Music for the Eucharistic Banquet

October 24th, 2014

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On Saturday, October 11, 2014, I had the great joy and privilege of blessing the newly restored organ at my titular church in Rome, the Basilica of Saint Peter in Chains. The original organ goes back to 1686 and is recognized as one of the three oldest and finest organs in the city of Rome. In 1884 it was reworked and restored, but for the past 50 years it has remained silent because of the poor condition into which it had fallen. After nearly three years of restoration work, on that Saturday evening, we had the celebration of the restoration of the organ with its solemn blessing. Michel Formentelli, the curator responsible for overseeing the restoration work, gave a presentation on the accomplishments of the organ. Maestro Francesco Colamarino, the organist at the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels in Rome, provided the accompaniment. Following this was a concert by Maestro Giandomenico Piermarini, the principal organist at the Papal Basilica of Saint John Lateran.

The following day, we were joined at the basilica by a large number of faithful as well as religious and priests for the Mass of Thanksgiving and Dedication. With me at the altar was the Abbot General of the religious community responsible for the basilica, the Canons Regular of the Lateran, Don Giuseppe Cipolloni, together with his predecessor who first greeted me when I was assigned to that church, Don Bruno Giuliani. Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Michael Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia also concelebrated. In the context of that celebration, we reflected on how the liturgy for that day was so appropriately focused on how we are nourished in our life of faith by the great Eucharistic banquet which is the purpose not only of the organ we were dedicating but the basilica itself.

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After thanking the artisans, technicians and workers for bringing this seventeenth century masterpiece once again to life so that it could provide a beautiful and inspiring voice of praise to the Lord, I touched on the theme of the liturgy and tried to highlight how we are nourished by God who loves us and invites us to find in him all that we need.

The first reading from the Prophet Isaiah described in poetic and colorful terms what it will be like when the kingdom of God is manifest among us, when the Messiah comes. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines” (Isaiah 25:6), So often in the pages of Sacred Scripture the Messianic kingdom is described in the language of feasts, banquets and gathering at the table.

The second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians told us that it is in Jesus that we will find whatever we need. “God will fully supply whatever you need in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).  Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus used the parable of the wedding feast to teach us that God has already prepared all that we need, has invited us to share in the joys of his kingdom, and that all that is left is for you and for me to do is to accept the invitation, to put on the wedding garment and to come to the feast (Matthew 22:2-14).

The dynamic of the Gospel unfolds in our experience of the Eucharistic Liturgy. Christ invites us to his table.  The King of Glory invites you and me to come and be fed. It is the Church that acts as the servant of the Lord who summons us to the feast, who brings to us the invitation.

At every Mass we hear all over again the invitation to come to the wedding feast.  The spiritual food that we find in the Eucharistic Liturgy begins with our attention to the Word of God. It is truly God who speaks to us. As the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe…” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

In the prologue of Saint John’s Gospel we read that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…So that we might see the glory of God.” The Word that became flesh also died for us. The night before he died, Jesus instituted the great action of thanksgiving to God by which we could participate in the memorial of our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. It is precisely in this memorial that we experience the work of our redemption being carried out in us.

The liturgy also tells us what our attitude should be as we approach this mystery. We are told in the very opening action of the Mass that our first posture must be that of a penitent.  We confess our sins, recognize our fault, “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” and ask for God’s mercy.

But we also are invited to approach the liturgy with confidence. As the responsorial psalm tells us, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul” (Psalm 23:1-2).

Brothers and sisters, whenever we gather in joyful celebration of our invitation to the banquet of the Lord and praise him with music and song, let us renew in our own hearts a sense of repentance and at the same time confident faith that our loving God welcomes us to this banquet which is the sign and foretaste of the great heavenly banquet we hope to enjoy in glory.

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Celebrating Saint John Paul II

October 22nd, 2014
Pope John Paul II appears from St. Peter's Basilica following his election the evening of Oct. 16, 1978.  (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Pope John Paul II appears from St. Peter’s Basilica following his election the evening of Oct. 16, 1978. (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Today marks the first feast day of Saint John Paul II, as the newly canonized pope is now a part of the Catholic Church’s universal calendar.

