reason to doubt whether the Church’s understanding of marriage is what many, many people today understand by marriage.  In many places, there is no societal expectation of marriage as an enduring lifelong commitment to a family.

How are we to respond in this type of environment?

Many Synodal Fathers highlighted the need for the Church to be clear, convincing and effective in her timeless teaching.  This is a continuous task that the Church has always faced but, as recognized in the New Evangelization, we need to find better ways of passing on our understanding of the faith and evoking a commitment from our young people.

Once the discussion turned to how effective has our teaching been and how many people really understand the nature of the sacrament of marriage and its indissolubility, the conversation focused on healing those who have been wounded by these cultural currents.

It was pointed out that, in addition to teaching, the Church has to approach marriages today, particularly for those people who were married, divorced and/or remarried, with a sense of healing and find a way to bring people to experience the love and mercy of God.

Here it was pointed out that mercy is not opposed to truth but follows on it.  In fact mercy flows from the truth.  It is the truth that brings freedom.

When the question of responding to the current situation moved from the teaching to the healing dimension, it was necessary to determine what exactly happened in the case of individual couples.  This brought the discussion into the area of annulments and the need to streamline that process and even provide a more direct, clear and easily accessible structure to reach a determination as to the validity of their marriage.

It was generally agreed that the context of our discussion today is radically different than even a quarter of a century ago.  Now we also face issues of “same-sex marriage” and gender identity as a matter of choice.  Thus, we need to find a better way of expressing our Catholic faith in a language that is accessible to the many people who have drifted away from the faith, helping them to better appreciate the Good News that is Jesus’ revealed truth on marriage and the nature of the human person.

Finally, there was the growing recognition that we need to be able to reach out in an inviting manner to those who find themselves in situations that call for the presence of Gospel healing and accompany such people with love on the journey that is intended to bring all of us closer to Christ. For example, while the Church’s teaching on human sexuality is not up for debate, it is important that we examine the language we use and our pastoral approach toward individuals with same-sex attraction.

Much has been discussed at this Synod and the discussion will go on after it concludes.  This assembly is part of a much larger process, which will continue with a Synod next year and beyond.  Pastoral solutions to intractable problems are not going to come easy.  Yet, we are going to try to do what Jesus has asked us to do, listening to one another, talking to one another and remaining open to the Holy Spirit.  I ask for your prayers as the Synod work continues.

To Whom Are We Sent?

October 15th, 2014

annunciation

Each Sunday, we profess that we are “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”  The Church is apostolic both because of our living continuity with the Apostles who were called by Jesus and because we share the mission of evangelization given to them.

By virtue of our baptism, we too are in the nature of apostles, a word which means “one who is sent.”  We too are called to go out and spread the Good News – but to whom are we sent?

Jesus and the Apostles were each Jews, children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and during the thousands of years of salvation history leading up to Christ, God had set apart Israel as his chosen people.  Was Christ’s kingdom to be only for the people of Israel over all other nations?  Many who heard him during his ministry thought that was how it should be.

Even among the Apostles and other disciples, there was some question as to the extent to which they should go to the Gentiles, the pagan non-Jews, or if those who were to be accepted into the Christian community should be required to follow the Jewish Law, including various dietary restrictions and circumcision.

In the Acts of the Apostles, which recounts the first years of the spread of the Gospel, we read that one day Peter was invited to the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion.  When he arrived and saw many people assembled there, Peter said, “You know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to associate with, or visit, a Gentile” (Acts 10:28).

A short time earlier, however, Peter received a vision from the Lord in which he was commanded to eat certain foods deemed “unclean” under the Law.  A voice said to him, “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane” (Acts 10:11-15).  Cornelius also had a vision, this of an angel in dazzling robes who told him to summon Peter (Acts 10:3-5, 30).

So Peter said to those at the house of Cornelius, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34).  Peter then proclaimed the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection.  While he was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon those who listened and they were baptized.  Later, when some objected that Peter had associated with Gentiles, Peter said, “If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?”  When they heard this, they glorified God, saying, “God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too” (Acts 11:17-18).

After initially preaching to Jewish communities, Paul too took the Gospel to the rest of the world.  He famously and forcefully argued in his letters and the book of Acts that salvation is not gained simply by following the Mosaic Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.

