Our Catholic Impact in Education

August 18th, 2014

Wuerl & St Augustine School

The work of educating leaders for today and tomorrow who will help build a better world, what we as Christians see as the manifestation of the kingdom of God, has been central to the Catholic schools, parish religious education and youth ministry programs of the Archdiocese of Washington since it was founded in 1939.  Indeed, it has been a hallmark of Catholic education here since the beginning of our country.

That vision was at the heart of the founding of Georgetown College in 1789 as the first Catholic institution of higher learning in the United States, and at the establishment of Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School 10 years later as the first Catholic all-girls school in the new nation. The same vision guided the free men and women of color who in 1858 founded what became Saint Augustine Church in Washington, first as a school so their children could have an opportunity for a better life. That vision led to the founding of Archbishop Carroll High School in 1951 as one of Washington’s first fully integrated schools, as well as the 2007 establishment of Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park with its innovative work study program.

From the time when teachers at local Catholic schools taught at chalkboards, to today when students learn on laptops and iPads, academic excellence has marked Catholic education here. The “honor roll” of Catholic school students and graduates from the Archdiocese of Washington over the years includes priests and sisters, doctors, scientists, business executives, political leaders, Olympic gold medalists, an opera singer, a space shuttle astronaut, and many more good people who help build up the temporal order. Twenty-seven schools in the archdiocese have been named as National Blue Ribbon Schools in the 30-year history of the award.

Our 68 Catholic elementary schools, along with our 20 Catholic high schools and seven early childhood centers, will serve approximately 27,000 students this school year. Our parish elementary and high school religious education and youth ministry programs will serve about 25,000 students taught by nearly 2,700 parish catechists.

The participants in our Archdiocesan Synod universally appreciated the great importance of Catholic education, both in our Catholic schools and in our programs of religious education, including sacramental preparation, youth and adult faith formation, and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, as well as ministries to youth and young adults.  The Synod members made many recommendations, each in the context of fostering an encounter and growth in friendship with Jesus Christ, through a variety of initiatives and resources, including classroom study, informal gatherings and print and digital media.

The Synod affirmed that Catholic education should be illuminated by the light of faith and inspire students to reflect Christ’s light in their everyday lives. To ensure academic excellence and the Catholic identity of our educational efforts, Synod members stressed the importance of proper formation and oversight of teachers, catechists, ministers and staff, so as to best serve students of all ages, including those with special needs.

Synod participants also highlighted the need for supporting ongoing efforts to make our Catholic schools and educational programs more accessible and affordable.  The future of Catholic schools depends on all of us working together.  Following an extensive consultative process, the archdiocese adopted new policies in 2009 to strengthen and sustain Catholic schools. Now, Catholics at all local parishes support Catholic education, and 112 out of 139 parishes have entered into regional school agreements. With the support of local Catholics and other community members, the archdiocese has greatly expanded its tuition assistance to families, awarding $5.7 million for the 2014-15 school year.

As another school year begins, Jesus’s great commission to his disciples to share the Good News continues to unfold in our Catholic educational efforts.  We all benefit from this, as students, young and old, are equipped to build up the kingdom of God in today’s world.

Homily from the Mass for Peace, Religious Freedom and Tolerance on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

August 15th, 2014
Cardinal Wuerl celebrates the Mass for Peace, Religious Freedom and Tolerance on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle

Cardinal Wuerl celebrates the Mass for Peace, Religious Freedom and Tolerance on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle

Today the Church celebrates the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. The lessons of this celebration are many. The Blessed Virgin Mary, one of us, a human being, has been so filled with grace as to be taken up bodily into heaven.  This action is a sign of our own bodily resurrection one day.

The Solemnity of the Assumption also teaches us that Mary now sits at the right hand of her Son and intercedes for us. We turn to her and ask her help in presenting our needs to Jesus, her Son and our Lord.

Thus today we come to her as Queen of Peace and beg her assistance as we cry out to her Son to let the grace that so filled her touch the hearts of men and women around the world and particularly in the Middle East and most specifically Iraq.

