The Jubilee of Mercy: A Time of Renewal, Blessing and Grace

November 20th, 2016
Pope Francis closes the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica to mark the closing of the jubilee Year of Mercy at the Vatican Nov. 20. (CNS photo/Tiziana Fabi, pool via Reuters)

Pope Francis closes the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the closing of the Jubilee Year of Mercy at the Vatican Nov. 20. (CNS photo/Tiziana Fabi, pool via Reuters)

The Jubilee Year of Mercy began on December 8, 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council.  Pope Francis opened the Holy Door at Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, while I opened a Holy Door at our local Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle, and a national Holy Door at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  Just as the Lord has thrown open the door of his sacred heart, the Church opened these doors of mercy so that anyone who entered could “experience the love of God who consoles, pardons and instills hope” (Misericordiae Vultus, 3, 25).

The Jubilee comes to a close today, the Solemnity of Christ the King, but we should know that the mercy of God endures forever.  This Jubilee Year has been rich in meaning and together with Pope Francis, the Church of Washington is filled “with a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving to the Most Holy Trinity for having granted us an extraordinary time of grace” (Id., 5).  We go forward now in our pilgrim journey seeking to accompany others and continuing to invite them to drink from the spring of mercy that will never run dry (Id., 25).

When this time of grace began, the Holy Father said opening the Jubilee on the golden anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council offered a reminder to the Church and her members “to be a living sign of the Father’s love in the world” by proclaiming the Gospel and sharing the faith “with greater enthusiasm and conviction,” an effort we call the New Evangelization (Id., 4).

It was also fitting to begin the Jubilee on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception because Mary is the Mother of Mercy. Pope Francis recalled how from the very beginning God had chosen the Blessed Virgin, holy and immaculate, to be the mother of the Redeemer who would save humanity following the sin of Adam and Eve. “When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy,” he explained. “Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive” (Id., 3).

Mary’s “entire life was patterned after the presence of mercy made flesh,” affirmed the Holy Father (Id., 24).  She carried in her womb Jesus, the incarnation of mercy, she held him in her arms at the stable in Bethlehem, she showed maternal concern at Cana, she prayed at the foot of the Cross and she was present, praying with the Apostles in the upper room when they received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  Mary leads us always to Jesus her Son, who is the face of God’s love and mercy, and who brings us mercy through his teaching and healing, his gift of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, his passion and death on the Cross, and his resurrection.

Through the year, we had special occasions to receive the mercy of the Lord and multiple reminders as well of how we are supposed to be people and a Church of mercy. Pope Francis taught the loving kindness and compassion of God through his catechetical talks and witnessed mercy by his Mercy Friday activities of carrying out the corporal works of mercy, which he called others to do in tandem with the spiritual works of mercy.

The Archdiocese offered many opportunities to show mercy in various initiatives and encouraged experiencing and living mercy at its special mercy.adw.org website and a related social media campaign.  For the one year anniversary of Pope Francis’ trip to Washington, people were invited to join Catholic Charities’ Walk with Francis 2.0 effort to pray, advocate for and serve others, just as 110,000 people did to mark the papal visit itself last year.

The canonization of Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta during the Jubilee also offered the world an enduring witness of a life marked by Jesus’ love and compassion to the poorest of the poor, which we can emulate by being merciful to those around us.

Now with the closing of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy on this Sunday of Christ the King, we are reminded that we are ambassadors of the Lord’s kingdom and heralds of his love and tender mercy.

While the Holy Doors may symbolically close, there is another door that we should always keep open: the door to our heart so that we can receive the healing forgiveness and life-giving grace of the Lord, the font of mercy.  His love should then flow from our hearts to our hands as we continue to be a Church and a people of mercy every day forward.

The Year of Mercy: A Jubilee of Forgiveness and Reconciliation

November 19th, 2016

mercy-forgiveness

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). The mercy we do others, such as patience and forgiveness, is often a mercy we do to ourselves as well – and the mercy we do not do usually only adds to our woes.

When I was growing up, some of the neighborhood kids had bicycles, but many of us did not. A friend of mine very much wanted to be one of those who had his own bike. His family, like the others in the neighborhood, worked very hard to meet the mortgage payments, see that we were well fed and clothed, keep us in school, raise us in the faith and teach us to know right from wrong. My friend’s parents provided a good home – but a bicycle was a luxury they simply could not afford.

