The Fifth Anniversary of the Election of Pope Francis

March 19th, 2018

Today is the Solemnity of Saint Joseph and it is also the fifth anniversary of the Mass for the Inauguration of Pope Francis.  When Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected and “Habemus Papam! (We have a Pope!)” was proclaimed five years ago, most people wondered who this man was.  But the excitement felt there in Saint Peter’s Square and around the world already gave one indication – he is firstly the living continuity with Peter and therefore with Jesus Christ and his Gospel.  Then, from the moment he stepped out onto the balcony, he has set a vibrant tone and witness in being a Spirit-filled missionary disciple of Jesus and his loving mercy.

In a world that thirsts for a love which does not disappoint, that is hungry for justice and more than what our materialistic, commercialized society offers, the Holy Father calls us to respond proactively with caring and kindness. Again and again, we hear him say to “go out” and embrace with Christ’s love those we encounter, particularly those on the margins of life, the poor, the vulnerable and the outcast.  What Pope Francis is doing – in his apostolic travels, homilies and writings, in his pastoral outreach to hospitals, charities, prisons and refugee camps, and in his proclaiming a Jubilee Year of Mercy – is the New Evangelization, proposing the Gospel in a living, attractive way that provides people the uncomplicated treasure of Christ’s love.

In this respect, one of Pope Francis’ great contributions to date I believe has been the reconnecting of the Church – you and me – with the energy of the Second Vatican Council, the excitement of renewal, mission and a focus on the primacy of love as the engine driving the Church, her teaching and her outreach.  The fruits of this effort have been abundant, including informing our own Archdiocesan Synod on being the best Church we can be, and in the commitment to accompanying others with love, as I discussed in the recent pastoral plan to implement Amoris Laetitia, the Holy Father’s inspiring teaching on marriage and family.

All this was on display too when we were honored and blessed with his pastoral visit to Washington in 2015.  Reminding us that we “are heirs to the bold missionary spirit of so many men and women,” Pope Francis urged us to “rejoice in the Lord” and “siempre adelante, keep moving forward” and “offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ.” Then, practicing what he preaches, he embraced and offered comfort and hope to clients of Catholic Charities, saying to them, “As it did for Joseph, faith makes us open to the quiet presence of God at every moment of our lives, in every person and in every situation.  God is present in every one of you, in each one of us.”

Five years after he was elected, we thank God for the gift of Pope Francis.  Our Chief Shepherd has given his life for the flock, a true pastor of souls.  Wishing him a happy anniversary in the traditional way, we shout out, “Viva il Papa!

Throwback Thursday: Padre Pio and Our Spiritual Journey to Holiness

March 15th, 2018

This Saturday in the season of Lent, March 17, Pope Francis is making a pastoral pilgrimage to Pietrelcina and San Giovanni Rotondo on the occasion of the centennial year of the appearance of the stigmata of Saint Padre Pio and the 50th anniversary year of his death.

One of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Italy today is San Giovanni Rotondo where, for 50 years, Padre Pio, now Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, was dedicated to a ministry of healing, both body and spirit.  Consumed by a longing to care for souls, he spent many hours each day hearing confessions and praying.  He would say, “In books we seek God, in prayer we find him. Prayer is the key which opens God’s heart.”

Padre Pio was baptized with the name of Francis, and like the saint of Assisi, he received the stigmata, bearing in his body the marks of Christ’s Passion.  He had many other mystical experiences throughout his life as well.  “Those who went to San Giovanni Rotondo to attend his Mass, to seek his counsel or to confess to him, saw in him a living image of Christ suffering and risen,” affirmed Saint Pope John Paul II.  Given his reputation for sanctity, people would write to Padre Pio, asking for prayers, and many miraculous healings have been attributed to his intercession.  He also established a hospital – the Home for the Relief of Suffering.

“By his teaching and example,” continued John Paul II, “Padre Pio invites us to pray, to receive divine mercy through the sacrament of Penance and to love our neighbor.”  He shows us the path to spiritual purification.

How often we seek the presence of saints like Padre Pio.  We ask them to intercede for us. We journey to places where they lived and where they now rest.  Going not as mere tourists for entertainment, we travel as pilgrims to experience the reality of our living faith and grow closer to God.

