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.

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 


For many people, part of planning for vacation is heading off to the bookstore or the library or logging on to 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.

To Be The Best Church We Can Be

August 2nd, 2014

Cardinal Wuerl and Archbishop Lori at the Archdiocese of Washington Synod Mass.

This year, we have been celebrating a milestone – specifically, the 75 years that our family of faith has been manifesting the kingdom of God since the Archdiocese of Washington was established in 1939.  Looking back at this heritage, and to the roots of our Catholic ancestors who arrived here in 1634, we also look to the future, and it has been appropriate during this time to engage in some introspection, to ask if we are the best Church we can be.

Given this historic moment, with all the challenges to our living fully our Catholic faith today, I thought it right to undertake this ecclesial self-examination and plan for the future in the form of an Archdiocesan Synod.

What followed over the next couple of years was a great deal of prayer, reflection, discussion and consensus among a representative cross-section of our faith family who shared their ideas about what we are doing well and how we might improve, particularly in the areas of worship, education, community, service, and stewardship and administration.

Concurrent with the culmination of our Synod on Pentecost, I published a pastoral letter, Manifesting the Kingdom, in which I explain how the Synod should be interpreted in the context of the recent teachings of the Church, particularly the call to the New Evangelization and life in the Spirit.  This pastoral letter is intended to guide our local Church as we now implement the work of the Synod.

Once I visited a school on a cold and wet winter morning and asked the assembled students, “Why would we be here on such a miserable day?”  One fourth-grader stood with great pride and answered, “I come to this school so that I can get a life.”  His schoolmates nodded and applauded.

What this youngster said about his Catholic school should be true of all the ministries of the Church.  They exist to give others a life through an encounter with the One who is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).  Are we doing that in our archdiocese?  Do we reflect Christ’s light in the world? Are we the best Church we can be?

At 75 years, we are a young Church in many ways, but we are also a Church of achievement, accomplishment and experience.  We praise God for these blessings.  However, we know that we could do better.  We dare not be complacent.

In the New Testament are many letters from Saint Paul to various churches where the seeds of the Gospel had been sown.  The missionary Apostle gave thanks to God that the Church had taken root and sprouted, but many of these letters also dealt with difficulties and problems that had arisen.  In chapter two of the Book of Revelation, the Lord himself addresses seven churches, giving praise for the good in them, but also advising them to do better and in some cases rebuking them.  He concludes each assessment of the respective churches with the words, “Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Our Archdiocesan Synod was a time to listen to the Spirit and fully take stock, with honesty and humility, of the condition of our spiritual home.  In this prayerful process, the spiritual and pastoral priorities of our local Church were examined to establish stable reference points for ecclesial life and practice, particularly so the New Evangelization might permeate every aspect of the life of our Church.  Upon consideration of the recommendations of the Synod members, formal statutes have been enacted.  In addition, existing policies have been reviewed and, where necessary, updated.

On Pentecost, at the conclusion of the Synod, we gave thanks for the outpouring of the Spirit.  We now pray that God continue to bless our efforts as our family of faith implements the fruitful work of the Synod. May what we do now and in the future hasten the realization of our prayer, “Thy Kingdom come.”

The Scourge of War, the Blessing of Peace

July 30th, 2014
Pope Paul VI makes a special appeal for world peace in 1965 at the United Nations headquarters in New York. "No more war, war never again," he declared to the General Assembly. (CNS photo/Yutaka Nagata, U.N.)

Pope Paul VI makes a special appeal for world peace in 1965 at the United Nations headquarters in New York. (CNS photo/Yutaka Nagata, U.N.)

One hundred years ago this week began what is perhaps the greatest calamity in mankind’s history.  They called it the “Great War” and later a “World War.”  Before it was over, more than 16 million people would be slain and another 20 million wounded.  Moreover, the stage was set for an even greater conflagration, followed by years of proxy wars.

