“Nothing in this World is Indifferent to Us”

April 22nd, 2018

The weather this spring has called our attention to both the beauty and power of nature. Despite snowfall, magnolia and cherry blossoms withstood the cold temperatures and bloomed beautifully. We have marveled at the strength of the early spring flowers and the effect of the sun even on cold days.  It is all a testament to the glory of God’s creation, particularly with the backdrop of the splendor of Easter.

The magnificence of creation and the growth that goes on out of sight and in all seasons of the year, reminds us that “nothing in this world is indifferent to us” (see Laudato Si, 3-6).  First, our respect for the beauty and life of the earth begins in our love and respect for one another, with the realization that all of creation is interconnected.  As Pope Francis explains, “human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself” (Laudato Si, 66).  This relational dimension is not just directed at other people, but also to the whole of the created world. Saint Francis of Assisi best embraced this love for the other and this love for all of God’s creation.

In the book of Genesis, we learn God formed humanity out of “the dust of the ground” (2:7), creating each of us in his own image and likeness, and endowing men and women with an innate dignity grounded in God’s love (1:27). The Lord then entrusted the stewardship of the natural world to us (Genesis 1:28, 2:15). Within the fabric of our common home, then, is an integral ecology which envisions the responsible and sustainable development of natural resources for our use, and care for the good of nature both as respecting God’s gift and so that resources are available for generations to come.

Responsible stewardship of our common home in this local Church has taken the form of facilities management, providing educational resources, and various initiatives undertaken by our archdiocesan Care for Creation Committee which address the environmental challenges at our parishes, schools and other properties.  One very exciting project is a partnership between Mount Olivet Cemetery and the Nature Conservancy, which is documented in the video below, which reduces the potential for storm-water run-off due to impervious surfaces.

Catholic social teaching calls for us to be proactive in the care and cultivation of all the gifts God has entrusted to us.  As we continue as a Church to take practical steps to prevent negative environmental impact and promote a positive ecology and the common good, including partnerships with other groups, we understand more fully that the natural world is itself a form of praise to God for which we should rightly give thanks.

Throwback Thursday: The Value of a Single Human Life

April 19th, 2018

This weekend, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum marks the 25th anniversary of its dedication and opening.  With our nation having experienced in recent years a tragic crisis of disregard for the sanctity of human life as seen in shootings at schools and workplaces, terrorist attacks, and daily acts of murder, I would like to revisit this 2016 blog post and repeat again how we must stand up for the sacredness, dignity, value, and transcendent worth of every human life.

During his journey to Poland for World Youth Day 2016, Pope Francis visited the notorious death camp Auschwitz II-Birkenau to offer up prayers for the more than one million people killed there under the Nazi program of extermination.  For all who go there, it is an experience that stays with them forever.

Many of those sent to Auschwitz II-Birkenau and its two adjoining camps were condemned to the infamous gas chambers upon arrival.  Others were murdered more slowly through starvation, exposure and disease during forced labor.  Meanwhile, some prisoners were subjected to brutal medical experiments carried out by a medical profession that had long been corrupted.

Nine out of ten of the dead at Auschwitz were Jewish, among them Edith Stein who was consigned to the death chamber when she arrived in a crowded rail car.  She was at the time a Discalced Carmelite nun who had taken the name Sister Teresa Blessed of the Cross, having entered the Catholic Church twenty years earlier.  When the SS came for her, her sister Rosa who also joined the Carmelites, and other Jewish Christians in August 1942, she met her destiny with faith and calm, saying, “Come, we are going for our people.”

At the Canonization Mass for Edith Stein, Saint John Paul II said that “we must also remember the Shoah, that cruel plan to exterminate a people – a plan to which millions of our Jewish brothers and sisters fell victim.”

One place dedicated to keeping that memory alive is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum here in Washington, D.C.  The permanent exhibition includes personal testimonies, a rail car used to take women, men and children to the camps, a model of the gas chambers, a replica of the crematorium ovens, and much more, including 4,000 shoes and other personal items of the victims.  To personalize the experience, you are invited at the beginning to take an identification card of a real person who was persecuted by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.