When my friend learned he could not have a bike, his disappointment and sadness became resentment. Before long he started griping how mean and bad his family was. When word got around, his brothers and sisters were stunned and, though they never showed it, I am sure his mom and dad were very hurt.

The misdirected anger of this young boy led to his growing apart from his family and while the grudge he held might have faded as he grew up, the strain was never really resolved. When I met my friend at his dad’s funeral decades later, he had tears in his eyes when we prayed for his father. How many times over and over again had he said to himself what he said that day: “Why did I let my hurt over a bike wound something very beautiful in my family?”

My friend realized what his pointless and lingering anger had done. His dad had never reproached him, although I am sure he shed many tears because of it. The situation had taken its toll on the trust, the affection, the understanding and love in a family that was struggling through life together.

This tale and similar personal stories that you perhaps could tell are, in a sense, object lessons for the Jubilee of Mercy. Born into the fallen human condition, we are all limited. There will always be the temptation to be angry about something that went wrong, did not turn out the way we would like, or left us disappointed. There will always be times when we disagree with someone. That disagreement, disappointment or resentment – which can often be about something small and insignificant in the greater scheme of things – might be directed towards family or friends or maybe the Church or even God himself.

Sometimes discontent is nurtured and it grows into estrangement. Years may then pass before friends or family members see or speak to one another or since someone has last been to church. The result, they ultimately realize, is only more pain as well as regret.

Yet there are other stories I and you could tell. People who have suffered horrific wrong will tell you the only way they were able to move past it was to forgive. Many people who have seen their families murdered, people who were held captive and tortured, victims of human trafficking and others have given us the valuable witness of forgiveness, forgiving even those who did such evil to them.

The Jubilee of Mercy which concludes tomorrow was given us to remind us of the blessing of forgiveness. Whatever the cause of the wound, real or perceived, and the anger, justified or not, whether it originally involved something petty or something grave, this Holy Year has been a time to hear again and take to heart the wise counsel and impassioned plea of the Lord and his Church to shake off old resentments and to heal wounds of long ago.

Pope Francis acknowledges, “At times how hard it seems to forgive! And yet pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart. To let go of anger, wrath, violence, and revenge are necessary conditions to living joyfully. Let us therefore heed the Apostle’s exhortation: ‘Do not let the sun go down on your anger’” (Misericordiae Vultus, 9, quoting Ephesians 4:26).

Patience and forgiveness can be difficult, but the Holy Spirit will help us if we only ask. If we have already let go of past grievances – and maybe do not even remember what caused the separation – we should not allow embarrassment or not knowing what to say prevent us from patching things up. So long as we are on this earth, it is not too late in particular to turn to the Lord in Confession and let him put his loving arms around you.

Long ago, something happened that led to division between humanity and God and one another. That something was sin. Since that time, God’s plan in salvation history, the birth and Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ, and now the Jubilee of Mercy have sought to reconcile and repair those rifts between people and God and each other. At the center of it all is forgiveness.

The Door of Mercy in the Church is Open to All in the Jubilee of Mercy . . . and Beyond

November 17th, 2016
(CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard)

(CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann for the Catholic Standard)

Pope Francis has often discussed how profoundly touched he is by Christ’s calling of Saint Matthew. In the Gospel we read how Jesus went to dine at the house of Matthew, who as a tax collector was reviled by the community. When the Pharisees asked why he ate with tax collectors and sinners, the Lord said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Matthew 9:9-13).

Jesus knows that we are far from perfect. He knows that at times, more or less often, we do what we should not do and fail to do that which we should do. He knows that we are sinners. That is the whole reason he came among us and suffered for us on the Cross. If we were already perfect saints, we would not need Christ the Physician. We could simply go to heaven through our own efforts.

The Lord knows that we face difficulties in doing good amidst the challenges of the human condition which has been marred by sin that clouds our judgment to give in to the temptations of the world. He knows also that we might strain to understand Church teaching, especially when we are led astray by contrary voices.

The fact that our own situations in life might be inconsistent with certain of the Church’s teachings does not mean that we are not welcome in the Church. Quite the contrary. Just as Jesus came to heal those who are spiritually sick, just as he calls sinners and associated with the outcast, so too the Church issues a special welcome to those who are weary and burdened and marginalized.