Pilgrimages to holy places have been undertaken from the earliest days for a number of reasons, such as seeking divine assistance, in thanksgiving, as penance for sin, or for spiritual growth and devotion.  Here within the Archdiocese of Washington there are a number of pilgrimage sites, many with great historical significance for our Catholic heritage, including:

In these sacred places and many more in this area, the pilgrim is invited to meet the mystery of God and discover his merciful love, remembering that we walk with our spiritual family, the Church and with all the saints who have already completed the journey. They help us on our way, so that we too may someday enjoy with them the blessed vision of the glory of God forever.

In this way, no longer wandering aimlessly in the desert, we advance in our ultimate pilgrimage toward the promised land of eternal life.  We do not travel alone.  We walk with our spiritual family the Church, with Padre Pio and the other saints who have already completed the journey.  They help us on our way so that we too may enter into the blessed vision of the glory of God.

Interesting Reading

March 14th, 2018

Lots of books, manuscripts and texts arrive at my desk.  I am always grateful, even if I do not have an opportunity to go through each one of them with the care it merits.

However, I would like to touch on just a few recently arrived texts in the hope that you, too, might find them interesting.

A Pope Francis Lexicon is the work of Joshua McElwee and Cindy Wooden who edited a large collection of A-Z comments taken from the talks, homilies, publications and documents of Pope Francis. It is a totally engaging work because each letter of the alphabet is represented by the reflections of a different author.  The whole book comes with a foreword by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  So much so did I find this lexicon intriguing that I intend to share it with all of the priests at the annual Chrism Mass, Monday of Holy Week.

Another significant text is the most recent work of Scott Hahn.  I think all of us who are familiar with Dr. Hahn’s writing realize that he is a gifted writer and an extraordinarily well-prepared teacher in all things scriptural.  His book, The Lamb’s Supper, continues to be a must read for those who want to be drawn more deeply into the mystery of the Eucharist.

His most recent work, The Fourth Cup: Unveiling the Mystery of the Last Supper and the Cross, arrived in the printer’s text not yet finalized for publication.  But in whatever state this text is in, it is well worth reading.  Mark it as something when it becomes available to add to your spiritual library.

Recently, September 23, 2017, Father Stanley Francis Rother was beatified in Oklahoma City.  This American priest, a native of Oklahoma, was martyred in 1981 while serving in Guatemala.  The story of his life is a beautiful reflection of heroic missionary discipleship.  As a young priest, he served in Santiago Atitlán in Guatemala beginning in 1968.  He stayed faithful to that mission until he was murdered July 28, 1981.

A significant aspect of the inspiring life of the first recognized martyr in the United States and the first US born priest to be beatified is the fact that he had returned to the United States for some medical attention and was strongly urged, given the violence in Guatemala, to remain in Oklahoma.  His reply was, “A shepherd cannot run from his flock.” This is the story of the Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.

The text, Blessed Stanley Francis Rother: The First American Martyr, is a small publication in English and Spanish, adapted from a presentation by Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock.

On a lighter note, is a delightful book, Box of Butterflies, by TV star and movie producer, Roma Downey.  Many remember her from the TV series “Touched by an Angel.”  In her new book, she pulls together personal memories, spiritual reflections and some engaging stories.  In Box of Butterflies, Roma Downey offers glimpses of life’s challenges and blessings, echoes of God’s Word, and whispers of wisdom, all with the grace of poetry.  This book gladdens the heart, nudges the memory and lightly touches the soul with inspiration.  Here is an invitation to hope, joy and insight in the tradition of the Irish bards.

When, and if, you have a moment, as I hope to experience myself, these are a handful of books you might find worth the time to read.

Lent in the Holy Land

March 13th, 2018

Via Dolorosa, Ninth Station, Jerusalem

From the earliest days of the Church, the faithful at Mass would offer contributions to be distributed for the support of the community and those who are in need (cf. Acts 2:45, 4:34-35).  Added to these donations were also the gifts of prayer.  That practice continues today in the context of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and sometimes in addition to the regular collection which goes to the fund the activities and upkeep of the church, there is another to be applied to some particular purpose.

One of these special collections is devoted to the support of the Church in the Holy Land, including pastoral, charitable, educational and social works in help of our Christian sisters and brothers there. Donations can be made now online here. In churches, this pontifical collection is traditionally taken up on Good Friday, further reminding us of the intimate connection between the faithful who live there and the events and reality of our salvation in the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Throughout the rest of the world, we focus on and prepare for the Paschal Mystery in a special way during that part of the year that is the season of Lent.  For the Christian people of the Holy Land, however, this is in many respects a year-round experience, especially in recent years with the genocidal violence of ISIS.  In the aftermath of that modern-day Passion in the body of Christ, much suffering and insecurity still remain as they struggle to rebuild. Furthermore, there is still a danger of the gradual eradication of Christianity in the very land where it all started if the people there decide to leave because they lack the assistance they need to stay.