There is much to be learned at the Holocaust Museum.  Nevertheless, ultimately “this Museum is not an answer.  It is a question.”

Jews were the primary targets of Nazi genocide, with about six million systematically killed in the Shoah, also called the Holocaust.  Others, including Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, enemies of the state, and other social undesirables were also persecuted and killed as the Nazi regime put into practice its ideology of racial hygiene, biological superiority and hate, including programs of forced sterilization and euthanasia carried out by the medical profession against those found to have a “genetic disease,” the disabled, mentally ill and the incurable sick.

How does this barbarism happen?  What leads a civilized and enlightened people to do such inhuman things to other people?  How could they go along with it and cooperate with it?

It begins with accepting or acquiescing in the idea that there is such a thing as a human life not worthy of life.  It happens because of the belief that we, individually or collectively, have power over life and death, and that it can be morally acceptable or justifiable to end, or help end, another person’s life if that life is inconvenient or if the person fits into a certain category.  It happens when a person is dehumanized or deemed useless in what Pope Francis calls a “throwaway culture.”  In this depreciation of the sacred inviolability of human life, the German people under Nazism are not alone.

One of the lessons to be learned from a visit to the Holocaust Museum is that we cannot lay such crimes solely at the feet of a collection of depraved and sadistic ideologues – ordinary people have a responsibility too for what happens in the community and nation.  One of the special exhibitions, “Some Were Neighbors,” explores this question of how otherwise decent people could become complicit in evil.

Infamy happens too when there is a numbing of conscience in those who might do something to stop it.  In the face of evil, wherever and whenever it occurs, we cannot simply avert our attention – we must confront it and think about it and speak about it. Silence and inaction are the allies of atrocity.

Every person has an obligation to respect and protect human life and dignity.  The intentional ending of innocent life does not need to rise to the horrific proportions of the Nazi genocide before it becomes wrong and before we speak and act.  The evil begins with the very first person who is oppressed or killed.

In their visitor’s brochure, the Holocaust Museum asks, “What is your responsibility now that you’ve seen, now that you know?”  As the late Elie Wiesel says in response, “Each individual must answer that question for himself or herself.”

Ten Years Ago, Pope Benedict Came Bearing Witness to “Christ Our Hope”

April 16th, 2018

credit: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters (April 17, 2008)

Ten years ago this week, Pope Benedict XVI made his apostolic journey to our nation’s capital, which was truly a time of grace for the Archdiocese of Washington and the Church in the United States.

The visit included a welcome by President George W. Bush at the White House, and meetings with the U.S. bishops, Catholic educators, and leaders of other faiths. But the true focal point of the Holy Father’s visit was the Mass at the newly-opened Nationals Park, filled with about 50,000 people from throughout the country and across this local Church, who offered him a thunderous welcome as he arrived.

At this celebration of the Eucharist, the smiling pope looked around and saw the face of the Church in our country, people with roots from around the world, all united in one faith, around one altar. The music by the Papal Mass Choir, Gospel Choir, Children’s Choir and Intercultural Choir reflected that diversity and unity.  As I greeted Pope Benedict, I noted that we looked to him for renewed inspiration to make all things new in “Christ our Hope,” which was the theme of the papal visit.

As the Holy Father stood among us, we knew that Peter, the rock of our faith, was there. In his homily, he said he had come to confirm us in the faith of the Apostles, a reminder that we are part of a family of faith that traces its lineage and sacraments all the way back to those who received it from Christ – the Apostles who heard and saw Jesus and walked with him, and who witnessed his death and resurrection.

When the Eucharistic prayer began, the silence that pervaded the entire crowd was such that the only noise you could hear was the street noise outside. For everyone there, the sense of reverence and devotion then offered an unforgettable memory. After the Mass when we got into the car, the pope turned to me and said, “That liturgy was a true prayer.”

