The Church as Foundation of the New Evangelization

October 22nd, 2017

Today the Church of Washington is celebrating the annual White Mass, which takes its name from the white garments of our baptism, which in turn represent our new life as adopted children of God.  This liturgy hosted by our archdiocesan Department of Special Needs Ministries is a beautiful expression of the Church’s culture of inclusion and belonging.  This Eucharistic celebration recognizes how everyone is invited to respond to God’s call to Holiness to the best of their ability. Everyone brings valuable gifts to the Body of Christ and the life and mission of the Church.

This baptism – and the renewal of baptismal promises in this Eucharist – is not something we do ourselves individually, but is expressly an action of the Church which, like a mother, gives birth to new children and continues to nurture, sustain and sanctify them by virtue of Christ’s love. Precisely as the sign and instrument of salvation instituted by Jesus (Lumen Gentium, 1), the Church is the home of the Good News and font of the New Evangelization, as affirmed by the 2012 Synod of Bishops.

As was said by Saint John Paul II – whose feast day is usually observed today – out of love for humanity, “The Church’s fundamental function in every age and particularly in ours is to direct man’s gaze, to point the awareness and experience of the whole of humanity towards the mystery of God, to help all men to be familiar with the profundity of the Redemption taking place in Christ Jesus” (Redemptor Hominis, 10).

In fact, rootedness in the living faith tradition of the Church in communion with the Lord is essential to our efforts in the New Evangelization to revitalize and deepen our own faith, and to confidently re-propose the Gospel life in such a way to encourage those who have strayed to rejoin the flock and to allow those who do not really know Jesus to encounter his liberating truth and saving love. While God does wish all to be saved, the Church is not simply one way among many to reach him, all of them equally valid. It is out of his universal salvific will that God in Jesus specifically established the Church to continue his living presence and work of redemption.

The Church is further indispensable in proclaiming the great works of the Lord and teaching his divine word since concepts such as incarnation, resurrection, redemption, sacrament, divine mercy and grace have little meaning for many people in a secularist culture where skepticism and relativism prevail with a loss of appreciation for God and the transcendent.  Without this theological foundation of faith which seeks understanding, the New Evangelization would remain unintelligible for many.

While the world makes many promises which people invariably find wanting, it is clear that our salvation is intimately related to the great sacrament that is the Church.  In God’s plan, it is through this body of Christ on earth that we both manifest the kingdom coming to be now and realize our part in it in the eternal life of the Lord.

This is the final installment in a six-part series on the New Evangelization.

Solidarity in Suffering

October 20th, 2017

On Sunday, Pope Francis canonized 30 martyrs, both priests and lay persons, who suffered and were killed in 1645 in a wave of anti-Catholic persecution in Brazil.  The Holy Father also entered into the canon of saints three indigenous child martyrs in 16th century Mexico who were killed for refusing to renounce their Catholic faith and return to their ancient traditions.  These children are said to be the first Christians killed for their faith in the New World.

Today, reliable reports indicate that some 200 million Christians worldwide, simply because of their faith in Jesus Christ, are still enduring or are at risk of physical violence, arrest, torture and death.  Christians, in greater number, also face varying levels of oppression and restrictions on fully living their faith.  Ironically – and tragically – the place where persecution of Christians is being most severely experienced is in that region of the world that is the birthplace of Christianity.

Last July, His Eminence Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), announced the designation of Sunday, November 26, 2017, as a day of prayer for persecuted Christians which also initiates “Solidarity in Suffering,” a week of awareness and education.  The Solemnity of Christ the King is a fitting time to reflect on religious freedom and persecution.

An ancient practice known as the “Way of the Cross” recounts in prayer the painful progress of Jesus in 14 stations or stops.  Here we remember and prayerfully unite ourselves more closely to Jesus in his suffering for our salvation.  We meditate on how Jesus fell under the weight of the cross and each time struggled to get up and continue on, and how the authorities forced Simon of Cyrene to help Jesus carry his cross.

My brother and sisters, I ask all of us to consider how our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East are living their own personal Way of the Cross.  Each carries a cross and they turn to us looking for some help as they bear the weight of unjust persecution, and the burden of intolerant hatred and violence directed at them simply because they are Christian.

While ISIS forces in the region have been, and are continuing to be degraded, and pushed out of some areas since the height of the genocidal violence, the situation still remains precarious for Christians and other religious minorities who have already suffered greatly.

