This Thanksgiving Day, We Join in the Thanks Offered by Our Holy Father

November 26th, 2015

Pope Francis arrives for Mass and the canonization of Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington Sept. 23.

On this Thanksgiving Day, we again gather with our loved ones, joined by family members and friends around the dinner table, to thank God for the many blessings in our lives.

For Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington, this year’s Thanksgiving is even more special, as we thank God for the gift of Pope Francis’ visit two months earlier and join him in praising God for the good in our Church and in our nation. The memories of those two grace-filled days will continue to inspire our family of faith here for years to come.

Throughout his visit to Washington, Pope Francis often expressed gratitude to God and to our nation’s Catholics. As he offered thanks, Pope Francis underscored our living legacy as Catholics and Americans, and encouraged us to carry on those ideals. Addressing the bishops of this country at a midday prayer service at our Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle, Pope Francis said, “My first word to you is one of thanksgiving to God for the power of the Gospel which has brought about remarkable growth of Christ’s Church in these lands and enabled its generous contribution, past and present, to American society and to the world.”

In that address, Pope Francis also thanked Americans for their solidarity with the Holy See and the generous support they offer for spreading the Gospel in suffering areas of the world. The pontiff said he appreciates “the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family.”

Then the Pope who at the White House described himself as “the son of an immigrant family” thanked the Church in the United States for its history of welcoming immigrants who come to this country with dreams of “enjoying its blessings of freedom and prosperity.”

Our Holy Father then expressed gratitude for support by the faithful of Catholic education and charitable outreach, works he said that “are often carried out without appreciation or support, often with heroic sacrifice.”

When Pope Francis addressed Congress, he spoke of his respect for the elderly “who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience, and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are retired but still active; they keep working to build up this land.” The Pope also praised “all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations.”

At the White House and Congress, Pope Francis encouraged our nation which has been so blessed to remember the poor and to help bring them hope. Then he later did just that when he blessed and visited with homeless men, women and children and other clients served by our Catholic Charities.

After his address to Congress, the pontiff stepped out onto the balcony of the U.S. Capitol and spoke to the crowd gathered there, thanking them for their welcome and their presence. Then he added, touchingly, “I thank the most important people here today: the children. I want to ask God to bless them. Lord, Father of us all, bless your people, bless each of them, bless their families, grant them what they need most.”

Throughout his trip to Washington, Pope Francis thanked American Catholics for their faith and generosity. He also reminded us of his solidarity with us. “May no member of Christ’s Body and the American people feel excluded from the Pope’s embrace,” he said at our cathedral church. “Whenever a hand reaches out to do good or to show the love of Christ, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely, to show the way to one who is lost or to console a broken heart, to help the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to offer a new start in God, know that the Pope is at your side, the Pope supports you. He puts his hand on your own, a hand wrinkled with age, but by God’s grace still able to support and encourage.”

As we gather around our Thanksgiving dinner table, let us remember to pray and offer thanks for our Holy Father and follow his example of offering Christ’s love to those we encounter, especially those who have no one else. Pope Francis often asks us to pray for him, and this Thanksgiving, I invite you to do that.

The Son of Man

November 22nd, 2015


The sign above Jesus on the Cross called him “king.” He was called king too at his birth, when the wise men came to do him homage, and his ministry was dedicated to proclaiming the kingdom of God. The followers of Jesus for the most part, both in the Gospels and throughout the rest of the New Testament, referred to him as Master, Teacher, the Messiah, Christ, Lord and the Son of God.

Meanwhile, Jesus most often identified himself as the “Son of Man.” The only other person to use this title was Saint Stephen, who had a vision at his martyrdom of the “Son of Man” appearing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56). What Stephen saw confirms what Jesus declared at his trial before the Sanhedrin, “From now on you will see ‘the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’ and ‘coming on the clouds of heaven’” (Matthew 26:64).

This imagery also fulfills the prophecy found in the Book of Daniel that we hear in the first reading at Mass today, the Solemnity of Christ the King. “I saw one like a Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven,” said Daniel. “He received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion” (Daniel 7:13-14).

Like the Book of Revelation, Daniel is filled with visions and signs which are meant to provide hope in a time of tribulation. In the midst the Babylonian captivity, when things appear dark for the people of God, the message is that God does not abandon those who trust in him and the kingdom of God will ultimately triumph.

The scriptures tell us how God preserved from death the faithful Daniel when he was thrown into the lion’s den (6:17-24), and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were protected when they were thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship idols (3:23-93). So too will God save all those who persevere in faith.

