“Why a silence?”

August 28th, 2014
Mass of The Holy Spirit celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, University Chancellor, at the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to mark the start of the academic year at The Catholic University of America in washington, D.C. Photo Credit: Ed Pfueller/Catholic University

Mass of the Holy Spirit celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, University Chancellor, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to mark the start of the academic year at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Photo credit: Ed Pfueller/Catholic University

I delivered the following remarks today at the Mass of the Holy Spirit at the Catholic University of America:

Before we conclude this wonderful, beautiful and inspiring celebration of the beginning of this academic year, I want to share just one very, very serious thought with you. This is a time that’s so very different from the ordinary time when we come annually to open the academic year. We hear so much today of the word “solidarity.” It’s a word that has become a part of our vocabulary in the past 20, 30 years. Today our solidarity with brothers and sisters of our faith and of other faiths in a part of the world where there is clearly an effort to eliminate them is something that we simply cannot in conscience ignore. Often we’re asked, “How is it possible that in human history atrocities occur?” They occur for two reasons. Because there are those prepared to commit them and there are those who remain silent. And the actions in Iraq and Syria today, what’s happening to women, children, men, their displacement – as the least of the things happening to them – is something that we really are not free to ignore and sometimes all we have to raise is our voice.

I’m sharing these thoughts with you because I don’t want to have on my conscience that I was complicitous in something as horrendous as this simply by being quiet. And I ask myself where are these voices? Where are the voices of parliaments and congresses? Where are the voices of campuses? Where are the voices of community leaders? Where are the voices of talk show hosts and radio programs? Where are the voices of the late night news? Where are the voices of editorial columns? Where are the voices of op-ed pieces? Why a silence? I think each one of us has at least the power to raise our voice and be in solidarity with people distant from us, unknown to us, not a part of this campus, not a part of this family, not a part of this university, not a part of our nation. But they are a part of our human community. I think it should rest on the conscience of each one of us. Atrocities happen because there are those who commit them and those who simply remain silent.

The Holy Spirit’s Gift of Grace

August 26th, 2014

The Holy Spirit’s Gift of Grace

Our very identity as Christians, as members in communion with the one Body of Christ that is the Church, comes only through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit fills us with God’s presence so that we can truly become adopted children of our heavenly Father.  Restoring through baptism the divine likeness that was lost through sin, the Spirit gives us a rebirth into the Church so that we can be called children of light and given a share in eternal glory.

In his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Saint John Paul II tells us that “man’s intimate relationship with God in the Holy Spirit also enables him to understand himself, his own humanity, in a new way. Thus that image and likeness of God which man is from his very beginning is fully realized” (Dominum et vivificantem, 59).

The Holy Spirit makes true conversion possible.  This conversion, this turning for the better, is a necessary part of Christian life.  Our purpose in life is to be transformed into Christ.  This is why Jesus came among us.  Nothing could be more transformative than this “divinization” of the human person.  However, this transformation is not imposed upon us without our consent.  We need to accept this grace.

No doubt we all could tell stories of some gift we received that we did not know what to do with.  If we leave the present under the Christmas tree or stick it in the closet unused, it is of little benefit.  If we write “return to sender” on the package that arrives at our doorstep, we do not gain from it.  Grace too is a gift and like any gift, in order to benefit from it, it must be accepted, it must be utilized.  Grace which is offered but spurned or ignored is a gift not received.

In the recent major motion picture Son of God, there is the scene where Simon Peter first encounters Jesus.  The fisherman is on his boat when Jesus asks from the shore, “Do you need help?”  Peter responds, “I’m not looking for any help.”  The Lord, who has been holding a rock, then begins to wade out into the water.

“Hey!  You can’t just climb into my boat!” yells Peter.  Jesus agrees, saying, “Yeah, you’re right.  Give me a hand.”

Peter reaches down and helps pull Jesus into his boat, but then the clearly annoyed Peter asks Jesus what he is doing.  “We’re going fishing,” the Lord responds with a smile.  Of course we know what happens next – Peter hauls in a boat-load of fish.

