Sistine Chapel Choir Concert: Touching the Spirit of the Divine

September 18th, 2017

Making a pilgrimage to experience the wonders of Rome is always memorable.  Now, some of that beauty will travel to our community for what will prove to be an equally memorable evening.  Two years after Washington received the extraordinary gift of a pastoral visit by Pope Francis, the nation’s capital will welcome “the Pope’s Choir,” with a free concert performed by the Sistine Chapel Choir on Wednesday, September 20, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The Sistine Chapel, famous for its immortal “Creation” and “Last Judgment” frescoes painted by Michelangelo, other masterpieces by other artists, and the site of papal elections, is also home to the world’s oldest choir. Known formally as the Cappella Musicale Pontificia Sistina, it dates back to the earliest centuries of the Church and was reorganized in the sixth century.  And like the sacred art of the Chapel, the sacred music of the choir has the power to lift up people to the glory of heaven.

Led by Monsignor Massimo Palombella, the choir with its 20 adult singers and 30 boy choristers sings at important papal liturgies, such as the Christmas Eve Mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica, and at celebrations like the 2013 joint concert with the Tomaner Choir, a noted Lutheran choral group from Leipzig. The concert’s sponsors include EWTN, which will film it as part of its “In Concert” series. The Choir has already performed at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City last Saturday, and after leaving Washington, it will conclude its three-city tour with a performance at the Detroit Opera House on September 23.

The visit of our Holy Father’s choir to the nation’s capital is a recognition of the importance of The Catholic University of America, the significance of the National Shrine, and our fraternal bonds that link us to our Holy Father in Rome. As chancellor of Catholic University, it is my honor and privilege to welcome these artists to our campus. The visit of this world-renowned choir is an opportunity to support, as well, Catholic arts here at the university. Students and faculty from its Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, who are hosting the choir, play an important role in providing a center of Catholic music for our nation and preserving the tradition of sacred music.

The presence of the Sistine Chapel Choir is truly a blessing for our city, our local Church and our university.  The performance will also demonstrate the power of music to touch the spirit of the divine that dwells within each of us. By its transcendent power, beautiful music can help us encounter that spark of the divine. In that way, the sacred music sung by this choir through the centuries can echo in our hearts and in our lives today.

Throwback Thursday: Our First “Venerable” Washingtonian

September 14th, 2017

On this coming Saturday, September 16, the Church of Washington will celebrate a special Mass in commemoration of Venerable Aloysius Schwartz at Saint Andrew the Apostle Church in Silver Spring.  Please join us spiritually with your prayers thanking God for this holy pastor and also for the intention of our sisters and brothers in need to whom he dedicated his life.

In March 2015, Pope Francis signed a decree that Monsignor Aloysius Schwartz, a native son of Washington who became a missionary priest, had lived a life of “heroic virtue,” meaning that he has been declared as “Venerable,” becoming the first Washingtonian to achieve that title. The priest’s cause for canonization has been promoted by the Archdiocese of Manila in the Philippines because, in addition to serving there for many years, that is where he died and is buried.

The fact that one of our own who became a priest has been declared as “Venerable” is a great joy and inspiration.

Venerable Aloysius Schwartz was born on September 18, 1930, to devout Catholic parents who had eight children. He attended Holy Name Church in Washington, where he was baptized, received his First Holy Communion, was confirmed, and graduated from Holy Name School. From the time he was a boy, he dreamed of being a missionary priest and serving the poor.

That heartfelt desire was confirmed years later when, as a seminarian, he visited the shrine of the Virgin of the Poor in Banneux, Belgium, and he was inspired to dedicate his priesthood to the Virgin of the Poor and to serving the poor with Mary’s tender love.

Following his ordination to the priesthood in 1957 at Saint Martin of Tours Church in Washington, Father Schwartz went to the Diocese of Busan in South Korea, where there was extensive poverty and misery because of the recent war.

Many of the people Venerable Aloysius served in Korea lived in shacks, and so for many years he also lived in what he described as a hovel, with a tarpaper roof and mud walls.  “One’s surroundings definitely conditions one’s thinking,” he explained.  “By living more or less poor, I discovered it was easier to think poor, to feel poor, and to stay on the same wave length as the poor.”