The Book of Daniel also tells the ominous story of “the writing on the wall” that appeared in the palace of an evil Babylonian ruler during a banquet. When no one else could, Daniel told the ruler the meaning of the words: God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it; you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; your kingdom has been divided and given away (5:5-28). The lesson is that while earthly powers might rule for a time and persecution might happen, they will all end as the Lord, the Son of Man who comes on the clouds of heaven, reigns supreme.

When Jesus comes again in glory to establish definitively his kingdom, the Gospels tell us, there will be the definitive judgment. As the Son of God, this judgment rightly belongs to Christ, yet Jesus says God the Father gave him “power to exercise judgment, because he is the Son of Man” (John 5:27).

Saint John Paul II explains it this way: the Son of Man is “a person full of understanding and in solidarity with the human condition” (General Audience of April 22, 1998). He fully identifies with humanity, so that the good we do to others, we do to him. Those who showed love and mercy to even the least among us will inherit the kingdom of eternal life, while those who did not will have chosen to be outside the heavenly kingdom (Matthew 25:31-46).

Knowing that Jesus, the Son of God, is also the “Son of Man,” the Lord who became one of us, should comfort us. Knowing that he is the universal king who reigns over all creation should free us to live confidently in the world. We are not putting our faith in a political leader, who might let us down. Jesus – who has shared in the effort and burden and tribulations of our human lives – watches over history. He watches over my life and yours.

If we are firm in faith – if we abandon ourselves to trust in this Son of Man who is Christ the King – we will know his peace even in the midst of difficulties and trials. He will give us his kingdom of love. In this hope we are already saved.

The 50th Anniversary of Dei Verbum

November 18th, 2015


God’s Revelation is the beginning of our salvation. When we say “yes” to God – when we make an act of faith – it is in reply to his invitation. Fifty years ago today, the Second Vatican Council explained what we mean by Revelation with the promulgation of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, known by its Latin title, Dei Verbum (the word of God).

We cannot come to know who God is by ourselves. God dwells in “unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16) and we are ensnared by the burden of our minds and our own human limitations. But God wishes us to be raised up so that we might share his very life. He wants us to know him. Thus, “in his goodness and wisdom, God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature” (Dei Verbum, 2).

Jesus himself is the fullness of God’s revelation. The Council Fathers also speak of the Word of God as it is written down in sacred scripture, as well as transmitted through sacred Tradition and the Magisterium. In fact, “sacred Tradition, sacred scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls” (Dei Verbum, 10).

In this, the document helps us to understand how the Church and her bishops, in communion with the Pope, ensure that our faith remains true. Sacred scripture and Tradition form one common deposit of faith, that is to say, one cannot find solid footing on scripture without Tradition, and likewise one will not find Tradition without any reference to scripture. The Magisterium, the teaching office of the Church, exercises a definitively authoritative role in faithfully interpreting both.

Distilled down to its essence, what all this means for us is that when we read the Bible, we should read it in the communion of the Church, and not separate from or in contradiction to the Church. This three-fold notion of authority is not restrictive in the least. As parents may instruct their children because of their experience, so the Church, which is mother and teacher, may establish what is a correct reading from the Bible or from some element of our faith’s Tradition. The Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit does not restrict, but sets us in the right direction to ensure greater freedom, greater humanity, and greater happiness.

When we turn specifically to scripture, the Council affirms that, although physically written by human beings, the books of the Bible were composed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, such that God is their ultimate author (Dei Verbum, 11). Thus, “it follows that the books of scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation” (Id.). Furthermore, “God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New” (Dei Verbum, 16).

In seeking to accurately understand a given passage of the Bible, the Council teaches, not only is it essential to read the sacred text with the Church, one must also read it in the unity and context of the whole of scripture, but particularly in light of the fullness of Revelation that is Jesus Christ. The reader must also have an appreciation of the historical situation and the various historical, prophetic, poetic, and other literary forms (Dei Verbum, 12).

Out of his great love for mankind, God reveals himself to so that humanity may partake in the divine nature and draw closer to him in time until the day that sacred scripture and Tradition exhaust their usefulness and all is fulfilled in the glorious vision of God himself. In eternity, we will not need to study the scriptures, because the Author will be fully present to us!

While on earth, the pilgrim Church urges that “easy access to sacred scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful” (Dei Verbum, 22). Relying on the Church’s understanding of God’s revelation to man to guide us, we can and should confidently experience all the riches scripture has to offer. In this way, we can enjoy the fruits of friendship with Christ and all the more remain steadfast in our hope of salvation.