Ten years later, the concluding words of Pope Benedict’s homily continue to resonate: “Those who have hope must live different lives. By your prayers, by the witness of your faith, by the fruitfulness of your charity, may you point the way toward that vast horizon of hope which God is even now opening up to his Church and indeed to all humanity: the vision of a world reconciled and renewed in Christ Jesus, our Savior.”

Pope Benedict came as a messenger of hope in Christ.  As a personal witness of Jesus’ love, we know it is a love that transforms one’s heart and can change the world.

Throwback Thursday: Child Abuse Prevention Month and Protecting the Innocent and Vulnerable Among Us

April 12th, 2018

Children are precious.  Their simplicity, their sense of wonder and enthusiasm, their laughter at play are all infectious.  Their innate way of receiving and giving tenderness, their way of seeing reality with a trusting and pure gaze, cannot fail to touch our hearts and fill us with hope for tomorrow, Pope Francis has observed.

Children are truly a gift.  Yet, as with all else in this fallen world, young people are subject to the human condition.  Some are raised in poverty and poor living conditions despite the best efforts of their parents.  But others have had grave wrongs perpetrated against them, including physical, mental, emotional and/or sexual abuse.

To draw attention to this evil and what we can do about it, April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.  During this month, government agencies, community groups, and churches are encouraged to work together to share child abuse and neglect prevention strategies and promote the well-being of children and families.  This responsibility belongs to everyone as a matter of charity and justice, and the Archdiocese of Washington is strongly committed to child safety in the Church and throughout society.

“Concern for the child, even before birth, from the first moment of conception and then throughout the years of infancy and youth is the primary and fundamental test of the relationship of one human being to another,” said Saint John Paul II in an address to the United Nations (Familiaris Consortio, 26).  We can all do our part to protect the dignity of all human life and ensure our children are in safe environments at home, at school, in our neighborhoods, and at church.

Our local Church has long been pro-active in protecting children.  Since 1986, the archdiocese has had a stringent written policy on child protection, one of the most comprehensive of any organization – public or private – in Maryland or the District of Columbia entrusted with the care of children. This policy mandates reporting of suspected abuse to civil authorities, education for children and adults, and background checks for clergy, employees and volunteers who work with minors. Also included is information on healing for those harmed and what to do if there is an allegation. These efforts are overseen by a Child Protection Advisory Board of predominantly lay experts. 

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has a variety of child abuse prevention resources on its website.  The archdiocese has also developed a series of safety tips, including advice on Internet safety, sexting, healthy teen relationships, and bullying.  Children in archdiocesan schools and religious education programs are also taught how to recognize abuse and protect themselves.

Our efforts to combat child abuse begin with ourselves, with our own families in our own homes, including our spiritual family.  The Catechism reminds parents they have an obligation to love and care for the children that are entrusted to them by our heavenly Father (CCC 2221-31).  Likewise, the Church that is our Mother has an obligation toward our little ones.

“Families need to know that the Church is making every effort to protect their children. They should also know that they have every right to turn to the Church with full confidence, for it is a safe and secure home,” Pope Francis has emphasized.  Most especially, “everything possible must be done to rid the Church of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors and to open pathways of reconciliation and healing for those who were abused.”

Being most vulnerable, our young people require us to care for them and protect them from harm.  Child Abuse Prevention Month calls our attention to this obligation in charity and justice.  Let us all be vigilant in helping to provide a safe environment for all children and to help those who are victims of abuse find healing.

Pope Francis and the Call to Holiness in Today’s World

April 9th, 2018

“Rejoice and be glad.” With these words from Matthew’s Gospel (5:12), Pope Francis begins his apostolic exhortation “Gaudete et Exsultate: The Call to Holiness in Today’s World,” released today.  The Holy Father’s goal with this document “is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 2), expanding upon familiar themes presented in his previous teachings on the richness of God’s mercy, Christian faith, the joy of the Gospel, love in marriage and family, and caring for our common home.

