“Through Christ We have Received the Grace of Apostleship”

July 7th, 2014

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles" by Valentin de Boulogne

Today and over the next three Mondays we will examine Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans to consider how we can be witnesses of the hope and joy we find in the Christian life.

Pope Francis writes in Evangelii gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), “In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization” (Evangelii gaudium, 120).

Missionary discipleship captures well the spirit of the New Evangelization. If we could choose one person who embodies these two aspects of the Christian life – discipleship and mission – it would be Paul, the great missionary preacher.

As a persecutor of Christians (see Acts 8:1-3), he seemed an unlikely candidate to be the great evangelizer.  But, in the famous account of Paul being thrown to the ground and hearing a voice, he encounters the Risen Christ and is transformed (see Acts 9:1-22).  He became as fierce a defender of Jesus as he had been a persecutor.  Today, we too can experience Paul’s preaching and teaching through his letters of instruction which are part of the New Testament.

The Letter to the Romans is considered by many to hold a pride of place among Paul’s writings.  The faithful to whom he wrote were Christians who were already living in Rome, gathering in house churches. These first Christians most likely came from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds.

More importantly however is that when Paul describes the community, he notes that there are those who are strong in the faith (Romans 15:1) and those who are weak in the faith (Romans 14:1).  Among other things, the community lived in a hostile situation in Rome.  In this, we can see our own situation.  We can imagine these new Christians having to defend their new-found faith in the face of skepticism from family and friends alike.  In light of these challenges, Paul desired to bolster the young Christian community’s courage and commitment to hold fast to the faith.

Paul proclaims the truth of the Gospel. He reminds the Romans that Jesus is our source of salvation.  He is the new Adam.  The Lord’s resurrection contains for us the promise of eternal life. Faith in our resurrection is inseparable from faith in his resurrection.  He rose not for his own sake, but as our Head, as the pattern of our rising and as the life-giving source of our new life.  In another letter, Paul writes, “Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised: if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:12-14).

This is a constant theme in Pauline thought:  “The one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and place us with you in his presence” (2 Corinthians 4:14). “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. . . . We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. . . Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as [being] dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:4, 9, 11).

All Christian life, even now on earth, is a sharing in the resurrection; but our rising with him will be fulfilled in the resurrection on the last day.

Being alive in Jesus Christ brings a whole new experience of freedom to our lives. Next Monday, we will reflect on what we mean by finding freedom in the Christian life.

This is the first in a series on the Letter to the Romans.

The Religious Foundation of Freedom

July 4th, 2014

Fortnight-for-freedom-blog

As we reflect on the history of our nation’s founding on this Fourth of July and also bring to a close the Fortnight for Freedom, it is appropriate to recognize the role that religion has played in that effort to build a free and just society.  No small part of that history is the generosity of spirit of the first Catholic colonists who arrived in Maryland in 1634 and established a civil government based on religious liberty, an act that anticipated our Declaration of Independence and the subsequent First Amendment to the Constitution.

We are all aware that we live in a world that is highly oriented toward science, technology and information, as well as a time of aggressive secularism that seeks to exclude God and religion from the public forum.  But these are not the factors that keep us free.  As Thomas Jefferson stressed in his Notes on the State of Virginia, “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?” (Query XVIII (1792)).

The words of our nation’s founders make undeniably clear that religious faith is not only at the historical foundation of the American experience, but religion is essential to freedom.  For example, a few days before our nation’s birth, John Adams wrote to a relative saying that statesmen might “plan and speculate for liberty, but it is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand” (Letter to Zabdiel Adams, June 21, 1776).

The Declaration of Independence itself recognizes the self-evident truth that fundamental rights and liberties are not manmade, but have their origin in our Creator, who has endowed us with certain unalienable rights, including “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  With respect to the pursuit of “happiness,” Congress did not mean worldly pleasures or material wealth, but instead used the term in the classical sense of leading a life of moral good and virtue.

At the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin asked that prayer be offered to begin each day’s session, attesting that “the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God governs in the affairs of men” (Speech of June 28, 1787).  Likewise, George Washington, widely lauded as the “father of our country” and our first president, counselled, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports” (Farewell Address, September 19, 1796).