Every day we learn more about the atrocities perpetrated against Christians and others in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.  It is almost incomprehensible that today, in organized military action, Muslim extremists are torturing and killing unarmed Christian women and children, attempting forced conversions to Islam and inflicting every type of inhumanity on fellow human beings.

In light of the growing crisis for Iraqi Christians and others, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and agencies of the Holy See have been increasingly insistent in their calls for peace and for humanitarian response to the new waves of refugees fleeing terror and death.

This week the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue issued a statement noting that, “This Pontifical Council, together with all those engaged in interreligious dialogue, followers of all religions and all men and women of good will, can only unambiguously denounce and condemn these practices which bring shame on humanity.”  What follows is a long list of atrocities that you can find in the copy of this statement available following Mass.

On Sunday Pope Francis met with Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who was recently appointed by the Pope as his personal envoy to Iraq to demonstrate the Holy Father’s closeness to the Iraqi population, especially to Christians who have been severely affected by the continuing conflict and who are in dire need of help and encouragement.

The Pope reiterated his own sentiments about the tragic events that are unfolding in Iraq – sentiments that he has publically expressed many times over the past days.  The Pope also gave Cardinal Filoni a significant sum of money to be used for urgent assistance to the people who have been most severely affected.  This is a concrete sign of the Pope’s concern in responding to this dramatic situation.

One day earlier, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, pointed out that Pope Francis and other members of the Christian community, including the World Council of Churches, are taking a strong stand in defense of the Iraqi Christians and their right to survive and to live in peace in their own homes which for the last 2,000 years has seen them active and contributing to the development of the region.

In the face of this systematic, organized and well-funded push by extremists to drive Christians and others from their homes, we cannot remain idle bystanders.  First and foremost as people of faith, we turn to God in prayer on behalf of all of those who are suffering so much in this present crisis.  But we need also to raise our voices in solidarity with our Holy Father as he calls on all people of good will to recognize this overwhelming human tragedy, to speak out against it and to urge all to proclaim that this inhuman behavior is unacceptable.

World media are reporting: the despicable practice of beheading, crucifying and hanging bodies in public places, the choice imposed on Christians and Yezidis between conversion to Islam, the payment of taxes or forced exile, and the list goes on.

We are gathered here today in prayer as a sign of our own communion with our Christian sisters and brothers and all those in Iraq who suffer so cruelly at the hands of these extremists.  We pray first for all those who suffer so mightily at the hands of terrorists and extremists.  We also pray that the international community stir itself to find ways to protect the innocent.  And we also pray that peoples’ hearts be touched in that troubled part of the world so that toleration and religious freedom become accepted characteristics of whatever political order is established.

Peace can only come when there is mutual toleration among and between differing religious groups and when there is the recognition of religious freedom, religious liberty.

The branding of people, their thoughts, their religious convictions, their religious heritage and ethnic backgrounds, as unacceptable only fosters the intolerance that leads to hatred and that breeds violence.

On this Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is also the Queen of Peace, we pray as an expression of human and Christian solidarity. We also pray that our hearts be touched with compassion and courage. But we must never allow intolerance, bigotry, viciousness and hatred to infect us and our response to it.

As Christians, as disciples of Christ, while we clearly recognize the right and sometimes the obligation to defend ourselves, and the weak and innocent, we also recognize that true peace can only come out of hearts possessed of God’s grace and love.  Let us never allow ourselves to be changed by the violence, hatred and extremism of others.

Our prayers today are for peace, for religious liberty, for toleration and that even in the face of outrages we remain a people with faith in the power of prayer and hope that God’s grace can touch and change   every human heart.

Today let us join our Holy Father in making another impassioned appeal that the whole Church and all the faithful raise up with one voice of ceaseless prayer invoking the intercession of Blessed Virgin Mary as we implore God to send the gift of peace. Amen.

