Catholic Teaching on Immigration

November 24th, 2014
(CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World) (Aug. 10, 2012)

(CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World) 

A wide range of opinions have been voiced about various executive actions last week concerning federal immigration policy in the United States. This presents a teachable moment since we have inherited a rich tradition of thoughtful reflection about society, culture, and law. Here, I would like to examine just a few elements of Catholic social doctrine concerning migration.

While it would be inaccurate to say that Jesus promoted any particular political, social or economic program, he did establish certain basic principles that should characterize any just and humane economic or political policy or course of action. Likewise, as Pope Benedict XVI noted, in the face of various social challenges, “the Church does not have technical solutions to offer and does not claim ‘to interfere in any way in the politics of States.’ She does, however, have a mission of truth to accomplish, in every time and circumstance, for a society that is attuned to man, to his dignity, to his vocation” (Caritas in Veritate, 9).

The role of the Church, whose primary concern is for the spiritual good of all people, is “to instruct and illuminate the consciences of the faithful, particularly those involved in political life, so that their actions may always serve the integral promotion of the human person and the common good” (Doctrinal Note on the Participation of Catholics in Political Life, 6). As taught by the Second Vatican Council, consistent with our obligation to love God and one another, the human person is and ought to be the principle, the subject and the end of all social institutions (Gaudium et Spes, 15).

When we turn to the matter of migration, we must recognize that this is a worldwide experience. All across the globe, more and more families and individuals in recent years have felt compelled to move from their home countries. Some are refugees from violence, human trafficking, political oppression or economic hardship. All seek a better future for themselves and their families. Yet, often migration leads to other problems, including harm to the family, as recognized in the recent Synod of Bishops on the Family.

This crisis of migration calls us to remember our common humanity. This is the simple recognition that we are all one human family. Before we are citizens of this nation or that we need to look at one another precisely as brothers and sisters, children of a loving God who invites us to a new relationship to one another. Thus, we each have a responsibility to work for the objective good of others, including those brothers and sisters who come from other lands. We have an obligation to protect the inherent and fundamental dignity of each person (see CCC 1897-1948).

Recognizing that “no country can singlehandedly face the difficulties associated with this phenomenon, which is now so widespread that it affects every continent in the twofold movement of immigration and emigration,” our Holy Father Pope Francis says, “It is necessary to respond to the globalization of migration with the globalization of charity and cooperation, in such a way as to make the conditions of migrants more humane. At the same time, greater efforts are needed to guarantee the easing of conditions, often brought about by war or famine, which compel whole peoples to leave their native countries” (Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2015).

The Catechism teaches that to the extent that the more prosperous nations are able, they are obliged to welcome the foreigner who seeks security and the means of livelihood which is lacking in his home country, while immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the country that receives them, to obey its laws and assist in carrying civic burdens (CCC 2241). Whatever specific policies that are enacted should reflect that.

Nonetheless, while the political dialogue on federal immigration policy goes on, there is a need for concrete action on a personal level to help our sisters and brothers in crisis. In facing a human issue of this magnitude, for inspiration we can look to Jesus Christ – his vision, his way of life, and his promise of a kingdom abounding in truth, justice, compassion, kindness, understanding, peace, and love. His Gospel challenges us to see the face of Jesus in others and envision a culture of solidarity and inclusion where the hungry are fed, the thirsty are given drink, the stranger is welcomed and the naked are clothed (Matthew 25:31-46).

We are asked to put ourselves in the place of the stranger looking for welcome. Not only is it a spiritual imperative that we see Christ and therefore ourselves in others, but it’s a historical reality as well. All of us at some point in our family history were strangers who wished to be welcomed.

The Triumphant King of Kings

November 23rd, 2014

Resurrection window Sacred Heart

Today is the Solemnity of Christ the King. In establishing this feast, Pope Pius XI intended it to be an antidote to the many forms of Godlessness in modern society, including secularism, atheism and anticlericalism (Quas Primas, 24).