We recognize in Paul an enormous commitment to share his experience – his encounter with Jesus.  From his conversion onward, he was consumed with sharing the Good News.  The last half of Acts is devoted to this “Apostle to the Gentiles.”  His mission would take him to the Greek lands of Asia Minor, where he established communities of faith in many major cities of the Roman Empire such as Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi and Thessalonica.  Eventually, he would come to Rome.

Last week, it was my great joy to dedicate and bless a recently restored 17th century organ at the Basilica of Saint Peter in Chains, which is my titular church in Rome as a Cardinal.  Every time I visit, it reminds me of our connectedness to Peter and to his mission, a mission shared by Paul and the entire Church.

We have wonderful news to tell and we are sent to all peoples – to Jews and Gentiles.  Jesus calls us to go to all nations, to the ends of the earth, proclaiming Christ is Risen!  Jesus is Lord and he calls us to be a part of his family!

The Church in the Acts of the Apostles

October 13th, 2014

St Paul Preaching in Athens by Raffaello

The Acts of the Apostles tells a fascinating story of the early Church, but it is much more than just a history book.  Within the narrative provided by Saint Luke is a wealth of revealed truth and theology about this institution and her missionary nature.

In Acts, we see the Apostles beginning to structure the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to deal with the reality that this body is the living, continuing presence of Christ in the world today.  Before the Risen Lord ascended to heavenly glory, he charged his followers to be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth,” to go and “make disciples of all nations” (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19).  This is no small mission – the earth is a big place!  The task would require assistants, companions and apostolic succession.

Thus, an order of ministerial service was established to meet the requirements of a growing Church.  After devoting themselves to prayer, asking the Lord to make known whom to choose for the apostolic ministry, the Apostles chose a successor to Judas (Acts 1:14-26).  Soon the Apostles would also appoint presbyters – priests – to help them in the work of celebrating the Eucharist and forgiving sins, as well as deacons to assist in the temporal chores, works and duties of the Christian community.

The essential purpose of the diaconate is to serve.  Deacons serve at table, notably at the table of the Eucharist meal, and they are ministers of the charity of the Church (cf. Acts 6:1-4).  They are witnesses to the faith and defenders of it.  Thus, the deacon Stephen became the Church’s first martyr; he proclaimed the faith with courageous eloquence and forgiving love before he died (see Acts 7).  Deacons also take part in the Church’s task of evangelization as did the deacon Philip in Samaria (Acts 8:4-13).

On their journeys, the Apostles took with them other helpers and companions, like Timothy, Barnabas and Silas.  The people they encountered became disciples themselves, such as Cornelius, Aquila and Priscilla.  And when missionaries such as Paul moved on, it was these disciples who remained who would help build up the Church in their own communities.

This is how the Church grew from a small band of followers of Jesus in Galilee and Judea to “the ends of the earth.”  This is how the Church continues to grow and build up the kingdom of God in our midst.

Occasionally someone will ask me, usually in the context of some social, cultural or political issue that has arisen, something to the effect of: “Why doesn’t the Church do more?”  “Why isn’t the Church more involved?”  “Why aren’t bishops and priests speaking up more?”

These questions reveal a view that places the mission of the Church and the renewal of the temporal order on the shoulders of the clergy.  Yet the lesson of the Acts of the Apostles calls us to a more diversified responsibility. The bishops – who are the successors of the Apostles today – and priests do have a role. They are to sanctify through providing the sacraments, teach and proclaim the Gospel, and govern the flock entrusted to them.  But the work of transforming the world by applying that message falls to the laity – the Aquilas and Priscillas of today – when we deal with the temporal order. It is the charge of the laity to complete the evangelization and sanctification of the world. This is how the Church grows.

In the Church, and in the world, there are always needs to be met in fulfilling our mission.  Today, as in the early Church we read about in Acts, none of us is a bystander in the working out of God’s plan for a world of peace, truth, compassion, kindness, justice and love.

Saint John XXIII and the Continuity of Truth in Charity

October 11th, 2014
Pope John XXIII is pictured in a portrait circa 1958. (CNS photo)

Pope John XXIII is pictured in a portrait circa 1958. (CNS photo)

When Saint John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962, he knew that he would not live much longer, having been diagnosed with cancer, but he was prepared.  He had given himself over entirely to God long before, humbly abandoning himself to loving Providence while seeking holiness during his pilgrim journey on earth.