Although some have begun to return to their homes in places like the Nineveh Plain, many people remain displaced and are struggling in harsh and under-supplied refugee settlements.  Much aid bypasses these Christians in need because the United Nations and the United States refuse to provide funds to the church groups that serve them.  Elsewhere, Christians face continuing marginalization and deprivations of fundamental human rights.

We hear so much today of “solidarity.”  It is a word that has become a part of our vocabulary in the past twenty to thirty years.  In essence it means to stand with – to be one with others.  It is the practical virtue that manifests in concrete terms, the spiritual and deeper reality of human communion.  Our solidarity in Christ with brothers and sisters of our faith, and also our human solidarity with people of other faiths, in a part of the world where there is clearly an effort to eliminate them is something that no person in good conscience can ignore.

Often we are 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 do nothing about it.  Allow me to expand on these two points.

Just as in the early Church, and throughout her twenty centuries, today the utterance of a simple phrase, “I am a Christian,” can be an offense punishable by death.  So widespread is this persecution that Pope Francis and others have long called it a “third world war waged piecemeal . . . a form of genocide.”  The U.S. State Department agreed in a 2016 declaration that ISIS has committed genocide against Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria.

Good people are being persecuted, tortured and killed simply because they are Christian.  It makes no difference whether they are Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox.  One way we can show solidarity with them is to stand together with them as one in Jesus Christ – Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox – notwithstanding whatever different understandings we may have on certain theological and doctrinal matters.

Looking back to the early days of the Church, we find persecution has been a constant.  In those early days, Saint Stephen was among the first seven men to be set apart as deacons in the Church.  In the first history of the followers of Jesus, the New Testament’s Acts of the Apostles, he is described as “a man full of faith” who, after his ordination, “did great wonders in signs among the people” (Acts 6:5, 8).  He preaches and teaches and gives his life to service in the Church.

Today, however, Stephen is most remembered not for pioneering the diaconate, but rather for his death.  Since the early days of the Church, in fact, Christians have honored Stephen with the title Protomartyr.  It is a Greek compound word meaning “first martyr” and it belongs to Stephen alone.  But while Stephen was the first of the martyrs, he was certainly not the last.

Saint Ignatius of Antioch is one of the great figures of the ancient Church.  He was bishop in the city where the disciples were first called Christians (see Acts 11:26).  Much of what we know about Ignatius is what we can glean from seven letters he wrote as he journeyed from Antioch to Rome.  “Journeyed” is perhaps the wrong word.  He was traveling as a condemned prisoner under military escort for the execution of his death sentence in the capital city.

It was in this era that the Emperor Trajan, in an exchange of letters with a provincial governor, Pliny the Younger, approved of a basic test in the treatment of Christians:  Those persons who persisted in professing they were Christian were deserving of execution.  Those who disavowed Jesus and offered wine and incense to the Roman gods would be set free unmolested.

Fast-forward to today, and we find that the Age of the Martyrs is not passed.  It is reliably asserted that more people died for the Christian faith in the 20th century than in all the other centuries combined.  The 21st century appears to be no better – with not a few of the executioners posting videos of their atrocities online to make a public spectacle of each death, as in the days of the Roman persecutions.

These atrocities committed against Christians, largely by ISIS and other similar groups, have included beheadings, shootings, systematic kidnappings, rape and other sexual assault, sexual enslavement and human trafficking, bombings, destruction of houses of worship, and even crucifixion – all part of a genocidal effort to cleanse Christians from the Middle East.  In has also taken a huge toll.  According to a report by the papal Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), since the start of the Arab Spring in December 2010 and the resulting civil war, the Christian population in Syria has been cut almost in half.

To read the reports and personal testimonies of the extreme suffering and crimes against humanity inflicted upon Christians, to listen to accounts of girls as young as seven being raped, sold or given away as sex slaves, of torture and forced conversions is disturbing and heart wrenching.  How can such things not strike the consciences of people everywhere?

Yet, these people and their stories are also profoundly inspiring.  Our sisters and brothers might avoid the violence if they simply gave in to demands to give up Christ and converted to another belief.  Instead, they stand firm in the faith, giving up everything they have, even sometimes their lives, for Jesus Christ.

By standing together in solidarity with persecuted Christians today, each one of us supports and strengthens their witness to faith in Jesus Christ. For these persecuted men, women and children are walking the road Christ himself walked, a way of rejection and self-sacrifice, even to death, a death from which Christ emerged victorious in his Resurrection.

