Jubilee Couples Show the Joy of Love

June 23rd, 2017

For every priest, witnessing and blessing the marriage of a couple in the name of the Church is a special joy. Their standing before the altar signifies that Christ is present with them that day. Just as Jesus performed his first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, he continues to be with couples every day of their life together.

As the archbishop of Washington, my joy is multiplied in witnessing the grace of the sacrament of marriage made visible at our annual Jubilarian Mass honoring couples marking milestone anniversaries. This year’s liturgy takes place this Sunday, June 25, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, when 712 couples will be honored for celebrating a collective 31,747 years as husbands and wives.

These Jubilarian couples bear witness to the beauty of enduring human love joined to the power of God’s love in the sacrament of matrimony. During the Mass, as they hold hands and renew their marriage vows, we see the gift of the Holy Spirit at work, manifested in their love for each other. In the promises they made to be true to each other in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, that they would love and honor each other all the days of their life, they have accepted to do their part to be witnesses of Christ’s Gospel, his love and the transforming power of the Spirit in this world.

Each spouse is to the other “a companion on life’s journey, one with whom to face life’s difficulties and enjoy its pleasures,” Pope Francis has written. “The love they pledge is greater than any emotion, feeling or state of mind, although it may include all of these. It is a deeper love, a lifelong decision of the heart. Even amid unresolved conflicts and confused emotional situations, they daily reaffirm their decision to love, to belong to one another, to share their lives and to continue loving and forgiving. Each progresses along the path of personal growth and development. On this journey, love rejoices at every step and in every new stage” (Amoris Laetitia, 163).

The Jubilarian couples I speak to routinely attest to the truth of the counsel the Holy Father offers – that marital love takes daily effort, as well as the patience to allow the marriage to become richer over time, like a fine wine. “The love present from the beginning becomes more conscious, settled and mature as the couple discover each other anew day after day, year after year” (Amoris Laetitia, 231). Most importantly, the pope encourages couples to pray to the Holy Spirit for an outpouring of God’s grace, which transforms and directs their love in every situation they face.

Please join the Church of Washington in giving thanks to God for these men and women who are renewing their vows and all married couples. Through their daily faith and fidelity, they witness to their children, grandchildren and all of us the “Joy of Love” that Jesus has for his holy bride, the Church.

“Blessed are the Peacemakers”

June 21st, 2017

Peacemakers

Last week we reflected on Jesus’ teaching on the Beatitudes and learned that by their contradiction to the ways of the world, they inherently call us to conversion – to turn to the way of the Lord and see with eyes of faith. In light of the scourge of war and other acts of violence perpetuated throughout the world, including the continuing persecution of Christians – as well as daily acts of antagonism, discord and injustice in our own country – it might be helpful to consider the beatitude, “Blessed are the Peacemakers,” as we struggle to imagine how we might be agents of peace ourselves.

In his 2013 Message for the World Day of Peace, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on this teaching from Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and explained that “to become authentic peacemakers, it is fundamental to keep in mind our transcendent dimension and to enter into constant dialogue with God, the Father of mercy, whereby we implore the redemption achieved for us by His only-begotten Son. In this way, mankind can overcome that progressive dimming and rejection of peace which is sin in all its forms: selfishness and violence, greed and the will to power and dominion, intolerance, hatred and unjust structures.”

In a world riven by tension and conflict, we can neither despair about the prospects for peace nor abandon praying for peace. What we can do is be attentive to nurturing the virtue of peacemaking in our own lives, realizing that “the attainment of peace depends above all on recognizing that we are, in God, one human family” (2013 Message). A critical dimension of peacemaking is not backing away from bringing the Lord and the Gospel to bear on issues such as crime, racism, poverty, discrimination and disregard for human life which plague our secularized society. As Catholics, we have a particular responsibility to remind the world of a shared commitment to the common good and genuine justice as the only way to live in communities in which the dignity and rights of all human persons are respected.

Imagine how much more harsh our world would be if we did not hear, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers.” What would our communities be like if we were not commanded, “You shall not kill. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness”?

