The Freedom to be True to Our Catholic Identity

July 4th, 2015
Photo: Jaclyn Lippelmann for the Catholic Standard

Photo: Jaclyn Lippelmann for the Catholic Standard

On this Fourth of July, which concludes the Fortnight for Freedom, we need to remember that Christianity offers an ancient and enduring understanding of freedom which has served humanity well. The human capacity to make choices, including our need to distinguish between good and bad choices, is not something outside us, nor is it given to us by another person or the government. It is an expression of our very human nature and it is intrinsic to our human dignity. It is called freedom.

Human freedom – or as sometimes framed in contemporary discourse, “freedom of choice” – when fully and rightly understood, does not mean absolute autonomy to do whatever you want to do. It is in truth, Jesus said, that we are set free (John 8:32). If we do not know or recognize what is true and what is false, then we cannot make an informed and intelligent choice, that is, a free choice.

“Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery,” recognized Saint John Paul II (Fides et ratio, 90). If we live a lie, we are not free. Thus, we are free not to do whatever we want to do, but what we ought to do, that is, to do what is true to who we are as God made us to be.

When we turn to who we are as Catholics, the Church was established by Jesus “as a communion of life, charity and truth,” taught the Second Vatican Council, and it is used by the Lord “as an instrument for the redemption of all, and is sent forth into the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth” (Lumen gentium, 9). In this way, by bearing witness to Christ, the Church serves humanity’s true freedom. If we are impaired in our ability to be true to our Catholic identity and mission, then necessarily we are not free.

It is clear that as social beings our human freedom is not exercised in a vacuum. We coexist with others, and so freedom is necessarily a shared freedom. Invariably there will be conflicts of interest and belief.

One balance traditionally struck and which has worked over the years includes voluntary association. For example, no one is forced to belong to any faith community, Jewish, Christian, Muslim or otherwise, and no one is forced to work in one or another faith- based institution. All are free to follow their own path.

This is a reasonable and long recognized way of living together that accommodates everyone in their choices and conscience. Some commentators see this situation as a uniquely American way to live both freedom and diversity. It rests upon the understanding that diversity is real and disagreement is not discrimination.

The Church does not require others to believe or live by her teaching. But we do ask for and insist on the freedom to present and publically demonstrate our faith in our personal lives and in our Catholic schools and other faith-based institutions.

In our pluralistic society, we must be free to protect our Catholic mission and identity. In accordance with religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment, Catholic organizations should be free to operate by the tenets of the Catholic faith, should not be forced to accept the government’s moral views, and should not be required to provide a platform for persons who oppose in both word and action the mission of the Church. Those who choose to participate in the ministry of our institutions share in the obligation to help them achieve their goals and purpose, which is to bear witness to lead people to Jesus, avoiding anything that might lead them away from the Lord.

Saint John Paul II stressed that the Church is “obliged to do everything possible to carry out her mission in the world and to reach all peoples. And she has the right to do this, a right given her by God for the accomplishment of his plan” (Redemptoris missio, 39). The entire community benefits when our freedom to be fully and authentically Catholic is respected because the richness of Catholic teaching can engage the secular culture in a way that the light of the wisdom of God is brought to bear on the issues of the day.

This blog post is based on excerpts from my recent pastoral letter “Being Catholic Today: Catholic Identity in an Age of Challenge” (2015).

The Great Evangelizer Junípero Serra

July 1st, 2015
Junipero Serra and the Legacies of the California Missions. Virginia Steele Scott Galleries, Erburu Wing. Aug. 17, 2013-Jan. 6, 2014. Copy of the portrait of Father Junipero Serra from Santa Cruz convent, Queretaro, by Father Jose Mosqueda, n.d. Oil on canvas, 32 x 26 1/2 in. Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Copy of the portrait of Father Junipero Serra from Santa Cruz convent, Queretaro, by Father Jose Mosqueda. Copyright: Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Pope Francis – who encourages today’s Catholics to be missionary disciples and share the Good News of Jesus with those they encounter in their everyday lives – will during his September visit to Washington canonize one of the greatest Catholic missionaries in our nation’s history, Junípero Serra, O.F.M.

The outdoor Papal Mass on September 23 on the east steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception overlooking the mall of The Catholic University of America will mark the first canonization in the United States. Father Serra, whose feast we celebrate today, established nine missions along the coast of California between 1769 and 1784 while evangelizing the region’s native peoples.

The National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol includes a statute of Junípero Serra, representing the state of California. 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.

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” (cf. Acts 1:8). After serving in Mexico for nearly 20 years, he began the chapter of his life for which he is most famous – the evangelization of California.