Each of us, I believe, 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 our immediate community, not a part of this family, not a part of our nation.  This is not a Christian crisis that should be of concern only to Christians.  It is a human crisis that we all need to address.  These men, women and children are a part of our human community.  I think it should rest on the conscience of each one of us.  Not just religious leaders, but scholars, news media, the film industry, and public leaders must join together and tell this story.  Atrocities happen because there are those who commit them and those who simply remain silent.

The image of Simon of Cyrene stepping forward to help Jesus carry his cross has forever been imprinted indelibly in the consciousness of Christian iconography.  So, too, can we step forward to help our suffering brothers and sisters carry their cross.

The language of the Church is prayer. We must turn our hearts and minds to God, to lift up our brothers and sisters in prayer, and to beg for God compassion’s and mercy on them.

The USCCB is collaborating with the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Relief Services, CNEWA and Aid to the Church on the project of solidarity in suffering.  Securing the future of Christians in the Middle East and American leadership in this effort will also be the subject of an upcoming summit of In Defense of Christians on October 24-26.  My hope is that you will take advantage of the resources that are now available to assist our parishes, schools and campus ministries in observing this day of prayer and week of awareness.  These resources are available on the following webpage:

For nearly two millennia, Christians have lived peacefully in the Middle East with their neighbors.  Today, they can play a crucial role in reconciliation and rebuilding, and there is still time to help.  But time is running out. Together, alone, individually, collectively, whenever the opportunity presents itself and even when it is inconvenient, we must lift up our hearts in prayers, offer our hands in help and raise our voices in witness.  These are our brothers and sisters!

Throwback Thursday: Each of Us is a Masterpiece of God’s Creation

October 19th, 2017

Like the Child Jesus, who is “forever the sign of God’s tenderness and presence in our world . . . today too, children are a sign. They are a sign of hope, a sign of life,” said Pope Francis during his visit to Bethlehem in 2014.  “Wherever children are accepted, loved, cared for and protected, the family is healthy, society is more healthy and the world is more human.”

When we speak of respect for human life, it is easy for us to get caught up in abstractions, and our response can seem somewhat theoretical. But our obligations are quite concrete. Lives depend on us.

A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit a maternity hospital in Peru that was supported and sustained by the Church in this country. It operated in an impoverished area with a large, struggling population of poor and needy people.

One of my greatest joys is when young parents give me their newborn baby to hold, so I was delighted when the sisters running the maternity ward invited me to hold one of the children under their care.  As I gingerly picked up a one-day-old infant, the baby latched onto my finger with all his strength and held tight.

That infant is a parable to me – a representative of countless unborn children reaching out to hold onto you and me, reaching out with all their strength.  In their struggle to find a place, a home, a life in this world, the most vulnerable among us depend on  us to work for a culture of life.

We have witnessed in many societies a diminishment of respect for human life.  Accordingly, as the working paper for the Synod of Bishops on the Pastoral Challenges to the Family said, “in her pastoral programs, the Church needs to reflect on how to encourage a mentality which is more open to life” (Instrumentum Laboris, 130).

In what we do and how we express ourselves, we have to find ways to proclaim the good news of every human life for a hearing among those who have been led to believe that some life is not worth living.  The New Evangelization impels us all to use the grace of the Holy Spirit to discover fresh resources and summon new strength to advance the message of the Gospel of life.

None of our lives is meaningless or not worth living.  We are all needed.  Each of us is here because a loving God wills us to live.  Each of us is a masterpiece of God’s creation.

“The fullness towards which every human life tends is not in contradiction with a condition of illness and suffering,” Pope Francis affirms. “Therefore, poor health and disability are never a good reason for excluding or, worse, for eliminating a person; and the most serious privation that elderly persons undergo is not the weakening of the body and the disability that may ensue, but abandonment and exclusion, the privation of love” (Message to the Pontifical Academy for Life, February 19, 2014).

It cannot be denied that there are hardships in life. Whether experienced in a crisis pregnancy or late in life, in a physical illness or a bout of mental depression, the human condition is for us all beset with trials and tribulations.  And the answer we give to these challenges in the reality of our human weakness is love, and not to give in to the temptation to despair (Evangelium Vitae, 66-67, 76-77).

