Mary Magdalene: A Model of Discipleship

July 20th, 2017

Mary Magdalene by Pietro Perugino, Florence

Mary Magdalene, whose feast we celebrate on Saturday, has always been a popular, fascinating – and mysterious – figure in the life of the Church.  It was she to whom the Risen Jesus chose to appear first after his Resurrection.  She was in a sense the first evangelist as she then went out in haste to tell others the Good News, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:11-18).  For this she has been called the “Apostle to the Apostles” or, as Pope Francis recently named her, the “Apostle of the new and greatest hope.”

Yet, as large a role as she plays, little else is known for sure about Mary Magdalene.  What we know for certain is that she had been possessed by seven demons (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9).  When Jesus freed her of that evil in her life, Mary became one of his closest followers.  With love and gratitude, when most of the Apostle were in hiding, Mary Magdalene remained near the Lord during his Passion and, except to faithfully observe the Sabbath, she did not leave him even after he was dead and placed in the tomb.  She did not want to let go of him.

Pope Saint Gregory the Great notes in a homily how Mary Magdalene remained at the empty tomb after Peter and John had left on that first Easter Sunday – she was still seeking Jesus (John 20:3-10).   “While she sought she wept,” he said, “burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.”

Persevering to the end does not mean never making mistakes because we all sometimes stumble and fall during the journey of life.  What it does mean, Pope Francis has emphasized, is persevering in faith – always getting up after we have fallen and seeking Jesus.  It means going to meet Christ in the confessional, opening our penitent hearts to him so that he might free us from the domination of sin and evil and restore our dignity.  Then, having been given a new life like Mary, it means going to our brothers and sisters and joyfully proclaiming, “I have seen the Lord!”

Some believe Mary Magdalene to be the same Mary of Bethany who was the sister of Martha and Lazarus, as well as the unnamed woman whose sins were forgiven by Jesus at the house of Simon the Pharisee (John 11:1-2; Luke 7:36-50).  Others believe that these are three different women.  In any event, of what is known for sure about her, Mary Magdalene illustrates what a disciple is – one who, in the experience of human weakness, is healed by Jesus and closely follows him; one who with apostolic zeal goes to announce his merciful love which is stronger than evil and death.

The Rosary and the Fatima Prayer in the Life of the Faithful

July 13th, 2017

Pope Francis leads a nighttime prayer vigil the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Rosary has been a significant and widely popular form of prayer throughout the Church ever since the devotion was developed and came into general use centuries ago.  With prayers rooted in scripture and meditation on the saving events at the heart of our faith, the Rosary has been called an “echo of the prayer of Mary,” and a way to experience with her the beauty and depths of Christ’s love (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 1).  “It is also the prayer of simple people and saints,” explains Pope Francis and, no doubt expressing the sentiment of countless others, he adds, “It is the prayer of my heart.”

The essential prayers of the Rosary are among the Church’s oldest and the practice of using beads in aid of prayer likewise goes back to the early Church.  Jesus himself gave us the Our Father, and the Glory Be, which was modeled after the angels’ song at Bethlehem, has been exclaimed throughout Christian history. The Hail Mary developed over time and seems to have reached the present form in the Middle Ages. Combining the greetings of the angel and Saint Elizabeth at the Annunciation and Visitation with an intercessory prayer, it is the loving, confident prayer of people who know themselves to be brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

By the 13th century, these various elements came together to form the basic structure of the Rosary and eventually meditation on the mysteries of Jesus were added.  Saint Dominic is credited with popularizing the Rosary when he preached this prayerful devotion in his missionary work.  In the 1570s, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary was established to remember and celebrate the powerful intercession of our Blessed Mother.

Then, on this day one hundred years ago, July 13, 1917, it is reported that an additional prayer by Our Lady during her third apparition at Fatima to the shepherd children Saints Jacinta and Francisco Marto, and their older cousin Lucia Santos.  Following that maternal request, many now add this prayer at the end of each decade of the Rosary, saying: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell.  Lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy.”

