Conclusion of the Synod of Bishops on the Family

October 26th, 2015

With the celebration of Holy Mass yesterday, the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome came to a close. Together with an Extraordinary Synod held last year, this gathering of bishops representative of the Church in different parts of the world, joined by a variety of experts and observers, was asked by Pope Francis to consider questions concerning marriage and family in our world today. More specifically, the two synods were tasked with reflecting upon, discussing, and offering suggestions with respect to the vocation and mission of marriage and family, the myriad challenges to them, evangelization of society and culture with respect to marriage and family, and also how best to pastorally care for married couples and their families, including both strengthening marital and family life, and helping to heal those marriages and families that are wounded or broken.

It was a great privilege for me to participate in both of these synods on the family, which are intended to be viewed as part of a single process. While the many challenges might seem daunting, while the landscape may appear dark, I have seen throughout many bright lights, including the testimonies of faithful married couples at the synods and also the witness of couples and families I see every day in our own archdiocesan Church of Washington. It has been heartening also to see the wide range of involvement throughout the Church and society to consider ways to foster marriage and family.

The work of these two assemblies of bishops was supplemented formally and informally by input from dioceses and other religious communities from around the world; an array of books, articles and speeches by bishops, priests, and laity; and vigorous discussion on the Internet, in letters to the editor, and amongst family and friends. To this we can add the huge media attention – some reports more accurate than others. In a certain way, the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia served as a prelude to the recently-concluded Synod. The vast breadth of discussion about the Synod and the issues pertaining to marriage and family – which we can safely estimate involved millions of people – shows the vast breadth of concern for these fundamental realities of human existence. Deep down in the heart of humanity is the realization that marriage and family are critically important.

The extent of these discussions, some quite animated, also demonstrates the importance that people place on our Catholic faith as revealed truth. They understand that the beautiful and scripturally-rooted vision of human love that we strive to live and offer to the world is Good News that is essential if our society is to survive.

Throughout the Synod process, Pope Francis has called us to reflection, prayer, listening to one another and being open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Answers to questionnaires that had been sent to dioceses and communities were used to create the working document for the 2014 Synod, which in turn served as a starting point for discussion by the Synod Fathers. These talks were the basis for a report that effectively guided the discussion in the recently concluded 2015 Synod.

At this latter gathering, the Synod Fathers both met as a whole and also broke out into smaller discussion groups. Our Holy Father also addressed the assembly to open and close the Synod. What was heard in the interventions, that is, in the short speeches to the gathering, as well as in the discussion groups, was doctrinal affirmation, awareness of the challenges to family life today, and also proposed pastoral practices which our present situation requires. The Synod understood that what is needed now is a way to bring people to experience the love and mercy of God, even if different specific approaches were advocated on this point or that. On the whole, this has been a positive process that I believe will bear great fruit, spiritually and pastorally.

What comes next after all of this reflection, discussion, and exchange of ideas and pastoral reflections over nearly the last two years? Now our Holy Father in his Petrine ministry will engage in concrete action to make the aim of the Synod a reality. To a certain degree, Pope Francis has done this already with a revision of some of the rules governing annulment proceedings. Added to that, we can expect him to take further pastoral steps to support and sustain married couples and families in their lives, bring hope and healing to those who find themselves in difficult situations, and encourage a civilization of love that values and fosters marriage and children, including urging Christian families to bear witness to God’s saving love and grace.

During this time, while the Synod is officially concluded, the work goes on and I ask your continued prayers for the renewal of marriage, family and the entire world.

Saint John Paul II’s Enduring Presence

October 22nd, 2015
Photo Credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring - April 2014

Photo Credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring – April 2014

Saint John Paul II – whose feast day we celebrate today – has been an on-going presence in the Church of Washington impacting lives in a special way since the fall of 2011, when we opened a new archdiocesan seminary named in his honor.

After he was elected pope in 1978, this holy man called for a renewal of seminary life around the world, believing that the renewal of the Church would begin in the renewal of the seminary. Consequently, the Holy Father asked for a visitation of all the seminaries in the United States and I was invited to be a part of that effort, serving as the general secretary for the seminary visits. Pope John Paul also convoked a Synod on the formation of priests, and out of that Synod came the document Pastores Dabo Vobis – Latin for “I Will Give You Shepherds” – which has been the norm for priestly formation across the universal Church since then.

