The Baptism of the Lord

January 10th, 2016
The Baptism of Christ of Francesco Albani

The Baptism of Christ of Francesco Albani

The feast of the Baptism of the Lord flows naturally from our celebration at Christmas of the birth of Jesus, who is Christ the Lord, and from the Solemnity of the Epiphany last week, when we recalled with joy the public revelation of the world’s Savior to the Magi. Today, we remember how the adult Jesus was baptized in the waters of the Jordan and received an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

All three days – the Nativity, the Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord – involve the manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world. The reason for this sequence of celebrations is so that you and I will reflect on who Jesus is, and what that means for us in our daily lives today.

Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist marks the beginning of our Lord’s public ministry. Prior to this, John had paved the way for the coming of the Lord, and when Jesus appeared before him to be baptized, John recognized him as the Savior, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God,” and suggesting that it should be Jesus baptizing John, not the other way around (Matthew 3:13-15; John 1:29). Jesus replied that it was fitting that he be submerged in the waters of baptism and when he was, the heavens opened and God confirmed John’s testimony in an extraordinary way, by a manifestation of the Blessed Trinity: the Father’s voice saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” and the Spirit descending as a dove and coming upon Jesus (Matthew 3:16-17).

This is the moment of Jesus’ anointing as priest, prophet and king. Thus it is the end of his “hidden life,” and on the liturgical calendar, this marks the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of a new phase of the Church’s year, Ordinary Time.

The early Church saw the day not only as a celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, but of every Christian’s baptism, and as a celebration of the new life in Christ that is shared through the sacrament. For those who see with the eyes of faith, every baptism is a dramatic and sudden manifestation of God’s power. It is a reason for celebration. In the sacramental waters, three things happen: Sin – original and personal – is washed away; we receive an outpouring of the Holy Spirit; and we become a member of the body of Christ, his Church, and of God’s family, as his adopted sons and daughters, brothers and sisters to each other.

Pope Francis has said that when Jesus was baptized, heaven was opened to reunite people with God. The descent of the Spirit upon Jesus, he explained, gave everyone “the possibility of encountering the Son of God and experiencing all his love and infinite mercy.”

This reflection on the importance of our own baptism thus presents the occasion to ask ourselves what we are doing to shine forth that light of faith and that new life in Christ that we received in the sacrament:

Do we manifest Jesus in our personal lives so that others in our homes, our schools, our workplaces, our communities and our world might encounter the Lord’s love and mercy? Do we open our hearts to the Spirit that descended upon Jesus, and was sent by him to descend upon us at our own baptism and confirmation, so that his Spirit might flow through us as a living font of God’s tender affection and compassion? Do we welcome Jesus into the depths of our being, body and soul, by receiving him in the Eucharist and then go forth to build up his kingdom in the world?

“From the heart of the Trinity, from the depths of the mystery of God, the great river of mercy wells up and overflows unceasingly,” affirms Pope Francis, adding, “It is a spring that will never run dry, no matter how many people draw from it. Every time someone is in need, he or she can approach it, because the mercy of God never ends” (Misericordiae Vultus, 25). The waters of baptism are drawn from this river of mercy and redemption, the river of life-giving water that Jesus wants to give to all. Having received the mercy of God in baptism and in all the many blessings and graces that flow from it, let us share that living water with a thirsty world.

The Mercy of Hospitality

January 8th, 2016

Cardinal Wuerl - January8 Blog

Travel to any community in the country and you will likely find motels, hotels and restaurants that are happy to provide you – for a price – a room for the night or a hot meal. So extensive is the modern hospitality industry that some schools even offer degrees in managing these services. It is all a very convenient and useful social good.

Traditionally, however, the concept of hospitality has had a rather different meaning, one that did not involve the payment of money in return. This older concept of hospitality, observed in many cultures, more resembled the gratuitous reception that is given now to family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and other guests.

On this smaller, more personal level, it is an almost ingrained ethic today to ask a visitor – whether in the home or the office – “Welcome. Would you like something to drink? Something to eat?” A good host wants his or her guest to be comfortable. We open our homes also for holidays, parties, graduations, funerals, and we host wedding receptions, offering food, drink, sometimes entertainment or a place to stay, and just as important, camaraderie.

Mothers and grandmothers are especially renowned for their hospitality, not only to their own family members, but to others as well. How many of us remember going to a friend’s house when we were growing up and being asked if we were staying for dinner?

