Show How You Serve Christ’s Kingdom With YouServe

July 28th, 2015

Ever since it was announced that Pope Francis is coming to Washington, people have been asking, “How can I join in? How can I ‘Share the Joy, Walk with Francis?’”

Last week I invited you to take the “Walk With Francis Pledge.” This extraordinary initiative offers everyone in our community the opportunity to actively participate in the excitement right now by making a commitment to pray and learn, serve, and/or act, following the Pope’s example of bringing Christ’s love, mercy and hope to others, especially those on the margins of society.

Now I would like to tell you about the “YouServe” Papal Visit Video Contest. This is another way to personally participate in the visit and answer the Holy Father’s call to serve. While the video contest can be done on its own, everyone who takes the Walk with Francis Pledge is encouraged to go further and sign up for YouServe as well to show how you are fulfilling the Pledge.

More and more when you look around at special events, you see people taking pictures and recording video. Whether it is parents at a graduation or pilgrims in Saint Peter’s Square to see the Pope or people just spending a day at the ballpark, they all have their cameras, cell phones and iPads out to capture the moment. Photos and videos memorialize wonderful moments and allow us to share our experiences with others. It is no less true when we come to sharing our faith witness.

With this exciting YouServe initiative, by submitting a two-minute video, people can show others how they are manifesting Christ’s kingdom of love and mercy, truth and peace in our world today. A selection of submitted videos will be shown during events surrounding our Holy Father’s visit, as well as on the Archdiocese of Washington YouTube channel. The producers of the top three videos will receive four tickets each to attend the Papal Mass at the Basilica on September 23.

Entries for YouServe may be submitted between now and September 1. Please go to adw.org/YouServe to register and for more information on how to enter.

More importantly, through the service you do, either in the Walk with Francis Pledge, YouServe, or both, you will be helping our sisters and brothers in the community. Also, by sharing your story, you may inspire others to “go forth,” as Pope Francis asks us, and bring the love and mercy of Jesus Christ to others. This is the New Evangelization in action, which is all about finding ways that are “new in ardor, methods and expression” to spread the Good News (Ecclesia in America, 66).

These are only a few ways for you to get involved now in the excitement of our Holy Father’s visit. Perhaps you can think of some other ways to rejoice in the love of God and show how we join with the Pope in his commitment to mercy and the building of a culture of inclusion and solidarity?

To stay up-to-date, I encourage you to visit WalkWithFrancis.org and follow #PopeInDC and #WalkWithFrancis and our archdiocesan social media platforms. Please also invite others to “Share the Joy, Walk with Francis” in this time of grace for our local Church.

Seminarian Family Day

July 26th, 2015
Photo credit: Jaclyn Lippelmann for the Catholic Standard

Photo credit: Jaclyn Lippelmann for the Catholic Standard

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending the day with some very special and important people. It was our annual archdiocesan Seminarian Family Day at Saint Patrick’s Church in Rockville, Maryland. This time of prayer, gratitude and fellowship with the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers of our seminarians is one I always look forward to.

The foundation of society is the family. From the very beginning, family has been at the center of God’s plan for humanity. God made us social by nature, and this choice was for a supernatural purpose. Family is essential to who we are and what we aspire to become. In a particular way, “by begetting in love and for love a new person who has within himself or herself the vocation to growth and development, parents by that very fact take on the task of helping that person effectively to live a fully human life,” observes Saint John Paul II (Familiaris Consortio, 36).

If you ask any priest or seminarian how they came to discern a vocation to the priesthood, invariably one answer is heard again and again – family. While the call itself comes from God, it is in the family that we are prepared to receive the call and the calling is then nurtured.

Family members, especially parents, have many roles in the discernment process. If they are not the first persons to suggest a vocation to the priesthood, certainly they lay the foundation with their own witness of Christ’s love. By their own expression of faith, parents inspire faith in their children and they can awaken awareness of God’s whisper in the heart. “Indeed,” said Saint John Paul, “the family that is open to transcendent values, that serves its brothers and sisters with joy, that fulfills its duties with generous fidelity, and is aware of its daily sharing in the mystery of the glorious Cross of Christ, becomes the primary and most excellent seed-bed of vocations to a life of consecration to the Kingdom of God” (Familiaris Consortio, 53).

