The Divine Mercy of the Lord

April 23rd, 2017
Divine Mercy

Chapel of the Miraculous Image of the Merciful Jesus and the Tomb of St. Faustina (Kraków, Poland)

The mercy of the Lord “lasts forever. From generation to generation, it embraces all those who trust in him and it changes them, by bestowing a share in his very life,” affirms Pope Francis (Misericordia et Misera, 2). This divine mercy expresses itself in the life of the Church in a variety of ways – in the sacraments, in our Christian witness, in our works of charity, and in our prayer.

In a particular way, the compassionate love of God is praised and kept in our hearts in the various forms of spiritual devotion to divine mercy. These include Divine Mercy Sunday, which we celebrate today on the Octave of Easter, the Chaplet and Novena to Divine Mercy, special prayers at three in the afternoon, which is the Hour of Great Mercy when Jesus died on the Cross in love for us, and the Image of Divine Mercy.

Jesus, with his arms outstretched on the Cross, is the incarnation of mercy. Saint John tells us in his Gospel that after the Lord breathed his last and handed over his Spirit, to make sure he was dead, one of the Roman soldiers “thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out” (John 19:33).

The blood and water pouring forth from the depths of the sacred heart and pierced side of Christ can be understood as being a fountain of mercy and it is captured in a special way in the Image of Divine Mercy, according to a vision of Saint Faustina Kowalska. This famous image depicts two rays of light in red and white, representing blood and water, streaming from the heart of the Lord, together with the words “Jesus, I trust in You,” and it was explained by Saint Pope John Paul II this way, citing the diary of Saint Faustina: “The blood recalls the sacrifice of Golgotha and the mystery of the Eucharist; the water, according to the rich symbolism of the Evangelist John, makes us think of Baptism and the Gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:5; 4:14). Through the mystery of this wounded heart, the restorative tide of God’s merciful love continues to spread over the men and women of our time” (Homily of April 22, 2001).

Every time we look upon the Image of Divine Mercy or a crucifix, every time we pray for souls saying the words of the Chaplet, “For the sake of his sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world,” we are reminded that we can trust in the Lord’s love and grace at work in our lives. We can trust in Jesus in our daily lives and we should do so in prayerful vigil particularly at the end of life.

By these devotions of Divine Mercy, we are drawn deeper into the experience of God’s rich and enduring compassion. He has sent us his only begotten Son from whose side pours forth a fountain of loving mercy, a “wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace,” that redeems and renews (Misericordiae Vultus, 2). How blessed we are to be so loved by the Lord.

A 90th Birthday Gift to Pope Benedict XVI

April 19th, 2017
(CNS photo/Stefano Spaziani, pool)

(CNS photo/Stefano Spaziani, pool)

Fittingly, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI celebrated his 90th birthday on Easter Sunday. This milestone offers a chance for us to reflect on the gift that his life has been to the Church and world and to offer gifts of our own.

What has marked the life, ministry and pontificate of this pastor who was born Joseph Alois Ratzinger on Holy Saturday, April 16, 1927, in addition to his intellectual brilliance, is his great humility and love of the Church. This was apparent from the start of his papacy when, in his first address to the world after being elected, he referred to himself as “a simple and humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord” and then said, “The fact that the Lord knows how to work and to act even with inadequate instruments comforts me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers.” This same self-effacing modesty characterized his entire pontificate and was on display at the end when he said, “I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this earth,” following that historic announcement in 2013 that he would step aside as Chief Shepherd and retire to a life of prayer.

That pilgrimage has entailed a remarkable, grace-filled journey from his birth in a faith-filled family, to his 1951 ordination to the priesthood, to his work as a university professor, to becoming archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977, to his Petrine ministry. Before Joseph Ratzinger became pope in 2005, he was respected as one of the great theological minds of the Church, serving as an advisor to the Second Vatican Council and for years working at the side of Saint Pope John Paul II as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. His legacy throughout has been his engagement of faith with the modern world. Notably, he announced a Year of Faith and summoned us to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, and to re-propose his Gospel in the New Evangelization.