Throughout history, but especially in modern times, there have been kings and other worldly rulers who have asserted that they are sovereign, that the state is the highest authority with supremacy over everything, including matters of conscience and faith, religion and the Church. The 19th and 20th centuries even began to see many traditionally Christian countries placing the concerns of the state above all else, with many people living as if God does not exist. Claiming to be “enlightened,” they simply lost interest in religion, preferring their own gods and idols – money, power and pleasure among them.

When the Solemnity of Christ the King was established in 1925, belief in God had been effectively outlawed in the new communist Soviet Union. A revolution in Mexico, like the French Revolution before it, had instituted periods of hostility and violence against the Catholic faith, including expropriation and destruction of church properties, and imprisonment, exile or the killing of priests and others. Many Catholics in Mexico resisted these affronts by invoking the name “Cristo Rey” – Christ the King. Even in Italy, because of laws hostile to the Church, the Pope himself was essentially confined to the Vatican.

This was the worldwide climate in which Pius XI established the Solemnity, warning in his encyclical Quas Primas that, with the Lord excluded from public life, “human society is tottering to its fall, because it has no longer a secure and solid foundation” (18). However, the Pope offered this observation not as a messenger of doom and gloom, but a herald of hope and the blessings of genuine freedom, peace and harmony because Christ reigns over everyone and everything.

It was in the face of fierce persecution in the early Church that the Book of Revelation was written likewise to provide confident hope. When Jesus was born, it was prophesized that he would be a “sign of contradiction” to the ways of the world. He told his disciples that if they followed him and his kingdom, the world would oppose them too. And it did. Peter and Paul and the other apostles all gave the ultimate witness, they were all martyred, except for Saint John. The authorities would put to death many other Christians in Rome and throughout the empire because they were serious about Christ and his kingdom.

As Jesus’ disciples make their pilgrim way through the centuries, they will always face persecution. In one form or another, the Church, Christ’s body in the world, will undergo suffering, treachery and abandonment. But it will endure. Although worldly rulers throughout history, having given their power to the ungodly, “will fight with the Lamb,” the Book of Revelation assures us that “the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and king of kings, and those with him are called, chosen, and faithful” (17:12-14).

Christ triumphs and has dominion over all not by violence or usurpation, but by the power of his persevering love, by his essence and nature, explains Saint Cyril of Alexandria (quoted in Quas Primas, 13). From his royal throne, Jesus promises that the names of his faithful people shall be written in the book of life and he will make all things new. Those who persevered despite great trials will have their robes washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb, poured out by Christ on the Cross. Those who thirsted for him, he will give to drink from the spring of life-giving water (Revelation 7:14, 20:11-21:7).

Knowing that Jesus is the victorious universal king should free us to live confidently in the world. In the midst of difficulties and trials, where any manner of Caesars and Pharaohs – ancient and modern-day – may set themselves against the good, Christ’s kingship of love and truth will prevail over all – suffering, persecution, sin and even the great enemy, death.

This blog post is adapted from the book that Mike Aquilina and I wrote, “The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics” (2014).

Light for the People

November 21st, 2014

Nov 21 blog post

The Church is the all-embracing context of Christian life and witness. Of all the councils held so far, the Second Vatican Council concentrated most heavily on the nature and meaning of the Church. For some, it therefore deserved to be called “The Council on the Church.” Two of its most frequently quoted documents, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, are concerned with the mystery of the Church.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of the Dogmatic Constitution, also known by its Latin title, Lumen Gentium. Here the Council looked at the identity, nature and mission of the Church. In Chapter Two, three particular images of the Church are presented: the People of God, the Body of the Lord and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. What this teaches us is that the Church is not an abstraction or a mere human institution, but a relational reality in and with God. The new Body of Christ is made up of all the members of the family of faith who are blessed with gifts of the Spirit and are united as one body around the Apostles and their successors, with Christ as it head.