As with any magisterial document, it will take some time to digest and unfold the gift that Pope Francis has given us, but I do wish to offer a few initial thoughts for you.  In summary, the Holy Father reminds us that the Lord calls each of us to holiness and that the entirety of our lives should be seen as being on a path of personal sanctification in communion with the whole of God’s people (Id., 6, 10, 19).  “At its core,” he says, this “holiness is experiencing, in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life,” and letting ourselves be transformed into Christ who is love incarnate (Id., 20, 24).  In other words, “we are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves” – and such holiness grows even in small gestures (Id., 14, 16).

Beyond the personal examples of holiness in daily life in the first chapter, Pope Francis notes in the third chapter the criterion on what it means to be holy, pointing to the Beatitudes and to the judgment of the nations in Matthew’s Gospel (5:3-12, 25:31-46).  Within this framework, the Holy Father highlights in chapter four the signs or attitudes that are necessary to the holy life of loving God and neighbor.  These include: trust in God who loves and sustains us, which gives the grace and strength of perseverance and patience in avoiding evil and doing good; Christian joy and good humor; boldness and fervor of the Holy Spirit; community and caring for one another; and “habitual openness to the transcendent, expressed in prayer and adoration” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 110 et seq., 147).

These qualities are not only preferable, but essential in this world which presents so many negative challenges to a holy life.  Pope Francis even goes so far as to say that the Christian life involves constant spiritual combat and vigilance against human weakness and evil at work in the world (Id., 158-65). In the face of these challenges of the human condition, the spiritual gift to discern good from evil is necessary in resolving problems and making decisions (Id., 166-73).  Two particular challenges to guard against, the Holy Father says in chapter two, are the false conceit of gnosticism, which claims a superior subjective intellectual knowledge of the faith, and the deceptive idea of pelagiansim that fails to acknowledge or appreciate our human limitations. 

The Lord is not unaware of our human difficulties, however, and he does not leave us to our own devices.  Quoting Saint Augustine, Pope Francis urges us to do what we can and ask God for help to do what we cannot (Id., 49).  If we strive for the perfection that Jesus summons us to, he affirms, “the Lord will bring it to fulfilment despite your mistakes and missteps, provided that you do not abandon the path of love but remain ever open to his supernatural grace, which purifies and enlightens” (Id., 24).

In “Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad),” we have been given splendid spiritual and practical guidance by Pope Francis.  During this holy season of the Risen Lord, I highly recommend that you read and reflect upon the words of this pastor of souls in your own pilgrim journey.  Joining my prayers to his and to yours, “Let us ask the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us a fervent longing to be saints for God’s greater glory, and let us encourage one another in this effort. In this way, we will share a happiness that the world will not be able to take from us” (Id., 177).

Mother of Divine Mercy

April 8th, 2018

The Church today rejoices with Divine Mercy Sunday, always observed on the Octave of Easter. Instituted by Saint John Paul II in 2000, this feast of the Lord’s never-ending compassionate love offers “a message about the value of every human being. Each person is precious in God’s eyes; Christ gave his life for each one; to everyone the Father gives his Spirit and offers intimacy” (Homily of April 30, 2000).

Tomorrow, we will rejoice in those words spoken by the Blessed Virgin Mary that were to change the course of history, as we observe the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).  This day which commemorates the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would be the Mother of God, her acceptance of God’s plan in humility, and the glorious Incarnation of the Word in the womb of Mary.

Normally celebrated on March 25 – exactly nine months before the Nativity of the Lord on December 25 – the feast of the Annunciation has been transferred this year because March 25 fell on Palm Sunday. Yet, by this circumstance, we now have a wonderful cluster of celebrations, providing a beautiful opportunity for meditation together on the workings of Divine Mercy, God’s providence, grace and our response to it all throughout the history of faith and in our own personal history.