The Rosary has offered special comfort that sustains people through times of trial.  In our prayers while meditating on the holy mysteries, we experience the saving events of salvation in a way that touches our hearts and illumines our minds.  Thus it is that as we pray, we are drawn more deeply into the mystery of Jesus Christ who, in his mercy, forgives and saves and leads souls to heaven. As we cry out, the Lord hears us, knows us and responds to us with his infinite love.

The Need for Unity

July 3rd, 2017

The Signing of Declaration of Independence, by John Trumbull

When the Founding Fathers first took up the question of independence from England, they appreciated the need for unity among the 13 colonies.  But the outcome of the ensuing debate was by no means assured.  For a time it looked like one or more delegations might oppose the resolution, and the dream of a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that we are all created equal would be dashed.  In the end though, the resolution and accompanying Declaration of Independence were adopted and a new nation was born, stating in its very name that we are the “United States of America.”

If we are to have a free and just civil society, it is an absolute necessity to be united, albeit in a way that respects diversity.  As the Founders recognized, the fact is that we are not wholly autonomous, but are interconnected and need to work together and for one another’s benefit (cf. Laudato Si’, 240).  Everything we do, everything we have, is dependent upon the cooperation or assistance of others.  The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the houses we live in, and the blessings of liberty that we enjoy – none of these would be possible without a whole legion of people working to make it so.

Yet, despite the need, it is not always easy to obtain unity or maintain it.  In fact, on this day 154 years ago, the Battle of Gettysburg was fought largely over the question of whether we should remain a Union or not.  While our nation today is not suffering the scourge of civil war, still the degree of polarization and rancor is disturbing.

A lack of the lived reality of unity and solidarity among people leads only to desolation.  In the face of the divisions besetting our country now, I think we could learn a great lesson from President Abraham Lincoln, who urged reconciliation and unity in his Second Inaugural Address near the end of the Civil War.  “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right,” he said, let us “bind up the nation’s wounds” and “do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

As Christians, we have an important role to play in fostering unity:  The Good News of Jesus Christ, the Beatitudes, Ten Commandments and other divine teachings are all expressions of the call for union and solidarity, to overcome divisions and self-interest, to care for the poor and the weak, and to look to the common good.

Jesus challenges us to work out a social order in this world that more closely manifests the justice and peace of his kingdom – a kingdom where the good of all is realized and all are treated as brothers and sisters in one human family.  This Fourth of July, let us once again pledge and work toward being “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

A New Statue of Saint Junípero Serra and its Reminder to Always Move Forward

July 1st, 2017

Junipero Serra

Almost two years ago when Pope Francis visited our country, he canonized one of the greatest Catholic missionaries in this continent’s history, Father Junípero Serra, during an outdoor Mass held on the east steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. More recently, on Pentecost Sunday, it was my great pleasure to bless a new statue of Saint Junípero placed next to that spot where our Holy Father celebrated the first canonization in the United States.

Representing the state of California, the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol includes a statue of Junípero Serra, as well. It is hard to imagine another person who has left such an impact on any state in the Union as has this quiet, modest, faith-filled Franciscan. In fact, in a Mass at the Pontifical North American College in May of 2015, Pope Francis called him “one of the founding fathers of the United States.”

A native of Spain, the Franciscan priest was a teacher who at the age of 36 left the classroom in his home country to become a missionary in the New World, answering Christ’s call to bring the Gospel to “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Saint Junípero is credited with making his way on foot, up and down the coast of California founding and overseeing mission after mission, whose names continue to dot the landscape. The first mission was established on July 16, 1769, in San Diego. The 900-mile journey there was hard and many in the expedition died along the way. It is estimated that during his ministry, Saint Junípero baptized approximately 6,000 of the native peoples and confirmed about 5,000.

