We Are Sent – The Ascension of the Lord

May 5th, 2016
The Ascension by Dosso Dossi

The Ascension by Dosso Dossi

The Ascension of Jesus to heavenly glory forty days after his Resurrection marks the final act of his earthly ministry and the necessary prelude to the birth of the Church. This is not an ending, but a new beginning. Jesus ascended in his visible body to make way for his Mystical Body, the Church, which was filled with the living breath of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

As he ascended into the heavenly sanctuary, Jesus sent out his Apostles to continue his work and proclaim the Gospel, just as he had been sent by the Father to bring the Good News of salvation to humanity. The Lord tells them to go into the whole world and be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, to teach all that he has taught and make disciples of all nations.

As the definitive high priest, Jesus chose some of his followers to carry out publicly in the Church a particular priestly ministry in his name on behalf of all. By virtue of their consecration in the sacrament of orders, these men are configured to Christ as priest and shepherd of his people and they continue his sacred ministerial presence.

Many times I have heard priests, particularly at anniversary celebrations, express the sentiment that all they ever wanted was to be a priest, giving their life over to the Lord. Next Tuesday, May 10, the priests of this local Church will gather again for one of these annual events, giving thanks to God for their brother priests who are marking jubilee anniversaries of their ordinations. For these men and for all our priests, I ask that you offer up your own prayers in communion with mine.

Like the Apostles, the priests who so superbly serve this archdiocese likewise have been sent to a variety of parishes, missions and ministries. From the time I was in the seminary, I, too, experienced “being sent.” Over the years, I have been sent to Rome and to Pittsburgh, to the state of Washington and now the city of Washington, and many places in-between as well. But wherever we are sent, we are ever-cognizant of our commission to proclaim the Word in season and out, to celebrate the sacred mysteries, and to manifest a shepherd’s care for the flock which we are called to gather into one and lead to the Father.

Whether we were ordained fifty years ago or five years ago, our priestly ministry is ever new. We are all priests of a new millennium and New Evangelization. In the midst of a culture that too often leaves people wanting, the priesthood of Jesus Christ is sent to bear testimony to the truth of the Lord’s words of everlasting life.

However, while those who are ordained as priests serve a special role, every part of the Mystical Body of Christ is called to be witnesses of Jesus. The Ascension is directed to all the faithful also as a challenge. We are all called to deliver the Good News to the ends of the earth and the laity play an invaluable role in this mission.

The “end of the earth” is the place where people live. It is the place where they work. It is the place where they socialize and spend their leisure time. Priests and bishops and the pope cannot reach all those places or the people there – but the laity can. As the Second Vatican Council’s decree on the laity reminds us, “The laity must take up the renewal of the temporal order as their own special obligation” (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 7).

As Christians, we all share in the apostolate of Christ. We all share to some extent in the work of an apostle. An “apostle,” according to the word’s root meaning, is someone who is sent – an ambassador – someone sent into the world to spread the Good News, to make disciples of all nations, to establish the kingdom and build it up with every action of every day.

We are ambassadors for heaven’s kingdom, sent to a particular family, a particular neighborhood, a particular school or university, a particular workplace. Though we are ambassadors representing Jesus in those places here on earth, our true citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). We are in the world, but not of the world.

We represent the kingdom to a world with which the kingdom is often at odds. The people to whom we are sent will sometimes, and perhaps often, disagree with us. This may prove challenging, but as ambassadors, we practice a certain diplomacy.   Rather than joining in crude discourse, our speech and action should be marked by the charity in truth that is characteristic of the kingdom.

Saint Peter puts it beautifully: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15-16). In this way, every adversary – including the most anti-Christian kind – can become a friend and perhaps even a fellow sister or brother in Christ.

The Saint John Paul II Seminary Celebrates its Fifth Anniversary

May 2nd, 2016


Yesterday our family of faith marked a special milestone as we celebrated the Founding Day Mass for our archdiocesan seminary, which was formally established five years ago originally bearing the name Blessed John Paul II Seminary. That day on which I signed the Decree of Erection, Divine Mercy Sunday, May 1, 2011, was also the day of the beatification of that holy pastor. When he was subsequently canonized on April 27, 2014, we rejoiced as this home for the formation of new priests became the Saint John Paul II Seminary.

As the seminary’s patron saint, John Paul offers the seminarians studying there a role model of self-giving to the Church, an example of a man who gave his life as a servant both of God’s people and as of Jesus Christ in his Church. During his nearly 27-year pontificate, he traveled to 129 countries, bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, just as some day, the future priests studying at the seminary named for him will bring Christ to their parishes and ministries and to the individuals and families whom they will serve.