The Church is structured, visible and identifiable, and it has a specific mission. It carries on the unique work of Christ. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes Lumen Gentium: “The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope, and charity as a visible organization through which he communicates truth and grace to all men” (CCC 771; LG 8). Through preaching the Good News and calling people to an encounter with Christ in the sacraments, the Church welcomes all people into the fullness of the Christian life. As members of the body of Christ, renewed in the Spirit, we are a people called to share our story as witnesses of the new life we have found in Jesus and in his Church.

As a witness, the Church never tires of announcing the gift she has received from the Lord. As the Council Fathers emphasized, “The Church has received a solemn mandate of Christ to proclaim the saving truth from the apostles and to carry it out to the very ends of the earth” (LG 17).

Chapter Three of Lumen Gentium discusses the nature and role of those members of the Church who are endowed with special sacred authority and responsibility, namely the bishops and priests in communion with the Pope. However, the duty to announce the saving truth is not just the responsibility of clergy. On the contrary, the Council highlighted the universal call to holiness and the important role of every disciple of Christ in the mission of spreading the faith. The discussion accentuated the crucial and vital participation of every Catholic, through the eager dedication and gifts of the lay faithful to the mission of evangelization (Chapter Four) and the blessing to the Church that is consecrated religious life (Chapter Six).

The Council Fathers remind us that “[t]he Church, to which we are all called in Christ Jesus, and in which we acquire sanctity through the grace of God, will attain its full perfection only in the glory of heaven, when there will come the time of the restoration of all things” (LG 48). Until that time, the pilgrim Church here on earth is most faithful to our identity as the “People of God,” “Body of Christ,” and “Temple of the Holy Spirit,” when we gather for the celebration of the Mass on Sunday and when as clergy, consecrated women and men, and laity we are fulfilling our duty to live our lives in joyful witness to our faith. In this, Chapter Eight lifts up for us the Blessed Virgin Mary as our model in faith.

If you would like to reflect more on the nature of the Church and your relationship to it, I invite you to read my 2012 pastoral letter, The Church, Our Spiritual Home, which was written as we prepared for the start of our Archdiocesan Synod.

The Church Calendar Orders Our Daily Lives and Helps Foster Unity

November 18th, 2014

Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.
– Psalm 90:12

At the end of November, we enter the season of Advent. It is the beginning of a new year on the Church’s calendar, pointing toward the new age that begins with God coming to dwell with humanity in Christ Jesus.

Today, the standard civil calendar used around the world for general and administrative purposes is the Gregorian calendar (established by Pope Gregory XIII), although a small number of places still use the older Julian calendar. Other calendars are used for other purposes, mostly notably those used to mark religious holy days and liturgical seasons.

As Catholics, our daily lives are also ordered around the Church calendar, with its special feast days and specified liturgical readings for each day forming a kind of catechism. Every day on this calendar in some way conveys the mysteries of God and salvation history in terms of fulfillment in Jesus. We number our days as we prepare in Advent for the Lord’s coming and as we then stay close to him from his birth to his death, from his resurrection to his ascension, from his sending of the Spirit to guide and sanctify us to his coming again in glory as King.

In the Church’s calendar some days are fixed, such as Christmas on December 25 and the memorial days of the martyrs and saints. Much like the holy days in Judaism that Jesus himself observed, other days on the Church calendar are moveable, following lunar calculations. For example, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following the first moon after the spring equinox.

Although the feasts on today’s Church calendar find their roots in that earlier Jewish calendar, it took quite some time for the Christian calendar to be universally agreed upon in the Western Church. Beyond resolving disputes over when exactly to celebrate a solemnity such as Easter, new days were added over time as the Church deepened her reflections on the mysteries of Christ and also in order to observe the deaths of martyrs and saints. Even then, periodic reforms were necessary as the number of feast days grew so much as to misshapen the Church year.

