Walking and Praying with Mary

December 8th, 2016


This is a special time to venerate, imitate and walk with our Blessed Mother.

Today is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, which commemorates the Virgin Mary’s sinlessness from the moment she was conceived in the womb. At noon, I will celebrate a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception named in her honor.

Later this afternoon, I will preside at a liturgy where some members of the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order founded by Saint Mother Teresa, will profess perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and of service to the poorest of the poor. These sisters, like Immaculate Mary, remind us of our call to holiness.

Facing the main altar at the Basilica, there is a large bas relief sculpture which depicts our Blessed Mother with her arms outstretched, as if in a humble gesture demonstrating her “yes” to open her heart completely to the Lord. Her open arms also seem to show how she embraces all of us, where we are, and always pointing us toward her Son.

Tomorrow is the feast day for Saint Juan Diego. About 500 years ago, in December 1531 in the Tepayac hill country by what is now Mexico City, a beautiful woman surrounded by light suddenly appeared to Juan, a peasant farmer who had converted to Christianity. Just a few years earlier, before the Spanish arrived, Juan and his fellow native people were under the rule of the brutal Aztec empire which widely practiced human sacrifice and slavery. Expressing her compassion for these people, the young woman asked that a church be built there as a place of consolation and peace.

The name given by the Lady sounded like “Guadalupe,” and she appeared to Juan multiple times as he relayed her request to the skeptical bishop, who wanted proof of authenticity. Meanwhile, Juan was also taking care of his sick uncle. When the uncle was near death, Juan ran to find a priest, but the Lady appeared again. “Do not be distressed, my littlest son. Am I not here with you, I who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Your uncle will not die at this time,” she said with tender affection. Then she told him to go up to the freezing hillside and fill his tilma with the Castilian roses that were in bloom there as a sign for the bishop.

The humble Juan did as directed and went to the bishop. Opening his tilma, the flowers fell out as the bishop fell to his knees. There on his tilma was an astounding image – it was the Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary in the likeness of one of the native people and also pregnant with child.

Within a few years of her apparitions and appearance on the tilma, six million Aztecs became Christian. Today, the miraculous image can be seen on display at the Basilica de Santa María de Guadalupe. About 12 million people visit each year, making it the most popular Marian shrine in the world.

The Church Universal celebrates Our Lady of Guadalupe on Monday, December 12. In between that feast day and today’s Solemnity and tomorrow’s day to remember Saint Juan Diego, on Saturday, December 10, our archdiocesan Church will hold our annual Walk with Mary day.

People from across the region on this day will walk with our Blessed Mother who accompanies us in our life’s journey. Processions begin at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart and at Holy Name Church at noon. Then women, men and children from all backgrounds will prayerfully walk through the streets of our nation’s capital, offering public witness to their faith and their love for Our Lady and her Son Jesus. At the Basilica, Confessions will be heard, the Holy Rosary will be prayed, and our family of faith will come together in communion at Holy Mass. Meanwhile, the #WalkwithMary social media and video campaigns will share news, reflections, prayers and more.

During his visit to Mexico City earlier this year, Pope Francis made a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe and prayed before her image. He then said that we too are called to build a shrine. “The shrine of God is the faces of the many people we encounter each day,” especially the poor and forgotten, the Holy Father said, adding, “Mary says this to us again, ‘Go and build my shrine, help me lift up the lives of my sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters.”

As she did with Juan Diego, Mary speaks to us in our own language, in our own time, as we recognize our own humility and weaknesses, yet still hear and answer that call to love and serve others as we walk with Mary, who leads us always to Jesus.

Reflections from the John Carroll Society Annual Board of Governors Mass

December 7th, 2016


Yesterday, I had the joy of celebrating Mass with the Board of Governors of the John Carroll Society. With me was their chaplain, Monsignor Peter Vaghi. This is long standing tradition – the Advent Mass preceding the evening meeting.