The Holy Father revealed his foremost message at his inaugural Mass: “Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is.” In his homilies, addresses and writings, including his encyclicals Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope) and Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), he taught with a pastoral heart. Central to it all was the recognition that, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, [Jesus Christ], which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus Caritas Est, 2).

The arc of Pope Benedict’s pilgrimage of faith has been a journey to “Christ our Hope,” the theme of his April 2008 visit to the United States. The climax of his visit here to the Church of Washington was the Mass at Nationals Park, where he said, “Those who have hope must live different lives! By your prayers, by the witness of your faith, by the fruitfulness of your charity, may you point the way towards that vast horizon of hope which God is even now opening up to his Church, and indeed to all humanity: the vision of a world reconciled and renewed in Christ Jesus, our Savior.”

Another highlight of this visit was celebrating Pope Benedict’s 81st birthday, with children from the nearby Annunciation School singing to him. For his 90th birthday, as we pray that God continue to bless him and his successor Pope Francis, the greatest gift we could offer Pope Emeritus Benedict would be to join him on the pilgrimage to Jesus that has been the goal of his life.

Jesus Christ is Risen Today, Alleluia!

April 16th, 2017

Easter

With joy and exaltation today, the Church proclaims once again, as we have done for two millennia, “Christ is Risen!

The Gospel tells us of the empty tomb, of the first witnesses, and history bears witness to the progress of Christ’s living Church through 20 centuries and all of the works of love and charity lived out by that Church over 2,000 years. We are part of a faith family, a living tradition, a connectedness from Mary Magdalene, Peter, John, the other apostles and disciples who saw Jesus alive, as well as the testimony of the martyrs and saints – all of those witnesses year after year after year.

We must share this Good News of the Resurrection. We are meant to be signs and instruments of salvation in the work of Christ, the light of the world and salt of the earth for the redemption of all. This is the mission given to us by our Savior Jesus, who also prayed before he was given up to death that his believers “may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one” (John 17:21-23).

This year our Easter joy is made more complete by the fact that the entire Church throughout the world – one, holy, catholic and apostolic – is singing, “Alleluia,” all on the same day. In the course of human history, contrary to Christ’s expressed will, parts of the one Christian family tragically moved apart from each other, most notably the separation between the Orthodox East and the Latin West. While each always continued to proclaim, “Christ is Risen,” at Easter, because of subsequently following different calendars and ways of calculating the day of Easter, many years they often celebrated this holiest of solemnities (and other feasts) on different days.

Easter marks humanity’s reconciliation with God through Christ Crucified and Risen so that you and I and may be one in the Lord. So it is a blessing that this year Easter falls on the same day on both calendars so that the one Church rejoices today as one. In our society today which sees so much division and polarization, we can in this small way help show the way toward unity of all peoples.

Jesus said, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). What the Risen Lord offers is a life richer than any we could ever otherwise have, a life so radically new that we must be born again to receive it, a life that participates in Christ’s own Resurrection and in a glorified and eternal body. This is the Good News which has the power to make what is good in human life far better and richer. It takes our broken lives and renews us and the whole world. This is our faith. This is our great hope. Alleluia, Alleluia. Amen.

Reflections on the Cross on Good Friday

April 14th, 2017

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Today, we – the Church Universal and the whole of humanity – come to the crossroads of history. We come to the Cross on which our Savior gave up his life as a ransom for ours so that we might have life eternal. On Good Friday, the Cross stands at the center of our thoughts and our liturgy as the living symbol of God’s all-embracing love of us, of Jesus’ extension of that love as he stretched his arms, a love voiced in his plea, “I thirst” – the Lord thirsts for our love – as his love is made visible in his pain, suffering and death he endured for our sake.

As we shout, “Crucify him,” during this liturgy and see ourselves as the soldiers pounding the nails in Jesus’ hands and feet by our sins, and as we also stand at the foot of the Cross at the side of Mary as the beloved disciple, and as his witnesses in today’s world, with the eyes of faith we see in the Cross more than just failure, despair and death. As believers now, like the centurion and the Apostles we acclaim, “Truly, this is the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54).