At the Mass at the North American College, the first pope from the Americas prayed that “the life of our American continent may be rooted ever more deeply in the Gospel it has received [and] that Christ may be ever more present in the lives of individuals, families, peoples and nations, for the greater glory of God.” Likewise, during the Canonization Mass, Pope Francis called us to walk in the power of our own Baptism and to keep constantly focused on our mission. He urged us, “Siempre adelante,” always forward, citing the motto of Saint Junípero.

As we celebrate his feast day today and always, may the statue of Saint Junípero Serra serve as a reminder of the power of the Spirit, the challenge of missionary discipleship and the witness of human holiness. May we feel in our heart the same excitement for the Gospel, the same power of the Spirit, and the same zeal for souls that calls us “siempre adelante,” always moving forward in the Lord.

The Convocation of Catholic Leaders and the Joy of the Gospel

June 29th, 2017

Convocation of Catholic Leaders

Today the Church celebrates the great feast of the Apostles, Saints Peter and Paul, including their bold missionary spirit, of which we are heirs.  As Pope Francis said at the canonization of another missionary, Saint Junípero Serra, “We 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.’”

Desiring to be faithful to our missionary mandate and tradition, the bishops and lay leaders from dioceses across the country are gathering July 1-4 in Orlando, Florida, for the Convocation of Catholic Leaders.  The theme of this assembly of more than 3,500 diocesan and parish leaders is “The Joy of the Gospel in America.”  Participants will pray and reflect on how we, the Church in the U.S., can better hand on the gift we have received from the Lord in a way that moves us forward at a time of particular challenge. Also, it is my honor to have been asked to give an address on Sunday afternoon on “The Radical Call to Missionary Discipleship.”

In the Acts of the Apostles, the word that describes the Apostles after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is “bold.” Peter boldly stands up and preaches the Good News of the Resurrection. Paul boldly announces the Word in frenetic movement around the world. Today, as missionary disciples ourselves, we must show a similar boldness in the form of confidence in Christ. We followers of Christ must be people who radiate Christ’s love and are a beacon of his kingdom.

This Convocation is a time for Church leaders to be renewed in their own faith and to bring back to their own dioceses best practices, new ideas and a sense of urgency to move their local church boldly forward in the implementation of the New Evangelization.  In a particular way, “We want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lived of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spirituality in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world,” says Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium, 269).

Moreover, it is not only these gathered leaders who are on the front lines of sharing the joy of the Gospel – all of us are meant to offer this kind of witness.  To be a missionary disciple is not for a few, nor should it to be tepid or banal, but dynamic, bold. It is not a nine-to-five job, but is meant to inform and vitalize our entire life.

Please keep these leaders in your prayers.  You may also participate from home with this guidebook and by following the Masses and speeches at our Convocation website.

Freedom for Mission and Mission for Freedom

June 26th, 2017

Fortnight for FreedomThe Fortnight for Freedom initiative is a call to pray, reflect and contribute to a better understanding of – and respect for – religious freedom in a way that lifts up all people.  The theme this year is Freedom for Mission.

Mission is fundamental to being a complete Christian. Saint John Paul II affirmed that “the Church is missionary by her very nature” (Redemptoris Missio, 62), and Pope Francis has repeatedly stressed in Evangelii Gaudium and throughout his ministry that all the baptized are called to be missionary disciples.  In fact, “missionary commitment remains the first service that the Church owes to humanity today to guide and evangelize the cultural, social and ethical transformations, and to offer Christ’s salvation to the people of our time in so many parts of the world who are humiliated and oppressed by endemic poverty, violence and the systematic denial of human rights,” said Pope Benedict XVI in his Message for World Mission Sunday 2007.

But what is this mission? The word “mission” is from the Latin, missio, meaning “sending forth,” and it is essential to our Christian identity.  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” said Jesus, telling his followers to go to the ends of the earth and be his witnesses, proclaiming his Good News and making disciples of all nations (John 20:21; Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:46-49; Acts 1:8).