Junípero Serra is thereafter 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. Traveling along the coastal highway and reading the name signs for the towns and cities that grew out of those missions is like reciting a Litany of the Saints – San Diego, San Luis Obispo, San Juan Capistrano, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Santa Barbara, Ventura (shortened from San Buenaventura), and Carmel (shortened from San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo), where Junípero Serra is buried.

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. As Saint John Paul II noted in the beatification of Junípero Serra, this was “a field of missionary work that required patience, perseverance and humility, as well as foresight and courage.”

It is estimated that during his ministry, Junípero Serra baptized approximately 6,000 of the native peoples and confirmed about 5,000. In addition to bringing them Christ and life in the Spirit, he introduced agriculture and irrigation systems for their benefit. Moreover, contrary to the false narrative that has arisen in some quarters, Junípero Serra was caring and protective of native people, working to keep them from being mistreated or morally tainted by the Spanish military and government officials.

Today, Father Serra’s legacy continues in a special way in the work of members of the Serra Club – men and women devoted to fostering vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Pope Francis celebrated a May 2 Mass at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, at the end of a conference on the life and legacy of this amazing missionary. The pope called him “one of the founding fathers of the United States,” and he said the future saint should inspire Catholics in the Americas today to become missionaries, motivated by “the joy of the Gospel.” He said this holy man, who will become the nation’s first Hispanic saint, demonstrates the important role that group of Catholics and their descendants have had historically and continue to have in the United States.

The first pope from the Americas said the meeting and Mass honoring “Fra Junipero” offered a “meaningful introduction to my apostolic trip to the United States of America.” During the Mass, he 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.”

Like this soon-to-be canonized saint who walked along the coast of California sharing the Gospel, we too are called to holiness as we step forward in our daily lives and bring to others the love of Jesus Christ and his Gospel message and help make his kingdom come in our midst, here and now.

The Visit of Pope Francis: A Time of Grace and Spiritual Renewal in Our Nation’s Capital

June 30th, 2015

Pope IN DC

Earlier today, the announcement from the Holy See confirmed and offered details concerning the schedule for Pope Francis’ apostolic journey to the United States in September. It is a joy to share this information with you.

Our Holy Father will begin his first visit to this country as Chief Shepherd of the Church Universal here in our nation’s capital. The theme of his visit to our local Church is “Share the Joy, Walk with Francis.” As we look forward to this time of grace there will be abundant opportunities to share our joy with others and join our Holy Father in bringing Christ’s love to those we encounter in our pilgrim journey.

Our joy is rooted in the realization that Pope Francis is the successor of Saint Peter in his ministry as head of the Church and Vicar of Christ. In his voice we hear the echoes of Peter’s proclamation of the Good News.

Pope Francis will arrive in Washington on the evening of September 22. The next morning, he begins a busy day with a visit to President Barack Obama at the White House. From this encounter he will journey to the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle where he will meet with the bishops of the United States. In the afternoon of that same day, September 23, our Holy Father will celebrate Mass on the East Portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception which adjoins the campus of The Catholic University of America. Junípero Serra will be canonized at this Eucharistic Liturgy, which will be celebrated in Spanish, the native language of this extraordinary evangelizer and millions of people in the Americas. Provision is being made to accommodate a large number of people on the campus of CUA. Once the Mass and visit to the Shrine are concluded, the Pope will make his way to Saint John Paul II Seminary for a brief stop to greet our seminarians before he continues on to the Apostolic Nunciature for the conclusion of the day.

On Thursday, September 24, Pope Francis will address a joint meeting of both Houses of Congress in the morning. From there, our Holy Father who calls us to see the face of Christ in those on the margins will go to Saint Patrick’s Church in downtown Washington and to the headquarters of Catholic Charities to meet and minister to some of our needy sisters and brothers.

There are many ways to get involved now in the excitement of our Holy Father’s visit – to rejoice in the love of God and show how we join with the Pope in his commitment to mercy and the building of a culture of inclusion and solidarity. The archdiocese will be announcing in the coming weeks a variety of initiatives and programs for individuals, groups, parishes, schools and businesses to further participate in this time of grace and opportunity.

From Washington, our Holy Father will travel to New York, where he will speak to the United Nations on September 25, before moving on to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. The theme for this latter gathering is “Love is our Mission” and here we will be reminded of the love that God has for all his children and how we are called to share that love with all our sisters and brothers in the human family.

Regarding the events mentioned in this blog, more information will be provided as it becomes available. At a later date, an invitation will go to priests around the country to concelebrate at the September 23 Canonization Mass at the Shrine and information will also be sent to the parishes concerning tickets that are available for that same Mass. As soon as a final determination is made about the number of seats that will be open to the archdiocese, the invitation to parishes to obtain tickets will be sent to pastors.