What makes it possible for us to see beyond the ruined body of Jesus of Nazareth nailed to the Cross is our Spirit-filled faith that helps us see the reality of our redemption and salvation. What brings us to the foot of the Cross today, and leads us to venerate the Cross at the Good Friday liturgy, is our understanding of who Jesus is and what he accomplished for you and me.

We are here – and cannot be elsewhere – because in the Cross we recognize the sign of God’s love for us and the new life, the fresh start that it signifies for each of us. Through his divine love, the fullness of love in the Trinity, we can attain God’s forgiveness when Jesus embraces us as he once embraced the Cross, by which he redeems the world and each of us, showing us that we too can conquer sin and death.

We also recognize here in the figure that graces our crucifixes in our churches and homes, and is made truly present again on the altar, that no matter how bruised or battered we might be because of our own sinfulness or due to challenges we are facing, the Lord’s love and mercy are always there for us. If we turn to him even in our last breath and contritely ask him to remember us, Jesus will say to us, “Amen, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). The Cross reminds us we are never alone and never without hope.

Knowing Jesus’ Passion ultimately culminated in his Resurrection, and knowing that the transformative power of his love redeems us to new life and can help us endure our own crosses in redemptive suffering, there is no other place for us to be. “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you. Because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.” This prayer of Saint Alphonsus Liguori for the Way of the Cross offers words we can take to heart on this Good Friday and every day.

Good Friday Blog 2

The Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper

April 13th, 2017

Eucharist

When God saved his people from death by the blood of the Passover lamb and delivered them out of bondage and oppression in ancient Egypt, he told them to eat unleavened bread and each year thereafter to observe this day as a memorial of the Passover of the Lord. The meal taken in community, which generation after generation then celebrated, was thus integrally connected with the circumstances of the liberation and captured in ritual what God was about to effect in history.

In the fullness of time centuries later, John the Baptist would acclaim Jesus as the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29) and the Lord would proclaim that he is himself the bread of life, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). The Apostles, however, did not yet understand what Jesus was saying and when they went to celebrate the Passover for what would turn out to be the last time, they no doubt expected it to follow the usual ritual. Instead, it was the establishment of the new, definitive and everlasting covenant.

At this meal called the Last Supper, Jesus instituted a new memorial sacrifice – the Eucharist. The true Lamb of God was about to be slain and all was to be new. But first Christ would suffer and die on the Cross, the sacrificial offering that frees us from the bondage of sin and death, before rising, which is our pledge of new life.

In the context of the Passover meal, Jesus said a blessing as he took the unleavened bread and the cup of wine. “This is my body that is for you,” he said. “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Bidding his Apostles and through them us to eat and drink, he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Unlike the Passover, however, in the Eucharist the events of redemption and salvation are made a present reality in our lives in a way that enables us to participate and share in them.

Every time we do this at Mass, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the words of consecration, Jesus becomes truly present – Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity – in sacramental form under the outward appearance of bread and wine. As the unbloody re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice, the Eucharist is the central mystery of faith, “a mystery which renews history and the whole cosmos.” Pope Benedict XVI explained it this way: “The substantial conversion of bread and wine into [Christ’s] Body and Blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, [which] penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 10, 11).

In the Eucharist, our Lord gives us himself so that we might be transformed and for the renewal of the world. What a wondrous and wonderful blessing and grace this is.

Leaders of Washington Faith Community Issue Statement in Support of the Persecuted Coptic Christians in Egypt

April 11th, 2017

The following letter, signed today by leaders of the Washington area faith community and the Interfaith Conference of Washington, was sent to the Washington area Coptic Churches and priests.

In light of the tragedy that occurred on Palm Sunday in Egypt, we write to express our deepest sympathy for all those whose lives were lost or forever changed due to the Palm Sunday attacks in Egypt. And we lament that the Egyptian Coptic churches were the target of such violence. An attack on one community of faith is an attack on all, and we offer our prayers for God’s mercy and justice.

Please accept this statement, which we also make publicly, as an expression of our solidarity with the Coptic Community.