To be Jesus’ witnesses means striving to be in word and in deed more and more like Christ who is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6), and who has bestowed on us his life-giving Spirit.  When Jesus was before Pilate, he said, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (John 18:37).  Also, during his earthly ministry, and indeed since the beginning of the world, Christ was and is the living manifestation of Love, and his commandment to us is to remain in his love and love one another as he loves us (John 15:9-13).

In particular, bearing witness to truth like Jesus means, among other things, being true to our nature as God made us, rather than what our sinfulness has led us to be, and helping others to see the error of the false gods of materialism, individualism, and radical secularism that act as if God did not exist.  We are also to offer to those we encounter the transformative power of love which bears abundant fruit – healing wounds, overcoming conflict, and promoting solidarity and sharing.

Our Christian mission is not only our fundamental right and freedom, but as Jesus taught, truth is necessary to freedom (cf. John 8:32).  The theme for this year’s Fortnight could just as easily be Mission for Freedom.  It is precisely in the Lord who is Truth, and in his Love, that we individually and in society can really be free.

Jubilee Couples Show the Joy of Love

June 23rd, 2017

For every priest, witnessing and blessing the marriage of a couple in the name of the Church is a special joy. Their standing before the altar signifies that Christ is present with them that day. Just as Jesus performed his first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, he continues to be with couples every day of their life together.

As the archbishop of Washington, my joy is multiplied in witnessing the grace of the sacrament of marriage made visible at our annual Jubilarian Mass honoring couples marking milestone anniversaries. This year’s liturgy takes place this Sunday, June 25, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, when 712 couples will be honored for celebrating a collective 31,747 years as husbands and wives.

These Jubilarian couples bear witness to the beauty of enduring human love joined to the power of God’s love in the sacrament of matrimony. During the Mass, as they hold hands and renew their marriage vows, we see the gift of the Holy Spirit at work, manifested in their love for each other. In the promises they made to be true to each other in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, that they would love and honor each other all the days of their life, they have accepted to do their part to be witnesses of Christ’s Gospel, his love and the transforming power of the Spirit in this world.

Each spouse is to the other “a companion on life’s journey, one with whom to face life’s difficulties and enjoy its pleasures,” Pope Francis has written. “The love they pledge is greater than any emotion, feeling or state of mind, although it may include all of these. It is a deeper love, a lifelong decision of the heart. Even amid unresolved conflicts and confused emotional situations, they daily reaffirm their decision to love, to belong to one another, to share their lives and to continue loving and forgiving. Each progresses along the path of personal growth and development. On this journey, love rejoices at every step and in every new stage” (Amoris Laetitia, 163).

The Jubilarian couples I speak to routinely attest to the truth of the counsel the Holy Father offers – that marital love takes daily effort, as well as the patience to allow the marriage to become richer over time, like a fine wine. “The love present from the beginning becomes more conscious, settled and mature as the couple discover each other anew day after day, year after year” (Amoris Laetitia, 231). Most importantly, the pope encourages couples to pray to the Holy Spirit for an outpouring of God’s grace, which transforms and directs their love in every situation they face.

Please join the Church of Washington in giving thanks to God for these men and women who are renewing their vows and all married couples. Through their daily faith and fidelity, they witness to their children, grandchildren and all of us the “Joy of Love” that Jesus has for his holy bride, the Church.

“Blessed are the Peacemakers”

June 21st, 2017

Peacemakers

Last week we reflected on Jesus’ teaching on the Beatitudes and learned that by their contradiction to the ways of the world, they inherently call us to conversion – to turn to the way of the Lord and see with eyes of faith. In light of the scourge of war and other acts of violence perpetuated throughout the world, including the continuing persecution of Christians – as well as daily acts of antagonism, discord and injustice in our own country – it might be helpful to consider the beatitude, “Blessed are the Peacemakers,” as we struggle to imagine how we might be agents of peace ourselves.