Our culture has hope because Christians have heard Jesus’ say, “You should love your neighbor as yourself” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Christians have lived by and shared that teaching in a way that it provides a moral framework which is “good news” for Christians and non-Christians alike. Through our shared human effort joined to the gift of Christ, we can know a true, just and lasting peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

Corpus Christi and Love for our Father

June 18th, 2017
corpus christi

Photo Credit: Jaclyn Lippelmann for the Catholic Standard

The Church Universal lifts up for us today throughout the world the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, known in Latin as Corpus Christi.  Here in the U.S., today it is also Father’s Day, and it is quite fitting that this feast of the Eucharist should be celebrated alongside this day in which we pay loving tribute to the men who have provided for and protected us, and given so much of their lives for us.

Pope Benedict XVI affirms that, “in the Eucharist, Jesus does not give us a ‘thing,’ but himself; he offers his own Body and pours out his own Blood. He thus gives us the totality of his life and reveals the ultimate origin of this love. He is the eternal Son, given to us by the Father” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 7).  Jesus gave us the sacrifice of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist, yet at the same time, this is a gift to us from our heavenly Father. “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world,” said Jesus, adding, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:32-33, 51).

Also, before Jesus’ holy sacrifice is a gift to us, it is a gift to the Father.  “The gift of his love and obedience to the point of giving his life is in the first place a gift to his Father,” explained Saint John Paul II.  “Certainly it is a gift given for our sake, and indeed that of all humanity, yet it is first and foremost a gift to the Father: ‘a sacrifice that the Father accepted, giving, in return for this total self-giving by his Son, who ‘became obedient unto death,’ his own paternal gift, that is to say the grant of new immortal life in the resurrection’” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 13 (citations omitted)).

In the same way, we too should love our Father in heaven first before we love and make a gift of self to our earthly fathers – or to any other loved ones (cf. Luke 14:26).  We should not be fearful that in doing so we love our fathers less.  Rather, in loving God first, in putting our heavenly Father before all else, we actually end up loving our earthly fathers more, we do them even greater honor.  When we love our father through our Father, our love is purified and enlarged a hundredfold.

As Pope Benedict said, “The person who puts himself in God’s hands does not distance himself from others, withdrawing into his private salvation; on the contrary, it is only then that his heart truly awakens and he becomes a sensitive, hence, benevolent and open person” (Homily of December 8, 2005).

As we give thanks today to our heavenly Father for the gift of his Son, who gives us himself in the Eucharist, and also for the gift of our earthly fathers who have given us life and love, let us also pray that God bless them and keep them always.

2017 Ordination to the Priesthood

June 17th, 2017

Watch live from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception as I ordain four men to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington.

The Ordination of Our Newest Priests

June 16th, 2017
Priest Ordination

Photo Credit: Jaclyn Lippelmann for the Catholic Standard

One of the most joyful days of the year for our family of faith will unfold tomorrow at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception as I ordain four new priests to serve Christ, his Church, and all they encounter.

Three of these soon-to-be new priests are pioneer members of our Saint John Paul II Seminary.  They entered when it opened in 2011 and are now its first seminarians to be ordained as priests. They include Ben Garcia, a native of Chile who studied at the naval academy and with a religious community there; Bob Kilner, who grew up as a member of the Shrine of Saint Jude Parish in Rockville and graduated from Catholic University; and Andrew Wakefield, a native of Michigan who earned a law degree and was previously a practicing attorney.  Our fourth candidate, Jorge Ubau is a native of El Salvador and an active member of the Neocatechumenal Way who studied at our archdiocesan Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary.

This ordination Mass comes during the 25th anniversary year of Saint John Paul’s landmark apostolic exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis, which lists the four basic building blocks that guide the formation of our seminarians and the ongoing formation of our priests in its human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral aspects.  These pillars form a way of life for seminarians and priests as they seek Christ and help others know and love him, and journey with people on the path to heaven.