It was a blessing for me to attend this saint’s inaugural Mass as pope on October 22, 1978, and hear him say his unforgettable words, “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ!” That message of encouragement for the world to be open to Jesus offers an especially meaningful reminder for those in formation for the priesthood, and those living out that vocation. When Christ is allowed into people’s lives, when his love enters people’s hearts, they need not be afraid of anything.

As a reminder of the seminary’s patron saint, the chapel has two relics of Saint John Paul II – a liturgical vestment known as an amice that was worn by him, and the saint’s blood stained on the cassock that he was wearing when he was shot and critically wounded during an assassination attempt in Saint Peter’s Square in 1981. These relics remind me and the seminarians of how priests bring Jesus to their people through the word of God and the Eucharist at Mass, and how they are called to give their lives totally, even to the point of death, for Christ and his Church.

Five years ago, when I announced the establishment of the new seminary at the Archdiocese of Washington’s annual Chrism Mass, I noted it was also fitting for the seminary to be named for Pope John Paul II because as pontiff he had called for a renewal of seminary life around the world and a visitation of all the seminaries in the United States. The Holy Father also dedicated his 1992 post-synodal apostolic exhortation to the formation of priests. Entitled “Pastores Dabo Vobis” (“I Will Give You Shepherds”), this document has become the norm for priestly formation across the Church Universal.

In a way, the teachers for our seminarians include three popes: their patron Saint John Paul II for his priestly example, and also the two popes who succeeded him. Pope Benedict XVI personally signed an apostolic blessing issued for the seminary’s inauguration that is on display at the entrance to its chapel. The altar used by him at his historic 2008 Papal Mass at Nationals Park is now at the seminary’s chapel, a reminder to the seminarians at every Mass there of what that pope proclaimed throughout his visit, Christ is our hope.

This past fall, Pope Francis honored our seminarians and priests with a visit to the Saint John Paul II Seminary. By his presence and his teaching and example, he shows those men studying to be the future priests of our archdiocese how to proclaim the joy of the Gospel and be missionaries of God’s mercy, meeting people where they are, and accompanying them to finding Christ’s love and truth in our Church.

The story of our archdiocesan seminary has been one of growth. The initial seed planted five years ago consisted of an inaugural class of 20 seminarians. In 2014, the seminary opened a new wing that includes 20 additional student rooms, an expansive library, enlarged classroom space, a new common room and an exercise room. Now phase three of the seminary’s expansion is underway, which will culminate in the construction of a new dining room and multipurpose lecture hall. But the most important growth underway is in the hearts of the seminarians themselves, as they learn to emulate their patron saint in their service to the people of God and to Christ and his Church.

Knowing the Authentic Teaching of the Church

April 30th, 2016


The Synod of Bishops on the Family, like the preceding Synod on the New Evangelization, universally recognized that many people either do not know or do not fully understand what the Church teaches. As a result, they are impoverished and they journey through life in darkness or twilight, without the light that shows the way. Thus, key to the pastoral initiatives urged by Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia is the desire to help people in their personal situations to better know, understand, appreciate and appropriate their Catholic faith.

In many ways, it has always been this way. Precisely what the Lord reveals to us – what the Church teaches – was a fundamental concern of the various ecumenical councils of the Church, including the Council of Trent (1545-63), which was called in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. To remedy the widespread confusion regarding the faith that existed at that time, the Council called for the production of a systemic digest for use in broadly instructing people in the beliefs and teachings of the Church and as a guidebook for leading a Christian life. The result was the Roman Catechism, also known as the Catechism of the Council of Trent.

This year marks the 450th anniversary of the publication of that monumental document by Pope Saint Pius V, whose feast day is today. Despite his fairly short pontificate of six years (1566-72), the legacy of Pius V would influence the Church for the next five centuries. It largely fell to him to begin the implementation of the decrees of the Council, which had closed a little more than two years before he became pope. In addition to the Roman Catechism of 1566, Pius V began a renewal of the Church, undertaking reforms of Church life and the liturgy, enacting the Roman Missal and bringing unity into worship, erecting the seminary system, and defending the faith.

When the Catholic faith came to these shores, the bishops here looked to the Roman Catechism to produce a question-and-answer instructional resource known as the Baltimore Catechism, published in 1855. In time, however, as circumstances changed and in the light of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, it became necessary to envision a fresh articulation of our ancient faith.

By the late 60s and early 70s, it became clear that there was a need for a new publication that could serve as a touchstone for what the Church teaches and which presented our faith in an intelligible and inviting manner. It was a privilege then to have the opportunity as a young priest in the early 1970s to work with Capuchin Father Ronald Lawler and a handful of others to help produce The Teaching of Christ: A Catechism for Adults. Now in its fifth edition, many people have said that they found this work to be helpful in learning the faith.