Whenever we speak of vocations, we must of course look to Mary, who is the quintessential example of being open to God’s call. She who called herself “the handmaid of the Lord” must have looked to her own parents for solidarity and prayer. Similarly, for seminarians to have an enduring response to their call to the priesthood, they too need the prayerful support of their loving family. For this reason, Seminarian Family Day has traditionally been held on or near the feast of Saints Anne and Joachim, mother and father of the Blessed Virgin.

Saint John Paul recounted how the life and example of his own parents helped prepare him for the priesthood. After his mother died, he said, his father’s example of constant prayer “was in a way my first seminary, a kind of domestic seminary” (Gift and Mystery, 20). In their own way, the parents of today can think of their homes as “domestic seminaries,” as houses of formation where they teach their children to love God and love their faith, and to be open to God’s call.

One reason I am so grateful for Seminarian Family Day, and for any time I meet with our seminarians, is because in these men we see the future of our Church – a solid faith-filled, self-giving, Christ-centered future. These are the men who will be heralds of the New Evangelization, agents of the Holy Spirit who will renew the Church in our country. Their parents have reason to look upon them with pride. Meanwhile, we can look to these mothers and fathers and express our gratitude for their own living witness, which has produced wonderful fruit for our entire spiritual family.

Cardinal William Baum 1926-2015

July 24th, 2015

Seek First the Kingdom 0724 blog pic

Late yesterday evening, Cardinal William Wakefield Baum was summoned out of this world to the home of the Lord he loved so well and served with such fervent dedication. In this moment of sorrow, let our faith be our consolation and eternal life our hope.

Looking back at the life of Cardinal Baum as we mourn his death, we do so with deep appreciation for his faithful response to God’s call to be his priest and bishop and for his living out of that call each day in his priestly and episcopal assignments. His Eminence served as the third Archbishop of Washington from 1973 to 1980, and he was created a cardinal 39 years ago in May 1976, making him the longest-serving American cardinal in our nation’s history.

Throughout his ministry here, as elsewhere, he set a great example, modeling the love of Jesus as he worked for Catholic education, Christian unity and social harmony in building up the kingdom of God in our midst. As in the case of every priest, quietly the voice of the Holy Spirit echoed in his heart.

We thank God that with generosity Cardinal Baum responded with a quiet but firm and enduring “yes” to God’s call. He began his priestly ministry at the age of 24 with his ordination for the Diocese of Kansas City in 1951. In 1962, he was named an advisor to the Second Vatican Council and assigned to work with the Secretariat for Christian Unity. In this capacity, he participated in drafting the Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio. Before coming to the Church of Washington, he was named Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in 1970, taking the episcopal motto of “Ministry of Reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).

In 1980, Pope John Paul II appointed Cardinal Baum Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, where for ten years he oversaw seminaries and Catholic colleges and universities around the world. It was in this capacity that Cardinal Baum oversaw, at the request of Saint John Paul II, the apostolic visitation of all of the seminaries and houses of formation in the United States. From 1990 until his retirement in 2001, he served as Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary. He also served as a member of the Congregation of Bishops, Oriental Churches, Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and Evangelization of Peoples. Among his many accomplishments during his service in Rome, His Eminence helped prepare the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Saint John Paul II’s apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education, Ex Corde Ecclesiae.

Underlying this diversity of assignments was Cardinal Baum’s total dedication to a single vision – the vision of the priesthood as Christ at work in his Church and his personal firm commitment to serve the Lord as his priest. For 64 years he responded faithfully to the call to become an image of Jesus, dedicated to manifesting Christ’s love and teaching, leading and sanctifying those entrusted to his care. We thank God that Cardinal Baum was in so many places, in so many ways, for so many of us, God’s good and faithful servant.

Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “I am the resurrection, the life. Whoever believes in me shall live even in death and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). As we raise our voices in prayer for Cardinal Baum, may the God of mercy and love receive his faithful servant and priest and welcome his noble soul into the glory and peace of the heavenly kingdom, there to rejoice in the communion of God and all the saints.

Walk With Francis

July 22nd, 2015

WalkwithFrancis-slider

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis has captured the world’s attention with his infectious joy. What is striking to me is that in his actions we see the source of his joy. He loves sharing God’s love with others. His words, his gestures, his preaching teach us how to imitate Christ who is the human manifestation of God, the Father.