Recent times have seen Pope Pius XII and Blessed Paul VI institute reforms to return to the original spirit of the celebrations as practiced in earlier times and to bring the Paschal Mystery into sharper focus. They wanted to simplify the calendar in order to improve the quality of worship and, thus, better enable people to walk attentively in the footsteps of Christ through all the seasons of the year.

With a reform of the Church calendar to enhance our reflection on the Lord came a revision in the readings at Mass. In 1969, the lectionary was expanded so that more of the Word of God would be heard. On Sundays, we now follow a three-year cycle of readings instead of the previous two-year cycle and we hear three readings instead of just two. Following these revisions in the lectionary of the Catholic Church, many Protestant communities followed suit with their publication in 1994 of the Revised Common Lectionary.

Ancient lectionaries and sermons of the Church Fathers show that long-ago preachers from far-flung lands were using similar readings on given feast days. This history, together with the modern decision of many Protestant denominations to adopt their Revised Common Lectionary, shows how the marking of the days and worship combine to unite the entire Christian family. Simply by keeping the Church’s calendar and following its liturgical books, Christians worldwide can make sure they are all on the same page, One Church in Jesus Christ.

This blog post is based on passages from the book that Mike Aquilina and I wrote, “The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics” (2014).

Catholic Charities Weekend

November 14th, 2014

Over the years, the basketball court at the University of Maryland’s Xfinity Center in College Park has been the site of many triumphs, but perhaps none has been greater than what unfolded there in early September, as that court was transformed into a mobile dental clinic, complete with 100 dental chairs, for the Mid-Maryland Mission of Mercy and Health Equity Festival.

At that two-day clinic – co-sponsored by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington and the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health’s Center for Health Equity – 1,200 people who had nowhere else to turn received state-of-the-art dental care. The 1,500 volunteers serving them included about 400 dentists, hygienists and other health professionals.

Scanning the dramatic scene with university and government officials from an overhead pavilion, it was clear to all of us that partnerships produce great things. You can accomplish anything if you work together, and this initiative was the proof of it.

Partnerships do indeed produce great things and that is why all 139 parishes in the Archdiocese of Washington will be celebrating Catholic Charities Weekend on November 15th -16th. Volunteers will give a brief talk at the end of Masses about the work of Catholic Charities, and parishioners will be encouraged to volunteer at their parishes or through Catholic Charities to bring Christ’s love and hope to those in need in their own community.

Catholic Charities, which began here during the Great Depression, has been called one of the best-kept secrets in the Washington area and we would like to change that by sharing its story. Many do not know that it is the largest private social services provider in the metropolitan area. Each year Catholic Charities serves about 116,000 men, women and children through more than 65 programs in nearly 50 locations, operated by several hundred staff members and thousands of caring volunteers.

But numbers do not tell the whole story. Catholic Charities is not just another social service program. This ministry truly reflects our understanding of what it means to be Church, to be the enduring, visible presence of Christ in today’s world.

Pope Francis has said often that he wants the Church to be “of and for the poor,” that we need to bring Christ’s love to those on the periphery, on the edge of society. Each day, Catholic Charities does just that, serving those who are often marginalized or even seemingly invisible in our individualistic, secular world. For example, instead of hurrying past the homeless on our streets, Catholic Charities provides more than 1,800 beds each night for homeless men, women and children, as well as an array of programs to help them rebuild their lives and find permanent homes and jobs. Beyond the headlines and news reports in recent months about the rising tide of unaccompanied immigrant minors, Catholic Charities here has been helping those young people find stability and hope for the future.

Seeing a poor person not as a statistic, and not just as a client, but as a child of God, as a brother or sister, makes all the difference, and that is the perspective that Catholic Charities offers in its outreach. A staggering need is met thanks to their dedicated staff and volunteers under the leadership of Monsignor John Enzler, the president of Catholic Charities, who served for many years as a pastor in a number of local parishes. I have entrusted him with the duty to help lead our archdiocesan efforts on behalf of the region’s poor.