Thus, it seemed so appropriate that the Chief Shepherd who had focused on seminaries as the font of renewal of the Church should be the patron of our new seminary. Initially named “Blessed John Paul II Seminary,” it was happily renamed as “Saint John Paul II Seminary” after his canonization by Pope Francis in April 2014.

The inaugural class of 20 seminarians who studied there when it first opened, and the 49 seminarians studying in that expanded facility now (including 27 from our archdiocese and 22 from other dioceses) know they are being trained to become the next generation of priests who will bring Christ’s love, hope and mercy to their flock, wherever they are sent. These young men also know that in their patron saint, they have a role model for total self-giving, a priest and pope who gave his life as a servant of God’s people, as a servant of Jesus Christ in His Church, as one configured to Christ as head of that body, but for the service of that body.

Saint John Paul II’s unforgettable words in his homily at his inaugural Mass as pope, “Open wide the doors for Christ,” continues to offer a clarion call for all of us to open our hearts and our lives to Jesus. The Holy Father did this throughout his priestly ministry, including nearly 27 years as pontiff, when as a missionary of Christ, he brought the Good News to 130 different countries and millions of people.

The year after his election, Pope John Paul visited Washington during his first pastoral visit to the United States. Archbishop of Washington at the time, Cardinal William Baum, was host and he summarized the visit as a moment of grace.

Fittingly, after celebrating the historic canonization Mass of Saint Junípero Serra last month, Pope Francis visited the seminarians at the Saint John Paul II Seminary near the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The Holy Father, demonstrating the “joy of the Gospel” for which he is known, praised the seminarians for listening to and answering God’s call, and he encouraged them to adore Jesus in their lives and work. He also said that good priests go to bed tired each night, after serving their people. Having been at Pope Francis’ side for much of his whirlwind visit here, I can attest that the Holy Father follows his own advice.

By his actions and his words, Pope Francis teaches priests – and future priests – the importance of knowing, loving, serving and empathizing with their flock. That quality also marked the priesthood and papacy of his predecessor Saint John Paul II, whose legacy has spawned generations of “JPII priests.” This pope, whom we happily call “Great,” inspires our next generation of priests to be “good shepherds” as well, just as he was, bringing Jesus and his Gospel to their flock – wherever God sends them – by opening the doors of their hearts wide to Christ.

The Gift of Love

October 20th, 2015


Standing before the altar, the man and woman gazed into each other’s eyes as each of them made this solemn promise and vow: “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” Shortly before, their respective parents had said to them with tears in their eyes, “I love you,” just as this couple would one day say those three little words to their own children.

Love – this little word is the subject of countless popular songs, sonnets and stories. In our own lives, each of us in our own way knows that we need love, and without it, our lives wither (cf. Redemptor Hominis, 10). Furthermore, every participant in the Synod on the Family agrees that love is the answer to the challenges confronting marriage and family.

Love and the idea of love fill our daily existence. But what is “love” exactly? How does love happen? As Pope Benedict XVI observed in his beautiful reflection on God who is Love, “Today, the term ‘love’ has become one of the most frequently used and misused of words, a word to which we attach quite different meanings” (Deus Caritas Est, 2).

One thing is clear. The Catholic vision of love – a vision that has proven successful over thousands of years – is radically different from that of our culture. Unfortunately, the vision of love prevalent in our culture today not only changes from year to year, but has wreaked havoc on family life and society.

Human love is expressed in various ways, yet as people of faith, we look to marriage as a visible sign that illustrates God’s plan for all of humanity. Reflecting on the love that leads to marriage, we see that the culture often associates passion with love, especially at the beginning of a relationship. But we should be careful not to equate feelings, however intense, with love, because these are very different things. Romance might be a stage in the way of love, but it is not the entirety of the way. Moreover, feelings rise and fall, and they can even be misdirected and lead away from love toward exploitation.

“Love cannot be reduced to an ephemeral emotion. True, it engages our affectivity,” teaches Pope Francis, but it does so “in order to open it to the beloved and thus to blaze a trail leading away from self-centeredness and towards another person, in order to build a lasting relationship; love aims at union with the beloved” (Lumen Fidei, 27).