This hospitality extends outside the home as well, expressed in etiquette and social conventions of holding the door for others, giving up your seat to a pregnant woman or older person, offering a portion of your lunch to someone who has none. Our parishes too should be places of warm welcome and sustenance. In these small ways, these small mercies, we help make the world a little bit better.

This attitude of hospitality and warm welcome, sometimes expressed as, “Mi casa es su casa – My house is your house,” was in older times even freely extended to complete strangers and travelers, rich and poor alike, including foreigners. Before the age of interstate highways and pervasive hotels and restaurants, it was understood to be a vital social virtue, religious ethic and moral duty for both the elite and common people to open their doors and show generosity and courtesy to those away from home and widows and orphans too. Of course, the clergy and monasteries of the Church opened their spiritual homes as well to provide hospitality to people in need.

The roots of this hospitality go back to the ancient world. Particularly in places like the desert regions of the Middle East, access to water, food and shelter was a matter of life and death for a traveler. God in his mercy had provided these necessities to his chosen people and so he instructs them, “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). The Lord commands this kindness be show to even foreigner travelers despite foreign domination being a constant prime concern of Israel.

Holy Scripture provides an example of the hospitality we should practice when the Lord appeared to Abraham in the form of three men. Abraham waited on this manifestation of the Trinity, providing food, shelter from the hot sun, and water for the three visitors to wash their feet. The Lord then blesses Abraham and his wife Sarah with a son in their old age (Genesis 18:1-16). In the First Book of Kings, we read how the widow Zarephath received the prophet Elijah and, even though she was in dire straits with her food nearly gone, she gave him a portion. Again God gives his blessing – Zarephath is given enough food to survive and when her son dies, the Lord restores him to life (1 Kings 17:8-24).

“Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels,” we are told (Hebrews 13:2). Having been received in mercy by the Lord, hospitality is among the essential qualities that he expects of his good and faithful people, including concern not only for family and friends, but for those we do not know, for domestic travelers, foreign immigrants and refugees, and for all who are downtrodden, vulnerable and marginalized.

Whether it is in the home, at work, in the Church, or in our nation, as a matter of justice and gratitude for what we have been given, we are called to be welcoming and hospitable to others. By these acts of gratuitousness, we help build up the kingdom of God.

The Ministry of Bishop Manifests Christ’s Presence in the World

January 6th, 2016
Pope Francis arrives at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington on September 23 for midday prayer with the Catholic bishops of the United States.

Pope Francis arrives at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington on September 23 for midday prayer with the Catholic bishops of the United States. (Catholic Standard photo)

Today is the traditional day for the celebration of Epiphany, in which the Church recalls how wise men from the east recognized the great Star of Bethlehem as a divine sign and followed this light to find the Lord Jesus. As they undertook their journey to the newborn King, they represented the peoples of the world and in this way led the way for the rest of us in our journeys to Christ.

Epiphany is also a day that Saint John Paul II traditionally ordained new bishops. Like the wise men, a bishop has been drawn by the light of God, called by the Lord, and he goes before people on our pilgrim journey. Like the Star, a bishop is called to radiate the love of Jesus to show others the way, to help others see the presence of Christ in the world.

Looking at the road ahead in this new year of 2016, as a bishop entrusted with the care of a large archdiocese, on this day I would like to reflect on the role and mission of bishops in God’s plan for the Church and the world. At the beginning, middle and end of these reflections is Jesus Christ.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was sent by the Father to redeem the human race, in turn sent twelve Apostles into the world. These men were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel and gather every race and people into a single flock to be guided in the way of holiness. Because this service was to continue to the end of time, the Apostles selected others to help them. By the sacrament of Holy Orders, the Apostles passed on the gift of the Spirit which they themselves had received from Christ.

Just as it was the Lord who chose the original twelve, so too is it the Lord who calls their successors. Out of the Body of Christ today, alive in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and anointed in the gifts of the Spirit, the Lord continues to call some to be ordained ministers.

Today’s bishops are the successors of the Apostles. For two millennia, by a succession of bishops unbroken from one generation to the next, the spiritual powers conferred in the beginning have been handed down, and the work of our Savior continues in our time. It is only through this uninterrupted tradition, that we can be sure of the integrity and validity of the Christian faith.