Because Jesus came to save all people, all are invited to be a part of God’s family – his Church. In the last decades some members of our faith family have drifted away from our spiritual home believing the Church has nothing to offer, some are disillusioned or disaffected because of a bad experience – perhaps a harsh word said to them by someone in the Church, or an indifference shown to them, or the evil of abuse inflicted upon them. Whatever their motive for leaving, repenting of our own failings and having experienced God’s mercy ourselves, our task now is to invite our sisters and brothers back home.

To anyone who might feel excluded or ostracized, to those who may not be sure they are wanted in the Church, we must say clearly that this welcome is extended to everyone – people whose marriages have broken down and suffered the trauma of divorce, people who have divorced and remarried outside the Church, men and women with same-sex attraction, couples who use contraception, unwed mothers and fathers, couples who struggle with infertility, individuals facing gender issues, people who struggle to understand or who dissent from the Church’s moral teaching, married couples with children, the unmarried, those people with special needs, immigrants, young people, seniors, and those in-between, the terminally ill – sinners and saints alike.

The provision by Pope Francis last year that priests throughout the world can more readily reconcile those who have participated in an abortion is an example of the Church’s effort to present the face of God’s mercy. No one is excepted from the Church’s loving pastoral concern and heartfelt invitation to return home to our spiritual family (cf. Amoris Laetitia, 291, 296).

Back in the early days of the Church, the fourth century, there was a strong movement called Donatism that contended that since the Church was a unique source of holiness, no sinner could have a part in it. But if the Church were to welcome only those without struggles of some sort, those without sin, those who are already perfect saints, it would be empty. Saint Augustine was one of the great voices defending the role of forgiveness in the Church and the power of the mercy of God.

Rather than a hotel for the perfect, the Church has been rightly and strikingly described as a hospital for the spiritually wounded. Faithful to her Lord and Founder, the Church excludes no one who needs his healing love. The door of mercy is open to all.

With all humility, we must admit that we too are imperfect. Each of us is like Matthew, yet it is precisely in this lowly state that Jesus, fully of mercy, comes to us and says, “Follow me” (Matthew 9:9).

As Christ’s followers, at the upcoming close of the Jubilee of Mercy and beyond, we are called always to be a Church and a people of mercy. “Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help!” implored Pope Francis in proclaiming this year of grace. “May we reach out to them and support them so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship, and our fraternity!” (Misericordiae Vultus, 15).

The Year of Mercy began with this recognition and it concludes with it as well. Yes, there is abundant sin and failure. But where there is repentance, there is abundant mercy and forgiveness. 

This is a revised version of a post that was originally published on December 10, 2015.

 

Pope Francis’ Teaching and Witness of Mercy

November 16th, 2016
(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Blessed Pope Paul VI observed that people in today’s world are more likely to listen “to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41). In this Jubilee of Mercy that concludes soon, on November 20, the Solemnity of Christ the King, Pope Francis has followed that advice by teaching the truths of our faith through actions as well as words.

In his document Misericordiae Vultus announcing this extraordinary holy year, in homilies dedicated to mercy, in a year-long series of catechetical talks at his weekly general audiences – all of which I encourage you to read and reflect upon – and by personally witnessing to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy through his monthly “Mercy Friday” charitable outreach, the Holy Father has personally demonstrated how we are called to be a Church and people of mercy.

In an audience this summer, Pope Francis noted that a cathedral’s Holy Door for the Year of Mercy represents both an entranceway to receive God’s mercy and an exit “to go out and bring God’s mercy to others with the works of mercy.” Experiencing God’s forgiveness and new life in Jesus brings people on a journey of the heart and hands, the pope said. “From our hearts forgiven and healed, and with the compassion of Jesus, the journey toward our hands begins, that is, toward the works of mercy.”

We receive the gift of God’s limitless mercy in a special way in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. God is greater than our sin, Pope Francis often reminds us, and in the confessional, the penitent finds healing, not condemnation. Then, having received this unmerited grace, we are better able to go share Christ’s love and mercy in the world.

“In a world unfortunately hit by the virus of indifference, the works of mercy are the best antidote,” the pope emphasized in one audience, attesting that a person can change the world simply by living out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy every day and bringing Jesus’s love to another in need, maybe someone close to home. “May the Holy Spirit help us,” he said, “may the Holy Spirit kindle within us the desire to live this way of life: at least once a day, at least!”