While the founders came from a variety of faith traditions, they uniformly agreed that there could be no freedom without God.  That same religious faith that marked our nation’s beginnings, with its wide range of religious traditions, continues to thrive, inspire, form, and give identity to who we are today.  Since we are both members of the Church and citizens of a country that has long prided itself on being “the land of the free,” we expect the presence of God to be appreciated in public life.;.

Religious believers stand, as they have from the beginning, ready to serve our nation in the public square, helping in particular the poor and vulnerable while shedding the light of God’s wisdom into the heart of the great American experiment in religious pluralism and liberty.  In this way, we contribute to the common good, advance human dignity, and foster the natural and spiritual prosperity of our people.

Rooted in faith and aware of God’s providential care, we pray with confidence and hope that God will bless our nation. This we do because we are a people of faith and, therefore, a people of prayer. In our fervent and sincere prayer, all of us recognize our relationship to God and God’s care for us individually and collectively. This is the reason we can pray, “God bless America.”

“You Will Be My Witnesses”

June 30th, 2014
During a 2007 beatification at the Vatican, Spanish students hold portraits of clergy killed in the Spanish Civil War.

During a 2007 beatification at the Vatican, Spanish students hold portraits of clergy killed in the Spanish Civil War.

On this day we remember the nameless Christians who gave the ultimate witness in Rome in the first century.  During the reign of the Emperor Nero, a huge fire raged through the city destroying homes and shops and killing many, many people. The Roman historian Tacitus reports that the public suspected that the fire was intentionally started on the orders of Nero himself, who wanted to clear ground to build a larger palace (Annals 15:38-40). Nero subsequently blamed the fire on the Christians and had “an immense multitude” killed as a form of sport, as much as punishment (Annals 15:44).

These Christian martyrs, like women and men in every age of the Church, were killed simply for being Christian.  Today we know that, particularly in some areas of the Middle East and Africa, Christians live in great peril and are even threatened with execution unless they renounce Christ. A recent study by the Pew Forum reports that more Christians are suffering persecution throughout the world than any other religious group.

Though the circumstances that lead to martyrdom have varied, the Catechism tells us that “[m]artyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity” (CCC, 2473).  This brings to mind the scene before Christ’s death when he stands before Pilate and proclaims that he “has come into the world to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37).

We who have received the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are also called to give witness to the truth.  The fathers of the Second Vatican Council remind us that “[a]ll Christians by the example of their lives and the witness of their word, wherever they live, have an obligation to manifest the new man which they have put on in Baptism and to reveal the power of the Holy Spirit by whom they were strengthened at Confirmation” (Ad Gentes, 11).

Thankfully, at present, for us in the Church of Washington, this does not mean that we will be asked to give our lives in defense of our faith, but we are asked to make our daily lives a witness to the Christian faith and imitate the martyrs. In this, “it is always necessary to die a little,” says Pope Francis, “in order to come out of ourselves, to leave behind our selfishness [and] open ourselves to God and to others.” (Message for the Beatification of 522 Spanish Martyrs, October 14, 2013).

Today’s feast for these first martyrs of Rome, whose names are known only to God, also reminds us that when Saints Peter and Paul came to Rome, a sizeable Christian community was already there.  The first seeds of the Gospel preceded them, having been brought to Rome by way of some everyday nameless people who shared what they learned about Christ or maybe even a personal encounter with Jesus.

To help those early Christians before his arrival, Paul wrote his Letter to the Romans.  Over the next several Mondays, I invite you to join me in examining his letter to understand more profoundly how the young Christian community came to be strong in the way of discipleship, how the missionary Apostle helped them understand what it means to be a witness to Christ, particularly in the face of hostilities in the larger society.