Among the primary causes of World War I were distrust among peoples and lingering resentments from past conflicts.  With bewildering swiftness, nation after nation mobilized their militaries and then declared war on one another.  Crowds in the street cheered and men eagerly hurried to enlist so they could join in.

After the American Civil War, General William T. Sherman famously remarked that there are some “who look on war as all glory, but it is all hell.”

Pope Benedict XV – who was elected when Pope Pius X died a few weeks after the outbreak of war – would dedicate his pontificate to restoring peace.  In his first encyclical, he confirms Sherman’s assessment of war – “There is no limit to the measure of ruin and of slaughter; day by day the earth is drenched with newly-shed blood, and is covered with the bodies of the wounded and of the slain. Who would imagine, as we see them thus filled with hatred of one another, that they are all of one common stock, all of the same nature, all members of the same human society? Who would recognize brothers, whose Father is in Heaven?” Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum.

The long teaching of the Church is that under certain conditions, war might be justified.  Precisely because of the value of human life, we have a solemn duty to protect life when it is threatened.  A war of aggression is intrinsically immoral, but those who are attacked unjustly have a right of legitimate defense, which might involve deadly force against other combatants, but never against innocent civilian populations (CCC 2307-17).

Even if justifiable, war in every case is a tragedy.  Because of the evils and injustices that all war brings with it, we must do everything reasonably possible to avoid it.  Thus, when Pope Paul VI became the first pontiff to address the United Nations in 1965, he emphatically pleaded, “Never one against the other, never, never again. . . . No more war, war never again. It is peace, peace which must guide the destinies of peoples and of all mankind.”

The Church recognizes that peace is not merely the absence of conflict; rather, it is the tranquility of order and justice according to God’s eternal law of love and truth (Gaudium et Spes, 78).  With his embrace of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and his hosting of Israeli and Palestinian leaders to pray for peace at Pentecost, Pope Francis shows the way toward genuine and lasting peace – reconciliation and fraternity.

This is not a naïve dream of our Holy Father.  America’s own national experience demonstrates that it is the key to peace.  The principle of “with malice toward none, with charity for all,” as President Lincoln said toward the end of the Civil War – which finds its roots in Jesus’ remarkable injunction to forgive one another and love our enemy – has led the United States time and again to make friends of enemies.  We are friends with Great Britain, Spain, Germany, Japan and Italy.  We have welcomed the Vietnamese and Iraqi people to our shores.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).  Our efforts toward peace are grounded in the knowledge that we are one human family, that God is Father of all.  Jesus sets before us a world of those who hunger and thirst for holiness, justice, mercy, righteousness and compassion for our sisters and brothers. To the extent that each of us participates in that effort there will be just a little bit more light, harmony and love in the world.  There will be genuine peace.

Our Redeemer is Christ Jesus

July 28th, 2014
St. Paul by Philippe Champaigne

St. Paul by Philippe de Champaigne

“What do I need to do to be assured of going to heaven?” This is a question that many of us have thought about, if not actually asked a priest or a teacher or a friend.  One of the most “famous” people to ask the question is the rich young man in the Gospels (Matthew 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22, Luke 18:18-23). Like many of us, the man felt he was doing all the right things and he wanted some definitive assurance it was enough. Jesus’ answer was not comforting!

Saint Paul also takes up the question because in his travels he found that people were debating about whether you earn salvation or whether it comes with believing in Jesus.  Paul was clear – our salvation is a gift from God, won for us by Jesus in his redemptive works (Romans 3:23-26).

Jesus preached that “only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven” will enter the kingdom of God (cf. Matthew 7:21). It is by leading a life pleasing to God, obeying his commandments, all rooted in the demanding commandment of love, that we live in the world the life we have received. By doing the will of God in charity we grow in the divine life we have received.

The Christian is not called merely to conversion followed by a static preservation of a gift once received. Christ has given us new life, a life that must be dynamic and grow.

Paul insists – “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).  By ever becoming more intensely alive in the Lord, who is Truth and Love, and by exercising this life in union with him in personal prayer and in liturgy and in deeds of love, we also prepare for the heavenly life to which all earthly sharing in Christ’s life is ordered as its final crown and final perfection.