Catholic Charities is a visible sign of God’s love also because of the support of everyone who makes it possible. The impact that people’s donations make in the work of Catholic Charities cannot be understated, with those gifts serving as an investment in building a brighter future for people through our archdiocese’s educational and social outreach programs.

As I witnessed at the Mission of Mercy clinic, partnerships make a great difference and bring smiles to the faces of those being served as well as those who serve. Now, my hope is that Catholic Charities Weekend inspires more people to partner with Catholic Charities and with their parishes in bringing Christ’s love to the poor. For more information, please visit the Catholic Charities’ volunteer webpage here.

The Human Body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit

November 9th, 2014


As we come to the end of the Church’s liturgical calendar in November, we reflect upon the last things and our calling to new life in the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul, we hear in today’s liturgy, says to the Church in Corinth, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).

In the Creed, we profess that the Spirit is “the Lord, the giver of life.” Without the Spirit, without the “breath of life” that God has blown into us, as he did with the first human (Genesis 2:7), none of us would be a living being. While every person has the Spirit within him or her by virtue of being alive, the Spirit comes to dwell within us in a particular way in Baptism and Confirmation.

Having been baptized into the mystery of Trinitarian life, we are God’s temple in a special way. We are sanctuaries of God’s presence. Thus, Saint Paul cautions that the body “is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body . . . Therefore, glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:13, 20).

When we live faithfully, glorifying God, our actions represent the actions of the divine king within the kingdom, which has begun in our world. This is not always easy, but no matter what the struggles of the flesh, God’s grace is sufficient for us.

That the human body is a temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells obliges us to treat the body with respect. This realization also gives us hope, transforming the fear that often comes when we confront the inevitable reality – all life begins, grows, matures, declines and ends in death no matter how great the skills of doctors and nurses.

Death is universal – we are only sojourners here. Some believe that death is simply “the end,” but our Catholic understanding provides the perspective within which we can see our lives in relation to the Author of life who breathed his Spirit within us. Death does not have the final word. Life in God’s Spirit continues even after the body dies.

In a sign of our faith, we bring our beloved dead to the Church, to the place where they received new life in baptism, for the final farewell. We are poignantly reminded in the funeral Mass that “life is changed, not ended.” By the power of Christ’s love, all things are made new, overwhelming the darkness as death is transformed to life. It does not all end in oblivion – there is instead a transition and transformation of our being.

At the conclusion of the funeral Mass, the priest incenses the casket. This is a visible reminder that in life the body was a temple of the Holy Spirit. The body is then taken to the cemetery for interment in anticipation of the day when God will raise our bodies and glorify them by the power of his Spirit to be with him forever.

Catholic cemeteries provide a ministry in the Church that recognizes the uniquely Christian understanding of death. Archdiocesan cemeteries, under the direction of the Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Washington, and parish cemeteries, many of them of considerable antiquity, provide holy ground where our departed are placed as they await the resurrection of the body by the Lord of Life.

Not only do these cemeteries provide resting places for our loved ones, they also offer solace and healing in mind and spirit to those who mourn. Here are sacred places where we remember our departed, recall their goodness to us and ask the Lord’s blessing on them. As we pray for them, we do so in the fullness of hope that we too, temples of the Holy Spirit by God’s grace, shall follow in their steps.

Celebrating Black Catholic History Month

November 6th, 2014


The words of a spiritual from the Underground Railroad, “O, Write My Name,” remind us of the importance of remembering the history of African Americans. Those words also remind us as Catholics of the importance of remembering the historic legacy of black Catholics, particularly during November, Black Catholic History Month.