Astonished beyond all imagination, the man chosen to be a fisher of men asks, “What are we going to do?”  Jesus tells him – and us – “We’re going to change the world.”

In this scene is a little lesson on Christ and the grace he offers us – it is necessary for us to take the Lord into our boat.  Each of us is called to a sublime destiny – to live in the everlasting joy and glory of God.  But he will not force himself on us; he will not climb in without our consent.  The Lord might be persistent and we might think him annoying at times, but he will not impose himself on us.

Those who have accepted and cooperated with the grace of the Spirit can testify to exactly how powerful a gift it is.  With his grace, we can do that which otherwise would be very difficult or impossible for us to do on our own.  It is not just a movie, not just a story in a book, it is true life.  And if we say “yes” to Christ, if we give him a helping hand, we will change the world.

This is another installment in an on-going series based on excerpts from the pastoral letter, “Manifesting the Kingdom.”

Facing Challenges with Mary, Our Mother and Queen

August 22nd, 2014

Coronation of the Virgin by Diego Velazquez

“You know, Father, I should be Catholic.  I just sort of drifted away.  I miss belonging.”  The man who offered this self-assessment to me at a charity reception was clearly troubled about his admission, adding, “Even though I was never the best of Catholics, I miss being a part of it all.”

Many of us probably know someone like that.  Like any family, the Church faces challenges.  Some have chosen to leave home, perhaps feeling that they had good reason to walk away.  Others just sort of drifted away.  Some may say they are “spiritual” but not “religious” and therefore not affiliated with the Church.  Still others may never have really known what the family is all about, or they may have had a bad experience.

The members of our Archdiocesan Synod understood that this is the social reality before us.  While our local Church is thriving in many ways, they widely agreed that more needs to be done.  Too many who were baptized as Catholics are not engaged today by the Church and the Gospel message.  Whatever their motive for leaving, they are simply not with us.  Synod members felt strongly that it is time to invite back home our Catholic sisters and brothers who feel alienated from the Church.  Additionally, too many people in our community, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, are living on the margins of society, and Synod members recognized that we are also charged to go out and bring the saving love of Christ to them and all who do not know him.

This task is not an easy one.  The Christian way of life and the Gospel vision of right and wrong, virtue and God’s love seem to be eclipsed by various social, cultural, and political trends that seek to bleach out recognition and appreciation of God and marginalize the Church in her ability to function and live out her Gospel mandate to serve others in charity.

It is against this background that we are called to a New Evangelization, to revitalizing and sharing life in the Lord who makes all things new.  Our Archdiocesan Synod affirmed – in its recommendations and in the statutes which have been promulgated and will govern the Church of Washington in the future – that the antidote to our spiritual malaise is for each of us to know and deepen our knowledge of the Crucified and Risen Jesus and build up his kingdom in our community. The love of Christ should be seen in all our activities.  This is our perennial mission.

To help us and comfort us in this work of manifesting the kingdom in the face of many challenges, in addition to asking the Father to send us the Holy Spirit, Jesus has also given us his mother Mary as our mother too.  By her divine maternity, there is a royal dignity in the Blessed Virgin and today the Church celebrates this Queenship of Mary.

It was on the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary in 2012 that I announced publicly my intention to convoke the Synod.  Likewise, it is appropriate that we begin the implementation of the Synod with our Blessed Mother, Star of the New Evangelization.

Mary knows well the difficulties and adversities we face.  Through it all, “as a true mother, she walks at our side, she shares our struggles and she constantly surrounds us with God’s love,” Pope Francis reminds us (Evangelii gaudium, 286).

Similarly, Mary exercises her queenship of service and love, explained Pope Benedict XVI, “by watching over us, her children: the children who turn to her in prayer, to thank her or to ask her for her motherly protection and her heavenly help, perhaps after having lost our way, or when we are oppressed by suffering or anguish because of the sorrowful and harrowing vicissitudes of life” (Audience of August 22, 2012).