When hardship and suffering arise for ourselves or others, we can confront them with God or without him.  It is a lot easier with God.  In his compassion, God does not abandon us but he stands with us.  By the power of his love, he transforms our fear and gives us hope.

Good News in the On-Going Challenges to Our Religious Liberties

October 18th, 2017

The rebuilt Brick Chapel of 1667 stands as a monument to religious freedom.

It is a pleasure to share with you news that last Friday evening a binding agreement was signed between the United States Department of Justice and Jones Day, the law firm representing this archdiocese and more than 70 other religious entities and dioceses across the country. This settlement brings to a conclusion our litigation challenging the Health and Human Services’ mandate obliging our institutions to provide support for morally objectionable activities, as well as a level of assurance as we move into the future.

Almost two weeks ago, the Trump Administration issued new proposed regulations to rescind the mandates which were previously issued under the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (“ACA”) which required religious organizations to provide in our health coverage plans contraceptive and other objectionable services.

While the regulations proposed last week provide much promise in the protection of First Amendment freedom of religious exercise, the resolution of the litigation that took place on Friday, October 13, 2017, adds another significant step in protecting our constitutional liberties. 

While the Trump Administration’s Executive Order on Religious Liberty and new guidelines and regulations are extremely helpful, the settlement of the Zubik litigation adds a leavening of certainty moving forward. It removes doubt where it might otherwise exist as it closes those cases. The settlement adds additional assurances that we will not be subject to enforcement or imposition of similar regulations imposing such morally unacceptable mandates moving forward.

As background, in May 2012 plaintiffs, including the Archdiocese of Washington, as well as more than 70 other dioceses, hospitals, schools and other faith-based organizations, challenged parts of the ACA. Known widely in the media as the “HHS contraceptive mandate,” the government sought to require us to provide insurance coverage for health care, medications and procedures that are objectionable based on our sincerely held faith-based beliefs. 

For the first time in U.S. history, regulations would have empowered the federal government to determine whether institutions that put our Catholic faith into practice – schools, hospitals, and social service organizations – were religious enough, or whether they could be forced to provide coverage for birth control, abortifacients, sterilization, and related-counseling services as part of health care coverage to their employees.

We argued that the practice of our faith was inextricably tied to the ministries that put that faith into action, and that – more fundamentally – the Bill of Rights enshrined freedom of religion as our nation’s first and founding principle, and no individual or entity should be reduced to petitioning the government for rights that the Constitution already guarantees.

In 2016, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the combined litigation and subsequently issued a ruling which vacated all of the lower appellate court rulings in the multi-party litigation.  At the same time in a highly unusual action, the Supreme Court requested that the parties engage in discussions to reach a settlement. That settlement has now been achieved. 

We are profoundly grateful to the Jones Day law firm for its generous legal representation in this matter. Their efforts over the past five-plus years have seen the freedom of the Church and her affiliated missions to carry out her ministry legally recognized. Likewise, I am most grateful to you for your prayers and support. This has been a long process and one that was not easy.  We now have this very good news and I wanted to share it with you.

Revitalized Parishes as Centers of the New Evangelization

October 17th, 2017

credit: Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

Parishes play an essential role in the Church’s mission of spreading the Gospel.  The 2012 Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization recognized that parishes are the places where so many people most experience the life of the Church. In the parish, one encounters Jesus in the initial proclamation of the Good News of salvation, in the Word, the sacraments, catechesis, fraternal communion, charitable outreach and more (Propositions 26 and 44). Whether located along city streets, in suburban neighborhoods or in the rural countryside, the parish also continues to be the primary presence of the Church in the greater community.

Occupying such a key place in our Gospel mission, one of the signs of the strength of the Church is the vitality of parishes.  Thus, the archdiocese developed a tool called the “Indicators of Vitality” to facilitate discernment by parish leadership and parishioners through a self-assessment in five crucial areas.  These indicators were also used at our Archdiocesan Synod to appraise the strength of this local Church as a whole.

The first indicator of vitality, worship, relates to liturgy, sacraments, renewal efforts, devotions, prayer and related opportunities provided by the parish. In these ways, the personal quest for God is met.  The second indicator, education, looks at all of the efforts to ensure that ongoing faith formation in the Church’s belief and teachings are provided to people of all ages through Catholic schools, parish religious education programs, sacramental preparation, adult faith formation, youth ministry, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults and evangelization efforts.