Mary is the perfect example for our reflections on our practicing and living mercy.  Named in the ancient Marian antiphon Salve Regina, the Church praises her as our “Mater Misericordiæ,” our Mother of Mercy.  At the Annunciation, her fiat – her “yes” to God – displayed her magnanimity and her great openness to mercy. In agreeing to be the Mother of Jesus, to be the means in which Christ came into the world for the forgiveness of our sins, Mary has mercy then on all of humanity. By bringing into the world Jesus Christ, who is Divine Mercy in person, she actually becomes the Mother of Mercy.

Saint John Paul again helps us link Divine Mercy and Mary. In Veritatis Splendor, published 25 years ago this year, the pope calls her a “radiant sign and inviting model of the moral life” (120).  Then again at the foot of the Cross, when Jesus gives his mother to all humanity, “Mary becomes Mother of each and every one of us, the Mother who obtains for us divine mercy” (Id.). 

As we praise God whose mercy endures forever, and give thanks too for our Blessed Mother and remember her great part in divine mercy, we can also take her words as our own.  Imitating her own maternal mercy, we may bless history as well: “May it be done to me according to your word.”

Marching Ahead as the Dream of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Lives On

April 6th, 2018

The many events this week locally and throughout the nation to remember Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the 50th anniversary of his assassination with prayer services, rallies and symposia are only a small indication of the lasting and powerful mark he left in our country. Like many earth-shattering incidents, for those who are old enough I imagine you remember where you were when you learned of his death and then lived through the period of violence and unrest that followed.

For others, this 50th anniversary is really a history lesson, something for which they have no living memory, but rather have heard stories and have studied it in school. Marking such events give us an opportunity to appreciate the power of a dream and also ask, as many have this week:  Where are we now, 50 years later?  Where do we go from here?

At the historic 1963 March on Washington, Dr. King famously said that he had a dream of racial justice and a faith that “we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”  Sadly, it is true that this dream is not fully realized.  Yet Dr. King also often said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

With Dr. King’s legacy, we have a reference point for how we confront racism with the conviction that in some personal ways we can help to resolve it.  “We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead,” he said. “Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow,” the dream lives on.  Is not that one reason why national marches are such an important part of civic life?  For many, it is a step in taking personal responsibility to be part of a solution.

As Dr. King had the ability to draw people of all faiths together, his message has particular resonance in the Christian community because we know that divisions among people based on the color of one’s skin or ethnic background are not part of God’s plan. God intends for all of his sons and daughter to live in harmony and when faced with situations that deny the dignity of the human person or the common good, we must work to heal the wounds and transform society. This can only fully be done with God’s grace and so Christians have a particular responsibility to respond to Christ’s love, which calls us to action.

Throwback Thursday: Encountering the Lord on the Road to Emmaus Today

April 5th, 2018

The story that we read in the Gospel of Luke about the two disciples who encounter the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus is in a way our story too in our lives, and the story of every Mass.

As the disciples walk from Jerusalem on the third day after the crucifixion, their eyes are downcast and they do not recognize Jesus when he joins them on the road.  Instead, they are discouraged, struggling to comprehend everything that had happened in the preceding days – Jesus, the one in whom they had placed their hopes, was dead and all seemed lost.  But then his tomb was found empty and some women in the group reported that angels had announced to them that Jesus was alive!

Then the mysterious stranger walking beside them opened up the scriptures to them, explaining why Jesus had to suffer and die in order to fulfill what the prophets had foretold about the kingdom of God.  When they arrived in Emmaus, the disciples’ invited him to stay with them.  While their visitor was with them at the table, he took bread, said a blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.  With that, the disciples’ eyes were opened and they finally recognized Jesus in their midst, but he then vanished.

With excitement, they reflected on how their hearts had been burning when Jesus explained the scriptures to them as he walked with them.  The joyous disciples then set off at once back to Jerusalem to tell the Apostles and other disciples about their encounter with Jesus (Luke 24:13-35).