On April 27, I had the profound blessing of being a concelebrant at the Mass where Pope Francis, joined by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, canonized Saint John Paul and Saint John XXIII. That Mass in Saint Peter’s Square was attended by an estimated 800,000 pilgrims from around the world. Pope John, who ushered in a renewal of the Church for modern times by calling the Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul, who implemented the Council’s teachings, were pontiffs who have inspired me from the time I was a seminarian, and through my years as a priest, bishop and cardinal.

As the canonization unfolded, I reflected on the personal impact of Saint John Paul II on my life and work. I witnessed his first public Mass as pope 36 years ago today in Rome, when he said, “Be not afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ,” encouraging people and nations to be open to his saving words of life.

In 1986, this holy man ordained me as a bishop in Saint Peter’s Basilica. Since then, I have tried in some small way to model my life as a bishop on two aspects in particular of his ministry. Saint John Paul was always teaching the faith and telling the story of Jesus. This he did in his talks, his writings and in the way he lived his life. Secondly, he completely loved the Church and dedicated his life to her mission to proclaim the word of God, celebrate the sacraments and do works of charity.

During his papacy of more than 26 years, Pope John Paul went out to the world, visiting 133 countries. At his funeral in 2005, his beatification in 2011 and then his canonization in 2014, the world came to him. He had an amazing gift of touching people’s hearts. Over the years, the millions who heard him thought he was talking directly to them, the same feeling experienced by those who read his writings. He truly was a missionary, bringing Christ’s love and truth to people’s hearts and to the world.

In this, the Archdiocese of Washington’s 75th anniversary year, we can reflect upon one of the greatest moments in our local Church’s history, when the new Successor of Peter took an apostolic journey to our nation’s capital in October 1979. He celebrated Mass on the National Mall with 175,000 people, and became the first pope to visit the White House. He also celebrated a Mass for priests at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle, addressed educators at The Catholic University of America, prayed with ecumenical leaders at Trinity College, and met with religious at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Today the Church of Washington looks to that holy pope with our Saint John Paul II Seminary, where the next generation of priests is inspired by the dynamic witness of the new saint whose name graces their seminary.  Nearby is the Saint John Paul II National Shrine, where I recently joined an interfaith service to pray for peace in the Middle East, following the example of the pope’s famous World Day of Prayer for Peace at Assisi, Italy in 1986.

Also in the neighborhood is the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, which since 1988 has formed new evangelizers in light of his insightful teachings.  Indeed, at John Paul’s canonization, Pope Francis called him “the pope of the family,” and at the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Pastoral Challenges of the Family earlier this month, we were guided by the Gospel of the family set forth in his 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio.

With our hearts open wide to Christ, we continue to walk in the footsteps of this great pilgrim pope, who in his life and now as a saint, guides us on our journey to heaven.

The Gospel of the Holy Spirit

October 20th, 2014

Pentecost, Tiziano Vecellio (Titian)

Throughout his ministry, Jesus made clear that the Holy Spirit is essential to the life of the people of God, as individuals and collectively.  Indeed, the Spirit has been at work from the beginning, albeit in a mysterious way.  Obviously the voice of God that came to Abram and Moses was the movement of the Spirit.  Later the Spirit would speak through the prophets, including the messianic prophecies of Isaiah, in which we are told of the gifts of the Spirit (11:2-3).  Later, God reveals his plan to make a New Covenant and pour out his Spirit upon his people (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Joel 3:1-5; Ezekiel 36:25-28).

Likewise, Jesus said he would not leave us orphans – he would continue to teach us and be with us always, until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20; John 14:15-26, 15:26-27, 16:13-14).  This would happen through the extraordinary gift of the Holy Spirit, which gives us the power to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

That outpouring of the Spirit, we read in the Acts of the Apostles, happened in a dramatic and visible way on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).  By virtue of this anointing by the Spirit, the Church was born and the mission of Jesus became the mission of the Church.  Immediately, Peter goes out and proclaims salvation in the Crucified and Risen Christ (Acts 2:14-41).