The Fruits of the Holy Spirit are Manifested in Mary

August 15th, 2014

Assumption by Mateo Cerezo

God dwells with us most intimately through the gift of the Holy Spirit, who is sent by the eternal Father and by Jesus to give us light, comfort and strength, and to stir up within us a newness of life.  With personal concern, the Spirit wills to sanctify and lead each and every one of us to perfection.  As we gradually become a part of the new creation – a new beginning with new life in Christ – we are opened more and more to the transforming gift of the Spirit, which opens our minds to the fullness of truth and touches our hearts.

Saint Paul, writing to the Galatians, contrasts the ways of this world, and its various sinful works of the flesh that lead us away from the kingdom of God, with the fruits of the Spirit, imploring us to “live by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:19-23).  When we reflect upon these fruits, do they not describe in exemplary fashion one person in particular – the Blessed Virgin Mary?

In the fullness of grace, our Blessed Mother exhibits the fullness of love and truth.  She is generous in charity, patient, kind and gentle; she is good and faithful, chaste, modest, and temperate.  Her spirit rejoices in God her savior and she is at peace even in trying times because of her trust in the Lord (Galatians 5:22-23; Luke 1:47).

Three times in this life Mary was blessed in a special way by the Holy Spirit – at her Immaculate Conception, at the Annunciation and at Pentecost – and we are the beneficiaries of the immeasurable fruits of the Spirit produced in her.  Through her maternal protection and intercession, we obtain pardon for our sins, health in times of sickness, strength of heart when we are weak, consolation in the face of affliction and help when we are in danger.  Above all, she is the Mother of Christ our Redeemer, and our Mother.

We ourselves “have the first fruits of the Spirit,” says Saint Paul, “as we wait for the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).  Mary, however, did not need to wait.  Corruption of the body in death could not claim her as it takes each of us.  Living in the Spirit, freed from original sin and its consequences, she enjoys already the fruit of the redemption of the body, having been assumed body and soul into heaven when her earthly days were complete (Munificentissimus Deus, 44).

Like all the special graces and privileges bestowed on Mary by the Spirit through the merits of Christ’s redeeming love, the Assumption does not separate Mary from the rest of the redeemed People of God, but unites her more intimately with each one of us.  We have received the pledge that through the fruit of her womb, we too may taste of the fruit of the redemption in the resurrection of the body and eternal life in the world to come.

Each of us is called to this sublime destiny.  The more receptive we are to God’s presence in the Spirit, the more we allow the Lord to work in us and through us, the more fertile we will be, the more his grace within us will bear the fruit of a new creation, and the more our witness will blossom with love, joy and peace (cf. Galatians 5:22; Matthew 13:8, 23).  The Blessed Virgin Mary, in her life and her Assumption into the heavenly city, is the Lord’s sign to us of the truth of this Good News.

#TBT blog post from July 11, 2012

August 14th, 2014

Lectio Divina

Bible1

As a means of discovering or re-discovering the importance of God’s Word in our daily lives, we might consider an ancient but always timely Church practice called Lectio Divina.  In his Apostolic Exhortation, The Word of God, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, speaks of Lectio Divina as the reflective and prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture in the context of the Church’s understanding of the Word of God.

This method of praying with Sacred Scripture, either alone or in a group, through the grace of the Holy Spirit leads to meditation on the Word of God and contemplation of God present to us. While meditation and contemplation can sound intimidating, the beauty of the practice of Lectio Divina is that it develops our ability to listen and “draw from the biblical text a living word which questions, directs and shapes our lives” (Blessed Pope John Paul II, On the Coming of the Third Millennium, 39).

The first practice of Lectio is attributed to Saint Benedict, the founder of monasticism in the West and the saint whose feast we celebrate today.  Benedict wanted to help his followers take the Word of God they heard proclaimed at Mass and ponder it as they went about their work during the rest of the day. Benedict desired that these monks, most of whom could not read, would commit Sacred Scripture to memory, but also see how the Word becomes a living word in their own lives and the life of the community.  Over the course of its long practice in the life of the Church, Lectio Divina has been practiced in a variety of forms. This standard form is easily adaptable for individual and communal use.

Choose a text of Sacred Scripture for your prayer. Taking the Gospel passage from the Mass of the day is an effective way of praying with the Universal Church.

