The Roots of the Tree of Liberty in America

July 4th, 2016
By Howard Chandler Christy

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, by Howard Chandler Christy

When Father Andrew White and company boarded the Ark and the Dove back in November 1633 on voyage to establish the colony of Maryland, what they had in mind was freedom, not gold or conquest. They simply wanted the freedom to live and practice their faith openly without constraint or domination, together with the opportunity to build a better life that is afforded by freedom. Furthermore, the Catholic Lord Baltimore founded the Maryland colony on the idea of freedom of conscience and religion not just for Catholics, but for all.

The story of the birthplace of religious liberty in this land actually began a hundred years earlier, when Henry VIII attempted to control and change the Catholic Church in England and executed those who stood for rights of conscience and the freedom of the Church from state interference, including Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher. To conclude the Fortnight for Freedom today, relics of these two martyr saints will be present for veneration at the closing Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

It is a tradition on the Fourth of July to watch a spectacular fireworks show. As we celebrate this day dedicated to the great cause of freedom, we also ought to look at the even more magnificent religious roots of our nation’s founding. Many of the American colonies in addition to Maryland were originally established as “plantations of religion.” The Calvinist Pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower and landed at Plymouth, the Quakers who journeyed to Pennsylvania, the settlers who came to what became Rhode Island, and more – although they differed some in their particular tenets, all came to these lands seeking a place of refuge and new beginnings where they could live freely according to those religious beliefs.

Many would follow them to these shores, each attracted by the freedom of opportunity, action and belief offered in America. These intrepid pioneers believed, against the actual experience of much of human history, that the natural state of humanity as created by God was to be free.

“The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth [and] the end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom,” wrote John Locke, who strongly influenced the founding fathers (Second Treatise on Civil Government, 22, 57 (1690)). Said John Adams, “Liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker” (Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (1765)). Thomas Jefferson concurred, asserting that our rights and freedom are not given to us at the beneficence of some worldly ruler, but rather, “God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time” (The Rights of British America (1774)).

It is remarkable how comfortable the founders were in recognizing God as an integral necessity for a free nation. In declaring us to be a free and independent nation, they affirmed that freedom is endowed to us by our Creator, expressing also their “firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence” in securing our independence.

The founders uniformly agreed that freedom would be in grave danger if people were to live as if God did not exist or if God were to otherwise be excluded from the life of the nation. Asked Jefferson, “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?” (Notes on the State of Virginia, XVIII). President George Washington attested as well in his Farewell Address, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”

When he first arrived here, the French observer Alexis de Tocqueville was particularly struck by the religious aspect of the country and by how, with its transcendent moral order, religion helped to lift up and preserve free society. “Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society,” he wrote, “but nevertheless it must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of it” (Democracy in America, vol. I, ch. 17 (1835)).

The conviction that we are by nature free, recognizing the sovereignty of God and his law in our personal and societal life, has long been a cornerstone of the American experience. “The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth,” declared Thomas Paine in arguing for independence (Common Sense). As Americans and as Catholics, this is our cause too, this is our calling: to bear witness to the freedom given us by God.

Saint Junípero Serra

July 1st, 2016
A reliquary containing relics of St. Junipero Serra is seen as Pope Francis celebrates his canonization and Mass outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

A reliquary containing relics of St. Junipero Serra is seen as Pope Francis celebrates his canonization and Mass outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

One of the most powerful moments from Pope Francis’ visit to Washington this past fall came at the Canonization Mass of Junípero Serra. The Holy Father stood on the east portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception looking out at a crowd of more than 25,000 people – the first pope from the New World, and this was the first canonization on U.S. soil.

This Mass will always be a historic moment for me – I will never forget standing in front of the Pope asking him, “Holy Father, will you canonize Junípero Serra?” But it was a historic time for the Church in America and what a great moment of pride for this local Church that we were the host for the whole event.

Today on July 1, we celebrate the first feast day of Saint Junípero Serra, the great 18th century Spanish Franciscan missionary of California. When we look at the life of this newly-declared saint, we see a self-giving person totally dedicated to the spread of the Gospel. After he left Spain when he was 36 to become a missionary in the New World, Saint Junípero is thereafter credited with making his way on foot up and down the coast of California founding and overseeing mission after mission.