Love is relationship, love is directed toward union, toward communion. People sometimes speak of “falling in love” when they really mean attraction. Also, love does not “just happen.” Loving, and staying in love, requires a conscious decision to subordinate oneself and will the good and welfare of the other (Deus Caritas Est, 6; CCC 1766), including the gift of self. In marriage, this entails making a promise to love for the rest of one’s life. While this idea of giving yourself, of subordinating yourself, might be intimidating, it is one of the wonderful mysteries of life that the more you give of yourself, the more you actually receive.

To understand love, we need only reflect on the Lord. Jesus gave his life, he held nothing back. His whole life is a gift of love. That should be our common standard for love. After all, God created us to be like him in precisely that way.

God made human beings in his image and likeness, that is, in the image and likeness of the Trinity, an eternal communion of abundant and fruitful love that flows from heaven to fill the earth. We are made from such lavish love and reflect it in our entire being. As Saint Augustine said, “If you see love, you see the Trinity.”

In a particular way, marriage is an icon of the Trinity and of God’s love for us. Thus, it is no accident that we celebrate the Marriage Jubilarian Mass on Trinity Sunday.

Like God, human beings have the capacity to love, to enter into relationship with one another. Yet, this love is a decision that must be made repeatedly. Successful husbands and wives are those who learn to live with one another’s imperfections. Admittedly, it is not always an easy choice, but God offers us his help, his grace, particularly in the sacrament of marriage.

“Only love is capable of resolving difficulty,” said Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families. If we make this choice to love, even in our incomplete and imperfect way, if we ask God for help to do the rest, marriage and family and all society will benefit. A loving family is “workshop of hope, of the hope of life and resurrection,” our Holy Father explained. “Love is a celebration, love is joy.” It could hardly be otherwise – in the fullness of love, is God.

This blog post is adapted in part from my book, “The Marriage God Wants for You” (2015).

Homily at Pontifical North American College

October 19th, 2015

St. Peter's View from NAC

During the Synod of the Bishops on Marriage, I am staying at the North American College, the U.S. bishops’ seminary in Rome for men studying for the priesthood. Many years ago, I was here as a student and I continue to stay at the College when I am in Rome. On Sunday, October 18, I was invited to be the principal celebrant and homilist for the community Mass and below is the text of the homily I gave at that Eucharistic Liturgy.

As I begin I want to thank Monsignor Checchio for the gracious invitation to be the principal celebrant today and offer these words of reflection.

My brother priests, seminarians, brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Last evening with the Washington seminarians here at the College, we reflected on memorable moments of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. Each one had his own, as do I, particular memory and I am sure each one here does.

When a reporter on the plane back to Rome said that Pope Francis had “become a star in the United States,” our Holy Father responded that he preferred the traditional title of “Servant of the servants of God.” This humility characterized the Pope’s meeting with the bishops of our country, saying that he came to speak to us as a “brother among brothers” as he shared some reflections to help the shepherds of the Church in our mission. But what he said in many respects applies equally to all of us in this chapel.

Today’s Gospel and the recurring theme in Gospel readings in the past several weeks reminds us of the centrality of the kingdom, how we are all to envision ourselves as servants of it.

We are reminded, “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant.”

The lesson in the Gospel today is clearly that it is not all about us. Faith, Church discipleship is not all about me. It is not all about us.

Rather, it is about the kingdom. And our focus has to be on the kingdom in its fullness that we strive someday to enter and that kingdom being realized here and now in the Church. Our call is to discipleship. But our call here at this College is to a very special relationship with Jesus, Lord of the kingdom but also head of his Church.

Discipleship must identify with the Lord in all aspects of his life and ministry.

The image of the Lord that emerges from the readings today is precisely the suffering servant depicted in the First Reading from the Prophet Isaiah and more clearly understood in the Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews where we are reminded that we have a high priest who can sympathize with our weakness. That weakness however is intended for the glory of God. Jesus reminds us that our recognition that it is not all about us, our recognition that what is at stake is the kingdom, brings us to be willing to follow Jesus who says he did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Where does this happen?