The Church is the experience of communion with God and with one another through Christ. Thus, community life is another gauge of parish vitality.  This relates to efforts to recognize the diversity and needs of people and by actively including all parishioners, by reaching out to Catholics who may have fallen away from participation in the life of the Church, and going out into the local community to welcome others.  Similarly, the indicator of service asks how the parish community serves the poor, the marginalized, elderly people, hurting families, immigrants, people with disabilities, and other needy people in the community, by bringing Jesus’s love to our brothers and sisters and helping them experience the Good News of the Gospel.

Finally, since ability and effectiveness are essential to the accomplishment of any effort, the last indicator is administration. This involves practical aspects of Church life like leadership, stewardship, management and parish decision-making.

Through this self-examination process and working to revitalize themselves always, parishes are better equipped to be the best church they can be as they carry out the task of the New Evangelization to help people encounter the Risen Lord where they are.  This is an encounter that can renew hearts and lives.

This is the fifth installment in a six-part series on the New Evangelization.

The Good News of Salvation in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ

October 14th, 2017

Although superseded this year because it falls on a Sunday, October 15 is usually the day when the Church lifts up for us Saint Teresa of Avila, a doctor of the Church whose witness and writings continue to offer lessons for the people of God. Like the modern age with its rapid changes and diminished appreciation for God, the 16th century in which Saint Teresa lived called for a renewal of faith, specifically a Christian life that is defined by an encounter with Jesus. Thus, she provides a good example for us today of the New Evangelization.

When Jesus first came among us, he offered a whole new way of living. Young Teresa responded whole-heartedly to this invitation, but upon entering the Carmelite community in Spain, she found that in her community and throughout the Church there were many for whom the faith had grown lukewarm, whose prayer had become rote. She asked herself what was wrong and she found that for her and many others, they forgot that in the Mass and in their daily prayer, they were encountering the living Christ whose passion, death and resurrection has redeemed the world. This reality changes that nature of my life and your life forever.

It was the conviction of Pope Benedict XVI when he called the Synod on the New Evangelization and of Pope Francis as he summarized the fruits of the Synod in his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), that all of us become evangelist – the disciple who shares the faith. Our message is simple and clear: God loves us, Christ died for us and, in the Holy Spirit, we have new and everlasting life. The proclamation of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ is meant to bring about repentance of sin, conversion of hearts, and a decision of faith. Pope Francis asks that all of us act as missionary disciples who can affirm our faith in the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection and can give witness to the joy that we have found in relationship with the Lord. This joy then becomes an invitation to others to encounter Christ and thereby discover not only a whole new way of living but a whole new way of being.

For Saint Teresa, it was the primacy of prayer and the reforming of her fellow sisters’ lives around common prayer, the celebration of the Mass and a simplicity of life that brought them back into an intense, loving relationship with the Lord. Like this exemplary evangelizer, we may need to examine the quality of our prayer life and courageously ask if our own faith has become lukewarm. If we are strong in our faith and find joy in our life with the Lord, how willing are we to share the hope of salvation in the Lord with others, to invite others to an encounter and relationship with our Redeemer Jesus who is God become man? Perhaps, through the intercession of Saint Teresa, we can ask the Lord to help us grow in holiness and live boldly as missionary disciples.

This is the fourth installment of a six-part series on the New Evangelization.

Throwback Thursday: Roe v. Wade through the Eyes of Our Youth

October 12th, 2017

The Youth Rally and Mass for Life in January is one of the highlights of the ministry of the Archdiocese of Washington.  One can’t help but be uplifted by the energy and enthusiasm of the tens of thousands of young people who fill local arenas to stand up for the sanctity and dignity of all human life.  In looking out over these events, I cannot help but reflect that these young people and many of their parents have only known the United States as a country in which abortion is legal.

For many of us, we think about abortion through the lens of the sexual revolution, the radical feminist movement and the cultural upheaval of that time.  What is the lens for our youth and young adults?

In my own reading and in conversation with our young people, the lens is the experience of loss. The sheer number of lives lost to abortion is overwhelming for them – more than a million a year and about 50 million in the forty years since Roe v. Wade in 1973 (about 60 million to date in 2017).  There is also a second loss, a loss of an unwavering belief that they are loved and wanted.  They have grown up in a culture that does not believe that every human life, in all of its stages, is precious in itself and is dear to God.  So this generation of youth does not find it strange to wonder if they are “wanted.”  Our youth could and do ask their parents if they considered an abortion when they learned  of their pregnancy.