Furthermore, like his predecessors, Pope Francis as a priest and shepherd exemplifies these pillars and he too offers key characteristics for priests as they seek to manifest the ministry of Jesus the Good Shepherd.  He encourages priests to have a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus; to be devoted to the sacramental ministry and a daily rhythm of life that includes time for prayer and ongoing spiritual growth; to remain close to their flock and accompanying them where they are; to be ministers of God’s love and mercy; and to live lives marked by service and humility.

The movement of the Spirit that leads our priests on the path to ordination also continues to guide them as they stand in the midst of the faith community as an icon of Christ. The priest proclaims God’s word in living continuity with the apostolic tradition. He celebrates the sacred mysteries, especially the sacrament of Reconciliation and above all, the Eucharist. He shows a loving concern for those in need and gathers the flock into one and leads these people to the Father.

Please join me and the whole Church of Washington in praying that the Holy Spirit fill the hearts and lives of our newly-ordained priests and those already serving as they continue their formation as good and holy priests, and accompany too the flocks entrusted to them in our pilgrim journey to Jesus and eternal life.

Finding the Happy Life in the Beatitudes

June 13th, 2017

Beatitudes

Occasionally at Sunday Mass, instead of reciting the Creed we renew our baptismal commitments, including renouncing the empty promises of those things that are not of God.  This renunciation of worldly false promises, together with virtue and grace, is necessary to lead a life in the Spirit and have a truly happy and prosperous life.

Jesus – who is the way, the truth and the life – left us a short treatise on how to lead such a happy life, a series of lessons that we call the Sermon on the Mount, which are most fully set out in Chapters 5-7 of the Gospel of Matthew.  Saint Luke includes similar lessons in Chapter 6 of his Gospel.  The Sermon begins with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), which sum up the way of Christ and are “the only path that leads to the eternal beatitude for which the human heart longs” (CCC 1697).

The Catechism teaches that the natural desire for happiness has been placed in the human heart in order to draw us to God who can alone fulfill it (CCC 1718).  While the secular culture proposes happiness in terms of earthly desire, the Beatitudes are ordered to the kingdom of heaven and show that “true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement – however beneficial it may be – such as science, technology, and art, or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love” (CCC 1716, 1723).

In their expression of those who are blessed – for example, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who are persecuted and reviled on account of their Christian faith – the Beatitudes are paradoxical to the empty promises of what the world calls the good life, yet they “sustain hope in the midst of tribulations” and “shed light on the actions and attitudes characteristics of the Christian life,” depicting Jesus’ countenance and portraying his charity (CCC 1717).

Pope Benedict XVI noted in a long exposition on these lessons in his book Jesus of Nazareth (volume one) that the Beatitudes are words of promise that also add depth to the injunctions of the Ten Commandments to love thy neighbor (pp. 70-71).  In a particular way, “the Beatitudes are the transposition of Cross and Resurrection into discipleship,” he wrote.  Displaying “the mystery of Christ himself,” the Beatitudes are “a road map for the Church” and “directions for discipleship” (p.74).

By their contradiction to the ways of the world, the Beatitudes inherently call us to conversion – to turn to the way of the Lord and see with eyes of faith.  And if we seek to live well, to live a good and happy life, we must live this life of beatitude.  If we do this, if we humbly open our hearts to God, showing mercy and compassion to others, bearing witness to Christ in how we live, then we will know the true happiness and blessedness of the kingdom of heaven, beholding God as his adopted children.

A Listening Church and Helping Young People in Vocational Discernment

June 10th, 2017

Photo Credit: Leslie Kossoff for the Catholic Standard

The Church of Washington rejoices today with the ordination of four men as transitional deacons.  While they will now enter into their final year of seminary formation, their pathway to ordination did not begin with their entrance into the seminary.  Their spiritual journey began with their first personal contact with Christ through the sacraments of initiation and it proceeded further at every stage in their human and faith formation.  It is the same for every vocational decision.

Sometimes when we hear the word “discernment,” we think only of a priestly or religious vocation.  But good discernment should be a natural part of the life of every disciple – laity included – who yearns to continually say “yes” to God’s call.  In fact, discernment is such an important part of life that Pope Francis has decided the Synod of Bishops next year will be devoted to young people and vocational discernment.  One of the most important elements of the preparation for this gathering was the call for listening sessions with young people throughout the world.