Be silent and quiet your mind. Place yourself in a comfortable position for prayer.

Read the text through slowly and carefully. Select a word or a phrase that makes you stop or strikes you as beautiful, inspiring or challenging. Read the text a second time, again, slowly and with attention.

Repeat the word or phrase. Think about it in the context of your own life and experience. Consider that God may be sharing this word or phrase with you as an invitation to conversation or a new awareness of his presence in your life.

Speak to God, offer to God words of petition or thanksgiving. Share what is on your mind and in your heart as if you are speaking with a close friend or a spouse.

Be silent again and rest in the presence of our loving God. After a few minutes, read the passage a third and final time. Remain quiet.

Close your Bible and move toward the next part of your day, carrying your word or phrase in your mind and heart noticing how it “directs and shapes your day.”

Lectio Divina and all forms of prayer, when they follow the patterns of Christ’s prayer, have a transforming effect in our lives. We cannot pray well unless we are prepared to change in our lives those things that separate us from God. Genuine prayer is a part of the whole rhythm of life and thus affects the way we live.

Pope Francis Writes to Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations

August 13th, 2014

Today the Holy See released a letter written by Pope Francis to Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations concerning the situation in Iraq. The text of the letter is below.

His Excellency
Mr Ban Ki-moon
Secretary General
United Nations Organization

It is with a heavy and anguished heart that I have been following the dramatic events of these past few days in Northern Iraq where Christians and other religious minorities have been forced to flee from their homes and witness the destruction of their places of worship and religious patrimony. Moved by their plight, I have asked His Eminence Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who served as the Representative of my predecessors, Pope St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, to the people in Iraq, to manifest my spiritual closeness and to express my concern, and that of the entire Catholic Church, for the intolerable suffering of those who only wish to live in peace, harmony and freedom in the land of their forefathers.

In the same spirit, I write to you, Mr Secretary-General, and place before you the tears, the suffering and the heartfelt cries of despair of Christians and other religious minorities of the beloved land of Iraq. In renewing my urgent appeal to the international community to take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway, I encourage all the competent organs of the United Nations, in particular those responsible for security, peace, humanitarian law and assistance to refugees, to continue their efforts in accordance with the Preamble and relevant Articles of the United Nations Charter.

The violent attacks that are sweeping across Northern Iraq cannot but awaken the consciences of all men and women of goodwill to concrete acts of solidarity by protecting those affected or threatened by violence and assuring the necessary and urgent assistance for the many displaced people as well as their safe return to their cities and their homes. The tragic experiences of the Twentieth Century, and the most basic understanding of human dignity, compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities.

Confident that my appeal, which I unite with those of the Oriental Patriarchs and other religious leaders, will meet with a positive reply, I take this opportunity to renew to your Excellency the assurances of my highest consideration.

From the Vatican, 9 August 2014

The Life of Faith

August 11th, 2014

Golden Apple Winner 2012

When the Lord who has created us incites us to faith and makes it possible for us to know that it is he who calls, the “obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26) is required of us. Only if we believe him can we trust and love him.

Paul writes of “faith, hope, and love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).  These are the theological virtues, which have God himself as their origin, motive and direct object (CCC 1812-13).

First, there is recognition that it is God who calls us, and acknowledgment that he is trustworthy and his word is true and good. This is faith.

Second, there is lively confidence that in responding to him we approach the One whose will it is to fulfill our needs and longings more fully than we could otherwise have imagined. This is hope.

Finally, there is the fullest response, the gift to the Lord of one’s whole self, of mind and heart and strength, accepting his call to membership in God’s family, to friendship in the Trinity and with all created persons. This is charity, or love.

There is an essential link between these virtues.  “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), and it works through love (Galatians 5:6).  In faith, we believe not only what God tells us about himself, but also what he promises us.  By hope we look forward with confidence to the fulfillment of those promises, knowing that God is love (1 John 4:7-21).

Infused with sanctifying grace, the theological virtues orient the life of a Christian toward God and love for others. Trusting in Divine Providence, we can be people of hope and act in a way that contributes to building the kingdom of God.