The working out of God’s plan, the manifestation of his kingdom, the realization of what he came to accomplish takes place in and through his Church. It is for that reason that Jesus challenges us to sustain the unity of that communion that is his Body.

Again and again, the Successor of Peter spoke to the bishops gathered in the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle in Washington to hear him. He spoke of the importance of communion, both in the Church and throughout the human family. The world “is already so torn and divided, brokenness is now everywhere,” he said. “As pastors, we know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world; we know the loneliness and the neglect experienced by many people, even amid great resources of communication and material wealth. We see their fear in the face of life, their despair and the many forms of escapism to which it gives rise.”

Yesterday at the Vatican celebration of the 50th anniversary of synods, Pope Francis spoke of the role of the Pope and reminded us that synods take place always with and always under Peter. It is precisely the role of Peter to guarantee the conformity of the synod’s work with the great tradition of the Church.

In the midst of these challenges, Pope Francis emphasized the need to be one, reminding us also that “we have been given a spirit of courage and not of timidity.” Most especially, the Church, “‘the seamless garment of the Lord’ cannot allow herself to be rent, broken or fought over,” he said.

Jesus prayed that his Church be one as he and our heavenly Father are one (John 17:21-22). Thus, just as it is his mission as Pope “to watch over the unity of the universal Church and to encourage in charity the journey of all the particular Churches toward ever greater knowledge, faith and love of Christ,” he reminded the bishops that our mission “is first and foremost to solidify unity. . . to watch over that unity, to safeguard it, to promote it and to bear witness to it.”

This effort is essential not only so that the Church might remain true to the Lord’s will that we be one Church, one body of Christ, but it is also indispensable for our powerful priestly mission. Our unity is “a sign and instrument which, beyond every barrier, unites nations, races, classes and generations,” Pope Francis reminded the bishops.

We who are gathered in this particular moment in the life of the Church have our vision focused on the Synod on the Family which is part of a process that began with the announcement in February of 2014 that the Church will be asked to reflect upon the challenges families face today and the mission of the family in our contemporary world.

The Synod, as it has done since, was established 50 years ago this week with the apostolic constitution Apostolica sollicitudo of Pope Paul VI, gathers around the rock, the Successor to Peter, the head of the Church and reflects always with and never without Peter and his vision, guidance and charism.

I have had the privilege of being involved in Synods in one way or another since the first one in 1967 and in seven subsequent ones as a bishop member. What Pope Francis has introduced is a refreshing level of openness and discussion that can only take place because of the fundamental, primary, primordial unity that is assumed among all of the members.

My brothers, in your formation in the priesthood that same bedrock unity has to be a given. We have to say to ourselves everyday it is not about me, it is not about us, it is about the kingdom, it is about the Church, it is about serving God’s people and we do that always with and never without Peter.

The Holy Witness of Married Couples

October 17th, 2015

lessed Louis and Zélie Martin

Maybe you have heard the old saying, “No one goes to heaven alone.” The idea is that we are all supposed to bring others along with us through accompanying them on our pilgrim journey through this life, through our example and words of encouragement and warning, through our acts of kindness and charity.

Married people have an advantage in this. The first and most effective apostolate is the witness of one spouse to another, and both parents to their children. If they apply themselves to their vocation – that is, if they strive daily to love – they will model holiness for others at very close range. Grace builds beautifully on nature and that is one of the primary purposes of marriage being raised to a sacrament. The path of marriage was created for the salvation of the couple and in the sacrament, the husband and the wife receive the grace to help each other, and their children, get to heaven.

Tomorrow, the whole Church will bear witness to this blessed reality with the joint canonization of Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Canonization, the solemn declaration that the person is a saint, is a recognition that that person is with God in heaven. What a wonderful and joyous testament it is to the blessing of marriage to have this couple canonized together as husband and wife, to formally recognize their witness to each other – and their children – which has brought them to heaven.

Beyond recognizing that the Martins are saints in heaven, a particular benefit of their canonization is to lift them up as holy examples for other married couples and for all of us in our universal vocation to holiness and to mission. Married in 1858, Louis and Zélie led an exemplary life of faith, mercy and familial spirituality, with a love that was a pure reflection of the love between Christ and his Bride, the Church. After each seriously considered a vocation to the religious life before their nuptials, Louis and Zélie both understood that they could become holy through and in marriage as well.