Is this not our own experience? Like the disciples of Emmaus, we can lose heart and become discouraged. Although Jesus is and has been in our midst all along, walking with us, we may not realize his presence because we are perhaps distracted by the troubles and concerns of everyday life. If this happens to us, Pope Francis recommends that we read a passage of the Gospel every day and go to Communion every Sunday to receive Jesus (Regina Caeli of May 4, 2014). 

When we gather together before the table of the Lord, by the prayers of the Mass, Jesus draws out our response. He opens sacred scripture to us.  He is revealed to us in the Eucharist and our hearts are opened with faith and grace to recognizing his presence.  Joining with him in Holy Communion, he gives life to us. In reliving the experience of the disciples of Emmaus in this way, we can rediscover the blessing of a transforming encounter with the Lord (Id.).

Another way that the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus plays out today, notes Pope Francis, is in those people who lose faith and “under the illusion of alternative ideas, now think that the Church – their Jerusalem – can no longer offer them anything meaningful and important. So they set off on the road alone, with their disappointment” (World Youth Day Address of July 28, 2013).  Faced with this situation, the Holy Father says, we need a Church capable of accompanying them on their journey to offer them meaning and warm their hearts.

Pope Francis encourages us to be missionary disciples and Spirit-filled evangelizers who can help those who are wandering aimlessly or headed in the wrong direction to return to Jerusalem – to the path of God our Father.  Having encountered and walked with Jesus ourselves in our lives and in the liturgy, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus we have been transformed.  By our witness of this Good News, the eyes of those who are disappointed and disillusioned can be opened to Christ’s presence and possibility in their lives.  By our lives of prayer and acts of love and mercy, by walking in the footsteps of Jesus, we can be to them his face and voice and hands and feet out on the crowded sidewalks, in our homes and neighborhoods, and at our work places.

The Emmaus journey is our journey as we too encounter the Risen Christ who walks with us and works through us.  We are summoned to live by Jesus’ words and imitate his actions, all of which reflect the enduring merciful love of God.  In this way, Jesus, the face of the Father’s mercy, is revealed to our world, here and now in this Easter season of 2018, just as it was to those disciples that first Easter.

The Faith and Work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Lives On

April 4th, 2018

Fifty years ago today on the eve of Holy Week, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., endured his own passion and death.  The assassination of this man of God who, like a modern-day Moses had led people on a journey of hope toward freedom, sent shockwaves of grief and civil unrest across the land, leaving scars in our cities that are still healing. Yet this tragic loss did not still his voice – it continues to ring out and inspire new generations in confronting the challenges of prejudice, injustice and division today.

Remembering Dr. King now 50 years later, as people of faith, we can see not only the evil of suffering and death, but also the glory of Easter.  Dr. King as well, the night before he was brutally slain, with his very last public words in a sermon on “unfulfilled dreams,” also had testified, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Five days before he was taken from us at the young age of 39 years, Dr. King gave a sermon at the National Cathedral here in Washington taking as his starting point Jesus’ words, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).  It was Dr. King’s steadfast faith which saw him through many dark nights, and it is that faith that calls us to continue his work and see that his unfulfilled dream is more fully realized.

As I said in my pastoral letter, The Challenge of Racism Today, the intolerance and lingering racism which poison our society will not go away without a concerted awareness and effort on everyone’s part. We all have a role to play because we are all affected by it. “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly,” said Dr. King in his National Cathedral sermon.  We are all called to come to the aid of the oppressed and lift up in all we do the dignity of every human person.

Dr. King had faced many threats to his life during his ministry and in a sermon two months before he was killed, he talked about what he would like to be said at his funeral.  He said not to mention his Nobel Peace Prize or other accolades, but simply “to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others, [that he] tried to love and serve humanity” and that he worked for justice, peace and righteousness.  Certainly, Dr. King did that, leaving a lasting legacy. Continuing his cause, we too look forward in hope with him for that day when the Lord “will wipe every tear from [people’s] eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Easter Homily: Christ is Risen, Christ is Truly Risen. Alleluia, Alleluia!