All our prayer, worship and works of love in this world are imperfect. Paul reminds us that we live in a state of faith and obscurity, and in a world still suffering, awaiting final redemption (cf. Romans 8:22-23).

There are people and things of this world that would seek to keep us from that redemption.  The people in Rome, no less today, faced temptations and opposition.  But Paul tells them to have hope.  “If God is for us, who can be against us?” he points out. “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).

While the works of a Christian may bring this world ever closer to conformity with the plan of God’s kingdom, that kingdom cannot be perfected here. What we strive after in living now the life of Christ will be fully realized only when we have come to see God face-to-face, and in his light rejoice in the utter victory of Christ over all sin, death and imperfection (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

The grace of God, which moves us to good deeds and builds up the Body of Christ, merits eternal life for us. It is not our own power which makes our good deeds so effective, so fruitful. We ourselves could never initiate or draw out our own resources to bring about life forever with God. Rather, it is Jesus who merits for us all the holiness we hope for.

It is the Lord’s generosity that enlarges our life by his grace, so that we may truly believe and love, that we may truly share in the work of God. In that hope, Paul assures us, we are saved (Romans 8:24).

This is the fourth installment in a series on Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans. 

A History of Manifesting the Kingdom: The Catholic Impact on Our Community

July 25th, 2014

Once at a meeting, I heard a man ask, “What does the Church bring to society?” When people pose such questions as a challenge, deep down they seem to be expressing a note of hope. Somewhere they heard the promise of Jesus and his Good News, and they long for it to be true.

Our family of faith does a great deal of good for a lot of people today.  Many of the contributions made by the various agencies, groups and people of this local Church are highlighted in a booklet, Catholic Impact 2014, which was released by the archdiocese on Pentecost concurrently with the publication of my pastoral letter, Manifesting the Kingdom.

One of the primary ways the Lord continues to provide and care for humanity is through us, through the body of Christ we call the Church, co-workers for his kingdom.  To the extent that Jesus reigns within us, explains Pope Francis, “the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity. Both Christian preaching and life, then, are meant to have an impact on society” (Evangelii gaudium, 180).

Since its establishment by Pope Pius XII 75 years ago, the Church of Washington has made a significant impact on our community, manifesting Christ’s kingdom of truth and life, justice, love and peace. Yet this is only one chapter in a much longer story that goes back to the time when Catholic settlers first made landfall in Maryland in 1634, and then still further back, to the time when the Apostles and first disciples who walked with Jesus almost 2,000 years ago took up his great commission to be his witnesses. For two millennia, our Church through its outreach has brought Christ’s teaching, healing and loving service to our world.

At each Mass, we encounter Christ in the word of God that is proclaimed and in the Eucharist that we receive. Then, at the end of Mass, we are called to go forth, and bring Christ to our world.

Catholic Impact tells the continuing story of how Jesus’ love, mercy and hope unfolds every day in our own community, from the rising of the sun to its setting. That work of manifesting God’s kingdom is carried out in a special way in our Catholic educational, social service and health care programs. Our Catholic schools and parish religious education programs carry out the work of Christ the teacher, bringing his saving truth to people of all ages. Our Catholic social service agencies like Catholic Charities; St. Ann’s Center for Children, Youth and Families; Victory Housing programs; and the Center for Deaf Ministries continue Jesus’ call to love and serve the poor. Likewise, our Catholic hospitals, nursing homes and other health care institutions reflect the presence of Christ who healed the sick.

“Faith teaches us to see that every man and woman represents a blessing for me, that the light of God’s face shines on me through the faces of my brothers and sisters,” affirms Pope Francis.  “How many benefits has the gaze of Christian faith brought to the city of men for their common life!  Thanks to faith we have come to understand the unique dignity of each person, something which was not clearly seen in antiquity” (Lumen fidei, 54).