Traveling along California’s coastal highway today and reading the name signs for the towns and places that grew out of those missions is like reciting a Litany of the Saints – San Diego, San Luis Obispo, San Juan Capistrano, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Santa Barbara, Venture (shortened from San Buenaventura) and Carmel (shortened from San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo), where Saint Junípero is buried.

In his homily at the Canonization Mass, Pope Francis said that the new saint was a witness who testified by his life and his words to the joy of the Gospel and embodied “a Church that goes forth.” The Holy Father then concluded his homily with a stirring call for action. “Father Serra had a motto which inspired his life and work, not just a saying, but above all a reality which shaped the way he lived: siempre adelante! Keep moving forward!”

Saint Junípero “kept moving forward because the Lord was waiting. He kept going because his brothers and sisters were waiting. He kept going forward to the end of his life,” explained the Pope before imploring the rest of us, “Today, like him, may we be able to say: Forward! Let’s keep moving forward!”

The Holy Father has called on today’s Catholics to be “missionary disciples,” sharing the Good News of Jesus as Christ’s witnesses in our time. For us, this means following in the footsteps of the Apostles and disciples who walked with Jesus, for we too are called to walk with Christ in our everyday lives, and help those we meet encounter our Lord through us. That work of the New Evangelization means we must first renew and deepen our own faith, grow in our confidence of its truth, and then share it with others, perhaps some who have drifted away from the faith, grown lukewarm in their convictions, or never heard the Gospel.

For Saint Junípero, that missionary work meant him setting forth on foot along California’s coast. For us, heirs to his bold missionary spirit, this work might take place around the dinner table with our family, on the soccer sidelines or carpool lines with fellow parents, during an outing with friends, by the water cooler at work while chatting with coworkers, or while visiting with neighbors. The invitation might be as simple as inviting someone to come with us to Mass, or reaching out with love to someone who is experiencing sorrow or difficulty, and offering to pray for them and help them however we can.

The missions and cities lining California’s coasts today offer tangible evidence of Saint Junípero’s evangelizing zeal and love for Christ and for those he met along his travels. May that be true of us, too, as our enthusiasm and love for our Catholic faith might spread from our hearts to the hearts of our family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers.

Every moment is a new opportunity to connect another person with the abundant springtime that God promises. In this, we are protagonists of hope. In this way, like the great missionary saint of California, we can “keep moving forward,” because we know, as Pope Francis said, that our Lord is waiting, and our brothers and sisters are waiting for us, to make that journey of faith together.

“If They Persecuted Me, They Will Persecute You”

June 29th, 2016

saint-peter-and-saint-paul

Martyrdom is the supreme testimony. It is the most vivid and most credible summary of the Gospel.

Martyrs are Christians who take up the cross as Jesus did. They vividly fulfill the condition of discipleship laid down by the Lord himself (Matthew 16:24). They assume the role of Jesus on Calvary. Their death is a proclamation, even when the victim utters no audible words at the end.

No testimony to faith in Christ could be more compelling. In martyrdom, the servant willingly identifies with the Master and consents to dying the same sort of death as he died, suffering the same injustice and humiliation – and gaining the same reward.

This is the case for the two martyrs we celebrate today, Peter and Paul, both of whom were martyred and both who were instrumental in the spread of the Gospel following the death of our Lord. Tomorrow the Church lifts up as well the other martyrs of the early Church in Rome who at that time also offered the supreme testimony.

According to an ancient tradition, all but one of the apostles – Saint John – died as martyrs. But even John suffered persecution that should have killed him and certainly left its marks. Instead of suppressing the Church, as intended by those who perpetrated it, it was persecution that in fact spread the Gospel from one place to another, as the disciples scattered from city to city and their blood served as seed in the ground. Persecution, though it seemed to be a setback, turned out to be God’s providential way of ensuring the growth of the Church.

The earliest traditions tell of Saint Peter fleeing Rome only to encounter Jesus on the Appian Way. Seeing Christ heading back toward Rome, Peter knew he must return there to face persecution and a martyr’s death. Saint Paul also knew death was approaching, telling Timothy, “I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Timothy 4:6).