In the face of the abortion culture’s disrespect for the inherent dignity of human life, it is not surprising that what follows is a societal skepticism that the human being is the glory of God’s creation.  In the Book of Genesis, God is portrayed as creating man and woman as the crown of all his creation.  It is not in the physical dimension of our life that we mirror him, because God has no body.  We are made in the image and likeness of God because God has taken the goodness of his physical creation and breathed into in an immortal spiritual reality called the soul.  Because of that principle of life, we, like God, are capable of knowing and loving.  We can mirror the knowledge and love that lie at the very core of God’s being; hence, we are called images of God.  This is the real message of the March For Life:  that God is and will always be the author of human life.

I welcome this generation of pro-lifers!  We have something to learn from our youth and young adults.  It is impressive what energy and fidelity they are bringing to the movement.  I hear of  how hard some college pro-life groups have had to work for permission to establish themselves and to host events on campus, and yet they have persevered at campuses across the country including here at our local colleges and universities.  The groups are not just active politically, they also have educational and spiritual components.

An important piece of the spiritual component is the Project Rachel Ministry because yet another loss for this generation is a loss of the virtue of chastity and the procreative and sacramental good of the gift of sex as an expression of married love.  The overwhelming force of contemporary culture’s fixation on sex often leads to initiation of sexual activity at very young ages.  Girls who become pregnant in high school and college often encounter a medical community, along with school counselors and parents, who assure them that abortion is the only right choice.   It will “solve their problem” without any long-term consequences. Sadly, they find that again, adults have failed them. Yet, their peers through post-abortion ministries on campus and in their communities help them to encounter the merciful love of Our Lord.

At the heart of all of this work must be a belief that if human values are to be protected as they should be in a world that threatens them so seriously, we must have “the perspective of humanity redeemed by Christ” (Declaration on Christian Education).  This is the source of hope in the face of such destruction of human life.  This is the gift we must give to the generations that are speaking up to promote and protect the dignity of human life.  We are people of hope because we are a people and a world redeemed by Christ.

Five Years After the Synod on the New Evangelization

October 9th, 2017

The 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization led by Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the call for all of today’s Catholics to continue the work of the first disciples in bringing the Gospel to the world by sharing our faith with others with renewed conviction, determination and enthusiasm.

That mission could be seen in two historic events that unfolded in our local Church in the five years since that Synod in Rome: our first Archdiocesan Synod in 2014, which charted a blueprint for how we can build the best Church we can be, and the 2015 visit of Pope Francis, who demonstrated the New Evangelization in action.  The Holy Father said we are called to be missionary disciples, bringing Jesus’ love and truth to those who have drifted from the Church, to those who have not experienced the Good News of Christ, and to those on the margins.

Guided by the Holy Spirit, that apostolic work is carried out every day in our Catholic schools and religious education programs, and also in our outreach efforts like Catholic Charities, Victory Housing and the Spanish Catholic Center.  It takes place in our programs to strengthen family life, feed the hungry, help those being released from jail to build a new life, and to welcome and include persons with disabilities.  Likewise, our efforts in the New Evangelization can be seen through the Light the City street evangelization, at Theology on Tap talks, in regional parish efforts like the East of the River revival, and in service days.  The mission shines through as well in the archdiocese’s The Light is On for You program promoting Confession during Lent, and the Find the Perfect Gift program inviting people to come home to the Church during the Christmas season and beyond. The archdiocese shares this message through e-letters, blogs, social media, YouTube videos, radio and TV spots, ads on Metro buses and trains, and through its website and print publications.

The urgency of this task was articulated by the Holy Father at his 2015 Canonization Mass for Saint Junípero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. “Siempre adelante,” he said echoing the motto of that 18th century Spanish Franciscan missionary.  Saint Junípero “kept moving forward because the Lord was waiting. He kept going, because his brothers and sisters were waiting,” continued Pope Francis, and so we too need to “keep moving forward.”

Ultimately, the New Evangelization is not about new programs, but is about transforming people’s hearts and lives with the love and truth of Jesus who liberates, heals and renews.  Then, like leaven in the world they too can be witnesses of Jesus in their homes, schools, workplaces, communities, nation and world. Five years after the Synod on the New Evangelization, the new Pentecost continues.

This is the third in a six-part series on the New Evangelization.