Later, in response to a proposal of the 1983 Synod of Bishops, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1993) was published for use by the entire Church Universal. Following the same basic format of the Roman Catechism, this work is an indispensable tool for anyone who seeks to arrive at a comprehensive and systematic intellectual knowledge of the content of the faith. Pope John Paul II said that “it is offered to every individual who asks us to give an account of the hope that is in us (cf. 1 Peter 3:15) and who wants to know what the Catholic Church believes” (Fidei Depositum, IV).

Another good source is the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. A Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church (YouCat), both in question-and-answer format, have also been produced.

Each of these sources are complete and they are authentic. Their content is not someone’s subjective opinion about what the Church believes or should believe. Here we can find the true teaching of the Church proclaimed with authority by those who are responsible for guarding the integrity of the faith.

We all need to know more about our faith for several reasons – one, so that we can live it more fully; and two, so that we can share it more effectively with others. The faith that comes to us from the Apostles still has the power to brighten our path and transform our life and the lives of everyone in the world. The more we know and the more we understand about Jesus Christ and what the Lord reveals to us in and through the Church, the more our lives are enriched and the more we can be a light to the world.

Communion in Service to Jesus Christ and His Church

April 27th, 2016
Photo Credit: Jaclyn Lippelmann

Photo Credit: Jaclyn Lippelmann

As Catholics, we live not simply as individuals, but also in the unity of the Body of Christ that is the Church, which is meant to be a reflection of the communion of persons in the Holy Trinity. “As it is, there are many parts, yet one body,” teaches Saint Paul. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:20, 13).

Thus, individual Catholics and Catholic institutions like schools, universities and charities should not see themselves as autonomous entities, but as parts of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, sharing in her life, mission and tradition (cf. Lumen Fidei, 22, 39, 47). As Paul adds, “If a foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,’ it does not for this reason belong any less to the body” (1 Corinthians 12:15).

Together, we form a unity, with a co-responsibility for the mission given to the Church to be a sign and instrument of salvation in the Risen Christ (Lumen Gentium, 1). Within this communion with the Lord and one another, the essential and primary role of every constituent part of the Church – including each of the clergy and laity, orders and institutions – is to invite people to encounter Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). However well we may excel at other things, if we do not do this, we have failed in a fundamental purpose.

The work of the evangelizing disciple, as Pope Francis calls all of us, unfolds through a wide range of efforts appropriate to each part of the body, but the goal is always the same. In living continuity with the Lord, we are each summoned to bear witness to him, passing on to others the truth he reveals about God and ourselves as human persons.

At the Last Supper, Jesus spoke of the intense unity that makes him one with those who love him: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The vine is what gives life, and the vine and branches are one living reality.

The branches that are Catholic individuals and institutions will live and bear fruit only insofar as they are attached to the vine which nourishes them. If they are cut off from the vine that is the Lord who gives us our being and identity, if there is discontinuity with Jesus and the Church and the teachings that have been revealed to her, then they will cease to flourish.

But connected to the vine, in communion and solidarity with the Magisterium, the Pope and local bishop, we receive the richness of Truth, of God’s word, which has the power to nurture and sustain each aspect of our society and thereby blossom and bear fruit. So it is with the members of the Church and Catholic institutions, and with those serving in ministries as paid employees or volunteers, as well as with those students attending Catholic schools and universities. In order to thrive, each of these and all of us need to remain in communion with Christ, the Church and her mission including advancing his Gospel message.

Some may say that this way is not for them. They might want to tread a different path or otherwise pursue worldly priorities instead. They are free to do so, but they are not free to demand that the Church’s institutions or teachings change to suit their beliefs.

Others might maintain that the values of academic freedom and engaging in dialogue with the world means accepting into institutions of learning all ideas as equally valid, that everything is up for grabs and there are no norms and lasting guides to help us through life. However, one should not “confuse genuine freedom with the idea that each individual can act arbitrarily, as if there were no truths, values and principles to provide guidance, and everything were possible and permissible,” Pope Francis tells us (Amoris Laetitia, 34).

There is truth. It is only if we remain in that truth, which is Jesus Christ and his teaching, that we are set free (John 8:32). Indeed, human freedom is corrupted and Catholic schools and ministries are disfigured when pressed into the service of ignorance, prejudice, or contempt for the revealed truth, particularly truth about the human person.

In these times, it is an urgent task for us to stay connected to the transcendent reality of our existence as one body in Christ so that we can radiate his light to the world. This is a common responsibility, a common mission, and it requires that each live and act in communion and solidarity. This is the charge and the means given to us by Jesus so that his work, accomplished in his death and Resurrection, might be re-presented in our day and applied to our generation.