Our Mother and Queen, Mary is a sure sign of hope in trying times and thus we earnestly implore her protection.  Let us always be open to her care as we take on the challenges of the day and proclaim anew the Good News of her Son Jesus Christ.

#TBT blog post from August 3, 2012

August 21st, 2014

A Gift that Keeps on Giving


One of the joys of summer is finding time to sit outdoors in the cool of the early morning or late evening. For many of us, vacation always includes a walk along a beach or around a lake or through the woods. One reason we love these walks is that we feel like we have a few minutes to think about nothing. We are not racing to the next event or to meet a deadline. We savor this time and so does God, our loving Father. In fact, God’s desire is that rather than thinking about nothing, we take this time for a conversation with him, who knows everything on our minds and in our hearts, who doesn’t mind hearing a plea for help, but also enjoys the quiet of just being together.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God” (CCC, 2559).  The shade of the backyard, a sunset over the water or the quiet of the woods is an invitation to raise our minds and hearts to God. It seems so natural to offer a word of thanks for the beauty of God’s creation and to request God’s help for all the people and situations that make up our prayer list.  But these moments are also perfectly made for another kind of prayer. The beauty of a summer day, the quiet and less hectic pace is a perfect opportunity for the prayer of contemplation.  It is the form of prayer that offers God the gift of our silence so as to fully enjoy his presence and better hear his word in our hearts.

Saint Teresa of Jesus, the great teacher of prayer, writes in The Book of Her Life, “Contemplative prayer in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us” (The Collected Works of Saint Teresa of Avila, I, 67). In its most developed form, contemplative prayer draws one as near to God as is possible in this life. It anticipates now some of the intensity of the beatific vision, the “contemplation of God in his heavenly glory” (CCC, 1028). It gives a taste of the divine presence. This experience of contemplative prayer is truly a gift from God. While few of us will experience contemplative prayer in its fullness, we can practice its components in a way that will deepen and enrich our practice of prayer.

The Catechism teaches that rather than vocal prayer (prayer expressed in words) or mental prayer (the practice of seeking to understand the “why and how of Christian life”), contemplative prayer is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, a hearing of the word of God done in silence, resulting in a deeper union with God. It begins by simply being conscious of placing ourselves in the presence of God and quieting our minds and enjoying the silence. Many of us have been fortunate enough to have a similar experience with a spouse or a close friend or sitting with a sleeping child, where simply being together in silence brings great happiness and a sense of peace. It can be the same with God.

Our Lord has a gift in store for us. If we “steal” these quiet moments with God during the slower pace of the summer months, we will begin to treasure them. We will discover ways to make them a regular part of our practice of prayer as summer becomes fall and the daily calendar begins to fill back up. Contemplative prayer is a gift from God that keeps on giving.

Our Catholic Impact in Education

August 18th, 2014

Wuerl & St Augustine School

The work of educating leaders for today and tomorrow who will help build a better world, what we as Christians see as the manifestation of the kingdom of God, has been central to the Catholic schools, parish religious education and youth ministry programs of the Archdiocese of Washington since it was founded in 1939.  Indeed, it has been a hallmark of Catholic education here since the beginning of our country.

That vision was at the heart of the founding of Georgetown College in 1789 as the first Catholic institution of higher learning in the United States, and at the establishment of Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School 10 years later as the first Catholic all-girls school in the new nation. The same vision guided the free men and women of color who in 1858 founded what became Saint Augustine Church in Washington, first as a school so their children could have an opportunity for a better life. That vision led to the founding of Archbishop Carroll High School in 1951 as one of Washington’s first fully integrated schools, as well as the 2007 establishment of Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park with its innovative work study program.

From the time when teachers at local Catholic schools taught at chalkboards, to today when students learn on laptops and iPads, academic excellence has marked Catholic education here. The “honor roll” of Catholic school students and graduates from the Archdiocese of Washington over the years includes priests and sisters, doctors, scientists, business executives, political leaders, Olympic gold medalists, an opera singer, a space shuttle astronaut, and many more good people who help build up the temporal order. Twenty-seven schools in the archdiocese have been named as National Blue Ribbon Schools in the 30-year history of the award.