For those who may not be familiar with the John Carroll Society, it is an organization established decades ago by the then-Archbishop of Washington and later Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle. The purpose of this Society is to bring together laywomen and laymen to be at the service of the Archbishop of Washington. Today it numbers well over 1,000 members who participate in a range of activities to support the efforts of our local Church to manifest more clearly God’s kingdom among us.

In this blog, I share the two reflections from that Mass.

One of the most beautiful and familiar images, in fact, one of the most ancient images of Jesus, is the shepherd who has found the lost sheep.

In one of the earliest depictions we have of Jesus in the catacombs is the Good Shepherd with the lost sheep.

At the North American College, where both Monsignor Vaghi and I went to school, in the main corridor, there is a marble statue of the Good Shepherd, Jesus, holding around his neck the lost sheep.

For all of us, we take great consolation knowing that God sent Jesus precisely to seek those who were lost and to bring back to the fold those who had been found.

Occasionally, we hear that the Church would be better off if it were “smaller” and “purer.” Recently, I read an article reporting on a talk that asserted that we would be much better served if the less perfect members of the Church were simply excluded from the life of the Church so that we would be, as some military sometimes like to point out about their conditioning, “a leaner and more fit, fighting machine.”

While there is a temptation to want to have a truly pure and holy Church, this should really be a call for each of us to work at our own personal sanctity. It is not a mandate to exclude those we feel are less perfect than we might consider ourselves to be.

Brothers and sisters, when you hear the call to exclude the less than holy, when you hear the challenge to remove from the Church’s life and her communion lines those deemed to be less than truly pure, we have to ask ourselves several questions.

Who determines who are the true lambs and who are the goats (cf. Matthew 25:32-33)?

What are the criteria used to determine who is truly living out the faith and who is not (cf. Matthew 7:3-5)?

And finally, does any of this exercise resemble what Jesus came to do and how he went about doing it (cf. John 10:11)?

He claimed he came to seek out the lost sheep. He called Matthew away from the tax collector’s table. He bent down to lift up the women caught in adultery. He welcomed into his kingdom the good thief on the cross. He told us the Son of Man came to lay down his life as a ransom for the many (cf. Matthew 21:28).

Should we not rejoice in this Advent season, when we reflect on the coming of Jesus and the mercy and forgiveness that he has brought into our world? We must be always thankful for the Good Shepherd and, in our own lives, we should try to reflect that same generosity of understanding, mercy and forgiveness.

As the Gospel today concludes, quoting Jesus, “It is not the will of your Heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.”

Repent and Prepare the Way of the Lord

December 5th, 2016


“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:1). In these weeks of Advent looking forward to Christmas, this voice of John the Baptist crying out in the desert rings afresh in our ears today.

The Precursor of Jesus urges us to contritely admit our wrongs and failings before God and seek his mercy, to change our sinful ways and minds and come out of the darkness and live in the light. Centuries before, the prophet Isaiah had spoken of John, just as he was speaking of Jesus when he said, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who lived in a land of gloom a light has shone” (Isaiah 9:1).

Jesus Christ is the light. He is the light of the world. Whoever follows him, whoever turns their lives around, whoever makes his path their path “will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

There are lights too in the Church which signify his abiding presence in the world, such as the sanctuary lamp near the tabernacle. Another is the light of the confessional. This light is a beacon of love, care, concern and safety. It says the Lord is inside ready and waiting to receive you and embrace you. The sacrament of Confession, of repentance and sorrow, of reconciling with God and pardon, is the story of God’s merciful love that never turns away from us.

This holiday season which extends from Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year, is also a time of extensive travel. People and entire families are moving all over the country to visit relatives and friends.

If you are at the airport during these weeks, you will see many travelers getting bogged down at the security checkpoint because they have so much luggage. Then, when they finally get through, they struggle as they pull their bags behind them, scurrying to their departure gates. No doubt they would like to be able to travel much more lightly so as not to miss their flight and to be sure to get to their destination.