Goodness radiated in his words and ministry. “Love is all; love is at the foundation of civilization; love is the basis of all that Christ came to declare to the world,” he professed when he was Patriarch of Venice.  “Without love you may obtain temporary successes, or victories won by force, but afterward, and very soon, all will fall to the ground” (Scritti e Discorsi, 1953-1958, vol. VI,  reprinted in Secret to Happiness: Wisdom from John XXIII, p. 85).  Stressing the mercy of God, then-Cardinal Angelo Roncalli affirmed that “the doors of the banquet hall are never closed.  Every day is the right day for the lost sheep to return to the care of the tender shepherd, who invites and reaches out to it with great longing” (Id., 57).

This pastoral approach continued in his papacy and it is clear why he was affectionately called Good Pope John. “The long experience of life,” he said to his flock as the Bishop of Rome, “teaches that it will avail us far more, for happiness of spirit, to discern the good in things and dwell upon that rather than to seek the bad and the flawed, emphasizing it thoughtlessly or, worse still, maliciously” (Address to the Diocesan Synod of Rome, January 26, 1960).

The call to focus on the good, especially the good in people, and conduct our mission in positive terms, truth in charity, is also seen in Pope John’s address to the first session of the Council, which met from October 11 to December 8, 1962.  “Christ’s Bride prefers the balm of mercy to the arm of severity” in confronting the societal and cultural challenges of today, he said. “The great desire, therefore, of the Catholic Church in raising aloft at this Council the torch of truth, is to show herself to the world as the loving mother of all mankind; gentle, patient, and full of tenderness and sympathy for her separated children.”

One of the words used by the Pope in this effort was “aggiornamento,” which means “bringing up to date.”  Unfortunately, some erroneously interpreted that to mean a rupture in the Church’s teachings.  To the contrary, as the Holy Father made clear in his opening address, the task is to present faithfully and in its entirety the received teaching.  “Christianity is always new,” explained Pope Benedict XVI. “This constantly updated vitality, this ‘aggiornamento,’ does not mean breaking with tradition; rather, it is an expression of that tradition’s ongoing vitality.”

What Saint John intended, and what he showed throughout his ministry, was continuity with the sacred heritage of Catholic faith.  The Council had barely begun that work when this holy Pope died on June 3, 1963.  But after Pope Paul VI was elected on June 21, he immediately declared his intention to complete the Council, and a major focus of his own pontificate was implementing its teachings.  In a few days, on October 19, we will celebrate the beatification of this faithful successor of Peter and John.

This same continuity has been taken to heart by every other pontiff from Pope Paul to Pope Francis.  With respect to our Archdiocesan Synod, we view its work through that same lens of continuity.  Renewed in faith, in communion with God and the saints, we continue the mission entrusted to us to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October 8th, 2014

IMG_0873

Domestic violence has been in the news a great deal over the past several months because of a number of high profile cases involving professional football players. A part of the discussion has been the role of the National Football League in handling this matter. What might also be helpful is more information on resources to help people in crisis.

The Catholic Church in the United States participates in the observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month because we know that it touches individuals and families in all sectors of society, including families who are members of our parishes and whose children are enrolled in our schools and programs. The Church is here to help all those who are affected – victims as well as perpetrators. God’s merciful love can reach into the darkest places of relationships and family life.

Below you will find some resources that are available to raise awareness of the magnitude of the problem and to call attention to information about where and how to find help or point others toward assistance.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has offered a pastoral response to the issue titled, “When I Call for Help,” which addresses the matter from the perspective of women who are abused, pastors to whom they often turn for help, men who are abusers and society at large.

Here in the Archdiocese of Washington, through a partnership with Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Baltimore, we have begun an initiative called “Catholics for Family Peace” that will provide training and pastoral resources for parish staffs so that parishes can respond effectively to any call for help. We hope all of our parish staff members can act as first responders by doing the following: listening and believing victims’ stories, assessing the level of danger to the victim and the children and offering appropriate advice, services and counseling. To learn more about this initiative, please contact the archdiocesan Office for Family Life (301-853-4546).

For Catholics it is important to understand the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage in the context of the reality of families living in dangerous situations. We would never want someone to refrain from seeking help thinking that the Church would not allow spouses to separate. The Church teaches that “the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1640). Spouses ordinarily have the duty to live married life together, but a legitimate cause excuses them from doing so.

“If either of the spouses causes grave mental or physical danger to the other spouse or to the offspring or otherwise renders common life too difficult, that spouse gives the other a legitimate cause for leaving, either by decree of the local ordinary or even on his or her own authority if there is danger in delay” (Code of Canon Law 1153). In other words, if a spouse is abusive to the other spouse and the children and staying means there is danger of harm, they are encouraged to leave and separate themselves.