Saint Clement wrote both of the subsequent crucifixion of Peter and beheading of Paul during the reign of Nero, saying that in their deaths in Rome, they are joined in our memory as founders of the Church of Rome. As Saint Irenaeus went on to write, “Since, however, it would be very tedious in such a volume as this to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, [we do this] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul” (Adversus Haereses, III-3:2).

In their suffering, Peter, Paul and the other martyrs imitate Jesus in his witness and fulfill his prophetic words, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20; see also Matthew 10:22)). But they do more than that. Because of their communion, they participate in Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice.

Each time Christ’s one sacrifice is made present in our celebration of the Mass, and each time we read the Eucharistic prayer of the Western Church, we recall by name even today these early martyrs Peter and Paul and many others, including Cosmas and Damien, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecelia, Anastasia. This should enrich our understanding of what martyrdom means.

As the Eucharist is a re-presentation of Jesus’ Passion, so is martyrdom. As the Eucharist is a voluntary self-offering, so is martyrdom. As the Eucharist brings about communion with Christ, so does the act of martyrdom. As the Eucharist is given so that others might live, so are the lives of the martyrs.

This is what Paul meant when he said to Timothy that he was “being poured out like a libation.” Earlier, he had also written to the Church at Philippi, telling them that he would be “poured as a libation upon the sacrificial offering of your faith” (Philippians 2:17). In the first Christian generation, the Apostles saw their own suffering as a sharing in the cup of the new covenant in Christ’s blood, which is poured out for us for the forgiveness of sins.

As we live the liturgy within the Church, we become witnesses together with Peter on the Vatican hill, with Paul outside the walls of the city, and all those martyrs whose blood is the seed of the Church. We too are witnesses to the life we share with Christ. In the Eucharistic Prayer we make the offering with Jesus. And in Holy Communion we receive his life in exchange for our own.

This blog post draws from passages of my book “To the Martyrs: A Reflection on the Supreme Christian Witness.”

Fortnight for Freedom 2016: Witnesses to Freedom

June 25th, 2016

Fortnight for Freedom

In the state of affairs in which we find ourselves these days, the Fortnight for Freedom is offered to raise awareness and encourage people to speak out and defend our Catholic faith and Church.

The American experience for two centuries had recognized the importance of religion in shaping political and cultural life. And priding ourselves during that time on being the “land of the free,” we also tended to take religious liberty for granted. But more recent experience shows that things have changed.

Here and around the globe there are increasingly aggressive efforts to push God and religious believers out of the public square. “By any measure, religious freedom abroad has been under serious and sustained assault,” states the 2016 annual report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Christians in particular face growing challenges to freely living our faith, with various levels of oppression or outright denial of religious freedom. Our Christian sisters and brothers in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Nigeria and elsewhere are suffering violent persecution, and in the United States there is a growing tendency toward state interference in Catholic institutions and schools, as well as social and cultural pressures to act contrary to faith, conscience, human dignity and the common good, as informed by Catholic teaching.

No longer can we simply assume that our rights and liberties, religious or otherwise, will be respected as they once were. Furthermore, it is not enough that we lament this problem – we need to meet this challenge with action. Silence and complacency are not an option if we call ourselves Christian.

The theme for this year’s Fortnight is “Witnesses to Freedom.” This nation continues to need those who will stand up, sometimes alone, and call America to return to its own heritage, which recognizes that we are endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights and liberties. We especially continue to need people of faith, young and old, who will bear witness to truth, religious freedom, conscience and human dignity.

We are blessed already by the inspiration of many who have gone before. The bishops of this country cite several witnesses to authentic freedom in Christ at their website, including Blesseds Miguel Pro and Oscar Romero, Saints Peter and Paul, Perpetua and Felicity and, in particular, John Fisher and Thomas More.

When Henry VIII made his vainglorious claim to be supreme ruler in all matters, even over the Church, Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More refused to forsake their fidelity to God and the Church. Instead, each died a martyr for truth, conscience and freedom. Five centuries later, their witness inspires. In fact, the Fortnight began on the vigil of their feast day, June 22, and at the closing Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on July 4, we will have the special honor of the presence of their relics.