We can see in these experiences something of a metaphor for life in general. The sobering and sad fact of life is that all of us at times carry heavy “baggage” that we would like to unload. Some time ago when I was at the airport, a man in his mid-thirties saw my Roman collar and asked me about getting rid of all the excess baggage we carry around. What he was talking about was the sacrament of Confession and he wanted to know more about this wonderful grace that lifts our self-created burdens, gives us a fresh start, and allows us to get to the right place in our life’s journey.

Confession serves a real human need that has not diminished with the passage of time. Jesus was born in Bethlehem to reveal the merciful love of God and bless us with the gift of forgiveness because our Lord knew, as we do, that each of us from time to time sins. As much as we would like to follow Jesus perfectly, we too often fall and I for one am grateful that I can make the admission, “I am a sinner,” in the sacrament of Confession. It makes for a happier life.

Those who do seek this sacramental mercy come out of the confessional routinely saying that they feel like a great burden has been lifted from them. What a joyous relief.

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 comforts us when we suffer and forgives when we sin.

Jesus says to us, “Here, let me take some of that weight, some of that “excess baggage” from you. Let me give you light so you can see and let me show you the way.” We simply need to admit to ourselves and to him our Savior that we need his help and want his help. We need simply to repent and say that we are sorry that we have been going in the wrong direction. It remains one of the marvels of his endless love that he would make forgiveness and spiritual renewal so readily available to us.

Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ Through Christmas Carols

December 2nd, 2016


It has become one of the most popular genres of music.  Major artists from a diversity of backgrounds record special albums of these songs and some radio stations and shopping malls play this music exclusively during the present season.  Meanwhile, every day people everywhere find themselves humming and singing along.  Christmas carols – these beautiful songs – are widely loved by Christian believers and non-believers alike.

Christmas carols and the season itself have a unique ability to bring people together. During the famous World War I Christmas truce in 1914, soldiers on both sides of the trenches on the Western Front in Europe stopped fighting, and shared food and small keepsakes, and some enemy soldiers played soccer and others sang Christmas carols together.

After they returned home from history’s next and deadliest war, some World War II veterans told stories about how during the Battle of the Bulge and other battles waged during Christmas, sometimes German and Allied soldiers stopped fighting to sing “Silent Night” together in their different languages.

Some of our most joyful moments of the year come during Masses on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, when the music during the liturgy includes the carols we know and love. We experience that same joy when our Catholic schoolchildren sing carols at their Christmas pageants. During those moments, we join friends and strangers in singing the carols together with joy and gusto.

Workplaces which can be pressure-filled with deadlines throughout the year, during the Christmas season sometimes include the sound of a band of coworkers going from office to office, leading their colleagues in singing impromptu carols. Neighbors do the same in some towns and communities, going door-to-door to people’s homes.

Singing carols during the Christmas season offers a special form of evangelization, because through them, we are sharing the story of Jesus’ birth. It is beautiful to think this has been the case for generations of Catholics and other Christians around the world for centuries.

For example, 2018 will mark the bicentennial of the music composed for Stille Nacht (“Silent Night”) by Franz Gruber, a schoolmaster and organist, from the lyrics written two years earlier by Father Joseph Mohr, a parish priest in Austria. That classic carol made its debut at a Christmas Eve Mass at Saint Nicholas Church in Oberndorf in 1818.

Some credit the original Latin text for the traditional Midnight Mass processional hymn “O Come All Ye Faithful” – Adeste Fideles – to Saint Bonaventure in the 13th century, King John IV of Portugal four centuries later, or to Cistercian monks.

Whatever the origin of that particular Christmas carol, it endures centuries later, and like other carols, it invites the faithful to hark the herald of angels singing on high and come to the little town of Bethlehem on a midnight clear to see the infant Jesus being held by Mary and protected by Joseph away in a manger, and to join the shepherds in adoring and praising God’s greatest gift to the world, Jesus, a gift that we receive and are called to share with others.

That is why we sing, “Joy to the World!”