As we experience all sorts of social conflict and division, the Holy Father’s words of patience, forgiveness, consolation and dialogue are particularly timely. “Dialogue breaks down the walls of division and misunderstandings: it builds bridges of communication,” explained Pope Francis at a recent talk.

The Holy Father began his Mercy Friday public witness of doing works of mercy shortly after inaugurating the Jubilee last December, when he visited and celebrated Mass at a homeless shelter in Rome. Subsequent Mercy Fridays included visiting a community that serves people with intellectual challenges, a retirement home, and a group home for people in a persistent vegetative state, thereby bearing witness to the God-given dignity of all human life.

Pope Francis has often reached out during the Jubilee to those who have been marginalized. On one Mercy Friday at a drug rehabilitation center for young adults, this pastor of souls met with each resident, spoke to them and listened to their stories, and offered encouragement and a blessing. In the spring, he lived out the mercy of welcoming the stranger by meeting with migrants at a refugee camp in Lesbos, and then by bringing a group of Syrian refugees, including families with children, back with him to Rome, where they were supported by the Vatican and the Community of Sant’Egidio. Later, the Holy Father visited a home in Rome for 20 young women trying to rebuild their lives after being rescued from prostitution. The women, many of whom had been victimized by human trafficking, came from Eastern Europe, Africa and Italy.

During World Youth Day in Krakow, Pope Francis visited a children’s hospital, where he spoke to and blessed the young patients, including children being treated for cancer, and their parents and doctors and nurses. “To serve with love and tenderness persons who need our help makes all of us grow in humanity,” the pope said. After returning to Rome, the Holy Father spent time ministering to infants, parents and caregivers at a hospital neonatal unit, offering prayers and encouragement. Then he went to a hospice and personally visited patients and their family members.

Last month, the pope also visited a home in Rome for children whose parents cannot care for them. Recognizing that some of the greatest mercies are simply spending time with people and doing simple things with them, the Holy Father played table soccer with one of the young boys there and also joined them all for a snack.

Throughout this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has taught us how to be a Church and people of mercy. Through prayer and action, we too can be teachers and witnesses of mercy, like our Holy Father, by opening our hearts to receiving God’s mercy and then by sharing that with others.

This is the third installment in a three-part series discussing the recent popes on mercy.

The Testimony of Mercy of Saint John Paul II

November 13th, 2016

In announcing the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis pointed specifically to his holy predecessor, saying, “Let us not forget the great teaching offered by Saint John Paul II in his second encyclical, Dives in Misericordia,” explaining that he had highlighted how the theme of mercy in today’s cultural milieu has been largely forgotten (Misericordiae Vultus, 11).

In the year 2000, as part of his own ministry of announcing the mercy of God, Pope John Paul canonized Saint Faustina Kowalska, through whom the message of Divine Mercy was proclaimed, as the first saint of the new millennium. He also established the Octave Day of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday, a special day to prayerfully remember God’s loving and tender compassion.

This pastor of souls wrote Dives in Misericordia, whose title in English means “Rich in Mercy,” early in his pontificate and it reflects a cornerstone of his magisterial teaching. In the letter, he painted a rich, thoughtful and beautiful picture of God’s mercy, affirming that God is always rich in mercy and that he is always generous in his loving kindness.

Jesus is the very incarnation of mercy, attested Saint John Paul (Dives in Misericordia, 2). Calling our attention to the messianic nature of Christ and his saving action among us, he wrote that Christ “reveals God who is the Father, who is ‘love,’ as Saint John will express it in his first letter (1 John 4:16); Christ reveals God as ‘rich in mercy’ as we read in Saint Paul (Ephesians 2:4). This truth is not just the subject of a teaching; it is a reality made present to us by Christ. Making the Father present as love and mercy is, in Christ’s own consciousness, the fundamental touchstone of his mission as the Messiah” (Id., 3).

Jesus coming among us had a specific goal – to redeem us from our sin and ransom us by his blood, the Holy Father emphasized. When the Lord stretched forth his hand, touched a person and said, “Your sins are forgiven you,” the power of God and the love and mercy of God took on human form. When he stretched out his arms on the Cross, Jesus showed the infinite depth of his love and fullness of mercy, which triumphs over the power of darkness and over death in sin (Id., 7-8).

