Homily: 75th Anniversary Mass of the Archdiocese of Washington

September 21st, 2014

Welcome to Saint Matthew’s Cathedral for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Three-quarters of a century ago, Pope Pius XII issued his papal bull decreeing that Washington should be “adorned with the splendor of an archiepiscopal throne” and thereby erecting the new Archdiocese of Washington.  A few months after that, on the same date, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, that our Catholic ancestors first came to this land three centuries earlier, Archbishop Michael Curley of Baltimore walked into and across the sanctuary here.  In the presence of the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, he then proceeded to the chair we see today etched with his personal coat of arms and formally took possession of his new See.

He sat in the teaching chair, the cathedra of this new archdiocese, as the outward sign of his new spiritual duties and leadership of our portion of God’s family.  Those few short steps of Archbishop Curley were part of a much longer journey with many markers along the way.

Today, I would like to reflect on a few significant events that are embedded in our history because we are part of the great pilgrimage that began when Jesus commissioned the Apostles and disciples to go out into the world.  “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me.  Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18-19).

For two millennia it has been the work of the whole Church, all of the people of God, every member of the Body of Christ, to show forth to the world the presence of our Savior and Lord, one of us who is also the Son of God.  We are called to be, in our very lives, an epiphany of the Lord to those we encounter.  To us, as to those first disciples, Jesus says, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).  Manifesting the kingdom of God – this is the mission and blessing given to us by our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Milestones of the great pilgrimage of faith dot the face of the earth.  In the East, the churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and eventually Constantinople bore witness then and now to the Gospel.

Peter and Paul traveled to Rome, the center of a vast and coherent empire.  From there the faith spread to all those lands evangelized by a litany of later-day Apostles: Saint Augustine to England, Saint Boniface to Germany, Saints Cyril and Methodius to the Slavic lands as well as Saint Patrick to Ireland, Saint Francis Xavier to India and Matteo Ricci to China.  And the list – the litany – can go on and on.  These were the markers that were the sign posts for those who then crossed the Atlantic Ocean to reach the New World.

Spanish missionaries arrived in Mexico, Peru and across Central and South America and the Caribbean as early as 1520.  French priests came to Canada, to Quebec which by 1674 was already a diocese.

On Sunday, June 29 of this year, I had the privilege of celebrating Mass at Saint Clement’s Island, where on March 25, 1634, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of Our Lord, the first Catholic Mass in the English speaking colonies was celebrated.  When the Ark and the Dove landed in Maryland in that year, the colonists held a ceremony to take possession of the land and read Lord Baltimore’s instruction aloud which included the first policy of religious tolerance in America.  Father Andrew White, S.J. celebrated Mass and afterwards the settlers erected a large cross.  Today a 40 foot white cross stands at the southern end of the island honoring the arrival of these brave Catholic colonists and the establishment of religious freedom of America.

All of us, as spiritual descendants of these intrepid women and men, can rejoice and take pride in their vision, courage and faith.

The day before, on Saturday, June 28 of this 75th anniversary year, I also had the joy of celebrating Mass at the reconstructed Brick Chapel in nearby Saint Mary’s City.  In 1667, the Jesuit missionaries and the new residents of Maryland built a brick chapel in Maryland’s first capital.  The chapel, the grandest building in Maryland at the time, stood as a sign of our Catholic faith and the religious freedom in the colony, as inscribed in Maryland’s original charter and codified in the Maryland Toleration Act in 1649.

Now we fast forward to another milestone on our archdiocesan pilgrimage of faith.  In 1789 the first bishop for the Catholics in the English speaking colonies was selected.  The designation of Bishop John Carroll as first Bishop of Baltimore took place in Sacred Heart Chapel – now a part of Sacred Heart Parish in Bowie, Maryland – a part of this archdiocese.  Earlier in the spring we commemorated that event that took place 225 years ago because it became a cornerstone of the hierarchy for the United States.  In a sense, the Catholic Church in the United States had come of age.

Our journey of faith has been a long one.  From Jerusalem to Rome to England to Southern Maryland to Baltimore to this cathedral we trace our steps – the pathway of faith.

While our portion of this lengthy pilgrimage is relatively short – we are only 75 years old – it is equally and fully a part of this grand march of faith that manifests God’s kingdom now and someday will glory in its fullness in the eternal realm of heaven.