Being Prepared for the Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ

November 30th, 2016


The Church lifts up the Advent season leading up to Christmas as a time of anticipation and waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus.  We look forward to celebrating his birth in Bethlehem, and we also meditate on the Parousia, the definitive second coming of Christ in glory when all will come to triumphant completion.  Longing for this in confident hope, the Church prays, “Marana tha (our Lord come)” and “thy kingdom come.”

In this spirit of eager anticipation, we want to be prepared for the Lord’s arrival.  We want to be ready and worthy of the promises of Christ for when we appear before the King of Glory and give an account of ourselves.  In the words of the second reading for the first Sunday of this holy season, Advent is meant to be a wake-up call, a summons to “throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:11-12), it is a time to turn ourselves in the right direction and clean out the dirt and grime in our lives.

As we make our way in the human condition, being prepared can be a challenge for a variety of reasons.  For example, we can easily get caught up in worldly concerns or put off for tomorrow what we should do today, thinking we will have time later.

However, we do not know the day and the hour when the Lord will come again, so we would be wise to be vigilant and always ready.  “Stay awake,” said Jesus, “you must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Matthew 24:42, 44).

It can sometimes be difficult to live as “children of light” even when we are prudent and actively desire and try to do good and avoid evil.  Saint Paul described how he struggled and at times did not do the good he wanted, but the wrong he did not want to do (Romans 7:18-19).  This battle to overcome sin is compounded with what is perhaps a greater challenge in even discerning right and wrong.

As we read in the opening pages of scripture, our human parents were led astray from good into sin by the “father of lies” (Genesis 3:1-6).  Since then, it has been the scourge of humanity that people have all too often fallen prey to false ideas and false teachers.

Aware of this sad history, Saint Paul expressed his concern that “just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may be led astray from your simple and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).  He and the other Apostles, like the Lord before them, frequently warned people of the grave danger of being seduced by strange teachings and deceptive empty arguments (e.g. Hebrews 13:9; Ephesians 5:6).

“See that no one deceives you,” Jesus said when speaking of his second coming (Matthew 24:4).  “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

The Apostles Peter and John similarly cautioned people to be on guard against false teachers who introduce destructive ideas and fabrications which revile the way of truth (2 Peter 2:1-22; 1 John 4:1).  Among his final instructions near the end of his life, Saint Paul said, “the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

In our day, how many people have been tossed about and carried away by the waves of aggressive secularism and its ally relativism (cf. Ephesians 4:14)?  The challenge of the New Evangelization is to confront and counter these ideas with a living witness to the truth and love of the Gospel.  This is also the challenge of the Advent season in which we prepare for the coming of Christ who is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

To be vigilant in Advent and in our lives the rest of the year means an active waiting for the Lord.  Being ready for Jesus our King and Savior means paying attention to what is going on in the world around us and persevering in faith to the end (Matthew 24:13; Romans 2:7; James 1:12).  It means welcoming in our hearts the Lord who wishes to transform our lives into a reflection of his own and living out our Gospel mission of loving him and one another.

The awareness that Christ will come again is for us a joyful hope of that new creation when he ends all sorrow and pain, and brings his people to the fulfillment of all their hopes and dreams.  Looking forward to that day, our hearts cry out, “Come Lord Jesus.”

There is a Place for You in the House of the Lord

November 27th, 2016

As the family of God gathers today on this first Sunday of Advent, we joyfully proclaim again and again in the Responsorial Psalm: Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122).

This invitation to go together to God’s house is the heart of our annual archdiocesan “Find the Perfect Gift” evangelization campaign. For this year, every parish in the Church of Washington in this time of preparation for the coming of the Lord has been invited to order Christmas-card style invitations that echo the angel’s proclamation of the good news of Christ’s birth and read, “Would you consider coming to Mass this Christmas and every Sunday to experience God’s love in our church? There is a place for you in our community.”

This initiative reminds people that God’s immense love for us becomes concrete in the birth of Jesus Christ, who is Emmanuel, God with us. God became one of us so that we might share in the very life of God. Jesus, Son of God, became man so that we might know God, love God, and come to life everlasting with God.