Our 68 Catholic elementary schools, along with our 20 Catholic high schools and seven early childhood centers, will serve approximately 27,000 students this school year. Our parish elementary and high school religious education and youth ministry programs will serve about 25,000 students taught by nearly 2,700 parish catechists.

The participants in our Archdiocesan Synod universally appreciated the great importance of Catholic education, both in our Catholic schools and in our programs of religious education, including sacramental preparation, youth and adult faith formation, and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, as well as ministries to youth and young adults.  The Synod members made many recommendations, each in the context of fostering an encounter and growth in friendship with Jesus Christ, through a variety of initiatives and resources, including classroom study, informal gatherings and print and digital media.

The Synod affirmed that Catholic education should be illuminated by the light of faith and inspire students to reflect Christ’s light in their everyday lives. To ensure academic excellence and the Catholic identity of our educational efforts, Synod members stressed the importance of proper formation and oversight of teachers, catechists, ministers and staff, so as to best serve students of all ages, including those with special needs.

Synod participants also highlighted the need for supporting ongoing efforts to make our Catholic schools and educational programs more accessible and affordable.  The future of Catholic schools depends on all of us working together.  Following an extensive consultative process, the archdiocese adopted new policies in 2009 to strengthen and sustain Catholic schools. Now, Catholics at all local parishes support Catholic education, and 112 out of 139 parishes have entered into regional school agreements. With the support of local Catholics and other community members, the archdiocese has greatly expanded its tuition assistance to families, awarding $5.7 million for the 2014-15 school year.

As another school year begins, Jesus’s great commission to his disciples to share the Good News continues to unfold in our Catholic educational efforts.  We all benefit from this, as students, young and old, are equipped to build up the kingdom of God in today’s world.

Homily from the Mass for Peace, Religious Freedom and Tolerance on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

August 15th, 2014
Cardinal Wuerl celebrates the Mass for Peace, Religious Freedom and Tolerance on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle

Cardinal Wuerl celebrates the Mass for Peace, Religious Freedom and Tolerance on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle

Today the Church celebrates the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. The lessons of this celebration are many. The Blessed Virgin Mary, one of us, a human being, has been so filled with grace as to be taken up bodily into heaven.  This action is a sign of our own bodily resurrection one day.

The Solemnity of the Assumption also teaches us that Mary now sits at the right hand of her Son and intercedes for us. We turn to her and ask her help in presenting our needs to Jesus, her Son and our Lord.

Thus today we come to her as Queen of Peace and beg her assistance as we cry out to her Son to let the grace that so filled her touch the hearts of men and women around the world and particularly in the Middle East and most specifically Iraq.

Every day we learn more about the atrocities perpetrated against Christians and others in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.  It is almost incomprehensible that today, in organized military action, Muslim extremists are torturing and killing unarmed Christian women and children, attempting forced conversions to Islam and inflicting every type of inhumanity on fellow human beings.

In light of the growing crisis for Iraqi Christians and others, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and agencies of the Holy See have been increasingly insistent in their calls for peace and for humanitarian response to the new waves of refugees fleeing terror and death.

This week the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue issued a statement noting that, “This Pontifical Council, together with all those engaged in interreligious dialogue, followers of all religions and all men and women of good will, can only unambiguously denounce and condemn these practices which bring shame on humanity.”  What follows is a long list of atrocities that you can find in the copy of this statement available following Mass.

On Sunday Pope Francis met with Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who was recently appointed by the Pope as his personal envoy to Iraq to demonstrate the Holy Father’s closeness to the Iraqi population, especially to Christians who have been severely affected by the continuing conflict and who are in dire need of help and encouragement.

The Pope reiterated his own sentiments about the tragic events that are unfolding in Iraq – sentiments that he has publically expressed many times over the past days.  The Pope also gave Cardinal Filoni a significant sum of money to be used for urgent assistance to the people who have been most severely affected.  This is a concrete sign of the Pope’s concern in responding to this dramatic situation.