Seek First the Kingdom

November 16th, 2015

Jesus among the Doctors - Paolo Veronese

We read in the Gospels how Jesus urges his listeners to not be anxious about worldly concerns, but to “seek first the kingdom of God” and God in his providence will provide the things we need (Matthew 6:25-33). “Do not be afraid any longer,” he says, “for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

John the Baptist heralded the coming of this kingdom (Matthew 3:2) and Jesus proclaimed at the beginning of his public life, “The kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). Throughout his ministry, in fact, the Lord would preach the Good News of the kingdom.

It is clear from what is recorded in the New Testament that the announcement of the kingdom was not intended to be for one generation alone. So what is this “kingdom” that Jesus says should be a priority in our lives? Why did I think the kingdom so important that I included it in my episcopal motto, “Thy Kingdom Come,” as well as in the title of this blog, “Seek First the Kingdom”? Where is this kingdom? What are its distinguishing characteristics?

In our day, the kingdom is often misunderstood and misconstrued. Some think of it as a metaphor – a symbol of what the world would be like if more people would be nice to one another. People should be nice to one another, but God’s kingdom is not reducible to niceness. Furthermore, when Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom is at hand, he was not simply speaking symbolically. It is a living reality.

To help us grasp the mystery of God’s kingdom, Jesus spoke in parables and worked miracles to confirm the truth of what he had to say. For example, he says that the kingdom is like a priceless pearl or a field where a treasure is hidden; it is like yeast causing dough to rise or seed sown in a field to yield a harvest (Matthew 13:24-46). Interspersed throughout the teaching on the kingdom, the Gospels abound with stories of Jesus healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, feeding the multitudes, driving out evil spirits, calming storms, and raising the dead.

All this comports with Jesus’ inauguration of the kingdom when, at the beginning of his ministry, he entered the synagogue and read a scroll from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (61:1-2). Then he announced to the people that the prophecy was being fulfilled in him (Luke 4:16-21). What he was saying, in terms everyone could recognize, was that the kingdom had come.

What then is the kingdom? As we see in Jesus’ teachings, it is a kingdom of life, truth, goodness, peace and love, which continually tries to break into our closed and too often narrowly focused world. In other words, and before all else as the Second Vatican Council taught, “the kingdom is clearly visible in the very Person of Christ” (Lumen Gentium, 5). The kingdom is the living presence of the Lord himself, God who is Love and Truth. Jesus proclaims that “the kingdom of God is at hand” because he is at hand.

Throughout his public ministry, Jesus laid the foundation for the enduring presence of God’s kingdom in the Church, his Body in the world today, which would continue his saving work of the Gospel. The challenge of Jesus to his Church, to you and me, his disciples, is that in the midst of all the things that make up our daily life, we keep our hearts clearly focused on something that is not as visible as the creation around us, but is every bit as real – the presence of God in our lives. He asks that we seek this kingdom first, and that we seek to share this “priceless pearl” with those we encounter and thereby renew the temporal order.

Pope Francis puts it this way: The Gospel we are called to proclaim “is about the kingdom of God (cf. Luke 4:43); it is about loving God who reigns in our world. To the extent that he reigns within us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity” (Evangelii Gaudium, 180).

In seeking first this kingdom and proclaiming the Good News, in what we say and what we do, we offer humanity a different way of seeing life and the world around us. We bring a fuller vision of life than what the world by itself has to offer, we bring a kingdom of light and love, salvation and peace.

Joining in Solidarity and Prayer

November 14th, 2015


The news from Paris last evening was heart-wrenching. The murderous violence that has plagued Iraq and Syria has now struck France as a series of coordinated attacks has led to more than 120 people dead and more critically wounded. This follows the mid-air explosion of a passenger airliner over the Sinai Peninsula a few weeks ago that has been determined to be an act of terrorism. The group claiming to be responsible for this carnage in each case is ISIS, which issued a statement vowing to continue its acts of death and terror.

Our first thought in all this is to reach out to our sisters and brothers and express our solidarity with them. While the specific victims may come from different parts of the world, in each case it is all of us who are attacked. The people of France, together with the French citizens living in our area, should know of our solidarity with them in this time of sorrow and determination to stand with them to bring an end to the violence.