With Christmas falling on a Sunday this year, we have the perfect opportunity to share with people the gift we also have in gathering on the Lord’s Day to celebrate the Eucharist. In a very real and tangible manner, heaven touches earth in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Our invitation is for people to personally participate in this wonder and joy. There is no gift that we could buy that would be greater than the gift of knowing that we belong in the house of the Lord.

This sense of belonging is the second part of the invitation which ensures people, “There is a place for you in our community.” My experience in talking with people who call themselves “former Catholics” or “inactive Catholics” or even “fallen-away Catholics” is that many of them think that there is not a place for them in the Church. Maybe they think that their sins may be too great, or they have had a bad experience with a priest or in Catholic school or in a parish program and cannot trust things may be different now. In these cases, it is not so much they have lost a belief in God or a desire to go to church, they are not sure they will be welcomed or that there is a place for them.

We can never say enough that there is no sin too great to keep one from God – his love which is alive in the Church is greater than any of our failings and imperfections. All are welcome. Furthermore, for whatever we might have done for people to feel apart from their spiritual home, this is an occasion for us to express our sorrow and contrition and show them now the loving concern they may not have felt before.

Finally, there is a space in these Find the Perfect Gift invitations for you to write a personal note, to share in a few words how going together to Mass, to spend time in communion with the Lord of love and life, is the perfect gift that you have to give.

In today’s world, the meaning of Christmas can easily get lost both in our familiarity of the story but also in the busyness and excitement of decorating, shopping, celebrating with friends. It can also be obscured in the day-in and day-out proclamation of a secular and material message that knows no God, sees no manifestation of God with us, and does not experience God’s loving care.

Interestingly enough, however, recent polls show that our fellow citizens are in the midst of a quest for spiritual meaning in their lives. At some level they know that no amount of worldly goods, in whatever form they enjoy them, can ever satisfy this longing of the human heart. For friends like this, in addition to bearing witness that the wonderful story of Christmas and love incarnate coming into the world is true, we can point them to the special website findtheperfectgift.org to find a family Advent calendar with prayer and activities to help prepare spiritually for Christmas. You will also find daily reflections which you can receive via text message.

May this Advent season be a time for each of us to celebrate with a fresh spirit of confidence in what we proclaim – that in Jesus, born in Bethlehem, we have found the perfect gift.

Giving Thanks This Day

November 24th, 2016


It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praise to your name, Most High,
To proclaim your love at daybreak,
your faithfulness in the night,
For you make me jubilant, Lord, by your deeds;
at the works of your hands I shout for joy” (Psalm 92).

Not a day goes by when we do not have something for which to praise God. Today, Thanksgiving, is a special festive time set aside in our nation to remember and offer thanks for the blessings we have received and continue to receive from our kind and gracious Lord.

Jesus constantly praised God and offered him thanks. For example, he always gave thanks before he broke bread. He did this at the multiplication of loaves and fishes. He did it also at the Last Supper, when he took bread and wine and established the Eucharist. In fact, the word “Eucharist” itself comes from the Greek for “thanksgiving.” Jesus did not limit his thanks to meals, however, and neither do we. The Lord expressed gratitude especially for spiritual gifts, special graces and the revelation of the Father.

For the blessings in our own lives, we should remember to thank God because all good things find their origin in him and we receive these goods not as a matter of entitlement or right, but because of the gratuitousness of the Lord. To be grateful and say “thank you” is simply good manners.

Giving thanks is also good for us because it reminds us that we are on the receiving end of God’s superabundant grace. When we praise God in all humility and gratitude, we acknowledge who we are in relation to our Father and Creator, his Son through whom all things were made and who is our salvation, and the Spirit of Love and Truth who animates our lives.

