Obtaining the Good Life

August 16th, 2017

The Sermon on the Mount, Fra Angelico

Inevitably, one of the consequences of a vacation is reflecting on what makes for “the good life.” Certainly time for relaxation, indulging in some favorite hobbies, or enjoying the beauty of the beach, the mountains or even a new city all make life enjoyable and good. Yet, we know that the question points to something deeper within the human experience. We long for that greater happiness which we intuitively know exists. We know that beyond the experience of our favorite things, there is a bigger good – a more profound experience of the good and joy which does not come and go, but which lasts. But what is this greater happiness and good and how do we find it?

The good we all seek is God – the Lord who loves us and is constantly drawing us toward himself and the ultimate good of life eternal with him – and our hearts are restless until we find this good.  Moreover, God in his goodness, shows us the way.  He gives us the path to the good life in the person of his Son, Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life. The Lord teaches this idea of a good life in a special way in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7).  Here, Jesus tells us of that ultimate good, saying that when crafting our lives, our focus ought not be on material goods, goods that have no permanent value, but rather should be on the goods related to God and the things of God.  “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” and “store up treasures in heaven,” he says, rather than storing up “treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.”  Indeed, “for where your treasure is, there also your heart will be” (Matthew 6:19-21, 33).

Trading in the treasures of this world for God’s treasures means, as Jesus has taught, loving God and one another (Matthew 22:36-40).  It means deciding to be courageous enough to be wholly dependent on God, to entrust our lives solely to divine providence, and to give to others, to reconcile and be forgiving, and to love even our enemies.  All this is for many a huge step, yet it is the key to living well.  Jesus assures us also that if we follow this way, we will have no need for anxiety, pointing to the life of the natural world, the way in which flowers grow and birds live, showing that nothing is too insignificant to be beyond God’s care. “If God so clothes the grass of the field which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow,” he says, “will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:31).

The Sermon on the Mount ends with Jesus giving counsel which we should follow: “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock,” rather than like the fool who built on the sand of worldly things (Matthew 7:24).  If we build our lives on the rock-solid foundation of God and his love and fidelity we will obtain that good and happy life we seek.

The Need for Healing in the Face of Hate

August 13th, 2017

Yesterday, the peace of a summer day was again shattered by hate and acrimony which inevitably turned violent, leading to the tragic death of a young woman and serious injuries to many more, as well as the deaths of two state troopers whose helicopter accidentally crashed while assisting in law enforcement efforts.  The scenes captured in video and pictures of a car slamming into a crowd of protesters and onlookers in Charlottesville and the dark chaos and strife before that awful event are heart-wrenching and painful to view.

Joining with the statement of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “We offer our prayers for the family and loved ones of the person who was killed and for all those who have been injured. We join our voices to all those calling for calm.”  Our prayer also is that our society and culture find ways to rise above the forces of  fear and antagonism and work instead for a society of true unity, peace and justice.

We must always identify hate for what it is, but the inevitable pointing of fingers of blame after the fact only entrenches division. We as a nation must also engage in soul searching about how it is that there is so much social unrest and violence in our communities. After years of seeing the flames of resentment and division fanned by incitement to bitterness and distrust, should we not now be actively seeking reconciliation and a return to civility?

At this time, as Christians, as disciples of Jesus, we must redouble our efforts to bear a witness for peace and the common good.  As people of good will and faith in God, in solidarity with the victims of hate and violence, let us stand together in prayer and work for healing and unity in our country.

Summer Excursions: The Franciscan Monastery

August 9th, 2017

Once again, families and individuals have been setting out on summer trips in planes, trains and automobiles.  Residents of the Washington area and visitors here have a variety of places to go and do and see, and one place I would like to suggest is the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America in Northeast D.C.

This place of prayer and reflection offers one of the most beautiful gardens in the community, with a colorful array of thousands of roses and other flowers nestled amid trees and shrubs lining its walkways. But even more, the monastery helps visitors – many of whom might never make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land – have the opportunity to experience the holy places there through carefully built replicas.  For example, prayerfully walking through the monastery, people can enter into the mystery of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, and his impact on the world.  Most importantly, Mass and Confession are offered to those who wish to experience the sacramental grace of Christ while they reflect on the places associated with his life.