Yet, if Lent is for us a time of penance and preparation to participate in the sufferings of Christ, for Christians in the Holy Land who have endured their own personal Via Crucis, Lent is also a time of hope and reassurance because we know where Jesus’ way of the cross leads.  Explains Pope Francis: “Lent is a path: it leads to the triumph of mercy over all that would crush us or reduce us to something unworthy of our dignity as God’s children. Lent is the road leading from slavery to freedom, from suffering to joy, from death to life” (Homily for Ash Wednesday 2017).

As we look forward to the Easter of mercy, freedom, joy and life that overcomes evil and death, it is incumbent upon us to offer our support – material and spiritual – to our family members who are the Body of Christ in the Holy Land, remembering how Simon the Cyrenian helped Jesus to carry his Cross and Veronica showed mercy and compassion to our Lord.  As we pray for them, we include all people everywhere suffering persecution.  May peoples’ hearts be touched so that the greeting of the holy city of Jerusalem, “Shalom,” meaning “peace,” might become a true reality throughout the world.

The Rose Mass

March 11th, 2018

The Gospels record vivid examples of Christ the healer as he cured people and revealed the healing love and mercy of God’s kingdom: “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised” (Matthew 11:5).

At this morning’s 27th annual Rose Mass at the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, the Church of Washington invokes God’s blessings on the medical, dental, nursing and allied health care workers and many health care institutions that bring Christ’s healing to our own community. The Mass gets its name from the rose-colored vestments worn on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, with the rose also symbolizing life, which is entrusted to the care of these dedicated men and women.

Especially for a disciple of Jesus in the healing professions, medicine is more than a job. It is a vocation, combining the science of medicine with Christian charity and reflecting in their daily work Christ the healer. It is God’s mercy and love at work among us and in us through human hands, words, actions and hearts. This liturgy is an opportunity to pray for and say in a small way, “Thank you,” to these care givers.

Adding to our prayerful gratitude, after Mass the John Carroll Society presents Pro Bono Health Care Awards, which specially recognize volunteers from the Catholic Charities Health Care Network.  This program of the good works arm of our archdiocesan Church has nearly 200 volunteer doctors, dentists and other specialists, who along with participating hospitals and clinics served over 5,200 poor and uninsured patients last year, providing about $10.7 million in free care.  Yet that is only part of all the good our Catholic family provides in health care.

Every day, other providers in the Archdiocese of Washington bring Christ’s healing to people from every socio-economic and cultural background. Through Catholic hospitals, clinics, emergency rooms, specialty offices and community outreach, our family of faith offers in particular a safety net for many who are on the margins of society, combining world-class care of the body and mind with the love, compassion and caring of Jesus which treats the spirit as well.

At a time when our society continues to threaten to erode freedom of conscience and religious liberty, these Catholic health care professionals and institutions bear witness to the God-given dignity of human life in all its stages. As we celebrate the Rose Mass and offer prayers and thanks for those working in Catholic health care, we must continue to stand strongly for the religious freedom that allows them and us to be true to what we believe, and true to who we are as Catholics and as Americans, called to bring Christ’s love and healing to others.

Throwback Thursday: The Unique Genius of Woman in the Church and Society

March 8th, 2018

Saints Perpetua and Felicity

The beginning of March, which is Women’s History Month, includes the feast days of some remarkable women, giving us an opportunity to celebrate again the nature and dignity of women, and recognize the indispensable role they have played in salvation history and in the transmission of the faith.  This includes the many great women in our own country who led the way in establishing school systems and hospital networks, and who performed other invaluable good works.

Born into a wealthy family, Saint Katharine Drexel (March 3) devoted her life to service to the poor and neglected.  She became a missionary upon the invitation of Pope Leo XIII, giving herself totally to God.  Then, in the course of founding the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and establishing missions and schools for Native Americans and African-Americans, she gave away the entirety  of her multi-million dollar personal fortune.

The young mothers Perpetua and Felicity (March 7), were martyred in Carthage during the persecution of Emperor Septimus Severus.  Given the strength of the Holy Spirit, their witness not only gave inspiration to the other Christians who were martyred with them, but to all the faithful throughout the ages.