We are called to seek eternal life as one of many brothers and sisters who will inherit the kingdom of heaven (cf. Romans 8:18 et seq.; 1 Peter 1:4-5). Christ holds self-love and forgetfulness of self in perfect balance: “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world, will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25). It is right to hope for the reward which Christ promises. The fulfillment of oneself in the community of the divine family is the glory of God and the fulfillment of his will (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 32).  To hope for the one and for the other is to hope for the same reality, described from different points of view.

Just as there is no real conflict between hoping for one’s salvation and hoping for God’s glory, so there is no real conflict between hoping for heaven and hoping for the redemption of human life in this world. But Christian hope for a better world is quite different from mere optimism. Our duty to our neighbor is a duty in love, and it is equally insistent whether the life of the neighbor, or the life of us, or the life of the human family, seems to be waxing or waning.

The Lord urges us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, comfort the ill, visit, the prisoner, and attend to all human needs.  This invitation to charitably serve those most in need as an expression of hope is rooted in a life of faith.

When the structure of this world passes away, the love of Christ remains and, in some way, the good works of humankind in this world remain.  Thus, the Christian should not regard life on this earth as isolated from the eternal life to come.  Rather, eternal life somehow begins here.

Homily: Closing Mass for Gathering of Catholic Ecclesial Movements and New Communities in the United States

August 9th, 2014

It is a great joy for me to join all of you representatives and members of Catholic ecclesial movements and new communities in the United States.

The theme of the readings for the liturgy of the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time that we are celebrating today calls us to be alert to the presence of God in our lives, to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and to take courage always in the Lord. Jesus says to Peter today,  “Do not be afraid.” The same encouragement is given to each of us: be of strong faith. With faith strong enough we can even walk on water.

What we are celebrating today however is not just the faith of members of Catholic ecclesial movements and new communities, but the dynamism of that faith which bears witness to God’s presence among us and calls others to join us.

Ours is an age of the new Pentecost. We keep hearing over and over Pope Francis calling us to go out, to reach out, to move beyond the confines of the Church, to invite others to experience the love, the mercy, the goodness of God.

We come together in the celebration of the Eucharist to invoke the gifts of the Holy Spirit on all who are gathered here representing ecclesial movements and new communities that bring so much to the life of the Church.

There is a sense in which the events that occurred on the first Pentecost are renewed, repeated and reflected in each of us.  Pentecost continues.  There is still an outpouring of the Spirit.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit are as much ours as they were the prized possessions of the Apostles.

While the work of the Spirit has been manifested in the Church for decades in the Catholic ecclesial movements and the new communities, we are also very much aware of the impetus that the Church sustained through the Synod on the New Evangelization and the great emphasis of Popes from Paul VI on through John Paul II, Pope Benedict and now Pope Francis on the call to continuous evangelization – the New Evangelization.

We are all aware from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, that the call to the New Evangelization includes a renewal of our own personal faith, on both the cognitive and affective levels, a renewed confidence in the truth of our faith, the truth in which we stand, and finally the desire to share this great gift.

We are also reminded that the work of the New Evangelization, the gift of the new Pentecost, takes place all around us and in almost everything we do.

Again in The Joy of the Gospel the Holy Father repeats for us the words taken from the Synod on the New Evangelization reminding us that evangelization is not just reaching out to people who have never heard of Christ – many of whom now live next door to us – but it also is manifest in the ordinary routine ministry of living and sharing our faith that takes place in the actions of parents, teachers, laymen and laywomen witnesses.  But we are also reminded that the New Evangelization, the new Pentecost, calls us today to reach out in a particular way to those who have drifted away, to those for whom the Gospel no longer has the meaning and significance it may have once had.

To do this, to enter into the dynamic of missionary discipleship, multiple qualities are needed. There are many characteristics of the missionary disciple today but I am going to touch on just four:

  1. courage or boldness,
  2. connectedness to the Church,
  3. a sense of urgency, and
  4. joy.