Saint Paul’s desire was to encourage these Roman Christians to hold fast to the faith, to know that nothing can keep us from the love of Christ.  Joining with our Holy Father, “[w]e implore the intercession of the martyrs in order to be true Christians, Christians not only in words but in deeds; so as not to be mediocre Christians, Christians painted with a superficial gloss of Christianity but without substance. . . . Let us ask their help to stay firm in faith, in spite of difficulties, and let us too nurture hope and be architects of brotherhood and solidarity”(Message for the Beatification of 522 Spanish Martyrs, October 14, 2013).

75th Anniversary Masses and Our Foundation of Faith

June 28th, 2014

Brick Chapel

Our Archdiocesan Synod, which concluded on Pentecost Sunday, June 8, offered a moving reminder of how we are connected by faith to all who have gone before us.  Grateful for the legacy our Catholic ancestors have left us, by virtue of this family gathering our local Church now has a blueprint for the future, to help us be the best Church we can be.

In this effort, we build on a foundation that began on the first Pentecost, as the Holy Spirit helped guide the Apostles to heed Jesus’ call to be his witnesses and proclaim his Good News to the world.  We build on the groundwork that was laid when Catholic settlers first brought the faith to our region of the world and also on the foundation of Pope Pius XII’s establishment of the Archdiocese of Washington in 1939.

This weekend, June 28th and 29th, I will celebrate two 75th anniversary Masses for the Church of Washington that honor these roots of our Catholic faith. Today, we will rejoice with a Eucharistic celebration at the reconstructed Brick Chapel in Saint Mary’s City, Maryland.  Tomorrow, we will celebrate Mass on Saint Clement’s Island, where Jesuit Father Andrew White celebrated the first Catholic Mass in the English-speaking colonies 380 years ago.

On that day, March 25, in 1634, the English colonists who were traveling on the Ark and the Dove, seeking a new life in the Americas, had made landfall at an island on the Potomac that they named after Saint Clement.  Father White, whom we now remember as “the Apostle of Maryland,” later gave a report of that momentous day:

“On the day of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Virgin Mary in the year 1634, we celebrated Mass for the first time, on this island. This had never been done before in this part of the world… Sacrifice being ended, having taken up on our shoulders the great cross which we had hewn from a tree, and going in procession to the place that had been designated, the governor, commissioners, and other Catholics participating in the ceremony, we erected it as a trophy to Christ the Savior, while the litany of the holy cross was chanted humbly on our bended knees, with great emotion of soul.”

Lord Baltimore, a Catholic nobleman from England, founded the Maryland colony on the ideals of freedom of conscience and worship, and historians today regard Maryland as the birthplace of religious freedom in the United States. Catholics at Maryland’s first capital, Saint Mary’s City, built the Brick Chapel there circa 1667, which stood as a visible symbol of their religious freedom. But that right proved to be fragile when others took power.  In 1704, the royal governor ordered that the doors of the chapel be locked, and it was later dismantled, brick by brick, at a time when Catholics could not worship in public in Maryland.

In 2009, I participated in a ceremony at Saint Mary’s City and helped push open the doors of the reconstructed Brick Chapel there, which once again stands as a sign of Maryland’s legacy of religious freedom. Archaeologists have discovered that the site is surrounded by the graves of pioneer Catholics who helped plant our faith in Maryland.

As our family of faith celebrates the Eucharist at Saint Mary’s City and Saint Clement’s Island, we will pray for and honor our ancestors in the faith who first planted the cross in Maryland and established the ideal of religious freedom that we cherish today as Americans and as people of faith. Like the Apostles in the upper room, and like those pioneer colonists, we are called to be Jesus’s witnesses. In doing so, we honor the legacy of our ancestors in the faith, as we prepare to share our great inheritance, our Catholic faith, with generations to come.

A New Creation in John the Baptist

June 24th, 2014

Guido Reni, St. John the Baptist in the Wildernes

In the Gospel of Saint Luke, we read that Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist and a priest of the Temple, was a righteous man in the eyes of God.  Yet even good people can sometimes get caught up in the ways of the world, thinking as men think, not as God thinks (cf. Matthew 16:21-23).

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had been unable to have a child and they were at an advanced age where they had given up hope of having one.  Then one day, when Zechariah was offering incense in the Temple sanctuary, the angel Gabriel was sent to announce to him this good news – they would have a son and “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:15-17).

When Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she, a virgin, would be the mother of the Lord, she had complete faith in God.  In asking the angel to explain, she merely sought to understand how God’s will might be done in and through her, the handmaid of the Lord (Luke 1:34).  Thus, Elizabeth would subsequently say to her, “Blessed are you who believed” (Luke 1:45).

Zechariah, on the other hand, thinking of Elizabeth’s history of infertility and their old age, essentially doubted God and his plan.  Consequently, the angel told him, “Now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words” (Luke 1:20).

The result of Zechariah’s disbelief was an impaired ability to communicate and relate to others.  His tongue would not be loosed until after Elizabeth gave birth to their son and he gave witness of his restored faith, confirming in writing her insistence that the boy be named “John.”  Having brought new life to that which was barren, now God brought a new voice to that which had been silent, just as John would come to be a voice crying out in the wilderness (John 1:23).

Filled with the Holy Spirit, the new father joyously gave thanks with a hymn of praise that the Church has long recited each morning in the Liturgy of the Hours, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people.” Then Zechariah said prophetically, “And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:68, 76-79).

John the Baptist is a bridge of continuity between the Old Testament and the New.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, he completes the cycle of prophets begun by Elijah – with the fire of the Spirit dwelling in him, he is “the forerunner of the coming Lord.  In John, the precursor, the Holy Spirit completes the work of ‘[making] ready a people prepared for the Lord’” (CCC 718-19).  With John, the Spirit “begins the restoration to man of ‘the divine likeness,’ prefiguring what he would achieve with and in Christ” (CCC 720), with whom there is a new beginning, a new and everlasting covenant.

As we celebrate today the birth of John – son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, prophet, precursor and baptizer – we celebrate and give thanks to the Lord who makes within us a new creation.  He brings us new life and with his love, we will bear abundant fruit.

“Abide with Me”

June 22nd, 2014

The Last Supper, 1648 - Philippe de Champaigne

One of the most beautiful Corpus Christi celebrations that I have experienced is from my student days and is held at Genzano, a small Italian hill town that is south of Rome and about a half-hour drive beyond Castel Gandolfo, the traditional summer residence of the popes.  In a tradition that goes back to 1778, one of the principal streets of this community is covered with flower petals depicting artful designs and religious scenes that give the impression of a carpet of tapestries.  People work with great care and skill during the Infiorata (flower festival) to cover the entire roadway so that on this Solemnity of the Body and Blood of our Lord, the Blessed Sacrament can be carried from one church to another along this “avenue of flowers,” a fitting carpet for the Eucharistic procession.

While perhaps without as much exuberance, Corpus Christi processions take place in Catholic parishes all over the world.  In fact, one of the ancient and outstanding visible signs of Catholic piety is devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the public manifestation of faith in this unique and abiding presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

The faith of the Church in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist goes back to the words of Jesus himself, as recorded in the Gospel of Saint John. In the Eucharistic discourse after the multiplication of the loaves, our Lord contrasted ordinary bread with a bread that is not of this world, but which contains eternal life for those who eat it. He said, “I am the bread of life…I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:48, 51).

What Jesus offers us is his continuing, enduring presence every time we celebrate Mass.  No mere metaphor, the bread really and truly becomes his Body and the wine really and truly becomes his Blood. The way in which Jesus is present in the Eucharist cannot be explained in physical terms, because it transcends the ordinary necessities of space and measurement.

The feast of Corpus Christi celebrates in a formal way what we practice instinctively every time we enter a church. We kneel, or bow, or stand reverently for a minute before entering the pew because we acknowledge the presence of the Risen Christ in the Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle. The consecrated Host must be adored because he is God. Thus the place where the Blessed Sacrament is kept is by its nature a place of worship.