Pope Francis said in his meeting with the bishops during his visit here, “We are bishops of the Church, shepherds appointed by God to feed his flock. Our greatest joy is to be shepherds, and only shepherds, pastors with undivided hearts and selfless devotion.” In his apostolic exhortation on the ministry of bishops, Pastores Gregis, which is Latin for “Good Shepherds,” Saint John Paul outlined the threefold function of the office of bishop – teaching, sanctifying and leading – adding that in a world increasingly influenced by secular and material values, the task of the bishop is to be a beacon of hope, one that invites people to experience the truth of Jesus’ message.

The bishop serves as shepherd and, as such, he has a solemn obligation to care for the multitude of souls who make up that portion of God’s flock entrusted to him – to feed Christ’s sheep (cf. John 21:15-17). As an apostolic teacher, the bishop is to “preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke and exhort – be unfailing in patience and in teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). In the work of sanctification, he is to oversee the administration of the sacraments of which bishops “are the principal dispensers, moderators, guardians and promoters. They form a sort of saving ‘net,’ which sets free from evil and leads to the fullness of life” (Pastores Gregis, 5). Finally, bishops are charged with exercising the ministry of leading the Church “as pastors and true fathers,” said John Paul. In doing so, they “have the task of gathering together the family of the faithful and in fostering charity and brotherly communion” (Id.).

The bishop does not act alone. Together with the guidance of the Spirit, the whole People of God are called to provide their assistance, cooperation and commitment. First, as Archbishop of Washington, I rely daily on your prayers and support. Furthermore, in our many ministries, the efforts of auxiliary bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful – all working together to proclaim the Good News – is essential (Id., 74).

Saint John Paul presents a beautiful picture in Pastores Gregis of God’s family gathered around its shepherds, united first among themselves and in communion with the pope, as the successor of Peter, in the proclamation of the Gospel and the living out of its challenges. As we continue our pilgrim journey this year and beyond, we all travel together to the heavenly kingdom.

Homily: Mass for the Epiphany

January 3rd, 2016


Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle
Washington, D.C.
Sunday, January 3, 2016
11:30 a.m.

What comes to mind when we celebrate Epiphany is, of course, the star leading the way through the darkness to the infant Jesus and the three wise men, the Magi, following it. The importance of the celebration of Epiphany is the reminder to us that if there is no one to point out Jesus then he can go unnoticed.

For Jesus Christ to have an effect in our lives, he has to be recognized. For him to the recognized he has to be manifested. This truth is at the heart of the celebration of the Solemnity of Epiphany.

While the traditional date of this feast day functions as the twelfth and final day of the Christmas season, it also reminds us that we do not simply celebrate Christmas to remember the birth of Christ, but to renew our commitment as followers of Jesus, to manifest Christ to those around us in the way we speak and act as we move through each day. What are some of the ways in which we, today, can help to more clearly manifest Christ in our world?

As we look back, there are a number of striking moments. Obviously, the first and most enduring was the visit of Pope Francis to this archdiocese and his many words of encouragement and challenge to all of us.

It was in the context of his visit that the Walk with Francis project was developed, allowing people all over this community to pledge to pray for the Holy Father and his intentions, to commit to serve in some way that would affect the needy and marginalized and, finally, to take some action on behalf of our brothers and sisters who face great challenges in life.

Another aspect of our manifesting the work of Jesus and his Church among us is our loyalty and devotion to our Holy Father, the Successor to Peter. While personalities and styles change from one pope to the next, the significance and importance of the office and role of Peter remains always the same – the touchstone of our faith.

Last year saw us also continuing on our path of implementing the 2014 Archdiocesan Synod with all of its vision and aspirations for the future of our archdiocesan Church. It was in this context that we saw new efforts to support Catholic education, Catholic Charities, parish life and the New Evangelization – the passing on of our faith.

Now, as we celebrate Epiphany and look to how we might manifest Christ, I would like to suggest four very practical areas where we might continue in the New Year, embracing all of the challenges and opportunities that are ours as disciples of Jesus looking to the future and manifesting his presence. The first focal point is the Holy Door in this very Cathedral.

Pope Francis has called us to a Jubilee Year – a Year of Mercy – and invites all of us to renew our own faith conviction that Jesus’ love and mercy continues to be available to each of us. In fact, the Holy Door is a sign of the embrace of God that awaits us as we walk through those doors that symbolize coming, once again, into the full embrace of the Church and her sacramental ministry.