As we look forward to the arrival of Pope Francis, the 265th Successor of Saint Peter, I encourage you to follow along on archdiocesan social media, including #PopeInDC, and to visit our archdiocesan website, www.adw.org, for papal visit information and to sign up to receive updates via text or email.

The Implications of the Supreme Court’s Ruling on “Same-Sex” Marriage

June 26th, 2015

supreme court blog post

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a ruling that in effect redefines the civil definition of marriage nationwide. It has decided that every state must recognize “same-sex marriage” as a constitutional right. The law of the land affirms that “marriage” in civil law may now include two persons of the same sex. While this is not the Church’s understanding of marriage, it is a definition confirmed by the Court.

One concern with the new definition of marriage is that some Catholics may think that because the civil law definition of marriage has changed, so too has the Church’s teaching on what constitutes marriage. Another issue is that some people with a same-sex attraction may feel, after all the debate on sexuality and the true nature of marriage, that they are not welcome in the Church. Still others may wonder why Church teaching calls for a respect for each person but not approval of every lifestyle or activity. Then there are those who want to know more about the faith in order to participate better in discussions. How can we be well prepared to go out, as Pope Francis tells us, to engage and accompany people as we all try to draw closer to the Lord?

What does the Church teach about “marriage” and has it changed? The opening chapters of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, reveal to us the deepest truth about the nature of the human person and God’s plan for us. The revealed Word of God is still what it was before the Supreme Court decision. Marriage is the life-long union of a man and a woman given for the purpose of their mutual good and for the procreation and education of children. Sacred Scripture confirms this meaning of marriage and Jesus raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament which means that, for the baptized, marriage is a sign and means of God’s grace. With the eyes of faith we see so much more when a man and a woman pledge their love to each other.

Our faith is not based on human preferences but the revealed Word of God. When some Pharisees were trying to test Jesus about marriage and divorce, our Lord said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’” (Matthew 19:4-5)? We cannot reinterpret Jesus’ words. Married love is unique in God’s plan for the bodily union of a husband and wife. The total gift of married love is unique because it requires the sexual difference that a man and woman bring to their union, each complementing the other and making them capable of and open to new life in the gift of children. In summary, the loving communion of persons that is marriage is meant to be faithful, fruitful and life-long.

Are people who share our faith but struggle with the Church’s understanding about marriage still welcome at Church? Because Jesus came to save all people, all are invited to be a part of God’s family – his Church. Faithful to her Lord and Founder, the Church welcomes everyone. It is the home for all who seek to follow Jesus as his disciple. This welcome is extended to everyone: married couples with children, unwed mothers and fathers, the single unmarried, couples who struggle with infertility, men and women with same-sex attraction, individuals facing gender issues, those whose marriages have broken down and suffered the trauma of divorce, people with special needs, immigrants, children born and unborn, the young, seniors, and the terminally ill, sinners and saints alike. If the Church were to welcome only those without sin, it would be empty. Catholic teaching exhorts every believer to treat all people with respect, compassion, sensitivity, and love. All are called to walk with Jesus and so all who try to do so have a place in the Church.

How then do we respond to those who say, “If you want to accept me, you must accept what I do?” Church teaching and common sense make a distinction between who a person is and what that person does. We are children of a loving God, made in his image and likeness. Thus we are worthy of respect. We are also called to follow God’s plan and the moral law expressed, for example, in the Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount and the reflection on the Last Judgment (cf. Mark 10:17-21; Luke 18:18-22; Matthew 5, 6 and 7; Matthew 19:17-20; Matthew 25:31-46). Sacred Scripture and Church teaching call us both to recognize our human dignity and also to live according to God’s plan.

The ancient Maxim “love the sinner but hate the sin” is central to our behavior because it refers to all human beings. The Lord asks us to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect,” but he does so in reference to how we are to love one another (Matthew 5:48). In the Sacraments, he also gives us the grace to do so. The Church has and always will meet people where they are to bring them closer to Christ.

At the same time, to condemn any sin is not discrimination against the person who commits the sin. Disagreement is not discrimination. We do not force people to agree with us, we ask to be granted the same freedom to hold our beliefs. Catholic teaching on human sexuality is the same for all. We are called to love God and love one another in truth (Matthew 22:36-40; Ephesians 4:15; Philippians 1:27; cf. Gaudium et Spes, 24; Caritas in Veritate, 1-2; Familiaris Consortio, 11 et seq.).