The presence of the Blessed Sacrament in every one of our parishes is also an invitation to prayer. Arriving early for Mass to spend a few minutes in quiet preparation has the spiritual effect of helping make our hearts “an avenue for the Lord” every bit as beautiful as the flowers of Genzano.  Another fruitful practice is to stay awhile after Mass or take time out as you are running errands and stop in a church to sit quietly with Our Lord.  To have an opportunity to spend some time with Jesus, to offer a prayer of thanksgiving, to share what is on your mind, to simply be with him, is to be reminded that Our Lord abides with us always.

Newly Ordained Priests Will Continue Legacy of “Manifesting the Kingdom”

June 18th, 2014

2014-ordination-class

For 2,000 years, priests in every generation have taken up the call that Jesus made to his Apostles – the first priests – at the Last Supper: “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19).  Every time they celebrate the Eucharist and preach the Gospel, and each time they administer the sacraments, priests make Jesus present to their people, helping to fulfill the risen Christ’s promise that “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).

On Saturday, June 21, during a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, I will be privileged to ordain the seven newest priests of the Archdiocese of Washington: Deacon Timothy Daniel, Deacon Anthony D’Souza, Deacon Kenneth Gill; Deacon Cezary Kozubek, Deacon Charles Luckett, Deacon Aaron Qureshi, and Deacon Christopher Seith.

Like all of the archdiocese’s 80 seminarians, these men stepping forward to be ordained come from different backgrounds, but they share a call to serve as icons of Jesus, embodying his way of life and making him visible to the flock entrusted to their care. Acting in the person of Christ, the head and shepherd, as priests they will authoritatively proclaim his Word, repeat his acts of forgiveness and his offer of salvation, showing his loving concern to the point of a total gift of self for the flock.

In this, the Archdiocese of Washington’s 75th anniversary year, our newest priests will build on the foundation of the priests who have faithfully served our spiritual family, making real our jubilee theme of “Manifesting the Kingdom.” Through the years, the priests of this archdiocesan Church have brought Christ’s love and hope to people in all stages of their lives. Our new priests can look to and learn from their brother priests, who can share insights into the archdiocese’s living history and the blessings and challenges of living the priestly vocation in our parishes.

The ordination class of 2014 can also look to the example of Saint John Paul II. Fittingly, our archdiocesan seminary is named for this inspiring man who traveled to 130 different countries to bring Christ and his Gospel message to the world. Saint John Paul’s total self-giving offers an example to today’s priests and seminarians. Like him, a priest has to see himself 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.

Likewise, Pope Francis has encouraged priests to serve as missionaries, opening the doors of their hearts and the doors of their churches to their people.  In his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, our Holy Father explains that “a true missionary, who never ceases to be a disciple, knows that Jesus walks with him, speaks to him, breathes with him, works with him” (Evangelii Gaudium, 266).  Additionally, in ordaining 10 new priests in Rome this spring, the Pope encouraged them to “carry out the ministry of Christ the priest with constant joy and genuine love, attending not to your own concerns, but to those of Jesus Christ.”

Now our newest priests of the Church of Washington will take up this calling.  This is their moment, this is their time, to be priests of the New Evangelization, and help people deepen their faith, grow confident in its truth, and share it with a world that needs the saving love of Christ.

In carrying out that work, these good men know they do not walk alone. They walk with Christ, and with you, as demonstrated by the people who participated in Eucharistic Adoration at many of our parishes to pray for these new priests, who will make “Manifesting the Kingdom” their work and ours.

A Father’s Love

June 15th, 2014

The Holy Trinity by Antonio de Pereda

As our nation shows appreciation for our fathers today, the Church also happens to lift up for us the Holy Trinity, the mystery of God’s inner life.  While it is a mystery – the central mystery of the Christian faith – reflecting on the Trinity can shed light on what it means to be a father and also what it means to be the child of a father.

The Church’s faith has always been Trinitarian. The greatest human minds have tried in various ways to explain this mystery that was divinely revealed to us, but the essential elements remain the same:  we worship one God who is an eternal communion of three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  “While they are called three persons in view of their relations, we believe in one nature or substance” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 255).  The three divine persons in this one divine God differ only in that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, the Spirit is not the Son, and the Spirit is not the Father.