In 1938 a few months after he established the Archdiocese of Washington, Pope Pius XII wrote a letter observing the 150th anniversary of the appointment of Bishop John Carroll and the establishment of the first diocese in the United States.  In this document, the Pope cited many of the good fruits of the Church in our local area and across the nation observing that, “In your country there prevails a thriving life which the grace of the Holy Spirit has brought to flower in the inner sanctuary of your hearts” (Sertum laetitiae, 6).  However, the Pope went on to describe some of the challenges of the time.  Many of those problems we also face today only more acutely, including secularization, neglect of the moral life, challenges to marriage and family, and threats both to religious freedom and to social justice.

A major focus of the pontificate of Pope Paul VI, who presided over the Vatican Council after the death of Saint John XXIII, who had succeeded Pope Pius XII, was the implementation of its teachings.  Recognizing that the objective of the Council was to make the Church in this age “ever better fitted for proclaiming the Gospel” to the people of our day, he called for “a new period of evangelization,” adding that “the conditions of the society in which we live oblige all of us therefore to revise methods, to seek by every means to study how we can bring the Christian message to modern man” (Evangelii nuntiandi, 2-3).

In commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the evangelization of the Americas, Saint John Paul II said that this historic moment would achieve its full meaning only if it became a commitment to a New Evangelization.  This he famously described as a sharing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that is “new in ardor, methods and expression” (quoted in Ecclesia in America, 6 and 66).

Likewise in continuity with his predecessors, Pope Francis calls us to work for the New Evangelization.  “Those who have opened their hearts to God’s love, heard his voice and received his life cannot keep this gift to themselves,” he wrote in his first encyclical (Lumen fidei, 39).

Our celebration of the 75th anniversary, therefore, is not confined to looking back on our history, however inspiring it may be.  This anniversary year gives us opportunity to look forward as we renew our mission and ministry.  We are committed to being the heralds of the New Evangelization and the agents of a new Pentecost.

The outpouring of the Spirit upon the whole Church happened in a dramatic and visible way on Pentecost.  The Church continues to receive that great Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit.  Indeed, our very identity as Christians, as members in communion in the one Body of Christ that is the Church, comes only through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit builds up and animates the Church.  Without the Holy Spirit, the Church is just a human structure.  But with the Spirit, the Church is formed into Christ’s new Body.

With this and the challenges of our day in mind, participants in the first Synod of the Archdiocese of Washington were asked to assess just exactly how well we, as a Church, are doing and to help formulate a plan for the future in light of, among other things, the New Evangelization.  The enduring fruit of our long preparation work over the past two years was a celebration this year of the first Synod which concluded on the Solemnity of Pentecost.

This Archdiocesan Synod, assembled in the Holy Spirit, clearly was a moment of grace to look at the life of our local Church, to evaluate areas where the ministry of the Church is successful and areas where there may be need for more improvement.

The outcomes of our Archdiocesan Synod are both tangible and spiritual. Among the spiritual results we must include the many graces and blessings bestowed by God on all those who participated in the entire synodal process. The tangible outcomes include an affirmation of our Catholic faith, directives for future pastoral programs, and statutes to guide us into the future that were promulgated at the closing Mass.

As we celebrate our 75th anniversary, we recognize that first Synod of the Archdiocese of Washington belongs to all of us.  This was the work of our moment just as we can look back and see the splendid achievements of those who went before us.

With the Synod statutes and recommendations there is also another visible sign of the vitality and vibrancy of our local Church.  The 2014 anniversary issue of Catholic Impact, copies of which are available in the back of church and through our communications department, tells the story of the works of the faithful and their generosity in areas such as education, healthcare, housing, Catholic Charities and social service outreach.  We have received feedback from those who have read this publication or seen the video version on our archdiocesan YouTube channel  and have  been impressed by all of the ways the Church contributes to this community, ways they were not aware of, and they have been inspired to share this information with others.

Today, then we can truly rejoice as Saint Paul tells us – in the Spirit.  In our history we see great blessings, courage and witness.

Throughout these 75 years, our Catholic family of faith has made a significant impact on our community, manifesting Christ’s kingdom of truth and life, justice, love and peace.  We have prayed and worked for justice by marching for civil rights and for the right to life, supporting programs for the homeless and the poor, advocating for newly-arrived immigrants, and expanding housing for the elderly and ministries to people with special needs.

