Glory in the Cross

April 17th, 2014

“The Lord Jesus…took bread and…said, ‘This is my body that is for you.’ In the same way, also the cup…saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this in…remembrance of me’” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).

Reflection Question: How do I renew my faith in the mystery of the Eucharist?

Blessed Is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord

April 13th, 2014

 

“Today we gather together to herald with the whole Church the beginning of the celebration of our Lord’s Paschal Mystery, that is to say,
of his Passion and Resurrection.

“For it was to accomplish this mystery that he entered his own city of Jerusalem.

“Therefore, with all faith and devotion,
let us commemorate the Lord’s entry into the city for our salvation,
following in his footsteps, so that, being made by his grace partakers of the Cross,
we may have a share also in his Resurrection and in his life.”
(Roman Missal, Palm Sunday)

 

Reflection Question: How can each of us better show our fidelity to Jesus and his Gospel?

 

Ask the Cardinal: The Lenten Penitential Practice of Fasting

April 10th, 2014

Why does the Church say that we ought to give up something for Lent, including abstaining from meat on Fridays and fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday?

In his Letter to the Romans which we heard at Mass last Sunday, Saint Paul urges us to live not according to the flesh, with a concern for worldly things, but according to the Spirit, in which we find true life.  Lent is the special time of the year that reminds us that it is not by bread alone that we live.  Each of us is much more than just our physical body in its material world. Fasting from food for a certain time or giving up other things or activities invites us to focus on the spiritual dimension of our existence and thereby “acquire freedom of heart and mastery over our instincts” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2043).

In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with enjoying a good meal with a nice juicy steak.  To be sure, we celebrate Thanksgiving and solemnities in the Church with a feast.  But the Gospel speaks about a sense of detachment from worldly desires and having a longing instead for the bread of life and the living water that quenches all thirst (John 4:14, 6:35-58).  Fasting helps to teach us the virtues of detachment and temperance and the beatitude of spiritual poverty.

Life is often spoken of as a journey.  If we seek a happy life, it is important to know where we want to go and how to get there, rather than wandering aimlessly.  Fewer things are more frustrating than to get lost or find ourselves on the wrong road.  For this reason there are maps, traffic signs and rules of the road, which are not meant to constrain us or make travel more difficult, but to help us get to our destination.

The same is true of the Lenten season and the various penitential practices that the Church commends to us, including fasting, almsgiving and prayer.  We may be tempted to find the emphasis on penance, conversion and the need personally to take up the cross to be negative and burdensome.  After all, we talk about depriving ourselves and “giving up” things. Yet quite the contrary is true.  The perennial Lenten practices of fasting, almsgiving and prayer are not meant to be burdens along the way, but helpful traveling aids for getting our bearings, turning in the right direction and traveling on the right road so that we arrive at our heavenly goal.

The message of Christ is to follow him.  He is the way.  Through penances, little self-disciplines and self-denial, we turn our lives around to accompany Jesus in his temptations in the desert, his compassion for the poor, and ultimately in his suffering for our sins on the cross, by which he conquers sin and death and transforms them into healing, forgiveness and eternal life.

Since it is intended to foster conversion and a more holy life, traditionally fasting has been closely linked to almsgiving.  As Saint Gregory the Great taught, when it is simply about giving up something without giving away something, we are fasting to please ourselves, not God.  Rather, we make a fast holy “by other good things being added to it. The abstinent are to be admonished that they offer to God an abstinence that pleases Him when they bestow on the indigent the nourishment which they withhold from themselves” (Pastoral Rule, III, 19; see also Isaiah 58:6-12).  Thus, we are encouraged to give to charities, to donate to food banks and find other ways to help those in need.

The option is ours.  Lent can be either an obligation or an opportunity.  As we go into Holy Week, this time can be just one more burden that we must endure with all of its seeming negative overtones – or it can be a blessed time to gain something, to find that better way to take so as to share in the new life of the Risen Christ.

 

The Sign of Our New Life in Christ

April 6th, 2014

“Your brother will rise.” These beautiful words spoken by Our Lord to Martha, grief-stricken at the death of her brother Lazarus, are part of one of the most familiar and beautiful Gospel stories.  This story of the raising of Lazarus, which we hear on this Fifth Sunday of Lent, prepares us to enter into the mystery of death and the promise of resurrection that is at the heart of our journey through Holy Week and the Easter Triduum.