In that spiritual we find the following, “O write my name, the angels in heaven are going to write my name . . . Yes, write my name in the book of life.” As part of this special month, the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Black Catholics, which is led by Deacon Al Turner, is sponsoring a liturgy celebrating several African saints whose names have been written in the book of life and who now intercede for us before the Lord. The relics of these holy women and men of God will be venerated at 7 p.m. tomorrow evening, November 7, at Saint Joseph Church in Largo. That liturgy will be followed by a reception and a presentation on the progress of the canonization process for Mother Mary Lange.

Then on November 15 at 3 p.m., a Black Catholic History Month Concert featuring the Archdiocese of Washington Mass Gospel Choir under the direction of Kenneth Louis will be held at Holy Comforter-Saint Cyprian Church in Washington.

An inspiring booklet produced by the Office of Black Catholics offers daily snapshots of black Catholic saints and holy people for the month of November. Those include the saints whose relics will be venerated: Pope Saint Victor I, one of three popes of African descent; Saint Monica, a mother whose steadfast prayers helped inspire the eventual conversion of her son, Saint Augustine, who became one of the Church’s great theologians; Saints Perpetua and Felicity, a mother and her servant who became two early martyrs of the Church; and Saint Martin de Porres, an early 17th century Dominican brother from Peru known for his acts of charity who to date is the only saint of African origin in the Western Hemisphere.

The Office of Black Catholics offers other related resources including a Black Catholic History Month resource packet and the book “O Write My Name: African-American Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington, 1634-1990,” written by Loretta Butler, the late educator and historian, and Jacqueline Wilson, the former executive director of the archdiocese’s Office of Black Catholics.

Among the noted figures in black Catholic history is Mother Mary Lange, who in 1829 in Baltimore founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the world’s first congregation of black women religious. Mother Lange, an immigrant from what is now Haiti, founded Saint Frances Academy in Baltimore in 1828, which is the oldest continuously operating Catholic high school that primarily serves African-American students.

She is among four U.S. black Catholics whose causes for sainthood are now underway. The others include Father Augustus Tolton, who in 1886 became the first U.S.-born African-American priest; Mother Henriette Delille, who founded the Sisters of the Holy Family in New Orleans in 1842; and Pierre Toussaint (1766-1853), a freed Haitian slave in New York City who was known for his deep faith and his acts of charity.

The Archdiocese of Washington’s Catholic Impact 2014 publication highlights the story of Saint Augustine Parish in Washington, which was founded in 1858 by free men and women of color, including former slaves. Saint Augustine parishioners participated in the March on Washington in 1963 and heard Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle, a champion of racial justice who integrated local Catholic parishes and schools, give the invocation before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Today Saint Augustine parishioners continue their work for justice by supporting their school because they believe, as the parish’s founders did, that an education rooted in faith and strong academics will help their children achieve a better life and build a better world.

Through times of slavery, segregation and racism experienced in our society and even in our Church, black Catholics kept the faith, firm in the hope that the Lord walked with them, that the angels in heaven would write their name. Today, that inspiring legacy continues in the about 80,000 black Catholics in the archdiocese, including newly arrived immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean, and families who have lived and worshipped here for generations.

The vibrant faith of our black Catholic community could be seen at the recent East of the River revival at four parishes, which drew 2,600 people over four nights. The first-ever Archdiocesan Synod earlier this year included many African-American participants from the city of Washington and surrounding Maryland counties, who helped chart a future course for the archdiocese’s outreach in the areas of worship, community, education, service and administration and stewardship.

This month, we celebrate that history and the living legacy of our black Catholics, who in the words of another spiritual, “have come this far by faith.”

Exercising our Kingly Charism

November 4th, 2014


“Did you vote?”  Today, this question will be asked in offices, supermarkets and family living rooms across the country. It is an important question that not only serves as a reminder that it is indeed Election Day, but also a reminder of our civic responsibility.

Given our current political climate, it can be challenging to sort through competing platforms and messages to identify candidates that will best address our concerns. If one does not feel confident about any of the options, it is tempting to think one vote will not matter and to sit out the election, but voting does matter. As one of the most direct avenues for voicing our concerns and opinions, it is an opportunity to exercise the charism of our Baptism, whereby we contribute to the building of the kingdom of God through actively working to build communities shaped by a vision of a social order rooted in justice and peace.