What then is our responsibility in the face of all the changes in man-made civil law? We are followers of Jesus Christ, so our message must be what he proclaimed. All Christians have the responsibility to learn and to grow in their faith in order to share it with others. We should be able to explain what we believe and why we hold it. This means taking up the challenge to be better informed on Church teaching and why such belief is part of the vision rooted in Gospel values. This is all the more important when we find the teaching difficult.

We witness with our lives. Each one of us is called to an exalted standard of life and to be witnesses to the joy of the Gospel. As Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). May the world see that to follow the Lord Jesus, to be a member of His Church, makes a difference.

In an effort to share the truth of marriage and promote enrichment and healing, the Office of Family Life is beginning the Visible Sign Campaign. You can visit www.VisibleSign.org to learn more about family life, sign up for the newsletter, and find a complete list of resources.

On a very practical level, there is a concern about the new definition of “spouse” and its legal ramifications. In this area for example, we must find a way to balance two important values, the provision of appropriate health care benefits for all Church personnel including their spouses, and the avoidance of the perception that by doing so we accept a definition of marriage and spouse contrary to faith and revealed truth.

For decades the bishops of the United States have insisted that access to decent health care is a basic safeguard of human life and an affirmation of human dignity from conception until natural death. They have advocated that health care    legislation should 1) ensure access to good quality, affordable health care for all; 2) retain longstanding requirements that organizations not be forced to pay for elective abortions or plans that include them, and 3) effectively protect conscience rights. We continue in this tradition.

The Archdiocese of Washington has a long and recognized history of serving all people across this metropolitan area in education, health care, social services, outreach to the poor and needy and collaboration with all people of good will in building up the common good. We remain convinced that it is precisely by being true to our Catholic identity that we can continue to help realize a truly good and just society where all enjoy the benefits of peace, prosperity and freedom.

These reflections come with the hope that we try clearly to respect the law of the land and its implications and at the same time we are equally clear on our understanding of marriage and what it means in the light of the Gospel. As our Holy Father, Pope Francis, reminds us, we are all sinners but sinners who have been embraced with the mercy of God and we must therefore all try to find a way of accompanying one another as we make our way through life and try in the light of the Church’s teaching to draw ever more close to the Lord Jesus.

The Outpouring of the Spirit Upon Our Newly Ordained Priests

June 25th, 2015
Photo Credit: Jaclyn Lippelmann for the Catholic Standard

Photo Credit: Jaclyn Lippelmann for the Catholic Standard

Each year with eagerness, we await the celebration of the sacrament of Holy Orders in this archdiocese. On June 13, we celebrated the ordination of five men to the transitional diaconate. Last Saturday, June 20, our family of faith rejoiced with the ordination of nine new priests of our local Church. In addition, next Saturday we will witness the ordination of men to the permanent diaconate. All of these are occasions of great joy because they are expressions of the enduring service the ordained render to the communion of the Church.

In the midst of the many challenges we face today, it is a sign that our Church is alive in the Holy Spirit that so many good men in recent years have answered the Lord’s call. This year we give thanks to God for the ordination to the priesthood of these nine men during a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Father Martino Choi, Father Robert Maro, Father William Wadsworth, Father Mathew Fish, Father Conrad Murphy, Father Alexander Scott, Father Angel Gabriel Fermin, Father Santiago Martin, and Father Daniele Rebeggiani.

One of the privileges of being the bishop at the Mass of Ordination is that traditionally we receive the first blessings offered by the newly ordained priests. These blessings are not only a spiritual gift for me, but a reminder that we look to these new priests as the continuation in the Church of the great gift of the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

Also, in their ordination we see the answer to the question of how Jesus’ priesthood would continue in all of the centuries and millennia from his Ascension into glory until his return at the end of time. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit.

As the hearts of these men have already been so generously open to the call of the Spirit, so now once again in the Mass of Ordination the Church invokes and witnesses a transforming anointing in the Holy Spirit in a fullness that invests their whole being. The ceremony reaches its focal point when the bishop, in a silent invocation of the Holy Spirit, lays his hands on the head of the elect and thereby makes visible an outpouring of the Spirit.

In the early Church, Saint Paul took great care to ordain the next generation of participants in Christ’s priesthood, mission and ministry. In his first letter to Timothy, the great missionary Apostle tells us how, in this ancient ritual by the laying on of hands, spiritual gifts are conferred on the priest. Paul instructed them not to neglect the gifts, but rather to be absorbed in them.

Today we do the same with the Timothys of 2015. The ordination of these nine new priests conferred on them extraordinary spiritual gifts. This action both transformed those ordained and, at the same time, empowered them to carry out a ministry that goes all the way back to the Apostles and makes present again for us the very love of God.