Zélie, born Azélie-Marie Guérin, was a lacemaker when she met and fell in love with Louis Martin, a watchmaker. Three months later, they were married. They would go on to have nine children, with five daughters surviving infancy, each of whom would enter religious life. Their youngest, Thérèse, would be canonized a saint herself and she would write of her parents, “The good God gave me a father and mother more worthy of Heaven than of earth” (Letter to Father Maurice Belliere, July 26, 1897).

Throughout this time, Zélie was a working mother, maintaining her lace business, which Louis joined. Yet their family life did not suffer from this balancing act that modern families also face. “God was pleased all through my life to surround me with love,” said Saint Thérèse, “and the first memories I have are stamped with smiles and the most tender caresses” (The Story of a Soul, chapter 1). It was here that Thérèse would first learn of God’s love and a simple spirituality achieved in daily life.

The canonization of Louis and Zélie Martin comes on World Mission Sunday, just as they were beatified together on World Mission Sunday in 2008. Furthermore, their daughter, Saint Thérèse, who was a cloistered nun in religious life, is the patron saint of missions.

In hearing the call to be a missionary disciple, to go forth and evangelize, we might first think of missionaries as those witnesses who travel to foreign lands. What the Martin family says to us is that you can be a missionary in the family home; you can be a missionary in the enclosure of the convent. The mission territory is where you are right now – with your spouse and family, in your neighborhoods and workplaces – every place and time you encounter another is an occasion to shine with the Gospel love of Christ.

No one goes to heaven alone. We walk with others – husbands and wives, parents and children, friends and people we have never met before – each called to help the other to encounter the living God, now on the path and at the end of our earthly sojourn. The holy ones like Louis and Zélie and Thérèse Martin accompany us to show married couples and families and all of us the way.

“Spare Me from a Faith that is Lukewarm!”

October 15th, 2015
Teresa of Ávila by François Gérard (1770−1837)

Teresa of Ávila by François Gérard (1770−1837)

During the visit of the Holy Father to the United States, one of the groups he mentioned with gratitude on a number of occasions was American women religious. Among them is the community of the Little Sisters of the Poor. It was a privilege to go with him to visit the Little Sisters at the Jeanne Jugan residence near The Catholic University of America. He not only offered his thanks for their work, but he shared words of encouragement for them to be witness to the world of the beauty and fruitfulness of a life of prayer and service.

Then in New York, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude to all women in consecrated life in these words: “I would like to express my esteem and my gratitude to the religious women of the United States. What would the Church be without you? Women of strength, fighters, with that spirit of courage which puts you in the front lines in the proclamation of the Gospel. To you, religious women, sisters and mothers of this people, I wish to say ‘thank you,’ a big thank you . . . and to tell you that I love you very much” (Address at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, September 24, 2015).

Our Holy Father’s words come to mind especially today as the Church celebrates the feast of the Carmelite sister and Doctor of the Church, Saint Teresa of Avila. This year marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of Teresa of Avila and 45th anniversary of Pope Paul VI naming her a Doctor of the Church.

Teresa’s passion for Our Lord, her plea that she be saved from a faith that is lukewarm echoes the gift that the witness of consecrated women have been in the life of the Church. For so many of us, their witness and their joy helped nourish the seeds of our faith in the classroom, during a hospital stay and in innumerable parish ministries.

The ministry of consecrated life rooted in the communal life of prayer is a witness to us all of the contemplative nature of the Christian life. All of us are called to be people rooted in the prayer and worship of the Church. Pope Paul VI, in his address conferring the title of doctor on Teresa of Avila, pointed to the importance of her teaching on prayer and the witness of consecrated life to the beauty of contemplative prayer.

Throughout the Church we are also celebrating the Year of Consecrated Life, so this day is also an opportunity to thank God for the enormous contribution of all women religious to the life of the Church here in the Archdiocese of Washington and across the globe. In a special way today, we celebrate as well the Carmelite Sisters in Port Tobacco, Maryland, sisters of Saint Teresa who in a very dedicated way bring the needs of the archdiocese to prayer and reveal to us the gifts of contemplative prayer, and the gift of the Poor Clare Sisters and their ministry of Perpetual Adoration in the District.