Over the years, Catholic agencies, ministries and everyday men and women have made a profound difference in the lives of millions of our sisters and brothers in this area regardless of religion, race, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation.  The stories highlighted in Catholic Impact are just a few examples of how Christ transforms our hearts, and then we in turn change our world by bringing to others the vision of a more fully and authentic human life, hope for a better world, and a way of life which seeks to establish a culture of solidarity and communion.

Our local Church makes an integral contribution to the well-being of this community in a way that enriches us all. Now it’s our turn to manifest the kingdom, and impact our community with Christ’s teaching, healing and loving service to the poor.

Happy Birthday Archdiocese of Washington!

July 22nd, 2014

Papal Bull

Today we celebrate a special moment in our history.  On this day 75 years ago, July 22, 1939, the Archdiocese of Washington was born.

When Pope Pius XII issued his papal bull establishing the archdiocese at the request of my predecessor, Archbishop Michael J. Curley, it only included the District of Columbia. Eight years later, upon the death of our founding shepherd, the archdiocese was expanded to include the Maryland counties of Saint Mary’s, Charles, Calvert, Prince George’s and Montgomery.  Today, the archdiocese includes more than 620,000 Catholics and each weekend, Masses are celebrated in more than 20 languages in our churches and chapels.

While the archdiocese had its beginning 75 years ago, the story of our Church goes back much further, with roots in the colonial era, when Maryland’s first settlers landed on Saint Clement’s Island and celebrated the first Mass in the English colonies in 1634. Those pioneer Catholic colonists established Maryland as the birthplace of religious freedom in the United States.

From the beginning, the lives of the Catholic community in what is now the Archdiocese of Washington have been rooted in prayer. People who live along city streets, in suburban neighborhoods and in the rural countryside find a spiritual home in the archdiocese’s 139 parishes and nine missions.  Where priests once ministered to their flocks in Maryland and Washington on horseback and by boat, the Church of Washington now connects with its flock in the digital age, through the pulpit and via social media.

In an enduring way, the people of this local Church have participated in the mission of manifesting God’s kingdom in the world.  The crucible of the Great Depression shaped the faith of the first members of the newly formed archdiocese in 1939.  Soon they would demonstrate a spirit of generosity and sacrifice in serving their country overseas and at home during World War II. In the post-war years, many new churches and schools were built throughout the archdiocese to serve the growing Catholic population. The churches where our Catholics now pray and the schools where our children now learn stand as living reminders of the faith and generosity of earlier generations of Catholics in the archdiocese.

Our Catholic schools in this area began when our country did. For generations, Catholic schools in the archdiocese have educated leaders for our Church, our community and our nation. Partnerships among parish, school and community groups have helped develop innovative programs at local Catholic schools, like the bilingual Spanish immersion program at Sacred Heart School in Washington, the work study program at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, the global learning curriculum at Saint Francis International School in Silver Spring, the classics curriculum at Saint Jerome School in Hyattsville, and of course Archbishop Carroll High School, which continues to provide an excellent academic and faith-based education to a student population that includes a majority of financially distressed students who come from some of the most difficult neighborhoods in the city.

Catholic Charities founded in Washington in 1929 helped people during the Depression, and now in a new millennium, Catholic Charities is the largest private social services provider in this metropolitan area, bringing help and hope to 116,000 people annually in more than 65 programs at 48 locations.

The Daughters of Charity started Providence Hospital in Washington during the Civil War years, and today it continues as one of four Catholic hospitals in the area providing state-of-the-art health care and millions of dollars in care to the poor each year.

The theme of this 75th anniversary year is “Manifesting the Kingdom.” This reflects the faith and service of generations of Catholics who have brought Christ’s love and hope to our community and our world.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus taught, served the poor and healed the sick, and for 75 years this archdiocese has continued to carry out that work of faith.  Thankful for the legacy left us by earlier generations of Catholics, now we look forward to the future. Now it is our turn. As witnesses to Christ, his Gospel, his kingdom, each and every one of us can make a difference.