As Pope Francis reminds us, “God never tires of forgiving us…however, we sometimes get tired of asking.” Perhaps the first opportunity to manifest our faith in Jesus as we enter this New Year might very well be the Holy Door and the invitation to confession, to renewing our own commitment to be merciful and compassionate to others. Here we are reminded that we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

A second occasion to show Christ to our community in this New Year might very well take its inspiration from the visit of Pope Francis to the headquarters of Catholic Charities at Saint Patrick’s Church and the Catholic Charities Center next to it on 10th Street, NW.

Here, our Holy Father embraced the homeless and those who come regularly to Catholic Charities for a hot meal, necessary clothing items and an opportunity to find a caring welcome.

Perhaps our focal point in helping make Christ more visible as we go into the New Year might be Catholic Charities and its many programs helping those in need. We might even consider service in one of the many activities of Catholic Charities precisely as a volunteer.

Right before Christmas, I joined many, many volunteers from around the archdiocese at Catholic Charities for the Christmas dinner for the homeless. Young and old were there preparing meals, serving them and simply being a welcoming team for the many, many homeless who came to enjoy a full Christmas dinner with large amounts of care and affection directed towards them.

Another way to let Christ’s light shine in us as we go into the New Year might very well be our recognition of the plight of our brothers and sisters in various parts of the world, Syria, Iraq, the Middle East, Africa, India, where, in some instances, a celebration like we are having today would be, for the participants, a death warrant.

We know that these acts of great violence and persecution, this modern genocide, happen because there are people who do them and then there are all the rest of us who are tempted to remain silent.

Perhaps this Epiphany, our commitment can be that we will all raise our voices so that out of the persistent and consistent recognition of persecution and execution of innocent people might come some response from the international community, our government and the voices of opinion makers, newspaper editors, talk show hosts and the information entertainment industry, that these atrocities are taking place today.

We might also consider raising our voices against the new selective discrimination being directed towards Christians and particularly the Catholic Church, as we speak out in defense of human life, marriage, and our freedom to be who we are in a pluralistic society.

Here we might also raise our voices in welcome to those that are displaced, especially our brothers and sisters driven from the land where Christianity has flourished since the first disciples of Jesus embraced his way.

One final way for all of us to help others see Christ might very well be an assessment of our own participation in the life and works of the Church, particularly at the parish level. Our Archdiocesan Synod called for and recognized the importance of lay women and lay men’s involvement in the life of the parish. This can take so many forms of volunteer work. Maybe as we move into the New Year each of us can simply ask, “Is there some way in which I can be more actively involved in the parish.”

While this list of opportunities is not long, it is certainly challenging and all the more reason why we reflect this Epiphany, once again, and renew our own personal commitment through our acts of kindness, compassion, charity, forgiveness and love, and we can actually be a light piercing through the gloom and darkness of our secular and, at times destructive, culture to show others something that we cherish that is that Christ truly is the answer to the longing of our heart, the needs of our soul.

May this Epiphany, then, be for all of us a time to rejoice in the light and, like the Magis, to follow that light and let it shine through us to invite other people to see and experience the Lord Jesus Christ.

Manifesting Christ

January 3rd, 2016
Epiphany Blog Post by Cardinal Wuerl

Adoration of the Magi by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 17th century

For Jesus Christ to have an effect in our lives, he has to be recognized. For him to the recognized he has to be manifested. This truth is at the heart of the celebration of the feast of Epiphany, which is traditionally observed in the Church Universal on January 6, but which is celebrated liturgically in the United States on the Sunday that falls between January 2 and 8.

While the traditional date of this feast day functions as the twelfth and final day of the Christmas season, it also reminds us that we do not simply celebrate Christmas to remember the birth of Christ, but to renew our commitment as followers of Jesus, to manifest Christ to those around us in the way we speak and act as we move through each day.

The Greek word “epiphaneia” is translated in multiple ways, as manifestation, showing or epiphany. The Church recognizes and celebrates three distinct manifestations of the Lord: the Epiphany to the Magi, also known as the three kings; the Baptism of the Lord when the Spirit visibly overshadowed him; and at Cana, when Jesus in a wedding worked the first miracle, changing the water into wine. What each of the manifestations tells us is that without an epiphany, without a showing, without a manifestation, Jesus easily could have gone through life without being recognized as God’s Son and, therefore, without accomplishing his goal.