In his 2013 Message for the World Day of Peace, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on this teaching from Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and explained that “to become authentic peacemakers, it is fundamental to keep in mind our transcendent dimension and to enter into constant dialogue with God, the Father of mercy, whereby we implore the redemption achieved for us by His only-begotten Son. In this way, mankind can overcome that progressive dimming and rejection of peace which is sin in all its forms: selfishness and violence, greed and the will to power and dominion, intolerance, hatred and unjust structures.”

In a world riven by tension and conflict, we can neither despair about the prospects for peace nor abandon praying for peace. What we can do is be attentive to nurturing the virtue of peacemaking in our own lives, realizing that “the attainment of peace depends above all on recognizing that we are, in God, one human family” (2013 Message). A critical dimension of peacemaking is not backing away from bringing the Lord and the Gospel to bear on issues such as crime, racism, poverty, discrimination and disregard for human life which plague our secularized society. As Catholics, we have a particular responsibility to remind the world of a shared commitment to the common good and genuine justice as the only way to live in communities in which the dignity and rights of all human persons are respected.

Imagine how much more harsh our world would be if we did not hear, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers.” What would our communities be like if we were not commanded, “You shall not kill. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness”?

Our culture has hope because Christians have heard Jesus’ say, “You should love your neighbor as yourself” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Christians have lived by and shared that teaching in a way that it provides a moral framework which is “good news” for Christians and non-Christians alike. Through our shared human effort joined to the gift of Christ, we can know a true, just and lasting peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

Corpus Christi and Love for our Father

June 18th, 2017
corpus christi

Photo Credit: Jaclyn Lippelmann for the Catholic Standard

The Church Universal lifts up for us today throughout the world the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, known in Latin as Corpus Christi.  Here in the U.S., today it is also Father’s Day, and it is quite fitting that this feast of the Eucharist should be celebrated alongside this day in which we pay loving tribute to the men who have provided for and protected us, and given so much of their lives for us.

Pope Benedict XVI affirms that, “in the Eucharist, Jesus does not give us a ‘thing,’ but himself; he offers his own Body and pours out his own Blood. He thus gives us the totality of his life and reveals the ultimate origin of this love. He is the eternal Son, given to us by the Father” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 7).  Jesus gave us the sacrifice of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist, yet at the same time, this is a gift to us from our heavenly Father. “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world,” said Jesus, adding, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:32-33, 51).

Also, before Jesus’ holy sacrifice is a gift to us, it is a gift to the Father.  “The gift of his love and obedience to the point of giving his life is in the first place a gift to his Father,” explained Saint John Paul II.  “Certainly it is a gift given for our sake, and indeed that of all humanity, yet it is first and foremost a gift to the Father: ‘a sacrifice that the Father accepted, giving, in return for this total self-giving by his Son, who ‘became obedient unto death,’ his own paternal gift, that is to say the grant of new immortal life in the resurrection’” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 13 (citations omitted)).

In the same way, we too should love our Father in heaven first before we love and make a gift of self to our earthly fathers – or to any other loved ones (cf. Luke 14:26).  We should not be fearful that in doing so we love our fathers less.  Rather, in loving God first, in putting our heavenly Father before all else, we actually end up loving our earthly fathers more, we do them even greater honor.  When we love our father through our Father, our love is purified and enlarged a hundredfold.

As Pope Benedict said, “The person who puts himself in God’s hands does not distance himself from others, withdrawing into his private salvation; on the contrary, it is only then that his heart truly awakens and he becomes a sensitive, hence, benevolent and open person” (Homily of December 8, 2005).

As we give thanks today to our heavenly Father for the gift of his Son, who gives us himself in the Eucharist, and also for the gift of our earthly fathers who have given us life and love, let us also pray that God bless them and keep them always.

2017 Ordination to the Priesthood

June 17th, 2017

Watch live from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception as I ordain four men to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington.