Giving Thanks for Ten Blessed Years Together

June 22nd, 2016


Ten years ago on June 22, 2006, when I received the shepherd’s staff as the archbishop of Washington, I said at the installation Mass, “Our faith journey together, beginning today, is the blessing we bring to each other, the blessing we share with each other.”

Subsequently in the archdiocese’s Catholic Standard newspaper, I took the opportunity to reflect on the role of the bishop, as set out in Pope – now Saint – John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Pastores Gregis (Latin for “Shepherds of the Flock”), which was issued in 2003 on the 25th anniversary of his election as bishop of Rome and chief shepherd of the universal Church. The framework for this work was the three-fold task of every bishop as a successor of the apostles: to sanctify, teach and lead. However, in this task, the bishop does not work alone, but depends on the collaborative efforts of many others.

The vision of God’s family gathered around its shepherds, united among themselves and with the Holy Father, has guided me in my episcopal service. Now this year, which also marks my 30th as a bishop and 50th of a priest, offers a time to reflect on the blessings in my life as a “shepherd of the flock” – especially with my family of faith in the Church of Washington.

Among the most joyous times has been in the celebration of Holy Mass and the sacraments, as people receive Christ in the Eucharist and then are challenged to go out and share his love with others, in baptizing and confirming the young and the not-so-young, in weddings of couples and ordinations of priests and deacons, and in the healing of confession and anointing. The Light is On for You program has especially promoted how God’s love heals us through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which has also become a central focus of our local efforts to promote this Jubilee Year of Mercy.

During this time, all of us in the vineyard of the Lord have also had the joy to teach and spread the faith through a variety of efforts and initiatives, as envisioned in the New Evangelization – to not only proclaim the Gospel, but to live it, encouraging people to join in manifesting the Kingdom of God among us, in our community and in our time.

Our shared journey has included a Convocation on Catholic Education in 2007 that led to a collaborative effort to strengthen local Catholics schools in the areas of Catholic identity, governance, academic excellence, and affordability and accessibility. One concrete result of that effort is that each parish now invests in our Catholic schools through their offertory collections, and we are now able to offer families nearly $6 million annually in tuition assistance so they can send their children to Catholic school.

A similar collaborative effort unfolded in 2014 when we convoked the first-ever Archdiocesan Synod to mark the 75th anniversary of the Archdiocese. About 200 Synod participants from across this local Church charted a course for the archdiocese’s future outreach in the key areas of worship, education, community, service, stewardship and administration, based on the input of more than 15,000 suggestions offered through parish and regional listening sessions and online surveys.

As an archdiocesan family of faith we welcomed two popes to the United States – Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, who offered an inspiring message of “Christ our Hope” at his National’s Park Mass, and Pope Francis in 2015, who celebrated the first canonization Mass in this part of the world and then visited the homeless at Catholic Charities to demonstrate the importance of solidarity with those on the margins of society. Our community demonstrated that shared journey when more than 100,000 people took the Walk with Francis Pledge to pray, serve and act on behalf of those in need.

Our faith journey together these past ten years has indeed been the blessing that we have brought to and shared with each other, and for that blessing, I am thankful to God and to you.

Making Earthly Life More Heavenly: Marriage Jubilarians

June 19th, 2016


Today, it is once again my privilege to celebrate a special Mass for married couples marking a significant jubilee anniversary. It is a day of profound love and thanks for 25, 50, 60 or even 75 years of married life together.

The lives of these couples who have lived many years together are beautiful, but they have also not always been easy. They have had their share of difficulties and struggles. Yet they have arrived, united, to mark this special moment – and they are committed to marking as many more as God will grant. They also offer our world today a greatly-needed witness in faith, hope and love.

Pope Francis, in his recent apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, has provided us beneficial pastoral advice on how all married couples and their families might find and experience that lasting and fruitful love that never gives up. This coming Thursday, June 23, I will give a talk on our Holy Father’s exhortation following the 5:15 p.m. Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and you are invited to attend.

Last year, I also released a small work, “The Marriage God Wants for You: Why the Sacrament Makes All the Difference,” to help people gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for marriage and family. In addition to my humble reflections, in this book are the testimonies of many married couples who, by their personal witness, offer invaluable lessons in the art and practice of married life.

In speaking with couples who have been married for many years, I am struck by how many say that what ultimately meant the most over the years were the small gestures – the quiet, ordinary acts done in love. They tell about the moment of discovery when one spouse suddenly realizes how much the other sacrifices each day, how one secretly scrimps and saves so that the other, or their children, can know a greater joy. Again and again I hear about the unassuming giving of time, attention, consolation and affection for the sake of that special someone else.

What these jubilarian couples have learned is that age-old wisdom that it is the little things that count a great deal – these moments represent true gifts, far more valuable in what is really important than rings and bouquets. These gestures are the summary expressions of a love that cannot be contained by a box, wrapped up in paper, or tied with a bow.

For Christians, marriage has great dignity because of the divine reality that is signifies. Marriage in all its richness signifies the union of Christ with the Church and the unity of the Blessed Trinity, the glory of heaven and the healing of the human family. But it does more than signify. As a sacrament, it brings about what it signifies. It gives husband and wife a share of the life of the Trinity and the divine power to make earthly life more heavenly.

It is easy to stay together in good times – these hardly need a vow. It is the bad times that present the challenge. To help them through the bad to attain the good, in the sacrament they receive God’s grace.

Marriage – your marriage – is a primary concern for the God who created you. If each spouse calls upon that grace, the couple will pull through the difficult times and will emerge stronger. Sadly, I fear many people have lost the habit of making use of this help. As a result, society and especially marriage and family have suffered terribly. However, with personal commitment, as expressed in the marriage vow, together with accepting the help that God offers, a new dawn will follow the dark night.

Staying true in the midst of surprising change and challenge, stress and sorrows – that is the story of couples in strong, loving marriages. They are not “perfect” couples because there is no such thing. But successful husbands and wives are those who learn to live with another’s imperfections and to live in a way that is not oppositional, but complementary. Each learns to be a source of strength for the other, making up for the other’s particular weaknesses, while knowing that the other is doing the same.

More than once, an elderly person has said to me of their long-time spouse, “You know, I love her (or him) more now that I did the day we were married.” It is enough to bring tears to my eyes. These long-married couples testify by their very lives that love can indeed bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Amoris Laetitia, 89 et seq.).

It is a testament not only of their love, but of God’s. As these spouses each “look upon one who looks back in love,” in the words of Saint Augustine, they experience a taste of heaven itself. It is a beautiful sign of committed love, a public witness for all of us to see.

This blog post draws from passages of my book “The Marriage God Wants for You: Why the Sacrament Makes All the Difference (2015).”

Love, Faith and Presence on Father’s Day

June 17th, 2016

Holy Family

Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to Washington last year and his recent apostolic exhortation on marriage and family life, Amoris Laetitia, both offer fathers, mothers and children many things to reflect on as we prepare to celebrate Father’s Day.

Our Holy Father knows well the challenges to fatherhood in these times. “Some fathers feel they are useless or unnecessary, but the fact is that ‘children need to find a father waiting for them when they return home with their problems. They may try hard not to admit it, not to show it, but they need it,’” he implores. To be sure, “God sets the father in the family so that by the gifts of his masculinity he can be “close to his wife and share everything, joy and sorrow, hope and hardship’” (Amoris Laetitia, 177).

Pope Francis often encourages that we look to “the icon of the Holy Family,” a family that, like families today, faced challenges and burdens in their daily life (Id., 30). Most importantly, they faced those difficulties with trust in God. “First and foremost,” said the pontiff during his visit to Catholic Charities, Saint Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, “was a man of faith. Faith gave Joseph the power to find light just at the moment when everything seemed dark. Faith sustained him amid the troubles of life. Thanks to faith, Joseph was able to press forward when everything seemed to be holding him back.”

It was in this spirit that Joseph and Mary offered young Jesus daily lessons about God’s steadfast love by their example and in their living “covenant of love and fidelity” (Id., 66). Our fathers and mothers can model that same kind of selfless love to their children by welcoming Christ into their homes and hearts, and encouraging their children to do the same. Parents – children’s first, best and most important teachers – instill the most enduring lessons by the example of how they lead their own lives and treat their own families.

The Holy Father also affirms how scripture presents the family as the place where children are educated in the faith, quoting Psalm 78 which says, the Lord “commanded our fathers to teach to their children” all of God’s glorious deeds, and his might and the wonders that he has performed (Amoris Laetitia, 16). In a special way, adds the Pope, fathers and mothers can transform their homes into domestic churches where families can grow in faith and love together: “The family is called to join in daily prayer, to read the word of God and to share in Eucharistic communion, and thus to grow in love and become ever more fully a temple in which the Spirit dwells” (Id., 15 and 29).

Pope Francis recognizes that the fast pace of life can stress parents and even lead them to not spend valuable time with their children. “In many cases, parents come home exhausted, not wanting to talk, and many families no longer even share a common meal” (Id., 50). In particular, he cautions, the absence of a father – which may be physical or symbolic, emotional, psychological or spiritual – “gravely affects family life and the upbringing of children and their integration into society” (Id., 55). Together with the distractions that mothers also may get caught up in, this can effectively lead to “children who are orphans of living parents” (Id., 51).

In many families today, various disappointments or resentments can cause parents and children to be strained or separated. God our merciful Father, however, heals families and unites them with a love that never gives up.

This Father’s Day, your children will give you a variety of presents, maybe a hand-drawn card or even the classic gift of a tie. But there is a more important present that you can give to them every day – you can give them your presence, you can be there for them. You can also accept the invitation of Pope Francis to “value the gifts of marriage and the family, and to persevere in a love strengthened by the virtues of generosity, commitment, fidelity and patience,” and also “be a sign of mercy and closeness wherever family life remains imperfect or lacks peace and joy” (Amoris Laetitia, 5).

By imitating Saint Joseph in faithfully providing for and protecting their families, by imitating our heavenly Father who, like the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, always welcomes his children with open arms, men become for their children the fathers that God made them to be (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 17). And that is the greatest gift of all that they can give their children.

Happy Father’s Day!

“The New Evangelization Today”

June 15th, 2016

The pressing task of our time is the New Evangelization. But what exactly is the New Evangelization? What is the message of the New Evangelization? Where and who is the intended audience? What do we seek to accomplish? What is needed for this work of the New Evangelization?

To answer these and other questions, I have produced a video series entitled, “The New Evangelization Today.” Each of these short videos is intended to help people to take up this critical task to which we are called and to become new evangelizers.

Although it was Saint John Paul II who first coined the exact term “New Evangelization,” each of the recent popes, from Saint John XXIII to Pope Francis, has in one way or another called us to this work, which we do with the help of the Holy Spirit.

The New Evangelization was the subject of the 2012 Synod of Bishops, where I was honored to serve as relator, and it was the priority of our own Archdiocesan Synod that the New Evangelization permeate every aspect of the life of our local Church of Washington. Personally, I have written and spoken on the New Evangelization many, many times.

All of this history is recounted to make a point. A key component of the New Evangelization is engaging with people where they are in the particular context of their lives and in language adapted to the specific person (Redemptoris missio, 44). In doing this work, we cannot simply assume that the people we encounter fully grasp the terms and phraseology that might be common to our thinking even when they hear us use those words all the time. Thus, although we have discussed it often, among those terms that require some explanation is the very concept of “the New Evangelization.”

The first video in this new series appropriately enough takes up the question of, “What is the New Evangelization?” The videos that follow then build upon this foundation. I invite you to watch each of them and share them with others.

In addition to these particular videos on the New Evangelization is the entire multimedia ministry of this archdiocese, which includes many other videos that may be found at our YouTube channel, WashArchdiocese.

Saint Anthony of Padua and the New Evangelization

June 13th, 2016

St. Anthony

Today we celebrate the feast day of Saint Anthony of Padua, Italy, who was born to a noble family in Lisbon, Portugal, and baptized with the name Fernando. Canonized only a year after his death at the age of 36 on this day in 1231, and named a Doctor of the Church in 1946, Saint Anthony has been historically popular and he continues to offer a magnificent example and witness for today.

Basing his life on Christ, Saint Anthony “found the way to kindle faith in souls, to purify, console and enlighten them,” attested Saint John Paul II. More specifically, “his preaching, his writings and, above all, the holiness of his life also offer the people of our time living and inspiring guidelines for the necessary commitment to the New Evangelization” (Letter of June 13, 1994).

When he was fifteen, Fernando entered a community of Canons Regular of Saint Augustine and after five years of intensive study, he was ordained a priest. His plans changed, however, a few years later when five Franciscan missionaries to Islamic North Africa were killed for their faith. Inspired by their supreme witness of martyrdom, Father Fernando left the Augustinian Canons to become a Friar Minor, taking the name Anthony. He then set out to be a missionary to North Africa, but illness and a violent storm forced him to land at Sicily.

From that point, after meeting Francis of Assisi, Father Anthony would be a missionary to Italy and with his outstanding gifts, he spurred many to spiritual renewal and a virtuous life. “The Gospel virtues, particularly poverty of spirit, meekness, humility, chastity, mercy, the courage of peace, were the constant themes of his preaching,” said Saint John Paul. “He used all the scholarly tools known at the time to deepen his knowledge of Gospel truth and to make its proclamation more easily understood. The success of his preaching confirms that he could speak the same language as his listeners and that he was able to effectively to convey the content of the faith and to ensure the acceptance of Gospel values in the popular culture of his age” (Id.).

In this respect, we could say that Saint Anthony was one of the forefathers of the New Evangelization that is our calling today. The New Evangelization is not a passing slogan. It is not a transitory program, but a mystery that is as permanent as the earth, a glory eternal as the heavens. To a secularized world where there is an eclipse of the sense of God, we are tasked with re-proposing the perennial truth and love of Christ’s Gospel. We must somehow re-propose the kingdom of God to those who are convinced that they already know it – and who have already concluded our message is irrelevant. We have to invite them to hear the Gospel all over again, as if for the first time.

Now is the opportune time and we can be confident that the Holy Spirit will help us in living and witnessing our faith. As Saint Anthony once preached, “The man who is filled with the Holy Spirit speaks in different languages. These different languages are different ways of witnessing to Christ, such as humility, poverty, patience and obedience; we speak in those languages when we reveal in ourselves these virtues to others. Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak.”

Like the first disciples, we are called to envision ourselves walking alongside Jesus as the sower of the seeds of a new way of living, of a share in a kingdom that will last forever. Planting new seeds so that they may take root means opening our hearts and minds to learn new styles of communication and a more influential approach to connect another person with the abundant springtime that God promises.

Each of our actions – every kind word we speak, every gesture of generosity – sets in motion a series of future events that will continue forever. Particularly when we correspond to the grace of the Spirit, we are extending the kingdom. This is how Christianity changes the world.

The ground may be rocky, filled with thorns, or heavily trafficked by many feet, but in spreading the seeds of Christ’s love and truth, each and every Catholic can make a difference. The Church had little influence in the corridors of imperial Roman power, and it may have little today in the corridors of modern government, but the kingdom breaks through in spite of these limitations. It breaks through in the lives of saints like Anthony who was inspired by the blood of the martyrs, and it breaks through in the lives of the everyday faithful today.

This blog post draws from passages of my book “Seek First the Kingdom: Challenging the Culture by Living our Faith (2012).”

The Love of Jesus Christ Prevails over Evil and Death

June 12th, 2016

Pray for Peace - June 12 Blog

It was with profound sadness that I learned this morning of the horrific violence that occurred in Orlando, Florida. Joined together in the Lord, recalling the promises of Christ, our first response is to think of those who have lost their lives in Orlando, and to pray that our heavenly Father now welcome them into the embrace of his loving arms. We pray also that God come to the aid of the wounded and help them to heal in body, mind and spirit.

May the God of all mercy and compassion also touch the family and friends of those who have died and have been injured, together with the first responders and health care providers, and that they be given comfort and peace in this dark time. We ask as well that the Lord grant all of us the peace and stability that will enable us to live with each other without fear and anxiety, and with dignity and joy.

As people of Christian faith, we know that evil and suffering, violence and death will not have the last word. The love of Jesus Christ will prevail. Thus, our hope and trust is in the Lord. Though it appears all too often that our civilization is walking through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil. The Lord is in our midst and he walks with us (Psalm 23:4).

Today let us stand together and with all people of good will in making another impassioned appeal for peace and security in our communities and throughout the world. Let us also glorify God by responding to evil with love.

Servants of All

June 11th, 2016


The Archdiocese of Washington is blessed this morning with a new class of transitional deacons in addition to our newly-ordained priests in a couple of weeks. With each of these ordinations of seminarians to the transitional diaconate, as with the priesthood, we learn something of what it means for these men to give their lives in service to the Church.

The terms “deacon” and “diaconate” are derived from the Greek word diakonia, which means “service.” A deacon is one who serves Christ and his Church in a special way. A “transitional” deacon, as distinguished from a “permanent” deacon, is one who, God willing, will subsequently proceed to ordination to the priesthood. Furthermore, as explained in the Catechism, the deacon enters into this ordained ministry of service not by simple designation or appointment, but by receipt of the sacrament of Holy Orders (CCC 1536-89).

The idea of dedicated service is not new. It finds its inspiration in the Old Testament. In the Book of Numbers, for example, we learn that in the old covenant, God chose a whole tribe of men and set them apart for ministerial service (3:5-10).

Service takes on a new form in the New Testament – in Jesus Christ and the Church. First, he who is the Lord of all made himself the servant of all, noted Pope Francis in a special Mass celebrated a couple of weeks ago in honor of a Jubilee for Deacons, which is part of the wider Jubilee Year of Mercy. Also, in the Acts of the Apostles, in the very beginning of the life of the Church we find the meaning of the call to the diaconate and to serve as Jesus served.

It was the decision of the Apostles to call certain men, including Saint Stephen, the first martyr, to carry out specific works of charity so that the Apostles would not need to be called away from their appointed work of proclaiming the Gospel (Acts 6:1-7). The establishment of the diaconate was a sacred response to the need of the infant Church to expand her ministry.

The pages of the book of Acts do not give a detailed description of the attitude or disposition of Stephen and the others. But it is fair to conclude from everything else we read that they possessed a generosity of heart and a love of Christ and his Church. These traits made it possible for each to work gladly and willingly with the Apostles.

Even as the men who will be ordained as priests on June 25 move from the transitional diaconate to the priesthood, he will never cease to be a deacon. In fact, in an ancient tradition, the bishop for an ordination wears the vestments of the dalmatic of the deacon, the chasuble of the priest, and the mitre and cross of the bishop to make visible the enduring quality each of the three degrees of Holy Orders. It is service which binds each of these degrees of deacon, priest and bishop together.

Pope Francis said in his homily for the Jubilee of Deacons that this life of service needs to arise from imitation of Christ in meekness, generosity of time and effort, and from a healthy heart in constant dialogue with Jesus. Configured to Christ now as servant of all, as he prepares for the priesthood and assists the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, the transitional deacon should be a servant who helps to nurture, heal and restore. He should be the servant who feeds the hungry, gives drink to the thirsty, clothes the naked, visits the sick and imprisoned, the servant who continues today what Christ initiated as the one sent to make all things new.

Service is also at the heart of the participation of our deacons in the New Evangelization. This is not always an easy ministry in a culture that draws its inspiration from sources not totally compatible with the Gospel, but that is why this service is so especially needed. Our age profoundly needs to encounter the Risen Lord and embrace and be embraced by his love. In taking up this challenge, however, these men are not alone in their efforts. By their ordination, they receive a real and transforming outpouring of the Holy Spirit reflective of that first Pentecost and every ordination in each generation since.

Please join me in praying for God’s blessing upon these men who were ordained as deacons. May the Spirit who consecrates all the baptized deepen their life of faith as servants of God’s mercy, enrich their liturgical ministry, and nurture them in rich lives of service to build up the whole body of Christ.

Pray for our Future Priests

June 7th, 2016


For a number of years now, in the weeks leading up to ordination, our Saint John Paul II Seminary has highlighted the relationships of prayer and priestly ministry by hosting and inviting parishes to host a holy hour for transitional deacons who are to be ordained. This year, we will celebrate our archdiocesan Mass of ordination to the priesthood on June 25, 2016, and I pleased to share that 98 parishes across the archdiocese will be hosting a Holy Hour. On June 24, 2016, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, there will be a Eucharistic Holy Hour at 6:00 p.m. to mark the Church family coming together in prayer for these men who, God willing, will be our future priests.

One of the most powerful moments at ordination to the priesthood is after the Mass, when the newly-ordained “Father” stands before a line of family, friends and other well-wishers eagerly waiting for him to bestow his first blessings. This moment is the fruit of years of prayer of those who have walked with him on his journey and the grace of ordination that imbues the priest with the power to bless.

It is the moment in which those closest to the priest realize what it means to act in in persona Christi capitis. Through this priest, in the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Jesus Christ himself who is present to the Church as Head of the Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, and Teacher of the Truth (CCC 1548). This man is forever changed as he begins his service to the Church to preach, celebrate the sacraments and to shepherd the people entrusted to him.

Following the celebration of the priest’s first public Mass, there is a chance for everyone present to receive a blessing. Often the blessing ends with the priest asking that we pray for him – and need for this cannot be underestimated. Priests are sustained by prayer, their own and the prayer of the Church. They know that they depend on God’s grace to carry out their priestly duties and that it is prayer that enables them to trust fully in God’s providence.