Through all the action and drama in Acts, these missionary disciples draw their strength from the Spirit. What was implicit in the Old Testament is made clear in this book about Christianity’s early years, which guides us today.  Saint Luke shows that the Spirit speaks through the Apostles and directs their movements. The Holy Spirit gives them words, courage and zeal for evangelization. So pervasive is this divine character in the drama of Acts that the book has been called “the Gospel of the Holy Spirit.”

Spiritual writers since Saint Augustine have spoken of the Holy Spirit as the “soul” of the Church, which animates and builds up the Body of Christ.  The Spirit inspired the human writers of the Gospels and letters of the New Testament, just as he did the authors of the Old Testament.  Likewise, the Spirit has guided and protected the Church throughout history in her teachings.

From these small beginnings in Galilee and Judea, disciples set off in all directions to spread the Good News, and they managed to conquer the world for Christ.  This was no easy feat.  As Jesus said they would, they encountered much opposition and persecution.  Acts relates the martyrdom of Stephen and James and many more would offer up this ultimate witness along the way.  But the Holy Spirit – who is the principal agent of evangelization – provides Christ’s people the grace of fortitude to persevere, as well as helping them in what to say and how to say it to those they encounter.

The book of Acts is remarkable in that it has no real ending.  The narrative simply stops with Paul in Rome.  The rest of the story is up to us.  As we conclude our reflections on Acts, it is my prayer that we all rejoice in the Holy Spirit and then take that joy to the world.

Now it is our turn.   This is a challenge in the midst of our secular culture, which is more and more coming to resemble the first century of Rome.  But the Holy Spirit is stronger than all the vices and evils of the world.  With the fire of the Spirit enkindled in our hearts, as it was in the disciples we encounter in Acts, we can be bold and joyous heralds of hope to a world that has great need for witnesses of Christ’s saving love.

Beatification of Pope Paul VI

October 19th, 2014
Tapestry of Blessed Paul VI hangs from facade of St. Peter's Basilica during his beatification Mass at Vatican A tapestry of Blessed Paul VI hangs from the facade of St. Peter's Basilica during his beatification Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Oct. 19. The Mass also concluded the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family. B lessed Paul, who served as pope from 1963-1978, is most remembered for his 1968 encyclical, "Humanae Vitae," which affirmed the church's teaching against artificial contraception. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A tapestry of Blessed Paul VI hangs from the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica during his beatification Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican October 19.  (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Today during a Mass in St. Peter’s Square marking the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, Pope Francis beatified his predecessor, Pope Paul VI.  How fitting that our Holy Father has lifted up Blessed Paul VI as a model for families, and indeed for all individual Catholics, in our call to emulate the Apostle Paul and bring the Good News of Jesus’ Gospel to the ends of the earth.

When he was elected pope in 1963, Giovanni Battista Montini took the name of Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, and he immediately declared his intention to complete the Second Vatican Council. While studying for the priesthood in Rome during this period, I along with my fellow seminarians had a sense that something very wonderful was happening – that 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, the renewal was anchored in her history, in the living continuity of the great apostolic tradition.

Blessed Pope Paul VI has been called a “great light” by Pope Francis.  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 modest papal style.

Pope Francis often quotes from Blessed Paul VI’s 1975 apostolic exhortation on evangelization in the modern world, Evangelii nuntiandiwhich he has called “the most important pastoral document” following the Second Vatican Council, and “a great source of inspiration” to him personally.

In my 2010 pastoral letter on the New Evangelization, Disciples of the Lord: Sharing the Vision, I underscored the importance of that landmark document by Blessed Paul VI, noting that he affirmed that the Church should be an evangelizing community.