Whatever explanation we choose to try to penetrate this profound mystery, at the center we find relationship, specifically, the fullness of love that is communion.  The doctrine of the Trinity is compressed into Scripture’s most compact definition of God: “God is Love” (1 John 4:8, 16). The author G.K. Chesterton observed that the Trinity is “simply the logical side of love.”

Within God himself is one who loves (Father) and one who is loved (Son), and is the Love itself (Spirit). The love which proceeds from the Father and the Son is not merely some warm sentiment but, since God is Love, is a living Person as well – the Holy Spirit.  While challenging, this is no abstract exercise in theology but a life-giving truth since we humans are created in the image and likeness of God the Trinity.  Just as God is three in one and enjoys the communion of the three divine persons, so too are human beings, made male and female, called to live in a fruitful communion of persons.

Here is revealed the essence of true human fatherhood – it is not simply biology or obligation, it is relationship and love.  In particular, as we read in the Catechism, the standard for all human fathers is God the Father (CCC 239, 302, 2214).  Like our Father in heaven, the criterion for fathers in the natural created order is unconditional love – warm affection, giving of self, and seeking the good of his children.  Most fathers understand this implicitly and, like God in his Providence, they have been engaged in our lives, looking out for us, guiding us, prompting us and providing opportunities for us.

Not everyone, of course, has had a positive experience with their natural fathers. The reality is that our fathers are imperfect humans, not divine, and they sometimes may fall short of what we would like them to be.  Yet we overcome such obstacles by drawing nearer to the Trinity, to God the perfect Father who more than makes up for the shortcomings of others, to the Son who asks us to love as he loves, and to the Spirit of Love who heals us and helps us to forgive one another.

On this Father’s Day, which is in a certain sense a public affirmation of the Fourth Commandment, we honor and express our love for the men who have helped to give us life together with our mothers and God, who is the source of all human fatherhood.  As we thank fathers for all that they have done for us, devoting their time, energy, resources and love, may God’s blessings be upon them.

The Missionary Work of Married Couples

June 12th, 2014

missionary work blog

In Pope Francis’ recent exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, he reminds us that every Christian “is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization: indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love” (Evangelii Gaudium, 120).  Our Holy Father speaks of the vocation of the baptized as that of “missionary disciples” because all of us can witness to “the saving love of the Lord, who despite our imperfections offers us his closeness, his word and his strength, and gives meaning to our lives” (Id., 121).

The truth of Our Lord’s closeness and learning to love people in spite of their imperfections certainly resonates with the married couples who this year are celebrating jubilee anniversaries!  Our entire archdiocesan faith family will rejoice with these couples in a special way this coming Sunday, June 15, at our annual Marriage Jubilarian Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Christ raised marriage to a sacrament.  In the covenant of matrimony, the promise of fidelity lived out in the spouses’ personal commitment to one another is meant to mirror the eternal love that Jesus, the Bridegroom, has for his Bride, the Church. In the sacrament, the Lord gives the grace to help the couple prosper in good times and in bad and help them to be missionaries to each other in their pilgrimage to the heavenly kingdom.

Saint John Paul II liked to speak of marriage as a “school of love” because only in the context of life-long mutual self-giving do all the daily challenges and ups and downs of living together and raising a family become not only bearable, but also fruitful.  The more than 800 couples who will celebrate 25, 40, 50, or 65 years of marriage – and even for a few couples more than 70 years of marital union – give beautiful testimony to the fruitful love grown in fidelity.  These married missionary disciples share a witness that is an important message in a culture that promotes the idea that you can just walk away from marriage when you face difficulties.

Conversations with these couples reveal that fidelity over many years is a result of learning to live with their spouses’ imperfections, being a source of strength for the other, and staying close to the Lord. Little acts of love show the self-giving love of which the Gospel speaks. When this kind of selfless love is witnessed by others, it bears fruit in a testimony to God’s love. Married couples are witnesses to God’s promise of an enduring, faithful and fruitful love. The married love of a man and woman becomes therefore a suitable image of the love between Christ and his Church.