“By listening to young people, the Church will once again hear the Lord speaking in today’s world,” explains the Preparatory Document for the Synod.  “As in the days of Samuel (cf. 1 Samuel 3:1-21) and Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah 1:4-10), young people know how to discern the signs of our times, indicated by the Spirit. Listening to their aspirations, the Church can glimpse the world which lies ahead and the paths the Church is called to follow.”

In this archdiocese, this took the form of listening sessions and an online survey, as I discussed here a few weeks ago.  With this stage now completed, I want to express my gratitude for the more than 1,500 responses that were received in 40 parish listening sessions, with hundreds of young adults also participating online.

The responses show some common areas of concern among young people.  Many feel the pressures of a secularized world, particularly in the area of human sexuality, and a lack of community and authentic friendships in their lives.  Many young adults also feel the pressures of heavy debts and managing finances.  When asked to talk about where they find meaning in their lives, both Catholic and non-Catholics spoke of the importance of service experiences.  Among young people who make the Church a part of their life, they value the invitation and initiation into the experience of personal prayer and those adults who seem “authentic,” and also the opportunity they have for spiritual direction and help with discernment.

As we further study the results of our outreach, we do not want to stop listening to our young people simply because we have completed this initiative. They are our future in the Church and in society, and it is essential that we continue to actively engage with them, hearing what is important to them and sharing what we have learned about life.

Justice and Law

June 7th, 2017

Justice and Law
Every society in history has had some conception of justice and, on the personal level, even from an early age we have an intuitive sense of it.  Like wisdom, temperance and fortitude, justice is a personal virtue, but it is also an obligation in our relations with God and others. As Pope Francis notes, “Justice is a fundamental concept for civil society, which is meant to be governed by the rule of law” (Misericordiae Vultus, 20).

While manifested in different ways, “justice” is rendering to others that which is rightly due them and conforming to, or restoring, the right order of things as often symbolized in art with a set of scales.  Pope Benedict XVI attests that justice involves giving “the other what is ‘his,’ what is due to him by reason of his being or his acting,” and that “to desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice” (Caritas in Veritate, 6, 7).  The Catechism further explains that justice calls us “to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good” (CCC 1807).

In discerning what is “rightly due” others, people often look to the civil law as if what is stated by legislatures and courts is necessarily acceptable and just.  However, while there certainly should be a relationship between justice and man-made law, they are not necessarily synonymous.  Some years ago, I was struck when a teenager in trouble was asked why he had so little respect for others, and he responded, “How come you get to draw the line?”  The law is a teacher and what he had seen in man’s law itself was an eroding of respect for human life and dignity.

The problem is that the civil law, the legal system, and human conceptions of justice today have less and less room for transcendent justice, for God’s justice.  Much of society today proceeds as if God and his divine law did not exist, and holds that justice is something that is invented or even remanufactured to fit the desires of the moment.  But without some objective, absolute, eternal reference point that binds all of us, justice is reduced to personal convenience and the tyranny of “might makes right.”  This leads to unjust “law,” which is no law at all in the right and proper sense.

A healthy society, however, affirms that there is a higher law and an order grounded in the wisdom of God, who is himself justice.  In this true and transcendent justice, what others are rightly due from us – and from society and our legal system – includes respect for their rights, freedom and human dignity as made in the image of God, honesty, fairness, equal treatment, setting things right and restoration of the good to make others whole when we have borrowed from them or injured them, and otherwise being faithful to what is right, good and true, putting and obeying God first.

As with wisdom and so much in life, God is our guide in the way of justice.  Only with him can we find true happiness and build a good, just and fruitful society for all.

The Upper Room at Pentecost and in Our Personal Lives

June 4th, 2017

Pentecost

The liturgy at Pentecost vividly takes us again into the Upper Room in Jerusalem. It was there that Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with the Apostles, and where the Lord instituted the sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Orders.