April 1st, 2018

We hear at Easter time the word, Alleluia. We hear it over and over again, Alleluia, Alleluia! As we know, it means praise the Lord. And that is what brings us to Mass today, Easter Sunday. This is a special time of praise and why we have a special word, Alleluia.

The Church calls us together today to announce the reason for our joy, Christ is risen, Christ is truly risen.

Even though we did not run here as Peter and John did to the empty tomb, we come here with the same hope to renew our faith that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. With all the other things going on in life, it would be so easy to forget that at the very core of our identity as Catholics is the recognition that Jesus Christ who died on the cross and is alive. To be renewed in this faith, we come today as millions and millions have for 2,000 years to hear all over again: the tomb is empty, the Lord is Risen, we have seen him so that you and I can profess our faith, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

An essential part of the Easter celebration is hearing this Good News. The first homily that Peter preached and is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles is the announcement that this Jesus whom you killed is risen from the dead.

In hearing the faithful witness of that message we hope to reaffirm our own faith, our own belief that Jesus is truly risen from the dead. We were not there so we need to hear again the witness of those who were.

The four Gospel accounts, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  All relate essentially the same message:  the tomb is empty, and witnesses have seen the Risen Lord. The narrative has been so meticulously preserved.  All the successors to the apostles so carefully guarded the accounts and so thoughtfully made provision that they be written down and affirmed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

All of this was done with such precision and care so that you and I today are able to place our faith, our trust, our confidence in the words of the Scripture in the living witness of the Church. As we listened to the first reading:  The Acts of the Apostles, Peter and the Apostles — appointed witnesses to the Resurrection — begins the ministry of proclamation, telling the story.  So that witness has continued in Christ’s Church.

Where else would you and I go to hear this remarkable story? Who else can tell us with authority that the tomb is empty and that Christ truly is risen?

Today there is only one living witness to the Lord Jesus, only one witness who can say, I was there when Christ died, when he rose, when he ascended in glory, when he sent the gift of the Spirit on us.  That one remaining living witness is Christ’s mystical or new Body, his Church.

It is that Church that summons us today to hear all over again the good news — that we would not otherwise hear with confidence, Christ is Risen.

But we do more than just hear this great news.  As Pope Francis tells us in his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, “Christ’s Resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world.”

In the sprinkling rite that is a part of our liturgy today we recall – we remember – our own baptism.

We are not bystanders looking at the empty tomb and simply listening to the witnesses tell us that Jesus is risen.  You and I are invited into the new life of the Risen Lord – a life that has the power to go on into eternity.

The sprinkling of the water reminds us of the words of the Prophet Ezekiel that are being fulfilled today: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities… I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you… I will put my spirit within you.”

In a few moments, we will all be asked to once again renew our Baptismal Promises.  I ask you to join yourself spiritually to the hundreds and hundreds of adults throughout this archdiocese who were baptized into the Church at the Easter Vigil last evening and also to unite yourself spiritually to all of us in this church and throughout the whole Church as we once again affirm our faith that Christ is risen, Christ is truly risen, and that we share that new life.

Again Pope Francis reminds us, “May we never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope.”  We do not sit and watch as something transpires, goes on by us.  We are actively transformed changed.

Our Liturgy today is both the telling of the Good News and the action – the Eucharist – by which we become a sharer in Christ’s new life.

Finally, and at the very center of our celebration, is the Eucharistic Liturgy.  Here we do what Jesus asked us to do in memory of his death and Resurrection, we re-present that mystery in a way that we become a part of it.

As Pope, now Saint, John Paul II so beautifully taught us:  “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.’ (LG, 3)” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 11)

What Easter says to us is, what the Church has witnessed for 20 centuries is: Christ has risen from the dead, broken the chains of death, and done so not only for himself but also for us. Is it any wonder that the Church invests this day with so much symbolism and so much joy?

Today the words, “Christ is risen, Christ is truly risen.  Alleluia, Alleluia!” take on special significance for us because today as a result of the Eucharist not only is Christ risen, but he is risen in us.