What Pope Francis is also quick to say is that all of us are called to be joyful followers of Jesus. Our Holy Father asks us to “bear radiant witness to communion, service, ardent and generous faith, justice and love of the poor” (The Joy of the Gospel, 288).

As a way to welcome Pope Francis, I want to invite you to consider sharing the joy you have found in your Catholic faith by taking the Walk with Francis Pledge and thereby transform our community. This initiative of the archdiocese and Catholic Charities is an opportunity for you to make a commitment to follow the Pope’s example of faith and service. We are asking everyone to consider signing the Pledge which invites you to:

  • Pray regularly for the Holy Father and learn about the message of the joy of the Gospel, the mercy of God and the love of Christ.
  • Serve by reaching out and caring for those in need and supporting charitable efforts in our community and beyond.
  • Act to promote human life and dignity, justice and peace, family life and religious freedom, care for creation and the common good.

Pledges can be made by individuals or families, book clubs or Bible study groups, whole classrooms, or afterschool clubs. Teen groups are welcomed and senior groups as well. We invite you to make this pledge your own. And this pledge is not just for Catholics – I am happy to say that already we have interest from local businesses and our brothers and sisters of other faiths who desire to show their gratitude for Pope Francis’ example ministry by taking the pledge. They show us that we have many partners in the work of building communities of compassion and mercy. Now I invite you to consider asking your co-workers, neighbors and friends to join you in taking the pledge.

The pledge can be a commitment of spending a little more time in prayer each day or volunteer once a week. The length of your commitment is for you in conversation with our Lord to decide. Pope Francis reminds us “not to be a part-time Christian, only at certain moments, in certain choices. Be a Christian at all times” (General Audience of May 15, 2013). The Walk with Francis Pledge is our opportunity to deepen our relationship with Christ and be more confident, courageous, and creative followers of Jesus.

It is hard to imagine a more perfect gift to present to our Holy Father than the promise that those most in need of prayer and healing, compassion and hope will be touched by Christ’s love by all of us who have taken the Walk with Francis Pledge. While touching those most in need of our love, I can also assure our Holy Father that we will be praying for him, for his ministry and for the Church, that all pledge takers will grow in love of God and others. Please join me in taking the Walk with Francis Pledge. Go to walkwithfrancis.org to learn more and to sign the pledge.

The Marks of the Church: The Church is Apostolic

July 20th, 2015

San Pietro's sculptures

To be Catholic is to recognize the role of the Church as the very means created and given to us by Jesus so that his work, accomplished in his death and resurrection, might be re-presented in our day and applied to us and the world we encounter.

The Lord founded and built his Church on the one he called “Peter” – which means “rock” – and the other Apostles (cf. Matthew 16:18). He endowed this community with a particular hierarchical structure and he passed on to them the tasks that were his own. He commissioned the Apostles to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth and to teach in his name, make disciples and baptize, heal and forgive sins. Jesus called other disciples as well and also gave them an apostolic mission to spread the Good News to the world.

The Church today is in living continuity with the Church of that apostolic age. Needless to say, those first Apostles have since gone on to their heavenly reward. But their work was taken up by successors. We see this already in the New Testament, as the Apostles replaced members who had died (Acts 1:15-26) and named new leaders for mission churches (1 Timothy 3:1-7). The process has continued through the millennia.

Thus, we speak of the Church as being “apostolic” as well as one, holy and catholic. Today’s bishops are the successors of the Apostles, and the first of them, Peter, today goes by the name of Pope Francis. Their task is to hand on the very same message the original Apostles received from Jesus.

We are thus free from the concerns about the actual integrity of the Gospel message. It has been proclaimed by Christ, who entrusted it to Apostles and their successors. They have protected, preserved, and passed it on – in spite of persecution and the enmity of the world, the flesh, and the devil. The gates of the netherworld have not prevailed, and they will not. The Church has never altered or abandoned the teaching of Christ.

In addition to origin, teaching and structure, the Church is apostolic also in her mission. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the word “apostle” is derived from the Greek for “emissary” or “one who is sent” (CCC 858). As Pope Francis never tires of saying, all of us are called to go forth as missionary disciples to bring the Good News of Jesus to others. In this sense of the word, each of us is meant to be an “apostle.”

“Belonging to the apostolic Church means being aware that our faith is anchored in the proclamation and the witness of the very Apostles of Jesus,” says our Holy Father, “and for this we always feel sent, we feel delegated, in communion with the Apostles’ successors, to proclaim, with the heart filled with joy, Christ and his love, to all mankind” (General Audience of September 17, 2014).