Certainly, all of us are familiar with the prayer of petition in which we ask something of God for ourselves and for others. We pray for our families, for the people we work with, for our friends and neighbors. Hopefully, we also follow the pattern of prayer we hear at Mass and pray for the Holy Father and for me, your servant, and all our bishops, for one’s pastor and all priests and deacons, religious women and men, for all in the Church, and also for all outside the Church, that we may be one flock with one shepherd. This prayer extends further for those in authority, for relatives and benefactors, for the deceased and for all souls in purgatory, and even for enemies and persecutors.   This is a long list, but it is a helpful reminder that our prayer ought to be wide-ranging.

Fortunately, our Church also sets aside certain days or times of the year to focus on a particular group for which to pray. Building on this idea, our vocation and seminary staff have offered with these Holy Hours a special opportunity to pray for those to be ordained priests and all priests. As these men make their final preparations for ordination, I encourage you to join us at one of these Holy Hours or, if you cannot do that, to make some room in your prayer for our men to be ordained and in the first days and months of their ministry.

As you turn to God in this way, your prayers may be a simple expression of love and praise, or something more formal, such as this prayer from our Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Society, which is a prayer apostolate dedicated to praying for vocations and for priests:

Lord Jesus, you have chosen your priests from among us and sent them out to proclaim your word and act in your name. For so great a gift to your Church, we give you praise and thanksgiving.

We ask you to fill them with the fire of your love, that their ministry may reveal your presence in the Church. Since they are earthen vessels, we pray that your power shines out through their weakness. In their afflictions let them never be crushed, in their doubts never despair, in temptation never be destroyed, and in persecution never abandoned. Inspire them through prayer to live each day the mystery of your dying and rising.

In times of weakness send them your Spirit, and help them to praise your Heavenly Father and pray for poor sinners. By your same Holy Spirit put your word on their lips and your love in their hearts, to bring good news to the poor and healing to the brokenhearted.

And may the gift of Mary, your Mother, to the disciple whom you loved be your gift to every priest. Grant that she who formed you in her human image, may form them in your divine image, by the power of your Spirit, to the glory of God the Father, Amen.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

June 3rd, 2016
(PHOTO Credit: CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

(PHOTO Credit: CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Jesus’ heart figures prominently in the story of salvation. During his ministry he revealed himself as “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). And upon his death on the Cross, when his side was pierced with a lance, blood and water from his heart flowed from the wound (John 19:34). Christians have always seen this as symbolic of the sacraments of salvation – baptism and the Eucharist.

Likewise, the blood and water which flowed from the heart of Jesus are also symbolic of the origin of the Church, the spouse of Christ. Citing Saint Ambrose, the Catechism teaches that just as Eve was formed from the side of Adam, so was the Church formed from the side and pierced heart of Jesus, the new Adam (CCC 766).

These events, which influenced the development of the Church’s devotion to the Sacred Heart, help us to see that the term “Sacred Heart” really stands for the entire mystery of our Savior Jesus Christ, the totality of his being – tender mercy and infinite love, the salvation of mankind. Furthermore, just as the Risen Jesus invited Thomas to put his hand into his side (John 20:27), so too does the Lord want us to enter into his side to touch the heart of our salvation.

For those who would suggest a harsh God of rigorous punitive justice, devotion to the Sacred Heart can serve as an antidote, inspiring a trust in the compassion of our Redeemer who takes upon himself the misery and sin of the world. Through the transformative power of the heart of Jesus, which is on fire for love of humanity, we are made new again.

“The Heart of Jesus is the ultimate symbol of God’s mercy,” affirms Pope Francis. And this “is not an imaginary symbol, it is a real symbol, which represents the center, the source from which salvation for all humanity gushed forth.” In particular, he says, “from the Heart of Jesus, the Lamb sacrificed on the Cross, flow forgiveness and life for all people.”

Jesus, who is fully God and fully man, came to save us from a dire situation, one from which we could never extricate ourselves through our own efforts. He came to save us from sin and death. This is accomplished in a special way in the Sacrament of Confession. Born of the heart of Jesus, it remains one of the marvels of his endless love that he would make forgiveness and spiritual renewal so readily available to us. In the simple acts of contrition, sacramental confession, absolution and penance, we are restored to a whole new life.