University Mass for Life Homily

April 23rd, 2016

Epiphany Catholic Church
Washington, D.C.
April 21, 2016

As I begin these reflections, I want to thank Father Adam Park, Pastor of this Parish and also Chaplain to the Catholic faculty and students at George Washington University, for arranging this opportunity to celebrate the University Mass for Life in which we give thanks to God for the gift of human life.

The Liturgy speaks to us. At every Mass the Word of God is announced so that we can hear that Word and seek to have it form our lives. What does God say to us? What does the Word of God, announced in this Liturgy, say to us tonight?

Some of that Word is addressed explicitly to you, the young people, the university students who are at the heart of this University Mass for Life. God says to you as he did to the Prophet Jeremiah, “Do not say I am too young, I do not know how to speak.” Do not say, I am not sure how I should voice my support for unborn children. Because the Lord says to the Prophet Jeremiah, “See I place my words in your mouth!”

The second reading tells us why those words are so important. Saint Paul writing to the Romans, then and to us now, says, “Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

Yes, there is a powerful political correctness movement, emphasis, perspective, environment and force all around us. It says to set aside such things as the value of human life and substitute the politically correct position that you should be free to choose to kill unborn children. But the Word of God comes to us to say, “Do not conform yourself to this age.”

And finally, in the Gospel, Jesus tells us in response to the question of the young man, “What must I do to gain eternal life?” “Keep the commandments.” And these include “You shall not kill.”

Once, some years ago, I was at a hearing that involved a number of community leaders, political, law enforcement, educational and Church. One of the young at risk people, about 14 years old, was asked by one of the people on the advisory board, “Why is it that you act so violently towards other people?” (the young man was in custody for having shot and gravely injured another young person) His response was, “How come you get to draw the line?” His inference was clear to everybody in the room.

For two generations our culture has been saying it is perfectly alright to kill unborn children, it is perfectly alright to take the life of someone else if that someone is inconvenient to you. His question was, “How come you get to draw the line?”

We are here tonight because we share a very different view of life one that recognizes it as a gift from God. Life is something we embrace and cherish.

During Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, one of the most striking images was how the Holy Father’s love radiated whether he was greeting a head of state or a homeless person. His gestures, his words, his actions in every encounter proclaimed the truth that every life is worth living. As a gift from God, every human life from conception to death is sacred. It is this fundamental truth the Pope so convincingly communicates.

Tonight we gather to say that every life is worth living. In a special way, we are invited to reflect on the ways we can give witness to the dignity of every human life. “In many places, quality of life is related primarily to economic means, to ‘well-being,’ to the beauty and enjoyment of the physical, forgetting other more profound dimensions of existence – interpersonal, spiritual and religious,” observes Pope Francis. “In fact, in the light of faith and right reason, human life is always sacred and always ‘of quality.’ There is no human life that is more sacred than another – every human life is sacred.” (Address of November 15, 2014).

As a sacred gift entrusted to us, we are responsible for working to protect and preserve this life until it ends naturally, until the time that God alone appoints for our departure. Of course, since the time of Cain that gift of life has been brutally violated and violently taken away. Yet never has the responsibility to protect and preserve life been more difficult than in our day, either in our private personal lives or a social scale, given the assaults on life from widespread murder, war, abortion, suicide, euthanasia, and more, including the prospect of medicalized death from those whose profession exists to help save life, not take it.

Pope Francis has spoken often about a widespread cultural mentality that enslaves the hearts of so many today, a mindset where what is valued the least is human life, especially if the person is physically or socially weaker. That is why concern for human life in its totality is a real priority for the Church, he told a group of healthcare providers. There is a need to unreservedly say “yes” to life, he said, especially with respect to the most vulnerable – the disabled, the sick, the newborn, children, the elderly, “even if he is ill or at the end of his days, [he] bears the face of Christ. They cannot be discarded, as the ‘culture of waste’ suggests! They cannot be thrown away!”

At a time when many in society tend to judge a person’s worth on an obscure and subjective “quality of life” scale, we are convinced that human dignity is not based on productivity or usefulness, and dignity is not destroyed during times of hardship or even great suffering. Created by God, made in his image, each and every person is endowed with inherent dignity.

Dear brothers and sisters, do not be deceived by the politically correct rhetoric that uses words to hide the true meaning. Those that favor killing the unborn child often speak of, “the product of conception” as opposed to “the unborn child.” They speak about “facilitating the conclusion of the life cycle” instead of “assisting a suicide.” So it is with choice. When you use the word “choice” you have to complete the sentence. What is it you choose?

Are you allowed to choose to smoke in the University cafeteria, are you allowed to choose to park your car wherever you want without consequences, are manufactures free to present food without telling you its content and especially its calorie count?

The word “choice” is a smokescreen behind which those killing unborn children take refuge. Every chance you get, blow that smoke away.