It was with Gospel zeal that “Father Al,” as he was affectionately known, then founded the Sisters of Mary and established programs that would provide care, education and hope for a brighter future to children who were orphaned, abandoned or otherwise impoverished. Later, he also founded the Brothers of Christ, who serve the poor and people with disabilities in South Korea.

Venerable Aloysius’ legacy lives on today in Boystown and Girlstown programs that the Sisters of Mary operate in South Korea, the Philippines, Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala and Honduras, where they are educating more than 20,000 poor children. The sisters’ motto remains, “Let us serve the Lord with joy,” and that joy permeates their work. Over the years, more than 100,000 children have graduated from those programs and gone on to a variety of successful careers after having once been street children.

In To Live Is Christ, his book of spirituality for the Sisters of Mary, Monsignor Schwartz wrote that “Christ not only gives the poor priority. He identifies with the poor and becomes one of them. Henceforth, whatever you do to the poor, you do to Christ. Whatever you give to the poor, you give to Christ.”

The priest noted that Christ calls all his disciples to follow the way of the cross. Monsignor Schwartz bore his own cross – terminal amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) – with joy, faith and perseverance, even helping to supervise the planning of a school for girls in Mexico when he was paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Venerable Aloysius died in Manila on March 16, 1992. 

Pope Francis often tells us to go out, meet people where they are – especially the poor and those on the margins of society – and accompany them.  He urges us to walk with them and to help them, and ourselves, grow closer to Jesus. That is just what Venerable Aloysius Schwartz did. Like him, we can be missionary disciples of Jesus in today’s world, sharing his Good News by what we say and do.

The Blessing of Unity in Multicultural Diversity

September 12th, 2017

As the Second Vatican Council affirms, “All men are called to belong to the new people of God. Wherefore this people, while remaining one and only one, is to be spread throughout the whole world and must exist in all ages, so that the decree of God’s will may be fulfilled” (Lumen Gentium, 13).

During the visit of Pope Francis two years ago, the ethnic diversity of this Church was on display for all to see as people from every nationality and background joined together joyously to pray in unity with our Holy Father. Yet, this same multicultural diversity is also lived every day in the Church of Washington.  You need only attend Mass – which is celebrated in more than 20 languages here – to see how faithful the Church has been in making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).

We are a Church woven into a beautiful tapestry of people which provides invaluable witness to the world.  As an example of this diversity, on Sunday there will be a Mass in celebration of 25th anniversary of Our Mother of Africa chapel at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  Within this sanctuary is recounted the story of the journey from slavery to freedom, and the place that faith in God and devotion in the Blessed Mother, our protector and intercessor, have had in particular for those who trace their ancestors back to Africa.

On October 2-4, a number of parishes with large African-American communities will come together for the 28th Annual East of the River Revival to share the joy of the Gospel. This gathering will be preceded by a youth rally on September 30.  Through prayer, preaching, praise and worship, especially entering into the deepest unity through the celebration of the Eucharist, this portion of the one Church in our midst will bear witness to the revival’s theme:  Where there is light, there is hope!

These events are also an opportunity for us all to celebrate that African-Americans have always been part of the story of this local Church. Particularly in their struggles for freedom and civil rights during those shameful periods of history, in faith they found a hope that sustained them and they found a community capable – with God’s mercy – to transform sin to grace and division to unity.

The cultural diversity of this archdiocese is also expressed all year round with festivals and celebrations focusing on our Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Polish, Vietnamese communities to name some significant examples.  This diversity is experienced in unity as a single people in the family of God. Such witness is now more than ever needed for the wider community. It is a lived example of how people in the multiplicity of various cultures and backgrounds can come together not just in what we hold in common, but also in appreciation of what makes us different.  The experience of unity and diversity points to a God whose image and likeness cannot be captured in “one form.”  Like our Triune God, we are meant to a communion of persons, living in diversity, many as one.

A Mission of Mercy

September 8th, 2017

Teamwork lies at the heart of the victories won at the University of Maryland’s XFINITY Center in College Park. Today and Sunday, the arena will be the site of a different kind of teamwork and inspiring victories as it is transformed into a mobile dental clinic with 100 treatment stations and also a health screening center. On these two days of the Mid-Maryland Mission of Mercy and Health Equity Festival, an expected 1,500 patients will receive more than $1 million worth of free care.