Throwback Thursday: University Mass for Life Homily

October 5th, 2017

October is Respect Life Month and over the next few Thursdays, beginning with this homily I gave last year, I would like to share with you some past reflections on the great issue of our time – the value and dignity of every human life.  In our efforts to build up a culture of life, the challenges are many, yet our hope is in the Lord of life and with him, what we do can make a difference.

As I begin these reflections, I want to thank Father Adam Park, Pastor of this Parish and also Chaplain to the Catholic faculty and students at George Washington University, for arranging this opportunity to celebrate the University Mass for Life in which we give thanks to God for the gift of human life.

The Liturgy speaks to us.  At every Mass the Word of God is announced so that we can hear that Word and seek to have it form our lives.  What does God say to us? What does the Word of God, announced in this Liturgy, say to us tonight?

Some of that Word is addressed explicitly to you, the young people, the university students who are at the heart of this University Mass for Life.  God says to you as he did to the Prophet Jeremiah, “Do not say I am too young, I do not know how to speak.”  Do not say, I am not sure how I should voice my support for unborn children.  Because the Lord says to the Prophet Jeremiah, “See I place my words in your mouth!”

The second reading tells us why those words are so important.  Saint Paul writing to the Romans, then and to us now, says, “Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

Yes, there is a powerful political correctness movement, emphasis, perspective, environment and force all around us.  It says to set aside such things as the value of human life and substitute the politically correct position that you should be free to choose to kill unborn children.  But the Word of God comes to us to say, “Do not conform yourself to this age.”

And finally, in the Gospel, Jesus tells us in response to the question of the young man, “What must I do to gain eternal life?” “Keep the commandments.”  And these include “You shall not kill.”

Once, some years ago, I was at a hearing that involved a number of community leaders, political, law enforcement, educational and Church.  One of the young at risk people, about 14 years old, was asked by one of the people on the advisory board, “Why is it that you act so violently towards other people?” (the young man was in custody for having shot and gravely injured another young person)  His response was, “How come you get to draw the line?”  His inference was clear to everybody in the room.

For two generations our culture has been saying it is perfectly alright to kill unborn children, it is perfectly alright to take the life of someone else if that someone is inconvenient to you.  His question was, “How come you get to draw the line?”

We are here tonight because we share a very different view of life one that recognizes it as a gift from God.  Life is something we embrace and cherish.

During Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, one of the most striking images was how the Holy Father’s love radiated whether he was greeting a head of state or a homeless person. His gestures, his words, his actions in every encounter proclaimed the truth that every life is worth living. As a gift from God, every human life from conception to death is sacred.  It is this fundamental truth the Pope so convincingly communicates.

Tonight we gather to say that every life is worth living.  In a special way, we are invited to reflect on the ways we can give witness to the dignity of every human life. “In many places, quality of life is related primarily to economic means, to ‘well-being,’ to the beauty and enjoyment of the physical, forgetting other more profound dimensions of existence – interpersonal, spiritual and religious,” observes Pope Francis. “In fact, in the light of faith and right reason, human life is always sacred and always ‘of quality.’ There is no human life that is more sacred than another – every human life is sacred.” (Address of November 15, 2014).

As a sacred gift entrusted to us, we are responsible for working to protect and preserve this life until it ends naturally, until the time that God alone appoints for our departure.  Of course, since the time of Cain that gift of life has been brutally violated and violently taken away.  Yet never has the responsibility to protect and preserve life been more difficult than in our day, either in our private personal lives or a social scale, given the assaults on life from widespread murder, war, abortion, suicide, euthanasia, and more, including the prospect of medicalized death from those whose profession exists to help save life, not take it.

Pope Francis has spoken often about a widespread cultural mentality that enslaves the hearts of so many today, a mindset where what is valued the least is human life, especially if the person is physically or socially weaker.  That is why concern for human life in its totality is a real priority for the Church, he told a group of healthcare providers early in his pontificate.  There is a need to unreservedly say “yes” to life, he said, especially with respect to the most vulnerable – the disabled, the sick, the newborn, children, the elderly, “even if he is ill or at the end of his days, [he] bears the face of Christ. They cannot be discarded, as the ‘culture of waste’ suggests! They cannot be thrown away!”

At a time when many in society tend to judge a person’s worth on an obscure and subjective “quality of life” scale, we are convinced that human dignity is not based on productivity or usefulness, and dignity is not destroyed during times of hardship or even great suffering.  Created by God, made in his image, each and every person is endowed with inherent dignity.