So it is today in the Church, the loving mercy of God continues to be visibly present because the crucified and risen Jesus takes the gentle forgiveness of an all-powerful God and moves it from the realm of human abstraction to something as real and as concrete as the priest’s hand raised in absolution during Confession. In that sacrament, “each person can experience mercy in a unique way, that is, the love which is more powerful than sin” (Id., 13).

Saint John Paul explained that the love of God involves the love of people. It is God’s love for us that is the example and guiding force of what our love for others should be. Specifically, he said that a more urgent proclamation and witness to mercy is needed in the contemporary world. This critical service “is dictated by love for man, for all that is human and which, according to the intuitions of many of our contemporaries, is threatened by an immense danger” (Id., 15).

In fact, making present in our world the compassionate love of the Lord is at the foundation of the Church’s mission. “The Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy – the most stupendous attribute of the Creator and of the Redeemer – and when she brings people close to the sources of the Savior’s mercy, of which she is the trustee and dispenser,” taught the Holy Father (Id., 13).

Moreover, mercy is “an indispensable element for shaping mutual relationships between people, in a spirit of deepest respect for what is human, and in a spirit of mutual brotherhood” (Id., 14). What a world we could help bring about if such a vision rooted in God’s revelation and proclaimed by Saint John Paul were accepted as the starting point for how we deal with one another in our families, our communities, our nation and in the world at large.

In the spirit of both Saint John Paul II, who could be called “the pope of mercy,” and our present Pope Francis and also guided by the ancient teaching of our Church, let us continue to be people of mercy, renewing our commitment to regularly ask for the blessing of God’s compassionate forgiveness. Then we ourselves need to be forgiving, compassionate, merciful and kind to everyone we encounter, as we see Jesus – the face of mercy – in them, and they see that in us (Misericordiae Vultus, 1).

This is the second in a three-part series discussing the recent popes on mercy.

Faith and Trust in the Goodness of God: The Mercy of Christian Hope

November 10th, 2016

divine-mercy-blog-2

Mercy, said Pope Francis in proclaiming this Jubilee Year, is “the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever,” it is “the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope” (Misericordiae Vultus, 2, 10).   Noting how many uncertain and painful situations there are today, he wanted this to be a time of special grace both for people to “experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope,” and for us to compassionately care for others, including helping them to “escape the doubt that causes them to fall into despair” (Id., 3, 15).

As love in action, mercy is bound to hope and faith. Our faith that the eternal God is ever-merciful and that he watches over and is actively involved in the drama of history – the story of nations as well as our personal lives – gives us hope. In turn, our hope in the Lord, that is, our trust that he alone is sovereign and that his kingship of love and truth will triumph over all, our faith in Christ’s compassion in which he suffers with us in our miseries and hardships and shepherds us through the valley of the shadow of death, this hope is itself already God’s mercy at work in our lives.

Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, offered a beautiful meditation on the love of God. In his second encyclical, Spe Salvi, a deeply theological and spiritual letter, he challenged people to reflect on what Christian hope means for their lives. Jesus offers us a hope, a certainty of the future as a brighter positive reality that is more than merely informative and academic, it has the power to sustain us and reinvigorate lives. “We have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present” even if it is arduous, affirmed this pastor of souls. Thus, simply on the basis of that hope in a sense we are already saved, we already taste of the fruits of divine mercy (1).

“The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life,” said Pope Benedict, offering the example of African Saint Josephine Bakhita, who had been sold into slavery and beaten daily, but was able to persevere because she came to know she was definitively loved by the Lord. In this knowledge, she had a certain hope that was stronger than her sufferings (Spe Salvi, 2-3).

The living hope that we receive from our faith in Jesus, and cannot keep to ourselves, lightens burdens, provides comfort in afflictions of mind and spirit, transforms fear and gives us strength. Giving someone a reason to hope is perhaps one of the greatest mercies because it leads them away from the deadly pit of despair and alienation, from the nihilistic angst of believing that there is no God and that existence is pointless and without meaning. This hope instead mercifully assures them that someone cares, that they are loved, that life is worth it all, that hardship, injustice, deceit and death will not have the last word, but that we have the sure promise of that heavenly kingdom of light, joy and eternal blessed life in the fullest sense (Id., 10-12; see also Deus Caritas Est, 12; Laudato Si’, 65).