The event is possible thanks to the collaboration and teamwork of Catholic Charities and Maryland’s Center for Health Equity, as well as several hundred dentists, hygienists and other health care professionals, and well over a thousand volunteers.  It is a testament to their commitment, dedication and awareness that we should care for one another and help those in need.  In the words of Monsignor John Enzler, the president and CEO of Catholic Charities, the Mission of Mercy event offers an opportunity to “change thousands of lives and guide them to healthier futures.”

The Mission of Mercy is aptly named. God’s mercy is “the beating heart of the Gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the heart and mind of every person,” Pope Francis says. “Wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 12).

Catholic Charities has helped provide four Mission of Mercy dental clinics throughout Maryland in recent times.  In years past, I have been so very impressed seeing hundreds of underserved, uninsured and underinsured patients receiving dental care they otherwise would lack access to.  It has been a joy for me to walk through that basketball court transformed into a dental clinic and greet and offer thanks to the volunteers and offer prayers and support for the patients.

This amazing event demonstrates the great things that partnerships produce.  This kind of teamwork is also fundamental to the outreach of Catholic Charities throughout our community as it partners with parish, community, business groups and public agencies to bring help and hope to those in need and on the margins.  They rightly understand that if you work together, you can truly accomplish anything.

The Mission of Mercy dental clinic is proof of the good of coming together and it demonstrates how an “oasis of mercy” can bring smiles and hope to countless people. We too can make such victories possible as we join together as one and share Jesus’ love and God’s mercy in our homes and communities.

Throwback Thursday: Our Gift to Mary on the Feast of Her Nativity

September 7th, 2017

Tomorrow is an unusual observance in the life of the Church. We celebrate the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Why is this unusual?  After all, it seems absolutely natural to celebrate a birthday, in fact, some might say it would be unusual not to celebrate the birthday of a beloved family member or friend.  On the other hand, in our liturgical life, it is more typical for saints to be honored for the day they were “born” into heaven, rather than when they were born into the world.

Since Mary was always sinless, she is honored even for her birth on earth and her Immaculate Conception, which we celebrated nine months ago, on December 8, as well as her entry into heaven on the Solemnity of the Assumption on August 15. Like every Marian feast, we celebrate Our Lady’s nativity because it tells us something about Jesus.

The Church’s attention to Mary – our love for her – is based on her relationship to Jesus Christ. Her son is God’s eternal Word who came to dwell among us, when he was born of Mary. Christmas, the Nativity of Our Lord, is the feast we celebrate to tell the story of how Jesus came to reveal to us who God is, to teach us the meaning of life, and to help us live.

One of the reasons we celebrate birthdays is to honor what makes the person with the birthday so special to us.  On this feast of the Nativity of Mary in 2014, Pope Francis took up this theme and pointed out that one special gift of Mary is what she teaches us about being helpful.

We learn in the Gospel of Luke that after her visit from the Archangel Gabriel, Mary “went with haste” to be with her cousin Elizabeth and to lend a hand in all of the preparations that come along with preparing for the birth of a baby. Pope Francis points out that this “helpfulness” is an act of discipleship. Jesus too, calls all of his followers to be ready to help. “Making a difference and helping others does not have to be done on a grand scale, he said, but entails doing everyday things ‘with tenderness and mercy’” (Angelus Address, September 7, 2014).

We also celebrate birthdays by offering gifts, and so I would like to invite you to consider giving Our Blessed Mother a very special gift this year.  When Pope Francis spoke of Mary’s attitude of helpfulness, he pointed out how easy it is when we see something that needs to be done, when we are faced with the reality of very serious and large challenges – such as the care for the environment or the violence plaguing our cities this summer or the persecution of our Christian sisters and brothers in the Middle East – to sit back and think that someone else will take care of it. The giving of ourselves is an opportunity to be that someone else.

Moreover, helping the people we encounter in our neighborhoods and streets or volunteering at Catholic Charities or praying for suffering Christian refugees and urging public leaders to act to protect them or helping to bring peace to our neighborhoods are all small but important steps in imitation Jesus’ life of self-giving love.

What a wonderful gift it would be in honor of Mary’s birthday if each of us was to take a few minutes today to thank our Lord Jesus for the gift of his Mother and then model our own lives after her life of love and service.