After the plague claimed the lives of two of her three children, Francesca Romana (known in English as Saint Frances of Rome, March 9), who had been born into a noble family, also gave up her wealth to care for the sick, including the use of her home as a hospital for the poor.  Called the “most Roman of women saints” by Pope Benedict XVI, her unreserved dedication to God and neighbor led her to establish a religious congregation to serve the poor. Following the death of her husband, Francesca entered the Monastery of Tor de’ Specchi, which she had established in the heart of Rome.  Today, her spiritual daughters continue to maintain a unique balance between religious life and secular life, combining the monastic ideal of contemplative prayer and social involvement in charitable service.

It is not infrequent these days that the Church will be accused of being anti-woman.  But in fact, long before modern feminism – millennia before, in fact – the Church celebrated and promoted the fundamental dignity and equality of woman.  “Respect for woman, amazement at the mystery of womanhood, and finally the nuptial love of God Himself and of Christ, as expressed in the Redemption, are all elements that have never been completely absent in the faith and life of the Church,” writes Saint John Paul II in Crossing the Threshold of Hope.  Moreover, in the face of cultural forces trending toward the objectification of women, an “authentic theology of woman is being reborn.  The spiritual beauty, the particular genius, of women is being rediscovered.”

Woman has, within her nature, a unique capacity for the other. This capacity is “a reality which structures the female personality in a profound way” (Letter to Bishops, 13 (2004)).   We see this most abundantly in Mary, the Virgin Mother, whose feminine personality is directed toward the pureness and fullness of spousal and maternal love.  This is a love which is by its very nature dynamic and fruitful, directed toward the gift of life, not only as a biological phenomenon, but spiritual motherhood as well (cf. General Audience of December 6, 1995).   It is this vocation to love that all women are called, just as all men are also called to such a complete gift of self in fruitful love, albeit in a way specific to them and their own paternal nature (Familiaris Consortio, 11).

Made in the image of the Triune God, the human person is, by nature, a social being, made for loving relationship in a communion of persons. Tragically, we live in a society where some seek to condition people – girls and women especially – to denigrate motherhood and spousal relationship, going so far as to insist that that which is unique to woman – the ability to conceive and bear a child – should be viewed as something like an unwelcome disease  which needs to be suppressed.  Far from being an advancement in freedom for women, such attitudes diminish women and detract from their fundamental, inherent dignity.

To be clear, “women should be present in the world of work and in the organization of society, [and] women should have access to positions of responsibility which allow them to inspire the policies of nations and to promote innovative solutions to economic and social problems” (Letter to Bishops, 13), but woman finds her dignity by virtue of relationship, first and foremost as a daughter of God.  Each woman is also, by her inherent nature, called to be a sister, a spouse, and a mother, if not in the flesh, then spiritually, as beautifully illustrated above by the examples of Saints Katharine, Perpetua, Felicity, and Francesca.

It was through such relationships of love that these monumental women made such fruitful contributions to the Church and, thus, to all humanity.  In the final analysis, every human being, man or woman, is called to be “for the other” in this way.

The Compton Bassett Chapel and the House Churches of Early Christianity

March 5th, 2018

The original Compton Bassett house and estate, built by some estimates as early as 1700 in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, is just one of many historic places we are fortunate to have in this area. For Catholics, however, the chapel on the property has even greater significance and, although it was built later, it has a spiritual legacy going back to the beginning of the faith.

Today, the buildings we call churches are the ordinary places where Christians gather for worship and fellowship, and every Catholic church has been consecrated for that purpose. But 2,000 years ago, followers of Jesus did not meet in dedicated church buildings. Instead, they met in family homes or wherever they could safely assemble and worship – starting with the Upper Room where the Eucharist was inaugurated at the Last Supper, the Risen Christ appeared, and where the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost – as described throughout the New Testament and early Church writings (see Acts 2:1-4, 46, 28:30; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2). San Clemente in Rome, for example, likely started as a house church. A private home in Dura-Europos, Syria, is known to have been a house church in the third century. As the resting places of the faithful departed, including many martyrs, the catacombs in Rome also were used at times for purposes of worship.

Early Christians initially met in these private places simply because there were as yet no dedicated church buildings, but quickly there was another reason – persecution or other hostility that prevented public worship. Not until the legalization of Christianity in the fourth century did dedicated churches openly arise and the use of house churches largely cease because there was then no need for them.