Politics, science, technology, economics and material things have contributed a degree of progress in the human condition, but they will not save humanity. They are fleeting and if detached from God, actually only add to darkness and misery. Rather, Pope Benedict attests, humanity is redeemed by love, namely, by the unconditional merciful love of God in Jesus Christ who encompasses the whole of reality (Spe Salvi, 25-27; Deus Caritas Est, 12, 17).

Moreover, God’s love leads us to have merciful concern and love for others. This is hope in action, said the Holy Father, and in fact such compassion is “the true measure of humanity” and an indispensable expression of our very being as Christians (Spe Salvi, 35-39; Deus Caritas Est, 18, 25; Caritas in Veritate, 34).

We experience life differently when we realize that “our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8). Knowing in faith that God sustains us is a spiritual mercy that comforts us in our afflictions. It is a hope that does not disappoint and propels us towards a sure future in the love of God. As Pope Francis has said, “May we never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope” (Evangelii Gaudium, 278).

This is the first in a three-part series discussing the recent popes on mercy.

 

Election Day Prayer

November 8th, 2016

Election Day Prayer

As people of faith, we know the imperative of God’s presence in our lives and in the world. We know the vital importance of prayer. If our efforts toward the common good are to bear fruit, if we want to help make a better world that is just and caring, and if we are to gain the wisdom and fortitude to do so, we must turn to the Lord who is all good.

“In prayer, God keeps calling us, opening our hearts to charity. How good it is for us to pray together,” affirmed Pope Francis during his visit to our nation’s capital last year.

Rooted in faith and aware of God’s providential care, as voters go to the polls on this Election Day, we pray with confidence and hope:

All-powerful and ever-living God, your Son Jesus Christ, our Savior and the Light of all nations, spoke a message of peace and taught us to live as brothers and sisters. His message lives on in our midst as a task for us today and a promise for tomorrow. We thank you Father for your blessings in the past and for all that, with your help, we must yet achieve. 

Gracious and loving God, let your Holy Spirit be with us today and may the values of our Christian faith guide us as we exercise our responsibility as voters. Bless our nation, we earnestly pray, so that we and all citizens might use the opportunities of our democracy to shape a society more respectful of the life, dignity, and rights of the human person, and which protects and cares for the weak, the poor, and the vulnerable, a good and just society in which everyone can have the opportunity to live securely in truth and charity, freedom and hope.

Lord, you guide everything in wisdom and love. In your goodness, watch over those who are elected and all who hold office, and mercifully pour out upon them the Spirit of your wisdom, that they might serve with integrity for the well-being and peaceful harmony of all. Amen.

Partners for the Common Good

November 7th, 2016

It is fair to say that many of us will be very happy to see this election cycle come to a conclusion. This election season has been difficult and contentious in a number of areas, including the question of faith.  At times, rather than a national discussion on how religion and faith-based communities can be partners for the common good, there were reports of people attempting to interfere in the internal life of the Catholic Church in particular for short-term political gain and an intentional effort to marginalize voices of faith.

Sadly, this is not entirely new.  Five years ago, I wrote an essay entitled “Civil Discourse: Speaking Truth in Love” noting the coarsening of the public square and the unjust disparaging of the Church.  In the years that have followed, the situation has only worsened – and most people are rightly disturbed by it.

In meeting a few weeks ago with papal nuncios, those diplomatic representatives who essentially act as ambassadors for the Holy See in nations around the world, Pope Francis pointed to how common this kind of attack has become.  “To point the finger or attack one who does not think like us, that is a miserable tactic of today’s political and cultural wars,” he said.  “Present certainly again is the threat of the wolf that from outside seizes and attacks the flock, confuses it, creates disarray, disperses and destroys it,” the Chief Shepherd of the Church then added.

Addressing “the enormous task to guarantee the freedom of the Church in face of every form of power that wants to silence the Truth,” Pope Francis told the nuncios, “Remember that you represent Peter, rock that survives the overflow of ideologies, the reduction of the Word only for convenience, the submission to powers of this passing world. Therefore, do not espouse political lines or ideological battles, because the permanence of the Church does not rest on the consensus of salons and squares, but on fidelity to her Lord that, as opposed to foxes and birds, does not have dens or nests to rest her head (Matthew 8:18-22).”