One day earlier, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, pointed out that Pope Francis and other members of the Christian community, including the World Council of Churches, are taking a strong stand in defense of the Iraqi Christians and their right to survive and to live in peace in their own homes which for the last 2,000 years has seen them active and contributing to the development of the region.

In the face of this systematic, organized and well-funded push by extremists to drive Christians and others from their homes, we cannot remain idle bystanders.  First and foremost as people of faith, we turn to God in prayer on behalf of all of those who are suffering so much in this present crisis.  But we need also to raise our voices in solidarity with our Holy Father as he calls on all people of good will to recognize this overwhelming human tragedy, to speak out against it and to urge all to proclaim that this inhuman behavior is unacceptable.

World media are reporting: the despicable practice of beheading, crucifying and hanging bodies in public places, the choice imposed on Christians and Yezidis between conversion to Islam, the payment of taxes or forced exile, and the list goes on.

We are gathered here today in prayer as a sign of our own communion with our Christian sisters and brothers and all those in Iraq who suffer so cruelly at the hands of these extremists.  We pray first for all those who suffer so mightily at the hands of terrorists and extremists.  We also pray that the international community stir itself to find ways to protect the innocent.  And we also pray that peoples’ hearts be touched in that troubled part of the world so that toleration and religious freedom become accepted characteristics of whatever political order is established.

Peace can only come when there is mutual toleration among and between differing religious groups and when there is the recognition of religious freedom, religious liberty.

The branding of people, their thoughts, their religious convictions, their religious heritage and ethnic backgrounds, as unacceptable only fosters the intolerance that leads to hatred and that breeds violence.

On this Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is also the Queen of Peace, we pray as an expression of human and Christian solidarity. We also pray that our hearts be touched with compassion and courage. But we must never allow intolerance, bigotry, viciousness and hatred to infect us and our response to it.

As Christians, as disciples of Christ, while we clearly recognize the right and sometimes the obligation to defend ourselves, and the weak and innocent, we also recognize that true peace can only come out of hearts possessed of God’s grace and love.  Let us never allow ourselves to be changed by the violence, hatred and extremism of others.

Our prayers today are for peace, for religious liberty, for toleration and that even in the face of outrages we remain a people with faith in the power of prayer and hope that God’s grace can touch and change   every human heart.

Today let us join our Holy Father in making another impassioned appeal that the whole Church and all the faithful raise up with one voice of ceaseless prayer invoking the intercession of Blessed Virgin Mary as we implore God to send the gift of peace. Amen.

The Fruits of the Holy Spirit are Manifested in Mary

August 15th, 2014

Assumption by Mateo Cerezo

God dwells with us most intimately through the gift of the Holy Spirit, who is sent by the eternal Father and by Jesus to give us light, comfort and strength, and to stir up within us a newness of life.  With personal concern, the Spirit wills to sanctify and lead each and every one of us to perfection.  As we gradually become a part of the new creation – a new beginning with new life in Christ – we are opened more and more to the transforming gift of the Spirit, which opens our minds to the fullness of truth and touches our hearts.

Saint Paul, writing to the Galatians, contrasts the ways of this world, and its various sinful works of the flesh that lead us away from the kingdom of God, with the fruits of the Spirit, imploring us to “live by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:19-23).  When we reflect upon these fruits, do they not describe in exemplary fashion one person in particular – the Blessed Virgin Mary?

In the fullness of grace, our Blessed Mother exhibits the fullness of love and truth.  She is generous in charity, patient, kind and gentle; she is good and faithful, chaste, modest, and temperate.  Her spirit rejoices in God her savior and she is at peace even in trying times because of her trust in the Lord (Galatians 5:22-23; Luke 1:47).

Three times in this life Mary was blessed in a special way by the Holy Spirit – at her Immaculate Conception, at the Annunciation and at Pentecost – and we are the beneficiaries of the immeasurable fruits of the Spirit produced in her.  Through her maternal protection and intercession, we obtain pardon for our sins, health in times of sickness, strength of heart when we are weak, consolation in the face of affliction and help when we are in danger.  Above all, she is the Mother of Christ our Redeemer, and our Mother.