Jesus asks Martha if she believes what he has said.  On Martha’s lips we hear her own profession of faith. “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the One who is coming into the world.”

Martha’s profession of faith is one of several in the Gospels that is a template for our own.  Every disciple of the Lord has personally to profess belief in him as Lord.  In Matthew’s Gospel, Peter is asked, “Who do you say that I am?”  He replies, as must each of us if we are to be a disciple, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Today, as part of an extraordinary statement of Jesus that “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, once he dies, will live…,” there is the challenge, “Do you believe this?”  Martha’s response has to be our reply, the answer of every disciple, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe…”

The liturgy for the Fifth Sunday of Lent focuses our attention on the ultimate outcome of Jesus’ mission, ministry and Gospel and the events of his passion and death.  This Sunday we are asked to renew our faith in the fulfillment of the Paschal Mystery – the resurrection, not just of Jesus but of each of us.

As was mentioned a few weeks ago in this blog, these are also the final days of preparation for the elect, the men and women who will make this same profession of faith and be baptized or confirmed and become full members of the Church and thus able to receive the Eucharist and live with a new found hope in the promise of the Resurrection. For Martha, it was the raising of her brother that was the sign of resurrection. For the elect and for you and me, it is the baptismal font that is the sign of our new life in Christ at the Easter Vigil and all through the Easter season.

As we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments” (no. 1213).  In order to demonstrate this graphically, in many churches the font sits at the entry of the church, or sometimes at another spot visible in the church.

The baptistery has always been a significant aspect of church architecture.  Some Catholic churches have baptisteries.  Today the baptismal font in many churches is a significant part of the sanctuary itself.  Over the many centuries of Church life, free-standing baptisteries were also a feature. For example, while the Leaning Tower of Pisa may be the most famous of the three buildings that comprise the cathedral close, the magnificent baptistery is a work of art itself.

In the baptistery at Saint John Lateran, built in 440, there is an inscription above the font that is said to be written by Pope Sixtus III and it perfectly captures the renewing power of the waters of Baptism and the saving grace of the life of a Christian.   As we make the ascent to Jerusalem and Holy Week, these words of Pope Sixtus give us hope and cause for joy:

“Here is born a people of noble race, destined for Heaven,
whom the Spirit brings forth in the waters he has made fruitful.
Mother Church conceives her offspring by the breath of God,
and bears them virginally in this water.

“Hope for the Kingdom of Heaven, you who are reborn in this font.
Eternal life does not await those who are only born once.
This is the spring of life that waters the whole world,
taking its origin from the Wounds of Christ.

“Sinner, to be purified, go down into the holy water.
It receives the unregenerate and brings him forth a new man.
If you wish to be made innocent, be cleansed in this pool,
whether you are weighed down by original sin or your own.

“There is no barrier between those who are reborn
and made one by the one font, the one Spirit, and the one faith.
Let neither the number nor the kind of their sins terrify anyone;
Once reborn in this water, they will be holy.”

 

Praying with the Family of God in Our Lenten Journey

April 2nd, 2014

At the end of the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger came forward for the final commendation and farewell, he paused for several minutes as the crowd cheered, crying out “Santo Subito” while waving banners that also read in translation, “Sainthood now!

Days earlier, on April 2, 2005, the people assembled in vigil at Saint Peter’s Square were praying for John Paul, asking the intercession of Mary and the other saints when Archbishop Leonardo Sandri came out to announce, “At 9:37 p.m. (2:37 p.m. EST), our Holy Father returned to the House of the Father.”  The people would again call on the holy disciples in heaven in that beautiful litany of the saints at his funeral.  But already, in addition to people praying for John Paul, they were asking him to pray for us, adding their own testimony to that of Cardinal Ratzinger, who said in his homily, “We can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the Father’s house, that he sees us and blesses us.”

During Lent, we are invited to draw closer to the Lord through prayer and other practices of spiritual renewal.  We do not journey alone, as part of some privatized or individualistic faith, but as part of a community (Lumen Fidei, 22, 39).  While we can and should engage in personal prayer, “those who believe are never alone” (Id., 39).  In particular, the Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs, “Prayer is Christian insofar as it is communion with Christ and extends throughout the Church, which is his Body” (No. 2565).