Pope Paul VI reminds us in the witness of Saint Teresa, and of all sisters who live the contemplative life, that contemplation is part of all of the baptized life. The witness of Saint Teresa of Avila “comes to us just when we are tempted by the great notice and the great business of the world outside to yield to the frenzy of modern life and to lose the real treasures of our souls in the effort to win the seductive treasures of the earth. It comes to us children of our own time, when we are losing not only the habit of conversing with God but also the sense of the need and duty to worship and call on him” (Sunday Angelus, September 27, 1970).

With the example of Teresa of Avila to guide us, let us be evangelizers who live our faith fully and passionately in a way we bear public witness to the coming of the kingdom that will bring about the full glory and completion of the Church.

The One Body of Christ: Sign and Instrument of the Unity of the Human Family

October 13th, 2015

PopeFrancis-Cathedral with Bishops

When a reporter on the plane back to Rome said that Pope Francis had “become a star in the United States,” our Holy Father responded that he preferred the traditional title of “Servant of the servants of God.” This humility characterized the Pope’s meeting with the bishops of this country, saying that he came to speak to us as a “brother among brothers” as he shared some reflections to help the shepherds of the Church in our mission, but which in many respects apply equally to the lay faithful, inasmuch as we are one body of Christ.

Again and again, the Successor of Peter spoke to the bishops of the vital importance of communion, both in the Church and throughout the human family. The world “is already so torn and divided, brokenness is now everywhere,” he said. “As pastors, we know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world; we know the loneliness and the neglect experienced by many people, even amid great resources of communication and material wealth. We see their fear in the face of life, their despair and the many forms of escapism to which it gives rise.”

In the midst of these challenges, Pope Francis emphasized the need to be one, reminding us also that “we have been given a spirit of courage and not of timidity.” Most especially, the Church, “‘the seamless garment of the Lord’ cannot allow herself to be rent, broken or fought over,” he said.

Jesus prayed that his Church be one as he and our heavenly Father are one (John 17:21-22). Thus, just as it is his mission as Pope “to watch over the unity of the universal Church and to encourage in charity the journey of all the particular Churches toward ever greater knowledge, faith and love of Christ,” he reminded the bishops that our mission “is first and foremost to solidify unity. . . to watch over that unity, to safeguard it, to promote it and to bear witness to it.”

This effort is essential not only so that the Church might remain true to the Lord’s will that we be one Church, one body of Christ, but it is also indispensible to our apostolic mission. Our unity is “a sign and instrument which, beyond every barrier, unites nations, races, classes and generations,” Pope Francis reminded the bishops.

Viewing the social landscape, our Holy Father pointed us to the “innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, [and] the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature.” How we respond to these challenges will determine the fate of our nation and world.

If we respond with anger or force, if we try to return aggression for aggression, we will clearly fail. This Jesus says to us repeatedly. Moreover, Pope Francis said, “Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.”

Love, mercy, reconciliation – the ongoing dialogue to restore unity between people and between humanity and God – this is the way of Jesus Christ and his Church. “It is an essential part of your mission to offer to the United States of America the humble yet powerful leaven of communion,” affirmed our Holy Father. “May all mankind know that the presence in its midst of the ‘sacrament of unity’ (Lumen Gentium, 1) is a guarantee that its fate is not decay and dispersion. This kind of witness is a beacon whose light can reassure men and women sailing through the dark clouds of life that a sure haven awaits them, that they will not crash on the reefs or be overwhelmed by the waves.”

As we face all manner of division and antagonism, not only in our society, but also at times within the Church, this is precisely the message we all need to hear. When people are being pitted one against the other, these words of Pope Francis to foster harmony are most timely and welcome not only among us bishops, but throughout society.

May our Holy Father’s words become our own – “May the forthcoming Holy Year of Mercy, by drawing us into the fathomless depths of God’s heart in which no division dwells, be for all of you a privileged moment for strengthening communion, perfecting unity, reconciling differences, forgiving one another and healing every rift, that your light may shine forth like ‘a city built on a hill’” (Matthew 5:14).