As we gather around the table for the traditional feast or celebrate in some other way this Thanksgiving Day, we are grateful for all we receive from the Lord’s bounty and for all his benefits – our lives, our liberties, the love we receive which brightens our hearts, the gift of faith which instills hope and teaches us a blessed way of life, the grace of God and all that sustains us. We are also filled this year with a special “sense of gratitude and thanksgiving to the Most Holy Trinity for having granted us an extraordinary time of grace” in the Jubilee Year of Mercy (Misericordiae Vultus, 5). On a personal note, I would like to convey how grateful I am for your prayerful support, which I depend upon very much in my ministry.

Today, and during the upcoming Advent and Christmas seasons and beyond, please be assured of my prayers for you. With our hearts filled with gratitude, may God bless our nation and continue to graciously lift up his countenance upon us, and may the Lord grant you joy of heart and may peace abide among you; may his goodness toward us endure in the land to deliver us in our days (Sirach 50:22-24).

People On the Move

November 23rd, 2016
Syrian children stand at a fence April 23 at a refugee camp near Gaziantep, Turkey. (CNS photo/Sedat Suna, EPA)

Syrian children stand at a fence April 23 at a refugee camp near Gaziantep, Turkey. (CNS photo/Sedat Suna, EPA)

It is said that Thanksgiving is the busiest travel time of the year. Trains, planes and automobiles are filled with people this week as they happily go to celebrate this holiday weekend with family and friends in other parts of the country. Then, after a few days of feasting and fellowship – as well as recalling and giving thanks for all the blessings in their lives – they will travel again, perhaps a few pounds heavier, to return to their homes.

While we undertake this mass migration of people, we ought to keep in mind those others who have left their homes to go elsewhere not by their own free and voluntary choice, but by circumstance. These women, men and young people, families and individuals – including unaccompanied children – are on the move because they have been more or less forced to do so. They would have preferred to stay home and long to return, but violence, persecution, injustices, or other hardships have compelled them to seek refuge in other places.

During his trip to a U.S.-Mexican border town earlier this year, Pope Francis said, “We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis which in recent years has meant migration for thousands of people, whether by train or highway or on foot, crossing hundreds of kilometers through mountains, deserts and inhospitable zones. The human tragedy that is forced migration is a global phenomenon today.”

The gravity of people having to flee oppressive conditions in their homeland cannot be underestimated. Thanksgiving having largely become a holiday to spend with family, we should realize just how much “forced migration of families, resulting from situations of war, persecution, poverty and injustice, and marked by the vicissitudes of a journey that often puts lives at risk, traumatizes people and destabilizes families” (Amoris Laetitia, 46).

Pope Francis observes the sad truth that having to seek refuge is not a new phenomenon, but is part of human history. In fact, rather than being able to return home to Nazareth after Jesus’ birth, he notes, “The Holy Family itself – Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus – were forced to emigrate in order to escape Herod’s threat: Joseph ‘rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod’” (Matthew 2:14-15).

Two millennia later, the waves of migrants seeking safety and security and all others who endure hardship can take comfort that Jesus, Mary and Joseph are with them in their journeys. In communion with the Holy Family and recognizing that we are all one human family, we too should be at their side.

As Americans, one of the things we can be thankful for is how this nation has always been a haven for people fleeing persecution, atrocities, slaughter and genocide. This is a heritage we should continue to embrace. More specifically, as Pope Francis has said, “It is necessary to respond to the globalization of migration with the globalization of charity and cooperation, in such a way as to make the conditions of migrants more humane.”

In the public policy dialogue concerning immigration reform, we are obliged to protect the inherent and fundamental dignity of each person. Moreover, concern for migrants and refugees is an essential quality that the Lord expects of his faithful people as a response of gratitude for the blessings we ourselves have received.

At the same time, what those who have been forced to migrate want most of all is to be able to return home, not build a new one in another land. Fundamental to long-term solutions to this crisis is eliminating the reasons why people are compelled to leave home in the first place. “It is absolutely necessary,” says our Holy Father, “to deal with the causes which trigger migrations in the countries of origin. This requires, as a first step, the commitment of the whole international community to eliminate the conflicts and violence that force people to flee.”