“The command to the Twelve to go out and proclaim the Good News is also valid for all Christians, though in a different way…. the Good News of the kingdom which is coming and which has begun is meant for all people of all times. Those who have received the Good News and who have been gathered by it into the community of salvation can and must communicate and spread it,” Paul VI wrote in Evangelii nuntiandi, 13.

In my pastoral letter, I also noted that in this historic document, issued 10 years to the day after the close of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI discerned the need for “a new period of evangelization”. In a heartfelt way, Pope Paul VI encouraged us to continue the work of the Apostles today, and carry out the New Evangelization as we share our faith by witnessing to Christ’s love and hope in our homes, our workplaces, our communities and our world.

Pope Paul VI was a true pastor, as he worked to implement the documents of the Second Vatican Council and reaffirm how the Gospel and the Church’s teachings offer a light to humanity. His encyclical Humanae vitae offered a template for the work of the just-concluded synod in its teaching on the God-given dignity of marriage and family life, and that holy pope responded in a pastoral way to the public dissent and confrontation which followed that encyclical’s challenging but prophetic teachings.

As the first modern pope to make pilgrimages to his flock around the world, Blessed Paul VI made nine major trips abroad, including to the Holy Land, Asia, Africa, South America, Australia and to the United States, where he made his famous plea for peace at the United Nations in 1965. He also demonstrated the importance of ecumenism and interfaith relations, and of working together with people of different religions for peace and to bring justice to the poor.

Saint John Paul II said of Pope Paul: “He made himself a pilgrim on their roads, meeting them where they lived and (he) struggled to build a world of greater attention and respect for the dignity of every human being.”

As he frequently calls on Catholics to “go out” and share their faith, and reach out with love to the poor, Pope Francis echoes the call of Blessed Paul VI, the pilgrim pope who not only set the stage for the New Evangelization – he lived it. So should we, as pilgrims on the journey to heaven.

How the Church Evangelizes Yesterday, Today and Always

October 18th, 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)

As the Church Universal celebrates World Mission Sunday this weekend, as well as the beatification on Sunday of Pope Paul VI, a modern missionary pope, let us consider how the Church spreads the Gospel. “This question of ‘how to evangelize’ is permanently relevant,” said this holy pastor, “because the methods of evangelizing vary according to the different circumstances of time, place and culture, and because they thereby present a certain challenge to our capacity for discovery and adaptation” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 40).

There are a whole range of activities to share the Good News, but some have shown themselves more fruitful than others.  In particular, Pope Paul said, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41).

We see this approach in Saint Luke’s inspired authorship of the Acts of the Apostles, in which he relates what he has personally seen and experienced in accompanying Saint Paul on some of his travels, and in his faithfully handing on what the Church has related to him.  This affirms how we as evangelizers turn to the Church and the continuous apostolic tradition in the Body of Christ to encounter, illuminate and assure us of the message of eternal life we share with others.

The word that describes the missionary activity of the early Church is “bold.”  After the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Saint Peter immediately and boldly goes out and gives personal testimony, “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses . . . Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:32, 38, see also, 3:12-26; 4:9-12; 5:29-32; 10:34-43).  This Good News of salvation in the Risen Christ is what we proclaim.

The greater part of Acts follows Paul in his travels and he too relies abundantly on personal witness.  He was the great persecutor of the Church who, with the grace of God, became the great missionary apostle.

Multiple times Paul relates how, when he was on the road to Damascus, a bright light flashed as a voice from heaven said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  To which he replied, “Who are you, sir?” And the reply came, “I am Jesus the Nazorean, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 22:3-21).  He was struck blind for three days, and after he regained his sight, he never hesitated to profess the saving truth of Christ.

In applying the lessons of Acts to our efforts today, we realize, as did those early missionaries, that culture is the field in which we must work.  A superb model to follow is the approach of Paul in Athens, where he entered into dialogue with many philosophers and others in the public square.  In that city full of pagan idols, he discovered an altar inscribed, “To an Unknown God.”  He took that occasion to tell the people, “What you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you,” going on to speak of the living God and the Good News of the resurrection of the dead (Acts 17:16-34).