There are two reasons for this. First, in leaving, the abused spouse is justly defending his or her life and protecting the children. Secondly, this act of separating prevents the abusive spouse from committing further immediate harm. Separating from them then is acting on their behalf as well. From here the Church hopes there can be help, treatment, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation, but only in the context of a safe and secure situation.

If you know someone you believe to be in danger, please share these resources with them. In your prayers this month, please offer an intention for all victims of abuse entrusting them to the intervention of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and the loving embrace of her Son, Jesus.

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Mission of the Church

October 6th, 2014

D31 OLQP_2

The task of living our Catholic faith as missionary disciples is particularly challenging today with all the currents of secular culture and the pressures that confront us. But as our Archdiocesan Synod understood, we have not been left alone. The Holy Spirit has come to dwell with us as Advocate, Consoler, Truth and Love, as promised by Jesus (John 14:16 et seq.).

“The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us,” writes Saint Paul in his Letter to the Romans (5:5).

What does this means for us? “The ‘living water,’ the Holy Spirit, the Gift of the Risen One who dwells in us,” Pope Francis explains, “purifies us, illuminates us, renews us, transforms us because he makes us participants in the very life of God that is Love” (Audience of May 8, 2013).

We need not “go it alone” in life, with success or failure depending entirely on our own personal efforts. In responding to the universal vocation to holiness, the call to be perfect in love and truth, in seeking to do good and avoid evil, we need not fend for ourselves.

The Lord offers us help, he offers his grace to enable us to meet the challenges of the day. Through this gift of the Spirit, by the love of the Crucified and Risen Christ, we are perfected in God and with God, no matter what our human limitations.

In addition to various special charisms we might receive, the Prophet Isaiah speaks of seven gifts in particular – wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2-3). The Catechism teaches that these gifts “complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them” (CCC 1831).

The gifts of knowledge and understanding allow us to transcend the superficial, to apprehend and grasp with our mind a fuller truth than what we can hear, taste, touch and smell. Wisdom and counsel, coupled with our reverence for human reason, can direct us and guide us in the awesome struggle to decide from all that we know how to do what we ought to do. Meanwhile, with piety and what we call “fear of the Lord,” there is a humble sense of awe and respectful appreciation for God’s presence. This helps us to gratefully recognize that God is greater than we are and that we rely upon his providence and blessing.

Beyond the usual trials of the human condition, which may tempt us to discouragement, are pressures from our secular culture to give in, to simply go along with what we know is not right. With the gift of fortitude, however, the Lord frees our hearts from fear, giving us the strength to persevere.

Next week, we will see these gifts on display in the early Church as we begin a series on the Acts of the Apostles. Prior to the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, the Apostles and other disciples often struggled with understanding Christ’s teachings. They were also unsure of themselves, timid and frightened after his arrest and crucifixion. All that changed when the Spirit descended upon them. Then they became bold, confident, courageous witnesses of all that Jesus revealed. Setting off in all directions, these missionary disciples brought the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

“This mission is still only beginning,” said Saint John Paul II, and “we must commit ourselves wholeheartedly to its service” (Redemptoris missio, 1). Thus, we pray always that the Spirit empower us with his gifts so that we continue to manifest the kingdom of God and help him renew the face of the earth.

Each of Us is a Masterpiece of God’s Creation

October 5th, 2014

life issues

Like the Child Jesus, who is “forever the sign of God’s tenderness and presence in our world . . . today too, children are a sign. They are a sign of hope, a sign of life,” said Pope Francis during his visit earlier this year to Bethlehem. “Wherever children are accepted, loved, cared for and protected, the family is healthy, society is more healthy and the world is more human.”

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.

A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit a maternity hospital in Peru that was supported and sustained by the Church in this country. It operated in an impoverished area with a large, struggling population of poor and needy people.

One of my greatest joys is when young parents give me their newborn baby to hold, so I was delighted when the sisters running the maternity ward invited me to hold one of the children under their care. As I gingerly picked up a one-day-old infant, the baby latched onto my finger with all his strength and held tight.

That infant is a parable to me – a representative of countless unborn children reaching out to hold onto you and me, reaching out with all their strength. In their struggle to find a place, a home, a life in this world, the most vulnerable among us depend on us to work for a culture of life.