We do not have to bear the burden of figuring out from scratch what has been known since the very beginning. The Church’s teaching echoes the Gospel message, refined, applied and understood under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and through councils or gatherings of bishops, and articulated not only in her profession of faith but also in her living teaching office. Our enduring continuity with twenty centuries of the apostolic Church ensures that we can be certain that we know the Christ’s word and that when we share the Church’s teachings with our family members, friends and coworkers, and all the people we meet, what we tell them is true.

Even though the Church is a spiritual communion, a divine reality, a mystical body, she nonetheless is identifiable in the world through the marks or signs that distinguish her as Christ’s one true Church. One, holy, catholic, and apostolic: the Church possesses these qualities not because of any of us, but because of our communion with Jesus Christ. They are graces, and it is in and through this Church that women and men share in the eternal life of the risen Lord.

This is the fourth and final installment in a series on the marks of the Church – One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

The Marks of the Church: The Church is Catholic

July 17th, 2015
Jaclyn Lippelmann for the Catholic Standard

Jaclyn Lippelmann for the Catholic Standard

Each Sunday as we recite the Creed, we profess that the Church is “catholic.” This word is used not in the sense of Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant. Rather, the word “catholic” comes from the Greek, katholikos, which means “universal.” The Church was born of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost, and from that moment, it was multicultural and inclusive – that is, it was catholic. This vision means that Church membership includes every ethnic group, race, nation, class and people upon the earth, and all are equal before God.

Jesus told the Apostles, “Go… and make disciples of all nations” and “You will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth” (Matthew 28:19; Acts 1:8). His Church is meant to embrace everyone.

From the day the Church was born on Pentecost, we see a congregation made up of people from many lands. Saint Luke mentions more than a dozen ethnicities in his account: “Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs” (Acts 2:9-11). That is a snapshot of the world’s first universally welcoming family.

Thus the Church has been catholic since the beginning. “Catholic” means that the Church does not identify with a political party, ethnic group or cultural movement. The Church does not belong to a particular earthly empire or republic. We recognize Christ as King of Kings, and he reigns from heaven. Jesus looks at us all in the same way. We are all children of the same heavenly Father, all wounded and in need of healing, all sinners in need of redemption. In our desire to be saved, forgiven, redeemed and loved, we come to the Lord in his Church, in his new Body. All are welcome.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that the Church is Catholic both because of Christ’s presence in her and because she has been sent to proclaim his Gospel to all people (CCC 830-31). The Catholic or universal Church makes its home throughout the entire world, with the successor of Peter as its head.

When I welcomed Pope Benedict XVI at his Papal Mass at Nationals Park in Washington in 2008, I noted that his congregation reflected the face of the Catholic Church in the United States. The nation’s Catholics have roots in many different lands and speak many different languages, but they share one faith. Now this September, when Pope Francis – the shepherd and spiritual father of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics – makes his apostolic visit to the United States, he too will see the diverse and vibrant face of the Catholic Church in this country.

As the Archbishop of Washington, I am blessed to celebrate Masses at our 139 parishes and nine missions, and witness the vitality of our diverse family of faith living in the nation’s capital and in five surrounding Maryland counties. Our Catholic Impact publication notes that the more than 620,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington include newly-arrived immigrants from nearly every continent and people whose ancestors immigrated here nearly four centuries ago.

Each weekend, Masses are celebrated in more than 20 languages, including Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Polish, Portuguese, French and American Sign Language. Spanish-language Masses are celebrated at 38 locations to serve the nearly 250,000 Catholics of Hispanic ancestry living in the community. The archdiocese also includes 100,000 Catholics of African and Caribbean descent.

Pope Francis, the first pontiff from Latin America, reflects the Church’s diversity and its unity. After he was elected pope, he joked that the cardinals had chosen a new Holy Father “from the ends of the earth.” How fitting that is for Jesus commissioned his disciples to bring his Good News to all nations. Pope Francis reflects how the power of the Holy Spirit makes the Catholic Church truly catholic, as the living presence of Christ throughout the world.