Today, as with Paul, our challenge is to provide people with an awareness and familiarity with the true Lord in practical language in the midst of their daily lives and concrete situations.  Our duty is not just to announce, but to adapt our approach so as to attract and to urge a people much in need of him to find the uncomplicated, genuine and tangible treasure of friendship with Jesus (Redemptoris Missio, 44).

The Gospel once delivered by the first disciples still has the power to transform the world.  The mission given to them is now ours and the opportunities are everywhere.

Reflections from the Synod

October 17th, 2014
Pope Francis uses incense as he celebrates Mass in St. Peter's Basilica to open extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family

Pope Francis uses incense to venerate an icon of the Presentation of Jesus as he celebrates a Mass to open the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Oct. 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Greetings and prayerful best wishes from Rome.

Since so much is being written and said about the progress of the Synod of Bishops on the Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of the New Evangelization, I thought it would be helpful to share a few thoughts from the perspective of someone inside the Synod.

In so many of the short talks given by Synod participants, the beautiful and scripturally-rooted vision of the Catholic understanding of marriage was lifted up as the starting point of our discussion. It was universally recognized how important the bond of marriage is and that it is indissoluble.  At the same time, our understanding of marriage was seen as a source of encouragement for people trying fully to live that sacramental state of life.

A second major point included many reflections on the situation in which marriage is lived today in the midst of the human condition.  What so many people are hearing from our culture today does not correspond to the Church’s teaching on marriage.  Consequently, the challenges are many.  There are large numbers of failed, broken and nonfunctioning marriages and numerous statistics were cited to show how many people live in second marriages or do not bother to get married at all.  All of this highlights the increasing distance between our Gospel vision of marriage as it is seen in our teaching and the actual lived reality in concrete practice.

We also heard a great deal about the influence of the dominant secular culture.  It was noted that there is little or no societal support for the Gospel view of marriage.  In fact, the opposite is more likely the reality.  Social structures and institutions that once supported the Judeo-Christian tradition dominant in Europe and found reflected in various parts of the world, no longer provide the societal context for young adults today.

In consequence of this state of affairs, there is serious reason to doubt whether the Church’s understanding of marriage is what many, many people today understand by marriage.  In many places, there is no societal expectation of marriage as an enduring lifelong commitment to a family.

How are we to respond in this type of environment?

Many Synodal Fathers highlighted the need for the Church to be clear, convincing and effective in her timeless teaching.  This is a continuous task that the Church has always faced but, as recognized in the New Evangelization, we need to find better ways of passing on our understanding of the faith and evoking a commitment from our young people.

Once the discussion turned to how effective has our teaching been and how many people really understand the nature of the sacrament of marriage and its indissolubility, the conversation focused on healing those who have been wounded by these cultural currents.

It was pointed out that, in addition to teaching, the Church has to approach marriages today, particularly for those people who were married, divorced and/or remarried, with a sense of healing and find a way to bring people to experience the love and mercy of God.

Here it was pointed out that mercy is not opposed to truth but follows on it.  In fact mercy flows from the truth.  It is the truth that brings freedom.

When the question of responding to the current situation moved from the teaching to the healing dimension, it was necessary to determine what exactly happened in the case of individual couples.  This brought the discussion into the area of annulments and the need to streamline that process and even provide a more direct, clear and easily accessible structure to reach a determination as to the validity of their marriage.

It was generally agreed that the context of our discussion today is radically different than even a quarter of a century ago.  Now we also face issues of “same-sex marriage” and gender identity as a matter of choice.  Thus, we need to find a better way of expressing our Catholic faith in a language that is accessible to the many people who have drifted away from the faith, helping them to better appreciate the Good News that is Jesus’ revealed truth on marriage and the nature of the human person.

Finally, there was the growing recognition that we need to be able to reach out in an inviting manner to those who find themselves in situations that call for the presence of Gospel healing and accompany such people with love on the journey that is intended to bring all of us closer to Christ. For example, while the Church’s teaching on human sexuality is not up for debate, it is important that we examine the language we use and our pastoral approach toward individuals with same-sex attraction.