Other witnesses to freedom, some of them non-Catholic, commend themselves to our reflection as well. The many victims of ISIS genocide inspire and challenge us to remain firm in the faith even in the face of death. Another witness for freedom is Karol Wojtyla who, years before he became Pope John Paul II, steadfastly worked for religious freedom amidst a harsh Communist regime in Poland, including his defiant celebrations of Mass in an open field at Nowa Huta, which the regime had designed to be “the first communist city without God.” Other witnesses include Blessed Clemens August von Galen, Catholic Bishop of Münster, Germany, who denounced the Nazi regime from the pulpit, and also the Protestant Sophie Scholl, who had been inspired by Bishop von Galen, her brother Hans and other members of the White Rose, the German resistance group that also spoke out against Hitler before their arrest and execution.

In this country, especially in this 60th anniversary year of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, we can never forget Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who gave his life as a tireless witness of freedom and dignity for all people. To him we can add the Little Sisters of the Poor who have become the public face of a widespread movement in defense of religious liberty against the oppressive HHS Mandate.

The people of God have encountered obstacles and even persecution before, and the answer now is as it was in the past – standing firm in bearing witness to the Lord – which is also the mission given us by Jesus, who came to set humanity free. Throughout history, the Church and humanity as a whole have faced challenges to our natural rights and liberties given to us by God. But if each of us resolves to add our own name to that list of witnesses to freedom, Christ’s kingdom will break through in spite of limitations.

Ordination to the Priesthood Live Stream

June 25th, 2016

Giving Thanks for Ten Blessed Years Together

June 22nd, 2016

Celebrating-10-years

Ten years ago on June 22, 2006, when I received the shepherd’s staff as the archbishop of Washington, I said at the installation Mass, “Our faith journey together, beginning today, is the blessing we bring to each other, the blessing we share with each other.”

Subsequently in the archdiocese’s Catholic Standard newspaper, I took the opportunity to reflect on the role of the bishop, as set out in Pope – now Saint – John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Pastores Gregis (Latin for “Shepherds of the Flock”), which was issued in 2003 on the 25th anniversary of his election as bishop of Rome and chief shepherd of the universal Church. The framework for this work was the three-fold task of every bishop as a successor of the apostles: to sanctify, teach and lead. However, in this task, the bishop does not work alone, but depends on the collaborative efforts of many others.

The vision of God’s family gathered around its shepherds, united among themselves and with the Holy Father, has guided me in my episcopal service. Now this year, which also marks my 30th as a bishop and 50th of a priest, offers a time to reflect on the blessings in my life as a “shepherd of the flock” – especially with my family of faith in the Church of Washington.

Among the most joyous times has been in the celebration of Holy Mass and the sacraments, as people receive Christ in the Eucharist and then are challenged to go out and share his love with others, in baptizing and confirming the young and the not-so-young, in weddings of couples and ordinations of priests and deacons, and in the healing of confession and anointing. The Light is On for You program has especially promoted how God’s love heals us through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which has also become a central focus of our local efforts to promote this Jubilee Year of Mercy.

During this time, all of us in the vineyard of the Lord have also had the joy to teach and spread the faith through a variety of efforts and initiatives, as envisioned in the New Evangelization – to not only proclaim the Gospel, but to live it, encouraging people to join in manifesting the Kingdom of God among us, in our community and in our time.

Our shared journey has included a Convocation on Catholic Education in 2007 that led to a collaborative effort to strengthen local Catholics schools in the areas of Catholic identity, governance, academic excellence, and affordability and accessibility. One concrete result of that effort is that each parish now invests in our Catholic schools through their offertory collections, and we are now able to offer families nearly $6 million annually in tuition assistance so they can send their children to Catholic school.

A similar collaborative effort unfolded in 2014 when we convoked the first-ever Archdiocesan Synod to mark the 75th anniversary of the Archdiocese. About 200 Synod participants from across this local Church charted a course for the archdiocese’s future outreach in the key areas of worship, education, community, service, stewardship and administration, based on the input of more than 15,000 suggestions offered through parish and regional listening sessions and online surveys.

As an archdiocesan family of faith we welcomed two popes to the United States – Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, who offered an inspiring message of “Christ our Hope” at his National’s Park Mass, and Pope Francis in 2015, who celebrated the first canonization Mass in this part of the world and then visited the homeless at Catholic Charities to demonstrate the importance of solidarity with those on the margins of society. Our community demonstrated that shared journey when more than 100,000 people took the Walk with Francis Pledge to pray, serve and act on behalf of those in need.