Jesus himself gave us a special model prayer and it begins with “Our Father.”  In offering up these words, even when said by ourselves in private, we do not pray alone in isolation, but with the entirety of the Church.  To pray to God as “our” Father is to recognize that he has made us his children by adoption and we have responsibilities to each other as brothers and sisters of the same family.  We do not exist in solitude, closed in ourselves.  We are a faith community.

For this reason, in the many different prayers that might be said, the Church exhorts us to pray with one voice in communion with the whole Body of Christ – with the saints in heaven, with those others who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and are awaiting the fullness of union with God, and with those of us who are now making the faith journey on earth.  In this prayer, we praise God, thank him for his many blessings, and ask the saints and others to pray for us as we also offer intercessory prayers for others.

In calling us to be missionary disciples, Pope Francis reminds us that no one is saved by himself.  We all need the help of others, we all need the prayers of others.  This is why our Holy Father began his papacy asking that we pray for him.  “We are the community of believers,” he affirmed more recently, “we are the People of God and in this community we share the beauty of the experience of a love that precedes us all, but that at the same time calls us to be ‘channels’ of grace for one another, despite our limitations and our sins. The communitarian dimension is not just a ‘frame,’ an ‘outline,’ but an integral part of Christian life, of witness and of evangelization” (Audience of January 15, 2014).

How comforting it is to know that others are praying for us.  How fruitful it is to share love for one another in this way.  It is no wonder that we invoke particularly those holy men and women like John Paul II who have gone before us and for whom the battle is over and the triumph secure.  With the saints at our side as we make our Lenten journey, praying with and for us as we pray for others, the love of God can transform us so as to make us worthy of the promises of Christ.

The Rose Mass and the Legacy of Bringing Christ’s Healing to the Sick

March 29th, 2014

Jesus Heal the Blind Man by Nicolas Poussin, 1650

All across the country, the face of medicine and health care delivery is changing and, in some cases, bringing new challenges. However, the motivation that brings the Catholic faithful to the health ministry remains constant.

Tomorrow, Laetare Sunday, at the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, we will celebrate the 23rd Annual Rose Mass to invoke God’s blessings on the many dedicated lay people, religious and priests who are involved in the medical, dental, nursing and related professions in our area.  Sponsored by the John Carroll Society and celebrated since 1992, it is named the “Rose Mass” because the vestments are rose-colored on this fourth Sunday of Lent.

The rose is a symbol of life as well, and this Eucharistic celebration also provides a special opportunity to give thanks for the splendid work of the volunteers of the Catholic Charities Health Care Network, which connects low-income and uninsured patients with specialized, pro bono health care services.    Overall, in the Health Care Network and other programs of Catholic Charities combined, more than 15,000 people last year received desperately needed medical, dental or mental health services.

Why is the Catholic Church involved in health ministry at all?  We are involved because care of the sick is an important part of our mission of service, to see Christ in others and to be the face of Christ ourselves to those in need.

The Gospels recount many examples of Jesus as a healer, such as when he cleansed a man of his leprosy (Matthew 8:3), cured a paralyzed man (John 5:1-9) and helped a deaf man hear (Mark 7:31-27).  This Sunday, we will hear in the Gospel how Jesus cured a man who was blind from birth (John 9:1-41).

The early Church continued this healing ministry.  On the eve of this new millennium, Blessed John Paul II, who himself was often hospitalized and the beneficiary of the health ministry of doctors, nurses and others, recounted how “history records great men and women who, prompted by their desire to imitate Christ through a deep love for their poor and suffering brethren, started countless initiatives of social assistance, brightening the last two millennia with good works” (Message for World Day of the Sick 2000).  For example, when an epidemic struck Rome, while others fled, Christians remained with the afflicted to feed them, wash them, clothe them and pray with them.  A century later, Saint Basil the Great in the fourth century built a network of hospitals and hospices in what is modern-day Turkey.

That legacy of bringing Christ’s healing to the sick continues today.  “Daily experience shows how the Church, inspired by the Gospel of charity, continues to contribute with many works, hospitals, health-care structures and volunteer organizations, to promoting health and to caring for the sick, paying special attention to the most underprivileged in all parts of the world,” wrote John Paul.

Our involvement in health care ministry is a part of God’s plan.  What we bring to health care is the profound faith conviction that this is more than a job – it is God’s mercy at work among us through our hands, words, actions, hearts, witness and faith.

The Church’s commitment to health care in all its manifestations is rooted in the recognition that human life is a sacred gift that will some day flower into the fullness of life.  All healing, physical and emotional, psychological and medical, is directed to and should be a sign of the more profound spiritual healing that unites us to God.