Confession serves a real human need that has not diminished with the passage of time. The human race has, unfortunately, not outgrown its tendency to sin. When we sin, we are injured and feel the burden of our transgressions whether we have a sense of sin or not. And when we fail to treat our wounds, when we continue to carry all that baggage with us, accumulating more along the way, it only makes life all that harder. However, Jesus came to heal us and give us rest from such burdens, and he gave his Church the power and the means to do this through this sacrament.

The fruits of Confession are manifold and profound. We experience them primarily in the order of grace. Sometimes we notice an improvement in our prayer life. Sometimes we sense renewed strength in our moral struggles. Nearly always the person who enters into the heart of Jesus in the confessional experiences the immense relief of a great weight being lifted from him or her.

Regular examinations of conscience and Confession make for a happier life. That is the promise of Jesus and the message of the Church. It is Good News that we need to proclaim to the world.

This forgiveness is a very great gift, but even that is merely a precondition for something greater – the gift of the Lord’s own divine life. God loves us in spite of our weaknesses. In fact, he loves us so much that he wants to help us overcome them. Our purpose in life – what God has planned for us – is to be transformed into Christ. For this to happen, Jesus has opened his Sacred Heart to us and, like Saint Thomas, we need only accept his invitation to enter into it.

This blog post draws from passages of my book “The Light is On for You: The Life-Changing Power of Confession (2014).”

A Day for Remembering and Giving Thanks

May 30th, 2016


As our country becomes increasingly individualistic, secular and materialistic, the risk is that we forget who we are, where we came from, and where we are going.

One example of this is the way we commemorate our holy days like Easter and Christmas, and civic holidays like Memorial Day and Labor Day. On Easter and Christmas, do we remember the religious meaning of those days while we hunt for eggs, eat candy or open presents? And today, as we celebrate Memorial Day, is that just regarded as part of a three-day weekend when swimming pools open, or is it a day when we remember in a special way our brave servicemen and women who, in the words of President Lincoln, gave their “last full measure of devotion”?

Memorial Day calls to mind Jesus’ words: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). For generations, there have been Americans willing to lay down their lives for their fellow citizens, to protect their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Each Memorial Day, we celebrate special Masses at the Catholic cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Washington, to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom. When we visit and pray together at our Catholic cemeteries, we know that we are on holy ground, made all the more hallowed by those laid to rest there who served our country in times of war and peace and are now counted among the Church Triumphant. This day, like All Souls Day, gives us the opportunity to visit our Catholic cemeteries, and pray for the souls of all the faithful departed buried there, including our family members and friends.

At our Catholic cemeteries, we are reminded that our belief in new life here on earth and eternal life in heaven is rooted in our profession of faith. Our Church is that bridge between this life and the world to come. And we remember Jesus’ assurance to us, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live forever.”

When we prayerfully remember our departed members of the military on Memorial Day, we might also remember all those in our community who served our country through public service and government work, and who have now gone home to God. We might also remember the Christians and other religious minorities being persecuted for their faith, even to the point of death, in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Praying for our suffering brothers and sisters in the Church Militant on this day, and indeed on every day, is a way to stand in solidarity with them, and also a reminder to do what we can on their behalf at a time when much of the world is silent or indifferent to their plight.

Our Washington area includes many special places that we can visit on Memorial Day and throughout the year to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom. At Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, row upon row of headstones beginning from the Civil War remind us that freedom has a cost.

On the Washington side of the Potomac River near the Lincoln Memorial, we can visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial, with it sculptures and mural wall reminding us of the sacrifices made in that conflict. Across the Reflecting Pool is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and its black stone wall engraved with the names of more than 58,000 servicemen and women who died in that war. Each name reminds us of the human cost of war, that behind every casualty figure is a person who came from a family in an American city, town or rural area, someone who died for their country so that we might remain free.

At the top of the Reflecting Pool is the National World War II Memorial honoring the 16 million American men and women who served, and the more than 400,000 who gave their lives so that others might live and be free. One of those heroic men for whom we will sound Taps and salute is Chief Petty Officer Albert E. Hayden, who was killed at Pearl Harbor and who finally returned home to Maryland earlier this month after his remains were identified in January.

On Memorial Day, we remember, we pray, and we are thankful for the sacrifice of so many of this band of brothers and sisters. The day can also remind us of our own responsibility to remain vigilant in our defense of freedom, especially our religious freedom which is increasingly being eroded by local governments and federal policies.

President Lincoln’s words in his 1863 Gettysburg Address ring true for us every Memorial Day, “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”