The first reading at Mass for this solemnity tells how suddenly the Holy Spirit filled the Upper Room and the whole house “with a noise like a driving wind” and then appeared to the Apostles, Mary and other disciples as tongues of fire and resting on each of them. Having been filled with the living breath of the Spirit, the Church was born. Strengthened now with the Spirit, the Apostles would then and for the rest of their lives go and boldly preach the Good News of the Risen Christ (Acts 2:1-11).

In the Gospel reading as well, we are present in the Upper Room as Jesus appears to the Apostles after his Resurrection and says, “Peace be with you.” The Lord then breathed on them and gave us the sacrament of Penance, saying, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:19-23).

With all this holy activity, the Upper Room is perhaps the most important room in all of Christendom observes Monsignor Peter Vaghi in his recent book, “Meeting God in the Upper Room.” What is more, he adds, each follower of Jesus today can come to the Upper Room themselves and participate in those three moments in the life of the early Church in a way that changes lives. We can come and encounter the Risen Christ and live in the Holy Spirit through prayer and by receiving the Eucharist at Mass, by going to Confession, reading God’s word, and by loving and serving others.

The Apostles once huddled together timidly in the Upper Room, but the Spirit changed everything. From that room, the Apostles – and by extension all of us – actively became missionaries, emboldened to take the Good News to the ends of the earth. Like the early Church at the first Pentecost, we have been empowered as Spirit-filled evangelizers to go forth boldly and bear witness to Jesus to the world (Evangelii Gaudium, 259).

Today, it is important for us to reflect on and indeed to seek the Upper Room in our own lives – it is not simply a historical location and Pentecost was not a one-time historic event. We in the Church today likewise experience an outpouring of the Holy Spirit which can transform lives. The Pentecost story is our story. The early Church’s experience in the Upper Room is our experience. With our own hearts renewed and strengthened, we like the Apostles, can change the world.

Finding the Strength to Overcome Adversity and Live Well in Christ

June 2nd, 2017

It is not uncommon for people to have the wisdom to know what is the right thing to do, and genuinely to want to be virtuous in order to lead a good and truly happy life, and yet they lack the will power to actually do the right and just thing, including fully living our Christian faith. It could be that worldly desires have the better of them, as they did with Saint Augustine before his conversion. Later, he came to understand that sin impairs the will so that instead of being master of his passions, he was captive to them. Saint Paul similarly wrote about an inner conflict where the desires of the flesh are at war with the things of the Spirit (e.g. Galatians 5:17; Romans 7:23, 8:5).

Peer pressure is another factor that might lead people to do something they know is wrong, like Augustine did in stealing pears with his friends. Also, fear of possible adverse consequences might lead one to “go along to get along” in order to avoid ridicule, condemnation, getting a bad grade or losing a job, or even imprisonment or death. For example, many people knew segregation was wrong, but they did not speak out because they feared possible social censure. Today, those who believe in the transcendent moral order, in genuine marriage, human dignity and the value of all human life are told to be quiet or else be disparaged as mean and bigoted.

In view of these struggles in the human condition, the Lord sends us his Holy Spirit to give us strength to rise triumphant over our human weakness. Like the applied wisdom of prudence, such fortitude is also a human virtue, which “strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life” (CCC 1808). Just like you can get physically stronger by lifting weights, so you can strengthen your will and spirit by doing things that involve a measure of firmness of mind and heart.

The good we cannot do on our own, the Holy Spirit helps us to do in grace. We receive the gift of strength in a particular way in the sacrament of Confirmation so that we might better and more fully live our faith and be true witnesses of Jesus Christ even in the face of opposition (CCC 1303). This fortitude was given to the Apostles at Pentecost and to the martyrs who stood fast in the Christian faith unto death, and this strength of the Spirit is given to us in order to meet the challenges of the day.

Typically in the United States, the sacrament of Confirmation is received in the teenaged years, but it is never too late to receive this essential gift if you missed it at that time. On Pentecost Sunday at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle, our local Church will celebrate our annual Mass for the Confirmation of adults from across the archdiocese. If you are such an adult who was baptized Catholic, but never confirmed, I encourage you to contact your local parish to begin sacramental preparation for the future. The Holy Spirit is stronger than all our human weaknesses and the evils of the world.