Had the three kings not been faithful to following the Star into unfamiliar territory and a most unlikely destination, the news of Jesus’ birth may not have spread so far and wide so immediately. Today, it seems this same kind of threat still exists. It is getting harder and harder for people to hear the story of God’s love for them and for the world.

One of the major difficulties in our world today is this failure, individually and collectively, culturally and socially, of people to recognize the place of God in their lives. We face the same temptations, have the same human nature and recognize the same challenges as every generation before us. Today, however, there is much less a sense of objective goodness and rightness in the world because there is a much diminished recognition that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus is the source of mercy, light and truth.

Beginning with the Magi and extending to us, for two millennia, it has been the work of the Church, all of us, every member of the Body of Christ, to show forth to the world the presence of Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord, one of us who is also the Son of God. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis asks us specifically to reflect on how we manifest the merciful face of Christ to the world.

How and with whom would your sharing your experience of receiving God’s mercy and sharing be an experience of hearing good news? The Year of Mercy is giving us an opportunity to put into words what we know about loving tender compassion through our own experience in prayer, in the Eucharist and in the sacrament of Reconciliation. If you would like some help thinking through the three-fold experience of mercy – needing mercy, receiving mercy and sharing mercy – visit to read your fellow Catholic’s story of mercy.

Jesus needed the three kings to take up the story of his birth and to tell the world of it – to manifest his presence to the world. Jesus needs you and me and the Church to do the same – to manifest his presence, to be a light for others drawing them to an encounter with Jesus Christ.

Mary, Mother of God, and the World Day of Peace

January 1st, 2016

January 1 blog post by Cardinal Wuerl

Each New Year’s Day, the pope issues a message for the celebration of the World Day of Peace. Fittingly, on January 1, we Catholics also celebrate a holy day of obligation, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, who is also the Queen of Peace.

Pope Francis notes that his Message for the 2016 World Day of Peace, entitled “Overcome Indifference and Win Peace,” is entrusted to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As a mother, Mary brought Christ to the world, and therefore we honor her as the Mother of God. As our spiritual mother, Mary still leads us to Jesus, and she helps us as we lead others to know and love her Son. She helps us find Christ’s peace and sow that peace in our hearts, our homes, our communities and our world.

In this Year of Mercy that opened on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the Holy Father has emphasized the important role of Mary, the Mother of Mercy. Her example of faith in her Son and in God’s loving mercy can be an example for you and me, and a sign of hope and a beacon of light to our world that so desperately needs Christ’s love and peace.

“Chosen to be the Mother of the Son of God,” says Pope Francis, Mary “treasured divine mercy in her heart in perfect harmony with her Son Jesus.” Witnessing Jesus’ words of forgiveness as she stood at the foot of the Cross, “Mary attests that the mercy of the Son of God knows no bounds and extends to everyone, without exception” (Misericordiae Vultus, 24).

In a world plagued by war, terrorism and religious and ethnic persecution, as well as a “globalization of indifference” toward God, neighbor and the environment, which threatens peace, our Holy Father underscores in his peace message our mission of mercy, “With the present Jubilee of Mercy, I want to invite the Church to pray and work so that every Christian will have a humble and compassionate heart, one capable of proclaiming and witnessing to mercy. It is my hope that all of us will learn to ‘forgive and give.’”

Pope Francis adds that we can face the challenges to peace by following the example of Jesus, who “was concerned not only for men and women, but also for the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, plants and trees, all things great and small. He saw and embraced all of creation. But he did more than just see; he touched people’s lives, he spoke to them, helped them and showed kindness to those in need.” Pointing to the example of the Good Samaritan, he says that “Jesus tells us that love for others – foreigners, the sick, prisoners, the homeless, even our enemies – is the yardstick by which God will judge our actions.”

Government leaders can foster peace through positive initiatives on immigration, unemployment, homelessness, and sustainable development. But we all have important roles to play in building a culture of solidarity and mercy that brings genuine peace – individuals, families, teachers, communicators, charities, and journalists who tell the story of suffering ethnic and religious minorities.

There is something that each of us can do to bring help, hope and Christ’s mercy to people affected by war and natural disasters. “In the spirit of the Jubilee of Mercy, all of us are called to realize how indifference can manifest itself in our lives and to work concretely to improve the world around us, beginning with our families, neighbors and places of employment,” says Pope Francis.

On this first day of 2016 and throughout the New Year, we know that Mary leads us to her Son, who shows us the path to peace, now and forever. In responding to this call of our Lord, in being peacemakers and people of mercy, we can help change people’s hearts and build a better world.