Christ himself is at work in those who are configured to him. As the Lord Jesus gave himself up for his Bride, the Church, so too are they called to love and embrace the Church. It is for this reason that the candidates for priesthood prostrate themselves to symbolize their total giving of self.

Whatever the challenges our new priests might face, they continue to stand as living links in a chain reaching back over twenty centuries to connect with the very person of Jesus Christ. Through the Eucharist they celebrate, the Gospel they preach, the baptisms they administer, the confessions they hear, the marriages they witness, and the anointing of the sick and dying, priests bring Jesus to their people, and people to Jesus. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit that touched the hearts of these new priests will continue to guide them as they help build God’s kingdom in our world.

Saints John Fisher and Thomas More: Witnesses in Defense of Marriage and the Church

June 22nd, 2015

fortnight-for-freedom-logo-color 2

A famous telling of the story of Saint Thomas More is entitled “A Man for All Seasons.” Certainly this patron of statesmen, together with his contemporary Saint John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, is a man for our time as we confront challenges quite similar to those presented to these two inspirational martyrs, whose joint feast day we celebrate today.

In a dispute with Henry VIII, each of them gave the ultimate witness of their Catholic faith. Bishop Fisher, who was created a cardinal only weeks before, was beheaded first on June 22, 1535. Two weeks later – a fortnight – Sir Thomas, once Chancellor of England, followed him to execution.

As faithful Catholics and as loyal Americans today, we can learn from their witness and so the bishops of our nation have chosen this particular time to observe the Fortnight for Freedom. The theme this year, “The Freedom to Bear Witness,” is particularly timely as Catholics and all Christians face many great challenges to our ability freely to live our faith and to pursue our Gospel mission, including being the voice of conscience and truth in society.

At the root of the king’s displeasure with Thomas More and John Fisher was the question of marriage – an issue which has taken center stage in our nation today. A related matter was the freedom and authority of the Church in communion with the Pope. When Pope Clement VII refused Henry’s demand for dissolution of his long-time marriage to Queen Catherine, the king prevailed upon Parliament to declare him supreme head of the Church in England and recognize his subsequent marriage to Lady Anne Boleyn as legitimate.

During this time, Bishop Fisher spoke out publicly in defense of the Church and the indissolubility of marriage, but Thomas More avoided any public opposition of Henry’s actions. However, soon a law was passed requiring that they and others take an oath publicly affirming the king’s marriage to Anne Boleyn and his assertion to be head of the Church of England. Each refused and, as a consequence, each was later condemned for treason and executed.

The play A Man for All Seasons dramatizes Thomas More’s response when he is asked to explain why he will not sign the oath: “Some men think the earth is round, others think it flat. It is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King’s command make it round? And if it is round, will the King’s command flatten it? No, I will not sign.”

In our country today, and in nations around the world, many courts and legislatures are proclaiming the right to redefine and rename anything at will. It is as if they are commanding that the round world be flat or that in the future oranges be called apples to avoid a sense of discrimination.

In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI spoke in Westminster Hall, the site of the trials of Thomas More and John Fisher. He said, “There are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square.”

The Church has the responsibility to bear witness to the truth with love. Catholic teaching has long made clear that all people have equal dignity, regardless of sexual orientation. But marriage by its very nature is reserved for husband and wife because of its essential connection with the creation of children. That is what the word “marriage” has always meant. No one should be compelled to say otherwise.

Father’s Day

June 21st, 2015
Joseph with the Child by Alonso Miguel de Tovar

Joseph with the Child by Alonso Miguel de Tovar

This Father’s Day, I would like to share some reflections that Pope Francis offered on family and fatherhood during his Wednesday general audiences. Our Holy Father’s words from the heart are words that today’s fathers can take to heart as they live out their vocation as fathers amid the demands and distractions of their everyday lives.

Early this year, Pope Francis said that the word “father” is “a word dear to us as Christians, more than any other, as it is the name with which Jesus taught us to call God” (Audience of January 28, 2015).

Turning to human fathers, the Pope first described some of the challenges in fatherhood. In the past, fathers might sometimes be too authoritarian, inhibiting their children’s development, he said. Now another extreme has unfolded among fathers in today’s world. Especially in western culture, he noted, fathers often seem to be “symbolically absent, to have vanished,” almost leaving their children as orphans with still-living fathers.

“The feeling of orphanhood experienced by many young people is more profound than we might think,” Pope Francis said. Further, the absence of a paternal figure causes gaps and even wounds in the development of children and adolescents.