In the now that is ours, we are challenged to continue along this pilgrimage path of faith and love.  Finally, as we turn our face to the future we can do so with great abiding and serene confidence.

Grateful for our Catholic heritage, we look to the future.  It is our moment now.  We, too, must always be open to the promptings of the Spirit.  Our commitment to religious liberty, to human freedom, to our faith, does not rest on our individual resolve or limited resources.  The First Letter of Saint Peter reminds us, “You have been born anew, not from perishable but from imperishable seed, through the living and the abiding word of God” (1 Pet 1:23).

The Holy Spirit is working in our age just as he has in every age.  But there is much to do.  So we continue to voice the prayer, “Come Holy Spirit” today and every day. We pray that we may continue to be a part of a renewal that will ensure for generations yet to come the ability of this Church to manifest the kingdom of God in our world.

And so as we celebrate our 75th anniversary as an archdiocese, we do so with gratitude for the past, with resolve for the present moment and with confidence as we look to the future.  We are convinced that as God was with those who went before us and on whose shoulders this Church stands, so, too, will God continue to be with us.  God bless you!

Teaching about God’s Gift of Forgiveness

September 19th, 2014

reflection with catechetical leaders

This week I was delighted to celebrate Vespers with the parish catechetical leaders of our archdiocese. We gathered as our catechists begin a new year of religious education and as the Church in the United States prepares to commemorate Catechetical Sunday on September 21 and we, in this local Church, celebrate our 75th anniversary as the Archdiocese of Washington.  On this day we will not just ask God’s blessing for our catechetical teachers and their students, but also recognize how these catechists participate in the mission and ministry of the Church. We also thank them for the tremendous contribution they make to the Church’s mission of education and the vitality of our parishes.

This year’s catechetical theme, “Teaching About God’s Gift of Forgiveness,” also presents us with an opportunity to affirm that all of us by virtue of our baptism share in the responsibility to hand on the faith. We are all called to tell others the Good News of Jesus Christ, who heals us and brings us to new life.

Every catechist, I believe, would agree that their work is all the more fruitful when whole families and all parishioners are involved in actively sharing our faith. For example, preparing children for the reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and teaching older children to be regular participants in Confession are all the easier when forgiveness and reconciliation are practiced at home, in the school yard and between friends.  It is in these experiences that we realize one of the fruits of reconciliation is peace.

After Jesus had risen from the dead, he gave the Apostles the grace they would need to carry on the super-human task of forgiving sins.  He said to them, “‘Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (John 20:21-23).

Here we see how Confession is a restoration of peace. It is an essential part of the Church’s mission to the world and one for which individuals and communities hunger.

Christ’s mission on earth was to save us from our sins and from the many evils that flow from sin. Though he cured bodily ailments and though his compassion for every kind of suffering was real, he used such cures as signs of a more radical moral and spiritual therapy which he desired to extend to all. The Gospels portray him as specially declaring that he healed the body “that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10).

In this wounded world, it is not uncommon for people to seek healing through psychological counseling or therapy.  Yet, many Catholics have forgotten that in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, they encounter Jesus the Divine Healer who offers both forgiveness and peace.  We all need to hear the message of his saving love again and again.

Do you know someone who has been away from the sacrament and with whom you can share your experience of God’s mercy?  Might you and/or your family prepare to celebrate Catechetical Sunday by setting aside some time to go together to Confession?  Can you share these words that Saint John Vianney put on the lips of Christ – “I will charge my ministers to proclaim to sinners that I am ever ready to welcome them, that my mercy is infinite” (see Pope Benedict XVI, Letter to Priests for the Year of Priests (2009))? As Pope Francis teaches us, “The Lord never tires of forgiving.  We are the ones who tire of asking forgiveness” (Angelus, March 17, 2013)

For more reflection on the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Church’s teaching on forgiveness, please visit the USCCB webpage on “Teaching About God’s Gift of Forgiveness,” as well as our own archdiocesan website, “The Light is ON for You.”

The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics

September 16th, 2014

The Feasts (cover)

To be Catholic is to have a faith that marks our hours, counts our days, and measures our months and seasons. Our liturgical calendar is marked by special days – feasts – which are all celebrations of Jesus Christ, reminding us who we are as people of faith. These feasts form a kind of catechism, a rich depiction of Jesus’ life which represents the fullness of creation and redemption.