Saint John Paul II, in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, links our baptismal call to spread the Gospel to addressing the particularly pressing needs of the world today. “A new state of affairs today, both in the Church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful” (Christifideles Laici, 3.2). By our baptism, Catholics are committed to following Jesus Christ and to being “salt for the earth, light for the nations.” As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “It is necessary that all participate, according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. This is inherent in the dignity of the human person … As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life” (CCC 1913-15).

Oftentimes, when something happens in our community or when laws are enacted that challenge some of our most cherished convictions, Church leaders will be asked, “Why doesn’t the Church do something about this?” While it is true that the clergy are called to proclaim the Gospel, it is equally true that laywomen and laymen are challenged to apply the Gospel to the circumstances of our day.  It is the voice and engagement of the faithful that will ultimately determine the direction of our society. Exercising our right to vote is integral to contributing to the right direction of our community.  It is one of the ways in which we can actively participate in the renewal of the temporal order.

In November 2007, the bishops of the United States first issued a call to political responsibility entitled, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”  In subsequent years, the bishops have updated the document and reaffirmed the value of this document for the Catholic faithful in the arduous task of applying the teaching of the Church to practical political positions.

The Church does not tell Catholics how to vote – the responsibility to make political choices rests with each person and his or her properly formed conscience – yet there are some things we must never do, either individually or as a society.  “Forming Consciences” tells us “such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons [and they] must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned” (22).

Pope Francis calls us to be attentive to the “throwaway culture and culture of death” (Address of September 20, 2013). The protection of human life – especially the most vulnerable at life’s beginning and at its end – must always be at the top of the list. We oppose any policy that devalues the lives of the sick, elderly and the disabled under the guise of “choice.” Likewise, and as always, we must seek to be a voice for the unborn.

Every election places before each of us serious moral choices, and our vote comes with significant responsibility.

Please join me in praying for our nation and all those to be elected that they share a vision for our country that is deeply rooted in the pursuit of justice and the common good.

The Church of Baltimore: 225 Years of Manifesting the Kingdom

November 2nd, 2014


As the Church of Washington celebrates 75 years since its establishment as an archdiocese, our sisters and brothers in the Church of Baltimore are rejoicing in their 225th anniversary.  In a spirit of communion and solidarity with them, our archdiocese was represented at the Mass of Thanksgiving at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore.

Initially, after our Catholic ancestors first set foot on Saint Clement’s Island in 1634, this was mission country, with no resident bishop.  Nevertheless, the Catholic population would steadily grow from that handful of Catholics who first settled here.  When independence from England came, the Holy See was petitioned to appoint a spiritual leader for the Church in the new nation.  Father John Carroll of Maryland was appointed by Pope Pius VI in 1784 upon the nomination of his brother priests, and an apostolic prefecture was also established in Baltimore.

Five years later, on November 6, 1789, the apostolic prefecture was elevated to become the Diocese of Baltimore, with Father Carroll appointed to be the first bishop.  Subsequently, in 1808, new dioceses of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Bardstown (now Louisville) would be formed from the territory of this “mother Church” of Baltimore, which was itself made an archdiocese.  In the decades following, Baltimore would give birth to more dioceses, including Richmond, Charleston and Wilmington.

When Bishop Carroll took possession of his see, there were approximately 30,000 Catholics in the nation, and under his leadership, the Church in the United States was built on a firm foundation.  One of his priorities was education and in addition to helping establish the first seminary in this country and working to found Georgetown University, Bishop Carroll supported Elizabeth Ann Seton, who would begin what is now the Catholic school system in the United States.