We ourselves “have the first fruits of the Spirit,” says Saint Paul, “as we wait for the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).  Mary, however, did not need to wait.  Corruption of the body in death could not claim her as it takes each of us.  Living in the Spirit, freed from original sin and its consequences, she enjoys already the fruit of the redemption of the body, having been assumed body and soul into heaven when her earthly days were complete (Munificentissimus Deus, 44).

Like all the special graces and privileges bestowed on Mary by the Spirit through the merits of Christ’s redeeming love, the Assumption does not separate Mary from the rest of the redeemed People of God, but unites her more intimately with each one of us.  We have received the pledge that through the fruit of her womb, we too may taste of the fruit of the redemption in the resurrection of the body and eternal life in the world to come.

Each of us is called to this sublime destiny.  The more receptive we are to God’s presence in the Spirit, the more we allow the Lord to work in us and through us, the more fertile we will be, the more his grace within us will bear the fruit of a new creation, and the more our witness will blossom with love, joy and peace (cf. Galatians 5:22; Matthew 13:8, 23).  The Blessed Virgin Mary, in her life and her Assumption into the heavenly city, is the Lord’s sign to us of the truth of this Good News.

#TBT blog post from July 11, 2012

August 14th, 2014

Lectio Divina


As a means of discovering or re-discovering the importance of God’s Word in our daily lives, we might consider an ancient but always timely Church practice called Lectio Divina.  In his Apostolic Exhortation, The Word of God, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, speaks of Lectio Divina as the reflective and prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture in the context of the Church’s understanding of the Word of God.

This method of praying with Sacred Scripture, either alone or in a group, through the grace of the Holy Spirit leads to meditation on the Word of God and contemplation of God present to us. While meditation and contemplation can sound intimidating, the beauty of the practice of Lectio Divina is that it develops our ability to listen and “draw from the biblical text a living word which questions, directs and shapes our lives” (Blessed Pope John Paul II, On the Coming of the Third Millennium, 39).

The first practice of Lectio is attributed to Saint Benedict, the founder of monasticism in the West and the saint whose feast we celebrate today.  Benedict wanted to help his followers take the Word of God they heard proclaimed at Mass and ponder it as they went about their work during the rest of the day. Benedict desired that these monks, most of whom could not read, would commit Sacred Scripture to memory, but also see how the Word becomes a living word in their own lives and the life of the community.  Over the course of its long practice in the life of the Church, Lectio Divina has been practiced in a variety of forms. This standard form is easily adaptable for individual and communal use.

Choose a text of Sacred Scripture for your prayer. Taking the Gospel passage from the Mass of the day is an effective way of praying with the Universal Church.

Be silent and quiet your mind. Place yourself in a comfortable position for prayer.

Read the text through slowly and carefully. Select a word or a phrase that makes you stop or strikes you as beautiful, inspiring or challenging. Read the text a second time, again, slowly and with attention.

Repeat the word or phrase. Think about it in the context of your own life and experience. Consider that God may be sharing this word or phrase with you as an invitation to conversation or a new awareness of his presence in your life.

Speak to God, offer to God words of petition or thanksgiving. Share what is on your mind and in your heart as if you are speaking with a close friend or a spouse.

Be silent again and rest in the presence of our loving God. After a few minutes, read the passage a third and final time. Remain quiet.

Close your Bible and move toward the next part of your day, carrying your word or phrase in your mind and heart noticing how it “directs and shapes your day.”

Lectio Divina and all forms of prayer, when they follow the patterns of Christ’s prayer, have a transforming effect in our lives. We cannot pray well unless we are prepared to change in our lives those things that separate us from God. Genuine prayer is a part of the whole rhythm of life and thus affects the way we live.

Pope Francis Writes to Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations

August 13th, 2014

Today the Holy See released a letter written by Pope Francis to Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations concerning the situation in Iraq. The text of the letter is below.