Sadly, however, persecution and anti-Catholic prejudice have proven to be a constant in the life of the Church, even here in our area. The Compton Bassett Chapel itself returned to that original practice of meeting in private house churches and the catacombs because at the time, Catholic public worship was not allowed.

Over the years, the old chapel building fell under disrepair and suffered structural damage. But restoration and preservation efforts have now saved this important landmark which can help people better appreciate the heritage of the Catholic faith in America and the precarious state of our religious freedoms.

As we remember Christ’s Passion, Lent is a good time to recall also how the Church throughout history has known oppression and for us to be vigilant in the protection of our religious liberties. During this season too, let us pray in solidarity with those Christians today in the Middle East and elsewhere who experience in their lives their own personal Via Crucis of persecution.

Sharing in the Joy of Love in Marriage and Family

March 1st, 2018

At Mass this weekend, we hear one of the most beautiful of the Gospel stories – Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:5-42). To the first listeners of this story, it sounded shocking, maybe even unbelievable:  Jesus talking to a woman who is not of his own people.  Jesus knowing all about her though never having met her before.  And Jesus being more concerned for what her life could look like going forward than what it has been in the past, which was how others in the community judged her.

What listeners in every age come to understand is that Jesus’ love for each of us is greater than we can imagine and that there is nothing about our lives that cannot be changed with our Lord’s love and mercy.  Thus, this Gospel is the perfect backdrop for the release at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle of the Archdiocese of Washington’s pastoral plan to more fully implement Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.

The Holy Father’s magisterial teaching focuses on the centrality of God’s infinite love – which became Incarnate in a human family – and the vocation of the human family to reveal that love.  With that understanding, the pastoral plan considers in detail the challenges that families encounter today because of a highly secularized cultural environment, which presents many barriers to encountering Christ and appropriating the Church’s teaching.  So many people think that if their own lives look more like the woman at the well than the Holy Family that there may not be a place in the Church for them. That is simply not true.

Amoris Laetitia is a call to compassionate accompaniment in helping all to experience Christ’s love and mercy. Neither this exhortation nor this pastoral plan presents a list of answers to each individual human concern. Rather, both call for a pastoral approach for many people – married, single and divorced – who are struggling to face issues in life, the teaching of the Church and their own desire to reconcile all of this.

Pope Francis notes in Amoris Laetitia that the Church is a family of families, and the home of pastoral accompaniment is the parish. The parish has a central role in making clear the Gospel vision for marriage and family life.

Our parishes, as the sites where people most experience the life of the Church, must be places of welcome where everyone is invited, particularly anyone who might be disillusioned or disaffected by contemporary society or even by our faith community. This plan will help our parishes to better do that by offering a wide variety of resources and suggestions on how to implement the ministry of accompaniment at the parish level.

Proclaim a Fast

February 26th, 2018

The Lord calls us to return to him with our whole heart, we heard on Ash Wednesday as the prophet Joel said to us, “Proclaim a fast!”  With this instruction, the Church began the season of Lent.

From the very beginning, fasting, together with prayer and almsgiving, became the way of preparation to celebrate the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus. These penitential practices give us the opportunity to recognize the sinful patterns and practices that have become obstacles to a deeper relationship with God and a closer relationship with our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

This year I suggest for your consideration that you offer your acts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving for our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East and Africa who continue to face their own Passion and hardship as they struggle to recover from the genocidal violence of recent years and, in some places, are still being persecuted and even martyred for their fidelity to Christ and to the Church.

While on the surface, the desire to return to our heavenly Father through a period of more intense prayer and fasting may seem to be highly personal and individual, the practice of the disciplines of Lent is meant to bear fruit for the whole community.  Any type of Christian penance can be a spiritual homecoming when those efforts move one toward “reconciliation with one’s neighbor, tears of repentance, concern for salvation of one’s neighbor, the intercession of the saints and the practice of charity” (CCC, 1434).

All acts of penance are part of that total conversion called for by Baptism, a whole inner renewal leading one to think, judge, and arrange one’s entire life under the impulse of the charity revealed to us in Christ.  Acts of penance without this inner spirit are lifeless.  Moreover, the inner spirit ought to be embodied in deeds. In this vein, keeping persecuted Christians close in our minds and hearts draws attention to three essential dimensions of Lent.

First, scripture and the Church Fathers teach us that the most radical forms of penance are Baptism and martyrdom (CCC 1434).  The Christians who have been martyred are a source of grace for the life of the Church. Tertullian, a Church Father of the second century, preached that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church (Apology, ch. 50). These Christian witnesses remind us that martyrdom is the supreme expression of what it means to die and rise with Christ. They are for us teachers of the truth of the faith and Christian doctrine (CCC 2473).  In this, they are a source of encouragement for our own resoluteness in keeping our Lenten promises.