This is the third installment in a series on the marks of the Church – One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

Saints from the United States

July 14th, 2015

call to holiness

The Second Vatican Council reminds us that all women and men are called to be holy (Lumen Gentium, 39-42). This universal call to holiness is depicted in a beautiful way in the sacred art of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

In the Great Upper Church, a marble bas relief above the entryway shows people from many different backgrounds being guided by the Holy Spirit. That was the path undertaken by Father Junípero Serra, who will be canonized in an outdoor Mass celebrated by Pope Francis on the East Portico of the Basilica on September 23. With his canonization, this great 18th century Franciscan missionary will join the growing number of declared saints from what is now the United States.

Included in this multitude is Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-80), whose feast day we celebrate today. Known popularly as “the Lily of the Mohawks,” she is portrayed in a sculpture in the Hall of American Saints outside the Crypt Church of the Basilica. She was the first Native American from this area to be canonized in 2012. In addition to being a patron saint of Native Americans and ecology, she is a role model for those trying to live their faith in a sometimes hostile culture.

Nearby is a statue of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821), the founder of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph. A mother herself, she can be regarded as the mother of the nation’s Catholic school system after founding schools in Maryland in the first decade of the 1800s. Canonized in 1975, she is the first native-born saint of the United States, and her feast day is January 4.

A sculpture of Saint Katharine Drexel (1858-1955) shows her holding the hand of a young African-American boy, with her other arm around a Native American schoolgirl. The foundress of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, Saint Katharine was a Philadelphia heiress who gave up her fortune to devote her life to providing educational opportunities for Black and Indian children. In addition to founding schools in 13 states, her order also established Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic university for African-Americans. She was canonized in 2000, and her feast day is March 3.

The Hall also has a statue of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917). She was an Italian immigrant and Missionary Sister of the Sacred Heart who came to the United States and founded orphanages, hospitals and schools for immigrants. Now regarded as a patron saint for immigrants, she was canonized in 1946 and her feast day is November 13.

A statue of Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne (1769-1852) is included as well. A native of France and Religious of the Sacred Heart, she volunteered to serve as a missionary in the United States. Working near Saint Louis, she established the first Catholic girls’ school west of the Mississippi River, and she later founded the first Catholic school for Native American children. Saint Rose was canonized in 1988, and her feast day is November 18.

Our Lady of Holy Hostyn Chapel on the lower level includes a bronze statue of Saint John Neumann (1811-1860), a native of Bohemia and missionary priest who later served as the bishop of Philadelphia between 1852-60 and founded the first diocesan school system in the United States. He was canonized in 1977 and his feast day is January 5.

A statue of Saint Mother Théodore Guérin (1798-1856) stands next to the Mary’s Garden outside the Basilica. She immigrated to the United States from France in 1840 and co-founded the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. The next year, Mother Theodore established the first Catholic women’s liberal arts college in the United States, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in Indiana. The founder of schools throughout that state and neighboring Illinois, she was canonized in 2006 and her feast day is October 3.

A tympanum on the Basica’s West Porch depicts Saint Damien de Veuster (1840-89), a native of Belgium famous for giving his life to the suffering people who had been banished to the “leper colony” of Molokai. Father Damien, as a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, brought love and hope to those who had known only rejection and despair. He was canonized in 2009 and his feast day is May 10.

Saint Marianne Cope (1838-1918), a member of the Sisters of Saint Francis, volunteered to also serve in Molokai. Arriving a few months before the death of Saint Damien, Mother Marianne succeeded him in leading the outreach to leprosy patients there, providing them with educational and health care services and hope for a better future. She was canonized in 2012, and her feast day is January 23.

A niche in the Basilica West Facade includes a sculpture of Saint Isaac Jogues (1607-46), a French Jesuit priest and a missionary to the Native Americans. He was among three Jesuit missionaries tortured and killed in what is now New York, while five others were slain in Canada. Saint Isaac Jogues and the other North American martyrs are recognized by the Church as the first martyrs of this land, and they were canonized in 1930. Their feast day is October 19.

Beyond the Basilica, many of these saints are depicted in sacred art at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle, where Pope Francis will meet and pray with the nation’s bishops, and also at Saint Patrick Church in Washington, where our Holy Father will minister to a few of our sisters and brothers in need.

We too can be pilgrims to these holy places in Washington. Looking upon these images of the canonized saints of the United States who show us the way to heaven, we can also vow to answer the call to holiness here on earth.