In a new book released today, The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics, my coauthor, Mike Aquilina, and I explore the meaning behind these feasts and the role they play in our life of faith. Mike and I collaborated on two other books – The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition, and The Church: Unlocking the Secrets to the Places Catholics Call Home. We conceived this new work as a companion to those two earlier volumes, in which we invited readers to take a fresh look at the things most familiar to us as Catholics.

So many of the key events in Jesus’ life occurred around feasts, from his first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, to his being joined by his closest followers and friends, the Apostles, around a table at the Last Supper, to the supper at Emmaus, when the risen Lord revealed himself by the words he proclaimed and by the bread that he broke.

As we celebrate feasts today, we remember the past, and anticipate the future – the heavenly destiny to which we are all called. Thus, past, present and future converge when we celebrate the feasts.

From the Creation account in the book of Genesis, we know that God rested on the seventh day, establishing it as a day set aside for spiritual renewal. Thus the Sabbath became the original religious festival, the prototype of all the feasts. The biblical feasts are times of great joy, yet they are only a foretaste of the true feast to come – the heavenly and eternal banquet to which our Father invites us.

The Gospel’s pre-eminent feast, of course, is the Last Supper, at which Jesus established the Eucharist as his memorial, to be observed till the end of time. We experience that gift at each Mass, at church, the place we Catholics call home.

Offering a walk through the Church year, The Feasts examines how we commemorate the key events in Jesus’s life. We examine how, through the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Christ continues to live and act in His Church. We also look at the feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Solemnity of All Saints. The book offers a closer look at the seasons of Advent and Lent, and explains how the three days of the Sacred Triduum – Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday – illuminate the whole Church year, and all of the feasts.

The feasts form us. They help to make us and remake us according to the pattern of the life of Jesus Christ. We number our days as we walk in his footsteps, from his birth to his baptism, from his baptism to his resurrection, from his ascension to his sending of the Spirit to make us saints. We do this faithfully every year, and it defines us.

As they have for 2,000 years, the feasts bring Christ to us, day in and day out. The feasts are days set apart, but they give life to the whole year. They bring Christ’s life to us, a life we are meant to celebrate, and they enrich our faith, a faith that we are called to share.

Feast of the Holy Cross

September 14th, 2014

feast of the holy cross3

Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  The origin of this feast lies in the 4th century.  Legend has it  that when Saint Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine, visited the Holy Land, she saw there was a pagan temple over the spot where Jesus is thought to have been crucified. She moved to have the temple razed and asked that her son build a church.  During the excavation, three crosses were found.  The story continues that a sick woman touched the one thought to be that of Our Savior and she was healed.

From this early time, the Church has venerated the Cross as a reminder of the healing power of Christ’s love, poured out for the life of the world. In particular, I want to note the special significance of this feast in light of our 75th anniversary as an archdiocese.

One type of veneration of the Cross is to pray the litany of the Holy Cross.  We know from the diary of Father Andrew White, S.J., that such a litany was prayed by the first group of Catholics who arrived at Saint Clement’s Island in southern Maryland in 1634.  Father White wrote, “We erected it [the cross] as a trophy to Christ the Savior, while the Litany of the Holy Cross was chanted humble on our bended knees, with great emotion of soul.”

As we celebrate our 75th anniversary, it seems only fitting that we make this litany part of our prayer on this the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

Litany of the Holy Cross

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Christ, hear us
Christ, graciously hear us.

God the Father of Heaven,
Have mercy on us.

God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy on us.

God the Holy Spirit, our Advocate,
Have mercy on us.

Holy Trinity, one God,
Have mercy on us.

Holy Cross on which the Lamb of God was offered,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Hope of Christians,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Pledge of the resurrection of the dead,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Shelter of persecuted innocence,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Way of those who have gone astray,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Consolation of the poor,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Restraint of the powerful,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Refuge of sinners,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Terror of demons,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Guide of youth,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Hope of the hopeless,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Safeguard of childhood,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Strength of manhood,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Last hope of the aged,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Wisdom of the foolish,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Liberty of slaves,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Knowledge of the ignorant,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Sure rule of life,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Heralded by prophets,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Preached by apostles,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Glory of martyrs,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Study of hermits,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Chastity of virgins,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Joy of priests,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Foundation of the Church,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Salvation of the world,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Support of the weak,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Medicine of the sick,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Bread of the hungry,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Fountain of those who thirst,
Save us, O Holy Cross.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
Spare us, O Lord.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
Hear us, O Lord.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
Have mercy on us.