Much has been discussed at this Synod and the discussion will go on after it concludes.  This assembly is part of a much larger process, which will continue with a Synod next year and beyond.  Pastoral solutions to intractable problems are not going to come easy.  Yet, we are going to try to do what Jesus has asked us to do, listening to one another, talking to one another and remaining open to the Holy Spirit.  I ask for your prayers as the Synod work continues.

To Whom Are We Sent?

October 15th, 2014


Each Sunday, we profess that we are “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”  The Church is apostolic both because of our living continuity with the Apostles who were called by Jesus and because we share the mission of evangelization given to them.

By virtue of our baptism, we too are in the nature of apostles, a word which means “one who is sent.”  We too are called to go out and spread the Good News – but to whom are we sent?

Jesus and the Apostles were each Jews, children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and during the thousands of years of salvation history leading up to Christ, God had set apart Israel as his chosen people.  Was Christ’s kingdom to be only for the people of Israel over all other nations?  Many who heard him during his ministry thought that was how it should be.

Even among the Apostles and other disciples, there was some question as to the extent to which they should go to the Gentiles, the pagan non-Jews, or if those who were to be accepted into the Christian community should be required to follow the Jewish Law, including various dietary restrictions and circumcision.

In the Acts of the Apostles, which recounts the first years of the spread of the Gospel, we read that one day Peter was invited to the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion.  When he arrived and saw many people assembled there, Peter said, “You know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to associate with, or visit, a Gentile” (Acts 10:28).

A short time earlier, however, Peter received a vision from the Lord in which he was commanded to eat certain foods deemed “unclean” under the Law.  A voice said to him, “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane” (Acts 10:11-15).  Cornelius also had a vision, this of an angel in dazzling robes who told him to summon Peter (Acts 10:3-5, 30).

So Peter said to those at the house of Cornelius, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34).  Peter then proclaimed the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection.  While he was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon those who listened and they were baptized.  Later, when some objected that Peter had associated with Gentiles, Peter said, “If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?”  When they heard this, they glorified God, saying, “God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too” (Acts 11:17-18).

After initially preaching to Jewish communities, Paul too took the Gospel to the rest of the world.  He famously and forcefully argued in his letters and the book of Acts that salvation is not gained simply by following the Mosaic Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.

We recognize in Paul an enormous commitment to share his experience – his encounter with Jesus.  From his conversion onward, he was consumed with sharing the Good News.  The last half of Acts is devoted to this “Apostle to the Gentiles.”  His mission would take him to the Greek lands of Asia Minor, where he established communities of faith in many major cities of the Roman Empire such as Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi and Thessalonica.  Eventually, he would come to Rome.

Last week, it was my great joy to dedicate and bless a recently restored 17th century organ at the Basilica of Saint Peter in Chains, which is my titular church in Rome as a Cardinal.  Every time I visit, it reminds me of our connectedness to Peter and to his mission, a mission shared by Paul and the entire Church.

We have wonderful news to tell and we are sent to all peoples – to Jews and Gentiles.  Jesus calls us to go to all nations, to the ends of the earth, proclaiming Christ is Risen!  Jesus is Lord and he calls us to be a part of his family!

The Church in the Acts of the Apostles

October 13th, 2014

St Paul Preaching in Athens by Raffaello

The Acts of the Apostles tells a fascinating story of the early Church, but it is much more than just a history book.  Within the narrative provided by Saint Luke is a wealth of revealed truth and theology about this institution and her missionary nature.

In Acts, we see the Apostles beginning to structure the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to deal with the reality that this body is the living, continuing presence of Christ in the world today.  Before the Risen Lord ascended to heavenly glory, he charged his followers to be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth,” to go and “make disciples of all nations” (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19).  This is no small mission – the earth is a big place!  The task would require assistants, companions and apostolic succession.