Before the outpouring of the Spirit at the first Pentecost, the apostles and disciples are described as coming together to pray and to strengthen and console one another.  But their gathering is marked by apprehension.  Beginning with the day of the resurrection we find them assembled in fear. A sense of doubt pervades the room and fills their hearts. There is a lack of confidence and, above all, no inner strength.

The new mood that is announced in the New Testament at this point is summed up in the word “bold.”  When filled suddenly and powerfully with the Holy Spirit, these same timid, shy, awkward and fearful disciples become enterprising, courageous, bold proclaimers of the Gospel.  Their doubts quickly disappear.  Courage fills their hearts.  Now they step forward and boldly proclaim the words of Jesus as the Spirit prompts them.

What caused this transformation from “before to after” to take place so dramatically and effectively?  It was the result of the outpouring of God’s Spirit on the Church — on those apostles who were the very foundation of Christ’s new body which is the Church.  They learned the meaning of the words “no one can say:  ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).  It is the gift of the Holy Spirit who makes us capable of accepting the faith, proclaiming it in words and living it in deeds.

As is being demonstrated around the world, the response to Pope Francis and his message of his “loving invitation” is extraordinary. He tells us, “A Church which ‘goes forth’ is a Church whose doors are opened” (46).

The evangelizers for the New Evangelization need also a connectedness with the Church, her Gospel and her pastoral presence. The authentication of what we proclaim and the verification of the truth of our message that these are the words of everlasting life depend on our communion with the Church and our solidarity with its pastors.

Pope Francis during his June 25 Wednesday Audience reminded us, “We are Christians because we belong to the Church. It is like a last name: if the first name is “I am Christian”, the last name is “I belong to the Church”.

He highlighted that “there are those who believe that they can have a personal relationship direct and immediate with Jesus Christ removed from communion and mediation of the Church.” He concludes that part of the audience by the simple exhortation “remember: being Christian means belonging to the Church.”

Another quality of the New Evangelization and, therefore, those engaged in it, is a sense of urgency.  Perhaps we need to see in Luke’s account of the Mary’s Visitation of Elizabeth, a model for our own sense of urgency.  The Gospel recounts how Mary set off in haste in a long and difficult journey from Nazareth to a hill country in the village of Judea.  There was no time to be lost because her mission was so important.

This is our moment. Around us people look to the Church for the voice of God that nurtures and sustains the human spirit.  Our work is and always will be spiritual.  We are a faith community and it is God’s word and the love of Jesus that we proclaim.  Pentecost challenges us to see how well we are carrying out our spiritual mission.

Finally, when we look around and see the vast field open, waiting for us to sow seeds of new life, we must do so with joy.  In one of the final presentations of the synod, a woman from Africa, one of the auditors at the synod, reminded all of us that we need to smile when we teach the Good News.  She added, “Even bishops can smile.”

Pope Francis begins his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii gaudium, with the reminder that, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Christ…with Christ joy is constantly born anew” (1).

Our message should be one that inspires others joyfully to follow us along the path to the kingdom of God.  Joy must characterize the evangelizer.  Ours is a message of great joy, Christ is risen, Christ is with us.  Whatever our circumstances, our witness should radiate with the fruits of the Holy Spirit including love, peace and joy (cf. Gal 5:22).

Our challenge, then, is not only to rejoice in the gift of the Spirit, but do the works of the Spirit that manifest Christ to others in a way that we bring them to Christ.

Our prayer today is that God will continue to bless all the ecclesial movements so that all of us together walking in the light of Christ and empowered by the gifts of the Holy Spirit might support each other in that great pilgrimage of faith that leads us one day to our eternal home with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Pray for Peace

August 7th, 2014
Pope Francis delivers Angelus prayer from window of Apostolic Palace at Vatican

Pope Francis prays the July 20 Angelus from the window of the Apostolic Palace in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Pope Francis called for prayers, dialogue, and peace, as the last Iraqi Christians flee Mosul. (CNS photo/Giampiero Sposito, Reuters)

This has been a difficult summer across the globe – in addition to ongoing unrest in Israel and Palestine, and the shooting down of a passenger airplane over Ukraine, a couple of weeks ago, we saw the expulsion of Christians from their homes in Mosul, Iraq.  At that time, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urged the U.S. government to take action to help these beleaguered people.  Since then, the situation has only gotten worse.