Our faith journey together these past ten years has indeed been the blessing that we have brought to and shared with each other, and for that blessing, I am thankful to God and to you.

Making Earthly Life More Heavenly: Marriage Jubilarians

June 19th, 2016

Visible-Sign2016

Today, it is once again my privilege to celebrate a special Mass for married couples marking a significant jubilee anniversary. It is a day of profound love and thanks for 25, 50, 60 or even 75 years of married life together.

The lives of these couples who have lived many years together are beautiful, but they have also not always been easy. They have had their share of difficulties and struggles. Yet they have arrived, united, to mark this special moment – and they are committed to marking as many more as God will grant. They also offer our world today a greatly-needed witness in faith, hope and love.

Pope Francis, in his recent apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, has provided us beneficial pastoral advice on how all married couples and their families might find and experience that lasting and fruitful love that never gives up. This coming Thursday, June 23, I will give a talk on our Holy Father’s exhortation following the 5:15 p.m. Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and you are invited to attend.

Last year, I also released a small work, “The Marriage God Wants for You: Why the Sacrament Makes All the Difference,” to help people gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for marriage and family. In addition to my humble reflections, in this book are the testimonies of many married couples who, by their personal witness, offer invaluable lessons in the art and practice of married life.

In speaking with couples who have been married for many years, I am struck by how many say that what ultimately meant the most over the years were the small gestures – the quiet, ordinary acts done in love. They tell about the moment of discovery when one spouse suddenly realizes how much the other sacrifices each day, how one secretly scrimps and saves so that the other, or their children, can know a greater joy. Again and again I hear about the unassuming giving of time, attention, consolation and affection for the sake of that special someone else.

What these jubilarian couples have learned is that age-old wisdom that it is the little things that count a great deal – these moments represent true gifts, far more valuable in what is really important than rings and bouquets. These gestures are the summary expressions of a love that cannot be contained by a box, wrapped up in paper, or tied with a bow.

For Christians, marriage has great dignity because of the divine reality that is signifies. Marriage in all its richness signifies the union of Christ with the Church and the unity of the Blessed Trinity, the glory of heaven and the healing of the human family. But it does more than signify. As a sacrament, it brings about what it signifies. It gives husband and wife a share of the life of the Trinity and the divine power to make earthly life more heavenly.

It is easy to stay together in good times – these hardly need a vow. It is the bad times that present the challenge. To help them through the bad to attain the good, in the sacrament they receive God’s grace.

Marriage – your marriage – is a primary concern for the God who created you. If each spouse calls upon that grace, the couple will pull through the difficult times and will emerge stronger. Sadly, I fear many people have lost the habit of making use of this help. As a result, society and especially marriage and family have suffered terribly. However, with personal commitment, as expressed in the marriage vow, together with accepting the help that God offers, a new dawn will follow the dark night.

Staying true in the midst of surprising change and challenge, stress and sorrows – that is the story of couples in strong, loving marriages. They are not “perfect” couples because there is no such thing. But successful husbands and wives are those who learn to live with another’s imperfections and to live in a way that is not oppositional, but complementary. Each learns to be a source of strength for the other, making up for the other’s particular weaknesses, while knowing that the other is doing the same.

More than once, an elderly person has said to me of their long-time spouse, “You know, I love her (or him) more now that I did the day we were married.” It is enough to bring tears to my eyes. These long-married couples testify by their very lives that love can indeed bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Amoris Laetitia, 89 et seq.).

It is a testament not only of their love, but of God’s. As these spouses each “look upon one who looks back in love,” in the words of Saint Augustine, they experience a taste of heaven itself. It is a beautiful sign of committed love, a public witness for all of us to see.

This blog post draws from passages of my book “The Marriage God Wants for You: Why the Sacrament Makes All the Difference (2015).”

Love, Faith and Presence on Father’s Day

June 17th, 2016

Holy Family

Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to Washington last year and his recent apostolic exhortation on marriage and family life, Amoris Laetitia, both offer fathers, mothers and children many things to reflect on as we prepare to celebrate Father’s Day.