Thus, an order of ministerial service was established to meet the requirements of a growing Church.  After devoting themselves to prayer, asking the Lord to make known whom to choose for the apostolic ministry, the Apostles chose a successor to Judas (Acts 1:14-26).  Soon the Apostles would also appoint presbyters – priests – to help them in the work of celebrating the Eucharist and forgiving sins, as well as deacons to assist in the temporal chores, works and duties of the Christian community.

The essential purpose of the diaconate is to serve.  Deacons serve at table, notably at the table of the Eucharist meal, and they are ministers of the charity of the Church (cf. Acts 6:1-4).  They are witnesses to the faith and defenders of it.  Thus, the deacon Stephen became the Church’s first martyr; he proclaimed the faith with courageous eloquence and forgiving love before he died (see Acts 7).  Deacons also take part in the Church’s task of evangelization as did the deacon Philip in Samaria (Acts 8:4-13).

On their journeys, the Apostles took with them other helpers and companions, like Timothy, Barnabas and Silas.  The people they encountered became disciples themselves, such as Cornelius, Aquila and Priscilla.  And when missionaries such as Paul moved on, it was these disciples who remained who would help build up the Church in their own communities.

This is how the Church grew from a small band of followers of Jesus in Galilee and Judea to “the ends of the earth.”  This is how the Church continues to grow and build up the kingdom of God in our midst.

Occasionally someone will ask me, usually in the context of some social, cultural or political issue that has arisen, something to the effect of: “Why doesn’t the Church do more?”  “Why isn’t the Church more involved?”  “Why aren’t bishops and priests speaking up more?”

These questions reveal a view that places the mission of the Church and the renewal of the temporal order on the shoulders of the clergy.  Yet the lesson of the Acts of the Apostles calls us to a more diversified responsibility. The bishops – who are the successors of the Apostles today – and priests do have a role. They are to sanctify through providing the sacraments, teach and proclaim the Gospel, and govern the flock entrusted to them.  But the work of transforming the world by applying that message falls to the laity – the Aquilas and Priscillas of today – when we deal with the temporal order. It is the charge of the laity to complete the evangelization and sanctification of the world. This is how the Church grows.

In the Church, and in the world, there are always needs to be met in fulfilling our mission.  Today, as in the early Church we read about in Acts, none of us is a bystander in the working out of God’s plan for a world of peace, truth, compassion, kindness, justice and love.

Saint John XXIII and the Continuity of Truth in Charity

October 11th, 2014
Pope John XXIII is pictured in a portrait circa 1958. (CNS photo)

Pope John XXIII is pictured in a portrait circa 1958. (CNS photo)

When Saint John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962, he knew that he would not live much longer, having been diagnosed with cancer, but he was prepared.  He had given himself over entirely to God long before, humbly abandoning himself to loving Providence while seeking holiness during his pilgrim journey on earth.

Goodness radiated in his words and ministry. “Love is all; love is at the foundation of civilization; love is the basis of all that Christ came to declare to the world,” he professed when he was Patriarch of Venice.  “Without love you may obtain temporary successes, or victories won by force, but afterward, and very soon, all will fall to the ground” (Scritti e Discorsi, 1953-1958, vol. VI,  reprinted in Secret to Happiness: Wisdom from John XXIII, p. 85).  Stressing the mercy of God, then-Cardinal Angelo Roncalli affirmed that “the doors of the banquet hall are never closed.  Every day is the right day for the lost sheep to return to the care of the tender shepherd, who invites and reaches out to it with great longing” (Id., 57).

This pastoral approach continued in his papacy and it is clear why he was affectionately called Good Pope John. “The long experience of life,” he said to his flock as the Bishop of Rome, “teaches that it will avail us far more, for happiness of spirit, to discern the good in things and dwell upon that rather than to seek the bad and the flawed, emphasizing it thoughtlessly or, worse still, maliciously” (Address to the Diocesan Synod of Rome, January 26, 1960).