Labor Day and the Vocation to Work

September 4th, 2017

Deacon Dave Cahoon building altar for Mass celebrated by Pope Francis. Credit: Jaclyn Lippelmann for the Catholic Standard

Human work plays an important role in God’s plan.  As Pope Francis notes, “According to the biblical account of creation, God placed man and woman in the garden he had created not only to preserve it (‘keep’) but also to make it fruitful (‘till’)” (Laudato Si’, 124).  Early Church fathers also saw in the Book of Genesis a relationship between God’s creative power and the ability of human beings to produce, through human skill and work, goods that benefit the human race.

“We were created with a vocation to work,” adds the Holy Father. “Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfilment” (Id., 128).  “It is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labor that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives,” he adds (Evangelii Gaudium, 192).  Conversely, Pope Francis states, “When there is no work, dignity is at risk, because not only does the lack of work prevent a person from bringing the bread home, it prevents one from feeling worthy of earning one’s livelihood” (Address of December 14, 2015).  Thus, our obligation to help the poor is not simply to provide financial assistance, but should be to help them obtain a suitable job and to foster economic conditions that increase the opportunities for gainful employment (Laudato Si’, 128).

If fact, not only is it a calling, “work is, as has been said, an obligation, that is to say, a duty, on the part of man,” Saint John Paul II said. “Man must work, both because the Creator has commanded it and because of his own humanity, which requires work in order to be maintained and developed. Man must work out of regard for others, especially his own family, but also for the society he belongs to, the country of which he is a child, and the whole human family of which he is a member, since he is the heir to the work of generations and at the same time a sharer in building the future of those who will come after him” (Laborem Exercens, 16).

From this need to work, from this vocation of the human person made in the image of God to be like God in creative labors, arise also certain rights on the part of workers as recognized in the social teaching of the Church.  Many of these principles of justice have informed legislation that guarantees, for example, decent working conditions, tolerable working hours, fair wages, non-discrimination, and the banning of child labor and other exploitation of workers. This respect for workers is not only what is due to them, it creates a more just society overall.

On this Labor Day holiday, in addition to rest and relaxation, we should also take this occasion to reflect upon the mystery and value of human work and the dignity of those who labor.  There is a plan.  Our work is part of that plan and, in particular, can share in the work of Jesus to renew the face of the earth.

Working for the Care of Creation

September 1st, 2017

When the Holy Father has something important to communicate to the Church on a particular topic, he will sometimes do so in the form of an encyclical letter. Since his election, Pope Francis has issued two encyclicals: Lumen Fidei (2013), on faith, and Laudato Si’ (2015), on the care for our common home.

Encyclicals, as an expression of papal teaching, continue to be reflected and acted on within the Church. For example, Laudato Si’ has become a catalyst for parishes and Catholic organizations to review their own practices related to the use of natural resources and to see where they can minimize the negative impact on our air, water and natural energy supplies.  In addition, Pope Francis has established September 1 as an annual World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.

In emphasizing concern for the right use of the gifts of creation, Pope Francis joins his predecessors in calling attention to the increasingly negative impact of human consumption of natural resources. Quoting Saint John Paul II, he writes that people frequently seem “to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption” (Laudato Si’, 5).  The Holy Father thus calls for “authentic development” to “bring about an integral improvement in the quality of human life, and this entails considering the setting in which people live their lives. These settings influence the way we think, feel and act. In our rooms, our homes, our workplaces and neighborhoods, we use our environment as a way of expressing our identity” (Id., 147).

As part of these efforts locally, the continuing work of the archdiocesan Care for Creation Committee is helping parishes take steps to make use of “greening resources” and energy use that both saves money and contributes to a cleaner environment.  Also, over the past couple of months, Mount Olivet Cemetery has partnered with The Nature Conservancy to turn some of the unused parts of the cemetery to a more efficient and environmentally friendly oasis, including replacing unused roads with new plants.  For example, on October 18, volunteers will be planting trees, and this whole initiative will both increase the beauty of this sacred ground and manage stormwater better.

These are just two examples of the way Laudato Si’ offers individuals and groups a chance to think more consciously about the relationship between people and the environment in which we live and move. A beautiful environment makes it easier to appreciate our God, who is both Creator and Father.

The School Year Begins

August 29th, 2017

Credit: Jaclyn Lippelmann for the Catholic Standard

Yesterday, on the feast of Saint Augustine, the Church of Washington marked the beginning of the new school year the way we ought to begin all our efforts – by turning to God. Voicing praise and thanksgiving at our annual Opening of Catholic Schools Mass, we also invoked the gift of the Holy Spirit to sustain and guide us as we take up the challenge of stirring into flame the embers of the Gospel message.