Another urgent matter for Bishop Carroll was to hold a diocesan synod in 1791 to set up the necessary canonical rules to govern the Church.   Baltimore would also be the site for the nationwide “plenary” councils of 1852, 1866 and 1884.  Of the three, it is the third that has perhaps had the greatest impact.  At this gathering presided over by Archbishop James Gibbons, the nation’s bishops provided for the publication of a catechism for general use.  The result was the famous question-and-answer Baltimore Catechism which became the standard text for Catholic religious education in the United States for generations.  Another fruit of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore was the creation of The Catholic University of America.

“Since those heroic beginnings,” Saint John Paul II attested during his visit to Baltimore in 1995, “men and women of every race and social class have built the Catholic community we see in America today, a great spiritual movement of witness, of apostolate, of good works, of Catholic institutions and organizations.”

Throughout its history, the Archdiocese of Baltimore has played a crucial role in manifesting the kingdom of God in our midst.  For 225 years, this mother Church has been an epiphany of the Lord, a bright shining light that has led people to our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.  As we face the current challenges to religious liberty, Archbishop William Lori – a son of the Archdiocese of Washington and now shepherd of the Premier See – has been an especially bright light and courageous voice.

Congratulations to all our brothers and sisters in the Church of Baltimore.  As they celebrate the past, recognize the challenges of the moment and renew their dedication for the future, may God’s blessings continue to be upon them all.

The Universal Call to Holiness

November 1st, 2014

All Saints

One of the joys of family life is coming together for birthdays and anniversaries.  The feast days in which we remember the saints are all the more festive, and they involve a bigger family.

Throughout the year, we celebrate the particular days that individual saints were born into heaven.  But on November 1st, the Church celebrates a solemnity for all the saints in heaven, known and unknown.

Yet when we profess our belief in “the communion of saints,” we do not mean only those who have ended their earthly pilgrimage and are now with God.  In our journey through life, each of us is called to grow in holiness and be a saint here and now.   Indeed, we must become saints if we are to enter heaven.

The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church tells us that “all Christ’s faithful, whatever be the conditions, duties and circumstances of their lives – and indeed through all these – will daily increase in holiness, if they receive all things with faith from the hand of their heavenly Father and if they cooperate with the divine will” (Lumen Gentium, 41).  In this way, we are known to Jesus as his family (Matthew 12:48-50).

But what is the divine will?  What does God ask of me and you?

Saint Paul urges us to live “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). We should put away the old self of our former way of life, speak the truth and be compassionate and forgiving (Colossians 3:5-13).  “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory,” he says, “rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

The one word that describes these teachings is “love.”  As revealed by the Lord Jesus in his life and teachings and throughout salvation history, “God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God and God in Him” (1 John 4:16).  To rest in God, to see God, to be fully alive – this describes the saints.  It is through communion with the Holy One that are we sanctified. To abide in him, to be a saint, we need only love.

“Charity, as the bond of perfection and the fullness of the law, rules over all the means of attaining holiness,” the Council Fathers confirm. “It is charity which guides us to our final end. It is the love of God and the love of one’s neighbor which points out the true disciple of Christ” (Lumen Gentium, 42).

Such love is a challenge in a world that urges us to think only of ourselves, of our own wants and desires.  It has been this way since the original sin of the first man and woman choosing to return God’s love with infidelity (Genesis 3:1-13).

But the Holy Spirit helps us to change.  The Spirit of Love and of Truth makes conversion from a sinner into a saint possible – if only we say “yes” to his grace and apply it faithfully in our lives.  We are sanctified in a particular way through the gift of the Spirit in baptism and the other sacraments, which free us from death in sin and renew us to the fullness of life in grace as children of God.

This conversion, this turning to holiness, is a necessary part of Christian life.  Our purpose is to be transformed into Christ.  This is why Jesus came among us, and nothing could be more transformative than this “divinization” of the human person.  Through loving acceptance of the grace of the Spirit, by the love of the Crucified and Risen Christ, we are perfected in God and with God.  We are sanctified and made saints.