In recent days, militants have captured the ancient Christian village of Qaraqoush and other Christian towns on the plain of Nineveh in Iraq.  Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad, Louis Raphael I Sako, tells of a humanitarian catastrophe, with tens of thousands being forced to flee, the sick, the elderly, infants and pregnant women among them. “We appeal with sadness and pain to the conscience of all,” he said recently, imploring “all people of good will and the United Nations and the European Union, to save these innocent people from death. We hope it’s not too late!”

On behalf of the entire Church, Pope Francis has urgently called on the international community to protect all those affected or threatened by the violence, and to guarantee all necessary assistance to the great multitude of people who have been driven from their homes.  Their fate depends entirely on the solidarity of others.

In addition, the bishops of the United States have joined our Holy Father in making an impassioned appeal that the whole Church and all the faithful raise up with one voice a ceaseless prayer, imploring the Holy Spirit to send the gift of peace. There will be a special day of prayer in the dioceses of the United States on August 17.  Joining with the whole Church, praying with one voice a prayer composed by Patriarch Sako, let us pray for peace in the hope of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lord,
The plight of [the people of Iraq]
is deep and the suffering of Christians
is severe and frightening.
Therefore, we ask you Lord
to spare [their] lives, and to grant [them] patience,
and courage to continue [their] witness of Christian values
with trust and hope.
Lord, peace is the foundation of life;
Grant us all the peace and stability that will enable us
to live with each other without fear and anxiety,
and with dignity and joy.
Glory be to you forever.  Amen.

#TBT blog post from July 19, 2012

August 7th, 2014

The Bible as Summer Reading – Praying with Sacred Scripture 

Bible-reading

For many people, part of planning for vacation is heading off to the bookstore or the library or logging on to Amazon.com to purchase books for your reading pleasure. Some people work on a list throughout the year and know exactly what they want to read. Others like to browse and see what captures their attention. Whatever your practice, why not pack your Bible and give yourself more time to savor God’s word?

Though the Bible is a collection of writings composed over the course of many centuries, we believe that God is the author of all of these sacred writings. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely” (CCC, 102).

The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation teaches us that “in the sacred books the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to his children and talks with them. And such is the force and power of the word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life” (Dei Verbum, 21). As you become more familiar with Sacred Scripture you will begin to appreciate that though all express God’s word, Sacred Scripture is cast in a rich variety of literary forms; mystical Psalm prayers, poetry, historical narratives, beloved parables, straightforward wisdom sayings and, of course, the four Gospels that tell the story of the life and teaching of Jesus and the New Testament letters describing more fully what it means to be a Christian and to follow Christ’s way.

Sacred Scripture is a precious gift from God to his people and the priceless patrimony of the Church. The Word of God helps us to both know and to praise the living God. Given the richness of God’s revelation, is it any wonder that he has entrusted Sacred Scripture to the teaching office of his Church to protect, interpret, apply and proclaim? Making a commitment to the daily reading of Sacred Scripture is a way of rejoicing and thanking God for the wondrous gift of God’s revelation to us in these sacred texts.  The Holy Spirit can open our minds to better understand Sacred Scripture and make it come alive in our lives. This is why the prayerful reading of the Word of God is so important.

There are many ways you can take up a prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture. You can read along with the Church using the cycle of readings we read at Mass. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops posts the daily readings.  This site offers not only the readings of the day, but short video reflections that may help your own meditation and prayer.

You might decide to read a book of Sacred Scripture, particularly one from the New Testament, beginning to end. This practice helps you enter into the mind of the writer and gain a deeper appreciation for the audience the writer had in mind as he gathered the teaching and preaching of Jesus together in the form of an account, a letter or a book. For example, the Gospel of Mark can easily be read in one sitting. It is short, but you can feel the excitement of people coming to recognize that this man Jesus was someone special, someone worth following, someone who was suggesting a whole new way of living.  The Gospel of Saint Mark leads us to the proclamation of the centurion at the foot of the cross who said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).