The call to focus on the good, especially the good in people, and conduct our mission in positive terms, truth in charity, is also seen in Pope John’s address to the first session of the Council, which met from October 11 to December 8, 1962.  “Christ’s Bride prefers the balm of mercy to the arm of severity” in confronting the societal and cultural challenges of today, he said. “The great desire, therefore, of the Catholic Church in raising aloft at this Council the torch of truth, is to show herself to the world as the loving mother of all mankind; gentle, patient, and full of tenderness and sympathy for her separated children.”

One of the words used by the Pope in this effort was “aggiornamento,” which means “bringing up to date.”  Unfortunately, some erroneously interpreted that to mean a rupture in the Church’s teachings.  To the contrary, as the Holy Father made clear in his opening address, the task is to present faithfully and in its entirety the received teaching.  “Christianity is always new,” explained Pope Benedict XVI. “This constantly updated vitality, this ‘aggiornamento,’ does not mean breaking with tradition; rather, it is an expression of that tradition’s ongoing vitality.”

What Saint John intended, and what he showed throughout his ministry, was continuity with the sacred heritage of Catholic faith.  The Council had barely begun that work when this holy Pope died on June 3, 1963.  But after Pope Paul VI was elected on June 21, he immediately declared his intention to complete the Council, and a major focus of his own pontificate was implementing its teachings.  In a few days, on October 19, we will celebrate the beatification of this faithful successor of Peter and John.

This same continuity has been taken to heart by every other pontiff from Pope Paul to Pope Francis.  With respect to our Archdiocesan Synod, we view its work through that same lens of continuity.  Renewed in faith, in communion with God and the saints, we continue the mission entrusted to us to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October 8th, 2014


Domestic violence has been in the news a great deal over the past several months because of a number of high profile cases involving professional football players. A part of the discussion has been the role of the National Football League in handling this matter. What might also be helpful is more information on resources to help people in crisis.

The Catholic Church in the United States participates in the observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month because we know that it touches individuals and families in all sectors of society, including families who are members of our parishes and whose children are enrolled in our schools and programs. The Church is here to help all those who are affected – victims as well as perpetrators. God’s merciful love can reach into the darkest places of relationships and family life.

Below you will find some resources that are available to raise awareness of the magnitude of the problem and to call attention to information about where and how to find help or point others toward assistance.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has offered a pastoral response to the issue titled, “When I Call for Help,” which addresses the matter from the perspective of women who are abused, pastors to whom they often turn for help, men who are abusers and society at large.

Here in the Archdiocese of Washington, through a partnership with Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Baltimore, we have begun an initiative called “Catholics for Family Peace” that will provide training and pastoral resources for parish staffs so that parishes can respond effectively to any call for help. We hope all of our parish staff members can act as first responders by doing the following: listening and believing victims’ stories, assessing the level of danger to the victim and the children and offering appropriate advice, services and counseling. To learn more about this initiative, please contact the archdiocesan Office for Family Life (301-853-4546).

For Catholics it is important to understand the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage in the context of the reality of families living in dangerous situations. We would never want someone to refrain from seeking help thinking that the Church would not allow spouses to separate. The Church teaches that “the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1640). Spouses ordinarily have the duty to live married life together, but a legitimate cause excuses them from doing so.

“If either of the spouses causes grave mental or physical danger to the other spouse or to the offspring or otherwise renders common life too difficult, that spouse gives the other a legitimate cause for leaving, either by decree of the local ordinary or even on his or her own authority if there is danger in delay” (Code of Canon Law 1153). In other words, if a spouse is abusive to the other spouse and the children and staying means there is danger of harm, they are encouraged to leave and separate themselves.

There are two reasons for this. First, in leaving, the abused spouse is justly defending his or her life and protecting the children. Secondly, this act of separating prevents the abusive spouse from committing further immediate harm. Separating from them then is acting on their behalf as well. From here the Church hopes there can be help, treatment, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation, but only in the context of a safe and secure situation.

If you know someone you believe to be in danger, please share these resources with them. In your prayers this month, please offer an intention for all victims of abuse entrusting them to the intervention of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and the loving embrace of her Son, Jesus.