At the Service of the Truth and Love of Jesus Christ

December 31st, 2015


Recently you may have heard stories in the news about how the employment of a person in public ministry at a local parish was no longer possible when he indicated that he would continue to openly live in contradiction to what the Church proclaims as true, specifically a civil “same-sex marriage.” Since mercy is at the heart of our Catholic faith, this outcome is unfortunate and I would like here to discuss the principles involved in this and other similar situations.

First, any person who struggles in trying to live according to the revealed truth of Catholic teaching should know the Church recognizes his or her dignity as created by God and that the person need not face life’s challenges apart from the grace of the Lord and his Church, which seeks only the highest good for everyone.

The Church recognizes that we all need to grow in faith and in closeness to the Lord. Simply acting contrary to Church teaching on occasion would not preclude serving as a ministerial employee or volunteer. For us to acknowledge that we are sinners, as we do, is to admit that occasionally we too have at times not lived up to the truth. On those occasions, we are expected to acknowledge our failings and seek to amend our lives in Christ.

However, if one persists or effectively insists that they are right and the Church is wrong, in the face of such irreconcilable differences it is not discrimination or punishment to say that continued ministerial service is not possible. It is not a question of personal private activity, but the social consequences of conduct which undermines the Church’s ability to fulfill her mission. When there is the potential for scandal that might lead people astray regarding the Catholic faith, continued service becomes untenable.

The purpose of our parishes, schools, ministries and other Catholic entities – “and the task of those who work for them – is to lead people to Jesus,” as I wrote last spring in my pastoral letter Being Catholic Today: Catholic Identity in an Age of Challenge (13). That purpose and task is challenged by a secular culture that is in contradiction to traditional concepts of marriage, family, the common good and objective right and wrong.

“Those who agree to assist the Church in her mission and ministries represent the public face of the Church,” and thus they have a special responsibility to “respect our Catholic identity and avoid behavior that contradicts the very mission of the Catholic institution” (14). The Catholic faithful, and the other people that our ministries serve, have a right to the Gospel and to receive authentic Church teaching (Redemptoris Missio, 44; Evangelii Gaudium, 14). Conversely, people are denied that right, and our mission and Catholic identity can be compromised “either through explicit dissent, miscatechesis or personal conduct that tends to draw people away from the communion of the Church” (Being Catholic Today, 22). “When people are faithful and give good witness, they lead people to Christ. But when we give bad witness, we can lead people away from Christ” (16).

“We all are at the service of the mission of Christ,” and particularly for those in ministerial positions, “no one can claim a right simultaneously to work for the Church and to work against her belief” (23). When a person involved in ministerial activity offers a counter-witness to Catholic teaching by words or public conduct, however earnest they may be, experience shows that it can lead people away from the truth and otherwise have an adverse effect on our mission. The Church not only must be free to then take corrective steps, it has an obligation in charity and truth to do so.

In this, the Church claims no special privilege. Every entity, religious or secular, has the right to its own identity, mission and message, including the freedom of association to retain only people who will faithfully serve those interests and not act in ways that prejudice what the entity stands for. It is not unusual for companies to part ways with employees who do something in their personal lives that puts the companies in an unfavorable light. And no official would ever continue to employ someone who in his off-hours publicly demonstrated that he was opposed to the official’s policies or campaigned for the official’s opponent.

Beyond these common freedoms, the Church also enjoys freedom of religion to decide who will carry out Catholic ministry. This includes the right to determine when conduct is otherwise adverse to the Church’s ability to fully pursue its mission and interests.

The Church we serve is not ours, but Christ’s. The greatest mercy of the Church is to be faithful witnesses of his truth and love. It is precisely through the witness of authentic Catholic teaching, which is the revealed truth of the Gospel, that the parishioners in the pews, the young people in our schools, the people served in our charitable ministries, and the world at large will find salvation.

The Supreme Witness of Saint Thomas Becket and Christians Today

December 29th, 2015
14th-century Depiction of Saint Thomas Becket with King Henry II

14th-century Depiction of Saint Thomas Becket with King Henry II

Ever since I first learned of the life and martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket, whose feast day is today, I have had a great devotion to him. From the accounts in T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral and the 1964 film Becket, to those in the history books, the more I learned about this man, the greater my admiration for him grew.