The lack of dialogue and respect for the opinions that differ from one’s own that have marked this election is not representative of the best of our country or the gift that the free practice of religion brings to our society. As Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated recently, “In our faith and our Church, Christ has given us a precious gift. As Catholics, we hold onto our beliefs because they come to us from Jesus, not a consensus forged by contemporary norms. The Gospel is offered for all people for all times. It invites us to love our neighbor and live in peace with one another.  For this reason, the truth of Christ is never outdated or inaccessible. The Gospel serves the common good, not political agendas” (Statement of October 13, 2016).

We cannot let the negative tone of political discourse convince us that we should remain silent or have us yield to the misperception that faith is irrelevant to the concerns of the world today. What faith brings to our world is a way of seeing life and reality, a way of judging right and wrong, a norm against which we can see our life measured in light of the wisdom of God.

We simply cannot put aside all of this conviction of how we live and make important decisions and still be who we are as Catholics and as heirs to the American dream of personal freedom, faith and the common good.

We cannot divide personal morality and ethics from political life any more than we can separate spiritual values from human values. It is an unnatural and unhealthy condition for the individual and society so to compartmentalize our most firmly held convictions that they are not allowed to affect our public lives. Such a schizophrenic approach to life is, at best, unhealthy. Closer to the truth – it brings devastation to the person and to society.

The advocated and increasingly imposed secular view of separation of God from public life does all of us a disservice. As we move beyond the election cycle and forward with new elected officials in the local, state and national offices, let us be resolved as individuals and as a Church to take concrete actions that work toward the shaping of society in which there will be justice, freedom and peace.

Evangelization Through Fostering Community in Our Archdiocesan Church

November 5th, 2016
evangelization-conference

Over 350 people are gathered at the November 5 Evangelization Conference

As anyone who has been part of a planning process knows, the work only bears fruit if there is a strategy in place to ensure that the recommendations made will actually be put into effect. Thus, following the close of our Archdiocesan Synod on Pentecost Sunday 2014, a committee was convened to oversee the implementation of the Synod recommendations and statutes, which supported the effort to renew and strengthen the work of this local Church, particularly in light of the New Evangelization.

You may recall that for the purpose of study, discussion and presentation, the Synod organized its work according to the five key areas of worship, education, community, service, and stewardship and administration. Throughout the process, Synod participants then demonstrated their knowledge of the diversity of services and ministries available to the Church through the many gifts that God pours out on the faithful.

This month, we have two events that highlight concrete ways in which the Synod recommendations are being implemented in the area of “Community.” As described in the Synod documents, this subject includes our “ability to create a welcoming parish where a familial bond exists among members who desire to open wide the doors and invite and embrace all people who seek to know and form a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Under the heading of “Community,” Recommendation Four states “that parishes provide a welcoming atmosphere and find ways to integrate new parishioners.” Today at Saint Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, women and men from more than 25 parishes are coming together for an archdiocesan Evangelization Conference focusing on the topic of “Training Parish Teams for Missionary Discipleship.”

This workshop will both reflect on how to nurture a commitment to evangelization among parishioners, including what needs to change in order to expand the missionary aspect of the parish. In one parish, this may take the form in its hospitality ministry of having both ushers and greeters, with greeters focusing on learning names, helping connect newcomers to parish ministries and introducing parishioners to each other. In another parish, it may take the form of teams of the faithful who visit new parishioners in their homes. This style of workshop allows for uniformity in the implementation of the Synod recommendations with a diversity of practice that best serves an individual parish’s needs.

Community Recommendation Three calls for parishes to “welcome, support and celebrate the cultural heritage of their parishioners in a way that strengthens the unity of the body of Christ.” Next Saturday, November 12, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Southeast D.C., we are all invited to gather for “Celebrating Steadfast Witness: Honoring the Black Catholic Experience in the Archdiocese of Washington.” This joyous time of praise and worship, with Bishop Mario Dorsonville celebrating a special Mass, is part of our archdiocesan observation of Black Catholic History Month.