Do not ever be convinced by the rhetoric of liberation that killing unborn, innocent children is in any way similar to the great social justice struggles that our nation has faced – many times enlightened by the Church’s social teaching. Whether it was the fight against slavery, racial discrimination, or unjust working conditions, the Church’s proclamation of the dignity of all human life was the center.

Do not let anyone reduce for you the greatness of the American dream to the level of free contraceptives.

To realize, respect and foster human life, or any form of goodness, is to glorify the Creator of all persons and to honor his transcendent and creative goodness.

One last image I would like to leave with you as you valiantly continue your support for life in all of its many wonderful manifestations including the unborn child.

Some years ago, I visited one of our mission efforts in South America that included a maternity hospital. In the special section was a two day old baby whose mother had left him with the sisters because she was not able to care for the baby. She said she hoped the sisters would find a good home for the infant. A sister said to me, “You can pick up the baby. You will not hurt it. He is not that fragile.”

It was only when I went to put the baby back into its little crib that I realized how strong even an infant’s grip can be.   He had latched on to my finger and was holding on tightly. It was as if he was saying, “Please, do not let me go. Please, do not let me alone. Please, somebody care for me.”

My brothers and sisters, what you are doing this evening is responding to the call of many, many unborn children. Please, be there for me. Please, do not let me go. Please, speak up for me.

May God bless you and remember what the Lord said to you through the Prophet Jeremiah, “To whomever I send you, you shall go and you shall speak.”

Mass for Life at Georgetown Epiphany

The Pastoral Implications of Amoris Laetitia

April 22nd, 2016
 (CNS file photo/Jon L. Hendricks)

(CNS file photo/Jon L. Hendricks)

In previous reflections we have touched on a brief overview of the content of Amoris Laetitia, how it reflects the consensus of the bishops of both the 2014 and 2015 Synods and the continuity of its message with the teaching of the Church. Now, I would like to look at the contribution of Amoris Laetitia to the Church’s pastoral ministry and evangelizing mission.

In Amoris Laetitia specifically, we find long-held, theologically sound teaching that displays the reality of practical, pastoral guidance that is offered to someone who, like all of us, is struggling to live up to the fullness of the norm, but within the circumstances and situations in which they find themselves.

In responding pastorally to those whose lives more reflect the brokenness of the human condition, rather than the beauty and blessing of the Church’s received teaching, Pope Francis affirms that our task is not to scold, but to sustain them in faith and hope. We need to begin patiently and lovingly to accompany them with special concern, helping them to live as fully as possible the life-giving experience of Christ and his Church. In this spiritual journey, each person can be at a different place. We are called to recognize this fact as we try to go out, encounter and accompany others.

In chapter eight, the Holy Father follows the teaching of Saints John Paul II and Thomas Aquinas to remind us of the distinction between objective moral norms and their application in uniquely concrete circumstances. Thus, he says that pastoral practice needs to take into account individual conscience, which not only can recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to revealed Gospel teaching, but can also be that voice of the Spirit which prompts the person to make the most generous response to God he or she can considering the complexity of one’s human limitation (Amoris Laetitia, 303).

One starting point is the realization that there is an objective moral order. It is written in our hearts as the natural law and proclaimed in revelation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the Decalogue, the Commandments, are a privileged expression of the natural law (CCC, 2070). Saint Thomas Aquinas speaks of natural law in his Treatise on the Law (Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 94). He also describes the role of charity or love in human actions and the determination of rectitude in various places of the Summa Theologiae, II-II.

In the work of pastoral ministry we must consider the teaching, the role of the priest in working with the person to understand more fully how the law and teaching apply in his or her own life situation. We also must consider the conscientious judgment before God of the person in light of where that person might be and any mitigating factors (Amoris Laetitia, 305).

Admittedly, this individual process of discernment may not be easy. A person may know full well Church teaching, Pope Francis notes, yet have great difficulty in either understanding its inherent positive value, or in being able to fully embrace it right away because of circumstances (Amoris Laetitia, 301). Yet, the underlying moral principle which should inform both that personal discernment and the priest’s ministry is that a person whose situation in life is objectively contrary to moral teaching can still love and grow in the faith, he or she can still take steps in the right direction and benefit from God’s mercy and grace while receiving the assistance of the Church (Amoris Laetitia, 305).

The exhortation does not create some sort of internal forum process where, for example, a marriage can be annulled or where the objective moral order can be changed. The teachings of the Church on marriage and family, and conscience and moral decision-making, remain unchanged. The role of the priest in listening and offering affirmation or challenge to persons as they work through their own understanding of their situation, is not the same as absolving from the law or annulling a marriage.

Instead, pastoral dialogue, accompaniment and integration involve the development of conscience and also the expression of a level of support or confirmation for the judgment the individual is making about the state of his soul or her soul. That judgment is the act of the individual and is the basis for their accountability before God.