Upon entering the monastery, people can walk through the archways of a shaded portico lined with columns and pray the mysteries of the Rosary as depicted in beautiful mosaics, with the Hail Mary set out in 150 ancient and modern languages. The lower grounds include a replica of the Grotto of Lourdes, where people can quietly pray and seek healing for themselves or loved ones.

Outdoor Stations of the Cross winding around a pathway replicate the Way of the Cross walked by Jesus in his Passion and experienced by pilgrims to Jerusalem. Nearby is the monastery’s centerpiece – the Memorial Church of the Holy Sepulcher – which includes an exact copy of the altar of Calvary at the crucifixion site in Jerusalem and a replica of the tomb of Jesus.

Visitors can also see grottos patterned after shrines in Nazareth, as well as catacombs. Other features are sculptures, paintings and stained glass windows related to events in the lives of Jesus, Mary and Saint Francis of Assisi.  The monastery also hosts garden tours, as well as special events like the annual Holy Land Festival, where people can experience the culture and life of the Holy Land through dancing and food, calligraphy, handcrafted embroidery and religious items made of olive wood.

The Franciscans have been caretakers of the sacred sites of the Holy Land for almost 800 years. Dedicated in 1898, the Franciscan Monastery brings the Holy Land to our shores, offering visitors not only an opportunity to, in a certain way, walk where Jesus once walked, but also reminding them that they can walk with him in their everyday lives.  They and we can bring Christ’s love to others, just like the first disciples who walked with Jesus 2,000 years ago and brought his Gospel to the world.

Saint Peter in Chains

August 1st, 2017

Visitors to Rome are often drawn to the Colosseum, a marvel of architecture from the first century A.D. For Christians today, those ruins also serve as a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice made by the early followers of Christ who were martyred in that amphitheater for their faith. That same message can be drawn from the nearby fifth century Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli – Saint Peter in Chains – where the chains believed to be those that bound the chief shepherd in prison in Jerusalem and Rome are displayed for veneration.

In the fall of 2010, when Pope Benedict XVI elevated me to the College of Cardinals, he also assigned me San Pietro in Vincoli as my titular church in Rome.  It is one of only two churches in the Eternal City named for the first pope – the other being Saint Peter’s Basilica.  In this way, as nominal pastor of this Roman church, I and this whole archdiocesan Church have the honor of a special bond with Saint Peter and also with his successors.  Today, many centuries after Peter followed Jesus to the cross, the Successor of Peter remains the touchstone of our Catholic faith.  Going now by the name of Francis, he links us to the first pope who witnessed Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – the Good News we continue to proclaim today.

As shown in the video above, at the end of the Mass where I took possession of this titular church, I knelt and prayed before the chains of Saint Peter displayed there. The story of the saint’s miraculous breaking free of those chains with the help of an angel is told in the Acts of the Apostles and depicted also in beautiful frescoes in the basilica.

Those chains offer an important lesson to today’s Christians: that discipleship is never easy, that witness to the faith can bear great consequences, but we need not fear. Sometimes we might be tempted to avoid those consequences, but Peter’s story shows us that we can break our own chains – chains of sin, doubt or fear – and obtain true freedom in Christ. With this realization, like Peter, we are prepared to give reasons for our hope and can boldly share the story of the risen Christ by our words and actions.

The basilica is home also to the famous statue of Moses by Michelangelo, which show him looking ahead with confidence, holding the tablet engraved with God’s commandments. It serves as a reminder that God’s word and laws are given to liberate us from our chains.  Christ is the fulfillment of that law – a law written in our hearts – and he shows us, as he did for Peter, the way to freedom and everlasting life.

Faith and Reason, the Church and Science

July 27th, 2017


Do faith and the Catholic Church in particular have anything to offer reason and science?  Some people think that they contradict one another, and that one cannot be committed both to science and be a faithful believer.  Actually, “there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason,” and there is no conflict between faith and true science (CCC 159). Moreover, the Church has historically actively supported the sciences, and many Catholic faithful have led the way in astronomy, cosmology, physics, chemistry, genetics, mathematics, and even the scientific method itself.