Second, we strengthen our brothers and sisters through acts of solidarity and prayer. Those who live in danger in these days, through the power of Jesus and his mother Mary’s intercession, will be fortified by our prayer. Our prayer strengthens the bonds of fraternity among the people of God.

Third, in scripture, fasting is commonly associated with almsgiving (cf. Tobit 12:8; Matthew 6:1-8). When the well-fed fast, they are to share with those most in need; and this sharing by charitable giving is surely an act of love. If you would like to direct this fruit of your fast to Christians living in the Middle East and Africa, please follow this link to learn more about how the Church through Catholic Relief Services and the Knights of Columbus is on the ground providing tremendous aid and support to our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

In keeping in mind the suffering of the people of God and our own suffering, we come to understand more deeply the meaning of Saint Paul’s cry that “if, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (Romans 6:8).  In our own suffering, because of the Paschal Mystery we become “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

Throwback Thursday: Love and the Priesthood

February 22nd, 2018

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, giving thanks to God for the mission he entrusted to the Apostle Peter and his successors, including now, Pope Francis.

Above all else, the Petrine ministry is one of love.  Indeed, while God calls people to a variety of walks of life – the priesthood, marriage, consecrated life and the single life – this is the primary calling of us all, the vocation to love.

After his Resurrection, Jesus revealed himself to Peter and the other apostles on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias.  John’s Gospel recounts the stirring exchange.  Three times, Jesus asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  And each time, Simon Peter replied, “Lord you know that I love you.” Jesus’ three questions about love were followed by three commands: feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.  Then Jesus said, “Follow me” (John 21:15-19).

Giving the point particular emphasis, Jesus spoke of love three times.  But what is love?  Pope Benedict XVI explored the question in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est.  Specifically, given all the ways that love might manifest itself, how are we to understand the question of love with respect to the priesthood?  How might we characterize the relationship of a priest to Christ, the Church and the people?

One of the more obvious things about a priest is what we call him – “Father.”  This is not incidental.  Priests are called to show a paternal love and affection for those entrusted to their care, protecting and providing for them.  And this love should be so dynamic that it displays a spiritual fruitfulness such that, like a father, with Mother Church through the sacraments, new spiritual children are brought into the fold (cf. Matthew 28:19).

A priest is not only a spiritual father, he is also a son and like the Son, he has an everlasting love for God our Father in heaven.  Also as a child of God, he has a fraternal love for his fellow brothers and sisters in the human family.

In all the various expressions of his love, a priest is not confined to extrinsic functions.  His ministry is more than a job.  Rather, a priest finds the full truth of his identity in being united to Christ so that in his priestly ministry he manifests a unique participation in and continuation of Christ himself.  By the sacrament of holy orders, he is configured to the Lord in a profound manner that affects his being so as to be the living image of Jesus Christ.

One of the great legacies left us by Saint John Paul II is an apostolic exhortation which has guided priestly formation for over two decades.  I had the privilege to participate in the 1990 Synod on Priestly Formation under the month-long guidance of Pope John Paul II.  This gathering of bishops undertook the study of the formation of future priests.  Out of this effort came much of the material that the Pope used to produce the apostolic exhortation, Pastores dabo vobis, that continues to guide that task today.  In that teaching, he explains that “Christ’s gift of himself to his Church, the fruit of his love, is described in terms of that unique gift of self made by the bridegroom to the bride”  (Pastores dabo vobis, 22, see also Ephesians 5:23-32).  In the outpouring of the Spirit, the priest walks united with Christ in that gift of himself to his Bride, the Church.

The ramifications of that teaching are shown by Jesus in the Paschal mystery.  On the night before his Passion, Jesus asked the apostles to be like him, to love as he loves, which is fully and unconditionally, adding, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).  Christ the Bridegroom made such a complete gift of self, laying down his life for the Church on the Cross.  Then, after he rose, Jesus said, “Follow me” (John 21:18-19).  The priest’s participation in the extension of Christ’s mission also requires a love of complete and permanent self-giving.

At every ordination, this free giving of self to Christ by a new priest is always a source of great encouragement and profound joy for me and all of us.  May God bless our priests, our seminarians and all those discerning a vocation to the priesthood.