Today, we also recognize that black Catholics daily help to shape and enrich the life of our local Church – from the building of our very first parishes, to the annual East of the River Revival, to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. essay contest, to the work of the Knights of Peter Claver, and so much more. To help raise awareness of the proud history of black Catholics, which includes the witness of perseverance and keeping the faith through times of slavery, segregation and racism, the archdiocese has produced various resources, including a booklet entitled Blacks in Catholic History Month Moments.

The Synod recommendations in a particular way invite parishes and the various ethnic communities in this multicultural Church to reflect on how they can reach out to our brothers and sisters who may be newly arrived in this country or may not be members of a faith community to come and explore the Catholic faith. One sign of the vitality of our Church is the number of children and parents who are not Catholic when they enroll in our schools, but become Catholic after they have experienced the love and truth of Jesus Christ in these nurturing communities of learning and faith.

These events, along with a number of other initiatives reveal that, with the guidance of the Synod Implementation Committee, the statutes and recommendations of that assembly of our family of faith are guiding and shaping the way in which we evangelize across the archdiocese.

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Making Moral Choices

November 3rd, 2016

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Every waking hour of our lives, we are constantly making decisions about what we do. In making moral choices, we are guided by our conscience, that inner voice of the Spirit that keeps reminding us to do good even though there may be enticing reasons to do otherwise. This includes the decisions we make participating in public affairs. Furthermore, in determining whether a given personal action is itself morally good, we need to consider the goodness or lack thereof in: (a) the objective act, that is, what we actually do, (b) the subjective goal or our intention, and (c) the surrounding circumstances and consequences of a possible action (CCC 1750).

The first thing to consider is what out of a variety of options we are choosing to do. We choose this rather than that. This is “the primary and decisive element for moral judgment,” teaches Saint John Paul II, “which establishes whether [the act] is capable of being ordered to the good and to the ultimate end, which is God” (Veritatis Splendor, 79). What we actually do should always be directed toward what is truly right and away from what is wrong.

We must not only do the good, we must have the will and intention of choosing the right thing. The reason we are doing it must be good. However, sincere good intentions cannot turn what is wrong into something good. Rather, the objective moral order exists independently of the power even of our free will.

The third element in making moral choices brings us to the circumstances. Here perhaps more than anywhere else, examples are presented with such emotional force that moral reasoning can be subverted. Like subjective intentions, the circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They can lessen the gravity of an evil act or mitigate a person’s responsibility, such as when acting under coercion or ignorance, but circumstances “of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil” (CCC 1735, 1754; Veritatis Splendor, 77).

Part of this proper formation of conscious includes, as Pope Francis reminds us, presenting the teaching of the Church in its fullness and without compromise (cf. AL, no. 307) though in language which is welcoming rather than defensive or one-sided (cf. AL, nos. 36, 38). But a key part of discernment is the formation of conscious. The Holy Father insists that the Church’s pastors must “make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are ca­pable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations. We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them” (AL, no. 37).

Sometimes it can happen that it appears that every choice is morally problematic, that evil cannot be completely avoided. When stuck in this way “between a rock and a hard place,” we may be subject to “the art of the possible,” where all we can really do is seek to avoid or minimize the greater harm, and good and justice are achieved only partially.

For example, the U.S. bishops have noted that a conscientious voter faces a dilemma when all of the candidates hold a position that “promotes an intrinsically evil act.” In that situation, the voter exercising prudential judgment “may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods” (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 36).

We also have guidance from Saint John Paul who in the context of a legislator considering abortion laws said that one may licitly choose acts “aimed at limiting the harm done” and “lessening its negative consequences.” He explained that “this does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects” (Evangelium Vitae, 73).

Pope Francis also recalls for us that pastoral dialogue and accompaniment nurture the development of conscience. So, too, the expression of a level of support or confirmation for the judgment that the individual is making about the state of his soul or her soul is an aspect of pastoral ministry. However, the judgment of conscience is the act of the individual and is the basis for his or her accountability before God.

Life is certainly complex. Moral decisions can be difficult. But we need not fear, because we have a sure guide in making moral choices. Christ in his Church reveals to us the way. We also have the gifts of the Spirit to guide us and give us strength to do what we ought to do, to do good and avoid evil. In this way, we answer the call to holiness and help make the world a better place.

This is a revised version of a post that was originally published on March 4, 2016.