Our Holy Father knows well the challenges to fatherhood in these times. “Some fathers feel they are useless or unnecessary, but the fact is that ‘children need to find a father waiting for them when they return home with their problems. They may try hard not to admit it, not to show it, but they need it,’” he implores. To be sure, “God sets the father in the family so that by the gifts of his masculinity he can be “close to his wife and share everything, joy and sorrow, hope and hardship’” (Amoris Laetitia, 177).

Pope Francis often encourages that we look to “the icon of the Holy Family,” a family that, like families today, faced challenges and burdens in their daily life (Id., 30). Most importantly, they faced those difficulties with trust in God. “First and foremost,” said the pontiff during his visit to Catholic Charities, Saint Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, “was a man of faith. Faith gave Joseph the power to find light just at the moment when everything seemed dark. Faith sustained him amid the troubles of life. Thanks to faith, Joseph was able to press forward when everything seemed to be holding him back.”

It was in this spirit that Joseph and Mary offered young Jesus daily lessons about God’s steadfast love by their example and in their living “covenant of love and fidelity” (Id., 66). Our fathers and mothers can model that same kind of selfless love to their children by welcoming Christ into their homes and hearts, and encouraging their children to do the same. Parents – children’s first, best and most important teachers – instill the most enduring lessons by the example of how they lead their own lives and treat their own families.

The Holy Father also affirms how scripture presents the family as the place where children are educated in the faith, quoting Psalm 78 which says, the Lord “commanded our fathers to teach to their children” all of God’s glorious deeds, and his might and the wonders that he has performed (Amoris Laetitia, 16). In a special way, adds the Pope, fathers and mothers can transform their homes into domestic churches where families can grow in faith and love together: “The family is called to join in daily prayer, to read the word of God and to share in Eucharistic communion, and thus to grow in love and become ever more fully a temple in which the Spirit dwells” (Id., 15 and 29).

Pope Francis recognizes that the fast pace of life can stress parents and even lead them to not spend valuable time with their children. “In many cases, parents come home exhausted, not wanting to talk, and many families no longer even share a common meal” (Id., 50). In particular, he cautions, the absence of a father – which may be physical or symbolic, emotional, psychological or spiritual – “gravely affects family life and the upbringing of children and their integration into society” (Id., 55). Together with the distractions that mothers also may get caught up in, this can effectively lead to “children who are orphans of living parents” (Id., 51).

In many families today, various disappointments or resentments can cause parents and children to be strained or separated. God our merciful Father, however, heals families and unites them with a love that never gives up.

This Father’s Day, your children will give you a variety of presents, maybe a hand-drawn card or even the classic gift of a tie. But there is a more important present that you can give to them every day – you can give them your presence, you can be there for them. You can also accept the invitation of Pope Francis to “value the gifts of marriage and the family, and to persevere in a love strengthened by the virtues of generosity, commitment, fidelity and patience,” and also “be a sign of mercy and closeness wherever family life remains imperfect or lacks peace and joy” (Amoris Laetitia, 5).

By imitating Saint Joseph in faithfully providing for and protecting their families, by imitating our heavenly Father who, like the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, always welcomes his children with open arms, men become for their children the fathers that God made them to be (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 17). And that is the greatest gift of all that they can give their children.

Happy Father’s Day!

“The New Evangelization Today”

June 15th, 2016


The pressing task of our time is the New Evangelization. But what exactly is the New Evangelization? What is the message of the New Evangelization? Where and who is the intended audience? What do we seek to accomplish? What is needed for this work of the New Evangelization?

To answer these and other questions, I have produced a video series entitled, “The New Evangelization Today.” Each of these short videos is intended to help people to take up this critical task to which we are called and to become new evangelizers.

Although it was Saint John Paul II who first coined the exact term “New Evangelization,” each of the recent popes, from Saint John XXIII to Pope Francis, has in one way or another called us to this work, which we do with the help of the Holy Spirit.

The New Evangelization was the subject of the 2012 Synod of Bishops, where I was honored to serve as relator, and it was the priority of our own Archdiocesan Synod that the New Evangelization permeate every aspect of the life of our local Church of Washington. Personally, I have written and spoken on the New Evangelization many, many times.

All of this history is recounted to make a point. A key component of the New Evangelization is engaging with people where they are in the particular context of their lives and in language adapted to the specific person (Redemptoris missio, 44). In doing this work, we cannot simply assume that the people we encounter fully grasp the terms and phraseology that might be common to our thinking even when they hear us use those words all the time. Thus, although we have discussed it often, among those terms that require some explanation is the very concept of “the New Evangelization.”