This gathering demonstrated an appreciation of the importance of God’s blessings on this undertaking. As I looked around the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and saw that multitude of teachers, administrators, support staff and others who make our educational ministry in this archdiocese possible, I was filled with a spirit of gratitude, inspiration and confidence. At this liturgy, we also voiced a special welcome to our new Secretary for Catholic Education, Dr. Jem Sullivan, who comes to the archdiocese with a wealth of experience and expertise and who I know will see that our young people continue to receive a first-rate Catholic education.

Just outside on the portico of the Basilica, during that historic Canonization Mass, Pope Francis challenged all of us to “keep moving forward!”  This motto of Saint Junípero, which inspired his life and work, should likewise inspire our work in Catholic education as we experience and live out the Good News of Jesus Christ “through giving it away, through giving ourselves away,” as the Holy Father said.

This, in fact, is what Catholic education is all about. “Those who put themselves at the service of the growth of the new generations,” said Pope Francis to a group of teachers earlier this summer, are engaged in “a mission of love, because one cannot teach without loving.”  This mission, I am glad to say, is one that the educators in our local Catholic institutions of learning have fully embraced as they give of themselves to their students, seeking to form the whole person intellectually, spiritually, morally and emotionally. Even families who do not share our Catholic faith send their children to our schools because they know they will receive not only an academically excellent education, but a blessed vision of life in a nurturing environment.

Advancing the common good of education is a common responsibility, including the good of empowering families in choosing the best schools for their children. To help young people benefit from the gift of our schools, which actually enriches our entire society, the Archdiocese provides millions of dollars annually in financial assistance. In addition, public initiatives like the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the Maryland BOOST program, and a proposed federal educational tax credit are proven avenues to needed opportunity and economic justice in education.

As we begin this new academic year, may God bless our young people, their families, and all who are involved in our educational ministry.

The Blessing of the Saint John Paul II Seminary’s New Wing

August 24th, 2017

This summer marked a special milestone as I ordained the first graduates of our archdiocesan Saint John Paul II Seminary. They are the pioneers, the first of many more to come – so many, in fact, we have needed to expand the seminary building multiple times, just like we continue to need more laborers for the harvest (cf. Matthew 9:38). These good men and those who follow will serve as the archdiocese’s next generation of priests, bringing the sacraments to our family of faith.

The continuing growth of the seminary since it opened in 2011 has been a significant blessing for this local Church. True to its patron saint, this house of formation offers a place where seminarians open their hearts to Christ in an environment marked by prayer, study, fraternal community and heartfelt devotion to Mary. Like the number of seminarians it serves, the building has nearly doubled in size in the past six years. Currently there are 77 archdiocesan seminarians preparing for a priesthood at Saint John Paul II and other seminaries here in our country and in Rome.

Now, on this coming Sunday, August 27, it will be a great pleasure to bless a new wing at the seminary. The expansion features a large conference room that will seat up to 200 people, a place where spiritual and educational gatherings can be held for our seminarians and priests, as well as an enlarged dining hall for the growing number of seminarians living and studying there. Monsignor Robert Panke, the seminary’s founding rector who also serves as the archdiocese’s director of priest formation, observes that the new conference room will mean that the seminary “becomes a real home” for our priests, just as it is for our seminarians who reside there.

Our growing seminary is a testament to the faith and generosity of people throughout the archdiocese, many who pray for our seminarians by name and who offer support for their education and formation through our annual Cardinal’s Appeal and other initiatives. In a particular way, on behalf of our seminarians and the whole Church of Washington, I want to thank Robert Comstock for his generous support for the seminary’s latest expansion. As a sign of our appreciation, the new wing’s conference room will be dedicated in his honor.

The Saint John Paul II Seminary now serves nearly 50 seminarians each year, including some from other dioceses who join our future priests in studying at The Catholic University of America nearby. The foundation of faith that they received from their families, parishes and schools demonstrates the important roles that we all play in fostering vocations to the priesthood.

As we celebrate our growing number of seminarians and this expansion of these facilities, we also can offer prayerful thanks to God and to Saint John Paul II for helping to shape this home for our future and present priests.

Obtaining the Good Life

August 16th, 2017

The Sermon on the Mount, Fra Angelico

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

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

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

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