In the face of the human condition, compounded by the cultural trends of our times, Pope Francis encouraged fathers to look to the example of Jesus, who promised his disciples, “I will not leave you orphans.” The young need their father’s closeness and love, and their everyday examples and guidance, he added.

At his next talk, Pope Francis reflected on what it means to be a good father, and how fathers can pass on “wisdom of the heart” to their children through “closeness, gentleness and firmness” (February 4, 2015). Fathers must first “be present in the family,” he taught, explaining that for a father, presence means “to be close to his wife, to share in everything, joy and pain, burdens and hopes. And to be close to the children as they grow: when they play and when they make efforts, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they dare and when they are afraid, when they make missteps and when they return to the right path.”

Pope Francis noted how “the Gospel provides us with the example of the Father in heaven,” pointing to the parable of the prodigal son and the merciful father (Luke 15:11-32). “How much dignity and tenderness we find in the father who stays at the door of his house awaiting the return of his son!” he emphasized. “Fathers need to be patient. Sometimes you can do nothing other than wait; pray and wait with patience, gentleness, magnanimity, and mercy. A good father knows how to wait and how to forgive, from the bottom of his heart.”

Our Holy Father concluded that reflection on fatherhood by encouraging fathers to emulate the example of Saint Joseph and be “indispensable guardians and mediators of the faith for new generations, in goodness, justice and God’s protection.”

In contrast to the world around us, where fatherhood and family life in general are experiencing great stresses, leading to a tragic breakdown in too many cases, the Church presents a beautiful vision of fatherhood, marriage and family. The theme for the World Meeting of Families this fall, “Love is Our Mission,” reminds us of our need to share this Gospel message – and the need of our communities to receive it.

It is my prayer that these words from our Holy Father offer encouragement and guidance to fathers, as they open their hearts, and the hearts of their children, to the love and mercy of God the Father.

Happy Father’s Day!

Caring for God’s Gift of Creation

June 20th, 2015

Caring for Creation

Any of us who have read a newspaper over the last decade know scientists, environmentalists, and politicians have been concerned about the world’s ecological balance. Environmental concerns are both local and world-wide, including the health of our rivers and streams and the impact of climate change. What many people do not know is that along with scientists and environmentalists, popes have been concerned about these issues as well.

The great interest in Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’, seems to touch two cords in people. At a time in the year when our gardens are in full bloom and evening breezes are warm but not hot, we appreciate that the title, Laudato Si’, which comes from the Canticle of the Sun by his namesake, Saint Francis, is itself a prayer of thanksgiving to God who created the beauty we enjoy.

Touching on the themes of human ecology, care for creation, climate change, the throwaway culture and the call to build a culture of solidarity, our Holy Father voices a concern that we are losing the attitude of wonder, contemplation and listening to creation. The encyclical thus provides us the opportunity to examine our lifestyle to see what we can do to live in right relationship with God and with the world around us, including our neighbors and the natural environment.

In Chapter One, Pope Francis makes some critical observations about the state of the environment, observing that “we need only take a frank look at the facts to see that our common home is falling into serious disrepair” (Laudato Si’, 61). This is the context in which we are called to promote the Gospel of Creation that calls for humanity to respect and care for all of God’s creatures, which our Holy Father discusses in Chapters Two and Three.

“Everything is connected,” the Pope repeatedly emphasizes. “Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society” (Laudato Si’, 91). Resolving those problems lies not in technology or in consumer goods, he says, but in change in thinking and acting. “There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself,” he explains (Laudato Si’, 118).

Key to our Holy Father’s message is the concept of “integral ecology” discussed in Chapter Four: “Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it” (Laudato Si’, 139).

In working to solve environmental problems and maintain a healthy ecosystem, there is something that each of us can do at every level. In Chapter Five, Pope Francis offers a number of proposals, from the international to the national and local to the personal.

Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of some of our biggest ecological challenges, Pope Francis tells us that we can take some small steps that will help our children and grandchildren enjoy clean air and water. Lifting up for us the example of Saint Therese of Lisieux, the Pope says “An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness” (Laudato Si’, 230). In small ways, we can leave the world a better place than we found it. Our Holy Father is asking that we orient our hearts to others, and renew our commitment to the practice of solidarity and interdependence.

One expression of a change of heart is to think prayerfully about how much we may participate in uncontrolled consumerism and how we might waste the resources God has entrusted to us. Pope Francis urges us to turn away from the “throwaway culture,” in which not only are the various goods of the earth used and thrown away, but people too are exploited and discarded. For example, he explains that “whenever food is thrown out it is as if were stolen from the table of the poor” (Laudato Si’, 50).