In all of this, we must also remember both God’s liberating truth and saving mercy. None of us can claim yet to be perfect as is our heavenly Father. But we can grow closer to the Lord, who will by his grace heal us so that we can have the life he wants for us.

To help people gain a greater knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of marriage and family, the Archdiocese of Washington has prepared a number of resources to promote enrichment and healing. These may be found at VisibleSign.org.

The Magisterial Continuity of Amoris Laetitia

April 21st, 2016

The Magisterial Continuity of Amoris Laetitia

In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis does more than just present the teaching of the Church on marriage, which he does so beautifully. He also calls for pastoral reflection and action. His starting point, and one we need to appreciate as we receive this Magisterial document in the Year of Mercy, is the fact that this post-synodal apostolic exhortation reflects the consensus of the 2014-15 Synods of Bishops, as I discussed previously. It also shows the continuity of the teaching that we find in the conciliar era beginning with Saint John XXIII following through with Blessed Paul VI, Saint John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis. If Amoris Laetitia is properly placed in the context of the constant teaching of the Church, we will see an affirmation of both the teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and also the Church’s universal practice of applying that unchanging teaching to individual lived experience and concrete situations.

Pope Francis invites us in this exhortation to recognize and value marriage and family as visible signs of God’s love and his plan for humanity, and he also encourages us to be “a sign of mercy and closeness wherever family life remains imperfect or lacks peace and joy” (Amoris Laetitia, 5). These challenges to marriage and family, and the pain that come with them, are well known, including divorce and other forms of family estrangement, single-parent households, economic struggle, death in the family, violence, same-sex or extra-marital sexual relations, and more. All of this highlights the increasing distance between our Gospel vision of marriage and family life as it is seen in Catholic teaching and the experience of people in the human condition.

In urging concrete steps to support married couples and families, and bring hope and healing to those in difficult situations, Pope Francis follows in the longstanding tradition of the Church Magisterium. The continuity is made clear by the astounding amount of citations from previous pontificates and the tradition of the Church in general. For example, there are 56 citations from the teachings of Saint John Paul II, 22 citations to the Second Vatican Council, 22 citations to Saint Thomas Aquinas, 19 citations to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 11 citations to the magisterium of Benedict XVI, 10 citations to Blessed Paul VI, and more. While we can refer to Amoris Laetitia as a consensus document, we might also name it the continuity exhortation.

From the days of the Council until today, the Church has been greatly blessed by a series of pontiffs, successors to Saint Peter, who have so well served the Church with their teachings. However, we have at times seen people being confused and misled about those teachings, beginning with the Council itself, due to an erroneous hermeneutic, that is, interpretation and application, of the teaching.

It was Pope Benedict XVI who began explicitly to point out the failings and unacceptability of what has been called “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture,” which he contrasted with the true hermeneutic of reform and renewal in the continuity of the Church. Precisely in order to understand what it is that Jesus is revealing to us, we turn to his Church and the continuous apostolic tradition in the Body of Christ to clarify, reaffirm and assure us.

In opening the Council, Saint John XXIII said he wanted the ancient faith to be exactly preserved in its entirety and yet proclaimed in a way in which it could be heard and embraced in our age and circumstances. Blessed Paul VI also had the goal to maintain the unity of the Church, particularly in the face of the tensions and challenges of the post-conciliar times and opposition to some Magisterial teaching.

In the nearly 27 year pontificate of Saint John Paul II, the third longest pontificate in the history of the papacy, we see a refocusing of the energy and vision of the Church, an explanation and application of the conciliar teaching. Pope Benedict XVI, a gifted theologian who was at the side of Pope John Paul II for most of his pontificate, and was an advisor at the Council, reminded all of us that there is an extraordinary theological richness to what we proclaim in the Creed.

Now Pope Francis picks up the threads of the energizing focus of the Council while standing on the foundational work of his predecessors.

Keeping the Faith on Campus

April 20th, 2016
Photo Credit: Catholic Student Center

Photo Credit: Catholic Student Center at the University of Maryland

As Archbishop, I am blessed to make pastoral visits and celebrate the Eucharist at our parishes and Catholic schools, and also see firsthand the impact of our other institutions that reflect Christ’s love to this community through our charitable, health care and educational outreach.

Today I will be visiting the Catholic Student Center at the University of Maryland (UMD) and celebrating Mass with the students there. On college campuses and whenever I encounter Catholic young adults at parishes and diocesan events, I am truly inspired by the emergence of a youthful generation whose faith is refreshingly vibrant. These young women and men provide hope to us all for the future – and those students at secular universities such as Maryland or George Washington University who proudly live their Catholic faith provide a special inspiration and laudable example to the students who attend our Catholic universities.