As we celebrate the Rose Mass, offering prayers and thanks for those working in health care, while also making final preparations for Holy Week, we can ask ourselves how our own living faith might be an instrument of healing.  All of us in various ways are called to minister to one another.  In that sense, we are all expressions of the Church’s commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was and continues to be our Lord, Redeemer and Healer.

Devotion to Mary on the Solemnity of the Annunciation

March 25th, 2014

Blessed John Paul II’s devotion to Mary was no secret.  His coat of arms carried a large “M” beneath a cross and bore his motto, Totus Tuus, short for “Totus tuus ego sum, et omnia mea tua sunt (I am all yours, and all that I have is yours),” reflecting his complete self-giving to Mary.  Throughout his pontificate, he repeatedly lifted up for our attention and veneration the Mother of God, whom we celebrate today on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.

From the start, there has been profound veneration of the mother of Jesus everywhere Christianity has spread – prayers in which Mary is invoked, generations of children bearing some form of her name, and countless chapels, churches, shrines and sanctuaries dedicated to her.  Among these is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The Church in America has always been devoted to Mary.  In fact, it was on this very day of the Annunciation in 1634 that the first Catholic settlers aboard the Ark and the Dove landed on Saint Clement’s Island and celebrated Mass for the first time in this land with Father Andrew White.  Later, in 1792, Bishop John Carroll consecrated our nation to the Immaculate Conception and her patronage was formalized by Pope Pius IX in 1847.

Why has there always been such deep devotion among the followers of the Lord for his mother, Mary?

As Blessed John Paul explains in describing his own personal attachment, “true devotion to the Mother of God is actually Christocentric, indeed, it is very profoundly rooted in the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity, and the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption,” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, 213).  Jesus, Mary’s son, came to reveal to us who God is, to become one of us, to teach us the meaning of life and help us live.  This could not have happened without her and her “yes” to God’s proposal, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Mary put a human face on God.  By cooperating with God through her faith, the Blessed Virgin set in motion the divine plan of salvation in Christ, the establishment of the Church and sanctification in the Holy Spirit.  This explains why Mary has such an important role in the life of faith.

But beyond corresponding to doctrinal truth about the Mother of God, Marian devotion also addresses a need of the heart.  Just as Christian faith is not simply about a set of ideas, but is fundamentally a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ, so too is devotion to Mary about relationship.  Blessed John Paul recounts that during the suffering of Poland under the Nazis, “I was already convinced that Mary leads us to Christ, but at that time I began to realize also that Christ leads us to his Mother” (Gift and Mystery, 28).

Thus, the Church rightly looks to the Mother of God in gratitude for her “yes” and as our model of faith, but we also love her personally.  Mary is our mother too and with maternal affection, she plays a role in our lives and our liberation from evil and death.

Mary’s participation in the victory of Christ became clear to me above all from the experience of my people,” revealed John Paul.  “After my election as Pope, as I became more involved in the problems of the universal Church, I came to have a similar conviction: On this universal level, if victory comes it will be brought by Mary. Christ will conquer through her, because He wants the Church’s victories now and in the future to be linked to her” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, 220-21).

As this testimony of Blessed John Paul shows, and that of witnesses like Juan Diego, Mary continues to play a role in salvation.  She accompanies us on our pilgrimage of faith and, as she did at Cana, lovingly watches out for us, intercedes for us and brings us comfort.

“Behold your mother,” Jesus said from the Cross.  What a precious gift the Lord has given us.

Encountering the Lord’s Tender Mercies and Forgiveness

March 23rd, 2014

On Ash Wednesday, for the Responsorial Psalm at Mass, the Church sang the Miserere, which is also said on Fridays throughout the year for Morning Prayer.  So named for the opening words in Latin, this 51st Psalm sets the motif for the entirety of Lent – Have mercy on me, God . . . for I have sinned.

The sobering and sad fact of life is that all of us at times carry heavy “baggage” that we would like to unload. While we are capable of marvelously good actions, we do not always live as we should.  We sin and we suffer the inevitable hardship of alienation and guilt.  Jesus knows this and, in his mercy, he came to give us rest from our burdens and free us from the baggage of sin.