“Faith makes us know that God is at our side”

October 11th, 2015
Pope Francis delivers a reflection at St. Patrick's Catholic Church on September 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis delivers a reflection at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church on September 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

When Saint John XIII was canonized just last year, October 11 was chosen as his feast day because it is the date that marks his opening of the Second Vatican Council in 1962. While this year the memorial is superseded because it falls on a Sunday, still we remember how this beloved pastor’s legacy continues to resound today.

Saint John was a man of great inspiration not only for his desire to renew the pastoral life of the Church but also for his humility and love of people. It was noted soon after his election that he returned to the practice of popes visiting prisoners, visiting those who were hospitalized, and moving among the people. He was described as a “people’s pope.” More recently, this was also the headline much of the media used to talk about Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. In many ways, Pope Francis is exercising his ministry is a way reminiscent of Pope John.

Both are known for their deep devotion to Saint Joseph and we gained a beautiful insight into this devotion during Pope Francis’ visit to Catholic Charities and in his talk to our clients and staff at Saint Patrick’s Church in Washington. Our Holy Father said about Saint Joseph, “He has been a support and an inspiration. He is the one I go to whenever I am ‘in a fix.’” Then the Pope added, “You make me think of Saint Joseph. Your faces remind me of his.”

Like those at this gathering, our Holy Father explained, “Joseph had to face some difficult situations in his life.” Among those difficulties, he said, were the fact that just when Mary was about to give birth, there was no room for them in the inn – the Son of God came into the world with no place to stay.

Yet, as with Mary, God chose Joseph for an essential role in salvation history. Joseph is a man of great faith, and this is what Pope Francis wanted to share with those who are homeless, who are struggling to stabilize their family’s situation with regard to housing and food – “In the face of unjust and painful situations, faith brings us the light which scatters the darkness.”

Our Holy Father said, “Faith gave Joseph the power to find light just at the moment when everything seemed dark. Faith sustained him amid the troubles of life. Thanks to faith, Joseph was able to press forward when everything seemed to be holding him back.” Then he spoke to all of us when he went on the say, “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. God is present in every one of you, in each one of us.”

This presence of God is not only a source of comfort but also a call to action, it spurs us to charity. As we move from celebrating the visit of Pope Francis to acting on his call to expand the boundaries of our ministry, to reach out, as he did so beautifully to those at the periphery of our communities, we are reminded that we are most inspired by our Holy Father’s ability to be the face of Christ to all he meets.

Pope John’s intention in calling the Council was in part to address how the Church could preach and teach the Gospel in a rapidly changing modern world, saying in his opening address that with Christ and his Church, men and women “enjoy the blessings of light and joy, right order and peace.” However, without Christ, there is darkness that comes to the human spirit. This continues to be the concern and mission of Pope Francis and the whole Church in the New Evangelization.

If you have not already visited, please do so. Well over 100,000 people in our community have already made their commitment to pray, serve and act. By journeying together in this way with Pope Francis and Saint John XXIII and the rest of our family of faith, we can make visible the face of Christ and bring light, joy, order and peace to all corners of our community.

The Truth and Beauty of the Family and Mercy towards Broken and Fragile Families (Marriage and the Path of Mercy in the Life of the Church)

October 9th, 2015
PHOTO CREDIT: Paul Haring for CNS

PHOTO CREDIT: Paul Haring for CNS

This morning in Rome, Cardinal Wuerl presented to our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and the members of the Synod on the Family, his intervention: “The Truth and Beauty of the Family and Mercy towards Broken and Fragile Families.”

Holy Father

​Members of the Synod

​I want to begin by once again thanking you, Holy Father, for your recent pastoral visit to the United States, especially to Washington, and most particularly for your canonization of Saint Junipero Serra – the great evangelizer of a part of our nation.

​I want to reflect on paragraph #58, “The Truth and Beauty of the Family, and Mercy towards Broken and Fragile Families.”

​How can the Church’s teaching and discipline in the often contentious and challenging lived experience of marriage, sexuality and family be understood through the lens of mercy and love?

​This is a critical question at the heart of our efforts especially for our priests who work each day not just with the doctrine in abstract but with individuals in broken situations.