In a world and in academic settings where views contrary to faith are often so evident, these Catholic college students enrich others by speaking up for Gospel values, participating in the sacraments, serving the community, studying the Bible together and taking part in programs where they learn more about Catholic teaching, and also by joining each other at social and recreational events. They are rightly enthusiastic in their Catholic identity, knowing that it is only in the truth and love of Jesus Christ that the problems of the world can be solved, and so they desire to more fully to live the faith.

The Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington has an inspiring exhibit on the life of that holy pastor, and one gallery shows him going on camping trips and outings with college students when he was a priest in his native Poland, with a pair of his skis and tennis shoes displayed nearby. His devotion to bringing Jesus to young people later reached a global scale when he became Pope and inaugurated World Youth Day. That same exhibit highlights those gatherings includes a quote to young people attending World Youth Day at Toronto in 2002: “You are the men and women of tomorrow. The future is in your hearts and in your hands.”

Over the years, millions of young adults and teen-agers from around the globe would joyously celebrate World Youth Day with Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. The next worldwide gathering will be in July in Kraków, Poland, the city of Saint John Paul II and Saint Faustina Kowalska, the “apostle of Divine Mercy,” and the theme will be: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Locally, for those who would like to participate but cannot make the trip, on July 30 the archdiocese is co-hosting “Kraków in the Capital” on the campus of The Catholic University of America for a day-long World Youth Day stateside experience.

Whenever I visit and pray with Catholic young adults at events such as this or at our local universities, I find hope-filled enthusiasm. Sometimes I have the opportunity to join them for a meal afterward, and hear about their faith journeys. At one such previous visit to the UMD Catholic Student Center, a young woman told me how friends had invited her to join them at Mass, and she felt so much at home that she decided to join the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil.

Outreach to Catholic students at Maryland’s flagship university began in 1933 and the Catholic Student Center recently marked its 50th anniversary of serving students there. The center’s logo shows the Maryland Terrapin with a halo, with that cartoon turtle offering a joyful reminder of the witness of faith that this campus ministry has offered to generations of students. Many of those graduates have gone on to serve our communities, our country and our Church in countless ways through their professions and their outreach. Others have answered the call to religious life and priesthood. Indeed, in recent years I have had the privilege of ordaining several new priests who were once “Catholic Terps” at the University of Maryland.

How fitting it was, that when Pope Francis offered his historic address to Congress last fall, he made a special point of noting our nation’s “young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations.” It was fitting too that at the Canonization Mass for Saint Junípero Serra, where those assembled included many students from area college campuses, the Holy Father should encourage people to emulate the missionary spirit of that new saint: “So let us go out, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ!”

Offering the richness of an encounter with the life, love and truth of Jesus is something that our Catholic college students are bringing to their campuses and to our world. In this way, the students become the teachers, and their unapologetic expression of faith is something we can all learn from.

Jesus and the Father are One

April 18th, 2016


Beginning with the Easter Vigil and at every celebration of baptism, the Church has a liturgical tradition of asking us to renew our baptismal promises. We pray in the form of a call and response. The priest asks, “Do you renounce Satan?” The congregation then responds, “I do.” A number of other questions follow and toward the end, we are asked if we believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, who is seated at the right hand of the Father.

There is something very powerful in breaking down this profession of faith into individual questions and asking us to make a simple declaration of belief. It makes us think about what we are saying. For most of the rest of the year, we simply recite the Creed and profess our belief that Jesus Christ is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.” But whether we ask in question-and-answer format or state it directly, what we proclaim is fundamental to our identity as Christians.

In a similar way, in the Gospel reading yesterday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Jesus makes a declaration of something fundamental to his identity. Drawing from the image of sheep and shepherd, Jesus declares, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (John 10:27-30).

This bold claim – that Jesus the Son and God the Father are One – which scandalized his listeners at the time is so important for us to believe and understand. After the Lord brought his people out of bondage and the worship of idols in Egypt, they were enjoined to remember always, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Jesus can say that he and God are one without violating the Commandment precisely because he is himself God.

A central truth of our Christian faith is that God is three persons in one God. We profess our faith in God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In effect, the renewal of our baptismal promises is an acknowledgement of the Trinitarian nature of our faith.

The revelation of the Trinity is found in Jesus words. He reveals to us that he is God’s Son. Jesus teaches us that God is not only the Creator of the universe but also the Father of the eternally begotten Son, who became one with us as Jesus Christ. Echoing John’s Gospel, Matthew reports Jesus praising his Father, “No one knows the Son, except the Father, and no one knows the Father except through the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27).

By Jesus presence, by his promise of the Holy Spirit and his teaching, Jesus is making known to us the mystery of the Trinity. In many ways, the Gospels proclaim what is essential to the Trinitarian mystery: that there is but one God; that Jesus is the true Son of God, one with the Father.