In the Sacrament of Penance, we meet Christ in his Church ready and eager to absolve and restore us to new life.  To let people know of this great marvel of God’s love and make his forgiveness readily available, once again “The Light is ON for You.”  In addition to the usual times for Confession, every Wednesday evening during Lent the light is on in every Catholic church throughout the Archdiocese of Washington and the Diocese of Arlington so that people know that God’s mercy is inside, waiting to heal those who avail themselves of this gift of forgiveness.

The New Testament is filled with references to Jesus’ abundant compassion and his challenge to his followers – to us – not to judge others, but to forgive and love one another.  For one thing, we should be merciful and forgiving with others, rather than cast stones, because we know that the Lord has been merciful and forgiving with us.  For another thing, life is usually more complex than it might seem.  Instead of jumping to conclusions, we must “enter into the mystery of the human being,” says Pope Francis. “In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy.”

In the Gospel for this third Sunday of Lent, we hear of the Samaritan woman who came to the well and encountered Jesus there.  In their ensuing conversation, Jesus notes that she has had five husbands and is now living with yet another man outside of marriage.  He does not condemn her, but neither does he justify.  His judgment is merely to state the truth.  He understands human frailties and knows that there is always more to the story.  Whatever personal faults this woman may have had, when she comes to the well, she is blessed by an encounter with Jesus.  In the conversation it is clear that she is aware of her failings.  In the midst of this experience, rather than condemnation, Jesus offers her living water, a spring within her that would satisfy her yearning and well up to eternal life (John 4:4-26).  She does not keep this exchange to herself, but immediately goes to tell others of the Lord.

The Good News of Jesus Christ is precisely that we do not endure the struggles of the human condition alone, but rather we are accompanied by a Redeemer who pours his love into our hearts, giving us comfort when we suffer and forgiveness when we sin.  When we face hardships brought on by circumstance, the frustrations and disappointments of life, the pain of being mistreated by others and our own struggle to do good and avoid evil, we should recall the woman at the well who found the Lord in his mercy waiting for her there to satisfy the real thirst that we all have – the need for genuine love, a love that does not disappoint, a saving, nurturing love that heals our wounds.  Saved by Christ’s grace, we are made a new creation and given the fullness of life.

Saint Joseph’s Essential Presence in the Life of the Church

March 19th, 2014

St. Joseph the Carpenter, by Georges de La Tour, 1640s.

Today, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saint Joseph.  What strikes us when we look at the pages of scripture and see the figure of Joseph is that he was a just and righteous man who loved God, loved Mary and loved Jesus with a generous heart.

As with Mary, God chose Joseph for an essential role in salvation history.  And, as with Mary at the Annunciation, the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation hinged on Joseph’s response.  Being a man of great faith, rather than listen to the voices of doubt and human pride, Joseph decided to place his trust in Mary and his faith in God.  This “reveals to us the greatness of St. Joseph’s heart and soul,” says Pope Francis.  “Joseph was a man who always listened to the voice of God, he was deeply sensitive to his secret will, he was a man attentive to the messages that came to him from the depths of his heart and from on high.”

With an unfailing presence and complete fidelity, Joseph placed himself entirely at the service of Mary and Jesus, taking them into his home and into his heart, protecting them, caring for them and providing for them, as Pope Francis noted at his Mass of Installation, which we celebrated one year ago today.  As the head of the Holy Family, when Mary and the young Jesus encountered the hardships of everyday life, it was Joseph who stood at their side, providing them help and encouragement.

Joseph’s love and his service to the mission entrusted to him stands as an exemplary model for us all, but particularly for men and fathers.  In a special way, this vocation will be explored in the archdiocesan men’s conference, “Man on a Mission 2014,” which will be held on Saturday, March 22nd, at Bishop McNamara High School.  The conference speaker will be well-known author and professor Dr. Edward Sri, who will speak about the New Evangelization and offer practical insights from Christ’s Passion.

Given Joseph’s importance to the Church and her mission, in 1870 he was proclaimed Patron of the Universal Church.  Since then, devotion to him has only grown among the faithful.  This includes Blessed Pope John XXIII, whose given middle name in English was Joseph (Giuseppe, in his native Italian).  In naming Saint Joseph patron of the Second Vatican Council, the Pope explained that “since we need a heavenly protector on high during this period of preparation and of development to ask for that divine power that will enable it to live up to its promise and be an epoch-making event in the history of the Church in our times, there is no saint in heaven who can better be trusted with the task than St. Joseph, the stately head of the Family of Nazareth and protector of the Holy Church” (Apostolic Letter Le voci).