Lord have mercy

Christ have mercy

Lord have mercy.

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You,
R. Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world.

Behold the Cross of the Lord.
By the power of the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ may the power of evil be vanquished.
The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered. Alleluia.   Amen.

Let us pray:
O God, who for the redemption of the world,
was pleased to be born in a stable and to die upon a Cross;

O Lord Jesus Christ, by Your sufferings, which we, Your unworthy servants,
call to mind:  by the Holy Cross and by Your death,
deliver us from the pains of hell and conduct us to Paradise
as you did the good thief who was crucified with You,
who lives and reigns eternally in Heaven.

Understanding ‘Community’ on September 11

September 11th, 2014

sept11-community

On this day 13 years ago, when this country was attacked without warning, our nation came together as one people.  In every city and town, people gathered in prayer for those who had died, been injured or lost loved ones.

We came to understand in those days how much we live in solidarity with people all over the nation and the world, many of whom live in distress, anxiety, poverty and fear.  We began to appreciate anew how we must learn to support one another in our efforts for justice and peace and to implore God’s strength and grace to keep us from becoming less than what we are called to be – children of the light.

Pope Francis often calls for a culture of solidarity and fraternity which, he points out, “brings harmony to the whole of creation” and is what makes our society truly human (Prayer Vigil for Peace, September 7, 2013).  He challenges the Church most emphatically to go out into the world, not to stay wrapped up within our enclaves, but for us to take the initiative and boldly go to others – especially those on the fringes of society, including those on the spiritual peripheries – and joyfully give to them the beauty of the Gospel, the amazement of the encounter with Jesus.

Taking up this call of Pope Francis and making their own the plea of Saint John Paul to “open wide the doors for Christ,” the members of our Archdiocesan Synod asked that we, the People of God, embrace all who seek to know and form a relationship with Jesus, inviting them into our spiritual home.  The Synod urged that our local Church manifest the love of Christ by tending to those who suffer hardship and by welcoming the stranger and fostering a sense of community and belonging.

In addition, Synod members recommended that all of the faithful be helped to understand their baptismal calling to be not simply passive members, but active participants in this mission of the Church.  Furthermore, they asked that various steps be taken by our parishes and organizations to strengthen the spiritual lives of people through fellowship, service opportunities, group prayer and other devotional practices.  Not to be overlooked, they emphasized, are the homebound, the hospitalized and those with special needs.  Ensuring that everyone is involved in the life of the parish and the whole of our archdiocesan community must be a priority.

As Saint Paul makes clear, we are all parts of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).  Just as in the natural body, the eyes, ears and feet, to name just a few of its members, have diverse functions, so there are diverse roles for the members of the Church.  Each of us has a function and role to play, none of us is superfluous or indispensable (see Lumen gentium, 7, 33).

Our spiritual family includes people from different cultures, nationalities, languages, physical and mental abilities, and social, economic and educational backgrounds.  “This is the beauty of the Church,” says Pope Francis. “Between the various components there is diversity; however, it is a diversity that does not enter into conflict and opposition.  It is a variety that allows the Holy Spirit to blend it into harmony” (General Audience, October 9, 2013).

In Pastores gregis, Saint John Paul II paints a beautiful image of God’s family as his flock gathered around its pastors, who are the shepherds, and united among themselves and with the Holy Father in the living proclamation of the Gospel.  It now falls to us – bishops, priests, religious and faithful laity – to take the fruits of our Archdiocesan Synod and keep them before us as our guideline and encouragement as we work together, one people living in the Spirit, to manifest better the kingdom of God among us.

The Celebration of the Sacramental Liturgy and Prayer

September 8th, 2014

Mass at Annunication

“We go to Mass on Sunday!” the father asserted, to which the exasperated youngster replied, “Dad, I can’t.  I have soccer practice.”  Sound familiar?  It is increasingly difficult to recognize any difference between Sunday and the other days of the week.

Our Archdiocesan Synod, however, gave witness that the heart of the Church is the celebration of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, which is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, 11).  From the Blessed Sacrament flows all the worship, prayer, acts of charity and faith formation.  Through the sacraments, the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ – his death and resurrection – is made present again in our day and applied to us.