​The question is not about a change in the doctrine, but rather to make sure that pastoral care takes account of the limitation of real, actual, concrete situations and of what each person is able to do, capable of doing. It has been the longstanding practice in the Church to present her teaching in its entirety while at the same time to accompany, pastorally and with mercy, those, all of us, who struggle to live out as best we can the fullness of the teaching. The proclamation of Christ’s Gospel and the welcoming embrace in Christ’s mercy are two equally valid and intrinsically related aspects of Church life and should be reflected in good pastoral practice.

​In understanding the Church’s teaching and discipline regarding marriage, it is important to recognize the role of the faith community and participation in it. The community of disciples, the Church, is the context of our faith. The community of faith and love sustains and provides the necessary support for the full living out of the teaching and for the healing when needed.

​The perception of being alienated permanently and essentially from the Church raises a barrier for those struggling with the teaching, and the effort to live it in real, concrete situations.

To envision the Church’s teaching and discipline regarding marriage through the lens of mercy and charity, as we are invited to do, requires attention to the pastoral dimension and application of the Church’s teaching, the progressive nature of personal conversion to Christ and the fullness of his way, and the necessity of authentic Christian community in the lives of her members. In these ways we can begin to fashion a pastoral response in which we experience the Church as that field hospital where the wounded are attended by the Great Physician.

Thank you.

Pope Francis Urges Nation’s Leaders to Work Together in a Renewed Spirit of Solidarity for the Common Good

October 9th, 2015
PHOTO CREDIT: Paul Haring for CNS

PHOTO CREDIT: Paul Haring for CNS

As the first pontiff to address a joint meeting of Congress, Pope Francis stood before lawmakers not as a politician, but as a pastor, like he did the day before with the President. He came to offer in these moments of encounter and dialogue “words of encouragement to those called to guide the nation’s political future in fidelity to its founding principles” (Address at the White House).

Pope Francis urged our nation’s leaders to embrace a spirit of solidarity and cooperation, saying in the House chamber, “You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics.” Lifting up as inspirational figures Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, our Holy Father said that, in response to the world’s challenges, “Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples.”

This includes “safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms,” emphasized the Pope. Praising President Lincoln, who “labored tirelessly that ‘this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom,’” the Holy Father noted the vast contributions that religion has made to this nation, and implored, “It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continues to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society.”

As our Holy Father has throughout his ministry, he affirmed that “every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity.” Accordingly, he reminded lawmakers of “our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.” To that end, he called for a global abolition of capital punishment, adding, “a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”

As I listened from the gallery of the House chamber along with other guests, I will never forget how this humble figure in white described himself simply as “the son of immigrants.” Just as God reminded Israel that they were once strangers and thus should be hospitable to immigrants (Exodus 22:21; Deuteronomy 10:19), Pope Francis reminded us that most of our ancestors were once foreigners from another land, as he encouraged legislators to respect the aspirations of immigrants coming to this country seeking a better life for themselves and their children. We must “view them as persons,” he said, “seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.” Specifically, he continued, we should treat them and “others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated,” according to the Golden Rule.

The Holy Father also encouraged a “spirit of global solidarity” to help people “trapped in a cycle of poverty.” This effort necessarily includes the need to work together to address threats to the environment that especially impact the poor around the world, he said. At the White House, the Pope called for dialogue and cooperative efforts to protect our common home, and to promote sustainable development to help lift the poor out of poverty. He continued this plea before Congress. Quoting his recent encyclical on ecology, he said, “Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a ‘culture of care,’ and ‘an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature’” (Laudato Si’, 231, 139).

Members of Congress applauded the Pope’s address about three dozen times, and some of the loudest applause came when he saluted the legacy of Dr. King, noting that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The slain civil rights leader’s “dream of full civil and political rights for African Americans… continues to inspire us all,” Pope Francis said. “I am happy that America continues to be, for many a land of ‘dreams’ – dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment.”

Our Holy Father also commended Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement who lived with and served the poor. Her “social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints,” he said. Similarly, Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk who championed interfaith dialogue and cooperation, was “above all, a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.”

How fitting it was that Pope Francis in his historic address highlighted the lives and legacies of Americans who through their faith show us the way to a future marked by protection of liberty, respect for the human dignity of all, service to those most in need, and working together for the common good. That message should resonate with us all.