On the other hand, the Gospel of John is longer and more poetic, it is meant to be read slowly and with time to meditate on the rich imagery John uses to tell the story of Jesus. You could choose to read a Psalm a day. It is edifying to think that the Psalms are the very prayers that Our Lord recited as a child and a young man. It is surprising how well the Psalms continue to capture feelings of joy or despair, fear or exultation. The book of Kings and the book of Samuel are examples of accounts of a religious history. They are historical stories that trace the saving action of God in the life of the Israelites, God’s chosen people.

Whichever book of the Bible you choose to read, begin by offering a short prayer of gratitude for the gift of the Word and ask God to help you recognize in your reading a living word you can take into your daily life.

The Passionate Love of Pope Paul VI for Christ and His Church

August 5th, 2014
Pope Paul VI leads the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum in Rome in 1977.  (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Pope Paul VI leads the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum in Rome in 1977. (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Pope Francis revealed in his recent interview with the Roman daily newspaper, Il Messaggero, that Pope Paul VI, whose beatification the Church will celebrate in October, has been a great light for him.  Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI likewise attested to the profound influence of Pope Paul on them – from his teachings and steadfast guidance of the Church through the storms of cultural upheaval, to his pioneering practice of overseas apostolic journeys and a more humble papacy.

Many people today are too young to remember or have known Pope Paul, who died 36 years ago tomorrow, but I can never forget that time which formed my priestly ministry.  My seminary formation in Rome began in September of the year in which Pope Paul VI was elected, June 1963.  I still have and cherish both the photo of myself being presented to him in July of the following year and the book he gave to each of the North American College seminarians, a collection of his talks as Archbishop of Milan on the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints.  Later when I was serving with the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, I had an opportunity to experience close up Pope Paul’s pastoral shepherding of the Church.

At his election as Pope, Giovanni Battista Montini took the name of the Apostle to the Gentiles, and he immediately declared his intention to complete the Second Vatican Council, which had begun the year before.  We seminarians had a sense first-hand during this period that something very wonderful was happening – the Church was undergoing a moment of renewal, rededication and recommitment.  We were also reminded during those years that while the Church was in the process of being made new again, that renewal was anchored in her history, in the living continuity of the great Apostolic Tradition.

In his first encyclical, published 50 years ago tomorrow, Pope Paul took up the question of the Church, much like the Council itself and more recently our own Archdiocesan Synod.  “We believe that it is a duty of the Church at the present time to strive toward a clearer and deeper awareness of itself and its mission in the world, and of the treasury of truth of which it is heir and custodian,” he wrote. “By doing this it will find a more revealing light, new energy and increased joy in the fulfillment of its own mission, and discover better ways of augmenting the effectiveness and fruitfulness of its contacts with the world” (Ecclesiam Suam, 18).

The Pope then went on to discuss the imperative of charitable dialogue with the world in which the Church lives.  “The very nature of the gifts which Christ has given the Church demands that they be extended to others and shared with others,” he stressed.  “The Church can regard no one as excluded from its motherly embrace, no one as outside the scope of its motherly care” (Id., 64, 94).

Pope Paul was a true pastor.  Throughout his life, often in very trying circumstances, he dedicated his energies to serving the Lord and his Church in the work of salvation, transforming humanity with the love of Christ and making it new.

“Few have known, as he, to interpret the anxieties, desires, toils and aspirations of the men of our century,” Saint John Paul II would say of Pope Paul.  “He wished to walk at their side; to do this he made himself a pilgrim on their roads, meeting them where they lived and struggled to build a world of greater attention and respect for the dignity of every human being.”

This service to the Lord and his sisters and brothers in the human family came at a time of cultural turmoil.  But through it all, during which he was in a sense “poured out like a libation” like his namesake, Pope Paul competed well and kept the faith (cf. 2 Timothy 4:6-7) while setting the stage for the New Evangelization.  Thanks be to God for sending us such an inspiring shepherd and servant of his kingdom.