In recent years, genocide has been taking place in Iraq and Syria as Christians and other minorities have had to flee from Islamic State militants. The struggle now to liberate and secure places like Mosul and other places where Christians have historically called home for centuries has not been easy. Our prayers and voices in solidarity with them and with all people everywhere who are on the move against their own choice are needed today as much as ever.

As we traverse the highways and byways this holiday season, we should remember those who, facing violence and other threats to life and freedom, have felt compelled to leave their homes. We can express thanks to God for the blessings in our life by keeping these sisters and brothers in our thoughts and prayers, speaking out on their behalf, and continuing to work for God’s kingdom of peace and love.

Our Mission to be Instruments of Unity in Society and in the Church

November 22nd, 2016
Pope Francis and new cardinals visit with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the retired pope's residence after a consistory at the Vatican Nov. 19. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout)

Pope Francis and new cardinals visit with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the retired pope’s residence after a consistory at the Vatican Nov. 19. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)

At the consistory of cardinals on Saturday in Rome, Pope Francis placed great emphasis on the “virus of polarization and animosity” that we have witnessed in our time. Confronting these divisions and the Church’s role in all this was also a prominent theme when the Holy Father came here and addressed the U.S. bishops and Congress last year just as the election season was beginning.

If we did not take the Pope’s words to heart then, it would be good to pay heed to them now. Anyone who was hoping that the rancor of the political campaigns would subside with Election Day has been sorely disappointed. The last two weeks have seen angry demonstrations in the streets and on campuses, far too heated and irresponsible rhetoric has been voiced, and even families spending Thanksgiving together has been threatened. Within the Church too, albeit for different reasons, we have seen some signs of disunity. In the face of all this, there is need for us to be part of the solution, not contributors to the problem.

Before Congress, the Holy Father urged our nation’s leaders to “confront every form of polarization,” noting that the world is increasingly a place of conflict, as he called for a renewed spirit of cooperation and solidarity. The challenges before us, he added, “demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.”

When we come to the Church, Pope Francis said to the bishops, “‘the seamless garment of the Lord’ cannot allow herself to be rent, broken or fought over.” It is the Lord’s will that his Church be one as he and our heavenly Father are one (John 17:21-22) and the Successor of Peter reminded us that our mission “is first and foremost to solidify unity. . . to watch over that unity, to safeguard it, to promote it and to bear witness to it.”

Moreover, the Church’s unity is “a sign and instrument which, beyond every barrier, unites nations, races, classes and generations,” he said. Love, mercy, reconciliation – the ongoing dialogue to restore unity between people and between humanity and God – this is the way of Jesus Christ and his Church.

“It is an essential part of your mission to offer to the United States of America the humble yet powerful leaven of communion,” affirmed our Holy Father. “May all mankind know that the presence in its midst of the ‘sacrament of unity’ (Lumen Gentium, 1) is a guarantee that its fate is not decay and dispersion. This kind of witness is a beacon whose light can reassure men and women sailing through the dark clouds of life that a sure haven awaits them, that they will not crash on the reefs or be overwhelmed by the waves.”

As the storm clouds of antagonism batter our society and as people in this country – and even to some degree within our spiritual family – are being pitted one against the other, this message to foster harmony is one we all need to hear again and again.

For their part, the three main players in the nation’s political drama have all expressed agreement that this is the only way to proceed. President-Elect Donald Trump on election night called “for America to bind the wounds of division [and] come together as one united people,” while Secretary Hillary Clinton has asked people to “work together with respect for our differences.” President Barack Obama added that “we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team [and] what the country needs [is] a sense of unity, a sense of inclusion, a respect for our institutions, our way of life, rule of law, and respect for each other.”

The whole point of the Jubilee Year of Mercy just concluded was reconciliation. It was about bearing others with patience and forgiving those we believe have wronged us; it was about caring for other people regardless of who and what they are – caring even for those we do not agree with or even like – just as God loves us unconditionally.