The Marks of the Church: The Church is Holy

July 11th, 2015
Marks of the Church

Photo for the Catholic Standard by Jaclyn Lippelmann

When we profess in the Creed the identity of the Church, we speak of the qualities of unity, holiness, universality and rootedness in the Apostles, present, verifiable and interrelated in such a way that one sign or mark supports the others. The purpose of these identifying marks, which grow out of the very nature of the Church, is to help strengthen the faith of the believer and at the same time attract the attention of an unbeliever and lead that person to investigate more fully the Church.

At the same time, we recognize that each of these signs has a human dimension. You and I look at ourselves and at one another, and we know that we fail. Even great saints made frequent use of the Sacrament of Confession. There is an undeniable measure of sin in the world and even in the lives of very good Christians.

So why do we say the Church is holy when we know better? We must remember that the marks of the Church, while diminished in its human membership in the world, are nonetheless real and enduring. In the mystery of the Church, we can rightly dare to profess that yes, the Church is holy and perfect even while we acknowledge that the members of the pilgrim Church here on earth are imperfect sinners.

The Church is indeed made up of you and me, members who are frail, fragile, failing, but it is not man-made. The Church is composed not only of flesh, but also of Spirit. It is not us humans, but the grace of God that makes the Church, the body of Christ, holy.

We can say the Church is holy because holiness exists in its founder, Jesus Christ. From him and from the Holy Spirit comes all true holiness. The Apostles Paul and Peter remind us in their letters that Jesus “Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her,” that is, to make her holy (Ephesians 5:25-26). He made the Church “a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9).

In the Church, the Lord is with us, always, until the end of time (Matthew 28:20). The Holy Spirit sanctifies us even though individual members may not live up to that gift. Because of Christ’s presence and the guidance of the Spirit, the doctrine the Church teaches is holy; it remains unalterably Christ’s teaching that brings us to salvation. The Church’s worship is holy. The sacraments it administers to the members of the Church throughout the whole world make it possible for every believer to live a truly Christian life conformed to Jesus Christ.

It is to this holiness that the Church invites all of us. In this holiness, rooted in the presence of the Holy Spirit and manifested in the sacramental life of the Church, particularly the Eucharist, the Church continues in spite of the many sins of its members.

We see all around us the fruits of holiness in the lives of truly faithful followers of Christ, even in an imperfect world marred with failure, compromise and sin. Wherever the Catholic faith is lived sincerely, Jesus brings forth healthy fruit that only a good tree can bear. Our own era is not without its testimony to such holiness as found in the lives of many faithful women and men. While we cannot easily identify the hidden crosses that many people carry or the silent sorrows they bear, their persistent fortitude and courage rooted in their faith in God’s loving care sustains them and us in ways not always visible.

In the Creed, we profess our faith in “the communion of saints.” This includes the holy ones in heaven, the faithful departed being purified for heaven, and can and should include each of us here on earth. Saint Paul reminds us that we, though sinners, are called to be “holy ones,” that is, saints (Colossians 1:2).

The Church is possessed of a divine gift. We hold God’s grace, the Holy Spirit, sacramental power, yet we hold it all in earthen vessels. This paradox will be with us until the end. We know that we are not yet living the fullness of the life of Jesus Christ. Yet we know too that with the Lord, imperfect as we may be, we can by his grace be made holy.

This is the second in a series on the marks of the Church – One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

 

The Marks of the Church: The Church is One

July 9th, 2015

Marks of the Church

So often on pastoral visits to parishes or schools when I ask a young child his or her name, I get an immediate and clear response. Sometimes the young person will give both first and last names. It is important to know who we are.

Part of our identity, in addition to our family name, is our faith commitment. We identify ourselves as Catholics. In doing so, we profess our faith in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” These words found in the Nicene Creed and used at Sunday Mass refer to what are traditionally known as the “marks” of the Church, traits that characterize the true Church.

These traits are not of human origin. The Church is not a man-made organization, but the body of Christ. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, it is Jesus Christ who, through the Holy Spirit, makes his Church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic (Lumen Gentium, 8). These four characteristics, the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear, are inseparably linked with each other and they indicate essential features of the Church and her mission (CCC 811).

The first of the four marks is oneness. Pope Francis explains that the Church “is one because her origin is in the Triune God, the mystery of unity and full communion” (General Audience of August 27, 2014; CCC 813). Here we can understand with Saint Paul that unity is of the essence of the Church even though within the body of Christ there is great diversity, just as there are many parts of one body (1 Corinthians 12:13).