Christian faith, reason and science are all rooted in truth and need one another.  Perhaps the most apt point of departure to understand this is the opening of the Gospel of John, which speaks of Jesus as “the Word.” This is also translated as the incarnate “Logos,” who is the rational, ordering principle of the universe. Thus, our “faith presupposes reason [and] human reason loses nothing by opening itself to the content of faith,” affirmed Pope Benedict XVI. Rather, reason “enlightened by faith finds the strength to rise to knowledge of God and spiritual realities” (Angelus of January 28, 2007). And Pope Francis adds, “Faith encourages the scientist to remain constantly open to reality in all its inexhaustible richness. . . By stimulating wonder before the profound mystery of creation, faith broadens the horizons of reason to shed greater light on the world which discloses itself to scientific investigation” (Lumen Fidei, 34).

Tending to consider only what is material and measurable, reason and science need this transcendence which faith opens for them.  As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith further explained in a landmark document on bioethics issued thirty years ago this year: “Science and technology are valuable resources for man when placed at his service and when they promote his integral development for the benefit of all; but they cannot of themselves show the meaning of existence and of human progress. . . . Thus science and technology require, for their own intrinsic meaning, an unconditional respect for the fundamental criteria of the moral law: that is to say, they must be at the service of the human person, of his inalienable rights and his true and integral good according to the design and will of God” (Donum Vitae, 2).

Science by itself shows what we can do, but it does not answer the question of what we ought to do.  Thus, part of our task in the New Evangelization is fostering a culture which couples reason and science with a respect for revealed faith which speaks to the full truth of humanity and creation, and provides the transcendent ethical and moral direction to decide from all we can do, what we ought to do.

As Pope Francis counsels, “Any technical solution which science claims to offer will be powerless to solve the serious problems of our world if humanity loses its [faith] compass, if we lose sight of the great motivations which make it possible for us to live in harmony, to make sacrifices and to treat others well” (Laudato Si’, 199).

Mary Magdalene: A Model of Discipleship

July 20th, 2017

Mary Magdalene by Pietro Perugino, Florence

Mary Magdalene, whose feast we celebrate on Saturday, has always been a popular, fascinating – and mysterious – figure in the life of the Church.  It was she to whom the Risen Jesus chose to appear first after his Resurrection.  She was in a sense the first evangelist as she then went out in haste to tell others the Good News, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:11-18).  For this she has been called the “Apostle to the Apostles” or, as Pope Francis recently named her, the “Apostle of the new and greatest hope.”

Yet, as large a role as she plays, little else is known for sure about Mary Magdalene.  What we know for certain is that she had been possessed by seven demons (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9).  When Jesus freed her of that evil in her life, Mary became one of his closest followers.  With love and gratitude, when most of the Apostle were in hiding, Mary Magdalene remained near the Lord during his Passion and, except to faithfully observe the Sabbath, she did not leave him even after he was dead and placed in the tomb.  She did not want to let go of him.

Pope Saint Gregory the Great notes in a homily how Mary Magdalene remained at the empty tomb after Peter and John had left on that first Easter Sunday – she was still seeking Jesus (John 20:3-10).   “While she sought she wept,” he said, “burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.”

Persevering to the end does not mean never making mistakes because we all sometimes stumble and fall during the journey of life.  What it does mean, Pope Francis has emphasized, is persevering in faith – always getting up after we have fallen and seeking Jesus.  It means going to meet Christ in the confessional, opening our penitent hearts to him so that he might free us from the domination of sin and evil and restore our dignity.  Then, having been given a new life like Mary, it means going to our brothers and sisters and joyfully proclaiming, “I have seen the Lord!”

Some believe Mary Magdalene to be the same Mary of Bethany who was the sister of Martha and Lazarus, as well as the unnamed woman whose sins were forgiven by Jesus at the house of Simon the Pharisee (John 11:1-2; Luke 7:36-50).  Others believe that these are three different women.  In any event, of what is known for sure about her, Mary Magdalene illustrates what a disciple is – one who, in the experience of human weakness, is healed by Jesus and closely follows him; one who with apostolic zeal goes to announce his merciful love which is stronger than evil and death.