We have witnessed in many societies a diminishment of respect for human life. Accordingly, as the working paper for the Synod of Bishops on the Pastoral Challenges to the Family says, “in her pastoral programs, the Church needs to reflect on how to encourage a mentality which is more open to life” (Instrumentum Laboris, 130).

In what we do and how we express ourselves, we have to find ways to proclaim the good news of every human life for a hearing among those who have been led to believe that some life is not worth living. The New Evangelization impels us all to use the grace of the Holy Spirit to discover fresh resources and summon new strength to advance the message of the Gospel of life.

None of our lives is meaningless or not worth living. We are all needed. Each of us is here because a loving God wills us to live. Each of us is a masterpiece of God’s creation.

“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; and the most serious privation that elderly persons undergo is not the weakening of the body and the disability that may ensue, but abandonment and exclusion, the privation of love” (Message to the Pontifical Academy for Life, February 19, 2014).

It cannot be denied that there are hardships in life. Whether experienced in a crisis pregnancy or late in life, in a physical illness or a bout of mental depression, the human condition is for us all beset with trials and tribulations. And the answer we give to these challenges in the reality of our human weakness is love, and not to give in to the temptation to despair (Evangelium Vitae, 66-67, 76-77).

When hardship and suffering arise for ourselves or others, we can confront them with God or without him. It is a lot easier with God. In his compassion, God does not abandon us but he stands with us. By the power of his love, he transforms our fear and gives us hope.

The Church’s Mission of Mercy to Families

October 2nd, 2014

D10 Bernadette

“This saying is hard, who can accept it?”  Here in John’s Gospel we read the response of many disciples to Jesus’s beautiful exposition on the Eucharist. Jesus is telling the crowd that eternal life will be found by those “who eat his flesh and drink his blood” (John 6:60).  In the face of one of the deepest expressions of God’s plan for salvation, many followers seem to all but give up trying to understand.

It is a very human response. What the disciples learn and what we ourselves come to learn is that in the face of the mystery of our faith, we have to trust God.  In the Catechism we read, “Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from our faith in any human person. It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says” (CCC 150).

In our age, it is often the Church’s teaching on human sexuality and marriage that make people ask, “Who can accept it?” It is for many a moment of crisis. This is touched on in the working paper for the upcoming Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of the New Evangelization. “Often, when the lay faithful sense the great distance between the ideal of family living and the impossibility of achieving that goal, the couple’s crisis in marriage and the family gradually becomes a crisis in faith” (Instrumentum Laboris,  62).

There is a common theme that has emerged from the broad consultation conducted by bishops in local churches all over the world in preparation for the Synod.  In challenging pastoral situations related to relationships, marriage and family life, the work of the Church must at all times be marked by compassion and mercy. The working paper itself notes that no person or situation is beyond the reach of God’s love.

“The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open, [...] where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems” (The Joy of the Gospel, 47). Real pastoral attention is urgently needed to care for these people and bring them healing so that they might continue their journey with the entire ecclesial community. The mercy of God does not provide a temporary cover-up of personal misdeeds, but rather radically opens lives to reconciliation which brings new trust and serenity through true inward renewal. The pastoral care of families, far from limiting itself to a legal point of view, has a mission to recall the great vocation of love to which each person is called and to help a person live up to the dignity of that calling (Instrumentum Laboris, 80).

With so much attention focused on this Synod and its many challenging topics, we have the chance to share our trust in God in the face of teachings that some find hard to accept.  It is incumbent on all of us to be ambassadors of faith to  our family members, friends and co-workers as all different types of news outlets seek to interpret the work of the Synod.  I encourage all of us to read and listen with the eyes and ears of faith, knowing that the work of the Synod under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will manifest a fuller understanding of God’s plan for marriage and family life.

All of us have to be open to the Holy Spirit. No one can rightfully claim to know already what must be the outcome of the deliberations called for by our Holy Father. Certainly no one is able now to say in advance what the Synod “must say.” While we stand in the truth we stand there humbly.

As ambassadors, we also have a wonderful opportunity to remind people that the doors of the Church are open to all. We can invite to Mass or the Sacrament of Reconciliation those we know who may be separated from the Church or afraid to face Our Lord. We can put them in touch with a priest we know manifests God’s compassion and mercy. We can be the first to share that, no matter our situation, we are all called to live “radically open lives” in fidelity to the Gospel.