Every time I read the results of a survey or a study recounting how many Catholics do not regularly attend Mass, I cannot help but think that too many people simply do not really understand what is taking place in the Eucharist.  In like manner, Synod members recommended that on-going catechesis be provided on the liturgy and prayer.  In addition, they expressed a desire that priests and deacons be helped as they prepare homilies that meet the needs of the faithful and convey fully and joyfully the Gospel message.

To foster and promote meaningful participation in the Mass, the Synod urged that efforts be undertaken to ensure that the use of liturgical music is appropriately reverent, that provision be made for moments of sacred silence during the liturgy, and that more of the laity be encouraged to get involved in various roles at Mass.  Synod members also gave support to coordinating Mass times among the parishes and enhanced communication of Mass schedules through the various forms of media.

In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we have the means of mediation – the sources of grace – that Jesus himself established and entrusted to the Church, and so we can go to receive his mercy in confession with complete confidence.  It is the story of God’s love that never turns away from us, enduring even our shortsightedness and selfishness. The Synod asked that this sacramental mercy be made more widely available with more convenient times.

Stressing the unity and harmony of our spiritual family, with its wide diversity of cultures and life situations, Synod members said that it is crucial that all cultures be included in the life of the Church, especially in the grace-filled sacramental life.  They pointed to the need to provide accommodation to our sisters and brothers with special needs – the elderly, the sick, those with disabilities, and those who are homebound, hospitalized, imprisoned or otherwise unable to come to a parish for Mass or confession.

In worship and intercessory prayer, in the outward and efficacious signs that are the sacraments, we are touched by the divine life of Christ through the action of the Spirit.  What is purely natural, tied to this earth and limited to the confines of the flesh, gives way to a new fullness and richness that can only be described as a new life, the life of God welling up within us.

The School That Works

September 4th, 2014
Rev. Steve Shafran shows Don Bosco Cristo Rey students the chemistry classroom in the new academic and science wing. Photo credit: Catholic Standard

Rev. Steve Shafran shows Don Bosco Cristo Rey students the chemistry classroom in the new academic and science wing. Photo credit: Catholic Standard

Next year, the Salesians of Don Bosco will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of their founder, Saint John Bosco, who dedicated his life to teaching the Catholic faith to youth in need and providing them with educational opportunities and employment training.

The legacy of that beloved patron saint for youth continues today in the school named for him, Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park. Part of the nationwide Cristo Rey Network, the school is co-sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington and the Salesians of Don Bosco, and it offers a challenging academic curriculum and an innovative Corporate Work Study Program for students from low-income families who otherwise could not afford a Catholic education.

When it opened in 2007, I had the privilege of blessing the new Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School and today I am honored to bless the school’s new Academic and Science Wing. This new addition includes state-of-the-art chemistry, biology and physics labs; a computer lab equipped with 30 laptops; five additional classrooms; a counseling center for students; and a resource room for faculty and staff. This fall, the school welcomes its largest-ever freshman class of nearly 150 students, with an overall record enrollment of nearly 400 young women and men from throughout the Washington area.

A statue of Saint John Bosco, a man known for his joyful spirit, stands inside the school’s entranceway, and one of the saint’s quotes is displayed along a nearby hallway: “What seems impossible, you will achieve by having faith and by gaining knowledge.”

Near the statue, framed portraits of the school’s first four graduating classes are proudly displayed. One hundred percent of those graduates were accepted into college and the walls of the counseling center in the new wing are adorned with dozens of colorful pennants from the colleges and universities across the United States where these first graduates now attend.

Many of those students, such as Jenifer Moreno, the class salutatorian at the school’s first graduation ceremony in 2011, are the first members of their families to achieve that milestone.  With family roots in El Salvador, Jenifer said the best way to thank her parents for their sacrifices would be to continue on to college and pursue a degree in medicine. “Now my dream is to become a transplant surgeon. If I made it this far, why not go farther?”

In the school’s Corporate Work Study Program, students gain professional experience and help earn a significant portion of the cost of their education through their jobs. Cristo Rey’s corporate partners include nearly 100 leading Washington-area businesses; educational institutions; government agencies; hospitals and health centers; law firms; non-profit agencies; and scientific, technology and engineering institutions.