Christian marriage and family life have a crucial mission in the world and this missionary field is as challenging as any throughout the ages. Saint John Paul’s oft-repeated statement, “The future of humanity passes by way of the family,” is now more important than ever. Into the family are born those who constitute the next generation.  What is passed on is the heritage of each successive generation for good or for ill.

If we are successful in teaching the faith, forming character, and nurturing virtue, then the culture and society that we create will be all the better. To the extent that we fail, so shall it be reflected in our culture.

Thus, we take time not only to celebrate our Jubiliarians but also to reflect upon and reaffirm marriage and family life and to defend it at all times. In doing so, we guarantee the strength and richness of marriage and family for ourselves, our nation, our society – and most important, for our children and their children.

Homily: Mass for Archdiocesan Synod

June 8th, 2014

Bishop Knestout presents Synod documents to Cardinal Wuerl.

It is a pleasure to welcome all of you to the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle as we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost.  While it is true that the Pentecost we commemorate today happened almost 2,000 years ago, what we are celebrating is the continuing outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church – on you and me today.

At that first Pentecost there were audible and visible signs of the great spiritual presence of the Holy Spirit.  The Acts of the Apostles speaks about “a noise like a strong driving wind” and then “tongues as of fire which parted and came to rest on each of them.”  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit continues today.  The manifestation of it is seen with different signs.

In every baptism I remind all of us as we stand around the baptismal font that what we will see and hear are the pouring of water and the announcement of the baptismal formula.  But what is actually happening is a far more powerful spiritual reality – the washing away of original sin, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the incorporation of the person into the body of Christ the Church.  To recognize all of this, one has to see with the eyes of faith and hear with a heart of belief.

That was true at the first Pentecost.  It was only because Jesus had already told the Apostles that the Spirit would come upon them that they were able, in the sounds and sights of that glorious day, to recognize the Holy Spirit.  Today we too are asked to see with the eyes of faith and listen with the heart of belief to the Spirit at work in this great archdiocesan Church.

This Pentecost the Archdiocese of Washington experiences a unique moment in its history.  Gathered in this cathedral are laywomen and laymen, religious, deacons, priests and the bishops of this local Church as we conclude two years of work that has been a part of our first Archdiocesan Synod.  We see and hear in this ecclesial event the action of a new Pentecost – of the grace of that first original Pentecost – the ever-new outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

What we celebrate is called a synod.  This the Church defines as a gathering of laity, religious and clergy reflective of the local Church to review the efforts of the Church to carry out the ministry entrusted to it by Christ.

If we have become timid as the Apostles are described in the Acts of the Apostles before the coming of the Holy Spirit, then the synod is to help us become bold in our proclamation of the faith just as the outpouring of the Spirit changed the Apostles and charged them with courage and boldness in bearing witness to the faith.

Our Archdiocesan Synod has been a time to take stock, with honesty and humility, of the condition of our spiritual home, particularly in the key areas of Worship, Education, Community, Service, and Stewardship and Administration.  In this prayerful process, input from the faithful was gathered with the goal of providing concrete direction so that we can better prepare ourselves to carry forward the work of the Church into the future.

The spiritual and pastoral priorities of our local Church have been examined to establish stable reference points for ecclesial life and practice, particularly so that the New Evangelization might permeate every aspect of the life of our Church.  In addition, existing policies have been reviewed and, where necessary, updated.

In October 2011, I raised the possibility of an Archdiocesan Synod and there was an enthusiastically positive response from archdiocesan leadership, the Priest Council and our Archdiocesan Pastoral Council.  And so it was that during Lent of 2012 we began to meet with those who were identified as ex officio members by Church law and with laywomen and laymen chosen from across the parishes of the archdiocese.

Since this gathering of our faith community would coincide with the 75th anniversary of the archdiocese this very year, it serves as an opportunity to hear from the faithful on the condition of our Church.  It seems all the more appropriate to use our 75th anniversary as a marker along the way of the Church to take stock of where we are and where we need to be in order to fulfill our mission to bring the good news of the saving love and liberating truth of Jesus Christ to the world.