Pope Francis told the bishops last year that he wanted this Holy Year to be “a privileged moment for strengthening communion, perfecting unity, reconciling differences, forgiving one another and healing every rift, that [our] light may shine forth like ‘a city built on a hill.’” That remains our charge. As Catholics, we have a special role to play. Let us be missionaries of reconciliation and unity to a world greatly in need of both.

Belonging and the Mission to Build a Culture of Inclusion

November 21st, 2016

We have recently been highlighting various initiatives that are examples of the way in which our first Archdiocesan Synod is being implemented. Today, we turn our attention to Overarching Recommendation Number Five which urges that “the archdiocese and parishes identify, seek out and minister to those not fully involved in the life and mission of the Church, and that efforts be undertaken to ensure the meaningful participation of people with disabilities in all aspects of the life of the Church.”

Yesterday, the archdiocese hosted the seventh annual White Mass which celebrates in a particular way how we each belong in the one body of Christ through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in baptism, each of us with our own unique attributes and gifts a sign of the glory of God.  This Eucharist takes its very name, the White Mass, from the baptismal garment that each of us receives and is charged to cherish unblemished until the coming of the fullness of the kingdom.

Equal in dignity and in mission, attending this joyous liturgy were people who communicate with hands and those who communicate with sounds, those who read via raised dots on a page and those who read via printed ink or pixels on a screen, those with 23 pairs of chromosomes and those with an extra one, those who move about on prosthetics or wheels and others on legs.  A diverse spectrum of disciples were there – and are present in the whole Church – all parts of the same body in the unity of Christ, each of whom has something to give and contribute and each of whom relies on others.

At a convention in Rome this past summer, Pope Francis advocated “an awareness of the possibility to educate in the faith people with even grave or very grave disabilities; and a willingness to consider them as active subjects in the community in which they live.” He spoke of the critical importance of inclusion, of seeing people who might differ in certain ways physically or cognitively not as other or them, but as us.

Our annual White Mass is not just a once-a-year acknowledgement of the gifts those gathered bring to our families, parishes and Church, but is a summons to promote human dignity in the entire life of the Church and also the greater community. The liturgy and other initiatives like #BelongingStartsHere point toward making all of our parishes, schools and neighborhoods places where all persons in their diversity feel welcomed as contributing members without seeking to limit or patronize these sisters and brothers of ours.

One of the most important teaching moments in the Mass is the renewal of our baptismal promises. In the sacrament, we are born anew, receiving new life as we pass from the old order into a whole new creation in which we are alive in the Spirit. Baptism also makes us family. We are constituted as God’s family, God’s people – his Church.

We gather not as individuals isolated from each other and related only to God, but precisely as God’s family related to each other and through the Church. For this reason too we want to be sure that every one of our parishes is a place of belonging for all its members. We celebrate Eucharist as a faith family because it is here that we find our identity, our unity and our very being as members of Christ’s body, members of his Church.

The White Mass and every liturgy in which persons with differing abilities and gifts can participate call particular attention to the beauty of the harmony of God’s family.  At the summer convention for people with disabilities, Pope Francis told a young person who asked why some people are afraid of differences that this diversity enriches our lives.  “Difference is actually precious,” he said, “because I have one thing, and you have another, and with these two we make something more beautiful, greater.”

Fear and prejudice are often born of ignorance. Today in our nation, those negative responses to people with differing abilities are perhaps beginning to fade as public awareness is raised, just as racism faded as people came to know those of other races. For example, a reality television show depicting a group of young adults with Down Syndrome in their day-to-day lives – dating, working, going to school, running a business – recently won an Emmy award.

Progress toward a culture of inclusion is being made, but much more remains to be done.  The White Mass and other work of our archdiocesan ministries are steps in that process.  Each of us have a role to play too, each of us as missionary disciples in our particular diversity and unique gifts, can be that light which frees our community from the darkness.