The Rosary and the Fatima Prayer in the Life of the Faithful

July 13th, 2017

Pope Francis leads a nighttime prayer vigil the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Rosary has been a significant and widely popular form of prayer throughout the Church ever since the devotion was developed and came into general use centuries ago.  With prayers rooted in scripture and meditation on the saving events at the heart of our faith, the Rosary has been called an “echo of the prayer of Mary,” and a way to experience with her the beauty and depths of Christ’s love (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 1).  “It is also the prayer of simple people and saints,” explains Pope Francis and, no doubt expressing the sentiment of countless others, he adds, “It is the prayer of my heart.”

The essential prayers of the Rosary are among the Church’s oldest and the practice of using beads in aid of prayer likewise goes back to the early Church.  Jesus himself gave us the Our Father, and the Glory Be, which was modeled after the angels’ song at Bethlehem, has been exclaimed throughout Christian history. The Hail Mary developed over time and seems to have reached the present form in the Middle Ages. Combining the greetings of the angel and Saint Elizabeth at the Annunciation and Visitation with an intercessory prayer, it is the loving, confident prayer of people who know themselves to be brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

By the 13th century, these various elements came together to form the basic structure of the Rosary and eventually meditation on the mysteries of Jesus were added.  Saint Dominic is credited with popularizing the Rosary when he preached this prayerful devotion in his missionary work.  In the 1570s, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary was established to remember and celebrate the powerful intercession of our Blessed Mother.

Then, on this day one hundred years ago, July 13, 1917, it is reported that an additional prayer by Our Lady during her third apparition at Fatima to the shepherd children Saints Jacinta and Francisco Marto, and their older cousin Lucia Santos.  Following that maternal request, many now add this prayer at the end of each decade of the Rosary, saying: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell.  Lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy.”

The Rosary has offered special comfort that sustains people through times of trial.  In our prayers while meditating on the holy mysteries, we experience the saving events of salvation in a way that touches our hearts and illumines our minds.  Thus it is that as we pray, we are drawn more deeply into the mystery of Jesus Christ who, in his mercy, forgives and saves and leads souls to heaven. As we cry out, the Lord hears us, knows us and responds to us with his infinite love.

The Need for Unity

July 3rd, 2017

The Signing of Declaration of Independence, by John Trumbull

When the Founding Fathers first took up the question of independence from England, they appreciated the need for unity among the 13 colonies.  But the outcome of the ensuing debate was by no means assured.  For a time it looked like one or more delegations might oppose the resolution, and the dream of a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that we are all created equal would be dashed.  In the end though, the resolution and accompanying Declaration of Independence were adopted and a new nation was born, stating in its very name that we are the “United States of America.”

If we are to have a free and just civil society, it is an absolute necessity to be united, albeit in a way that respects diversity.  As the Founders recognized, the fact is that we are not wholly autonomous, but are interconnected and need to work together and for one another’s benefit (cf. Laudato Si’, 240).  Everything we do, everything we have, is dependent upon the cooperation or assistance of others.  The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the houses we live in, and the blessings of liberty that we enjoy – none of these would be possible without a whole legion of people working to make it so.

Yet, despite the need, it is not always easy to obtain unity or maintain it.  In fact, on this day 154 years ago, the Battle of Gettysburg was fought largely over the question of whether we should remain a Union or not.  While our nation today is not suffering the scourge of civil war, still the degree of polarization and rancor is disturbing.

A lack of the lived reality of unity and solidarity among people leads only to desolation.  In the face of the divisions besetting our country now, I think we could learn a great lesson from President Abraham Lincoln, who urged reconciliation and unity in his Second Inaugural Address near the end of the Civil War.  “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right,” he said, let us “bind up the nation’s wounds” and “do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

As Christians, we have an important role to play in fostering unity:  The Good News of Jesus Christ, the Beatitudes, Ten Commandments and other divine teachings are all expressions of the call for union and solidarity, to overcome divisions and self-interest, to care for the poor and the weak, and to look to the common good.