Statement in Support of the Persecuted Coptic Christians in Egypt

The disturbing news of another attack on Christians, this time Coptic worshippers in Egypt, calls us together so that we might, through the faith traditions represented in this statement, denounce violence but particularly violence perpetrated in the name of religion.

In this week, called holy by Christians around the world, we join in solidarity in decrying this violent attack.

In the Christian Scriptures there is the image of Simon of Cyrene, whose faith tradition we do not know, but who stepped forward to help Jesus carrying his cross. In that sense we step forward to stand with our Coptic Christian brothers and sisters and with Christians around the world, so that they do not have to carry their cross alone.

In the Islamic tradition, churches are explicitly named in the Qur’an (22:40) as places where the name of God is extolled and are deserving of protection and anyone who attacked a Christian church would be violating Islamic principles.

With sentiments of solidarity,

Cardinal Donald Wuerl
Archbishop of Washington

The Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde
Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Washington

Mr. Rizwan Jaka
Chair, Board & Interfaith/Government/
Media Committee Co-Chair,
All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS)

Rev. Dr. G. Wilson Gunn, Jr.
General Presbyter
National Capital Presbytery

Rabbi Gerry Serotta
Executive Director
Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington

Imam Mohamed Magid, Executive
Religious Director,
All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS)

Statement from Cardinal Donald Wuerl Regarding Church Bombings in Egypt

April 9th, 2017
(CNS photo/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters from December 12, 2016)

(CNS photo/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters – from  December 12, 2016)

At the conclusion of Palm Sunday Mass today at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C., I released the following statement in response to the attack against Coptic Christians in Egypt:

It’s the belief of the Church, it’s the faith of the Church, that because of the Communion we have received and the Spirit we share in Baptism, the Body of Christ – the Church – is the Body of Christ present in our world today.

That body continues to be crucified in parts of our world. Today we heard once again of another church bombing, of Christians, this time Coptic Christians in Egypt, killed simply because they believe in the Lord Jesus. Our Holy Father has pointed out – and it’s something that the statisticians have pointed out in recent years – that there are more Christians dying for the faith today than ever happened under the Roman authorities at the time of the pagan empire.

My brothers and sisters, there is very little you and I can do about the atrocities that have happened, because there are people who are willing to do them and then there are the rest of us, who perhaps remain too silent.

But, even in the face of the frustration of not being able to do much, there is one powerful thing we can do, and that is pray – pray and unite our hearts with our brothers and sisters who simply are being persecuted and dying for something you and I just did so freely today, profess our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. So I would ask you today, and during this Holy Week when you are lifting up your hearts in prayer, to remember them. They have no voice. They have no one to speak for them. They have no one to stand up for them. But we can at least remember them as part of the Body of Christ being crucified in our day today. We pray for them.

Homily: Blessing of the Palms and Mass for Palm Sunday

April 9th, 2017

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With the blessing of the palm and the reading of the Gospel narrative of the passion and death of Jesus, the Church initiates, once again, Holy Week. You and I are here because our faith recognizes that it is precisely in the events of Jesus’ life that our redemption is achieved. Our salvation – all salvation – must be personal. Yet it has an ecclesial dimension. It takes place in a community – the Church.

We realize that it is precisely in Jesus’ Church, his family, that we hear the story of those events, we relive them spiritually and we enter into that mystery sacramentally. You are I are here so that we can relive liturgically, sacramentally and spiritually the events of our salvation and do so personally as an individual and yet in the context of God’s family – the Church.

Two points that stand out, two lessons we reflect on: we are not bystanders to an historical event that is unfolding in time as were so many who watched Jesus enter Jerusalem. Rather, we are participants in the action that we help to realize and manifest, and we do not enter this mystery alone but as members of Jesus’ community of disciples – his Church.

We have the opportunity, all over again, to make our way with Jesus, walking in his path and even alongside him as we seek also to renew and deepen our encounter with him, his love and his mercy.

This annual spiritual journey of faith renewal is necessary because with all of our other concerns and the calendar of secular life and events that dominate our lives, we stand in danger of diminishing that encounter with Jesus that brings us to discipleship and defines us as his followers.