We recall our baptism in a special way during the Easter season because it is a reminder that it was in those waters that we were renewed and sealed in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in such a way that one God in three persons actually came to dwell within us. For this reason we need to remind ourselves that the Church’s teaching on sharing in the life of the Blessed Trinity is not an abstract exercise in theology. It is a life-giving proclamation that we live in God and God in us to the extent that we lead a life animated in God’s grace.

The Fruitful Witness of the Family of Pope Benedict XVI

April 15th, 2016
Joseph Ratzinger Jr. (left), Georg Ratzinger, Maria (Peintner) Ratzinger, Maria Ratzinger, Joseph Ratzinger Sr. (Photo is dated 1937 - Credit: Ignatius Press)

Joseph Ratzinger Jr. (left), Georg Ratzinger, Maria (Peintner) Ratzinger, Maria Ratzinger, Joseph Ratzinger Sr. (Photo is dated 1937 – Credit: Ignatius Press)

Eighty-nine years ago tomorrow, in the early morning of Holy Saturday 1927, Joseph Ratzinger was born in a small town in Bavaria, Germany.  That same day, he was reborn in Jesus Christ – the first baby baptized in the newly-blessed waters of Easter.  “I have always been filled with thanksgiving for having had my life immersed in this way in the Easter mystery, since this could only be a sign of blessing,” he would later say in his memoirs (Milestones, 8). Within this blessing, we must include his parents Mary and Joseph.

The Christian family is a domestic Church where children first encounter love and faith, affirms Pope Francis in his recent post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. In a particular way, beginning with the witness of parents, the family is the everyday place to encounter the Lord and thus is a school of the Gospel and authentic humanity. It is here where faith is first planted and where it grows, instilling in children the virtues of hope and love for God and one another.

This is the vocation of every family and as we confront the challenges of today, we can look to the example of the Ratzinger family to see how the simple expression of love and fidelity to God and to each other in the acts of daily life can bear abundant fruit. In addition to young Joseph going on to become a priest and eventually Pope Benedict XVI, his older sister and brother, Maria and Georg, each entered religious life and the priesthood respectively.

Joseph and Mary Ratzinger, who married late in life, each came from modest backgrounds and their family home was also humble and frugal, for which the future pontiff was thankful, saying in an interview, “For thereby joys are made possible that one cannot have in wealth” (Salt of the Earth, 44). The family was rich, however, in faith. Although simple, focusing on prayer and the liturgy, their Catholic faith nevertheless informed their entire way and view of life.

Pope Benedict’s mother, he recalls, “was very warm-hearted and had great inner strength,” while his father “was a reflective believer” whose religion was convincing to him (Id.). His father’s “simple power to convince came out of his inner honesty. So his attitude became a model for us, even though it stood against what had public currency at the time” (Id., 51). These attributes would live on in the gentle caring and kindness of their youngest son throughout his life.

This foundation of faith was greatly needed because the Holy Father also learned as a boy what it was like to live in a society that sought to exclude God and marginalize those who believe in him. Throughout his childhood, he witnessed and experienced personally the dark night of evil presented by the Nazi regime:  As Christianity began to be denounced throughout Germany, informants spied on priests and reported those who behaved as so called “enemies” of the Reich. The ideology of the Nazis was imposed on the Catholic schools and teachers who opposed the regime were replaced by younger ones who defended it. As an altar boy, the Pope Emeritus had watched the brownshirts beat up his parish priest, and a cousin with Down syndrome was taken away to be killed in a euthanasia program for “undesirables.”

In the face of these horrors, the teenaged Joseph was “full of hope for the great things that were gradually opening up to me in the boundless realm of the spirit” (Milestones, 29). Thus, when roused out of bed to be confronted by an officer of the notorious SS, at a time when thousands of priests were imprisoned in concentration camps, he could be resolute in telling him that he intended to become a Catholic priest (Id., 33).

What allowed Pope Benedict to endure during these ominous times, and what prepared him for the years to come was the blessing of faith his family had nurtured in him. “Despite many human failings, the Church was the alternative to the destructive ideology of the brown rulers; in the inferno that had swallowed up the powerful, she had stood firm with a force coming to her from eternity,” he attested. “From our own experience we now knew what was meant by ‘the gates of hell,’ and we could also see with our own eyes that the house built on rock had stood firm” (Id., 42).

While in our own families, parents might not raise a child to become pope, still they can prepare their children to live holy lives in the world, with the hope and fortitude to face life’s many challenges, and to someday be saints in heaven. With the witness of faith, with the simple practices of praying before and after meals, reading Scripture and attending Mass together, while fostering knowledge of and friendship with Jesus and caring for one another, families realize their vocation to be a civilization of love – and this can renew the world.