We offer our prayers for the dead and wounded and their families, that the God of all consolation and mercy embrace you and give you peace. We ask also that the Lord grant us all the peace and stability that will enable us to live with each other without fear and anxiety, and with dignity and joy.

Pope Francis called this latest evil part of a “piecemeal Third World War,” adding that “there is no religious or human justification for it.” We join our Holy Father in his repeated calls that there be concerted international effort to end this terrorism.

Our hope and trust is in the Lord. Today let us stand with our Holy Father in making another impassioned appeal that the whole Church and all the faithful join as one to implore God to change enough hearts that all people might enjoy the gift of peace.

Walking with Francis, the Journey Continues

November 12th, 2015
A reliquary containing relics of St. Junipero Serra is seen as Pope Francis celebrates his canonization and Mass outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington Sept. 23.

A reliquary containing relics of St. Junipero Serra is seen as Pope Francis celebrates his canonization and Mass outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington September 23.

As he has throughout his ministry, Pope Francis voiced a message of accompaniment during his trip to the nation’s capital, expressing the desire that everyone walk together in the presence of the Lord. Hearing his call, the Church of Washington and many others in our community joined in solidarity to participate in the “Walk with Francis” initiative. So overwhelming was the response that the day the Holy Father arrived, the number of people who had committed to special acts of prayer, service and works on behalf of those in need reached 100,000.

Pope Francis himself demonstrated every aspect of this initiative during his visit. He prayed with the nation’s Catholic bishops at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle, and with 25,000 people gathered for the Canonization Mass of Saint Junípero Serra outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. He demonstrated the importance of service by meeting with the clients, volunteers and staff of Catholic Charities. He advocated on behalf of those in need during his remarks at the White House and in his address to the joint meeting of Congress.

In his homily at the Canonization Mass, Pope Francis encouraged people to make the joy of the Gospel increase in their lives: “Jesus gives the answer. He said to his disciples then and he says it to us now: Go forth! Proclaim! The joy of the Gospel is something to be experienced, something to be known and lived only through giving it away, through giving ourselves away.”

The Holy Father pointed to the example of Father Junípero Serra, the famous 18th century Spanish Franciscan missionary whom he canonized that afternoon in the first sainthood liturgy ever held on U.S. soil. “Junípero Serra left his native land and its way of life,” he said, praising the new saint as a trailblazer who nurtured “God’s life in the faces of everyone he met; he made them his brothers and sisters” and defended the dignity of the native people whom he served.

Then the Holy Father concluded his homily by describing how Saint Junípero is a role model for today’s Catholics, who like that great missionary are called to go out and bring Christ’s love to people. “Father Serra had a motto which inspired his life and work, not just a saying, but above all, a reality which shaped the way he lived: siempre adelante! Keep moving forward!” Pope Francis said. “He kept moving forward, because the Lord was waiting. He kept going, because his brothers and sisters were waiting. He kept moving forward to the end of his life. Today, like him, may we be able to say: Forward! Let’s keep moving forward!”

Stirred to prayer and action by the Holy Father’s example, we know our “Walk with Francis” must continue. By committing to follow his example of prayer and service, we can become a living legacy to the Pope and his visit to Washington.

As we walk with him on our pilgrim journey, our Holy Father assured us during his meeting with the bishops that he walks with us too. “Whenever a hand reaches out to do good or to show the love of Christ, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely, to show the way to one who is lost or to console a broken heart, to help the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to offer a new start in God – know that the Pope is at your side and supports you. He puts his hand on your own, a hand wrinkled with age, but by God’s grace still able to support and encourage.”

On the Archdiocese of Washington’s special website at, people are continuing to take the pledge. You will also find there links for related parish resources, school lesson plans and opportunities to share the faith. Meanwhile, more than 532,000 messages have been shared so far on social media through #WalkwithFrancis, including recent tweets about first and second grade girls from Our Lady of Mercy School in Potomac singing for the elderly residents next-door at Byron House. A tweet for young adults from @DCCatholic, noted, “We follow Jesus when we #WalkwithFrancis.”

Pope Francis came to the United States as a missionary of the Good News of Jesus, and encouraged us to follow the example of Saint Junípero Serra, as missionaries who go forth in our daily lives and bring Christ to our homes, our workplaces, our schools, our communities and our world. In that way, our walk with Francis and the whole Church continues.