What has always inspired me is that he never wavered in his conviction that the Catholic Church, in all of its incarnational reality, with all of its lights and shadows, is truly the instrument and means of Christ’s working in the world.

Thomas Becket first served as Chancellor of England, where he was a loyal advisor and personal friend of King Henry II. When he later became Archbishop of Canterbury, he understood that his position required that he give primary fidelity to the Church. Attempts by the king to compromise the Church’s freedom were checked and opposed by Archbishop Becket. Even when Henry tried to entice him with all kinds of prestige and power, he remained firm in defense of the Church. Frustrated in his attempts to impose his will, Henry was then heard in the court to say, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

Taking the king’s words as a commission, four knights went to the Cathedral. According to an eyewitness account, when Archbishop Becket refused to give into their demands to submit to the king’s will, the men took out their swords and slew him. Soon after his burial, people started coming to his grave to venerate him and in 1173, a little more than two years after his death, he was canonized a saint.

With his holy death, giving his life for Christ and the Church, Saint Thomas Becket joined a long line of martyrs that had come before and who came thereafter – a long line of Christian faithful, in positions high and low, who were deemed bothersome because they refused to give in to demands contrary to the faith.

As a young priest in the 1970s, I also came to know that martyrdom is a never-ending story as, again and again, I would hear news of another Christian killed or mistreated for remaining faithful to Christ and his Church. Those killed, imprisoned, tortured or otherwise persecuted for their faith included priests, bishops, cardinals and consecrated religious who stood for the Church and the Gospel against oppressive regimes, as well as countless ordinary believers who loved Jesus and would not deny him. Sometimes we learned of their names, sometimes not.

Like Saint Thomas Becket before them, these figures of yesterday and today who dared to resist the cruel demands and fashions of their age have inspired me in my life and work – and I am not alone in this sentiment. In fact, the compelling testimony of the martyrs, sealed with their blood, has shown to be so inspiring to people that their blood has been called “the seed of the Church.” Instead of diminishing the Church, persecution has often led to growth in the faith.

The martyrs stood steadfast in the faith, urging their contemporaries to be ready to suffer for the faith. We too must be ready to speak truth, to refuse to go along and remain silent in the face of oppression, injustice and restrictions on religious practice.

Intrigued and moved by their stories, while still a young priest, I wrote a couple of books, The Forty Martyrs: New Saints of England and Wales (1971), and Fathers of the Church (1982). With today’s news again telling of religious persecution and people being killed simply because they are Christian, I have written a new book, To the Martyrs: A Reflection on the Supreme Christian Witness.

It is my hope that the stories of these supreme witnesses will inspire you too in living the faith today. The Age of the Martyrs is not passed. In fact, 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.

Yet, although martyrdom may be constant and inevitable as a follower of Christ, that does not mean that we should abandon fellow Christians and leave them to suffer thinking that they have been forgotten. We cannot rest content knowing that our brothers and sisters are being oppressed, imprisoned and killed. When they suffer, we suffer too. The injustice should rouse us to speak more loudly and effectively for justice.

The martyrs, like Saint Thomas Becket whom we remember today, tell the world that Christian faith is worth the price, no matter how high. We must make it our mission to live in communion with them, to re-echo their testimony to all the world, standing in solidarity with those who are suffering today. In this, they and we are not alone. We stand with the whole Church on earth and with the saints and angels in heaven, one people in Christ.

The Holy Family and Families Today

December 27th, 2015

Cardinal Wuerl - Holy Family Blog post

On the Church’s liturgical calendar, the first Sunday after Christmas is dedicated to the Holy Family – Jesus, Mary and Joseph. As we celebrate this day, we also reflect on how the family of our Lord reveals God’s plan for all families.

“To understand the family today,” said Pope Francis on the eve of the recent Synod on the Family, we need to enter “into the mystery of the family of Nazareth, into its quiet daily life, not unlike that of most families, with their problems and their simple joys, a life marked by serene patience amid adversity, respect for others, a humility which is freeing and which flowers in service, a life of fraternity rooted in the sense that we are all members of one body.”

The family of Nazareth helps families of today rediscover the vocation of the family – every family – to reveal and communicate life and love in communion with the Lord. Like Mary and Joseph, families have a mission to welcome Jesus into their homes and lives, to “listen to him, speak with him, take care of him, protect him and grow with him, and in this way improve the world,” Pope Francis said last year to begin a series of talks on the family at his weekly audiences.