The first video in this new series appropriately enough takes up the question of, “What is the New Evangelization?” The videos that follow then build upon this foundation. I invite you to watch each of them and share them with others.

In addition to these particular videos on the New Evangelization is the entire multimedia ministry of this archdiocese, which includes many other videos that may be found at our YouTube channel, WashArchdiocese.

Saint Anthony of Padua and the New Evangelization

June 13th, 2016

St. Anthony

Today we celebrate the feast day of Saint Anthony of Padua, Italy, who was born to a noble family in Lisbon, Portugal, and baptized with the name Fernando. Canonized only a year after his death at the age of 36 on this day in 1231, and named a Doctor of the Church in 1946, Saint Anthony has been historically popular and he continues to offer a magnificent example and witness for today.

Basing his life on Christ, Saint Anthony “found the way to kindle faith in souls, to purify, console and enlighten them,” attested Saint John Paul II. More specifically, “his preaching, his writings and, above all, the holiness of his life also offer the people of our time living and inspiring guidelines for the necessary commitment to the New Evangelization” (Letter of June 13, 1994).

When he was fifteen, Fernando entered a community of Canons Regular of Saint Augustine and after five years of intensive study, he was ordained a priest. His plans changed, however, a few years later when five Franciscan missionaries to Islamic North Africa were killed for their faith. Inspired by their supreme witness of martyrdom, Father Fernando left the Augustinian Canons to become a Friar Minor, taking the name Anthony. He then set out to be a missionary to North Africa, but illness and a violent storm forced him to land at Sicily.

From that point, after meeting Francis of Assisi, Father Anthony would be a missionary to Italy and with his outstanding gifts, he spurred many to spiritual renewal and a virtuous life. “The Gospel virtues, particularly poverty of spirit, meekness, humility, chastity, mercy, the courage of peace, were the constant themes of his preaching,” said Saint John Paul. “He used all the scholarly tools known at the time to deepen his knowledge of Gospel truth and to make its proclamation more easily understood. The success of his preaching confirms that he could speak the same language as his listeners and that he was able to effectively to convey the content of the faith and to ensure the acceptance of Gospel values in the popular culture of his age” (Id.).

In this respect, we could say that Saint Anthony was one of the forefathers of the New Evangelization that is our calling today. The New Evangelization is not a passing slogan. It is not a transitory program, but a mystery that is as permanent as the earth, a glory eternal as the heavens. To a secularized world where there is an eclipse of the sense of God, we are tasked with re-proposing the perennial truth and love of Christ’s Gospel. We must somehow re-propose the kingdom of God to those who are convinced that they already know it – and who have already concluded our message is irrelevant. We have to invite them to hear the Gospel all over again, as if for the first time.

Now is the opportune time and we can be confident that the Holy Spirit will help us in living and witnessing our faith. As Saint Anthony once preached, “The man who is filled with the Holy Spirit speaks in different languages. These different languages are different ways of witnessing to Christ, such as humility, poverty, patience and obedience; we speak in those languages when we reveal in ourselves these virtues to others. Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak.”

Like the first disciples, we are called to envision ourselves walking alongside Jesus as the sower of the seeds of a new way of living, of a share in a kingdom that will last forever. Planting new seeds so that they may take root means opening our hearts and minds to learn new styles of communication and a more influential approach to connect another person with the abundant springtime that God promises.

Each of our actions – every kind word we speak, every gesture of generosity – sets in motion a series of future events that will continue forever. Particularly when we correspond to the grace of the Spirit, we are extending the kingdom. This is how Christianity changes the world.

The ground may be rocky, filled with thorns, or heavily trafficked by many feet, but in spreading the seeds of Christ’s love and truth, each and every Catholic can make a difference. The Church had little influence in the corridors of imperial Roman power, and it may have little today in the corridors of modern government, but the kingdom breaks through in spite of these limitations. It breaks through in the lives of saints like Anthony who was inspired by the blood of the martyrs, and it breaks through in the lives of the everyday faithful today.

This blog post draws from passages of my book “Seek First the Kingdom: Challenging the Culture by Living our Faith (2012).”