We can be so easily distracted by stories of congressional gridlock, poison gas attacks, and the recounting of numerous stories of floods, disasters, violence and death that we can lose sight of the greater and wider dimension of life – our spiritual life.

As hard as we may try to remain faithful to that powerful realization that the Risen Lord is actually present to us, the experience can grow cold and the memory dim. We may even lose our sensitivity to the overwhelming gift of God’s mercy that is there for you and me every day.

We enter the Holy Week Liturgies to prevent the fading from memory and heart of our joy of experiencing the living Christ as we make, all over again, our own, his story.

This Holy Week let us together make our way through all of these extraordinary Liturgies and all of the moments of prayer and reflection that are offered us as if we were blowing on the embers of our encounter with Christ to cause them to flame up, once again, in a way that we experience what the Church calls our ongoing conversion and renewal.

There would be a special renewal of faith if we were actually walking the streets of Jerusalem. But even there we would not experience the same closeness that sacramentally we have and receive right here in this cathedral.

Unlike any other form of historical remembrance and commemoration, the Liturgy, thanks to God’s gracious gift, has the power to make present the very reality it symbolizes.

From one perspective, Palm Sunday is the return to a historical moment. Jesus did enter into Jerusalem amid cries and shouts of joy. Equally true is the story of his suffering and death recounted in the Gospel as it will be retold once again on Good Friday. But there is so much more. We are invited to see these events through the eyes of faith.

The Church sets before us these mysteries of the faith not simply for remembrance, nostalgia, recollection and history, but because we, each of us personally, are touched by the events of Holy Week in a way that we are brought into the very action of what we commemorate.

We arrive at this Palm Sunday aware that each of us is on our own personal faith journey, our own pilgrimage that we hope leads us through whatever sufferings we endure to the glory of the Easter garden.

We gathered at the entrance to this great cathedral church, not just as individuals, but as a part of God’s family, and we did so in order to bear witness to our faith and to strengthen each other in our appreciation of our faith.

This is not the easiest time to be recognized as a person of faith. This is a culture where religious faith is increasingly dismissed and people of faith are expected to be less visible. Yet we also know that living our faith and visibly bearing testimony to it can have wonderful effects.

On the steps of this Cathedral, just a few weeks ago, a different type of ceremony took place, not in the middle of the day but at the beginning of night. I stood on those steps where we just blessed the palm. This time I was there with a large group of young adults who asked a blessing as they went out into the evening and the streets simply to invite others to say a prayer and even to come back to this Cathedral if they felt they would like a quiet place in which to say that prayer. You may be surprised to know that many accepted the invitation.

This is the time when missionary disciples, as Pope Francis calls us, all of us, are finding in a culture of self-absorption many who are looking for an encounter with God. As we listen to the recounting in the Gospel today, the Church provides us a time to step aside and make that recommitment to Christ. We also can accept the challenge one that Pope Francis keeps lifting up for us, to be witnesses to our faith, to be willing to be evangelizing disciples. This we can do by the testimony of our lives and also in inviting others to experience with us the spiritual events of Holy Week.

As you return home from this Mass, I hope you will carry with you a piece of the palm and place it somewhere in your home as a reminder of how personal Jesus’ death for each of us is. Every time we look on that piece of palm, why not whisper a brief prayer that, once again, we stir the embers of our personal experience of Jesus into a flame of awareness of the presence of the Risen Lord in our hearts, our lives and our actions.


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The Holy Mass: The Liturgy of the Eucharist

April 6th, 2017

the Mass

In the Creed, we profess our unity of belief in one God, one Savior, one Church and one faith. That unity is fulfilled in the flesh and spirit as we receive Holy Communion.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the heart and summit of the Mass wherein the one and eternal holy sacrifice of Jesus Christ in the Paschal Mystery is made present to us. Following the ancient practice as described sometime around 155 AD by Saint Justin Martyr in his First Apology (chapters 65-67), this entrance into the sacred mysteries begins with the offertory, when we bring our gifts to the altar, including the bread and wine to be consecrated, and donations people offer to support the Church and its outreach.