Jesus challenges us to work out a social order in this world that more closely manifests the justice and peace of his kingdom – a kingdom where the good of all is realized and all are treated as brothers and sisters in one human family.  This Fourth of July, let us once again pledge and work toward being “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

A New Statue of Saint Junípero Serra and its Reminder to Always Move Forward

July 1st, 2017

Junipero Serra

Almost two years ago when Pope Francis visited our country, he canonized one of the greatest Catholic missionaries in this continent’s history, Father Junípero Serra, during an outdoor Mass held on the east steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. More recently, on Pentecost Sunday, it was my great pleasure to bless a new statue of Saint Junípero placed next to that spot where our Holy Father celebrated the first canonization in the United States.

Representing the state of California, the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol includes a statue of Junípero Serra, as well. It is hard to imagine another person who has left such an impact on any state in the Union as has this quiet, modest, faith-filled Franciscan. In fact, in a Mass at the Pontifical North American College in May of 2015, Pope Francis called him “one of the founding fathers of the United States.”

A native of Spain, the Franciscan priest was a teacher who at the age of 36 left the classroom in his home country to become a missionary in the New World, answering Christ’s call to bring the Gospel to “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Saint Junípero is credited with making his way on foot, up and down the coast of California founding and overseeing mission after mission, whose names continue to dot the landscape. The first mission was established on July 16, 1769, in San Diego. The 900-mile journey there was hard and many in the expedition died along the way. It is estimated that during his ministry, Saint Junípero baptized approximately 6,000 of the native peoples and confirmed about 5,000.

At the Mass at the North American College, the first pope from the Americas prayed that “the life of our American continent may be rooted ever more deeply in the Gospel it has received [and] that Christ may be ever more present in the lives of individuals, families, peoples and nations, for the greater glory of God.” Likewise, during the Canonization Mass, Pope Francis called us to walk in the power of our own Baptism and to keep constantly focused on our mission. He urged us, “Siempre adelante,” always forward, citing the motto of Saint Junípero.

As we celebrate his feast day today and always, may the statue of Saint Junípero Serra serve as a reminder of the power of the Spirit, the challenge of missionary discipleship and the witness of human holiness. May we feel in our heart the same excitement for the Gospel, the same power of the Spirit, and the same zeal for souls that calls us “siempre adelante,” always moving forward in the Lord.

The Convocation of Catholic Leaders and the Joy of the Gospel

June 29th, 2017

Convocation of Catholic Leaders

Today the Church celebrates the great feast of the Apostles, Saints Peter and Paul, including their bold missionary spirit, of which we are heirs.  As Pope Francis said at the canonization of another missionary, Saint Junípero Serra, “We are indebted to a tradition, a chain of witnesses who have made it possible for the Good News of the Gospel to be, in every generation, both ‘good’ and ‘news.’”

Desiring to be faithful to our missionary mandate and tradition, the bishops and lay leaders from dioceses across the country are gathering July 1-4 in Orlando, Florida, for the Convocation of Catholic Leaders.  The theme of this assembly of more than 3,500 diocesan and parish leaders is “The Joy of the Gospel in America.”  Participants will pray and reflect on how we, the Church in the U.S., can better hand on the gift we have received from the Lord in a way that moves us forward at a time of particular challenge. Also, it is my honor to have been asked to give an address on Sunday afternoon on “The Radical Call to Missionary Discipleship.”

In the Acts of the Apostles, the word that describes the Apostles after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is “bold.” Peter boldly stands up and preaches the Good News of the Resurrection. Paul boldly announces the Word in frenetic movement around the world. Today, as missionary disciples ourselves, we must show a similar boldness in the form of confidence in Christ. We followers of Christ must be people who radiate Christ’s love and are a beacon of his kingdom.

This Convocation is a time for Church leaders to be renewed in their own faith and to bring back to their own dioceses best practices, new ideas and a sense of urgency to move their local church boldly forward in the implementation of the New Evangelization.  In a particular way, “We want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lived of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spirituality in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world,” says Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium, 269).

Moreover, it is not only these gathered leaders who are on the front lines of sharing the joy of the Gospel – all of us are meant to offer this kind of witness.  To be a missionary disciple is not for a few, nor should it to be tepid or banal, but dynamic, bold. It is not a nine-to-five job, but is meant to inform and vitalize our entire life.

Please keep these leaders in your prayers.  You may also participate from home with this guidebook and by following the Masses and speeches at our Convocation website.