Today’s mothers, he added, can learn from Mary’s care for her Son, while fathers can benefit “from the example of Joseph, a righteous man, who dedicated his life to supporting and protecting the Child and his wife – his family – in difficult times.” Meanwhile, young people can learn from the young Jesus in his “reading of the Scriptures, in praying the Psalms and in so many other customs of daily life,” including working with Joseph at his trade and his obedience to his parents.

When challenges arise, the Lord’s presence helps families endure, just as when Herod sought to kill the newborn Christ and the Holy Family went to Egypt as instructed by an angel. During his visit to Saint Patrick Church in September, the Pope also spoke of how Joseph was strengthened by his profound faith in God during the difficulties in his life, such as when he and Mary found there was no room for them in the inn at Bethlehem.

In the frantic urgency of a mother about to give birth with seemingly no place to stay, “Faith gave Joseph the power to find light just at the moment when everything seemed dark. Faith sustained him amid the troubles of life,” said our Holy Father. “As it did for Joseph, faith makes us open to the quiet presence of God at every moment of our lives, in every person and in every situation.” Divine providence would have Jesus born in a stable, expressing his solidarity with the lowly and identifying “with all those who suffer, who weep, who suffer any kind of injustice.”

The Lord did not enter into the world by descending in majesty on a cloud. He came as part of a family in humility. He entrusted himself and his plan of salvation to the care of a human family, the family of Joseph and Mary, and “he could do this because that family was a family with a heart open to love, a family whose doors were open,” explained Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

When God came “knocking,” when he sent his angel to Mary and then Joseph, each of them opened the doors of their hearts. God knocks on the doors of today’s families as well. He comes calling because he wants to enter into their lives, just as Jesus entered into the lives of Mary and Joseph. He wants to give them his love so that they can be “families that are united, families that love, families that bring up their children, educating them and helping them to grow, families which build a society of goodness, truth and beauty,” said Pope Francis.

As we proceed on our pilgrim journey, God calls married couples and their children in a special way to walk a well-marked path, which he created to be their road to heaven. They do not walk alone, and they do not go forward in the dark. They are accompanied by Joseph and Mary and their son Jesus, who is also the Son of God, and they walk in the light of the Gospel.

The Holy Family of Nazareth shows families how to be holy and how to help others be holy. The witness of families who answer God’s call, who open the doors of their hearts, reaches far beyond the walls of their home. It speaks the Gospel by their example to their extended family, to neighbors, to friends, to schoolmates, to everyone. It brings Christ to the world.

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ

December 25th, 2015


Merry Christmas! On this day, heaven and earth sing in exultation. A great Light has come into the world to scatter the darkness, a new day has dawned for all mankind – Christ our Savior is born in Bethlehem.

Pope Francis during the Canonization Mass here in Washington spoke of “the desire we all have for a fulfilling life, a meaningful life, a joyful life.” Gathered now in adoration around the little Child lying in the manger, our hearts rejoice because we know that in Jesus, our desire has been met beyond all imagining, we have found that blessed life.

From the very beginning of creation God, gracious and merciful, has made manifest his abounding love and fidelity. He has blessed us with the wonderful gift of our lives, of each other, and of our common home. This life is filled with so many joyful moments, but there are also times of difficulty and suffering. Yet as complex and confusing as life at times may seem, we are not left to darkness and gloom.

When our need for a Savior was great, our heavenly Father sent his Son to be born of the Virgin Mary, offering each of us the love that endures all things. The infant Jesus, born this happy morning, comes to bring glad tidings, to make what is good in our lives even better and to transform what is bad in our lives, to liberate us from all of the limitations of the human condition, heal us of our spiritual wounds, and even save us from death.

The special joy we feel this day is the recognition that God has remembered his people and made his face to shine upon us. Our good cheer derives from knowing that Jesus, the incarnation of mercy, is with us in our journey through life, giving us hope and joy, justice and peace. What a blessing this is.

But there is even more. God has become one of us, taking on our human nature so that we might become a new creation and share in his divine life – so that we might be transformed into Christ (CCC 460). Nothing could be more transformative, nothing could be more wonderful, than this “divinization” of the human person!

At the heart of Christmas is God’s love and mercy for humanity. This is the source of our everlasting joy and comfort. In this holy season and throughout this blessed Jubilee Year of Mercy, may you and the whole world rejoice in God’s love, mercy, hope and peace.