Dear brothers and sisters, do not be deceived by the politically correct rhetoric that uses words to hide the true meaning.  Those that favor killing the unborn child often speak of, “the product of conception” as opposed to “the unborn child.”  They speak about “facilitating the conclusion of the life cycle” instead of “assisting a suicide.”  So it is with choice.  When you use the word “choice” you have to complete the sentence.  What is it you choose?

Are you allowed to choose to smoke in the University cafeteria, are you allowed to choose to park your car wherever you want without consequences, are manufactures free to present food without telling you its content and especially its calorie count?

The word “choice” is a smokescreen behind which those killing unborn children take refuge.  Every chance you get, blow that smoke away.

Do not ever be convinced by the rhetoric of liberation that killing unborn, innocent children is in any way similar to the great social justice struggles that our nation has faced – many times enlightened by the Church’s social teaching.  Whether it was the fight against slavery, racial discrimination, or unjust working conditions, the Church’s proclamation of the dignity of all human life was the center.

Do not let anyone reduce for you the greatness of the American dream to the level of free contraceptives.

To realize, respect and foster human life, or any form of goodness, is to glorify the Creator of all persons and to honor his transcendent and creative goodness.

One last image I would like to leave with you as you valiantly continue your support for life in all of its many wonderful manifestations including the unborn child.

Some years ago, I visited one of our mission efforts in South America that included a maternity hospital.  In the special section was a two day old baby whose mother had left him with the sisters because she was not able to care for the baby.  She said she hoped the sisters would find a good home for the infant.  A sister said to me, “You can pick up the baby.  You will not hurt it.  He is not that fragile.”

It was only when I went to put the baby back into its little crib that I realized how strong even an infant’s grip can be.   He had latched on to my finger and was holding on tightly.  It was as if he was saying, “Please, do not let me go.  Please, do not let me alone.  Please, somebody care for me.”

My brothers and sisters, what you are doing this evening is responding to the call of many, many unborn children.  Please, be there for me.  Please, do not let me go.  Please, speak up for me.

May God bless you and remember what the Lord said to you through the Prophet Jeremiah, “To whomever I send you, you shall go and you shall speak.”

Humanity and Salvation in Jesus Christ

October 3rd, 2017

God is Love and everything has its origin in this love.  Out of his love, God created us humans in relationship with himself to enjoy life and eternal happiness with him.  Made in his image, this love which gives us life also points to the dignity and meaning of all human life.  Yet, led astray by false ideas, humanity in the persons of Adam and Eve chose their own desires over God and his plan, and a consequence of this Original Sin was a rupture in our blessed relationship with God who is the source of life.

Moreover, with God separated from human life by sin, the very understanding of what it means to be human is altered.  Proper relationships not only with the Lord, but between human beings themselves are estranged, so that instead of harmony and charity to others, there is discord and exploitation of others.  In this fallen condition, humanity also no longer walks in God’s light – we are instead impaired in our ability to know truth and to do good and avoid evil.  We do not always live as we should and, with this sin, we suffer the inevitable wounds and hardship, including death.

History shows how people have tried to improve the human condition, but it is certain that we cannot save ourselves by our own human effort.  It is as if we own a badly mismanaged family business and now we have an unbearable burden of debt. While technology, economics and material things have contributed a degree of progress, they are fleeting and will not save us from misery and death.  Only the power of God can heal so great a wound and restore blessed harmony to human life in communion with him.  The Good News is that, in Jesus Christ, God our Savior has come to do this.

However, in addition to the usual challenges throughout history of the human condition, now in our time we are confronted with a tsunami of secularism that has tossed people about and carried away recognition and appreciation of God, truth, the nature and dignity of the human person, the social structures of marriage and family, and the moral imperative – the very things humanity needs.  The consequence is a diminishment in the ability of people today to hear and embrace that Good News.

It is against this background that we are called to a New Evangelization which reproposes Christ our Redeemer as the answer to a world mired in unhappiness, division, injustice and existential despair. While deepening our own faith, we must find new and better ways to bear witness to the truth that each of us is loved and we have the blessed hope of new and everlasting life.  We need to show what it means to be more authentically human, which is to love and be loved in truth.  Only to the extent that our identity as missionary disciples is realized can our neighborhoods, communities and world encounter and know the Savior who makes all things new.

This is the second in a six-part series on the New Evangelization.