At Cristo Rey, “they do teach us to go for our dreams,” said TreVon Carpenter, a member of the Class of 2013, who worked for Honest Tea headquarters in Bethesda. He plans to major in computer engineering at the University of Maryland at College Park, and he hopes to work someday for a company like Sony.

The 2013 valedictorian, Victoria Riley, worked at NASA and participated in research on solar wind, and she is now attending her dream school, Georgetown University.

Mauricio Castro, a member of Cristo Rey’s Class of 2014 who worked at a congressman’s office and at a downtown bank’s financial services headquarters, also participated in a summer program at Georgetown, taking classes in writing, international relations and biology. He dreams of someday working for a technology company like Google, or perhaps even serving in Congress. “For me, it was a blessing, the opportunities I’ve gotten here,” he said.

The sign near Cristo Rey’s entrance says it all: “The School That Works.”

Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord

September 1st, 2014

The Angelus (1857–59) by Jean-François Millet

On this Labor Day, we celebrate the importance and dignity of human labor, as well as its place in God’s plan.  The Catechism teaches that God entrusts the earth to the stewardship of humanity and, in creating us in his image, he calls us to prolong the work of creation (CCC 2402, 2427). Similarly, the Lord calls us to be laborers for his vineyard – he asks the People of God to help in his work of salvation (CCC 2427, cf. Matthew 20:1).

This work of ours is accomplished in a variety of ways. As Pope Benedict XVI explained, “The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God, celebrating the sacraments, and exercising the ministry of charity” (Deus caritas est, 25).  While some in our society would limit the exercise of our Catholic faith to our houses of worship, the Holy Father made clear that “these duties presuppose each other and are inseparable” (Id.).

We are called to manifest the kingdom of God not merely within our church buildings but, out in the world, building up the common good.  When we correspond to God’s grace, we are extending the kingdom, we are able to be the image of Christ to all those we encounter – in his love, in his truth, in his mercy, and in his justice, making a gift of ourselves in service to communion with God and one another in him.  This is how Christ changes the world.

Essential to the fulfillment of this work is the preservation, oversight, use and development of the temporal goods of the Church, as well as the time, talent and treasure offered by the members of the Church.  In these areas of administration and stewardship, mere bureaucratic efficiency is not the measure of success.  As co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord, we have an obligation not only to  safeguard what has been entrusted to us as laborers and stewards, but also to take care that good and abundant fruit is produced for the Lord (e.g. Isaiah  5:1-7, Matthew 20:1, 21:33-43).

“The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light,” says Pope Francis, “as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself” (Evangelii gaudium, 27).

Thus, our Archdiocesan Synod recognized the need for policies and appropriate institutional structures to ensure that our parishes, schools, ministries and offices are enhanced in their vitality and effectiveness with respect to fulfilling our mission in the New Evangelization, as well as in day-to-day business operations and finances.  Synod members also urged that measures be taken so that employees are qualified and volunteers are able to fully use their skills in addition to providing financial support.  Based on the recommendations of the Synod, statutes were enacted with the aim of our being the best administrators and stewards of what the Lord has entrusted to us in his Church.

In the Gospel for today, we hear Jesus proclaim a kingdom that is not yet fully with us, but at the same time is unfolding in our midst (Luke 4:16-30).  As the continuing presence of Christ in the world, the Church continues the work he began to bring Good News to the world and build up that kingdom.  Through the human labor of you and me, through our fruitful stewardship of what has been entrusted to us, we can transform this world and bring forth what humanity needs to grow, develop and flourish because our work reflects the action of God who brought forth all that is.

The Catholic Impact

August 30th, 2014

logo impact-2014® copy

On a cold winter’s night in 1839 in a French village, Jeanne Jugan encountered an elderly, blind and infirm woman who was alone and in need of help. She carried the woman home, up the steps to her small apartment and placed her in her own bed.

The congregation of the Little Sisters of the Poor and their ministry to the elderly poor was born out of that single act of love and human hospitality.   Today, they minister in 31 countries, including at the Jeanne Jugan Residence in Washington, which was founded in 1871 and continues the loving service of their foundress. Saint Jeanne Jugan’s feast day today reminds us of how we, too, are called to meet Jesus in the face of the poor.

The story of our archdiocesan efforts to love and serve others as Jesus did unfolds in the narrative of a recent publication, Catholic Impact 2014.