Saints in the Making

November 10th, 2015
Saints Louis and Marie Zelie Guerin Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux (CNS photo/courtesy of Sanctuary of Lisieux)

Saints Louis and Marie Zelie Guerin Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux (CNS photo/courtesy of Sanctuary of Lisieux)

We are all called to be saints – to be holy. As Saint Paul said to the Church in Thessalonica, “This is the will of God – your holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Jesus himself issued the call in his Sermon on the Mount. He was addressing the crowd when he said, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Jesus was not laying an impossible burden on the crowd, but was instead calling them to share God’s life, which is purity, holiness and love.

Jesus’ words were an echo of God’s great calling to Israel given through Moses: “Make and keep yourselves holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). The difference is that now with Christ coming to dwell with us, through his saving grace, he has given his disciples the power to become God’s children (John 1:12), to share in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). Human beings cannot be perfect on their own; we cannot be holy on our own, but with God’s help we can because God is perfect and is holy by nature.

God calls us to be saints not to be demanding, but because he loves us and wants what is good for us. He wants the best for his children. The universal call to sainthood, to holiness, is really a call to happiness – authentic happiness.

Our culture presents many false definitions of happiness and it is easy for us to buy into them. Many people say that happiness is the same thing as pleasure. Experience however tells us it is not. We only have to look into the lives of wayward celebrities who can afford to indulge every stray desire and we will too often see profound unhappiness and loneliness. Yet if we speak to seniors whose families had to scrape by during the Depression they will tell you how they were happy growing up. They had one another and they had love, and this love is from God.

God wants us to be truly happy. This means a mind that is not preoccupied with oneself, but rather with care for others. It means inner peace, a clear conscience, even in the midst of personal, professional or social difficulties. It means living with the knowledge that we are loved.

God calls us to this happiness along the way of our particular vocations. The Lord called me to his priesthood and perhaps he also calls you to the priesthood or maybe the consecrated religious life. God calls many of you to marriage – throughout most of history, he has called most Christians to holiness by this way of marriage and family life. We saw a beautiful example of this last month with the canonization of Saint Louis Martin and Saint Zélie Guérin Martin, husband and wife. While their joint canonization might be special, the holiness they manifested in their married life is meant to be commonplace and there are many, many more saints in heaven that were married on earth, but are not officially canonized.

Some of you have already realized your particular vocation in your wedding, the taking of vows or ordination. Some of you are still on your way, seeking a spouse or in formation, and others are still discerning, listening for what God wants for you. In each of these cases, it is a continuing journey and it is also part of the universal path of holiness.

What we all have in common is that we want to know true happiness, peace and fulfillment – we want to go to heaven. And for that, we must be saints. For us imperfect human beings still walking the path and still works in progress, that means growing in holiness and becoming saints. It means turning ourselves around so that we are headed in the right direction, toward the way of God and genuine happiness.

To be a saint – to be with God and in God, eternally in the communion of his love – this is his plan for you and for me and for everyone we meet. This is glorious good news; it is the joy of the Gospel.

This blog post includes excerpts from my book, “The Marriage God Wants for You” (2015).

“The Glory of God is man fully alive”

November 7th, 2015

Saint Irenaeus, a great theologian of the Church in the second century, wrote, “The Glory of God is man fully alive.” This idea captures the essence of God who is not a distant impersonal God while also describing the dignity of the human person and God’s wish that each one of us lives our life to its fullest capacity.

God is a personal God, a God of knowledge and love who is eternal, entirely distinct from all he chose to make. He created freely, out of love. In his generosity God freely willed that what had not been should be, and thereby taste the blessing of existence. Some creatures – human beings – he made to share even in the glory of being free and called as persons to share the boundless richness of his own life. In this way, every human is made in the image and likeness of God and endowed with an inherent dignity that can never be lost.

Last month at the Synod of Bishops in Rome, we talked about the importance of Christian families as the protectors and defenders of human dignity. We talked about the family as a “school of love” that prepares our young to embrace life in all of its diversity. Now this weekend in the archdiocese we have two events that call us to an ever deeper appreciation of the dignity of every person and the voice the Church can have in promoting a culture of encounter and inclusion.

Today, catechists from around the archdiocese will join me for Catechetical Day, which this year is focusing on the many ways we are called to safeguard the dignity of every human life. In dozens of workshops at this bilingual gathering, participants will learn more about initiatives to protect the unborn and elderly, support marriage and family, encourage chastity and address the growing problem of pornography, better include those with cognitive and physical limitations in the life of faith, promote Catholic social doctrine in the community, and build up a culture of mercy and solidarity.