Between September 2012 and May 2014 the more than 200 members of the synod, most of whom are gathered here today, created a process to reflect upon input from the faithful.  Then began the task of analyzing the more than 15,000 suggestions offered by Catholics through parish and regional listening sessions as well as an online survey.

As I attended those sessions I was edified to see that all of the working committees were as diverse geographically and ethnically as is this great archdiocese and that lawwomen and laymen, consecrated and ordained persons all worked together to offer a comprehensive reflection of the needs and desires of this Church.  The last of those long working sessions concluded on May 10, 2014 when all of the participants responded with unanimous support and consensus for everything that had been produced.

With the help of God we have accomplished what we set out to do.  The various recommendations have been submitted following the deliberation of the Synod members.  The statutes have been approved and promulgated.  The Synod now celebrates the conclusion of its work on this, the Solemnity of Pentecost 2014.

But the conclusion of our Synod is not so much an ending as it is a new beginning. This renewal of faith and fervor in our spiritual family is not meant to be a one-time event for the history books.  Rather it has the purpose of forming, informing and directing the mission and life in the Spirit of our local Church into the future.

It urges us to continue to manifest the kingdom of God in our community – bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to a world so in need of healing, solidarity, justice and peace.  We renew our commitment to be a light to those who struggle in darkness, and to build up the common good in a culture of life, solidarity and fraternity.  This holy assembly provides us direction as we, a pilgrim people, continue our heavenly journey accompanied by God and the saints.

What Saint John XXIII envisioned in calling the Second Vatican Council was a new Pentecost, a renewal of faith in the life of the Church and a lively apostolic fervor in spreading the Gospel. Likewise, the time of our Archdiocesan Synod has been a new beginning of renewal in the life of faith. With our hearts revived and transformed by Jesus, with the new life of the Spirit within us, every day going forward in our local Church should be as a new Pentecost.

In our Archdiocesan Synod we should see a reflection of the challenge of Saint John Paul II to open wide our hearts to Christ and to be not afraid as we welcome Christ into our lives and accept him as the norm of our actions.

This first Synod of the Archdiocese of Washington belongs to all of us.  In our spiritual family of faith, we all share the responsibility for the life and mission of the Church, including this Synod, each according to his or her gifts and role.

As we reflect upon the effort and fruit of our Archdiocesan Synod, it is appropriate to thank all of those who generously gave of their time and talents toward this undertaking.  The labors of all those who participated, from its conception to its conclusion, enabled the sessions to be productive.  Your active participation in this ecclesial enterprise was a major factor in the success of this significant moment in the life of the Church of Washington.  Finally, I express my gratitude to all the members of this local Church who by their prayers and words of encouragement provided spiritual sustenance for the work of the Synod.

When Jesus spoke, particularly in his farewell discourse, of the Holy Spirit, while it was clear that the Apostles grasped something of the distinctive quality of the Spirit, the full impact of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, on the Church, was not felt until Pentecost.  Even after the Resurrection the Apostles remained timid, frightened and unsure of themselves and the message that they were to proclaim.  All that changed with Pentecost.

What is so striking in the change in each of the Apostles after the outpouring of the Spirit is that these timid, unsure, reluctant men became bold, confident, courageous witnesses of all that Jesus had taught them.

This is the power of the Spirit at work.  Poured into the heart of each believer in baptism and confirmation, the Spirit comes to make us a new creation.  What is purely temporal, tied to this earth and limited to the confines of the flesh, gives way to a new fullness and richness that can only be described as a new life, the life of God welling up within us.  If it is nurtured and cared for, that new life will know no end.

This glorious transformation in the power of the Holy Spirit is what the Church commemorates at Pentecost; what the Church celebrates in the continuing       new Pentecosts that are a part of the life of the Church, and what we proclaim today in our Synod of the Church of Washington.

Pentecost is an occasion to thank God for an outpouring of the Spirit that has touched this Church in a real and visible way.  We pray that God continue to bless our efforts as a family of faith so that we can manifest as fully as possible the kingdom of God here and now. May what we do now and in the future hasten the realization of our prayer, “Thy Kingdom come.”