Pope John also later directed that Joseph’s name be inserted into the first Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass.  And then, last year, a decree was issued under the authority of Pope Francis adding the name of blessed Joseph to the other Eucharistic Prayers, II, III and IV, after the name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God.

No other person in history, aside from Mary, was closer to Jesus or knew him better than Joseph.  As we go forward in the New Evangelization, fruit of the Council, joyfully sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, let us join our prayers to those of Pope John XXIII, soon to be called Saint John.  “O St. Joseph! Here, here is where you belong as Protector of the Universal Church!” he implored.  “Always be our protector. May thy inner spirit of peace, of silence, of good work, and of prayer for the cause of Holy Church always be an inspiration to us and bring us joy in union with thy blessed spouse, our most sweet and gentle and Immaculate Mother, and in the strong yet tender love of Jesus, the glorious and immortal King of all ages and peoples. Amen.”

Ask the Cardinal: Helping the Poor

March 16th, 2014

Michael Mzuli with his daughter, Stephanie, 3, and wife, Janet live in the Kariobangi District in Nairobi, Kenya. Michael is a member of the Samba Youth Group, a project started by CRS and the local Catholic Church to provide job opportunities and a support forum for youth in Kariobangi.

Recently we observed the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of a “War on Poverty.”  Yet, in many ways, it seems we have just as much, if not more, poverty today.  What does Catholic social teaching have to say about eradicating poverty?

Jesus taught us that we have a relationship with each other.  We are to love God, but we are also to love one another.  Christ raises our relationship to an even higher level when we share the sacrament of baptism and become spiritual sisters and brothers.

Catholic social teaching is based on the understanding that we are one human family.  Thus we have an obligation to each other because we are all God’s children.  We are not free simply to turn away from the poverty, suffering and weakness of the human condition.

We should not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the challenges we face.  While Jesus pointed out that the poor would always be with us (Matthew 26:11), he did so in the context of a life that proclaimed his special love and care for the poor.  As followers of Christ, our actions should reflect his.  Make no mistake about it – Jesus tells us that we will be judged by how we have responded to the hungry, the thirsty, the needy, the lonely and the imprisoned (Matthew 25:31-46).  We may not be able to eradicate all poverty, but that does not absolve us from our personal obligation to alleviate the sufferings and poor conditions of others.

The Church reminds us during Lent of the need for almsgiving, which we are obligated to do as a matter of fraternal charity and justice.  There are many ways to give, but I would like to highlight two particular initiatives in our local Church to provide help for the hungry.

Last year in the United States, nearly 48 million people needed federal supplemental nutrition assistance, while millions more children received food assistance through other programs.  In our own area, many families had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources.

One of the initiatives to fight hunger is the 2014 Lenten Food Drive, spearheaded by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.  In addition to ongoing food drives throughout the year, this special massive collection in archdiocesan schools and parishes provides over 50 tons of food to local food banks and parish pantries each year.  The Lenten Food Drive will be held over two weekends.  First, next weekend, March 22 and 23, collections will be accepted in Northwest and Southwest D.C. and Montgomery County, and then the following weekend of March 29 and 30, food will be collected in Northeast and Southeast D.C., and the Maryland counties of Prince George’s, Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s.  For more information, please visit the Catholic Charities website.

Another helping hand extended by the Church is the CRS Rice Bowl for Lent 2014.  With parishes, schools, faith formation programs and other communities participating in recent years, the Rice Bowl provides tangible assistance to our brothers and sisters in need throughout the world while deepening our spiritual practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  Operated on the national level by Catholic Relief Services with a local coordinator, the CRS Rice Bowl is a contribution-sharing program – 75 percent of our gifts go to Catholic Relief Services to address global poverty and hunger and 25 percent will remain in our archdiocese to support parish food pantries.  Last year, the Archdiocese of Washington collected nearly $82,000 overall thanks to your generous support.  For more information on how you can help this year, please visit our archdiocesan CRS Rice Bowl website.

In the face of a large hungry crowd, Jesus told the Apostles that they should give the people something to eat themselves.  Looking at their meager supply, they had their doubts, but with the Lord all things are possible (Mark 6:35-44).  If we work to help those in poverty, even though we might think our loaves and fishes inadequate, Jesus will multiply our efforts with his love and the world will be satisfied by the banquet he brings.