Soon afterward comes the Eucharistic Prayer, which includes a prayer for the sending of the Holy Spirit. We receive and become Christ’s Body and Blood by the power of the Spirit. The narrative account of the Last Supper which comes next links the events of our redemption – Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection – to the institution of the Eucharist. When Jesus said, “This is my body . . . do this in remembrance of me,” he established the ceremonial setting for the remembrance of our salvation.

The Eucharist has the power to make present the event it memorializes not just as a memory, but as a reality. When the priest acting “in persona Christi” takes the host and consecrates it as Jesus did at the Last Supper, the substance of what outwardly appears to be bread truly becomes the Body of Christ. When the priest consecrates the chalice of wine, it now contains the Blood of Christ. As we proclaim “the mystery of faith” and the Great Amen, we affirm the historical truth of Jesus’s Cross, death and rising, and also the present reality of the bread of life and cup of salvation.

Then we recite the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, which leads us to open our minds and hearts to God our Father, and we offer a sign of peace to others, recognizing them as our brothers and sisters in God’s family. Next, we offer another ancient prayer: the Agnus Dei, when we repeat the words of John the Baptist upon seeing Christ – “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us . . .”

The climax of the Holy Sacrifice occurs when people approach the altar and the priest or Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion holds up the Host and says, “The Body of Christ,” to which the communicant says, “Amen,” and receives Jesus. The communicant may also approach the minister holding the chalice, who says, “The Blood of Christ,” and again the response is, “Amen.”

The Mass concludes with a blessing and dismissal, “Go forth, the Mass is ended.” Just as the Risen Christ sent out his disciples to be his witnesses at the culmination of his earthly ministry, what we receive in the Mass – Jesus – we take into the world as his face, voice, hands and feet. To this we fittingly respond, “Thanks be to God.”

This is the third installment of a three-part series drawn from the book that Mike Aquilina and I wrote, “The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition.”

Active Cooperation in the Grace of Forgiveness and Reconciliation

April 4th, 2017
(CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

(CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

“Nothing of what a repentant sinner places before God’s mercy can be excluded from the embrace of his forgiveness,” Pope Francis affirms (Misericordia et Misera, 2).  The Lord is always there desiring our reconciliation when we have estranged ourselves from him and squandered our status as adopted sons and daughters of God.

We can and should trust in this saving compassion of the Lord.  But it would be wrong to take that tender mercy for granted as if divine pardon and reconciliation with God were automatic in every circumstance and without any action on our part.  While the grace of redemption is wholly unmerited gift and all salvation is by and through Christ, that does not mean that we ourselves do not play a role in our own salvation.

For one thing, the nature of forgiveness and reconciliation require that we affirmatively open our hearts to love of the Lord and his grace.  To be renewed, we must actively admit our self-inflicted spiritual wounds and turn to him for healing (CCC 1847).  Saint Augustine put it this way: “He who made you without your participation, does not justify you without your participation. He has made you without your knowledge; He justifies you if you will it” (Sermon 169).

Furthermore, Jesus says that “all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them,” but then he warns, “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin” (Mark 3:28-29). This seeming contradiction – that there is no wrong our Savior is not willing to forgive, yet some sin is not forgiven – can perhaps be understood simply this way:  Those sins we do not let go of, that we hang on to instead of giving up to God, will remain with us.

As Saint John Paul II taught, blasphemy against the Spirit is essentially denying or resisting God’s grace of forgiveness – and because the heart is thus hardened, pardon and reconciliation are not possible by our own action (Dominum et Vivificantem, 46).  “Mercy exists,” adds Pope Francis, but “if you don’t recognize yourself as a sinner, it means you don’t want to receive it.” (The Name of God is Mercy, 57).

Jesus also warns that we will be judged on how we treat others: “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:15).  If we do not care for others, then it is as if we do not care for Christ and we will thus not have eternal life in his kingdom (Matthew 25:41-46).

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus – except ourselves. Taking the words of Jesus to heart, we have every good reason to dread that we might keep ourselves from his loving grace. This realization should jar us from any complacency and spur us to open our hearts to love of God and neighbor, to turn to the Lord in Confession, and to seek the good in all things and for all people.