A change of heart is reflected in resolving to live more simply, in a way that first draws us closer to God and live in greater harmony with the natural world, as urged by Pope Francis in Chapter Six.

In seeking to apply the lessons of this teaching to our own lives, it is Christ himself who is our teacher. Christ taught us that we should not selfishly seek earthly treasures, but as children of the one Father. When we share property generously, show special solicitude for the poor and afflicted, and seek to structure our human life in harmony with God’s gift and design of creation, we see then kingdom of God beginning to appear in our midst.

Adding a Needed Voice to the Conversation on Ecology

June 19th, 2015

encyclical 2

Some of the clearest expressions of the Christian commitment come from the mouths of children. During a visit to one of our Catholic schools, a young student gave me one of the small packages of candy that had been used in class to teach some rather intricate mathematical principles. As I thanked him I told him that I was going to share this with the priest who had accompanied me so that he, the youngster, could keep the other pack for himself. The budding young mathematician looked at me and replied: “You’re supposed to share!”

This experience came to mind when I read Pope Francis’ new encyclical, Laudato Si’ (Praised Be You), which was released yesterday. All of the goodness of God manifest in creation is destined for all people. We are supposed to share this gift from God and help take care of it rather than exploiting the goods of the earth – or one another – for our own selfish purposes.

At the heart of the Pope’s teaching, which is subtitled, “On Care for Our Common Home,” is what it means to be human as part of God’s plan in creation. Our Holy Father highlights the strong connection between our relationship with God and our relationship with the natural world.

Creation is the beginning of the outpouring of God’s love for his creatures. In the opening of the Book of Genesis we read about the act of God that brings all things into existence. The creation accounts “suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself,” writes Pope Francis. However, “these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us” (Laudato Si’, 66). Because everything is interrelated, says the Pope, this breakdown has led to environmental deterioration that we must now address.

He uses in Chapter Four the concept of an “integral ecology” that begins with the way we live our own lives. We are called to cooperate with God’s design in our relationship with one another and with the natural world. When we have an appreciation for integral ecology, when we see the connection between respecting human dignity and care for the natural world, we grow closer to God, who is the Creator.

Teresa of Avila, saint and doctor of the Church, writing in the 16th century, describes Pope Francis’ thought poetically, “It helped me to look at fields, or water, or flowers. In these things, I found a remembrance of the Creator. I mean that they awakened and recollected me and served as a book.” Saint Teresa helps us see that in understanding the created world, we learn something of God’s plan for creatures and creation.

An ‘integral ecology” brings a Catholic worldview to the environmental discussion which helps us see more clearly the moral lesson woven into the story of creation. Men and women are called to live in peace with God and in the natural world.

As you read and reflect on Laudato Si’, it is important to know also the background to Pope Francis’ timely message. Every Pope in the last century has spoken on the need for humanity to take care of God’s gift of creation.

For example, Blessed Pope Paul VI in 1971 called the world’s attention to the menace of pollution, writing, “Man is suddenly becoming aware that by an ill-considered exploitation he risks destroying it and becoming in his turn the victim of this degradation” (Octogesima Adveniens, 21). In 1990, on New Year’s Day, Saint Pope John Paul II identified a lack of peace as a one kind of deprivation, saying, “Many ethical values, fundamental to the development of a peaceful society, are particularly relevant to the ecological question. The fact that many challenges facing the world today are interdependent confirms the need for carefully coordinated solutions based on a morally coherent world view. For Christians, such a world view is grounded in religious convictions drawn from Revelation” (World Day of Peace Message, 1990).

Today in Laudato Si’, Pope Francis picks up Pope Benedict XVI’s link between the respect for human dignity and care for the natural world. Pope Benedict wrote, “The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility toward the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole” (Caritas in Veritate, 48).

None of us can claim absolute ownership over the goods of the earth – God gave us his creation to share. We are grateful to Pope Francis for giving us this encyclical to further explore our responsibilities toward the common good of our local communities, our country and our global neighbors.

To help guide reflections on the teachings of Laudato Si’, and to discover ways to put those teachings into practice, the Archdiocese of Washington has prepared a series of materials which may be found at adw.org/creation. You are also invited to participate in our social media campaign #CultivatingCreation, which will run over the next five weeks.

Remarks at the National Press Club

June 18th, 2015

laudato si press conference

Laudato Si: Encyclical on the Environment
Press Conference
National Press Club
June 18, 2015

Accompanying the embargoed copy of his encyclical letter, Laudato Si (Praised Be You), was Pope Francis’ hand-written note to the bishops. Typical of his pastoral style, the message was a short but warm reference to our bond of unity, charity and peace and a request for prayers for himself. Here he notes that the focus of the letter is On Care of Our Common Home. For me, this sums up the substance of the encyclical.