These issues – some of our culture’s most challenging – are an opportunity for us to be messengers of God’s love and compassion. In raising our voices together we become a voice for the most vulnerable and, in the Church, a place of welcome for all who seek to be fully alive in the embrace of God’s love.

Tomorrow morning at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle, the embrace of God’s love will be reflected in our archdiocesan celebration of the White Mass, an outreach of our Department of Special Needs Ministry. This annual Eucharist bears witness that we are each a sign of the glory of God, whatever our personal abilities or inabilities. Specially highlighting how those of us who are cognitively or physically challenged, deaf or blind are called to live and share with others the love of the Gospel, the liturgy is a beautiful expression of that culture of inclusion that values everyone in the life of the Church and society, at home and the parish, at school and work.

The White Mass also highlights how adaptations can be made to foster fuller participation in sacramental life by, for example, utilizing American Sign Language during the liturgy, making accommodations so that a person using a wheelchair is able to serve as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, or creating easier access to aisles for families with children who need extra space for movement. Beyond the celebration of the Mass, we want to celebrate the dignity of all our sisters and brothers across the whole of parish life.

The promotion and protection of the dignity of the human person is at the heart of the Church’s teachings and ministry. Exalted or lowly, God our Creator looks at each of us, the work of his hands, and proclaims us to be “very good” (cf. Genesis 1:31). Thus, whether it is at the Synod of Bishops or the White Mass, in our parishes or in our homes, in our workplaces or communities, we want to lift up for all every woman and man, boy and girl as the great gift that each of us are.

The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation

November 4th, 2015

On the Solemnity of All Saints last Sunday, the first reading for Mass presented the rich imagery of the Book of Revelation depicting the great multitude of saints in heaven. Of all of the books of the Bible, Revelation is clearly the most challenging as it recounts the prophetic visions of John at Patmos at the end of the first century during a period of persecution of the Church.

The book is filled with deeply mysterious symbolism concerning human history and the end of history. And this has led to the creation of some pretty dreadful books and Hollywood movies containing serious errors and misunderstandings about what is revealed.

Thus, perhaps the first lesson of the book is how to properly read the Bible. The Catechism teaches that to gain an accurate understanding, one needs to read scripture in communion with the Magisterium (the teaching office of the Church that is guided by the Holy Spirit) and in the context of the whole of the Bible and also the historical conditions at the time it was written (CCC 85, 110-13). Such enduring continuity with the Church ensures that we can be certain that we know the true revealed word of God.

The Book of Revelation speaks to many things – it enriches our understanding of the Lord as the beginning and end who reveals the meaning of human history (5:1-8, 22:13), it provides a vision of heaven as a great wedding (19:6-9), it ensures us that our prayers rise to God (5:8, 8:3-4), and it also depicts the heavenly liturgy as the climax of history (5:6). The overarching message of John’s visions, however, is one of hope amidst tribulation. This is a message we need to hear today.

The news in our time is filled with stories of calamities, natural and social, all around the world. It seems that Christians especially are facing greater challenges, hardships and violent persecution. Our sisters and brothers in Christ around the world have been murdered, beaten, raped, and driven out of their homes. Closer to home, the Church is the subject of various forms of legal and social oppression. But we must not despair or give up.

“The Book of Revelation contains a word of encouragement addressed to believers: beyond all appearances, and even if its effects are not yet seen, the victory of Christ has already taken place and is final. This in turn causes us to approach human situations and events with an attitude of fundamental trust, born of faith in the Risen One, present and at work in history,” teaches Saint John Paul II (Ecclesia in Europa, 5).

The book opens with an assessment of various Christian communities, giving praise for the good in them, but also urging them to persevere in faith (chapters 2-3). Only those people who maintain faithful witness will survive the great period of trial and have their robes made white in the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, so as to enjoy eternal life (7:9-17).

Among the cycles of John’s visions is that of a “woman clothed with the sun” who is with child. She is pursued and threatened by a dragon throughout history, but although she appears defenseless and weak, the woman prevails in the end (12:1-17). “This is the great prophecy of this book that inspires confidence in us!” exclaims Pope Benedict XVI. “The woman who suffers in history, the Church which is persecuted, appears in the end as the radiant Bride, the figure of the new Jerusalem where there will be no more mourning or weeping, an image of the world transformed, of the new world whose light is God himself, whose lamp is the Lamb” (Audience of August 23, 2006).