The Church is one also because of her founder, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh who came among us to restore the unity of all in one people and his one body. Oneness is shown as well as in the Church’s “soul,” that is, the Holy Spirit who dwells in those who believe and who “brings about that wonderful communion of the faithful” (CCC 813).

This communion is visible in a variety of ways. The Church is one in the faith that its members believe and profess. It has an essential unity of divine worship, especially of the sacraments. The Church in one region, organized under a local bishop, is united with the Church throughout the world, with other dioceses in a common allegiance to the Pope as the successor of Peter (CCC 815-16). Pope Francis, like the popes before him, is a sign and servant of the unity of the Church.

Even though there are, contrary to Jesus’ will, divisions among Christians as we proceed in our pilgrim journey on earth, the Spirit reminds our hearts of our unity in Christ. Particularly in these times when Christians are under attack – as in the Middle East – Protestants, Orthodox and Catholics have come together in solidarity to pray and bear witness to Christ. We are still a long way from full communion, but in small ways we can all work to unify Christians as sisters and brothers in one family of God.

In our time, for a variety of reasons, many of the Christian faithful are also unsure of exactly what the Church teaches. This is all the more reason to pay heed to the words of Pope Francis when he says, “Since faith is one, it must be professed in all its purity and integrity. Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even of those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole. . . . Indeed, inasmuch as the unity of faith is the unity of the Church, to subtract something from the faith is to subtract something from the veracity of communion” (Lumen fidei, 48).

Our faith calls us to see in what the Church teaches, in her sacramental life and in her challenge to unity, the far deeper reality that will develop and mature into a universal oneness before God if we allow it. Our task is to be unifiers who bring people who are wavering – or who have left the Church – back to the joy and confidence that come with our communion with the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

This is the first in a series on the marks of the Church – One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

Discovering What Pope Francis Really Said in Laudato Si’

July 7th, 2015

summer reading

Every year as we get close to summer and vacation time, there are published in a variety of sources things to read while either at the beach or wherever. Depending on your reading preference, different lists may be preferable to others.

Previously I suggested a candidate for the “Things to be Read this Summer” list – Laudato Si’, the encyclical by our Holy Father on the care of our common home. It really is worth reading.

I know there are many, many things written about it by people who have their own take on what it could have said, should have said, might have said and even on parts of what it actually said. Since the encyclical is significant enough to have raised all of these comments from such a wide-range of viewpoints, it seems very important to take the time to read the document itself and know what Pope Francis is actually saying rather than viewing it through the lens of others.

Admittedly, this or any other encyclical is not your usual summertime reading. But perhaps, one way to get through it and be able to reflect seriously on its content is to decide to read just a page or two of it each day. You might want to even set up your own reading plan giving just 15 minutes a day to reading this extraordinary work of Pope Francis that will certainly have its impact for many years to come. To help guide you, the archdiocese has prepared a variety of catechetical resources that may be found at adw.org/creation.

In devoting an entire encyclical to the environment, our Holy Father is asking all of us to grasp how truly interconnected we are with one another and, in fact, all of creation. He speaks of an “integral ecology” – of the person, of the environment, of social-economic development. All of those are tied together with an understanding that we have to advance the human condition, we have to be respectful of the environment. But that we need to do that together.

Things are clearly happening around us – in our oceans and forests, in our farms and cities. Our Holy Father urges us to recognize this and he is giving this call to everyone to participate in a discussion on how do we best relate to one another and serve one another in our home, which is this planet. As our Holy Father says, we have to reassess our relationship with the world in which we live and we need to find ways to make sure that development is sustainable and respectful of creation. After all, the Earth is our common home. This is where we all live.

As time goes on and more people begin to realize what Pope Francis is actually asking, I think they will accept his invitation to see the moral dimension in all this, to consider in our actions and policies, on a societal and personal level, not simply what we can do, but what we ought to do.

What our Holy Father is holding up for us is we cannot just close in on ourselves, our own personal interests, our economic or financial interests or political interests. We have to look at this through the moral dimension of: How does this affect everybody on the planet?

As we move forward, in our parishes and ministries and throughout the archdiocese, we are going to spend a lot of time getting this message out, pulling apart, unpacking this encyclical, and helping people understand better what it is truly saying. Meanwhile, this summer can be a great time to read Laudato Si’.