As I read Laudato Si which was released today, what first comes to mind is the magnificence of God’s creation and how it is destined to be shared by all people in every generation. It is also clear that we have to care for it in order that it is not exploited and debased so that future generations may also enjoy the blessings of our common home.

It is in this light that the Pope sees that “the urgent challenge to protect our common home includes concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change” (13).

Clearly as a pastor and teacher the Pope underlines that he is speaking out of a longstanding tradition of applying Catholic faith to current conditions and the circumstances of our day. He is, in effect, reading “the signs of the times.” The encyclical is also an invitation. He offers “an urgent appeal then for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (14).

As has been the case with every one of the social encyclicals going back to Rerum novarum, On the Condition of Human Labor, in 1891 our Holy Father describes the current issues. Here we find what he calls the starting point for a “fresh analysis of our present situation” (17).

I find that the Pope’s decision to start with empirical data and the conclusions based on scientific research to be most helpful. The document cannot be dismissed as simply “abstract.” The encyclical reflects on pollution and climate change, access to fresh water and the global problems arising from “greater scarcity of water” (31). It speaks as well of a loss of biodiversity, manifest in the desertification of significant portions of the earth. In this opening chapter, our Holy Father points out the decline in the quality of human life and the breakdown of society, for example, that is associated with what he recognizes as “the disproportion and unruly growth of many cities which have become unhealthy to live in not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation and visual pollution and noise” (44).

While one may prioritize differently the range of problems that plague our world today, what our Holy Father is lifting up is a series of facts that beg for some coherent moral analysis and direction for the good of all of us on this planet and the planet itself.

Thus our Holy Father finds his starting point in the dignity of the human person as part of God’s plan in creation. Pope Francis highlights that “human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself” (66). We are called to cooperate with God’s design in our relationship with one another and with the natural world.

An “authentic human ecology” brings a Catholic worldview to the environmental discussion which helps us see more clearly the moral lesson woven into the story of creation. Men and women are called to live in peace with God and in the natural world. There should be an increasingly clear harmony between efforts on behalf of the environment and those who promote integral, including economic, human development. This is the human ecology that is part of the focus of this encyclical (cf. 5).

None of us can claim absolute ownership over the goods of the earth – God gave us his creation to share. We are grateful to Pope Francis for giving us this encyclical to further explore our responsibilities toward the common good of our local communities, our country and our global neighbors.

Our Holy Father speaks to us as a pastor offering moral guidance, not a set of policy proposals. Touching on the themes of human ecology, care for creation, climate change, the throwaway culture and the call to build a culture of solidarity and encounter, he voices a concern that we are losing the attitude of wonder, contemplation and listening to creation (cf. 225). The encyclical also provides us the opportunity to examine our lifestyle to see what we can do to live in right relationship with God and with the natural world.

The Pope returns again in Chapter 6 to one of his recurring themes, our “throwaway culture.” Here he calls on all of us to resist this mentality in action by taking small steps towards simpler fuller lives. His hope is that we would arrive at a new “awareness of our common origin, our mutual belonging and of a future to be shared with everyone.”

Three principles stand out as deserving special attention as the letter examines the Church’s role in economic, scientific, cultural and political arenas. The first principle is the dignity of the human person whose inherent worth and immortal destiny is the very rational for environmental action. The second is an emphasis on the moral imperative to protect the natural order. And the third is the recognition that protecting the environment need not compromise legitimate economic progress.

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis is gently calling us to consider these moral teachings prayerfully, thoughtfully and humbly. He is challenging us to rethink how we treat the resources God has entrusted to us. For example, he has spoken often about the food we waste as food stolen from the table of the poor.

Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of some of our biggest ecological challenges, Pope Francis tells us that we can take some small steps that will help our children and grandchildren enjoy clean air and water. In little ways, we can leave the world a better place than we found it. Our Holy Father is asking that we orient our hearts to others, and renew our commitment to the practice of solidarity and interdependence.

In seeking to apply the lessons of this teaching to our own lives, it is Christ himself who is our teacher. Jesus taught us that we should not selfishly seek earthly treasures (Matt. 6:19). When we share property generously, show special solicitude for the poor and afflicted, and seek to structure our human life in harmony with God’s gift and design of creation, we see the kingdom of God beginning to appear in our midst. Thus we can also claim that as we respect and care for creation as well as for one another we actually do carry out our religious imperative to help manifest God at work in all of us – realizing his kingdom in our world.