His Excellency
Mr Ban Ki-moon
Secretary General
United Nations Organization

It is with a heavy and anguished heart that I have been following the dramatic events of these past few days in Northern Iraq where Christians and other religious minorities have been forced to flee from their homes and witness the destruction of their places of worship and religious patrimony. Moved by their plight, I have asked His Eminence Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who served as the Representative of my predecessors, Pope St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, to the people in Iraq, to manifest my spiritual closeness and to express my concern, and that of the entire Catholic Church, for the intolerable suffering of those who only wish to live in peace, harmony and freedom in the land of their forefathers.

In the same spirit, I write to you, Mr Secretary-General, and place before you the tears, the suffering and the heartfelt cries of despair of Christians and other religious minorities of the beloved land of Iraq. In renewing my urgent appeal to the international community to take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway, I encourage all the competent organs of the United Nations, in particular those responsible for security, peace, humanitarian law and assistance to refugees, to continue their efforts in accordance with the Preamble and relevant Articles of the United Nations Charter.

The violent attacks that are sweeping across Northern Iraq cannot but awaken the consciences of all men and women of goodwill to concrete acts of solidarity by protecting those affected or threatened by violence and assuring the necessary and urgent assistance for the many displaced people as well as their safe return to their cities and their homes. The tragic experiences of the Twentieth Century, and the most basic understanding of human dignity, compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities.

Confident that my appeal, which I unite with those of the Oriental Patriarchs and other religious leaders, will meet with a positive reply, I take this opportunity to renew to your Excellency the assurances of my highest consideration.

From the Vatican, 9 August 2014

The Life of Faith

August 11th, 2014

Golden Apple Winner 2012

When the Lord who has created us incites us to faith and makes it possible for us to know that it is he who calls, the “obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26) is required of us. Only if we believe him can we trust and love him.

Paul writes of “faith, hope, and love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).  These are the theological virtues, which have God himself as their origin, motive and direct object (CCC 1812-13).

First, there is recognition that it is God who calls us, and acknowledgment that he is trustworthy and his word is true and good. This is faith.

Second, there is lively confidence that in responding to him we approach the One whose will it is to fulfill our needs and longings more fully than we could otherwise have imagined. This is hope.

Finally, there is the fullest response, the gift to the Lord of one’s whole self, of mind and heart and strength, accepting his call to membership in God’s family, to friendship in the Trinity and with all created persons. This is charity, or love.

There is an essential link between these virtues.  “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), and it works through love (Galatians 5:6).  In faith, we believe not only what God tells us about himself, but also what he promises us.  By hope we look forward with confidence to the fulfillment of those promises, knowing that God is love (1 John 4:7-21).

Infused with sanctifying grace, the theological virtues orient the life of a Christian toward God and love for others. Trusting in Divine Providence, we can be people of hope and act in a way that contributes to building the kingdom of God.

We are called to seek eternal life as one of many brothers and sisters who will inherit the kingdom of heaven (cf. Romans 8:18 et seq.; 1 Peter 1:4-5). Christ holds self-love and forgetfulness of self in perfect balance: “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world, will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25). It is right to hope for the reward which Christ promises. The fulfillment of oneself in the community of the divine family is the glory of God and the fulfillment of his will (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 32).  To hope for the one and for the other is to hope for the same reality, described from different points of view.

Just as there is no real conflict between hoping for one’s salvation and hoping for God’s glory, so there is no real conflict between hoping for heaven and hoping for the redemption of human life in this world. But Christian hope for a better world is quite different from mere optimism. Our duty to our neighbor is a duty in love, and it is equally insistent whether the life of the neighbor, or the life of us, or the life of the human family, seems to be waxing or waning.

The Lord urges us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, comfort the ill, visit, the prisoner, and attend to all human needs.  This invitation to charitably serve those most in need as an expression of hope is rooted in a life of faith.

When the structure of this world passes away, the love of Christ remains and, in some way, the good works of humankind in this world remain.  Thus, the Christian should not regard life on this earth as isolated from the eternal life to come.  Rather, eternal life somehow begins here.