After the trials, plagues and ruin of human history have run their appointed course, after the beasts and kings who fight against Christ the Lamb and King of Kings are defeated (19:19-21), comes the judgment of each person according to his conduct (20:11-15). John then saw a new holy city where there is no more pain or death and he heard the Lord say, “Behold, I make all things new . . . To the thirsty I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water. The victor will inherit these gifts, and I shall be his God, and he will be my son” (21:1-7).

Throughout the suffering of the human condition, we rejoice in this hope, this promise of God. “For this very reason,” says Pope Benedict, “John, the Seer of Patmos, can close his book with a final aspiration, trembling with fearful expectation. He invokes the definitive coming of the Lord: ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ (22:20)” (Audience of August 23, 2006). This is our prayer too. We live with an expectation, confidence and joy, active and vigilant in anticipation, “Come, Lord Jesus, come,” as we continue to build up his kingdom coming to be among us.

Homily: Mass for 175th Anniversary of Saint Matthew the Apostle Parish

November 1st, 2015


The context for our liturgy this morning is the 175th Anniversary of Saint Matthew the Apostle Parish. We come together to recognize the particular expression of our Catholic faith that this parish represents in the life of the Church in our part of the world.

It is particularly appropriate that our celebration takes place on All Saints Day when we reflect on the universal call to holiness and the example of so many who have gone before us as witnesses to Christ, His Church, and our efforts to do the same – to manifest God’s love in our lives and in our world.

Last year we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Archdiocese of Washington. When Pope Pius XII in 1939 issued the Papal Bull decreeing that Washington should be, in his words, “adorned with the splendor of an archiepiscopal throne.” He thereby erected the new Archdiocese of Washington. There was an obvious choice of the Church to be the Cathedral – the place of that archiepiscopal teaching chair.

With the cross atop its majestic copper dome soaring above the Washington, D.C. skyline, the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle is truly a landmark of faith situated in the midst of our nation’s capital.

Today, however, we celebrate something that preceded both the establishment of this Archdiocese and the building of this magnificent Church that is now its Cathedral. At this Mass we recognize the 175th anniversary of the Parish of Saint Matthew the Apostle. It was erected as a parish in 1840 when the original Church was located at 15th and H Street, NW.

One authoritative history of the Archdiocese of Washington tells us that the establishment of Saint Matthew’s Parish with the name of the Apostle who had been the equivalent of a civil servant of the Roman Empire was because many of the members of the new Saint Matthew’s Parish worked for the fledgling bureaucracy of the nation’s capital, in its federal city.

Today people from different branches of government and from international and national institutions along with visitors from across the country and our community worship at this Cathedral named for a tax collector who fittingly is patron saint of civil servants.

But there is an even wider context to our celebration today.

The Catholic community in what is now the District of Columbia traces its roots all the way back to those early Catholic settlers, a few of whom received land grants. Six of the sixteen land owners whose estates now make up the District of Columbia were Catholic. All of these Catholics have some spiritual tie with those who first arrived in what is now Maryland in 1634. The Catholics onboard the Ark and the Dove that landed at Saint Clement’s Island were part of the effort to plant the Cross in the English speaking New World.

But there is an even wider context. We are part of a larger, universal Catholic Church throughout the whole world. We are members of the spiritual gift that is the Church. As part of that family we make our way through life and eventually, we hope, to Heaven.

Our spiritual narrative, our history as a faith family, our story as the Church begins with the coming of Jesus. We identify ourselves as a faith community, as people who accept Jesus, his Gospel, his teaching, and follow him in the hope of someday joining him forever in the glory of his heavenly Father.

We are a people who today celebrate All Saints Day because we recognize we are a part of a great spiritual family called to be Saints. The Gospel chosen for All Saints Day is taken from the very familiar opening of the Sermon on the Mount – the Beatitudes. Here Jesus depicts for us the dual aspect of the kingdom he had come to announce. Its fullness will be in glory in heaven but it begins now with all of our works of love, truth, patience, kindness, caring for one another and even bearing the pains of persecution.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that we are blessed precisely because what we do now will someday flower in glory when Jesus returns to claim his kingdom made up of his faithful disciples. We are the people who, in the words of the responsorial psalm, “long to see the face of the Lord.” (Ps. 24)

But we also recognize that in hearing and accepting Jesus’ Gospel and message, we do so not just as individuals but as God’s family, His Church.

175 years ago the Archbishop of Baltimore, the see to which the City of Washington then belonged, exercised several of the unique responsibilities of a bishop. He established Saint Matthew’s as a parish and named a pastor. In doing so he recognized that the Catholic faithful in this portion of Washington constituted a stable community of believers who were now to be gathered around their own local shepherd as a new expression of the ancient Catholic family of faith.