Long before the Archdiocese of Washington was formed in 1939, many clergy, religious and lay people in our area were devoting their lives to serving those in need. This rich legacy of compassionate outreach is continued in the many social service ministries and programs the archdiocese operates today, bringing Christ’s love to hundreds of thousands in need on our doorsteps.

In 1860, as the country marched toward the Civil War, three Daughters of Charity – a religious order of women dedicated to serving the poor – came from Emmitsburg to the nation’s capital to establish what is now known as Saint Ann’s Center for Children, Youth and Families. That outreach, begun with a charter authorized by an act of Congress and signed by President Lincoln, continues today as Saint Ann’s provides loving care to mothers and children in crisis.

During the Great Depression, Catholic Charities in Washington – which had been formed in 1922 – was an essential provider of social welfare to those facing poverty, unemployment and lack of hope. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington is today the largest non-governmental provider of social services in this area, serving more than 116,000 people in need per year through more than 65 programs at 48 locations.

Victory Housing was originally organized in 1979 by parishioners from three District of Columbia parishes, and was founded by an archdiocesan priest, Monsignor Ralph Kuehner, who was concerned about the lack of affordable housing for the elderly and the poor. Now Victory Housing of the Archdiocese of Washington – with the help of partnerships with government agencies and local businesses – operates 30 affordable housing communities throughout Washington and the surrounding Maryland counties.

Over the decades, our local Church’s concern for the poor and those in need led to the establishment of a vast social service network, one that respects the sacredness and dignity of each human person, walks with them and strives to provide a lasting solution to their needs.

The members of our Archdiocesan Synod made several recommendations to advance and assist the charitable outreach of our parishes, archdiocesan agencies and other Catholic organizations. Through faith-filled ministry to the hungry, the sick, the lonely, the unemployed, and others, God’s spirit of love and hope is shared, and we all help to shine the light of the Lord on those in need. We offer not only material aid, the Synod members recognized, but also spiritual and emotional assistance, and love which has the power to comfort and renew the spirit of those we serve.

Concern for those who are poor, weak, wounded, alienated and marginalized – including the unborn and the elderly who are at great risk in our society – is what the Lord expects of his good and faithful people. We are one family, one community before God, with an obligation to care for one another and work for the common good. We are all called to this mission, to make a Catholic impact by a gift of ourselves in service to others, and like Saint Jeanne Jugan, we realize that in loving and serving the poor, we are carrying out the work of Jesus and manifesting his kingdom in our world today.

“Why a silence?”

August 28th, 2014
Mass of The Holy Spirit celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, University Chancellor, at the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to mark the start of the academic year at The Catholic University of America in washington, D.C. Photo Credit: Ed Pfueller/Catholic University

Mass of the Holy Spirit celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, University Chancellor, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to mark the start of the academic year at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Photo credit: Ed Pfueller/Catholic University

I delivered the following remarks today at the Mass of the Holy Spirit at the Catholic University of America:

Before we conclude this wonderful, beautiful and inspiring celebration of the beginning of this academic year, I want to share just one very, very serious thought with you. This is a time that’s so very different from the ordinary time when we come annually to open the academic year. We hear so much today of the word “solidarity.” It’s a word that has become a part of our vocabulary in the past 20, 30 years. Today our solidarity with brothers and sisters of our faith and of other faiths in a part of the world where there is clearly an effort to eliminate them is something that we simply cannot in conscience ignore. Often we’re asked, “How is it possible that in human history atrocities occur?” They occur for two reasons. Because there are those prepared to commit them and there are those who remain silent. And the actions in Iraq and Syria today, what’s happening to women, children, men, their displacement – as the least of the things happening to them – is something that we really are not free to ignore and sometimes all we have to raise is our voice.

I’m sharing these thoughts with you because I don’t want to have on my conscience that I was complicitous in something as horrendous as this simply by being quiet. And I ask myself where are these voices? Where are the voices of parliaments and congresses? Where are the voices of campuses? Where are the voices of community leaders? Where are the voices of talk show hosts and radio programs? Where are the voices of the late night news? Where are the voices of editorial columns? Where are the voices of op-ed pieces? Why a silence? I think each one of us has at least the power to raise our voice and be in solidarity with people distant from us, unknown to us, not a part of this campus, not a part of this family, not a part of this university, not a part of our nation. But they are a part of our human community. I think it should rest on the conscience of each one of us. Atrocities happen because there are those who commit them and those who simply remain silent.