Pope Francis tells us that “Wherever we go, even to the smallest parish in the remote corner of this earth, there is the one Church. We are at home, we are in the family, we are among brothers and sisters.” This Church is most regularly expressed in parishes throughout the world.

Pope Francis also tells us that, “The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship, and celebration.”

This parish is one, faith filled manifestation of the Church. We are one particular, local expression of the Church Universal. A vivid reminder of our connection to the whole Church was the presence here in this sanctuary just a month ago of the Chief Shepherd of the whole Church, of which we are an expression, our Holy Father Pope Francis.

In his encyclical God is Love Pope Benedict XVI used the description of the ancient Church found in the Acts of the Apostles to describe Church life today, and therefore the life of this parish.

The description of the first Christian “parish” can be found in Chapter 2, verse 42 of the Acts of the Apostles. Christians would gather together for four main purposes: 1) to pray; 2) to hear the teaching of the Apostles; 3) to build community, and 4) to join in breaking of the bread, the celebration of the Eucharist.

We are a people who pray to be one in spirit. The very language of the Church is prayer. It is the Spirit manifested in prayer that binds us together with all the other members of our family — our diocesan family. This Cathedral is a place set apart for prayer.

We also remain faithful to the teaching of the Apostles. It is for that reason that the ambo or pulpit in each Church, but certainly in this great Cathedral, is such an important fixture. The Word of God is proclaimed here and the teaching of the Church – the teaching of the Apostles – is made manifest.

Another sign of that apostolic continuity is the fact that here in this cathedral are memorials to three successive pontiffs who visited this archdiocese to confirm it in the faith that comes to us from the Apostles. The most recent, Pope Francis, spoke from this very sanctuary.

We are also a people who come together as a community. We are not just isolated individuals, but we come as members of God’s family and we work to build the community of the faithful. This also explains the tradition – our longstanding practice – of social responsibility – to care for those in need.

Finally, we recognize that in this community, we are gathered around the Eucharist. Hence the altar is the principle furnishing here as it is in every Catholic Church. The great mystery of our faith, a share in death/Resurrection of Jesus, is made present and we enter that mystery every time we celebrate the Eucharist.

In Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Saint John Paul II’s encyclical on the Eucharist, he said: “When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the memorial of her Lord’s death and Resurrection, this central event of salvation becomes really present and ‘the work of our redemption is carried out’” (11).

What we see here at Saint Matthew the Apostle Parish we see throughout the entire diocesan Church, we see in fact throughout the whole Church Universal. We are God’s people. We come together to be formed by God’s Word, and we come together to be nourished by the sacraments, most particularly the Eucharist. And we come together so that out of God’s love for us and our love for God and one another we can care for the needs of one another.

The Liturgy today speaks of the Church here and now and of the Church in glory. In the Book of Revelation, Saint John describes this great multitude which no one can count from every nation, race, people and tongue standing before the throne and before the Lamb.

It is precisely as his Church, his people, that we make our way through life with the hope of being a part of that great heavenly multitude.

What we celebrate today, then, is the fidelity of this portion of God’s family to the mission of the Church, to God’s plan, to God’s word, to God’s sacramental presence with us, and to the recognition of our identity as God’s family.

But we do not just celebrate the past and look back on the accomplishments of the parish. Today we look also to the present moment and to the future.

As we celebrate this Cathedral Parish of Saint Matthew the Apostle, we can rejoice because it continues the great vibrant tradition of living faith. One look at the weekly bulletin of this parish provides ample instruction in how much of the work of the Church is carried out each day in this parish.

On the drive to the airport for his departure from Washington, Pope Francis spoke about his experience of the Church here as, in his words, alive in the vibrancy of the Holy Spirit.

As we celebrate the present, we recognize that it is our turn to pass on the faith as did our ancestors all those many years ago.

But this is also a time to ask God’s blessing on the future. The future is ours too.

This faith community – the Parish of Saint Matthew the Apostle – understands its role in implementing our archdiocesan Synod, its challenge to be missionary disciples of the New Evangelization.

We embrace the challenge of Pope Francis, to go out, to encounter, to invite and to accompany on the journey with the Lord all of those we meet.

This celebration is a time of joy, of recommitment and of great expectation.

Congratulations on these 175 years at this parish — let us look forward to the future with the same faith and confidence that the founders of this parish did.

And continue to do the work of God, as they did.